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North Korea Table of Contents

North Korea



A soldier and his child by the Tower of Chuch'e, P'yongyang
Courtesy Tracy Woodward

Social Control

The forty-five years since the founding of the DPRK have witnessed the construction of a system of totalitarian control unique even when compared to the communist systems in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The population of North Korea is rigidly controlled. Individual rights are subordinate to the rights of the state and party. The regime uses education, mass mobilization, persuasion, and coercion to guarantee political and social conformity (see Chuch'e and Contemporary Social Values , ch. 2; Political Ideology: The Role of Chuch'e, ch. 4). Massive propaganda and political indoctrination are reinforced by extensive police and public security forces.

The regime's control mechanisms are quite extensive. Security ratings are established for individuals and influence access to employment, schools, medical facilities, stores, admission to the KWP, and so on. The system in its most elaborate form consists of three general groupings and fifty-one subcategories. Over time, however, the use of subcategories has diminished.

The population is divided into a core class, the basic masses, and the "impure class." The core class, which includes those with revolutionary lineage, makes up approximately 20 to 25 percent of the population. The basic masses--primarily workers and peasants--account for around 50 percent. The impure class consists of descendants of pro-Japanese collaborators, landowners, or those with relatives who have defected. In the past, restraints on the impure class were strict, but as time has passed they have been relaxed, although the core class continues to receive preferential treatment. Nonetheless, by the 1980s even a member of the impure class could become a party member (see The Korean Workers' Party , ch. 4).

Since the late 1950s, all households have been organized into people's neighborhood units. The units, originally called the five-family system, consist of about 100 individuals living in close proximity. The ward people's committee selects the people's neighborhood unit chief, generally from pensioners in the unit. Meetings are held once a month or as necessary. The primary function of the ward people's committee is social control and propagation of the chuch'e ideology.

There are five categories of social control: residence, travel, employment, clothing and food, and family life. Change of residence is possible only with party approval. Those who move without a permit are not eligible for food rations or housing allotments and are subject to criminal prosecution. Travel is controlled by the Ministry of Public Security, and a travel pass is necessary. Travel on other than official business is limited strictly to attending family functions, and obtaining approval normally is a long and complicated process. The ration system does not recognize individuals while they are traveling, which further curtails movement. Employment is governed by the party, with assignments made on the basis of political reliability and family background. A change in employment is made at the party's convenience.

Data as of June 1993