Juche: Idea for All Times

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

The great and immortal idea of Juche, the most advanced social theory the world has ever known, was created by Kim Il-sung in 1930 when the ever-victorious general was 18 years old. Since then, the theory has been embraced by political and intellectual leaders across the world.

This is what North Koreans are required to believe. The idea of a high school graduate developing such a breakthrough social theory might sound strange, but after all the official line is that Kim Il-sung became a leader of the entire Communist movement at the tender age of 14 when in 1926 he allegedly founded the first truly communist group in the country.

However, early references to Juche are almost certain to be faked. The text of the speech which Kim Il-sung allegedly delivered in Manchuria in 1930 was first published in the 1960s, when Juche featured prominently in North Korean propaganda. There are good reasons to think that the entire text of the speech was actually written around the same time, to suit the political situation of the 1960s.

Actually, nothing was known about Juche until December 1955 when Kim Il-sung first used the word in a long speech, addressing a group of high-level party officials. In those days, Pyongyang was waging its first anti-Soviet campaign, still very mild by later standards. Nonetheless, in the mid-1950s the Soviet Union was liberalizing itself, so Kim Il-sung decided to move away from his erstwhile ally and patron. He did not want to be ousted and disgraced by local Korean reformers.

In his attempts to counter the liberal trends, Kim Il-sung decided to use nationalism as his preferred weapon. After all, the liberal wind was blowing from the north, from Russia, and hence it made sense to remind officials about their “Koreanness.” If we have a more careful look though the 1955 speech and other early references to Juche we will see that this was what Kim Il Song meant: not a coherent ideology, not even the idea of “self-reliance,” but rather need to emphasize one’s national identity as a Korean, a need to see Korea’s national interests as the top priority.

I have spent a long time reading through the pages of the Nodong sinmun of the 1950s, and it is clear that references to Juche remained rare until 1960. In the “Popular Dictionary of Political Terms,” published in Pyongyang in 1959, the term Juche is conspicuous in its absence, while in the large Dictionary of the Korean Language (1961-1962) the present-day ideological meaning of the term as a name for a political ideology is featured, but still occupies a modest place as a secondary interpretation. It took a large and concerted effort on the part of the Pyongyang ideologues in the mid and late 1960s to re-define Juche as a coherent ideology and the official philosophy of the DPRK.

Things began to really change in 1965 when the Juche promotion campaign was cranked up. While visiting Indonesia in April 1965, then still under a left-leaning nationalist dictatorship, Kim Il-sung delivered a speech which can be seen as the first Juche speech (the 1955 statement used the word in a different meaning). It was when Juche was first posited as the basic ideological principle of North Korean politics. This happened when the Sino-Soviet quarrel had reached its greatest intensity, and North Korea strove to stay neutral in the noisy feud of its two major sponsors. Nationalism in this situation had to promoted. So Kim Il-sung observed that the leading principles in North Korea were “independence in politics, self-reliance in the economy, and Juche as the ideology.”

Only in 1970 was Juche officially promoted as the leading ideology of the ruling Korean Workers Party. The KWP’s Fifth Congress stated that the Party would be guided by Marxism-Leninism and Juche. Judged by the standards of the Communist bloc, this was heresy. The local ideology was put on an equal footing with Marxism! However, by that time it did not really matter. The statement did raise eyebrows in the ideological departments of some ruling Communist parties, above all, in Moscow. However, nobody had either the will or the means to enforce orthodoxy, and everybody knew about the rampant nationalism of North Korea.

The next step came in 1980, when the Sixth KWP congress deleted references to Marxism-Leninism, leaving Juche as the sole official ideology of the Party. Thus the KWP became the only part of the Communist bloc which did not actually claim itself to be an adherent of Marxism-Leninism, even though its practical policy was still perfectly in line with the Stalinist tradition. This was the clearest possible declaration of ideological independence, a break with the official traditions of the Communist camp.

Nowadays, Juche is considered to be not only the girding principle of the KWP, but also the state ideology of the DPRK. The North Korean Constitution makes this clear in Article 3.

It is quite common to say that one has to understand Juche in order to understand North Korea. Well, I would not subscribe to that opinion. Juche is simply too vague to be taken seriously, and the interpretation of its philosophy has changed countless times. In a sense, Juche is an empty shell, a term which includes everything the North Korean leadership considers “correct” at any given moment in time, but hardly anything else.


One Response to “Juche: Idea for All Times”

  1. cobrapost says:

    To do justice to the Banner of Songun and to the great idea of Juche, it is advised that Harish Gupta and his wife Sadhna Harish are replaced from Songun and Juche forums and institutions by people with a good reputation in India. This husband-wife team is just sucking the honest blood of Korea like mosquitoes singing a pleasant whining tune. They are well known in the whole of Delhi University as totally corrupt schemesters. Harish Gupta used to teach at the College of Correspondence Studies, where he did hardly any work and constantly indulged in all kinds of skullduggery. He indulged in a wide range of criminal activities, ranging from kidnapping his neighbour’s son to practicing Freemasonry with CIA agents in India and the USA.

    Harish Gupta is known as a master manipulator who guided his wife Sadhna Harish into extreme corruption when she was a college principal in Delhi. It is said about him that he is just an opportunist and he can very quickly compromise truth and loyalties to gain his selfish interests. Friends of Korea better be more watchful in future. We only believe in the fundamental powers of Our Great Leader and Our Dear Leader.

    It gives us sorrow to see an utterly opportunistic couple with old loyalties to the Imperialists jointly misusing the generosity of the Korean masses who are constantly toiling to rebuff Imperialism and cultural domination by a couple of big nations. The friends and the peoples of Korea should not suffer in the hands of such imposters. However, it could be an intelligent move by Our Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il to include such CIA informers into DPR-Korea, so that the Koreans have control to the spying activities of the CIA and other imperialists; and the imperialist agents are shown whatever the Great Leader wanted them to see and all the time, the Western spies will exult in their access to DPR-Korea!!

    But, the way Harish Gupta is threatening gentle Indian people about his Korean influence and power is not very helpful in developing a good impression about DPR-Korea, whose people are hosting him for years with their hard-earned resources and luxuries. He makes people believe in India that he can get anybody eliminated because he has the military might of the North Korean State behind him; this is a very bad approach for the reputation of the self-reliant dignified people of DPR-Korea, who never attacked any country in their history.