The Transformation of Class Structure and Class Conflict in North Korea

International Journal of Korean Unification Studies
Vol. 14, No.2, 2005, pp 52-84.

PDF Here: transformation of class structure.pdf

This study examines how North Korea’s class structure transformations influenced the social transformations, and seeks to understand the structural characteristics of North Korea by examining in detail the existing shape of each social class. This study found that North Korea’s socialist transformation was the process of dismantling every social class, such as the landowners, farmers, commerce and industry, and intelligentsia classes, etc. The 1946 land reform dismantled the landowner class, the 1958 agricultural collectivization dismantled the farmers class, and the 1958 nationalization of commerce and industry did the same to the petty bourgeoisie. The only class remaining in North Korea is the managers of the governing class. There was no class differentiation, only dismantlement. Thus, with social classes dissolved, the governing class remains as the monolithic class monopolizing social, economic, and political power in North Korea, with no other social power to act as a balancer. This type of class structure may constitute the social conditions of political dictatorship in North Korea.

In North Korea, the fundamental ownership relations of the traditional class structure were dismantled in the name of socialist construction. The victims of this construction were the traditional classes of landowner, petty bourgeoisie, farmer, and intellectual.

When the 1946 Land Reform Law was passed, it was enacted in a month.  The law provided for government confiscation of land properties over 5 chongbo (1 chongbo=2.45 acres).  When completed, 1,000,325 chongbo of 1,982,431 under cultivation at the time.  At the time, land owned by the Japanese state, Japanese people, and religious organizations was barely 4%.  the remaining 96% was in the hands of Korean landowners and tenants.  It affected 405,603 of the 1,121,295 registered farming households.  4 in 10 households had land confiscated in part or whole.  Ten years after land reform, many were again prospering, and theor political influence became noticeable.  Kim il Sung sought to reassert control over them.  In 1958, land reform was reversed and farms were colectivised.

Nationalization of industry, traffic, transportation, communications and bank finances, including over 1034 important factories and businesses.  In 1947 80.2% of industry was held in state control.  Private commerce made up the rest.  After the Korean War, private enterprise production consisted of small-scale mills, metal workshops, rubber factories.  by May 1957, the number of private industrial enterprises was 633.  By August 1958, this activity was completely eliminated.

To purge the intellectuals (who were educated in the old ways) Kim il Sung proposed, “we have to speed up the construction of socialism, and fo rthat purpose, we have to fight against the conservatism of the intellectuals.” This started with technicians and economic managers.  Then dissident writers.

All social powers were ousted: Landowners, farmers, businessmen, and intellectual classes.  All menas of production were nationalized and socialiazed, so all became employees of the state, and the state became the sole employer.  North Korea’s new system consists of the rulers and everyone else (two groups).

To prevent remanats of the past from gaining influence, North Korea classified each individual according to their family background, and discriminated on this classification (starting in 1957).

Yunan and Soviet factions were purged in the August Faction Incident in 1956.  Cabinet Decision 149 mandates that ousted individuals be put in area 20km from the sea coast and demarcation line, 50km away from Pyongyang and Kaesong, 20km away fro mother cities and limited residential areas.  These individuals received a special stamp on their ID cards and were registered with the social security agency.

The North Korean managerial (ruling) class is an exclusive group which has institutionalized a system so that it may keep its privileges.  Only the sons and daughters of the core class can become promoted within the managerial class.  Children of Cadres only marry children of cadres.

Core class is 3,915,000 people in 870,000 households.  Wavering is 3,150,000 in 700,000 households.  Hostile is 7,930,000 in 173,000 households.

In the workplace, all indivduals are obliged to be part of one of three organizations: the party, the Youth League, or the Workers Union.

Supplies are divided into special numbers.  1,2,3,4, etc.  Those in higher positions are afforded higher rank in distribution.  “How could Party Secretaries, who don’t do anything,obtian objects of a 4 level?”

Private relationships are only possible through the party.

Self-criticism sessions are carried out every week.  Since these are routine, people know each other and act accordingly.  Becuase everyone has to criticize each other they tend to do so in a modest way.

Peasants most angry.  Laborers and office workers have time to do business on the side, but peasants do not.  Some bright peasants do tend private plots.

People complain openly now.

While the core class focused on inner-systemic solidarity when faced with a crisis, the wavering and hostile classes were the first to enter the black market.  After business expanded in the country side like wildfire the government brought the businesses into the open in July 2002.  The marginalized societies led the change in values.  Reportedly the collude with the regulatory authorities and security guards, borrow and rent vehicles for biusiness.

Only those sub-classified as Manyongdae line (Kim Il Sung’s lineage), Baektusan line (Kim Jong Il’s lineage), and Ryongnamsan line (People who graduated with Kim Jong Il from Kim Il Sung University) are able to receive official government posts.

Of the total population, 10% makes up the power-holding ruling class.  Another 40% make up a lower social rung doing business and making deals.


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