Archive for the ‘Songun’ Category

North Korea’s Central Class Fear Kim Jong Il’s Ruin Will Lead to Their Ruin

Saturday, March 10th, 2007

Daily NK (Part 1)
Han Young Jin

The reason North Korea’s regime can persevere is because of the central class’ fear of regime collapse.

As a result of this perseverance, North Korea has been able to resist isolation and pressure for more than half a century, with the system even defeating the “March of Suffering” where tens and thousands of people died of starvation.

Today, powers maintaining the North Korean system are the hierarchical upper class including the North Korean Workers’ Paryy, the National Security Agency, the National Protection Agency, prosecutors and adjudicators.

Overall, there are about 4 millions members in the North Korean Workers’ Party (statistics as of 1995), this being roughly 20% of the population. Retrospectively, these people control the 23mn North Korean citizens.

The central class incorporating junior secretaries to the party, training officers, novice elites, generals from the army, safety and protection agents use their power position to control directly the North Korean people.

The most of these people have strong loyalty for the regime. In particular, military generals or party officials especially fear punishment and the thought that their privileges may be removed. Though they may be leaders, it is not one’s own desire to escalate in power but fear of retaliation from new powers.

Local party officers, security agents and protection agents directly control, inspect and punish civilians. In essence, they absolutely control the North Korean people and hence fear direct retaliation from the people. The collapse of the regime, also means that they may become jobless and troublesome.

In the 80’s, there was an incident where the Kangkye Munitions Factory incurred an explosion. The people who thought that a war had risen killed the security agent in charge and threatened to evacuate the country regardless of war or not. The people armed with weapons even raided the home of the security agent in charge, with stones and batons. As this rumor spread, security officers throughout the country felt the tension and were all on alert. Hence, control forces even to the lowest rank have become the trustworthy pillar to the North Korean regime.

Since the early stages of the regime, North Korea trained members of anti-Japan protestors and their families, Mankyungdae Revolutionary Academies and distinguished servicemen from the Korean War. As a result, the mindset of North Korea’s central class is relatively high in societal class awareness, as is their loyalty to Kim Jong Il.

Ideology amidst the central class and brainwashed passion

These people believe that the survival of the North Korea system is directly connected to their lifeline. They fear that they will not be able to receive the same privileges given by Kim Jong Il, if the current North Korean regime were to collapse. They believe that Kim Jong Il’s fate is their fate.

The North Korean regime is currently strengthening the multiple control system for their central class so that the ideology of the class is not shaken and the principals of Kim Jong Il kept intact.

In North Korea, every position and decision is focused around Kim Jong Il and his every single word is glorified. In one sense, it is a specialty of the dictatorial regime, but in reality it is a way to force the upper class to stand in awe and even dread the grand Kim Jong Il. Some defectors, once members of North Korea’s elite say that people work having no conscious awareness of their heavy duty or how to modify words spoken by Kim Jong Il.

Educational jobs by the central class are different to that of the common citizen. As the former Soviet Union and Eastern European bloc was merging in the 90’s inflicting collapse to the regime, elite officials internally passed video tapes on the end of Romania’s former President Nicolae Ceausescu to calm other comrades but in the end stirred greater fear.

Recently, it is said that tapes on the Iraq situation have been televised for commanders and military elites to see. The aim of this viewing, to plant into the minds of the commanders that compromises to the protection of the system means death.

The Kim Jong Il regime gives privileges to inspire the people supporting them. For example, people who work for the Central Committee systems department or the elite propagandists, receive a Mercedes Benz with the number plate ‘2.16’ symbolizing Kim Jong Il’s own birthday, and depending on the position, the car series is upgraded.

Other elites from the Central Committee and figures in key military posts are provided with luxurious apartments in Pyongyang. The apartment blocks are built and located separately to the average house. Soldiers guard the homes, even restraining relatives from entering the apartment premises. These homes are furnished with electrical goods, sofas, food and goods made in Japan, as well as being accompanied with western culture.

As Military First Politics was implemented in the late 90’s, private nurses, full-time house maids, private apartments and country residences, private cars, office cars, as well as “recreational clubs” with beautiful women, were granted as privileges to the head military and provincial officers.

Every Lunar New Year, expensive foreign gifts are presented to the core central class. However, across the bridge, local and system secretaries, public control officers await common goods that can be found in South Korea’s supermarkets such as mandarins, apples, cigarettes and alcohol. Nonetheless, people who work for North Korea’s local offices are more than happy to receive these gifts are it distinctly segregates them from the common North Korean citizen.

OK to Capitalist Goods But NO to Capitalist Regime
Daily NK (Part 2)

Han Young Jin

The higher the class, the closer one is to the 2nd and 3rd tier network. If a person is discovered to be in opposition to the regime they will be brutally punished and so a person is cut off early if they are found to show any signs of anti-Kim Jong Il.

The people who inflict the greatest control are the military high commanders. North Korea’s military can be seen as a branch of national politics that really does represent half of the regime. Political elites from the military closely control high commanders with under cover spies whose job is to specifically tattle on suspicious officers to the Party. Then, the protection agency in command contacts an expert who equipped with bugging devices carefully monitors the high commander’s every move, 24 hours a day.

In addition to this, control over university students who are being trained to become North Korea’s next elite group is also severe. In order to intensify regulations on university students, the protection agency initiates secret movements. Protection agents and even information staff are grouped to control the student’s movement with one information staff in charge of monitoring every each 5 students.

Even amidst the Workers’ Party and the ministries, national safety agents are dispatched to monitor the elite.

“Capitalist goods are good, but reform is unacceptable”

Though envious of South Korea’s economic development, North Korea’s upper class are opposed to growth and reform.

There is a popular story of an elite North Korean official who visited the South and frankly revealed “Though we may crawl and be worn, we cannot follow South Chosun’s economy.” It is also a well known fact that elite officials preferred Samsung digital cameras and showed interest in Hyundai cars at a South-North Cabinet talks and Aug 15th event in Seoul. Nonetheless, when it comes to acknowledging the need for capitalist reform, North Korea’s central class discards it with a wave of the hand.

The reason that capitalist goods are preferred but reform rejected is a result of the ideology that their individual power will be lost with change to the regime. Those who have loyally followed authorities have no mindset nor special skills that will enable them to survive a capitalist system. Rather than confronting a competitive society, they prefer their current position and the glory that comes with it.

The central class is also well aware of the restraints on North Korea’s economy. Every year as the harvest season arrives, they see citizens march onto the fields malnourished and underfed. They know that the economic policy implemented by authorities has failed and is incoherent. Yet, ultimately they are unwilling to let go of the small privileges they are endowed upon by the preposterous and unreasonable regime.

These people have become accustomed to their power which is utilized to gain them their privileges and tyranny. Even if North Korea enters a famine, they need not worry about food or clothing.

For example, in the case of an official factory secretary, he/she satisfies ones own personal needs by selling factory goods. Using the excuse that factory profits are being raised, he/she orders the workers to engage in more work, on the side. This is how tyranny occurs with the factory secretary manufacturing personal gains. Yet, these officials are not punished with any legal sentences.

Newly-rich dualism, collaborative relationship with official powers

Following the July 1st economic measures in 2002 trade became legal and North Korea experienced a sudden boom in newly rich elites. What led this new rich class to accumulate so much wealth was the fact that they had introduced an enterprise system which allowed trade with China.

The newly rich have a great interest in reform and development, and are well aware that the North Korean regime will not be able to solve the economic issue without facing reform.

However even this class of people are disinterested in bringing an end to the regime. They have already accumulated their wealth and feel no onus in the poverty stricken situation in North Korea. Whether capitalism or the current North Korean regime, as long as they can sustain a living, these people can continue to remain in a dualistic mindset.

While North Korean authorities are strengthening control over this new class, they are in another sense, receiving money and bribes to protect them. Where investigations are involved, authorities are risking their own identities being revealed and hence often ignore the illegalities of the people, even going to the extent of passing on information.

It is a fact that North Korea’s central class is acting as the forefront in sustaining the regime, but then again, these people have greater educational standard than the average commoner and they have had more opportunities to experience Western civilization. Hence, they can compare the North Korean regime with the outside world. Though the majority of this class accommodates to the North Korea regime, the possibility that a fraction of the elites may have some sort of antagonism against the Kim Jong Il regime and the odds that these people may just act upon these feelings cannot be discarded.

In addition, as North Korean society continues to decay, the organization of its systemic corruption may just be hit with danger. As corruption deepens and a crack appears in the regime, authorities will try to control this leak but while doing so, it is possible that endless punishment may just incite some elites to secede.

Particularly, the more information about foreign communities flow into North Korea and the people’s animosity against Kim Jong Il increases, even the elite will not be able to completely suppress feelings of antipathy.


Efforts Redoubled to Build Economic Power

Thursday, February 8th, 2007


Redoubled efforts are being made to build a socialist economic power in the DPRK. The people are turning out in the grand march for perfecting the looks of a great, prosperous and powerful nation, full of confidence in sure victory and optimism.

The DPRK has consolidated the foundation for building an economic power over the last years.

The Workers’ Party of Korea has developed in depth President Kim Il Sung’s idea on economy as required by the developing revolution and thus provided unswerving guidelines for building an economic power.

While implementing the revolutionary economic policies of the WPK such as the line on economic construction in the Songun era with main emphasis on the development of the munitions industry and the policy of putting the national economy on a modern footing and IT, the Korean people have been firmly convinced that they will certainly build an economic power in this land when they work as indicated by the Party.

The army-people unity has developed as the oneness of army and people in terms of ideology and fighting spirit in the Songun era. It constitutes a powerful impetus to the construction of the economic power.

The Kanggye spirit, torchlight of Songgang and the Thaechon stamina have been created while the whole society following the revolutionary soldier spirit. The efforts have brought about a great change in the overall socialist construction.

Through the heroic endeavors, the people replete with faith in the future of prosperity have put industrial establishments, once stopped, on normalization of production and erected many monumental edifices including the Thaechon Youth Power Station No. 4.

An importance has been attached to science. A large army of intellectuals are paving the shortcut to the construction of an economic power with an extraordinary revolutionary enthusiasm.

A solid material and technical foundation for the construction of an economic power has been laid in the country.

All the sectors of the national economy have pushed ahead with the work of perfecting production structures, renovating technique and putting them on a modern footing, with the result that the number of such model factories in technical renovation and modernization as the Pyongyang 326 Electric Wire Factory is increasing as the days go by.

Production bases such as foodstuff factory, chicken farm, catfish farm, beer factory and cosmetic factory, which are directly contributing to the improvement of the people’s living standard, have mushroomed in different parts of the country.

The DPRK, with all the conditions for leaping higher and faster, will demonstrate the might of an economic power in the near future.


Ideological Center of North

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

The North Korean press insists that the “great and immortal” juche idea was designed by the “Great Leader,” Kim Il-sung, in the mid-1920s and has remained the guiding principle of the Korean revolution ever since. But do not expect to find references to juche in Korean publications of the 1950s or even early 1960s.

Even if Kim Il-sung first used the term in his speech in December 1955, it took at least five years before the term became widely known in the country _ and five more years for it to become the name of North Korea’s official ideology.

Only in April 1965, while delivering a lengthy lecture in Indonesia, did Kim Il-sung make it clear that from that point on juche would be considered the basic principle of North Korean ideological policy.

The North Korean leadership badly needed a new ideology in 1965. Why? This was the year when the dispute between the Soviet Union and China reached new heights. The two communist powers had been quarrelling for some time, but from 1965 to 1970 the two countries, which had recently vowed “eternal friendship,” were on the brink of war.

North Korea wisely decided to maintain neutrality, allowing it to milk both sponsors. But in the heavily ideological world of oldstyle communism one needed a theoretical justification for one’s position, even if this position was taken exclusively on account of pragmatic considerations (sounds like academia, doesn’t it?).

Nothing could be as handy as a new ideology, especially since the North had been drifting away from Soviet-style Leninism for some time. A locally designed juche was a good solution to the ideological conundrum.

It was easy to say that North Korea had discovered a new truth that was, needless to say, superior to the truth of Sovietstyle Leninism or Chinese-style Leninism-plus-Maoism. Hence, being bearers of the supreme truth, Koreans could not be ordered around.

But what exactly were the relations between juche and Marxism? For our readers this might appear a rather scholastic question, but the world of communism was based on ideology, and ideological disputes mattered. Of course, communist leaders had long learned how to bend their ideology and how to adjust its postulates to any given current political purpose.

In this regard, they were no different from leaders of supposedly religious states, whose actual policy was not too constrained by their loudly professed faith.

Nonetheless, some explanations had to be invented.

Until the late 1960s, juche was presented as a specific form of Marxism-Leninism, which suited the Korean realities and demands of the Korean communist revolution. It was not separated from Marxism. This explanation found its way into the North Korean constitution of 1972. Article 4 described juche as “a creative application of Marxism-Leninism to the conditions of our country.”

The next step in juche’s development took place around 1974 and was perhaps related to the gradual rise of Kim Jong-il. It has been often stated that Kim Jongil introduced new interpretations of juche because he wanted to flatter his father, the founder of juche, and thus demonstrate his loyalty to Kim Il-sung’s cause.

Whatever the reasons, in 1974 some documents signed by Kim Jong-il but actually written by the administration’s chief theoretician, Hwang Jang-yop (currently in Seoul), began to use the term “kimilsungism” as a synonym for juche. In February 1974, Kim Jong-il explained that the works of Marx and Lenin had become outdated.

They described the world as it was 100 or 50 years ago, while juche was suited for the modern world, they argued. Thus, in 1980 the Korean Workers’ Party proclaimed juche the party’s guiding ideology, without mentioning its relationship to Marxism.

That statement doubtless resonated well with the nationalism of Korean cadres because it essentially placed North Korea at the ideological center of the world. Since then, the nationalist element of juche has been increasingly emphasized.

That position was also an open challenge to orthodoxy as understood in Moscow and Beijing. It was as if a local Catholic bishop proclaimed that he had a better grasp of the Holy Scriptures than the pope (or, to take the analogy a bit further, two quarrelling popes) and was able to devise something like a Newest Testament.

These statements made juche-worshipping North Koreans into open heretics within the communist camp, but other “fraternal countries” had to swallow this: Whatever they said, strategic considerations took precedence over ideology. Nobody wanted to alienate Pyongyang, which had been long seen as a strangebehaving sibling of the communist “family.”

However, this family unity did not last. In 1992, the newly amended North Korean constitution completely omitted references to Marxism-Leninism and replaced it with juche as the sole official ideology. Nobody was outraged.

By that time Leninism was patently dead, and even the few countries that still maintained a commitment to that ideology hardly took their own declarations seriously.

However, after the death of Kim Il-sung there were some signs that the significance of the juche idea began to wane.


N. Korea to focus on inter-Korean economic projects in 2007: think tank

Monday, January 22nd, 2007


North Korea will put strong emphasis on inter-Korean economic projects this year as the communist state insinuated that it is suffering from economic difficulties, a state-run think tank said Monday.

In its new year commentary, Pyongyang partially admitted that its economy is in bad shape and said its highest priority for 2007 is boosting the sagging economy, the Korea Development Institute (KDI) said in a report.

“Unlike in previous years, when the North placed political ideology, the military and the economic sector, in that order, as its three key areas of importance, North Korea set the economic sector ahead of those two other sectors in the commentary this year,” the KDI said.

“The North also skipped over commenting on a series of economic achievements, except for saying that it has secured a foothold for a new leap. … In addition, it said that it has gone through the ‘worst adverse situation’ in the past 10 years, showing that the economy was still suffering from difficulty in 2006.”

To boost the economy, the North may actively push for inter-Korean economic projects and depend on the South for increased economic support as its economic cooperation with other nations such as the United States and Japan has come to a near halt, the institute said.

In the commentary, the North also used a slogan, “put an importance on the Korean people,” a comment indicating increased inter-Korean cooperation, the KDI said.

Every Jan. 1, the communist nation releases its new year commentary on three state dailies, including the Rodong Sinmun, one of the only sources of information on the country’s economic policy plans.

Under the title, “Create a prosperous era of the Songun (military-first) Choseon,” the North urged its people to make concerted efforts to solve the economic problems in 2007 and make the country an economic power as a socialist nation.

According to many analysts, the North’s annual economic growth may have fallen below 1 percent last year, down from an estimated 1 percent growth in 2005 and 2.2 percent in 2004. A variety of global economic sanctions against Pyongyang could have contributed to the slower growth in 2006, the institute said.


No More Free Work for State

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

An increasing number of North Koreans now depend on markets as international aid to North Korea sharply plummeted after nuclear test, evidence shows.

Particularly, a popular “market-friendly” mind is growing as the authorities’ control over the populace is weakening.

J, resident of Hamheung, North Korea, told the Daily NK on Monday via telephone “Though TV and newspapers boast ‘military first policy’ and ‘strong nation’ after the nuke test, people are only interested in money.”

The Daily NK was able to have a telephone interview with J, who was visiting Sinuiju, a Sino-Korean border city in which electromagnetic waves of Chinese cell phones could reach. NK businesspeople often use them for communication.

J said “Hamheung citizens are well aware of the cutoff of international aid. When they were forced into serving in the public industrial labor force, they could not go to work in markets and must then starve. Therefore, they are now asking for some money instead of compensation for the loss in work when they are serving for the public work.

Originally, such work in state-run factory used to be compulsory under the industrial mobilization of workforce policy. This is the first known case of being paid in mobilized labor and evidence of spread in popular market-economy-oriented mind.

“The vulnerable died well before and those who can run are already in China or South Korea. The leftovers are hard ones; they can even plow rock mountains,” J said sarcastically.

“People don’t trust the state anymore. They live on their own.”

J, a middleman, buys TVs, radios or bicycles and sells them back in market. On lucky days, he earns up to fifty thousands NK won (equivalent to 20 US dollars). According to J, as of January 2007, rice price is ranging from 1000 won to 1100 won (less than .5 US dollar) per kilogram.


N. Korea Stresses Economic Revival

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Korea Times
Park Song-wu

North Korea’s New Year joint newspaper editorial on Monday underlined that it will strive to modernize its economy.

The editorial also said Pyongyang will continue strengthening its defense power by focusing on “songun” or “military-first” policy that enabled it to conduct an underground nuclear test last October.

But the editorial, titled “Usher in a Great Heyday of Songun Korea Full of Confidence in Victory,” did not specifically mention Pyongyang’s nuclear plan or its relations with the United States.

As for ways to revive its economy suffering from sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council following the nuclear test, the editorial stressed the importance of agriculture.

“We should, as in the past, keep up farming as the great foundation of the country and make an epoch-making advance in solving the problem of food for the people,” it said.

In a reaction to the North’s emphasis on its economy, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification hoped to see Pyongyang try to improve soured inter-Korean relations to attract economic aid from the South.

“The editorial’s contents are not very much different from last year’s text, but it mentioned economic issues earlier than others,” a ministry official said, asking not to be named. “It seems that Pyongyang will pay more attention to its economy with an idea that it is now a nuclear power.”

The editorial also called for more production of consumer goods and the development of power, coal-mining, metal and rail transport industries to better the life of North Koreans.

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade interpreted the North’s failure to mention the future of its nuclear programs as an attempt to take advantage of the six-party talks that came to a halt again after a five-day meeting ended with no tangible results on Dec. 22.

“It is believed that North Korean leaders are taking a wait-and-see attitude because discussions about U.S. financial sanctions are set to resume sometime soon,” a ministry official said, requesting anonymity.

In September 2005, Washington blacklisted Banco Delta Asia in Macau as a “primary money laundering concern” because of suspicions that it was helping the North conduct illegal activities, including counterfeiting and money laundering.

As a result, the bank severed its relations with Pyongyang and froze $24 million in North Korean assets.

Regarding the presidential election to be held in South Korea in December, the North Korean editorial stressed the importance of cooperation between people in the two Koreas to get rid of conservatives in the South who used to back the United States.

The Pyongyang regime also called for loyalty to its leader Kim Jong-il, who will turn 65 this year.

The editorial was carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), several hours after Kim visited the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang where the embalmed body of his father is kept, Yonhap news agency reported.

Kim was accompanied by several top military leaders, including Vice Marshal Kim Yong-chun, who serves as chief of the army’s general staff, and Vice Marshal Kim Il-chol, a member of the National Defense Commission and minister of the People’s Armed Forces, the KCNA said in a separate report.


DPRK joint editorial 2007

Monday, January 1st, 2007

Every January 1, three leading DPRK publications (Rodong Sinmun, Josoninmingun and Chongnyonjonwi ) issue a “joint editorial” that is the North Korean equivalent of the “State of the Union Address”…So here are some excerpts from 2007:

Usher In a Great Heyday of Songun Korea Full of Confidence in Victory


A worthwhile advance has begun in the country at the hope-filled New Year.

Last year, 2006, was adorned as a year of great victory, a year of exciting events, in which the dawn of a great, prosperous and powerful socialist nation was ushered in.

Cheers over the victorious Songun idea and politics resounded all over the land last year.

The invincibility and rosy future of the Korean revolution rest on Songun. The army and people of Korea, under the unfurled banner of Songun, have won victory after victory in the showdown with the United States and in safeguarding socialism, and consolidated their self-defensive capabilities for the supreme interests of their country and the destiny of their nation.

That we have come to possess a nuclear deterrent was an auspicious event in the national history, realization of our people’s centuries-long desire to have a national strength no one could dare challenge. Last year’s victory testifies that our army and people were right out and out to have invariably followed the road of Songun over the past 10-odd years in the face of severest trials.

Last year was a year filled with pride, a year in which an epoch-making phase was opened for the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation.

Gaining great confidence from the dawn of victory ushered in by the Party, our servicepersons and people waged a heroic struggle and thus achieved brilliant successes in all fields. In the tempest of the general advance of Songun revolution, the single-hearted unity of the servicepersons and people around the leadership of the revolution was consolidated in every way possible, and a springboard for a fresh leap forward in economic construction was secured.

Last year witnessed successes indicative of the resourcefulness and superiority of our nation.

Our scientists and technicians, with burning revolutionary enthusiasm and creative talent, performed exploits noteworthy in history–they broke fresh ground for the cutting-edge science and technology and consolidated the country’s strength. Our proud sportspersons achieved outstanding successes in women’s football and other international sports games, displaying to the full the mettle of the nation and bringing a great joy and encouragement to our servicepersons and people. Masterpieces demonstrating the new looks of art and literature of the Songun era were created, and traditions and customs unique to the nation greeted further efflorescence in all domains of social life.

The fact that 2006 was adorned with successes and exploits worthy of recording in the annals of our revolution and nation is a demonstration of the sagacity of our Party’s leadership.

Our Party steadfastly maintained its independent and principled stand even in the trying situation in which the country’s security faced grave challenges, and led the entire Party, the whole country and all the people confidently to a general advance for a fresh leap forward. The leadership of respected Kim Jong Il, who, by dint of correct strategy and tactics, art of outstanding leadership, and unexcelled courage and pluck, coped with the encountering challenges and turned unfavourable circumstances into favourable ones, was a decisive factor in all successes and miraculous events.

On the road of his tireless Songun-based leadership, the overall strength of our nation was remarkably consolidated and the day of a great, prosperous and powerful nation has dawned. The grand celebration last year of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Down-with-Imperialism Union was a proud display of the fact that continuity of the Korean revolution is definitely assured by Kim Jong Il.

The true record of revolutionary activities of respected Kim Jong Il and his imperishable historical exploits of having raised the position of socialist Korea to a highest level by braving all manner of difficulties in the van holding aloft the great banner of Songun, and adorned the year 2006 as a most glorious year in the history of the building of a Juche-oriented great, prosperous and powerful country, will be handed down to posterity.

The year 2007 will be a year of great changes, a year which will usher in a new era of prosperity of Songun Korea.

Kim Jong Il said:

“It is an unshakable determination of our Party and unanimous desire of our army and people to demonstrate to the whole world the dignity of the nation by building on this land a great, prosperous and powerful socialist country which embodies the Juche idea in an all-round way.”

This year we are greeting the 95th birthday anniversary of President Kim Il Sung as a grand national event.

Kim Il Sung is the founder of socialist Korea, and the eternal Sun of Juche in the cause of the masses for their independence. The glorious history of victorious advance of our socialist Korea and today’s prosperity of Songun Korea, which is demonstrating its dignity to the whole world, are associated with his august name. We must make this year a year of greater efflorescence of his wish for a prosperous and powerful country, a year of brisk activities across the country.

The sacred revolutionary career of Kim Il Sung is a history of Songun-based leadership in that he devoted his greatest effort to the strengthening of the country’s military capabilities. We must celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army as an all-people event that demonstrates the invincibility and bright future of the Songun revolution.

Our revolution which started under the banner of the great Juche idea, Songun idea, has greeted a new historic phase. The present new era is a worthwhile era of ushering in an all-round efflorescence of national prosperity on the basis of the victories and success of the Songun revolution registered in the history of the nation. We have the great guiding ideology, invincible single-hearted unity and powerful war deterrent tempered in the flames of the Songun revolution. The present reality, in which all conditions for leaping higher and faster are created, demands that we launch the revolutionary advance more vigorously to achieve the high objectives of the building of a great, prosperous and powerful socialist nation.

“Usher in a great heyday of Songun Korea full of confidence in victory!”–this is a slogan we should hold in struggle and advance.

We should wage a dynamic offensive campaign to build a socialist economic power.

Building an economic power is an urgent demand of our revolution and social development at present times and a worthwhile and historic cause of perfecting the looks of a great, prosperous and powerful nation. We should concentrate national efforts on solving economic problems, so as to turn Songun Korea into a prospering people’s paradise.

The main task in the present general march is to direct primary effort to rapidly improving the people’s standard of living and at the same time to step up technical reconstruction to put our economy on a modern footing and display its potentials to the full.

We should brilliantly realize the noble intention and plan of our Party, which regards the improvement of the people’s standard of living as the supreme principle in its activities.

We should, as in the past, keep up farming as the great foundation of the country and make an epoch-making advance in solving the problem of food for the people. The officials and working people in the agricultural sector should fully discharge their responsibility and role as masters in implementing the Party’s policy on making a revolution in agriculture, and bend a dynamic effort to doing farm work on their own.

We should decisively improve the production of consumer goods by waging a revolution in light industry. We should run light-industry and local-industry factories at full capacity and steadily increase the variety and quality of consumer goods by tapping to the maximum the latent resources and potentials in all sectors of the national economy. We should ensure that the bases of stockbreeding, fish farming and production of primary seasoning built through much effort prove effective so that the people can enjoy their benefit. We should continuously improve distribution of commodities and service work as required by the intrinsic nature of a socialist society and thus evenly provide the people with essential consumer goods of high quality. The officials of all units should pay close attention to supply service work for their employees. The public health sector should implement the Party’s policy on public health to ensure that the people can enjoy more benefit of the socialist health care system.

Power, coal-mining and metal industries and rail transport, the four vanguards of the national economy, must take the lead in building an economic power. Bearing deep in mind a high sense of responsibility they have assumed in the building of an economic power, the officials in the power and coal-mining industries should decisively ease the strain on electricity and coal. The sector of metal industry should increase the production of iron and steel by consolidating its Juche character and accelerating technical reconstruction. The sector of rail transport should fully meet the ever-growing demand for transport through efficient organization and command and iron discipline and order. National efforts should be geared to bolstering up the four vanguard sectors with the whole country engaged in giving an active assistance to them.

With a foresight into the distant future of economic development, we should give priority to geological prospecting, develop energy and other resources under a long-range programme, and treasure and protect the country’s resources as best as we can. Mining, machine-building, chemical, building-materials and forestry sectors should make steady efforts to revitalize their production.

Monumental edifices and other major projects of the Songun era should be built on the quality-first principle as required by the new century. The building sector should observe technical regulations and apply standard building methods in construction, and make buildings formative and artistic.

Cities, including Pyongyang, and rural villages across the country should be built up as required by the Songun era and land administration should be undertaken efficiently, to turn the country into a socialist fairyland.

The Juche-oriented idea, theory and policy of our Party on the economy are a definite guideline in the construction of an economic power. We should solve all problems arising in improving the economic work and the people’s standard of living on the basis of our Party’s idea and theory on the economy, which reflect the requirements of the Songun era, the IT era.

We should run the economy by our own efforts, our own technology and our own resources with a determination that we must build a socialist paradise by ourselves. We should make the most of the solid foundations of production and potentials existing in all sectors of the national economy. We should smash the imperialists’ despicable schemes for sanctions and blockade by dint of strong self-respect and pluck.

Thoroughgoing implementation of the Party’s policy of attaching importance to science and technology is a sure guarantee for the construction of an economic power. Latest science and technology, combined with the great revolutionary ideas of our Party, will bring about startling changes. All sectors and units should put themselves on a modern footing by drawing on the latest science and technology. Scientists and technicians should develop the cutting-edge science and technology in a short span of time in the revolutionary spirit of soldiers and in their way of work, so as to definitely guarantee the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation by means of science and technology. All sectors and units should bring science and technology close to production, and unfold a mass drive for technical innovation.

We should undertake technical upgrading of the national economy, production and management activities by the method of motivating competent scientists and technicians. Effort should be channelled to education, so as to train in a great number talented people who will shoulder the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation.

Holding aloft the banner of Songun, we should continuously exert a great effort to strengthening the defence capabilities.

Songun is the life and soul of our country and people and the dignity of our nation. In the future, too, we must hold fast to the Juche-based Songun idea and line as an invariable guiding principle of the Party and the revolution. We must never forget the trying days when we had to defend the lifeline of socialist Korea with a do-or-die determination, and defend the achievements of the Songun revolution gained at the cost of blood.

The People’s Army that constitutes the key force in the independent defence capabilities should be steadily strengthened politically and ideologically, militarily and technically.

It is the pillar of the socialist military power and the strong vanguard for national prosperity.

It should make a sweeping turn in its efforts for combat readiness and efficiency this year marking the 75th anniversary of its founding, so as to continually brighten its glorious history and tradition as an elite revolutionary army that has won victory after victory under the command of the generals of Mt. Paektu.

The patriotic zeal and militant mettle of the People’s Army should be given full play in the place of the Party’s concern, the forefront of socialist economic construction. The men and officers of the People’s Army must give full scope to their revolutionary soldier spirit, the might of which has been tempered in the crucible of the Songun-based revolution, exalting their honour as the major driving force of the Songun-based revolution in the struggle for national prosperity and people’s welfare.

It is important to develop rock-solid our great army-people unity, the first of its kind in the world. The climate of people supporting the army and the latter helping the former and the oneness of army and people in terms of ideology and fighting spirit should be promoted. Constant importance should be attached to the military affairs so that all the people would acquire military knowledge and the entire country be turned into an impregnable fortress. Primary efforts should be concentrated on the development of munitions industry for steady consolidation of the material foundations of our military capabilities.

We should strengthen in every way the unity of revolutionary ranks in ideology and purpose, so as to demonstrate the might of our country as a political and ideological power.

The revolutionary leadership is the centre of unity, centre of leadership, and also the symbol of strength and dignity of Songun Korea. The whole Party, the entire army and all the people should loyally uphold the idea and guidance of the leadership, cherishing an unshakable spirit of defending their leader at all costs. They should all become ardent fighters, who trust and follow only their leader and share his idea, purpose and destiny on the road of arduous struggle for accomplishing the Juche-oriented revolutionary cause.

Socialist construction advances amidst sharp class struggle. We should deal a merciless blow to the enemy’s psychological warfare and their attempt for ideological and cultural infiltration aimed at undermining socialism of our own style from within. The revolutionary principle, the principle of the working class, should be strictly maintained in all fields of the revolution and construction.

The present stirring situation demands that a radical innovation be made in ideological education. We should get rid of formalism and stereotype in ideological work, to conduct all types of ideological work in a novel manner as required by the Songun era. Positive examples manifested among Party members and other working people should be found out and given wide publicity. Art and literary works, mass media and all other information and motivational means should be enlisted in aggressive ideological education.

A decisive guarantee for victory in this year’s campaign is in undertaking the organizational and political work and command in a revolutionary way, arousing the entire Party, the whole country and all the people to the general advance for the thriving country.

The Party should be strengthened, and the militant role of Party organizations enhanced continuously.

The entire Party should display to the full a strong sense of organization and discipline by which it moves as one in accordance with the ideas and intention of its leader.

Our Party is a party striving to build a great, prosperous and powerful nation, and a mother party that serves the people. All Party organizations, in line with the mission of our Party and its fighting objectives, should gear their work to bringing about radical innovations in economic work and improving the people’s standard of living.

To work miracles and make innovations in this year’s general advance, Party organizations at all levels should conduct the Three-Revolution Red Flag Movement as the work of Party committees and push ahead with the movement by motivating the working people’s organizations.

It is important to develop a higher sense of responsibility among the officials of economic institutions, including the Cabinet, and enhance their role in bringing about a fresh turn in the building of a great, prosperous and powerful socialist nation.

The Cabinet should carry on economic operation and management in a responsible manner with strategic insight in conformity with its important position and mission to steer the socialist economic construction.

This year’s general advance is calling on young people to make unprecedentedly heroic efforts and perform great feats.

They are masters of a great, prosperous and powerful nation of the future and the most vital combat unit in implementing the cause of the Party. Greeting the 80th anniversary of the formation of the Young Communist League of Korea, youth league organizations and young men and women should staunchly defend President Kim Il Sung’s achievements in the Korean youth movement and the traditions of the movement and add brilliance to their honour as a reserve force and a special detachment of the Supreme Commander.

The youth should volunteer to work at labour-consuming sectors including the construction site of the Paektusan Songun Youth Power Station to display their mettle and feats. They should render distinguished services for the Party and motherland to become youth heroes and patriotic youth praised by the people.

Organizations of trade union, agricultural workers’ union and women’s union should intensify ideological education of their members in line with the requirements of the developing reality and inspire them to the general march for the building of a great, prosperous and powerful nation.

The dawn of reunification is breaking on this land with over six-decade history of division.

Last year witnessed the demonstration of the vitality of the independent reunification movement and the might of the June 15 reunification era. Holding aloft the banner of the North-South Joint Declaration, and under the slogan of independent reunification, peace against war and great national unity, all the fellow countrymen unremittingly followed the road to national reunification, foiling the frantic anti-reunification moves towards war of bellicose forces within and without. Last year’s reality reaffirmed that the Korean people of the same stock are a dignified nation with a strong sense of national self-respect and no force on earth can check the current of national history advancing towards a great, prosperous and powerful reunified nation.

The three principles of national reunification–independence, peaceful reunification and great national unity–put forth by President Kim Il Sung, the Sun of the nation, are the immutable guideline in the cause of reunification, and it is the unshakeable will of Kim Jong Il to realize reunification in our generation true to the instructions of the President.

This year all the fellow countrymen should hold high the slogan, “Add brilliance to the June 15 reunification era by attaching importance to the nation, maintaining peace and achieving unity!”

The stand of attaching importance to the nation should be maintained steadfastly.

To attach importance to the nation is a basic stand and motto the Korean compatriots who are subjected to division and war by foreign forces should hold fast to. Neither outside forces nor ideal can be put before national interests. National demand and interests should be regarded as an absolute yardstick in dealing with all the affairs, and the principles of maintaining independence and giving priority to and defending the nation in the face of any pressure and blackmail of outsiders should be advocated. Inter-Korean relations and reunification movement should be developed in accordance with the ideal of “by our nation itself”. Proud of being a homogeneous nation with a 5,000-year-long history, all the Korean compatriots should preserve the Juche character and national identity and categorically reject the US interference in, and obstructive manoeuvres against, the internal affairs of the nation.

The banner of defending peace should be upheld.

Peace is a key to the reunification of the country and common prosperity of the nation. Today the United States is desperately clinging to war moves against the DPRK and the country’s reunification in an attempt to check the current trend on the Korean peninsula towards reunification by the Korean nation itself and realize its wild ambition for domination of the whole of Korea. Due to the vicious schemes of the United States, peace and security on the Korean peninsula are under grave threat.

To safeguard peace is a just patriotic undertaking to defend the land for the existence of the nation, and victory in this effort is in store for the Korean people who are ready to sacrifice themselves to the defending of national independence. The entire Korean people should turn out in the struggle for peace against war in order to smash the military pressure, war exercises and military buildup that threaten our nation. They should see through the US hegemonic and aggressive nature, and launch a dynamic campaign to drive the US occupation troops, the root cause of war, out of south Korea.

The entire nation should unite.

Unity is a way to national existence and prime mover of the cause of the country’s reunification. Koreans in the north, south and abroad should bring the atmosphere of reconciliation and unity to a crescendo under the banner of independent reunification, and further promote solidarity and alliance between different reunification movement organizations with the June 15 All-Korean Committee as the parent body.

Opposition to conservatives in south Korea is part of the effort for realizing great national unity and a decisive factor for the advance of society and reunification movement there. The “Grand National Party” and other reactionary conservatives are now making desperate efforts to realize their traitorous attempts and ambition for regaining of power with the help of the outside forces. Broad segments of the south Korean people desirous of independent and democratic society and the country’s reunification should realize a broad anti-conservative alliance and launch an energetic campaign on the occasion of this year’s “presidential elections” to decisively destroy the treacherous pro-US conservative forces.

The June 15 North-South Joint Declaration is a beacon of hope that has paved the way for national prosperity. All the Koreans in the north, south and abroad should strive to implement the joint declaration without letup in the face of any trials and difficulties, and smash every attempt to emasculate and obliterate it.

Songun politics is an all-powerful sword for national defence that has proved its invincible might and patriotic character in the practical struggle to shape the destiny of the nation. Cherishing the boundless national pride and self-respect in the present reality in which the national dignity is being demonstrated worldwide on the strength of Songun politics, all the fellow countrymen should staunchly support Songun politics.

All the fellow Koreans in the north, south and abroad should bring about a heyday of the cause of independent reunification by turning out as one in implementing the three tasks–attaching importance to the nation, defending peace and achieving unity–with confidence in and optimism about the rosy future of a reunified country.

The present trend of global situation shows that the strong-arm policy and high-handedness of the imperialists are doomed to failure and that the people’s struggle for independence can never be checked. We will remain faithful to the last to our historic mission in safeguarding global peace and security and advancing the cause of independence of humanity, and continue to intensify international solidarity with the progressive peoples under the ideals of independence, peace and friendship.

A great era of prosperity is smiling on our motherland.

Kim Il Sung’s Korea is a formidable socialist power that is dignified by a great idea, powerful with the single-hearted unity and ever-victorious with the strong military capabilities. No force can obstruct the vigorous advance of our army and people, who are endeavouring to bring earlier the day when they would enjoy happiness in socialist paradise with nothing to envy in the world.


“Defeat of the Military Spirit is Greater Hardship Than Economic Poverty”

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Daily NK
Park Hyun Min

In its editorial on the 27th, the Rodong Shinmun, North Korea’s state newspaper, strongly encouraged the populace on the integrity of Military First policy.

This newsgroup argued “Our invincible revolutionary army will first of all make our country flourish in riches” and “Though many countries have perished because of a weak army, no country has ever collapsed because of starvation.”

This claim has risen amid expectation made by the WFP following North Korea’s nuclear experiment, which predicted that as international sanctions intensify and North Korea exhausts all its autumn harvest in which it is currently living off, by next year April, the country will be hit by sever starvation.

The newsgroup stated “We earnestly hope for prosperity and putting all things aside, it is blatantly obvious that we need to take deterrent forces” and strongly justifying indirectly the nuclear experiment. “Accomplishing prosperity another countries’ way is stupid fantasy. Our revolutionary army is national sovereignty and our military-first spirit is autonomy. This is a historical fact that cannot be changed.”

Further, the newsgroup stated “We are in a generation where today the nation’s economic power is influenced by developments made in national defense” and emphasized “The construction of national defense will soon be economic construction and the power of national defense will soon be economic power. Prioritizing and putting the development of our national defense first is the best way in developing our economy.”

Further claims were made “The greatest tragedy to our nation is not economic obstacles or poverty in a materialistic lifestyle but the defeat of our mind.” This is propaganda as a result of a recent situation for “anti-socialism” that is arising within North Korea and attempts by the regime to control this commotion.

The newsgroup added “The fact that we were successful in conducting a cutting edge nuclear experiment with only our strength and our wisdom simply goes to show the potential of our technological advancement” and “while living at the beginning of a strong military period, supporting Kim Jong Il is the pride and fortune of our people.”


The Party Is Over

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

What is happening to the Korean Workers’ Party, once the locus of all power in North Korea? What will be its fate? I suspect that nowadays these questions are asked not only by Pyongyang watchers, but also by many North Koreans. Indeed, something strange has happened to North Korea’s ruling party. Since the inception of the DPRK in 1948, the Korean Workers’ Party has remained the core of its political system. It was a typical specimen of the Stalinist-type Communist Party: highly centralized and subordinated to the will of the god-like “leader”.

On paper, the KWP appears to be quite democratic: for example, its committees are supposedly elected by the respective assemblies of Party representatives. However, quasi-democratic features and regulations bear no relation to the harsh realities. The “elections” meant an obligatory vote in support of the pre-arranged list of candidates, and for decades no party member has been sufficiently insane to use his presumed right to criticize, say, Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il.

Nonetheless, the Leninist Party has always been a rather rococo structure grafted onto an otherwise rational design of a Stalinist state. Its functions were not well defined, its interaction with more conventional state bodies was full of controversies, and many of its quasi-democratic conventions were expensive and patently hypocritical. It acted as a sort of central command network which ensured that all parts of the state mechanism were working according to the wish of the leader and/or ruling oligarchy. But it was not very rational, one has to admit.

In the last years of Kim Il Sung’s rule it became clear that the Great Leader was ready to jettison some of the traditions related to the Party. On paper, the KWP was supposed to hold a Congress every five years. In reality, there were only two KWP Congresses convened in the last 40 years: in 1970 and 1980. Kim Il Sung was running the country directly, using the Party bureaucracy as but one of many available tools.

When Kim Jong Il assumed supreme power after his father’s death, this move from the old tradition became more discernible. It was presumed that Kim Jong Il’s elevation would be formally ratified by a large and pompous party convention. It did not happen: Kim Jong Il was elevated through a chain of local party conferences. The meetings of the Central Committee, a convocation of some 230 Party heavyweights, also became rare and irregular under his rule. It appears that since 1993 this once powerful body has met only once, in October 1997, to confirm Kim Jong Il’s elevation to the position of leader of the country.

In recent years celebrations of Party history have been scaled down, and even October 10, the KWP Foundation Day – one of the nation’s major holidays – is no longer marked by pompous ceremonies.

Well, if the Party is going to be downgraded as the major state management tool, what will replace it? The answer is simple: the armed forces. According to official North Korean publications, as early as New Years Day 1995 Kim Jong Il suggested a new strategy, called the “army-first policy”. We do not know how soon it took precedence, but from 1998 references to the “army-first line” became routine in the North Korean press.

Why such a change? There is a great deal of pragmatism in attempts to woo the military top brass. After all, they have real power, and can be potentially dangerous. Before Kim Jong Il ascended to his position, there were speculations that the military was ready to get rid of him once his father died. This did not happen, but there are persistent rumours about an unsuccessful military coup which allegedly took place in the mid-1990s. Thus, flattering the generals by telling them about their special role is a good strategy, especially if sweet words are supported by deeds. Indeed, the army enjoys a great freedom in money-making activities, and many generals are now capitalists-in-the-making.

It is very likely that the “army-first policy” was conceived as an attempt to do away with the disastrously inefficient state socialist model and replace it with some sort of controlled capitalism – one controlled by the Kim family, of course. The generals and chiefs of the political police and intelligence services are probably seen as the best material available from which to produce locally grown capitalists.

But if this is the case, can we describe as “Stalinist” a state without a Leninist party and without a state-run industry? Probably not. I suspect that Stalinism in the North is dead or, at least dying.


Is North Korea a religious state?

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

Gary Leupp

All three countries labeled “the Axis of Evil” by President Bush in 2002 are presently religious states. Iran is of course a Shiite theocracy, while the government of formerly secularist Iraq—to the extent it has a government at all—is dominated by Shiite fundamentalists. North Korea has long practiced its state religion, Kim Il-songism.

According to North Korean scriptures, when the Great Leader Kim Il-song died in 1994, thousands of cranes descended from Heaven to fetch him, and his portrait appeared high in the firmament. Immediately villages and towns throughout the nation began to construct Towers of Eternal Life, the main one rising 93 meters over Kim’s mausoleum in Pyongyang. The Great Leader’s son, the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il, took power, declining to assume the title of President. The Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea restricts that title forever to the Great Leader, whom the Dear Leader has proclaimed, “will always be with us.” The Dear Leader himself was born on Mt. Paektu, the highest mountain in Korea and Manchuria long revered by Koreans as sacred and the birthplace of their nation, in 1942. (Unbelievers say he was born in 1941 in Vyatskoye, in Siberia, in the Soviet Union.) His birth in a humble log cabin brought joy to the cosmos: a double rainbow appeared over the peak, a new star rose in the heavens, and a swallow descended to herald his birth. (Thus he is called, among other monikers, the Heaven-Descended General.) When he was 32 years old, the Workers’ Party of Korea and the people of Korea unanimously elected him their leader. When he visited Panmunjom, a fog descended to protect him from South Korean snipers, but when he was out of danger, the mist dramatically listed and glorious sunlight shone all around him. . . You get the idea.

Now, how did it come about that a socialist republic established by a Marxist-Leninist party in 1948 came under the spell of this state religion and its peculiar mythology? Some might say that Marxism-Leninism is itself a religion, but they misapply the term. “Religion” proper doesn’t refer to just any ideology or thought system, but only to those that posit supernatural phenomena such as life after death, miracles and the existence of deities. Marxism as a variant of philosophical materialism explicitly rejects such phenomena. Some socialist societies have surely produced personality cults, distorted or fabricated histories, dogmatism and fanaticism. And of course when a leader dies, the party has said, “He will always be with us” in a metaphorical sense. The Soviets early on adopted the custom of embalming revolutionary leaders, and the Chinese, Vietnamese and Koreans have followed suite. But what we see in the DPRK is more than a personality cult. It seems to me more akin to the State Shinto imposed on the Korean peninsula by the Japanese imperialists after 1905.

State Shinto, itself developed after 1868 in specific emulation of European state churches, emphasized the divine origins of the Japanese emperors, descended in an unbroken family line from the establishment of the Empire by Jinmu, great-great-grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu. State Shinto emphasized the kokutai or “national essence,” the unbreakable unity of the Japanese islands (born from the bodies of the kami or gods), the Japanese people, their divine emperor, and all the kami with the Sun Goddess at their head. It was a vague concept that boiled down to obedience to state authority and to that solar disk national flag. (We find this sun worship meme in Kim Il-songism too. The DPRK Constitution states, “The great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung is the sun of the nation and the lodestar of the reunification of the fatherland.” A monumental artwork called “the Figure of the Sun” erected to mark the 100-day memorial service for Kim in 1994, adorns a hill overlooking Pyongyang.)

The Meiji-era reformers who created Japan’s state religion were well-educated men who probably didn’t believe the mythology literally, but thought it would allow for the effective control of the indoctrinated masses. It did in fact work fairly well, up until Japan’s crushing defeat in 1945. The U.S. Occupation then abolished it (leaving “folk Shinto” as opposed to State Shinto alone), and forced Emperor Hirohito to publicly renounce any claim to divinity. He could have been tried for war crimes; the Allies could have ended the myth-shrouded monarchy right then. But the U.S. Occupation authorities found the residual aura of sanctity surrounding the office useful. Hirohito was, to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the “queen bee” whose cooperation would ensure mass compliance with Occupation objectives. The emperor remains a sacerdotal figure, the High Priest of the Shinto faith, enthroned in a religious ceremony, offering prayers on behalf of the nation to the gods.

Growing up under Japanese occupation, Kim Il-song could have observed the usages of a state religion in the service of a hereditary monarchy linked to Heaven. Maybe these observations subconsciously affected the evolution of his thinking. Once in power in North Korea, from 1945, he increasingly built a personality cult, initially modeled after Stalin’s but by the 1970s plainly monarchical in nature. It integrated Confucian values of filial piety and obedience, and glorified the entire family of the Great Leader, including especially the crown prince Jong-il.

Tens of thousands of “research rooms” have been constructed throughout the country, which persons are required to visit at regular intervals, bowing to the portraits of the two Kims the way that all Japanese (and colonized Koreans and Taiwanese) used to have to bow to the Japanese emperor’s portrait.

As Hwang Jang Yop, once International Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, has written, “Kim Jong Il went to great lengths to create the Kim Il Sung personality cult, and Kim Il Sung led the efforts to turn Kim Jong Il into a god.” (It is perhaps not surprising that the Great Leader warmly welcomed the Rev. Billy Graham to Pyongyang in 1992 and 1994, where he preached his brand of Christianity in Protestant and Catholic churches and at Kim Il-song University. Kim was no doubt appreciative of the power of religion, having created his own.)

The Chinese communists (when they were communists) referred poetically to “heaven,” as in the 1970s expression “There is great disorder under heaven, the situation is excellent.” Chinese Confucianism and Daoism both allude to Heaven (Tian) in the sense of a moral cosmic order that confers its mandate on successive dynasties of Chinese rulers. The word occurs in Chinese literature in so many contexts that it’s natural for Chinese Marxists to use it metaphorically. But Kim Il-song chose “believing in the people as in heaven” as his motto, implying perhaps that one should believe in both; and wrote a poem on the occasion of his beloved son’s 50th birthday: “Heaven and earth shake with the resounding cheers of all the people united in praising him.” He really seems to have wanted the people to believe in a celestial realm conferring its mandate on his dynasty.

In a Tungusic myth, the ancient Korean nation of Choson was founded by the son of a bear who had been transformed into a woman by Hwanung, ruler of a divine city on Mt. Paektu, and a tiger. I’ve read that this myth has been reworked to suggest to North Korean school children that the Kims came down from heaven to the top of the sacred mountain, where they were transformed into human beings. (There may be some shared memes with Shinto here. In the Japanese myth, the grandson of the Sun Goddess descends to earth, to a mountain peak in Kyushu, marries the daughter of an earthly deity, loses his immortality, and begets two sons one of whom sires the first emperor, Jinmu, by a sea princess who turns out to be a dragon. The Japanese imperial family also came down from heaven, and became human.) Heaven clearly plays a role in Kim Il-songism as it did in State Shinto.

Where does Marxism-Leninism fit in here? According to one report, while there are portraits of the Great and Dear Leaders all over Pyongyang, “there are only two public pictures in Pyongyang of people who do not belong to the Kim family–in the main square are two smallish images, one of Marx and one of Lenin.”

That suggests at least some small formal deference to the communist pioneers. But the Dear Leader stated in a major speech in 1990:

“We could not literally accept the Marxist theory which had been advanced on the premises of the socio-historic conditions of the developed European capitalist countries, or the Leninist theory presented in the situation of Russia where capitalism was developed to the second grade. We had had to find a solution to every problem arising in the revolution from the standpoint of Juche.”

This is the supposedly brilliant idea of “self-reliance” or as the Great Leader put it, the principle that “man is the master of everything and decides everything.” (The “standpoint” of course sounds rather trite and vague at worst, while not overtly religious. But born out of Kim’s brain supposedly when he was only 18 years old, it is the faith of the masses and the ideological basis for the state—rather like kokutai in prewar and wartime Japan.) The DPRK’s new (1998) Constitution omits any reference to Marxism-Leninism whatsoever. Rather the document “embodies Comrade Kim Il-song’s Juche state construction ideology.”

Still, those portraits of Marx and Lenin are there in Pyongyang. DPRK propaganda continues to describe the late Kim as “a thoroughgoing Marxist-Leninist.” Juche is described as a “creative application of Marxism-Leninism.” The Korean Workers’ Party continues to cultivate ties with more traditional, perhaps more “legitimate,” Marxist-Leninist parties including the (Maoist) Communist Party of the Philippines.

Some material by Marx, Engels and Lenin circulates in North Korea, and the Marxist dictum, “Religion is the opium of the masses” is universally known. But according to a Russian study in 1995, “the works by Marx, Engels, and Lenin are not only excluded from the standard [school] curriculum, but are generally forbidden for lay readers. Almost all the classical works of Marxism-Leninism, as well as foreign works on the Marxist (that is, other than [Juche]) philosophy are kept in special depositories, along with other kinds of subversive literature. Such works are accessible only to specialists with special permits.” (One thinks of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages restricting Bible reading to the trusted clergy, and discouraging it among the masses.)

I imagine some with those special permits are able to read Marx’s famous 1844 essay in which the “opium of the masses” phrase occurs:

“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.”

Maybe the rare North Korean student of Marxism, acquiring some real understanding of the Marxist view of religion, can see all around him or her conditions which require mass illusions and delusions in order to continue. There are some signs of resistance here and there to the Kim cult, which would seem to be a good thing.

Having said that (and always trying to think dialectically), I don’t believe that life in the DPRK is quite the hell—another religious concept—that the mainstream media would have us believe it is. One should try to look at things in perspective. We hear much of the terrible famine that lasted from about 1995 to 2001, killing hundreds of thousands if not millions. But North Korea was not always a disaster. As of 1980, infant mortality in the north was lower than in the south, life expectancy was higher, and per capita energy usage was actually double that in the south (Boston Globe, Dec. 31, 2003). Even after the famine and accompanying problems, a visitor to Pyongyang in 2002 declared:

“Housing in Pyongyang is of surprising quality. In the past 30 years–and mostly in the past 20–hundreds of huge apartment houses have been built. Pyongyang is a city of high-rises, with probably the highest average building height of any city in the world. Although the quality is below that of the West, it is far above that found in the former Soviet Union. Buildings are finished and painted and there is at least a pretense of maintenance; even older buildings do not look neglected. Nothing looks as though it is on the verge of falling down. . .

“Although a bit dreary, the shops in Pyongyang are far from empty. Each apartment building has some sort of shop on the main floor, and food shops can usually be found within one or two buildings from any given home. Apart from these basic, Soviet-style shops, there are a few department stores carrying a wide range of goods. . . “While not snappy dressers, North Koreans are certainly clean and tidy, and exceptionally well dressed. . . There is no shortage of clothing, and clothing stores and fabric shops are open daily.”

There’s apparently one hotel disco and some karaoke bars in Pyongyang. No doubt Kim Il-songism can provide some with the “illusory happiness” about which Marx wrote, and it is possible that genuine popular feelings as well as feelings orchestrated from above have contributed to the production of the North Korean faith. The DPRK might not be all distress and oppression. But neither is it a socialist society in any sense Marx or Lenin would have recognized, to say nothing of a classless, communist society. It is among other things a religious society in a world where nations led by religious nuts are facing off, some seemingly hell-bent on producing a prophesized apocalypse. I find no cause for either comfort or particular alarm in the Dear Leader’s October 9 nuclear blast; if it deters a U.S. attack it’s achieved its purpose, and however bizarre Jong-il may be he’s probably not crazy enough to provoke his nation’s destruction by an attack on the U.S. or Japan. I’m more concerned that Bush will do something stupid in response to the test.

In any case, the confrontation here isn’t between “freedom” and “one of the world’s last communist regimes,” nor even between fundamentalist Christian Bush and Kim Il-songist Kim Jong-il. It’s between a weird hermetic regime under threat and determined to survive in its small space, using a cult to control its people, and a weird much more dangerous regime under the delusion that God wants it to smite His enemies and to control the whole world. Both are in the business of peddling “illusions of happiness.” Neither is much concerned about the “real happiness” of people. Both ought to be changed—by those they oppress, demanding an end to conditions requiring illusions.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion.