Korea, Democratic People’s Republic Of

   In 1948 the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) announced the creation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the northern section of the Korean peninsula, an area that had fallen into the hands of the Soviet Union in the chaos of the post–World War II period. The DPRK, led by revolutionary socialist and future “Great Leader” of the nation Kim Il Sung, initially espoused Marxism. The transition to Marxism of then North Korea began in 1945 when Moscow ceded the area in post-conflict negotiations, staffing the ruling Executive Committee of the Korean People with Soviet-trained Korean communists. In September 1948 the KWP pronounced the end of Soviet occupation and the start of the DPRK under President Kim Il Sung. When in 1950 the United States–held south of Korea declared itself autonomous from the DPRK, Kim Il Sung ordered a June invasion aimed at reunifying the country under the banner of Marxism. What resulted was a three-year civil war which cost over two million lives, caused economic devastation, and in the DPRK and Democratic Republic of Korea (DRK) created two ideologically irreconcilable countries that came to define the battle lines of the Cold War. An armistice signed in July 1953 ended the Korean War, and the KWP, its expansive urges contained by the arrangement, was able to concentrate on implementing its own creed of Marxism in the DPRK. A series of three, five, seven and ten-year Soviet-style industrialization plans was undertaken over the course of the next two decades, and, owing a great deal to the assistance of Moscow and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), economic growth was rapid at first. Agriculture went through a period of sustained collectivization, and the DPRK declared itself as officially atheist.
   While Marxism remained a key tenet of KWP thought, its ideological hegemony over the DPRK was gradually sidelined by the government’s adherence to “Juche.” Translating as “self-reliance,” Juche was originally formulated as a means with which to reassert the DPRK’s independence from those states seeking to bear influence on its course, chiefly the PRC and the Soviet Union. Routed in Kim Il Sung’s interpretation of Stalinism, Juche initially consisted of the twin assertions that the revolution belonged to the people, and that that people required guidance from a single strong leader. This definition was later transformed into an elongated physiological metaphor, as Kim Il Sung declared himself, the leader, as the brain that allowed the body, the masses, to function. Communication between brain and body was provided by the nervous system, handily the KWP. In reality, such verbose posturing was merely a method by which power could be massively centralized, allowing Kim Il Sung to create a classically Stalinist totalitarian system. Juche crossed into the economic sphere, too, decreeing that the DPRK become stringently self-sufficient, and demanding a reduction of reliance on foreign aid. Juche was, and remains, seminal to the North Korean concept of national solipsism, the idea that the entire world looks upon the DPRK as the center of the universe and the guiding light for the salvation of humanity. Juche came to dominate life in the DPRK, and Marxism inevitably played second fiddle as the 1970s progressed. Formal recognition of this came in 1977 when the constitution was amended to make Juche the official ideology of the state. Kim Il Sung remained in power until his death in 1994, having constructed a cult of personality rivaled previously only by that of Joseph Stalin. His son, Kim Jong Il, replaced him as leader, nepotism ensuring that the tight grasp on power of a minute clique has remained a constancy. The first decade of Kim Jong Il’s tenure has been characterized by tentative improvements in relations with the DRK, alleged human rights abuses, confusion as to the scale of the country’s nuclear weapons program, and inclusion in President George W. Bush’s much-vaunted “Axis of Evil.” The Soviet-style collectivization of agriculture now plays second fiddle to military investment, with current spending at 23 percent of GDP. Though the vast majority of industry remains in the hands of the state, professed commitment to Marxism has been all but eliminated.
   In its preference for a strongly centralist and anti-pluralist system guiding the masses toward a series of shared and nonmalleable goals, North Korean Marxism, where it exists and has existed, bears greatest resemblance to the corporatist model. Yet in the struggle between orthodox Marxism and the Korean nationalism of Juche, the latter won out convincingly, highlighting that early commitment to the former was merely rhetorical. Though KWP rule remains essentially Stalinist, this owes more to Juche than MarxismLeninism, such have local conditions diluted the ideological orthodoxy that existed in 1948.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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