North Korea, what is all about - The Political Philosophy of Juche + "Friends of Kim" Documentary
The political philosophy known as juche became the official autarkic state ideology of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1972.1 Although foreign scholars often describe juche as “self-reliance,” the true meaning of the term is much more nuanced. Kim Il Sung explained: ".. Establishing juche means, in a nutshell, being the master of revolution and reconstruction in one’s own country. This means holding fast to an independent position, rejecting dependence on others, using one’s own brains, believing in one’s own strength, displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance, and thus solving one’s own problems for oneself on one’s own responsibility under all circumstances".
Key Components of the Juche Ideology
The governing principles of juche were clearly expressed by Kim Il Sung in a speech entitled “Let Us Defend the Revolutionary Spirit of Independence, Self-Reliance, and Self-defense More Thoroughly in All Fields of State Activities,” which he delivered to the Supreme People’s Assembly on December 16, 1967.4 In it, he declared that
…the Government of the Republic will implement with all consistency the line of independence, self-sustenance, and self-defense to consolidate the political independence of the country (chaju), build up more solidly the foundations of an independent national economy capable of insuring the complete unification, independence, and prosperity of our nation (charip) and increasing the country’s defense capabilities, so as to safeguard the security of the fatherland reliably by our own force (chawi), by splendidly embodying our Party’s idea of juche in all fields...
Domestic and Foreign Independence
The principle of political independence is one of the central tenets of juche ideology. With respect to international relations, the principles of juche stress complete equality and mutual respect among nations. Furthermore, juche ideology asserts that every state has the right of self-determination in order to secure the happiness and prosperity of its people as it best sees fit. These political tenets – equal sovereignty and nonintervention – would satisfy the fierce desire for respect and security of a small and weak ationstate such as North Korea.
In practice, this political stance has caused North Korea to truly become a hermit kingdom because of the huge stigma juche places upon cooperation with outside powers. According to juche as interpreted by the DPRK, yielding to foreign pressure or tolerating foreign intervention would make it impossible to maintain chaju, or the defense of national independence and sovereignty. This in turn would threaten the nation’s ability to defend the interests of the people, since political independence is seen as being absolutely critical for economic selfsustenance and military self-defense. Kim Jong Il predicted that dependence on foreign powers would lead to the failure of the socialist revolution in Korea.
Among countries that he considered socialist peers, such as China, the USSR, Cuba and several African countries, Kim Il Sung urged cooperation and stressed the need for mutual support and limited dependence. However, while acknowledging that it was important to learn from the examples of other socialist countries, Kim Il Sung was highly sensitive to the problems of flunkeyism towards Moscow and Beijing and the inevitable Marxist-Leninist dogmatism that he abhorred during his guerrilla days. In constructing the socialist revolution in North Korea, he warned that the North Koreans must “…resolutely repudiate the tendency to swallow things of others undigested or imitate them mechanically.”
Furthermore, he claimed that his regime’s “success” was credited to the independent manner in which all problems were solved, conforming Marxist-Leninist principles to the specific conditions of North Korea without altering their fundamental substance. Domestically, Kim asserted that it was imperative to build internal political forces to ensure chaju. The pivotal factor in the success of achieving chaju would be the extent to which the people rallied around the party and the leader Kim Il Sung, and later Kim Jong Il himself. This insistence on internal unity of support, stemming perhaps from the elder Kim’s disgust with internal factionalism before the Korean War, conveniently helped to justify his consolidation of personal power.
An independent and self-sufficient national economy is necessary both in order to secure political integrity and to achieve national prosperity. Charip – economic independence – is seen as the material basis for chaju, or political independence. Kim Il Sung feared that economic dependence on foreign aid would render the state a political satellite of other countries. He believed that it would be impossible to successfully build a socialist republic without the material and technical foundations that would come from an independent national economy. This economy would consist of a powerful base of heavy industry with the machine-building industry at its core, which would equip light industry, agriculture, transport, and all other branches of the economy.
Independent food production was seen as being of particular significance because successful farming would provide the people with stabilized living conditions and means to independently support themselves. Just as important to the survival and independence of the national economy was the establishment of reliable and independent sources of raw materials and fuel. Extensive modernization of the economy and training for technically-minded cadres were considered indispensable for the construction of an independent national economy as well.
Kim Il Sung was careful to maintain that building an independent national economy on juche principles of self-reliance was not synonymous with building an isolated economy. Looking at the size of American aid to South Korea, which equaled its fledgling economy’s gross domestic product during the immediate post-war years, Kim Il Sung recognized that North Korea would not be able to survive without significant aid from its communist sponsors. Thus, he encouraged close economic and technical cooperation between socialist countries and newly-emerging nations as an aid in economic development and ideological unity.
Origins of the Juche Philosophy
There are three major schools of thought regarding the origins of the juche ideology. The first of these is the instrumental perspective, which emphasizes domestic and international relations factors. The second perspective focuses on the influence of traditional Korean politics. The last viewpoint considers juche to be original political thought stemming directly from the life experiences of Kim Il Sung.
The instrumentalist viewpoint focuses on both domestic and foreign political factors as the root of the juche ideology. Some scholars believe that Kim’s unstable power during and immediately following the Korean War caused him to deploy ideological purges in order to consolidate his political position, using the juche principle of national solidarity as a domestic instrument of personal cult-building.
Traditional Political Culture
The second perspective is more long-term and focuses on the influence of traditional political culture in Korea. The scholars in this second camp argue that juche is a reflection of a centuries-old tradition of independence from foreign powers. Strategically located at a peninsular tip of the East Asian continent, Korea has long been a pawn of contention between its two powerful neighbors, China and Japan. From the earliest recorded history, the Korean people have fought fiercely to maintain their independence in the face of multiple invasions by Mongols, Manchurians, Han Chinese and Japanese pirates and samurais. The sum total of these invasions may qualify Korea as the most oft-invaded territory in the world.
The third viewpoint is the North Koreans’ view of juche as a prime example of their late Supreme Leader’s brilliance and originality. This last group insists that juche was the intellectual result of Kim Il Sung’s highly exaggerated and romanticized personal experience as a guerrilla fighting against the Japanese in the 1930s. This immediate attribution of juche to Kim Il Sung’s personal history is emphasized by his son and heir Kim Jong Il in his book On the Juche Idea. He argues that his father “put forward a juche-oriented line for the Korean revolution” and that “…this was a historical event which heralded the creation of the juche idea and the birth of the juche-oriented revolutionary line.”22 Kim Il Sung himself had at times maintained that the juche ideology grew out of two major frustrations he felt with the Korean revolution during the anti-Japanese struggle: first, the revolutionary vanguard had lost contact with the proletarian masses and were waging a theoretical battle without mass support; and second, that “flunkeyism” – seeking Moscow’s favor – and factionalism were corrupting the revolution from the inside.
Philosophical Underpinnings of Juche Ideology
The juche idea is a Weltanschauung, or world view, that affirms the penultimate value of man’s interests. According to juche ideology, man has ultimate control over the world and of his own destiny because he alone has chajusong, or creativity and consciousness. Adherents to the juche philosophy claim that this viewpoint of man as dominating and reshaping the world is a unique contribution of juche ideology to the body of philosophical knowledge. Despite this claim to originality, there is nothing particularly revolutionary or novel in the tenets of the juche philosophy. Kim Il Sung’s policy stances on subjects such as the class struggle, the idea of the mass line, the role of the single great leader in history and the importance of belief in one’s own capabilities were all drawn primarily from Chinese and Eastern European thought. Kim Il Sung’s genius lay in his ability to fuse these elements together to capitalize on the North Korean drive for independence.
Debt to Maoist Thought
Kim’s early knowledge of communism came from the Chinese communist guerrilla army with which he trained from 1935 to 1941. During this time, he was tutored and influenced by Wei Zhengmin, a superior Chinese political officer in his guerrilla group. While Kim never acknowledged the extent of his subordination to and affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party, many scholars contend that Kim was a member of the CCP.24 By the end of the Korean War, Chinese influence in North Korea had overtaken that of the Soviet Union. Kim closely followed Mao Zedong’s political thought and action, which heavily influenced the development of the DPRK’s political institutions in the late 1940s and 1950s. One example of this emulation was the North Korean strategy of Chollima Undong, which was inspired by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward movement of 1958-1960.25 The multi-year economic plans, stress upon rural self-sufficiency and nationalistic and revolutionary fervor that inspired the Great Leap Forward are all characteristics of the juche ideology of economic self-sufficiency. Kim’s assertion that
Friends of Kim - Documentary 2/8
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is highly reminiscent of the Yan’an era of the CCP, during which a belief in the power of the will to overcome seemingly impossible barriers was permanently embedded into Maoist thought.26; 27 The underlying principle of the juche ideology is the faithful application of Marxism- Leninism in a case-specific manner that would best suit the history, political conditions and current realities of the country. This theory of different means to the penultimate goal of communism was first stressed by Mao Zedong, especially during the rectification campaign of 1942-44 on the need to “sinify” Marxism- Leninism and halt the mechanical and dogmatic acceptance of the Soviet model as the “universal truth.”28; 29 Thus, the main tenet of Kim Il Sung’s thought can be directly attributed and traced to Mao.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, Kim Il Sung was never willing to publicly acknowledge his ideological debt to Mao, especially after the institutionalization of the juche ideology as North Korea’s sole political philosophy by the DPRK in the early 1960s. Following this formal linkage of the juche ideology with North Korean nationalism, the inferiority implications of acknowledging such a great debt to a foreign leader was probably insurmountable both for the consistency of the independent juche ideology and for Kim’s personal pride.
Friends of Kim - Documentary 3/8
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Korean and Confucian Roots
The juche ideology that is trumpeted by North Korea as Kim Il Sung’s ingenious and original contribution to the body of political philosophy is really drawn from a centuries-old tradition of Korean political thought. Kim himself has acknowledged that he drew the term and idea of juche from Korean scholars in the early twentieth century, who in turn drew inspiration from Confucian ideas dating back to the original state philosophy of independence espoused by Korean rulers. The tradition of strong nationalism among the Korean people coexisted with another tradition called sadaechuii, in which the Confucian palace officials and educated elite groups jockeyed for foreign support through sycophancy.31 Kim’s juche ideology may represent his reaction to the slave mentality of sadaechuii as well as an indebtedness to the original nationalistic strain of Korean political culture. Aside from its tremendous appeal to the deep traditional Korean antipathy towards foreign influence, juche serves to intensify the nationalism of the North Korean people, who are told that world civilization originated from the Korean peninsula.
Application to Society
Indoctrination in juche ideology was seen as the primary concern in the revolutionary struggle for chajusong and the subsequent construction of a socialist republic.33 Establishing a juche mindset meant the promotion of the attitude that the Korean people could solve all of their problems by their own talents and initiative. Cultivating a sense of national dignity and revolutionary pride was especially important, as evidenced by the great lengths to which cultural aspects of North Korean life such as music and entertainment were monopolized and dictated by the Party under Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung’s son and successor.
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