| A Country Study: North Korea
POLITICAL IDEOLOGY: THE ROLE OF CHUCH'E
A flag of Kim Jong Il is displayed on a truck being driven through P'yongyang. Courtesy Tracy Woodward
Chuch'e ideology is the basic cornerstone of party construction, party works, and government operations. Chuch'e is sanctified as the essence of what has been officially called Kim Il Sung Chuui (Kim Il Sung-ism) since April 1974. Chuch'e is also claimed as "the present-day MarxismLeninism ." North Korean leaders advocate chuch'e ideology as the only correct guiding ideology in their ongoing revolutionary movement.
Chuch'e also is referred to as "the unitary ideology" or as "the monolithic ideology of the Party." It is inseparable from and, for all intents and purposes, synonymous with Kim Il Sung's leadership and was said to have been "created" or "fathered" by the great leader as an original "encyclopedic thought which provides a complete answer to any question that arises in the struggle for national liberation and class emancipation, in the building of socialism and communism." Chuch'e is viewed as the embodiment of revealed truth attesting to the wisdom of Kim's leadership as exemplified in countless speeches and "on-the-spot guidance."
Chuch'e was proclaimed in December 1955, when Kim underlined the critical need for a Korea-centered revolution rather than one designed to benefit, in his words, "another country." Chuch'e is designed to inspire national pride and identity and mold national consciousness into a potentially powerful focus for internal solidarity centered on Kim and the KWP.
According to Kim, chuch'e means "the independent stance of rejecting dependence on others and of using one's own powers, believing in one's own strength and displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance." Chuch'e is an ideology geared to address North Korea's contemporary goals--an independent foreign policy, a self-sufficient economy, and a self-reliant defense posture. Kim Il Sung's enunciation of chuch'e in 1955 was aimed at developing a monolithic and effective system of authority under his exclusive leadership. The invocation of chuch'e was a psychological tool with which to stigmatize the foreign-oriented dissenters and remove them from the center of power. Targeted for elimination were groups of pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese anti-Kim dissenters.
Chuch'e did not become a prominent ideology overnight. During the first ten years of North Korea's existence, MarxismLeninism was accepted unquestioningly as the only source of doctrinal authority. Nationalism was toned down in deference to the country's connections to the Soviet Union and China. In the mid-1950s, however, chuch'e was presented as a "creative" application of Marxism-Leninism. In his attempt to establish an interrelationship between Marxism-Leninism and chuch'e, Kim contended that although Marxism-Leninism was valid as the fundamental law of revolution, it needed an authoritative interpreter to define a new set of practical ideological guidelines appropriate to the revolutionary environment in North Korea.
Kim's practical ideology was given a test of relevancy throughout the mid-1960s. In the late 1950s, Kim was able to mobilize internal support when he purged pro-Soviet and proChinese dissenters from party ranks. During the first half of the 1960s, Kim faced an even more formidable challenge when he had to weather a series of tense situations that had potentially adverse implications for North Korea's economic development and national security. Among these were a sharp decrease in aid from the Soviet Union and China; discord between the Soviet Union and China and its disquieting implications for North Korea's confrontation with the United States and South Korea; P'yongyang's disagreements with Moscow and apprehensions about the reliability of the Soviet Union as an ally; and the rise of an authoritarian regime in Seoul under former General Park Chung Hee (1961-79).
These developments emphasized the need for self-reliance--the need to rely on domestic resources, heighten vigilance against possible external challenges, and strengthen domestic political solidarity. Sacrifice, austerity, unity, and patriotism became dominant themes in the party's efforts to instill in the people the importance of chuch'e and collective discipline. By the mid-1960s, however, North Korea could afford to relax somewhat; its strained relations with the Soviet Union had eased, as reflected in part by Moscow's decision to rush economic and military assistance to P'yongyang.
Beginning in mid-1965, chuch'e was presented as the essence of Kim Il Sung's leadership and of party lines and policies for every conceivable revolutionary situation. Kim's past leadership record was put forward as the "guide and compass" for the present and future and as a source of strength sufficient to propel the faithful through any adversity.
Nonetheless, the linkage of chuch'e to MarxismLeninism remains a creed of the party. The April 1972 issue of K lloja (The Worker) still referred to the KWP as "a Marxist-Leninist Party"; the journal pointed out that "the only valid policy for Korean Communists is Marxism-Leninism" and called for "its creative application to our realities."
Since 1974 it has become increasingly evident, however, that the emphasis is on the glorification of chuch'e as "the only scientific revolutionary thought representing our era of Juche and communist future and the most effective revolutionary theoretical structure that leads to the future of communist society along the surest shortcut." This new emphasis was based on the contention that a different historical era, with its unique sociopolitical circumstances, requires an appropriately unique revolutionary ideology. Accordingly, Marxism and Leninism were valid doctrines in their own times, but had outlived their usefulness in the era of chuch'e, which prophesies the downfall of imperialism and the worldwide victory of socialism and communism.
As the years have passed, references to Marxism-Leninism in party literature have steadily decreased. By 1980 the terms Marxism and Leninism had all but disappeared from the pages of K lloja. An unsigned article in the March 1980 K lloja proclaimed, "Within the Party none but the leader Kim Il Sung's revolutionary thought, the chuch'e ideology, prevails and there is no room for any hodgepodge thought contrary to it." The report Kim Il Sung presented to the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980 did not contain a single reference to Marxism-Leninism, in marked contrast to his report to the Fifth Party Congress in November 1970. In the 1980 report, Kim declared: "The whole party is rallied rock-firm around its Central Committee and knit together in ideology and purpose on the basis of the chuch'e idea. The Party has no room for any other idea than the chuch'e idea, and no force can ever break its unity and cohesion based on this idea."
Chuch'e is instrumental in providing a consistent and unifying framework for commitment and action in the North Korean political arena. It offers an underpinning for the party's incessant demand for spartan austerity, sacrifice, discipline, and dedication. Since the mid-1970s, however, it appears that chuch'e has become glorified as an end in itself.
In his annual New Year's message on January 1, 1992, Kim Il Sung emphasized the invincibility of chuch'e ideology: "I take great pride in and highly appreciate the fact that our people have overcome the ordeals of history and displayed to the full the heroic mettle of the revolutionary people and the indomitable spirit of chuch'e Korea, firmly united behind the party . . . . No difficulty is insurmountable nor is any fortress impregnable for us when our party leads the people with the ever-victorious chuch'e-oriented strategy and tactics and when all the people turn out as one under the party's leadership."
Data as of June 1993
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