Self Reliance Illustrated Premiere Issue

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Furthermore his personal beliefs and experience presented nationalist ideals combined with Communist policies that were attractive to both the Korean population and the Soviet command. The fact that they were able to do this and continue to do so is one of the successes of Juche and the Kim regime it legitimizes. Kim Il Sung was able to harness the same mix of Juche style tactics that were examined above, to out-manoeuvre his political opponents and begin the process of creating and sustaining the Kim dynasty.

From its beginnings at this time to a marginal minority party, the NKWP in less than 3 years rose to become a mass movement and the official Communist party of not just the North but the whole of the Korean peninsula, which dominated fledgling North Korea politics above its increasingly ineffectual coalition partners. Kim Il Sung, having used similar tactics to those that had served him well as a guerrilla fighter, and with ceaseless self-promotion as the leading nationalist force, was now the undisputed party leader. These social reforms included land reform which redistributed agricultural land from colonial landlords and collaborators to those who actually worked it.

At a stroke North Korean industry was nationalized and Labour and Equality Laws were quickly enacted. These reforms meant that a huge majority of the population had some reason to be thankful for the work of Kim Il Sung and his colleagues. From its inception and even before the DPRK was being made ready to survive in a hostile environment, its high level of militarization was a reaction to the circumstances with which Pyongyang was faced — the ideological enemy to the South.

From a political point of view Kim Il Sung has often been portrayed as a Soviet puppet, and Juche as not new or even a stand-alone ideology, evidence for this point of view was clear in these early years of the DPRK. The constitution, enacted as the new state was proclaimed could clearly be viewed as the work of the USSR. However, while this is undoubtedly true the conclusion that some commentators have made; that this proves North Korea is no more than a puppet state, overlooks the regime priorities and pragmatic nature of Kim Il Sung and his colleagues at this crucial time.

The most important aim was to promote loyalty to the regime among the masses, in order to ensure internal stability in what were to be difficult and uncertain times for the DPRK. This created the legitimacy which would later allow Kim Il Sung and Juche to mould the North Korean state, as circumstances and needs changed, almost at will. The population rallied around Kim Il Sung as his personality cult intensified and embraced the economic policies he promoted to raise economic activity from the ashes.

This success provided the DPRK with a firm basis for limited autonomy within the Communist world, at this time Juche was without doubt achieving its aims. The emphasis … would be placed upon heavy industry and production related to defence. They were also used to give a sense of responsibility to workers and give even the most lowly operative a stake in the management of their factory or farm; echoing the union of top-down and bottom-up management that had helped bring the DPRK into existence.

In the eyes of the regime economic reform and liberalisation would lead to an unacceptable loss of sovereignty and dominance from external Global economic factors and trends. In this way we can see the power of Juche to influence the DPRK to follow what from the outside seems to be a path towards eventual collapse. The three-year economic plan completed in brought early successes in post-Korean War reconstruction.

In the economic sphere Juche and the Chollima movement worked hand in hand to inspire workers to ever greater exertions in the name of Kim Il Sung. In industry the main tool was the Taean management system. The first seven year plan began in but had to be extended as a result of greater demand for military resources. Agriculturally, as we have seen, North Korea was at a disadvantage from the outset. Despite its dependency on the South for food, agriculture was of significant importance to the regime, as has been mentioned previously Korea remained a peasant based society.

As a result land reform re-distributing farms from landowners to those who worked the land, had been one of the first laws enshrined after liberation.

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It was unsurprisingly greatly popular among the general population and provided twin benefits to the Kim Il Sung regime. Both the importance of peasant support and the differences between North Korea and other Communist states of this time were shown by the efforts made by the regime to make this change consensual through inducements rather than force. Kim Il Sung and his colleagues recognized that their desire for independence of state action depended on a solid and devoted base of support at home and most significantly among North Korean peasants.


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  6. Similarly to industry, farming has become increasingly intensive and fertilizer dependent; combined with this the growing need to create new agricultural land has led to the development of areas that are of only marginal suitability for farming. As mentioned above the Juche ideology worked hand in hand with Chollima — a rallying call for all members of the DPRK to push themselves to achieve ever greater results for the state, or more accurately, the regime. The population has been repeatedly called upon to sacrifice themselves for the good of the state. Chollima and Juche have been manipulated to affect every aspect of North Korean life.

    Whether this is a result of fear of capture by the security forces or wearied acceptance of the proclamations still being made over 50 years after the initiatives introduction, remains unclear. Although the Kim regime has demonstrated impressive autonomy of action within the Communist world, it has never been genuinely self-sufficient.

    Despite this current dependence on China, during the period when there was more than one state willing to offer assistance, the DPRK proved remarkably adept at playing these two rivals off against one another to achieve a level of independence which was unparalleled among Communist states of similar size. The Sino-Soviet split, as well as providing an opportunity for the DPRK to engineer increased independence from its Communist allies, also convinced Kim Il Sung of the need to seek allies elsewhere, and to do so on Korean terms, by spreading the word of Juche to other countries.

    The motivation for this investment was competition with the South, in this case with regard to their battle for legitimacy in the eyes of the International Community, legitimacy that Juche could not provide, its strong cultural and traditionalist aspects limiting its effectiveness to internal and indigenous legitimacy. Many on the international stage believed that the death of the Suryong Kim Il Sung in would herald the collapse of the Juche regime in North Korea. As we have seen previously Kim Il Sung was able to legitimately claim his exalted position as Father of the Nation, through a combination of his Guerrilla experiences in Manchuria, popular policies and Soviet backing.

    In fact the contrast between the two men and their leadership styles is stark: His son is a small man with no military record and an aversion to making public appearances or speeches. This ensured that Kim Jong Il would be revered by the population. Despite his apparent lack of merit Confucian traditions meant that there was no one else on whom KIS could rely on to continue the path of Juche to such an extent than his own son. Furthermore, for the same reason there could be no one else whom the North Korean people would trust as implicitly to step into the shoes of the Suryong.

    The mythical version is no doubt thought of as just that by the Korean People, although their traditions dictate they will value the story despite or in part because of its mythical nature. Despite this control in Confucian tradition Kim Jong Il did not ascend to the highest role, General Secretary [79] until an appropriate mourning period of 3 years had been observed.

    What may have been interpreted from the outside as a power vacuum, was in fact the expected protocol within the unique Korean system. From the DPRK suffered 9 years of negative growth, reducing what had seemed like a model of Socialist management to an internationally recognised catastrophe. Compounding this was years of famine that, although estimates vary, may have killed up to two million North Koreans. This modern aid dependency has led to Kim Jong Il being portrayed as a beggar on the international stage, desperate to grab what he can to help the DPRK survive.

    However, it is incorrect to say that the regime has made no effort to help itself, just that those efforts which have been made have been failures or largely inconsequential. State directed reforms have led to attempts to obtain financial assistance from the international community through loans. These efforts failed as it became obvious that North Korea was unable to make repayments.

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    Also Special Economic Zones were established to attract foreign investment, however a combination of poor management and state interference, meant any initial enthusiasm for the projects was short-lived. Most significantly, the 1 st of July measures of were heralded as a new beginning for the State, bringing in Capitalist elements to the system for the first time, and releasing the central grip on power to devolve decision making to a regional level, at least to a certain extent. Even before these well publicised reforms, North Korean society had been forced to change to survive, the Constitution recognized the fact of already existing farmers markets which had sprung up from a grass roots level.

    These endeavours on the part of North Koreans at a local level, demonstrate that the conditions which allowed Communism to flourish initially have not been eroded by the centralisation of the DPRK economy. The regime has essentially done little more than acted to shore up its position of stability as the unrivalled power centre of the state, continuing to put its faith in Juche to provide the necessary legitimacy.

    Kim Il Sung had maintained a system in which the military hierarchy was second to civilian authority, Kim Jong Il promoted the National Defence Council of which he is chairman to the position of primary authority within the regime. This move simultaneously increased hardship for those not involved in the military, and pushed civilian industry to the back of the queue when raw materials and inputs were being distributed for manufacturing purposes. Instead it has merely been reinterpreted by the regime in order to legitimize both economic and political reforms.

    The demise of the Kim regime has been repeatedly predicted or expected yet the DPRK remains largely unchanged. Where previously there was dependency on allies there is now an aid dependency. More and more North Koreans are taking the risky journey needed to defect to the South, yet despite these changes the Kim regime still appears to have full and total control over the State. What is more they have managed to develop an insurance policy of nuclear weapons to guard against outside aggression.

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    However as circumstances have changed to create more and more difficult circumstances for North Koreans, this faith has been gradually eroded and coercion along with pragmatic flexibility toward illegal markets and bribery of officials has by necessity increased. Externally, the skilful diplomacy we can witness today as the DPRK continues to outmanoeuvre its enemies over the nuclear issue, and more recently the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan has been well practised over decades.


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    4. Furthermore the Sino-Soviet dispute gave the opportunity to extract maximum assistance from its two closest and largest allies. So, what we can see today as the continued survival of the state and regime, is simply a different mix of the tools of governance that the DPRK has always used. Juche although still important is less effective, and has therefore been supplemented by a larger amount of those less ideological methods that had previously remained in the background.

      Whether this capitalist black market economy is allowed to gradually emerge from the shadows will be a key signifier of the path the future regime wishes to take. This makes sense from a Juche point of view and will accord well with the traditions of the people. However, it remains to be seen whether the erosion of the ideology under Kim Jong Il will affect the transition to a new leader.

      Furthermore, Kim Jong Un seems to have little experience of operating within the regime. We are unaware at this time of any official post he has held, and this will undoubtedly make it more difficult for him to command the respect of the regime hierarchy, and has put Korea watchers on the alert to the possibility of regime implosion or opening once again.

      At this point in time it seems impossible to view the DPRK itself as a success, however our purpose here is not to judge the DPRK itself, but merely the ideology the Kim regime has employed, Juche. When making this judgement it would be foolish to view only a single snapshot of the state.