THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA (DPRK, or North Korea) was liberated from Japanese colonial rule by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II (1939-45). When Kim Il Sung, born April 15, 1912, returned to North Korea from the Soviet Union where he and his guerrillas had been based from 1941-45, the Soviet occupation forces in the northern part of the country presented him to the North Korean people as a hero. In mid-1993 Kim Il Sung was general secretary of North Korea's ruling party and president of the state.
North Korea is a classic example of the "rule of man." Overall, political management is highly personalized and is based on loyalty to Kim Il Sung and the Korean Workers' Party (KWP). The cult of personality, the nepotism of the Kim family, and the strong influence of former anti-Japanese partisan veterans and military leaders are unique features of North Korean politics.
Kim Il Sung's eldest son Kim Jong Il, born February 16, 1942, is a secretary of the KWP Central Committee Secretariat and chairman of the National Defense Commission. On December 24, 1991, Kim Jong Il succeeded his father as commander of the Korean People's Army.
In addition, as of mid-1993, Kim Il Sung's wife, Kim Song-ae, was a member of the KWP Central Committee, a member of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, a deputy to the assembly, and chairwoman of the Korean Democratic Women's Union Central Committee. Kim Il Sung's daughter, Kim Kyong-hui, was a member of the KWP Central Committee and deputy to the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), and his son-in-law, Chang Songtaek , was premier and a candidate member of the KWP Central Committee and deputy to the SPA. Kang Song-san, Kim Il Sung's cousin by marriage, was premier and a member of the KWP Central Committee and Political Bureau, deputy to the SPA, and member of the state Central People's Committee (CPC). The late Ho Tam, who died in 1991, was Kim Il Sung's brother-in-law, a member of the KWP Central Committee and Political Bureau, chairman of the SPA Foreign Affairs Committee, deputy to the SPA, and chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.
Although the Korean communist party dates from the 1920s, North Korea claims that the KWP was founded by Kim Il Sung in 1945. Since that time, North Korea has been under the one-party rule of the KWP. The party is by far North Korea's most politically significant entity; its preeminence in all spheres of society places it beyond the reach of dissent or disagreement. Party membership is composed of the "advanced fighters" among North Korea's working people: workers, peasants, and working intellectuals who struggle devotedly for the success of the socialist and communist cause. The KWP claimed a membership of "over three million" people in 1988. The ruling elite considers KWP members the major mobilizing and developmental cadres. In principle, every worker, peasant, soldier, and revolutionary element can join the party. Among KWP members, however, the military has a major political role, and all key military leaders have prestigious positions in top party organs.
The political system originally was patterned after the Soviet model. The party is guided by the concept of chuch'e --"national self-reliance" in all activities. The essence of chuch'e is to apply creatively the general principles of Marxism and Leninism in the North Korean way (woorisik-dero salja). Chuch'e is a response to past political economic dependence. As historian DaeSook Suh has noted, chuch'e is "not the philosophical exposition of an abstract idea; rather it is firmly rooted in the North Korean people and Kim Il Sung."
In the decades since the departure of Soviet occupation forces in 1948, and as the party leadership gradually has grown more confident in its management of various problems, the system has been somewhat modified in response to specific domestic circumstances. In April 1992, North Korea promulgated an amended constitution that deleted Marxism and Leninism as principal national ideas and emphasized chuch'e. The constitutional revisions also granted supreme military power to the chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Il Sung.
Another salient feature of the country's political system is glorification of Kim Il Sung's authority and cult of personality. Kim uses the party and the government to consolidate his power. He is addressed by many honorary titles: the "great leader," the son of the nation, national hero, liberator, and the fatherly leader. According to the party, there can be no greater honor or duty than being loyal to him "absolutely and unconditionally." Kim's executive power is not checked by any constitutional provision. The party's principal concern is to ensure strict popular compliance with the policies of Kim Il Sung and the party; such compliance implants an appearance of institutional imprimatur on Kim's highly personalized and absolute rule. Politics as a function of competition for power by aspiring groups and promotion of the interests of special groups is not germane to the North Korean setting.
Personalism centers on Kim Il Sung, but he has been gradually preparing Kim Jong Il as heir apparent since 1971. Between 1971 and 1980, Kim Jong Il was given positions of increasing importance in the KWP hierarchy. Since the Sixth Party Congress in October 1980, Kim Jong Il's succession has been consolidated with his phased assumption of control over the civil administration, followed by his designation as supreme commander of the Korean People's Army in December 1991.
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