Revolutionary View of the Leader
While Confucian principles have remained enmeshed in Korean culture, in the North they were in many ways instrumentalized by Kim Il-sung in the effort to consolidate his authority and that of the Workers’ Party of Korea under his control. The relationship between sovereign and subject that is enunciated as a mutually binding one under traditional Confucian precepts has been stretched to one of absolute obedience to the leader as articulated in the suryong, or Supreme Leader, system established by Kim Il-sung and carried on under Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un.
The “Mandate of Heaven”, a Confucian principle, is the right to rule granted to ancient Korean rulers by the gods. This mandate conveyed obligations on rulers to rule justly and fairly and for the benefit of all the people.
In 1949, Kim Il-sung secured his designation as Suryong, Supreme Leader. In order to eliminate any opposition to his rule, he established a system of governance built on an elaborate guiding ideology, a single mass party led by a single person, a centrally-planned economy, a monopoly on the means of communication, and a system of security that employed violence and a political police.
The Suryong system positioned Kim Il-sung (and his heir apparent) as unchallenged rulers due to their proclaimed wisdom and benevolence under which the general population would live in a prosperous and righteous society. In this way, the suryong system has facilitated the unchecked violation of human rights in the DPRK.
Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung are revered for their embodiment of national virtues, including "sobak ham," a Korean term that might be translated as "spontaneity" [The Obsessions of Kim Jong Il By B. R. MYERS, The New York Times, May 19, 2003]. Such spontaneity, especially a tendency to violence, is seen as one of the North's strengths. North Korean propaganda frequently depicts the hero in a fit of wild, sometimes suicidal, rage against the enemy. North Koreans tolerate high levels of violence in daily life.
The first phrase North Korean parents are instructed to teach to their children is "Thank you, Father Kim Il Sung". From birth to death, North Korean citizens are surrounded by the all-encompassing presence of the "Great Leader" and his son, the "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Il. The Kim dynasty is far more than an authoritarian government; it is presented as the ultimate source of power, virtue, spiritual wisdom, and truth for the North Korean people. Heterodoxy and dissent are repressed, quickly and efficiently, with punishments meted out to successive generations of the dissident's family.
Juche ideology consists of the philosophical theory, which maintains that the masses are the masters of history and revolution, and the guiding principle, or the "Revolutionary View of the Leader", which asserts that "nonetheless the masses are not able to take up spontaneously any revolutionary course unless they are organized into revolutionary forces and are led by the Suryong (the Leader)."
North Korea's goal of tight unity at home produced a remarkable organicism, unprecedented in any existing communist regime. Kim Il Sung was not just the "iron-willed, ever-victorious commander," the "respected and beloved Great Leader"; he also is the "head and heart" of the body politic (even "the supreme brain of the nation"!). The flavor of this politics can be demonstrated through quotations taken from KWP newspapers in the spring of 1981: "Kim Il Sung ... is the great father of our people....Long is the history of the word father being used as a word representing love and reverence ... expressing the unbreak-able blood ties between the people and the leader. Father. This familiar word represents our people's single heart of boundless respect and loyalty.... The love shown by the Great Leader for our people is the love of kinship. Our respected and beloved Leader is the tender-hearted father of all the people.... Love of paternity ... is the noblest ideological sentiment possessed only by our people. His heart is a traction power attracting the hearts of all people and a centripetal force uniting them as one.... Kim Il Sung is the great sun and great man ... thanks to this great heart, national independence is firmly guaranteed."
This type of language was especially strong when the succession of Kim Jong Il was publicly announced at the Sixth Party Congress in 1980. The KWP often is referred to as the "Mother" party, the mass line is said to provide "blood ties," the leader always is "fatherly," and the country is one big "family." Kim Il Sung is said to be paternal, devoted, and benevolent, and the people presumably respond with loyalty, obedience, and mutual love.
In the 1980s Kim Jong-il developed the concept of the "Revolutionary View of the Leader" into a more theoretical and systemized form by presenting the "Theory of the Immortal Socio-Political Body." It says that the Suryong, the Party, and the masses are integrated into an immortal socio-political body, the brain (center) of which is the Suryong, and that physical life, which is mortal, is given by the parents, but political life, which is immortal, is given by this socio-political body, and therefore, the masses are only required to obey unconditionally the brain of the body, which is the Suryong
"To expect victory in a revolution without a leader is as good as wishing for a flower where there is no sun" is a saying of leader Kim Jong Il that tells the central North Korean official belief that the victory of a revolution depends entirely on the correct leadership of an outstanding leader. In this view, it is simply a law of the nature that everything on the earth is alive and blossoms under the sun. Without the sun, any blossom can neither grow up nor bloom, and much the same is the fate of a revolution. The DPRK's ideology is that only under the wise leadership of a prominent leader, the broad sections of the people can awaken and organize themselves into a political force, take part in the revolutionary struggle and win victory. The North Korean regime preceeds from the premise that their revolution has proved the truth that the revolutionary cause of the working class can be pioneered and promoted victoriously only under the leadership of prominent leaders.
The term Wiedeahan Suryong ["Great Leader"] was introduced in the late 1940s and initially it was applied only to Stalin and Lenin, the two "great leaders" of communism. In 1952 Kim Il-sung was promoted to the rank of Wiedeahan Suryong as well. In the 1970s, as Kim Jong-il began to consolidate power, he was enigmatically called the "Party Center" - but eventually he acquired a title of his own: "chinaehanun chidoja" or "Dear Leader." After his father's death Kim Jong-il changed the first part of his official appellation, becoming "great" instead of "dear" -- but the second part remains the same: Kim Jong-il is "chidoja" or "ryongdoja" but never "suryong." The deceased Kim Il Sung, formerly Great Leader (widaehan, "great", yongdoja, "leader"), is now remembered in North Korea as widaehan suryong, "major chieftain, big boss."
The KWP has a special regulation protecting the images of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. All citizens are required by this regulation to protect from damage any likeness of the two Kim's. Beginning in the 1970's, the "10 Great Principles of Unique Ideology" directed that anyone who tore or otherwise defaced a newspaper photo of either of the two Kim's was a political criminal and punished as such. Defectors have reported families being punished because children had accidentally defaced photographs of one of the two Kim's. Families must display pictures of the two Kim's in their homes, and if local party officials found the family had neglected its photos, the punishment was to write self-criticism throughout an entire year.
Rodong Sinmun, in a signed article 31 August 1997, said that "The Korean people regard it as their most worthwhile life to uphold Secretary Kim Jong Il and live and work in perfect harmony with him... The Korean people absolutely worship, trust and follow the General as god. These noble ideological feelings are ascribable to the fact that they have keenly felt the greatness of the General from the bottom of their hearts. He is the great teacher who teaches them what the true life is, a father who provides them with the noblest political integrity and a tender-hearted benefactor who brings their worthwhile life into full bloom."
A commentary in Rodong Shinmun [Pyongyang], 4 December 2000 noted that "The Suryong (Leader), who leads the revolution in this era, should be a soldier-type leader. The Ryongdoja (Leader), to whom we entrust ourselves and the fate of our revolution and our nation, should be a great ideologist and concurrently an army soldier, and an outstanding politician and concurrently an army soldier..."
Chuch'e is the core of North Korean national solipsism. National solipsism expresses an omnipotent theme found in North Korean written materials: an assumption that Korea is the center of the world, radiating outward the rays of chuch'e, especially to Third World countries that are thought by the North Koreans to be ready for chuch'e. The world tends toward Korea, with all eyes on the Leader.
As Kim Jong Il himself noted, "Throughout the whole world I'm the object of criticism. But I think about it this way: if I'm talked about I'm going about things the right way." [in "Orient Express" by Konstantin Pulikovsky]
The presence of such an attitude is perhaps the most bizarre aspect of North Korea, but also one of the most noticeable. The model of ever-widening concentric circles -- at the center of which was Kim Il Sung, next his family, next the guerrillas who fought with him, and then the KWP elite -- is profoundly Korean and has characterized North Korea since 1946. This core circle controls everything at the top levels of the regime. The core moves outward and downward concentrically to encompass other elements of the population and provides the glue holding the system together. As the penumbra of workers and peasants is reached, trust gives way to control on a bureaucratic basis and to a mixture of normative and remunerative incentives.
Family background, in terms of political and ideological criteria, is extremely relevant to one's social status and standard of living. Sons and daughters of revolutionaries and those who died in the Korean War are favored for educational opportunities and advancement. For these children, a special elite school, the Mangyngdae Revolutionary Institute, was established near P'yongyang at the birthsite of Kim Il Sung. South Korean scholar Lee Mun Woong wrote that illegitimate children are also favored because they are raised entirely in state-run nurseries and schools and are not subject to the corruption of traditionally minded parents.
Conversely, the children and descendants of "exploiting class" parents--those who collaborated with the Japanese during the colonial era, opposed agricultural collectivization in the 1950s, or were associated with those who had fled to South Korea- -are discriminated against. They are considered "contaminated" by the bad influences of their parents and have to work harder to acquire reputable positions. Relatives of those who had fled to South Korea are especially looked down on and considered "bad elements." Persons with unfavorable political backgrounds are often denied admission to institutions of higher education, despite their intellectual qualifications.
The family remains the model for societal organization. An outer circle distinguishes the Korean from the foreign, a reflection of the extraordinary ethnic and linguistic unity of Koreans and Korea's history of exclusionism. Yet the circle keeps on expanding, as if to encompass foreigners under the mantle of Kim and his chuch'e idea.
P'yongyang has devoted considerable resources to organizing chuch'e study societies around the world and bringing foreign visitors to North Korea for national celebrations--for example, 4,000 persons were invited to attend Kim Il Sung's eightieth birthday celebrations.
The base of the Tower of the Juche Idea on the bank of the Taedong River includes a display of choice stones sent by prominent personages and adherents to the Juche idea of different countries. These stones were sent from different countries "in praise of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il who creditably succeeds to the revolutionary cause of Juche. The wall is adorned with 252 choice stones sent by 80-odd countries and international organizations. People of south Korea donated many stones including those inscribed with the letters "Juche idea guides the era of independence," "Rays brightening the world" and "Long live Comrade Kim Jong Il, great sun of guidance." A choice stone was also sent from China on the occasion of the 80th birthday of President Kim Il Sung and the 50th birthday of leader Kim Jong Il, which is inscribed with 80 Kimilsungia flowers and 50 Kimjongilia flowers and the letters "Long live the great Juche idea!" The stones from across the world reflect the world people's reverence for President Kim Il Sung."
Inter-Korean relations have not fullfilled the apparent promise of the June 2000 summit. Kim Jong Il has not made his reciprocal visit to South Korea promised at the time of the summit, which caused no small embarrassment and opposition criticism for Kim Dae Jung. But, given the assumption that North Korea is the center of the world, and that Kim Jong-Il is the center of North Korea, it made perfect sense for Kim Dae Jung to come to Pyongyang to meet Kim Jong-Il, and it would make no sense for Kim Jong-Il to go to South Korea.
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