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Korean Workers' Party (KWP)

North Korea is a communist state under the one-man leadership of Kim Jong Il, chairman of the National Defense Commission-the nation's "highest administrative authority," supreme commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA), and general secretary of the Korean Workers' Party (KWP). The National Defense Commission (chaired by Kim Jong Un) is a more powerful body than the Standing Committee of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers Party. In orthodox Marxism-Leninism, the Party retains control of the military. Kim Jong Un runs the party with few formal meetings.

The legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), meets only a few days per year to rubber-stamp resolutions presented by the party leadership. The KWP approves a list of Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) candidates who are elected without opposition, but some seats are held by approved minor parties.

The Korean Workers' Party (KWP) is North Korea's most politically significant entity. The philosophy underlying the relationship between the government and the party had not changed since independence. Government organs are regarded as executors of the general line and policies of the party. They are expected to implement the policies and directives of the party by mobilizing the masses. All government officials or functionaries are exhorted to behave as servants of the people, rather than as overbearing "bureaucrats." The persistence in party literature of admonitory themes against formalism strongly suggests that authoritarian bureaucratic behavior remains a major source of concern to the party leadership. This concern may explain in part the party's intensified efforts since the early 1970s to wage an ideological struggle against the bureaucratic work style of officials. The general trend is toward tightened party control and supervision of all organs of administrative and economic policy implementation.

The party is the formulator of national purpose, priorities, and administrative hierarchy. It is the central coordinator of administrative and economic activities at the national and local levels. Through its own organizational channels, which permeate all government and economic agencies, the party continues to oversee administrative operations and enforce state discipline. Without exception, key government positions are filled by party loyalists, most of whom are trained in the North Korean system, which emphasizes ideology and practical expertise.

The KWP claimed a membership of more than 3 million persons as of 1988, a significant increase from the 2 million members announced in 1976. North Korea's population was estimated in July 2006 at 23,113,019. The Korean Workers' Party has three constituencies: industrial workers, peasants, and intellectuals, that is, office workers. Since 1948 industrial workers have constituted the largest percentage of party members, followed by peasants and intellectuals. Beginning in the 1970s, when North Korea's population reached the 50 percent urban mark, the composition of the groups belonging to the party changed. More people working in state-owned enterprises became party members and the number of members working in agricultural cooperatives decreased.

The membership and organization of the KWP are specified in the party rules. There are two kinds of party members: regular and probationary. Membership is open to those eighteen years of age and older, but party membership is granted only to those who have demonstrated their qualifications; applications are submitted to a cell along with a proper endorsement from two party members of at least two years in good standing. The application is acted on by the plenary session of a cell; an affirmative decision is subject to ratification by a county-level party committee. A probationary period of one year is mandatory, but may be waived under certain unspecified "special circumstances." Recruitment is under the direction of the Organization and Guidance Department and its local branches. After the application is approved, an applicant must successfully complete a one-year probationary period before becoming a full party member.

When the Party Congress is not in session, the Central Committee acts as the official agent of the party, according to Article 14 of the party rules. As of September 1992, the KWP had 160 Central Committee members and 143 Central Committee alternate (candidate) members. The Central Committee meets at least once every six months. Article 24 of the party rules stipulates that the Central Committee elects the general secretary of the party, members of the Political Bureau Presidium (or the Standing Committee), members of the Political Bureau (or Politburo), secretaries, members of the Central Military Commission, and members of the Central Inspection Committee.

In January 1990, Kim Jong Il introduced the slogan "to serve the people" and directed party functionaries to mingle with the people and to devotedly work as faithful servants of the people. Kim said that the collapse of socialism in some countries is a stern lesson to North Korea and is related to failures in party building and party activity. He stressed the importance of reinforcing the party's ideological unity and cohesion, and elucidated tasks that would strengthen education in the principle of chuch'e, revolutionary traditional education, and socialist and patriotic education.

Despite Kim Il-sung’s highly personalized approach to running the DPRK, he formally involved the Party in decision-making and governance processes. In contrast, Kim Jong-il adopted a highly centralized, top-down leadership style that often relied on informal channels. He also moved his organizational base from the Workers’ Party of Korea to the National Defence Commission which became the leading state body after the 1992 revision of the Constitution (the first revision since 1972). In 1993, Kim Jong-il became chairman of the National Defence Commission.

Also established across North Korea are regional organizations, which provide a multi-layer governing apparatus, structured by a combination of horizontal and vertical dominant-subordinate relations. In other words, party committees at different levels abide by a strictly hierarchal structure vis-à-vis committees of higher and lower levels, and exercise absolute control over other agencies and civil organizations of equal status. This hierarchy gives efficiency to reinforcing party organizations, but at the same time creates inflexibility. Under the Central Committee are provincial, city, and county committees, while further down the ladder are primary and subprimary committees, sector committees, and party cells, which are the lowest substratum of the hierarchy. These party committees at each level are microscopic structures of the Central Committee, in which organizational management and absolute power are conducted. In general, the line of authority for each region is concentrated in the hands of the Chief Secretary of the local party committee. Therefore, in consideration of the WPK rules underscoring the importance of a single governing ideology, the superiority of the Party General Secretary, and control over party activities via the Organization and Guidance Department, it can be argued that the nature of WPK is that of a private party under the mandate of a supreme leader’s absolute authority.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 11:42:37 ZULU