Kim's Disappointment Forces Juche Hand

[In the Shadow of the Sun]
Han Ki Hong, President, NKnet  |  2014-08-11 11:53

In May 2010 a call came into 111 Call Center, where the NIS, South Koreas state intelligence agency, accepts civilian reports of threats to national security. The caller asserted something very serious: that remnants of Minhyukdang, an underground pro-North Korea organization that had been active in the 1990s, had returned to their old ways.

Three years later, the report was found to be accurate. A serving National Assemblyman and former Minhyukdang cadre called Lee Seok Ki had, it was said, formed a new Revolutionary Organization. 130 members of this so-called RO had met at a location in Hapjeong-dong, Seoul during May 2013, a time of great inter-Korean tensions. There they had, the court would later acknowledge, discussed concrete means of fomenting unrest and overthrowing the South Korean state in the event of war. Seven men were convicted; appeals are ongoing.

The simple fact that this could take place in contemporary South Korea often comes as a surprise to Daily NK readers, most of whom have never been steeped in the Cold War milieu of the Korean Peninsula. Yet it is just the most recent in a long line of extraordinary tales of infiltration and espionage, as Zeitgeist Publishing House revealed in 2012 when it released Han Ki Hong's The Shadow of Progressivism". The book seized upon a moment in South Korean history, and was enormously successful. In this, the sixth part of an exclusive series of excerpts, Daily NK finds out why.

Kim Young Hwan came away with three conclusions from his 17-days in North Korea:

First, based on the heavy-handed manner in which superior officials all seemed to treat their subordinates, it was easy to surmise how authoritarian the place must be. 

Second, he saw no sign of the element of the Juche ideology that he found most significant: human creativity. Talking with North Korean scholars, he found they tended to repeat the same things, from which he inferred not that they weren't personally creative, but that they weren't permitted to research creatively. 

Third, there was no energy. The society felt dead; people had fixed expressions and everything felt dark. When he tried to talk to a person on the street in Pyongyang, he was stopped by his North Korean minder.

In sum, Kim's visit to North Korea was an unalloyed disappointment. 

Since his release from prison two years earlier in 1989, Kim had focused more on the North Korean environment and its supposed sense of humanity than on economic issues. During his earlier years at Seoul National University he had believed that per-capita GNP in both states was around $2000 USD, but ever since the Seoul Olympics of 1988 had been forced to accept that the North could no longer compete with the South economically. Nevertheless, Kim clung to the vague fantasy that even if the North Korean economy was lagging behind, they had the advantage in terms of environmental protection and humanity in society; compared with the zooming, hyper-competitive society of South Korea, how could it not be so? He firmly believed that Juche was the way forward: to overcoming the wealth gap and achieving reunification. He hoped it would serve as the wellspring of a new paradigm for the future.

Kim Young Hwan was shocked to find very little human warmth or creativity
among the people of North Korea. He soon worked out why. | Image: Destination Pyongyang

But instead, Kim went to North Korea and, entirely contrary to his rather hopeful imaginings, found absolutely no effort to protect the environment. Nor did he find many touches of humanity; with the exception of Yoon Taek Rim's family, no one showed him an ounce of human warmth. From the grim expressions of people on the street, it was plain for all to see that North Korea had not achieved societal harmony. Quite the opposite.

(Although communism stresses theoretical investigation, one of the other most important virtues of any revolutionary is a deep-seated humanity: calling each other "comrade" at all times and looking out for one another without any of the ruthlessness of capitalist relations. This same kind of brotherly affection is also important for fostering devotion to a cause. The life of an underground student activist and NDRP member was neither secure nor comfortable; nothing like the life of a white-collar worker drawing a monthly salary. If caught, severe hardships follow: to request such devotion and self-sacrifice required a great deal of humanity and brotherly support.)

In any case, even though Kim had seen communism in Eastern Europe collapse, he retained the hope that the Juche idea could be the way to overcome both the void left by Marxism and the alienation endemic to capitalism and rapid industrialization. But when he finally made it to North Korea, observed society and tried to engage its scholars in debate, he realized that, to the contrary, it would be the hardest place in the world to develop such philosophical ideas. He was sure there was potential in researching and advancing the Juche idea, but could see that academics in the North weren't going to be the ones to do it. Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il had both anti-imperialist theory and Juche at their disposal, and yet they had become nothing but dictators; oppressing their people, totally indifferent to theoretical nuance.

Kim now knew that the paradigm he dreamed of wasn't a good match for North Korea. He stood at a crossroads. If that were the case, he would have to either change his paradigm, or give up on North Korea completely. He concluded that he must develop the Juche ideology. The paradigm won. He determined to slowly move the NDRP away from pursuing communist revolution according to the North Korean model, and eventually disband it.

Hwang Jang Yop speaking at a party in 2008 for members of the Seoul-based North Korean
human rights community. Kim Young Hwan is on Hwang's left. | Image: Daily NK

• North Korean Juche and Hwang Jang Yop's Anthropocentric Philosophy

The term "Juche" first was used with a political meaning in a speech given by Kim Il Sung on December 28, 1955. Three years later in 1958, the same speech was incorporated into a book of Kims writings. 

However, the "Juche" Kim spoke of in the speech didn't have the meaning it would later take on in the term "Juche ideology" or "Juche idea." Rather, it just amounted to Kim urging independence from the burgeoning Sino-Soviet rivalry. Conversely, the first time "Juche" and "ideology" first appeared together as a single term was after the 4th Chosun Workers' Party Congress in 1961. At the time, Kim Il Sung laid out four policy strands for practical independence: in the areas of ideology, politics, the economy, and defense. This became the basis of the Juche ideology, and from this point on the term itself became standard in North Korean society.

The first time the Juche ideology became known outside North Korea was much later, in September 1972, when the Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun published a piece in which Kim Il Sung took a Q&A and offered the first definition of the "Juche Ideology" to an external audience. Kim alleged that Juche is the rather simple (albeit false) proposition that the people are the owners of the revolution and the ones building society, and that the strength to advance these goals also lies with the people. He went on to say that Juche is the idea that, "I am the owner of my own fate, and the strength to develop my fate also lies with me."

The scholar responsible for the philosophical system that underpinned Kim's claim was Hwang Jang Yop, the former dean of Kim Il Sung University. At the end of the 1960s, Hwang spent three years working on the foundations of his "anthropocentric philosophy," which defined the fundamental characteristics of human beings as independence, creativity, and social cooperation. From this basis, he formulated a systematic view of the world, social history, and life. Unfortunately, however, the fruits of his labors were received by the state and promptly given to the propaganda department with instructions to, in effect, take the important parts and rework them to justify the Suryeongist dictatorship then being built on the ground. 

Thus, today the "official" (North Korean state version) Juche ideology consists of philosophical principles, socio-historical principles, and abstract guiding principles; the core is the deification of Kim Il Sung and the theory behind the absolutist Suryeong dictatorship. Because of this, it reads overall as a jumbled assortment of Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat, Kimist Suryeong absolutism, and Hwang Jang Yop's original anthropocentric philosophy. Even though the three prescriptions are in no way compatible, the North Korean authorities cobbled them together and used them as such. Specifically, they used Suryeong absolutism with the North Korean people, and to those dissatisfied with Marxism they propagated elements of anthropocentric philosophy.

This amorphous, impenetrable "Juche ideology" spread widely on South Korean university campuses in the mid-80s, but there was no way of knowing that it was actually an incoherent melange of three ideologies. The person who realized that Hwangs anthropocentric philosophy was an independent philosophical idea within the wider construct was Kim Young Hwan. He was proved right in 1997, when Hwang defected to South Korea and attested to the development of the ideology and the changes it went through. 

Hwang went on to publish several formal works on his anthropocentric philosophy, objecting continuously at the official North Korean distortion of his ideas right up until his death in 2010.

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