GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Kim Il Sung, Great Leader, as depicted in a statue at the
Samjiyn Grand Monument, Lake Samji. The monument, unveiled in
May 1979, immortalizes the revolutionary exploits of Kim Il Sung
during the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle
THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA (DPRK, or North
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
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 (see Glossary).
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 (see Glossary)
--"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.
Data as of June 1993