Multifunctional Juche: A Study of the Changing Dynamic between Juche and the State Constitution in North Korea

(Vol.42. No.3 Autumn, 2002 pp.283~308)
Christopher Hale
This article will chart the evolution of Juche in North Korea, using the changing form of the state constitution as a gauge, in order to gain insight into the varying roles that Juche has played in the North. It will analyze Juche-related constitutional revisions and juxtapose them with actual historical events, and it will examine the quasi-religious features of Juche in its current form.
Keywords: Juche, North Korean reform, North Korean constitution, North Korean law, North Korean ideology, North Korean legal system, Kim
Types: Articles
Subject: Political Science , History
About the author(s) Christopher Hale is a graduate student of Law School at University of Chicago. He graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. While in Seoul he studied at Seoul National University's Graduate School of International and Area Studies and Kookmin University's Law Department. (E-mail: main@ekoreajournal.net)
Multifunctional Juche:A Study of the Changing Dynamic between Juche and the State Constitution in North Korea

Multifunctional Juche:

A Study of the Changing Dynamic between Juche and the State Constitution in North Korea


Christopher Hale




The goal of this article is to chart the evolution of Juche in North Korea, using the changing form of the state constitution as a gauge, in order to gain insight into the varying roles that Juche has played in the North. An examination of the revisions that have been made to the constitution since the creation of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1948 is useful because the constitution is a valuable and rare tool that can be used to better understand the intentions of the enigmatic regime. This article does not assume that a mere perusal of the DPRK's legal framework can provide a comprehensive understanding of North Korean society, because totalitarian constitutions are intrinsically useless for imparting such in-depth knowledge. Rather, it examines Juche-related constitutional revisions and juxtaposes them with actual historical events because such a study can provide valuable insight into the behavior of the leadership and allow outside observers to make more accurate predictions.

In its simplest form, Juche is generally defined as North Korea's ideology of autonomy and self-reliance, and it is meant to replace the principle of sadaejuui (serving the great) that has characterized Korea's foreign relations throughout much of its history. At closer inspection, it also contains a philosophical aspect of "subjectivity" that will be discussed later. As this paper will soon reveal, the leadership has repeatedly used Juche in its various forms to justify its actions and legitimatize its method of rule, but Juche's initial development and/or application in North Korea was retarded by Kim Il Sung's initial dependence on and allegiance to Moscow. It was not until the late 1950s when Kim was able to maneuver himself into a position less dependent on outside elements, and his attainment of absolute power within a closed society allowed him to freely proclaim an ideology of autonomy that suited his needs. Juche successfully gained legitimacy within the Party and among the masses, and the degree to which it has permeated the state can be easily seen in the 1972 constitution. Despite discrepancies and economic difficulties, the leadership has been rather successful in holding the Juche line, and this article will point to the factors that have led to the underlying legitimacy of Juche philosophy. After highlighting the philosophy's "subjectivity" thesis, it will also examine Juche's quasi-religious features, using the latest version of the constitution to reveal how Kim Il Sung's death in 1994 has transformed the role of Juche into that of an ersatz religion, and to this end the similarities between the DPRK constitution and the Iranian constitution will be briefly discussed. Finally, after commenting on Pyongyang's attempt to harmonize Juche with current trade liberalization measures, the article will conclude with a discussion of the regime's application of Juche in the present day.



North Korea's Founding Constitution


At its inception in 1948, the legal code of the DPRK was similar in many respects to that of other communist countries on the Soviet periphery. The DPRK patterned much of its original 1948 constitution on the Soviet Union's 1936 "Stalinist" constitution, and the strong influence that Moscow exerted upon Pyongyang was understandable since Soviet troops continued to occupy North Korea until the end of 1948.[1] The power that Moscow exercised over Pyongyang at the time was to the extent that in 1950, U.S. State Department analysts declared that North Korea was "well advanced toward becoming a Republic of the USSR."[2]

However, it is important to note that while North Korea was still a client state to the Soviet Union at this point, Pyongyang had already begun to exhibit signs of autonomy. Although the DPRK constitution was similar to the Stalinist constitution, the ideological track of the former differed significantly from that of the latter. After all, the DPRK constitution never referred to North Korea as a socialist country, and the word "socialism" never appeared in the 104-article document. Such was not the intent of the North Korean committee that wrote the constitution with Soviet guidance. Rather, the ideological emphasis that did exist in the constitution was aimed at ridding the country of all vestiges of colonial Japanese rule, and a number of articles were devoted to this purpose. For example, Articles 4 and 5 called for the immediate confiscation of all assets and land formerly owned by the Japanese or those who had collaborated with the Japanese. Article 12 stated that pro-Japanese elements had no right to elect or be elected, and Article 85 called for the disbarment of judges and procurators who had served during Japanese occupation. Admittedly, the constitution did contain some socialist characteristics, such as Article 10's call for a "national uniform economic plan," but it included capitalist elements as well. Article 8, for example, granted individuals the right to own and inherit land. The best explanation behind these apparent discrepancies came from Kim Il Sung himself in a speech he gave in 1955:


    If we had yelled about building socialism in the period of construction directly after liberation, who should have accepted it? Even the people would not have been able to come over to our side. If we ask why, it was because Japanese imperialists had spread the evil propaganda that socialism meant sleeping under the same quilt and eating out of the same pot. If we had not taken this account at that time and had raised our socialist slogans, we would have frightened the people, and they would not have joined us.[3]


In other words, Kim Il Sung and his cohorts were afraid that sudden drastic changes within the economic and social sphere might have compromised their fragile legitimacy at that point. Although the founders of the DPRK did not feel obligated to espouse socialism immediately after liberation, they certainly saw it necessary to rid the nation of pro-Japanese elements.



The Development of Juche


It is possible that the ideological basis for what would later become Juche was rooted in anti-Japanese sentiment, and some scholars even point as far back as the Yi dynasty to find the social origins of North Korea's current value system.[4] However, it remains unlikely that Juche per se was invented before Korea's liberation from the Japanese as Pyongyang propagandists proclaim.[5] Juche itself stemmed mostly from Kim Il Sung's disillusionment with Soviet dominance in the North in the years after 1945, as well as Kim's highly nationalist orientation. The growth of Chinese influence in North Korea after the Korean War also encouraged Kim to emphasize Juche. His decision to stress autonomy as an ideological ideal is not entirely surprising, considering that Korea has had a long history of autarky and fear of outsiders stemmed in no small part by numerous invasions of the peninsula by larger foreign powers. However, it is important to remember that while the entire peninsula has shared such woes throughout history, Juche developed as an ideology particular to the North. Although it could be argued that the postliberation minjokjuui (nationalism) ideological movement in the South was shaped somewhat by anti-Japanese or anti-sadaejuui sentiment, such ideologies did not permeate South Korean society to the extent that Juche shaped the North.[6] Juche's breeding ground was the uniquely precarious political and economic environment that existed in the North in the immediate wake of the Korean War.

When the Korean War finally came to a halt in 1953, the peninsula was in ruins and the Pyongyang leadership launched into a fierce debate on how to rebuild the economy in the northern half. A major ideological struggle emerged within the Korean Workers Party (KWP) that pitted the "leftism" of Kim Il Sung and his cohorts against the "rightism" of the two other major factions. Kim Il Sung's faction was composed of Kim's guerrilla friends who had fought against the Japanese while exiled in Manchuria, and it argued for a drastic mass-mobilization policy that would pump resources into heavy industry to force rapid economic reconstruction. The other two factions, which were made up of Soviet-Korean bureaucrats who had lived in the Soviet Union during Japanese colonization and New People's Army veterans who had fought alongside the Chinese PLA, favored a Moscow-endorsed plan that would first develop the sectors of light industry and agriculture while importing heavy industrial goods from Moscow. The debate broadened into the ideological arena, and Kim accused his opponents of relying too heavily upon Moscow and mechanically copying Soviet economic trends. At this juncture, he made a groundbreaking speech in December 1955 arguing that North Korea should adapt Marxism-Leninism to Korean realities (influenced in no small part by Mao Zedong's call for "Asian-style communism" , thus laying the ideological framework for North Korea's philosophy of Juche.[7] He succeeded in purging those who disagreed with him, and his absolute authority was confirmed by the KWP in 1958 at the watershed First Party Conference. From then on, he could afford to stray from the Soviet line because he no longer relied on Moscow to guarantee his political power base.

Later that year, the Party announced that the completion of national collectivization, and Kim Il Sung proceeded to turn the nation's full attention toward heavy industry. To this end, in 1959 he initiated his first major ideological mobilization campaign, the Cheollima Movement, which was named after a mythical flying horse that could fly 1,000 ri in a day. This movement launched the working masses into an ideological frenzy, and it essentially mirrored Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward which had been initiated a year earlier. Kim Il Sung adopted this heavy-industry development strategy despite the disapproval of the Soviets, who wanted Pyongyang to join the Soviet bloc common market (COMECON) and concentrate on light industry and raw material production instead. However, economic integration with other Soviet bloc countries would have compromised North Korea's economic autonomy and restricted the regime's options in military-industrial production, which is precisely why North Korea did not join COMECON. In any case, the North Korean economy grew at a high rate well into the 1960s despite several setbacks and some irregularities in the Cheollima system.[8]



Applications of Juche


The overall success of Cheollima provided a great boost to the confidence of the Kim Il Sung regime, and Kim began to distance himself from Moscow as early as the late 1950s. By this time, Khruschev had publicly denounced Stalin's "cult of personality" method of rule, and since Kim had largely patterned his own ruling system on Stalinist techniques, it served his interests to use Juche as an ideological tool to distance Pyongyang from Moscow. A good illustration of Kim's intractable adherence to the Stalinist ruling style lies in the judicial sphere. Stalin took full advantage of the Leninist concept of "judicial flexibility" during his reign, rejecting the system of strict legal codification found in the West in favor of a judicial policy more suited to his totalitarian ruling style. Kim and several other leaders in the Soviet bloc followed the Stalinist line, instructing the courts to "rule by analogy" and convict defendants of certain "crimes" even if these acts were not listed as crimes in the criminal code. By the early 1960s, most Soviet bloc members had begun reforming this arbitrary system and applying standards more accepted by the West, but Kim, along with Mao Zedong, stuck to the policy of flexibility in the face of criticism.[9]

Kim's refusal to enact Khrushchev-era reforms and revoke the Stalinist ruling system of North Korea was made easier by the fact that Beijing was extending a great deal of aid to Pyongyang, as it had been since the Korean War. Although this second source of aid increased Chinese influence in Pyongyang it allowed the Kim regime more latitude in dealing with its hitherto sole benefactor. Kim used this added flexibility to deal with the shock of the Sino-Soviet split of the late 1950s, which increased the need for an independent ideology that would provide some distance from both Moscow and Beijing.[10] Since Kim Il Sung had already achieved the pinnacle of power, he had reason to rid North Korea of all antagonistic elements, especially those he could not control. Finally, as Soviet aid declined to both North Korea and China in the midst of their respective mass-mobilization campaigns, Kim Il Sung and Mao Zedong amplified their calls for self-reliance. Emulating the ideas of Mao, Kim stressed, "Economic dependence is the material foundation for political dependence. A country that is economically dependent on outside forces becomes a political satellite of other countries, and an economically subordinate nation cannot escape the fate of colonial slavery." [11]

It is interesting to note, however, that Kim Il Sung has not been consistent in his application of Juche's anti-imperialist elements to other states. For example, when Yugoslav leader Josip Tito first voiced his opposition to Soviet control in 1948, Kim ruthlessly criticized him as a revisionist. Kim's logic was somewhat ironic because while Tito had legitimately gained his nationalist leadership credentials, Kim had initially gained power through Soviet sponsorship. Perhaps Kim's outburst can be explained by the fact that North Korea was still under Stalin's tutelage in 1948, and Pyongyang had much to lose by offending Moscow. However, criticism of Tito continued to emanate intermittently from Pyongyang for years as Kim Il Sung saw fit, and what is more, Kim also denounced the 1956 Hungarian revolt against Soviet control. Finally, he even condemned the anti-Soviet nationalist revolt led by Czechoslovakian leader Alexandr Dubcek in the Prague Spring of 1968. By the late 1960s, after all, Pyongyang was no longer under Moscow's yoke, and it had voiced a great deal of anti-Soviet sentiment itself. Perhaps this discrepancy in the Juche line resulted from Kim's general aversion to socialist states turning into capitalist democracies. Kim did not mind when the Soviet Union kept the Eastern European socialist regimes in line, but he launched into fierce Juche rhetoric whenever the Soviets attempted to interfere with the autonomy of Pyongyang.

It soon became evident that the leadership would apply Juche principles exclusively to North Korea, despite Kim Il Sung's claims of universality, and that Pyongyang would only extend the ideals of Juche to other states when it was politically feasible to do so. Such a discrepancy in foreign policy did not concern the masses or the Party, however, and it did not take long until Juche philosophy manifested itself as an ideology that would permeate North Korea. On 12 August 1966, the word "Juche" and the philosophy it encompassed were officially revealed in a Rodong Shinmun editorial.

The editorial unequivocally stressed the importance of economic as well as political self-reliance, but in another seemingly paradoxical move Kim gave a speech one year later admitting that North Korea could not produce everything it needed. In his address at the First Session of the Fourth Supreme People's Assembly in 1967, he stated:


    The development of an independent, comprehensive economy in our country though our own efforts does not imply that we reject international economic ties or that we produce everything we need for ourselves . . . each country should produce on its own the essentials and those products which are in great demand, and obtain through trade with foreign countries those things which are in slight demand or in short supply, or which cannot be produced at home, on the principle of meeting each other's needs.[12]


Even at this early point, Kim dispelled the idea that North Korea would have to be self-reliant in all parts of the economy. The state was in fact highly involved in two-way trade at this time, though mostly with socialist nations, and its per capita export volume was nearly double that of South Korea.[13] North Korea's trade would later stagnate, of course, but Juche philosophy would continue to permeate the North.



Juche's Legitimacy


It would be beneficial at this juncture to discuss why the legitimacy of Juche thinking has been sustained in the North despite the realities that seem to refute its underlying principles. Much of the outside world's cynicism concerning Juche stems from the fact that North Korea is not economically self-sufficient. After all, North Korea has relied on outside aid throughout its history and has even had trouble feeding its own people at certain intervals. However, those observers who doubt the legitimacy of Juche within North Korea and its effect on the country for this reason are missing the basic point. North Korea has never been a self-sufficient country, and Juche was not created with self-sufficiency as the main objective. Although no one doubts that Kim Il Sung would have liked to possess a self-sufficient economy, such an achievement was never necessary for the legitimacy of the ruler or his ruling ideology. Rather, Juche emphasized the necessity of economic autonomy, an economy that would operate independent of outside influence, and North Korea has been fairly successful in keeping this condition. In other words, accepting badly needed food aid would not contradict the ideals of Juche, though it would be a violation to rely on food aid from a nation or organization that insisted upon total control of its distribution. The high value that Pyongyang placed on economic autonomy was evident when the leadership took the highly risky step of condemning Moscow with scathing words in 1963 when it felt that the Soviets were impinging upon the North Korea's economic autonomy. At a time when North Korea was still benefiting somewhat from Soviet economic assistance and had a vested interest in catering to Moscow, an 28 October 1963 Rodong Shinmun editorial accused the Soviet Union of attempting to rule over North Korea in return for its economic assistance. Replacing the term "certain comrades," the usual warm reference to the Soviets, with "certain persons," it stated:


    Certain persons attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of fraternal parties and countries and force their will upon them on the pretext of assistance. . . . To boast of assistance and to make use of it as a means of political interference and economic pressure has nothing to do with proletarian internationalism.[14]


The editorial proceeded to criticize the Soviets for opposing socialist countries' policies of self-reliance, and accused Moscow of trying to use the COMECON to subjugate national economies to its will. Pyongyang's criticism demonstrated the extent to which the leadership valued economic autonomy, and the regime has consistently defended it to the present day. This may be one of the main reasons why the North Korean leadership has continued to espouse Juche as the ruling ideology despite the economic difficulties that the regime has encountered.

Of course, Pyongyang's emphasis on economic autonomy has had much to do with the leadership's desire for political autonomy, for both Kims realized that the two go hand in hand. In the barrage of propaganda that has continually emanated out of North Korea, Pyongyang has placed strongest emphasis on its sovereignty. This is due in no small part to the fact that the regime has felt its political autonomy threatened by states such as the Soviet Union, South Korea, the United States, and even China. By the late 1960s, however, much of Pyongyang's criticism was directed against the Soviet Union for reasons noted above, and with this in mind this article will now turn to the monumental 1972 constitution.



The 1972 "Socialist" Constitution


Although Pyongyang had made various minor amendments to the original constitution during the 1950s and 1960s, the newly promulgated "socialist" constitution of 1972 was such a radical departure from the 1948 "people's democratic" constitution that one hesitates to refer to it as a mere revision. The long overdue new version brought the goals and structure of the state into line with those of the Party, and the first three chapters were saturated with politically charged themes as well as structural changes. In the words of legal scholar Kim Chin it was "not only a socialist constitution, but also a nationalist declaration of independence and a political action program."[15]

The constitution was, in fact, a kind of declaration of independence, and the word "independent" appeared in the document with unusual frequency. Article 1 immediately set the tone for the entire constitution, stating that the DPRK is "an independent socialist state" that is "completely equal and independent in its relations with foreign countries."[16] This article may not seem unusual at first, until one remembers that most other socialist countries at that time did not stress their independence so openly and usually acknowledged the primacy of the Soviet Union in their constitutions either directly or indirectly.[17] Continuing along the same line, Article 2 highlighted the importance of an "independent national economy." Article 16 of the new constitution went beyond mere equality and independence and stressed that the DPRK would only deal with other nations on the basis of "non-interference in each other's internal affairs," another thinly-guised jab at the Soviet Union. It quickly became evident that this constitution was unlike any other constitution inspired by Marxism.[18]

The ideological economic vocabulary employed by Kim was introduced into the constitution as well, with Article 13 proclaiming Cheollima as "the general line of socialist construction." The same article endorsed the Daean work system, a national economic system that put control of enterprises in the hands of Party cadres. Also, Article 12 proclaimed the correctness of the Cheongsanni method (an ideological campaign that grew out of Cheollima), further solidifying the politics-first economic system.[19] Such elements were generally not found in other socialist constitutions, nor did they appear in North Korea's original constitution.

Furthermore, Article 4 went as far as to position Juche as the overarching ideology of the state, proclaiming, "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is guided in its activity by the Juche idea of the Workers's Party of Korea, a creative application of Marxism-Leninism to the conditions of our country." Article 44 even spoke of the need to "thoroughly establish Juche in scientific research," and Article 45 called for "a Juche-oriented, revolutionary literature and art."

All in all, it would be accurate to call the constitution a Juche constitution in light of its saturation with Juche ideology. Although some scholars have referred to it as a "Marxist" constitution, this instinctive label is not entirely correct despite the document's socialist characteristics and references to Marxism-Leninism. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that Juche supplanted Marxism in the constitution, though the word "supplant" would perhaps also be incorrect because the original 1948 constitution was not Marxist either. Deeper insight into Kim Il Sung's intended role for Juche in the constitution can be gained through studying a speech he gave commemorating the constitution's promulgation. Amongst his many references to Juche, he made the following statement: "The most important thing we need to do to complete the revolution of the whole of society is to firmly equip the working people with our Party's monolithic idea, the Juche idea. Our Party's Juche idea is "the only correct guide" for the successful completion of the Korean revolution" (emphasis added).[20] In support, Kim Jong Il gave a speech in February 1976 entitled "On Some Issues of Conforming Our Society to Kim Il Sungism," where he stressed the superiority of Juche to Marxism-Leninism because the latter was limited in both time and geography.



The Soviet Collapse and the 1992 Constitution


Pyongyang's vociferous emphasis of Juche only increased in the 1980s, at a time when Gorbachev's endorsement of perestroika and glasnot was impacting the entire socialist community. The global trend toward openness and reform sparked fears within Pyongyang that the Kim Il Sung regime would lose legitimacy in the eyes of its socialist allies. After all, by that time Stalinism had all but disappeared in the Soviet bloc, but it was alive and well in Pyongyang. In that light, Kim Jong Il published a treatise that rebuffed Moscow's ideological reforms while enthusiastically reaffirming the validity of Juche. In a highly defensive tone, he wrote:


    As our socialism demonstrates its viability more, the imperialists are frantically intensifying their attack on our country, and the advocates of the return to the bourgeois system are disparaging us on the grounds that we have not accepted their perestroika policy. Now that the imperialists and the advocates of a revival of the bourgeois system are making frantic attempts to disparage our socialism, we must bring the advantage and viability of socialism into fuller play while, at the same time, giving wide publicity to the superiority of our socialism.[21]


If the reformist message coming out of Moscow was not discomforting enough, one would think that the shock of the breakup of the Soviet bloc in 1991 would radically alter the mindset of the Pyong-yang leadership. However, the events of 1991 did not appear to shake the leadership's faith in socialism. On the contrary, the Soviet downfall seemed to verify the regime's publicized belief that while Moscow and its satellites had applied a bastardized form of socialism, Pyongyang's application of its own superior form of socialism had shielded North Korean society from the treacherous capitalist elements that led to the downfall of the Soviet bloc. Kim Jong Il elaborated with the following words:


    In the past, many countries, while building socialism guided by Marxism-Leninism, applied the propositions of Marxism-Leninism advanced long before as they were, and imitated the Soviet experience in a mechanical manner. Several East European countries are typical examples. . . . [These countries] transplanted Soviet-style socialism as it was, therefore making it impossible for socialism to display its advantages in full.[22]


After the downfall of so-called "Soviet-style socialism," Pyongyang decided upon the next major revision of the North Korean constitution and promulgated a new version in 1992. The references to Marxism-Leninism that had appeared in the 1972 constitution were taken out, and the superiority of Juche was reaffirmed. At first glance, the new version appeared to signal the leadership's willingness to enact reforms in the area of trade. Building upon Pyongyang's declaration of the Rajin-Sonbong Free Economic Trade Zone (FETZ) in 1991 and the Joint Venture Law of 1984, Article 37 of the 1992 constitution included a new sentence that stated, "The State shall encourage institutions, enterprises, and organizations in our country to establish joint ventures and cooperate in enterprise with foreign corporations and individuals." The insertion of this clause into the constitution appeared to signal a boost in the regime's program of economic "liberalization," perhaps stemming from the apparent failure of socialist economic policy in the former Soviet bloc, but there was little actual change in North Korea's real environment. Despite the passage of a series of laws in the mid-1990s designed to attract foreign investment, Pyongyang continued to proceed with extreme caution when dealing with outside business interests.[23] Pyongyang bristled at the thought of foreign managers working alongside North Korean workers because it did not want the latter to be ideologically "polluted" by the former. At any rate, the failure of the Rajin-Sonbong FETZ demonstrated the difficulties that Pyongyang's counterproductive policies imposed on foreign business interests.

All in all, the downfall of the Soviet bloc and the economic stagnation of North Korea were key factors that affected the outlook of the regime, and these developments were reflected in the 1992 constitutional revision. However, a far more consequential incident would occur two years later, an event that would truly shake up Pyongyang: the death of Kim Il Sung. The elder Kim's death in 1994 relegated the Great Leader to godlike status, and subsequently he and his purported Juche ideas were regarded with a level of holy sanctity that was not quite possible while he was alive. It was at this point that Juche truly took on religious qualities, becoming a sort of ersatz religion. Although it might be a stretch to refer to post-1994 Juche as a true religion, it would be equally rash to put it in the same category as Marxism.



Juche as an Ersatz Religion


Looking back at the history of Juche, one can certainly see that it had Marxist roots. Former high-ranking Party ideologue Hwang Jang-yop (Hwang Jang-yeop), who was in charge of advancing the ideological components of Juche in the 1960s before Kim Jong Il took over the task, had studied Marxism-Leninism at Moscow University during the Korean War. When he defected in 1997, the South Korean and Western media dubbed him the "Father of Juche," and he did in fact play a large role in the initial development of Juche thought. His training in Marxism and early affinity for the Soviet Union largely influenced his writings on Juche, which made many references to Marxism-Leninism.[24] Despite the nature of Juche's early development, however, it would be a mistake to consider Juche a mere offshoot of Marxism despite the influence that the latter has had on the former. Especially since the 1970s, the departure of Juche ideology from Marxism has been much wider than, say, the nationalist interpretations of Marxism that surfaced in Vietnam or Cuba under Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, respectively. Neither can Juche be written off as a mere copy of the "Asian-style socialism" proclaimed by Mao Zedong. North Korea's sheer uniqueness as a racially homogenous, intensely xenophobic nation where a demigod controls an isolated population saturated with propaganda has allowed the creation of a Marxism-based ideology that has surpassed not only the bounds of Marxism, but also the definition of ideology itself. In that light, it would be beneficial at this point to elaborate on the development of Juche's supra-ideological qualities.

As this essay has pointed out, Juche was originally used by the Kim Il Sung regime as a defensive propaganda tool to reinforce the autonomy of the regime, and the ideology was employed against a variety of enemies both foreign and domestic. When it was employed in this form, Juche did not seem all that usual compared to other nationalist offshoots of Marxism despite Kim Jong Il's claim to the contrary.[25] What has set Juche apart from these other branches, however, is the so-called "subjectivity" thesis that has put Juche into a category all by itself. Although the philosophy of Juche is usually defined as "autonomy" and "self-reliance," the actual meaning of the word "Juche" itself does in fact mean "subject," or "principal body." Even the regime's own definition of the term is unclear, but Kim Jong Il has written that Juche "unites" the people of North Korea and the Party into one body to be led by the leader.[26] One could say that Kim has attempted to cast his father as the father of a blood-united "family state."[27]

The ontological elements of Juche have existed from the beginning, but it was Kim Jong Il's 1982 treatise "On the Juche Idea" that became the first definitive interpretation of the philosophy's quasi-religious elements.[28] Its release was a monumental occasion that distinguished Kim Jong Il as the one and only bona fide interpreter of the "immortal Juche idea" of Kim Il Sung. The treatise brought together much of the earlier writing on Juche's deeper philosophical aspects, much of which had been attributed to either Kim Jong Il or Kim Il Sung, and it began with the premise that man is the master of everything and has control over his own destiny. Denying the existence of a supernatural power, Kim Jong Il claimed that man is the "transformer of the world." He then proceeded to write:

    Man alone in the world lives and conducts activity in social relationship. He maintains his existence and achieves his aim only socially. . . . Jajuseong [which is a term Kim Jong Il uses to mean "independence" and "autonomy" is the life and soul of man, the social being. When jajuseong is referred to as man's life and soul, it means social and political integrity. Man has a physical life and also social and political integrity. The physical life is what keeps a man alive as biological organism; social and political integrity is what keeps him alive as social being.[29]


In this treatise, Kim Jong Il denied the existence of God, therefore denying that Juche was a religion. At the same time, however, his characterization of Juche contained religious qualities, including the separation of physical life from a sociopolitical soul, and much of the treatise advanced the idea of an "immortal sociopolitical life."[30] Such a characterization contrasts sharply with that of Marx, who made no such claims and viewed man mainly as an agent of production. Although Kim Jong Il did not view Juche as a religion, "On the Juche Idea" and many of his subsequent treatises played a large part in advancing the cult worship of Kim Il Sung. More importantly, his treatise contained quasi-religious aspects that would conveniently provide a theological basis for the deification of Kim Il Sung after the Great Leader's death.

All in all, while it could be argued that Juche is an ideology, it would be misleading to stop at that conclusion without noting the sheer uniqueness of this particular body of thought.[31] Juche is a philosophy that has been remarkably successful in uniting an entire homogenous nation into a single train of thought centered upon one man. Although history has seen other nationalist leaders attain cult hero status, there have been very few ideologies that can be even remotely compared to Juche. Even Stalin, after all, did not enjoy the level of mind control over the masses that Kim Il Sung did, and he faced the added obstacle of presiding over a vast continent that was home to dozens of ethnic groups. Certainly, North Korea in its current form is the only place in the world where such an extremely narrow, contrived ideology like Juche could exist.



The 1998 Constitution and the "Eternal President"


With that in mind, this article will now turn to the next and most recent version of the constitution. After a proclaimed three-year period of mourning over the death of Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang proceeded to amend the constitution in 1998. The latest version is, by all accounts, a religious eulogy to Kim Il Sung, and the most striking aspect is the new Preamble. After reaffirming the fact that the DPRK is a "socialist fatherland of Juche which embodies the idea of and guidance by the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung," the Preamble goes on to state, "Comrade Kim Il Sung, who regarded 'believing in the people as in heaven' as his motto, was always with the people, devoted his whole life to them, took care of and guided them with a noble politics of benevolence, and turned the whole society into one big and united family." This statement attributes altruistic saintly qualities to Kim that Christians and Muslims usually reserve for Jesus and Mohammed, respectively, though Kim is credited with the added accomplishment of turning all of society into a "big and united family." The next paragraph regards Kim as "the sun of the nation and the lodestar of the reunification of the fatherland." The Preamble proceeds to state that Kim "made an immortal contribution to mankind's independent cause" and calls him "the eternal President of the Republic." It ends with the definitive statement, "The DPRK Socialist Constitution is a Kim Il Sung constitution which legally embodies Comrade Kim Il Sung's Juche state construction ideology and achievements."[32]

It is quite remarkable how similar the 1998 constitution appears to the constitutions of religious states, and Iran's current legal framework can be used as an example. The Preamble in the Iranian constitution declares that the Iran is a nation based on Islam, and it glorifies the revolutionary achievements of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Claiming that the Ayatollah led the "awakened conscience" of the nation, the Preamble lavishes praise upon him that somewhat resembles the eulogy of Kim Il Sung in the 1998 constitution.[33] The Iranian constitution, however, stops well short of attributing godlike feats to the Ayatollah, ascribing to him the role of a spiritual leader who is uniquely qualified to interpret the will of Allah upon the masses. In that sense, the Ayatollah seems to mirror Kim Jong Il's role as the only one uniquely qualified to interpret the immortal Juche idea of the "sun of the nation" upon the masses. One major difference, however, is that although Kim Jong Il holds near spiritual legitimacy in North Korean society, this role is not yet exalted in the DPRK constitution in the way that the Ayatollah is praised in the Iranian constitution. This discrepancy may result from the fact that Kim Il Sung died less than ten years ago, and more time needs to pass before the prophet can supplant the god. We should not be surprised, however, if Kim Jong Il's spiritual role as a bridge between the "Eternal President" and the masses is highlighted in the next version of the constitution.

All in all, it may seem a bit of a stretch to compare the constitutions of the DPRK and Iran, because they contain more differences than similarities.[34] However, the spiritual theme that connects the two documents places the DPRK constitution into a category closer to the constitutions of religious states than that of the socialist states that exist today. The fundamental difference between Juche and nationalist offshoots of Marxism can be clearly seen by contrasting the way North Korea and other socialist states have adapted to the present-day environment. Not only does Juche provide the basis of legitimacy for the state of North Korea, but Kim Jong Il also retains his Mandate of Heaven in part by being the sole interpreter of the philosophy. For this reason, North Korea has not been able to stray from the Juche line with the freedom that China, Vietnam, and Cuba have enjoyed in bypassing Marxist ideology to introduce capitalist elements.

Although much optimism has arisen due to North Korea's economic "reforms" of the 1990s and beyond, these reforms have only been aimed at sucking external resources through a narrow, artificial opening. The "new thinking" of the leadership does not compare to the external opening of Vietnam or Deng Xiaoping's reformist policies of the 1980s, because Vietnam and China have not been handicapped by a xenophobic philosophy that requires brainwashed masses to think the same contrived thoughts. It is unlikely that the current regime will allow foreign business interests to operate totally unsupervised in North Korea and thereby threaten the ideological unity of the masses. Understandably, it is in the leadership's best interest to continue to restrict foreign managers from freely communicating with their North Korean workers. Since its disciplined, low-wage work force is the only thing that North Korea really has to offer foreign business interests, it is doubtful that the regime will ever be successful in attracting foreign capital on a large scale.[35] While its trade zones and reformed trade laws appear to signify fresh thinking on the part of the regime, it is unlikely that Pyongyang will launch an economic liberalization program to the extent needed to lure investors from more stable sources of cheap labor. Since sovereignty has always been more important than money to the regime, Pyongyang will not allow outsiders to "pollute" the masses just to earn capital. As Adrian Buzo aptly points out, "To depart from this ideology would threaten the DPRK's very self-definition as a state."[36] While it is likely that Pyongyang will continue to tweak its economic structure and trade legislation in the years to come in order to encourage the inflow of capital, such reforms will be made within the boundaries of the current flawed system and are therefore unlikely to be more than marginally successful.





Clearly, Juche is a philosophy that pervades both state and society in North Korea. It has existed in various forms and has played a wide-ranging role since the birth of the DPRK, and these varying roles can be better perceived by studying the revisions of the state constitution. Interestingly enough, the development of Juche has reflected North Korea's evolution as a state. This paper has argued that Juche is not a Marxist ideology, and in that light it is interesting to note that even at the very birth of the DPRK, the North Korean leadership's allegiance to Marxism-Leninism did not supersede more compelling nationalist interests such as the desire to rid the country of Japanese elements. Soon after the Korean War, Kim Il Sung began using Juche to push his own political and economic policies and win party factional battles in order to secure his position of absolute authority, and in this manner he forged a totalitarian government in Pyong-yang. After establishing his "cult of personality," Kim used Juche to distance himself from Khrushchev and curtail Pyongyang's economic reliance on Moscow in order to proclaim North Korea's independence from outside powers, and the 1972 constitution was promulgated to this end. Since the establishment of North Korea as a state, it is reasonable to say that the main function of Juche has been that of a multifunctional, reliable political tool. Bruce Cumings notes that Korea "took from Marxism-Leninism what it wanted and rejected much of the rest," and his statement accurately portrays the circumstances surrounding the development of Juche.[37]

As Juche gained a foothold within the party leadership and the masses, it began to display ontological characteristics rooted in the "subjectivity" thesis that claimed that mankind is the highest form of being in the universe, and that the Great Leader rules mankind. Kim Jong Il was credited as the main developer and sole genuine interpreter of this aspect of Juche, and gained much of his near-spiritual authority for this reason. This is not to say that Kim Jong Il would not have successfully inherited his father's position without Juche, but it certainly enhanced his legitimacy in the period leading up to and after Kim Il Sung's death. Prior to 1994, the quasi-religious features of Juche that had been developed by Kim Jong Il, Hwang Jang-yop, and various other scholars remained largely dormant, but the death of the Great Leader resulted in Juche's transition into an ersatz religion on a national scale. This is the form in which Juche exists today, with Kim Jong Il taking the role of the nation's prophet, the only person uniquely qualified to carry out the will of Kim Il Sung and lead the nation. In this sense, Kim Jong Il continues to utilize Juche to add legitimacy to his rule, using the marvelous tool that his father left him, and he will probably continue using it in the future to justify further action such as naming his own successor.

One major difference between the younger Kim and his father, however, is that while the latter benefited from deeply rooted and pervasive legitimacy among the masses, the former has not enjoyed such an advantage. For this reason, Kim Jong Il and his father have relied heavily on the former's development of the ontological aspects of Juche to provide much of the current leadership's legitimacy. Kim Jong Il now finds himself in a situation that gives him less room to maneuver. Because Juche is such a contrived belief system, its success depends on the continued ability of the leadership to shield the public from foreign influence. In other words, the leadership must ensure that the masses remain oblivious to the world, and to do so Kim must keep outsiders at bay. As a result, it is highly unlikely that the regime will ever really open up to the rest of the world, despite its dire need for foreign capital and knowledge, because to do so would compromise its very stability. Kim possesses the will and the means to maintain Juche as the state's fundamental belief system, but to do so he will have to proceed within existing ideological parameters. If he continues on that route, North Korea will be able to muddle through with an occasional minor adjustment but the prospect of genuine system-wide reform will remain grim.



* The author wishes to thank the Korean-American Educational Commission (Fulbright) for its assistance on this project.

Christopher Hale is a graduate student of Law School at University of Chicago. He graduated from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. While in Seoul he studied at Seoul National University's Graduate School of International and Area Studies and Kookmin University's Law Department. (E-mail:main@ekoreajournal.net.)



1. Like the "Stalinist" constitution, the DPRK's 1948 constitution underwrote a system government in which an "elected" legislature would theoretically be the highest organ of state authority. The DPRK's Supreme People's Assembly was patterned after the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, and the DPRK's smaller, elite "Presidium" also had a Soviet counterpart. The judicial system of the DPRK was similarly patterned after that of the Soviet Union. North Korea's 1948 constitution can be found in Bukhan beomnyeongjip (North Korea Book of Statutes), vol. 1 (Seoul: Continental Research Institute, 1990), pp. 2-25. The 1936 Soviet constitution can be found on the internet at http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/Russia/const/ 1936toc.html.

2. U.S. Department of State, North Korea: A Case Study in the Techniques of Takeover (Washington, D.C.: U.S. GPO, 1961), p. 120.

3. Kim Il Sung, Kim Il-seong seonjip (Selected Works of Kim Il Sung), vol. 4 (Pyong-yang: Korean Workers Party Press, 1960), p. 258.

4. Robert Scalapino and Lee Chong-Sik, Communism in Korea (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1972), p. 753.

5. The word "Juche"existed before 1945, but it is unclear what its exact meaning was before Pyongyang began utilizing the term. There has been much debate on this subject, but such a discussion lies outside the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that although KWP sources trace the origins of Juche down to Kim Il Sung's guerrilla days in the 1930s, most independent observers agree that it is highly unlikely that Kim Il Sung invented the ideology of Juche or the word itself. However, much of writing published by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il concerning Juche ideology contains anti-Japanese and anticolonization sentiment, and it appears that the colonial era had a large influence on the perspectives of the North Korean scholars who developed the philosophy. For an excellent study of the origins and influences of Juche, including its anti-Japanese elements, see Ho-min Yang, "Juche Idea: North Korean Ideological Setting," in North Korean Communism: A Comparative Analysis, ed. Chung Chong-Sik and Kim Gahb-Chol (Seoul: Research Center for Peace and Unification, 1980), pp. 126-168.

6. Hagen Koo, "The State, Minjung, and the Working Class in South Korea," in State and Society in Contemporary Korea, ed. Hagen Koo (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 147. I am grateful to Scott Swaner for bringing this to my attention.

7. See Kim Il Sung's speech, "On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work," in Selected Works of Kim Il Sung, vol. 1 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1971), pp. 582-606.

8. Park Han S., "Juche as a Foreign Policy Constraint in North Korea," in The Foreign Relations of North Korea, ed. Park Jae-kyu, Koh Byung-Chul, and Kwak Tae-hwan  (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987), pp. 60-62.

9. John N. Hazard, Communists and Their Law (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 99-100.

10. Lee Chong-sik, "Stalinism in the Far East: Communism in North Korea," in The Communist Revolution in Asia: Tactics, Goals, and Achievement, 2nd ed., ed. Robert A. Scalapino (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1969), pp. 133-134.

11. Kim Il-seong seonjip, vol. 4, p. 537.

12. Kim Il Sung, "Let Us Embody the Revolutionary Spirit of Independence, Self-sustenance and Self-defense More Thoroughly in All Fields of State Activity," in Kim Il-seong seonjip, vol. 4 (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1971), p. 598.

13. Nicholas Eberstadt provides data suggesting that in 1966, the per capita export volume of North Korea was nearly double that of South Korea. That is, while the total exports of both the North and South were valued at an estimated $240-250 million, North Korea's population was only about half that of South Korea. See Nicholas Eberstadt's, "Material Progress in Korea since Partition," in The Wealth of Nations in the Twentieth Century: The Policies and Institutional Determinants of Economic Development, ed. Ramon H. Myers (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1996), p. 141.

14. "Let's Defend the Socialist Camp," editorial, Rodong Shinmun, 28 October 1963. Quoted in translation in Ho-min Yang, "Juche Idea: North Korean Ideological Setting," in North Korean Communism: A Comparative Analysis, ed. Chung Chong-Sik and Kim Gahb-Chol (Seoul: Research Center for Peace and Unification, 1980), p. 150.

15. Kim Chin, "The 1972 Socialist Constitution of North Korea," in Selected Writings on Asian Law (Littleton, CO: Fred B. Rothman & Co., 1982), p. 286.

16. North Korea's 1972 constitution can be found in Bukhan beomnyeongjip (North Korea Book of Statutes), vol. 5 (Seoul: Continental Research Institute, 1990), pp. 26-40.

17. The preambles of Bulgaria's 1972 constitution, Hungary's 1949 constitution, Mongolia's 1940 constitution, Poland's 1952 constitution, and Romania's 1952 constitution all acknowledged the primacy of the Soviet Union. However, as Chin Kim points out, such acknowledgement was absent in the People's Republic of China's 1975 constitution, East Germany's 1968 constitution, and North Vietnam's 1960 constitution. See footnote 7 of Kim Chin, op. cit.

18. See Koo Chin Kang, "An Analytical Study on the North Korean Socialist Constitution," Korea and World Affairs 2.1 (spring 1978): p. 141.

19. Kim Il Sung launched the Daean work system after his personal "on-the-spot-guidance" tour of the Daean Electric Plant in December 1961. The new system put an end to the one-man management structure, in which the director possesses full control over operations, and introduced a new structure in which an in-house Party committee would steer the operations of the enterprise. This new system solidified Party control of all industrial enterprises and thereby allowed the Kim regime to steer economic activity in the way it deemed fit. The Cheongsanni method took its name from an agriculture cooperative that Kim Il Sung visited in 1960. This program, which was similar to the Chinese Xia-fang (downward) movement, was meant to improve the efficiency of North Korea-style "mass-line" production methods. Party cadres were required to teach and help the workers below them and gain expertise in the process.

20. Masao Fukushima, On the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1975), p. 162.

21. Kim Jong Il, "Socialism of Our Country is a Socialism of Our Style as the Embodiment of the Juche Idea," p. 1. (Published on 27 December 1990). This treatise can be found on the internet at by clicking on "Works by General Secretary Kim Jong Il."

22. Ibid., p. 2.

23. Pyongyang promulgated the Foreign Investment Law in October 1992 and the (Rajin-Sonbong) Economic Trade Zone Law in January 1993. Two other laws of note were the Foreign Enterprise Law and the Contractual Joint Venture Law, both of which were promulgated in October 1992.

24. See, for example, his editorial entitled "The Revolutionary Thoughts of the Great Leader are a Unified System of Juche Ideology, Theory, and Method," (in Korean) Geulloja (Workers) 4 (1979).

25. Kim Jong Il, "The Juche Philosophy is an Original Revolutionary Philosophy," p. 1 (Published 26 July 1996). This treatise can be found on the internet at by clicking on "Works by General Secretary Kim Jong Il."  

26. In a treatise published in 1990, Kim wrote the following: "The political and ideological might of the motive force of revolution is nothing but the power of single-hearted unity behind the leader, the Party, and the masses. In our socialist society the leader, the Party, and the masses throw their lot with one another, forming a single socio-political organism. The consolidation of blood relations between the leader, the Party, and the masses is guaranteed by the single ideology and unified leadership." See Kim Jong Il, "Socialism of Our Country is a Socialism of our Style as the Embodiment of the Juche Idea," p. 7. This treatise can be found on the internet at by clicking on "Works by General Secretary Kim Jong Il."

27. Bruce Cumings argues that Juche's subjectivity aspect has Neo-Confucian roots in his Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1997), pp. 401-402.

28. Kim Jong Il's "On the Juche Idea," which was published on 31 March 1982, can be found on the internet at http://www.korea-np.co.jp/pk/062nd_issue/98092410. htm.

29. Ibid., chapter 2.

30. Kim Jong Il clearly defined this idea in a later treatise: "The physical life of an individual person is finite, but the integrity of the masses rallied as an independent socio-political organism is immortal." See Kim Jong Il's "On Some Problems of Education in the Juche Idea" (Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1987), p. 19. Kim first publicly spoke of "immortal sociopolitical life" in May 1967 at the 15th plenum of the Central Committee of the Fourth Congress of the Korean Workers' Party. See Joseon rodongdang ryeoksa (The History of the Korean Workers' Party) (Pyongyang: Korean Workers Party Press, 1991), pp. 430-436.

31. This paper utilizes the basic definition of the word "Ideology," a body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, group, class, or culture.

32. See the Preamble to the DPRK's 1998 constitution, which can be found on the internet at by clicking on "Laws" and then "DPRK" Socialist Constitution."

33. Iran's current constitution can be found on the internet at

34. One major difference is that while Islam always has and always will play an important role in a state like Iran without regard to the regime type, Juche is a very young and contrived religion and its existence is directly dependent on the legitimacy of the current regime in Pyongyang. If the regime were to fall, Juche would almost certainly fall with it.

35. Interestingly enough, even the low wage standard in North Korea is not deemed low enough by outside interests, who can find cheaper labor elsewhere. See Yoon Sang-Jick, "Critical Issues on the Foreign Investment Laws of North Korea for Foreign Investors," Wisconsin International Law Journal 15.2, footnote 228.

36. Adrian Buzo, The Guerilla Dynasty: Politics and Leadership in North Korea (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999), p. 203.

37. Bruce Cumings, "The Corporate State in North Korea," in State and Society in Contemporary Korea, ed. Hagen Koo (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 218.













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