A Study of the Changing Dynamic
between Juche and the State Constitution in North Korea
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"
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. 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
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
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.
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. However, it remains unlikely
that Juche per se was invented before Korea's liberation
from the Japanese as Pyongyang propagandists proclaim.
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. Juche's breeding ground
was the uniquely precarious political and economic environment
that existed in the North in the immediate wake of the
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. 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.
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.
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. 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." 
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"
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
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. North Korea's trade would
later stagnate, of course, but Juche philosophy would
continue to permeate the North.
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,"
usual warm reference to the Soviets, with "certain persons,"
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.
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"
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"
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."
The constitution was, in fact, a kind of declaration
of independence, and the word "independent"
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." 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.
Continuing along the same line, Article 2 highlighted
the importance of an "independent national economy."
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.
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.
Such elements were generally not found in other socialist
constitutions, nor did they appear in North Korea's
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). 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.
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.
After the downfall of so-called "Soviet-style socialism,"
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,"
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. 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
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. 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
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. What has set Juche apart from
these other branches, however, is the so-called "subjectivity"
that has put Juche into a category all by itself. Although
the philosophy of Juche is usually defined as "autonomy"
"self-reliance," the actual meaning of the word "Juche"
does in fact mean "subject," or "principal body."
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. One could say that Kim has attempted to
cast his father as the father of a blood-united "family
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. 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
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"
"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.
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." 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"
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. 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."
paragraph regards Kim as "the sun of the nation and the
lodestar of the reunification of the fatherland."
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
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"
the nation, the Preamble lavishes praise upon him that
somewhat resembles the eulogy of Kim Il Sung in the
1998 constitution. 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"
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. 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"
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. 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." 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.
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
* 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.
1. Like the "Stalinist"
the DPRK's 1948 constitution underwrote
a system government in which an "elected"
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/
2. U.S. Department of State, North
Korea: A Case Study in the Techniques of
Takeover (Washington, D.C.: U.S. GPO, 1961),
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,"
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,"
Selected Works of Kim Il Sung, vol. 1 (Pyongyang:
Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1971),
8. Park Han S., "Juche as a Foreign
Policy Constraint in North Korea,"
Foreign Relations of North Korea, ed. Park
Jae-kyu, Koh Byung-Chul, and Kwak Tae-hwan
(Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1987),
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.
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,"
Rodong Shinmun, 28 October 1963. Quoted
in translation in Ho-min Yang, "Juche Idea:
North Korean Ideological Setting,"
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.
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,"
and World Affairs 2.1 (spring 1978): p.
19. Kim Il Sung launched the Daean work
system after his personal "on-the-spot-guidance"
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"
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."
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,"
was published on 31 March 1982, can be found
on the internet at http://www.korea-np.co.jp/pk/062nd_issue/98092410.
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."
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
by clicking on "Laws" and then "DPRK"
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,"
International Law Journal 15.2, footnote
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.