On Juche and Marxism-Leninism: A Question of Scientific Socialism and Revolutionary Praxis (Part 1)


When the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989 and the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, the reactionaries and bourgeois ideologues of the world celebrated the “final triumph of capitalism” and the “end of history.” Socialism was deemed a catastrophic failure, and Marxism-Leninism was declared to be outmoded, irrelevant, and a false prophecy. As the Eastern Bloc states seemed to tumble one after another in domino fashion, and as Boris Yeltsin boldly and shamelessly crowned the victory of the counter-revolution on top of a tank in Moscow, many communists found themselves speechlessly dismayed in the midst of such a breathtaking and confounding whirlwind of events. Numerous people who had, just several years before, confidently christened themselves as Marxist-Leninists, fell victim to demoralization, confusion, and capitulation. Riddled with trepidation and burdened with the immense weight of imperialism’s victory in the Cold War, the international communist movement experienced one of the deepest fractures in its history as it witnessed many of its yesterday battle-hardened soldiers become today’s disillusioned social-democrats and traitorous informants.

Some Marxist-Leninists, however, resisted the overwhelming wave of subjectivism and surrender entailed in the demise of the Soviet Union and have made an objective, dialectically-materialist assessment of the experiences of socialism in the 20th century and the global situation today, have committed themselves and their organizations to ideological rectification, and have rejuvenated their capacity and resolve in waging a principled struggle. These communists have reaffirmed the profound reality that not only does scientific socialism as an ideology still exist as long as exploited and oppressed classes do, but actually existing material manifestations of socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat still cling to life in several countries. The words of the former leader of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, Enver Hoxha, ring clear and prescient today:

“Nevertheless, Marxism-Leninism has not disappeared, it is living and flourishing as an ideology and a reality, materialized in the socialist social system constructed according to its teachings. Exemplifying this… [are] the Marxist-Leninist parties, and those millions and millions of workers and peasants who are fighting every day for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, for democracy and national liberation. No force, no torture, no intrigue, no deception can eradicate Marxism-Leninism from the minds and hearts of men” (Enver Hoxha, Eurocommunism is Anti-Communism).

With the guns of imperialism aimed at their heads all the while, five countries nonetheless uphold the banners of socialism and incarnations of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the 21st century. The Republic of Cuba, the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam are the surviving remnants of the socialist bloc which once comprised nearly a billion people of the Earth’s population. These countries, all facing unique and varying problems in their respective paths of socialist construction, are fundamentally united in their struggle to survive and build socialism in a world dominated by history’s most immense and ferocious imperialist superpower, the United States of America. These five countries serve as visible reminders of the fact that the struggle for socialism is unceasing and vibrant despite the serious setbacks resulting from the destruction of the Soviet Union, and that no single counter-revolution can eradicate Marxism-Leninism from the minds and hearts of those struggling for liberation from the rule of capital and imperialism.

Of all of these actually existing socialist countries, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea undeniably deserves special attention. The unlimited and relentless demonization of the socialist north of Korea by the imperialist media and its historians, compounded with a general lack of education among Marxist-Leninists has diverted communists’ attention from one of the most impressive, rich, and unique experiences of socialism in the history of the international communist movement, and above all one carried out in only half of a country. An embarrassing number of Marxist-Leninists are unfamiliar with the merits, successes, and challenges of socialism in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and thus are unconsciously tarnishing the scientific nature of Marxism-Leninism as an ideology of emancipation built on and derived from the lessons of concrete experiences of revolutionary transformation. If we are to be real communists worthy of the name and the rank in the army of the proletarian revolution, we must remain committed to, as Mao and the Chinese communists have said, seeking truth from facts and making practice the sole criterion of truth. Applying this to examining the DPRK, it is an unavoidable sensibility that ignoring the rich and instructive practices of socialism in Korea, and the theoretical advancements and consolidation resulting thereof, represents a harmful departure from this basic axiom of scientific socialism.

Korean communists have abided by this commitment to scientific socialism when other communists have not, especially in the wake of the ideological disorientation following the Soviet Union’s demise. In fact, Korean communists have claimed credibility in going much further by developing the so-called “Juche orientation”, “Juche outlook”, or “Juche idea” of socialism. Kim Jong Il, the late Dear Leader of the DPRK, declared on behalf of the Workers’ Party of Korea in 1990: “As we have the Juche idea, we have solved with credit the problem of consolidating the ideological foundation of socialism” (Kim Jong Il,  For the Victory of the Socialist Cause, 10).

Further, in his famous treatise, Socialism is a Science, Kim Jong Il wrote:

“Putting socialism on a new, scientific basis was regarded as a very urgent task, not only to overcome the historical limitations of the preceding theory of socialism, but also to defend socialism against all kinds of opportunist distortions and imperialist attacks. The historical task of putting socialism on a new scientific basis was successfully solved by the great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung, who created the Juche idea…” (Ibid, 179).

What is this Juche idea to which the people of North Korea supposedly owe their practical determination as well as their ideological ardor, clarity, and rectification? What is the significance of Juche to the arsenal of theory and practice of the international communist movement? These are burning questions which deserve special treatment in the considerations of those who claim to be scientific socialists.

It is an unfortunate reality that a great deal of communists have not even heard of Juche, much less understood it. In honor and solidarity with all that the Korean people have done to uphold national sovereignty, resist imperialism, and struggle for communism, the least that Marxist-Leninists of the West can do is strive to acknowledge and understand the principles of the idea which has inspired and kept the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in steadfast devotion to the communist cause against all odds and during some of the harshest periods of natural disaster, sanctions, imperialist aggression, and the collapse of much of the socialist bloc. The profound truth in the words of an article on socialism in the DPRK by Return to the Source should be firmly grasped by communists the world over:

“Kim Jong-Il’s death prompted a discussion among the left about Democratic Korea again, and with such a high volume of anti-DPRK propaganda generated by the West, it’s important for Marxist-Leninists to accurately represent the successes and challenges facing the Korean revolution. The simple fact that the DPRK survived the wave of counter-revolution that swept through most socialist countries demonstrates the strength and resilience of the Korean masses, and Democratic Korea’s perseverance in the face of overwhelming Western aggression demands close study by Marxist-Leninists in the 21st century…Despite its challenges and shortcomings, Democratic Korea is one of the last remaining countries where workers are [sic] able to control society collectively as a class. As one of the socialist countries to survive the fall of the USSR, Marxist-Leninists must study and learn from the resilience of the Korean people” (Vince Sherman, Korea Resilient! Socialism in Democratic Korea).

Regrettably, many nominal Marxist-Leninists who have undertaken to analyzing Juche have produced far from satisfactory work. These communists, mostly heirs to the Hoxhaist tendency which came out of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania in the 1960’s, have produced “analyses” which amount to little more than the comparison of isolated and extracted quotes from the Marxist-Leninist classics to the pronouncements of Korean communists in the interest of asserting supposedly infallible orthodoxy. A quick gesture towards the “incongruity” between a sentence by Kim Il Sung in comparison to a sentence of Lenin’s is the unfortunate and shameful approach of these Marxists. Needless to say, this method of “analysis” bares little in common with the Marxist practice of dialectical, historical materialist analysis, and even discredits Marxism-Leninism by portraying it as a rigid dogma incapable of rectification, self-criticism, and enhancement. Although there are conditional exceptions to the trend, such as the considerably more developed and detailed work Korean Revisionism by N. Steinmayr, the typical representatives of this pathetic irresponsibility and anti-Marxism in outlook are such pieces as The Workers’ Party of Korea and Revisionism by Bill Bland and The Juche Idea in the Light of Marxism-Leninism by Gary Howell. Few other Marxist-Leninist writings on Juche exist in the West in general and the United States in particular, a notable exception being the decent speech Reminding Ourselves of Comrade Kim Il Sung’s Profound Teachings on the Juche Idea and the Importance of Marxist-Leninist Theory by Ella Rule of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Still, no penetrating or comprehensive analyses have been taken up by Marxist-Leninists in the West.

The present exposition is written as a modest contribution to remedying the paucity of Marxist-Leninist analyses of the Juche idea and its significance to the Marxist-Leninist movement. Before beginning, I take the opportunity to quote the words of Marx in the introduction to his historic first volume of Capital:

“Every opinion based on scientific criticism I welcome. As to the prejudices of so-called public opinion, to which I have never made concessions, now as aforetime the maxim of the great Florentine is mine: ‘Seguo il tuo corso, e lascia dir le genti.’ (Follow your own course, and let the people talk – Dante).”

The Historical Origins and Development of the Juche Idea

The novice student of Juche is often baffled and bewildered when confronted with the contrasts between the elaborations of Juche during the life of Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader of the Korean Revolution, and the dialogue on Juche common during the time of leadership of his son, Kim Jong Il. Talk of Juche in the 1950’s and ‘60’s as an integral component of implementing the Marxist-Leninist mass line and upholding ideological and political integrity seems to differ starkly from the talk of Juche as a “comprehensive philosophy” or “guiding ideology of socialism” in the 1990’s. The task of understanding not only the origin of the Juche idea and its early meaning and manifestation in the Korean Revolution, but the later employment of Juche as a philosophy and ideology supposedly superior to Marxism-Leninism and the course of development from the former to the latter state of interpretation is a fundamental aspect of understanding Juche as a whole and its significance to the international communist movement.

The development of the Juche idea may be broken down into two distinct, yet as we shall see interconnected periods discernible to the onlooker: the “period of independence,” and the “period of ideological and philosophical consolidation.” These stages are not disconnected or contradictory, but are rather characterized by a combination of continuity and expansion which is typical of revolutionary, scientific theories. Let us proceed to outline and elaborate the evolution of the Juche idea in the context of these two stages of development.

The “Period of Independence”

On December 28, 1955, Kim Il Sung, the undisputed leader of the Korean Revolution and the head of government of the seven years old Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, appeared before a gathering of propagandists and agitators of the Workers’ Party of Korea and delivered a speech on ideological and methodological problems in Party literature. This speech, entitled On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work, would go down in history as the first instance of the official mention and explanation of Juche. Kim Il Sung’s point of departure was the criticism of Party propagandists and agitators, specifically writers:

“Some comrades working in the Propaganda Department of the Party tried to copy mechanically from the Soviet Union in all their work. This was also because they had no intention to study our realities and lacked the true Marxist-Leninist spirit of educating the people in our own merits and in the traditions of our revolution. Many comrades swallow Marxism-Leninism whole, instead of digesting and assimilating it. It is therefore self-evident that they are unable to display revolutionary initiative…” (Kim Il Sung, On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work).

After thoroughly criticizing examples of the mechanical regurgitation of certain forms and practices of socialism and Marxism-Leninism in other revolutions, Kim Il Sung continued:

“We have so far failed to take measures for a systematic study of our country’s history and our national culture…Some advocate the Soviet way and others the Chinese, but is it not high time to work out our own?…If we mechanically apply foreign experience, disregarding the history of our country and the traditions of our people and without taking account of our own realities and level of preparedness of our people, dogmatic errors will result and much harm will be done to the revolutionary cause. To do so is not fidelity to Marxism-Leninism nor to internationalism; it runs counter to them. Marxism-Leninism is not a dogma, it is a guide to action and a creative theory…” (Ibid).

The ideological and practical shortcomings which facilitated and promoted this harmful practice and corruption of Marxism-Leninism as a dogma, Kim Il Sung said, all boiled down to one problem: “The principal shortcomings in ideological work are the failure to delve deeply into all matters and the lack of Juche. All this is due to the lack of Juche…The lack of Juche in propaganda work has done much harm to Party work” (Ibid).

But what was Juche as explained and defined in Kim Il Sung’s monumental speech? What would establishing the lacking Juche in Party work look like? Kim Il Sung provided succint and profound answers to his audience. Immediately, he elaborated:

“What is Juche in our Party’s ideological work? What are we doing? We are not engaged in any other country’s revolution, but precisely in the Korean revolution. This, the Korean revolution, constitutes Juche in the ideological work of our Party. Therefore, all ideological work must be subordinated to the interests of the Korean revolution. When we study the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the history of the Chinese revolution, or the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism, it is all for the purpose of correctly carrying out our own revolution” (Ibid).

Establishing Juche in Party work, specifically in propaganda and agitation, meant filtering the experiences and theories of Marxism-Leninism through the lense of the actual requirements, conditions, and consciousness of the Korean Revolution and the Korean people. Several years later, Mao Tsetung would wage a similar struggle for a proper approach to the Chinese Revolution and socialist construction in China against those who favored copying the Soviet example of economic development, political structuring, and social transformation.

A reality which deserves recognition in this context is that the Korean communist movement was no “foreign-proof” native development. It certainly emerged on the basis of and out of the existing social and national conditions of Korea, but after being brutalized and mercilessly liquidated by the Japanese colonizers for decades, Korean communists found themselves mainly composed of four disconnected wings: the Soviet-groomed officials and experts of Korean extraction, the Koreans active in the Chinese Communist Party since the 1920’s, the activists who who were based in and later left the South, and the guerillas who had been engaged in sorties into Korea based out of China and the Soviet Union. Kim Il Sung had a rich and unique experiences in all of such spheres. Kim had been involved in the native Korean scene of communists like those in the South since he was 14, he had spent a decade as a member of the Chinese Communist Party and even participated in the Long March, he was a commander of the Soviet military’s Korean battalion of the 88th independent brigade, and he was also a prominent guerilla. Kim Il Sung spent extended periods of time in revolutionary work in both China, the Soviet Union, and Korea, without being exclusively based in one or the other. Thus, when Kim Il Sung spoke of the importance of realizing the peculiarities and conditions of the Korean Revolution, his words bore respectable profundity and gravity. Kim Il Sung emphasized:

“To make revolution in Korea we must know Korean history and geography and know the customs of the Korean people. Only then is it possible to educate our people in a way that suits them and to inspire in them an ardent love for their native place and their motherland…Ten years have passed now since our Party was founded…If our functionaries are not educated in the revolutionary history of our country, they will be unable to carry forward our fine revolutionary traditions, nor will they be able to realize which direction to take in their revolutionary activities” (Ibid).

Juche was thus immediately conveyed as a notion of focusing the work of Korean revolutionaries on the actual tasks and conditions at hands in Korea. What was needed to revolutionize Korea was a deep knowledge of its history, traditions, and material features, and a critical eye towards applying revolutionary transformation in these contexts. In this respect, establishing Juche meant upholding an independent creativity in theory and practice in line with the actual circumstances of building socialism in Korea. Juche meant an orientation of independence for Korean communists to realize that the Korean Revolution was a matter of critically applying Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of Korea. Having liberated half of the Korean nation, the arduous task facing the Korean working class, peasantry, working intellectuals, and revolutionaries was the completion of the national liberation struggle and the waging of a social revolution which would overthrow the exploiting classes and establish the material and ideological basis for constructing the lower stage of communism. Such a revolutionary task demanded the utmost dedication to scientific socialism, to the Korean motherland, and to realizing the necessity of understanding the concrete challenges and conditions which the revolutionary process would have to address. The answer to the demands of such a time, a momentous time of building the durable independence of the motherland and compounding it with a social revolution, was, as proposed by Kim Il Sung, none other than “establishing Juche.” Socialism and national sovereignty could not be maintained on a lasting basis in Korea if the communist vanguard of the Korean Revolution occupied itself with flunkeyism and dogmatism in its study of the international experiences of socialism and revolution.

Juche entailed an orientation and practice of respecting, studying, and critically advancing the historical heritage and customs of Korea’s struggle for national salvation in conjunction with integrating such with the theory and practice Marxism-Leninism with no tolerance for dogmatic mechanicism. The theoretical basis for this approach was an independent stand towards Marxist-Leninist theory and practice which could accord with the stipulations of the Korean Revolution. Such was the essential thrust of Juche.

This, however, does not imply that Korean communists under the leadership of Kim Il sung rejected or ignored the lessons of “foreign” experiences of socialism and the headway of the fraternal international communist parties, as some have claimed. In fact, Kim Il Sung resolutely stressed:

“Hearing us say that it is necessary to establish Juche, some comrades might take it simply and form a wrong idea that we need not learn from foreign countries. That would be quite wrong. We must learn from the good experiences of socialist countries. The important thing is to know what we are learning from. The aim we pursue in learning is to turn the advanced experience of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries to good account in our Korean revolution…Internationalism and patriotism are inseparably linked with each other. You must know that the love of Korean Communists for their country does not go against the internationalism of the working class but conforms fully with it. To love Korea is just as good as to love the Soviet Union and the socialist camp and, likewise, to love the Soviet Union and the socialist camp means precisely loving Korea” (Ibid).

And further:

“It would be wrong to advocate patriotism alone and neglect internationalist solidarity. For the victory of the Korean revolution and for the great cause of the international working class, we should strengthen solidarity with the Soviet people, our liberator and helper, and with the peoples of all the socialist countries. This is our sacred internationalist duty” (Ibid).

Establishing Juche fundamentally meant independent thinking, action, and integrity and refusing to compromise the fate of the Korean Revolution for sake of chasing after theoretical and practical orthodoxy. In essence, Juche meant independence in every sphere of theory and practice of the Korean revolutionaries and the Korean people’s struggle against imperialism and for the construction of socialism. Ten years later, Kim Il Sung stressed in retrospect:

“If one fails to establish Juche in the ideological and political spheres, he will be unable to display any initiative because his faculty of independent thinking his paralyzed, and in the end he will even become unable to tell right from wrong and will blindly follow what others do. One who has lost his autonomy and independence in this way may fall into revisionism, dogmatism, and every description of Right and “Left” opportunism, and may eventually bring the revolution and construction work to naught” (Kim Il Sung, Revolution and Socialist Construction in Korea: Selected Writings of Kim Il Sung, 89).

With these profound words, Kim Il Sung chiefly meant that without adopting a proper approach to the study and application of Marxism-Leninism and revolutionary activism in the Korean Revolution, i.e., without establishing Juche in outlook, a revolutionary would be easy prey in falling victim to, as we shall see shortly, the revisionism which pervaded much of the international communist movement at the time, the tendency to copy the steps of socialist transformation demonstrated in the Soviet Union or China, and other harmful practices which neglected the principles of Marxism-Leninism and the objective conditions of social transformation in the northern half of Korea.

The word Juche, or Chuch’e, is in fact a Sino-Korean word created by combining two Chinese characters common to all languages of the region which roughly translates to “self-subject” or “one’s own identity” as a subject (Andrei Lankov, Juche (Self-Reliance) on Translation). By extension, this has been taken to mean focus on one’s self, self-reliance, independence, etc. Andrei Lankov, a renowned scholar on the DPRK, has suggested that “a better translation would be ‘self-importance’ or ‘self-significance,’” but regardless of the precise translation of the concept, the glaringly obvious reality is that “Juche” equates to the primacy of a commitment to resisting dogma, subservience, and reliance on other than one’s own efforts and principles, and that this seemingly simple term came to possess profound meaning in the theory and practice of the Korean Revolution.

Critical independence in theory and creative, yet principled independence in practice resulted in a unique experience of social transformation and socialist construction in Korea which differed considerably from the Soviet or Chinese models at the time. Based on the Juche outlook and orientation, Korean revolutionaries led the Korean people in discovering a unique road of revolution suitable to the conditions of Korea. At the same time, for all that was new and unique in socialist construction in Korea, Juche led many communists to, on the basis of an independent approach to theory and practice, elucidate and utilize what had proved best in the historical experiences of socialist revolution.

In line with the Juche outlook, communists approached solving the problems and facilitating the successes of socialist construction by drawing on what had proved successful in the rich arsenal of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice as well as by exploring and working out new methods of mobilization which were made possible and effective realizing Korean traditions and conditions. The Chollima Movement, the Daean or Taean work system, the Chongsanri method and spirit, the “three revolutions policy” and other innovations represented the construction of socialism and the development of socialist relations of production in new forms that arose out of the struggle to find Korea’s road of socialism which would in turn inform the world communist movement of new methods of social transformation. It is worth recalling Lenin’s words when he said:

We do not claim that Marx knew or Marxists know the road to socialism down to the last detail. It would be nonsense to claim anything of the kind. What we know is the direction of this road, and the class forces that follow it; the specific, practical details will come to light only through the experience of the millions when they take things into their own hands.” (V.I. Lenin, Peasants and Workers).

Juche in the work of socialist construction constituted precisely this attitude towards the transformation of society, in which the practical experience of the millions taking up the task of building socialism and an independent and creative approach to solving problems while relying on the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism formed the basis of the advance of socialism in the northern half of Korea. Kim Il Sung summarized the importance of Juche in building socialism:

“All our victories and successes in the socialist revolution and the building of socialism are attributable to the Marxist-Leninist leadership of our Party and to the heroic struggle of our people for the thorough implementation of the Party’s lines and policies.

“What was most important for our Party in giving correct leadership to the Korean people in their revolutionary struggle and work of construction was to establish Juche firmly.

“The establishment of Juche means holding fast to the principle of solving for oneself all the problems of the revolution and construction in the conformity with the actual conditions at home, and mainly by one’s own efforts. This is a realistic and creative position, opposing dogmatism and applying the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and the experiences of the international revolutionary movement to one’s country in conformity with its historical conditions and national peculiarities. This is an independent stand, discarding dependence on others, displaying the spirit of self-rilance and solving one’s own affairs on one’s own responsibility under all circumstances” (Kim Il Sung, Revolution and Socialist Construction in Korea: Selected Writings of Kim Il Sung, 87).

Such was the significance of the independent approach embodied in the Juche idea. But Kim Il Sung declared that Juche went much further than just an independent approach; Juche, as independence and self-reliance, translated into the trajectory and struggle of the DPRK as a whole. Establishing Juche on the macro-scale of the DPRK meant a commitment to Juche in ideology, independence in politics, independence and self-reliance in economy, and independence in national defense. Kim Il Sung summarized the Juche orientation of the Korean Workers’ Party on this matter in his speech to the Ali Archam Academy of Social Sciences in Indonesia in 1965:

“The problem of establishing Juche has acquired special importance for the Korean Communists owing to the circumstances and conditions of our country and the complexity and difficulties of our revolution. While resolutely fighting in defense of the purity of Marxism-Leninism against revisionism, our Party has made every effort to establish Juche in opposition to dogmatism and flunkeyism. Juche in ideology, independence in politics, self-reliance in the economy and self-defense in national defense – this is the stand our Party has consistently adhered to” (Ibid, 88).

The struggle for independence and self-reliance in economy and national defense is easily understood and seems to be common sense. In order for the DPRK to maintain its independence, it needs to strive to the utmost to become self-reliant in economic terms and capable of preserving its sovereignty by a strong military capacity, i.e., by force of arms, the only logic which imperialism recognizes. Juche in politics also seems self-evident: no one was to dictate or meddle in the politics of independent, socialist Korea. The establishment of Juche in the sphere of ideology of the Korean Workers’ Party, which guided the Korean Revolution and led and governed the country as the ruling revolutionary vanguard, deserves particular attention.

The significance of Juche in ideology and politics for the Workers’ Party of Korea, and by extension the DPRK as a sovereign socialist country, is rooted in the context of the international communist movement of the time. In 1956, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev delivered his infamous secret speech, On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences. Instead of objectively assessing the successes and problems of the Stalin era in the Soviet Union and the role of Stalin himself through the Marxist-Leninist method of dialectical, historical-materialist analysis, Khrushchev viciously slandered and denounced Stalin in a metaphysical manner for four hours in front of the participants of the 20th Party Congress. Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin served as a springboard for the introduction of revisionist theories, such as “peaceful coexistence and accommodation with imperialism,” “the state and Party of the whole people” (the negation of class struggle), and “peaceful transition to socialism,” into Soviet policies and justified certain reforms which in many ways contributed to and exacerbated the problems which would eventually result in the Gorbachev betrayal and the demise of the Soviet system.

The People’s Republic of China, on the other hand, came to reject the Soviet Union’s changes in domestic and foreign policies, denouncing them as abandoning revolutionary principles and slipping into the downward spiral towards the restoration of capitalism. The ensuing polemics between the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of China represented a struggle for the preservation and development of the revolutionary principles of scientific socialism which quickly degenerated into a disastrous tragedy for the world communist movement. Allegations of the other Party and country being “fascist,” “state-capitalist,” or “social-imperialist” came to replace principled, comradely debate between the two Parties. The communist method of debate, encapsulated in the slogan “unity-criticism-unity” was discarded and led to a fracture within the socialist camp, embodied in the Sino-Soviet split of 1964, in which the CPSU and CPC broke off relations, thereby devastating the unity of struggle of the world communist and anti-imperialist movements.

In this context of division and, perhaps, ideological uncertainty, the Workers’ Party of Korea pursued an independent stance which respected and supported the struggle against ideological revisionism and distortions and for the defense of scientific Marxist-Leninist theory, but promoted unity between the Soviet Union and China. Kim Il Sung emphasized:

“No socialist country must be excluded from the socialist camp and the international communist movement. No one should make an exaggerated or distorted appraisal of any fraternal country or party, or consider one of the 13 socialist countries to be outside the socialist camp…Relationship between fraternal parties should in no way be identified with the hostile relations between us and imperialism…We must grasp clearly the difference between the socialist and the capitalist countries. There exist fundamental contradictions between the socialist and the capitalist countries…One should not put any fraternal party on a par with the enemy or push it away to the side of the imperialists, even if it has some negative aspects. The Communists can never allow themselves to be prejudiced or fall into subjectivism in their approach toward fraternal parties and countries” (Ibid, 130-131).

Maintaining an independent stand which refused subordination to the Khrushchevite revisions of Marxism-Leninism or the incorrect assessments of the Soviet Union by the CPC, and instead claiming fidelity to the principles of Marxism-Leninism and a critical, balanced approach to the question of Stalin, among other questions facing the world communist movement, the Workers’ Party of Korea utilized the Juche orientation as a weapon against capitulating to revisionism. Struggling for the resolution of ideological problems on the basis of scientific socialism while stressing the objective necessity and reality of unity between the socialist countries, the Workers’ Party of Korea demonstrated the independent, principled stand of Juche in politics and ideology. This standpoint of Juche started with a trickle in Kim Il Sung’s original speech on Juche:

“Comrade Pak Yong Bin, on returning from the Soviet Union, said that since the Soviet Union was following the line of easing international tension, we should also drop our slogan against U.S. imperialism. Such an assertion has nothing to do with revolutionary vigilance. The U.S. imperialists scorched our land, slaughtered our innocent people en masse, and are still occupying the southern half of our country. They are our sworn enemy, aren’t they?” (Kim Il Sung, On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work).

And it evolved into a critically important standpoint in the world of communist politics in the 20th century. Kim Il Sung’s original warning rang prescient:

“If one fails to establish Juche in the ideological and political spheres, he will be unable to display any initiative because his faculty of independent thinking his paralyzed. One who has lost his autonomy and independence in this way may fall into revisionism, dogmatism, and every description of Right and “Left” opportunism…” (Kim Il Sung, Revolution and Socialist Construction in Korea: Selected Writings of Kim Il Sung, 89).

Any honest Marxist-Leninist who has recognized the dynamics, successes, failures, solidarity, and disagreements within the communist movement of the 20th century can surely appreciate the integrity and correctness of the position of the Workers’ Party of Korea as presented by Kim Il Sung:

“Our Party will, as in the past, continue to hold fast to the line of independence in its internal and external activities, safeguard the purity of Marxism-Leninism against Right and “Left” opportunism, and abide by the principles contained in the Declaration and Statement of the meetings of representatives of the Communist and Workers parties of all countries. Our Party will endeavor to defend the unity of the socialist camp and solidarity of the international communist movement based on the principles of Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism, oppose imperialism, and carry the revolution through to the end in close unity with the peoples of the whole world” (Ibid, 145).

Having examined the context, essential tenets, approach, implications, and experience of Juche in the Korean Revolution and socialist construction in its early years, it is necessary to summarize the “period of independence” as a stage in the development and elaboration of the theory of Juche before proceeding. The period of independence is delineated as a stage in the formulation of the Juche idea and is termed in such a way because the principally definitive character of the Juche idea following the establishment of the DPRK and embarking on the road to socialism was inherently tied up with the notion of being independent, autonomous, and sovereign in revolutionary theory and praxis. Juche was something that was established in the mindset and actions of revolutionaries and in the policies of the Party and the state. Juche was explained and implemented as a necessary responsibility in thinking and acting as a principled Marxist-Leninist. Juche was the lifeline of the revolutionary struggle to defend the sovereignty of the DPRK, transform Korean society along socialist lines, and develop and criticize Marxist-Leninist, or what was purported to be Marxist-Leninist, theory and practice in the process. Korean communists were, in accordance with the Party line, advised to “equip” themselves with Juche in order to best wage the revolutionization of the northern half of Korea, and contribute to the international communist movement in a substantive and crucial way, ridden of dogmatism, flunkeyism, and revisionism. Such was the essence of Juche as a notion and practice of independence, and therein lies the source for the terminology of the period.

Part 2 coming soon. 

Works cited:

Hoxha, Enver. Eurocommunism is Anti-Communism. <http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hoxha/works/euroco/env2-1.htm&gt;

Kim Il Sung. Revolution and Socialist Construction in Korea: Selected Writings of Kim Il Sung. New York: International Publishers, 1971.

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