Will the North Korean regime ever end?

Department of History and Cultural Studies

Personal and political socialization until 1964

Tracing the life path and political socialization of Kim Jong Il exactly is, similar to Kim Il Sung or possibly even more, an extremely difficult undertaking, because this development is also largely overshadowed by state propaganda. Nonetheless, the key data and basic framework conditions are known within which Kim Jong Il's personal and political socialization took place.

According to the North Korean account, which is written down in both Kim Jong Il's official biographies and Kim Il Sung's autobiography 'With the Century', Kim Jong-Il was killed on February 16, 1942 in a secret camp by anti-Japanese guerrillas at the foot of the Paekdu -Berges was born as the eldest son Kim Il-Sŏng and Kim Chŏng-Suk. But even with regard to this apparently harmless information, there are initial disagreements among independent observers; they do not fully agree on either the year or place of birth. There are many indications that Kim Jong Il was in the Soviet village Vyatskoyeabout 70 km northeast of Khabarovskwas born - not in the Paekdu Mountains - on February 16, 1941 - not 1942. The reasons for such changes on the part of the North Korean historians are essentially the myths about the North Korean leader, already known from Kim Il Sung. Mt. Paekdu is considered a “holy place” in Korea, around which countless myths and legends have already grown up. The fact that Kim Jong Il was supposedly born there, of all places, is intended to convey the symbolic message that he was destined to be the leader of North Korea at the time of his birth. The reasons for the subsequent change in the year of birth, however, are not exactly known; however, it is believed that this has to do with the fact that the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il - the two most important holidays in North Korea - should be socially synchronized.

In order to understand Kim Jong Il's political socialization, it is helpful to consider the domestic political framework within which this socialization took place. The early years of Kim Jong Il's development were marked by the division of Korea and the Korean War, which solidified the Cold War in East Asia and deepened hostility with South Korea and its allies, the increasing conflict between the Soviet Union and China, and the establishment of the Chuch'e ideology and the targeted elimination of Kim Il Sung's political opponents. In addition, anti-Americanism, ritualized in everyday life and in political life, and the rapid recovery from the economic consequences of the war with the help of other socialist states and the Chollima mass mobilization campaign also played a formative role. All these events, it can be assumed with a probability bordering on certainty, directly influenced the epistemological development of the young Kim Jong Ils as well as the entire North Korean society: However, the direct relationship to his father Kim Il Sung had an even more immediate effect. From childhood, Kim Jong Il seemed extremely perceptive of his father's activities. Even during his college education, Kim Jong Il accompanied his father to mass events, to meetings of the party and the army, and to trips abroad. Basically, he grew up in the midst of the guerrilla circles around his father Kim Il Sung. The simple fact that Kim Jong Il was the son of the Supreme Leader and thus a direct part of the supreme guerrilla force became a key factor in his later political success. As the son of Kim Il Sung, he received special training and special treatment in almost all areas of his life and education. In addition, Kim Jong Il is described as extremely ambitious and power-oriented. These ambitions began to develop particularly after his studies with his activities within the Korean Workers' Party. According to North Korean sources, Kim Jong Il began studying “political economy” in September 1960 at Kim Il Sung University, the country's most important educational institution, where he enjoyed exclusive supervision. The training there was socially the first concrete and practical step that Kim Il Sung took to prepare for Kim Jong Il's later appearance on the political stage, which was then consolidated with his preparatory work within the party structures between 1964 and 1974.

The "Party Years" - The Road to Political Legacy (1964-1974)

After Kim Jong Il officially became a member of the "Korean Workers' Party" in July 1961 and finally graduated from Kim Il Sung University in March 1964, Kim Jong Il's years of preparatory party work began. During this time he learned the functioning and working mechanisms of the party and the cabinet. At the same time, in the mid-1960s, it was not yet definitively certain whether Kim Jong Il would actually be chosen as Kim Il Sung's successor. Rather, Kim Jong Il had to prove his qualities to both his father and his guerrilla clique in the years between 1964 and 1974, apart from the necessary personal ties, through results in concrete party work. M.a.W. it can be said that Kim Jong Il's family membership and his ties to the guerrilla clique were indispensable prerequisites for taking over power in North Korea in the long term. At the same time, however, he was also confronted with the equally necessary prerequisite to demonstrate his will and his ability to assert himself as well as his leadership qualities: He demonstrated this between 1964 and 1974, above all by engaging in the long-term power struggle (especially against Kim Yŏng-ju and Kim Sŏng-ae) won second place in the North Korean power hierarchy. In the course of this power struggle, Kim Jong Il learned the rules of the political game in a totalitarian state.

Kim Jong Il officially began his party career in the Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Party in June 1964. If you consider the Korean Workers' Party (조선 로동당, KWP) to be the most powerful organ of the North Korean state under KimIl Sung, then you can Describe the organization department as the most powerful element within the party. Within the organization department, Kim Jong Il worked first for the "central guidance section" (chungang chidokwa, 중앙 지도과) and the "general guidance section" (chonghap chidokwa, 종합 지도과). After only one year he was transferred to the “Premier’s Secretariat Office” and returned to one of the management positions in the “Central Guidance Section” in 1966 - an immense rise in a very short time. In the following years, Kim Jong Il demonstrated his leadership qualities in particular in the area of ​​"propaganda and agitation activities", where he was also (jointly) responsible for the massive expansion of the leadership cult around his father Kim Il Sung and also and especially in the area who was active in “art and culture”.

In early 1973, North Korean media began making specific suggestions regarding Kim Il Sung's political succession. In September 1973, in the course of the 7th plenum of the 5th Central Committee of the Korean Workers ’Party, the North Korean leadership raised Kim Jong-Il to both the post of“ organization secretary ”and the post of“ propaganda and agitation secretary ”. Between February 11 and 13, 1974, during the 8th plenary session of the 5th Central Committee of the KWP, Kim was officially introduced as the political successor of his father, in which he held a post as a full member of the Politburo, known as the “Political Committee”. "To be a member of the committee suggested he was his father’s official successor." After the 8th plenary session, Kim Jong Il was from then on in the North Korean media as the "party center" (Tnec C.hungang, 당 중앙). Kim was only 33 years old at the time.

Kim Jong-Il's preparation for takeover (1974-1994)

In the 20 years between 1974 and 1994, Kim Jong Il systematically prepared for his takeover. His main goals during this time were, on the one hand, the lasting proof of loyalty to his father and, on the other hand, the targeted strengthening of his own power base. Under the meticulous coordination of his father, Kim Jong Il gradually established his own control and management system within North Korean politics. First he established his control over the party. By using the central position of the party in the political system of North Korea under Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il then went on to expand his sphere of rule to other central government institutions, in particular the military. By the mid-1980s, the process of preparing for the takeover was apparently largely complete. In 1986, Kim Il Sung declared that "the question of the revolutionary succession plan within the party has been answered satisfactorily." Since the late 1980s, according to most observers, Kim Il Sung's primary role has been that of a guardian and supporter, where he continued to represent North Korea diplomatically. Kim Jong Il has been responsible for most domestic affairs since then. In the early 1990s, Kim Jong Il took over his father's highest posts in the military: in 1991 he became commander-in-chief of the Korean People's Army, in April 1992 as marshal and in April 1993 appointed chairman of the "National Defense Commission". At the same time as the establishment of a monolithic system of leadership at the political level, Kim Jong Il also began preparing to take over his father's ideological legacy. He monopolized the authority around the Chuch’e-Developing ideology and pushing North Korean scholars to convert state ideology into semi-religious doctrine. As early as 1976, in addition to the picture of Kim Il Sung, the picture of Kim Jong Il became compulsory in all public and private spaces and Kim Jong Il's birthday was also declared an important national holiday from now on.

The inheritance of power from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong Il, which was finally decided between 1974 and 1994, created a new type of political regime - a type that Lim Jae-cheon calls "dynastic totalitarianism":

"The dynastic totalitarian regime was a product of one politician’s inexhaustible desire for power concentration. The politician who had concentrated almost absolute power in his hands wanted to maintain it through his son even after his death. Through the establishment of the new regime, the politician wanted to be respected and to hand down his achievements through dynastic succession in his posthumous period. His son, Kim Jong Il, was the key figure who would maintain the dynastic regime. "

It is particularly significant that during this period there was also a twofold strengthening of the personality cult; namely once by Kim Jong-Il, who expanded the PK of KIS, at the same time, however, the relevant bodies within the North Korean state made every effort to build up or strengthen the PK around KJI. The stronger the personality cults around KIS and KJI became, the clearer and clearer the dynastic characteristics of the North Korean state became. The North Korean state began actively promoting Confucian values, deliberately trying to restore the ancient traditions that existed in the ancient Korean dynasties. Especially when the communist bloc collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, strict nationalist values ​​and references to its own history and tradition were loudly emphasized. Lim Jae-Cheon rightly states in this context:

“The overemphasis on tradition made the totalitarian society more rigid and impeded its ability to adjust to the external environment (...) Rather than jumping on the bandwagon of the changing political and economic systems, the North Korean leadership reacted to the changes by reinforcing the chuch 'e idea in the society, isolating it even more than before. "

This was also when the slowdown in growth in the initially successful North Korean economy began. In the 1980s, the transition to economic stagnation finally took place, which in turn developed into a tangible economic crisis. Although the North Korean leadership made tactical adjustments in the mid-1980s, such as the “Law of the Management of Joint Venture” and agreed to the introduction of a “special economic zone” in Northeastern North Korea, it quickly became clear that the North Korean economy would be without rapid and above all comprehensive reform measures could not be permanently stabilized. But the principle of the ‘self-reliant economy’, to which the North Korean leadership still adhered very strictly at that time, did not allow a quick and comprehensive departure from the old economic policy. It was precisely at this time that the KIS and KJI failed to save North Korea's economic system - but more on that in the upcoming meetings.

The takeover and consolidation of Kim Jong-Il (1994-2011)

In states that are governed by means of a dictatorial “one-man rule”, the death of a leader usually leads to a crisis in the regime. Something similar would have happened to North Korea had it not been for the meticulous preparations made for Kim Jong Il's takeover, as shown above. But after the death of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il first decided to declare a three-year period of mourning, which is typical for the old Korean rulers. In this sense, the election of Kim Jong-il as General Secretary of the KWP on October 8, 1997 marks the transition from the “legacy period” to the “true” Kim Jong-il era. On September 5, 1998, the 10th Colonel took office People's Assembly (OVV) convenes for one session. Since this had not met since Kim Il Sung's death, this was in itself a signal that a new political age had begun. The OVV elected Kim Jong Il as head of the National Defense Commission (NPC) and made a new constitution legally valid. Although there was no inauguration ceremony and no proclamation of Kim Jong-il as the new ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-il had become the new “de facto” ruler of North Korea. The new 1998 constitution was called the Kim Il-sung Constitution. Her foreword honors Kim Il-sung as the “Eternal President” and emphasizes that the nation will “defend and build upon the work and thought of Comrade Kim Il-sung” until the glorious day of the Great Juche Revolution would be fully completed ”. This ensured that Kim Jong Il's position of power and legitimation should be just as “eternal” as his father's power. Since the new constitution ruled out the possibility of anyone other than Kim Il Sung ever being president of the country, North Korea was, on paper, without a leader. The power of the former President should be divided between the OVV Presidium, the NPC and the Cabinet. According to the constitution, the Presidium of the OVV, as the highest political body, gave its chairman the power to represent North Korea as its leader. However, it was the NPK that held a special position among all other political organs and exercised the greatest political power. Therefore, was the head of the National Defense Commission de facto the supreme ruler of North Korea. North Korea remained within the conceptual frame of reference of “legacy rule”, with the will of the “eternal” President Kim Il Sung dictating national policy and Kim Jong Il devising specific strategies based on the late President's ideas. This gave Kim Jong Il a "supra-political" status, which continued the legacy of Kim Il Sung and carried out his will after his death.

However, all of this does not mean that North Korea under Kim Jong Il was a mere copy or continuation of the rule under Kim Il Sung. Although Kim Jong Il retained the central elements of the Kim Il Sung regime, it can be said that North Korea under KJI differs in many ways from that North Korea under KIS. Both the external environment and the internal conditions had changed a lot from time to time. It is no exaggeration to say that after Kim Jong Il took office, North Korea went through its most difficult phase since the Korean War: Externally, the worsening nuclear crisis threatened the regime's immediate security; and internally, too, the long, extremely stable totalitarian system was massively shaken, above all by a dramatic economic crisis.