What exactly is the Juche idea, the “monolithic ideology” of the Workers’ Party of Korea? Kim Il Sung has described it as “a creative application of Marxism-Leninism in the conditions of our country” (CW, Vol 27, p501). He has said that “this idea advocates living independently, not dependently. We do not act on anyone’s orders; we judge all problems with our own intelligence, solve them in the interests of our people, and build socialism to the Koreans’ liking and in accordance with the Korean way of life” (CW, Vol.27, p.309).
The Juche idea, as it has become known rather than the Juche philosophy, was originally intended then as an adaptation of Marxist-Leninist principles to Korean conditions and constituted an assertion of Korean independence – political, economic, cultural and ideological independence.
According to its author: “The Juche Idea implies solving all problems by regarding man as the basic factor. In a capitalist society, everything serves money, not man; capitalists know nothing but money. But in our society man is most highly valued and everything serves man. Man is the master of everything and decides everything. Man conquers nature, and man transforms society. The Juche Idea requires that everything should be made to serve man, to serve the people.” (CW, Vol.27, p.309).
References to “the Juche Idea and the need to equip the working people firmly with our Party’s monolithic idea, the Juche Idea. . . the only correct ideological guide to the successful carrying out of the Korean Revolution” (CW, Vol.22, p.513) are scattered throughout the great leader’s works, but it is his philosophically minded son who has refined and systematised his anthropocentric outlook into a coherent body of thought.
In a 1986 speech, On Some Problems of Education in the Juche Idea, Kim Jong Il states that: “Society consists of people, the social wealth they have created, and the social relations which link them. Here man is always the master.” (p.7) Man is the master because it is man who creates the wealth and establishes the social relations. Man exerts his will to transform the natural world to meet his aspirations. Moreover, “Social movement is the movement of man which is caused and promoted by man. Man is the factor which brings about social movement and the motive force behind this movement. In conformity with the level of development of his Chajusong, creativity, and consciousness, man proceeds with the creative movement to transform nature and society and advances social movement to shape his own destiny. Of course, man cannot create history in disregard of the objective conditions. But the objective conditions are not immutable; they can be changed in favour of man through his creative activities. It is not the objective conditions but man that plays the decisive role in the development of history.” (pp.7-8)
In an earlier work, On the Juche Idea, the dear leader notes that “History develops through the struggle of the masses to transform nature and society” (p.15). However, “Although they are the subject of history, the masses of the people do not hold the same position and play the same role in all ages and in all societies. In the class society, unaware of their social status and class relationship and their strength for a long time in the past, the working masses could not unite into a political force. Therefore, they were deprived of all rights, subjected to exploitation and oppression, by a handful of ruling class and denied their legitimate position as masters of society. Even in the exploiting society they created all material and cultural wealth by their own efforts, but they were unable to shape history in an independent manner because they could not occupy the position of masters of society. Only by seizing state power and the means of production in their own hands and by establishing a socialist system can the working masses free themselves from exploitation and oppression and create history consciously as true masters of society and their own destiny.” (pp.16-17)
In the Juche philosophy, this notion of the masses living as conscious creators of history, true masters of society and their own destiny is generally subsumed under the concept of realising their Chajusong. The nearest equivalent in English to the term Chajusong is autonomy, but the Koreans do not feel autonomy is sufficiently accurate because Chajusong is a strictly social attribute of man which an individual can only acquire through participation in the collective.
In On Some Questions in Understanding the Juche Philosophy, Kim Jong Il emphasises that “Man is a product of evolution, but not his Chajusong.
“Chajusong is a social product. Chajusong is an attribute given to men by society, not nature; it is not a natural gift, but has been formed and developed socially and historically. Nature gives man natural and biological attributes, whereas society provides him with social attributes. It can be said that man’s Chajusong is the requirement and reflection of social life, social practice.” (p.5)
It may be that a correct understanding of this concept of Chajusong would enable me to reconcile the apparent contradiction within a society which purports to uphold the realisation of the masses’ autonomy as its principal goal but which allows the component individuals who make up the masses the barest minimum of control over their own lives. Or perhaps the explanation for the contradiction lies in the fact that the revolution is still in a transitional phase before the complete victory of socialism and the establishment of communism, during which the masses cannot be entrusted with responsibility for their own Chajusong as they have yet to be properly ideologically remoulded.
In Juche theory, the revolution consists of three sub-revolutions, the technical, cultural, and ideological revolutions. Of the three it is the ideological revolution that is of paramount importance, and it aims at nothing less than the creation of a new type of person.
;In On the Juche Idea, Kim Jong Il writes, “In order to build socialism and communism we must not only develop the productive forces and change the social relations but also transform people themselves into comprehensively developed communist men. No matter how highly the productive forces have been developed and how great the material wealth is, one could not claim to have built a communist society unless people, the masters of society, are transformed into men of communist type.
“If we are to train people to be harmoniously developed communists, independent and creative men, we must equip them with communist ideology and advanced scientific and technical knowledge and help them to acquire a high cultural level.
“In particular, primary attention should be directed to the task of arming people with communist ideology.
“The transforming of man in essence means ideological remoulding. Thoughts define man’s worth and quality and, accordingly, ideological remoulding is of the utmost importance in the transformation of man.” (p.62)
He returns to the them in On Some Problems of Education in the Juche Idea. “The Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung said that in today’s new historical conditions we should construe Lenin’s proposition – Soviet power plus electrification equals communism – as meaning that the people’s government plus the three revolutions is communism . . . Comrade Kim Il Sung instructed us that in order to build a communist society we must capture the ideological fortress as well as the material fortress, and give precedence to ideology.
“Capturing the material fortress of communism is an undertaking that harnesses nature to meet the demands of communism. The endeavours to capture the ideological fortress are the work of reforming human beings, the masters of society, so as to meet the requirements of communism. Socialism and communism are built by men, for men. In order to build communism it is necessary, first of all, to reform the people, the masters of society, along communist lines.” (pp 10-11)
On page 59 of On the Juche Idea, he justifies giving primacy to the ideological revolution on the grounds that “one can promote the revolution one desires when the internal forces are prepared and the masses’ level of ideology is high, although other conditions are unfavourable”.
Two themes in Juche ideology that have been conspicuously developed by Kim Jung Il are the whimsical notion of “immortal socio-political integrity” and the overwhelming importance of the leader and necessity for everyone else to show him unquestioning obedience. The former preoccupation can be interpreted as a reaction to the failure of the technical revolution and the economic stagnation of recent years. The latter can be seen as a conscious attempt to consolidate his composition once his father has passed on.
In On Some Problems of Education in the Juche Idea, he writes: “For the popular masses to be an independent subject of the revolution, they must be united into one organisation with one ideology under the guidance of the party and the leader. Only the masses, who are united in this way, can shape their destiny independently and creatively. The subject of the revolution means the integrated whole of the leader, the party and the masses.”
“By uniting around the leader into organisation with a single ideology, under the guidance of the party, the masses form a socio-political organism which is immortal as an independent being. The physical life of an individual person is finite, but the integrity of the masses rallied as an independent socio-political organism is immortal.”
“The great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung clarified for the first time in history that there is socio-political integrity distinct from the physical life of individuals. An immortal socio-political integrity is inconceivable without the existence of the socio-political community which is the integrated whole of the leader, the party and the masses. Only when an individual becomes a member of this community can he acquire immortal socio-political integrity.”
“Since the socio-political organism consists of many people it needs a focal point which has unified command of the activities of the social organism. Just as a man’s brain is the centre of his life, so the leader, the top brain in a socio-political community, is the centre of the life of this community. The leader is called the top brain of the socio-political organism because he is the focal point which directs the life of this organism in a unified manner. The leader is the centre which analyses, synthesises and integrates the interests of the masses and their desire for independence; at the same time, he is the centre which has unified command of their creative abilities to put them into effect.”
“The party is the core of the masses, and it is rallied closely around the leader organisationally and ideologically; it is the pivot of the independent socio-political organism. When individuals are united organisationally and ideologically with the leader, the centre of the socio-political organism, through party organisations, and share the same destiny with the party, they will acquire an immortal socio-political integrity. It is only when people take an active part in organisational and ideological activities as members of a party organisation or a socio-political organisation led by the party that they can become more closely tied in kinship with the leader, the centre of the socio-political organism, and exalt their socio-political integrity.”
“Since the leader, the party and the masses are welded into one socio-political organism and share the same destiny, they form a relationship based on revolutionary duty and comradeship, the relationship of helping and loving each other. Revolutionary duty and comradeship help towards uniting individual persons into a socio-political organism.”
“So far many people have talked about the value of freedom and equality. The Juche Ideaalso considers them valuable. This is because everybody, as the master of the world, the master of his own destiny and as an independent being, does not want to be subordinated to anyone else. However, the principle of revolutionary duty and comradeship is not on the same level as that of freedom and equality. The relationship of revolutionary duty and comradeship presupposes the relationship of freedom and equality. However, the former does not become established spontaneously simply because the latter exists. We can say that a buyer and seller are on equal terms, but we cannot say that they always love each other as comrades. It is wrong to set the relationship of freedom and equality against that of revolutionary duty and comradeship. It is also a mistake to try to dissolve one into the other.”
“From the point of view of the social community as a unit, the principle of equality contributes to the fight against subjugation and inequality in personal relationships and to the defence of the Chajusong of individuals, whereas revolutionary duty and comradeship exert a strong influence on uniting people into a socio-political organism sharing one and the same destiny and on defending the Chajusong of the social community. The principle of equality is based on the individualistic outlook on life; it sets the greatest value on the life of individuals. On the other hand, the principle of revolutionary duty and comradeship is based on the collectivist viewpoint on life; it holds the integrity of a socio-political community incomparably dearer than the life of individuals.”
“Certainly, the socio-political organism, too, is subject to the working of the principle of equality as well as the principle of revolutionary duty and comradeship. Here, equality between individuals does not contradict revolutionary duty and comradeship. Genuine revolutionary duty and comradeship can exist only when exploitation and oppression of man by man are eliminated and equality between people is ensured. Revolutionary duty and comradeship do not restrict the Chajusong and creativity of man. On the contrary, they ensure them.”
If man’s Chajusong and creativity are suppressed because the unity of the social community has to be maintained, it will be impossible to achieve genuine unity within the community. On the other hand, if the unity of the community is destroyed in the case of providing people with Chajusong and creativity, the integrity of the social community, the parent body of the integrity of individuals, will be impaired and thus the individuals themselves cannot be provided with Chajusong and creativity. The unity of the social community should contribute to giving full play to man’s Chajusong and creativity. And man’s Chajusong and creativity must always refrain from going beyond the bounds of the unity of the community. This means that only through a harmonious combination of the principles of equality and comradeship can the problems be solved of giving full play to the Chajusong and creativity of individuals and of cementing the unity of the community. Certainly, this is not an easy task, and certainly the problems do not resolve themselves of their own accord. That is why I have stressed more than once the need for leadership in a social community.
“Since the leader is the centre of the life of a socio-political community, revolutionary duty and comradeship must also be centred on the leader. Revolutionary duty and comradeship find their most noble expression in the relationship between the leader and his men. Within the socio-political organism in which a common destiny is shared by all, the principle of duty and comradeship governs the relationship between individuals, too. But in this case the principle is not absolute because none of the individuals is the centre of the life of the socio-political community. However, loyalty to the leader and comradeship towards him are absolute and unconditional because the leader, as the top brain of the socio-political organism, represents the integrity of the community . . . “
“We must also fully understand that the leader plays the decisive role in the revolution and construction. Being at the centre of unity and leadership, he plays the decisive role in shaping the destiny of the popular masses. This is similar to the brain of a man playing the decisive role in his activities.” (pp.19-24)
An article I revised emanating, I think, from the Academy of Juche Sciences, extended the anatomical metaphor to compare the leader to the brain, the party to the central nervous system which conducts messages from the brain to the limbs, the popular masses who carry out the leader’s instructions. Kim Jung Il goes on to conclude that “The basic quality of a communist revolutionary of the Juche type consists of a sound revolutionary attitude to the leader and of the appreciation that loyalty to him is the lifeblood of a communist” (p.24).
In his opinion, “The Juche Ideais a perfect revolutionary doctrine: it shows the way for people to become absolute masters of the world and of their own destiny by completely transforming nature, society and human beings themselves in accordance with the essential social quality of men who want to live and develop independently, as well as the way for the lasting happiness and prosperity of mankind to be achieved.” (Education in Juche Idea, p.2). It “not only provides a correct outlook and viewpoint on nature, society, and man, but also demonstrates a perfect revolutionary theory, strategy and tactics, and leadership theory and methods” (ibid, pp 8-9).
He recommends that “The party and people of every country must firmly establish Juche in ideology, and carry out the revolution and construction in their country in a responsible manner, with the attitude of masters.” (On the Juche Idea, p.37.)
He maintains that “Just as a man’s worth is defined by his ideology, so the greatness of a nation is determined by the greatness of its guiding ideology” (Education in the Juche Idea, p.15). On this basis I leave the reader to form his own evaluation of the greatness of Juche Korea.