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Juche is the state ideology of North Korea. Loosely translating as 'self-reliance', it is a unique, Korean-flavoured variety of Stalinism with a heavy dose of national mysticism ascribing supernatural feats and deity status to the "Great Leader" and "Dear Leader" as the organic leaders of the Korean people. It also borrows heavily from Maoism in its third-worldist orientation and "mass line" ideology, the latter manifesting in the token toleration of two other political parties besides the ruling Workers Party of Korea, and in the practice of encouraging as many people as possible to join the Workers Party.

The term was popularised by Kim Il Sung in 1955, initially to send a signal against following the Soviet line too closely, and later mutated into three key principles: independence, self-sustenance, and self-defense. Juche is not an orthodox Marxist concept; if it has an analogue within the rest of Marxism it is found in the arguments over "socialism in one country". Rather, Juche is fundamentally a Korean nationalist concept, with closely related concepts of national self-reliance found in other Asian nations as well, especially Japan and China. While drawing from pre-Marxist Asian political theory, Korean nationalism, and national mysticism, it also maintains its Stalinist and Maoist character. Taken as individual words, the three core tenets of Juche could be lifted straight from a book on the French or American revolutions, but the "self" in this context is the nation. The Kims are upheld as organic leaders naturally emerging from the collective will of the people. These have all led to allegations that Juche is not exactly Stalinist but actually monarchist, or even fascist.

Some have argued that the supernatural elements in Juche mean that it is effectively a religion, although the official North Korean line is that it is an atheistic philosophy instead.[1]


[edit] Racism and fascism

In fact, there is a very large racist component to all North Korean propaganda and iconography. In it, the pure Korean race is absolutely virtuous and wonderful in a way that no other race of people can be, with Japanese and Americans being the most evil. Non-Koreans are constantly referred to in animalistic ways, and the death of a non-Korean is always written in a derogatory way. This penetrates to all levels of government publications (which are, of course, all legal publications in North Korea.) Even math textbooks have questions like "Three People's Army soldiers rubbed out thirty American bastards. What was the ratio of the soldiers who fought?"[2] (The answer is 1:10, by the way.)

The odd thing is, contrary to most fascist propaganda, the Korean race is not held up as a source of strength. Instead, the propaganda shows it as inherently weak and unable to fend for itself in such a violent, evil world, and so instead needs the strength of its pure military leader, Kim Jong-un.

[edit] Sino-Soviet split

During the Sino-Soviet split in the communist world, Juche meant North Korea would follow its own path, not siding entirely with either side but keeping its distance while remaining friendly to both. This led to both the USSR and China lavishing favorable trade terms and aid on North Korea, each trying to woo it into their own camp, and at the same time the amusing placement of signs in northern border towns by the North Korean government warning citizens to be on the lookout for Chinese and Soviet spies. This of course caused the opposite of self-reliance to occur; at the time, unlikely as it may seem today, North Korea was considered one of the economic miracles of the communist world. Once the Berlin Wall fell and with it the Soviet Union and its foreign aid war with China over North Korea, the bottom fell out of North Korea's status as a relatively prosperous country and it stands today as a textbook example of a thoroughly oppressive government whose people are starving to death while the leaders feast.

[edit] Songun

Starting in 1995, an ideological innovation known as Songun ("military first") was added to the Juche ideology. Under Songun, the Korean Peoples Army has been elevated to the top status in society, upheld as the primary focus and source of politics, supplanted the leadership role previously held by the Korean Workers Party, and granted the vanguard status analagous to that of the industrial proletariat or peasantry in earlier versions of Marxist-Leninist ideology. Again there is a heavily fascist appearance and blood-and-soil component to all this. North Korean media is now filled with exhortations that the army, leader, party, and people are all one, while the military is given the top, indeed nearly the only, priority in government while it drains away resources and people from the rest of society.

North Korea only has a population of 24 million people, but has over 1 million in the military, and another 4 million in reserve.[3] This reduced the workforce and increased those needing to be supported by that workforce to such an extent that 2-3 million people starved to death. It has also had the completely counterproductive effect of making many of the youngsters in North Korea permanently unfit for military service, due to the mental and physical retardation that comes with malnutrition. Over the last 50 years, it's estimated that North Koreans have shrunk in height on average by two inches or more due to this.

A good analogy might be the classic science fiction trope of an out of control computer drawing ever more power to itself while the lights grow progressively dimmer everywhere else and eventually go out completely. As this always ends the same - with the computer finally burning itself out and erupting in a shower of sparks - so has it been suggested that Songun is a last desparate act of trying to salvage a collapsing regime, and will inevitably accelerate that collapse. At least one writer entertains this as one possibility, but also notes its close similarity to the military dictatorship of South Korea under Park Chung-Hee during the 1960s[4]. It should be noted that South Korea's succession of military dictatorships is not a good argument against collapse in North Korea, as they were propped up by the United States, which somewhat 'guided' South Korea towards a stable democratic state. Likewise, in another contrast to classical fascism, Songun has not taken the form that military-centric policies have under regimes such as those of Hitler, Mussolini, or Imperial Japan, namely the haphazard military invasion of one country after another. It remains to be seen what will happen to a North Korean regime increasingly centered on a military draining away most of its resources, not propped up by any outside powers (excepting, arguably, China), and not actively using that military in any foreign adventures (excepting, arguably, its frequent saber-rattling against South Korea.)

[edit] In conclusion

Regardless of which label is applied to it, Juche is a batshit insane ideology, the application of which has predictably resulted in misery, oppression, and (once the artificially favorable trade terms and foreign aid from China and the USSR were cut off) deindustrialization and famine in North Korea. And yet, due to Juche, many of the people in North Korea still praise and love their beneficent overlords.[5]

Like all crazy groups, it has its backers in the West, many of whom form what are known as Juche 'study groups' for examinations of various Juche-related texts, most of them written by the Kims.[6][7] However, there is almost no chance for any of the Western powers to ever really adopt Juche as a guiding philosophy. This is not really the intent of these "study groups". Juche is seen by them as a potential ideology for adoption in the developing, or so-called third world, as a mode of resistance against Western imperialism, not as something the Western powers would adopt themselves. Even there, Juche has made little headway (in contrast again to Maoism, which was at one time popular among "third world" revolutionaries) and is considered on the whole to be a strictly North Korean aberration.

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Juche: North Korea has created religion in attempt to reject it
  2. Foreign Policy: North Korea's Race Problem
  3. For a similar ratio, the US would have to have 12.5 million in the armed forces, with another 50 million in reserves; the US actually has 1.4 million in the military and a similar amount in the reserves.
  4. Alexander V. Vorontsov, "North Korea's Military-First Policy: A Curse or a Blessing?", The Brookings Institution
  5. unleashing chiang
  6. Juche Philosophy Study Group (Malta)
  7. Juche Idea Study Group of England
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