Introduced and Annotated by Jake Schlackman

Following the end of the Korean War, which lasted from June 1950 until July 1953, “Glorious Leader” Kim Il Sung called upon the people of North Korea to combine neo-Confucianism (sirhak) with the Soviet born Marxist-Leninist Communist ideology. This synthesis, which Kim calls Juche, admonished the Soviets for effectively turning their nation into a Soviet puppet. Effectively, Juche is a rebranding of the Marxist-Leninist Communist creation within the Korean historical and cultural context. Kim reminds the members of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) of insurrections like the Kwangju Student Incident(s) as a means of signifying the struggles for sovereignty that the people of Korea underwent. In this excerpt, Kim identifies varying faults swaying against his policy of Juche and by calling out these problems he hopes that the country as a whole will address them amicably. Rather than applying Soviet Communism broadly, Kim wanted to illustrate that while both North Korea and the Soviet Union are based on the same Marxist-Leninist ideologies, each country should adapt Marxism-Leninism to its own unique cultural and societal norms. In concluding this excerpt, Kim calls upon the continued struggle against imperialism, especially for South Korea, and suggests further implementation of propaganda material.

Speech: On eliminating dogmatism[1] and
formalism[2] and establishing Juche
in ideological work

Speech to Party Propagandists and Agitators

December 28, 1955


Date: December 28, 1955
Source: Kim Il Sung: Selected Works, Vol. I, pp. 582-606
Transcription: Victor Barraza
HTML Markup: Salil Sen, 2008

Today I want to address a few remarks to you on the shortcomings in our Party’s ideological work and on how to eliminate them in the future.

As you learned at yesterday’s session, there have been serious ideological errors on the literary front. It is obvious, then, that our propaganda work also cannot have been faultless.

It is to be regretted that our propaganda work suffers in many respects from dogmatism and formalism.

The principal shortcomings in ideological work are the failure to delve deeply into all matters and the lack of Juche.[3] It may not be proper to say Juche is lacking, but, in fact, it has not yet been firmly established. This is a serious matter. We must thoroughly rectify this shortcoming. Unless this problem is solved, we cannot hope for good results in ideological work.

Why does our ideological work suffer from dogmatism and formalism? And why do our propagandists and agitators fail to go deeply into matters, only embellishing the façade, and why do they merely copy and memorize foreign things, instead of working creatively? This offers us food for serious reflection.

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.

By saying that the ideological work of our Party lacks in Juche, I do not mean, of course, that we have not made the revolution or that our revolutionary work was undertaken by passers-by. Nonetheless, Juche has not been firmly established in ideological work, which leads to dogmatic and formalistic errors and does much harm to our revolutionary cause.

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.

It is of paramount importance to study, and widely publicize among the working people, the history of our country and of our people’s struggle, before anything else.

This is not the first time we have raised this question. As far back as the autumn of 1945, that is, immediately after liberation, we emphasized the need to study the history of our nation’s struggle and to inherit its fine traditions. Only when our people are educated in the history of their own struggle and its traditions, can their national pride be stimulated and the broad masses be aroused to the revolutionary struggle.

Yet, many of our functionaries are ignorant of our country’s history, and so do not strive to discover and carry forward its fine traditions. Unless this is corrected, it will lead, in the long run, to the negation of Korean history.

The mistakes made recently by Pak Chang Ok[4] and his kind, too, may be attributed to their negation of the history of the Korean literary movement. They closed their eyes to the struggle of the fine writers of the “KAPF” — Koreen (Coreen) Artiste Proletarienne Federation-and to the splendid works of Pak Yon Am, Chong Da San and other progressive scholars and writers of our country. We told them to make a profound study of those things and give them wide publicity, but they did not do so.

Today, ten years after liberation, we have all the conditions for collecting materials on our literary legacy and turning it to full use. Nevertheless, the propaganda workers remain wholly indifferent to this.

As the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the Party Central Committee[5] it was decided to actively publicize the history of our people’s struggle and valuable cultural heritage, but workers in the field of propaganda failed to do so. They went so far as to forbid the newspapers to carry articles on the anti-Japanese struggle of the Korean people.

The Kwangju Student Incident,[6] for example, was a mass struggle in which tens of thousands of Korean youths and students rose against Japanese imperialism; it played a big part in inspiring the anti-Japanese spirit in broad sections of the Korean youth. As a matter of course, we should publicize this movement widely and educate youth and students in the brave fighting spirit displayed by their forerunners. Our propaganda workers have failed to do so. Instead, Syngman Rhee[7] has been making propaganda of this movement in his favour. This has created a false impression that the Communists disregard national traditions. What a dangerous thing! It will be impossible for us to win over the south Korean[8] youth if we go on working in this way.

So far propaganda work in this respect has all been dropped and laid aside, though no one has ever given instructions to. Newspapers do not write about it, nor is any meeting held to commemorate it. Things like the Kwangju Student Incident ought to be taken up by the Democratic Youth League. The Kwangju Student Incident is an excellent example of the struggle of youth and students of our country against imperialism.

References in Numerical Order

Numbers correlate to footnotes:

  1. Kihl, Young Whan, and Hong Nack Kim. North Korea the Politics of Regime Survival. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2006.
  2. Park, Kyung-Ae, and Scott Snyder. North Korea in Transition. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013.
  3. Myers, B.R. “Western Academia and the Word Juche.” Pacific Affairs 87, no. 4 (2014): 779-89. doi:10.5509/2014874779.
  4. David-West, Alzo. “Between Confucianism and Marxism-Leninism: Juche and the Case of Chŏng Tasan.” Korean Studies 35 (2011): 93-121.
  5. Smith, Hazel. North Korea: Markets and Military Rule. Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 2015.
  6. Katsiaficas, George. “Remembering the Kwangju Uprising.” Socialism and Democracy 14, no. 1 (2000): 85-107. doi:10.1080/08854300008428256.
  7. Buzo, Adrian. The Making of Modern Korea. London: Routledge, 2002.
  8. Collins, Samuel Gerard. “Train to Pyongyang:.” Utopian Studies 24, no. 1 (2013): 119-43. doi:10.5325/utopianstudies.24.1.0119.

[1] Dogmatism, defined as a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises, was a core concern of Kim Il Sung. Kim believed that while there was great value in the teachings of Marx and Lenin, to simply follow the exact communist revolutions of nations like the Soviet Union and China would not yield a sovereign Korean nation.

[2] Formalism in this context is referring to the school of legal philosophy that implies that a system of rules or governance can be applied to any scenario without any reference to external cultural or sociological norms.

[3] Juche, established by Kim Il Sung in the 1950s, was and is the official political ideology of North Korea aimed at combining Marxist-Leninist Communism with the traditional and distinct Korean culture. From Kim Il Sung’s perspective, Communism as a construct could not be uniformly adapted to every nation, and as such the Korean nation had to adapt and manipulate it to fit its historical and cultural norms. Some scholars regard Kim’s Juche speech as a means to alienate the Koreans from the other communist nations, while a more contemporary understanding seems to illustrate that there is a fondness of the Soviet and Chinese example – and that Korea should remain friendly with both – but there is a distinct separation between other Communist enterprises and Korea that must be cemented.

[4] Soviet-Korean Pak Chang Ok, was a North Korean official and a leader of the Soviet-Korean faction of the Workers’ Party of Korea. The Soviet-Korean faction leader before Pak, Alexei Ivanovich Hegay, wanted to establish strong relations with the Soviet Union and the North Koreans going so far as to criticize Kim Il Sung (who later banished Pak), and demand that North Korea be converted into a Soviet satellite state. Kim was adamantly against Pak’s move and instead called upon writers of KAPF to unify sirhak (a neo-Confucianism movement) with their communist system to create a unique Korean-Communism. In 1956, Pak was expelled from North Korea after allying with the Yanan Korean faction and died in 1960 of natural causes in the Soviet Union.

[5] The December 1952 Fifth Plenary Meeting of the Party Central Committee, despite Kim’s claim, was actually an effort by Kim to remind all North Korean Communist Party members that all their personal interests came second to their responsibilities to North Korea. The meeting also emphasized the necessity for party discipline and that Juche was to be the strict ideology of the state.

[6] The Kwangju Student Incident, October 30, 1929 and November 3, 1929, also known as the Kwangju anti-Japanese student incident, was a set of two movements where students rallied for Korean independence. Kim calls this a propaganda mistake, because the North Korean government had not been celebrating the incident as much as their South Korean rivals.

[7] Syngman Rhee (1875-1965), was the first president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the first President of South Korea. Rhee was an avid anti-Communist and thus attracted support from the United States. When Rhee was exiled from South Korea in 1960, he was welcomed into the United States where he died five years later in Hawaii.

[8] In almost every edition of his speech, only the word Korea is capitalized. South and North are never capitalized as he often did not see a separation – instead seeing South Korea as being annexed and needing to be reunified.

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