September 16, 2013

New Thoughts: Cementing Kim Jong-un’s Rule

By Robert Collins

It does not seem possible, but George Orwell’s Big Brother thought control has reached a new level in North Korea.  This summer the Kim Jong-un Regime has introduced two new requirements to which North Koreans must adhere to be “politically correct” in one of the world’s most absolute of totalitarian dictatorships.  Both requirements concern the inclusion of Kim Jong-il at the same level of respect and veneration as his father Kim Il-sung.

Most recently, North Korea has changed the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) card from one that included only Kim Il-sung’s photograph to one that included the photograph of both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.[1]  This is not entirely a new development in North Korea where every North Korean household is required to hang pictures of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in their living room.  But it is a step in shaping the identification of the KWP and the image of Kim Jong-un as the legitimate heir of power based on the “Paektusan line.”[2]  In the past, the KWP has been identified by North Korean propagandists as “Kim Il-sung’s Party.”  Now, apparently, it is the party of both Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

Secondly, earlier this summer the KWP amended the Kim Regime’s “Ten Great Principles of Establishing the Unitary Ideology” to demand not only complete allegiance to Kim Il-sung (a 39-year constant in North Korean society) but to demand complete allegiance to his successor and son, Kim Jong-il, as well.  These ten principles of conduct are the primary socio-political requirement for every North Korean citizen from the lowest field hand to the highest general or party bureaucrat. The “Ten Great Principles of Establishing the Unitary Ideology”[3] are the KWP’s core mantra for daily thought and behavior that carry the weight of absolute law in North Korea.  Violation of these ten principles is punishable by imprisonment and even execution. 

The Party describes the ten principles, divided into 65 sub-principles, as “The ideological system by which the whole party and people are firmly armed with the revolutionary ideology of the Suryeong and united solidly around him, carrying out the revolutionary battle and construction battle under the sole leadership of the Suryeong.”[4]  Sometimes referred to as “Kimilsungism,” Suryeongjuui, or “Supreme Leaderism,” this ideology places all leadership and guidance in one person in whom the entire Korean nation must trust and to whom it must swear allegiance.  It essentially establishes loyalty to the Supreme Leader as the coin of the realm and law of the land.  And that leader is now the third family member to take the helm of the North Korean party-state, Kim Jong-un.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Kim Il-sung’s brother, Kim Yong-ju, was assumed to be Kim Il-sung’s successor.  The younger brother began developing the ten principles to provide every North Korean the correct thought process for daily political life.  When Kim Il-sung internally designated Kim Jong-il to be his successor in 1973,[5] the younger Kim was employed in the KWP’s Organization and Guidance Department where he worked on party ideology after first starting his career in the KWP Propaganda and Agitation Department.  In 1974, Kim Il-sung appointed a young Kim Jong-il to two critical Party leadership positions: Director of the Organization and Guidance Department and Director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department.  After his appointment, Kim Jong-il wrested the project of developing the ten principles from his uncle, Kim Yong-ju, and proceeded to expand them into the aforementioned 65 sub-principles.  Since the KWP Central Committee adopted the “Ten Great Principles” at a meeting in April 1974, Kim Jong-il, as director of both departments, was able to magnify the Kim Il-sung cult project several fold.

Now that Kim Jong-un has further glorified Kim Jong-il, it is evident there is a projected political path designed to cement his rule.  The ideology specialists of the Party Organizational Life Division of the KWP Organization and Guidance Department have upped the ante on ideological training nation-wide, much less party-wide.  Every organizational life session, self-critique session, party ideology study session and other political meetings to which every North Korean is required to attend will now include this dual loyalty study.  By reshaping the KWP and its ten principles for unitary ideology, Kim Jong-un emphasizes the legitimacy of his third-generation succession.  Though the current younger generations of North Korea do not likely hold him in the same high regard as older generations held Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un and the KWP are trying to shape society otherwise.  This contributes ideologically to his legitimacy and complements other, more draconian, actions designed to consolidate Kim Jong-un’s power. 

Does it matter to North Koreans whether the Kim Regime directs what they must think?  If one wants to survive, yes!  The ten principles are a primary tool for the regime to prevent North Koreans from considering what their human rights are or should be. While those in the free world think about and demand societal observation of their civil liberties and human rights, North Koreans cannot even get to that level of thought because they need to conform to the ten principles on a daily basis or risk not only their own future, but also that of their families, up to three generations.  Arguably, the prisoner population of North Korea’s political prison camps is predominantly made up of violators of the ten principles.  The camps are run by the Kim Regime’s primary tools of suppression – the State Security Department and the Ministry of Public Security.  Agents of these internal security institutions make careers just off detecting and “eradicating” enemies of the state, i.e., violators of the ten great principles.[6]

Though North Koreans may not really believe the message or veracity of the ten principles, they have no choice but to comply with the requirements.  Even if they are profiting well from today’s new market dynamics, they must demonstrate loyalty to the “new” ten principles during required political sessions or buy their absence through bribes. 

The elimination of human rights in North Korea has always been one of the primary policies of the Kim Regime and thought control is an effective tool.  For Kim Jong-un, whose power consolidation is far from complete, deification of his father is as important to his future rule as deification of Kim Il-sung was for Kim Jong-il.  

What’s next?  Predictably, it will be the hanging of three pictures of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un in every household.  Would one expect otherwise?   

[1] An Yoon-sok, “ 노동당 당원증 교체 이유는?   (North Korea’s Reason for Changing Korean Workers’ Party Card),” Nocut News, September 14, 2013. URL:
[2]  Paektusan, or Mt. Paektu, lies in the middle of the China-Korea border, is the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula, and is regarded by all Koreans as the spiritual origins of the Korean race.  Kim Il-sung conducted most of his anti-Japanese partisan operations from the foot of Paektusan and has used this as a foundation of image-building for family leadership legitimacy.
[3] Also translated as the Ten Great Principles Establishing the Monolithic Ideology, as well as other similar variations.  See translation by Joanna Hosaniak, Kyung Eun Ha, Markus Simpson Bell at the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, translated June 29, 2012. URL:
[4] Cho Jong Ik,The Road to One-Man Dictatorial Rule,” Daily NK, August 9, 2013.  URL:
[5] Kim Jong-il was officially designated the successor at the 6th Party Congress in 1980.  In the interim, Kim Jong-il was referred to in Korean Workers’ Party documents as the “Party Center.”
[6] Author interview with SSD defector to South Korea.