Now that I’ve had a little time to look into the purge of Jang sung-Taek with some friends, we’ve been able to come up with some context. The imperialists believe that this is simply a case of Jong Un removing anyone who opposes him from the Party. Others believe that he has removed a corrupt official from the Party. I think it’s actually much more serious than that, and that there’s something much, much larger going on than we realize.
The removal of Jang sung-Taek is part of a larger struggle that is going on in the DPRK. Several high profile people have been removed from the Party for corruption, and let’s say “conduct unbecoming a member of the Party”. I believe this corruption stems from a systemic corruption that became ingrained in the Party as a result of Songun. Before I explain how, let us look at why Songun was developed.
The Songun Idea was created out a historical necessity. Prevailing material conditions forced the DPRK into a situation where they had to place a policy of “military first”. This is acknowledged in the writings of Songun:
“The Songun idea was created as the reflection of socio-historical conditions under which imperialists’ moves for military repression and aggression have been intensified to the maximum and the masses’ struggle for class and national liberation has been waged dynamically on the world-wide scale.”
“It is related with the international situation changed in the 1990s and the requirements of our revolution.
Socialism was collapsed in the Soviet Union and eastern European countries between late 1980s and early 1990s and thus turned political and military structure of the world from the confrontation of USSR and USA to that of DPRK and USA. With the collapse of Soviet Union, the US imperialists who boasted themselves as the “only super power in the world” resorted to power politics and arbitrariness in the international arena with the ambition of world hegemony.
While talking about military attacks to frustrate DPRK, the US imperialists moved and deployed their aggressive armed forces from Europe to the Korean peninsula and around it and turned those nuclear weapons that were aimed at USSR to the DPRK.
Such circumstances in Korea and international situation urgently required Korea to take active initiative in the confrontation with the US imperialists.”
What this means is, when socialism was dismantled across Europe, US imperialism turned its military might towards the DPRK because it was the only communist power left. (Cuba can hardly be considered a military threat. In addition, the embargo has certainly done all the damage needed. China had already fallen to revisionism.) Imperialism saw the advantage it had given the DPRK’s sudden catastrophic loss of important trade. This kicked off what became the Arduous March which included the famine which swept mainly the North, but also the South and China. The DPRK was left in a crippling position where they had no assistance, other than a slap in the face offer by Russia. The DPRK was facing possibly its darkest moment knowing the imperialists were just itching to invade. Knowing an invasion was imminent, a new policy of self defense was needed, which was greater than previous ones given the greater imperialist attention and weakened condition.
Thus, out of these historic material conditions the Songun Idea was implemented. The first and foremost goal of the policy was to defend the country, then secondly to develop the economy. This was a rational and necessary choice given the situation. You cannot economically build up a country if it cannot be defended. Immediately the expansion of funding for the military took place. Vast amounts of resources went towards national defense.
As the military power of the DPRK expanded so did the drive for nuclear weaponry. As a deterrent to attack from the South, the DPRK had artillery massed along the border ready to turn the capital Seoul into a sea of fire. This was certainly effective against invasion from the peninsula; it could not however deter a nuclear attack from the US. In obtaining their own nuclear weapons, they now had a means to strike back if they were ever hit.
The whole point of the Songun policy was to make the country able to defend itself from imperialist aggression and invasion. The development of nuclear weapons completed this objective. This now renders the Songun policy unnecessary as both the Arduous March is over and the adequate defense of the nation had been achieved. The DPRK now had the deterrence of invasion it needed. More can and should be developed, but the primary goal had been achieved. Unfortunately, the Songun policy was not so easy to throttle back or end as needed.
During the time of the Songun policy, many generals of the army moved into powerful positions within the government and the Party. With the military at the fore it seemed logical that this would happen. I think these military personnel got too comfortable with their position in the Party. Given the hectic and domestically dangerous time of the Arduous March, it seemed reasonable that some sacrifices in the struggle against corruption were made in order to secure stability in the Party. This is what I think began a military-style culture of corruption. The military now had all the power in the country and placed themselves first over the people.
“The army is the party, the state and the people. […] First of all, the revolutionary army is the party in the revolutionary struggle.”
The mistake here is that the Party was allowed to be made subordinate by the military. This is an error that other socialist states have recognized. In fact Mao warned about this very phenomenon in his own works.
“Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party.”
Is Songun perfect? No of course not. Are their flaws in the idea, of course there is. The DPRK was forced into a unique situation where they had to develop their own policy for dealing with it. They took what they knew and applied it to their own historical circumstance. In hindsight was this a mistake? I think it was a mistake only insofar as its application was wrong. The idea itself was a necessary policy to implement, however its application was not correct.
The error here is not that the gun was allowed to command the Party, but that the Gun became the Party.
I believe this error is what Kim Jong Un has seen and is struggling to correct. He has recognized that the source of the corruption is the military’s comfortable unchallenged position as the Party. When we look at who has been purged since his election to the head of the nation, we see that the most powerful people removed were military personnel holding civilian offices. These same people had their careers entirely predicated on Songun. Without it, their holding of those offices was unnecessary.
There have been two factions within the Party that have struggled against each other. Those who want to continue the Songun policy and those who want to throttle it back and return to the economic development principles of Juche. This split among the Party has been between reactionary and revolutionary. These people who had their careers based on Songun were also big supporters of the Chinese-style capitalist reforms. The recently purged Jang sung-Taek was a special envoy sent to China where they discussed economic matters. He ran the commission that oversaw the experimental Special Economic Zones that were joined with China. He advocated for turning the DPRK into a cheap labour pool just as China had done with its population. He was reactionary, he was “dreaming a different dream” for the DPRK, a reactionary one.
The official reason for Jang sung-Taek being removed was several issues, one those being an accusation that he was attempting to build his own faction within the Party. His group opposed the orientation away from the military and economic revitalization and increasing the living standards of Koreans. In fact, I’d be willing to wager that he was sabotaging the economy to force Jong Un out of the government to force his military group back into power. Let us look the wording used by Rodong Simun:
“Jang and his followers did not sincerely accept the line and policies of the party, the organizational will of the WPK, but deliberately neglected their implementation, distorted them and openly played down the policies of the party. In the end, they made no scruple of perpetrating such counter-revolutionary acts as disobeying the order issued by the supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army. […]
Jang seriously obstructed the nation’s economic affairs and the improvement of the standard of people’s living in violation of the pivot-to-the-Cabinet principle and the Cabinet responsibility principle laid down by the WPK.
The Jang group put under its control the fields and units which play an important role in the nation’s economic development and the improvement of people’s living in a crafty manner, making it impossible for the economic guidance organs including the Cabinet to perform their roles.
By throwing the state financial management system into confusion and committing such act of treachery as selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices, the group made it impossible to carry out the behests of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on developing the industries of Juche iron, Juche fertilizer and Juche vinalon.”
I think this is very true, I think he was building a group to oppose the line correction of Jong Un. It was also very likely that he was a corrupt official who engaged in “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts as expanding their forces through factional moves and daring challenge the party, while attempting to undermine the unitary leadership of the party […] Affected by the capitalist way of living, Jang committed irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life. […] was engrossed in irregularities and corruption, had improper relations with several women and was wined and dined at back parlors of deluxe restaurants.” It seems very likely that Jang sung-Taek was wined and dined (possibly) by Chinese officials and (likely) by businessmen to get preferential treatment. This is a wholly counter-revolutionary mentality, this is bourgeois as bourgeois can get. If this is how he thinks revolution is carried out, or how a high ranking member of the Party should behave, he should be purged.
I wholly believe that Kim Jong Un has embarked on a mission to return the country to the Marxist-Leninism (Juche application) it was based on. This has caused him to come up against the reactionary elements within the Party. When we look at the time line of events, I think we can definitely see a struggle in the Party taking place. Let’s review the last few years.
2011 December 17 – Death of Kim Jong-il:
When Jong-il was being carried to his final resting place, Jong Un was accompanied by what some have called the ‘Gang of Seven’ who were considered to be Jong-il’s inner circle of elite figures. Since that time four of those seven people have been purged and one has been demoted. Most of the elite untouchable figures of the Songun Idea have been removed from the Party. This definitely shows that things are changing. Jong Un is placed in power temporarily until an official vote can be made.
2012 January – Kim Chol executed:
Kim Chol was purged from the Party not long after the death of Kim Jong-il. The supposed story is that he was behaving in an inappropriate manner during the mourning period. Western media claimed he was drinking and engaging in “pleasurable activities”. There may be some truth to this claim. He was also a very heavy Songun supporter and a close ally of Kim Jong-il. The claims of him being executed by mortar are baseless, and are illogical given the nature of the weapon itself.
2012 April – Kim Jong Un elected to Supreme Leader of the DPRK:
After temporarily holding the position, he is officially voted into power by the Worker’s Party by a slim majority. He is also elected to several other positions within the government.
2012 May to Today – Economic reorientation:
Massive investment into light manufacturing in the way of consumer goods begins that takes over a year to reach full speed. Eventually new defectors speak well of Jong Un and talk of an increase in consumer goods and a rise in living standards.
Jong Un demonstrates his difference from his father in terms of public appearances. Jong-il publicly appeared with military officials at places of heavy industry. Jong Un by contrast appears at new supermarkets, light industry for consumer goods, water parks with civilian government officials.
2013 February 12 – 3rd Underground Nuclear Test:
Ignoring the threats and unjust sanctions placed against the country, Jong Un pushes nuclear development. Previous attempts to build nuclear power were falsely punished as attempts to build nuclear arms. The logic is if they will be punished regardless, then they might as well develop the weapons.
Once nuclear weaponry is achieved, economic resources are moved away from military development to raising living standards. It is a far more efficient use of resources to develop nuclear weapons than to maintain such a large standard army. A serious weakening of the Songun policy takes place.
2013 April 2 – New Strategic Line speech:
On April 2nd, the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea put forward clearly their intention to scale back the military to divert resources towards economic construction while developing nuclear weapons as a deterrent against US nuclear threats. This is a public decoration that the Songun policy will be pushed to the side and a return to economic construction will begin. There can be no doubt for the supporters of Songun that the country will be moving away from them.
“[…]the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, held on Sunday, set forth a new strategic line on carrying on the economic construction and the building of nuclear armed forces simultaneously under the prevailing situation to meet the legitimate requirement of the developing revolution.
This line is aimed to beef up nuclear armed forces qualitatively and quantitatively with the U.S. nuclear threat to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea being escalated.
The line makes it possible for the DPRK to exert bigger efforts on economic construction while bolstering up the nation’s defense capabilities with self-defensive nuclear armed forces[…]
The new strategic line represents the steadfast will of respected Marshal Kim Jong Un to build a powerful socialist nation on this land by successfully concluding the showdown with the U.S. by dint of the nuclear armed forces. “
2013 May 7 – Mysterious Medal Awarded to Traffic Woman:
Ri Kong Sim, a young traffic woman in Pyongyang is given the award “Hero of the Republic” without any public explanation given. The honour is the highest award that can be given; it is very strange that no public reason for it has been forthcoming. Intelligence reports indicated that there was an attempted assassination on Kim Jong Un and that she was instrumental in stopping it. Nothing was ever given to prove this. However in retrospect it seems very like given the fact that only a month before Jong Un declared his intention to throw Songun out. The old generals must have feared for their jobs and took drastic action to maintain their power.
2013 December 11 – Jang Song Thaek Executed:
One of the most corrupt and close officials to Jong-il is publicly removed from the Party and executed. Some have suspected that since he was the head of the counter-faction in the Party, he was the one who ordered the assassination of Jong Un. He also embodied the very essence of what was being purged from the Party, the blatant reactionary element. He was once considered a possible successor to Jong-il who was favoured by the West. This alone should tell you all you need to know. He was also a big supporter of Special Economic Zones who advocated for Chinese-style reactionary economic reforms. It is very likely, almost a certainty, that he was the head of the counter-revolutionary faction in the WPK. A great justice was served with his removal and execution for such activities.
2013 December 12 to 13 – WPK Declares its intention to punish those who push for Songun:
After the execution of Jang Song Thaek, the WPK makes a clear statement that Songun will be left behind and that the new policy is economic development alongside the development of nuclear weapons. It also makes a specific statement of declaring socialism the main driving force of society once again.
“[…]The recently purged anti-Party, counterrevolutionary factionalists did not support our Party’s politics of love for people sincerely, greatly hampering the economic development of the country and the improvement of the people’s living.
The people are the basis of socialism and the public sentiment is the mainstay of single-minded unity. This is a steadfast stand of our Party[…]”
There has also been a statement reminding everyone that the independent economic construction of the country is the foremost goal in the DPRK, and that even Kim Il-sung believed anyone who opposed this idea was to be destroyed.
“The party members in the period of the 1950-1953 Fatherland Liberation War worked hard to allay President Kim Il Sung’s apprehensions about rehabilitation and construction, and in the postwar period the party members and other workers took the lead in purging anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional elements and establishing the monolithic ideological system within the party, declaring that they would throw into an electric furnace those slandering the WPK’s line of economic construction.”
The WPK has made it clear that they will not become a puppet state of anyone, nor will they tolerate anyone derailing the new course for the nation.
I think these events when looked at in their totality demonstrate that there has been a power struggle in the Party: A struggle between reaction and revolution. I think given the policies supported by Jong Un and the ones opposed, he is showing an intent to return to the Marxist-Leninist roots. There’s been an increase in the living standards. Defectors who leave are reporting that living standards have gone up, and even among them his approval rating is 50%. There has been a massive increase in consumer goods and luxuries for the people of the country.
This all puts confidence in me that Kim Jong Un is an honourable leader that is going down a path to purge corruption and reactionaries from the Party to create a better future for the DPRK.
1 The Songun Idea , 12. Socio-historical conditions of creation of the Songun idea
2 The Songun Idea, 4. Purpose of the Songun politics
3 The Songun Idea, 1. Principle of the Songun Revolution
4 “Problems of War and Strategy” (November 6, 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 224.
5 Report on Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of Central Committee of WPK, Rodong Simon
6 Report on Enlarged Meeting of Political Bureau of Central Committee of WPK, Rodong Simon
7 DPRK Hero Title Awarded to Traffic Controller, Rodong Sinmun
8 WPK Is Invincible Thanks to One-mind Unity, Rodong Sinmun
9 WPK’s Is Just Will of Popular Masses: News Analyst, KCNA