KOREAN WORKERS' PARTY (KWP)
The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) is the ruling party of North Korea. Arguably the most important organization and most politically significant entity in North Korea, it is essentially a communist party, with some North Korean touches, and controls all government institutions. The leader of the KWP — the secretary general of the KWP — is Kim Jong Un. He runs the party with few formal meetings as his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung did before him. The KWP’s last full party congress — the 4th Party Conference — was in 2016. The one previous to that was in 1980. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007]
The Korean Workers’ Party, also written as the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), was founded in 1949 with the merger of the North Korea Workers' Party and the hundreds Workers' Party. South Korea. The Workers' Party of North Korea was founded in August 1946 through a merger of the northern branch of the Communist Party of Korea and the New People's Party of Korea. See Below
The KWP is the largest decision-making body. Divided top-down from the central committee to the local party offices, it is not just a political organization; it also provides moral and ethical guidance to the North Korean people. Fyodor Tertitskiy wrote in NK News: “If you live in North Korea, the single most important factor that will determine the course of your life is whether or not you become a party member. The party’s name is usually translated as the Workers’ Party of Korea, but a more accurate translation would be the Korean Labour Party. The irony of this is that people join it so as not to become a worker – and, if they are fortunate, to avoid physical labour entirely. Rather than a normal political party, it is a huge bureaucratic structure which strives to oversee the country’s economy and society in its entirety. [Source: Fyodor Tertitskiy for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, December 22, 2015]
In theory, according to Article 21 of the Rules and Regulations of the Korean Workers' Party as revised in October 1980 (hereafter referred to as the party rules), the national party congress is the supreme party organ. The party congress approves reports of the party organs, adopts basic party policies and tactics, and elects members to the KWP Central Committee and the Central Auditing Committee. The election, however, is perfunctory because the members of these bodies are actually chosen by Kim Il Sung and his few trusted lieutenants.When the party congress is not in session, the Central Committee acts as the official agent of the party, according to Article 14 of the party rules. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
As of September 1992, the KWP had 160 Central Committee members and 143 Central Committee alternate (candidate) members. The Central Committee meets at least once every six months. Article 24 of the party rules stipulates that the Central Committee elects the general secretary of the party, members of the Political Bureau Presidium (or the Standing Committee), members of the Political Bureau (or Politburo), secretaries, members of the Central Military Commission, and members of the Central Inspection Committee.A party congress is supposed to be convened every five years, but as of 1993, one had not been held since the Sixth Party Congress of October 1980. Party congresses are attended by delegates elected by the members of provincial-level party assemblies at the ratio of one delegate for every 1,000 party members.*
Political Parties in North Korea
The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) is the ruling party of North Korea and effectively the only party in the country with any power. But that doesn’t mean there are not other political parties in North Korea. To provide a semblance of multiparty politics and as a mechanism for unification of North and South, the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland was established. Other parties include the Chongu (Friends) Party, the Korean Social Democratic Party, and the KWP. An opposition party in exile, with branches in Tokyo, Beijing, and Moscow, is the Salvation Front for the Democratic Unification of Chosun. It was established in the early 1990s. [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007**]
There are no opposition parties in North Korea. Even mentioning the possibility of an opposition party is enough to land someone in a labor camp. Political parties and their leaders in 2020: 1) Korean Workers' Party (KWP) led by Kim Jong Un; 2) General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) 3) minor parties: A) Chondoist Chongu Party (under KWP control) and Social Democratic Party or KSDP led by Kim Yong Dae (under KWP control).
Korean Communist Party
The Korean Communist Party (KCP) was founded in Seoul in 1925. At the same time, various nationalist groups emerged, including an exiled Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai. When Japan invaded neighboring Manchuria in 1931, Korean and Chinese guerrillas joined forces to fight the common enemy. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, resistance to Japan became the main legitimating doctrine of North Korea; North Koreans trace the origin of their army, leadership, and ideology back to this resistance. For the next five decades, the top North Korean leadership would be dominated by a core group that had fought the Japanese in the old Manchu homeland, Manchuria. One of the guerrilla leaders was Kim Il Sung (1912–94). [Source: Library of Congress, July 2007]
Nationalist and communist groups developed in the 1920s set the scene for the future divisiveness on the Korean Peninsula. Some Korean militants went into exile in China and the Soviet Union and founded early communist and nationalist resistance groups. One of the organizers of the Korean Communist Party was Pak Hon-yong, who became the leader of Korean communism in southern Korea after 1945.
According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “Korean Communist parties came into being very quickly after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and operated both inside Korea and among Korean exiles in China, Manchuria, Japan, and Russia itself. Away from the tightlycontrolled environment of the Korean peninsula, some took part in armed struggle against Japanese forces and interests and tended to regard more conservative nationalists who hoped for the gradual realization of independence from Japan with disdain. Kim Il Sung, the eventual ruler of the DPRK (North Korea), was a leader of one Manchurian group, and one cause of the eventual political division of Korea was the split between the Communist and non-Communist nationalist opposition to Japan during the colonial period. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ^^^ ]
After the defeat of Japan in 1945, resistance to Japan became the main legitimating doctrine of North Korea; North Koreans trace the origin of their army, leadership, and ideology back to this resistance. For the next five decades, the top North Korean leadership would be dominated by a core group that had fought the Japanese in the old Manchu homeland, Manchuria. One of the guerrilla leaders was Kim Il Sung (1912–94).
Creation of the Korean Worker’s Party
The KWP was founded in 1949 with the merger of the North Korea Workers' Party and the South Korean Workers' Party. The Workers' Party of North Korea was founded in August 1946 through a merger of the northern branch of the Communist Party of Korea and the New People's Party of Korea. It quickly became the dominant political force in North Korea. The South Korean Workers' Party was founded in November 1946 through the merger of the Communist Party of South Korea, New People's Party of Korea and a faction of the People's Party of Korea (the so-called 'forty-eighters'). The vast majority of KWP members were poor peasants with no previous political experience. Membership in the party gave them status, privileges, and a rudimentary form of political participation. [Source: Wikipedia]
Whether in response to United States initiatives or because most Koreans despised the trusteeship agreement that had been negotiated at the end of 1945, separate institutions began to emerge in North Korea in early 1946. In February 1946, an Interim People's Committee led by Kim Il Sung became the first central government. The next month, a revolutionary land reform took place, dispossessing landlords without compensation. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]
Beginning in 1946, under the North Korean Workers' Party, the rudiments of a northern army appeared. Central agencies nationalized major industries that previously had been mostly owned by the Japanese and began a two-year economic program based on the Soviet model of central planning and priority for heavy industry. Nationalists and Christian leaders were ousted from all but pro forma participation in politics, and Cho Man-sik was placed under house arrest. Kim Il Sung and his allies dominated all the political parties, ousting resisters.
Within a year of the liberation from Japanese rule, North Korea had a powerful political party, a growing economy, and a single powerful leader. In the period 1946 to 1948, there was much evidence that the Soviet Union hoped to dominate North Korea. In particular, it sought to involve North Korea in a quasi-colonial relationship in which Korean raw materials, such as tungsten and gold, were exchanged for Soviet manufactured goods. The Soviet Union also sought to keep Chinese communist influence out of Korea; in the late 1940s, Maoist doctrine had to be infiltrated into North Korean newspapers and books. Soviet influence was especially strong in the media, where major organs were staffed by Koreans from the Soviet Union, and in the security bureaus.
Nonetheless, the Korean guerrillas who fought in Manchuria were not easily molded and dominated. They were tough, highly nationalistic, and determined to have Korea for themselves. This was especially so for the Korean People's Army (KPA), which was an important base for Kim Il Sung and which was led by Ch'oe Yng-gn, another Korean guerrilla who had fought in Manchuria. At the army's founding ceremony on February 8, 1948, Kim urged his soldiers to carry forward the tradition of the Koreans who had fought against the Japanese in Manchuria.
In South Korea. The Korean Communist Party, resuscitated in October 1945, had been a major force behind the Central People's Committee and the "Korean People's Republic," and quickly built a substantial following among the workers, farmers, and students. The party eventually changed its stance on trusteeship and came out in support of it on January 3, 1946. Because the party was under the control of the Soviet command in Pyongyang, it came into direct confrontation with the United States military government. Since the 1940s, from 12 to 14 percent of the population has been enrolled in the communist party, compared with 1 to 3 percent for communist parties in most countries.
Early History of the Korean Worker’s Party
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) was declared on September 9, 1948. The governing body for this new state was the Korean Workers' Party, under the leadership of Kim Il-sung. In the late 1940s, after he Soviet’s withdrew from Korea, Kim Il Sung consolidated his control of the ruling Korean Worker’s Party He was ruthless and cunning in consolidating power. On several occasions he blamed potential rivals for failures and then purged them.
The first congress of the Korean Workers’ Party was held in August 1946. Fyodor Tertitsky of NK News wrote: It was “ not the first meeting of North Korean communists, but it was considered first official get-together since it was here that the Communist Party of North Korea merged with the New People’s Party to form the group in power today – the Workers’ Party of North Korea... This was also the moment when the Rodong Sinmun newspaper was established as the Party’s official mouthpiece.” These landmarks “were largely cosmetic at the time: all the Korean communist organisations were still controlled by the Soviets. [Source: Fyodor Tertitsky for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, May 5, 2016]
The second congress of the Korean Workers’ Party was held in late March 1948 a few months before the DPRK was established. Fyodor Tertitsky of NK News wrote: “The second congress was conducted when the division of Korea was about to produce two independent states, so the speeches were mostly about North Korea being good and South Korea being bad. This was also the first to feature the party’s new emblem, consisting of hammer, sickle (a Korean one, which looks more like a scythe) and a brush. Since this date in March 1948, the emblem has remained unchanged. This congress was also the last to feature the old Korean flag of Great Extremes. Since this is now the national flag of South Korea, most early photos featuring it have since been edited by the DPRK.”
North Korea's Party Congresses and Conferences
The party congress is the highest Korean Worker’s Party (KWP) organ, the primary vehicle of policy making in North Korea. The party congress approves reports of the party organs, adopts basic party policies and tactics, and elects members to the KWP Central Committee and the Central Auditing Committee. Party congresses are attended by delegates elected by the members of provincial-level party assemblies at the ratio of one delegate for every 1,000 party members. When the party congress is not in session, the Central Committee acts as the official agent of the party, according to Article 14 of the party rules. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Party congresses were held with some frequency in late 1940s, 1950s and less so in the 1960s and 70s. A party congress is supposed to be convened every five years, but one not was not held between the Sixth Party Congress of October 1980 and the Seventh Party Congress of May 2016. Kim Jong Il — leader of North Korea from 1994 to 2011 — did not have any party congresses but Kim Jong Un — leader since 2011 — seems to have revived them The 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea was held at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang in 12 January 2021. A total of 7,000 people participated in the congress including 5,000 delegates.
Party Congresses are copied from Party Congresses of the Soviet Union, where congresses were originally convened every few years, with each one hailed as a major historical and ideological event.. The Communist Party of China has held similar events with same prestige and fanfare as do the last remaining communist countries Vietnam, Laos and Cuba. In North Korea, there are also party conference, which differ from congresses in that have a bit less of pomp and ceremony. Party conferences were held in 1958, 1966, 2010 and 2012. According to KWP rules, the Central Committee is elected by the party congress and the party conference can be conferred the right to renew its membership composition.
Party Congresses and Conferences in the 1960s and 70s
Fyodor Tertitsky wrote in NK News: The fourth congress, 1961 was the first after the DPRK became politically independent from the Soviet Union. The Party’s ruling institutions were now fully comprised of Kim’s old friends and followers (largely former Manchurian guerrillas). The personality cult as we know it was yet to be constructed, but the age of political factions had been eradicated. The second conference was perhaps the most enigmatic major event in North Korean history. No transcripts from it exist in the public domain while reports about the proceedings from foreign embassies in Pyongyang at the time remain murky. Even East German diplomats, despite serious efforts, failed to obtain any transcripts. Their reports simply stated that some high-ranking politicians were seemingly purged. [Source: Fyodor Tertitsky for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, May 5, 2016]
It was also thought to have been at this conference that the DPRK announced the militarisation of the economy. Various sources say that Kim was considering a second attempt to invade the South in the late 1960s and testimonies from people in Pyongyang at the time suggest it was a time of intense drills for both military personnel and civilians.
This conference also started the process which led to the dramatic birth of Kim’s personality cult. He purged some of his loyal comrades, known as the “Kapsan faction”, and in April 1967 announced the creation of the “monolithic ideological system”. This was really when North Korea transformed into a fully autocratic and repressive state.
Four years after such a landmark meeting, the fifth congress in 1970 passed by comparatively uneventfully. Kim delivered a speech about the “three revolutions” – ideological, technological and cultural, which had to be implemented. This showed that the DPRK’s concept of a revolution was no longer a Soviet, but a Maoist one, in which the revolution is not a people’s uprising to overthrow the regime, just the regular activity of the ruling party.
North Korea claims that it was at this congress that Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung’s son, introduced the iconic badges featuring his father’s face, which all North Koreans have to wear to this day.
Korean Worker’s Party Congress of 1980
Fyodor Tertitsky wrote in NK News: The sixth and – until 2016– last congress of the Workers’ Party convened in 1980. Its main purpose was to quietly present the heir to the throne – Kim Jong-il. However, it was not until 1981 that Kim Jr came to be officially and openly presented as his father’s successor. Many foreign guests attended this congress – mostly from African countries. Perhaps the most notable visitor was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. [Source: Fyodor Tertitsky for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, May 5, 2016]
The long-delayed Sixth Party Congress, convened from October 10-14, 1980, was attended by 3,220 party delegates (3,062 full members and 158 alternate members) and 177 foreign delegates from 118 countries. Approximately 1,800 delegates attended the Fifth Party Congress in November 1970. The 1980 congress was convened by the KWP Central Committee to review, discuss, and endorse reports by the Central Committee, the Central Auditing Committee, and other central organs covering the activities of these bodies since the last congress. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
The Sixth Party Congress reviewed and discussed the report on the work of the party in the ten years since the Fifth Party Congress. It also elected a new Central Committee. In his report to the congress, Kim Il Sung outlined a set of goals and policies for the 1980s. He proposed the establishment of a Democratic Confederal Republic of Kory as a reasonable way to achieve the independent and peaceful reunification of the country. Kim Il Sung also clarified a new ten-point policy for the unified state and stressed that North Korea and South Korea (the Republic of Korea, or ROK) should recognize and tolerate each other's ideas and social systems, that the unified central government should be represented by Pyongyang and Seoul on an equal footing, and that both sides should exercise regional autonomy with equal rights and duties. Specifically, the unified government should respect the social systems and the wishes of administrative organizations and of every party, every group, and every sector of people in the North and the South, and prevent one side from imposing its will on the other.*
Kim Il Sung also emphasized the Three Revolutions, which were aimed at hastening the process of political and ideological transformation based on juche ideology, improving the material and technical standards of the economy, and developing socialist national culture. According to Kim, these revolutions are the responsibility of the Three Revolution Team Movement — "a new method of guiding the revolution, which combined political and ideological guidance with scientific and technical guidance. This approach enabled the upper bodies to help the lower levels and rouse masses of the working people to accelerate the Three Revolutions." The teams perform their guidance work by sending their members to factories, enterprises, and cooperative farms. Their members are party cadres, including those from the KWP Central Committee, reliable officials of the government, persons from economic and mass organizations, scientists and technicians, and young intellectuals. Kim Il Sung left no question that the Three Revolution Team Movement had succeeded the Ch'llima Movement and would remain the principal vehicle through which the party pursued its political and economic objectives in the 1980s.*
The linkage between party and economic work also was addressed by Kim Il Sung. In acknowledging the urgent task of economic construction, he stated that party work should be geared toward efficient economic construction and that success in party work should be measured by success in economic construction. Accordingly, party organizations were told to "push forward economic work actively, give prominence to economic officials, and help them well." Party officials were also advised to watch out for signs of independence on the part of technocrats.*
The membership and organization of the KWP are specified in the party rules. There are two kinds of party members: regular and probationary. Membership is open to those eighteen years of age and older, but party membership is granted only to those who have demonstrated their qualifications; applications are submitted to a cell along with a proper endorsement from two party members of at least two years in good standing. The application is acted on by the plenary session of a cell; an affirmative decision is subject to ratification by a county-level party committee. A probationary period of one year is mandatory, but may be waived under certain unspecified "special circumstances." Recruitment is under the direction of the Organization and Guidance Department and its local branches. After the application is approved, an applicant must successfully complete a one-year probationary period before becoming a full party member.*
Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party
The Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party (KWP or WPK) is the highest party body except when a national congress or meeting is taking place. According to KWP rules, the Central Committee is elected by the party congress and the party conference can be conferred the right to renew its membership composition. In practice, the Central Committee has the ability to dismiss and appoint new members without consulting with the wider party at its own plenary sessions. [Source: Wikipedia]
The country as whole is ruled by the Central Committee, which is presided over by 19-member the Politburo, which in turn is presided over by the five-member Presidium. The First Central Committee was elected at the First KWP Congress in 1946. It had 43 members. The numbers of Central Committee members have increased over time. A total of 235 Central Committee members were selected at 7th Congress in 2017. There are also non-voting alternate members.
The party congress, the highest KWP organ, meets infrequently. This means the Central Committee is effectively the highest political body the rest of the time. Also, the official agent of the party congress is the Central Committee. As of July 1991, the Sixth Party Congress Central Committee had 180 full members and 149 alternate members. Nearly 40 percent of these members, 131 members, were first-termers. Among the 329 members, the technocrats — economists, managers, and technicians — are the most numerous. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Organization and Members of the Central Committee
In 1969 the party work system was strengthened and centralized with the adoption of a political officer system supervised by the Secretariat of the Central Committee. Since the adoption of the system, all orders and directives of commanders have required the signature of a political officer. In addition, the activities of political cadres are reported on by the Organization and Guidance Department of the party Central Committee. The political department and party committee reports are submitted through separate channels to the party Secretariat. The Socialist Working Youth League (SWYL) manages nonparty members under party leadership. Above the battalion level, there are Socialist Working Youth League committees. Under the leadership of the political department, there are youth league elements down to the platoon level. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
In mid-1993 the North Korean People's Army (KPA) and the KWP had overlapping memberships, which strengthened the party's role in the military. With the exceptions of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, all members of the KWP Military Affairs Committee selected at the Sixth Party Congress in 1980 are active-duty military. Ten of the members also are members of the General Political Bureau. Military representation in the General Political Bureau and the Central Committee is considerable. The average rate of military participation on the Central Committee is 21 percent, ranging from a low of 17 percent in 1948, to a high of 23 percent in 1970. There was 19 percent of participation at the 1980 Sixth Party Congress, the most recent congress. The turnover rate of the military in the two committees is lower than that of civilians.*
Activities of the Central Committee
The Central Committee holds a plenum, or plenary session, at least once every six months to discuss major issues. The plenum also elects the general secretary, members of the Political Bureau (called the Political Committee until October 1980), and its Standing Committee, or Presidium, which was established in October 1980. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Several central organizations are subordinate to the Political Bureau Presidium. One of the most important executive organs is the Secretariat of the Central Committee, led by General Secretary Kim Il Sung and eleven other secretaries as of mid-1992. Each secretary is in charge of one or more departmental party functions. Other key bodies include the Central Military Commission headed by Kim Il Sung; the Central Auditing Committee, the fiscal watchdog of the party; and the Central Inspection Committee, which enforces party discipline and acts as a trial and appeals board for disciplinary cases. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
The various departments of the Secretariat of the Central Committee depend for implementation of party policies and directives on the party committees in the provincial- and countylevel administrative divisions and in organizations where there are more than 100 party members — for example, major enterprises, factories, government offices, military units, and schools. In the countryside, village party committees are formed with a minimum of fifty party members. The basic party units are cells to which all party members belong and through which they participate in party organizational activities. Attendance at cell meetings and party study sessions, held at least once a week, is mandatory.*
Politburo of North Korea
The Politburo of the North Korean government — officially the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), formerly the Political Committee (1946–61) — is the highest decision-making body in the Korean Worker’s Party, which governs North Korea. Article 25 of the Party Charter stipulates that "The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee and its Standing Committee organize and direct all party work on behalf of the party Central Committee between plenary meetings. The Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee shall meet at least once every month." [Source: Wikipedia]
The Politburo is elected by the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea. Until April 1956, the Politburo was known as the Political Council. After Kim Il-sung's unitary ruling system was established in the 1960s, the Politburo was transformed from a decision-making body where policies could be discussed into a rubber stamp body. Leading members have disappeared without explanation; the last was Kim Tong-gyu, in 1977. Politburo members under Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lacked a strong power base, and depended on the party leader for their position. Because of this, the Politburo became a loyal servant of the party leader.
The Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) of the Workers' Party of Korea was established in 1980. and became the highest WPK body when the Politburo and the Central Committee were not in session but now is largely dead. In early 1981, the Political Bureau had thirty-four members: nineteen regular members and fifteen alternate members. This figure was substantial increase in membership from the Fifth Party Congress, when there were eleven regular members and five alternate members. As of 1992, however, the Political Bureau had only twenty-four members — fourteen regular members and ten alternate members — because a number of the members either had died or had stepped down. The inner circle of powerful leaders within the Political Bureau include the president, premier, vice premiers, and minister of the people's armed forces. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Similar to the Central Committee, the Politburo was dormant during much of Kim Jong-il's rule. Members have typically been family members, relatives, or close loyal associates of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un such as Kim Kyong-hui (Kim Jong-il's sister) and Jang Song-thaek (Kim Kyong-hui's husband), who Kim Jong Un later executed with an anti-aircraft gun for presumably for threatening Kim’s hold in power.
Officially, the Politburo is responsible for conducting its activities as well as deciding on important issues between two Central Committee plenums. Its members include important state and military leaders, as the Premier and the vice-chairmen of the State Affairs Commission. As of 10 January 2021, the Politburo is composed of 19 members and 11 alternate members. Members include 1) General Secretary Kim Jong-un; 2) Vice Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Choe Ryong-hae; and 3) Ri Pyong-chol, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission; 4) Kim Tok-hun, Premier of North Korea; and 5) Pak Jong-chon, Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army.
Presidium of North Korea
Presidium (formerly the Standing Committee) is the inner body of The Politburo. It is elected by the Korean Worker’s Party (RWP or WPK) Central Committee and in charge of day-to-day party work. It is usually made up of the supreme leader and four other members. In practice, the Presidium is the highest body in both the party and the country, and its decisions de facto have the force of law.The presidium serves as the inner circle for the supreme leader,, advising on political decisions. [Source: Wikipedia]
The Presidium is official known as the Political Bureau of the Workers' Party of Korea. It was known as the Standing Committee from 1946 to 1961. Historically it has been composed of one to five members. Now it has five members. Technically it was set up to conduct policy discussions and make decisions on major issues when the Politburo is not in session and is supposed to reports to the Politburo, which in turn reports to the larger Central Committee. But in practice the Presidium is supreme these parent bodies and serves acts as the most powerful decision-making body in North Korea. The Politburo and Central Committee are expected to follow the directives of the Presidium. As North Korea is a one-party state, the Presidium's decisions have the de facto force of law. Its role is roughly the same as the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China.
The five members of the Presidium are:1) Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of North Korea; 2) Choe Ryong-hae, President of the Presidium; 3) Choe Yong-rim, Premier; 4) Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, Director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army; and 5) Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, Chief of the General Staff).
In the 1990s and maybe today too several central organizations were subordinate to the Political Bureau Presidium. One of the most important executive organs was the Secretariat of the Central Committee, led by General Secretary Kim Il Sung and eleven other secretaries as of mid-1992. Each secretary was in charge of one or more departmental party functions. Other key bodies included the Central Military Commission headed by Kim Il Sung; the Central Auditing Committee, the fiscal watchdog of the party; and the Central Inspection Committee, which enforces party discipline and acts as a trial and appeals board for disciplinary cases. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Ruling Elite of North Korea
Influence and prestige within the party power structure are directly associated with the rank order in which the members of the Central Committee are listed. Key posts in party, government, and economic organs are assigned; higher-ranking Central Committee members also are found in the armed forces, educational and cultural institutions, and other social and mass organizations. Many leaders concurrently hold multiple positions within the party, the government, and the military. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Persons with at least one major position in leading party, government, and military organs are considered the ruling elite. This group includes all political leaders who are, at a given time, directly involved in the preparation of major policy decisions and who participate in the inner circle of policy making. The ruling elite include Political Bureau members and secretaries of the KWP, Central People's Committee members, members of the State Administration Council, and members of the Central Military Commission and the National Defense Commission. Because overlapping membership is common in public office, topranking office holders number less than 100. In any event, those having the most influential voice in policy formulation are members of the Political Bureau Presidium. *
Top leaders share a number of common social characteristics. They belong to the same generation; the average age of the party's top fifty leaders was about sixty-eight years in 1990. By the end of 1989, aging members of the anti-Japanese partisan group accounted for 24 percent of the Political Bureau's full members. There is no clear evidence of regional underrepresentation. Nonetheless, many Hamgyong natives are included in the inner circle — for example, O Chin-u, Pak Sngch 'l, Kim Yong-nam, and Kye Ung-t'ae. The latter is a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee and secretary in charge of economics.*
Juche, instrumental in providing a consistent and unifying framework for commitment and action in the political arena, offers a foundation for the party's incessant demand for spartan austerity, sacrifice, discipline, and dedication. It has not yet been determined, however, whether juche is an asset or liability for Kim. Nonetheless, Kim is likely to continue to emphasize juche as the only satisfactory answer to all challenging questions in North Korea, particularly because he attributes the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and East European countries to their lack of juche ideology.*
Graduates of the first class of the Mangyongdae Revolutionary Institute, established in 1947, support Kim Jong Il's power base. Many of these graduates occupy key positions in government and the military. For example, O Guk-nyol and General Paek Hak-nim — the latter, the minister of public security — are members of the Central Military Commission, KWP Central Committee, and the SPA; Kim Hwan, the former minister of chemical industry and a vice premier as of mid-1993, is a member of both the KWP Central Committee and the SPA; and Kim Yong-sun, a candidate member of the Politburo, is the director of the International Affairs Department, KWP Central Committee.*
The North Korean constitution says that all the highest bodies of the North Korean government — the National Defense Commission, the Politburo, the Presidium and the Central Committee of the Korean Worker’s Party — are all under Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) and that SPA. is "the highest organ of state power" the opposite is true.
Members of the Korean Worker’s Party
The KWP claimed a membership of more than 3 million persons as of 1988, a significant increase from the 2 million members announced in 1976. This increase may have been a result of the active mobilization drive for the Three Revolution Team Movement. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
The Korean Workers' Party has three constituencies: industrial workers, peasants, and intellectuals, that is, office workers. Since 1948 industrial workers have constituted the largest percentage of party members, followed by peasants and intellectuals. Beginning in the 1970s, when North Korea's population reached the 50 percent urban mark, the composition of the groups belonging to the party changed. More people working in state-owned enterprises became party members and the number of members working in agricultural cooperatives decreased.*
Fyodor Tertitskiy wrote in NK News: “If you live in North Korea, the single most important factor that will determine the course of your life is whether or not you become a party member. The party’s name is usually translated as the Workers’ Party of Korea, but a more accurate translation would be the Korean Labour Party. The irony of this is that people join it so as not to become a worker – and, if they are fortunate, to avoid physical labour entirely. Rather than a normal political party, it is a huge bureaucratic structure which strives to oversee the country’s economy and society in its entirety. [Source: Fyodor Tertitskiy for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, December 22, 2015]
“All members of the North Korean elite, including all the officers in the army, police and secret police, are party members. In fact, becoming a party member is the only way to aspire to a high social position. The party’s structure is quite similar to the Communist party of the Soviet Union: every administrative unit has a committee which serves as the local government. The country as whole is ruled by the Central Committee, which is presided over by the Politburo. Unlike the USSR, there is one more step: the Politburo’s Standing Committee, which, like in China, is the highest ruling body in the country. And, finally, the head of state in First Secretary Kim Jong-un.*
Cadres of the Korean Worker’s Party
The recruitment and training of party cadres (kanbu) has long been the primary concern of party leadership. Party cadres are those officials placed in key positions in party organizations, ranging the Political Bureau to the village party committees; in government agencies; in economic enterprises; in military and internal security units; in educational institutions; and in mass organizations. The duties of cadres are to educate and lead party and nonparty members of society and to ensure that party policies and directives are carried out faithfully. The party penetrates all aspects of life. Associations and guidance committees exist at all levels of society, with a local party cadre serving as a key member of each committee. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Some cadres are concerned principally with ideological matters, whereas others are expected both to be ideologically prepared and to give guidance to the technical or managerial activities of the state. Regardless of specialization, all party cadres are expected to devote two hours a day to the study of juche ideology and Kim Il Sung's policies and instruction.*
The party has a number of schools for cadre training. At the national level, the most prestigious school is the Kim Il Sung Higher Party School, directly under the Central Committee. Below the national level are communist colleges established in each province for the education of county-level cadres. Village-level cadres are sent to county training schools.*
The rules governing cadre selection have undergone subtle changes in emphasis. Through the early 1970s, "good class origin," individual ability, and ideological posture were given more or less equal consideration in the appointment of cadres. Since the mid-1970s, however, the doctrinally ordained "class principle" has been downgraded on the assumption that the actual social or class status of people should not be judged on the basis of their past family backgrounds but on their "present class preparation and mental attitudes." The party increasingly stresses individual merit and "absolute" loyalty as the criteria for acceptance into the elite status of cadre. Merit and competence have come to mean "a knowledge of the economy and technology." Such knowledge is considered crucial because, as Kim Il Sung stressed in July 1974, "Party organizational work should be intimately linked to economic work and intraparty work should be conducted to ensure success in socialist construction and backup economic work."
An equally important, if not more important criterion for cadre selection is political loyalty inasmuch as not all cadres of correct class origin nor all highly competent cadres are expected to pass the rigorous tests of party life. These tests entail absolute loyalty to Kim Il Sung and the party, thorough familiarity with juche ideology, refusal to temporize in the face of adversity, and a readiness to respond to the party's call under any conditions and at all times.*
Although information on the composition of cadre membership was limited as of mid-1993, the number of cadres of nonworker and nonpeasant origin has steadily increased. These cadres generally are classified as "working intellectuals" engaged in occupations ranging from party and government activities to educational, technical, and artistic pursuits. Another notable trend is the infusion of younger, better educated cadres into the party ranks. An accent on youth and innovation was very much in evidence after 1973 when Kim Jong Il assumed the leading role in the Three Revolution Team Movement.*
Becoming a Party Member in North Korea
Fyodor Tertitskiy wrote in NK News: “The procedure for admission into the party has been copied from the Soviet Union: an applicant needs two recommendations from existing members and approval from the local organising committee. If accepted, the applicant is first admitted as a candidate member and is eligible to become a full member after a year.Fyodor Tertitskiy for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, December 22, 2015]
“Entrants receive a a membership card, which is actually a a small book with a few pages. The party booklet is fetishised in communist countries; losing it is considered a serious offence. Immediately after admission a new party member is granted access to the lowest-level classified documents that are “for party members only”, which outline state ideology and propaganda.
“The party is huge, with more than five million members. Since the population is 24 million, a motivated person with an acceptable songbun (social stature) has a good chance of being admitted. The most secure way to gain acceptance to the party is to join the military. Although this requires a long term of service, 10 years for men and three to six years for women, many North Koreans decide that party membership is worth the sacrifice. Political officers decide on admission to the military, so the shortest way to achieve party membership is to be an exemplary student at political training sessions and have good relations with the political officer of your unit.
Mass Organizations in North Korea
All mass organizations are guided and controlled by the party. A number of political and social organizations appear concerned with the promotion of special interest groups but actually serve as auxiliaries to the party. Many of these organizations were founded in the early years of the KWP to serve as vehicles for the party's efforts to penetrate a broader cross section of the population. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]
Mass organizations have another important function: to create the impression that there are noncommunist social, political, cultural, and professional groups that can work with their South Korean counterparts toward national reunification. Most of these organizations were established to develop a unified strategy in dealing with the ruling establishment of South Korea and other foreign countries and organizations. As of July 1992, these included the Korean Social Democratic Party headed by Yi Kyepaek ; the Chondoist Chongu Party headed by Chong Sin-hyok, the Socialist Working Youth League (SWYL) headed by Ch'oe Yong- hae; the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland headed by Yun Ki-pok; the Korean Democratic Women's Union headed by Kim Il Sung's wife, Kim Song-ae; the Korean National Peace Committee headed by Chong Chun-ki; the Korean Students Committee headed by Mun Kyong-tok; the General Federation of Trade Unions headed by Han Ki-chang; and many others. In the early 1990s, the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland was actively involved in the two Koreas' reconciliation talks.*
Among auxiliary organizations, one frequently covered in the media is the SWYL. Directly under the party Central Committee, it is the only mass organization expressly mentioned in the charter of the KWP. The league is the party's most important ideological and organizational training ground, with branches and cells wherever there are regular party organizations. Youth league cells exist in the army, factories, cooperative farms, schools, cultural institutions, and government agencies. The organization is hailed as a "militant reserve" of the party; its members are described as heirs to the revolution, reliable reserves, and active assistants of the party. Youths between the ages of fifteen and twenty-six are eligible to join the league regardless of other organizational affiliations, provided they meet requirements similar to those for party membership. The junior version of the youth league is the Young Pioneer Corps, open to children between the ages of nine and fifteen. The Students' and Children's Palace in Pyongyang is maintained by the SWYL for the extracurricular activities of Young Pioneer Corps members; these activities include study sessions in juche ideology as well as other subjects taught in the primary and secondary schools.*
The principal vehicle for Pyongyang's united front strategy in dealing with South Korea and foreign counterparts is the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland (DFRF), popularly known as the Fatherland Front. The Fatherland Front actually is an umbrella for various other organizations and thus ostensibly is a nonpolitical, nongovernmental organization.*
Choch'ongryn (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan), is one of the best known of the foreign auxiliary organizations. Its mission is to enlist the allegiance of the more than 600,000 Korean residents in Japan. At least a third of these residents, who also are assiduously courted by Seoul, are considered supporters of Pyongyang. The remaining two-thirds of the members are divided into South Korean loyalists and neutralists. Those who are friendly toward North Korea are regarded by Pyongyang as its citizens and are educated at Korean schools in Japan that are financially subsidized by North Korea. These Koreans are expected to work for the North Korean cause either in Japan or as returnees to North Korea.*
The activities of these mass organizations are occasionally reported in the news. However, it is difficult to ascertain what these organizations actually do. Organizations such as the Korean Social Democratic Party and the Chondoist Chongu Party publicize only the officially published names of their leaders and do not report anything about their membership or activities.*
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.
Text Sources: UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, Daily NK, NK News, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2021