Thursday, August 10, 2017
Why North Korea is NOT a Monarchy
Kim Il Sung was not best pleased by what he witnessed in the Soviet Union following the death of Stalin. He saw Nikita Khrushchev try to put a kinder face on Soviet Communism with his admission of past mistakes and campaign of de-Stalinization. Kim Il Sung thought this was horrible and he never got along terribly well with Khrushchev because of that. It also made him determined that his work would not be undone by his successor the way Stalin’s had been. In 1980 he publicly declared that his successor would be his son Kim Jong Il. It would later be firmly established in law that the leader of the country must be a descendant of Kim Il Sung, though not strictly hereditary as the leader can choose which of his children are to succeed him. Each has taken care to choose the heir most like themselves and the least likely to change anything. All of this, of course, was seen as quite outrageous in the rest of the communist world and for the very same reason it is being discussed here; a son succeeding his father as leader seemed much too monarchical for any sort of communist regime to consider.
Nonetheless, Kim Il Sung was adamant and could easily point to the changes in other communist countries to justify his actions. How else could he be sure that another successor would not do to his image what Khrushchev had done to that of Stalin? No, far better to restrict the possible candidates to his own offspring who would be most like himself, both genetically and by upbringing. He also began to cultivate a cult of personality more grandiose than was seen in any other communist dictatorship and that too would play a part, making him, his wife and son a sort of unholy trinity for the officially atheist country. By doing this, Sung also ensured that his successors would not stray from the path he had forged for if they did, it would discredit their father and thus discredit themselves in the process. The entire concept was based on political calculations and not respect for tradition. Sung’s own wife, for example, always referred to Sung as “General” rather than “husband” because, as with any Marxist state, your individual identity is only worthy in its relation to the state, not to other people. Terms such as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ or ‘mother’ and ‘father’ were also, particularly in Confucian societies, inherently hierarchical and thus out of step with the egalitarian ideals of communism. Pol Pot would have people killed for using such terms in his communist state in Cambodia which is why everyone referred to each other as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ with Pol Pot famously known only as “Brother Number One”.
Usually, the people in North Korea simply refer to their dictators by their honorific titles. Kim Il Sung was “the Great Leader” and Kim Jong Il was “the Dear Leader”. Likewise, just as Kim Il Sung was declared “Eternal President”, allowing for none to come after him, following the death of Kim Jong Il in 2011, he was declared, “Eternal General Secretary” and his son and successor, the current dictator Kim Jong Un, was made “First Secretary”. Despite all of the “Dear Leader” nonsense, there is evidence that Kim Jong Il was never very popular in North Korea and that he himself knew that the outpourings of affectionate devotion from his people was coerced and not genuine. This seems likely given that he came to power just after the fall of the Soviet Union when the generous financial support Moscow had always provided to its client in Pyongyang suddenly stopped coming and the North Koreans were finally forced to confront the effects of their economic policies which were the height of financial stupidity.
There were also rumors (and that is often all one has to go on concerning the DPRK) that the rule of Kim Jong Il had been bad enough that, before it was over, some wanted to be rid of the “Kim Dynasty”. However, not only would the members of the family be expected to oppose this, it would also go against the wishes of their founder Kim Il Sung who had ordered that the leadership remain with his family until the revolution was “completed”, whatever that means. Kim Jong Il certainly intended things to carry on as they had done but he was presented with a problem in finding a suitable successor. His oldest son, Kim Jong Nam, was suspected of wanting to change things, to perhaps make North Korea a communist dictatorship more like the Chinese model. This was not acceptable. The second son, Kim Jong Chul, was also considered unworthy though we know very little about him other than he’s a fan of Eric Clapton and was described by the dictator’s former Japanese cook as acting “like a little girl”. So, in the end, it was the younger son, Kim Jong Un, who was deemed the most reliable and least likely to change anything. He even adopted a hair style similar to that of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, to associate himself with North Korea’s founder and most popular dictator.