Juche

North Korea's Leading Political Philosophy

North Korea statues
North Korea, which, unsurprisingly, the government has issued a travel warning for. Gavin Hellier/Robertharding/Getty Images

Juche, or Korean socialism, is a political ideology first formulated by Kim Il-sung (1912–1994), the founder of modern North Korea. The word Juche is a combination of two Chinese characters, Ju and Che, Ju meaning master, subject, and the self as actor; Che meaning object, thing, material.

Philosophy and Politics

Juche began as Kim's simple statement of self-reliance; specifically, North Korea would no longer look to China, the Soviet Union, or any other foreign partner for aid.

Over the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the ideology evolved into a complex set of principles that some have called a political religion. Kim himself referred to it as a type of reformed Confucianism.

Juche as a philosophy includes three basic elements: Nature, Society, and Man. Man transforms Nature and is the master of Society and his own destiny. The dynamic heart of Juche is the leader, who is considered the center of society and its guiding element. Juche is thus the guiding idea of the people's activities and the country's development.

Officially, North Korea is atheist, as are all communist regimes.  Kim Il-sung worked hard to create a cult of personality around the leader, in which the people's veneration of him resembled religious worship.  Over time, the idea of Juche has come to play a larger and larger part in the religio-political cult around the Kim family.

Roots: Turning Inward

Kim Il-sung first mentioned Juche on December 28, 1955, during a speech railing against Soviet dogma.

Kim's political mentors had been Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, but his speech now signaled North Korea's deliberate turn away from the Soviet orbit, and a turn inward.  

  • "To make revolution in Korea we must know Korean history and geography as well as 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." Kim Il-sung, 1955.

    Initially, then, Juche was mainly a statement of nationalist pride in service of the communist revolution. But by 1965, Kim had evolved the ideology into a set of three fundamental principles. On April 14 of that year, he outlined the principles: political independence (chaju), economic self-sustenance (charip), and self-reliance in national defense (chawi). In 1972, Juche became an official part of North Korea's constitution.

    Kim Jong-Il and Juche

    In 1982, Kim's son and successor Kim Jong-il wrote a document titled On the Juche Idea, elaborating further on the ideology.  He wrote that implementation of Juche required the North Korean people to have independence in thought and politics, economic self-sufficiency, and self-reliance in defense. Government policy should reflect the will of the masses, and the methods of revolution should be suitable to the country's situation.  Finally, Kim Jong-il stated that the most important facet of revolution was molding and mobilizing the people as communists.  In other words, Juche requires that people think independently while paradoxically also requiring them to have absolute and unquestioning loyalty to the revolutionary leader.

    Using Juche as a political and rhetorical tool, the Kim family has nearly erased Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and Mao Zedong from the consciousness of the North Korean people.

     Within North Korea, it now appears as if all of the precepts of communism were invented, in a self-reliant way, by Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

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    Szczepanski, Kallie. "Juche." ThoughtCo, Nov. 22, 2017, thoughtco.com/juche-195633. Szczepanski, Kallie. (2017, November 22). Juche. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/juche-195633 Szczepanski, Kallie. "Juche." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/juche-195633 (accessed December 15, 2017).