Juche

JucheTowerPyongyangMarkHarrisGetty.jpg
The Juche Tower in Pyongyang, North Korea. Mark Harris via Getty

Juche is a political ideology first formulated by Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea.  It began as a simple statement of self-reliance; 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.

Officially, North Korea is atheist, as are all communist regimes.

  Kim Il-sung worked hard to create a cult of personality, in which the people's veneration of him resembled religious worship.  The idea of juche came to play a larger and larger part in the religio-political cult around the Kim family. 

Kim Il-sung first mentioned juche on December 28, 1955, during a speech railing against Soviet dogma.  It signaled North Korea's turn away from the Soviet orbit, and a turn inward.  In the speech, Kim stated that "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."  Initially, then, juche was mainly a statement of nationalist pride in service of the communist revolution.

By 1965, Kim had evolved the ideology into a set of three fundamental principles.

  On April 14 of that year, he outlined the principles: 1) Political independence, 2) Economic self-sustenance, and 3) Self-reliance in national defense.

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.