Categorized | History, Politics

Juche as a Third Positionist Ideology

Paul Shepard contributed to the writing of this article

Juche is the state ideology of DPRK – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It is usually translated as “Self-Reliance,” or “the Spirit of Self Sufficiency,” but can be literally translated as “main body”.  The Juche Idea holds that the most important task of socialist construction is “molding the People.” Kim Il Sung – its principal author – describes Juche’s meaning as: “Man is the master of everything and decides everything.”

The Juche Idea is rooted in the perennial notion that mankind alone possesses consciousness and creativity – something expressed by the Koreans in the single concept of “Chajusong.” The other concepts of the Juche idea can be summed up by the following points:

  1. Policy must reflect the will and aspirations of the masses and employ them fully in revolution and construction.
  2. Methods of revolution and construction must be suitable to the situation of the country.
  3. The most important work of revolution and construction is molding people ideologically as communists and mobilizing them to constructive action.

While the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is often called “the last communist state,” by many Western political commentators, there is in reality, much ignorance regarding the position of Juche on political matters. While indeed, the Great Leader General Kim Il Sung began his political training as a Marxist, he understood Marxism as a method of mobilizing the general masses against imperialism. Later, in particular, after the Sino-Soviet split, the DPRK aligned itself with China. This should not be surprising, as the Chinese and Koreans both had similar social backgrounds at the time.

There are, however, a few differences. General Kim Il Sung opposed the Cultural Revolution in China as going too far. In fact, one interpretation of Juche is “putting Korean things first,” [1] meaning that Korean culture should be upheld and cultural imperialism resisted, as only the people of a nation can determine what the revolutionary idea will be for that nation. The Dear Leader Kim Jong Il rejected Marx’s idea that “workingmen of the world have no country,” and scribbled in the margin: “I am a Communist, I am Korean. I see no contradiction.”

Despite their stressing of the specificity of Juche to DPRK’s distinct historical-geographic context, the North Korean state nevertheless views their great social experiment as ally to other “bullied” developing and third-world nations struggling to build socialism “in their own style.” In one of his essays, entitled On Preserving the Juche Character and National Character of the Revolution and Construction, the Great Leader Kim Il Sung said:

Maintaining the Juche character of the revolution and construction means that the popular masses shape the destiny of their country and nation and their own destiny independently and creatively by being the masters of their destiny. Sustaining the national character means preserving and developing the good qualities of the nation and embodying them in all spheres of social life.

To state this differently, Kim Il Sung understood that the people of a nation are its asset.  Keeping the European character of Europe, for instance, is nout out of line with the ideals of Juche.  To this end, Thus Juche Korea supported national and populist revolutions, and build relations with the leaders of developing countries, such as Nasser of Egypt, Colonel Muammar Qadaffi of Libya, and Imam Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran, seeing all these forces as the genuine expression of the people’s revolutionary will. Despite this, they insist on the mutual exclusivity of their political institutions and absolute sovereignty of individual nations. The DPRK has been described as a “fortress state.”

The Monument to the Foundation of the Worker's Party of Korea, depict a hammer, sickle and writing-brush held by the worker, peasant and intellectual symbolic of the Juche Idea.

In practice, Juche is accompanied by an intense nationalism which stresses economic autarky and a martial spirit known as Songun. Perhaps, more striking to westerners is the incorporation of the very traditional concept of filial piety (Korean: hyo). According to traditional Confucian thought, the relationship between leader and subject (君臣) parallels that of a parent and child. In Juche, this is translated into the theory of socio-political life and revolutionary leadership wherein the Korean people are bound together in a mutual relationship whether in life or in death, in sorrow or happiness and so on [2].  The passionate devotion of the Korean people to the Great Leader General Kim Il Sung and the Dear Leader Comrade Kim Jung Il, are the outward manifestations of these ideas, often considered by the West to be a “cult of personality”. Juche holds a neo-Hobbesian view of society, positing that the Leader (at present Kim Jong Eun) is analogous to the human brain and the Party is analogous to the nervous system – conveying the instructions of the brain. The People, finally, serve as flesh and bone, carrying out those instructions.

In one documentary film, a reporter asks his guide, “what is your opinion of the Dear Leader [Kim Jong Il]; do you think he’s doing a good job?” The guide responds, “There is something strange here. How can I know? How can I, a common person, know the great and deep idea?”

In the DPRK, media, including film, music, and the arts are considered to be a part of political life.  For the Korean people, the media is an instrument for inculcating Juche ideology and the continuation of the revolutionary struggle of the nation.  The culture of Juche Korea is deeply rooted in the need to take the best from the past, while discarding capitalist elements. Popular, vernacular styles and themes in literature, art, music, and dance are esteemed as expressing the truly unique spirit of the Korean nation. Ethnographers devote much energy to restoring and reintroducing cultural forms that have the proper proletarian or folk spirit.

In Pyongyang, the broadest selection of cultural expression. is offered, and revolutionary messages are a part of everyday life.  “Art propaganda squads” travel to production sites in the provinces to perform poetry readings, one-act plays, and songs in order to “congratulate workers on their successes” and “inspire them to greater successes through their artistic agitation.”  Indeed, DPRK’s media engages in a kind of mythopoeia unseen since the time of Pharaohs.  For example, according to official news sources, Kim Il Sung was being carried off to Heaven after death by a flock of cranes when – in response to the outpouring of grief from the mourning Koreans – it was agreed that he would not be taken, and that he would abide forever in eternal sleep.  This is why Kim Il Sung bears the title of Eternal President and is still considered DPRK’s head of state.  Also, again according to official news sources, a new star appeared in the sky when Kim Jong Il was born.

Juche might even be termed a kind of National Socialism, as the Koreans are regarded as forming a community of the blood and possessing a contiguous history and culture – DPRK’s heritage is celebrated and their state is likened to that of semi-mythic ancient Korea. It is thought that the Nation is eternal and that Koreans will always speak Korean.  In fact, B.R. Myers argues in The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves that aspects of Juche ideology – specifically deification of the “Leader” figure are closer to what Westerners think of as being on the “right”.  Myers writes:

North Korea’s dominant ideology […] can be summarized in a single sentence: The Korean people are too pure blooded, and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader. […] I need hardly point out that if such a race-based worldview is to be situated on our conventional left-right spectrum, it makes more sense to posit it on the extreme right than on the far left [3].

The importance of human personality and responsibility are clear here. Kim Il Sung and his followers firmly believed in what might be called a “heroic” understanding of history.  Rather than embrace the dialectical materialism of Marxism, the philosophy of Juche proudly puts man at the center of all the world, echoing the Nietzschean concept of die Wille zur Macht.  Moreover, the role of the leaders in Juche, in many ways, resembles that which Evola idealized.  All these make Juche a far cry from Marx’s blind mechanistic forces and resembles far more the Third Positionist notions of 20th century Europe, notably the Nazis’ Fuhrerprinzip.


[1] Cumings, Bruce. Korea’s Place in the Sun: a Modern History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.
[3] Myers, B. R. The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2010.


Paul Shepard is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in The Cazenovia Republican, The Bard Journal of Social Sciences, The Moderator, and

About Hong Kyung-Jin

HONG Kyung-Jin was born in Korea, and moved to the United States at the age of 7. He is a former Buddhist, and is now a Roman Catholic. Mr. Hong holds a dual degree in computer science and civil engineering from the University of Western Ontario. He is interested in comparative religion and East Asian politics.
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