Korean Workers' Party: Wikis


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Workers' Party of Korea
Chosŏn Rodongdang
Leader Kim Jong-il, General Secretary
Founded June 30, 1949
Headquarters Pyongyang, Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Ideology Communism
Politics of North Korea
Political parties
Workers' Party of Korea
Chosŏn'gŭl 조선로동당
Hancha 朝鮮勞動黨
McCune–Reischauer Chosŏn Rodongdang
Revised Romanization Joseon Rodongdang

The Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) is the ruling party of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), commonly known as North Korea. It is also called the Korean Workers' Party (KWP). The WPK has been the ruling party in the DPRK since its foundation and has had as its leaders, Kim Il-sung (1949–1994) and his son, Kim Jong-il (beginning in 1997, when he officially took over as General Secretary). Kim Ki-Nam is the current Secretary of the Central Committee, as of October 2007.[1] The party is widely viewed as the last old-style Stalinist party in the world. However, the WPK claims to have its own distinct ideology (Juche) which it considers to be superior to Marxism-Leninism.




Foundation of the party

On June 30, 1949 the Workers Party of North Korea and the Workers Party of South Korea merged, forming the Workers' Party of Korea, at a congress in Pyongyang. Both parties traced their origins to the Communist Party of Korea. Kim Il-sung of the Workers Party of North Korea became the party Chairman and Pak Hon-yong, who had been leader of the Workers Party of South Korea as well as the earlier Communist Party of Korea, and Alexei Ivanovich Hegay[2][3][4]becoming deputy chairmen.

However, official North Korean sources consider October 10, 1945 as the 'Party Foundation Day', citing a founding meeting of the 'North Korea Bureau of the Communist Party of Korea'. Foreign historians, however, dispute that date and claim that the meeting was in fact held on October 13. The party considers itself as a direct continuation of the North Korea Bureau and the Workers Party of North Korea, considering the two congresses of the Workers Party of North Korea as its own. This version of events can be seen as a move to downplay the importance of the communists from South Korea, who were purged in the 1950s.

The first five years of the WPK's rule were dominated by the Korean War. By October 1950 United Nations forces had occupied most of the DPRK and the WPK leadership had to flee to China. Many believe that if it had not been for Chinese intervention, the Korean communists would have been militarily defeated at that point. But in November, Chinese forces entered the war and threw the U.N. forces back, retaking Pyongyang in December and Seoul in January 1951. In March U.N. forces retook Seoul, and the front was stabilised along what eventually became the permanent "Armistice Line" of 1953. The WPK was able to re-establish its rule north of this line.

Factions in the WPK

As the Workers' Party of Korea, and its two founding parties, had emerged through a series of mergers, it contained various competing factions. At the time of its foundation, the party was made up of four factions, the Soviet Koreans faction, the Domestic faction, the Yanan (or Chinese) faction and the Guerrilla faction.

  • The Soviet Koreans, led first by Alexei Ivanovich Hegay and then by Pak Chang Ok were made up of waves of ethnic Koreans who were born or raised in Russia after their families moved there starting in the 1870s. Some of them had returned to Korea covertly as Communist operatives in the twenties and thirties but most were members of the Red Army or civilians who were stationed in North Korea following World War II to help the Red Army establish a Soviet satellite. Many came as translators or as Russian language instructors.
  • The Domestic faction, led by Pak Hon-yong were Korean Communists who never left the country but engaged in a struggle against the Japanese occupation. Many members of the domestic faction had spent time in Japanese military prisons as a result of their activities.
  • The Yanan faction, led first by Mu Chong and then by Kim Tu-bong and Choe Chang-ik, were those Korean exiles who had lived in China's Shaanxi province and joined the Communist Party of China whose regional headquarters were at Yan'an. They had formed their own party, the North-Chinese League for the Independence of Korea, and when they returned to North Korea from exile they formed the New People's Party which merged with the North Korean Bureau to form the Workers Party of North Korea. Many members of the Yanan faction had fought in the Chinese 8th and New 4th Armies and thus had close relations with Mao Zedong.
  • The Guerrilla faction, led by Kim Il-sung, was made up of former Korean guerillas who had been active in Manchuria after it was occupied by Japan in 1931. Many in this group ended up fleeing Manchuria, as their armed resistance was suppressed, and moved to the Soviet Union where many of them, including Kim, were drafted into the Red Army.

Once the WPK was created there was a virtual parity between the four factions with the Yanan, Soviet and Domestic factions each having four representatives on the Politburo with the Guerrilla faction having three.

In the early years of the party Kim Il-sung was the acknowledged leader, but he did not yet have absolute power since it was necessary to balance off the interests of the various factions. To eliminate any threats to his position, he first moved against individual leaders who were potential rivals. He drove from power Alexei Ivanovich Hegay (also known as Ho Ka-ai), leader of the Soviet faction, first demoting him during the Korean War in 1951 and then using him as a scapegoat for slow repairs of a water reservoir bombed by the Americans to drive him from power (and to an alleged suicide) in 1953. In part, it was possible for Kim to do this because the intervention of "Chinese People's Volunteers" in the war reduced the influence of both the USSR and the Soviet faction and allowed Kim Il-sung the room he needed to dispose of his main rival.

Kim Il-sung also attacked the leadership of the Yanan faction. When the North Koreans were driven to the Chinese border, Kim Il-sung needed a scapegoat to explain the military disaster and blamed Mu Chong, a leader of the Yanan faction and also a leader of the North Korean military. Mu Chong and a number of other military leaders were expelled from the party and Mu was forced to return to China where he spent the rest of his life. Kim Il-sung also removed Pak Il-u, the Minister of the Interior and reputedly the personal representative of Mao Zedong.

The sacking of Hegay, Mu and Pak reduced the influence of the Chinese and Soviet factions, but Kim Il-sung could not yet launch an all out assault on these factions because he would risk the intervention of Moscow and Beijing when he was still dependent on their support.

Purge of the "Domestic faction"

As the Korean War drew to a close, he first moved against the Domestic faction. While the Soviet faction had the sponsorship of the Soviet Union and the Yanan faction was backed by China the Domestic faction had no external sponsor who would come to their aid and was therefore in the weakest position. With the end of the Korean War the usefulness of the Domestic faction in running guerilla and spy networks in South Korea came to an end. Former leaders of the Workers Party of South Korea were attacked at a December 1952 Central Committee meeting. In early 1953 rumours were spread that the "southerners" had been planning a coup. This led to the arrest and removal from power of Pak Hon-yong (who was foreign minister at the time) and Yi Sung Yopo the minister of "state control" who was charged with "spying on behalf of the United States".

In August 1953, following the signing of the armistice that suspended the Korean War, Yi and eleven other leaders of the domestic faction were subjected to a show trial on charges of planning a military coup and sentenced to death. In 1955, Pak Hon Yong, the former leader of the WPSK and deputy chairman of the WPK, was put on trial on charges of having been a US agent since 1939, sabotage, assassination, and planning a coup. He was sentenced to death, although it is unclear if he was shot immediately or if his execution occurred some time in 1956.

The trials of Yi and Pak were accompanied by the arrest of other members and activists of the former SWPK with defendants being executed or sent to forced labour in the countryside. The domestic faction was virtually wiped out, though a few individual members who had personally allied themselves to Kim Il-sung remained in positions of influence for several more years.

The "August Incident" and aftermath

Kim Il-sung sent out preliminary signals in late 1955 and early 1956 that he was preparing to move against the Yanan and Soviet factions. The Twentieth Party Congress of the Soviet Communist Party was a bombshell with Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech denouncing Stalin and the inauguration of destalinisation. Throughout the Soviet bloc domestic Communist parties inaugurated campaigns against personality cults and the general secretaries who modelled themselves after Stalin were deposed throughout Eastern Europe.

Kim Il-sung was summoned to Moscow for six weeks in the summer of 1956 in order to receive a dressing down from Khrushchev, who wished to bring North Korea in line with the new orthodoxy. During Kim Il-sung's absence Pak Chang Ok (the new leader of the Soviet faction after the suicide of Ho Ka Ai), Choe Chang Ik, and other leading members of the Yanan faction devised a plan to attack Kim Il-sung at the next plenum of the Central Committee and criticise him for not "correcting" his leadership methods, developing a personality cult, distorting the "Leninist principle of collective leadership" his "distortions of socialist legality" (i.e. using arbitrary arrest and executions) and use other Khrushchev-era criticisms of Stalinism against Kim Il-sung's leadership.

Kim Il-sung became aware of the plan upon his return from Moscow and responded by delaying the plenum by almost a month and using the additional time to prepare by bribing and coercing Central Committee members and planning a stage-managed response. When the plenum finally opened on August 30 Choe Chang-ik made a speech attacking Kim Il-sung for concentrating the power of the party and the state in his own hands as well as criticising the party line on industrialisation which ignored widespread starvation among the North Korean people. Yun Kong Hum attacked Kim Il-sung for creating a "police regime". Kim Il-sung's supporters heckled and berated the speakers rendering them almost inaudible and destroying their ability to persuade members. Kim Il-sung's supporters accused the opposition of being "anti-Party" and moved to expel Yun from the party. Kim Il-sung, in response, neutralised the attack on him by promising to inaugurate changes and moderate the regime, promises which were never kept. The majority in the committee voted to support Kim Il-sung and also voted in favour of repressing the opposition expelling Choe and Pak from the Central Committee.

Several leaders of the Yunan faction fled to China to escape the purges that followed the August plenum while supporters of the Soviet faction and Yanan faction were rounded up. Though Kim Tu Bong, the leader of the Yanan faction and nominal President of North Korea was not directly involved in the attempt on Kim he was ultimately purged in 1958 accused of being the "mastermind" of the plot. Kim Tu Bong "disappeared" after his removal from power and likely was either executed or died in prison.

In September 1956 a joint Soviet-Chinese delegation went to Pyongyang to "instruct" Kim Il-sung to cease any purge and reinstate the leaders of the Yanan and Soviet factions. A second plenum of the Central Committee, held on September 23, 1956, officially pardoned the leaders of the August opposition attempt and rehabilitated them but in 1957 the purges resumed and by 1958 the Yanan faction had ceased to exist. Members of the Soviet faction, meanwhile, facing increased harassment, decided to return to the Soviet Union in increasing numbers. By 1961 the only faction left was Kim Il-sung's own guerrilla faction along with members who had joined the WPK under Kim Il-sung's leadership and were loyal to him. In the 1961 Central Committee there were only two members of the Soviet faction, three members of the Yanan faction and three members of the Domestic faction left out of a total Central Committee membership of 68. These individuals were personally loyal to Kim Il-sung and were trusted by him; however, by the late 1960s, even these individuals were almost all purged.

One likely reason for the failure of the Soviet and Yanan factions to depose Kim Il-sung was the nationalist view by younger members of the party who had joined since 1950 that the members of these factions were "foreigners" influenced by alien powers while Kim Il-sung was seen as a true Korean.

Sino-Soviet Split and North Korea

Until the 1960s the regime in the DPRK was seen as an orthodox Communist one-party state, with power residing in the Communist Party. All industry was nationalized and all agriculture was collectivised on the Soviet model, and the party controlled this command economy at every level. All other political organisation was suppressed and civil society was extinguished. A pervasive political police apparatus suppressed all dissent. Even at this stage there was a personality cult of Kim Il-sung, but it was usually assumed in the west that the DPRK was a Soviet satellite like Poland or East Germany though, in reality, this had stopped being the case after 1956.

The Sino-Soviet split helped Kim Il-sung take the Workers' Party of Korea on an independent path between Moscow and Beijing. The party and Kim Il-sung in particular were wary of de-stalinization and of Khrushchev's reforms. In the late 1950s, the DPRK began to increasingly emulate China launching its own version of the Great Leap Forward calling it the Chollima movement. The press did not mention the Sino-Soviet split at first. In 1961, Kim Il-sung signed a treaty of friendship and mutual cooperation with Zhou Enlai and then proceeded to sign a similar treaty with the Soviet Union. After 1962 and particularly after the Twenty-Second CPSU Party Congress in which Soviet leaders criticised Chinese leaders, the WPK began to side openly with China not only on issues such as the personality cult and "anti-revisionism" but also against Khrushchev's theory of peaceful coexistence. Editorials began to appear in the press openly criticising the Soviet position and defending the Chinese and obliquely attacking Khrushchev. The WPK supported China during its conflict with India in 1962 and denounced the USSR's "capitulation" in the Cuban missile crisis.

The Soviet Union responded by cutting off all aid to the DPRK, seriously damaging North Korea's industry and military capability. China did not have the resources to replace the Soviet aid, and after 1965 was embroiled in the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Events in China shocked the WPK leadership and caused it to distance itself from China and criticise Mao's "dogmatism" and recklessness, even accusing the Chinese of adopting the "Trotskyist theory of permanent revolution", a serious heresy in the Communist world. The Chinese Red Guards began to attack Kim Il-sung and Korean domestic and foreign policy. After 1965, North Korea took a neutral stand in the Sino-Soviet conflict, backing away from its previous uncritical support of China.

Although Kim Il-sung's regime emulated some of the slogans of the Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, Kim Il-sung remained wary of Chinese domination, and by 1968 he was being denounced as "a fat revisionist" by the followers of Jiang Qing in China. In the same year DPRK forces captured the U.S.S. Pueblo, an American spy ship, showing that Kim Il-sung was running his own version of the Cold War, independent of Soviet or Chinese tutelage.

Juche and Kim Il-sung as supreme leader

After 1956, Kim Il-sung was no longer a Soviet puppet and the DPRK moved away from being a Soviet satellite or "people's democracy." Nor did he trust the Chinese due to their suspected support of the Yanan faction's move against Kim Il-sung. Rather, he pursued an independent policy and initiated his juche program of national self-reliance in order to diminish the influence of the USSR and China over domestic North Korean affairs. By the late 1960s, the North Korean media was hailing the juche ideology as being superior to Leninism and other foreign ideologies and "burning loyalty" to the "Great Leader" became a major ideological theme (the term "Great Leader" was first used in the early 1960s) and took the Stalinistic practice of the personality cult to new levels.

With the removal of the other factions, Kim Il-sung became the supreme leader of the DPRK. By 1960, Kim Il-sung had purged virtually all the members of the Yanan, Domestic and Soviet factions through show trials, intimidation, and encouraging Soviet Koreans to return to the USSR, leaving the party to be dominated by his guerrilla comrades as well as young technocrats who had joined the party after its founding and were loyal to Kim Il-sung.

In 1972 the DPRK adopted a new constitution, under which an executive presidency was created, and Kim Il-sung became President as well as the WPK's General Secretary. Thereafter Kim Il-sung's personality cult reached heights that made even Stalin and Mao appear modest by comparison. Kim Il-sung was credited with personal direction of every supposed achievement of the regime, his biography was rewritten to make him the founder and leader of the WPK from its inception, and a new ideology of Kim Il-sung's creation, Juche or self-reliance, replaced Marxism-Leninism as the regime's official ideology. All other WPK leaders remained completely anonymous, although Kim Il-sung's power in fact depended on the control of the Korean People's Army and the security forces by his loyal agent, Defence Minister Oh Jin-wu. Kim Jong-il explains in Socialism of Our Country is Socialism of Our Style as the Embodiment of the Juche Idea, a speech made to the central committee of the WPK on December 27, 1990 the divorce with Marxism-Leninism. "We could not literally accept the Marxist theory which had been advanced on the premises of the socio-historic conditions of the developed European capitalist countries, or the Leninist theory presented in the situation of Russia where capitalism was developed to the second grade. We had had to find a solution to every problem arising in the revolution ... from the standpoint of Juche".

The practical effect of Juche was to seal the DPRK off from virtually all foreign trade, except to a limited extent with China and the Soviet Union. But the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping in China after 1976 meant that trade with the undeveloped centrally-planned economy of the DPRK held decreasing interest for China, while the fall of communism in the Soviet Union in 1991 completed the DPRK's isolation. This, added to the continuing high level of expenditure on armaments, led to a steadily mounting economic crisis from the 1980s onwards.

The rise of Kim Jong-il

In 1980 the WPK Congress elevated Kim Jong-il to senior positions for the first time. Until then it seemed likely that Kim's successor would be either Oh Jin-wu or Prime Minister Kim Il (not related to Kim Il-sung). In fact it seems that Kim Il-sung had always planned that his son would succeed him, and had been advancing him within the Army (the real source of power in the DPRK) since 1974. Kim Il was removed from office in 1976 and died in 1984, and Oh remained loyal to the Kim family. Well before Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, Kim Jong-il had become the day-to-day ruler of the country, and had promoted his own followers to key positions in the Army. Kim Jong-il's accession was followed by a round of purges in the WPK, in which some of his father's old followers were removed from office. Despite the almighty status and power of the KWP, it has not functioned normally since Kim Il- sung's death. A party congress has not been held since the sixth party congress in 1980. According to the Party Act, a party congress is supposed to be held every five years. The plenum of the Central Committee has not been held since the twenty-first plenum in December 1993. The plenum, which has the right to elect the General-Secretary, was not held even when Kim Jong-il became the party's secretary-general in October 1997. Instead Kim Jong-il was endorsed by both the Central Committee and the Central Military Committee. For the first time in the history of North Korea's Communist Party, a plenum also was not held before the first session of the 10th SPA. It is also suspected that Secretariat and Politburo meetings have not been held since Kim Il-sung's death. It is likely that not one organization within the party is fulfilling its decision-making function, and thus that the party is not working properly as a system.


As apparent from the history of the WPK, the formal structure of the party has little relevance to the actual system of government in the DPRK. In theory, 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 WPK Central Committee and the Central Auditing Committee. In practice, the members of all these bodies are chosen by Kim Jong-il and his few trusted lieutenants, and in any case they exercise no real power. Technically, the WPK is a coequal member with two other parties in the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, but the WPK holds all but a very few seats in the government and all candidates run unopposed and are elected unanimously.

In September 1992, the WPK 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 none has been held since the Sixth Party Congress of October 1980.

As in most Soviet-style party states, membership of the WPK is essential for any DPRK citizen who aspires to a post of any seniority in any government, management, educational or cultural institution, since all these bodies act as "conveyor belts" for party rule over all aspects of DPRK life and effectively creates a nomenklatura within society. All senior military officers must also be WPK members.

The Composition of the Central Committee leadership of the WPK in mid-2006 [5]

Member of the Presidium of the Politburo

1. Kim Jong Il - the Secretary General of WPK

Members of the Politburo

2. Kim Yong Ju - an honorary deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the SPA of the DPRK

3. Pak Sep Tcheul - an honorary deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the SPA of the DPRK

4. Han Sen Ren - Secretary of the Central Committee of WPK , chairman of the Budget Commission of the SPA of the DPRK

5. Kim Yong Nam - Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK

6. Ke Eun Tae - Secretary of the Central Committee of WPK

7. Ten Ben Ho - Secretary of the Central Committee of WPK

Alternate members in the Politburo

8. Choe Tae Bok - President of the SPA of the North Korea, Secretary of the Central Committee of WPK

9. Choe Yong Rim - Secretary of the Presidium of the SPA of the DPRK

10. Sek Hong Chen

11. Yang Hyong Sop - deputy Chairman of the Presidium of the SPA of the DPRK

12. Kim Tcheul Man

13. Hon Sen It

Secretariat of the Central Committee of WPK

1(1). Kim Jong Il

2(6). Ke Eun Tae

3(4). Han Sen Ren

4(14). Kim Guk Tae

5(15). Kim Dune Rin

6(7). Ten Ben Ho

7(8). Choe Tae Bok

8(16). Kim Ki Nam

9(17). Ten Ha Tcheul


The Party's symbol is an adaptation of the communist hammer and sickle, but with a traditional Korean calligraphy brush used for writing, symbolizing the "working intellectual".[6]

See also

External links


  1. ^ Dae-woong, Jin (2007-10-04). "Who's who in North Korea's power elite". The Korea Herald. http://www.koreaherald.co.kr:8080/servlet/cms.article.view?tpl=print&sname=National&img=/img/pic/ico_nat_pic.gif&id=200710040041. Retrieved 2007-10-05. 
  2. ^ Korean: 허가이, Russian: Алексей Иванович Хегай.
  3. ^ "Hagay Aleksei Ivanovich" (in Russian). Khasansky District: History, Nature, Geography (by Kulinczenko Marseille and Larissa). http://khasan-district.narod.ru/directory/person/hegay.htm. Retrieved 2008-01-09. 
  4. ^ Lankov, Andrei Nikolaevich. "HO GA I: Background of Life and Work" (in Russian). The Seoul Herald (Editor: Evgeny Shtefan) >> Library. http://vestnik.tripod.com/library/hogai.html. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Korean Workers Party, Flags of the World

Further reading


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