100th Anniversary of the birth of Comrade Kim Il Sung

On unity

On his 70th birthday in 1982, Cde Kim Il Sung made a speech at a banquet given by the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the government of the DPRK to which the title has been given: ‘The life of a revolutionary should begin with struggle and end with struggle’.  In this speech, he stressed the importance of unity: “Ensuring the firm unity and cohesion of ideology and will of the revolutionary ranks is the key to the victory of our future struggle … This unity and cohesion should be based on the Juche idea [i.e., on Marxism-Leninism[1]] and should centre on the Central Committee of the Party; they should be confirmed by a noble sense of revolutionary obligation and faith. Only unity and cohesion which centre on one pivot with one ideology and are based on a sense of revolutionary obligation and faith will last forever and surmount al tribulations and ordeals. … When the revolutionary hard cores of our Party, all the cadres and Party members and the entire people fight on courageously, rallied, with a single heart and will, closely around the Central Committee of the Party, victory and glory will always lie ahead of us …”

It cannot be stressed strongly enough that Cde Kim Il Sung is clearly not talking of unprincipled unity, of going along with wrong ideology for the sake of unity. The unity must be a unity around the principles of scientific socialism, as embodied, for example, in the Juche idea, and it is a fighting unity, a unity in struggle, not unity in inactivity, dithering, cynicism or uncertainty.  However, when the essential ideological unity, and fighting unity, are present, there can be no justification for failure to unite as one.  There are very many people who think that ideological unity implies perfect agreement at all times on each and every application of the principles of scientific socialism to each and every problem of the revolutionary proletarian movement.  Of course since such a level of unity is absolutely impossible in practice, those who insist they cannot unite in any organisation which has even the slightest aspect to its programme with which they disagree are in practice opponents of all and any unity. Curiously one rather sees them uniting with each other, and with people whom they consider to be unprincipled, in their anxiety to see the downfall of any revolutionary organisation, which they long for with all their hearts as a justification for their sectarianism.

Unity must be maintained in the struggle against wrong ideology that would drive the working-class movement off its revolutionary path.  Wrong ideas are bound to crop up all the time in any revolutionary organisation as the people who make up that organisation are simply members of society who are exposed to all the prejudiced ideas prevalent in the rotten societies that they are pledged to overthrow, and there will always be people even among the best revolutionaries who succumb from time to time to backward thinking. It may even flourish temporarily and be the cause of acute class struggle within the party.  It is not an excuse, however, for staying away from the party and from its inner struggles, that the party has weaknesses, so long as the party remains on the revolutionary path. True enough, if the weaknesses are not corrected then sooner or later the party is in danger of losing its way, but unless and until it finds itself on the side of reaction, the duty of all advanced workers is to join the party and to uphold its policies with single-hearted unity, while working hard to help it to overcome any weaknesses that it might have.  And of course, comrades also have a duty to consider that maybe it is not the party which has weaknesses but they themselves who are in error, just in case it is they who need to correct themselves in order the better to serve the masses.

On revisionism

Comrade Kim Il Sung could not but turn his mind to the question of the revisionism that had split the international communist movement in the 1960s. 

If the revisionists do not want to make a revolution, they are welcome to go their own way alone.  But the danger lies in the fact that they are even opposed to other people making a revolution and go to the length of imposing revisionism upon others.

“In doing so, they call the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists who refuse to follow their revisionist line ‘dogmatists’, ‘nationalists’, or ‘Stalinists’, rejecting them and trying to isolate them from the socialist camp.  This is the modern revisionists’ most absurd act and presents a serious danger to us” (see ‘On improving and strengthening organisational and ideological work of the party’, 8 March 1962).

It was in these conditions that he brought to the fore the Juche idea as a means of stressing Korea’s right to take its own revolutionary path rather than to follow instructions issued by powerful foreign parties.  He gave thought to the rationale given for the introduction of the so-called market socialism, namely, that without the discipline of the market, people were not inclined to work hard, with the result that the building of socialism was retarded.  Comrade Kim Il Sung had witnessed this phenomenon in Korea also, especially among people who were given positions of responsibility and trust.  However, he never followed the road to ‘market socialism’.  Comrade Stalin had warned shortly before he died that such measures far from improving productivity would end up impeding progress, as, among other things, it would expose socialist society to the same phenomenon of alienation of the masses that is characteristic of capitalist societies.  In fact, it could be said that unwillingness to work hard in a socialist society is a leftover from capitalist society of the workers’ alienation as they resentfully toiled to make others rich and longed for idleness.  Even in socialist society it may take decades before the whole working class becomes really at one with the idea that all their labour directly produces a better life for themselves, their children and grandchildren.  The cure for alienation, however, cannot be to make work more alienating by the reintroduction of bourgeois norms of profitability as the regulator of production, at the expense of the democratically evolved state plan.  The cure for alienation must be sought in the tireless efforts of the cultural workers, who must find ways of popularising the new ways of thinking appropriate to the proletariat in power.

On the importance of theory

It is in this context that in a talk to a delegation from the CPUSA on 24 June 1989, entitled ‘On our people’s struggle for socialist construction and national reunification’, Comrade Kim Il Sung said:

To achieve the complete victory of socialism, it is extremely important to intensify educational work to remould people into revolutionary and working-class patterns.  Only when ideological education is increased among people will it be possible to establish in the whole of society the communist tone of working and living – one for all and all for one.  If a working-class party neglects ideological education after it has carried out socialist revolution and established a socialist system, obsolete ideas lingering in the minds of people will grow.  In the end, people will become degenerate ideologically and inclined to lead an easy life, disliking work. If this happens, opium addicts and drunken brawlers may appear, and, in consequence, it will be impossible to build a socialist and communist society successfully.  The revolutionary education of people must be further intensified as the revolution advances and life becomes prosperous.  When people are in need, their enthusiasm to make revolution is high and they work in good faith.  However, when they have no worries about food, clothing or housing they will become contented, their revolutionary zeal may gradually cool and they may show no enthusiasm for work.”

Comrade Kim Il Sung said that to counter this, “the most important thing … is to induce the members of society to strengthen their life in a revolutionary organisation”.  Furthermore, “In our country the entire Party, the whole nation and all the army study. Everyone raises his or her political and ideological level by belonging to a study and lecture network, according to his or her intellectual level and the characteristics of his or her profession … even the members of the Children’s Union, to say nothing of the cadres, Party members and other working people, arm themselves with ideas and policies of our Party and receive communist education regularly”.

On cultural work

While it is very important to persuade people to make an effort to keep their thinking revolutionary, cultural workers have a crucial role to play in presenting the new ways of thinking in an attractive and entertaining way, so that people are able to improve themselves as part and parcel of indulging in well-earned relaxation.  Addressing a meeting of propagandists of the provincial People’s Committees, political parties and social organisations, cultural workers and artists in north Korea on 24 May 1946, Comrade Kim Il Sung said:

You are combatants on the front of culture.  You have the responsibility to attack, verbally or with the pen, the reactionary forces that try to retard the development of Korean society; you have the obligation to develop our national culture and educate our masses in the spirit of patriotism and democracy.  Whether we can crush the reactionary forces and build a new, democratic Korea depends largely on how you fight on the cultural front”. 

In another speech made on 7 November 1964, ‘On creating revolutionary literature and art’, Comrade Kim Il Sung said: “All kinds of art are necessary for the education of our working people and young folks, but stress should be laid on novels and films. …

“Now I would like to say a few words about producing revolutionary songs.

“At the time of the guerrilla struggle, when we composed a revolutionary song, even the puppet Manchukuo soldiers sang it, to say nothing of the peasants … If you comrades compose a good song, men of the ‘ROK army’ in south Korea will sing it, and so will south Korean students.”

Here in the UK we do not have the luxury of full-time revolutionary cultural workers, but we should heed Comrade Kim Il Sung’s advice to produce chants for demonstrations, for instance, and songs that will be taken up carrying a revolutionary message even among those who have been recruited by various opportunist organisations.

However, Comrade Kim Il Sung did have various criticisms of cultural workers:  “To begin with, our propagandists, cultural workers and artists never go among the masses.  Thus divorced from the people, our men and women of culture do not properly understand what the people think, and what they want … Only those who work for the masses, who fully understand their mentality, speak their language, write what they want to read and learn from them as well as teach them deserve to be called genuine cultural workers”. (24 May, 1946, op.cit.).

At our stage of the movement, we are seeking to appeal mainly to advanced workers (i.e., those who have already taken at least some steps to resist the iniquities of capitalism), and we therefore focus on addressing the issues of the day and exposing the decay of the capitalist system, while pointing to socialism as the only solution.  On certain occasions, however, such as when we participate in elections, we have the opportunity of addressing a wider audience.  If we are to be effective in this, we need to follow Comrade Kim Il Sung’s advice and find out what exactly the masses are thinking so that our propaganda can be responsive to their needs.  This does not mean that it should avoid making any point that the masses might disagree with.  For instance, if on talking to the masses we were to discover that significant numbers of people were blaming immigrants for the ills of capitalism, then our propaganda would seek to counter that debilitating delusion, pointing out its absurdity and exposing the motives of those who put out such nonsense.  This would be propaganda responsive to the needs of the working class.  However, if investigation showed that almost everybody welcomes immigrants into their community, then there would be no point in distributing material that pontificated against anti-immigrant propaganda.

Quite apart from that, people who have never been among the masses are particularly susceptible to bourgeois propaganda to the effect that working-class people are mentally deficient, unable to understand words of more than one syllable, and not many of those either.  Again, actual acquaintance with proletarian masses would cure this problem, at least in the case of those who are prepared to listen to what is said to them.

On the role of intellectuals

Strangely enough, the question of cultural work is closely tied in with another issue on which Kim Il Sung had a great deal to say, namely, the role of intellectuals in the revolutionary movement.  In Kim Il Sung’s days fighting the Japanese, as in Britain today, intellectuals, even when they were technically merely hired hands – wage slaves – always tended to be paid rather more than manual labourers and were rather inclined to think of themselves as superior beings.  Their ability to command high wages is related to their perceived individual intellectual qualities, as a result of which individualism is hardwired into their very conditions of existence.  In spite of that, Comrade Kim Il Sung considered that intellectuals had an important part to play in effecting the ongoing proletarian revolution:

Although the main motive force of the revolution is the working class and the peasantry, we cannot succeed in the revolution and construction with the working class and peasants alone.  In the revolutionary struggle and construction work the intellectuals play no less important a role than the workers and peasants.  Therefore, when we were founding our Party, we defined the intellectuals as an important component along with the workers and peasants.  The emblem of our Party has a hammer, a sickle and a writing brush, symbolising the workers, peasants and working intellectuals that comprise the Party …We regarded the small number of intellectuals as priceless assets.  We did not take issue with the intellectuals, although they had been born into rich families and received education at Japanese universities and colleges.  We regarded them as ‘brood hens’ for training our own cadres …”

In fact Comrade Kim Il Sung went so far as to say:

An important policy put forward by our Party in carrying out the cultural revolution is to raise the cultural and intellectual level of all the people to that of a college graduate  In other words, it is to assimilate the whole society into the intelligentsia” (24 June 1988, op.cit.).

Since socialism itself is a science, requiring scientific study, it is essential for all party cadres to become revolutionary intellectuals.  However, there is no escaping the fact that in class society it is very difficult for intellectuals, even those who have come up from the ranks of the broad masses, to resist the temptations of individualism that inexorably turn them into slaves of their own ambition rather than servants of the masses.  The party plays an essential role in keeping its intellectuals focused on service to the revolution and teaching them to eradicate their natural tendency towards the pursuit of personal ambition at the expense of service to the revolution.

In cultural work there is a constant battle waged against those who regard the subordination of their creative abilities to the interests of the revolution as a totally unwarranted imposition and curb on their talents.  We have difficulty in persuading intellectuals, even though we have the advantage that the overwhelming majority of our intellectuals are proletarianised intellectuals who are as dependent on their next salary cheque as other wage workers, to put their artistic talents to the service of the revolution.  In this country artists and artistes seem to imbibe with their art the bourgeois idea that the exclusive purpose of art is the expression of individuality, forgetting that hitherto for the most part all great art served the interests of the rich and powerful.  They must learn to understand that in the future the only really great art will be that which, reflecting the spirit of the age, serves the interests of proletarian revolution.  Really there can be no greater honour and glory for an artist than to serve the interests of the vast mass of the exploited and oppressed as they struggle to overthrow capitalist society and establish their own supremacy.

Our party fulfils its duty in developing all its cadres as intellectuals, regardless of whether they come from a fully working class or intellectualist background, and of course it is no more immune from these problems than was the Workers’ Party of Korea, whose cultural work Comrade Kim Il Sung had occasion to criticise quite sternly, as has been seen above.  Comrade Kim Il Sung’s advice, arising as it does from real conditions of struggle, is particularly valuable.  We must constantly remind ourselves that “the life of a revolutionary should begin with struggle and end with struggle… Uninterrupted struggle and continuous progress is the requirement of revolution and the tenor of a revolutionary life”.


[1] This speech was made after the split in the international communist movement when for diplomatic purposes the DPRK started to refer to the genuine Marxism-Leninism, to which it continued to adhere, as the Juche idea.  Until then, a typical speech of Kim Il Sung’s was ‘On the tasks of the League of Socialist Working Youth’ (15 May 1964), in which he said: “Marxism-Leninism is the theory of scientific communism and the guiding ideology of our Party. Only with a knowledge of Marxism-Leninism can a correct judgment of the ever-changing national and international situation be formed and the correct path be found to the victory of the revolution, and the struggle be unwaveringly sustained with firm confidence in the socialist and communist future, however complex and difficult the circumstances…”