In 1966, the Cultural Revolution began in China. It was caused by multiple factors including Mao Zedong’s leftist views and China’s internal political power struggles.
Even after the conference of delegates from Communist and Workers’ Parties of 81 countries in Moscow in 1960, debate and conflict between the Soviet Union and China regarding political lines continued. However, as time passed by, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping started to assert that China needed to make peace with the Soviet Union. Mao Zedong, who held a strong leftist position, did not like their stance, of course.
The problem was that Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping held real power over China. Deng Xiaoping was the top secretary in the Party, and Liu Shaoqi was President. On the other hand, Mao Zedong was the notional leader of the Party and the chairman of the military committee. He held supreme power, but the actual systematic power was in the hands of Deng Xiaoping, who had the whole Party in his control, and Liu Shaoqi, the leader of the state.
Mao Zedong instigated the people directly with his political authority. Those who answered Mao’s propagandist demand to participate in a class struggle and Cultural Revolution in order to confront revisionism were the Red Guards. With the Shanghai faction, whose core was the Gang of Four, and the Red Guards, Mao Zedong attacked Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. That was how the Cultural Revolution, which plunged China into darkness, began.
China also criticized Kim Il Sung for being a revisionist because he did not support the Cultural Revolution. Accordingly, Kim Il Sung, in order to handle the situation, said he opposed the Soviet Union’s rightist revisionism and China’s leftist adventurism, and emphasized sovereignty (in the form of juche) while adhering to his revolutionary line.
As a result, at the second Delegates’ Conference held in 1966, the Chosun Workers’ Party’s independent line, in opposition to the Soviet Union and China’s incorrect lines, was declared both domestically and internationally.
I gave a speech in the conference, which received great applause from the audience, and was elected as a candidate member of the Central Committee.
However, to my surprise, a big incident then occurred, one which led me into a bitter trial for the first time in my life, as if a god had become jealous of my success.
It happened like this; the year 1966 marked the 20th anniversary of the founding of Kim Il Sung University. Kim Il Sung and most major officials joined the commemorative ceremony; indeed, Kim Il Sung did not leave for once, and even stayed to watch the literature club’s performances.
Then a thesis of mine, published in a 20th anniversary memorial thesis collection, created a problem. My thesis was entitled “Motive for Development in a Society.”
The motivation for writing the thesis was as follows: I was returning to the university after seven years of working in the Central Committee of the Party. When I had met my old colleagues at the university, I realized that there was a big gulf between they and I on the level of political and scientific theories. This was because domestic and foreign materials about politics were mostly collected in the offices of the secretaries. Additionally, I had better circumstances than most professors, since I also had more time to study. When I was appointed president of the university, my former colleagues had a lot of expectations and welcomed me in the spirit of learning more. Therefore, they wanted me to publish a thesis in the 20th anniversary memorial thesis collection.
The content of the problematic thesis was like this: The Communist Party of the Soviet Union had claimed that once a socialist economic system was established, the transition period from capitalism to socialism was complete. From then on, the proletariat dictatorship would weaken and the state gradually fade away. This transition period, which the Chinese Communist Party was also talking about, would continue until ideal communist society, in which no class existed, was achieved. Until that time, class struggles and the proletarian dictatorship would continue.
However, from my point of view, the end of the transition period could not be achieved simply by the foundation of the socialist economic system. I insisted that would be possible only when the socialist system itself could enhance its superiority based on socialist productive capacity. In the case of our country, which was and is divided, the transition period would be over when the North and the South reunited, and that the existence of a proletarian dictatorial government was necessary because class struggle between the North and the South would continue.
Additionally, while emphasizing the role of the intellectual class in the development of a society, I claimed that the progressiveness of an intellectual’s activities should be judged not by their family background, but by the results of their contribution to the development of the society.
When the thesis was published by Kim Il Sung University, they set a high value on it from the creative aspect. However, Kim Young Ju, the younger brother of Kim Il Sung, and Yang Hyeong Seop, the husband of Kim Il Sung’s cousin, raised a question. At that time, Kim Young Ju was the Director of the Guidance Department of the Central Committee, the No. 2, and Yang Hyeong Seop was the principal of the Central Party College, which was the name of what is now Kim Il Sung Higher Party School, a school for education of Party officials. Kim Young Ju was from the law department at Moscow University, while Yang Hyeong Seop had majored in Korean history at Kim Il Sung University and later graduated from a research degree (equivalent to a PhD).
Although Kim Il Sung University was incomparably superior to the Central Party College in scale and in name value of its scholars, the college tried to compete with Kim Il Sung University by showing off the fact that it was under the direct control of the Central Committee of the Party.
These two men reported to Kim Il Sung that my thesis was anti-party revisionist writing that weakened class struggle and the proletarian dictatorship. Kim Young Ju did not have any hard feelings against me, but he may have felt offended because my writing contradicted his basic opinion.
At that time, Kim Il Sung had already purged his enemies, the South Korean Workers’ Party faction, Soviet Union faction and Yanan faction, and was working on purging the Gapsan faction, which claimed that its members had done several things in the country with the partisans. Among them there were a number of acquaintances of Kim Young Ju.
Simultaneously, Kim Jong Il had already started exerting his political power, and I got the impression that he wanted to carry out something significant to get rid of Kim Il Sung’s associates including his uncle, Kim Young Ju.
The basics of flattery begin with attacking the enemy of the person you wish to flatter. Even if that person doesn’t have any enemies, you have to make one to attack. Kim Jong Il used that method. In order to show his father that he was the most loyal, he mercilessly attacked and got rid of the associates of Kim Il Sung he selected for reasons like failing to be loyal, having the wrong ideals or inability.
I couldn’t have been considered a close associate of Kim Il Sung at that time, and was not on bad terms with him either, but things started to get strangely messed up. Since the thesis incident was a theoretical one, I felt that Kim Jong Il was poking at the conflict between me and Kim Young Ju, in order to enhance Kim Il Sung’s authority.