– I have heard that intellectuals in North Korea are often persecuted, especially during 1950s and 60s.
There is no pen or writing instrument symbol on the communist flags of China or the Soviet Union. Instead there is the hammer and sickle, which signifies priority for the working class. The intellectual class is excluded. However, there is a writing brush on the flag of the Chosun (North Korea) Workers’ Party.
When the Workers’ Party flag was first made, preferential treatment for intellectuals was expressed in it, but it was because the Party wanted to bring the intellectuals on side. In China or the Soviet Union, intellectuals are considered inferior to workers or the farming class.
Although Kim Il Sung highly regarded the intellectuals at first, it was not because he considered them an important class in the revolution, but intellectuals played important roles during the formation of the nation and Kim Il Sung simply used them. North Korea formed the nation under the slogan of “mobilization to build a new nation” after liberation from Japan until just before the Korean War.
Right before and after August 15th Liberation from the Japanese colonial government, there were numerous intellectuals that left for the North from the South. There were not that many intellectuals originally in the North. Kim Il Sung’s strenuous effort to bring intellectuals from the South can be seen in North Korea’s historical propaganda movie “The National Sun Is Rising.”
And again, after the Korean War, intellectuals were needed in order to rebuild the nation. After the rebuilding of the nation, intellectuals played an important part in stabilizing the nation. Intellectuals began praising themselves due to the work they had done once the society had begun to stabilize after the war. From Kim Il Sung’s point of view, the intellectuals’ growing influence became a headache.
Also, in the 1950s, North Korea needed to establish the Juche system. There were ideological conflicts within communism between China and the Soviet Union, and there were also additional conflicts between China and North Korea. It was a period of time when Kim Il Sung felt he needed to maintain equidistance between China and Russia, but China began pressuring North Korea at the time of the Cultural Revolution.
Since North Korea could not choose China or Russia, there was a necessity to build upon the idea of “Juche” (which means sovereignty and autonomy). That is how and why the Juche system appeared.
Although nothing too troublesome, Kim Il Sung might have felt threatened by the fact that intellectuals were marring the Marxist-Leninist ideology of working class superiority, as intellectuals gathered together to cooperate, and through that cooperation to criticize Party’s policies.
Additionally, from Kim Il Sung’s perspective, he might have felt inferior to them, since he only graduated from a middle school and hence realized why China also had issues with its intellectuals. That is when Kim Il Sung began persecuting the leading intellectuals, during the process of building the Juche Ideology.
The main intellectual targeted was a person named Choi Sam Yeol. Choi Sam Yeol is the father of a famous actress who filmed the underground revolutions in the South with the April 19 Movement as their theme. While lecturing students, Kim Il Sung once mentioned the necessity of “building an independent national economy” to which he appended, “How can a nation build an independent economy when it cannot even produce a tape measure?”
After which, Choi Sam Yeol was dismissed from his position, Vice-Director of the Academy of Science, and his daughter was also cut from every screen. Ministers of Education and Culture who had come from the South in the 1950s and 1960s were all fired.
Criticism meetings targeting intellectuals from South Korea were conducted among lower citizens’ units. It became a discussion topic of each citizens unit, workplace and social organization to establish the one-ideology system for Kim Il Sung.
– Have the intellectuals even been repressed since 1974, when Kim Jong Il became the successor to Kim Il Sung?
At the time, all the intellectuals had been already swept away, so no one who was against the system remained. Therefore, Kim Jong Il tried to utilize the intellectual class by saying that “Even the intellectuals are one of the main pillars of the revolution, with workers and farmers.”
– Since when was the study of Marxism forbidden?
Until the late 1960s Das Capital, the selected works of Engels and books and publications related to the dialectical materialism and metaphysics were set on my father’s bookshelf.
However, in 1968 or 1969 the authorities took away every book claiming, “Let’s establish Juche.” Since 1970, there was no house where books related to Marx and Engels remained. The only books with regard to an ideology were the analects and selected writings of Kim Il Sung.
The generations that learned Marxism are those who took lectures in universities from 1950 to early 1960s. Since 1967, there have been no lectures on Marxism and no professors who used the publications of Marx.
Since 1970, theories of philosophy or even dialectical materialism have been fabricated as Kim Il Sung’s analects, and theses of Marx and Engels have been revealed as Kim Il Sung’s ones, placing at the forefront the words, “According to the Supreme Leader, Kim Il Sung.”
Finally, later Kim Jong Il even got rid of such things. He made people study only the Juche Ideology as he took away the dialectic. Even the issue on productive forces and their relation to the means of production in the Marxist theory were dealt with in the Juche Ideology. They didn’t teach cadres the dialectical materialism in the Communist College.
The Party omitted the line, “the Chosun Workers’ Party struggles to practice Marxism-Leninism,” replacing it with “the Kim Il Sung Ideology,” at the 6th Party Convention in October, 1980.
– How many intellectuals do you think died in Political Prison Camps?
After completing the massive purge in August, 1956, the political prison camps sprouted in 1958 and were built across the board in the 1960s. In the 1960s and 1970s, the intellectuals were sent to the camps due to slips of the tongue, so called “tongue reactionary elements.”
In early 1990s there were diverse criticisms of economic failure by scholars. At the time, they were also caught and put into the political prison camps. Many experts were imprisoned because they said that the North needed a contract work system in order to solve the food crisis, according to Lee Min Bok [a defector who used to be a researcher at the Academy of Science for Agriculture in North Korea].
There is a good example case. Kim Dal Hyun who was a famous economic official and a son-in-law of Kang Jon Seok, the brother of Kim Il Sung’s mother, was demoted to the position of Party Secretary in the Shinheung Chemical Complex in Hamheung because he said that, “There are problems in economic policies,” in an official meeting with Kim Il Sung in the early 1990s. After being purged, he had been closely monitored and wiretapped by the National Security Agency, but he subsequently committed suicide in 2001 because he couldn’t stand the constant observation and control.