The Debate to End the DLP’s Pro-North Korea Stance: the Roots of a 20-Year Conflict

It seems that the conflict between the Democratic Labor Party’s two major ideological factions, those favoring “equality” versus those favoring “autonomy”, is reaching a climax as the two sides battle it out over the party’s pro-North Korea stance.

After an emergency committee meeting, DLP members revealed that they intend to propose a measure to expel those party members involved in the Ilshimhoe spy case (the Ilshimhoe was a group accused of espionage in 2005. Some of its members were also members of the DLP). The proposed measure will be put before the party’s national convention. The pro-Pyongyang “autonomy” faction, which is in the majority, is threatening to veto the proposal.

Meanwhile, the opposing “equality” faction, led by former lawmaker Jo Seung Soo, has held a launch ceremony for the “New Progressive Movement Party,” which means the equality faction is already preparing to leave the party.

“It is an inevitable process” says Joo Dae Hwan, a former chairman of the Policy Committee of the Democratic Labor Party. Due to waning pro-North Korea sentiment, the “autonomy” and “equality” factions can no longer stay together. This current conflict within the DLP arose gradually from the two sides different positions on North Korea issues.

Mutual relations between NL and PD

Within the Democratic Labor Party, the National Liberation (NL) group represents the “autonomy” faction while the People’s Democracy (PD) group represents the “equality” faction. Both groups have their origins in the 1980s South Korean democratization movement.

The NL group thinks that South Korea’s problems are due to the division of the country and believe South Korea is still a colony of American imperialists. Their main enemy is the U.S. Additionally they emphasize “Uriminjokkiri (being among our nation)” and support independent national reunification.

The PD group thinks that South Korea’s key problems are due to its oligarchical capitalist system. They even think that the division of the peninsula was the result of the expansion of capitalist markets. They insist the process of unification can only result from the liberation of South and North Korean laborers.

Some call the NL group the “autonomy” faction, but “Juche Ideology faction” is more accurate. They subscribe to the Juche Ideology and consider the Chosun Workers’ Party as their guiding organization. This is the reason why pro-North Korea currents are so strong in the Democratic Labor Party.

The NL group has dominated the movement’s national structure since the mid 1980s, while the PD group has been on the decline since the fall of communism in the USSR and Eastern Europe.

The NL group started discussing the establishment of their own progressive party in the early-1990s, but the current manifestation of the Democratic Labor Party was organized and founded mainly by the PD group with a token few members of the NL group in January, 2000.

The PD dominated-Labor Party turned into the NL-led-Labor Party as the general public’s pro-North Korea sentiment grew, especially during the 2000 inter-Korea Summit. A number of national organizations such as the National Farmers Union and the Korean College Student Union had announced their support for the Party by the 16th Presidential Elections in 2002.

Kim Young Hwan, a member of the editorial committee of Zeitgeist Publishing, used to be the leader of the National Democratic Revolutionary Party (NDRP), the core organization of the NL group, before switching sides and joining the North Korea democratization movement. He explained in a telephone interview with The Daily NK that “The core members of the ‘autonomy’ faction of the Labor Party are from the NDRP, and it is deeply involved in controlling the Democratic Labor Party.”

“Around 30% of the NL group joined with the PD group to found the DLP. Since the presidential elections, 60-70% of the NL group now participates in the party and the NL group dominates,” explained Kim.

Why the end of the pro-North Korea stance?

After their miserable defeat in the 2007 presidential elections, blame fell on the “autonomy” faction because of their hegemony over the party. The “equality” faction criticized the “autonomy” faction for rubbing the electorate up the wrong way with their pro-North Korea policies, thus causing their failure in the elections.

Meanwhile, the party asserted that the North’s nuclear program would only be used for the national defense of North Korea and clung to North Korea’s concept of “Uriminjokkiri.” The party found itself being criticized as a puppet of the Chosun Workers’ Party.

The “equality” faction supports improving the conditions of the domestic labor class, favors human rights issues over unification issues, and criticizes North Korea’s nuclear development. When North Korea tested its nuclear weapons, the “equality” faction found itself unable to release a statement of condemnation due to the power of the opposing faction. Since then, conflicts within the party have become more pronounced.

The “equality” faction criticizes its counterparts for their indifference to the North Korean regime’s human rights record, while the “autonomy” faction accuses the other side of not acknowledging the peculiarity of inter-Korean issues.

“Supporting North Korea without any conditions, the motto of the ‘autonomy’ faction, is not the spirit of this party. They consider our party a vehicle for North Korean propaganda,” says Jo Seung Soo of the “equality” faction.

On the other hand, Kim Chang Hyun, a former secretary general of the party and a member of the “autonomy” faction, says, “If the ‘equality’ faction considers North-South relations as relations between sovereign states, it is as though they support a permanent division.”

It is obvious that a party split is inevitable, as the “autonomy” faction remains silent on the worst human rights situation in the world.