As The Daily NK reported yesterday, the revised North Korean constitution has been revealed to overseas watchers at last.
The core contents are that “Songun,” or “Military-first Ideology,” joins the Juche Ideology as a central guideline of state policy; soldiers join workers, farmers and working intellectuals as the key divisions of the population; the notion of communism is omitted altogether; and the power of the chairman of the National Defense Commission is strengthened.
Finally, one of the most interesting things for international observers is that the expression “human rights” is employed for the first time.
A socialist constitution deals with methods of state management within the conventional party-state structure. The stated aim of a communist country is to move towards socialism and then communism under the guidance of a “vanguard” party. All other state apparatus operates under the ideological guidance of the Party.
Since communist countries follow a system of proletarian dictatorship by the Party, it is natural for the system to change to a greater or lesser extent into totalitarian dictatorship over time. Therefore, a leader’s speeches and decrees tend to carry the most weight, over and above the constitution. Nowhere is this more true than in North Korea, where the “Party’s Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System” has omnipotent power. Defectors universally agree that North Korea’s constitution is a dead letter in the people’s lives.
The constitutions of the former Eastern Bloc countries tended also to be mostly for show, to demonstrate the fact that those countries also had a western-style constitution which protected its subjects’ right to freedom of religion, association, assembly, the press and such like.
According to high level defectors, it will have taken about a week to draft the revised constitution: Kim Jong Il will have indicated the general direction, legal experts will have produced a draft revision, and then the Supreme People’s Assembly will have passed it for the sake of formality. That’s all. Needless to say, public opinion plays no part.
It is clear that the core purpose of this revision is to enshrine the fact that North Korea is a state led by its military.
In Article 3, Military-first ideology has been added, stating, “The DPRK is guided in its activities by the Songun and Juche ideologies, where Juche is a world outlook centered on people and a revolutionary ideology for achieving the independence of the masses.”
Article 4 delineates soldiers as a key demographic, stating, “The sovereign power of the DPRK resides with the workers, farmers, soldiers and working intellectuals.”
Finally, Article 100 states, “The Chairman of the National Defense Commission is the supreme leader of the DPRK.”
In North Korea, the expression, “youngdo (leadership, guidance, direction),” is only used for the Party and the leader. The only apparatus which can officially lead is the Party, and the leader is also one person. The leader and the National Defense Commission chairman, although both Kim Jong Il for the time being, were not previously connected officially, but now the chairman of the National Defense Commission, who represents the DPRK officially, is stipulated as being also the “Supreme Leader,” joining the two positions irrevocably together.
To date, Kim Jong Il has been known internationally and on official documents as “National Defense Commission Chairman,” although the General Secretary of the Party, the Chairman of the Military Committee of the Central Committee of the Party and the supreme commander of the armed forces are all positions he holds, and through which he maintains his grip on the power of Party, military and politics as a whole.
The role of Supreme People’s Committee Permanent Chairperson, previously the titular representative of state, has also therefore been in effect invalidated.
By stipulating the National Defense Commission Chairman as the Supreme Leader of the country, North Korea is clearly defined in terms of Songun. That is to say that North Korea is officially inclined not towards communism, but towards “Military-first” military dictatorship.
In reality, North Korea began to distort its own-brand socialism in the 1960s, developing into a totalitarian dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s under the Juche Ideology, and then beginning to espouse the Military-first line in the 1990s. Thus, North Korea actually gave up on moving towards socialism and communism in the mid-1970s, but it required 30 years for the constitution to catch up.
Finally, Article 8 says, “The State respects and protects the human rights of the workers, peasants and working intellectuals.” This appears to be little more than a piece of deceitful propaganda, the same as enshrining the freedom of religion, the press and so forth.
Simply put, through Article 8 Kim Jong Il is provided with the background for future claims that North Korea protects the human rights of workers, allowing him to forestall a possibly difficult situation when the UN, the international community and U.S. negotiators call human rights issues into question.