The Road to One-Man Dictatorial Rule

Today, Daily NK released an exclusive report revealing that the Chosun Workers’ Party has revised the “Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System,” a set of guidelines that have governed the words and actions of the North Korean people for almost forty years.

As a result, the meaning of the “Ten Principles” in modern North Korean history is guaranteed to attract renewed attention in the coming days.

The Ten Principles were first publicized via a document entitled “Let’s firmly establish the one-ideology system across the whole party and society,” which came out on April 14th, 1974. This was the day before the 62nd birthday of Kim Il Sung. Kim Jong Il had decided to take the lead in enhancing single-man rule in North Korea so as to curry favor with leader Kim Il Sung during a power struggle between himself and Kim Yong Ju, his uncle.

In the North Korean literature, the Ten Principles are described as follows: “The ideological system by which the whole party and people are firmly armed with the revolutionary ideology of the Suryeong and united solidly around him, carrying out the revolutionary battle and construction battle under the sole leadership of the Suryeong.”

However, they are not an ideological system as such. Rather, they are designed to regulate everything, even trivial matters of daily life, to a level that is rare even in absolutist monarchical systems. Their extraordinary comprehensiveness forms the backdrop to claims that North Korea under Kim Jong Il was as close to totalitarian as any state in modern history.

Certainly, the Ten Principles played a decisive role in transforming North Korea from a normal socialist one-party state into a one-man dictatorship. In North Korea, the Ten Principles are more important than socialist theory, the Party’s regulations, and the Socialist Constitution of the DPRK. They base all norms of governance on loyalty to Kim Il Sung, and by extension his successors, eliminating any possibility of openly changing political path.

Historically speaking, the Ten Principles were one of the core factors that led to the full-scale collapse of North Korean socialism and the repression of the human rights of the North Korean people. Any action, however mundane, can be found to violate the Ten Principles in one way or another, meaning that punishment can be meted out, or bribes demanded, without hope of legal redress.

The existence of the Ten Principles also means that significant economic reforms are extremely difficult to carry out. One North Korea expert pointed out on condition of anonymity, “Every single element of the Ten Principles means one thing: ‘be loyal to the Suryeong’. As a result, domestic and international policy planners and decision-makers are unable to put in place policies for economic growth or improving livelihoods. Rather, they can only compete for the loyalty of the Supreme Leader.”

In other words, the more extreme the deification of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il becomes, the less hope there is of meaningful change.