Violent incident exposes issues with North Korea’s collectivist mentality

North Korea is a country that strives to unite its population under a single ideology within a monolithic ruling system. In reality, however, North Koreans hold many different viewpoints and at times fall into conflict with each other depending on temperament and regional or demographic allegiances.

Individuals within these groups often fail to consider the perspectives of other groups, and the individual temperament of group leaders is often a driving force behind group decisions.

This phenomenon can be readily observed among North Korea’s various groups (the military, “shock troops,” institutions, enterprises, and provinces). Socialist idealism, as with rational idealism, can curtail the various interests of the collective, but these restrictions cannot completely remove the egotistic and antagonistic elements that inevitably exist between different groups of people.

A North Korean source recently reported on a broad conflict between members of the Kim Songduk military unit and shock troops belonging to the Kumgang Guidance Department in South Hamgyong Province, which erupted at a power plant construction site in Tanchon.

The incident arose when members of the military unit, in following orders from their superiors to obtain construction tools, mounted a surprise attack on a storage facility with construction tools held by the shock troops, stealing some tools in the process.

After learning about the theft from the storage facility’s manager, the head of the shock troops led several able-bodied members on a mission to get the tools back. Upon confronting the soldiers, a fight ensued with shovels, hoes and hammers used. After the dust had settled, one person lay dead and four others were critically injured and taken to hospital.

According to the source, the Tanchon power plant construction site draws laborers from many different backgrounds, but the chronic lack of supplies has led to malnutrition and other difficulties. The excessive labor requirements and unreasonable rules governing the construction have led to widespread complaints and reports of fighting, beatings by superiors, sexual assaults and other crimes.

The bureaucrats involved have reportedly refused to conduct an investigation into the recent fight, saying, “there is no need to damage the military’s reputation and cause social unrest by bothering the Party with this incident.” They have moved to cover up the incident despite the injustices suffered by the victims and their families, who are unable to protest and are living out their lives in oppression.

Through this recent incident, it becomes apparent that violence in North Korea does not always reduce to a simple concept of “good vs. evil” but rather a complex web of political and economic relationships within the country.

The leaders of the KWP, however, seemingly prefer to live in ignorance and avoid openly questioning the irrational nature of their society.

The economic difficulties of the 1990s drove the people of North Korea to start taking the matter of survival into their own hands. This change in collective mindset had repercussions that continue to this day, including for the idea that people should show blind obedience toward authority and the law. However, the KWP still applies its belief in “juche” [North Korea’s ruling ideology] to its own guiding mission.

Just as in the past, the North Korean regime has recently spread propaganda describing its leaders as “gods” and that the people exist “within” them. Moreover, the propaganda machine claims that the people are sufficiently happy due to the existence of the Suryong [Kim Jong Un] and that the Suryong is a sacred entity. Accordingly, it is claimed that things that come into contact with the Suryong [people, objects, etc.] brings some kind of holy blessing.

North Koreans have been brainwashed to regurgitate this and incited to compete with each other in showing loyalty toward the Suryong. In the process, the cruel realities in the country breed social discontent. The North Korean leadership needs to speedily reflect on its policies and the injustices that are taking place for the “benefit of the collective.”

*The author of this piece is originally from North Korea.