Kim Jong-un and the Songun Retrenchment: A Quintessential Equation

By | November 30, 2013 | No Comments

Kim Jong-un in Samjiyon, November 2013. His grandfather, Kim Il-sung, can be seen looking on from behind. | Image: KCNA

Kim Jong-un in Samjiyon, November 2013. His grandfather, Kim Il-sung, can be seen looking on from behind. | Image: KCNA

In spring 2013, three of Sino-NK’s editors received a substantial research grant from the Seoul-based Academy of Korean Studies. The purpose of the grant is to investigate the information and propaganda strategies of the government of Kim Jong-un, with one eye on past precedents while seeking to understand the continuities and ruptures of the present era.

The project will examine how the North Korean authorities wield cultural and political tools to construct multiple “personalities of state,” and, through these, secure the ruling legitimacy of the existing system and the Kim family itself. As the grant moves through its various stages, Sino-NK’s web presence will serve as an important port of call for sharing preliminary findings and concrete results.

The essential first step in such a research agenda is to benchmark the frame within which the governing system of the DPRK operates. To do so, one must necessarily acknowledge the prevalence of the paradigm of Songun (선군/先军), or “military-first politics” (선군정치/先军政治). If, as Daniel Pinkston vigorously argues, Songun governs the way North Korea interacts with the world, then it also forms the rhetorical boundaries within which state and party officials exercise whatever political freedom of movement they might possess.

Whereas Juche remains a rather nebulous concept, the North Korean state has been busy layering on artifacts, stories, narratives, and events to add ballast to the Songun ideology. Not least of these fell due on August 25, 2013, the “anniversary” of the 18-year-old Kim Jong-il’s 1960 visit with his father to a tank corps that had pushed south into Seoul only a decade prior.

Effectively back-dating the succession from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il, the celebration of precocious Kimist militarism took center stage this August in Pyongyang. For the new national holiday known as “Day of Songun,” North Korean citizens were required to display the national flag, and to take note of the following activities (as recounted via NK News):

Leaders of the party, chief functionaries of the state, armed forces, working people’s organizations, various ministries and central organizations gathered at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on August 25 to pay their respects to Kim Jong Il on the 53 anniversary of Military-First Day. Soldiers and civilians in Pyongyang spent the day visiting the “most sacred place of juche” to honor Kim Jong Il. Video shows people leaving flowers at the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on Mansudae Hill, the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, Mansudae Art Studio and other places.

The Song and Dance Ensemble of the KPA puts on a performance called “Shine Forever, the Day of Songun” at the April 25 House of Culture to commemorate Military-First Day.

However, the defining moment of the day was a statement by Kim Jong-un, indicating that the young leader is not only highly aware (or made highly aware, at least) of the importance of military-first politics, but that he is duty-bound to act as its foremost public theoretical exponent. From the very beginning of his reign, Chinese analysts had wondered when Kim Jong-un would start notching up “achievements in theory,” and the lengthy statement helps to fill that particular niche, while lending sound and fury to the idea that the young man is, in fact, in charge.

Published simultaneously by both the Korean Workers’ Party (Rodong Sinmun) and the army (Chosun People’s Army) under the title “Let Us Forever Glorify Comrade Kim Jong Il’s Great Idea and Achievements of the Military-First Revolution” [김정일동지의 위대한 선군혁명사상과 업적을 길이 빛내여나가자], the statement is a key benchmark for the coming research.

As the following series of introductory posts will show, Kim Jong-un’s right to dominion[1] is stated, via Songun, in one quintessential equation:

장군님의 탁월한 선군혁명령도가 있음으로 하여 우리 인민군대가 무적필승의 혁명강군으로 자라나고 우리 나라가 인공지구위성제작 및 발사국,핵보유국으로 되여 백두산강국의 위용을 당당히 떨칠수 있었으며 제국주의자들의 침략과 도전을 걸음마다 짓부시고 조국의 존엄과 나라의 자주권을 믿음직하게 수호할수 있었습니다.

Rendered into a pseudo-mathematical formula, one can characterize it as follows:

The splendid revolutionary rule of General Kim Jong-il=Songun leadership=powerful revolutionary military=satellite manufacturing and the possession of invincible nuclear arms=the state of the Mt. Baekdu bloodline+defense against the invasions and challenges of imperialist aggressor states [=USA [spoken]+China [unspoken]]+preservation of the highest honor [=the Supreme Leader=Kim Jong-un] of the motherland+unassailable national autonomy.

In other words, the equation is, in theory, the foundation of Kim Jong-un’s right to rule.  Thus, Songun is the foundation of the modern North Korean state and its legitimacy in toto. In this essay and those to come, we will review this equation as it is elucidated by the North Koreans themselves. The objective is to deconstruct Songun for the subsequent purpose of expounding on its constituent parts and, in the first quarter of 2014, looking in more detail at the political strategies employed at the point where Songun interacts with lived reality.

The original Korean text of Kim Jong-un’s “Day of Songun” statement is followed by the official North Korean translation into English (separated by two “common slashes”), and these are followed by Sino-NK commentary where appropriate (in the quoted text).


(1) 우리 군대와 인민은 위대한 김정일동지에 대한 뜨거운 경모의 정과 혁명승리에 대한 굳은 신심에 넘쳐 장군님께서 선군혁명령도를 시작하신 53돐을 맞이합니다. // With deep respect for the great Comrade Kim Jong Il and firm confidence in the victory of the revolution, our service personnel and people greet the 53rd anniversary of the start of his leadership of the Songun revolution.

(2) 장군님께서 선군혁명령도를 시작하신 선군절은 건군절과 함께 우리 혁명무력건설사와 조국청사에 중요한 리정표를 새긴 력사의 날입니다. 뜻깊은 이날이 있어 우리 혁명무력의 강화발전과 주체혁명위업수행에서 력사적전환이 일어나게 되였으며 총대로 개척되고 전진하며 승리하여온 우리의 성스러운 선군혁명력사와 전통이 줄기차게 이어지게 되였습니다. // The Day of Songun, when General Kim Jong Il started his leadership of the Songun revolution, is, together with the day of the founding of the KPA (Korean People’s Army), a historic day when an important milestone was set up for the history of building up our revolutionary armed forces and the history of our country. As there was this significant day, a historic turn could be brought about in developing our revolutionary armed forces and implementing the cause of the Juche revolution, and the history and traditions of our sacred Songun revolution that had been pioneered and developed by force of arms, achieving victory, could be carried forward continuously.

(3) 선군은 위대한 김일성동지께서 개척하시고 김일성동지와 김정일동지께서 령도하여오신 조선혁명의 자랑스러운 전통이며 승리와 영광의 기치입니다. // Songun is a proud tradition of the Korean revolution which was pioneered by Comrade Kim Il Sung and led by him and Comrade Kim Jong Il and the banner of victory and glory.

(4) 위대한 대원수님들께서는 력사상 처음으로 선군혁명의 길을 개척하시여 선군의 새 력사를 창조하고 선군시대를 열어놓으시였습니다. // The great Generalissimos blazed the trail of the Songun revolution for the first time in history, thus creating a new history of Songun and ushering in the era of Songun.

(5) 일찌기 무장한 적과는 오직 무장으로 맞서 싸워야만 승리할수 있다는 혁명투쟁의 진리를 밝히시고 총대중시, 군사중시사상과 로선을 제시하신 위대한 김일성동지께서는 무력건설을 혁명의 근본문제로 보시고 무장대오의 조직과 강화발전에 선차적힘을 넣으시였으며 조선인민혁명군을 주력으로 하여 조국해방의 력사적위업을 이룩하시였습니다. // Having clarified in his early days the truth of the revolutionary struggle that one can emerge victorious against an armed enemy only when one fights him with arms and advanced the idea and line of attaching importance to arms, to military affairs, the great Comrade Kim Il Sung regarded building armed forces as a fundamental problem in the revolution, directed primary efforts to organizing and developing the armed ranks and achieved the historic cause of national liberation with the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army as the main force.

As we can see from paragraphs one through five, Songun is intimately linked to the very birth of the North Korean state in terms of things about the world which Kim Il-sung came to realize when he was young, and which he then passed on to his firstborn son. As noted by Heonik Kwon and Byung-ho Chung and Adrian Buzo, among others, the North Korean state is legitimized by the way it links to the founding logic of Kim Il-sung as a partisan and/or that logic which is attributed to him.

(6) 위대한 수령님께서는 혁명의 총대에 의거하여 두차례의 혁명전쟁과 두단계의 사회혁명, 사회주의건설을 현명하게 령도하심으로써 이 땅우에 인민대중중심의 우리 식 사회주의를 일떠세우시고 조국의 존엄과 영예를 높이 떨치시였습니다. // By relying on the arms of the revolution, he wisely led two revolutionary wars, two stages of social revolution and socialist construction, and thus built on this land socialism of our style centred [sic] on the masses of the people and demonstrated the dignity and honour of the country.

Here, the piece translates “총대; chongdae” as “the arms of the revolution” but this is a rather creative interpretation. In his anthropological study of the Songun era, Heonik Kwon revises our understanding of the term, explaining it as “the entirety of North Korea’s social forces, which, in the North Korean idiom, are united in the scared task of ‘defending the core revolution… with our lives.” As the metaphysical equivalent to Songun, chongdae provides both a raison d’etre for North Korea and a clear path towards what, according to both state ideology and national narrative, is the ultimate goal for the state and its citizenry: a militarized struggle for the revolution and a continuation of the partisan heritage.[2]

(7) 위대한 수령님의 사상과 위업에 충실하신 김정일동지께서는 독창적인 선군혁명령도로 력사의 준엄한 시련과 풍파를 헤치며 우리 혁명을 영광스러운 승리의 한길로 이끄시였습니다. // Comrade Kim Jong Il, who was faithful to Comrade Kim Il Sung’s ideas and cause, led our revolution along the glorious road of victory, braving the severe trials and adversities of history by dint of his unique leadership of the Songun revolution.

Paragraph seven is vital, as it explains why the Kim Jong-il era was not a distortion of the Kim Il-sung era, but rather an essential step in ensuring that the North Korean revolution, which Kim Il-sung is said in North Korean propaganda to have single-handedly brought to pass, is carried forward in his charismatic absence. Note that in this context the statement does not avoid mention of the “Arduous March” (고난의 행군), the North Korean famine of the 1990s, but characterizes it in terms of imposed hardship.

“Unique” is an inaccurate term in this paragraph. “Ingenious” better conveys the supposedly extraordinary nature of the leadership involved, though by definition the impossibility of replacing the leader is present within the statement, too. The term “풍파를 헤치다”  is also more evocative than its English companion, conveying as it does the stoic sense of a nation weathering a most unpleasant and persistent storm thanks almost entirely to the perspicacious leadership of the day.

(8) 김정일동지께서 1960년 8월 25일 조선인민군 근위 서울류경수제105땅크사단에 령도의 자욱을 새기신것은 선군혁명위업의 계승과 선군령도의 새 출발을 선언한 력사적사변이였습니다. // His visit to Seoul Ryu Kyong Su Guards 105th Tank Division of the KPA on August 25, 1960 was a historic event that proclaimed his succession of the cause of the Songun revolution and the start of his Songun-based leadership.

Interestingly, the Korean version uses the term “새 출발,” meaning “new beginning,” but this notion of newness is lost in the English copy.

(9) 선군은 김정일동지의 혁명사상이고 혁명실천이였으며 장군님의 정치리념이고 정치방식이였습니다. // Songun was the General’s [Kim Jong-il] revolutionary idea, his practice in the revolution, his political ideal and his political mode.

Interpreting paragraph nine inevitably leads one to the conclusion that, at least on Day of Songun if not on every day, the North Korean state wishes to portray Kim Jong-il as a man whose one and only guiding goal, principle, and success was to ensure the security and succession of the military-first state. Implicit in this claim is the idea that the manifest economic and social failings of the Kim Jong-il era were, although unfortunate and not to be taken lightly, not the point of Kimist rule at the time.

(10) 위대한 장군님께서는 선군혁명령도를 시작하신 그날로부터 반세기가 넘는 장구한 기간 인민군부대들에 대한 끊임없는 현지시찰의 길을 걸으시면서 인민군대를 불패의 혁명무력으로 강화하고 선군의 위력으로 혁명과 건설을 승리적으로 전진시켜오시였습니다. // During the long period spanning more than half a century from the day when he started his leadership of the Songun revolution, the great General visited one KPA unit after another, strengthening the army to be an invincible revolutionary army, and victoriously led the revolution and construction by force of Songun.

(11) 인민군대를 강화하는것을 선군혁명의 첫째가는 중대사로 보신 장군님께서는 인민군대를 당의 위업에 끝없이 충실한 수령의 군대,필승불패의 혁명강군으로 키워 우리 혁명의 기둥,주력군으로 내세우시였으며 조국의 안전과 사회주의를 지키기 위한 준엄한 반제반미대결전에서 력사적승리를 이룩하시였습니다. 장군님께서는 인민군군인들속에서 발휘된 수령결사옹위정신과 결사관철의 정신,영웅적희생정신을 선군시대를 상징하고 대표하는 혁명정신,혁명적군인정신으로 내세우고 전군,전민이 혁명적군인정신으로 살며 투쟁하도록 하심으로써 혁명과 건설의 모든 부문에서 일대 앙양과 전변이 일어나게 하시였습니다. // Regarding the strengthening of the KPA as the most important of affairs in the Songun revolution, he raised the KPA as the buttress, the main force, of our revolution and achieved the historic victory in the grim anti-imperialist, anti-US showdown in defence of the country’s security and socialism by training the KPA to be the army of the leader boundlessly faithful to the cause of the WPK (Workers’ Party of Korea), to be an invincible revolutionary army. He defined the spirit of defending the leader unto death, the spirit of implementing his instructions at any cost and the self-sacrificing spirit displayed by the service personnel as a revolutionary spirit symbolic and representative of the Songun era, as the revolutionary soldier spirit, and led all the service personnel and people to live and struggle in that spirit, thus ensuring that a great turn and changes were brought about in all sectors of the revolution and construction.

Paragraph eleven offers a specific challenge to interpreters of the contemporary North Korean state. Taken literally, it does not leave room for the army to be shifted away from the center of power under any circumstances. Yet there are both North Korean political events (the removal of Ri Yong-ho) that could be said to offer circumstantial evidence of this, as well as expert analyses that adopt the thesis. Conversely, the army may also be seen as a vital element in economic construction, a source of reliable labor to be used in a period of economic improvement (개선).

(12) 위대한 장군님께서는 선군령도의 성과를 공고히 하고 선군정치를 전면적으로 실현하기 위하여 조선민주주의인민공화국 최고인민회의 제10기 제1차회의에서 선군혁명사상과 원칙을 구현한 사회주의헌법을 채택하도록 하시였으며 국방위원회를 중추로 하는 새로운 국가관리체계를 세우고 모든 국가사업이 군사선행의 원칙에서 진행되도록 현명하게 이끄시였습니다. // In order to consolidate the successes of his Songun-based leadership and administer Songun politics in a comprehensive way, he saw to it that the First Session of the Tenth Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea adopted the Socialist Constitution that embodies the idea and principles of the Songun revolution and established a new state administration structure, whose backbone is the National Defence Commission, and led all state affairs to be conducted on the principle of giving precedence to military affairs.

Note here that the socialist constitution is subordinated to the role of Songun in the revolution, and that the National Defense Commission (NDC) is legitimized as the preeminent organ of state by its leadership in interpreting Songun. Thus, the NDC led not simply by dint of Kim Jong-il having been chair of it, as a pro forma structural analysis of the North Korean power structure might suggest.

(13) 위대한 장군님의 선군혁명령도사는 일찌기 있어본적이 없는 철저한 반제자주,끝없는 애국헌신의 력사이며 인민군장병들과 인민들에 대한 절대적믿음과 친어버이사랑으로 수놓아진 숭고한 믿음과 사랑의 령도사입니다. // The history of his leadership of the Songun revolution is an unprecedented history of thoroughgoing anti-imperialist independence, a history of infinite patriotic devotion; it is also a history of ennobling trust and affection, filled with absolute trust in and maternal affection for the service personnel and people.

(14) 장군님의 선군혁명령도가 있었기에 우리 혁명은 력사의 온갖 풍파를 뚫고 승승장구하여올수 있었으며 장군님의 애국헌신의 초강도강행군길이 있어 우리 군대와 인민은 인류가 알지 못하는 력사의 기적을 창조할수 있었습니다. // As there was the General’s leadership of the Songun revolution, our revolution could win victory after victory surmounting all manner of vicissitudes of history; as there was the General’s super-intense forced march of patriotic devotion, our service personnel and people could work historic miracles unknown to mankind.

It is the role of Songun in North Korean narrative history that leads to Brian Myers’ conclusion about the state as being in need of a constant stream of victories in order to legitimize its overwhelming centralization and prioritization of military affairs. It is enervating to note that on November 24, last Sunday, the North Korean media celebrated the third anniversary of the “victory in the Yeonpyeong Island shelling battle” with a number of events. According to KCNA:

“The news that Yeonpyeong Island [NB it is spelled “Yonphyong” in North Korean copy] was engulfed in flames for two days after targets were hit by shells fired by artillerymen of the KPA created a great sensation in the whole world. This instilled conviction of victory and courage into the people but threw the enemy into horror and uneasiness.”

(15) 참으로 선군은 우리 장군님께서 한평생 간직하고 구현해오신 드팀없는 혁명신조였으며 조국청사에 빛나는 승리와 불멸의 업적을 수놓으신 위대한 혁명실천이였습니다. // Songun was, indeed, our General’s immutable revolutionary creed, which he cherished and applied all his life, and a great revolutionary practice, during which he adorned the history of the country with brilliant victories and imperishable achievements.

(16) 위대한 김정일동지께서는 전인미답의 선군령도과정에 선군혁명사상을 정립체계화하고 심화발전시키심으로써 자주위업수행에서 우리 인민과 세계혁명적인민들이 틀어쥐고나가야 할 지도적지침,백승의 기치를 마련하시였습니다. // In the course of leading the unprecedented Songun revolution, the General formulated and developed the idea of the Songun revolution, and thus created a guiding principle and ever-victorious banner our people and the revolutionary peoples of the world should adhere to in accomplishing the cause of independence.

Here it is possible to see the feedback loop of constant interaction with small and/or non-existent international groups dedicated to “the study of Songun.” Exemplified by the British group “Study of Songun Politics UK,” not only does Songun require a constant stream of victories to legitimate its existence, it also needs the international audience to be reviewing its output.

(17) 선군혁명사상은 인민대중의 자주위업,사회주의위업수행에서 군사를 중시하고 앞세우며 혁명군대를 핵심력량으로 하여 혁명과 건설전반을 밀고나갈데 대한 사상입니다. // The idea of the Songun revolution is an idea of giving importance and precedence to military affairs in implementing the masses’ cause of independence, the socialist cause, and pushing ahead with the overall revolution and construction with the revolutionary army as the core force.

This reaffirms the army’s priority in all official matters. Power and influence in the North Korean state, which can be understand as a trifurcated entity consisting of the military (the KPA), the Party (the WKP), and the Cabinet (state administrative organs such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) is not distributed equally. Contrary to the Patrick McEachern’s theory of a “decentralized, post-totalitarian, institutionally plural state,” paragraph 17 suggests that the military holds a disproportionate amount of power over policy and decision-making. Ken Gause writes:

“[Songun] has been used to signify the privileged status the KPA holds throughout North Korean society and to stress that the regime’s sovereignty rests upon the military’s shoulders.”

(18) 선군혁명사상은 혁명의 총대에 의하여 혁명위업의 승리가 결정된다는 주체의 혁명원리를 출발점으로 하여 혁명승리를 위한 관건적문제들에 과학적이고 실천적인 해답을 줍니다. // With its starting point being the Juche-based revolutionary principle that the victory of the revolutionary cause is decided by arms of the revolution, the idea gives scientific and practical answers to the key questions arising in winning victory in the revolution.

Indeed, the text Questions and Answers on the Songun Idea, published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House and retrieved from a Pyongyang bookstore by one of these authors in spring 2012, makes clear that “The Juche idea is the root of the Songun idea.”

(19) 김정일동지의 선군사상은 혁명의 총대, 혁명군대를 강화하고 혁명군대를 핵심으로 하여 혁명의 주체를 튼튼히 다지며 그에 의거하여 혁명과 건설을 승리적으로 전진시켜나갈데 대한 혁명리론을 밝혀주고있습니다. // It clarifies the revolutionary theory on building up the arms of the revolution, the revolutionary army, strengthening the driving force of the revolution with the revolutionary army as the core and, by relying on it, advancing the revolution and construction victoriously.

This leaves no possibility for the KPA not to be at the forefront of national affairs if the nation hopes to succeed. In other words, discussion of Kim Jong-un trying to reassert party primacy over national politics is tantamount to saying that Kim Jong-un actively seeks to undermine Songun itself. This may or may not be the case in practical terms, but ideologically and politically speaking it is highly problematic.

(20) 군사를 중시하고 군건설에 선차적힘을 넣어 군대를 당과 수령의 군대로, 그 어떤 강적도 타승할수 있는 불패의 혁명무력으로 강화발전시켜나가는것은 선군혁명사상의 가장 중요한 요구입니다. // Its most important requirement is that the army should be developed into the army of the Party and the leader, into an invincible revolutionary army capable of defeating any formidable enemy, with importance being attached to military affairs and primary efforts directed to building up the army.

(21) 제국주의자들과의 첨예한 대결과 항시적인 전쟁위험속에서 인민대중이 자기 운명을 개척하고 사회주의위업을 실현하려면 무엇보다도 혁명의 총대를 강화하고 튼튼히 틀어쥐여야 합니다. 세계사회주의운동력사는 혁명의 총대가 약하거나 흔들리면 인민대중의 운명도, 사회주의도 지켜낼수 없다는 심각한 교훈을 주고있습니다. // In order for the masses to carve out their destiny and accomplish the cause of socialism amid sharp confrontation with the imperialists and constant danger of war, they must, before anything else, firmly hold up and strengthen the arms of the revolution. It is a serious lesson taught by the history of the world socialist movement that when the arms of the revolution are weak or waver, they can defend neither the destiny of the masses nor socialism.

(22) 혁명군대를 주력군으로 하여 혁명의 주체를 강화하며 혁명군대의 주도적역할에 의거하여 혁명투쟁과 건설사업을 떠밀어나가야 한다는것은 선군사상에 의하여 밝혀진 새로운 혁명리론입니다. // That one must consolidate the driving force of the revolution with the revolutionary army as the main force and propel the revolutionary struggle and construction work by relying on its leading role is a new revolutionary theory elucidated by the Songun idea.

Consolidation is a euphemism for power struggles and purging. In personalist-authoritarian fashion, from 1994 Kim Jong-il began to purge all those who threatened his role as supreme leader. As in the post-war power struggle of his father, Kim had faced a regime divided into factions; to ensure his uninterrupted and eventually totalitarian control, he rid it of potential rivals. In so doing, the authority of the NDC was elevated to a position above that of the party. 1998, the time of the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly, is when Kim Jong-il was elected Chairman of the NDC, and this is considered to be the true start of the Songun era, despite notions to the contrary.

(23) 혁명은 혁명력량과 반혁명력량사이의 누가 누구를 하는 판가리싸움이며 따라서 혁명의 주체를 어떻게 강화하고 그 역할을 어떻게 높이는가 하는데 따라 혁명의 운명이 좌우되게 됩니다. // The revolution is a do-or-die struggle of deciding who prevails over whom between the revolutionary forces and the counterrevolutionary forces, so the destiny of the revolution depends on how the driving force of the revolution is strengthened and how its role is enhanced.

(24) 인민대중이 주인으로 된 사회주의사회에서 혁명력량을 이루고있는 사회적집단들가운데 혁명성과 조직성,규률성과 전투력이 제일 강한 집단은 수령의 령도를 받는 혁명군대입니다. 혁명군대는 그가 지니고있는 혁명사상과 높은 정신력,혁명적기질로 하여 사회전반을 선도하고 혁명투쟁과 건설사업을 추동해나갈수 있습니다. 혁명군대가 앞장에 서고 군대와 전체 인민이 일심동체가 되여 혁명군대의 혁명적정신과 기질로 투쟁할 때 그 위력은 비할바없이 큰것입니다. // Among the social groups that form the revolutionary forces in a socialist society, whose masters are the masses, the group that is the strongest in the revolutionary sense, organized aspect, discipline and fighting capabilities is the revolutionary army under the guidance of the leader. The revolutionary army, for its revolutionary idea, great spiritual strength and revolutionary temperament, is capable of leading the overall society and propelling the revolutionary struggle and construction work. If the revolutionary army stands in the van and all the people struggle with the revolutionary spirit and temperament of the army by forming an integrated whole with the service personnel, their power is incomparably great.

Paragraphs 23 and 24 pertain to the idea that the revolutionary army, the foremost political institution in North Korea, is responsible for maintaining the revolutionary zeal which encompasses all; there is no distinction between civil society and the military. The military represents the vital mediating link in the “quintessential equation” (stated in the introduction) between the ruling elite and everything and everyone else. Relegation of the military to a status any less than this would necessitate an alteration in the decision-making calculus and fundamentally alter the “personality” of the state.

(25) 선군혁명사상에 의하여 혁명의 주체를 강화하고 주체의 역할을 높여 인민대중의 자주위업,사회주의위업을 성과적으로 전진시켜나갈수 있는 새로운 길,승리의 길이 열리게 되였습니다. // By the idea of the Songun revolution, a new road, a road to victory, was opened for successfully advancing the masses’ cause of independence, the socialist cause, by consolidating the driving force of the revolution and enhancing its role.

(26) 김정일동지의 선군혁명사상은 선군정치가 가장 위력한 정치이며 사회주의기본정치방식으로 된다는 정치리론을 새롭게 밝혀주고있습니다. // The General’s idea of the Songun revolution throws a fresh light on the political theory that Songun politics is the most powerful mode of politics and the basic mode of socialist politics.


Kim Jong-un and the Songun Retrenchment: A Quintessential Equation” is part one of a series on ideology and North Korean statecraft that acts as an introduction to a project documenting the cultural and political strategies used by the DPRK government to promote its policy agenda and create strategic discord abroad. This research is supported by an Academy of Korean Studies Grant (AKS-2013- R-11).

[1] The right to rule can be understood as a “domain consensus.” See: Christopher Green, “Domain Consensus: Engaging the Delury Argument on North Korea Reform,” Sino-NK, June 29, 2013.

[2]  Heonik Kwon and Byung-ho Chung, North Korea: Beyond Charismatic Politics (Plymouth, United Kingdom: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 89.

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