The Juche Idea (주체사상, Juche Sasang) is the official state ideology of North Korea and the political system based on it. The doctrine is a component part of Kimilsungism, the North Korean term for Kim Il-sung's family regime. Juche literally means "main body" or "subject"; it has also been translated in North Korean sources as "independent stand" and the "spirit of self-reliance". Other sources have revealed other interpretations.


Kim Il-sung advanced Juche as a slogan in a December 28 1955, speech titled "On Eliminating Dogmatism and Formalism and Establishing Juche in Ideological Work" in rejection of the policy of de-Stalinization (bureaucratic self-reform) in the Soviet Union. The Juche Idea itself gradually emerged as a systematic ideological doctrine under the political pressures of the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s. The word "Juche" also began to appear in untranslated form in English-language North Korean works from around 1965. Kim Il-sung outlined the three fundamental principles of Juche in his April 14, 1965, speech “On Socialist Construction and the South Korean Revolution in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. The principles are "independence in politics" (chaju), "self-sustenance in the economy" (charip) and "self-defense in national defense" (chawi). Current North Korean leader Kim Jong-il officially authored the definitive statement on Juche in a 1982 document titled On the Juche Idea. He has final authority over the interpretation of the state ideology and incorporated the Songun (army-first) policy into it in 1996.

Practical application

According to Kim Jong-il's On the Juche Idea, the application of Juche in state policy entails the following:

  1. The people must have independence (chajusong) in thought and politics, economic self-sufficiency, and self-reliance in defense.
  2. Policy must reflect the will and aspirations of the masses and employ them fully in revolution and construction.
  3. Methods of revolution and construction must be suitable to the situation of the country.
  4. The most important work of revolution and construction is molding people ideologically as communists and mobilizing them to constructive action.

The Juche outlook also requires absolute loyalty to the party and leader. In North Korea, these are the Workers' Party of Korea and Kim Jong-il, respectively.

In official North Korean histories, one of the first purported applications of Juche was the Five-Year Plan of 1956-1961, also known as the Chollima Movement, which led to the Chongsan-ri Method and the Taean Work System. The Five-Year Plan involved rapid economic development of North Korea, with a focus on heavy industry, to ensure political independence from the Soviet Union and the Mao Zedong regime in China. The Chollima Movement, however, applied the same method of centralized state planning that began with the Soviet First Five-Year Plan in 1928. The campaign also coincided with and was partially based on Mao's First Five-Year Plan and the Great Leap Forward. North Korea was apparently able to avoid the catastrophes of the Great Leap Forward.

Despite its aspirations to self-sufficiency, North Korea has continually relied on economic assistance from other countries. Historically, North Korea received most of its assistance from the USSR until its collapse in 1991. In the period after the Korean War, North Korea relied on economic assistance and loans from "fraternal" countries from 1953-1963 and also depended considerably on Soviet industrial aid from 1953-1976. Following the fall of the USSR, the North Korean economy went into a crisis, with consequent infrastructural failures leading to the mass famine of the mid-1990s. After several years of starvation, the People's Republic of China agreed to be a substitute for the Soviet Union as a major aid provider, supplying over 400 million dollars per year in humanitarian assistance. Since 2007, North Korea also received large supplies of heavy fuel oil and technical assistance as scheduled in the six-party talks framework. North Korea was the second largest recipient of international food aid in 2005, and continues to suffer chronic food shortages.

Relation to Marxism, Stalinism, and Maoism

In 1992, Juche replaced Marxism-Leninism in the revised North Korean constitution as the official state ideology, this being a response to the Sino-Soviet split. Juche was nonetheless defined as a creative application of Marxism-Leninism. Kim Il-sung also explained that Juche was not original to North Korea and that in formulating it he only laid stress on a programmatic orientation that is inherent to all Marxist-Leninist states.

After the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea’s greatest economic benefactor, all reference to Marxism-Leninism was dropped in the revised 1998 constitution. But Marxist-Leninist phraseology remains in occasional use, for example, socialism and communism. The establishment of the Songun doctrine in the mid-1990s, however, has formally designated the military, not the proletariat or working class, as the main revolutionary force in North Korea.

Many commentators, journalists, and scholars outside North Korea equate Juche with Stalinism and call North Korea a Stalinist country. Some specialists have argued otherwise and have attempted to characterize the North Korean state as corporatist (Bruce Cumings), fascist (Brian Myers), guerrillaist (Wada Haruki), monarchist (Dae Sook-suh), neo-capitalist (Andrei Lankov), and theocratic (Han S. Park, Christopher Hitchens). Those who have made conditional arguments that North Korea is a Stalinist regime include Charles Armstrong, Adrian Buzo, Chong-sik Lee, and Robert Scalapino.

Kim Il-sung's policy statements and speeches from the 1940s and 1950s confirm that the North Korean government accepted Joseph Stalin's 1924 theory of socialism in one country and its model of centralized autarkic economic development. Kim himself was a great admirer of Stalin. Following Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, the North Korean leader wrote an emotional obituary in his honor titled "Stalin Is the Inspiration for the Peoples Struggling for Their Freedom and Independence" in a special issue of the WPK newspaper Rodong Sinmun (March 10, 1953), the opening of which reads: "Stalin has passed away. The ardent heart of the great leader of progressive mankind has ceased to beat. This sad news has spread over Korean territory like lightning, inflicting a bitter blow to the hearts of millions of people. Korean People's Army soldiers, workers, farmers, and students, as well as all residents of both South and North Korea, have heard the sad news with profound grief. The very being of Korea has seemed to bow down, and mothers who had apparently exhausted their tears in weeping for the children they had lost in the bombing of the [American] air bandits sobbed again."

When a deceased Stalin's cult of personality was denounced at the 1956 Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, North Korean state authorities ended overt adulation of the Soviet leader. But the regime refused to follow the example of Soviet political reform, which it decried as modern revisionism, or join the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON), the major international trade organization of Marxist-Leninist states subordinated to the economic development of the Soviet Union. Presently, the North Korean government admits no connection between Juche and the ideas of Stalin, though occasional mention is made of his supposed political merits.

Although the influence of Mao Zedong is also not formally acknowledged in North Korea, WPK ideologists and speech writers began to openly use Maoist ideas, such as the concept of self-regeneration, in the 1950s and 1960s. Maoist theories of art also began to influence North Korean musical theater during this time. These developments occurred as a result of the influence of the Chinese Army's five-year occupation of North Korea after the Korean War, as well as during the Sino-Soviet split when Kim Il-sung sided with Mao against Soviet de-Stalinization. Kim attended middle school in Manchuria, he was conversant in Chinese, and he had been a guerrilla partisan in the Communist Party of China from about 1931-1941. The postwar Kim Il-sung regime had also emulated Mao’s Great Leap Forward, his theory of the Mass Line (qunzhong luxian), and the guerrilla tradition. Juche, however, does not exactly share the Maoist faith in the peasantry over the working class and the village over the city.

After Mao's death, the policies of Maoist autarkic peasant-based socialism were phased out in China. Deng Xiaoping launched the Four Modernizations program in 1978 and opened China to sweeping economic reforms that incorporated elements of the market economy. Deng Xiaoping Theory was officially instituted in the 1980s. Despite relatively cordial Beijing-Pyongyang relations in this period, the North Korean regime was reluctant to adopt the Chinese open-door policy and model of economic modernization, because its leadership feared such reforms would compromise the Juche ideology and result in political destabilization and events similar to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 (Lee, p. 1998, 199). After the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc between 1989 and 1991, with the consequent loss of economic aid, North Korea began to undertake cautious, experimental, and selective emulation of the Chinese model.

The Joint Venture Law of 1984 was, however, among the first Deng-inspired North Korean attempts to attract foreign capital within the programmatic orientation of Juche doctrine. This was followed by emulation of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. North Korea established its first capitalist SEZ in 1991, the Rajin-Sonbong Economic Special Zone. The 1998 Juche constitution was also written with provisions to defend private property and joint venture enterprises with capitalist countries, making possible the establishment of the Pyongyang-based Research Institute on Capitalism in 2000, and allowing for the price and wage reforms of July 1, 2002. Deng Xiaoping Theory accepts marketization of the Chinese economy as “socialism with Chinese characteristics” or a “socialist market economy,” and the North Korean Juche ideology rationalizes such reforms under the concept of “socialism of our style.”

On the role of the nation-state in Juche, according to Kim Il-sung’s “On the Questions of the Period of Transition from Capitalism to Socialism and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (1967) and Kim Jong-il’s “On Preserving the Juche Character and National Character of the Revolution and Construction” (1997), the goal of revolution and construction under Juche is the establishment of socialism and communism within the national borders of North Korea. Contrary to the perspectives of classical Marxism, Juche also maintains that Koreans are a blood-based national community, that the Korean nation-state will remain forever, and that Koreans will always live in Korea and speak Korean.

Despite the nationalism of Juche, North Korean ideologists have argued that other countries can and should learn from Juche and adapt its principles to their national conditions. The North Korean government admits that Juche addresses questions previously considered in classical Marxism and its subsequent developments in Soviet Marxism-Leninism, but now distances itself from and even repudiates aspects of these political philosophies. The official position as maintained in Kim Jong-il’s “The Juche Philosophy Is an Original Revolutionary Philosophy” (1996) is that Juche is a completely new ideology created by Kim Il-sung, who does not depend on the Marxist classics. As a result, the North Korean Constitution has no mention of Marxism-Leninism, but rather occupies its entire preamble with statements about Kim Il-sung.

While advocating that Juche is tailored to the national peculiarities of North Korea, as opposed to conforming to the premises of classical Marxist international socialism (i.e., the workers of the world have no nation and workers of the world, unite), the North Korean government does make some reference to the classical internationalists Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, their disciple Vladimir Lenin, and his successor Joseph Stalin as creditable leaders of the socialist movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries before the advent of Juche in 1955. By contrast, Maoism is rarely mentioned, and Deng Xiaoping's ideology for economic reform is basically suppressed in its entirety by the Kim Jong-Il regime. In addition, the writings of classical Marxism are generally forbidden for lay readers in North Korea.


Human rights monitoring organizations and political analysts in several parts of the world continually report that the actual situation in North Korea bears no resemblance to Juche theory. The country's economy has depended heavily on imports and foreign aid before and after the collapse of the Communist trading bloc. They also claim that the opinions of the people have no actual weight in decision-making, which is under Kim Jong-il's autocratic control. Leading Juche theorist Hwang Jang-yop has joined these criticisms since defecting to South Korea, although he maintains his belief in the Juche Idea as he understands it. Political scientist Han S. Park in his book Juche: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom (2002) and theologian Thomas J. Belke in Juche: A Christian Study of North Korea's State Religion (1999) liken Juche to a religious movement.

In the People's Republic of China and Vietnam, countries that have both moved away from the personality-dominated autocratic institutions of state, Juche is characterized as a ridiculous idea by various internet communities, and has become the subject of satire by influential Chinese novelty film director Hu Ge. Juche is seen by some as a post-Maoist extreme that propels the Korean dictator to a god-like status, while others see it as a Maoist emulation. Because of the nature of Juche ideology and its incorporation of Korean nationalism, it has been reported that North Korea continues to ignore the contributions of China's People's Liberation Army in the Korean War. When asked directly on the subject, any interpreter, museum guide, or army officer will talk of an intervention of a "few volunteers" from China.

Juche in other countries

During the Cold War, North Korea promoted Juche and the principle of "self-reliance" as a guide for other countries, particularly third world countries, to develop their economies. Indonesian president Sukarno visited North Korea in 1964 and attempted to implement the North Korean economic program in his country, but it resulted in a US-backed military coup by right wing officers. Romanian president Nicolae Ceauşescu was impressed by ideological mobilization and mass adulation in North Korea during his Asia visit in 1971, and began his systematization campaign shortly afterward with those features.

The North Korean government hosted its first international seminar on the Juche Idea in September 1977. Juche study groups exist in several countries around the world. The Korean Central News Agency and the Voice of Korea sometimes refer to statements by these groups. The International Institute of the Juche Idea in Japan and the Korean Friendship Association in Spain are two of the most prominent of these groups. Kim Jong-il has emphasized that other countries should not apply Juche formulaically, but should use methods suitable to the situation.


The North Korean government and associated organizations use a variation of the Gregorian calendar with a Juche year based on April 15, 1912 AD, the date of birth of Kim Il-sung, as year 1. There is no Juche year 0. The calendar was introduced in 1997. Months are unchanged from those in the standard Gregorian calendar. In many instances, the Juche year is given after the AD year, for example, 27 June 2007 Juche 96. But in North Korean publications, the Juche year is usually placed before the corresponding AD year, as in Juche 96 (2007). Calendar schemes based on political era are also found in the Japanese era name (Nengo) system and in the Minguo calendar used in the Republic of China (Taiwan), though these are not based on the birth of an individual as in the Gregorian and Juche calendars. Incidentally, the year numbers of the Juche calendar, Minguo calendar, and Japan's Taishō period correspond to each other even though they were not meant to be related. Critics of Juche charge that the "Juche dating system", as it is based on a person's birth date rather than a political era, reflects a dynastic tradition where era names are specified for ruling Emperors.

See also



  • Baik, Bong. Kim Il Sung: Biography. Tokyo: Miraisha, 1969-1970. 3 vols.
  • Belke, Thomas J. Juche: A Christian Study of North Korea's State Religion. Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Book Company, 1999. ISBN 0-88264-329-0.
  • Cheong, Seong-Chang. "Stalinism and Kimilsungism: A Comparative Analysis of Ideology and Power." Asian Perspective 24.1 (2000): pp. 133-161.
  • Fendler, Karoly. "Economic Assistance and Loans from Socialist Countries to North Korea in the Postwar Years, 1953-1963." Asien 42 (Jan 1992): pp. 39-51.
  • Kang, Kwang-Shick. "Juche Idea and the Alteration Process in Kim Il Sung's Works: A Study on How to Read Kim Il-Sung's Works."Monash University: KSAA Conference 2001. 25 September 2001. pp. 363-374.
  • Kiernan, Ben. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-300-09649-6.
  • Kim, Jong-il. On the Juche Idea. 31 March 1982.
  • Lankov, Andrei. "The Official Propaganda in the DPRK: Ideas and Methods." North Korean Studies. 2006.
  • Lee, Chae-Jin. "China and North Korea: An Uncertain Relationship." North Korea after Kim Il Sung. Eds. Dae-Sook Suh and Chae-Jin Lee. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998. pp. 193-209. ISBN 155587763X.
  • MacKerras, Colin. "The Juche Idea and the Thought of Kim Il Sung." Marxism in Asia. Eds. Colin MacKerras and Nick Knight. London: Croom Helm, 1985. ISBN 0-312-51852-8. pp. 151-175.
  • "NK 2nd Largest Food Aid Recipient." KBS Global. 21 July 2006.
  • Park, Han S. North Korea: The Politics of Unconventional Wisdom. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002. ISBN 1-58826-050-X.
  • Short, Philip. Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004. ISBN 0-8050-6662-4.
  • Tolnay, Adam. "Ceausescu's Journey to the East." Georgetown University.
  • Van Ree, Erik. "The Limits of Juche: North Korea's Dependence on Soviet Industrial Aid, 1953-76." Journal of Communist Studies 5 (Mar 1989): pp. 50-73.
  • Christian Kracht, Eva Munz, Lukas Nikol, "The Ministry Of Truth. Kim Jong Ils North Korea", Feral House, Oct 2007, 132 pages, 88 color photographs, ISBN 978-932595-27-7

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