The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950

The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950

Charles K. Armstrong
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    The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950
    Book Description:

    North Korea, despite a shattered economy and a populace suffering from widespread hunger, has outlived repeated forecasts of its imminent demise. Charles K. Armstrong contends that a major source of North Korea's strength and resiliency, as well as of its flaws and shortcomings, lies in the poorly understood origins of its system of government. He examines the genesis of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) both as an important yet rarely studied example of a communist state and as part of modern Korean history.

    North Korea is one of the last redoubts of "unreformed" Marxism-Leninism in the world. Yet it is not a Soviet satellite in the East European manner, nor is its government the result of a local revolution, as in Cuba and Vietnam. Instead, the DPRK represents a unique "indigenization" of Soviet Stalinism, Armstrong finds. The system that formed under the umbrella of the Soviet occupation quickly developed into a nationalist regime as programs initiated from above merged with distinctive local conditions. Armstrong's account is based on long-classified documents captured by U.S. forces during the Korean War. This enormous archive of over 1.6 million pages provides unprecedented insight into the making of the Pyongyang regime and fuels the author's argument that the North Korean state is likely to remain viable for some years to come.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6880-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvii)
  6. [Map]
    (pp. xviii-xviii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    On September 9, 1948, a little more than three years after Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule and just three weeks after the Republic of Korea had been founded in Seoul, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) was established in Pyongyang. Fifty years later, after the Soviet Union that had helped create the DPRK and the East European “People’s Democracies” had fallen into the dustbin of history, after China and Vietnam had moved their economies well down the road of market reform, and after South Korea had eclipsed the North in economic development and international recognition, the...

  8. CHAPTER 1 Revolution on the Margins
    (pp. 13-37)

    In order to understand how communism was subsequently implemented in North Korea, it is important to recognize some of the distinctive features of northern Korea and the Sino-Korean border region before 1945. Communism, of course, took hold north of the 38th parallel during the 1945–48 Soviet occupation, and the distinctive nature of the northern region influenced the development of communist society in the North thereafter. Although the leadership of North Korea included people with diverse geographical backgrounds and experiences in Korea itself (including a substantial southern contingent), China, Japan, and the USSR, it was ultimately the group associated with...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Liberation, Occupation, and the Emerging New Order
    (pp. 38-70)

    After the defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945,the members of the 88th Special Brigade in the Soviet Far East prepared for the imminent Soviet entry into the war against Japan and the liberation of their respective countries. In late July, Zhou Baozhong organized a conference of Manchurian guerrilla exiles, during which the group was divided into separate Chinese and Korean units that would return to their home countries and work for national reconstruction. Kim Il Sung, Kang Kŏn, Ch’oe Yonggŏn, Kim Ch’aek, and other Koreans from the 88th Brigade formed a Korean Work Team (Chosŏn kongjaktan), with Kim Il...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Remaking the People
    (pp. 71-106)

    The “democratic reforms” initiated by the North Korean Provisional People’s Committee (NKPPC) in the spring and summer of 1946 included land reform, new regulations on labor, legalized equality between the sexes, and the nationalization of major industries. The nationalization law will be addressed in chapter 5. The first three of these reforms, along with the creation of large-scale “social organizations” (sahoe tanch’e),were directed toward the traditionally underprivileged elements of Korean society, particularly poor peasants, workers, women, and youth. The mobilization of these elements by the nascent North Korean regime was part of an expansion of the party-state constituency, the inclusive...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Coalition Politics and the United Front
    (pp. 107-135)

    The North Korean Provisional People’s Committee and the Korean Communist Party had unleashed powerful social forces through the reforms of the spring and summer 1946. In a pattern that we can by now see as typical of the North Korean revolution, these changes initiated from above became the basis for the creation of a centralized party-state structure built from below, formed through the interconnections between the central party/government apparatuses and local People’s Committees, social organizations, and party cells. But the communists did not act in isolation, and the North Korean political system from 1946 to 1950 was ostensibly a coalition...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Planning the Economy
    (pp. 136-165)

    Although Korea was still largely agricultural in the late 1940s, the latter period of Japanese colonial rule had established the foundations of an industrial economy in northern Korea. The North Korean leaders and their Soviet advisors applied a model of economic planning, largely based on the contemporary experience of the USSR, to build on this industrial base in order to create a modern, industrial, but noncapitalist economy in the North. The North Korean economy in the years immediately following liberation, like many other aspects of revolutionary transformation at the time, combined Japanese colonial legacies and Soviet models and influence to...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Constructing Culture
    (pp. 166-190)

    Culture, propaganda, and education have tended to be blurred, if not fused into a single entity, in revolutionary Marxist-Leninist states. North Korea is no exception, and indeed the emphasis on ideology and propaganda is even more striking in the formative years of the DPRK than in many other socialist regimes. The tremendous resources put into education, propaganda, and culture (20 percent of the first People’s Committee budget was devoted to education, for example, an impressive amount for a country as poor as North Korea at the time)¹ arose from several mutually reinforcing factors. First, the Soviets in the North paid...

  14. CHAPTER 7 A Regime of Surveillance
    (pp. 191-214)

    Along with the emergence of a centralized state in early 1947 came a system of domestic law, policing, and surveillance that was remarkably thorough and effective compared to its counterparts in many other postcolonial countries, including South Korea. This system of social regulation was both linked to, and necessary for, the construction of the political and economic systems outlined in our previous chapters. Effective law and order were an integral part of North Korea’s rush to modernity in the late 1940s. In the first weeks after liberation, Japanese law was abandoned and a situation approaching anarchy prevailed in parts of...

  15. CHAPTER 8 The People’s State
    (pp. 215-239)

    The creation of a separate state in North Korea could be seen on the horizon from as early as the spring of 1946 and was all but officially declared by 1947. The failure of U.S.–Soviet negotiations on Korea, the development of separate power centers in Seoul and Pyongyang, and the solidification of the 38th parallel as the dividing line between two very different political and social systems made the peaceful establishment of a unified government increasingly unlikely. Two rounds of U.S.–Soviet talks on implementation of the December 1945 Moscow Agreement ended in deadlock. Finally, on October 21, 1947,...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 240-246)

    If the Soviet occupation of North Korea provided the context for a Stalinist revolution in a highly compressed time frame, this revolutionary process was even more intensively concentrated during the three-month North Korean occupation of South Korea. In North Korea, as in Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe after World War II, a Soviet model of politics, economy, and social organization, which had developed over several decades in the USSR, was transplanted with “all its basic properties intact.”¹ The “liberation” of South Korea by the Korean People’s Army involved the resurrection of the People’s Committees, the creation of local branches of the Korean...

  17. APPENDIX A: A Note on Sources
    (pp. 247-250)
  18. APPENDIX B: Statements of General Chistiakov on the Soviet Occupation of North Korea, Fall 1945
    (pp. 251-254)
  19. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 255-262)
  20. Index
    (pp. 263-266)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-269)