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The Suryong System as a Collectivist Developmental Strategy

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Abstract

Many Western studies, seeing North Korea through the prism framed by the Cold War, depicts it as one or some combination of three images: a satellite of the Soviet Union, a totalitarian regime, or a feudal dynasty. This paper argues in contrast that it is best to explain North Korea’s political institution centered around Suryong as a product of the collective choice to pursue the often contradictory dual goals of building a “socialist utopia” and achieving economic development. In pursuit of these goals, the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) has adopted a collectivist developmental strategy that places a premium on collective efforts and non-material incentives. Several problems arose in the process of implementation, and particularly serious were the challenges of de-Stalinism from outside and dogmatism from within as well as individualism among the public. The KWP responded with political projects: to solidify the Party and strengthen its unity with the public while privileging ideological incentives over material rewards. The series of choices has led to the establishment of the Suryong system where Kim Il-Sung occupies the central position of power around which the Party and mass are organized. While the Suryong system faced particularly difficult challenges in the 1990s, Kim Jong-Il’s ‘Military-First Policies’ sought to institutionalize the system further by using the military to diffuse Suryong system’s normative values throughout the society. This paper concludes by considering some of the negative consequences that the pursuit of such a strategy has brought about.

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2005-10

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies

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North Korea; Cold War; Collectivism; Development; Stalinism; Suryong system; Military

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Government Document

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