North Korea: the Great Terror

December 18, 2013 at 7:53 am (Beyond parody, Cross-post, Eric Lee, hell, insanity, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, terror)

By Eric Lee (at the Workers Liberty website)

The downfall of Chang Song-thaek, once considered the second most powerful person in North Korea, is a lesson in history for a new generation – and not only in Korea.

The parallels to Soviet history are so striking that one almost wonders if Kim Jong-un read Robert Conquest’s “The Great Terror” – the classic history of the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s.

That’s not an entirely rhetorical question either, as Kim was educated abroad and may well have had access to history books denied to ordinary North Koreans.

In any event, the regime he now heads openly reveres Stalin and is perhaps the only one in the world that does so.

Fidel Castro has criticized Stalin, but also says “He established unity in the Soviet Union. He consolidated what Lenin had begun: party unity.”

People with only a passing acquaintance with Soviet history may be surprised to discover that nearly all the victims of Stalin’s massive purge which peaked in 1937 were not, in fact, oppositionists.

Nearly all the former White Guards, Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries had already been killed or exiled. And there were practically no survivors of earlier purges directed against Bolshevik opponents of Stalin such as Trotsky or Zinoviev by the time the Great Terror was unleashed. (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and others were kept alive – but their supporters were either dead or in the GULAG by the time of the great show trials.)

Stalin’s victims in 1937 were overwhelmingly loyal supporters of his regime, including almost the entire leadership of the Communist Party and the Red Army.

Chang Song-thaek was, as far as we know, a loyal supporter of the Kim dynasty and the North Korean regime his entire life.

His sacking, swift trial and and even swifter execution fit precisely the pattern seen throughout the USSR in the last years of the 1930s as thousands of Communist Party leaders went to their deaths – often believing that the great Stalin had nothing to do with what was happening.

Media coverage in the West shows some basic misunderstandings of how a classically Stalinist reign of terror unfolds.

For example, as soon as word came out that Chang Song-thaek was executed, some Western journalists speculated that his wife might come next.

But then reports came out saying that Chang’s widow, Kim Kyung-hee, had actually demanded his execution.

Instead of being arrested herself, she was promoted to a prominent state committee.

This process – leading the calls for her husband to be killed, thenapparently being accepted back into the fold – is classic Stalinist practice.

Unfortunately for Kim Kyung-hee, it will inevitably be followed with the discovery that she was as guilty as her late and unlamented husband.  Her days are numbered – and she certainly knows this.

The language used by the regime – which referred to Chang as “despicable human scum … who was worse than a dog” reminds one BBC journalist of Shakespeare, but the inspiration surely is the Stalinist prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky, who infamously declared during one of the Moscow trials:

“Shoot these rabid dogs. Death to this gang who hide their ferocious teeth, their eagle claws, from the people! … Down with these abject animals! Let’s put an end once and for all to these miserable hybrids of foxes and pigs, these stinking corpses!”

The chronology of Chang’s downfall also follows a template perfected by Stalin and his secret police boss Yezhov during the Terror.

First of all, Chang’s closest associates were brought down – and apparently, publicly executed.

It was standard practice in Stalin’s USSR to discover traitors and spies at lower levels, and then to use this to topple powerful men who had “protected” them and covered up their treason.

One cannot understand what is happening in North Korea without understanding Stalin. This lack of historical context is causing even academic experts to mis-read developments – and to make wildly inaccurate predictions.

One of these is the argument that the current purge will somehow weaken the Kim regime.

Some North Korean defectors now living in the South are spreading reports they’ve heard that some North Koreans consider the execution of Chang a sign of weakness by the young leader.

But this ignores not only the Stalinist template he appears to be following, but even the history of the specifically North Korean variant of Stalinism.

Kim’s grand-father, Kim Il-sung, did not inherit his post as Great Leader from his father, but rose to power on the corpses of political rivals – many of them loyal Communists.

His grandson is simply following in the family footsteps – and continuing with a tradition that began in Russia nearly eight decades ago.


JD adds: the editorial in Monday’s Morning Star indicates a rather dramatic change of line by the Communist Party of Britain since this 2003 internal report (written by our old sparring-partner Andrew Murray) stated “Our Party has already made its basic position of solidarity with Peoples Korea clear.”


  1. North Korea: the Great Terror | OzHouse said,

    […] Dec 18 2013 by admin […]

  2. dagmar said,

    Thanks for bringing the Morning Star article to my attention.

    For the Morning Star/CPB, the last sentence is damning with regard to the political model they (presumably continue to still) represent:

    “However, the current system is unsustainable and must, at some stage, give way to a more democratic expression of working people’s interests.”

    Sounds like they have gone all Gorbachev. Note: not “democratic expression” but merely “a more democratic expression”. Is their problem the “unsustainability” or the lack of democratic expression? I suspect it is the first, or I will look forward to similar articles on Vietnam, Laos, China…and maybe even Cuba. But Cuba isn’t sustainable as a system either, not for much longer.

    The Star article also refers to “Songun” i.e. “the military first”. Some commentators have suggested that Kim Jong Un has been rapidly abandoning this policy and instead has gone for “the party first”. Jang Song Thaek is said to have represented this change in particular, with him being the main negotiator with China and being responsible for introdcuing more and more aspects of Chinese-style Stalinism, i.e. free market capitalism without any of its bourgeois capitalistic advantages. The very public ‘sacrifice’ of Jang, it has been argued, is Kim’s response to severe misgivings among the military top brass – who could probably get rid of the young upstart very easily indeed, should they wish – with regard to the abandonment of Songun.

    Eric Lee’s article is a bit too simplistic. While there are similarities when it comes to purges, I don’t see why Kim would need to take a leaf out of Stalin’s book on this one. The (English language) pages of KCNA, the North Korean news agency refer to their supposed “Juche” (“self-reliance”) system on a fairly regular basis (I admit to taking a look every now and again) as being “national socialism”; Kim Jong-Un is said to be an admirer of Hitler and “Mein Kampf” is required reading for officials.

    While some may dismiss this as purely propaganda, it is a well-documented fact that sections of the leadership of the German Neonazi NPD were for at least part of the 1990s welcome guests at the Berlin North Korean embassy/representation and the same fascists did also visit the ‘hermit kingdom’, and not just for holidays.

  3. jimmy glesga said,

    looks like the North Koreans have a STD problem with the incessant clap and if you do not clap you are dead.
    I doubt I will be around to see the end of this bunch of parasites feeding of humans but it would be a bonus if I did.

  4. RosieB said,

    Sycophantic Philistine Jim Denham Condemned!

    For the very latest in North Korean denunciations, try this Denunciator:-

    • dagmar said,

      Is this not the correct link?
      Your link was all about ‘Sesame Street’.

      • RosieB said,

        Would you stop muscling in, you sycophantic human scum:-

        At an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, a special tribunal demanded that a stern judgment should be meted out to the anti-party, counter-revolutionary faction led by dagmar.

        The world public will never forget the malignant slanders uttered by dagmar, the enemy of the party and the revolution and a servant of the fascist clique of South Korea.

        A decision of the special military tribunal of the Ministry of State Security of the DPRK will be read out at the trial.

        dagmar dreamed such a foolish dream as to seize power by a base method, then reveal despicable true colors as a “reformist” known to the outside world.

        dagmar systematically rallied ex-convicts, those problematic in their past careers and discontented elements around him, and ruled over them as sacred and inviolable being.

        dagmar is a mentally deranged person steeped in the inveterate enmity towards the system in the DPRK, drenched various parts of the world in blood, and will be dealt a thousandfold retaliatory blow.

  5. dagmar said,

    You’ll be telling me I wanted to put some bizarre gravestone (how appropriate) featuring an engraving of an autogramme card of Kim Jong Un in a shadowy, not overly-prominent corner of an army base next.

    I dunno, this death sentence is like for the kind of stuff 13 year olds would have got half an hour’s detention for, back in my “Even Worse Than A Dog” Kenneth Baker-as-minister-of-education (and science!)-days.

    But as they say over on Socialist Unity, when it comes to German fascists getting the VIP treatment in Pyongyang and NIck Griffin meeting Assad’s government:

    “I’m inclined to say “So what?””

    “While being unsavoury and unfortunate I don’t think these things should affect our view of that conflict ”

    “I think it would be a sorry state of affairs if we allowed our politics to be guided by whatever political positions a bunch of Nazis happen to take re: Syria, North Korea etc.”

    “I don’t think the odd uncomfortable association is anything to worry about. Even a broken clock is right twice a day and all that.”

    It had to be done:

    “The world public will never forget the malignant slanders uttered by Matgamna, the enemy of the party and the revolution and a servant of the fascist clique of South Korea. ”

    Hear, hear!

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