Understanding the Ideology of North Korea

February 5, 2017 Dennis Ottley

How it came into being and how it shaped the country.

Pyongyang, North Korea: What is it about this supposed hermit kingdom that intrigues the world? At night a dark spot next to the bright lights of its twin, South Korea, this country has been at the receiving end of international jokes since its latest great leader, Kim Jung Un, legalized pizza, pants, and cellphones ten years into the new millennium.

Understanding the Ideology of North Korea

We may jest, but their presence in this modern world does present a certain threat to the safety of its surrounding countries. South Korea, a close ally of the great enemy of its northern brother, the United States of America, is constantly under alert especially with Pyongyang’s missile testing and continuing nuclear development despite economic sanctions.

But what divides these two halves? What is the ideology that severs families in half and has created such a vast distance in a space of less than three miles?

For this, we must look into the origins of the split and what came after when international intervention separated this once united kingdom into two.

After the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945, the Korean peninsula was divided into two zones along the thirty-eighth parallel that is now known as the DMZ or the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The north was occupied by the Soviet Union and the south by the United States after both aided the country in ridding them of the Japanese. Due to the Cold War that followed after the Second World War, the idea of reunification became impossible. This was due to the fact that the Soviet Union believed in the ideology of Marxism­–Leninism, while the United States believed in capitalism and western ideals.

After the split, the Soviet Union had nine million Koreans in their zone, and thus, North Korea was born.

Upon entering Pyongyang, the Soviet troops were welcomed by a People’s Committee which they recognized and worked with. Soon, they introduced Kim Il Sung as a guerrilla hero and filled the committees with communists. Instituting popular communist policies of land redistribution, industry nationalization, labor law reform, and equality for women, groups were then reconstituted as a party under Kim Il Sung into what became known as the Workers’ Party of Korea.

After the Korean War armistice in 1953, the North began to slowly move away from Marxism–Leninism into Juche or self-reliance that was promoted and developed by Kim Il-Sung. His ideology of Juche claims that each person was the master of his destiny and that the North Korean people were to act as masters of the revolution and construction.

Despite its origins being communist, Juche breaks away from the materialist ideas of communism and instead emphasizes the individual, the nation state, and the sovereignty of North Korea. Used to justify the isolationism, the dictatorial rule, and oppression of its people, it is an ideal of self-reliance that emphasizes its independence from the rest of the world. Juche has become a sort of religion as well due to the presence of a sacred leader, rituals, and familism that helps the personality cult of the Kim family thrive to the present day.

From the outside in, we see that this Juche ideology as well as the strict isolation is what stops the workers of the workers party from revolting against the harsh rules of this totalitarian dictatorship. But as the influence of globalization becomes stronger and the borders of China becomes weaker allowing modern ideas to filter in, we can only watch and see how the ideology would evolve and if it will sustain especially in the constant shifting of today’s world order.


Wikipedia. 2017. “Juche.” Last modified January 24, 2017. Accessed on January 30.


Wikipedia. 2017. “History of North Korea.” Last modified on January 14, 2017. Accessed on January 30.

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