The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

North Korea’s house of cards is largely kept upright through the Juche ideology.

The Juche ideology, the state ideology of North Korea, is an important element of what makes North Korea unique. But what exactly is the Juche ideology?

Juche incorporates the historical materialist ideas of Marxism–Leninism but also strongly emphasizes the individual, the nation-state, and national sovereignty. Juche posits that a country will prosper once it has become self-reliant by achieving political, economic, and military independence. As Kim Jong-il emerged as Kim Il-sung’s likely successor in the 1970s, loyalty to the leader was increasingly emphasized as an essential part of Juche, as expressed in the “Ten Principles of the One-Ideology System”.

Juche has been variously described by critics as a quasi-religion, a nationalist ideology, and a deviation from Marxism–Leninism. Juche largely rests on three pillars that hold up the North Korean house of cards: political independence; economic self-sustenance; military and defense self-reliance.

As Vox explains: “North Korea’s repressive government survives in no small part because it has convinced its people of the legitimacy of its government. As hard as it may be for Americans to grasp, millions of North Koreans appear to truly believe their government’s pronouncements. And the tool the state has used to convince of them of these ideas is a unique official philosophy called ‘juche’ (pronounced JOO-chay). Juche, which roughly translates as ‘self-reliance,’ is an odd blend of several different ideas. It borrows much of its language from Marxism but also draws on Confucianism, 20th-century Japanese imperialism, and traditional Korean nationalism. Its core idea is that North Korea is a country that must remain separate and distinct from the world, dependent solely on its own strength and the guidance of a near-godlike leader.”

North Korea is considered the most restrictive of all totalitarian systems in existence today. In North Korea, there is no freedom of the press, no freedom of expression, but constant surveillance. It’s a country that Human Rights Watch once called the world’s largest prison. An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 people are imprisoned in political camps where they are at risk of torture, rape, or execution.

Anti-Americanism is North Korea’s bread and butter. It didn’t help matters when former President Donald Trump legitimized Kim Jong-Un. Time will tell what will happen in the ‘hermit kingdom’ but with the war in Ukraine consuming most international news coverage expect North Korea to feel ignored and try to reclaim the spotlight.

Eva Kneifel is studying Politics and History at FernUniversität Campus Hagen.