N. Korea no longer pursues unification through revolution in S. Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at an enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on April 9, 2019, in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SEOUL, Jun 2, 2021, Hankyoreh. North Korea deleted a phrase about instigating a revolution in South Korea leading to the unification of the peninsula from the rules of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in the WPK Congress this past January, the Hankyoreh has learned.

A review by the Hankyoreh on Monday found that a section stating that the “WPK’s objective” is “carrying out the task of a democratic revolution for the national liberation of the Korean people” had been deleted from the newest version of the WPK rules.

The new version of the WPK rules was adopted on Jan. 9, the fifth day of the 8th WPK Congress.
This represents the de facto abolition of the North’s advocacy of North Korean-led “revolutionary unification” and a fundamental shift in the North’s perspective on inter-Korean relations.

North Korea had maintained support for revolutionary unification for nearly 80 years since founder Kim Il-sung’s proposal of a “democratic base” on Dec. 17, 1945. Kim argued that North Korea should be a “forward base” for instigating a revolution in the South and bringing the Korean Peninsula under the sway of communism.

The language in the WPK rules about North Korean-led revolutionary unification has been cited as key grounds for maintaining the National Security Act, which defines North Korea as an “anti-state organization.” Therefore, the deletion of this language could have a major impact on the debate inside South Korea about whether to keep that act in place.

The North Korea’s revised rules not only redefined the WPK’s objective as being “achieving the autonomous and democratic development of national society” — rather than “carrying out the task of a democratic revolution for the national liberation of the Korean people” — but also deleted, replaced, or adjusted a number of phrases that signified North Korean-led revolutionary unification.

The preface of the revised rules now talks about the WPK “achieving the joint prosperity of the Korean nation,” replacing a phrase about the WPK “actively supporting the people’s struggle in southern Korea for the right to survive and the democratization of society.”

In Article 4, “Duties of Party Members,” of the rules, a phrase stating that members are to “actively fight to accelerate the unification of the fatherland” was deleted without being replaced by an alternative phrase.

The WPK rules represent North Korea’s supreme legal standard, possessing absolute authority equivalent to that of South Korea’s constitution.

North Korea regards itself as a “party-state” in which the WPK built the state. That’s why Article 11 of the North Korean Constitution states that “[North Korea] shall conduct all activities under the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea” and why the WPK rules state that the “people’s government acts under the leadership of the party.” The rules also say that the “people’s government is the most comprehensive ‘transmission belt’ connecting the party and the masses of the people.”

The fact that the WPK, under Kim Jong-un, has basically abolished North Korean-led revolutionary unification can be regarded as signifying three things.

First, it can be seen as a step to narrow the gap between ruling ideology and reality. Since the asymmetrical windup of the Cold War in the early 1990s — in which South Korea normalized relations with China and Russia but North Korea’s relations with the US and Japan remained hostile — the gap in national power between South and North Korea has forced Pyongyang to focus on preserving the regime, leaving it little time to think about reuniting the peninsula under its control.

When North Korea formalized the succession plan for former leader Kim Jong-un in the 3rd WPK Congress, on Sept. 28, 2010, it cautiously narrowed the ideology-reality gap by deleting a phrase in the rules about “liquidating colonial rule in South Korea” and removing the term “people’s” from the phrase “people’s democratic revolution for the national liberation of the Korean people,” moderating its stance on fomenting revolution in the South.

Significantly, this trend means that the vision of “two Koreas” on the Korean Peninsula that Kim Jong-un has constantly pursued since taking power in 2012 has begun to be officially reflected in the WPK rules, the North’s supreme legal standard.

Kim’s focus on prioritizing state identity over unification was evident in his attempt to create a separate time zone for North Korea, 30 minutes earlier than in South Korea, between Aug. 15, 2015, to May 4, 2018. Another example was his replacement of the ethnonational narrative of the “two eternal leaders,” Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, with a state narrative expressed in the slogan “the era of putting our state first.”

Second, these changes indicate that North Korea is pivoting toward “coexistence,” reflecting the reality of South and North Korea’s separate and simultaneous enrollment in the UN, their adoption of the Inter-Korean Basic Agreement, and the fact that their leaders have held five summits. Along with the first reason, this shift in direction suggests that the North will reorient its South Korea policy toward seeking coexistence rather than unification.

Third, North Korea’s erasure of the doctrine of revolutionary unification from the WPK rules could factor into the debate in South Korean society about preserving the National Security Act. Kim Jong-il asked former president Kim Dae-jung during the first inter-Korean summit in June 2000 why on earth South Korea hadn’t scrapped that law. Kim Jong-il noted that North Korea was planning to implement changes to the old WPK rules and platform at the next WPK congress as requested by South Korea and said that both sides needed to gradually update old documents in that way.

Later, Kim Jong-il and then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun promised in Article 2 of the joint statement they signed in their summit in October 2007 that South and North Korea, by “transforming inter-Korean relations into one of mutual respect and trust […] will develop inter-Korean relations toward the direction of unification and adjust [the] necessary legal [and] institutional apparatus.”
Roh and Kim’s agreement was predicated on South and North Korea amending the WPK rules and the National Security Act, the main laws and institutions that express a hostile refusal to acknowledge the other side.

However, North Korea did not delete a section of the WPK rules calling for the withdrawal of American troops from the Korean Peninsula. It only tweaked the wording of the section that calls for driving out “the US imperialist occupation forces in southern Korea.”

The revised rules replace the phrase “end the domination and interference of foreign powers [and] revoke the re-invasion of Japanese militarism” with “ultimately end the US’s politico-military rule of southern Korea and thoroughly exclude the interference of foreign powers.”

By Lee Je-hun

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