chapter  4
30 Pages

The Marxist rights thinking of the DPRK

In the previous chapter, I examined aspects of post-colonial and post-revolutionary People’s rights in North Korea between August 1945 and September 1948. The mood for the creation of human rights emerged through the nation-building process with its strong anti-Japanese undercurrent. Many of the institutional arrangements for the protection of human rights in this period were imported from the Kremlin. Therefore, it was ‘koreanisation in content’ and ‘sovietisation in form’. People’s rights had both indigenous Korean and Soviet-Marxist elements. This chapter particularly focuses on the DPRK’s Marxist characteristics in its interpretation of human rights. Many of the Marxist features existed in traditional thinking in Korea. First of all, conforming to Marxist orthodoxy, the DPRK has been fundamentally hostile to the notion of human rights in capitalist society. The second Marxist feature of rights thinking in the DPRK is that rights are strictly contingent upon one’s class status, as in other Marxist states. The third characteristic of Marxist rights is the supremacy of collective interests, which sees individual claims for human rights as selfi sh egoism. The fourth Marxist feature is the prioritisation of subsistence rights and material welfare of the society over civil-political rights. Finally, unlike Marx’s own reluctant use of the language of ‘duties’ but as in other Marxist states, the DPRK deliberately treats rights as the offspring of citizens’ duties.

An overview of pre-1945 Korean communism Shortly after the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, two organisations of Korean expatriates were formed in the hope of spearheading socialist revolutionary movements in Korea (Y.-h. Choe et al. 2000: 353). One was the Korean Socialist Party led by a well-known radical revolutionary, Yi Tong-hwi; it was organised in Khabarovsk in June 1918. In 1919, Yi was named premier of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, the so-called ‘Shanghai group’. By January 1921, Yi formally adopted the name ‘Korean Communist Party’ (KCP) for the Shanghai group, which received signifi cant funding from Moscow. The other organisation, known as ‘the Irkutsk group’, consisted mostly of Korean émigrés. It began as a Korean section of the Irkutsk Communist Party, castigating the Shanghai group as bourgeois nationalists feigning Marxist convictions in the hope of obtaining aid from the Comintern, a bona fi de Communist.