A Kinder, Gentler, Less Corrupt DPRK Workers' Party?
I receive an open-source intelligence missive on Northeast Asia each weekday, and in yesterday's Korea Open Source Digest (Volume VI, Issue 21, Thursday, 31 January 2013), I read the translation of an important address that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, presented on January 30, "Kim Jong Un Delivers Address at the Fourth Conference of Cell Secretaries of the Workers' Party of Korea." This speech was published by the (North) Korean Central News Agency, and North Korean press releases are almost invariably boring and analytically useless, but this caught my attention because Kim Jong Un raised the issue of Party corruption:
I would like to refer to some problems arising in enhancing the functions and role of Party cells . . . . The most important task facing Party cells at present is to prepare the Party members as genuine . . . and true comrades and comrades-in-arms of our Party . . . . Particular attention should be paid to implanting the Party members with love for the people and spirit of serving them devotedly . . . . It is the firm determination of our Party to respect our people and devote everything to them . . . . Party cells should . . . serve and love the people . . . . From the very beginning after he founded our Party the President saw the abuse of power and bureaucratic practices manifested among officials as the most dangerous poison a working class ruling party should guard against and ensured that a consistent struggle was waged against them. The General . . . devoted energy and soul to developing our Party into a motherly party serving the people faithfully, not a party that indulges in power abuse and bureaucracy. However, whenever the Party underlined the need to eliminate the abuse of power and bureaucratic practices, Party organizations simply called meetings for criticizing ideological defects and punished some officials . . . . Abuse of power and bureaucracy are not merely a matter of personal character or work style of officials, but a matter of their ideology. When they abuse their power and work in a bureaucratic manner, officials will not merely lose their popularity among the masses and get a blot on their political integrity, but impair the Party's authority and the prestige of socialism, which will end up leading the revolution and construction to ruin . . . . The Party Central Committee is firmly determined not simply to weed out but to root out the abuse of power and bureaucratic practices that are like the poisonous weeds sprouting on the garden of socialism centered on the masses of the people. The campaign against power abuse and bureaucracy is a Party-wide undertaking in which all Party organizations and their members . . . . should wage an intensive, principled struggle against power abuse and bureaucracy . . . . Party cells should create a strict atmosphere of criticism and ideological campaign and intensify criticism from bottom up in particular to give comradely help to officials to eliminate the abuse of power and bureaucratic practices and prepare themselves as the true servants of the people. Party cells should clearly distinguish between demands of officials and bureaucracy. When abuse of power and bureaucratic practices are manifested among officials even in the slightest degree, they should not neglect them but wage a struggle against them promptly. All Party cells should not be indifferent to the abuse of power and bureaucratic practices of the officials who do not belong to them but actively struggle against them; as for serious cases, they should report on them to higher Party organizations, including the Party Central Committee, before it is too late.Does this mean an open acknowledgement that the Workers' Party is falling into greater corruption, or is it merely one of those periodic calls for diligence, or is it advance notice of a coming purge? What it does not mean is reform. Bureaucracies never reform themselves by relying on the better nature of bureaucrats. Even the threat of punishment depends upon the workings of the bureaucracy itself, or perhaps of yet another, higher bureaucracy. What is needed for a check on bureaucratic corruption is some form of separation of powers, along with a free press to uncover and publicize bureaucratic corruption. I don't foresee that sort of reform in North Korea. But the North's elite does recognize that the system has problems, and Kim Jong Un's further remarks suggest genuine concern about disaffection among the populace:
The masses are the grass-roots foothold the Party relies on . . . . . [W]e should fully grasp the public sentiments and win over as many people as possible through efficient work with them. As rallying broad masses of people around the Party is an important issue decisive of the destiny of the Party and revolution, an amnesty was proclaimed last year . . . . It was ensured that most of the participants in the celebrations of the 66th anniversary of the Korean Children's Union were the children of ordinary workers, farmers, service personnel and intellectuals, rather than those of cadres, and the children of those who committed offences against the country were not discriminated [against] in being chosen as delegates if they were exemplary in study and organizational life of the Children's Union. The embrace that cares more for sick and wounded children, gives them love and affection, cures their sour wounds, helps them up and puts them forward again, instead of blaming them, this is the embrace of our motherly Party . . . . People have emotions and express their feelings differently according to their characters . . . . We should not indiscriminately discard people, even though they are unwilling to accept the Party's ideas. If so, it will result in a gradual decrease in the number of the people to be rallied around the Party. Party cells should not cram the Party's ideas into the heads of the masses, but educate them persuasively and perseveringly so that they would willingly accept the Party's ideas. It is very important to place trust in the people in winning over the masses. Political trust is followed by loyalty, but distrust produces betrayal . . . . [A] man may make mistakes in his work and life and even commit unforgivable crimes. No matter what serious mistakes or crimes he may make, and even though we find in him 99 per cent of demerits and only one per cent of merit or conscience, we should value his conscience, boldly trust him and lead him to start with a clean slate. People who have deep-seated mental agonies should be treated more kind-heartedly and particular attention should be paid to freeing them from worries lingering in their minds.Implicit in these words is an acceptance of diverse opinions among non-Party members, at least in the sense that they are free to speak their minds so long as the Party has the paternalistic upper hand, but I foresee a lot of backtracking on even this minor concession to free speech if ordinary people start to argue with the Party and discover that the Party has no persuasive answers. These fine words will once again prove empty promises if people do speak out.
At the very least, however, the two issues raised by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un indicate that the leadership has an inkling that something is deeply wrong. They just don't know how to fix it . . .