At a recent party event, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called on a collection of workers to improve their “communist faith” in order to overcome difficulties facing the country. In effect, to borrow a phrase, in his own way, Kim ordered his supporters to make North Korea great again.
Kim Jong Un did not personally attend the congress, but North Korean state media published a letter written by Kim that was reportedly read aloud to attendees.
In the letter, the North Korean leader urged those in attendance to more fully embrace the collective communist spirit in a manner similar to that which occurred during the Chollima period, an ideological mobilization campaign that emerged in the aftermath of the Korean War.
Such a spirit is necessary, according to Kim, if the country is to overcome the many challenges facing it at present.
Recently, Kim Jong Un has referred to those challenges, which spring from the combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as international sanctions, as necessitating the waging of another Arduous March, a reference to the deadly famine that ravaged the country during the 1990s.
In his letter, Kim also called on the GFTUK to increase the frequency of party-related activities and the intensity of ideological instruction and study sessions in order to avoid what he described as “politico-ideological degeneration” among its membership. Kim Jong Un has recently emphasized the need to eliminate “non-socialist” behaviors and activities, including in another letter written to attendees of the Tenth Congress of the country’s Youth League.
Kim has also placed a major emphasis on preventing the spread of foreign media into the country. Late last year, North Korea passed a law spelling out harsher penalties for those caught in possession of or distributing foreign content. The advent of new technologies, such as cell phone networks, have allowed for the development of new networks and means of sharing materials among North Koreans, even as the regime has attempted to coopt those networks for its own uses.
Kim Jong Un also appears intent on strengthening the role of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) and its control over the North Korea populace. Propaganda signs in various parts of the country have been altered to emphasize the party as opposed to Kim himself. During the WPK’s eighth party congress held earlier this year, the role of the party was strengthened further though a requirement that such congresses now be held every five years and a revision of party rules that, among other things, strengthened the role of the party’s Politburo in policy and personnel decisions.
The focus on party and ideology comes amid stalled diplomatic engagement with the United States. The Biden administration recently unveiled its new North Korea policy which places an emphasis on diplomacy with the DPRK, though it appears unlikely that North Korea will commit to substantial diplomatic negotiations in the near term.
Eli Fuhrman is a contributing writer for The National Interest.