Organized Panel Session
Utilizing newly obtained materials from former socialist bloc archives, this paper seeks to situate Kim Il Sung’s early use of the expression chuch’e more broadly within a decades-long national discourse on state and popular sovereignty, and specifically within post-Korean War discussions on the course of national economic and political developments. When Kim first began to use the expression chuch’e and other synonymous terms, he did so in the midst of debate in the North Korean leadership over such notions as the merits of the industrial economy vs. the consumer economy, nationalism vs. internationalism, etc. By early 1955, discussion on Kim’s heavy-industry focused economic development strategy shifted toward overt criticism, particularly after a devastating famine ravaged the country in late 1954 and early 1955. The criticism took the form of unfavorable comparisons with contemporary consumer-oriented practices in the Soviet Union. Domestic criticism, led by those with close ties to the Soviet Union and China, was coupled with direct Soviet and Chinese reproaches. Perceiving this criticism—both domestic and “fraternal”—as a challenge to his national security imperatives, as well as to his own authority, Kim took steps to marginalize his foreign-backed domestic critics and to minimize, to the extent possible, the influence of Moscow and Beijing on the trajectory of economic, political, and cultural developments. It is in this context that he delivered a speech in December 1955 using the expression chuch’e to promote the establishment of an autonomous national subjectivity and to discourage the imitation of Soviet and Chinese practices.