The De-Stalinization Struggle
Joseph Stalin died in 1953. In 1956 Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971), first secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, began to implement a policy of “de-Stalinization” that called for an end to cults of personal-ity, such as those built up by Stalin, Mao, and Kim Il Sung.
Stalinists were deposed throughout Eastern Europe at Khrushchev’s bidding. In summer 1956 Khrushchev summoned Kim to Moscow for six weeks of training in the new Soviet leadership style. It must have been a bitter pill for Kim to swallow.
In the meantime Kim’s rivals at home were adjusting to the new com-munist world order radiating from Moscow. Pak Changok (d. 1956), the leader of the Russian faction, and Choe Changik (1896–1957), the leader of the Chinese faction, prepared a plan to discredit Kim Il Sung as a Stalinist.
At the next general meeting of the Central Committee, scheduled soon after Kim’s return from Moscow, they were going to denounce Kim on the same grounds that Khrushchev had censured Stalin.
Kim struck first by postponing the meeting for one month. This gave him time to line up his allies. When the Central Committee met and Pak and Choe launched their attack on Kim’s old-fashioned Stalinist methods, Kim and his side were ready to respond.
The speeches of Pak, Choe, and other critics met with such boos and heckling that they could hardly be heard. Kim won the day, and his opponents were expelled from the party. Kim’s critics at the 1956 meeting accused him of ignoring the needs of his people for the sake of developing industry, of creating a police state, and of fostering a cult of personality.
The Soviets and the Chinese did not stand idly by as their Korean allies were dismissed. In September 1956 they sent a combined delegation to correct the abuses in North Korea. Kim was told to stop the purges and reinstate the leaders of the Chinese and Soviet factions.
A second meeting of the Central Committee was held on September 23, at which the expelled leaders were welcomed back into the party with full privileges.
Still, Kim was determined to have his way, and in 1957 he unleashed another series of purges against members of the Chinese and Soviet factions. He kept some members of the discredited factions in leadership positions while removing other, stronger ones. From 1957 to 1961 many of the Chinese faction returned to China, and many of the Russian faction returned to the Soviet Union. Kim and his faction were in complete control. Nor did the token survivors of the purges last long. Once they had served their purpose, they, too, were dismissed.
Owing to the repeated purges of the 1950s and 1960s, the ruling elite of North Korea is a very tight-knit group. It consists of the old guerrilla faction who served Kim Il Sung and over the years intermarried with the new leadership, and its members are now related through ties of kinship and marriage. The core leaders in charge of North Korea today are virtually one extended family.
One reason Kim Il Sung was successful in purging the Chinese and Russian factions was that he justified the purges as essential measures for national independence. Kim claimed to be untainted by foreign influence, and he called into question the motivations and loyalties of those supporting the Soviet and Chinese factions. Kim loyalists argue that although communism itself originated outside Korea, Kim tailored the doctrine to fit Korean needs.