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North Korea and the Rise of the Communist Movement

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1940’s North Korea

& the Rise of the Communist Movement

Ever since its emergence in 1945, North Korean leadership has been characterized by its basic continuity and the regime has been relatively stable. Yet under this continuity of leadership, the regime has undergone a considerable degree of evolution. Following the liberation of Korea in 1945 after thirty-six years of Japanese colonial rule, three major Korean communist groups emerged in North Korea. They were the native communist group, the Yenan faction, and the Soviet-returned group. The native communist group consisted of communists who had operated inside Korea: the Yenan faction were communists who had come back from Yenan, the communist base in China, after years of exile; and the Soviet returned group were those who had been in the USSR and came with the Soviet Army that occupied North Korea following the Japanese defeat. Although all three groups had previous anti-Japanese revolutionary records, none had been able to crush the Japanese rule which might have entitled one of them to be the ruling body of liberated Korea. Their emergence itself was primarily the result of the military operation of World War II and beyond their control. None of the three groups had previous administrative experience in national affairs. However, the external conditions for building a communist state were provided by the Russian occupation in North Korea. The immediate problem was forging a workable team out of these three communist groups for the construction of a communist state.

In the early phase of the North Korean regime, power was shared by all three groups and they cooperated with each other because of identity or similarity of ideology. Yet the spirit of cooperation was rather slight and the factional struggle for power within the regime continued from the early days. In the process of this factional struggle, power gravitated towards a subgroup among the Soviet returned communists and continued to do so until the time when this subgroup, led by one man, emerged as the victor after nearly fifteen years of bitter struggle. This subgroup constitutes the North Korean communist leadership today. In the process of the struggle, the native communist forces and those from China were destroyed and some other individuals eliminated. For several years after the 1945 liberation North Korean officials did not necessarily wield power commensurate with their office. Both in governmental and non-governmental institutions, it was not unusual to find that formally an inferior in a political organ had more influence than his superior during the transition period; that is to say, from the time when all three groups shared power until the time power was monopolized by a subgroup. Further, the real power struggle was staged outside the formal government and within the party, the most powerful political organ in North Korea. At the same time, the factional struggle was greatly influenced by environmental factors such as the division of Korea, the stationing of the Soviet Army in the north and the United States Army in South Korea and their subsequent withdrawal, the Korean War, and the coming of the Chinese communist army to North Korea. It can be said then that in the post Axis rule by Imperial Japan, Korea became one of the first geographic areas in the world to enter the political chess game of Communism verses Capitalism.

The ideological influences of both the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. would ultimately change the nature of the Korean people. For North Korea the influence of both Soviet and Chinese communism combined with the desire for eventual unification would give birth to a nation committed to the creation of one Korea under socialist rule. In South Korea with aid from the United States the Nationalists in Southern Korea were able to maintain and hold power, thus over coming the efforts of communists in the south. This result came out of a law which was a corner stone in Korean government, indeed it intended to represent the model for building a new Korea. Known as the Trusteeship Plan, it was eventually supported by the communists in the north and opposed by the ROK, (Republic of Korea). Even many communists in the south would come to disagree with the fine print of the Trusteeship because it granted too much authority to the Soviet Union over Korea. When the news of the proposed trusteeship plan reached Korea on the morning of December 29th, 1945, reactions of Koreans, including communists in both North and South Korea, were immediate and hostile. The Koreans reasoned that any trusteeship, no matter how temporary, would mean an unnecessary postponement of immediate independence. While in the Soviet zone where the Soviet Army was already on special alert against any anti-trusteeship demonstrations the opposition was generally expressed in grumbles,

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