Kim Jong-Un’s Speech In Full At The North Korean Workers Party Congress: Analysis

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Op/Ed by Chris Devonshire-Ellis 

  • Juche ideology of self-sufficiency acts as a trade deterrent 
  • Reliance on Cadres to report accurately could be problematic 
  • Solutions mean there is potential for North Korea to join the Belt & Road Initiative 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un introduced the country’s first ruling Workers Party Congress in five years on Tuesday, with 5,000 delegates and party officials in attendance.

His speech, together with comments and analysis is reproduced in English below.

“Dear Delegates,

The Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, for which millions of our Party members have made preparations with sincerity and to which they have so looked forward with their hearts burning with patriotism and loyalty, has been convened at an important and crucial time in the development of our revolution.

First, in reflection of the boundless loyalty of you, dear delegates, and all other Party members, people, and service personnel across the country, I pay the noblest respect and greatest glory to the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, the founder and builder of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the eternal leaders of our Party, state and people.”

Comment: It is standard practice in North Korea to pay respects to previous leaders. 

“Five years have passed since our Party and all our people started a new advance to attain the immediate goals and tasks the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea set forth for socialist construction. In this period the unprecedented, worst-ever trials put great obstacles on the road of advance of our revolution, but our Party achieved great successes through tenacious and accurate practical activities aimed at implementing its fighting programmes.

During the period under review our internal force further expanded and strengthened, and the external prestige of the country was raised remarkably. This is a clear signal that a period of a new upsurge, a period of gigantic transformation, has arrived for socialist construction.”

Comment: “Internal force further expanded and strengthened” is a reference to the DPRK’s continuing development of its nuclear weapons arsenal which is viewed by the Government as necessary to protect the country from its enemies. 

“The Sixth Plenary Meeting of the Seventh Central Committee of the WPK held in August last year made an in-depth analysis and judgment of the new trend of our developing revolution and the demands of the prevailing objective and subjective situations and decided to convene the current congress of the WPK.The convocation of the congress in the present-day arduous circumstances is a noteworthy political event of great significance in view of the influence it would exert on the change and development of the internal and external situations and of the future struggle of our Party, a socialist ruling party.

When the decision on holding this congress was made public, all the people across the country, engulfed by a great emotion, warmly supported it, and it dealt a telling blow to the reactionary forces of all hues, who were hostile to our cause and attempted to check its advance.

It was because the convocation of the highest-level meeting of the WPK was an expression of its definite self-confidence in its capability for leading the revolution to another stage of victory, and constituted demonstration of its ardent will and solemn pledge to live up to the people’s great trust and expectations by shouldering the future of the state and fully discharging its responsibilities and duties.”

Comment: The North Korean ‘revolution’ is somewhat Stalinist in nature but also promotes the concept of ‘Juche’ or self-sufficiency. This creates a conflict between the national ideology of being self-sufficient and the development of the country; where becoming dependent on other countries, even neighbours such as China and Russia, can be seen as weakening national resolve. The paradox of North Korea remains the resolution of the conflict between Juche and trade and supplies.


The North Korean Workers Party Congress in session

“The Central Committee of our Party made it clear at home and abroad that it would make this congress a congress for work, struggle and progress. This was a promise to the Party members and other people that it would strictly review its work in the period under review, explicitly decide once again the correct orientation and tasks of struggle for achieving fresh victories in building our style of socialism and take substantial measures to this end.

Never little are the successes our Party achieved in the revolutionary struggle and construction work over the last five years of arduous, yet glorious struggle.
By achieving miraculous victories and events noteworthy in the 5 000-year history of our nation after its Seventh Congress, the WPK provided a sure guarantee for reliably defending the destiny of the country and the people generation after generation and simultaneously achieved some meaningful and precious successes and foundations on which to promote economic construction and improve the people’s standard of living.

However, though the period of implementing the Five-Year Strategy for the National Economic Development ended last year, almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives.”

Comment: This is a rare admission of policy failure by a North Korean leader.

“Still existing are the various external and internal challenges that hamper and hinder our efforts and advance for fresh and continuous victories in socialist construction.

The key to breaking through the existing manifold difficulties with utmost certainty and speed lies in consolidating our own strength, our internal force, in all respects. Proceeding from the principle of finding the cause of mistakes not in the objective conditions, but in the subjective conditions, and resolving all problems by enhancing the role of our motive force, the current congress is going to make a comprehensive and profound analysis and judgement of the experiences, lessons and mistakes we have made during the period under review and, on this basis, define the scientific goals and tasks of struggle, which we can and must accomplish without fail.

The successes we have already achieved are priceless for us, and so are the bitter lessons that have been accumulated. All these are things that cannot be bartered, even for gold, and constitute valuable assets for achieving fresh victories in the future.

We should further promote and expand the victories and successes we have gained at the cost of sweat and blood and prevent the painful lessons from being repeated. In particular, we should be bold enough to recognize the mistakes which, if left unaddressed, will grow into bigger obstacles and stumbling blocks, and take resolute measures against their repetition.”

Comment: Kim doesn’t outline the exact issues, but clearly this is related to the national economy and general standards of living. The Northern part of Korea possesses most of the Korean Peninsula resources, and the country ought to be self-sufficient and able to trade enough raw materials and manufactured products to maintain itself. Sanctions and the Juche paradox however have made this extremely difficult. What is interesting are the statements made as concerns analysis of these problems and ensuring that mistakes are not repeated. This could in turn lead to a rethink of the Juche issue and certain aspects of the revolution. China’s example in the 1980’s as it turned away from socialism and the cultural revolution, are a case in point. It is also worth noting that many of the North Korean hardliners – those who served in the Korean war – are now dying off and their influence waning. If so, it is possible that Kim now has enough support to introduce some reforms.    

“This congress has been convened on the basis of this pluck and commitment. If the Eighth Party Congress, a congress for struggle, carries out its work in a substantial manner and puts forth a correct line and strategic and tactical policies, the Korean revolution will greet an era of a new leap forward and upswing. Also, the WPK’s struggle for achieving national prosperity and people’s happiness will switch over to a new stage with the congress as a watershed.”

Comment: It is unclear whether the ‘New Leap Forward’ is a reference to China’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ under Mao. That was an ill-advised attempt to turn peasant manufacturing into national industry and became a hugely ineffective and disastrous mistake. Kim will be aware of this and presumably will avoid such a move – which in any event North Korea has previously attempted. 

“To make this congress a substantial congress for work, struggle, and progress, the WPK Central Committee focused on the following issues over the past four months.

First, it conducted the work of making a comprehensive, three-dimensional, and detailed analysis and review of how the decisions of the Seventh Party Congress were implemented and drawing experiences and lessons for future progress and development.

To this end, the Party Central Committee formed a non-permanent central inspection committee and sent it to lower units on a mission to learn about the actual situations there and carefully listen to the opinions of workers, farmers and intellectuals who are Party members and work in the field.

The non-permanent central inspection committee conducted the work in the way of dispatching its teams to provinces and, after grasping the actual situations there, dispatching them to ministries and central institutions by direction and sector to make brisk, comprehensive, and detailed inspections.

The teams thoroughly examined all aspects of the actual situation including what was wrong, what was neglected among what could be carried out and what was implemented in a profitable way or formalistic way in executing the decisions of the Seventh Party Congress, and if there were shortcomings, what were their causes and what were the defects in Party guidance.”

Comments: This is the same reporting structure that Mao instigated in China during the Great Leap Forward. The problem with this is that people lie, fearful of what might happen to them if they report negative conditions. In China, Mao inspected crops and factories, and liked what he saw and continued the programme under the assumption it was successful. What he failed to notice was that on many occasions, crops had been transplanted from other areas overnight, and moved on, he reviewed the same crops as they were replanted in advance of his visits. The same occurred with factories, seemingly good quality products were displayed, shipped in advance of his visits to make everything appear productive. Kim’s management and understanding of the honesty of his delegates will be key here to ascertain whether he can understand the true position and extent of failures in North Korea, or whether like Mao, he will be conned by his own people and fail to understand the seriousness of the problem.    

“During the days when the Party congress was prepared, departments of the Party Central Committee and other Party organizations across the country submitted to the Political Bureau of the Party Central Committee and the preparatory committee of the congress reports of their work over the last five years and innovative and detailed opinions on the goals and plans of struggle in the future.

In the course of this, we confirmed once again the priceless truth that the masses are excellent teachers and were convinced that it was right indeed that we had decided to take heed of the opinions of Party organizations and its members for the preparation of the congress. What we did is of great significance in making this congress a revolutionary and militant one, both in name and reality, in which the general will of all the Party members will be embodied, and the decisions to be adopted by it become an organizational will of the entire Party.

As part of the preparations for the Party congress, we analyzed and reviewed the finances of the Party over the last five years and studied the measures for improving them. And we made a profound study aimed at putting to rights the problems in Party Rules, which were a mechanical repetition of the outdated of the past or of others’ and did not suit the present reality, in conformity with the requirements of the developing revolution and the principles of building a Juche-oriented party.

We also comprehensively appraised the work of the members of the leadership body of the Seventh Central Committee of the WPK and evaluated how much contribution they made to strengthening and developing the Party and the revolution.

In the lead-up to this Party congress, the basic Party organizations, provincial, city and county Party committees and the Party committees performing the same functions as the latter reviewed the work of their leadership bodies in an effective way and held successful meetings for electing delegates to the Party congress with the main emphasis on selecting the Party members who could play core roles in implementing the decisions of the Party congress in the future.

For the Eighth Party Congress, which would illuminate the road ahead of a new struggle for the Korean revolution, all the Party members and all other people across the country achieved brilliant successes by turning out as one in the 80-day campaign of loyalty after glorifying the 75th anniversary of the Party founding as a great auspicious event through a frontal attack for achieving a breakthrough, thus ensuring its successful opening.”

Comment: There is a paradox here between assessing problems and acknowledging them, especially at the financial level, while at the same time restating the Juche ideology. This is further compounded by praising the same Party members presumably responsible for mistakes, while stressing loyalty. It is hard to understand where the praise and loyalty start and end and the call for reform actually begins.

“The high political zeal of our Party members and other people, who made sincere efforts to add glory and strength to their dignified Party before its congress, is an eruption of their extraordinary revolutionary spirit which can never be found elsewhere in the present world.

Last year was a quite difficult year; in the circumstances of the world public health crisis that lasted unprecedentedly long in history, they consistently ensured a thoroughgoing stable situation in infectious disease prevention by stubbornly overcoming the difficulties, maintaining the conscious unity of all the people in the effort and regarding it as a patriotic duty devolving on them; they also rose up in the struggle for recovering from the natural disasters and built more than 20,000 new splendid houses in different parts of the country. This great achievement left another proud page in our Party’s record of struggle.

In addition, our Party members, and other working people from all walks of life sent to the Party Central Committee the reports full of valuable successes they made at many theatres of struggle across the country.

I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks and militant greetings to all the Party members and other people and service personnel across the country, who firmly defended the Eighth Congress of the Party with burning patriotic devotion and great victory by demonstrating on a higher level the might of their firm unity around the Party in the flames of arduous struggle for overcoming manifold difficulties.

And as I stand on this glorious podium, I would like to extend warm greetings to the organizations of our overseas compatriots, including the General Association of the Korean Residents in Japan, and all other overseas compatriots.

On behalf of the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea, I extend a noble tribute to all the patriotic martyrs, recollecting with deep reverence the revolutionary comrades who devoted their precious lives to the development of the Party, the prosperity of the country, the happiness of the people and the future of posterity, the unforgettable comrades-in-arms who failed to be present here.Now we have gathered at this significant venue at a quite important and crucial moment with a very honourable and sacred mission.

We stand at a great turning point of leading the revolutionary cause of Juche pioneered in Mount Paektu to another fresh victory and at a decisive moment of firmly linking the 75 years of ruling history of the glorious Workers’ Party of Korea to its 80 years; we are here representing the destiny, future, resourcefulness, and wisdom of millions of members of the Workers’ Party of Korea and tens of millions of the Korean people.”

Comment: Mount Paektu is a sacred mountain in Korea, featuring prominently in national literature, symbolism, and mythology. It is an active volcano, with a vast lake in its caldera, and is the highest peak in North-East Asia. The Western slopes of the Mountain fall into Chinese territory (Jilin Province), where it is known as Mount Changbai. 

Mount Paektu

“We are all entrusted with an important mission to make our country more powerful and wealthy and indicate to our people a shortcut to happiness in this world full of severe challenges and instability.At this moment, the interest, expectations and hope of all the Party members and other people across the country are very great and high for this congress which will review the revolutionary work of the last five years and decide the lines of struggle and strategic and tactical policies for opening up a new road.”

Comment: Terminology is important in North Korea and words are chosen very carefully. The description of a ‘new road’ could be a signal that North Korea may join China’s Belt & Road Initiative, an issue we previously discussed in this article here.

“We should display the highest sense of responsibility and passion in the work of the congress in order to live up to the great trust and expectations of the people who have always shared their destiny with the Party, absolutely trusted and supported the Party and defended the Eighth Congress with unsparing, devoted efforts. Attending this congress are 250 members of the leadership body of the Seventh Party Central Committee and 4,750 delegates elected by organizations at all levels throughout the Party.

Among them, 1,959 are delegates of Party and political workers, 801 delegates of state administrative and economic officials, 408 delegates of service personnel, 44 delegates of officials of the working people’s organizations, 333 delegates of officials in the sectors of science, education, public health, art, literature, and the mass media and 1,455 delegates of hardcore Party members involved in field labour. Of them, women delegates number 501 and account for ten per cent.”

Comment: It is interesting Kim specifically mentions women, they generally hold subservient positions in Korea. However, Kim’s sister has become powerful in the DPRK leadership and he is married to a prominent North Korean singer. Ten percent may not match Mao’s proclamation that ‘Women hold up half the sky’ however it is an acknowledgement that may lead to future softer tones than the previous generations inherent machismo. 
“Also present at the congress are 2,000 observers. Solemnly pledging, on behalf of all the participants in this congress, which constitutes the eighth one in the sacred history of the Workers’ Party of Korea, that the current congress will remain thoroughly faithful to the revolutionary ideas and cause of the great Comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, I am fully convinced that this congress will serve as a stepping stone and a historic milestone in making a radical leap forward in the struggle for strengthening and developing our Party, accomplishing the socialist cause, building up the national strength and improving the people’s living standards, and hoping that all the delegates will participate in the congress with sincere, responsible and proactive attitude, I declare the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea open.”

Western media reaction has focused on Kim’s admission of failings, yet in fact he has not singled out any specific area other than general hardships, and the on-going ‘arduous struggle’ – a term I first heard used at a meeting with North Korea’s Foreign Minister in Pyongyang in 2001. The chance of any real breakthroughs in North Korea depends upon the following issues:

    • Whether the ‘Juche’ element of the North Korean socialist ideology can somehow be revised to permit the acceptance of certain trade corridors;
    • If so, the potential for the DPRK to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative;
    • Whether examinations held by DPRK officials and Party members of the national state will result in any meaningful results and changes to policy;
    • The extent to which Kim has been able or even wishes to gradually phase out hard line veterans, or ‘Princelings’ within the North Korean Workers Party and Military, many of whom, like China are now in position as a result of their families involvement in supporting the communist regime and subsequent civil war in the early 1950’s.


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About Us

This article was written by Chris Devonshire-Ellis, publisher of Silk Road Briefing, part of the Asia Briefing stable of titles and Chairman of the pan-Asia consulting practice, Dezan Shira & Associates.

Chris was the Vice-Chairman of the Business Development Group for the Greater Tumen Initiative, part of the UNDP for five years between 2007-2012, which includes the nations of China, Mongolia, North Korea, Russia and South Korea. He has visited North Korea on numerous occasions and engaged in business and advisory work in the country.