Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries > North Korea
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 724-725
The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, all of Korea came under Japanese domination and was formally annexed to Japan in 1910. The Japanese attempted to smother the Korean identity and culture, even to the point of banning the Korean language. Korea was liberated from Japanese rule in 1945 by Soviet forces in the north and U.S. forces in the south, with the 38th parallel as the dividing line between the two military governments. A joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. commission could not agree on terms for the political reunification and independence of Korea and a U.N. commission established in 1947 to organize elections in Korea was prohibited entry into North Korea. As a result, U.N.-supervised elections were held in 1948 only in South Korea, which became the Republic of Korea later in the year. Communist forces in the north, which had organized into the North Korean Workers' Party in 1946 under the leadership of Kim Il Sung, held their own elections in September 1948 and established the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Tension between two governments erupted into war in June 1950.

At the beginning of our time period, Kim's leadership of the party faced challenges from important factions within the party. Kim himself represented a group of guerrillas who fought against the Japanese in Manchuria. A major "domestic faction" was represented by Pak Hon-yong, who led the Communist Party in South Korea and along with other southern Communist activists left Seoul for Pyongyang in 1948. There was also a major "Yennan" faction composed of Koreans who had lived and trained in China, and a fourth faction of influential Soviet-trained Koreans. In 1949, elements of the South Korean Workers' Party joined with the much larger North Korean Workers' Party, adopting the name Korean Workers' Party, with Kim as chairman and Pak as vice chairman. The failure to take over South Korea by force led to a shake?up within the party, with expulsions and some executions-including Pak himself in 1955. Kim was in the process of consolidating his power when the de-Stalinization campaign began in 1956. Opposition to Kim coalesced over the "cult of personality" issue and erupted in a direct challenge at the August 1956 meeting of the Central Committee, ending the first part of our time period.

At that meeting Kim Il Sung outmaneuvered his critics and won confirmation of his leadership entering the second half of our period. Thereupon he moved against his opponents and further solidified his control of the party. Additional purification of the party proved necessary, and by the end of our period Kim's position was virtually unchallenged.

Continuity and Change since 1962

The graph for North Korea tells a clear story. The major party in the country has continued through 1978. No new parties qualified for study.

Original Parties, Continuing

561 Workers' Party. Still led by Kim Il Sung, the KWP remains the dominant political organization in the country, but some of the Supreme People's Assembly are not in the KWP. Following the adoption of a new constitution in 1972, more non-KWP members seem to be in the Assembly, but the figure is only an estimate (Area Handbook for North Korea, 1976, p. 178).


Because Kim Il Sung has exercised such personal leadership within the party as well as the country, one expects that his passing will produce some political shocks. But it is not likely that the one-party system will change in the foreseeable future.

1. Our study of party politics in North Korea is based on a file of 649 pages from 31 documents, all of which are in English but many of which have been translated from Korean. The only party in our study is the Korean Workers' Party (code 561), which is discussed on 550 pages (85 percent) of the total file. The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Jon Schwestka. Eve Harris used the file to code the Korean Workers' Party on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Young W. Kihl kindly reviewed the codes in detail and stimulated some important changes. Robert Scalapino also served as our consultant.