The Kim Family


Plain crazy or crazy like a fox? The answer is that the Kims are probably both. Grandfather Kim Il-sung, who earned his spurs in the then-united Korea's fight against Japanese invaders in the 1930s, was a man of ruthless political skill. After the Second World War, he eliminated all potential dissident voices in the Korean communist movement, especially those associated with South Korea, Russia and China. He bathed himself and his family in the ideology of Juche, a Korean variant of authoritarian Marxism-Leninism that privileges national self-reliance in politics, economics and self-defence above socialist values such as popular democracy or international solidarity. This fetish for a stand-alone-against-the-world self-reliance remains a key element of the Kim dynasty's ideological arsenal.

The stakes are high for the Kims. Internal politics in the Hermit Kingdom resemble a combination of classic Stalinism (including regular purges of the overly ambitious or high profile) with the dynastic politics of a feudal European court, with various pretenders and their supporters vying to ascend to the throne. In February, the half-brother of current leader Kim Jong-un was murdered at an airport in Malaysia. Kim Jong-nam's assassination shows how vicious these paranoid manoeuvrings can be. That it is all carried out using an arcane version of Marxist discourse should give pause for thought about the need to reinvent a popular language of the Left.

But if you are a Kim inclined to maintain family rule at all costs, you will discover that there is no shortage of plotters for regime change. The US, for example, was determined to drive back communism after the Second World War, not only from Europe but also from the Korean peninsula. Kim Il-sung fought a bloody civil war to keep the North communist, and was not without nationalist support. …

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