From the Sino-NK Archives (20) – 12.02.2014 – Raising a Fiercer Wind: Meetings and Messages

Subwork team visit Mangyongdae

Sub-workteam heads make dynastic and 1964 connections at Mangyongdae. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

Raising a Fiercer Wind: Meetings and Messages

by Robert Winstanley-Chesters

During the past week we have worked here with you. We attended the Party cell meetings and the Party committee meeting and heard the speeches of many comrades….[1]

With 2014 more than one month old, perhaps there is now space and breadth to consider the impact on the ground of Kim Jong-un’s New Years’ Message. In matters environmental and developmental, the speech marked out the institutional approach for the year to come. My previous essay, “Raising a Fierce Wind: Back to the Future in the New Year’s Message,” asserted that the most intriguing developmental element of Kim Jong-un’s text was its statement of the essential importance to North Korean developmental approach of 1964’s Rural Theses on the Socialist Rural Question in Our Country on the occasion of that text’s fiftieth anniversary.

Following the publication of the 2014 New Year’s Message there have been many distinctly 21st century issues for commentators to ponder (new versions of North Korea’s Red Star OS and painted imagery featuring the ideologically sound children of Pyongyang brandishing tablet computers to give just two examples), and this essay will delve into the reportage addressing the myriad outcomes that it sparked. But, just as Kim Jong-un did with this years’ message, perhaps we, too, should begin by looking back?

Go, Go, Songun Tablet Computer! | In 1965 there was no Internet, no Rodong Sinmun homepage, no KCNA updates, nor the combined efforts of the public Kremlinologists who make up the North Korean twittersphere to keep the analyst deep in the loop of the minutiae of responses to that year’s New Year’s Message and its focus on embedding the Rural Theses. Even the CIA’s finest in the Defence Technical Information Center could offer little more than a snapshot of goings on in Pyongyang, beyond the fact of the message’s existence.

Therefore, for depth we must rely on the text of Kim Il-sung’s Works, with all its retrospective and ideological biases. 1965’s New Year’s Message, just like its contemporary counterpart, makes great play upon the Theses:

Last year saw great progress in bringing into effect the Theses on the Socialist Rural Question in Our County in the agricultural sector…in accordance with the spirit of the theses on the rural question the Party and the state gave continuous and effective assistance to the rural areas and provided cooperative farms and their members with great benefits.

And:

As can be seen socialist rural construction in our country is being successfully carried out by the power assistance of the state and the devoted endeavour of the farmers…. [2]

1965’s other great focus was developing capacity in the refining and extraction of iron ore to support the industrial agenda underpinning the 1st Seven Year Plan (1965 being its fifth year), whereby:

In order to reach the targets in pig iron and steel, the most important thing is develop the ferrous metal industry quickly….[3]

Accordingly, those events commemorated in Works (Volume 19) in January 1965 connect with industrial capacity and production; one must wait until February 1965 for a specific event intended to embed the tenets of the Rural Theses that year. But what an event, readers, what an event!

RURAL THESES POSTER

A classic of the genre of Rural Theses posters. | Image: Cedar Lounge Revolution

Fertilizer is Rice and Rice is Socialism | The Enlarged Meeting of the Party Committee of Hungnam Fertilizer Factory on February 9, 1965, surely cannot have been understood at the time as particularly different from similar events and mass collections of interested, inspired and revolutionary participants during this period of North Korean history. Apart from the special excitement generated by the presence of Kim Il-sung, it sounds in its introduction, the very model of such meetings:

During the past week we have worked here with you. We attended the Party cell meetings and the factory Party committee meeting and heard the speeches of many comrades. At these meetings we were able to see that all the Party members and employees of the Hungnam Fertilizer Factory are deeply inspired to implement the decision of the Tenth Plenary Meeting of the Fourth Central Committee of the Party.[4]

However it is at this unassuming event that Kim Il-sung chose to connect the focus of the Rural Theses with another now-famous phrase of the period: “Fertilizer means rice, and rice, socialism.”

One day this saying would lead to North Korea applying the highest concentration of fertilizer on earth (some two tonnes/ha by the late 1970s). But in 1965, this political, ideological formula simply served to underline the practical importance of the Rural Theses which had been articulated in the previous year:

Now the world’s people are closely watching how we are putting into practice the Theses on the Socialist Rural Question in our Country. We must put the tasks advanced in the rural theses into effect with all our might and main….[5]

This is seemingly a vital national task to be undertaken, and especially so given the presumed global audience. However, the setting of the party or workforce meeting is also key to both its narrative importance and practical utility.

Kim Il-sung, having introduced the necessity of the tasks to the meeting, now continues. “Here you have a heavy responsibility,” he emphasizes, thus rescaling the sphere of the tasks and their achievement down to the level of the group in this particular meeting, and therefore by extension to every such meeting where his writ might run. As I argued in 2013 with respect to Sepho, such methods are still being used by the DPRK. Kim continues:

Deeply aware of the political and economic significance of fertilizer production, you must try hard to fulfill the assignments of increasing the production of fertilizer which you yourselves have determined….[6]

Given Kim Il-sung’s approach in 1965, would readers be surprised if we were to find similar re-scaling and embedding in the events and reportage surrounding this years’ New Years Message and its revitalization of the role and place of the Rural Theses within both the general and specific narratology of North Korea? I suggest not.

Scaling 2.0 | As external observers subjected to only the edited, directed narrative flow emerging from the North Korean information-complex, we only receive a fraction of the story. We cannot know the full, livid urgency of Kim Jong-un’s call to developmental reconfiguration, nor can we ever really know the impact this urgency and direction might have upon the private, quieter spaces of the Pyongyang home, the Kangyye forest, or the fields outside of Wonsan.

While I would never assert the need to accept North Korean state narratives and contemporary mythos (or those of any state) at face value, events focused on narrative do occur, and form the part that we can witness.  More than that, they also form the narrative that other North Koreans witness, through television and radio broadcasts, newspaper publications, hearsay, or perhaps later in the formal modality of a charismatically Kimist text.

Pyongyang City Rally 06.01.2014

The biggest and most colorful: Pyongyang City rally on January 6, 2014. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

In the case of 2014 it would only be a matter of days before narratives focused on Kim Jong-un’s New Years Message and its connection to the Rural Theses would manifest.  Unlike in 1965, they have been so profusely reported as to generate enough material for an academic monograph, so I can only recount some of the manifestations, within which, as ever, it is important for the reader to follow the element of scale and scaling.

January 6, for instance, sees one of the first, a “national” level events. Rodong Sinmun recounts it under the headline “Pyongyang City Rally Held to Vow to Implement Tasks Set Forth in New Year Address,” though its audience must surely be beyond Pyongyang itself. Two elder statesmen, Pak Pong-ju and Kim Yong-nam, are in attendance, as are a great number of other dignitaries. The text of the address made at the rally makes a number of connections back and forth along narrative lines:

The New Year Address serves as an encouraging banner instilling conviction in rosy future of Kim Il Sung’s Korea and revolutionary pride into all service personnel and people and important guidelines showing a shortcut to fresh leap forward and innovations. The entire Party, the whole army and all the people waged an all-out offensive in support of the Party’s new line of developing the two fronts simultaneously and thus achieved brilliant successes in building a thriving socialist country and defending socialism last year, he noted. These achievements are the precious fruition of Kim Jong Un’s rare wisdom and outstanding leadership ability and his warm love for the people….

After corralling Kim Jong-il into its charismatic triadic, this event, in that most urban and, by North Korean standards, cosmopolitan of locales, renders deep connection with the agricultural themes of the New Year’s Message:

Speeches were made by Ri Chol Man, vice-premier who doubles as minister of Agriculture, Tong Jong Ho, minister of Construction and Building-Materials Industry, Mun Chun Gwang, researcher at Kim Il Sung University, and Choe Myong Hak, chairman of the Kim Chaek University of Technology Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League. They vowed to make a decisive turn in agricultural production this year to demonstrate the validity and vitality of the socialist rural theses. They noted that a drive would be intensified to carry out the tasks set forth by Kim Jong Un in his New Year Address….

Provincial Rally 06.01.2014

One of a number of smaller provincial rallies held on January 6 and 7. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

On January 6 and January 7, meanwhile, events marking the New Years Message were held in provincial centres, often the sites of those epistemic communities that formed the focus of my previous essay.

While not as grand as the one in Pyongyang, nonetheless these events seemed replete with institutional and political authority (“Present there were officials of local party, power and economic organs, working people’s organizations, industrial establishments, farms and universities, working people, youth and students”).

The narrative presented was equally replete with connectivity, though perhaps reader and  viewer might sense a change in tone, away from the comprehensive and towards specificity of purpose, those specificities important to agricultural, developmental spaces, and a greater sense of assertion when it comes to the Rural Theses themselves:

Reporters and speakers underscored the need to glorify this as a year of grandiose struggle, a year of sea changes by devotedly implementing the important tasks set forth in the historic New Year Address of Kim Jong Un. They called upon the officials and people in the agricultural field to bring about a decisive turn in agricultural production this significant year marking the 50th anniversary of the Theses on the Socialist Rural Question made public by President Kim Il Sung.

Union of Agricultural Workers - 07.01.2014

Union of Agricultural Workers on January 7th 2014. | Image: Rodong Sinmun

January 7 saw a meeting of the Union of Agricultural Workers, at which the process of embedding the narrative within the Rural Theses home sector began (the meeting was even held at Sariwon City’s model Migok Co-operative Farm). While a grand affair for the agricultural sector, it is clear that the narratives are becoming more practical in nature and in a sense less connected to other thematic elements of Kim Jong-un’s text:

They underscored the need for the young people in the field of agriculture to make contributions to attaining the goal of grain production set by the WPK without fail in this significant year by playing a pioneer’s role in bringing about a signal boost in agricultural production. They pledged to bring about a revolutionary turn in the agricultural production in this significant year marking the 50th anniversary of the Theses on the Socialist Rural Question, true to the noble intention of Kim Jong Un.

This embedding, specifizing process continued on January 14 as local meetings of agriculturalists and those involved in developmental process are recounted, their focus becoming ever more specific in their agricultural connectivity:

They underscored the need for those in agricultural field to apply scientific methods in farming, increase the proportion of mechanization in it, produce quality compost and thus contribute to increasing agricultural production of the country in this significant year marking the 50th anniversary of the Theses on Socialist Rural Question published by President Kim Il Sung.

Atomized and Agricultural | Finally, the process came to focus on one agriculturalist, Ji Chol-hyang, who is reported to be the work-team leader of Jangchon Vegetable Farm in the Sadong District of Pyongyang. On the January 17, in a recounting of an on-the spot guidance visit to that very farm by Kim Il-sung, apparently in the year of the Rural Theses’ first articulation, Ji gives what is essentially an extraordinary summary of narrative themes, connecting agriculture, Songun Politics, national reunification and the charisma of Kimism all in one masterclass in scaling:

The destiny of a nation is just the destiny of the individual and the life of the individual lies in the life of the nation. Deprived of the country and national sovereignty, one is reduced to a slave little better than a dog in a house of death. This is a truth the past history of our nation teaches bitterly. If one tolerates foreign interference, one will face only permanent division and fratricide. The most important issue in defending peace and achieving peaceful reunification is to resolutely check and frustrate the confrontation and war maneuvers of warmongers at home and abroad.

Reunification is the only way of our nation to survive and prosper. We will supply more vegetables to Pyongyang citizens and thus fulfill our duty to hit a main target for economic construction and the improved livelihood of people. In this way, we will clearly prove the validity and vitality of the socialist rural theses.

Ji Chol-hyang 17.01.2014

Ji Chol-hyang | Image: KCNA

Ji’s extensive quote requires an entire essay’s worth of unpacking by itself, and alas that is not something I intend to do. Its incorporation of multiple narrative, political and ideological themes should be apparent to the reader. Ji’s assertions make it possible to glimpse the Rural Theses through another lens, one in which they are not simply a set of developmental tracts; rather, they are the nourishing substrate in which North Korean socialism, charismatic Kimism and its political and ideological manifestations grow and develop.

This development applies not just at the grand, national level of Pyongyang’s vistas, boulevards and monuments, but provincially and, even less grandly but perhaps most profoundly of all, at the level of the local, individualist.

If 2014 is to be marked not just by the meta narratives of charismatic Kimism but by the more practical dictates of the Rural Theses, it will not simply be because of the assertions of Kim Jong-un; rather, as in 1964 on the publication of the original Theses, it will be because of a strangely unifying, thematic connectivity derived from a repertoire of scaling and re-scaling in which the national, the provincial and the personal have a fluidity and interchangeability that is at the root of Kimist charisma.


[1] Kim Il-sung, “Fertilizer Immediately Means Rice and Rice Socialism,” Works 19 (Pyongyang, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1965), 144.

[2] Kim Il-sung, “New Years Address,” Works 19 (Pyongyang, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1965), 3.

[3] Ibid., 8.

[4] Kim Il-sung, “Fertilizer Immediately Means Rice and Rice Socialism,” Works 19 (Pyongyang, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1965), 141.

[5] Ibid., 144.

[6] Ibid.

______________________________________________________

This post was originally published at sinonk.com – The author wishes to acknowledge the editorial support from colleagues at Sino-NK such as Dr Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, Steven Denney and Darcie Draudt. Any edits or additions to the piece from its original authored draft are acknowledged. The author asserts his right to republish his own work here, but also acknowledges the element of co-production implicit from pieces originally published on sinonk.com

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