Taking up the very kind invitation of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), the delegation from the CPGB-ML arrived at Pyongyang airport in the DPRK at 4.00pm on 21 September. On arrival, we agreed a rigorous schedule for the week, which would enable us to see as much as possible of the DPRK, its political system and its people. We wanted a chance to learn about the country’s struggles past and present, as well as to hold meetings with leading comrades from the WPK.
By 5.00pm we were laying flowers at the huge bronze statue of Kim Il Sung, who is rightly revered by Koreans, since he was not only the founder of the WPK and leader of the anti-imperialist liberation, but also led the Korean socialist revolution. His statue stands on Mansu Hill, with excellent views of Pyongyang, and is surrounded by amazing revolutionary sculptures. Ninety minutes after that we were guests at a reception dinner hosted by the Central Committee of the WPK. And that was just the first day.
Everywhere we went we saw the great organisation and popular political education programmes of the WPK. Everyone we met understood the country’s history and political system, and had a good grasp of current affairs around the world, too.
After visiting the birthplace of Kim Il Sung and the deeply moving Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery we visited the Party Founding Museum. This holds the office used by Kim Il Sung from 1946-49 and also a conference hall where the first ever WPK congress took place, the latter being decorated with portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Kim Il Sung.
That day also included a trip to see the Pueblo, a US spy ship that was captured in DPRK waters while illicitly collecting information. This ship, or rather, the confessions of its crew, caused the US to have to issue an apology after they had initially denied any knowledge of it. The US has had to make many such apologies over the years, every time its spies are caught out by the Korean armed forces.
The next day started with a sombre visit to Kumsusan Memorial Palace, where Kim Il Sung’s body lies in state. From here we went to our first high-level meeting, with comrade Kim Yong Il, the Director of the International Department of the CC of the WPK. This was a friendly and wide-ranging exchange of views and one that both parties considered a success.
We relaxed after that at a lovely show put on by talented young artists at the Mangyongdae children’s palace, followed that evening by a trip to the May Day stadium to watch the most incredible show any of us had ever seen. This was Arirang, the DPRK’s spectacular mass artform, which is a mixture of dance and gymnastics performed in front of a background of coloured squares held up by children to form ever-changing pictures.
Arirang is performed by a cast of thousands, and the one we watched told the history of modern Korea: the victories in food, textile and steel production of the DPRK, and the huge longing for reunification of the peoples on both sides of the border.
During the rest of the week, we had opportunities to visit schools, cooperative farms, a textile plant and even a funfair, giving us a real insight into the way Korean people live, study, work and play.
The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War museum is a massive building containing relics of the 1950-53 war, including hundreds of US weapons, shot-down US planes and various captured vehicles such as Sherman tanks. Huge rooms in the museum are devoted to remembering and celebrating the help that Korea received from China, and also from the USSR, during the war.
Pyongyang is a beautiful city, built literally on the ashes of the old city, which was bombed completely flat except for two half-standing buildings. It had been a city of 400,000 inhabitants; the USA dropped 420,000 bombs on it. That is one high-explosive bomb per person, plus another 20,000 for good measure.
When the war finished in 1953, the US generals boasted the country had been bombed back into the stone age and predicted it would take 100 years to rise again, yet by 1960 this new spacious city had been built, full of wonderful buildings and monuments amid great spaces with greenery everywhere. As one of our Korean comrades remarked to us: ‘They had not built a park in the city, they had built the city in a park.’ This was not an empty boast: the city is very green and a pleasure to walk around.
We saw much more than Pyongyang, though, visiting farms and other cities and areas, as well as taking trips to see the majestic mountains and the fruits of the labours of this proud people. On our last full day we visited the Grand People’s Study House, a huge computerised library, where professors are always on hand to answer questions relating to any books from fiction to history to politics.
From the roof of the Study House we stood and watched thousands of children practising a new arirang performance in the square below, which was being prepared for the opening of the special conference of the WPK that was due to start the day we left.
Looking down on Kim Il Sung Square is impressive indeed, even without the practicing gymnasts. The building on one side of the square is adorned with a huge portrait of Kim Il Sung and the national flag, while, directly opposite, the ministry of foreign trade is decorated with a large party flag and massive portraits of Marx and Lenin.
From the Study House we went on to a meeting with comrade Choe Thae Bok, Secretary of the CC of the WPK at the Mansundae Assembly Hall. Very warm and comradely discussions were held concerning political work in both countries, as well as further strengthening the friendship between our two parties.
It is hard to be in the DPRK and remember that many people who call themselves ‘left’ in Britain have nothing but scorn and ridicule for this country, its people and its leader. This is the first country that inflicted a military defeat upon US imperialism and its allies. It is a country that stands nose-to-nose with blood-thirsty imperialism day in, day out, year after year, facing up to all the provocations and non-stop spying on its territory and refusing to be intimidated.
This is a country where everyone who needs a home is given one. Health care is completely free and wages are not taxed, save for the small numbers who work for foreign or south Korean employers.
Education is free and compulsory for 11 years, with plenty of opportunity for further education for those who wish to pursue it. The means of production are overwhelmingly in public ownership (the exceptions relating to foreign and south Korean investment), and so the vast majority of factories, farms etc exist solely and exclusively to serve the people’s needs.
We left that proud, happy land of socialism determined to tell everyone what we had seen and to ask others in Britain who call themselves socialist/communist why they feel they cannot support the DPRK?
We also left with the warmest feelings towards all those Koreans we had met – party officials, our wonderful guides and interpreters, and all the passing locals who stopped to chat – all of whom made our visit so memorable and inspiring.
We found the people to be universally hospitable, open and friendly and would encourage everyone who is able to go and visit the DPRK for themselves. Contrary to western propaganda, the country is neither sealed nor inaccessible and in fact is a fantastically peaceful and beautiful holiday destination!