Kim Il Sung: 110 years since the birth of Korea’s great revolutionary leader

Workers all over the world have much to learn from this great Marxist, whose birth is celebrated in the DPRK as the Day of the Sun.

Lalkar writers

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Kim Il Sung addresses a mass rally in Pyongyang in 1953. A great revolutionary and father of the Korean revolution, he was also a tireless anti-imperialist: friend, teacher and inspiration to workers in struggle all over the globe.

Lalkar writers

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Comrade Kim Il Sung entitled his reminiscences With the Century. The title is highly apposite. He was born just a few years after the ancient land of Korea was finally brought under the colonial rule of Japan. Two years after his birth, the world was engulfed in the brutality and carnage of a major imperialist war. Three years after, this conflict gave rise to the defining event of the century – the Great October Socialist Revolution.

A life in struggle

Under the banner and guidance of that revolution, in his early teens, the young Kim Il Sung joined his father and other family members in guiding the struggle for Korean independence onto a new and better path, one led by the working class, in strategic alliance with the poor peasantry, and guided by the science of Marxism-Leninism.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Comrade Kim Il Sung defined the general line of the Korean revolution, built party organisations, united front bodies, and organised and waged a powerful armed struggle against Japanese imperialism.

In the 1940s, this struggle merged with the antifascist struggle of the peoples of the world, led by the Soviet Union, and helped usher in the birth of a new democratic Korea.

However, with the onset of the cold war, US imperialism occupied the southern part of Korea and in 1950 unleashed a ferocious war, during which the infant Democratic People’s Republic of Korea stood at the crossroads of life and death.

After a titanic struggle, in which four million Koreans lost their lives and the country was laid waste, the Korean people and their Chinese allies forced the USA to sign an armistice agreement in 1953. The country lay in ruins, from which the imperialists claimed it would take a thousand years to rise again. Yet, by the dawn of the 1960s, the northern part of Korea had emerged as a socialist industrial power, a tribute to socialist planning, and the first of its kind in Asia. And this despite US General

In the 1960s, Kim Il Sung’s Korea was a beacon supporting the anti-imperialist struggles of the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America; and in the 1970s and 1980s she rendered enormous support to those countries in their struggle to build new and independent societies.

As the 1990s dawned, through to his sudden and untimely death in 1994, Comrade Kim Il Sung picked up the banner of socialism, that had finally been thrown into the mud by the modern revisionists, and worked tirelessly, in spite of old age and the many pressing problems of his own country, to rebuild the international communist movement.

Indeed, Comrade Kim Il Sung stood up to all the challenges presented by the century and marched at the helm of everything that was new, progressive, creative and revolutionary.

Thanks to his example and leadership, the DPRK could continue to hold its own and to defend its independence and sovereignty, even through the most difficult days of a unipolar world order dominated by US imperialism.

This is the overriding political importance of why we celebrate the anniversary of Comrade Kim Il Sung’s birth. We do so from respect for his contributions to the revolutionary cause and as an act of solidarity with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Workers Party of Korea. It is, of course, an act of friendship, but above all it is a matter of proletarian internationalism.

Standing firmly on the socialist path

With the Century is a fascinating portrait of the life of a great man. More importantly, it is an encyclopaedia of revolution and we encourage all our readers to study this important work.

In volume eight, Comrade Kim Il Sung wrote: “Since the emergence of modern revisionism in the international communist movement, not many people talk about internationalism. Even those who used to preach internationalism whenever they opened their mouths are now busy feathering their own nests.

“The times were good when revolutionaries, though not well fed and well clothed, helped one another, regardless of nationality, offering food and other necessities to one another. Communists must not betray their internationalist duties and obligations anytime, anywhere.” (p99)

We extend support to north Korea precisely because it remains one of the countries still sticking to the socialist road and because it has faced, and continues to face, the most extreme pressure from imperialism. It is not a matter of any intrinsic superiority of the Korean nation, or of seeking to imitate Korean practices, but a concrete manifestation of today’s political realities.

Lenin explained the political significance of this well, in his 1920 work Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. In the section on the international significance of the Russian revolution, he wrote:

“In the first months after the proletariat in Russia had won political power, it might have seemed that the enormous difference between backward Russia and the advanced countries of western Europe would lead to the proletarian revolution in the latter countries bearing very little resemblance to ours. We now possess quite considerable international experience, which shows very definitely that certain fundamental features of our revolution have a significance that is not local, or peculiarly national, or Russian alone, but international.

“I am not speaking here of international significance in the broad sense of the term – not merely several but all the primary features of our revolution, and many of its secondary features, are of international significance in the meaning of its effect – on all countries. I am speaking of it in the narrowest sense of the word, taking international significance to mean the international validity or the historical inevitability of a repetition, on an international scale, of what has taken place in our country. It must be admitted that certain fundamental features of our revolution do possess that significance.

“It would, of course, be grossly erroneous to exaggerate this truth and to extend it beyond certain fundamental features of our revolution. It would also be erroneous to lose sight of the fact that, soon after the victory of the proletarian revolution in at least one of the advanced countries, a sharp change will probably come about: Russia will cease to be the model and will once again become a backward country (in the ‘Soviet’ and the socialist sense).

“At the present moment in history, however, it is the Russian model that reveals to all countries something – and something highly significant – of their near and inevitable future. Advanced workers in all lands have long realised this; more often than not, they have grasped it with their revolutionary class instinct rather than realised it. Herein lies the international ‘significance’ (in the narrow sense of the word) of Soviet power, and of the fundamentals of Bolshevik theory and tactics.”

Today, we can say that Korean socialism also, in Lenin’s words, “reveals to all countries something – and something highly significant – of their near and inevitable future”.

Just as we apply that principle to Korea today, so Comrade Kim Il Sung applied it to the Soviet Union in his lifetime. Speaking of the 1930s, and even before, in volume seven of With the Century, he wrote:

“We fought in support of the Soviet people at the cost of our blood and in spite of our own arduous revolution under the slogan of ‘Let us defend the Soviet Union with arms!’ simply because the situation at the time required it. In those days the Soviet Union was in complete isolation, encircled as it was by the imperialists on all sides.

“For all communists to defend the Soviet Union was under the circumstances essential to the interests of the revolution, as well as a moral necessity. From the outset of our armed struggle against the Japanese, therefore, we strongly supported and defended the Soviet Union under the banner of proletarian internationalism.” (p346)

And he generalised this experience as follows: “To do one’s utmost to maintain and defend a revolution that has emerged victorious and to preserve and consolidate revolutionary achievements is the internationalist duty of communists as well as their moral obligation. Only when active assistance is rendered to the advanced revolution can the backward revolution advance successfully in tandem with the former. For this reason, the international cooperation of the communists must be aimed at helping, supporting and complementing each other.” (p362)

Passing the torch: why succession matters

Comrade Kim Il Sung’s last great contribution in his life of 82 years was to address the question of ensuring that the revolutionary cause was handed on to a worthy successor, so that all the gains achieved at the cost of so many lives, at the cost of so much blood and sacrifice, were not squandered in a moment. In addressing this question, he based himself on some hard lessons of the international communist movement.

In With the Century, he wrote: “The appearance of traitors in the course of the revolution is a universal phenomenon that can be seen at any time. The history of the international communist movement not only celebrates men like Stalin, Zhou En-lai, Ernst Thälmann and Che Guevara, it is also stained by traitors to their leaders and their cause.

“Bernstein and Kautsky worshipped Marx and Engels, but they are recorded in history as traitors. They betrayed Marxism as well as Marx and Engels, their mentors and seniors in the revolution. Trotsky, who once held an important post in the Bolshevik party, became an enemy of the Soviet state. Zhang Guo-tao defected from Mao Zedong and the CPC to Chang Kai-shek.

“All these traitors ended their days in misery. But did those revolutions get frustrated or retreat because of their betrayals? Each time the turncoats were removed, the revolution developed and surged up with fresh vitality. After the removal of Trotsky, how remarkably socialist construction was promoted in the Soviet Union! Trotsky thought that without him, everything Stalin did would fail, and the Soviet state would go to ruin. But the Soviet people built their country up to be the leading socialist power in the world, as well as a global power.” (Vol 8, p206)

Comrade Kim Il Sung went on to write about the veteran revolutionary Comrade Rim Chun Chu, who played an important part in developing the leadership role of Comrade Kim Jong Il, and observed as follows:

“Choosing the right man as successor is a fundamental question that decides the future of the revolution and construction, the country and people. We can take many examples of revolutions and countries going to ruin because of having chosen wrong successors.

“The basic factor that enabled the Soviet people to build their country into a world power in a short span of time after the October Revolution was that Lenin had chosen a good successor. Stalin, faithful comrade and disciple of Lenin, was loyal to the cause of his leader throughout his life.

“After Lenin’s death, Stalin made a six-point pledge in front of his coffin. In the course of leading the revolution and construction subsequently he carried out all his pledges. When the German invaders were at the gates of Moscow, he had the other politburo members and cadres evacuated, but he himself remained in the Kremlin, commanding the fronts.

“When Stalin was alive, everything went well in the Soviet Union. But things began to go astray after Khrushchev came to power. Modern revisionism appeared in the Soviet party, and the Soviet people began to suffer from ideological maladies. He forgot the care with which his leader had brought him up: he vilified Stalin on the excuse of personality cult, expelled from the political bureau of the party all the veteran revolutionaries loyal to Stalin and deprived them of their party membership.

“Once, while visiting the Lenin mausoleum, Rim Chun Chu encountered Molotov on Red Square in Moscow, after he had been removed form office. Molotov advised him to carry forward the ideology and achievements of his leader faithfully without falling prey to revisionism, taking the precedent of the Soviet party into consideration.

“At that time, Rim Chun Chu keenly realised that if the issue of successor was not settled properly, both the revolution and the party would perish, he said later.” (Ibid, pp290-291)

A great anti-imperialist

Much of what Comrade Kim Il Sung had to say about international events remains relevant and full of freshness and vitality. In his 1968 article The great anti-imperialist cause of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples is invincible, published on the first anniversary of the martyrdom of Che Guevara, Kim Il Sung wrote:

“The barriers of imperialism which surround a socialist country should be torn down so that the dictatorship of the proletariat can become a worldwide system; and one country’s isolation as the socialist fortress within the encirclement should be ended with the formation of strong ties of militant solidarity of the international working class and the oppressed peoples of the world. Only then can it be said that all imperialists’ armed intervention will be prevented and their attempt to restore capitalism frustrated and that the ultimate victory of socialism has been secured.”

The point is, of course, of general validity, but Comrade Kim Il Sung was writing specifically with regard to Cuba, which then stood alone in the western hemisphere, in contrast to the existing situations in both Asia and Europe, so he continued:

“In the same way that the defence of the gains of the October Revolution in Russia – which made the first breach in the world capitalist system – was an important question decisive of the fate of world revolutionary development, so, too, the defence of the gains of the Cuban revolution – which made the first breach in the colonial system of US imperialism in Latin America – is crucial to the fate of the Latin-American revolution.

“It is of great importance to the defence of the Cuban revolution that the revolutionary movement in neighbouring Latin-American countries should advance. If the flames of revolution flare up fiercely in many countries of Latin America where US imperialism sets foot, its force will be dispersed, its energy sapped, and the attempts of the US imperialists and their lackeys to strangle Cuba by concentrated force will inevitably fail. Furthermore, if the revolution triumphs in other Latin-American countries, Cuba will be saved from the imperialism which hems her in on all sides, a favourable phase in the Cuban and Latin-American revolutions will be opened, and the world revolution will be even further advanced.”

With the boldness and vision of a great proletarian revolutionary, Kim Il Sung here anticipated precisely the great turn that later took place in Latin America. When he wrote the article, with the sole exception of Mexico, every country in the Americas, south of the Rio Grande, at the instigation of the evil empire to the north, had severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. But today, socialist Cuba has been joined by Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua as countries aspiring to socialism, whilst other countries in the region are taking steps, to a greater or lesser extent, to defend their independence and strengthen collaboration with Cuba and other socialist and progressive countries.

As Comrade Kim Il Sung explained, all this not only makes a favourable turn in the Cuban and Latin-American revolutions, but actually contributes to further advancing the world revolution. We see this very clearly in the growing attraction and appeal of the Venezuelan revolution, and in its actual material contribution to the beginnings of a shift in the global balance of forces, be it in London, Zimbabwe, Iran or Jamaica. As even our bourgeois media had to admit, it was President Hugo Chávez who was welcomed as a hero and liberator wherever he travelled in Latin America and throughout the world, whilst then US president George W Bush had to run and hide and scurry, not like the most powerful man in the world, but like a cornered rat.

What a difference to the situation in 1968, which Comrade Kim Il Sung accurately described as follows:

“The overwhelming majority of Latin-American countries have come under the complete domination and bondage of US imperialism. Pro-US dictatorships have been established in many Latin-American countries and their economy has been completely turned into an appendage to US monopolies.

“The US imperialists’ policy of aggression and plunder in Latin America is the major impediment to social progress in this area and has plunged the people into unbearable hardship and distress. The US imperialists and the pro-US dictatorships in Latin America set up extensive repressive agencies, including the army and police, and suppress all forms of revolutionary advance by the people in the most brutal way.” (Ibid, p20)

To reverse this situation, Kim Il Sung was a tireless advocate of the anti-imperialist united front. In the same article, he explained:

“In Asia, Africa and Latin America there are socialist and neutral, large and small countries. All these countries except the imperialists’ puppet regimes and satellite states constitute anti-imperialist, anti-US forces. Despite the differences of sociopolitical systems, political views and religious beliefs, the peoples of these countries, because they are oppressed and exploited by the imperialists and colonialists, oppose imperialism and old and new colonialism and jointly aspire towards national independence and national prosperity.

“The differences in sociopolitical systems, political views or religious beliefs cannot be an obstacle to joint action against US imperialism. All countries should form an anti-imperialist united front and take anti-US joint action to crush the common enemy and attain the common goal.

“It is true that there may be different categories of people amongst those who oppose imperialism. Some may actively oppose imperialism, others may hesitate in the anti-imperialist struggle, and still others may join the struggle reluctantly under pressure from their own people and the peoples of the world. But whatever their motives, it is necessary to enlist all these forces except the henchmen of imperialism in the combined anti-US struggle.

“If more forces – however inconsistent and unsteady – are drawn into the anti-US joint struggle to isolate US imperialism to the greatest possible extent and unite in attacking it, that will be a positive achievement. Those who avoid the anti-imperialist struggle should be induced to join it and those who are passive should be encouraged to become active. To split the anti-US united front or reject anti-US joint action will only lead to the serious consequence of weakening the anti-imperialist, anti-US struggle.” (Ibid, p24-5)

Defending the DPRK in a changing world situation

Reflecting on the current situation, we can see that the goal of US imperialism has been and remains the destruction and reconquest of the DPRK. As an independent, anti-imperialist and socialist country, Korea is a thorn in its flesh, which it seeks to remove, just as it has not given up its designs on Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, Russia, China and other countries.

Whenever there are talks of any kind held between the US and the DPRK, US imperialism goes into them aiming to undermine and destroy the DPRK, whereas the DPRK goes into the same talks to defend its independence and sovereignty, to enhance its security and to secure the lifting of the USA’s crippling sanctions.

It is in this same spirit of defending its sovereignty and independence – and of defending the fragile peace on the Korean peninsula – that the DPRK has put so much of its precious resources into building a strong military defence, including nuclear and ballistic missiles. It knows well that the only true deterrent to a renewed imperialist attack is the ability of the intended victim to strike back against the aggressor.

The principled but flexible tactics adopted in seven decades of extremely difficult bilateral relations with the imperialists of the USA, punctuated by rounds of negotiations aimed on the DPRK’s side at creating the conditions for its people to get on with the task of building socialism in peace, show that Kim Il Sung’s party has mastered the true essence of Marxism and anti-imperialism in its foreign relations.

For this and many other reasons, we admire the Korean people and celebrate their achievements – not out of servility or in the hope of any reward, but as steeled, tempered and experienced comrades in our common cause.

And that is why we take the 110th birthday of Comrade Kim Il Sung, the Day of the Sun, as our common jubilee.