May 20, 2024

The first party conference and purge of ’58

How the original WPK conference bore witness to the end of Kim Il Sung’s enemies

There is an event in North Korean history you have probably not heard much about. In March 1958, the delegates from the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK) converged on Pyongyang for what was to be the First Party Conference of the WPK, supposedly to discuss economic issues. Ultimately, they witnessed the unfolding of the nation’s most notorious series of purges, complete with a series of humiliating self-criticisms.

This was the first of four party conferences in the history of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party; the second took place in 1966, and many will remember the Third Party Conference of September 2010 when Kim Jong Un was officially anointed successor to his father. The Fourth Party Conference of April 2012 posthumously named Kim Jong Il the “eternal General Secretary of the WPK.” But it is the first event that is perhaps the least understood of all these great political showcases.

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