March 29, 2023

North Korea: Poor from the beginning

Soviet records indicate N.Korean economic edge in the ‘50s could be a myth

When one reads what the Soviet diplomats used to write about North Korea, it becomes clear: In the mid-1950s they worried about its internal stability, and this worry was caused, above all, by the destitution they saw all around the country.

To make this impression on Soviet observers, the situation had to have been really harsh. By the standards of the developed West, in the mid-1950s the Soviet Union itself was a very poor place, and Soviet diplomats and officials seldom came from privileged backgrounds. The next generation of Soviet officials were often children of elite families, but the vast majority of Soviet diplomats from the 1930s came from very humble backgrounds and were used to hardships. Nonetheless, even by their standards, North Korea was a very poor place.