One of the core dogmas in many authoritarian countries is the constant presence of scheming enemies in the country. Among the opposition to the regime, the argument goes, are foreign spies and saboteurs. This idea was very prominent in Stalin’s USSR and, it seems, in the early years of Kim Il Sung’s North Korea.
July 1955 saw the publication in the DPRK of a book called “Let us Make an Anti-Espionage Struggle Into All-People Movement” (반간첩 투쟁을 전 인민적 운동으로 전개하자). Marked “materials to be given to laborers” (근로자들에게 주는 자료), it was to be distributed among the common people. The number of copies, marked in the book per Soviet tradition, was 10,000 – thus it was not a mandatory reading, but rather a book for those who were interested- and the content provides us with some valuable insights into North Korean state propaganda and the general atmosphere of the time.
The book told readers that as the DPRK ushered in a new era of socialist construction, its enemies – first and foremost, the American imperialists, had sent their spies, and saboteurs to obtain state secrets and harm the economy.
Of course, anyone even remotely familiar with work of intelligence services would know that it would be nearly impossible for an agent to be to be a spy and a saboteur at the same time. However, this is what Stalinist propaganda asserted in the 1930s and what the DPRK did in the 1950s.
It was not a mandatory reading, but rather a book for those who were interested
“Generalissimo Stalin” was, by the way, directly quoted in the book (the so-called “Best Friend of all Soviet Children” discussed alleged wreckery in Soviet Ukraine) and it went without saying that the book considered Stalin’s teachings to be fully applicable to the DPRK.
Interestingly, the stories of spies were presented in quite a broad international context. The book referenced Rudolf Slánský, a General Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, Rajk László, the Hungarian minister of foreign affairs, and Traicho Kostov, the Vice-Premier of Bulgaria, as “foreign spies.” Of course, all three unfortunate functionaries were likely innocent of what they were accused of and the show trials condemning them were based on deliberately falsified materials.
Furthermore, there was a reference to a somewhat forgotten incident – the assassination attempt on Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai on April 11, 1955 (the book incorrectly referenced the date as April 10). On April 11, the Air India plane Kashmir Princess was set to fly from Bombay to Jakarta via British Hong Kong. Zhou was to fly from Hong Kong to Jakarta but did not board the plane.
The explosion was denounced by Beijing as a terrorist attack orchestrated by Taipei and Washington – and these accusations were repeated in the North Korean book.
The main document outlining malevolent intents of the United States, asserted the book, is called “Plan X,” which was allegedly adopted by the Congress and outlined the spy activities of the U.S.
The book also quoted the New York Herald Tribune as a proof of the United States’ malevolent intents and the Plan’s existence: the newspaper had said that the Congress had authorized the Secretary of State to assist non-Communists in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Romania.
Per Stalin’s argument, the book declared any person with suspicious behavior to be a potential target for foreign intelligence.
The book also announced that some spies may go deep undercover: first they become exemplary workers and political activists, and then after gaining some trust, they unfurl their evil plan: recruit those who are performing worse. The book included several examples of saboteurs and spies being recruited.
To combat them, the book called for vigilance – and, once again, referenced the valuable experience of the Soviet Union.
The book declared any person with suspicious behavior to be a potential target for foreign intelligence
The publication was done in total accordance with traditions of Stalin’s USSR. The country was allegedly flooded with foreign wreckers and spies, asserted the book. All people who were not exemplary citizens – and some who were – were worthy of suspicion. The publication encouraged paranoia and indirectly suggested that sabotage and high treason were widespread.
It should be noticed that the book was not nationalist at all. Instead of talking about crimes against the “nation” and “the Korean people,” it presented the DPRK as a part of the socialist bloc, with the entire bloc suffering from similar problems with spies.
So how many were purged in this campaign? A Soviet document gives us quite a reliable answer. The data stated that organs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the DPRK arrested 426 people for political crimes in 1956. 234 of them were guilty of high treason, 36 of preparing an armed uprising, 51 for reactionary propaganda and incitement, 6 of sabotage, 4 for diversion, 15 for “banditism,” and 70 for other crimes.
It was a truly Stalinist purge, though closer to an average year of Joseph Stalin’s rule rather than anything resembling the Great Terror.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: IMG_4036 by nknews_hq on 2016-06-17 10:58:16