North Korea’s Party Foundation Day is a holiday as odd as the country’s Foundation Day. Both are very loosely based on actual events and both commemorate a false date: the North Korean state was not established on September 9, 1948, nor was the Party founded on October 10, 1945.
The northern Korean section of the Communist Party of Korea was established on October 13 and the Workers’ Party of North Korea on July 29, 1946. The actual WPK was born on June 30, 1949.
The difference is that the Party Foundation Day appears to be a younger holiday that the one of the state. This is quite logical, as the Soviet Union also did not have a Party Foundation day: the First Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party did not feature Lenin among the delegates – and thus celebrating the first day of its existence, March 13, would have been odd.
For more than a decade, North Korea did not celebrate October 10 at all. In 1949, the Rodong Sinmun was simply not published on the day. On October 10, 1952, the newspaper issue was indeed dedicated to the Party, but not the WPK – in fact, on the day, the Rodong Sinmun reported on Nikolai Bulganin’s speech to the XIX Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
The first time the holiday was actually celebrated, it seems, was in 1958. The Rodong Sinmun published a piece explaining that the holiday was published on the front page:
“According to these objective demands, trustworthy communists, led by comrade Kim Il Sung have united the leading workers’ organizations, which had hastily created after the liberation and on October 10, 1945, created a unified Party.”
Nothing in the sentence was true. The organization which was created in October 1945 was not the Party but its North Korean branch (분국). It took place on October 13, not October 10.
It did not unite “the leading workers’ organizations, which had hastily created after the liberation,” as these organizations had been dissolved by the Soviets.
It was not led by comrade Kim Il Sung, but rather by comrade Kim Yong Bom, as Kim Il Sung only became Party leader in December. Chang Si U, one of the people present on the meeting, was later purged, thus the statement about “trustworthy communists” is unusual. And finally, the only “objective demand” here was the wishes of the Soviet authorities.
Since then, the Rodong Sinmun on October 10 typically featured a column about the glorious WPK, marching from victory to victory under the leadership of Kim Il Sung.
Occasionally, it was interrupted by other events. For example, October 10, 1968, was dedicated, of all things, to the anniversary of the death of Che Guevara: the Argentinian revolutionary had been executed on October 9, 1967 and Kim Il Sung gave a speech in his memory, speaking about the unity of nations struggling against imperialism.
October 10, 1980 saw the beginning of the Sixth Congress, during which Kim Jong Il appeared in the Rodong Sinmun for the first time. There is a high chance the timing was intentional.
In 2011, Kim Jong Il was reported to have conducted an on-the-spot guidance, and this was already considered to be more important than the holiday itself, although on the same day North Koreans were reported to have received gifts “from Kim Jong Un” – his rise to power had already begun.
Under Kim Jong Un the holiday has became more prominent. The young leader paid a visit to the Mausoleum on October 10, 2012 – and, since then, the holiday has begun to feel like a real holiday, with the Rodong Sinmun actually celebrating it with some fanfare.
Parades and concerts are typically part of such celebrations. Ceremonies in Pyongyang are normally attended by representatives of other communist nations and skipped by other embassies, as technically this is a day for the Party, not for North Korea itself.
Television starts broadcasting in morning, as it is usually the case during the holidays. In 2015, the authorities conducted a labor mobilization before the celebrations began, and assuming there won’t be any major changes in North Korea, this may happen again in 2020 or in 2025.
So what should we expect from today’s celebrations? There may be a parade, and Chinese embassy officials may attend. If Kim Jong Un is not a fool – and he is in most cases, not a fool at all – there will not be any missiles on display.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
North Korea's Party Foundation Day is a holiday as odd as the country's Foundation Day. Both are very loosely based on actual events and both commemorate a false date: the North Korean state was not established on September 9, 1948, nor was the Party founded on October 10, 1945.The northern Korean section of the Communist Party of Korea was established on October 13 and the Workers' Party of
Fyodor Tertitskiy is an expert in North Korean politics and the military and a contributor to NK News and NK Pro. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Seoul National University, and is author of "North Korea before Kim Il Sung," which you buy here.