North Korea reinforces ideological education against “bourgeois” values
The renewed “class education” campaign builds on weapons tests and uptick in anti-U.S. rhetoric
The North Korean party daily Rodong Sinmun has published weekly features on “class education” and anti-capitalism since late August, following the reemergence of these themes in late July.
The party daily carried out a similar campaign during the entire month of May but stopped in June and July. Rodong Sinmun in the past has published dedicated sections of two to several articles on “class education” under a single rubric, but it is unusual for such features to be published periodically for a sustained period of time.
The “class education” campaign appears to be part of North Korea’s broader anti-foreign influence propaganda since a national propaganda functionaries meeting, which was announced in late February and held in early March, shortly after the Hanoi summit.
It also is consistent with what appears to have been North Korea’s hardened position on the outside world while promoting domestic resilience after the Hanoi summit, as exemplified by the resumption of weapons tests and an uptick in anti-U.S. rhetoric, albeit subtle and low level, in recent months.
North Korea’s renewed “class education” and anti-outside influence rhetoric seems to reflect leadership concern about what it views as a relaxation of socialist principles after more than a year of toned down anti-U.S. and anti-South Korea rhetoric.
Domestic state media refrained from harsh criticism of South Korea from early 2018, and of the U.S. after the Singapore summit in June. Against this backdrop, the North Korean leadership may have felt the need to reinforce the people’s ideological soundness, which it historically has viewed as critical to regime survival.
Pyongyang also could be promoting domestic unity by constantly instilling vigilance in the domestic population about the ‘dangers’ of foreign influence.
Renewing the “class education” campaign
Unusual weekly features — Rodong Sinmun since August 22 has published articles under the rubric, “What Cannot Be Delayed for a Moment or Neglected for a Second Is Anti-Imperialist Class Education,” every Thursday, with the exception of September 12 and October 10, the latter likely due to the celebration of the party founding anniversary.
These features can be categorized into three broad themes: the negative aspects of capitalist societies and the superiority of North Korea’s socialist system; “atrocities” by the Japanese, landlords, and the U.S.; and efforts by schools and local towns to step up propaganda work.
Notably, references to the U.S. in these articles about “atrocities” during the Korean War are generally implicit, which is in keeping with state media’s general restraint from harsh anti-U.S. rhetoric following the DPRK-U.S. summit in Singapore.
By contrast, similar articles published before the Singapore summit typically included “anti-U.S. education” and the term “U.S. imperialists,” and colorful expressions such as “bestial atrocities” describing U.S. actions during the Korean War.
The North Korean dictionary defines “class education” as “education to arm the [people] with the class consciousness of the working class that hates landlords and capitalist classes, opposes the capitalist system, defends the interests of the revolution, and safeguards the feats of socialism.” It has traditionally been a major component of North Korea’s anti-U.S. and anti-Japanese propaganda.
Further bolstering the message — Apparently to reinforce the message, the party daily in August and September alone published three “special articles [ronsol]” that mentioned “class education” or addressed it as a major theme. It was the first time the daily published “special articles” mentioning “class education” since December 2018.
These articles unanimously warn of the “imperialists’” attempts to bring down the DPRK by spreading “rotten ideas and cultures” in North Korean society, and call for paying greater attention to ideologically arming the youth, who by nature tend to be susceptible.
“Special articles” are one of the key media vehicles for indoctrinating the domestic populace on key ideological and political issues.
A September 27 “special article,” for example, claimed that “class education has emerged as a life-or-death matter even more now,” and warned of “irreversible consequences” if “education toward the youth today, where bourgeois ideas and cultures are playing a main part in aggression, were neglected even in the slightest.” A September 16 “special article” stated that “strengthening class education is a crucial issue…and is our party’s consistent policy.”
An August 24 “special article” also called for “directing special attention to educating new generations,” noting that “the hostile forces’ maneuvers to lead [the youth] to corruption and degradation are becoming [more] vicious by the day by abusing the psychological characteristics of the youth, who are sensitive to new things and have strong initiative.”
Contextualizing within post-Hanoi domestic developments
Part of the broader propaganda campaign — The party daily’s reinforced “class education” messaging is consistent with one of the major domestic developments after the failed Hanoi summit: the country’s enhanced propaganda efforts across various areas following the Second National Meeting of Party Primary Propaganda Functionaries held in early March.
North Korean state media noticeably stepped up rhetoric against foreign elements, a shift that likely was precipitated by Kim Jong Un’s letter to the meeting.
In the letter, the leader called for strengthening “faith education and anti-imperialist class education in line with the flux and changes of the situation” and enabling “the people to rise up in a struggle against nonsocialist and anti-socialist phenomena… to resolutely defend the socialist system and the achievements of the revolution.”
For example, the party daily in March published an unusual spate of “special articles” dedicated specifically to reinforcing ideological education and the “spirit of law observance,” and combating “nonsocialist” or “anti-socialist” influences.
Rodong Sinmun on May 31 published a “special article” that was notable for its unusually explicit and dire language on the “struggle against nonsocialist and anti-socialist phenomena,” describing it as “a very serious task on par with the fight to defend the fatherland from the imperialists’ aggression.”
It also warned that “nonsocialist phenomena” would “enormously disrupt the normalization of production and rejuvenation of the economy by diminishing the working people’s zeal for production.”
These culminated in Rodong Sinmun Editorial Bureau special articles (EBSAs) in May and June, and a “joint special article” by Rodong Sinmun and the party’s monthly theoretical journal Kulloja in July — all rare and highly authoritative — that unanimously took a hard line against foreign elements and emphasized the importance of “self-reliance.”
Coinciding with weapons tests and an uptick in anti-U.S. rhetoric — Pyongyang’s reinforced propaganda campaign more or less was timed with the weapons tests that began in mid-April, continued in May, and resumed in late July. For example, the aforementioned Rodong Sinmun “special articles” and EBSAs all were carried in the lead up to, during, and following these events.
The reemergence of the “class education” rhetoric in late July coincided with North Korea’s weapons test campaign that also began then and continued into October. It also coincided with the reintroduction of or an uptick in key anti-U.S. themes and formulations in state media in August.
Edited by James Fretwell
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