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1 - State-Building and Late Development in North Korea

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 September 2021

Kevin Gray
Affiliation:
University of Sussex
Jong-Woon Lee
Affiliation:
Hanshin University, South Korea
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Summary

We argue that the North Korean developmental regime can be understood as an outcome of multiple combined historical lineages, including Korea’s history of colonial modernisation under Japanese rule and the imposition of the Soviet model of catch-up industrialisation in the immediate post-liberation era. The factionalised politics of the exiled anti-Japanese resistance movement and the ultimate ascendancy of Kim Il Sung’s Manchurian guerrillas led to a virulent form of postcolonial nationalism that emphasised autonomous national development rather than enmeshment with the socialist international division of labour. Following liberation, the new state underwent a series of "bourgeois democratic reforms” including a rapid land reform that addressed longstanding peasant grievances and ensured a degree of initial popular support for the new regime. The success of the land reform owed much to the fact of national division and that many landlords were able to flee southwards. The democratic reforms also served to integrate the population into the emerging corporatist mass organisations. Understood as a process of what Antonio Gramsci referred to as “passive revolution,” this has significant implications as to the state’s ability to mobilise society around developmental goals and contain any potential opposition to the state and its project of national development.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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