Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 21, 2011

The Misconception Of "All-Powerful" Dictatorships

North Korea's military to share power with Kim's heir

BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea will shift to collective rule from a strongman dictatorship after last week's death of Kim Jong-il, although his untested young son will be at the head of the ruling coterie, a source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said.
The comments are the first signal that North Korea is following a course that many analysts have anticipated -- it will be governed by a group of people for the first time since it was founded in 1948.

Both Kim Jong-il and his father Kim Il-sung were all-powerful, authoritarian rulers of the isolated state.

The above piece shows a typical "western" misunderstanding of dictatorial ruling.

Nearly no dictator ever is or has been "all powerful". All dictators and solely ruling monarchs depend on various groups and the national myth. Their main task is to keep the interests of those groups in balance and the national myth alive. The armed forces are usually one of the important groups. Another one is often representing major economic interests. In North Korea (like in China) the communist party has that task. Kim Jong-il and his father could not have ruled without taking the interest of those groups and their representatives into account.

The necessary national myth can be clad in religion, can be some flimsy idea like "manifest destiny" or a "saint" person, a father figure like the "dear leader". Whatever it is any ruler will have to keep such a believe alive as it is a representation of the people.

The change in North-Korea now will be minimal as all the interest groups would be worse off and less secure in any different configuration. At the September 2010 party conference Kim Jong-Un, the new face of the regime, was publicly announced as successor of Kim Jong-il. But as he, in his late 20s, is too young for the job the same party conference lifted his aunt Kim Kyong Hui to the highest party role and the chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army Ri Yong Ho to the highest military role behind the now deceased Kim Jong-il. Those two and the groups they represent will now be the caretakers. Until they die Kim Jong-Un will mostly be the figurehead and his main role will be to act as the new representation of the national myth.

But even when they are gone and Kim Jong-Un is named party head and military leader he will still not be able to have totalitarian power. He may effect some change but it will be consentual and slow. The west loves to project all "evils" of a foreign country into their ruling figures - be they Hitler, Stalin, Ghaddaffi, Asad, Putin or Obama. There is always much more to such dictatorships than the "west" is willing to see. 

Beside of that North Korea as well as South Korea are of no bigger global importance. They are, and have been for the last 60 years, mere proxies of the U.S.-China competition.

Posted by b on December 21, 2011 at 19:10 UTC | Permalink


the study of history, especially during the cold war was an infantilist practice with very few exceptions. strangely, the english marxist school of history was amongst the first to introduce a level of complexity that met the actual facts. certainly there existed 'real' historians before the 20th century but they were neaarly alway polymathic, polylingual & covered a broad range of perceptions. this last century has beeen the corruption of that profoundest of sciences & from the cold war to now, plainly ridiculous. made more ridiculous still by the most vulgar bein used by the television industry to wander through this or that landscape revealing their impoverished knowledge to the masses

as an example, the history of the soviet union has only started to deal with some of its real labyrinthine complexity in the last 20 years influenced by the military historian john erikson, & it is perhaps no accident that it is military historians that have given us a clearer picture of our age

i studied history at university level in the 70's & really the basic texts were so imbecilic, so filtered from the facts that they were little more than worldviews dressed up like a pantomime

so too i know very little about the empirical conditions of north korea & i don't think i'm entirely stupid but it is like many countries which are so filtered what we know does not resemble any connection with the truth

we do not know that the germans carried out a genocide in what is now tanzania, we do not know that king leopold & the mad belgian murdered over ten million people, we do not know the recent history of central & latin america

there is so many lacunae in the study of history no wonder the pundits of this & that can say almost anything

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Dec 21 2011 20:18 utc | 1

who is "we"?

Posted by: somebody | Dec 21 2011 22:43 utc | 2

Yes,every bit of news we receive (MSM)is from serial liars,and just too concerted to plausibly deny collusion.
I did read somewhere where the N.K.were welcoming,friendly and happy,much to the NYTs reporters incredulity and surprise.
Would that we were.

Posted by: dahoit | Dec 21 2011 22:44 utc | 3

President Ahmadinejad also, a "dictator" who isn't even a head of state.

With respect to North Korea it's essential that the U.S. maintain the devil image in order to continue the supposed justification of military bases one air hour from Shanghai and Beijing. It's more profitable to continue hostilities rather than end the war and promote Korean unification. Some regular military provocation from the south helps in this regard. And yes, both China and the U.S. are happy with this arrangement.

And when "Dictators " change -- be very afraid. Recent screen shot from Rachel Maddow Show: "Kim Jong Il's death leaves world on edge" (from FP--The Cable). My heavens, the world on edge. What a sight.

I suppose some political science[sic] scholars major in dictatorship science. As b indicates, it is a highly developed fantasy. er, science.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 21 2011 23:18 utc | 4

'dictatorship' is where a leader or party 'dictate...SINCE we see the US or its servants doing a lot of dictating to other states and peoples, about who should govern and what their policies should be, id call them dictatorships.

Posted by: brian | Dec 22 2011 0:14 utc | 5

2006 midterm US elections. Democrats were elected to a majority in House and Senate, by the people to end the war on Iraq...once this was achieved, the democrats turned around and said to the electorate: 'thanks and screw you'! and refused to make steps to end the occupation and war.
Such is the meaning of 'democracy'. Modern representative democracy is a form of elected dictatorship.

Posted by: brian | Dec 22 2011 0:18 utc | 6

Thanx, b. You come thru all the time. More so now than ever...

Posted by: arthurdecco | Dec 22 2011 2:16 utc | 7

“The west loves to project all ‘evils’ of a foreign country into their ruling figures - be they Hitler, Stalin, Ghaddaffi, et al.”

“It is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to tell them is that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” - Hermann Goering in Nuremberg Diary by G.M. Gilbert

Excerpts from Chalmers Johnson’s Blowback:

“South Korea was the first place in the postwar world where the Americans set up a dictatorial government. With the exception of its authoritarian president, Syngman Rhee, it consisted largely of former Korean collaborators with the Japanese colonialists. Despite opposition from the Korean people, America's need for a staunchly anti-Communist regime took precedence, given the occupation of North Korea by the USSR. In 1960, after Koreans searching for democracy overthrew Rhee, the U.S. government threw its support behind Park Chung-hee, the first of three army generals who would rule from 1961 to 1993. The Americans tolerated a coup d'etat by General Chun Doo-hwan in 1979 and covertly supported his orders that led to the killing of several hundred, maybe several thousand, Korean civilians at Kwangju in 1980 (probably far more people than the Chinese Communists killed in and around Tlananmen Square in 1989). In order to keep South Korea firmly under its control, during the 1980s the Americans sent as successive ambassadors two senior officials of the Central Intelligence Agency, James Lilly and Donald Gregg. Nowhere else did the United States so openly turn over diplomatic relations to representatives of its main clandestine services organization.”

“South Korea is today probably closer to a genuine parliamentary democracy than any country in East Asia, but no thanks to the American State Department, the Pentagon, or the CIA. It was the Korean people themselves, particularly the students of the country's leading universities, who through demonstrations and street confrontations in 1987 finally brought a measure of democracy to their country. After the democratically elected government of Kim Young-sam took office in 1993, President Kim felt sufficiently secure to put the two surviving dictators, Chun and Roh Tae Woo, on trial. They were convicted of state terrorism, sedition, and corruption. The American press gave the trials only the most minimal coverage, while the U.S. government ignored them as a purely internal Korean affair.”

“The rule of Syngman Rhee and the U.S. backed generals was merely the first instance in East Asia of the American sponsorship of dictators. The list is long, but it deserves reiteration simply because many in the United States fail to remember (if they ever knew) what East Asians cannot help but regard as a major part of our postwar legacy.”

Posted by: DakotabornKansan | Dec 22 2011 4:21 utc | 8

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