The Weiner Component #69 – Historic Irony: George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” & North Korea

In August 1945 George Orwell published Animal Farm, an allegorical satire dealing with events that led up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and on into the Stalin Era of the Soviet Union.  He portrayed the Communist Soviet Union as a brutal dictatorship, built upon a cult of personality, and enforced by a reign of terror.  In 2013 news came out of North Korea about the absolute rule or new leadership of Kim Jong-un, his cult of personality, and his treatment of a goodly percentage of his population with the use of terror.  In many respects the satire also mirrors the North Korean Government.

Animal Farm deals with the animals on a farm revolting against the farmer, chasing him off the property, then taking over the farm.  Old Major, an old boar on the Manor Farm, summons the animals together.  He calls the humans parasites living off of the labor of the animals and teaches them a revolutionary song called “Beasts of England”.  After Major dies two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon assume command and prepare for the rebellion.  The animals revolt and drive the drunken farmer, Mr. Jones, from the farm, renaming it Animal Farm.  They adopt Seven Commandments of Animalism, of which the most important one is, “All animals are equal.”

Snowball teaches the animals to read and write, while Napoleon educates young puppies on the principles of Animalism.  Food is plentiful and the farm runs smoothly.  The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership and set aside special foods for their personal health.  Napoleon and Snowball struggle for prominence.  Snowball announces his plans to build a windmill and Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball off the farm.  He then declares himself leader of Animal Farm.

The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives.  When Boxer, the workhorse collapses, the pigs secretly sell him to the knacker to be turned into glue.  Years pass and the pigs begin to resemble humans, walking upright, carrying whips, and wearing clothes.  The Seven Commandments are changed to one.  “All animals are equal, but some animals more equal the others.”

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Korea, which had been ruled by Japan, was divided at the 38th parallel into two zones of occupation, American in the Southern half and Russian in the Northern part.  Prior to WW II Korea had been divided into two zones of colonization.  The Russian sphere of influence was in the North above the 38th parallel.  When the division was made the United States didn’t know this or they would have picked another point to divide the country.

The Russians set up a Communist State and the Americans attempt a Democratic Republic in the southern half of Korea.

North Korea is officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  She shares a land border with China to the north and northwest, a short border with Russia to the northeast, and the Demilitarized Zone marks the boundary between DPRK and South Korea.  Both sides, the North and the South claim to be the legitimate government of the entire peninsula.

The DPRK describes itself as a Korean style Socialist Republic and holds elections.  But it is a dictatorship that is considered totalitarian and Stalinist.  There is an elaborate cult of personality: the Kim family, that has ruled North Korea since the end of World War II.  They have destroyed any resistance by the use of force.

The Workers Party of Korea, which is led by a member of the Kim family, holds absolute power in the state.  All political officers are required to be members.  Juche, an ideology of self-reliance, initiated by the country’s first president, Kim ll-sung, is the official state ideology and replaced Marxism-Leninism, when the country adopted a new Constitution in 1972.  In 2009 references to communism were removed from North Korea’s Constitution.

North Korea occupies the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula.  It covers an area of 46,541 square miles, and is about 1/3 the size of California.  The country consists of mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula.  About 80% of North Korea is composed of mountains and uplands, separated by deep and narrow valleys.  The majority of the population, 24,554,000 people, live in the plains and lowlands.  There is not enough arable land to feed the population.  Even with food imports from China there is still not enough food to adequately feed all the people.

There is no income tax in the country.  The means of production are owned by the state.  All industry is operated state-run enterprises and collectivized farms.  There is no need for private enterprise since the state owns everything and provides, at different levels, all needed goods and services.

In the 1990s North Korea suffered from a famine and still continues to struggle with food production.  In 2013 the U.N. identified North Korea policies as the primary cause of the food shortages and estimated that sixteen million people required food aid.  Amnesty International claims that North Korea suffers from barely functioning hospitals, poor hygiene and epidemics.  By the beginning of the 21st Century the worst of the devastating famine had passed, but the country continues to rely heavily of foreign aid for its food supply.

The country follows the philosophy of songun or a military-first policy and is the world’s most militarized society with a total of 9,495,000 active reserve and paramilitary personnel.  Its active duty army of 1.21 million is the fourth largest in the world after China, the U.S., and India.  It has nuclear weapons and an active space program.

For North Korea to maintain the military establishment it does, even with mostly outdated weapons is absurd.  There is no way she can keep her population in a healthy condition and still keep her military establishment functional.  In a full-fledged war I can see her officers acting in the same way the Russians did in World War I.  There were never enough rifles for all the soldiers.  When they charged the enemy trenches only the first line of running soldiers had rifles.  After these men were shot down by machine-gun bullets the unarmed charging group behind them picked up their rifles and continued the charge.  And when they were killed there was the third line and then the fourth and so on.

In North Korea the population exists for the benefit of the state and the state only has a limited responsibility for them.

On December 13, 2011 the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-l died from a heart attack.  His son Kim Jong-un became his successor.

In the 21st Century the leaders of North Korea bluster and threaten.  North Korea was going to have a preemptive nuclear strike against the United States.  In March of 2013 the North Korean government declared that a state of war existed with South Korea and abrogated all past agreements, but took no military action.  U.S. National Intelligence speculated that Kim Jong-un is mainly trying to assert his control over North Korea and has no endgame other than gaining recognition.  At the start of January 2013, the North Korean government offered to enter into talks with the South Korean government.  They accepted immediately.

North Korea defines herself as a Juche, a self-reliant state.  She is described by outsiders as a de facto absolute monarchy or hereditary dictatorship, with a cult of personality organized around the late Kim ll-sung, the founder of North Korea and the country’s only president, his late son, Kim Jung-l, and his present grandson Kim Jung-un.

Political expression is tightly controlled.  Anyone who deviates from the government line is subject to reeducation in labor camps.  Troublesome political decenters, factionists, and class enemies, who are considered irredeemable are incarcerated together with any close family members in “Total Control Zones” for a life of hard labor.  Those who attempt to escape or violate camp rules are executed or sent to a separate prison within the camp.  The labor camps are reserved for political prisoners, common criminals are jailed in a separate system.

All North Koreans are sorted into groups according to their Songbun, their status system.  It is based upon their individual behavior and the political, social, and economic background of their family for three generations.  It also includes behavior by their relatives.  Songum is used to determine whether a person is trusted with responsibilities and given opportunities.  It even determines if an individual receives adequate food.

Songbun affects access to educational and employment opportunities.  It determines if a person is eligible to join North Korea’s ruling party.  There are three main classifications and about fifty sub classifications.  According to Kim ll-sung in 1953, the loyal “core class” is made up of 25% of the population, the “wavering class” 55%, and the “hostile class” 20%.  The highest status is accorded to those descended from the original participants in the resistance against the Japanese occupation during and before W.W.II.

Many international human rights organizations accuse North Korea of having one of the worst human rights records of any nation.  There are reports of severe restrictions on the freedom of association, expression, and movement, arbitrary detentions, torture and other ill treatment resulting in death and execution; prison camps, where 200.000 political prisoners and their families exist in inhuman conditions.

According to the United Nations Commission of inquiry the crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and general grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of people and the act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.

In the 1990s listening to South Korean radio could result in capital punishment.  Singing a South Korean song could result in being sent to a prison camp.  About 200,000 prisoners are held in six large prison camps.  Over 10,000 prisoners die each year.

North Korea is a country where the government owns most of the resources and most of the means of production.  The people exist for the benefit of the leadership, the military, and the state.  What exists is State Capitalism.  Wealth, or the use of the wealth, belongs to the leadership or existing political party.  And among the leadership every member of each family is responsible for the welfare of all the other members of their family.

In this country all men are equal but some men are more equal.  Animal Farm could have served as a syllabus on how to set up the state.  This is a beautiful example of historical irony, where reality followed satirical literature.