North Korea Is Not a Socialist Society

April 14, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) calls itself socialist-communist. It is described in the West as a “fanatical” and “pure” communist country. In order to have a full picture of the forces driving the conflict between North Korea and the U.S., it is important to understand what communism is, what socialism is, and what the real nature of North Korean society is.

1. What are real socialism and communism? Communism pivots on what Karl Marx called “the two most radical ruptures”: with traditional property relations and with traditional ideas. The communist revolution is about springing all of society into the air. It is about putting an end to all exploitation and oppression. It is about empowering the masses of people, through the creation of a radically new and different state power, to increasingly take responsibility for running society, to ever more consciously change the world and change themselves—with the goal of creating a world community of humanity, where there are no longer class divisions and social inequalities, no longer social antagonism. The achievement of communism requires visionary vanguard leadership basing itself on a scientific understanding of reality and how society and the world can be transformed in the interests of emancipating all of humanity. This is not North Korea!

2. North Korea is not socialist. Socialism is a new form of political power in which the formerly oppressed and exploited, in alliance with the middle classes and professionals and the great majority of society, rule over society with the leadership of a visionary, vanguard party. And socialism is a new economic system where the resources and productive capacities of society are consciously organized and planned to meet social need, and to overcome the inequalities of capitalist class society. And most fundamentally, socialism is a historical period of transition, between capitalism and communism. (For a fuller explanation of what socialism is all about, see “Everything You’ve Been Told About Communism Is Wrong: Capitalism Is a Failure, Revolution Is the Solution.”)

North Korea is a militarized, paternalistic society ruled by a narrow stratum of bureaucratic state capitalists. It is a stagnant and stifling society that operates according to a coercive social contract: the masses will be taken care of if they work harder and harder for the survival and benefit of the nation. The masses are kept passive and suppressed in this neo-capitalist welfare state. There is nothing revolutionary... nothing uplifting... nothing radically transformative about North Korea.

3. The North Korean economy does not operate according to socialist principles. Economic development has been carried out through vast mobilization and speed-up campaigns to raise production and productivity based on appeals to nationalism, promises of material reward, and honor.

4. Communists are internationalists—starting from the interests of the people of the world. Threatened by imperialism, the rulers of North Korea have viewed the world and their tasks through the ideological filter of preserving national independence and building up industrial-military might in the face of imperialist threat. A genuine socialist revolution in a Third World country does face the task of defending its independence—but this must be carried out as part of and to serve the larger process of carrying out a profound social revolution that is part of and contributes to the advance of the world communist revolution.


Readers should study Bob Avakian’s essay “Three Alternative Worlds” to get a concise, scientific grounding in the difference between genuine socialism and the kind of society that exists in North Korea. [“Three Alternative Worlds,” December 3, 2006.]

Bob Avakian has brought forward a new synthesis that sums up the positive and negative experience of the communist revolution so far, and drawing from a broad range of human experience, he has brought forward a viable vision and strategy for a radically new, and much better, society and world. For a brief, and also a fuller, explanation of the new synthesis, go to


Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.