Kim Il-sung

Founder of North Korea and General Secretary of the Workers' Party from 1948 to 1994

Kim Il-sung (15 April 19128 July 1994) was the founder of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and its supreme leader until his death. With support from the Soviet Union he developed a state and economy based on Marxist-Leninist principles, but later pursued his own Juche theory of Korean self-reliance. The DPRK refers to him as its "Great Leader" and "Eternal President."

Portrait of Kim Il-sung
What is Juche [the subject] in our Party's ideological work? What are we doing? We are not engaged in any other country's revolution, but precisely in the Korean revolution. This, the Korean revolution, constitutes Juche in the ideological work of our Party. Therefore, all ideological work must be subordinated to the interests of the Korean revolution.


[T]he South is an ideologically divided, liberal country, so if we extensively propagate Juche Thought and the superiority of our system we can win over at least half its citizens. As of now South Korea is twice our size in population terms. But once we win over half the South's people in a confederation, we will be two parts to the South's one. We would then win either a general election or a war.
  • The time has come when we Korean people have to unite our strength to build a new, democratic Korea. People from all strata should display patriotic enthusiasm and turn out to build a new Korea. To contribute posi­tively to the work of building the state, let those with strength give strength, let those with knowledge give knowledge, let those with money give money, and let all people who truly love their country, their nation and democ­racy unite closely and build an independent and sovereign democratic state.
    • Victory speech in Pyongyang (14 October 1945), in Works vol. 1
  • You must not overlook even the least practices which run counter to our Party's idea. It is all right if the cadre whom the party trusts behaves modestly, sincerely supports our Party, and works faithfully for the party. On the other hand, if he pretends to support the Party outwardly but has an ulterior motive and tries to make himself prominent and win over people to his side, such actions must not be permitted.… We have wiped out the factionalists and achieved the unity of the Party. If we are to maintain this unity firmly, we must not tolerate the slightest tendency toward nepotism, parochialism or factionalism within the Party and must promptly deal with any manifestations of "individual heroism."
    • "On improving Party work and implementing the decisions of the Party conference," speech at the Conference of Chief Secretaries of Party Committees (March 1967), in Works vol. 21
  • In a nutshell, the idea of Juche means that the masters of the revolution and the work of construction are the masses of the people and that they are also the motive force of the revolution and the work of construction. In other words, one is responsible for one's own destiny and one has also the capacity for hewing out one's own destiny.
    • Mainichi Shimbun (17 September 1972) "On Some Problems of Our Party's Juche Idea and the Government of the Republic's Internal and External Policies," in Works vol. 27
  • While there are still imperialist aggressors, the state that has no defense power of its own to protect its sovereignty against the internal and external enemies is, in fact, not a fully independent and sovereign state.
    • Mainichi Shimbun (17 September 1972)
  • When confederation is realized, and the ideologies of North and South are propagandized in the course of free intercourse between the two sides, the Republic [DPRK] will not be affected in the slightest, because it is a unified state. But the South is an ideologically divided, liberal country, so if we extensively propagate Juche Thought and the superiority of our system we can win over at least half its citizens. As of now South Korea is twice our size in population terms. But once we win over half the South's people in a confederation, we will be two parts to the South's one. We would then win either a general election or a war.
  • The people are the masters of the revolution in each country. It is like putting a cart before the horse that foreigners carry out the revolution for them. The revolution can neither be exported nor imported.
    • Quoted in Kim Il Sung, Master of Leadership (1976) by Takagi Takeo
  • The basis of the Juche Idea is that man is the master of all things and the decisive factor in everything.
    • On Juche in Our Revolution vol. 2 (1977)
  • The national assembly of each country, as its highest legislative body, has a mission and responsibility to realise democratic government. Democracy must be not only the basic ideal of state administration for championing people's right to independence, but also a common ideal of world politics for ensuring equality and cooperation among countries.
  • Engels once called the British army the most brutal army. During the Second World War, the German fascist army surpassed the barbarism of the British army. No human brain could ever imagine more diabolic and terrible cruelty then those done by the Hitler gangsters at that time. But in Korea, the Americans have far exceed the Hitlerites!
    • Kim Il-sung to the Swedish communist leader Frank Baude in 1993. Quote and translated fr Mot strömmen, pg. 186: "Engels kallade en gång den brittiska armén den mest brutala armén. Under andra världskriget överträffade den tyska fascistarmén brittiska armén i barbari. Ingen mänsklig hjärna kunde någonsin föreställa sig mer djävulska och förfärliga grymheter än dem som begicks av Hitler-skurkarna vid den tiden. Men i Korea har amerikanerna långt mer överträffat hitleristerna."
  • The Government of our Republic, whose basic ideal of foreign policy is independence, peace and friendship, has established good-neighbourly relations and is developing exchange and cooperation with those countries, which respect the sovereignty of our country and are friendly towards us, regardless of their social system. We believe the DPRK and the US can become friends if the US abandons its concept of confrontation with us and is ready to normalize relations with our country by respecting the freedom of choice. The matter depends on whether or not the United States has such a political will.
    • Answers to CNN International (April 17, 1994), in Works vol. 44
  • We've always been under sanctions. Even under all those sanctions we have made the growth thus far, so I am not afraid.… If you wish to lift the sanctions then lift them, or if you wish to impose sanctions then impose them. I do not care. We will improve our economy even further no matter what.
    • Remarks to Jimmy Carter (June 1994), as recalled during his final policy meeting and featured in the KCTV documentary The Year 1994 of the Great Career

Reminiscences: With the Century

  • Revolutionaries, believe in the people and rely on them at all times and you shall always emerge victorious; if you are forsaken by them, you will always fail. Let this be your maxim in your life and struggle.
    • Vol. 1
  • If a man who professes to be a communist punishes an innocent person by labelling him a reactionary, he's no longer a communist, but the worst of criminals.
    • Vol. 3
  • A free and peaceful new world without exploitation and oppression was the age-long dream and ideal of humanity
    • Vol. 3
  • War is not only a contest of strength, but also a test of morality and ethics.
    • Vol. 3
  • Man is the greatest being endowed with independence, creativity and consciousness and, at the same time, a beautiful creature who champions justice. Man, by nature, aspires to virtue and ennobling qualities and detests all that is evil and dirty. These unique features constitute his human traits.
    • Vol. 4
  • Thanks to our trust in people, we won everything.
    • Vol. 4
  • We emerged victorious in every battle with the enemy at all times and in all places, because we were full of confidence in victory, and maintained an indefatigable fighting and self-sacrificing spirit without losing our composure and hope, even in confrontation with an enemy force, which was dozens of times stronger in number.
    • Vol. 5
  • My God is none other than the people. Only the popular masses are omniscient and omnipotent and almighty on earth. Therefore my lifetime motto is: "The people are my God."
    • Vol. 5
  • As fish cannot live without water, so guerrillas cannot live without the people.
    • Vol. 5
  • Socialism is a human ideal, an inevitable course of historical development, and therefore it is perfectly clear that socialism will rise again in the end.
    • Vol. 7
  • The revolution itself originates from a dream of the future or from the craving for a new life.
    • Vol. 8

Quotes about Kim

  • Kim Il-sung, one of the most prominent, bright and heroic socialist leaders of the present day, whose history is one of the most beautiful thing a revolutionary may have written in the service of the cause of socialism.
Kim Il Sung remains venerated, and due to the luck of dying in time, has a remarkably good reputation in death. ~ Andrei Lankov
  • The Soviet Union, it is now clear, had a similar experience with Kim II-sung in North Korea. He was allowed to build a Stalinist state, with its own cult of personality centered on himself, at just the time when Khrushchev was condemning such perversions of Marxism-Leninism elsewhere. That country became, as a result, increasingly isolated, authoritarian—and yet totally dependent on economic and military support from the rest of the communist world. It was hardly the result Khrushchev or his successors would have designed, had they had the opportunity. They did not, however, because Kim could counter each suggestion for reform with the claim that it would destabilize his government, and thereby hand victory to the South Koreans and the Americans. "[I]n the interests of our common tasks, we must sometimes overlook their stupidities," one Soviet official explained in 1973. Both Washington and Moscow therefore wound up supporting Korean allies who were embarrassments to them. It was a curious outcome to the Korean War, and another reminder of the extent to which the weak, during the Cold War, managed to obtain power over the strong.
  • The Cold War’s first hot war began on June 25, 1950. Following almost two years of armed skirmishes between North and South Korea, that day ninety thousand North Korean troops crossed the thirty-eighth parallel. They easily captured Seoul two days later and threatened to overrun the southern part of the peninsula. During the two preceding months, the North Korean communist leader Kim Il Sung had obtained Stalin’s assent and the Kremlin’s promises of military support for theinvasion as well as an endorsement from Mao. But the timing was the North Korean’s alone, and the invasion created a cascade of surprises for all the major parties.
    • Carole C. Fink, The Cold War: An International History (2016), p. 78
  • Stalin and Kim made human idols of themselves because they believed - as utopian idealists always do - in the ultimate goodness of themselves and the unchallengeable rightness of their decisions. There was no higher power and so there could be no higher law. If people disagreed with them, it was because those people were in some way defective- insane, malignant, or mercenary. They could not tolerate actual religion because they could not tolerate any rival authority or any rival source - or judge - of goodness, rectitude and justice.
  • Kim Il Sung not only presided over the birth of a new nation in an old land, he was inextricably bound to the fate of North Korea. Perhaps to a greater degree than any other modern political leader, he may be seen as the full embodiment of the state. Indeed, Kim was more integral to state and society in North Korea than Stalin in the Soviet Union, or Mao in China.
    • G. Cameron Hurst III's foreward to Won Tai Sohn's Kim Il Sung and Korea's struggle: an unconventional firsthand history McFarland, 2003, ISBN 0786415894
  • Despite what others might call disappointments, she never questioned the regime's authority to control her life. Unlike North Koreans who grew up along the border, my mother had no exposure to the outside world or foreign ideas. She knew only what the regime taught her and she remained a proud and pure revolutionary. And because she had a poet's heart, she felt an enormous emotional connection to the official propaganda. She sincerely believed that North Korea was the center of the universe and that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il had supernatural powers. She believed that Kim Il Sung caused the sun to rise and that when Kim Jong Il was born in a cabin on our sacred Mount Paketu (he was actually born in Russia), his arrival was marked by a double rainbow and a bright new star in the sky. She was so brainwashed that when Kim Il Sung died she started to panic. "How can the Earth still spin on its axis?" she wondered. The laws of physics she had studied in college were overcome by the propaganda that was drilled into her all her life. It would be many years before she recognized that Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were just men who had learned from Joseph Stalin, their Soviet role model, how to make people worship them like gods.
  • In their native countries, Roosevelt and Churchill are regarded as examples of wise statesmen. But we, during our jail conversations, were astonished by their constant shortsightedness and even stupidity. How could they, retreating gradually from 1941 to 1945, leave Eastern Europe without any guarantees of independence? How could they abandon the large territories of Saxony and Thuringia in return for such a ridiculous toy as the four-zoned Berlin that, moreover, was later to become their Achille’s heel? And what kind of military or political purpose did they see in giving away hundreds of thousands of armed Soviet citizens (who were unwilling to surrender, whatever the terms) for Stalin to have them killed? It is said that by doing this, that they secured the imminent participation of Stalin in the war against Japan. Already armed with the Atomic bomb, they did pay for Stalin so that he wouldn’t refuse to occupy Manchuria to help Mao Zedong to gain power in China and Kim Il Sung, to get half of Korea!… Oh, misery of political calculation! When later Mikolajczyk was expelled, when the end of Beneš and Masaryk came, Berlin was blocked, Budapest was in flames and turned silent, when ruins fumed in Korea and when the conservatives fled from Suez – didn’t really some of those who had a better memory, recall for instance the episode of giving away the Cossacks?
  • Kim Il-sung survived in power throughout the Korean War and after and, indeed, for the rest of his life. Because U.S. troops had withdrawn from South Korea in 1949, and because Dean Acheson had declared South Korea outside the U.S. defense perimeter, Kim Il-sung considered America's intervention in the war treacherous and made sure every subsequent generation of North Koreans to be murderous devils. This was an easy sell because the North Korean people had suffered so horribly from American bombs, napalm, bullets, and bayonets. Kim was also humiliated that he had to rely on the Chinese and the Soviets to be saved. He took it out on his own people, purging all members of the military and the government whom he considered possible opponents.
    • David Wallechinsky, Tyrants: The World's 20 Worst Living Dictators (2006), p. 39
  • In the Soviet zone there was nobody with Rhee’s Korean or international stature. Instead, the Soviets turned to the thirty-three-year-old Kim Il-sung, primarily because they believed that he would be fully subservient to Soviet interests. But they also chose him because of his proven leadership skills and because he had none of the political drawbacks of the more established Korean Communists, who had either been part of 1920s factionalism or joined in the 1930s Soviet purges. Kim showed both his loyalty and his acumen during his first few months in power—though he also made it clear that he and his Communist colleagues aspired to the leadership of all of Korea, not just a part.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017), p. 142
  • Syngman Rhee declared the Republic of Korea (ROK) in Seoul after the May 1948 elections. Kim Il-sung followed up by declaring a new state from his northern capital Pyongyang in September. Making it a “People’s Republic” was not enough for Kim; he named it the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), in line with the slogans used at the time. The new governments got the blessing of their respective Superpower sponsors. Ironically, Stalin and Truman seem at the time to have believed that the creation of separate states made war less likely. In any case, both Soviet and US troops were withdrawn from the Korean peninsula soon after the new regimes were set up. As they solidified their governments, the Korean regimes made preparations for confronting each other. In the north, the Communists under Soviet guidance restored much of the industrial capacity that the Japanese has concentrated there. They also carried out a land reform plan that took land away from landlords, most of whom had worked closely with the Japanese, and put it in the hands of those who farmed it. The land reform secured support for the regime among peasants, and improved food supplies across North Korea. But it also contributed, with other Communist political campaigns, to hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to the south.
    • Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A Global History (2017), p. 143