In This Review

The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950
The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950
By Charles K. Armstrong
Cornell University Press, 2003, 265 pp.

Armstrong has carefully gone over all of the newly available documents on the founding of the North Korean regime to ask why Pyongyang, in spite of the appalling suffering of its people, remains one of the last holdouts of "unreformed" Marxism-Leninism. He finds that although the Soviet Union was involved early on, Kim Il Sung masterminded a unique adaptation of Soviet totalitarianism so that North Korea turned out to be more Stalinist than Stalin himself. Indeed, Kim's commitment to Marxism-Leninism was stronger than that of the Soviet bloc regimes in Eastern Europe or the communist regimes of China and Vietnam. Kim's success in creating such an enduring Marxist-Leninist system had foundations in Korean culture, such as the stress on ideas and ideology over material conditions and the complete mobilization of society. Armstrong argues that Kim's leadership brought about the "Koreanization" of Soviet communism, not the "Sovietization" of North Korea. He sets the stage for comparisons with Chinese communism, which shared many features with that of the North Koreans but lacked the enduring fanatical intensity.