The North Korean Revolution, 1945-1950 / Edition 1

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North Korea, despite a shattered economy and a populace suffering from widespread hunger, has outlived repeated forecasts of its imminent demise. Charles K. Armstrong contends that a major source of North Korea's strength and resiliency, as well as of its flaws and shortcomings, lies in the poorly understood origins of its system of government. He examines the genesis of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) both as an important yet rarely studied example of a communist state and as part of modern Korean history.

North Korea is one of the last redoubts of "unreformed" Marxism-Leninism in the world. Yet it is not a Soviet satellite in the East European manner, nor is its government the result of a local revolution, as in Cuba and Vietnam. Instead, the DPRK represents a unique "indigenization" of Soviet Stalinism, Armstrong finds. The system that formed under the umbrella of the Soviet occupation quickly developed into a nationalist regime as programs initiated from above merged with distinctive local conditions. Armstrong's account is based on long-classified documents captured by U.S. forces during the Korean War. This enormous archive of over 1.6 million pages provides unprecedented insight into the making of the Pyongyang regime and fuels the author's argument that the North Korean state is likely to remain viable for some years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In a world where the kind of Marxist-inspired, state-directed development embodied by Soviet Russia has long since been discredited as ineffective, the North Korean economy and state management continue to resist the forces of the North Korean people. Armstrong wants to explain this rather counterintuitive longevity of a state whose like can be found nowhere else in the world except in Cuba. . . . This work will be indispensable for anyone hoping to understand the postwar history of Korea and East Asia."—Choice

"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."—Foreign Affairs

"Charles K. Armstrong takes advantage of new archival materials to rethink the history and character of North Korea. In considering the critical years of North Korea's development prior to the outbreak of the Korean War, Armstrong's The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950, delivers some surprising, heterodox conclusions."—John Feffer, Korean Quarterly

"Charles K. Armstrong's The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950 is a pioneering work. . . . This eye-catching book offers a wealth of factual information on the genesis of the North Korean state. It introduces a unique comprehensive perspective for the analysis of postcolonial Korean modernization, communist state formation, and creation of new imagined national and social identities and communities in the North. It is a new classic in Korean studies and a must-read for all aspiring students of Korean history and Korean affairs."—Alexandre Y. Mansourov, Journal of Asian Studies

"This book provides a wealth of factual information and historical background that increases the reader's understanding of North Korea's communist history and present idiosyncrasies."—Jeffrey J. Kuebler, Military Review

"Charles K. Armstrong has written a unique account of the North Korea's domestication of communism. The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950 is an outstanding book."—Dae-sook Suh, University of Hawaii

"In The North Korean Revolution, 1945–1950, Charles K. Armstrong shows conclusively for the first time that a revolutionary social, economic, and political upheaval occurred during this period, and that important ideological and policy conflicts defined the power struggles for control of the new state."—Selig Harrison, author of Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and U.S. Disengagement

Foreign Affairs
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801489143
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles K. Armstrong is The Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences in the Department of History and Director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

1.Revolution on the Margins
2. Liberation, Occupation, and the Emerging New Order
3. Remaking the People
4. Coalition Politics and the United Front
5. Planning the Economy
6. Constructing Culture
7. A Regime of Surveillance
8. The People's State

Appendix A: A Note on Sources
Appendix B: Statements of General Chistiakov on the Soviet Occupation of North Korea, Fall 1945
Selected Bibliography

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