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Crisis in North Korea

Andrei N. Lankov

Publication Year: 2005

North Korea remains the most mysterious of all Communist countries. The acute shortage of available sources has made it a difficult subject of scholarship. Through his access to Soviet archival material made available only a decade ago, contemporary North Korean press accounts, and personal interviews, Andrei Lankov presents for the first time a detailed look at one of the turning points in North Korean history: the country’s unsuccessful attempts to de-Stalinize in the mid-1950s. He demonstrates that, contrary to common perception, North Korea was not a realm of undisturbed Stalinism; Kim Il Sung had to deal with a reformist opposition that was weak but present nevertheless. Lankov traces the impact of Soviet reforms on North Korea, placing them in the context of contemporaneous political crises in Poland and Hungary. He documents the dissent among various social groups (intellectuals, students, party cadres) and their attempts to oust Kim in the unsuccessful "August plot" of 1956. His reconstruction of the Peng-Mikoyan visit of that year—the most dramatic Sino-Soviet intervention into Pyongyang politics—shows how it helped bring an end to purges of the opposition. The purges, however, resumed in less than a year as Kim skillfully began to distance himself from both Moscow and Beijing. The final chapters of this fascinating and revealing study deal with events of the late 1950s that eventually led to Kim’s version of "national Stalinism." Lankov unearths data that, for the first time, allows us to estimate the scale and character of North Korea’s Great Purge.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

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pp. vii-xii

The 1956 crisis in North Korea and the subsequent changes in North Korean society—the subjects of the present book—have not been adequately accounted for in academic literature. That an unsuccessful attempt at replacing Kim Il Song in 1956 and the subsequent Sino-Soviet actions occurred is known. Rumors about these important events were ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

I am also very grateful to my wonderful coworkers at the Australian National University and above all to Professor William Jenner, Dr. Kenneth Wells, and Dr. Shin Gi-hyun. My Russian friends and colleagues were instrumental in my gaining access to the necessary material. They also provided me with both a research infrastructure and valuable suggestions, not to mention ...

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Note on Romanization

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pp. xv

The romanization of Korean names used in this work follows the McCune-Reischauer system except where other spellings have become commonly accepted, as in the case of Kim Il Song. For consistency's sake, the spelling follows the modern South Korean pattern in cases when it differs from the current North Korean spelling ...

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pp. 1-6

For the communist camp, the mid-1950s were years of great importance. These few years altered forever the political, social, and cultural landscape of most Communist countries and changed the meaning of the term "World Communism." For us—recent witnesses to the far more spectacular collapse of the Communist system in the early ...

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1. North Korea and Its Leadership in the Mid-1950s

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pp. 7-25

The democratic people's republic of Korea (as North Korea is officially named) formally came into being on September 9, 1948, shortly after the Republic of Korea had been proclaimed in Seoul. The creation of two rival Korean states, neither of which recognized the legitimacy of the other—each claiming to be the sole legitimate authority on ...

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2. The Soviet Faction under Attack

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pp. 26-59

In north korea the first attempt to react to the new, uncertain, and potentially menacing international situation occurred in 1955. Before then the North Korean leadership had generally ignored the unfolding de-Stalinization campaign in the Soviet Union. However, by the end of 1955 attempts at a response began, and the initial actions from ...

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3. The Third KWP Congress

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pp. 60-72

It is impossible to say with full certainty whether Kim Il Song, who in late February decided to halt the whole campaign against "literary deviations," actually feared possible complications during the forthcoming KWP Congress and, if so, to what degree those fears were justified. His main focus was international, rather than domestic, aiming ...

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4. The Conspiracy

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pp. 73-92

From 1955 to 1956, domestic and international situations permitted the emergence of an opposition group within the North Korean party leadership. This window of opportunity was the only one in the entire history of Kim Il Song's DPRK. Before that, the possibility for such a situation to arise had been prevented by wartime conditions and the steel ...

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5. The "August Group" before August

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pp. 93-120

It appears that, with the help of newly available materials, more definitive answers can be offered to some questions relating to the intraparty opposition in the summer of 1956. Some new questions may also be posed that unfortunately cannot be answered at the present time. The material available does not provide any information regarding ...

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6. The August Plenum

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pp. 121-135

After almost a month of delays, the plenum opened on August 30 and continued for two days. On the official agenda were two items: the results of Kim Il Song's recent visit to the USSR and Eastern Europe, and the situation of the national health service. However, on this occasion as on many others, the official agenda was quite misleading. These two ...

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7. The Soviet-Chinese Delegation and the September Plenum

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pp. 136-142

In early September the fortunes of the Yan'an faction were rapidly deteriorating, and a rising tide of purges was swallowing the Yan'an officials one after another. However, in September 1956 the purges were abruptly (albeit temporarily) interrupted when the Chinese and Soviet authorities decided to mount a direct intervention in the ...

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8. The Purges

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pp. 143-174

When Anastas Mikoyan and Peng Dehuai left Korea, it looked like they had successfully accomplished their task. The purges were stopped and even reversed. Kim Il Song promised he would not move against the August faction and its supporters. All the victims of the recent campaign were formally restored to their positions. ...

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9. North Korea Changes Course

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pp. 175-201

By the summer of 1957 it was clear that the decisions of the September Plenum of 1956 were dead, and their death had come with the tacit approval of the very forces that had once imposed them. While many "little Stalins" of Eastern Europe were wiped out by popular protests and/or schemes of their fellow leaders, Kim Il Song was emerging from ...

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10. The Inception of the "Guerrilla State"

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pp. 202-210

In the late 1950s the interpretations of North Korea's recent past underwent drastic changes. The new versions of the country's history, widely promoted from late 1957, began to give special prominence to the guerrilla exploits of Kim Il Song and his Manchurian fighters. In earlier periods, Kim had been portrayed as a major Korean Communist ...

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Conclusion: Why the "August Group" Failed

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pp. 211-224

The attempt to dismiss Kim Il Song ultimately failed. The North Korean government survived the crisis, although similar attacks by opposition groups led to profound changes in Bulgaria, Poland, and Hungary. Kim Il Song did not become another Chervenkov, Bierut, or Rakosi. Unlike those "little Stalins"—the now forgotten Communist ...


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pp. 225-256


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pp. 257-266


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pp. 267-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862039
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824828097

Publication Year: 2005