North Korea: Communist or Socialist

North Korea is frequently referred to as the last true communist state left in the world. Perhaps more accurate however, is that there has never been a truly “communist state”. There have been socialist states working towards the promised land of communism but have never quite got there. North Korea started off life as a Marxist-Leninist state but gradually morphed into it’s own unique brand of Socialism. How did it do this, and is North Korea Communist?

Workers Party of Korea

The basis of communism in North Korea can be traced back to the Liberation of Korea from Japanese imperialism in 1945. In South Korea however, the communist party of Korea had been active in Seoul since 1925.

On October 13, 1945, the North Korea bureau of the communist party of Korea was founded. Kim Il Sung quickly came to the forefront of this early movement. Kim, having served as a captain and guerrilla leader in the Red Army, was seen as an ideal person to serve as a leading role in Pyongyang.

Less than a few years later this would morph into the Marxist Leninist – Workers Party of Korea. It was led by the now Soviet backed Kim Il Sung. Marxism – Lenism would continue as the official state ideology until 1972.

Workers Party of Korea flag

The Juche Idea

By the 1960s, the Juche philosophy became increasingly prevalent in official papers. It’s core meaning as officially described by the North Korean government is as follows:

“Kim Il-sung’s original, brilliant and revolutionary contribution to national and international thought”. It postulates that “man is the master of his destiny”, that the Korean masses are to act as the “masters of the revolution and construction” and that by becoming self-reliant and strong, a nation can achieve true socialism.

In 2009, all references to communism were removed from the North Korean constitution for good. The portraits of Marx and Lenin were removed from Kim Il Sung Square. The focus was well and truly on Korean style socialism and the Juche idea. This cemented North Korea’s place as a socialist country with Juche and KimIlSungism at the forefront.


Other socialist states like Vietnam and China have heavily criticised the North Korean model. Since Kim Jong-Un came to power, North Korea has moved to become an ultra-nationalist state of sorts, devoid of any basic communist principles.

There has never really truly been a “communist country”. China, Cuba & Albania have all come close at one stage of their existence but none have made it all the way. North Korea has it’s own extreme brand of socialism but it cannot be described as communism.

Learn more about North Korean politics and the Juche Idea on one of our North Korea Tours!

Portrait of Karl Marx in Kim Il Sung Square, North Korea
Portrait of Karl Marx in Kim Il Sung Square. Prior to it's removal.
Rocky road travel founder Shane Horan at the DMZ


When Shane is not endlessly writing content for Rocky Road, he’s usually kayaking to and from work along Berlin’s River Spree.