The history of the Organization and Guidance Department of the KWP (Part 1)

Following the defeat of Japanese imperialism (1910-1945), North Korea was established on the 9th September 1948. Starting from this date North Korea struggled to build a model socialist state under the guidance of the Korean Workers’ Party, a communist party which was organized according to the Soviet model of organization.

In the Soviet Union, at the 8th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) held in March 1918, two structures of the Central Committee were created. These were a Politburo of five members and an Organizational Bureau (Orgburo) for matters related to Administration and Personnel[1]. Stalin was an original member of both bodies[2]. As in the Soviet Era, the OGD was one of the first political substructures which were created in the KWP in 1946. Every Communist country has a Party Organization or Organization Secretariat. The Soviet Union had an Organization Bureau, which Stalin abolished in 1951, because these two organizations were interconnected. In European Communist Parties, there was some Organization Departments which were subordinated to Central Committees. This is the same for China. Regarding North Korea, the OGD became a kind of authority which has an enlarged role in comparison to the Politburo.

Originally the North Korean OGD was part of the General Affairs Department (GAD) of the KWP. As in the case of the CPSU, the OGD eventually spun-off from the GAD. The Politburo is composed of old elites which keep their symbolical appointments. The OGD is rather an organization which is dynamically managing North Korea. Since 1982 The OGD is localized on the ground of the Namsan School, a former school for children of party officials, which was demolished during the same year. The OGD is settled in front of the main offices of the KWP.

One of the first directors of the OGD was Kim Yong-ju (born in 1920), the younger brother of Kim Il-sung. In the 1940s he studied in Moscow and in the 1950s he became an instructor in the OGD. He was appointed at the head of the OGD in 1960. In 1966 he became the secretary of the Political Committee of the KWP. He became one of the strongest potential successors of Kim Il-sung at that time. In the same year, another relative of Kim Il-sung was recruited by Kim Yong-ju: Kim Jong-il (1942-2011), who later became the successor of Kim Il-sung. Kim Yong-ju taught Kim Jong-il and provided him his first political education in the early 1960s[3]. Kim Jong-il graduated from the Kim Il-sung University in March 1964.  Kim Jong-il, who previously worked as an executive of the Cabinet was moved to the section “Leader-on-Duty, Central Headquarters, Instruction Section” of the OGD[4]. Interestingly his father Kim Il-sung also worked in this department in the Korean communist Party in the 1940s[5] and through this department he  came to power. Already in this period, the power of the OGD was very strong but not comparable to its current power. In this period the OGD was mainly related to personal matters and the execution of Party policies. In 1969, Kim Jong-il was appointed deputy director of the OGD under the supervision of Kim Jong-ju. Starting from 1969, Kim Jong-il was also a deputy director to a less powerful department: the Propaganda and Agitation department (PAD-also sometimes called the information department). In the PAD, Kim Jong-il studied propaganda methods including those employed by  Nazi Germany. Starting from 1969, Kim Jong-il began to organize purges within the Party. On the 19th January 1969, Kim Jong-il organized, with a group of senior officials of the OGD. a purge toward Kim Chang-bong, a former defense minister between October 1962-December 1968[6].

Even if Kim Jong-il was only a deputy director, Kim Jong-il was already more powerful than his uncle for the following four reasons: firstly, Kim Jong-ju was frequently abroad for professional duties and health issues and therefore Kim Jong-il had to replace him during official meetings. Secondly, being the first deputy director of the OGD, Kim Jong-il was therefore naturally the leader of this structure. This also concerns the Propaganda department which was mastered by Kim Kuk-tae, who was also frequently abroad. Thirdly, Kim Jong-il took advantage of the frequent absences of his uncle and Kim Kuk-thae by promoting his followers and counterparts such as Choe Ik-kyu, Choe Thae-bok, Choe Ryong-hae, Han Sung-ryong, Jon Pyong-ho, Kang Song-an and Kye Ung-thae among others. Eventually, due to the nature of the OGD system, Kim Jong-il was naturally more powerful than his ill uncle. Kim Jong-il began building a personal power base, as is seen by the fact that many current second-tier leaders were his associates at the department in the 1960s and 1970s. A list of these officials is provided later in this article.

Starting from the 1970s, Kim Jong-il took institutional measures aiming to intensify the power of the KWP and the OGD KWP over the structures of the North Korean Army. According to Cheong Seong-chang, a distinguished fellow from the Saejong Institute in Seoul, in the 1970s the military personnel management was transferred from the Army to the KWP[7]. Furthermore, the information section of the OGD was responsible for providing information to Kim Jong-il on any Army development. According to Professor Cheong Seong-chang, in the late 1960s, the KWP assigned a political officer, called a “commisar” to each of the divisions and regiments in the army and placed all senior officials of the KPA under the control of the PS and the OGD[8]. Through the OGD Kim Jong-il had the opportunity to develop a comprehensive knowledge of political life in North Korea and the issues involved in running the country.

Since 1972, the constitution restricted the North Korean cabinet to the simple execution of the KWP’s decisions. In  North Korea, no  attempt was observed  to  distinguish  between  the party  and  the government,  although  there could be a variation  of  policy preferences  among the  leading  party  elites[9].

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-il organized the Second Economic Committee (SEC) and established Office No. 39 in the KWP, responsible for the private funding of the Kim family.[10] Both institutions are related to economic matters and are directly under the management of the OGD. The SEC is responsible for military-economic matters and the Office No. 39 is responsible for a foreign currency fund. Also in 1972, under the auspices of the OGD, the constitution was revised, as North Korea established the “suryong system”, a way to provide the leader (de facto Kim Il-sung) absolute control over the party, the army and the government[11]. In order to ensure the security of the KWP, Kim Jong-il established the ministry of Social Security (renamed Ministry of State Security in 1993) in 1973[12]. In 1973, Kim Jong-il ordered an intense songbun-based investigation (an assessment of the loyalty of the North Korean population toward the KWP) after becoming Director of the OGD[13].  Kim Jong-il also enforced the nomination of Ri Jae-kang (1930-2010), who started his career as an instructor in the OGD in 1973. Ri Jae-kang assisted Kim Jong-il in his rise in the OGD. Ri Jae-kang was named deputy director of the OGD from 1975 until his mysterious death in 2010[14]. At the end of his political career he was responsible for the headquarters section of the OGD.

Starting from 1973, the OGD became the main hub of power in North Korea as new created organizations were affiliated to the OGD and key counterparts of Kim Jong-il led these organizations. In 1974, Kim Jong-il was designated successor to the supreme leader (suryong) Kim Il-sung.

In order to maintain and strengthen his power, in the early 1970s, Kim Jong-il expelled his uncle from the OGD during a larger purge that will be explained more precisely later in this article. During the same time Kim Jong-il nominated KPA Colonel Jang Sung-u as a deputy director of the OGD[15].

In the 1980s, due to the growing influence of the North Korean Army, Kim Jong-il ordered the creation of a civilian OGD office focusing on military issues. The long-term idea was to put civilians at the head of the Army, which was realized in the 2000s with the appointment of Jang Sung-thaek, Kim Kyong-ok and others as generals. Previously the KPA was only managed by military officials.

According to the former secretary, Hwang Jang-yop (1923-2010), North Korea’s top leaders belong to the OGD – though we must emphasize that the OGD remains under the control of the Kim family. This decision was probably taken in the 70s. In those times, Kim Yong-ju (Kim Il-sung’s younger brother) was the OGD director and the main candidate as the successor of Kim Il-il-sung. Until 1972 Kim Yong-ju was considered to be the successor of Kim Il-sung, even signing some documents as the sole representant of North Korea on international affairs. He was taken on secret missions and signed secret agreements (such as the July 4 North-South Joint Communiqué). He was also sent to Egypt, Hungary and Romania as Kim Il-sung’s envoy[16].

At the end of the 1960s/beginning of the 1970s a fierce battle started between Kim Yong-ju and Kim Jong-il. This battle had its roots in the fact that Kim Jong-il didn’t appreciate the Kim Yong-ju entourage[17]. In order to prove his loyalty to Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il prepared different acts to idolize his father. The battle had already started in 1969, when Kim Jong-il was deputy director of the OGD. Later, Kim Yong-ju stepped down because he was ill, and was sent for treatment abroad (probably in Romania). Thereafter, Kim Jong-il was appointed head of the OGD in 1973 (succeeding his uncle Kim Yong-ju) and held the position until his death[18]. In February 1974 he removed his uncle to the Ryanggang Province[19]. In the same year, Kim Jong-il rewrote the 10 principles proposed originally by Kim Yong-ju in 1967. The 10 principles is a ‘benchmark’ set which establishes standards for governance in North Korea.

Kim Jong-il securized his position by nominating his main comrades at key positions (such as Kye Ung-thae, Kang Chong-san, Jon Pyong-ho and Choe Thae-bok) as well assome of his classmates of the Kim Il-sung University, including his sister Kim Kyong-hee and her husband Jang Sung-thaek. In the mid 1970s, Kim Jong-il increased the OGD powers by involving the OGD in the nomination of ministers[20]. Starting from the 1970s and according to the new North Korean Constitution of 1972, the North Korean political system was no longer a dual system (KWP-government) and was soleymanaged by the KWP. In this period the system was already under the control of Kim Jong-il. His father didn’t react to these political organizational changes for the following reasons. Firstly, Kim Il-sung was more attached to his own cult which was becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Secondly, Kim Il-sung was especially pre-occupied by welcoming foreign dignitaries who came to Pyongyang throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Thirdly, Kim Il-sung was getting older and his faculties were in slow decline due to his background (he fought during the Japanese Occupation and during the Korean War). According to the defector Jang Jin-sung (Jang Jin-sung Worked in the United Front Department), in this period even the children of the Guerilla fighters were  removed from the CC KWP and exiled to distant provinces from Pyongyang ,despite the dissatisfaction of Kim Il-sung’s comrades[21].

The most important organization within the KWP is the Organization and Guidance Department. This section of the KWP is responsible for guiding the Party life and the internal policy of North Korea.  This department consists of three sub-departments which deal with Party issues. The first one deals with Party issues, the second one with military matters and the third one with Party headquarters. From the point of view of economic matters, the third one seems to be the most important as it control the military structures of the DPRK economy. Regional Secretaries of the KWP are not only politicians but also managers of certain companies. For example, Pak Do-chun, a former secretary of the Jagang Province was responsible for the development of the Hydraulic Central of Huichon. Pak Do-chun is also currently an influential director of the Second Economic Committee, a kind of Ministry of Military Economic Matters. Regarding Pak Do-chun, it has to be underlined that he’s a 4 stars general since September 2010 in spite of having no military background. The second section of the Organization and Guidance Department is responsible for the removing of the military assets of the KPA toward some KWP structures. Regarding the first section of this department, it deals with the daily life of the KWP members (approximately two millions of people are members of the KWP). The third one is dealing with the headquarter of the KWP.


[1] Adam Bruno Ulam, Stalin, the Man and His era (Tauris: Parke Paperbacks, 2007), p. 180.

[2] Ibid., p. 180.

[3] John H. Cha, K. J. Sohn, (eds.), Exit Emperor Kim Jong-il – Notes from His Former Mentor, (Bloomington: Abbott Press, 2012), p. 24.

[4] Ibid., p. 25.

[5] Ibid., p. 124.

[6] Cheong Seong-chang, The Purge of Hyon Yong-chol and an Outlook on Party-Army Relations in N. Korea, Vantage Point, July 2015, vol. 38 no. 7, p. 12.

[7] Ibid., p. 24.

[8] Cheong Seong-chang, The Purge of Hyon Yong-chol and an Outlook on Party-Army Relations in N. Korea, Vantage Point, July 2015, vol. 38 no. 7, p. 12.

[9]  Suk  Ryul  Yu, “Political  Succession  in  North  Korea”, Korea  and World  Affairs 6 (Winter  1982),  p.567

[10] Hong Min, The Apartment Construction Market and Urban Politics in North Korea, Vantage Point, October 2014, vol. 37 no. 10, p. 35.

[11] Kim Tae-ku, “The Changing Relationship between WPK and KPA in North Korea under Kim Jong-un’s leadership: focusing on weakening the Army’s Influence”, Vantage Point, vol. 36 No. 11, November 2013, p. 47.

[12] Suh Dong-gu, “North Korean intelligence and Security Apparatus to Protect the Kim Jong-un regime”, Vantage Point, vol. 38 no. 5, May 2015, p. 29.  10% of agents have a background from families who fought during the Japanese Occupation, Interview with Kim Byeong-ro, an associate professor at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies of the Seoul National university. The interview was realized on the 8th July 2015.

[13] Cheong Seong-chang, “Kim Jong Il’s Illness and Prospects for Post-Kim Leadership”, East Asian Review, winter 2008, p. 3.

[14] Cheong Seong-chang, “Kim Jong Il’s Illness…”, p. 27.

[15] Michael Madden, “A Biography of Jang Sung-thaek: The Juche Jump (Hey, Mr. Jang!)”, Parallax Journal of International Perspectives, vol. VI, nr 1, the fall 2009, p. 35.

[16] John H. Cha, K. J. Sohn, (eds.), Exit Emperor Kim Jong-il…, p. 40.

[17] Nicolas Levi, Kto rządzi w Korei Północnej?, (Warszawa: Dialogue, 2014), p. 48.

[18] Levi, Nicolas, System Polityczny Korei Północnej – aspekty kulturalne,(Warszawa:  wyd. Askon, 2013), p. 74.

[19] Nicolas Levi, Kto rządzi…, p. 51.

[20]Jang Jin-sung, Cher Leader, (Brussels: Ixelles, 2014), p. 100.

[21] Jang Jin-sung, Cher Leader…, p. 174.

[22] More profoundly: Nicolas Levi, “Short Biography of Kim Pyong-il and his defeat in his run for  Power in North Korea” Parallax, vol. VII, n° 1 fall 2010.


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