The DLP and North Korea: A Brief History
Today, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) of Korea, perhaps sensing the changing political winds, announced that they would finally ditch their pro-Pyongyang position. The DLP was founded in 2000, and capitalizing on rising nationalism and anti-US sentiment, reached its peak popularity in the 2002 elections. Along with other progressive parties, the DLP was trounced in the 2007 elections. Its candidate, Kwon Young Ghil, won a mere 3% of the vote, down from about 4% in the 2002 elections. The DLP is divided into two factions: the National Liberation faction and the People’s Democracy faction. The former is radically pro-Pyongyang, going so far as to advocate the implementation of Juche ideology in the South and kowtowing to Kim Jong Il. The People’s Democracy faction is more interested in progressive labor and social issues at home. This rather uneasy coalition has often been in conflict with each other and the recent announcement that the party will rethink its pro-North stance will only add fuel to this fire. Says the Joongang Ilbo:
So Sim [Sim Sang-jeong, the acting head of the DLP], a PD member, said the party should reconsider its North-friendly policies. The NLs see that as an excuse to purge NL members from the party leadership. Former presidential candidate Kwon is identified with the NL side. Sim denied any intention to retaliate against the pro-North faction.
The closeness between the DLP’s NL faction and North Korea became apparent during the Ilshimhoe (일심회, 一心會) scandal. Ilshimhoe, or the “Committee of One Mind,” was a spy ring comprised of ex-student activists and DLP party members, founded in the 1989s after founder Jang Min Ho visited Pyongyang. Jang was alleged to have contacted his North Korean handlers several times during the ensuing two decades. The group was accused of sharing information about top DLP leadership with Pyongyang. According to an old Chosun Ilbo article:
The reports [from Ilshimhoe members] typically said X “belongs to the PD faction. Be careful” or Y “can be a bad drunk” and the like, prosecutors said. DLP vice secretary general Choi Ki-young and others allegedly played a key role in helping the spy ring get access to internal party information
The group was also accused of spreading anti-American sentiments, fomenting protests and sharing information on US troop movements.
Another Chosun Ilbo article gives some insight into the organization:
The communist country tried to cement its influence in the DLP by ordering members to get a certain unidentified person elected as party chairman, prosecutors said. In e-mails, North Korea reportedly assured members that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il treasures them “like very precious gold.”
In April, 2007, five members of the group were sentenced to between 4 and 9 years in prison for spying and sharing state secrets and were acquitted of forming a “pro-enemy organization.” However, it was still too late to save the DLP’s tarnished image. Accused of being a front for the Korean Worker’s Party, the DLP suffered greatly as disillusionment with the Sunshine Policy and the North’s belligerence grew. Which brings us to the present:
The DLP demanded that North Korea stop interfering with the party’s affairs. In an open report posted on its website, the DLP said, “We strongly protest at North Korean authorities for their attempt to destroy the party’s independence and self-reliance” in the so-called Ilsimhoe case. “We demand that North Korea immediately stop interfering with a progressive party of the South. (Chosun Ilbo)”