Issue 300: 2021 11 11: Cult of Personality

11 November 2021

Cult of Personality

North Korea and China.

By Neil Tidmarsh

Boris has blown it. Surely our most promising potential cult of personality has run into the buffers? That wild blond mop worthy of a trademark, that amiably bumbling manner deserving of a copyright, that bluff Bertie Wooster-esque speech pattern which out-Wodehouses Wodehouse, surely they are as dust and ashes now that serious accusations of Tory sleaze are blowing up a storm?

Jo Biden has let us down, too. How could the Democrat’s sex-symbol, whose appearance on Parks and Recreations left Leslie Knope tongue-tied with infatuation and desire, have morphed into the OAP who allegedly breaks wind in the presence of our Queen and falls asleep during Glasgow’s last-gasp attempt to save the earth?

Where can we look now for an authentic Cult of Personality? Not here in the West – surprisingly, neither Obama nor Trump have quite managed to turn themselves into poster-boy deities, in spite of now being free of presidential decorum and restraint (though one of them was never very scrupulous about that even when he was in the White House, of course).

But elsewhere it’s a rather different matter.

Next month will see the tenth anniversary of Kim Jong-un’s succession to power in North Korea. It seems that he’s had enough of deference to his forbears after a decade of faithfully observing the niceties of the Kim family cult which has been the foundation of power there for three generations. Officers from South Korea’s spy agency – the National Intelligence Service – have been informing the parliament in Seoul about it this week. They reported that pictures of his father Kim Jong-il and grandfather Kim Il-sung have been removed from government buildings in the North Korean capital. They also reported that the name of a new ideology, ‘Kimjongunism’, has started to circulate among officials, replacing the terms ‘Kimilsungism’ (in use since the 1970’s) and ‘Kimilsungism-kimjongilism’ (in use since the 1980’s). The term ‘Great Leader’ was reserved for the founding president Kim Il-sung, but state media are now beginning to use it for his grandson. It appears that Kim Jong-un has decided that there is room for only one top man in his country, having had to share the position with his two deceased forebears for long enough.

And in China this week, President Xi has also been making efforts to raise his profile above those of his revered predecessors. A crucial four-day plenary session of the 200 members of the Chinese Communist Party’s central committee is currently underway. They’re meeting to discuss the president’s record, his position in Chinese history and his place in its future.

The meeting was preceded by the publication of an official tribute to the president by Xinhau, the state news agency. It’s 12,000 words long and runs to six chapters. It describes him as “a man of determination and action, a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate and a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly.” It stresses that “Without a strong leadership core it will be difficult to form a unified will of the entire party…” The status of ‘core leader’ has been one enjoyed by the two most prominent of past leaders, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

On its very first day, the meeting issued a “major statement” of the party. There have been only two previous “major statements” in the party’s 100 year history. The first, initiated by Mao Zedong in 1945, launched the party’s mission to create a communist state; the second, initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1981, denounced Mao’s Cultural Revolution and began Deng’s policy of free market reforms, international engagement and the pursuit of material prosperity. This week’s “major statement” seems to indicate that Xi intends his contribution to Chinese history to be its transformation into not just a world-leading economic power but a world-leading military power as well.

According to international commentators, the meeting is another step towards putting Xi on the same historical pedestal as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping (a process which became clear at last year’s celebrations to mark the party’s centenary) and thus justify his remaining as president for years to come, possibly even for life. Xi began his first term in power in 2012; leaders usually served two five year terms, but three years ago the constitution was changed to remove any limit on terms. This week’s meeting is expected to recommend that Xi should be re-elected next year, at the party’s twentieth conference.

A safe bet, it seems.  Unlike Boris’s and Biden’s chances in 2024, no doubt.

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