Andrei Lankov: Global Rethinker
I have always found the community of North Korea watchers highly collegial. We have divergent priorities but are all walking in the dark and know that the chances we are right on any given issue are nearly random. There is thus some collective cheer at recognition of our troupe. Andrei Lankov—in august company with Moon Jae-in—was recently chosen by Foreign Policy as one of 50 "Global Rethinkers." Lankov is an historian, and his two books on the immediate post-war period bear rereading: From Stalin to Kim Il Sung (2002) and Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of Destalization 1956 (2007). The themes are surprisingly resonant: the fateful turn that Kim Il Sung took in the late-1950s and early 1960s to purge the opposition and embark on the first iteration of the byungjin line of heavy, military-oriented industrialization. His subsequent books have delved into daily life based on refugee interviews, most notably in North of the DMZ.
Yet several other contributions might be less well known. As editor of the Journal of East Asian Studies (JEAS), I have published two of Lankov's academic publications that bear close reading. His 2012 piece on the so-called "organizational life" (with In-ok Kwak and Choong-Bin Cho) provides an overview of the five compulsory organizations that provide mechanisms of regime control and surveillance: in addition to the Korean Workers' Party (KWP), the Youth Union, the Trade Union, the Farmers' Union, and the Women's Union. The general focus on the leader, party, and elite decision-making structure overlooks these organizations and how they contribute to the stability of the regime.
More recently, his Making Money in the State (with Peter Ward, Ho-yeol Yoo, and Ji-young Kim) draws on indepth interviews with five North Korean entrepreneurs to outline the operations of what they call "pseudo-state enterprises (PSEs)": state firms that are effectively managed by private actors. Utilizing an agency theory approach, with particular emphasis on property rights and contracting problems, Lankov and his colleagues trace the origin of the PSE, their interaction with the state, how they are managed, and the challenges they face. This work is complementary to other reviews of the marketization process Lankov has written, including this one from the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Other JEAS publications on North Korea can be found in this special virtual issue.