Speed Battling

Man cycles past 70 day speed battle slogans. April, 2016  (Photo by Joe Han)

Man cycles past 70 day speed battle slogans. April, 2016 (Photo by Joe Han)

Prior to the 7th Party Congress in May, the citizens of the DPRK were set out upon a 70-day speed battle. A speed battle is a competitive, Stakhanovite, nationally mandated program of additional work, with the goal of increased production. Individuals are constantly exhorted to work harder and longer for the accumulation of a socialized surplus. Its like national overtime, where you put in more time at your workplace or on projects elsewhere.

By late April, reports from various sectors suggested that people were suffering the effects of exhaustion, either from long hours at their main job or from being mobilized to do other work after hours. This grueling work schedule may provide tangible boosts in some sectors, but does little to solve bottlenecks or key shortages of capital investment, which are currently major factors inhibiting growth.

Then North Korea had its 7th Party Congress, which was generally a time of relaxation as the country focused its attention on the meetings in the capital. Coming out of the Congress, however, Pyongyang announced a 200-day “speed battle”, beginning in June. People in the DPRK are suggesting that this iteration is considerably less intense than the 70-day battle: simply, the breakneck pace couldn't be kept up for a full 270 days in one calendar year. This back-to-back speed battling last happened in 2009, during which there were two, lasting for 150 days and 100 days each. 

The DPRK has always been a little bit obsessed with speed. "Speed" movements began in the 1950's, with the slogan "Pyongyang Speed" giving way to "Chollima Speed" in 1959, passing through "Vinalon Speed" in the 1970s and its most recent inheritor, "Masikryong Speed".

Namyang Today

Namyang Today

"Chollima" is a mythical winged horse that could travel a thousand ri (Chol-li) in a single bound or day, depending on who you ask. The 1959 Chollima movement was in many ways an echo of China's Great Leap Forward, but far less disastrous.

Indeed, it did bear some fruit: one elderly Chinese man from border town of Tumen recalled a couple years ago that he watched with great interest how in 1959 the Koreans sent teams up to Namyang, across the river, throw up a 5 storey building in just a couple weeks and leave. He'd never seen anything so incredible in his life - it made him want to move across the river!

This year, in a conscious call-back to the 1950s, North Korea has created the slogan "Mallima Speed" -  a upgraded horse model that can do ten thousand ri. "Pyongyang Speed" has also returned as a slogan.

There is still over a month and a half left in the 200-day battle. It will end before the new year, offering some well-deserved respite.

The smaller peppers are more spicy.

The smaller peppers are more spicy.