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Why We Fight:

Consumerism in the Bowels of the People’s Power:

Pyongyang Department Store Number 1, North Korea


CLASSIC DALRYMPLE: The Wilder Shores of Marx, excerpt (1991)


In 1989 Theodore Dalrymple managed to join up with a group of British communists on its way to the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in North Korea:

The British ‘delegation’ was fixed at 100 and I was accepted as a member because, though neither a youth nor a student, I was a doctor who had practiced in Tanzania, a country whose first President, Julius Nyerere, was a close friend and admirer of Kim Il Sung, Great Leader of DPRK (as the country is known to cognoscenti). It was therefore assumed I was in sympathy with what was sometimes called, rather vaguely, ‘the movement’.

The ensuing trip, one of five to communist holdouts in 1988 and 1989, was recounted in his 1991 book “The Wilder Shores of Marx” (published in the U.S. as “Utopias Elsewhere”). Throughout two weeks in July of 1989 Dalrymple witnessed an imprisoned nation, attended a mass rally addressed by Kim Jong-Il, and was transfixed by what he saw at Pyongyang Department Store Number 1…

I went several times during the festival to Pyongyang Department Store Number 1. This is in the very centre of the city. Its shelves and counters were groaning with locally produced goods, piled into impressive pyramids or in fan-like displays, perfectly arranged, throughout the several floors of the building. On the ground floor was a wide variety of tinned foods, hardware and alcoholic drinks, including a strong Korean liqueur with a whole snake pickled or marinated in the bottle, presumably as an aphrodisiac. Everything glittered with perfection, the tidiness was remarkable.
It didn’t take long to discover that this was no ordinary department store. It was filled with thousands of people, going up and down the escalators, standing at the corners, going in and out of the front entrance in a constant stream both ways – yet nothing was being bought or sold. I checked this by standing at the entrance for half an hour. The people coming out were carrying no more than the people entering. Their shopping bags contained as much, or as little, when they left as when they entered. In some cases, I recognised people coming out as those who had gone in a few minutes before, only to see them re-entering the store almost immediately…

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