Lyrics of “Let’s Breakthrough to the Cutting Edge”
1. Whatever we set our minds to, made according to a program
Pride of the machine industry in the songun era, our style CNC technology.
CNC is the power of Juche industry
CNC is an example of self-reliance
According to the path shown by the General
Let’s breakthrough to the cutting edge
Ah~ Arirang, arirang raising the nation’s pride
Let’s build a strong country with science and technology
Happiness is billowing toward us.
2. Today in the age of information economy, if we fall behind we become slaves to technology
Going forth in the world with high-tech, our style CNC technology.
3. If our hearts burn with patriotism, there is no high-tech we cannot conquer
With our strength now a hundred-fold with songun, let’s hold mastery over everything.
“Let’s Breakthrough to the Cutting Edge” is the title of a new song, popular in North Korea, that features CNC technology as its main theme. CNC stands for “computer numerical control,” a type of technology that has undergone constant evolution since computers were first introduced into the production process using digital information from computers to operate machinery.
The idea of computer-automated machines taking over the kind of work that was once carried out by workers seems somewhat contradictory to the communist spirit. Scenes like the following of a North Korean worker standing atop a large metal furnace used to be iconic, representing the working class in the era of the Industrial Revolution. Hence, the hammer representing workers and the sickle representing peasants were major symbols for the communist movement whose objective was to organize the vast majority of the people in the world for a more just and equitable distribution of the profits that was the fruit of their labor.
A lot has changed since then – not the emphasis on a planned economy or the equitable distribution of wealth, but on the kinds of industries that are going to pull North Korea out of its economic crises that have taken place since the fall of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s. It is a new emphasis on light industry to increase the quantity and quality of consumer products, and a heavy focus on the high-tech industry to computerize the production process through CNC technology.
A great example was the Pyongyang Socks Factory, which opened in June 1962, but underwent major changes in the last year by instituting CNC technology in its production process to produce more with less workers and with greater efficiency. The factory currently has 800 workers with 34 managers, producing 8.5 million pairs of socks per year. Seen throughout the factory was the slogan, “Let’s raise the quality of the people’s consumer products!”
The third factory we visited was the Sariwon Taesong Towel Factory. While there had been a consumer cooperative there in the late 1950s, it became a towel factory in 1963. The name is misleading because the factory produces a lot more than just towels. They also produce cotton cloth and clothes. One particular batch of winter grey mini-skirts with big black buttons in the front caught our eye. But it turned out that they were being produced to be sent to a Chinese company, which had been subcontracted by a designer European label. In other words, the factory was subcontracted twice over, decreasing further its margin of profitability. The factory manager explained that this was due to the economic sanctions imposed on North Korea, which prohibits companies from doing business directly with North Korea.
The resources to computerize this factory had not reached its doors as yet, unlike the Pyongyang Socks Factory, and it was disheartening to hear that the beautiful skirts they were making would not be given its full value nor its full due. The label would not say Made in D.P.R.K. and those who wear it will never know that the designer skirts they were proudly wearing were indeed made by North Korean workers.