I know little about North Korean history, but their official narrative and what I had also believed is that - long story short - Kim Jong-Il basically just inherited his dictatorial powers from his father, as per his father's wishes.
Yet, I was surprised to read in Jang Jin-Sung's Dear Leader (2014) that there was in fact a vicious power struggle.
So my questions are:
(1) Is Jang correct? (2) If he is correct, was this already common knowledge amongst students of North Korean history, and just unfamiliar to the broader public? Or are these new and surprising revelations?
Although we reached our conclusion reluctantly, the overwhelming evidence that demonstrated the enmity and power struggles between the son and the father (including documents showing how father and son had announced directly opposing policies at the same time) left us with no alternative. We had to concede that, while Kim Jong-il’s legitimacy might have been based on hereditary succession from father to son in terms of the official narrative, in reality it had involved usurpation by the son of the father. Kim Jong-il had consolidated power by wresting it away from his father instead of receiving it from him.
Kim Il-sung’s associates began to disappear one by one, and those who remained grew increasingly disgruntled by the fact that their children were being relegated to provincial postings, dead-end government positions or military ranks outside the power structure of the Party. The disaffected supporters of Kim Il-sung confronted the issue by going as a group to the Mount Keumsu assembly hall (also known as the Palace of the Supreme Leader) on 15 April 1982, Kim Il-sung’s birthday, to discuss the issue with the Supreme Leader himself.
By this time, however, Kim Il-sung was merely a figurehead. All power in the state had been meticulously routed to Kim Jong-il through the OGD’s tentacled reach, with positions of real authority occupied by Kim Jong-il’s classmates from Kim Il-sung University. Kim Jong-il’s power over the Supreme Leader himself was absolute: Kim Il-sung had to request permission from the Party’s OGD before he could meet up with any of his supporters or old comrades. His own powers were restricted to those that would continue to make him appear powerful to North Koreans and outsiders alike, such as on-site inspections and diplomatic authority. Even Section 1 of the Guards Command, the personal bodyguards of Kim Il-sung, now answered directly to the Party’s OGD. In this way, a leader who had once received close protection from a loyal cohort of guards lived out his last days under the close surveillance of a cohort loyal to Kim Jong-il.
Kim Jong-il refused to fulfil even one of his father’s simplest last requests. Kim Il-sung had said that when he died, he wanted to be buried alongside his fallen comrades at the Mount Daesung Revolutionary Martyrs’ Memorial. After his death, his ex-guerrilla comrades even signed a group petition for this wish to be carried out. But Kim Jong-il thought that if Kim Il-sung’s body were laid to rest at this location, the authority of his father’s revolutionary comrades would be seen to be reasserted, which might in turn threaten his own power because he had once taken away theirs.