The Korean Succession: Late Great Leader portrayed as dunce who got low Marx: Andrew Higgins learns that Kim Il Sung's old professor of Communism didn't rate him too highly on theory

THE MAN who taught Kim Il Sung the ABC of Marxism has not let the death of his former pupil soften a harsh judgment: the Great Leader was an awful student. 'He had no education at all. He understood nothing about the theory of Marxism,' says Park Il Petr Alexandrovich, a Leningrad-trained professor of Communism sent to Pyongyang in 1946 to tutor Korea's revolutionary elite.

Mr Park, 83, heard the news at dawn on Saturday when a philosphy professor telephoned from the South Korean capital of Seoul. 'It is sad when anyone dies but I am not weeping for him.' Nor is he cheering for Kim Jong Il, the late Great Leader's son and chosen successor. The focus of a personality cult second only to that of his late father, Kim Jong Il is hailed in North Korea as a 'genius of literature, art and military' and the author of 'immortal exploits for mankind.'

Mr Park has never met the younger Kim but takes a more sober view of his talents. Particularly weak, he says, is the Dear Leader's Marxism: 'He knows less than his dad.' And this is bad news for Korea as he thinks Kim Jong Il will have grave trouble holding on to power.

Speaking by telephone from Kazakhstan, where he has lived since leaving Pyongyang in 1948, Mr Park sounds more a schoolmaster than an ideological zealot: 'There are educated people in North Korea but none of them know anything about theory. If Soviet Marxism is distorted, Korean Marxism is distorted three times over.'

An ethnic Korean born in Russia's Far East, Mr Park spent two years in Pyongyang working for the Soviet generals who seized control of the north of the peninsula from Japan at the end of World War Two. Aside from giving a crash-course in Communism, he also helped ghost-write Kim Il Sung's wartime record, a project which led to a rift with Soviet military authorities and his own premature departure from Pyongyang. He says the Great Leader spent much of the war in Russia planting potatoes, not leading guerrillas in the mountains of Korea, as claimed. Also fake, he says, are Kim Il Sung's dozens of books and pamphlets: 'Many Russian authors got an Order of Lenin for writing under Brezhnev's name. It was the same in Korea.'

The truth, buried beneath layer upon layer of propaganda from both sides of the 38th parallel, may never be known. Mr Park insists that most of Kim Il Sung's exploits are a fabrication dictated by the Red Army's chief political commissar, Major- General Romanenko, who needed to create a Communist rival to Syngman Rhee, the American-installed puppet in the south.

Despite extensive contacts today with South Korea, where rigid anti-Communism is the national creed, Mr Park says he remains true to Marxist philosophy, though not always its politics. The only Marxists he admires are Marx and Mao. Marxism is not a question of faith: 'I don't believe in Marxism; I recognise it as a science.' This was something Kim Il Sung could never grasp.

Now that the Great Leader is dead, Mr Park predicts trouble ahead as the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, tries to consolidate power. But he still hopes to live long enough to make it back to Pyongyang. His dream is to give a course on philosophy at the university there.