Despite the best training in the ways of despotism, however, in Communist countries blood succession has just not been allowed to happen. Which is not to say nepotism is not rampant. This is and was widely practiced in the Soviet Union and China, but nowhere so much as in Romania.
There, Nicolae Ceausescu -- a great admirer of Kim Il Sung --
pushed the political careers of his wife, Elena, his brother and his brother-in-law, and even began grooming his son, Nicu, to succeed him. All this gave rise to the sarcastic description of Romania as "Socialism in One Family."
In late 1989, a revolution overthrew the Romanian Communist regime, and Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were executed on Christmas Day, and Nicu was sent off to jail.
To repeat the question of the moment, will Kim Il Sung be so lucky and succeed where Ceausescu failed? Or, considering what is known about Kim Jong Il, will North Koreans be so unlucky?
One can only speculate over what might be the reasons Communist states have had such difficulty in this area. Here is one possibility.
During communism's formative years in the 19th century, much of the world was ruled by kings and czars and emperors. Since communism was a revolutionary creed bent on overturning the powers that be, its adherents developed an intense antipathy toward monarchies: they were conservative and averse to change; they encouraged personalist leadership; they perpetuated themselves through blood.
These were conventions and traditions despised by Communists who saw them as evidence of the worse kind of human weakness. This antipathy lasted for decades, was ingrained in the creed.
"In most of these Communist countries, the ideology was strong enough so that the idea of a monarch-like succession was quite foreign to them," said James Voorhees, an expert in Eastern Europe in the Congressional Research Service.
Yet, irony of ironies, few systems since the great monarchies were swept away have produced so many personalist leaders as the Communist ones (from Stalin to Mao to Enver Hoxha in Albania to Kim Il Sung in North Korea, on and on).
And few countries were so conservative and resistant to change as Communist states turned out to be in the latter part of the 20th century.
So, in a way, the Communists became very much like those they hated most -- feudal, Byzantine, reactionary.
Certainly those words might go some way to describe Cuba today, and its leader, Fidel Castro, who has been in power there since 1959, the year he and his rebel army swept into Havana after expelling the execrable Fulgencio Batista.
With Kim Il Sung gone, Castro is the pre-eminent and longest-ruling Communist leader in the world. His is a personalist leadership, and has been from the beginning. But it is a discredited leadership: The economy of his country is degenerating, its political life remains as stagnant as that of any 19th-century Balkan backwater, the revolutionary rhetoric forever blaring forth is hollow and empty.
Fidel Castro's is a story of promise betrayed. Said Mr. Burns: "He came in on such a program of opposition to Yankees, capitalists and imperialists, what they called exploiters. He came in on such a background of corruption that he achieved a tremendous momentum. I would have imagined that for the first decade or two that was sufficient. But now that has turned to repression and control."
According to Harvard's Jorge Dominguez, political succession is not the preoccupation of the moment in Cuba. There are several reasons for that. Castro is not all that old at 68, and the economy, the mess it's in and the squalid life it has engendered, offer a more compelling obsession.
"For the most part this is not a big issue," said Dr. Dominguez. "But as Fidel gets older people will begin thinking about this."
And who is ordained to succeed Castro should he die or meet with some other incapacitating unpleasantness?
His brother, Raul. As commander of the armed forces he is the constitutional successor. He has been from the beginning.
Another chip off the old block.
Richard O'Mara is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.