Dictators in History: Benito Mussolini

It’s time for another one in my occasional series discussing historical dictators and comparing them to Carlos Almanzor, the fictional dictator in my novel Revolution Day (in honour of the fact that Revolution Day is reduced to 99p/c – today only! – in the Crooked Cat Summer Sale – find it here ).  This time I thought I would look at the person who perhaps more than any other defines our stereotype of the dictator: Benito Mussolini of Italy.

Mussolini was born in 1883 in the town of Predappia in Romagna, northern Italy.  His father, a blacksmith, was a socialist and named his eldest son after the Mexican president Benito Juarez.  In his early career, Benito too embraced socialism and became a political agitator and journalist. However, he was also influenced by the nationalism of Giuseppe Mazzini and the philosophy of Nietsche, which led him to reject egalitarianism.  The tension between these different aspects of his thought came to a head when he advocated Italian participation in World War 1, contrary to the stance of the socialist party, from which he was duly expelled.  He served as a soldier and was wounded in 1917.

Thereafter, it was nationalism that dominated Mussolini’s politics.  In 1919 he formed the Fascist party, which acquired a paramilitary wing, the blackshirts, who fought against left-wing groups.  In 1922 30,000 blackshirts marched on Rome as Mussolini demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Luigi Facta. The King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel III, refused to grant Facta’s request for martial law. Facta resigned and the King invited Mussolini to form a government.

Once in power, Mussolini took steps to keep it firmly in his hands, establishing a one-party state by 1925.  He pursued public works, nationalisation, and interventionist economics at home, and an expansionist and opportunistic foreign policy which sought to expand Italy’s territory, particularly at the expense of ‘inferior’ peoples in Yugoslavia and Africa. This led him to invade Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, forcing its Emperor Haile Selassie to flee and killing an estimated 7% of the population.  His relationships with other European powers were fluid: at times he flirted with Britain and France or tried to steer a middle way between them and Germany.  Ultimately, however, he aligned himself with his fellow dictators, supporting Franco in Spain and allying Italy with Nazi Germany, hoping to take advantage of the War to make territorial gains in North Africa and elsewhere.  However, Italy was not well-prepared for war, and a succession of defeats greatly weakened Mussolini’s position. After the Allied conquest of Sicily in July 1943 he lost the support of his party and of the King, who dismissed him in favour of Marshal Badoglio.

As Badoglio began negotiations for an armistice, Mussolini was imprisoned in the Apennine mountains, only to be dramatically rescued by the Germans in September, to become the puppet ruler of a rump Italian Social Republic in the north, as the remainder of the country joined the allies.  As the war approached its end, he fled with his mistress Clara Petacci and others, but they were captured by partisans and shot, two days before the death of Hitler.

As the progenitor of Fascism, Mussolini left a baleful legacy to the world. His ideology and methods, in particular his centralisation of power, use of propaganda, militaristic nationalism and contempt for ‘inferior’ races, were an important influence on Hitler, who admired him and took those techniques and beliefs to even greater and more catastrophic extremes.

Mussolini and Carlos

I didn’t particularly have Mussolini in mind when I was creating Carlos.  Nevertheless, there are some interesting parallels. A surprising one is the fact that both started out as socialists before moving to the right.  In Mussolini’s case, of course, his rejection of socialism and embracing of nationalism preceded and fuelled his rise to power, coming to define him; whereas Carlos becomes President at the head of an avowedly socialist revolutionary movement, only later coming to adopt elements of capitalism and nationalism as pragmatic means to sustain himself in power.  Authoritarian rather than fascist, he comes to share Mussolini’s contempt for democracy but has none of the latter’s racism or militarism.

Less surprisingly, Carlos’ projection of himself has something in common with Mussolini. Thus he makes use of the cult of personality and employs his oratorical skills to good effect. And both men affect senior military uniform, (though at least Mussolini, unlike Carlos, did serve briefly in the Army, albeit at a lowly rank).  Both, in somewhat different ways, consider themselves intellectuals.  In other ways the two are quite different – unlike Mussolini, Carlos is neither a womaniser nor a family man.  Yet there is a final parallel in that in the twilight of their careers they both see the power they have held for decades slipping away from them. Whether this ends as badly for Carlos as it did for Mussolini, you will have to read the book to find out!

You can find out more about Revolution Day, and read excerpts and reviews, on its page on my website

Website: http://www.tetaylor.co.uk/
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/timtaylornovels
Twitter: https://twitter.com/timetaylor1




Summer Sale!

Revolution Day is reduced to 99p/c or equivalent on Amazon (here! – US link below) till the end of August, in the Crooked Cat Summer Sale (as are lots of other great books)!

Revolution Day follows a year in the life of ageing dictator Carlos Almanzor as vice-president Manuel plots against him and his estranged wife recalls his rise to power and descent from idealism into autocracy and repression.

In this excerpt, Manuel brings Carlos to see a prisoner who appears to have important information:


The young man was sitting bolt upright in the chair, a posture which at first sight sat oddly with the expression of overwhelming weariness upon his face. Closer inspection would reveal, however, that his arms and legs were strapped to the chair, preventing him from slumping forward and giving him very little freedom of movement in any direction. There was blood around his mouth and nose, and bruises were beginning to form around his eyes. Facing him, in two more comfortable chairs against the far wall, were two guards, dressed not in uniform but in jeans, t-shirts and trainers, their thick arms copiously adorned with tattoos. A key turned in the lock of the room’s heavy door, and the door swung open.

“Sit up straight. You’ve got some important visitors.”

Three men entered the room;: first, holding the key, an intelligence officer in a grey suit, a surprisingly slight and innocuous-looking man. The other two were known to all present as the Vice-President (and Minister of Information) and the President of the Republic. The guards sprang to their feet and saluted enthusiastically, hastily moving to positions behind the prisoner so that the VIPs could occupy the chairs they had just vacated. The intelligence officer also saluted, and waited for his guests to sit down before addressing the President.

“Presidente, allow me to present to you Hector Aguilar, until recently an activist with the Freedom and Democracy Party, who has provided us with some important information which we believe you would wish to hear.”

“I would salute you too, Presidente,” said Aguilar, “but as you can see, my arms are tied to this chair.” One of the guards moved to hit him, but the Vice-President stilled him with a wave of his hand. He then turned to face the President.

“Thank you for setting aside some time from your busy schedule to come here, Presidente. You have seen the intelligence reports, but I thought that it was best for you to hear the information from the horse’s mouth.” He nodded to the intelligence officer, who turned towards the prisoner.

“Tell the President what you told us earlier today.”

Aguilar hesitated for a moment. Then, as the nearest guard began to crack his knuckles, an expression of resigned weariness came over the prisoner’s face and he finally began to speak …


Carlos Almanzor has ruled his country for 37 years. He is feeling his age and seeing enemies around every corner. And with good reason: his Vice-President, Manuel Jimenez, though outwardly loyal, is burning with frustration at his subordinate position.

Meanwhile, Carlos’ estranged and imprisoned wife Juanita recalls the revolution that brought him to power and how his regime descended from idealism into autocracy and repression.

In time, as Manuel makes his own bid for power, Juanita will find herself an unwitting participant in his plans.

Revolution Day on Amazon.com




When Death came walking up the road

Well, I was trying to think of something to post on my blog this week, when I happened to come across a facebook post about Emily Dickinson (by Jennifer Wilson, in the launch party for Miriam Drori’s new book Social Anxiety Revealed).  This reminded my of the session we did on Emily at Poetry Day once, and the light-hearted (if you can be light-hearted about death!) poem that I wrote – part pastiche, part commentary on Emily herself.  So, I thought, why not post it here, then?  (It’s also in the Holme Valley Poets anthology In the Company of Poets).


When Death came walking up the road,

a chill as cold as space

filled me as I beheld his cloak –

I dared not see his face.

With shaking hands I combed my hair,

put on my finest hat –

but then I thought, “don’t waste this time:

others will see to that.”

I cast my gaze around the room:

upon the desk there lay

great piles of scribbled lines of verse

in woeful disarray.

“Alas, my children,” I bemoaned,

“How I have failed you!

For years I left you incomplete

save for a paltry few.

You are not ready to be read

and now will never be.

You will not, as I once hoped,

remind the world of me.”

In sadness, I took up a pen

and wrote, “please burn them all.”

I steeled myself as best I could

and waited in the hall

for his dread knock, but no knock came –

I looked outside and saw

the bones of that unearthly hand

upon my neighbour’s door.

It opened, and the poor man left

to join the ageless dead.

Death grinned, and tipped his hat at me.

“I’ll see you soon,” he said.


Here’s another of the little stories I write now and again – this one at Holmfirth Writers, I think.


The little boy had been staring out of the window for some time.

“I want to go outside,” he shouted. “I want to touch the trees, to smell the flowers, to walk up the mountains. Why do you keep me in here all the time? It’s not fair.”

“You know very well why we keep you inside,” his mother replied. “Outside there are germs in the air that would kill you if you breathed them in. When the Great Plague came, people came out in horrible lumps all over their bodies and they went blind. Their lungs filled with water and they died. That’s what will happen to you if you go outside. In here we are safe, and we have all we need.”

“But look,” said the boy, “there are birds outside, and squirrels – see, there’s one on that tree over there. Why don’t the germs hurt them?”

His mother gave an exasperated sigh. “Because they are germs that cause a human disease. There are different germs that cause bird diseases and squirrel diseases. Perhaps they will have a great plague of their own one day.

“I hope not,” said the boy, reflectively. After a few moments, a thoughtful look came into his eyes.

“Are there no people outside any more, then?”

“Not that we know of, Michael. Not alive, anyway.”

“How long has it been since we came inside?”

“Twelve years and seven months.”

“Well then, if there are no people outside, and the germs can’t eat birds or squirrels, won’t the germs have starved to death by now?”

Another exhausted sigh. “I don’t know, Michael. Germs can live a very long time. If anyone went out, the germs might come in here and that would be the end of us all. Listen, Michael. At least you can see the trees and the mountains, and the birds and the squirrels. Sometimes you can even hear the wind blowing through the trees. Isn’t that a lot better than nothing. A lot better than being dead?

He made no answer. She kissed him on the forehead and left the room.

Michael looked through the window again. A heron was fishing in the stream that flowed through the forest. How sweet that water must be compared with the horrible stuff he had to drink. It was all so beautiful. He could not believe there was anything bad out there. A little storm of anger welled up inside him. ‘I will get out, I will!’ he chanted to himself. Taking off his shoe, he banged it repeatedly against the glass.

There was a slight tinkling sound. What had he done! A spider web of cracks radiated from the site of his last blow. Then a jagged triangle of glass detatched itself and fell with an ominous crash onto the window ledge. He began a scream, then stopped dead. In the place where the glass had been there was no hole, just wires and bare grey concrete.