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
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/timtaylornovels