The most influential figures in history have not always fought on the side of good. Often those that influence our lives most of all are dastardly characters, even downright evil. More often than that things are not quite so black and white. Many dictators have begun their struggle for power through a desire to instigate positive political change. Others can be difficult to judge without bias. Almost always, however, ultimate power ends in a huge human cost. Therefore, these dictators are ranked not for their greatness but for their infamy.
10. Porfirio Diaz
Porfirio Diaz was a wily old sod. In 1871 through 76 he fought a revolution against a predecessor who would not relinquish the presidency as legally required and then went on to do the same thing himself. The cheek of it! There’s no wonder he’s one of the most controversial figures in Mexican history.
Diaz’s’ presidency lasted an amazing twenty seven years, during which time he destroyed the Mexican economy, centralized it’s government and achieved total control. As with most dictators Diaz was welcomed as a hero at first but resentment grew. By 1908 it seemed that he was finally ready to retire. He announced that ‘Mexico was ready for democracy’ and that free elections would be held. However, despite facing formidable political opposition, Diaz was magically re-elected in the fishiest election there ever was. As a result, the Mexican revolution began.
9. Fidel Castro
Castro took the office of the prime minister of Cuba in 1959 following the Cuban revolution and was later named president. A controversial figure to some and a hero to others, Castro can be considered to be one of the few truly successful dictators. The fact that his time as leader of the Cuban people has been comparatively uneventful will no doubt have something to do with this. He has no atrocities or wars to mar his record and instead is deserving of several gold stars for good behaviour. As a result he is heralded as a great leader in many third world countries. Castro serves as the Cuban head of state until ill health caused him to resign in 2008. He is perhaps the only dictator to have resigned with his dignity, his marbles, his political ideology and his regime all fully intact.
8. Chairman Mao
Mao Tse-tung was the leader of the People’s Republic of China until 1976. He lead the Communist Party of China to victory during the Chinese civil war and was heralded as a hero of the people. His life is still celebrated in China today.
Mao’s philosophy borrowed heavily from Marxism and the ideas of communist Russia, however, as much of his support was formed from rural communities his political ideas tended to focus on the liberation of the peasantry rather than the industrial workers, as was the trend in Russia. He spread these ideas across China in a brilliant military campaign, eventually occupying the entire country, with the exception of Taiwan. His enemies were subjected to brutal torture techniques, some of which included inserting certain objects into certain orifices. This brutality continued into the years of Mao’s secured authority. His reforms saw millions executed and sent to forced labour camps.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. Mao instituted a five-year economic plan. This included some industrial and educational reforms intended turn China’s peasant population into a thriving modern workforce. Mao’s second five-year-plan, however, involved the nationalization of all farms and made the private production of food illegal. This meant that many farmers had little food to eat. Millions starved.
7. Idi Amin
Ugandan dictator Idi Amin rose through the ranks of the British colonial regiment to become Commander of the Ugandan Army. He tool control of the small central African nation in a military coup and declared himself president. He introduced martial law, replacing civilian law courts with military tribunals.
Amin’s regime was responsible for the murder of thousands of civilians. Often massacres were justified as attempts to quash rebellion but it was not uncommon for entire villages to be wiped out for no reason. These atrocities extended to executing religious leaders, journalists and entire ethnic groups. He also expelled all Asians from the country and appropriated their property and businesses.
Amin is perhaps best known for his short temper and bizarre personality quirks. He hated the England and all things English but reportedly wrote several love letters to Queen Elizabeth. He is also rumoured to have consulted on issues with the severed heads of executed cabinet ministers. This strangeness of personality is reflected by the long and grandiose title he gave himself in 1977: ‘His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa’.
6. Vladmir Lennin
Lenin began his career as a lawyer and later became a publisher of Socialist literature. During the First World War he had been opposed to the fighting, holding the opinion that the working class were being forced to fight an imperialist conflict for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, and so was in Switzerland when the revolution came. Hearing the news that the aristocracy had finally hit the fan, he rushed back to Russia. Finding the country in turmoil he was initially forced to flee but returned to Petrograd to inspire the October revolution. He was instrumental in establishing the Soviet system of government under the Bolsheviks and in 1917 was elected chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars. His first major decisive act was to end Russia’s involvement in the war. He then introduced wide ranging censorship laws, to limit the chance of any future revolution and limit the support of the anti-socialist movement.
Lenin can be forgiven for his early acts as leader of Soviet Russia. He did not begin his leadership as a dictator but as an elected representative of the people. He truly believed in the ideas of Marxism and communism and believed them to be liberating forces. He also believed in feminism, which had been a defining force in the Bolshevik movement. However, things would soon get out of hand.
The newly born Soviet Union was not a power without opposition. The White Movement, or ‘White Terror’, was a political and military force opposed to the doctrine of Communism. The two forces slugged out this difference of opinion in the Russian Revolution, with the White army gaining support from major European powers. In response to this, and to an attempt on his life, Lenin ordered his own ‘Red Terror’ be exacted upon those who would oppose his regime. Suspected enemies of Lenin and of the State were rounded up and subjected to brutal torture or execution. Sometimes both. Labour camps were also established, in which poor conditions led to high death rates. Mass execution at such amps are said to have been common, with entire camps emptied of inmates before the area was abandoned to the anti-communist forces. These atrocities were extended to the clergy, leaving hundreds of thousands dead. The lengthy war also saw Lenin’s military taking supplies from the peasantry, leaving them with little to eat.
Later, Lenin attempted to restore Russia’s infrastructure and undo the damage of the long civil war. However, ill health plagued his later years and his role in government declined. An assassination attempt had left him with a bullet permanently lodged in his neck and a series of strokes left the communist leader paralysed. His later reform and return to political ideals led to him dying not as a war criminal but a hero of communism. His body was placed on display in a purpose built mausoleum.
5. General Franco
It’s often easy to forget that during the powerful dictatorships of the Second World War, as Hitler was busy exterminating the Jews and Stalin was making political dissidents ‘disappear’, Spain was undergoing it’s own revolution and dictatorship under Francisco Franco.
Franco began, like most dictators, as a military man. He gained the title General during a time of political unrest. After the collapse of the Spanish monarchy, Spaniards had a hard choice to make; to side with the left or the right. Political coalitions developed on either side, dividing the country on a fundamental ideological level. On one side, the republicans and liberals teamed up with the communists. On the other, the nationalists, conservatives and monarchists. For Franco this was a tough decision. His first concern was restoring order to a country struggling with social discord and widespread political upheaval. His lobby to declare a state of emergency in Spain was ignored, however, and he was sent off to the Canary islands where he would be safely out of the way. But when the left wing coalition was accused of stealing an election Franco headed back to Spain, with his newly loyal Army of Africa, as part a military coup that would begin the Spanish Civil War.
Of course, Franco won the civil war or we likely wouldn’t be talking about him today. His army, now calling themselves Nationalists, was supported by Italy’s Mussolini and Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Meanwhile the army of the left was supported by the Soviet Union and famously included political writer George Orwell. The war was bloody and cost many lives, many of which were the result of summary executions and atrocities committed by both sides. Franco added to this by the employment of, like all true dictatorships, forced labour camps and the internment of several thousand political dissidents along with other ‘undesirables’. Some of these were even packed off to Germany, where they endured the horrors of Nazi concentration camps.
Despite having made friends with some of the nastiest people in European politics, Franco never really got involved in World War II. His policy of ‘staying out of trouble’ meant that he would send troops to support the Nazi’s war against the Soviet Union but take no aggressive action against the other allied nations. As a result, Franco was not deposed along with his fascist buddies and remained the Spanish Head of State until 1975 as both president and regent. His restoration of the monarchy, without the appointment of a monarch meant that he could effectively serve as the new king of Spain and enforce a harsh rule of law on its people. This included the suppression of women, and all minorities. Under Franco the use of any language other than Spanish was illegal, as was divorce and abortion.
4. Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini became priminister of Italy in 1922. His long political career saw him lead Italy to the hight of its power, ocupying more land land exherting more authority than it had since the Roman Empire. His continued success as leader of the Italian people earned him the official title of ‘His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire’. For a period he was also ‘First Marshial of the Empire’, sharing joint control over the armed forces with the King.
Like his political ally Hitler, Mussolini had served in the first World War. It was there, in the trenches, that he came to the determination that socialism had failed. Mussolini had long been a supporter of socialism but now believed it to be weak and began philosophising on his own political idealogy. It was his opinion that Italy needed a strong leader, one who could consolidate power, return Italy to it’s Emperial routes and allow a fresh beginning both ecconomicaly and idealogically. This new philosophy would be called Fascism and by the mid-point of the twentieth century was the height of political fashion. You can always rely on the Italians to set the trend.
In 1922, Musolini rode into Rome on his Scooter to take power. Supported by the military, he was given the office of Prime Minister. Many politicians were outraged and protested Mussolini’s position by boycotting parliament and refusing to attend. Unfortunately this backfired and, with no opposition in parliament, Mussolini and the Fascists were able to pass any bill they liked. He quickly established a police state, centralized power and made it illegal to form political parties that might stand against him.
With his empire secured, Mussolini turned his attention to aquiring new territories. Sitting between the teritorries of Italian Somaliland and Eritrea, Abysinnia (Ethiopia) was a prime target. It quickly fell to the Fascist advance, becoming part of Italian East Africa. Of course, the supposed good guys of the time, France and Great Britain had already taken their share in African territories, infact Ethiopia was surrounded on three sides by British conquests. But the idea of empire building was finaly beginning to be frowned upon and the Red Cross’ claims that the Italian air force had bombed their tents made this campaign very unpopular with other countries. Mussolini’s alliance with Adolf Hitler, however, made him untouchable for some time and it was not untill 1941 that a task force of fourteen nations finally liberated this area. The same can be said of Albania, which was invaded by Italy at the same time as the Nazi invasion of Czecoslovakia. This alliance would eventually be Mussolini’s downfall, of course, as World War II eventually swung to the favour of the
Allies. Mussolini had originally intended to ally himself with France rather than Germany. Had he done so he might have done a little better for himself.
The Italian war effort began to weaken. Rome was bombed by the Allies, Sicilly was invaded and Mussolini subsequently went out of favor. Like an old pair of short-shorts he simply went out of fashion and was arested on the orders of the king. He was later rescued and taken to Germany. By this point Mussolini had had enough and was ready to retire but Hitler threatened that if he did not return to Italy to restore fascism the Nazis would destroy several Italian cities. Mussolini had no choice but to agree. Poor Mussolini.
The now war weary dictator returned to Italy and established a new fascist regime, the Italian Social Republic. You can tell that all of this was done in a hurry as the name was so simple and clearly defined. This new state was little more than a puppet of Nazi Germany, however, and only succeded in executing traitors to Mussolini’s authority. The great dictator was executed by communist rebels in 1945. His bones were taken to Milan, hung upside down and placed on display. Everybody got a good laugh out of that.
3. Josef Stalin
Good old Joe. Average Joe. One of the people. A genuine trustworthy guy. Well, not quite. As a matter of fact Joe was a bank robber. No joke. When the communist government create new laws against bank robbery Stalin resigned and went off to rob a bank just to prove his point. Forty people died in the robbery. What an ass.
Joe Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union between 1922 and 1956 in which time he killed or exported millions of ethnic minorities, oversaw the starvation of thousands of his own people and sent anybody who even looked at him the wrong way to labour camps. Still, he did kick the crap out of Nazi Germany. That’s something to thank him for. Although the establishment of the Eastern Bloc in it’s place was not so much of an improvement.
Stalin oversaw a massive overhaul of the soviet economy, industry and agriculture. The resulting disruption, however, was the cause of mass starvation in the Ukraine. There the situation was so extreme that reports of cannibalism spread. Without a doubt the darkest component of Stalin’s regime, however, was his ‘great purge’ which killed an estimated 700,000 people. The majority of those killed in the purge were ordinary citizens. This attempt to purge the nation of traitors, spies and even potential radicals meant that even uttering the word capitalism could have you sent to the gulag to be worked, starved, beaten or shot to death. Voicing an opinion other than “I think Stalin is a wonderful man and a glorious leader” was a dangerous thing to do at this time. Vast swathes of Stalin’s own Red Army were purged and any excuse could be used to brand any person an enemy of the state. If you didn’t like your neighbour all you had to do was say “He says Stalin wears women’s panties” and he’d be taken away. Then again, it would be likely under those circumstances that you and your entire neighbourhood would be questioned and arrested following the accusation just to stop the rumour spreading.
“Why does Stalin always look so awkward in social situations?”
“I heard that! It’s off to Siberia with you!”
As for the war on terror, Stalin put even Bush to shame with his decisive action. A new law was passed making it illegal to investigate a case of suspected terrorism for more than ten days. If no charges were made after that time, everyone involved was to be shot.
“Stalin should have known Hitler was going to invade. Why didn’t he have us start making tanks sooner?”
“Hey you – Siberia, now!”
This immense suspicion and cruelty didn’t mean that Joe didn’t have a sense of humour though. After giving instructions that his chamber was not to be entered by anyone but himself, he went and locked himself away and began screaming. When soldiers burst in to rescue him, he promptly shouted ‘April fool’ and had them taken away. When he really did die in his private chamber, it took a while for people to find out.
2. Pol Pot
Saloth Sar, commonly known as Pol Pot was, a very naughty little man. As leader of the Khmer Rouge he lead a rebellion against the government of Cambodia and was proclaimed leader of Cambodia in 1975. Originally a Marxist movement, the Khmer Rouge allied itself with neighbouring North Vietnam. However, their philosophy altered deciding that the rural farming class were the true proletariat. Pot encouraged civilians to move out of the cities and into the countryside. When they would not he forced them, creating mass work camps and farms, or simply executed them. This was intended to bring about a rebirth of civilization. Instead, it resulted in mass starvation, and the death of over one and a half million civilians before Pot had even risen to power. This did not bother Pol Pot whatsoever. The country was clearly overpopulated and needed to be thinned out in order to achieve the dream of ‘agrarian collectivism’.
Pot’s evacuation of the cities began during his revolution and continued once he had attained total power. This was his ‘year zero’ – the year when Cambodian civilization began afresh. In this period Pot intended to eliminate the use of money and return all of Cambodia to a peasant existence. Those who had lived as peasants before the revolution had most rights and were generally safe in this new scheme, but those evacuated from the cities were targeted for elimination. At first their rations were cut and many were starved to death. Later, many would be forced to dig mass graves. These people would then be beaten to death or simply buried alive so as not to waste bullets. Meanwhile, those that did not have a place in Pot’s dream society, such as intellectuals, the disabled, Chinese, Laotians, Vietnamese and Muslims were subjected to horrific torture techniques. This included having toenails removed, being repeatedly suffocated or even skinned alive. Unlike the holocaust of Nazi Germany this mass murder was not kept hushed. In fact the Khmer Rouge made an announcement on national radio saying that only a few million people would be needed to build the new utopia. This message told the others “To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss.”
Pol Pot was eventually deposed by the Vietnamese in 1977, although as the U.N refused to acknowledge the new Vietnamese imposed government Pot’s government in exile remained the official rulers of Cambodia. Pot died in 1998. It is believed that he commited suicide upon hearing the news that he was to be handed over by the Khmer Rouge to face a tribunal.
1. Adolf Hitler
Born in a pub in Austria, young Adolf was a troubled boy. His father was often violent to both the young dictator and his mother, leading to emotional problems. Adolf was held back in school, only furthering his father’s disappointment and causing Adolf to rebel in the usual way, by deciding to become an artist. You can imagine the conversation between the flourishing war criminal and his stubborn father:
“Dad, I’m going to be an artist and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Don’t be stupid. You don’t have what it takes. You’ll get yourself a trade and do an honest days work like the rest of us.”
“You don’t understand me!”
Old father Hitler may not have understood his son but he was right; young Adolf wasn’t cut out to be an artist. He was twice rejected from the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts on the grounds of his painting skills being rubbish.
With the advent of the first World War Hitler joined the army to fight for his country. After the war he remained in the army for a time and was stationed in Munich. It was there that he became involved in the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and became influenced by one of its founding members, Dietrich Eckart, member of the bizarre occult Thule Society. Hitler’s legendary oratory skills served him well in this role and he quickly rose to become chairman of the party. Although he’d already succeeded in annoying most of the committee members by this point, he was given total control over the party and the title of Fuhrer.
“Fuhrer? Is it just me or does that title sound a little sinister?”
“Oh don’t be so dramatic.”
Hitler’s best selling book, Mein Kampf, helped to give his political struggle purpose and visibility, and also gained votes for Hitler’s party. Using every opportunity to gain and exploit political powers, Hitler was then able to connive, shout and demand his way to the top. With his political party being the largest in the country Hitler demanded that he be named Chancellor and, as he would become accustomed to, got exactly what he wanted. This was coupled with the demand that his good buddy, Herman Goring, be made interior minister of the state of Prussia and as such, head of the largest police force in Germany. Fearing that this power could be taken away by the same government that had awarded it, Hitler disbanded the German parliament and even went as far as burning down its headquarters, the Reichstag. He eliminated all opposition and persuaded the people of Germany that he would lead them into a new era of economic prosperity. This he did and earned the adoration of the German populous. The Third Reich was born.
Of course, Hitler could never be happy with only Germany under his control. In 1938 he annexed Austria, unifying his homeland with Germany. Through talks with the leaders of Poland, France and Great Britain he successfully gained control of the Sudatenlands, Germany’s border with Czechoslovakia. With the Czech defenses now in his territory, he was free to drive his Volkswagen Beetle into the rest of the country without opposition. Of course, Hitler had been given permission by the French and British to occupy the Sudatenlands under the condition that he would not ask for any more territories, but to hell with that. Next stop Poland.
The story of World War II is one we all know. Hitler’s role in this dark era of history will likely never be forgotten and neither will his quiet elimination of several million Jews, Gypsies, communists, homosexuals, and the handicapped in what we now call the holocaust. This was quite literally murder on an epic scale, on the battlefield, in the concentration camps and on the streets.
Were it not for the holocaust, Hitler might have been forgiven for the war and remembered as a great general in the same way as Napoleon. He might even have been patted on the head for having a really good go at world domination and given a sticker reading ‘I tried my best.’ As it happens, Hitler’s end was met in a secret bunker beneath Berlin. There was no sticker, only a gun and some cyanide capsules. The body of the great dictator was buried by German soldiers just hours before the Soviet army reached the compound. It was later dug up, burned, pulled apart and reburied just to be sure.