Mussolini versus Mao Benito Mussolini and Mao Tse-tung were both influential totalitarian leaders in their own right. Both were revolutionaries, visionary or otherwise, and booth loosely followed a similar pattern of leadership and control, though with some deviations to allow for incongruent circumstances. Mussolini and Mao shared similar source philosophies – both were portrayed as an example of a “phoenix arising from the ashes”.
In Mussolini’s case, it was the pipe dream of a new Roman Empire to replace the fallen, and in Mao’s, a revival of the seemingly defeated Communist party after the Long March. Mao had an advantage, however, that Mussolini did not: his Long March imbued his regime with an aura of firmness that would follow his military campaigns and political endeavors to come. Militarily, Italy was far more aggressive than China.
It launched a campaign to invade Ethiopia in 1935 (merely as a cause for Mussolini to prove his country’s might in spite of an administration change), which it attempted to continue to the Suez Canal in Egypt, but was halted by a British force approximately one-third its own size. Italy also tried, and failed to invade Greece, but gave up relatively quickly. China, by contrast, engaged only with the Japanese and radical opposition political factions within itself.
Both men’s governments made heavy use of suppression tactics. In 1924, Mussolini had the Communist leader (his primary competition), Giacomo Matteotti, assassinated. He continued to follow this pattern all through his time in power, killing or otherwise disabling all political and economic rivals. Mao had two distinctive periods of adversary cleansing – the three-anti and the five-anti campaigns.
The three-anti campaign was directed at members of his party that were too popular or that he considered untrustworthy, and the five-anti was primarily levied against wealthy capitalists and industrialists. Though Mao did eliminate many of his potential rivals, unlike Mussolini he did not hold false elections or revert to a one-party state. Mussolini had already gathered a group of supporters before he was the official head of the government, and suppressed any left-wing parties that may have posed a threat or annoyance to him, often with violence.
Mao, however, was legitimately elected as Chairman at the beginning of his reign, and in fact encouraged open criticism at first, specifically at a debate conference called the “100 Flowers”. Ironically, he was so overwhelmed by the criticisms he and his rule received that he stripped away many of the personal freedoms, namely free speech. Mao and Mussolini are still controversial figures today, and whatever else, one may say that they guided their nations with a powerful hand. Or iron fist.