The Dictators: Ataturk

Ataturk was born as Mustafa Kemal, and became known as Ataturk after the Surname Law. For the sake of uniformity, I’ll refer to him throughout as Ataturk.

Ataturk was born sometime in the Winter or Spring of 1881 in Salonica, in what is now Greece. His father was a middling civil servant, and Ataturk entered military education. He was educated at the Ottoman Military Academy in Constantinople (he was to officially rename it to Istanbul in his rule), and shortly after graduation, arrested for planning rebellion against the Sultan. He was sent off to Syria, but arranged to be transferred to Monastir, to participate in the Young Turks Revolution. He played a major role in the suppression of the 1909 counter-coup, and commanded well in the Italo-Turkish War and the First Balkan War. When the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War, Ataturk was placed in command of the 19th division, in Gallipoli. His command was extremely competent, and he greatly contributed to the defeat of the British, before being transferred to the Eastern Front, where he displayed similar skill against Russia. When an armistice was proclaimed between the Ottomans and the Allies in October 1918, Ataturk became Inspector of the 9th Army, a role in which he was meant to maintain some degree of organisation within the army, and order in the general area. However, he used his forces to establish a Turkish Nationalist Movement, and issued the Amasya Circular, which declared the nation in danger. He resigned from the Ottoman army, and was condemned to death by the Ottoman government in absentia. In 1919, Ataturk convened a Nationalist Congress at Sivas, of which he appointed executive. While the Ottoman government in Istanbul was placed under Allied occupation, Ataturk established a Grand National Assembly in Ankara, creating a second government of Turkey. The Istanbul government signed the Treaty of Sevres with the Allies, which would have partitioned Turkey, but Ataturk and his government refused to accept the treaty and began to fight the Turkish War of Independence, chiefly against Armenia and Greece. Funded and armed by the Russian Bolsheviks, Ataturk inflicted a series of defeats upon his adversaries, culminating in the victory at Sakarya over Greece and the re-capture of Smyrna. Recognising that the situation was now fundamentally changed, the Allies convened negotiations for a new treaty at Lausanne, Switzerland. The Treaty of Lausanne was duly signed on July 24th, 1923, and the modern Republic of Turkey was proclaimed in October, with Ataturk as President.

Ataturk at Gallipoli.

Ataturk at Gallipoli.

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Immediately upon assuming power, Ataturk embarked upon a programme of urgent modernisation. The ancient and moribund institutions of the Sultanate and Caliphate were abolished, secularisation enforced in education, law and every other aspect of public life, a new, Western-inspired educational system set up, and women given far greater rights, including suffrage. Ataturk was determined to turn Turkey from an ossified empire to a modern, European nation-state. Turkish traditional dress was discouraged, and the wearing of the fez banned. Naturally, these attacks roused opposition from conservatives and the religious community, and an assassination plot was uncovered in 1926. This led to a minor purge, and many of Ataturk’s opponents in the Nationalist movement were removed. This allowed a second round of more radical reforms, including the creation of an entirely new civil law code modeled on that of Switzerland and the introduction of a law requiring western-style last names. The Turkish language then used Arabic script; in 1928, Ataturk abolished the use of Arabic, and brought forth a new, official Turkish alphabet, based on the Latin alphabet with a few accented characters. Modern Turkish culture and science were encouraged, such as sculpture, which had hitherto been forbidden under the tenets of Islam, and translation of the Qur’an into Turkish. In the area of economy, Ataturk pursued a policy of wide state intervention, in keeping with his idea of the strong national government, which would tie together and aid all Turks. The  tobacco and railway industries were nationalised, and a fairly active policy pursued, but after the Great Depression, a more Liberal approach was followed. Although his economic achievements were not as great as his social ones, Ataturk managed to stop the nation from sliding into destitution after a long period of war, and socially, he brought the Turkish nation into the 20th century.

Ataturk with a newly legally mandated Western-style hat.

Ataturk with a newly legally-mandated Western-style hat.

Whilst all this was going on, Ataturk had to deal with establishing foreign relations of the new state. A dispute over Mosul in British Iraq went on for many years, until the League of Nations ruled that the region should remain with Iraq. Ataturk was dependent in the War of Independence upon Soviet aid, but soon after the war’s end began to sever ties with Moscow and instead try to reconcile with the West and with Greece, which, amazingly resulted in an alliance with the latter. However, this string of domestic and foreign successes was not to last. Ataturk had throughout his life been a very heavy drinker, and in 1938 was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.He died of it on November 10th of that year.

Ataturk is the most important figure in Turkish history, and the closest thing history has to a good dictator. His reforms were in many cases unpopular, but they unquestionably modernised the nation and laid the foundations for the prosperous nation-state of Turkey. Turkey’s mere existence, its secularity and its enlightened for the time social policies all came directly from Ataturk. In some cases, force did have to be used, but Ataturk’s good far outweighs his bad.

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The Prime Ministers: Lord Russell

Lord John Russell, Prime Minister 1846-1852 and 1865-1866

John Russell was born on August 18th, 1792 to one of the foremost aristocratic families in Britain. Very unusually, he did not attend Oxford or Cambridge, instead going to Edinburgh University, where even more surprisingly, he did not earn a degree, instead leaving education to stand for the House of Commons in 1813, becoming MP for the City of London. He joined the wing of the Whig Party in favour of electoral reform in the 1820s, and when the Party entered government in 1830, he became Paymaster of the Forces under the Earl Grey. Russell was one of the strongest patrons of the Great Reform Act of 1832 in the Commons, and became Whig leader in that house following the elevation of the previous leader to the Lords. As leader of the opposition in the 1840s, he supported the Repeal of the Corn Laws, which split the Conservative Party and indirectly made him Prime Minister. The Whig Party, however was just as disunified, and Russell was unable to govern effectively, although he was pilloried for his failure to respond with any degree of success to the Great Irish Famine. In 1851, his Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, recognised the government of Napoleon III in France without approval and had to resign; furious, he turned a militia bill into a Vote of Confidence, and deliberately introduced an amendment he knew would cause the bill to fail, destroying Russell’s government in an act of personal political vengeance. in opposition in 1852, Russell entered a coalition government with Lord Aberdeen after Lord Derby’s short-lived minority First Ministry. Within the coalition, Russell became Foreign Secretary. From this office, he engineered Britain’s entry into the Crimean War. Although the ostensible cause of this war was the right to protect Christian holy sites in Palestine, the realpolitik cause was the upset of the Balance of Power caused by Russia making inroads on the Ottoman Empire. Incompetent management of the war caused a Vote of No Confidence in the Aberdeen Government, bringing Palmerston to power. Russell and Palmerston resolved their differences, and Russell became Foreign Minister in the latter’s ministry. He managed Britain’s attitude to the US Civil War, and indicated Britain’s support for the unification and independence of Italy. In 1860, Russell was elevated to the House of Lords as Earl Russell. Five years later, Palmerston died in office, leaving Russell as Prime Minister. Just like his first ministry, he was unable to accomplish anything and he resigned in 1866, leaving politics for good. He died on May 28th, 1878.

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Russell is a strange figure because he was a very successful figure outside the office of Prime Minister, but had no success at all within it. Outside of that office, he brought about the Great Reform Act, one of the most important act in British political history, the Factory Act of 1847, and various other acts relating to union rights and public and social justice. On the other hand, in the office of Prime Minister, he totally bungled the Irish Famine and failed to marshal the Commons to achieve anything. Thus Russell was an extremely talented, successful, competent minister, but he was a poor Prime Minister.

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The Dictators: Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15th, 1769 to a family of minor Corsican nobility. Corsica had just been transferred to French rule by Genoa, and Napoleon’s father was the representative of Corsica at the court of Louis XVI. He was admitted to a military academy at Brienne-le-Chateau, before studying at France’s elite war academy, the Ecole Militaire, in Paris. After graduation in 1785, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in an artillery regiment. When the revolution broke out, he fought in Corsica and Toulon, eventually being promoted to Brigadier General at age 24, and after Thermidorean Reaction toppled Robespierre, he was briefly arrested, but released soon after and reinstated in his command. After brief expeditions in Sardinia and the Vendee, Napoleon was placed in charge of putting down a royalist rebellion against the National Convention in 1795, which he did famously with “a whiff of grapeshot.” This made him famous, and he was given command of the Army of Italy, as well as being made Commander of the Interior.

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Soon after assuming his new command, he comprehensively defeated Austrian forces in Italy, earning France control of Northern Italy and the Low Countries, and ending 1,000 years of Venetian independence. Napoleon then convinced the government to approve an expedition to Egypt, to dislodge British influence in the region and to foment discontent in India. This resulted in the Battle of the Pyramids, which Napoleon won, but the British victory in the naval Battle of the Nile frustrated the strategic aims of the campaign, and after a short rampage in Syria, he returned to France. The France he returned to was in a bad state; it was bankrupt and the directory was quickly losing the support of the people. His triumph at the Battle of the Pyramids had made him more popular than ever, and he and his allies organised a coup on November 9th, 1799, by which Napoleon became First Consul. In practice, this made him a Republican Dictator. Almost immediately, he opened another campaign against Austria in Italy, where he defeated Austria at the Battles of Marengo and Hohenlinden. Austria sued for peace, which gave France even more of Italy, and Britain too made peace, with the Treaty of Amiens in 1802. Napoleon then organised a plebiscite which appointed him First Consul for Life. Only two years later, he crowned himself emperor on December 2nd, 1804.

By this time, Europe was at war again, as Britain broke the Treaty of Amiens in 1803 and attacked France. Russia, Sweden and Austria all joined the new anti-French coalition, which was swiftly dismembered by Napoleon. At the Battles of Ulm and Austerlitz, he blew away the Austrian and Russian armies, and forced another treaty on Austria which gave France even more territory in Italy and Germany. Although he was now master of the continent, Napoleon could not destroy Britain, as the Royal Navy defeated a combined French-Spanish fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar for the loss of not a single ship, ruining Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain. With the defeat of the Third Coalition, Napoleon the abolished the Holy Roman Empire and established the Confederation of the Rhine, a collection of French client states, in its place. At the height of French power, Prussia foolishly declared war on France in 1806, and was quickly annihilated at the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt. Russia re-joined the war again, was again crushed at the Battle of Friedland, and was given a lenient peace treaty, whereby it only had to join the continental system (which prohibited French allies and clients from trading with Britain); Prussia, in contrast was stripped of its Western territories, which were made into the French puppet state of Westphalia. The peace didn’t last long. Portugal defied the Continental System, which resulted in a French invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 1808. Spain was turned into another French client state, but the struggle turned into a guerrilla war which dragged on for years, helped by Portugal and the British regulars operating alongside them. Austria decided yet again in 1809 to fight France, was yet again defeated, and this time had a draconian treaty imposed, which stripped it of much of its territory and about one fifth of its population.

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For the next few years, France was again at peace, the master of Europe except Britain, until Russia broke away from the Continental System. Napoleon launched an invasion, which, although it captured Moscow, took catastrophic casualties from Russian scorched earth tactics. By the time the French army limped back to Poland, a great majority of the army had been captured or died by enemy action or frostbite. Heartened by the defeat of the hitherto seemingly invincible Napoleon, virtually all of the major continental nations joined together and defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Leipzig, and captured Paris. The French Senate declared Napoleon to be deposed, and he abdicated and was exiled to Elba. France received a fairly lenient peace treaty. But Napoleon had no intention of going quietly, and escaped Elba in 1815. He reunited with the army, and briefly ruled France for a period known as the Hundred Days before he was defeated by Britain and Prussia at the Battle of Waterloo. He was again exiled, to St Helena in the South Atlantic, and rapidly fell into ill-health. He died on May 5th, 1821, from unknown causes; theories range from deliberate poisoning to medical malpractice to cancer.

The retreat from Russia.

The retreat from Russia.

In addition to all of his wars, Napoleon left behind an enormously legacy for France and for Europe. He created the Napoleonic Code, from which most of Europe’s civil codes are descended and reformed the French educational system. He revolutionised military tactics, giving rise to corps warfare, in which multiple mobile, independent corps move together and support each other rather than having the army together as one mass, and increasing the importance of artillery in modern warfare. He also introduced the principles of the French Revolution and the forces of popular nationalism to much of Europe. His wars created the 19th century, much like the World Wars created the 20th, leading to the domination of the British Empire and the rise of the Prussian military, for after their defeat in 1806, Prussia had launched a major military reform campaign which created what would become the crack Prussian and eventually German military of the wars of later years. In light of this, Napoleon, in my view, can be considered, with Bismarck, to be the most important political figure of the 19th century.

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The Prime Ministers: Harold MacMillan

Harold MacMillan was born in London on February 10th 1894. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, although his university education was interrupted when he volunteered almost immediately after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. He was wounded three times, the third time seriously at the Battle of the Somme, and sent back to Britain to recover, by which time the war had ended. As only he and one other from his class at Oxford had survived the war, he refused to return, and instead entered politics. He was elected Member for Stockton-on-Tees in the 1924 General Election, and became an advocate of economic planning, which he felt could save his depressed, industrial constituency. In the 1930s, he became a member of Churchill’s anti-appeasement group, and a particularly vocal critic of Stanley Baldwin. When the Second World War broke out, MacMillan served in a series of diverse ministerial positions, as Parliamentary Secretary for Supply, Under-Secretary for the Colonies, Minister Resident in the Mediterranean and Air Secretary. He was unseated in the 1945 General Election, but regained a seat in a subsequent by-election and became Housing Minister in Churchill’s Second Ministry. During this time, he fulfilled the government’s election promise of 300,000 houses built each year, and moved to the Defence Portfolio in 1955. He briefly oversaw Britain’s development of the Hydrogen Bomb before becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Eden Ministry. When the Suez Crisis broke out, MacMillan was originally one of the prime planners and supporters of Eden’s military strategy, but became Eden’s main cabinet critic once it became clear the damage US financial and economic penalties would cause. Eden resigned in January 1957, and left the succession open to either MacMillan or Rab Butler; the Queen eventually sent for MacMillan on the advice of Churchill.

MacMillan (second from right, first row) in the First World War.

MacMillan (second from right, first row) in the First World War.

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MacMillan had gone from Chancellor of the Exchequer, to Prime Minister, and as such made the economy his top priority, setting a strategic economic goal of full or near-full employment, in accordance with One-Nation British Conservatism. A major disagreement with his cabinet led his Chancellor to resign, and a balance of payments problem led to a wage freeze in 1961. MacMillan’s economic policy was thus not especially successful, but he did much better in foreign policy and defence. He worked to improve relations with the US after Suez, became the first Western leader to visit the Soviet Union, and deployed troops to put down revolts against leaders in Oman, Jordan and Kuwait between 1957 and 1960. MacMillan was also a supporter of decolonisation, as he indicated in the famous Wind of Change Speech, in which he made clear that Britain would be willing to let its colonies go; consequently, in 1957, Malaya became independent within the Commonwealth, and Gold Coast became independent as Ghana. In 1957, Britain also detonated its first Hydrogen Bomb. Decolonisation was massively stepped up in the first few years of the 1960s, as between 1960 and 1963, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, British Somaliland, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Malaysia became independent states. MacMillan also supported Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis, was the prime mover behind the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the same year made Britain’s first application to join the EEC, which was vetoed by France. By this point, the stresses of the job had made an impact of MacMillan, who was nearly 70 years old. The final factor in the collapse of his health was the Clinton-esque antics of his War Minister, John Profumo, who had an affair with a 19 year-old model who was also seeing the Soviet Naval Attache. This made the affair a matter of public security, and Profumo was forced to resign from government. MacMillan at about the same time was wrongly diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer, and resigned as well. Although he retired from politics, he became an extremely energetic Chancellor of Oxford; he also wrote his six-volume memoirs, and in his last decade became a sharp critic of Margaret Thatcher and her monetarist economic policies, before dying on December 29th, 1986 at age 92.

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MacMillan and John Kennedy.

MacMillan and John Kennedy.

Harold MacMillan’s greatest legacy lies in decolonisation. He was honoured at his death by the African National Congress, oversaw the smooth transition to independence of several states and helped avoid the sort of post-colonial bloodshed that France experienced in Algeria and Vietnam, instead building amicable relations with many former colonies, enabling the formation of the Commonwealth. His economic policies may not have been shining successes, but his stints as Housing and Defence Ministers were both successful, and going further back, he had the wisdom to criticise appeasement and associate himself with Churchill. MacMillan should therefore be remembered as positive for Britain, but well above positive for the former colonies seeking independence.

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The Dictators: Vidkun Quisling

Vidkun Quisling was born on July 18th, 1887 in the Norwegian County of Telemark. His father was a pastor, but the son proved more interested in a military career. He enrolled in the Norwegian Military Academy, and then the Norwegian Military College. He proved an extremely successful student, earning the highest graduating score in the history of the academy, before joining the General Staff. In 1918, he was appointed Military Attache to Russia for a few months, before the military withdrew its delegation because of the raging Russian Civil War. He was re-deployed to the Norwegian delegation to Finland, and then did League of Nations work in Ukraine in the early 1920s.

Quisling with his wife.

Quisling with his wife.

While in Ukraine, he met his wife, and left the army, instead beginning to write on philosophy, history and morality.When he returned to Norway, he became associated with the Norwegian extreme left, but after several years, underwent a strange reversal to become a fascist. He became interested in Nazi-esque racial “science” and openly called for war against the Soviet Union, eventually founding a party named the “Nordic Popular Rising in Norway” with himself as “Fører,” or Führer. Within a year of founding this party, he left it in order to serve as Defence Minsiter in 1931, to national astonishment. He spent much of his time and energy cracking down on the labour movement, which he viewed as Communist and subversive, by creating McCarthy-like lists of Communist union figures, many of whom were arrested on spurious charges, and breaking strikes with military force. After Quisling was attacked by an unidentified knife-wielding assailant in his office, he used his testimony of the incident to instead launch attacks on the parties of the left, earning him massive support among rightist voters. Using this new popularity, Quisling renamed his old party “National Unity,” and began to prepare to contest elections in his own right, with a new raft of far-right policies. The new party managed to do better than the Communists in vote percentage, but Quisling was so uncharismatic that his party failed to gain even one seat in Parliament.

This caused Quisling’s ideas to harden, and he became more and more associated with the Italian Fascists and the Nazis, and antisemitic, which caused the party to split, losing several of its most prominent members. Through the late 1930s, Quisling and his gang of fascists operated on the Norwegian political periphery, until 1939, when he publicly gave his support to Germany in the newly declared Second World War. He traveled to Germany and met personally with Hitler, where he proposed to mount a coup with German aid, and allow Germany to use Norwegian naval bases against Britain. Hitler found this plan unrealistic, but ominously stated that Germany would respond preemptively to any British operations in or against Norway. At this time, Quisling was taken off the scene by a case of double-nephritis, which he for some reason refused treatment for, but after the Altmark Incident, in which a Royal Navy vessel boarded a Kriegsmarine transport ship in Norwegian waters, liberating 300 British prisoners, Quisling was summoned to Berlin, to give the German general staff intelligence about Norwegian defence and military strength.

Quisling with Himmler.

Quisling with Himmler.

On April 8th, Britain began to mine Norwegian waters, triggering a German combined arms invasion of the country the next day. Norway proved a tougher nut to crack than the German military had anticipated, as the government managed to escape Oslo, and the transport ship carrying the administrators Germany intended to use to run the occupation was sunk in Oslo harbour by Norwegian anti-ship guns. The Norwegian armed forces fought bravely, but could not stand against the Wehrmacht for long. Quisling proclaimed himself Prime Minister, but Hitler preferred to try to bend the King of Norway to his will. Only when this failed, and Haakon VII fled to Britain, did Quisling become Prime Minister. From the beginning of his rule, Quisling was little more than a puppet of the Nazis. He outlawed pluralism, enacted Nazi-style racial policies and censored the press. Political terror against the Communist Party and labour unions began, with many of their members and leaders being rounded up and executed.

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In 1942, he was finally proclaimed Head of State as Minister-President of the Government, under the German occupation authorities. All of his previous policies were stepped up; Jews were forbidden from entering Norway, had their property confiscated and were turned over to the SS to be sent to Germany and eventually the death camps, and Norway formed an SS Unit to fight alongside their German counterparts. The Norwegian people resisted Quisling as best they could, by isolating National Unity members and taking part in civil disobedience campaigns. By 1944, even Quisling could see that Germany was going to lose the war, and began to undertake negotiations for Norway’s independence, and, surprisingly for a puppet ruler, refused to sign the execution orders for partisans arrested by the German military in 1944. In the last few months of the war, Quisling tried to save himself by ordering the Norwegian military not to attack allied forces, and committed his government to not offer armed resistance against the allies. When he was arrested after the end of the war, he was put on trial for murder, theft, embezzlement, illegally altering the constitution, and treason by conspiring with Hitler over the 1940 invasion. Quisling was condemned to death, and executed by firing squad on October 24th, 1945 at Akershus Fortress.

Quisling is one of the most pathetic figures in Norwegian and European history. A wannabe Hitler, he was only able to achieve power with German aid and by actively conspiring to bring about the invasion by a hostile country of his own nation. He did not even have to be ordered to take over government; unlike all of the many Poles the Nazis tried to have head a puppet government in Poland, who all refused and were consequently shot, Quisling took power on his own initiative. It is clearly just that his name has entered a host of languages as a synonym for traitor.

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The Prime Ministers: Henry Campbell-Bannerman

Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Prime Minister 1905-1908

Henry Campbell-Bannerman was born on September 7th, 1836, in Glasgow. His father was a prosperous textile magnate, and both he and Henry’s brother were also involved in politics. Henry was educated at the University of Glasgow and Cambridge, and after becoming a partner in the family business, he decided to enter politics, and stood in a by-election for the constituency of Stirling Burghs in 1868. He lost, but won the seat in the general election which took place later that year. Within 3 years, he had achieved a ministerial position, as Financial Secretary to the War Office in the First Ministry of William Gladstone. In Gladstone’s Second Ministry, after a series of similar financial positions, he entered the cabinet as Chief Secretary for Ireland. During Gladstone’s third and fourth, and Roseberry’s, Ministries, Campbell-Bannerman became Secretary of State for War. He was perhaps lucky that the Conservatives entered office in 1895, as otherwise he would have been tarred with the unpopularity and poor results of the Boer War. In opposition, he became Liberal Leader in the Commons in 1899, the same year that that war began. Campbell-Bannerman had the difficult task of holding together a party split between pro- and anti-war factions, which was predictably defeated at the 1900 General Election. Sometimes known as the Khaki (due to the colour of British army uniforms) election, the Conservative Party used the anti-war wing of the Liberal Party to enhance their own patriotic appeal, and won a convincing majority. However, in 1902 and 1903, the Liberal Party found new strength under Campbell-Bannerman. The Boer War ended in 1902, ending a serious party division, while the Conservative Joseph Chamberlain put forth his proposals for Tariff Reform, which unified the Liberal Party in opposition, and allowed the Party to stand as one again. In 1905, Arthur Balfour resigned as Prime Minister, which led to the formation of a minority government under Campbell-Bannerman. Faced with the prospect of governing with a minority, as well as the so-called Relugas Conspiracy, whereby several leading Liberals planned to kick him upstairs to the Lords, Campbell-Bannerman solved both issues, by calling an election in January 1906, while offering the plotters important cabinet posts. They all accepted, and the Liberals won one of the largest landslide victories in history, gaining 216 seats to a total of 397, an absolute majority; Balfour, still Conservative leader, lost his seat.

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Once in power, Campbell-Bannerman proved to be a moderate social reformer, although he would be considered Conservative if compared to his two immediate successors. He established a system of free school meals, gave greater power to the unions, and created the system of criminal probation which still exists in Britain today. In foreign policy, Campbell-Bannerman’s ministry witnessed a strengthening of relations with Russia and France, as the Anglo-Russian Entente was signed in 1907, and the first Anglo-French military staff discussions took place, which would eventually produce the BEF of the First World War. It also granted self-government to various regions in South Africa, which led to the formation of the Union of South Africa after the end of his ministry in 1910. In 1907, Campbell-Bannerman, now 71 and in poor health, suffered a series of heart attacks, and resigned in April, 1908. He died a mere 19 days after leaving office. His last words, rather amusingly, were “this is not the end of me.”

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Campbell-Bannerman’s achievements while actually in office were fairly modest, especially when held up against the records of Asquith and Lloyd-George, his two Liberal successors. That said, modest is better than negligible or non-existent, and his more important contribution was to lead the Liberal Party through a difficult period. After Gladstone’s last resignation and death, the Liberal Party was still split over Ireland, and split again over the Boer War. Campbell-Bannerman managed to keep the party together enough that it was able to recover, and return to power on a massive majority in 1906. He is therefore a rather unsung hero for the Liberal Party; Asquith and Lloyd-George would not have been able to do what they did had Campbell-Bannerman not managed to keep the party together.

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The Dictators: Benito Mussolini

Benito Mussolini was born in Dovia di Predappio, a small town in central Italy, on July 29th, 1883. His parents were working class, and Benito’s father, Alessandro, was a devout Socialist. He was highly influenced by his father’s views in his early life, and became a Socialist himself. In 1902, he emigrated to Switzerland to dodge military service, and became active in the Swiss revolutionary Socialist movement. He was expelled from Switzerland several times for various minor crimes, and each time returned until 1904, when he went back to Italy to take advantage of a general amnesty for military deserters. Five years later, he left Italy again, to the Italian speaking city of Trento, in Austria-Hungary. There, he became secretary of the Labour Party, and edited the local Socialist newspaper. Mussolini quickly came more and more into the public eye, and eventually received the editorship of the main Italian Socialist paper, Avanti (Forward).

However, when the First World War came, he was expelled from the Party for supporting the war. Once in the army, he began to develop his own revolutionary ideology: Fascism. Fascism, as Mussolini imagined it, kept the Socialist emphasis on revolution, but altered it to make it far more nationalistic, more focused on the state and turning the vanguard from being composed of Proletariat to any social class. He became a model soldier, was promoted and wounded in 1917, which removed him from the front. When he returned home, he took a job from the British government to publish pro-war propaganda, in order to keep Italy more in the war. When the war ended, Mussolini created the Italian Combat Squad. His ideology was similar to what Hitler’s would be. It involved an appreciation of aggressive, expansionist war, racial hierarchy (with the Italians at the top) and opposition to class warfare, in favour of strong national unity. The Combat Squad grew incredibly rapidly, and eventually transformed itself into the National Fascist party in 1921, the same year Mussolini himself was elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies. By 1922, the Fascist Party was a large and very aggressive force. It had thousands of uniformed goons, the Black-Shirts, who beat opposition members, and in October of that year, marched on Rome, after which King Victor Emmanuel III made Mussolini Prime Minister out of fear that refusing might cause a civil war.

Mussolini during the March on Rome.

Mussolini during the March on Rome.

Mussolini’s coalition government was a motley collection of various right-wing parties, which in June 1923 passed the Acerbo Law, stipulating that any party in the next elections which received over 25% of the national vote would take two thirds of the Parliamentary seats. Mussolini garnered far more than 25%, leading Giacomo Matteotti, a Socialist Deputy, to protest against the legality of the elections. In response, he was assassinated by Mussolini’s thugs. This, in turn, caused the Socialist Party to boycott the Parliament, leading Mussolini to outlaw the Party. Now totally in control of the government, Mussolini passed various laws making his power concrete. He was explicitly immunised from Parliamentary accountability, all other parties were banned, and the Grand Council of Fascism, previously a Party body, became constitutionally the highest body in the country.

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Firmly in control, Mussolini worked to revive the Italian economy, and to create a more unified Fascist state. The government invested heavily in infrastructure and agriculture, which increased his popularity among farmers and the working classes, as the economy did pick up under Mussolini’s rule. At the same time, he worked to create national unity under his personal control. A Cult of Personality was encouraged, by which Mussolini was referred to as Il Duce (The Leader), and ascribed all the great qualities which Cults of Personalities always do. Potentially dissident groups like the trade unions and the press were brought under government control. The Catholic Church was brought to support the regime with the 1929 Lateran Treaty, whereby Italy recognised the sovereignty of the Pope over a tiny area of Rome. Many Church figures came to admire and support the regime, which in turn increased Mussolini’s popularity among Catholics, who were of course Italy’s largest religious group.

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By the early to mid 1930s, Mussolini had brought enough social groups under the government’s wing, and increased his popularity, to feel secure enough to embark on war, which was of course the ultimate Fascist foreign policy aim. He avoided aligning with any of the European power-blocs, until in 1934 he stopped Hitler’s first attempt to annex Austria, creating the so-called Stresa Front between Italy, France and Britain. This was reversed almost immediately the following year however, when Mussolini ordered the invasion of Abyssinia, today Ethiopia. This was in keeping with Mussolini’s grand design of a new Roman Empire, as Abyssinia lay between Italian Libya and Italian Somaliland. Italy behaved atrociously, even using chemical weapons. The League of Nations gave a response which was too weak to totally deter Italy, but strong enough to anger it and provoke its realignment with Nazi Germany, the other aggressor state of Europe. Mussolini made clear that his opposition to German takeover of Austria was withdrawn to the German ambassador, and together with Germany sent massive forces to aid the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Italy stood aside when Germany finally annexed Austria in 1938, and signed a full military alliance, the Pact of Steel, in May 1939.

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When this alliance was put the test in September, when Germany attacked Poland, Mussolini proclaimed neutrality, as Germany had been the aggressor. To Berlin’s great irritation, Italy stayed this way until the very end of the Fall of France, when it intervened to secure a place at the victors’ side of the conference table. Mussolini’s fortunes plummeted with the Second World War, and he was reduced to little more than Germany’s lackey. When Italy invaded Greece, it failed to defeat it, and had to be rescued by Germany. The same occurred in North Africa when Mussolini attacked British Egypt, although in that case not even the Afrikakorps was enough to save Italy. British and American troops landed in Italy in 1943, prompting the hitherto rubber-stamping Grand Council to pass a Vote of No Confidence in Mussolini. The following day, the king summoned Mussolini, dismissed him and had him arrested. He was taken away and imprisoned, before being rescued by German paratroopers. Italy had changed sides, so Germany set up a puppet state in the parts of the country they still controlled and appointed Mussolini the head of this shambles. Eventually, in 1945, he attempted to escape to Switzerland, but he was caught by Communist partisans and shot. His body was strung up upside down from a fuel station in Milan for the people to see.

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Mussolini’s main fault, aside from being the founder of Fascism, was that his strength was illusory. He boasted of having “8 Million Bayonets,” but it didn’t matter how many bayonets one had if they were rusty, and the hands which held them untrained. Italy’s senior partner, Germany, had one of the most effective fighting forces ever seen, and so was able to act effectively on its aggression. Italy’s armed forces were simply not up to the tasks which Fascism demanded of them, and so the movement was doomed to fail. Mussolini in effect created a self-destroying ideology, as by demanding war, it led to its own destruction in Italy. I can therefore honestly say that I have no idea what direction Mussolini would have gone if he had not involved himself in the Second World War, but his overall legacy is of a bumbler who vastly overestimated his own strength.

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