Modern world history is filled with leaders who sought ultimate power. From the early part of the 20th century to present day, dictators and their ideological heroes have wreaked havoc on populations around the globe. All of these leaders, whether they ruled a nation or followed a belief system, share one thing in common: All of them, without exception, sought to place common good over individual good. They also, without exception, share an ideological correlation: Socialism. Whether Communism or National Socialism, these leaders placed the worth of humanity in the hands of the state and devalued life, resulting in the murder of millions of innocent people.
In this article, we are going to take a look at five of the most brutal ideologues history has ever seen. Rating them is a difficult task, as all of them inflicted evil ideologies that trampled the individual under the boot of the government.This article will be dedicated to bringing these villains and their atrocities to light. Before looking at our top five, however, let’s first examine some dishonorable mentions. As we review these evil leaders, keep in mind the idea shared among them: “You belong to the state.”
Vladimir Lenin – Marxist revolutionary who led the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War. Transformed Russia into the Soviet Union, the world’s first Communist state. Led a mass imprisonment and execution known as the “Red Terror,” killing between 100,000 and 200,000 people. Lenin served as the first Soviet leader from 1917 until his death in 1924.
Benito Mussolini – This Italian politician succeeded in transforming Italy into a Fascist state following his coup in Rome, 1922. Ruled Italy until 1943 and believed Fascism to be a better alternative to Communism. Executed by members of the Italian Resistance Movement in Giulino di Mezzegra, Italy on April 28, 1945.
Hideki Tojo – Served as Minister of War for the Japanese Empire from 1940-1944, and simultaneously as Prime Minister from 1941-1944. Led a military conquest through China and the Pacific. Captured in 1945, then later tried for war crimes. Executed in Tokyo, Japan on December 23, 1948.
Nikita Khrushchev – Served as one of Stalin’s right-hand men during World War II. Later became ruler of the Soviet Union from 1953-1964. He died on September 11, 1971.
Fidel Castro – Cuban revolutionary who famously claimed, “History will absolve me.” He assumed power in Cuba in 1959, and from there, transformed it into a Communist state. Ruled Cuba until 2011 and died on November 25, 2016.
Ernesto “Che” Guevara – One of Castro’s right-hand men who attempted Communist revolutions in various countries. Executed in Bolivia on October 9, 1967. Admired today on college campuses by many left-wing students.
Pol Pot – Cambodian nationalist who served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea from 1963-1981. Simultaneously ruled as dictator of Cambodia from 1975-1979. Led a genocide that killed nearly two million people. Died in his sleep on April 15, 1998.
Saddam Hussein – Served as dictator of Iraq from 1979-2003. Blended Arab Nationalism with socialism. His army suffered a large defeat during the Gulf War in 1991. Captured by U.S. forces in 2003, then executed on December 30, 2006.
The Top Five
There are many other dishonorable mentions, and perhaps we will review them at a later date. For now, let’s review the top five mass murders in modern history.
Number Five: The Kim Dynasty
Following the defeat of the Japanese Empire at the end of World War II, Korea was divided by North and South. While a Capitalist economy was eventually developed in the South, Communist forces took over the North. The Korean War (1950-1953) resolved little and ended in a hostile stalemate. The first Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Il-Sung, instituted an ideology called Juche, which blended Communism with Nationalism and self-reliance.
Kim Il-Sung died in 1994, leaving the regime to be ruled by Kim Jong-il. Under his leadership, the Songun (Military First) ideology was developed. Kim Jong-il also inherited a large famine, as North Korea relied heavily on the Soviet Union for food and supplies. Upon his death in 2011, his son, Kim Jong-un, assumed the throne. Just as his predecessors, he has ruled North Korea with an iron fist. North Korea continues to be a tyrannical Communist regime. Death toll: Possibly as many as 3,500,000
Number Four: Adolf Hitler
The collapse of the German Empire in 1918 left the country in chaos. The Treaty of Versailles placed much of the blame for WWI on Germany, crippled their economy, and confiscated their military. In 1920, a young Hitler rose to promise a revolutionary movement. Called the Nazi (or National Socialist German Workers) Party, this ideology took a page from Marx’s Communism, but placed it on the ultranationalist level, with eugenics at the forefront. A failed coup in 1923, the Beer Hall Putsch, resulted in Hitler’s imprisonment.
During his time in prison, he narrated Mein Kampf to his cellmate, which was subsequently published, though not taken seriously by most. Hitler came to power in 1933, transforming the Weimar Republic into Nazi Germany. Under his dictatorship, almost all elements of both the public and private sector were controlled by the government. When Hitler’s Jewish concentration camps were revealed at the end of World War II, Fascism became almost universally condemned. Hitler committed suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945. His regime was responsible for the murder of approximately six million Jews, as well as millions more among other groups. Death toll: Approx. 12 million
Number Three: Joseph Stalin
When the USSR gained nationhood status in 1922, it was the first country in the world to be established as a Communist nation. The death of Vladimir Lenin left a small void that was soon to be filled by Joseph Stalin. Expanding on the Marxist-Leninist idea, Stalin took over and incited even more terror than his predecessor. From 1936-1937, the “Great Purge” was initiated throughout the Soviet Union.
During this time, Stalin’s forces conducted a mass murder of political minorities and anti-Stalin Communists, as well as ethnic minorities. At the outset of World War II, Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, and began pushing through Europe. His alliance with Nazi Germany ended when Hitler broke the treaty and invaded the USSR in 1941. Following WWII, Stalin took over the Eastern half of Europe and continued serving as the Soviet Premier until his death on March 5, 1953. Death toll: At least 20 million
Number One May Surprise You
Number Two: Mao Zedong
With the USSR gaining superpower status after WWII, another Communist giant – China – soon arrived on the scene. The Chinese Civil War lasted from 1927-1949. Upon its conclusion, the Chinese Communist Party, headed by Mao Zedong, assumed power. Though not a world superpower, Communist China proved a force to be reckoned with. Chairman Mao took over with an iron fist, established a one-party state, and led China against NATO forces during the Korean War.
From 1958-1962, Mao spearheaded one of the most brutal socialist reforms in history, known as the “Great Leap Forward.” During these four years, Mao killed or brutally punished anyone found operating outside of this agricultural reform program. In 1966, he began the Cultural Revolution to purge the Communist Party of anyone who leaned “right.” Mao continued serving as chairman until his death on September 9, 1976. Death Toll: Between 20 and 65 million
Number One: Karl Marx
Hear me out. I know what you’re thinking: Karl Marx never ruled a nation. Nor did he personally lead a massacre of individuals. Why on earth, then, would anyone put Karl Marx above Kim Jong-un? Above Stalin? Above Hitler? Let’s examine this anomaly. As far as I know, I am the only one to place Marx at the top of a list such as this. In my opinion, he absolutely deserves to be there.
Marx rose to prominence in 1848, with the publication of his renowned work, “The Communist Manifesto.” Co-authored alongside Friedrich Engles, this book made an astonishing prediction. According to Marx, the world would eventually overthrow capitalism, as well as class structure. From there, the working class of the world would establish a global community with socialism as its backbone. In Marx’s view, this was the solution to poverty.
For Marx, no one should be wealthy if not everyone can be wealthy. Marx’s ideas, once implemented, however, always lead to poverty, suffering, and death. All countries that have implemented his views – whether it be the USSR, China, North Korea, Cuba, or any other – were overtaken by dictators who valued the state over personal freedom. Even Hitler admitted that Nazism was designed as a deviant from Marxism, and Hitler stated he “learned a great deal from Marxism.”
Under the Communist system, Marx believed certain races would need to go extinct, and he occasionally railed against Jews. Once this is learned by the reader, it should be clear that Marx and Hitler were not as disconnected as one may think. Marx’s policies have always resulted in authoritarian regimes, the construction and implementation of concentration camps, and the abolition of religious freedom.
For Marx, the state was the only religion needed. Without Marx, none of the others on this list would have gained power and swayed the masses as they did. The world would never have known the horrors of those Communist nations, as well as quite possibly those of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. For that reason alone, Karl Marx deserves first place on the list of the worst baddies the world has ever known.
A Difficult List
Constructing an ordered list of the world’s biggest villains is never easy. There is always room for disagreement and debate. I’m sure some will criticize my list and say that Marx should be omitted for not being a ruler of a nation. Likewise, I’m sure some will remark that it would be absolutely absurd to place Hitler at any place other than first. For those who criticize my listing order, please know one thing: You are not wrong. This list is open to criticism, and there is no truly correct order. One hope from this, however, is that the reader will realize the dangers involved with placing the good of the government over the well-being of an individual.
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