An older post from my older blog.
“Your oedipal complex, is written all over your soul, such a petty neurosis. What happened to the grand megalomaniacs of yesteryear? The Caesars and Napoleons?
If you’ve got to be screwed in the head, do try to be more challenging about it.”
Mastigos – Mage, the Awakening.
When you think of the word ‘dictator’ which images come to mind?
Powerful men surrounded by cults of personality. They’re often in military garb to encourage a warlike and obedient spirit in the nation. They are symbols, they are charismatic, their power is absolute.
These are three men who have altered the course of history. In each case they stood against what they saw as the political and financial problems of their countries at the time. They stood against a common enemy as specific as a race, or as vague as a philosophy. Their people died for these notions.
Hitler’s reforms revitalised his Germany after its economic meltdown. He made the country rich on the back of Jewish slave labour. Mao Zedong crippled China when he made all farmers stop farming and make steel in their backyards. The resulting famine killed between twenty and fifty million people. Stalin implemented the red terror, which aimed at killing 10% (10 million) of his own people in order to keep the other 90% afraid and obedient.
I’m here to write about the men themselves, not their countries or their politics. Specifically, I write about their relationship with their fathers.
Psycoanalysts’ pants become a little tighter at reading these words.
This cokehead neurologist introduced us to the psychological version of the old Greek myth :the Oedipus complex. The theory goes that all men want to replace their own fathers by first killing them, then banging their own mothers.
After reading that Hitler had some severe daddy-issues, I began wondering about the other dictators. I trawled Wikipedia and the occasional essay like the academic I am to find out what went on when these men were children.
Many of them had no reliable information. Kim Il Sung is so shrouded in propaganda and lies that we’ll never really know as much about him as we might like, even though he is still the president of North Korea, after dying (making it the worlds only Necrocracy). Professors speculate on Idi Amin’s father, but that’s just that: speculation. We’ll never know for sure.
Some of these men even came from relatively normal families and just turned out insane megalomaniacs anyway.
Here are some of the people I could find information on:
Robert Mugabe – Zimbabwe
Not much to say here. Wikipedia mentions that he was the third of six children. Both of his older brothers died when he was young, and in 1934 his father abandoned his family to find work elsewhere. He was a child when this happened. This may seem to fall into the comparatively lower end of the daddy-issue spectrum, but it still leaves it mark on you. This type of abandonment causes a lot of unanswerable questions in the child, as well as an everlasting feeling of inadequacy and a fear of intimacy.
Josef Stalin – USSR
Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. If you try saying that out loud, I can’t take responsibility for your summoning Cthulu. He was the fourth son of a poor family wherein the father was a cobbler and the mother was a house cleaner. Two of his older brothers died during infancy, while he struggled with his health. He was born with two of his toes conjoined. At age seven he contracted smallpox which left his face permanently scarred, and later he had an arm injury which left his one arm shorter and stiffer than the other.
More relevant to this article is the fact that his father was a severely abusive alcoholic. In fact he was so maladjusted that when his wife enrolled Iosif into an orthodox priesthood school, he went ballistic, rampaging through the town, even assaulting the police chief. He was subsequently banned from the town, leaving his family behind. Because being banned into the Russian wilderness in that time was probably harsher than prison.
That kind of background is going to change you. At some point in your life you may hopefully realize that there was nothing wrong with you, it’s just that your father was a hurt individual himself. I can’t help but wonder if Stalin, however powerful he became, ever dealt with his father’s spectre.
Adolf Hitler – Germany
Hitler’s biological father, Alois Hitler, bears some slightly eerie relations to that of Stalin’s father in that he was an (apprentice) cobbler and also (according to this essay) an abusive alcoholic. Wikipedia corroborates this by saying that “Smith suggests he yelled at the children almost continually and made long visits to the local tavern”. Wiki mentions, but does not elaborate on “intense father-son conflicts”. My guess is it’d probably be good material for an HBO backstory.
This seems to me to be very much the same as Stalin’s situation. Thankfully I’ve never had to deal with this, but some of my close friends have, and the effects are heart breaking. Between poverty, failed artistry, bad family relationships and a horrid socio-economic landscape, Hitler might have had the odds stacked against him. Had things been different, he might have ended up only being a racist asshole, rather than a dictator.
Mao Zedong – China
Mao Zedong, communist dictator of China, had (according to good ol’ wikipedia) a bad relationship with his father. He described his father as a strict disciplinarian, who often beat his children for perceived wrong doings. The operative line here is ‘perceived wrongdoings.’ The children might not have believed that they were being disciplined for doing anything wrong, and I’m not familiar enough with late 19th century to early 20th century Chinese norms to know what counted as wrong doings. The point is simply that Mao did not believe himself to have a good relationship with his father and perception is, after all, reality.
Fidel Castro – Cuba
Perhaps there is no relative scale of how bad a parent can be, but for me, this one hit the hardest.
Fidel was born to Ángel Castro y Argiz. Ángel went to Cuba, found work, and married María Luisa Argota Reyes. He had five children with her before they separated. He began a non-marital relationship with a maid, Lina Ruz, who bore him three children. Fidel was the third. Being a bastard boy, Fidel never received his father’s surname. His wealthy father was so ashamed of Fidel (which, ironically, means loyal) that he was never allowed him in his home. He lived on the periphery of the farm, alongside the imported workforce. He was sent to live with one of his teachers, who wasn’t exactly rich either. His siblings and he often didn’t have enough to eat.
I can name many more people in this article, but I won’t. Just a cursory glance of nearly every dictator I looked up held some severe problems between son and father. I was actually surprised to see how ubiquitous the whole situation was. They might have dealt with their problems, and they certainly had more important things to deal with, but I wonder how they might have turned out had they come from happier homes.
If you have problems with your father, you’re not alone. Stalin understands you.