Dictators as young men

Stalin was a train and bank robber – for the sake of Revolution, of course. Lenin languished for twenty years in Europe, returning only briefly during the 1905—1907 revolution. Hitler plunged into fringe politics soon after WW1. Mussolini spent his early years as a political adventurer. There’s a term for them from the lexicon of Soviet historiography: professional revolutionaries.

In contrast, Mao was more of a professional guerilla in the 1930s and 1940s. In itself, nothing wrong. Guerilla tactics may get ugly, but it’s hard to blame the Chinese Communists for playing dirty tricks on the Japanese. Kim Il Sung, it turns out, also belonged to that category, although he did not achieve the same prominence in the resistance movement. How does a basically decent resistance fighter, later a Soviet officer, become a cross between a megalomaniac dictator and a Far Eastern emperor?

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