David Ramsay Steele opens The Mystery of Fascism
with these Cole Porter lyrics from 1934:
You're the top!
You're the Great Houdini!
You're the top!
You are Mussolini!
There was a time when everyone loved Mussolini:
Mussolini was showered with accolades from sundry quarters. Winston Churchill called him "the greatest living legislator." Cole Porter gave him a terrific plug in a hit song. Sigmund Freud sent him an autographed copy of one of his books, inscribed to "the Hero of Culture." The more taciturn Stalin supplied Mussolini with the plans of the May Day parades in Red Square, to help him polish up his Fascist pageants.
Then he became the Mussolini we think of:
The rest of il Duce's career is now more familiar. He conquered Ethiopia, made a Pact of Steel with Germany, introduced anti-Jewish measures in 1938, came into the war as Hitler's very junior partner, tried to strike out on his own by invading the Balkans, had to be bailed out by Hitler, was driven back by the Allies, and then deposed by the Fascist Great Council, rescued from imprisonment by SS troops in one of the most brilliant commando operations of the war, installed as head of a new "Italian Social Republic," and killed by Communist partisans in April 1945.
Of course, Mussolini, famed right-wing fascist, started as a socialist agitator:
Soon after he arrived in Switzerland in 1902, 18 years old and looking for work, Benito Mussolini was starving and penniless. All he had in his pockets was a cheap nickel medallion of Karl Marx.
Following a spell of vagrancy, Mussolini found a job as a bricklayer and union organizer in the city of Lausanne. Quickly achieving fame as an agitator among the Italian migratory laborers, he was referred to by a local Italian-language newspaper as "the great duce [leader] of the Italian socialists."
From 1912 to 1914, Mussolini was the Che Guevara of his day, a living saint of leftism. Handsome, courageous, charismatic, an erudite Marxist, a riveting speaker and writer, a dedicated class warrior to the core, he was the peerless duce of the Italian Left. He looked like the head of any future Italian socialist government, elected or revolutionary.
With the arrival of the Great War, Mussolini switched to a pro-war position, enlisted, and was seriously wounded. After the war, he gathered former Marxists and ex-soldiers into his new Fascist movement, an effectively violent political group that marched on Rome to seize power — only to have the king "beg" them to take the reins.
Fascism is generally presented as evil, Communism as well-intentioned:
Intellectually, Fascists differed from Communists in that they had to a large extent thought out what they would do, and they then proceeded to do it, whereas Communists were like hypnotic subjects, doing one thing and rationalizing it in terms of a completely different and altogether impossible thing.
Fascists preached the accelerated development of a backward country. Communists continued to employ the Marxist rhetoric of world socialist revolution in the most advanced countries, but this was all a ritual incantation to consecrate their attempt to accelerate the development of a backward country. Fascists deliberately turned to nationalism as a potent myth. Communists defended Russian nationalism and imperialism while protesting that their sacred motherland was an internationalist workers' state. Fascists proclaimed the end of democracy. Communists abolished democracy and called their dictatorship democracy. Fascists argued that equality was impossible and hierarchy ineluctable. Communists imposed a new hierarchy, shot anyone who advocated actual equality, but never ceased to babble on about the equalitarian future they were "building". Fascists did with their eyes open what Communists did with their eyes shut. This is the truth concealed in the conventional formula that Communists were well-intentioned and Fascists evil-intentioned.
(Hat tip to Reason's Hit & Run