Extract from Eugene Lanti's report on conditions in Mussolini's Italy, using testimony from several underground anti-fascists.
(1) This is an extract from a longer report about journeying in Italy.
Those who study more than a little of the history of the Roman people cannot walk the zigzagging and narrow streets, past the seven hills of the eternal city without feeling emotion. Brashly one remembers that there, some two thousand years ago lived, rivalled and plotted the famous masters of an empire that stretched from the Black sea to the Gibraltar strait, from Great Britain to the Sahara desert. There stood a mass of the most stylish buildings of all kinds, temples, baths, triumphs, colleges, circuses etc. Whose remains in the present day still attest to the power, wealth, and splendour of the formalised civilisation.
In the "Foro Romano" (Roman Forum) the triumphs of Septimius Severus, those of Titus, many broken columns, damaged statues and lots of other kinds of ruins eloquently convince that until now we have not surpassed the artistic culture of the ancient Romans. What a feeling from harmony! What capable judgement about proportions! and meditating one thinks on how they acquired this culture through their victories, from the Greeks-- those "defeated" who conquered their "conquerors". What a subject to contemplate!
Imaging restoring those buildings, and filling them with a swarming mass of people, enthusiastic, noisy, talkative. Triumphant general lawfully crowned, standing on a chariot traveling through warm acclaim; Then in the coliseum a hundred thousand covered spectators frenziedly applauding Gladiators...
There already existed class struggle between the Patricians (Aristocrats) and Plebeians (Commoners); There slaves, led by Spartacus rebelled under arms and tried to be free. There the most diverse political systems were tried, Monarchy, Republic, Dictatorship, Imperial.
And when Roman power scatted, the Barbarians arrived, snuffing out the shining civilisation.
A new power grew during the centuries of darkness that followed: Catholicism, which in turn fought to dominate the world. The idolatrous religion supplanted Christianity: On ruined temples there stands vast Basilicas. As if from the absorption of the ruins the idolatrous spirit is revived: The Popes imitate the ancient seat of luxury; they amass vast riches in the Vatican. The built the garish Saint Peter basilica on the scale of the Coliseum. In this incomparably vast Basilica there are 80,000 believers genuflecting before the Pope.
The Pope rules!
One would almost believe that here the soil creates a dream for global dominance. The Popes persistently work to make Rome into the capitol of the whole world, united under the Cross.
And possibly thoughts of a vast empire are born in Mussolini's head. The Fascist daily newspaper "L'Impero" (The Empire) at least is not afraid to propagandise the idea of refounding the ancient Roman Empire!! But these Imperialists too easily forget that Italy lacks coal and fuel which will make this dream unrealisable.
Near the luxurious churches and palaces stand in the dirty alleys, uncomfortable and squalid looking houses. There live the ordinary people, who are possibly the most miserable of all the people who have lived here throughout 20 centuries. Indeed under the rule of Augustus slavery had almost disappeared and the people lived well enough.
Is "progress" just a word? Has nothing in essence changed since then?
In the streets fast cars, and serpentine trams. I think only a days travel separates Rome from Paris. The air conquered by airplanes; Thought and voice hardly know distances anymore.
The Ancient Romans could build the most gigantic of structures, but they did not know of our modern means of travel. They were slaves to distance. Technical relations, inarguably great progress has occurred.
About moral progress one can still doubt. Humans no longer improve. Now as two millennia ago the people hate, cheat, war, commit all types of crime, there exist slaves as proletarians, and patricians as masters. A just society does not exist.
But technology abolishes distances, and large industry on a global scale works, it equates and homogenises that class the proletariat. Which every day persistently tries and learns to unite with itself beyond national borders. One can really imagine that one day the eternal dream of unity among all peoples will one day become reality. Not by the conquest of some Caesar, but by the rebellious action of the proletarian class. The empires will not return, and capitalist imperialism will fall. There will rule a just society. It can be, one has to hope.
Here I drew the monologue of comrade B. with whom I rendezvoused to hear about the "thing" as the Milanese comrades say, so as not to utter the word Fascism.