MAX OTTO in his article which appears in this issue of our magazine, makes an illuminating comment on conditions in Italy which appear to escape the observation of many tourists. No one could be more appreciative of the beauty of the Italian skies, or of the advancement in agriculture or of improved cleanliness in living conditions than Dr. Otto. But none of these things, nor even the greater regularity in train service, closes his keen, philosophical mind to the meaning of the silence and suspicion which characterize the Italian people under Mussolini's dictatorship.
The quietism and repression of the normally buoyant and expressive Italian people bespeak dread of spies, fear of punishment and a spirit that is crushed and held in submission by force and violence. The reason why no one talks in Italy is because there is a law which forbids anyone to speak ill of Mussolini. Violation of this law carries a heavy penalty of fine and imprisonment. If the great majority of the Italian people were happy and contented under Fascist rule-—as is claimed—-they would be talking freely, discussing politics openly and everywhere voicing enthusiasm for Mussolini and his policies. They dare not utter a word of discontent, much less of criticism. They are silent! No further proof is needed of the unhappy mood and the deplorable situation of the Italian people.
When we were in Rome in 1923 my father had an interview with Mussolini at which I was present. The outlines of his head and countenance gave the impression of power which seemed to me contradicted by the twitching of his rather large, loose lips. He opened the conversation by asking if we were pleased with the train service in Italy. "We found the service very satisfactory," replied my father. "But how about a free press?" he asked. "You see what the papers say about me," countered Mussolini. "No, I draw my conclusions from what they do NOT say," answered my father. From what we saw and heard at that time during our brief stay in Italy it appeared to us that the Mussolini dictatorship was but a temporary phase of government usurpation incident to post-war chaos. It has been maintained since then by increased repression, violence and terrorism.
The King has been set aside and the constitution ignored by the Fascists under Mussolini. His government in Italy is an absolute despotism. Opposition in Parliament has been done away with. Members of the legislative body, whether radical or conservative, who do not agree with the dictator, or who are even suspected of disagreeing with him, are summarily disposed of. They are bludgeoned, imprisoned, murdered, deported, deprived of property and citizenship without any justification whatsoever. Acts of violence have been committed against Ex-Premier Nitti. Orlando has been forced to retire from active parliamentary life. Probably their international prominence has saved these moderate liberals from the more humiliating and barbarous treatment accorded less well-known members of Parliament.
All who advocate liberty, even though they take no part in politics, are under the ban. Famous thinkers and scholars like Professor Salvemini, noted Italian historian who has of late been lecturing in the United States, cannot return to Italy under the reign of Mussolini. The homes of members of parliament, professors, writers, journalists have been invaded, pillaged, burned. It is common knowledge how all opposition newspapers have been seized and put out of existence, except when published outside Italian boundary line. It is futile to go to the courts for relief from these outrages. Magistrates are completely under the dominance of the Fascist regime. All representative government in Italian cities has been abolished and in its stead Fascist leaders rule with an iron hand.
Until recently the average wage of the Italian workman has been but a trifle over a dollar. With the rise of the lira it is now about a dollar and a half, real wages in 1927 being virtually lower than before the war. The standard of living is of necessity very low. Last May in an effort to deflate the lira Mussolini decreed downward revision of wages and at the same time reduction in prices, "though it would appear," as remarked by a disinterested authority, "that the attack on wages was the more drastic of the two."
Then Mussolini, probably as a palliative to Italy's distress and as a cover to actual conditions, made a speech in the Chamber of Deputies. His worst foe could hardly have made a more damaging arraignment of Fascism than Mussolini's display of monstrous egotism and reckless threat of war and destruction of world peace on this occasion.
"Today," he declared, "we bury solemnly all the lies of universal democratic suffrage."
"I must take upon myself," he announced, "the task of governing the Italian nation from ten to fifteen years longer. It is necessary." Then, as if this time limit might raise a false hope in the breast of the Italian people of the return of liberty and constitutional government in the future, he quickly added, "My successor is not yet born." and he went on to say:
"Instead of its 40,000,000 of today Italy by that time should have 60,000,000. In this greater Italy legislative bodies will be elected through the corporative organizations of the State. "There will be no room for a moribund democracy, and anti-Fascists, soon reduced to their last gasp, will cease to exist. The Fascist State neither needs nor brooks opposition."
Following this extraordinary ultimatum to Italians, Mussolini served notice on the rest of the world that Italy is a menace to its peace. "I tell you," he said, "that in ten years' time Italy, this Italy of yours, will be unrecognizable to itself and to foreigners. . . . In order to achieve our goal we must at a given moment be able to mobilize 5,000,000 men thoroughly armed; we must strengthen our navy, while aviation, in which I believe more than ever, must be on such a large scale and so powerful that the noise of its motors must surpass any other noise and the wings of our airplanes must obscure the sun from our land. Then, between 1935 and 1940 when we shall reach the crucial point in European history, we will be able to make our voice heard and see at last our rights acknowledged."
These statements made by Mussolini are not merely for home consumption. They are regarded abroad as an expression of the imperialistic ambitions of the Italian dictator.
Italy under Mussolini is no doubt a serious menace to world peace. How long he may be able to hold the opposition at home in check by force and violence no one knows. Sooner or later, like every government which is founded on dictatorship, Mussolini will go the way of all despots.