Posts Tagged ‘rome’

The Assassination of Julius Caesar

Michael Parenti (2012)

Film Review

In this presentation, Michael Parenti discusses the fraudulent history we are taught about the late Roman Republic. In particular, he focuses on the popular resistance movement that led to the rise of the Populares in the Roman senate in the second century BC. The revolt of the Roman proletariat was largely a reaction to the privatization of Rome’s collective agricultural lands as latifundia (plantations owned by Roman aristocrats). Historically there was no private land ownership in Rome until thugs hired by aristocrats drove the peasants off their land around 200 BC.

Parenti starts by demolishing the myth promulgated by mainstream historians that Rome was a republic. The Roman senate was a self-appointed oligarchy. For the most part Roman senators paid no taxes though. Instead they loaned money at interest to the Roman government (sound familiar?). The lower classes, in contrast, were heavily taxed.

The first great Populares to serve as consul was Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC. He and his brother Gaius, who succeeded him, fought for land reform to break up the latifundia and redistribute them to the landless. Despite their aristocratic background, all the Populares consuls challenged a Roman economic system that was rigged in favor of the elites All were assassinated by aristocratic death squads.

Julius Caesar would be the last Populares consul, and he, too, would be assassinated in 44 BC. Among the reforms he enacted were

  • Lowering interest and fines on debts
  • Building exceptional public libraries to be used by all Roman citizens
  • Guaranteeing freedom of religion to Roman Jews
  • Ending the practice of forcing people with unpaid debts into slavery
  • Introducing a democratic constitution
  • Creating state jobs in Rome and the colonies for the unemployed
  • Ending Cicero’s* witch hunts and extrajudicial executions

The aristocrats in the senate, who detested Caesar because he threatened their wealth and privilege, responded by labeling him a brutal tyrant and assassinating him. Ironically the emperors who succeeded him were far more tyrannical. Yet the senate aristocrats supported them as they protected their wealth and privilege.

What strikes me most about this presentation are the clear parallels with the current period, with the liberal elite and intelligence establishment portraying Trump as an unspeakable fascist tyrant based on little evidence other than his rhetoric. I’m aware that much of the liberal establishment is justifiably frightened of the ultraconservative bent of Trump’s appointees. However most of the strident anti-Trump rhetoric seems over the top to me.

For me the two main ways the parallels break down are 1) the absence of a genuine reform movement from below similar to the Roman resistance movement that led to the formation of the Populares 2) the absence in Trump of the towering intelligence, charisma and military and political ingenuity that Caesar displayed. Trump’s lack of political experience raises the vital question whether he or his conservative cabinet will be in control. Despite his promise of numerous populist reforms, I’m extremely skeptical whether the prominent conservatives in his cabinet support them.

nemesis

Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic

By Chalmers Johnson

Henry Holt (2007)

Book Review

Available free as a mobi file (download Kindle for PCs free from Amazon) at libcom.org

The third and final volume in a trilogy, Nemesis is a study of the impermanence of empire. Johnson draws on detailed studies of the Roman and British Empire to make specific predictions about the ultimate fate of the US.

After taking inventory of some of the British Empire’s worst atrocities (the deliberate destruction of thriving civilizations in India and China, the extermination of the Tasmanians in Australia, the systemic genocide against the Kikuyu in Kenya*, the slaughter of 10,000 Sudanese and the genocidal Malaysian Emergency), the late Chalmers Johnson asserts that Britain surrendered their empire after World War II due to flagging domestic support for their administrative massacres in India.

Rome, in contrast, continued its imperial conquests and atrocities by imposing a brutal dictatorship at home. Citing the systematic revocation of civil liberties, Johnson theorizes that the US has opted to follow Rome’s example. He makes the uncanny prediction (in 2007) that there will be no change in US foreign policy, even after getting rid of Bush and Cheney.

As the average lifespan of a full fledged empire is 100 years, Johnson predicts the US empire will have collapsed by the 22nd century. He believes it will maintain the facade of democracy until bankruptcy overwhelms it.

According to Johnson, the loss of the US manufacturing base has forced the country into spending exorbitant sums on totally useless technology (his chapters on Star Wars SDI weapons are particularly illuminating) just to keep the economy afloat.

Aside from the secret budget devoted to covert CIA operations, which he enumerates in detail**, 40% of the Pentagon budget is secret – even from Congress.

The US government finally came out of the closet after 9-11 about being an empire. However they continue to be extremely secretive about the total number of countries they occupy. As of 2007, the official count was 737 bases in 130. However Johnson lists at least a dozen secret bases that are kept off the official list for political reasons.


*The so-called Mau Mau uprising.

**A partial listing of the democracies overthrown by the CIA and replaced with dictatorships:

  • Italy 1947-48
  • Iran 1953
  • Guatemala 1954
  • Indonesia 1957-58
  • Brazil 1961-64
  • Greece 1964-74
  • South Korea 1961-1987
  • Philippines continuously
  • Chile 1973

Radical Rome

Media-Lien (2015)

Film Review

Radical Rome is a short French documentary about Rome’s anarchist anti-austerity movement.

The film focuses mainly on private property the group has reclaimed as public space. One self-governing public space called ESC (Excel, Subtract, Create) has been occupied by activists for over 30 years and boasts a tea room, bike shop, cinema, theater, community kitchen, school for migrants and a sewing factory run by migrants. ESC is non-hierarchical and governs itself via weekly assemblies.

At present, Rome’s youth unemployment rate is 44%. Its anti-austerity movement is mainly driven by students, unemployed youth and older activists over 40.