Source: Labour Monthly, September 1926, Vol. VIII, No. 9.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
FASCISM has recently discovered that the domestic virtues are not enough. In order to fulfil its mission, it must expand beyond its own frontiers and regenerate the world. The Corriere d’Italia writes: “We have won the national battle, but this success cannot be final unless it is completed by victory on all fronts. A longer and more difficult battle is upon us now—that against the foreigner. Fascism is expanding its lungs. After the phase of national reassertion, it is putting itself forward as a universal, critical and reconstructive element.”
That sounds good, and might even be construed as mere harmless, hot-headed idealism. But your Fascist is a practical person, and when he says he is going to expand he means it quite literally. The first step towards this assertion of Italy beyond her own frontiers is the creation of a “colonial conscience” in the Italian people by decreeing April 21, the anniversary of the foundation of Rome, as Colonial Day. And this is the meaning of Colonial Day, according to the Fascist paper Impero:—
“The meaning of this Colonial Day must be haughtily declared to other nations. They must learn across the frontier that Italy will not make war in any dilettante spirit, but because she is ready to undertake it in order to realise her colonial aspirations.”
Maurizio Rava has written an interesting article on Italy’s colonial policy in the Rivista Coloniale for April. “Until the present day,” he writes, “we have remained shut out from the profitable colonial banquet.” But that is to be put right now; for “Between State and State there is but one invincible law: that of force. And to be strong, it is necessary above all to possess a clear colonial consciousness.”
So much for the philosophy of the new Imperialism. Its aims are concrete in accordance therewith. The Italians look towards Abyssinia, to Tunis, and to the Straits of Gibraltar, that is to Tangier. Italian policy in the past has been criminally careless. Abyssinia “was lost inside Italy,” Kassala, the key to the Sudan and its rich cotton lands, “was almost forced upon the stupefied English.” “In the same way we have allowed others to occupy Tunis which was almost an Italian province, where 67,000 Italians lived, and no Frenchmen, 120 kilometres from Cape Granitola, in Sicily, and where is rising a menace to our southern coasts, the formidable base of Bizerta.”
Rava concludes with an obvious reference to Abyssinia. “Above all, Italy demands that when the Powers shall decide upon the inevitable changes in the map, in Africa where numerous vague zones still exist, ‘no man’s lands’ simply surrounded by lines of colour on the atlas, those nations who are already rich must not try, as in the past, to further increase their place in the sun.
“It would be a useless and perilous attempt.
“A warning to those who, beyond the Alps and beyond the sea, are watching us.”
A second article by Francesco Coppola puts the question of Tangier and the Riff quite clearly. It appeared in the Tribuna for June 15. With regard to Morocco the writer distinguishes two aspects: “the local and colonial, that of the internal division of the zones, and the Mediterranean aspect, that of the security and liberty of the western gate of the Mediterranean. One can question to what degree Italy, in the former treaties, has disinterested herself from the first aspect of the question. On the other hand one can in no case suppose that she would have at any moment renounced, even in the slightest way, her fullest rights as regards the second aspect of the question: that of the Mediterranean.”
In other words France and Spain may divide up Morocco as they will, provided the balance of power is not disturbed in the Mediterranean. That is, provided France is not provided with naval bases on the Mediterranean coast enabling her to command the Straits of Gibraltar. As regards the Straits—Spain holds her position by right of nature, England by an ancient act of force, but to-day “any attempt to install there yet another great naval and military power like France, that is a thing that Italy, if she does not wish to become a prisoner, absolutely cannot consent to without obtaining concrete and local compensation which gives her full assurance of the security and liberty of her traffic, whether in war or peace.”
Here in the fullest and clearest form, from the mouths of a variety of responsible spokesmen, are the aims of Fascist Imperialism declared. Nor have they remained mere words. For three years the Italian diplomats have been working on these lines for the above-mentioned ends. Only this year, however, have they struck openly.
Mussolini’s triumphal progress to Libya was meant to be the signal to the rest of the world that Italy considered her time was now come. The noisy demonstration of Fascist arms and trumpets in North Africa was immediately followed by the joint Anglo-Italian note to Abyssinia, agreed upon by Mussolini and Chamberlain at Rapallo last year. It did not meet with a favourable reception, and the obviously Italian influences at wore in the phrasing of the notes have brought a storm of abuse on the pathetic Chamberlain, who had allowed the robust realism of the Fascists to supersede the more crapulous and involved pretences of the old diplomacy.
Finally, the secret agreement between Spain and Italy, whose existence has just been made known, has joined together the two Latin dictatorships in an alliance designed to press their policy upon the powers. What that policy is we already know from the quotations given in the first part of this article. Tangier is to become entirely Spanish so that France may be excluded from a commanding position at the entry of the Mediterranean. Italy is to be supported in her desire to acquire Tunis and the lion’s share of Abyssinia.
In 1896, at Adowa on the frontiers of Abyssinia, “Roman valour” met with a crushing defeat when the legions of Crispi, that man before his time, were annihilated by the bold warriors of the Ethiopian king. The Emperor Menelik promptly denounced the Treaty of Uccialli (1889) which had asserted a shadowy Italian protectorate over his realms and so impressed the robber powers by his firm determination that in his active lifetime none of them dare lift a finger.
But in May, 1906, the old lion had an apoplectic fit and was left paralysed. England, France and Italy lost no time, and in July concluded the Tripartite Convention and presented it to the Emperor. It contained the usual statement that the powers desired to maintain the independence of Abyssinia and defined their “spheres of influence.” Menelik, sick and dying, replied that he was glad to note the declaration and added, “But let it be understood that this arrangement in no way limits what we consider our sovereign rights.”
Not until he was on his deathbed, two years later, did Menelik give permission for the French to construct a railway from Jibuti to Addis Ababa, “The New Flower,” his capital. Even after his death, in 1908, with the country given up to the strife and intrigue of the feudal chiefs, the British and Italian concessions remained a dead letter, largely no doubt owing to the pressure of other events—the Tripolitan War, the Balkan War, and in 1914 the Great War.
Nevertheless, in 1916, a British Mission visited Lake Tsana, the source of the Blue Nile and a sacred spot to the Abyssinian Christian Church, but the government of the Regent refused to come to any agreement for the construction of a barrage.
Meanwhile, helped by the railway, French influence steadily gained ground. After the war a creature of theirs, the Ras Tafari, was made Regent, and afterwards “King of Kings,” and the independent State of Abyssinia was admitted a full member of the League of Nations. In short the fly was actually given a position of honour inside the spider’s parlour. But unfortunately, colonial wars in Morocco and Syria have taken away France’s attention from the victim, and England and Italy have been able to steal a march on their rival.
England has found the question of the Sudan a vital one owing to the post-war rivalry with the United States which has made dependence on that country’s cotton crop an intolerable position. The construction of the barrage at Lake Tsana would undoubtedly greatly increase the prosperity of the Sudan, or rather of the shareholders in the Sudan Plantations’ Syndicate. Italy hopes to construct a railway through the heart of the Abyssinian plateau, connecting up her colonies of Somaliland and Eritrea and giving her virtual control of Abyssinia. France, who has been left entirely out of consideration in these arrangements, not unnaturally protests, and hypocritically but cleverly uses against her rivals the fact of Abyssinia’s membership of the League.
The text of the Spanish-Italian treaty is not known, but its objects are. Quite frankly it means that Italy will give her support to Spain in the division of the Riff and in Primo de Rivera’s demand for Tangier. How the Italians expect to force Tunis from the French we can only surmise.
It is worth while, however, to recall that though the French occupied Tunis in 1881 only in 1896 did Italy recognise their occupation. Since then the Italian population has continued to increase rapidly and the French to remain stationary.
At the back of all Italy’s talk of Empire is the fact that the economic position of the country, though not yet serious, gives rise to considerable misgivings. Emigration to North Africa would solve many problems, and a colonial war or two would no doubt give a fillip to heavy industry and finance-capital, while drowning any internal rumours as the first cracks appear in the ship of the Fascist State.
Yet Italy has no intention of fighting France. By manuvring with Spain inside the League, which Mussolini clearly recognises for what it is, an Imperialist organisation for dividing up the spheres for exploitation without the necessity for armed conflict, he hopes to force France into consenting to a redistribution of territory in Africa. He may well succeed, for the revolt in Syria has reached alarming proportions and France knows quite well that England and Italy regard themselves as her natural heirs in that quarter.
The question of the war debts, as well as that of Syria, makes England a malevolent neutral so far as France is concerned. In desperation she is turning to Germany, and Poincaré is doubtless cherishing hopes that he will be able to play off England at Geneva by secretly supporting Germany’s claims for the restoration of her colonies.
This Franco-German Alliance is already becoming a reality. The two powers are actively intriguing against England in Arabia, France has promised to reduce the Rhineland occupation forces, and any day now may see the completion of the great anti-British Continental Steel Cartel in which French and German capital will play the leading rôle.
The completion of the Italian-Spanish Treaty has hastened things too much for the liking of the British Imperialists. It means that Britain must play a lone hand between the Franco-German and the Italian-Spanish blocs at Geneva. England needs Italy’s co-operation in the Mediterranean and North Africa, but Italy as a leading power, actively and relentlessly pursuing a policy of her own, is another matter. For Italy’s great weapon is that she can break up the League if she so desires, and that neither France nor Britain desire.
The Latin diplomatists will need to play their hand carefully at Geneva, or they may drive England against her will into the arms of France and Germany as the only alternative to dissolving the League. But with careful manuvring on their part this should be avoided and Italy’s desire attained—the rearrangement of the map of Africa.
Out of all this welter of intrigue one thing is certain—there will sooner or later be another colonial war added to those already in progress. It will not be the fault of Imperialism if that “little” war does not later lead to something bigger. Lastly, the cynic may meditate that at least one result will be the re-emergence of Germany as a great western power, and maybe also as a colonial power.