J.R. Johnson

The Second of Two Articles on the Ethiopian Question

Negroes! Beware the Imperialist Use of Ethiopia!

(March 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 11, 17 March 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Baldwin was the British Prime Minister. He had an election coming on in November 1935. To fool the people he said that Britain would stand by Ethiopia and the League, just as Roosevelt before the last election said he could keep the country out of war. As soon as the election was over, Roosevelt, just like Wilson, started a furious war drive; and as soon as Baldwin had won his election, he and the French prepared a plan for dividing up Ethiopia, the Hoare-Laval Plan. Anthony Eden sent the plan to Haile Selassie saying: Sign – or else. Mussolini was prepared to accept this plan – it gave him more – but the masses of the people all over the world and particularly in Britain and France raised such a stink that Laval was dismissed, Hoare was dismissed, and the plan fell through. Mussolini’s soldiers began to rain shell and fire on the Ethiopians. The British and French still continued to prevent arms going to Ethiopia.

Meanwhile a typical imperialist intrigue was going on between France and Britain. Britain wanted to use France against Mussolini because if Mussolini took all of Ethiopia. Britain would lose her share. But France said that she would bring a litlle more pressure to hear on Mussolini if Britain would promise to bring a little more pressure on Germany, France’s enemy. Britain said no. So the two of them kept on sending messages to Mussolini, asking him to be reasonable, to take his share, let them have theirs, but to do it all through the League, so that the masses of the people everywhere would feel satisfied. Now enters the third criminal – Adolf Hitler. All through the dispute at the League, Hitler kept his mouth silent. He was weak in those days. He still had to build up the army. He had no alliance with anybody, though the British were helping him to rearm Germany. Before Hitler could fight he had to fortify the Rhineland, that part of Germany opposite to France. By the Treaty of Versailles the Germans were prohibited from entering the Rhineland. In March. 1936 the Ethiopian situation was tense. Italian troops were winning victories in Ethiopia. The League was applying sanctions. But Britain was sabotaging the important sanction – the oil sanction – and Stalin, enemy of the workers, was selling oil to Italy. As long as Mussolini could get oil nothing could stop him.

Mussolini Moves on Ethiopia

Hitler called in his generals and told them to send soldiers into the Rhineland. The generals refused. They said if the French attacked, the Germans would be beaten. Hitler said in reply: “Go ahead. If they attack, do not fight. I’ll take responsibility.” Hitler knew that Britain would not allow France to attack. One day, in March, his troops marched into the Rhineland. Just about this time Premier Benito Mussolini sent a message to his generals in Ethiopia. telling them to stop. They had conquered enough and he didn’t want to risk too much. But shortly after he had sent, the message, he heard that Hitler had marched. Mussolini changed his orders and told his generals to conquer all they could. He knew now that Britain and France would quarrel about Germany and be so busy double-crossing one another that his road in Ethiopia was safe. Ethiopia was rapidly conquered. When people asked Mussolini about the first message, he said that the atmosphere was bad and the radio message had been misunderstood.

Then came a typical result of imperialist mischief. Italians in Italy have little race prejudice. They had no hatred of Ethiopians. They were opposed to the war at the beginning and only when the British began to talk about Italian imperialism did the Italian people give Mussolini their support. They felt that the British, of all people, should not talk like that. But after the war they lost their hostility to the Ethiopians and looked with great interest at the photographs of them which appeared in the Italian press.

The Ethiopians are a singularly handsome people and many Italians began to write to the government. asking permission to adopt some of the children who seemed so handsome and intelligent, and now were homeless and miserable. Mussolini and the imperialists didn’t want that and they started a campaign denouncing the Ethiopians as savage blacks and warning the Italians to remember that they were superior to blacks.

Haile Selassie had sent many young Ethiopians to Europe to study so as to help modernize the country. First thing Mussolini did was to shoot all he could find so as to deprive the people of educated leaders. In 1896 Italian imperialism would have done the same if it had conquered. Whether Fascist or “democratic,” imperialism always does the same to workers, oppresses them, exploits them, divides them by encouraging race prejudice.

England Makes a “Noble” Gesture

The Ethiopians continued to fight, even after the conquest. They carried on the war against Italian imperialism alone, without help, without encouragement. Ras Desla died a hero’s death, as many others. British imperialism sold out Spain, sold out Czecho-Slovakia, tried to come to terms with Hitler at Munich and then started to fight Hitler only because he was too greedy and wanted too much.

All the time they tried to win over Mussolini from Hitler. They recognized the conquest of Ethiopia, and even after the war with Italy began, they would not say anything about Ethiopia. Today, however, they are trying to “knock out” Italy from the war. They pick up Haile Selassie from the corner into which they had thrown him, supply him with some arms, and they and he together are marching against Italy in Ethiopia. But these same British imperialists who five times in the last thirty-five years have tried to gobble up a large slice of Ethiopia, they are the same greedy swine! Does anybody believe that they are thinking of the independence of Ethiopia? Not at all. They are using the Ethiopian warriors against Mussolini.

Already in the House of Commons they are talking about establishing a protectorate after the war and a protectorate is only another name for colony. Britain will have Ethiopia, at last, to oppress and plunder ihe people as they oppress and plunder half of Africa. They will prepare movie propaganda and the capitalist press will write lying articles about how the Lion of Judah has returned to the throne of Solomon and such like, but apart from the figurehead of an Emperor, the country will be in chains.

That is not all, however. If Britain looks like she is losing, she will betray Ethiopia to Italy again. Or if the two war-camps (Churchill-Roosevelt and Hitler-Stalin-Mussolini) negotiate a compromise peace. Britain and Italy will divide the country, as they have been plotting to do all these years. That, my friends, is the dirty history of one piece of imperialism. That is what is called fighting for “democracy.” He is a rogue and a pernicious scoundrel, a lick-spittle servant of the imperialists who tries to make people believe that Ethiopia is now being restored to independence by Britain.

What Can We Do About It?

What can we do about it? Very little now. But we can do this much. We can put a sharp stop wherever we hear it to all this talk about democratic Britain helping out the country of the black man. But above all we can learn our lesson and resist Roosevelt’s drive to war here. He is lying about a war for democracy and is fooling the people as much as ihe British imperialists fooled the British people about Ethiopia. The British workers did not want Mussolini to conquer Ethiopia. But instead of taking action themselves by railway strikes, seamen’s strikes to prevent the shipping of oil to Italy, and by exposing all who were boosting the League, they made the fatal mistake of thinking that the capitalists in the League would do something for Ethiopia against Mussolini.

Brothers and sisters, and Negroes in particular, you remember how bitterly you were disappointed. Let us learn the lesson. Ethiopia, Spain, Czecho-Slovakia, France, Leopold of Belgium, you remember them all. The workers are suffering theft; because they trusted the capitalist class, particularly the liberals and the labor fakers. Trust yourselves, workers, and nobody else.

Let the history of Ethiopia be another warning to us. Down with the imperialist war! Freedom for the Ethiopians. Freedom for the Africans. Freedom and equality for Negroes in America.

There is only one way out. The workers must finish with imperialism, oppose it, spurn all its promises and aim at true workers’ governments all over the world, against Roosevelt, against Churchill, against Mussolini, against Hitler, against Stalin, against all who oppress the people and cheat and deceive them. Whenever you hear Roosevelt or a Negro politician preach about war and sacrifice for “democracy,” say to yourself, “Yes, they said the same things during the last fifty years and all the time they were plotting to strangle and divide up Ethiopia and the colonial peoples and the poor workers at home. They do that every time. No. I will not be fooled again.”

Workers’ power and socialism. That is the only way out.

Last updated on 29 June 2020