A problematic synthesis, made from a historiographically updated and comparative perspective rather than a nationalistic one, a synthesis that would highlight the centrality of the imperial myth in the fascist regime, and not only after , is still due. When the fascists took power, only four years after the end of the Great War, Italy ruled the 40 nicola labanca colonial dominions of Eritrea, Somalia, Tripolitania, and Cirenaica in Africa. Among the imports were textiles and coffee, in addition to some iron tools for agriculture.
The whole volume of transactions of the main local credit bank obviously consisting of discount operations, advances, and issues of stock did not even add up to a billion lira in Exports included dry skins, cotton oil, cotton, and kapok, the last two being typical of the Italian concessions. Imports were more traditional— cotton cloth and food products—since Somalia was unable even to take advantage of the consumer goods needed by Italian and other European colonists.
Also for this reason the turnover of the sole institute of local credit was about a quarter of the Eritrean one. Demographically, for example, the population of the Italian peninsula was calculated at the beginning of the s as slightly fewer than thirty-eight million, while the French population was thirty-nine million and the British more than forty-four million. At the beginning of the s, annual production of steel was approximately more than 9 million tons in Great Britain and a little less than 3 million tons in France, while Italy could not produce more than , tons.
Slower to grow were Great Britain and France. Going back to the production of steel, in the Italian productive capacity was still half that of the French and a quarter that of the British. In —16, Lenin, accumulating data for his Imperialism: The Final Stage of Capitalism, set down in his notebooks that London ruled about million colonial subjects, Paris more than 56 million, The Hague about 38 million, and Lisbon 9 million, while Rome held power over little more than 1. The rate of Italian colonial geographic extension was similarly anemic in relation to that of other European powers.
This disparity had increased from to , if one takes into account the disappearance of the German colonial empire and of the Turkish dominions in the Middle East, divided as they had been between Great Britain and France into forms of trusteeship. This expansion did not, however, subvert the substantial limits of Italian colonial imperialism. These quantitative data, although schematic and often ignored in discussions of diplomatic and political history, are nevertheless important when talking about the fascist regime and its imperial propaganda, and about the ambitions and the pretenses of its ruling class.
Fascist ambitions and demands, pretending to radically change the status quo, promised to subvert the international order of the day. I will return to these points often in the following pages. For now two observations on this matter will be enough. This fact is all too often forgotten, especially because of the nationalist mindset of the colonial historians of the regime and of the liberal government that followed in its wake.
Now, it is true that European imperialism and the white colonial oppression of Africa, Asia, and Oceania had, in the twenty years that followed the Great War, strong elements of continuity with the decades of the scramble.
Un Posto Al Sole
Something changed, however, especially after the two major colonial powers, Great Britain and France, imposed onerous requirements to participate in the Great War on a good part of their colonial dominions. Both the British and the French engaged in acts of brutal repression against these anticolonial movements, even between the two wars and in particular in the years immediately following the conclusion of the Great War, brutalities on the part of both the British and the French were not lacking.
The massacre of Amritsar of and the war without quarter against Abd el-Krim in testify to that. But what such brutal episodes indicate is, crucially, the presence of indigenous political and religious opposition movements, which in some cases were crushed and in others were only temporarily sedated. It is thus possible to understand why, starting from the end of the Great War, for both London and Paris the basic political problems of the administration of their empires consisted of control of these indigenous movements as well as colonial exploitation.
In other words, decolonization came after World War II, but it was rooted in the preceding twenty years. Still, in order to understand the uniqueness of the colonial politics of the fascist regime, a further consideration, one of chronological order, is necessary. Throughout the ventennio two moments were particularly critical for the rulers of colonial empires.
Limited success was realized by various national movements for example, the gaining of autonomy by the Egyptian Wafdist government but, even when the revolutionary wave of —23 was harshly repressed, it had lasting consequences. It was enough, for example, to induce London and Paris to grant concessions and even autonomy in some cases, reinforcing indirect rule; and it was enough to convince Moscow of the importance of constant attention to colonial peoples.
Such concessions strengthened the thirst for national emancipation in the nationalist elites; such observations would not lack relevance even in view of a reexamination of the colonial politics of liberal Italy, which need to be discussed elsewhere. The second critical moment in the relationship between colonial powers and overseas dominions came after In two or three years at the most, the colonial powers strengthened their economic links with their own dominions, intensifying their exploitation and raising the protectionist barriers that linked motherland to colonies.
Among these were greater sensitivity of the bureaucracies concerning all that could involve the overseas dominions, the necessity for the bureaucracies to better control the indigenous middle classes, and the growth of the anticolonial nationalist movements. Such a general picture as I have just sketched here will have to be kept in mind in the examination of fascist colonialism.
But it was above all the colonial politics of fascism that marked a deep continuity in relation studies on fascist colonialism 45 to the international picture. Among scholars, it is well known, there is no unanimity about such discontinuity. Simply in discussing the economic foundations of Italian colonialism, one can observe the complex relationship between continuity and change.
But, within this continuity, one cannot ignore some signs of a remarkable change from Francesco Crispi to Giolitti, and, later, in the passage from liberal Italy to fascism. In such a perspective, some structural elements need to be kept in mind. This is true in absolute terms as much as in relative terms, both in relation to the total of the state expenses and in relation to the overall national product. It might be objected, to those who illuminate such discontinuities with liberal Italy, that explicitly colonial expenses remained only a tenth of the military expense of the regime.
It is apparent, therefore, that if liberal Italy had invested ten times more in instruction than in the colonies, the fascist regime was spending only three times more for its schools than for its colonies. Not later than —26, however, the international colonial economy had stabilized and, as I have said, already by and no later than a dense protectionist net had fastened the large colonial markets to their motherlands. How was Italy situated in this international picture?
More interesting, perhaps, was the Italian-Mediterranean interchange that is, the Italian exchange with the English territories in Egypt, the French ones of Tunisia and of Algeria, and those in the Turkish empire and the interchange between Italy and Africa in its whole. In any case, the global numbers had remained modest, and they were not showing any signs of dynamism. Something changed with the war and became especially evident in the postwar period.
In addition, these positions were often totally new during the postwar period, and in particular in the years of expansion between and , an important fact in the national perception and in the perception of foreign governments and economic centers. The positive Italian performance in the general commercial interchange with Africa nearly half of which was accounted for by exchanges with Egypt and more or less at the same time with the colonies was particularly evident around It is legitimate to presume that this situation would strengthen or at least coincide 48 nicola labanca with the nationalistic appeals of the minister of the colonies, Federzoni, for a revision of the colonial order established at Versailles.
The spaces left open between World War I and the period after World War I by the colonies above all, the ones in Africa of other powers to Italian exports of goods, which were often of low monetary value and therefore easily replaceable, were soon closed again. The protectionist policies implemented following the crisis of further marginalized colonial markets, multiplying the pressures on the government and the state. The demographic argument evolved quickly in the direction of myth. It has been noted, for example, that until the s—and one could even say until the Ethiopian war—the most Italian colony, that is, Libya, was not hosting even half the number of Italians hosted by Tunisia.
The numbers are not always univocal, given the embarrassment of the regime in having to exhibit what might have been construed as a failure of Italian colonization.
Ironically, Lessona did not take part in such expeditions because in the meantime he had been replaced by Attilio Teruzzi. Certainly, however, it is evident that the fascist seizure of power marked a radical structural change in relation to the politics of the liberal era. Notwithstanding this shift, Italian colonialism remained circumscribed and secondary. Various interlinking elements propelled fascism toward Ethiopia.
That there were spaces for audacious action and that the League of Nations was unable to prevent them or to repress such actions became plain to il Duce at the time of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in September At the internal level, the different forces that the regime had in the meantime created or fueled and strengthened were pressing in on Mussolini, who from had assumed again the leading position in the Foreign Ministry.
Primary among such forces were colonialist and expansionist political circles, which from the beginning of the s found themselves with a role and a force that they had never had in the history of Italy. Nevertheless, even if it seems that the king did not agree in to actions in Africa, it is impossible to deny that on more than one occasion—for example when Federzoni headed the Ministry of the Colonies—he had demonstrated great interest concerning the African prospects of fascism. But after an equally important but heretofore neglected role was probably played by Italian economic interests.
The third level to be kept in mind is the economic. Relevant, from the point of view of expansionist politics and of the weight gained by Italian imperialism, was the fact that the dynamic of the crisis and the reply of the regime led to a drastic interpenetration of state and business, politics and economy, as is made evident by credit banks like IMI and IRI.
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Seen in such a perspective, the colonial imperialism of the fascist regime 52 nicola labanca by the midpoint of the s loses a little of its widespread image as an archaic or premodern imperialism aimed exclusively at demographic colonization, an image that, even if legitimate in the s, is not adequate to describe the power and complexity of interests that were at stake for fascism once it turned toward Ethiopia.
As far as the time of the aggression is concerned, it is clear that it transcended the colonial African theater. It is enough to recall that, in addition to the Japanese example in Manchuria, the years between and were counterpointed by the rise of Nazism and by the unfolding of the decisive rivalry of German revisionism and expansionism with the Italian.
It has been argued that, in order to mark the transformation of the objective and means chosen by the regime, from to fascism aimed mainly at Libya, although from to the prevalent objective became Ethiopia. Guariglia was fully aware that his report would animate interests already existing in Mussolini, in the colonies, and elsewhere.
No later than December of the same year, Mussolini expressed his appreciation for those plans to De Bono, began to indicate certain distant dates, and suggested the position of supreme command of the expedition to the same quadrumvir. After that, the Stato Maggiore and the Ministry of War tried to rearticulate their position in relation to the colonies and foresaw, in their counterplans, a more extensive expedition than that predicted by De Bono, both by virtue of their more realistic and professional analysis of the risks and in order to reassert military supremacy over the rival colonial administration.
From May to November of , the combat readiness and the armament of the Italian troops in Eritrea was doubled. It was not yet the massive envoy of men accumulated by —36, but it already represented a clear signal to everybody, from the Ethiopians to international public opinion, that something was being prepared. In the meantime, the mechanism that would lead to the border incident of Ual-ual on December 5, , had started to function.
Rome had always refused to accept the more than reasonable, peaceful proposals of Addis Ababa for the resolution of the dispute, and the instructions sent directly from the colonies to the governors and from the governors to the frontier positions were implicitly aggressive.
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It is necessary to solve the [Ethiopian] problem as soon as possible. The objective can only be the destruction of the Abyssinian armed forces and the total conquest of Ethiopia. The Empire cannot be made otherwise. This corps numbered about , Italian soldiers, 87, ascari indigenous soldiers , and , militarized Italian workers and was equipped with 10, machine guns, 1, cannons, tanks, 14, vehicles, and planes.
It cannot be doubted that this had an impact. In spite of this, Renzo De Felice documented that, at least until October , police sources indicated that the public was not at all convinced, cases of failure to report for military service and clandestine expatriation to escape the war in the Horn of Africa were frequent, and fears were rife among the police of antifascist sabotage.
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These forces included the military and the diplomatic sector, as well as colonial and expansionistic circles within other sectors of the state. All these forces pushed Mussolini toward Africa, toward a politics of open subversion and war.
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Interpretations based on the notion that Mussolini considered a great war an opportunity to leave an inheritance for future generations are, therefore, unfounded. Also unfounded is the opinion that Mussolini could have founded an African empire anywhere in the Mediterranean, the Arabian peninsula, or the Horn of Africa.
Haile Selassie had initiated a process of centralization and modernization in Ethiopia; therefore, the possibilities for success of peripheral Italian politics had been decreasing for some time, while it was reasonably unthinkable that the Negusa Negast could accept an Italian protectorate or the dismemberment of the Ethiopian country. All this does not mean that, after military preparations had been underway for some time, Mussolini did not have to take into account the movements within the European diplomatic world and, in particular, French support and English reactions.
Once the war machine had been turned on, it was not easy for the regime to decrease its speed or reverse its direction. Nor did Mussolini want this.
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