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Post Mussolini Never Really Abandoned His Youthful Anti-Imperialism
Created by John Eipper on 04/06/21 4:04 AM

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Mussolini Never Really Abandoned His Youthful Anti-Imperialism (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 04/06/21 4:04 am)

John E appended two questions to my post of April 4th:

1) What were Mussolini's reasons for protesting the Libya war of 1911?

2) What inspired him to abandon his youthful anti-imperialism?

The answers are quite simple. 

1) The young socialist Mussolini was arrested on 14 October 1911, and on 23 November he was sentenced to one year in jail.  He was sentenced together with the republican Pietro Nenni, future FM of post-WWII Italy.

Let's remember Mussolini's own words at his trial to explain the protest:

"Between us socialists and the nationalists, there is this difference: they want a greater Italy, we want a learned, rich and free Italy."

He wanted to say that it is imperative to place the country in good conditions and at that time it was not.  This was preferable to wasting money and lives to acquire what at that time was called a "sandbox" almost 6 times larger than Italy and with only 700,000 inhabitants or probably less.  Mussolini concluded:

"If you acquit me you will please me, if you condemn me you will do me an honor."

On 12 March 1912, following an appeal trial, he was set free.  He resumed his activities on 17 March.

2) Mussolini did not really abandon his youthful theories, but in 1935 his situation has completely changed and he was the PM of a nation that already had colonies, practically since 1869.  Unfortunately, the king remained as head of state.  Mussolini had to consider the will of the public.

The historian Arrigo Petacco in his History of Fascism states that the Treaty of Friendship of 1928 with Ethiopia was also due to the latent anti-imperialism of the early Mussolini.

But in the early 1930s, things changed quickly and drastically, with the Austria crisis, the Stresa Conference, the UK-Germany naval accord, the visits of Eden and Laval, etc., but overall the Abyssinian provocations culminating at Ual Ual.

The bands of Omar Samantar, who previously killed an Italian officer (accompanied by the British colonel Clifford and forces from Somaliland!) attacked the position defended by the Somali Dubats after they proclaimed their loyalty to Italy.

Such an attack plus others carried out by irregular bands, together with the tragic internal conditions of the dictatorship of Haile Selassie, the oppression of the ethnic and religious minorities, slavery, and plus the hatred of Somalis and Eritreans against the Abyssinians reached a point at which Mussolini said, "With Ethiopia, we have been patient for 40 years, now no more."

It has been reported that there was a secret accord by which Haile Selassie would have conquered the Ogaden (North of Somalia) in order to transfer it to British Somaliland, obtaining in exchange an outlet to the sea with the town of Zeila.

Anyway, Mussolini's policy was quite different from previous democratic Italy, and that may have been one of the reasons why it was opposed by the other Colonial Empires.

Mussolini was acclaimed as the Sword of Islam and protector of Islam (Saif al-Islam and Hami al-Islam) when he granted the Libyans Italian citizenship, calling them "the Muslim Italians of the fourth seashore of Italy." Poor old Gaddafi, betrayed by the new Italian lay, democratic and antifascist Republic born from the resistance, which broke in 2011 the Treaty of Friendship of only three years earlier. Gaddafi was born an Italian citizen. (I will forever remember with horror and disgust the laughter of Hillary Clinton after viewing images of his lynching.)

Mussolini gave to the people of the new Italian Empire schools, churches, mosques with attached Koranic schools and hotels for the pilgrims to Mecca, synagogues, hospitals, infrastructure, industries, agricultural aid, etc. in the spirit of what was believed to be the Old Roman Empire and according to his youthful socialist beliefs.

Point 8 of the Charter of Verona (the quasi-constitution of the RSI) stipulated that there would be no more colonies, although it also proposed a mutual enhancement of African resources with absolute respect for the Africans, especially Muslims.

On a separate topic, I am in full agreement with many points of the post of Ángel Viñas, 4 April:

1) Mussolini wanted a pro-Italian and anti-(Red)French regime in Spain, which should not be surprising.

2) Italian military muscle was significantly weakened with the Spanish Civil War.

3) The Spanish Left did contribute to the defeat of Axis powers.

4) Mussolini was very disappointed with Franco.

5) Without Gibraltar, the Mediterranean would not be a British lake.

6) Mussolini was magnanimous (foolish?) in forgiving in 1940 a very substantial part of Franco's war debts.

JE comments:  Several (most?) authoritarian leaders had their "day in court" as youngsters.  Call it an early chapter in the strongman's Bildungsroman.  In this narrative, Mussolini could be joined by Castro, Stalin, and that Austrian Corporal whose name I can't recall.  Castro famously said in court that History would absolve him.  So far, it has not.  Corporal H used his 1924 trial as a platform to redefine himself as a national hero.

Eugenio Battaglia has repeatedly suggested that Italian "nation-building" was more generous than versions practiced by other imperialists, both before and after.  This is certainly not the case for Spain, but was the abolition of slavery justification enough for the Ethiopian intervention?  It's a stretch to argue that Mussolini went to war in Ethiopia with the purpose of freeing the enslaved, but (gulp) this was not Lincoln's justification either, in 1861.  Emancipation was the result, not the cause, of the US Civil War.

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