The March From Rome – Part 1
Italian capitalism achieved its local unity by the year 1870, which was fairly late for a European State, and was therefore late in the scramble for expansion. The motive force, in material, for easy expansion in the latter half of the nineteenth century, was coal and railways. Italy’s almost total lack of coal made her capitalist growth and expansion semi-dependent upon coal from abroad, mainly Britain. Labour reformists who misled the workers by calling State subsidies and grants “Socialist” may note that in the seventies the Italian Government passed many tariff laws and made regular subsidies to newly growing industries in order to help on her growing capitalism. In spite of the various handicaps, Italian capitalism made good progress. From the nineties to the outbreak of the world war (1914), her imports and exports had risen from £90 millions to £240 millions. The export of silk grew until Milan ousted the French exporters of Lyons and became the foremost silk market in the world. This “prosperity” manifested itself internally in the establishment of military conscription and an ambitious policy externally. Like her French neighbour, she had to be careful where she trod, for powerful Imperialist rivals already existed with older and more stabilised capitalisms. In 1880 she completed her first small arms factory and a naval programme was arranged, French capitalists obtaining the contracts. In 1884 Italy laid down an eight years’ plan or military programme to cost round £10 million. Ignorant Communists refer to planning as being a “Socialist” discovery and boost Russia’s five years’ plan as though it was original. By now Italy was swept into the general current of aggressive Imperialism and began to look round for “safe” conquests. Her geographical position gave her two ways of expansion: (1) Northwards in an Alpine direction; (2) Southwards, in the Mediterranean and North African coast. Both directions, however, were difficult. Northward, the Austro-German bloc barred her way; southward, the French in Algeria and Tunis, and the British Navy dominated the African coast route to Egypt.
The French invasion of Tunis aroused antagonisms among the ruling class in Italy (not through any noble motives) because they were just too late. Diplomacy under capitalism is more than “the art of lying.” It is the art of “duplicity.” For some years Italian jingoes had been clamouring for the return to Italy of the Italian provinces still in Austrian hands—Trieste, Istria, Trentino. As a reply to the French occupation of Tunis, she joined Germany and Austria in the Triple Alliance, surrendering her claim to the Italian provinces, in return for help in her Mediterranean-Africa ambitions. A military alliance was signed for five years. The Alliance, however, did not guarantee any assistance if Italy was attacked by a fourth Power.
Dead sea fruit.
Towards the time when the treaty would end France and Russia asked Italy to leave the Alliance with a view to a new one aimed at Britain in return for which they both offered help to regain the Austrian held provinces Italy had previously bawled about and then relinquished. Yon can’t teach old dogs new tricks. British capitalism, well versed in all the moves of the game of diplomacy, adroitly gave Italy an assurance of help if she was threatened in the Mediterranean (by someone else). Thus by playing on other capitalists’ interests, Crispi secured for Italian capitalism n free period for an aggressive expansionist policy. All that was necessary was to avoid poaching on other capitalist, preserves. Beaten by the French in Tunis, she went a bit further afield, and in 1885 got Massawa, etc., on the Red Sea (Eritrea). These places were of very little use in themselves, but good jumping-off grounds for an assault on the fertile rich land of Abyssinia. Italy made war on this country but was smashed in 1887. She was able to expand here, as her rivals, French and British, were at logger- heads in the area of Egypt. Italy’s defeat in a frontal attack did not,. however, deter her from her aims; it was merely a question of learning the tricks of the trade. By playing off one native leader against another (fifth column work long ago) she succeeded in establishing a “protectorate” over a part of Somaliland. With the death of the Emperor of Abyssinia came Italy’s chance. They successfully championed Menelik, one of the claimants to the throne. For this Italy was granted part of the territory and the “privilege” of supplying such arms and loans as Abyssinia (or its slave owners) might need. Italy also established by bribes a number of “Quisling” groups among the native chiefs in Tripoli (for use later on). At this time German capitalism was becoming dangerously strong and France becoming increasingly apprehensive. Germany’s policy aimed at keeping Italy “outside” the French orbit. This fear increased when in 1893, at the German Grand Army manoeuvres, there appeared the Italian Crown Prince. French finance quickly replied by liquidating her Italian securities (£40 millions). This created a financial panic in Italy. These European relations, internal disorders and economic depression, forced the Italian Government to turn the people’s minds elsewhere, and capitalist hopes too, so attention was again given to East Africa.