The Italy/Ethiopia Conflict and Anti-Colonial Anti-Fascism: In Lieu of a Book

Over the last seven years, I have published a number of pieces all of which draw out the historical and theoretical implications of the Italy/Ethiopia conflict (1935-41) and the anti-colonial anti-fascism that responded to it across the British Empire and beyond.

voe_origI was going to write a book out of it. But I don’t think I will now, because I’ve ended up publishing most of it as journal articles and book chapters. I have one more thing that I will write, but I will fold that into a new book on Rastafari Reason and Political Thought.

So anyway, here are the pieces. Consider them, together, a mini-kind of book lols!

Chapter 1:

Intervention and Colonial-Modernity: Decolonising the Italy/Ethiopia Conflict Through Psalms 68:31, Review of International Studies 39 (5), 2013 pp. 1131-1147

In this article I utilise the editors’ conceptual frame of sovereignty/intervention/transnational social forces to argue that the relationship that ensues between these phenomena has to be understood in colonial-modern – rather than modern – terms. I thereby argue that intervention is a distinctive technology of colonial-modern rule, specifically, one that erects and polices the difference between sovereign and quasi-sovereign entities via a standard of civilisation. Additionally, I argue that transnational social forces struggle – cognitively, socially, and politically – over the upholding or refuting of this standard; and in this struggle, some might even defend particular sovereign entities against colonial interventions. I demonstrate my argument by explicating the global colonial context of the Italy/Ethiopia conflict in 1935–6, the nadir of the interwar crisis. I ‘decolonise’ received interpretations of the conflict through the heuristic of two differing catechisms of Psalms 68:31 proffered at the time: one, invoking a civilising mission of Africans; the other, invoking a project of self-liberation by Africans.

Chapter 2:

Ethiopianism, Englishness, Britishness: Struggles over Imperial Belonging, Citizenship Studies 20 (2), 2016, pp. 243-259

In this article, I problematise a tendency to situate concerns for citizenship and belonging via what might be called ‘narratives of settlement’. In these narratives, the chronology of settlement begins with the visceral and institutional racism met by non-white immigrant peoples of the commonwealth post Second World War, and the tempo of settlement is marked by the problem of integrating into and within UK society. Such narratives occlude a broader and deeper contextualisation of struggles over citizenship within struggles over imperial belonging. To substantiate this critique, I examine various actors across the British empire who struggled over Englishness and Britishness – connected but discrete imperial cultures of belonging – during the Italy/Ethiopia war of 1935–1941. These actors variously problematised belonging to British empire via an ethical commitment to Ethiopia’s independence. Unlike narratives of settlement, the tempos and chronologies of these Ethiopianist narratives are fundamentally global-colonial in their framing of the problem of belonging in so far as their tempos are determined by the pursuit of African redemption and their chronologies are structured around the enslavement, colonisation and prospective liberation of African peoples. The benefit of undertaking an historical examination of the Italy/Ethiopia conflict is to bring into sharper relief struggles over imperial belonging wherein the moral and political compass of protagonists is oriented to resolutions that exceed an equitable national settlement.

Chapter 3:

‘Ah, We Have Not Forgotten Ethiopia’: Anti-Colonial Sentiments for Spain in a Fascist Era, in J. Narayan & G.K. Bhambra (eds.), European Cosmopolitanism: Colonial Histories and Postcolonial Societies (London: Routledge, 2016) pp.31-46

In many ways, anti-fascist internationalism in the 1930s, exemplified for instance in the Spanish brigades, is considered to be the modern genesis of European cosmopolitanism as a workable political project. But instead of a political tradition of anti-fascist internationalism, largely sui generis to Europe, I want to retrieve the tradition of anti-colonial anti-fascism, in which “Europe” is posited as not just part of the problem but as unable to express or solve the problem of fascism sui generis without addressing its colonial project and the conjoined struggles that this problem and project give rise to.  For this purpose I excavate contemporaneous considerations of the relationship between the violent Italian colonization of Ethiopia and the violent civil war in Spain. I examine perhaps the most important anti-colonial anti-fascist archive of the time – Sylvia Pankhurst’s newspaper, New Times and Ethiopia News (NTEN). I firstly introduce the contours of NTEN and the ways in which it introduces the Spanish cause into a newspaper originally devoted to the Ethiopia cause. I then excavate an anti-colonial anti-fascist position from Pankhurst’s editorials between 1936-1939. Subsequently, I extract a broader living knowledge tradition of anti-colonial anti-fascism that is suggested by the various letters and extracts printed in the newspaper. I conclude by asking what lessons might this tradition impart for contemporary Europe, beset now, as it was in the 1930s, by austerity and racialized resentment?

Chapter 4:

In Recognition of the Abyssinian General, in P. Hayden & K. Schick (eds.), Recognition and the International (London: Bloomsbury Academic Press, 2016) pp.121-137

The Abyssinian general is not recognised, nor is he mis-recognised. He is un-recognizable to massa. Recognition theory, predominantly ensconced in debates over the prospects and pathologies of the European modern self, stumbles when it comes to engaging with the radical un-recognition that is congenital to the reproduction of colonial difference and perhaps at its most extreme in the slave plantation archipelago of the Americas (and elsewhere too).   However, enslaved Africans and their descendents have struggled to maintain and cultivate practices of recognition that work autonomously to – if always in confrontation with – massa and his European episteme. In this chapter we will journey from colonial recognition towards a recognition of the Abyssinian general that is other-wise.

Chapter 5:

From Ethiopia to Bandung via Fanon, Bandung: Journal of the Global South 6 (2019), pp.1-28

In this article I attempt to reconcile one of the most influential diplomatic episodes of Third World liberation – Bandung – with one of the most influential thinkers of said liberation – Frantz Fanon. I argue that this reconciliation can be usefully achieved by bringing to the fore the impact of the Ethiopia/Italy conflict (1935–1941) on both Fanon’s thought and the political trajectories of various individuals and movements that ultimately met at Bandung. Specifically, I trace how anti-colonial anti-fascism, an intellectual-activist position which emerged in response to Mussolini’s fascist invasion of Ethiopia, prefigured and prepared the Bandung spirit not only in biographical terms but also in terms of casting an ethics of liberation on a global scale that interwove the fates of metropoles and colonies as well as diverse colonial subjects. I frame my investigation of these influences through Fanon’s concept of Black humanism and his diplomatic injunction on behalf of the wretched of the earth, both of which I also argue can be genealogically connected to anticolonial anti-fascism. I conclude by suggesting that the accretion of the ethics and practices encountered across these journeys from Ethiopia to Bandung via Fanon might aid in reviving an internationalist spirit for our own constrictive age.

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