Conquest of Abyssinia. One of the goals of the Italian fascism was its territorial expansion. In december 1934 Italy provoked armed incidents on the borders of Abyssinia with the Italian colonies, and ten months later Italy launched the invasion. The League of Nations imposed sanctions on Italy, but proved helpless to stop the aggression. Italian occupation of Abyssinia lasted till 1941.



Abyssinia (Ethiopia) since the ancient times has been an important link on the shortest way from Europe, along the African coast, to India and China. Building of the Suez Canal had strengthened that position of Abyssinia, and attracted attention of great colonial powers: Great Britain (which ruled in Indies), France (which ruled in Indo-China), and Italy (which sought acquisition of colonial possessions). Penetration of European powers into Abyssinia resulted in colonial partitions of her sea coasts from Suakin to the Cap Guardafui, and farther to Zanzibar.

By the treaties imposed on Abyssinia, European powers had grabbed:

Great Britain
-
Suakin, incorporated into Sudan, and British Somaliland,
France
-
port Djibouti with adjacent areas of the Afars and the Issas,
Italy -
Eritrea and Italian Somaliland.

In result Abyssinia, as it lost access to the seas, found itself cut off the outer world and squeezed among the European colonies.

At the end of the 19th century Italy was the most active in planning new conquests in Abyssinia. But on 1 March 1896, in the battle of Adua, Abyssinia dealt a full defeat to the Italian forces. Therefore, before the First World War (1914-1918), in result of colonial divisions, Italy had just few, mostly deserted, possessions - Eritrea, Somalia, as well as Libya and Dodecanese, grabbed from Turkey. After the war, dreams of the Italian ruling classes about substantial territorial acquisitions at the expense of Austro-Hungary and Germany did not come true. In 1935 as much as 38.28% of the African territories were under the French control, and 33.48% - under the British control, while Italy controlled only 5.28%.

Economical crisis and growing social discontent in Italy instilled its fascist leadership with ideas of reviving old plans of colonial expansion. Italy, unsatisfied by the sharing of the African colonies in 1918-1919, embraced the policy of revision of agreements concerning demarcation of the North African possessions, as well as struggle for their forced redistribution with the aim in creation of the Italian colonial zone from Libya to the Cameroons (former German colony).

In 1923 Abyssinia became a member in the League of Nations, and in 1928 Italy concluded the non-aggression treaty with Abyssinia. Yet, examples of Japan, which conquered Manchuria with impunity, and Germany, which in the spring of 1935 against the Treaty of Versailles announced rebuilding of its armed forces, made fascist Italy to nurse aggressive plans towards Abyssinia. Officials of the Italian government started to claim repeatedly that to Italy Abyssinia was a necessary source of raw materials, and a natural market for Italian goods. As it was customary among the European colonial powers, Italian fascists motivated their claims with overpopulation of the metropolitan Italy and necessity to open the way for migration of "millions" of workers and peasants. In fact, fascist Italy was preparing a colonial war against Abyssinia to create the basis for further expansion in the basins of the Red and Mediterranean Seas.

The struggle for Abyssinia was an element of a broader complex of the Anglo-Franco-Italian rivalry in the Mediterranean basin and adjacent areas for the shortest sea routes linking Europe with Africa and Asia. In that respect Abyssinia had an important strategic position as a bridgehead extending the British strategic route from Gibraltar via Suez, Red Sea and Aden to the Indies, Singapore, Hongkong and Australia. From Abyssinia Italy could menace that route, as well as the trans-African railways and air lines linking London with Cairo, Khartoum and Capetown, and Cairo with Baghdad, Bahrain and Karachi.

In the autumn of 1935, in result of indecision of Great Britain, which had lost its dominant position in the Mediterranean, the overall political situation was in favour of Italy. Britain hesitated: Italian victory in Abyssinia would further hamper its weakening position in the region; defeat would menace the fascist dictatorship in Italy, but also would send a signal to the peoples of Africa to raise for their independence. On top of that on 7 January 1935 France and Italy signed the agreement, which untied the hands of the Italian fascists for further aggression.

As the pretext to unleash the aggression was used the incident in Ual-Ual oasis (nowadays a town) in the province of Ogaden, claimed by Italy as its borders were not clearly demarcated. There Italian military confronted the Anglo-Abyssinian border commission, and provoked an armed clash.

Italy had been intensively preparing for war since 1933, and as it had been pushing for war, it refused to submit disputes with Abyssinia to the international arbitration. Starting from February 1935, Italy carries partial mobilization of its reserve troops, and transferring them to Eritrea and Somalia. Simultaneously, the fascist government accused the emperor of Abyssinia in making no sincere attempt to abolish slavery in his country, and demanded expulsion of Abyssinia from the League of Nations and giving Italy the mandate to govern Abyssinia. Overall, the propaganda campaign against Abyssinia was wrapped in the legalistic clap-trap about "civilizing mission", "establishing order", and "human rights". Only the Italian Communist Party raised the slogan "Hands off Abyssinia". The VII Congress of the Communist International (Comintern) on 13-14 August 1935 in particular adopted the resolution that if the Negus of Abyssinia, by defeating the plans of conquest of fascism, helps the Italian proletariat to strike a death blow at the regime of the blackshirts, none will reproach it with being "backward." [Adhikari G. M. (1944).]

As England realised what a danger had been looming over its strategic communications in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, it started intensive military build-up in the regions those communications criss-crossed. At the same time England had been probing the international reaction to the possibility of closing the Suez Canal to the Italian shipping. As Italy without a warning started the war on Abyssinia on 3 October 1935, it was not just the strike against Abyssinia; it was a strike against England, and against her sea routes between Europe and the Indies. On 7 October the League of Nations declared Italy an aggressor, and introduced sanctions, which forbade providing arms and other war materials to Italy. Yet, only one member of the League of Nations - the USSR - adhered to the sanctions.

The Italian government perfectly understood England's vulnerability in the Mediterranean and Red Seas, and warned that the sanctions, especially on the sales of oil, would mean an act of war. The Italian leader, Benito Mussolini, resorted to threatening Great Britain, and proclaiming the slogan that the Roman Empire would be restored on the cadaver of the British lion.

The Italo-Abyssinian War 1935-1936 to Abyssinia was the war for her independence and freedom from the colonial domination of the fascist Italy. It found understanding among the progressive political options around the world. In Italy itself there were numerous cases of draft dodging and defection of the mobilized recruits, especially in the frontier areas. In Abyssinia anti-Italian ferment occurred among the native soldiers, and some units, which the Italian command formed among the native tribesmen, defected to the Abyssinians with arms and equipment.

As early as on 5 September 1935 the Soviet people's commissar for foreign affairs Maxim Litvinov denounced in the League of Nations the Italian aggression against Abyssinia, and emphasized that

nothing in the Covenant of the League entitles us, however, to discriminate between Members of the League as to their internal regime, the colour of their skin, their racial distinctions or the stage of their civilization, nor accordingly to deprive some of them of privileges which they enjoy in virtue of their membership of the League and, in the first place of their inalienable right to integrity and independence. [Bendiner E. (1975).]

He finished his speech with prophetic warning that every war is a spawn of the previous wars, and a parent of the new wars.