THE entry of Germany into the League of Nations was preceded by a well organized propagandist movement for the return of some of her lost colonies and a demand that the price of her adhesion to the League should be the allotment to her of mandates in Africa. From one end of the Fatherland to the other the question was discussed in all its aspects and the movement was staged and managed with uncommon skill by the various colonial bodies, led by the "Korag," or Union of Colonial Societies, so named after the initial letters of its title, Koloniale Reichsarbeitsgemeinschaft. This federation is stated to represent some thirty different societies, composed of over 400,000 members; the principal member organization, the Deutsche Kolonialgesellschaft, acts under the presidency of Dr. Seitz, a former Governor of German South-West Africa, who is also president of the "Korag."

Although there is a tendency in some quarters to belittle the influence of these organizations and to consider the movement they represent as of small practical importance, it must be remembered that Germany's slow emergence as a colonial Power in the 'eighties and 'nineties of the last century was heralded and supported by exactly similar societies which by constant propaganda in the chief cities of the empire, and particularly in the old Hanseatic centers, at length compelled the government to enter upon the thorny path of colonial expansion.

A similar movement is in process to-day, and although conditions are different and the world-position has become far more difficult, there can be no doubt that the colonial ideal, rightly or wrongly, is now far more deeply engrained in the German people than it was previous to the war. The reason is simple and obvious. Nothing affected German national esteem so deeply or aroused so profound a resentment in the mass of the people as what has been wrongly called the rape of the colonies, the "Kolonialraub" of every German propagandist writer. Based as this loss was upon charges of brutality and maladministration on the part of those who were responsible for the welfare of the natives -- charges which were mentioned in the Allied Note of June 16, 1919,[i] and formed the justification of the Allies for their action in seizing the German colonies -- it struck directly at the amour propre of the German nation so that its repercussions are felt today in every part of the Fatherland.

It would be unwise, therefore, to regard as of little importance this ingrained German hostility to the post-war settlement in Africa or to look upon the revivified colonial movement as not representing a national question. It is true, as the London Times correspondent has stated, that it cannot be regarded as national in the political sense, but nevertheless the warning of Germania, the organ of the Center Party, that "this federation of colonial societies should not be looked upon as a new edition of the German Navy League, a State within a State and capable, owing to its powerful organization, of forcing its claims upon the government," is a warning of what may well become an accomplished fact in the not distant future. Although official Germany remains entirely correct in its attitude towards this deeply-rooted feeling, it may be obliged, sooner or later, to sanction an official demand for a place in the African sun.

The colonial movement in Germany cannot be regarded as merely the expression of a pious ideal. It is fathered, it is true, chiefly by those who were concerned with the building of the German empire overseas, ex-governors and ex-colonial ministers, officials who have served in the colonies, colonial traders and settlers, and all those who have interests in the supply of raw materials for the German economic machine, and supported by the mercantile and shipping communities of the great cities which were in the forefront of the old colonial movement. But it has received in addition the cooperation of Reichstag deputies who, under the presidency of Dr. Heinrich Schnee, a former governor of German East Africa, have formed a powerful colonial group within the portals of parliament itself. This group, the Inter-fraktionnelle Koloniale Vereiniging, includes two former colonial ministers, Doctors Bell and Dernburg, and numerous specialists in colonial subjects, and is always ready to bring pressure to bear upon the government on all questions relating to the furtherance of German colonial demands. Though there is no longer a Ministry of Colonies, such work as remains to be done in connection with them is still performed by a special colonial section of the Foreign Office, which continues to publish the well known "Mitteilungen aus den Deutschen Schutzgebieten," a review dealing with geographical, ethnographical, and other scientific questions in the former colonies. This publication is the only official colonial review rearing its head in the sea of non-official journals representing the propagandist side of the movement. The official element is not dead but sleepeth.

The beginnings of this movement are to be found as far back as 1920, when the press and colonial organizations commenced their energetic campaign against the stigma that had been cast on German colonial methods. The movement was based on the official protest of Dr. Bell, then Minister of the Colonies, who in the National Assembly on October 11, 1919, protested against the "hypocritical reproach of colonial incapacity by which the Allied Powers had attempted to justify this rape of the German colonies," and stated that he hoped that a friendly discussion would lead to a revision of the Treaty of Peace so that Germany might be permitted to take part in the "colonization work of civilized nations." During the following years the swelling tide of propaganda carried on its surface many curious examples of German propagandist methods. Pamphlet after pamphlet came from the press, meetings were arranged throughout the Republic, colonial weeks were organized in Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne and other cities, parades of ex-colonial soldiers were held, as, for example, at Potsdam on August 16, 1926, in the presence of Prince Eitel Friedrich and Prince Oscar, and the popular taste was appealed to by the provision of cardboard beer-mats at the restaurants, bearing more or less suitable inscriptions. The latter method may appear somewhat childish, but the constant presence of inscriptions such as -- "The colonial dominions of England are one hundred times larger than the Mother Country. The population of the British colonies is nine times larger than that of England. And what of Germany?" -- or, "Without colonies, no raw materials; without raw materials, no industry; without industry, no prosperity. Therefore, Germans, we must have colonies! " -- is likely to produce in the long run the necessary "colonial feeling" even in the most unlikely quarters. Finally, the movement was summarized by Dr. Heinrich Schnee in a book purporting to be a vindication of German colonial policy and containing a bitter attack upon British methods.

As has already been stated, the German Government, realizing the extreme difficulty of obtaining any revision of the colonial settlement, has maintained a perfectly correct attitude. In the face of this attitude it may appear somewhat ungracious to labor the importance of the colonial movement, particularly as one of its main objects, the demand that Germany should make terms as to receiving mandates before entering the League, was not attained. Nevertheless there is reason to believe that this demand would have been made if it had not been quite evident that the request would have ruined the negotiations. There is now a considerable body of opinion in Germany which believes that the time has arrived for the formulation of such a demand and that Germany as a member of the League is entitled to insist upon its right to receive such mandates. There is, of course, no question whatever as to Germany's rights in this matter. They have been admitted both by the British Prime Minister and his Colonial Secretary, Mr. Amery, as well as by M. Briand on behalf of the French Government. The somewhat indiscreet remark of Dr. Stresemann at a local German club in Geneva that the charges against Germany for responsibility for the war had been quashed ipso facto by her admission into the League, and presumably also the charges of brutality in the colonies, does not represent the true state of affairs.

The admission of Germany is not a white-washing process but merely a recognition of her position as a great Power and this recognition involves the right to hold mandates. The German delegation at Locarno had already been informed that Germany was eligible as a candidate for colonial mandates (House of Commons, March 18, 1926) and on July 6, 1926, Mr. Baldwin implemented this statement. But no one, except Dr. Schnee and his associates, has indicated where and how such mandates are to be obtained. As a matter of fact, Mr. Amery, speaking on behalf of Great Britain, has stated categorically that he regards the mandate over the Tanganyika Territory, formerly German East Africa and the real bone of contention, as being permanent and only to be removed at the request of Great Britain or by a unanimous vote of the League of Nations.

It is not necessary, however, to wander along the mazy ways of colonial intrigue to be convinced that, so far as Africa is concerned, there is little likelihood of Germany being entrusted with a mandate without a radical disruption of the present colonial system. Turn where one may, the paths of diplomacy seem to be absolutely blocked by the vested interests of established colonial Powers. Moreover, as was proved by even so small a redistribution of territory as the cession of Jubaland to Italy, which took six years to accomplish, there are the treaty and other rights of the natives to be considered -- difficulties that would doubtless be overcome if the spirit were willing. But the difficulties represented by economic interests and vested rights, however obtained, are apparently insuperable without a total overthrow of the African system; and nothing at present seems more unlikely. For the present, therefore, one can only state the facts without suggesting the remedy.

The demand of Germany for colonies is based upon three premises. She wants colonies: (a) in order to provide homes for her surplus population and openings for officials and traders; (b) to produce the raw materials and foodstuffs needed by her vast industrial population and incidentally, as pointed out by Dr. Schnee, to provide markets for her manufactured goods; and (c) so that as a self-respecting nation she can free herself from the stigma of incompetence, for "no great nation, if it is to be free and self-respecting, can be deprived permanently of colonial possessions." The first of these three reasons may be dismissed as non-proven, seeing that there are other nations, as will be shown, whose need is greater in this respect. The second is one capable of infinite adumbrations. The third strikes at the very heart-beats of the German people.

Mr. Amery, the British Colonial Secretary, has argued, and perhaps rightly, that colonies are not a necessity for any great nation and has pointed to the examples of pre-war Austria-Hungary which was a first-class and prosperous Power and yet possessed no colonies, and of present-day Portugal with its vast African possessions and national stagnation. Of course it is easy for a British minister to argue upon these lines. But it may be asked, If colonies are not necessary how is it that every great Power so ardently desires their possession and retains them when they have been acquired? There is material for a dozen theses in this one question alone. Dr. Schnee, on the other hand, while maintaining that Germany is morally entitled to wield a colonial mandate, states that it is a vital necessity from an economic point of view for her to regain some of her lost possessions owing to the fact that she can only produce two-thirds of what is needed to feed her population. This means, he states in the Daily News of March 3, 1926, that "Germany must import the food and raw materials necessary for the life of 20,000,000 of her population. It is obvious that such imports involve enormous expenses, whereby Germany's obligations, notably under the Dawes Pact, are gravely endangered."

The economic argument, so far as Germany is concerned, has been most concisely and ably put by Dr. Schacht, the President of the Reichsbank. Speaking at Berlin on March 25, 1926, he demonstrated the essential connection between the Dawes Plan and the possession of colonies. His arguments may be summarized as follows. Without colonies Germany can only fulfil her reparation obligations by two means, either by an excess of exports, which must consist largely of manufactured goods which would compete with the products of the creditor nations, or by the investment of foreign capital in German undertakings. There remains, therefore, only one other way, the introduction of German activity into the production of raw materials in countries under a German currency -- in other words, in colonies of her own. Further, Dr. Schacht contended that Germany might very well be permitted to resume her colonial activities on the chartered company system, but, as an economist, he left severely alone the political aspect of providing suitable colonial areas. This opinion was implemented by Herr Külz, then Minister of the Interior, in an article in the Berliner Tageblatt of April 13, 1926, in which the minister discussed the question from the academic point of view of Germany's right and fitness to administer colonial territory but, nevertheless, supported the argument that the reparations problem cannot possibly be solved without damaging the creditor countries themselves unless Germany obtained full political control over colonial territories.

In considering these expressions of the German colonial movement one must notice that it received little attention in England (save in government circles) until the entry of Germany into the League was finally consummated. The contrary, however, is the case on the Continent. Both France and Italy have watched closely the continuous growth of the German colonial idea. Especially beyond the Alps the movement has been followed with a keen appreciation of what the reentry of Germany into the colonial sphere would mean to a country like Italy, so poor in coal and iron and raw materials, and yet so burdened by a constantly increasing population for whom its own colonies offer little outlet. So far as Italian sentiment has been expressed on this subject, it may be summed up as Italy to be served first, Germany second. Francesco Coppola, an Italian delegate to the League of Nations, emphasized this opinion in the Idea Nazionale of November 17, 1925: "If Germany only envisages a relief from her indignity and only demands a platonic moral rehabilitation, we have no objections to offer. But if she desires the grant of any colonial mandate, then we say immediately and unmistakably, No, not before Italy has received the justice which was refused her at Versailles. Before the desire of Germany stands the right of Italy."

The position of Italy with regard to colonies may be compared with that of Germany. In all the great cities of the peninsula the colonial movement has assumed an importance that before long may become political as well as moral and economic. As in Germany, colonial weeks have been organized everywhere and the press has been plentifully supplied with articles on the need for expansion. Mussolini's recent journey to Tripoli, escorted by fifteen warships, was something more than the visit of the first minister of the crown to Italy's most important colony. It was designed to focus the attention of his countrymen and of all Europe upon the moral claim of Italy to overseas expansion, to demonstrate to the world the success of Italy as a colonizing nation, and to bring a message of hope to those Italian settlers who are rebuilding the old Roman empire on the southern shores of the Mediterranean. "I wish," said the Duce, "to make Italians wake up to the fact that they have possessions overseas. Comrades, let us turn our thoughts to that Italy of the past from which sprang the strong Italy which is ever spurred on towards the sure triumphs of the morrow." In a later speech the Italian national leader emphasized the fact that his visit was not to be regarded as an ordinary administrative act. "I intend it to be a demonstration of the might of the Italian nation, which derives its origin from Rome, and which has borne the triumphant and immortal Fasces of Rome to the shores of the African sea. It is destiny that has urged us to this country. Nobody can dam the stream of destiny, and above all nobody can break our inflexible will."

These flamboyant words are not to be regarded as the empty boast of a powerless visionary but rather as the carefully weighed statement of one who not only sees into the future but also is powerful to aid the arm of destiny. And Mussolini only voices what nearly all patriotic Italians feel. "We are Mediterraneans," he said when on the battleship Cavour, "and our destiny, without copying anyone, has been and always will be on the sea" -- a statement reminding one irresistibly of a similar phrase uttered on another occasion when a young nation was getting into its first stride of manhood. There are many causes urging the Italian people towards overseas expansion. Although her colonies in Africa, consisting of Tripoli and Cyrenaica (forming the compact territory of Libya), Eritrea, Italian Somaliland, and Jubaland, cover an area of 850,000 square miles, they have only an Italian population of some 50,000, and are not likely to absorb any considerable proportion of the annual surplus of Italy's population. It is estimated that during the next ten years 100,000 settlers could go to Tripoli, and 160,000 to Cyrenaica; but it must be remembered that Italy's excess of births over deaths reaches an annual total of 461,000. It is evident, therefore, that her present colonies cannot assimilate this population.

The loss of hundreds of thousands of Italians by emigration to foreign countries presents a serious problem for Italian states-manship. "I am not an enthusiastic partisan of emigration," said Mussolini in the Italian Senate on May 28, 1926. "It is a sad and sorrowful necessity which Italy can only accept." When Italians cluster together in communities, as they do in the south of France or in Tunisia, the problem becomes a difficult one for a foreign government and perhaps scarcely less so for their Mother Country, but when they leave for South America (only 3,845 can enter the United States in a year) Italian emigrants may almost be regarded as lost to their fatherland. Coupled with this increase of population and extensive loss by emigration is the notable lack of mineral products and raw materials that makes Italy, although essentially prosperous by reason of her highly organized agriculture and splendidly equipped manufacturies, one of the poorer nations of Europe. For these reasons it is evident that the colonial idea, once it has firmly seized the Italian imagination, will not be long in urging the leaders of the movement to action and calling them to formulate demands which the present government may be only too ready to support.

At present Italy has a distinct and easily understood grievance. Promised great things under the London Pact of October 16, 1915, whereby she was to have had the Turkish province of Adalia, and more under the St. Jean de Maurienne Agreement of April, 1917, by which she was allotted Smyrna and its hinterland, she found herself balked of these spoils at the Peace Conference. Greece instead was installed in Asia Minor. Moreover, the London Pact stated that "in the event of France and Great Britain increasing their colonial territories in Africa at the expense of Germany, these two Powers agree in principle that Italy may claim some equitable compensation, particularly as regards the settlement in her favor of questions relative to the frontiers of the Italian colonies of Eritrea, Somaliland, and Libya and the neighboring colonies belonging to France and Great Britain." It is not surprising, therefore, that Mussolini complained that "despite written pacts and solemn promises, we have had to fight, to discuss for months and even for years, in order to secure for Italy the modest colonial compensation of Jubaland, and the oasis of Jarabub, which we luckily occupied just in time," or that Italian writers are constantly suggesting compensations elsewhere. To the east they look across the Adriatic to Albania, and, further afield, across the stepping stones of the Dodecanese Islands, now under Italian occupation, to the fair but devastated regions around Smyrna. To the south they look beyond their colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland to the highlands of Kenya, over which it has sometimes been suggested that there should be an Italian mandate; or to the French protectorate of Tunisia where so many thousands of Italians are settled.

While there seems little probability of any rearrangement of African territory in the near future, there is one region where Italy is claiming, and legitimately, a considerable extension of her economic sphere of influence. This is the western area of Abyssinia where there are ample opportunities for commercial and industrial activity. It cannot be said that Italian policy, so far as regards Abyssinia, has been particularly fortunate. She entered upon her career of expansion in north-eastern Africa with a disaster which put a stop to further efforts to obtain political control of the rich and entirely unexploited country of Abyssinia. The memorable battle at Adowa, where on March 1, 1896, the Emperor Menelik decisively defeated an Italian army of 17,000 men, forced Rome to acknowledge Abyssinian independence. Since that time Italy has pursued a policy of encirclement from the east, pushing her interest in the Abyssinian littoral, and establishing firmly her colonies of Eritrea and Somaliland. Here, with the exception of the small French territory around the port of Jibuti, the terminus of the French railway into Abyssinia, and the enclave of British Somaliland, she has a free hand to pursue a policy of peaceful economic penetration.

The favored position of Italy in north-eastern Africa has been recognized by Great Britain both in the Agreement of December 13, 1906, and the recent Accord of December, 1925. The latter agreement resulted in a protest by Abyssinia to the League of Nations which, however, was withdrawn when it was stated that the Italo-British agreement was merely a statement of policy and infringed in no way upon the sovereign integrity of the country. Under this agreement, subject to the consent of Abyssinia, Italy will be able to join together by a railway her possessions in this part of Africa, while Great Britain will be able to erect the barrage at Lake Tsana which is so vitally necessary to the prosperity of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. It is improbable that France will raise any objection to this arrangement which, undoubtedly, will be of great benefit to Italian enterprise in this part of Africa. Without considering as worthy of attention the fantastic suggestion of an Italian protectorate over Egypt adumbrated by the Rt. Hon. Josiah Wedgwood in the Observer on January 23, 1927, it may be decided that Italy is not likely to advance further in these regions.

In whatever direction Italians may look for territorial expansion beyond the enlarged boundaries of the present kingdom, it is apparent that the position of Italy with regard to Africa itself is worth careful consideration. In view of the parallel movement in Germany, there can be little doubt that the clash of European interests in Africa will assume before the end of the next decade a more ugly appearance than it has at present. Under the guidance of Mussolini, Italy has learnt to regard the opposite shores of the Mediterranean as her peculiar sphere, and as the heir of imperial Rome she seeks to revive her ancient glories and to recreate in northern Africa the granary of the empire. That either Italy or Germany will remain content with the present position is doubtful. But that under the European system as imposed by the Treaty of Versailles they can receive compensation in Africa, either in the form of mandates or redistribution of territory, is even more doubtful; for not until a real and compelling clash of interests occurs does there seem the least likelihood of any one of the present colonial powers releasing its hold upon any part of the territory it occupies.

[i] This Note declared it to be impossible, in view of the past history of German colonial policy, to hand the colonies back to Germany or to entrust her with the responsibility for the welfare of the inhabitants.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now