Scholarly article on topic '‘We Will Never Leave.’ The Reale Accademia d’Italia and the Invention of a Fascist Africanism'

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Academic research paper on topic "‘We Will Never Leave.’ The Reale Accademia d’Italia and the Invention of a Fascist Africanism"



brill Fascism2 (2013) 161-182

'We Will Never Leave.' The Reale Accademia d'ltalia and the Invention of a Fascist Africanism

Emanuel Rota

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


At the beginning of November 1938 the Reale Accademia d'ltalia, the official cultural institution of the Italian Fascist regime, organized a conference on Africa. Mussolini himself had chosen the theme for the conference and major Italian political figures, such as De Vecchi and Balbo, delivered papers, together with French, English and German politicians and scholars. The conference, organized in the same year of Hitler's visit to Italy and of the introduction of the new racial laws, could have offered the cultural justification for a foreign policy alternative to the German turn taken by the regime. Only Mussolini's last minute decision not to attend transformed the Convegno Volta on Africa from a potential alternative foreign policy into a forum where the dissenting voices within the regime voiced their opposition to German style racism.


Italian Fascism; racism; anti-Semitism; Reale Accademia d'Italia; Fascist colonialism; Fascist Africanism

The time of politics and the time of cultural production run at different speeds. In authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, where the political power can dictate the cultural agenda, the lack of synchronicity that characterizes these two different times can be a source of embarrassment for the political authorities, a space where the sudden turns of politics can reveal themselves as such. For this reason, the cultural events that a regime organizes to systematize its ideology can be invaluable 'time machines' for historians, who can look a these events to challenge the time frame produced by political authorities to legitimize their choices. The conference on Africa organized by the Reale Accademia d'Italia at the beginning of October 1938 is one of those time machines.1

i) For the history of the Reale Accademia d'Italia, see Gabriele Turi, 'Le Accademie nell'Italia fascista,' Belfagor 64 (1999): 403-424.

© 2013 Emanuel Rota DOI 10.1163/22116257-00202004

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC-BY-NC 3.0) License.

When the one hundred and twenty-six people who participated in the conference on Africa arrived in Rome on October 4, 1938, the Fascist regime was in the process of promoting some of the key elements of its new racist policy. One of the central documents for the construction of the Italian racist regime, the declaration on race approved by the Gran Consiglio del Fascismo, was passed while the conference was holding its sections in Rome.2 The decree on 'the defense of the Italian race' was approved less than a month after the end of the conference on Africa. In this political context, the conference on Africa could have provided the regime with an intellectual systematization of its racism, giving the scientific legitimation that would have consecrated its biopo-litical decisions.3

However, the long hiatus that necessarily exists between the organization of an international conference and its realization created a paradoxical effect for the Italian Fascists: the kind of racism that emerged from the conference was fairly coherent and systematized, but not in line with the new political decisions taken by Mussolini. Not only the hegemonic position that emerged among the Italian participants in the conference on Africa was far from the logic that was inspiring the racist laws, but the conference also became the stage where some important figures of the regime, Italo Balbo and Cesare De Vecchi, channeled their opposition to the new fascist racism.

Italian Fascist colonialism

Historians have long debated the question of the genesis of the racist policies in Fascist Italy. Since the fifties, Mussolini's decision to adopt laws against the

2) A basic account of the racial laws of 1938 is to be found in Renzo De Felice, Storia degliEbrei sotto il Fascismo (Turin: Einaudi, 1972). See also Meir Michaelis, Mussolini and theJews: German-Italian Relations and the Jewish Question, 1922-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); and Gene Bernardini, 'The Origins and Development of Racial Anti-Semitism in Fascist Italy,' The Journal of Modern History 49 (1977): 431-453. For a more recent account of the regime's anti-Semitism, see Enzo Collotti, ed., Fascismo e antifascismo: Rimozioni, revisioni, negazioni (Bari: Laterza, 2000); and Michele Sarfatti, Gliebreinell'Italiafascista:Vicende, identità (Turin: Einaudi, 2000).

3) Since Michel Foucault delivered his lectures at the College de France on the birth of biopoli-tics, the role of life in politics has been the center of attention for many political philosophers. Besides Foucault's and Giorgio Agamben's works, which are crucial to define biopolitics, in this article I am particularly in debt to Roberto Esposito's notion of 'immunity.' Esposito's suggestion that the protection of a community can lead to a political autoimmune disease that kills the community itself resonates well with Orestano's theoretical framework for the conference on Africa. The idea that the life of the Italian and European communities put pressure on the European territory and caused wars unless directed to Africa seems to me a quintessentially biopolitical argument. Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics:Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979, reprint edition (New York: Picador, 2010); Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign

Italian Jews has been scrutinized in the attempt to deny, or support, the thesis of the ideological affinity between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Emilio Gentile well summarizes the position of those who claim that racism was not part of the ideological core of Italian Fascism, stating that the Nazis understood the national community as 'biological-racial,' whereas the Italian Fascists saw the nation as an 'idealistic-voluntaristic' community.4 Italian Fascism, according to these scholars, was capable of racism, but since it was a nationalist movement, and its idea of the nation was not based on race, racism was not a central component of Italian Fascism. On the contrary, those who maintain an ideological affinity between Italian Fascism and Nazism claim, as Mark Neocleous does, that those who deny such an affinity 'fail to register the fact that the biological racism and anti-Semitism emerges from the xenophobic nature of nationalism.'5 On both sides of the debate, and in the many positions that exist in between these two characterizations of Fascism, the question of racism is raised to understand the ideological kernel of the Italian Fascist regime.

Since the historiographical problem has been to define the relationship between Italian Fascist ideology and the racist laws passed by the Italian regime, it is not surprising that the research has been mainly directed to the ultimate source of fascist ideology, Benito Mussolini, or to political theorists. What historians are still exploring, however, is how Italian Fascist doctors, anthropologists, geographers, historians and climatologists transformed the ideological choices of the regime into pseudo-scientific propositions.6 Contrary to other ideological representations of human communities, racism, at least the racism elaborated by intellectuals, needed to mimic scientific discourses, presenting itself as a form of objective knowledge, capable of connecting the concreteness of visible evidences (e.g. the color of the skin) to hidden and mysterious causes. As Etienne Balibar has remarked,7 the effectiveness of racism rests on an inextricable unity of misrepresentation and desire to know. For this reason, the elaboration of a coherent racist discourse requires the production of research that looks scientific. By 1938, this production was already well on the way to produce an Italian racist science with the official support of the regime, and yet this racist 'science' was not the one that the Fascist regime was turning into legislation in 1938.

Power and Bare Life (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1998); Roberto Esposito, Bios: Biopolitics and Philosophy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

4) Emilio Gentile, Fascismo: Storia eInterpretazione (Bari: Laterza, 2002), 41.

5) Mark Neocleous, Fascism (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1997), 31-37.

6) In this direction, see Giorgio Israel and Pietro Nastasi, Scienza e razza nell'Italia fascista (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1998); Roberto Maiocchi, Scienza e Fascismo (Milano: Carocci 2004); Roberto Maiocchi, ScienzaItaliana eRazzismoFascista (Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1999).

7) See in particular Etienne Balibar and Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Classe (Paris: La Découverte, 1988).

At that point in history, however, explicit considerations about the foreign policy of the regime came into play and Mussolini's decision not to attend the conference neutralized the efforts of those who were pushing not only for a different form of racism, but also for a different foreign policy. Perhaps racism needed to look like a science, as Balibar writes, but science, even a fake science like racism, was a secondary consideration for an ideology that put political considerations before anything else. This was clear for all the fascists, including those who organized the conference on Africa.

Since the very first stages of the organization in 1936, in fact, it was clear that what was at stake with the Convegno was the support that a cultural initiative by the Accademia could lend to the foreign policy of the regime. The direction of the Accademia, which a law passed in 1926 had put in charge of 'the promotion and coordination of the Italian intellectual movement . . . in its purity,' and of the 'expansion of Italian cultural influence outside Italy,'8 had proposed, after long discussion, three themes to Mussolini. Those in the Accademia who wanted a less politicized, more academic discussion proposed a conference on the international monetary system. Those who favored a pro-German position, instead, proposed communism as their theme. The Accademici who opposed Germany and wanted reconciliation with Western democracies suggested Africa.9

The discussion of the proposed themes was not, and could not have been, explicit, but the context in which it happened allows us to see the reasons behind the three proposals. Thanks to a report produced by an anonymous member of the Accademia, we know that the idea of discussing the international monetary system, a theme that was technical and less political, stemmed directly from the failure of the previous conference, on Europe, organized by the section on Moral and Historical Sciences in 1932. This report stated that the international press had almost ignored the conference, being under the impression that the meeting was only an exercise in fascist propaganda. Moreover, according to the report, the conference had been characterized by a form of 'ideological anarchy and overspecialization,'i° with the paradoxical result of being useless for propagandistic purposes while being perceived as propaganda. A conference centered on 'a comparative analysis of the function of international commerce in the economy of each European State,'n the report concluded, could avoid the problems of the previous Convegno Volta.

8) Article 2 of the Regio Decreto, January 7, 1926, Annuario della Reale Accademia d'Italia 1 (1930): 297.

9) Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Archivio Storico, Fondo Reale Accademia d'Italia, Folder 33, 209-210.

10> Ibid., Folder 44, fascicolo 17, carte 2, 4, 5.

") Ibid.

We might call this proposal 'the liberal proposal.' Its goal was to provide a neutral, non-political theme for the conference, and allow foreign scholars to participate without being perceived as propaganda pawns in the hands of Italian Fascism. Those who suggested this topic seemed to be aware that fascism was perceived as a bad company for European democracies. They were willing to recover at least the image of a neutral, scientific outlook for the Accademia, in order to engage in a dialogue with scholars from liberal-democratic countries. Either because they disliked the politicization of scholarship imposed by the regime, or because they thought that it was a necessary step to organize a successful conference, those who favored a meeting on the international monetary system wanted to keep politics and science separate for the sake of inviting scholars and attention from liberal-democratic countries.

In this respect, those who proposed a conference on communism wanted to go in the opposite direction, and we can call their proposal the 'Nazi-Fascist proposal.' Only a month before the meeting of the Accademia in which the proposed themes were discussed, Italy had signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, entering a formal anti-communist and anti-Soviet alliance with Germany and Japan.!2 By proposing a conference on communism, the members of the Section on Historical and Moral Sciences were simply underscoring the new political reality marked by Italy's decision to sign the pact. Had Mussolini decided on this proposal, the outcome of the conference would have been very predictable: German and Italian representatives would have been the overwhelming majority of the participants, accompanied by a few other fascists and fascist sympathizers from the rest of Europe and possibly Japan. Politically, the conference on communism would have been an unsurprising exercise in anti-communism that would have presented to Europe and the rest of the world the new fascist block. It is unlikely that even the fiercest anti-communists in the democratic camp would have accepted to be seen and photographed in such bad company, but the new political alliance would have found a cultural justification in the works of the conference.

Those who proposed the conference on Africa, as we will see in the rest of this article, aimed at finding a political theme that could unite, rather than dividing, the European powers, across the differences between liberal-democracies and fascism. Colonialism could be that theme and could also be the test ground for reconciliation between Italy, on one side, and France and

12> See, for instance, Robert Mallett, 'Fascist Foreign Policy and Official Italian Views of Anthony Eden in the 1930s,' The Historical Journal 43 (2000): 157-187. See also John A. Vasquez, 'The Causes of the Second World War in Europe: A New Scientific Explanation,' International Political Science Review /Revue internationale de science politique 17 (1996): 161-178; MacGregor Knox, Mussolini Unleashed: 1939-1941 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); MacGregor Knox, Common Destiny: Dictatorship, Foreign Policy, and War in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

the United Kingdom, on the other side, in the name of European colonial interests. If France and Great Britain had, according to the Italians, overreacted to the Italian colonial enterprise in Ethiopia/3 an academic conference could be the ground where the Italian Fascists explained themselves. It could also be the setting where European scholars and politicians recognized the legitimacy of Italy's desire to have colonies, like any other European power. Italy would have recovered a more equidistant position between Germany and the Western powers and the spirit of Stresa would have been renewed.^ This was the proposal that Mussolini approved at the beginning of 1937.

Mussolini's motivations remain unknown and we should not confuse the ambitions of the Accademia with Mussolini's goals. Nevertheless, it is quite obvious that the academic nature of the conference and its overambitious plans were an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, for the Mussolini and the regime. Mussolini could always take a distance from what was said 'in theory,' as he actually did, in the end, by not participating in the event. Nonetheless, if a political opportunity could come from the activity of one of the official cultural institutions of the regime, Mussolini could have also easily claimed the ownership of the positions expressed. As long as the regime did not look isolated and divided within itself, the conference could serve as an effective tool to claim that Italy had taken its position among the European colonial powers.

The conference on Africa

The person who was put in charge of organizing and introducing the conference, Francesco Orestano, was an ideal candidate for the job. Orestano was a

!3) On Italian Fascist colonialism see George W. Baer, The Coming of the Italo-Ethiopian War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967); Fabio Grassi and Luigi Goglia, II Colonialismo Italiano Da Adua All'impero (Bari: Laterza, 1981); Angelo Del Boca, Gli italiani in Africa orientale:

II. La conquista dell' Impero (Bari: Laterza, 1979); Angelo del Boca, I gas di Mussolini: Il fascismo e la guerra d'Etiopia (Roma: Editori Riuniti, 2007). See also Alberto Sbacchi, 'Poison Gas and Atrocities in the Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-1936),' in Italian Colonalism, ed. Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), 47-53.

!4) The list of participants who had originally agreed to participate to the first conference on Europe was an impressive collection of some of the most influential European politicians of the interwar period: Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, Austen Chamberlain from Great Britain; Albert Sarraut, Louis Barthou, Anatole de Monzie from France; Hjalmar Horace, Greeley Schacht, Alfred Rosenberg from Germany; Paul Hymans from Belgium and Mihai'l Manoi'lesco from Romania had given their preliminary availability to participate in the works of the conference. In the end only Rosenberg and Manoilesco, the fascists, actually went to Rome for the Volta meeting, but if all the ex prime ministers and future prime ministers invited had kept their promise to attend, the 1932 conference on Europe would have been a second, informal Locarno. Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Archivio Storico, Fondo Reale Accademia d'Italia, Folder, 19 fascicolo 44, carta 181.

philosopher who enjoyed some popularity in Fascist Italy as one of the critics of Gentile's idealism. His philosophical system, branded iperrealismo, often compared to pragmatism, had a strong nationalist component. What Orestano called 'freedom,' a central element of his philosophy, could be achieved only as a nation 'ready to go to war for nothing but the revindication of its liberty.'^ Thus, he was perfectly fit for the organization of a conference that required a strenuous defense of the Italian colonial enterprise in the framework of a dialogue with other colonial powers that were asked to recognize each other as legitimate, equal, and 'free' actors in the partition of the world.

As soon as Mussolini chose the topic for the conference and the Accademia put Orestano in charge of it, the organization proceeded quickly. By the end of June 1937, a list of participants with a brief biographical note was given to Mussolini for approval and 100.000 lire,№ of the 200.000 requested, were added to the Accademia's funds to help the organization of the conference. These funds were destined to grow considerably to cover the actual expenses, which became, according to the Governor of Libya Italo Balbo, 'exorbitant.'^

The exceptional funds were justified by the ambitious plans of the conference. One hundred and twenty-six people attended the meeting. The Italians were sixty-two, with forty-four panelists and forty-eight papers, whereas the foreigners were sixty-four, with sixty panelists and sixty-six papers. The foreigner invitees were proportionally divided according to the political importance attributed to their nations and their colonies: sixteen presenters came from France and sixteen from Great Britain, fifteen came from Germany, five from Belgium, two from Poland and Spain, and one each for Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland, and the Vatican. Throughout 1937, the Italian embassies were mobilized to encourage the foreign invitees to attend the Convegno, and no effort was spared to make the trip to Italy attractive. The Accademia paid for the trip and the stay in Rome not only of the panelists, but also of an accompanying member of the families of each of the panelists who so desired. More importantly, at the end of the conference in Rome, the panelists and their families were invited to go to Libya for a week at the expenses of the Accademia.18

15) Radoslav A. Tsanoff, 'Review of Nuovi Principi, by Francesco Orestano,' The Philosophical Review 35 (1926): 581.

16> Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Archivio Storico, Fondo Reale Accademia d'Italia, Folder 33, fascicolo 50/6, carte 25-26. The sum was approximately equivalent to 100,000 US dollars in 2006. For the conversion see ISTAT, 'Il valore della moneta in Italia dal 1861 al 2005,' Informazioni 21 (2006): 11.

17> Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Archivio Storico, Fondo Reale Accademia d'Italia, Folder 39, carta 7.

18> Ibid.

This trip to the Italian colony governed by Italo Balbo was also to be one of the central propagandist goals of the conference. October 1938 was the date chosen by the regime for its spectacular organized migration of twenty thousand farmers from the Po Valley and elsewhere to Libya.19 The conference on Africa, organized under the presidency of Federzoni, who had been Minister of the Colonies, became part of this broader attempt of the Italian government to use its colonies as a means to solve the chronic problem of Italian migration in a way that benefited the public image of the regime. Thus, the seven days meeting in Rome and the extra week in Libya could also be used to prepare international scholars and politicians to the reality of Italian migration in Africa, gather information about how to manage the migration itself, and, perhaps most importantly, give a positive spin to a mass migration of Europeans to Africa, which could have easily been perceived more as sign of weakness than as a proof of strength.

The result of all these successful organizational efforts was paradoxical. By October 4, 1938, when the conference started, the message that the organizers wanted to convey - the creation of a European solidarity, the reinforcement of the troubled relationships with France and Great Britain, and the underplaying the importance of Germany, which had one delegate less than France and Great Britain - had become the minority position within the regime.

At the end of September 1938, while the invitees to the Convegno were about to reach Rome for the conference, L'Azione Coloniale, the official publication of the Istituto Fascista dell'Africa Italiana, reported in its first page a speech just delivered by Mussolini2° in which the dictator had stated that Italians 'conquered the Empire not only fighting against the Abyssinian [Ethiopian] armies prepared and armed by Europeans, but also resisting the economic siege decreed by fifty-two states.'2i It was in the same page of the journal that the news of the Convegno was announced to the readers of the publication under the title L'Africa nella luce della scienza e della civilta europea [Africa in the light of European science]. Thus, right before the conference started, Mussolini had given a speech that confirmed the autarchic, anti-Western position of the regime, the opposite of the conference's direction, and the official publication of the Italian ministry for Africa visually and politically framed the conference within Mussolini's words.

Mussolini, however, still made his part to be sure that Italy was represented at the highest possible level, at least by not vetoing the presence of some of the Italian most visible public figures. Two royalties, Amedeo di Savoia and Elena

19) See Claudio G. Segre, 'Italo Balbo and the Colonization of Libya,Journal of Contemporary History 7 (1972): 141-155.

2°) Mussolini delivered his speech in Vicenza on September 25, 1938.

2i) L'Azione Coloniale: Settimanale dell'Istituto Fascista dell'Africa Italiana 39 (1929): 1.

di Francia, attended the conference. Cesare Maria de Vecchi, governor of the Italian Aegean Islands, Italo Balbo, governor of Libya, Maurizio Rava, former vice-governor of Libya and former governor of Somalia, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Alessandro Lessona, former Minister of the Colonies, Enrico Cerulli, vive-governor of Italian East Africa, all participated at the works of the conference. Nevertheless, when, at eleven o'clock on the established day, the governor of Rome, Don Piero Colonna, welcomed the participants to the conference in the room Giulio Cesare in Campidoglio, Mussolini, despite Federzoni's explicit request,22 was not there. This was another signal that Mussolini had distanced himself from the conference.

Despite this setback, the works of the conference continued as planned. In the opening speeches, delivered by Giuseppe Bottai, Minister of National Education, by Federzoni and by Orestano, the ideological and political goals of the conference were made explicit. Federzoni defined Africa as a continent complementary to Europe: the Convegno on Africa was the natural continuation of the Convegno on Europe held in 1932. By conquering a new colony, Italy, in the words of the president of the Accademia, had just exercised its European right against the 'unjust' attempt to deny it. Bottai, on his part, invited the panelists to create 'Africanism' as a new unified field of inquiry on the bases of a common European approach to Africa. It was Orestano, however, who developed these themes, providing the theoretical framework for the meeting.

Orestano presented the question of Africa as a vital question for Europe on the ground of a vitalistic and racist conception of history. Europe, he affirmed, was constantly facing the threat of a new catastrophic war since the predisposition of the 'white race' to expand could not be controlled within the limited European space. Under the pressure of their own energy, the Europeans could destroy their civilization, unless they could learn to channel their energy outside Europe without competing among themselves.23 Africa was the possibility given to Europe to release its energy. Quite dramatically, Orestano stated: 'Europe needs Africa.'24

Not surprisingly, Orestano also affirmed that Europe had a right over Africa. If the United States had proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine, affectively proclaiming their exclusive right over the Americas, and was also limiting the immigration in its territory,25 Europeans could do the same with Africa, solving the problem of their overpopulation in the empty African lands. The

22) Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Archivio Storico, Fondo Reale Accademia d'Italia, Folder 33, fascicolo 50/1, carta 146.

23) Reale Accademia d'Italia, Convegno di Scienze Morali e Storiche - Roma, 4-11 ottobre 1938 -XVI. Tema: L'Africa (Roma: Reale Accademia d'Italia, 1939), 47.

24) Ibid.

25) Ibid., 48.

immense economic, military and moral investments that the Europeans had already made with their colonial enterprises gave them the right to claim forever the entire continent for themselves. This move would have liberated the suffocated potentials of Europe, freeing Europeans from 'the exasperation of European nationalisms,' which was, together with the ideology of the 'Übermensch, of the Über-race, of historical materialism and communism,'26 the consequence of the scarcity of European resources and land.

Africa was, in Orestano's presentation, Europe's inverted mirror. 'Those who truly know Africa,' he proclaimed, 'know that Africans destroyed and will destroy themselves without the Europeans' government, help, jobs and capital.^ Without Europe, he continued, Africans were destined to a perpetual war, without any possibility to build a stable civilization, constantly impoverishing themselves and their territory, whose present condition could also be ascribed to the Africans inability to move away from a permanent state of nature. Thus, if Europe needed Africa, Africa needed Europe. The excess of civilizing energy present in Europe could lead to barbarism and a perpetual war in Europe without Africa's spaces, whereas the lack of civilizing energy was responsible for perpetual war in Africa and had already produced destruction and decadence. The destiny of Europe was to become Africa if Africa did not become Europe.28

Several elements in Orestano's speech deserve to be highlighted. The most important one, because it provides the political key to interpret the project of the organizers of the conference, is the reference to the idea of the Übermensch and the 'Über-race' in decisively negative terms. A philosopher like Orestano was certainly aware of the process of appropriation of Nietzsche conducted by the Nazi regime. Hitler himself had attended Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche's funeral in 1935.29 Thus, Orestano's decision to couple Nietzsche with 'historical materialism and communism,'3o pointing to the specific appropriation of Nietzsche by the Nazis through a reference to the 'Übermensch and über-race,' was an explicit critique of Nazism, and its form of racism. Nazism, communism, and 'the exasperation of nationalism' were all presented as a European ideological illness that stemmed from the limited dimension of the European nation states.

26) Ibid., 47.

27) Ibid., 41.

28) On the surprising persistency of these ideas and on their intellectual history in the 1920s, see Peo Hansen and Stefan Jonsson, 'Demographic Colonialism: EU-African Migration Management and the Legacy of Eurafrica,' Globalizations 8, no. 3 (2011): 261-276.

29) Carol Diethe, Nietzsche's Sister and the Will to Power (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,

2003), 154.

3°) Reale Accademia d'Italia, Convegno di Scienze Morali e Storiche, 47.

The second element, which can be seen as a corollary to the first, is that Orestano's reference to a European white race called for a form of European racial solidarity against other races, and implicitly discarded the idea of a hierarchy among Europeans. European energy, in Orestano's ideology, could find a 'pacific' and 'productive' use if directed outside of Europe. It was instead self destructive if directed inside Europe. This point, in 1938, must have sounded, in perfect fascist style, both as a threat and as a promise: if the Europeans could reach an agreement to dominate the world together, there would have been no need for a new European war, but if France and Great Britain refused to find such an agreement, the Europeans, given the scarcity of land, would have destroyed themselves.

Orestano's reference to the Monroe doctrine pointed to the new continental dimension that politics had already taken at the eve of the Second World War. As the previous Convegno on Europe proves, the members of the Accademia were aware of the role that 'continental states,' like the United States and the Soviet Union, could play in the future of international relations. The political vocabulary that emerged from the political initiatives of the Accademia had the scale of continents — Europe, Africa, the 'Americas' of Monroe's doctrine, and the Soviet Union of communism — rather than that of the European nation states. The supposed continental destiny of the European nation states, therefore, could be achieved, in Orestano's nationalist ideology, only in two ways: either with a European war or by giving a continental dimension to the European states. In one case, Europe would have been united under the hegemony of a single nation, and Europe would have been destroyed in the process, In the other case, it was fundamental that all of the European nation states be allowed to own an empire. The Convegno on Africa was, therefore, the cultural initiative, officially sponsored by the regime, to explore this second possibility as an alternative to a European war led by Germany.

Finally, since the conference also wanted to offer theoretical justification for the transferring of ten thousand Italians to Libya, Orestano had to tackle the issue that the migration of Italians and other Europeans to Africa, as a response to the supposed vitalism of the 'white race,' posed to his racist conception of history. Orestano implicitly refused the German model, which postulated the polygenesis of human races, in favor of a substantially monogenetic theory of the origins of human beings. However, to explain the supposed inferiority of Africans in racial terms, Orestano had to make use of a theory that presented racial hierarchies as degeneration.

This model, in turn, opened the way for a form of racism based on the idea that the natural environment, and in particular the climate, was responsible for racial differences and hierarchies. 'The central problem,' he told his audience, 'is not the possibility of single individuals to survive, but the health, the physical and moral integrity, the possibility of diffusion of the European

populations in Africa and, most importantly, of European women.'3i Thus, Orestano set a narrow path for the fascist participants to the conference, who needed to come up with an Italian form of racism: on one hand they were invited to refuse German style biological racism and embrace a theory that blamed racial inferiority on the climate; on the other hand they also needed to prove that the climate of the Italian colonies was safe for Italian colonists, males and females.

Orestano's multifaceted introduction successfully framed the vast majority of the papers presented at the conference. Most of the foreign participants accepted at least the premises proposed by the Italian philosopher and gave sometimes affirmative, sometimes doubtful support to the Italian plans to bring colonists in Africa. Nobody questioned the legitimacy of the Italian presence in Africa or of the colonial enterprise of the Fascist regime. Similarly, nobody took issue with the idea that the colonization of African territories was a better solution than another European war. Even the specific form of racism proposed by Orestano met the consensus of those who spoke on the subject.

To provide a temporary framework that made Italian Fascism look coherent and united on the subject of race and colonies was arguably Orestano's rhetorical masterpiece. Counting on the good manners of the invited guests and on the flexibility of his seemingly pragmatic approach, the Italian philosopher made it possible for the speakers to hint to potential differences without disturbing the banal but powerful premise of the conference: the desire to control and exploit Africa united the European governments despite their ideological differences.

Once removed from the horizon of politics and national interests, the Eurocentric racism of those who had agreed to participate was so pervasive and obvious that to belabor differences would have sounded hypocritical. Those initiated to the nuances of racism could still find the roughness under the apparent smoothness of the papers delivered at the conference, but, for propaganda purposes, the cacophony of the conference on Europe seemed like an accident. If the limit of such a coherence was, obviously, that it could have not survived in the concrete stage of diverging national and political interests, in the curial and polite atmosphere of Orestano's academic conference, the myth of European unity under the banners of colonialism looked plausible. As many experts32 on Italian colonialism have claimed, debates

31) Ibid., 41. On the origins of this form of climate based racism, see Roberto Dainotto, Europe (in Theory) (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).

32) For the discussion of the European context in relation to the Italian debate on colonialism,

I am particularly in debt to Ruth Ben-Ghiat and Mia Fuller, ed., Italian Colonialism (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008). In particular, the essays by David Atkinson, 'Constructing Italian Africa: Geography and Geopolitics'; Irma Taddia, 'Italian Memories/African Memories of Colonialism'; Ruth Iyob, 'Madamismo and Beyond: The Construction of Eritrean Women.'

about race, acclimatization, sexual mixing and the production and maintenance of colonial territory were key themes for imperial Europe: Orestano, by pointing to these themes and to Europe, was effectively establishing the ground for a shared approach.

Bronislaw Malinowski, the founder of functionalism in social anthropology, gave his intellectual blessing to Orestano's colonial Africanism by writing in his paper that his approach had brought anthropology 'first and foremost nearer to the practical concerns in colonial administration and develop-ment.'33 If the history of certain practices held little interest for the colonial administration, he continued, the understanding of their function within a given community was essential to bring the undesirable practices 'quickly and effectively under control.^4 'In all this,' he concluded, 'the practical interests [of the colonists] and the theoretical bent of the Functional School run on convergent lines.'35

Sir Arthur Edwin Horn, a physician who worked for the British Colonial Office, gave his support to a climate based racism, like the one sponsored by Orestano, and based his paper on the theories of the American geographer Ellsworth Huntington. Huntington, a professor at Yale, had claimed that if the European colonists and 'their descendants were forced to live permanently in the tropical climate of Africa, only the most meager results could be expected, because of the weakening of mental and physical activity which seems to be inseparable from a tropical climate.^6 Horn, nonetheless, reassured his fascist hosts and told them that, with a strict selection of the colonists, something to do for the European women, and extended periods in Europe for their children, they may be confident about the future of the Europeans in Africa37

The French General François Sorel, on his part, said that observation 'makes us think that the white man cannot live actively at those latitudes, and even less make children who can propagate the race.'3§ However, he also added, there were not enough scientific data to state: 'the acclimatization of the white race was, at the present, a utopia.'39

33> Reale Accademia d'Italia, Convegno di Scienze Morali e Storiche, 103. 34> Ibid.

35) The intersection between power and knowledge in the conquest of the European colonies has been made, most brilliantly, by Edward Said in his Orientalism. One could ironically underline the fact that Orestano's anti-Nietzschean tirade was actually based on an Nietzschean premise: the will to power of the European colonies inspired their 'Africanism,' as they called it,

as much as their 'Orientalism.'

36> Ellsworth Huntington, 'The Burial of Olympia: A Study in Climate and History,' The GeographicalJournal 36 (1910): 672.

37> Reale Accademia d'Italia, Convegno di Scienze Morali e Storiche, 386.

38> Ibid., 387. 39> Ibid., 388.

Vicente Ferreira, former-minister of the Portuguese colonies and High Commissar to Angola, claimed that 'the problem of the permanent presence of Europeans in tropical Africa [was] still obscure,'40 but he also added that 'acclimatization was possible, without métissage, in the regions where high temperatures did not coincide with high humidity.'4i

Willem Th. de Vogel, a Dutch expert in colonial medicine, pointed to the dangers posed by 'tropical neurasthenia,' but proudly affirmed that his research showed that the blood of white people did not differ significantly from the blood of Africans. Hence, from the point of view of physiology, there was nothing preventing 'the vigorous development of the white people who live there [Africa],42 at least near the areas with a temperate climate. Thus, one after another, the foreign experts were willing, despite a few reservations, to provide the fascist regime with the 'scientific' support it needed to carry on its plans to colonize Africa with Italians.

Obviously, most Italian scholars also offered their research to support the plans sponsored by the Accademia. To obviate to the problems that a form of racism based on climate raised, when associated with the political desire to send permanent colonists to Africa, they catalogued African climates, races, and landscapes and came to the conclusions they were supposed to reach from the beginning: it was possible to send European colonists in the Italian colonies.

The climatologist Filippo Eredia, referring to the Italian colonies in East Africa, wrote in his paper: 'the areas of the new Empire ... project images of natural beauty that inspire pleasant sensations. Wonderful vistas, luxuriant vegetation, fertile fields, water, sublime lakes ... invite us to take advantage of these lands so far neglected by savage nomads.'43 Marinetti, the founder of futurism, pretended to forget his previous invitation to 'kill the moon light' and praised the 'starry skies of the African nights (the enormity of the stars and the whiteness of the moon).'44 Renato Biasutti, a professor of ethnology at the University of Florence, claimed that the inhabitants of the Southern shores of the Mediterranean belonged to the 'European kind,' albeit with traces of many other different races, and the Ethiopians were mixed-bloods, with 'Negro blood particularly present and ingrained [diffuso e soffuso] in the women,'45 and with traces 'of recent infusion of Jewish blood.^6 Thus, the combination of these and similar analyses of the Italian colonies allowed the Italians to claim that

4°) Ibid., 420.

41) Ibid., 421.

42) Ibid., 475.

43) Ibid., 336.

44) Ibid.

45) Ibid., 88.

46) Ibid., 89. The author says 'Semitic blood,' but he differentiates between 'Arabic blood' and 'Semitic blood,' thus using the word 'Semitic' to refer to 'Jewish blood.'

the degeneration of the peoples present in the Italian colonies was not the result of the specific climate of those lands, which was safe for Europeans, but of miscegenation, since they were all multiracial. The Italian colonists were, therefore, safe as long as they refrained from having sex with the indigenous, as already prescribed by Italian laws.

In the context created by the conference's successful call for a European solidarity based on colonialism, some of the most ideologically aggressive fascists adopted an almost sarcastic tone in their discussion of the colonial practices and ideologies of the democratic powers. Lidio Cipriani, director of the National Anthropological and Ethnological Museum of Florence, provocatively asked: 'Which colonial power will ever dream of enabling Africans to build ships, airplanes, train, cannons and so on? Why should we create illusions then? Wouldn't it be better to tell the truth, at least when we are among ourselves?'47 It was time, he claimed, to abandon all the lies used in the past by the colonial powers and say what they were really thinking: 'We are in the colonies knowing and openly saying that we will never leave.^8 The problem was not the improvement of the condition of the African population, but rather the preservation of the white race from contamination with other races and, citing the presence of African immigrants in major French cities, 'the defense of Europe from the assault of Africa.^9

The German delegation kept an extraordinarily low profile, presenting the least political papers and the most technical ones. Joseph Gregor conducted a detailed ethnographic analysis of African dolls. Erich Obst, a geographer, focused mostly on the problem of soil erosion and the difficulties that agriculture had to overcome in the face of desertification. Karl Jung, who was sent to represent the Reichsleiter General von Epp, presented the Colonial Female School at Rendsburg where German women were trained to perform, in case of necessity, the jobs traditionally reserved to the male colonists, so that women could be helpful, rather than harmful, to the colonizing process and offered to reserve every year a place for an Italian woman. Friedrich von Lindequist discussed the legal systems of the African populations stressing their supposed primitive nature. None of the Germans questioned Orestano's characterization of Nazism, and Orestano, on his part, attended most of the presentations by the German representatives, praising many of them, but also policing the discussion by pointing immediately to the technical components of the presentations.50

47) Ibid., 599.

48) Ibid., 598

49) Ibid., 597.

50) Orestano provided a summary of the papers delivered in German, thus policing the elements of the Germans' papers that were brought to the attention of the general assembly.

Alternative views on racism

The successful organization of the Convegno left a very limited space for dissent to the invitees, who were generously hosted by the Accademia d'Italia. The only real critique to the narrative imposed by Orestano came from Alessandro Ghigi, the rector of the University of Bologna and a zoologist, who vehemently pointed out that the idea of an acquired character transmissible to the next generation was Lamarckian, and incompatible with the findings of biology. If the Europeans could be transformed into Africans by the African climate, it was necessary to assume that the Africans could be transformed into Europeans by the European climate. On the contrary, according to Ghigi, races could be combined and selected, but they were otherwise stable and genetically fixed. The phenomenon of acclimatization, which his colleagues were debating, 'simply did not exist, or was negligible.'5! He went so far to claim that a form of racism independent from genetic consideration was, properly speaking, not even 'racist.'

Despite this bold declaration, however, Ghigi, who wanted to give a suggestion on the Italians who were to be chosen to be sent to Africa, at the end of his paper surprisingly wrote: 'the acclimatization of a mix of Italian populations: this is what we should do. It is the road taken by the Italian government, a road that will lead to the valorization and exploitation of the land of the Italian East Africa.52 Thus he proved that he was not ready to challenge the consensus of the Accademia and deny that acclimatization existed.

Had he wanted, he could have pointed out that the Manifesto degli Scienziati Razzisti not only never mentioned climate, but also implicitly contradicted any racist theory based on acclimatization. If the Italian Jews had not become Italian because they were not 'racially European,' as point nine of the Manifesto claimed, then neither climate, nor landscape, nor any other environmental characteristic could be considered responsible for the transformation of races. Ghigi was not in the position too make such a strong claim, particularly during an international conference organized by the highest cultural institution of the regime. Even Cipriani, who had been among the ten 'scientists' who had drafted the Manifesto, did not make the point. If the issue was not raised by the supporters of a form of biological racism, however, it was not because the fascists present at the conference were unaware of the implications entailed by a climate based racism. As proven by Cesare Maria de Vecchi's paper, on the side of the 'Lamarckian racists,' the implications were perfectly clear to the two groups.

51) Reale Accademia d'Italia, Convegno di Scienze Morali e Storiche, 462.

52) Ibid., 469.

Making explicit some of the points introduced by Orestano, De Vecchi, one of the four commanders that had led the March on Rome, said in a passage of his paper: 'We base our actions on a racial hierarchy that comes from the moral and scientific certitude of the inferiority of some human species. This does not mean that we should have, with a consistency that is not Italian, the same principles of racial division in the social and political life of the metropolitan territory.'53 It was a major and explicit critique of the new racial laws recently introduced by Mussolini's regime, and a statement to the persistent opposition that the new anti-Semitic laws were still causing in some elements of the fascist regime. The reference to a coherence atypical in Italy was an explicit reference to the Germans, traditionally accused by Italians of being too 'geometric.' In the year when Italian Fascism had introduced the anti-Semitic laws, the meaning of De Vecchi's statement against the introduction of racial laws in Italy could not escape anybody who cared to listen.

De Vecchi's critique was certainly weak and self-contradictory. Once the regime had declared Italy an empire, the issue of the 'Italian race' needed to be considered in the light of this new situation, which saw multiple races living together in the same, Italian, territory. The idea of sending Italian farmers to Africa, erasing the need to emigrate to foreign nations, entailed a process of deterritorialization of the Italian nation state. The goal of the Fascist regime was to transform the colonies into permanent settlements for Italians, and into overseas Italian metropolitan territories. Libya and Ethiopia had to become 'Italy.' When populated with Italians, and governed by the Italian state, the distinction between colonies and the Italian territory no longer made sense. The model of racial relations also had to be the same in 'historical' Italy and the new, extended and deterritorialized Italian empire. This was the point that all the Italian Fascists accepted: Italy, as Cipriani had stated, would have never left its colonies, not even as a theoretical possibility for the future, because, as the French in Algeria, Italy wanted to transform its colonies into Italy. Nevertheless, De Vecchi's implicit claim that the Italian regime was copying the Nazi regime certainly had some propagandist value, at least because the regime had explicitly declared that it was not introducing in Italy German racism. Thus, what De Vecchi said created a polemical aftermath that lasted after the end of the conference.

When the Ministry of Italian Africa received a copy of De Vecchi's talk, a letter was immediately sent to the Accademia to protest against that statement. The Ministry asked Federzoni to erase De Vecchi's claim from the conference proceedings. The letter also reaffirmed the official racism of the regime.

53) Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Archivio Storico, Fondo Reale Accademia d'Italia, Folder

33, 50/1, carta 33.

De Vecchi's position, it was stated, was in contrast with the political direction taken by the fascist government in the overseas lands, where the racial discriminations of the kingdom have already a place in the norms adopted. The excessive consistency that De Vecchi lamented when he condemned the application of the same racial policies in the colonies and in Italy came 'precisely from similar needs: both in the kingdom and in our African lands we want to limit the field of action of those foreign to the Italian race.'54 In the bureaucratic language of the Ministry, the connection between the racist policy in the Italian territory and in the colonies was reestablished55 so that the notion of a multiracial Empire, with no distinctions between the Italian territories in Europe and those in Africa, could be used to apply discriminatory policies to Italians as well as Africans.

De Vecchi was scared by the reaction to his words and immediately wrote to Galeazzo Ciano, Minister of Foreign Policy, to try to defuse the situation. He claimed that the incriminated sentence had been written before the laws against the Jews. He said that he completely agreed with those laws, and that he wanted them to be more rigid, since the Jews were Semites, as the peoples of the colonies. What he meant to protest was instead the German policy against non-Jews 'such as the norms on sterilization and similar examples of extreme [esagerata] consistency.156 He added that he was speaking only for himself [a titolo personale] and other equally unbelievable justifications, considering that he had been invited to talk as governor of an Italian colony. Most importantly, he said he was ready to erase the sentence from the proceedings of the conference. This offer was accepted by Federzoni, who wrote him a letter, on January 19, 1939, to tell him that the incident, with the agreement of the Ministry of Italian Africa, could be considered closed.57

De Vecchi was singled out for his heterodox statements, but he was certainly not the only one who presented at the conference a position critical of the new course. Orestano, as we have seen, had framed the task of the participants with his introduction in such a way that Ghigi, with his biological racism, seemed the dissenter. The other major Italian political figure that spoke at the Convegno, Italo Balbo, another quadrumviro, also did not mince words in presenting his alternative view regarding races in the Italian empire.

In Libya, Balbo claimed, Italy 'successfully took on the challenge of being an Islamic power.'58 The political and economic backwardness of the Northern

54) Ibid., Letter dated 19 ottobre 1938.

55) Ibid. The Ministry used a curious formula to reaffirm the connection between the racist laws in Italy and those in the colonies: 'the overseas lands, where the racial discriminations of the kingdom have already a place in the norms adopted.'

56) Ibid., carte 25-29. Letter dated 30 dicembre 1938.

57) Ibid.

58) Reale Accademia d'Italia, Convegno di Scienze Morali e Storiche, 733.

population of Libya was the result of the backwardness of the Turkish domination, but it needed not to be permanent. Once modernized and fully inserted in the fascist political and economic institutions, Balbo wrote, it was possible to give to the Libyan Arabs 'the dignity of Italian citizenship [la dignita di "cittadino"].'59

Balbo affirmed that the italianization of the Libyan population had to be based on 'the highest respect for Islam.' The Italian administration was to consider itself in charge of 'the religious protection of its Muslim citizens,'6o and the promotion of schools, including Islamic schools,61 had to be a priority of the regime. The inclusion of Libyan personnel in the ranks of the Italian bureaucracy, the promotion of hygiene and hospitals, the modernization of agriculture and the education of women, against 'the backward mentality of the old generations and customs,'62 were the necessary steps that he wanted to take to eliminate, in the North African territory, the distinction between 'masters and subjects [dominatori e dominati],' creating 'Muslim Italian citizens . . . engaged in the construction of . . . the fascist Empire.'63

Balbo's multiculturalist project was clearly not in line with the racist approach that the regime had taken, even though it did not raise any official protest. Balbo referred only to the Libyan territory and to the Arab population, and not to the black colonial people. Contrary to De Vecchi, he did not explicitly challenge a law passed by the regime, and thus his heterodoxy could be perceived as more academic than political. Considering that the conference had been organized in conjunction with the first installment of Italian emigrants to Libya, he was also in a stronger political position than his fellow quadrumviro. Nevertheless, even considering all these elements, the fact that Balbo's paper unequivocally moved away from the new racial doctrine of the regime is, and must have been, obvious.

The so called Manifesto degli Scienziati, published in July in the Giornale d'ltalia, had made clear that Italians had to be considered Aryans, and that Arabs belonged to a different racial group. The theories that included the 'Semitic and Hamitic races in a common Mediterranean race,' the Manifesto said, 'are to be considered dangerous.'64 It was 'necessary to make a sharp distinction between the Mediterraneans of Europe (Westerners) on one hand, and the Semites and Africans on the other,'65 wrote the Italian racist 'scientists.'

59) Ibid., 736. The word cittadino is in quotation marks because of Balbo's desire to keep a distance from the linguistic tradition deriving from the French Revolution.

60) Ibid., 738.

61) Ibid., 742.

62) Ibid.

63) Ibid., 749.

64) Alberto Cavaglion, Le Interdizioni del Duce: A Cinquant'anni dalle Leggi Razziali in Italia (1938-1988) (Torino: Claudiana, 1988), 74.

65) Ibid.

De Vecchi himself, in his apology to the Ministry of Italian Africa, had referred to this position by pointing out that he did not mean the Jews 'since they were Semites as the peoples of the colonies.'66 The goal of the racial policy, as stated in an article published in the Annali dell'Africa italiana, was to prevent any confusion between masters and colonized people. Any 'theory of assimilation was to be rejected as false and dangerous.'6y

Mussolini's position on racism

The clear heterodoxy of Balbo's position, when considered in conjunction with the protests raised by De Vecchi's statements and the lack of reactions in Balbo's case, can probably be explained by the desire that the Italian Fascist regime had not to publicize its internal discussions on racism. Such discussions had obvious implications not only for the ideological identity of the regime, but also for its foreign policy. The connection was so evident and explicit that the Italian racist 'scientists' had had to specify that they did not mean 'to introduce in Italy the theories of German racism as they are.'68 The entire conference on Africa, with its insistence on adaptation, acclimatization, and acculturation, with its explicit critique of Germany, and with its implicit sympathy for the racist theories popular in Great Britain and the United States, had become heterodox at the end of 1938. For this very reason, it would have been dangerous for the regime to open a conflict within itself by labeling more than one important political figure as a voice of dissent. Even though we have no documents on the subject, we can safely speculate that a reprimand directed to De Vecchi could be an effective signal, whereas a complaint against De Vecchi, Balbo and all the other people who had expressed heterodox positions at the conference would have revealed that the form of racism that became official in Italy in 1938 was, at that point, not hegemonic either among academicians or among some of the leaders of the early fascist movement.

This was, as Italians would say, il segreto di Pulcinella, something that anyone knew. In 1939, Gioacchino Volpe could still write that Italian 'physiologists, zoologists, and biologists' were only then trying to identify 'the materialist content of race.'69 However, Mussolini's attempt to present his positions as

66) Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Archivio Storico, Fondo Reale Accademia d'Italia, Folder 33, 50/1, carta 25-29.

67) 'La politica di Razza,' Gli Annali dell'Africa Italiana 2, no. 3 (1939): 68-83; Republished in Alberto Cavaglion, Le Interdizioni del Duce: le leggi razziali in Italia (Torino: Albert Meynier, 1988), 108.

68) Manifesto degli Scienziati Razzisti, article 7, republished in Cavaglion, Le Interdizioni del Duce, 74.

69) Gioacchino Volpe, Storia del movimento fascista (Milan: Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale, 1943), 238.

always coherently racist, an attempt well documented by historiography,7o was clearly aimed at preventing a dangerous discussion within the regime on the delicate subject of the alliance with Germany. Predating Mussolini's racism allowed the regime to deny any German hegemony in the new alliance. The fact that so many early fascists, Balbo, Federzoni and Emilio De Bono among others, had already expressed their dissent, by voting against the racial laws in the Fascist Grand Council, already partially undermined Mussolini's statements. A public debate between the new Italian racists and two of the three surviving leaders of the March on Rome would have destroyed Mussolini's credibility on the subject.

In fact, any explicit polemics against the theoretical framework of the conference would have dated almost exactly Mussolini's turn toward Germany and its racist policies. Mussolini had chosen the theme, the invitees, and had approved the budget for the conference on Africa. Even the idea that the official cultural institution of the regime could be the proponent of unofficial positions, not to mention voicing an opposition to the official position, would have been a major political problem for a regime that wanted to be totalitarian. Mussolini chose German racism over the racism proposed by the conference, but he had given himself the choice by sponsoring, up to the very end, the initiatives of Orestano and Federzoni.

Such a choice explicitly considered elements of foreign policy, and the organizers of the conference were aware of this fact. In either forms, racism, by 1938, provided a central ideological piece to conduct the dialogue between Italy and other European powers. As Volpe wrote in the already mentioned history of fascism, the two models available for the new Italian theorists of race were the German one and the one proposed by 'the Anglo-Saxons.' Rather than looking for fully autochthonous theories,71 which would have isolated Italy, the Accademia looked for a 'European solution,' based on the idea of a racial solidarity among colonizers. On this path, they embraced theories of racial adaptation to climates that provided the key to a dialogue with British and French colonists.


The intersection between colonialism and racism allowed the Italian presenters at the conference to look similar, if not undistinguishable, from most of the European invitees. The newly found sympathy between Italians and English scholars was in itself a great success for the conference, and, contrary to the

70) Ibid. In 1943, Volpe already made the point that Mussolini had used the notion of 'race' to discuss multiple concepts.

71) Ibid., 240.

previous Convegno Volta, the international press discussed it at length. The English Journal of the Royal African Society presented the meeting enthusiastically, and offered its support to Orestano's project. According to the Journal's report, the Italian Academicians 'were extremely friendly and natural, and made no attempt to concern themselves de propaganda fide. Orestano's inaugural speech 'framed very fairly the scope and scientific objectives of the session,' and Orestano's presidency was 'a personal triumph.' The keynote of the discussions 'was the possibility of finding a common denominator towards European solidarity!12 Similarly, the Belgian Colonial Institute embraced the conference and published a 128 page long summary of papers presented.

These and similar comments prove that the conference's message had reached its intended audience. However, the pace of the events at the end of 1938 was fast enough to immediately relegate the conference to the space of abstract academic discussions. The idea of a political strategy based on the assumption that the new competition happened at the continental level and that Europe needed to act in concert failed to change the policy of the regime. The effectiveness of the Ministry of Italian Africa in censuring De Vecchi's remarks proves that the supporters of German style racism could be a minority in academic discussions, but had Mussolini's approval. Orestano, Balbo, Federzoni and the other organizers of the conference could not persuade Mussolini to participate and give his blessing to their particular brand of racism. Thus, only a few years later, at the end of World War Two, Cipriani's prophecy, 'We will never leave,' was contradicted by the events. The specific brand of climate based racism put forward by the conference, however, has not received the same kind of critical attention that German anti-Semitism has received and might have survived in Italy longer than biological racism.

12) Journal of the Royal African Society 38, no. 150 (1939): 211.