Theses Doctoral

Making Fascist Empire Work: Italian Enterprises, Labor, and Organized-Community in Occupied Ethiopia, 1896-1943

Turtur, Noelle

Between 1935 and 1941, fascist Italy built an empire in East Africa at a speed and intensity never before seen in the world. Making Fascist Empire Work examines how Italy was able to undertake and organize this intensive, totalizing colonization. Analyzing four colonizing enterprises – an extensive mining concession in Wallega, the Bank of Italy in Addis Ababa, itinerant truckers, and settler farmers in Shoa – reveals that Italian entrepreneurs were essential to the colonization project. They provided the know-how, labor, and financing needed to carry out the regime’s ambitious plans.

Moreover, these profit- and adventure-seeking entrepreneurs adapted their enterprises to the local environmental, economic, and political circumstances. They negotiated with local Ethiopian elites and Italian authorities. They also organized their own racial hierarchies of labor in their workplaces and homes. Often, Italian entrepreneurs contravened the fascist regime’s racial apartheid in order to keep costs low and profits high. Yet, the fascist regime knew that self-interested entrepreneurs and market forces alone could not rapidly build its totalitarian empire. Thus, each case study reveals how the fascist regime created specialized parastatal entities and deployed corporatist instruments to control industries, spur development, and strictly separate Italians and Ethiopians. The net result, I argue, was what I call “fascist settler colonialism,” meaning violent empire-building, made possible by the occupation, yet dependent on unleashing private enterprise that, in turn, had to be disciplined by the corporatist state. Over the short term of the empire’s life, the fascist regime was thereby able to supercharge imperial development.

Making Fascist Empire Work makes three interventions in the fields of Italian and imperial history. First, its comparative approach reveals how practices creating racial and class boundaries strategically varied across the diverse empire in relation to an industry’s labor demands and the existing socio-political structures of the Ethiopian empire. It is the first study to do so. Second, it refutes the existing scholarship’s assertion that private enterprises were insignificant to the colonization. Instead, Making Fascist Empire Work demonstrates that Italian entrepreneurs actively participated in the imperial project and were central to its success. Moreover, it provides a new account of how fascist corporatism was enacted and contested in Italian East Africa. Its third intervention speaks to imperial history more broadly. Italian East Africa demonstrated that an organized corporatist economy could undertake rapid, intense, and extensive colonial development. It challenged and inspired other imperial powers to reconsider how they approached economic development in their colonies. Ultimately, Making Fascist Empire Work raises new questions about the significance and influence of Italian corporative colonialism on other empires in the interwar and postwar years.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
De Grazia, Victoria
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 13, 2022