Two anniversaries that wont be celebrated

Geoff Ryan

2015 is a year in which many anniversaries are taking place in Britain. Magna Carta (1215), Agincourt (1415), Waterloo (1815), Gallipoli and the sinking of the Lusitania (1915), Dunkirk (1940) and the end of the second world war (1945), the tenth anniversary of the July 7th bombings in London are some of the more famous, primarily military, events that have been celebrated. But the start of Welsh immigration to Argentina (1865) and founding of the Women’s Institute (1915) have also received publicity.

Much of what has been written about these events attempts to corroborate the view of history of the ruling class in Britain: indeed, much of what is written involves a frequent rewriting of history to present a heroic view of British imperialism. So anniversaries that portray British politicians and ‘wealth creators’ in an unflattering light are simply ignored. Two anniversaries in particular appear to have been written out of history.

The War Against Paraguay of 1865

150 years ago, as the first Welsh settlers were setting sail from Liverpool on the Mimosa to establish their colony in Patagonia, Edward Thornton, British minister in Buenos Aires, was preparing a war against Paraguay by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. He even participated in Argentine war cabinet meetings. The invasion of Paraguay was financed by the Bank of London, Baring Brothers and the Rothschild bank. Of course the loans provided by these bankers ensured that the victorious states remained mortgaged to the hilt; the loot ended up in the pockets of British merchants, bankers and industrialists.

It is largely forgotten that the dominant imperialist power in Latin America during much of the 19th century was Britain: US domination came later. The economies of most Latin American countries were dominated by British interests. Paraguay was a notable exception and its independent road represented a threat to British interests.

In 1865 Paraguay had telegraphs, a railroad and numerous factories producing goods varying from textiles to paper and ink, from construction materials to guns and ammunition. The state controlled all essential economic activities and had a virtual monopoly of foreign trade. Paraguayan shipyards produced its merchant fleet. Ninety-eight percent of Paraguayan territory was public property: peasants were granted land to farm on a permanent basis but did not have the right to sell the land.

Paraguay had a large trade surplus, did not owe a penny abroad and was able to finance a programme of public works without the need for foreign capital. And in Paraguay there was no land owning oligarchy so agricultural production was not squandered.

While British manufacturers bombarded the rest of Latin America with British goods their ships were not allowed into Paraguayan waterways. Paraguay was building its future without foreign investment, without British bank loans and without free trade. This was a dangerous example for Paraguay’s neighbours and a massive threat to British capitalism’s domination of the economies of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

The war lasted five years, at the end of which five-sixths of the population of Paraguay had been killed. Others were taken into slavery on the coffee plantations of Sao Paulo. More than 20,000 square miles of Paraguayan territory went to Brazil while Argentina seized a further 36,000 square miles. Uruguay, the junior partner in the Triple Alliance, got nothing. Paraguay was opened up to British capital while the three ‘victorious’ states found themselves even more dependent on British banks.

Not surprisingly British politicians and journalists do not want to recall this squalid event in British history, an event which in particular reveals the sordid nature of capitalist politicians, ‘wealth creators’ and bankers.

The Treaty of London, 1915

The Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, which carved up the Ottoman empire between British and French imperialism (and also Russian imperialism prior to the Bolshevik revolution) has been discussed quite a lot in the media – not least because of the growth of ISIL in Syria and Iraq. The Treaty of London, signed on 26th April 1915, is much less well known.

Prior to the start of the first world war Italy had been allied with Austria-Hungary and Germany in the Triple Alliance. However Italy was not bound to join in, especially if one of its allies declared war on another state. The declaration of war by Austria-Hungary on Serbia only required the Italian government to remain neutral. Italian industrialists welcomed the declaration of neutrality since they hoped to maximise profits by selling weapons and munitions to both sides.

In fact there were also a number of other concerns facing the government of Antonio Salandra in Italy. Its army was still involved in war in Libya, the government was afraid of the effect of opposing Britain, whose navy would pose a serious threat to Italy’s trade and coastline, many Italians saw the Austrians as the aggressors.

Above all the government was frightened of further ‘Red Weeks’. Franz Ferdinand was assassinated a mere two weeks after a general strike, following the murder of three anti-militarist protestors in Ancona. The strike terrified the bourgeoisie and the Salandra government: the government was worried that Italian entry into the war would provoke further ‘Red Weeks’ which, next time, would spill out of the control of the reformist trade union leaders.


However, Salandra was anxious about Austrian expansion in the Balkans. Foreign Minister San Giuliano attempted to negotiate compensation for any Austrian gains. But after the French victory in September 1914 at the battle of the Marne it looked likely that the Entente would win. San Giuliano calculated that an Entente victory would leave Italy with nothing, while a victory for the Central Powers would also bring no rewards to Italy. The Italian government therefore engaged in a policy of playing off the Entente against the Central Powers. Although San Giuliano died in October 1914 his policy, termed ‘sacro egoismo’ (sacred egoism) was continued by his successor Sonnino.

The result of all this horse-trading was the Treaty of London, which brought Italy into the war on the side of the Entente. The Treaty gave Italy Trentino and the Isonzo (which are largely Italian regions) but also Trieste (with a majority Slovene hinterland), the South Tyrol (with a sizeable German minority), Istria (with a majority Croat population) and a large part of Dalmatia (Croatian). The Treaty was kept secret from the Italian Parliament and, indeed, many of the cabinet. Even the army high command was kept in the dark. Only Salandra and Sonino and, in the last few weeks the king, were aware of the terms of the Treaty of London. The rest of the world would have to wait for the Russian revolution when the Bolsheviks published the secret treaties, including Sykes-Picot and the Treaty of London, negotiated by the Entente.

Italian entry into the first world war had disastrous consequences. While the majority of Italians remained opposed to the war one major figure became an enthusiastic campaigner for war: the editor of the Socialist Party paper Avanti, Benito Mussolini. Mussolini would go on to found his fascist party among ex-servicemen and in 1923 be invited by the king to take form a government. Fascist rule in Italy suppressed the workers’ movement and later invaded Ethiopia, as well as supplying arms, planes and troops to Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

Mussolini’s main rival for leadership of the nationalist camp, Gabriele d’Annunzio, seized control of the city of Rijeka (Fiume) in September 1919 and held it in defiance of the Italian government for over a year. The army could not be relied on to topple d’Annunzio’s regime. Eventually, after the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo decided that Fiume would be a ‘free city’ – and not, therefore, part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (which became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) – the Italian government sent in the navy and d’Annunzio ended his occupation.

The Treaty of London certainly proves that the first world war had nothing to do with democracy. The Italian Parliament was not considered fit to even be informed of its contents let alone to discuss it and vote on it. Women did not have a vote until 1925, when a very limited suffrage was introduced. Most women had to wait until 1945. Any state in which women do not have the right to participate electorally on an equal basis with men is not a democracy.

Nor did the Treaty of London have anything to do with rights of small nations. Italy was bribed into entering the war on the side of the Entente by the self-proclaimed democracies (Britain and France – where women also were excluded from parliamentary elections) agreeing to hand over to Italian rule large numbers of Croats and Slovenes, as well as the German population of South Tyrol. Istria would remain under Italian control until 1945 when it became part of Tito’s Yugoslavia and subsequently Croatia, with a small portion in Slovenia. Trieste remained an area of contention and required the intervention of allied troops in 1945 to deny it to Yugoslavia. The German minority in South Tyrol (Alto Adige) continue to complain of discrimination.

Helping to create Fascism, oppressing national minorities, invading an independent African state, supporting fascism in Spain – these are some of the legacies of the Treaty of London. No wonder the capitalist media is silent about it.

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