Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Celebrate Red October: "Socialism without democracy is unthinkable"

EPRA fighters in a base area, late 1970s
November 7, 2017 in the Gregorian Calendar marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution of October 1917 (where the Julian calendar was observed). Despite its eventual defeat, the Russian Revolution ushered in an era where the old systems of oppression and exploitation were fundamentally and fiercely challenged as models for the organization of society. It marked the first successful attempt by socialist revolutionaries to overthrow capitalism and replace it with the rule of the common people. It was a watershed moment in human history, and capitalism and imperialism spent the rest of the twentieth century trying to reverse its successes. As a timely series of articles commissioned by the African American Intellectual History Society for its Black Perspectives feature on the Russian Revolution and the African Diaspora explains, the Russian Revolution came even to inspire a generation of revolutionaries around the world: and Ethiopia was no exception. As students of the Ethiopian revolution know, this was a complicated legacy, and during the Derg time, both pro- and anti-regime forces would claim the same socialist legacy as their own. In my opinion, however, any claim to inherit the spirit of the Russian Revolution by the military regime was entirely illegitimate.

To mark this occasion and provide some clarity, I am transcribing and republishing an article on the meaning of socialism from Abyot, information bulletin of the Foreign Committee of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party, that in turn translates and summarizes an article from the EPRP’s clandestine journal Democracia. This article appears in the Feb.–March 1979 issue (Vol. 4, No. 2) of Abyot. I have re-typed this article and errors of transcription are my own; I’ve made a handful of small spelling and punctuation corrections for legibility. I assume the cited Democracia article is translated to English from the original Amharic by the Abyot editors.

In today’s post-Soviet era, many of these arguments about how the Soviet Union came to betray the original vision and intent of Lenin and the Bolsheviks seem somewhat distant, but in fact they should inform any sober assessment of the continued relevance of socialism to the still-necessary liberation of the world’s peoples. —ISH


DEMOCRACIA Exposes the ‘Socialism’ of Social-Imperialism

In its Volume 5, No. 4 issue, Democracia, organ of the EPRP, exposes the ‘socialism’ of social-imperialism.

For the broad masses, says Democracia, there is no socialism without democracy and there is no democracy without socialism. Democracy is necessary and useful for the construction of a socialist society. However, social-imperialists and revisionists, presenting themselves as examples are trying to show that ‘socialist construction’ is possible with the absence of any sort of democratic and human rights. That is not all. They have gone to the extent of trying to show how “socialism” can be built under fascism. Exposing their true colours, however, they have shown that democratic and human rights erode socialism, and that socialism and democracy are mutually exclusive.

EPRP’s position, continues Democracia, on the relation between socialism and democracy is diametrically opposed to the position of the social-imperialists and revisionists. At a time when all sorts of anti-socialists are professing about socialism, we have found it necessary to explain in short the principal charateristics which scientific socialism differs from all the ‘socialisms’ of the anti-socialists.

Socialism, says Democracia, is a system which arms the proletariat and broad masses with broad democracy. Socialism is a system which is based on the power and supremacy of the proletariat. Socialism is a system in which the proletariat and broad masses organize themselves in many forms to be able to administer themselves. Socialism is a system in which the proletariat and broad masses acquire more democracy, welfare and development than the capitalist system in the political economic and cultural fields. In the Soviet Union, however, the party which still works in the name of the proletariat is trampling the proletariat and broad masses underfoot and deprives them their democratic rights. It has kept the proletariat aside from political power. It has concentrated all the power in its hands and has become an anti-socialist party of few bureaucrats which defends their bourgeois interests.

Thus continues Democracia, the first socialist country has been turned to be a social-imperialist country. As a bad example and through its practices, policies and influence it has and is still challenging, opposing and fighting against the purity, expansion, development and triumph of socialism. Putting the parties in Eastern Europe, Cuba, Mongolia and Vietnam, who are in power, under control; the Soviet Union has also had these parties establish an anti-democratic and anti-people rule.

The dictatorial rulers of the Soviet Union, says Democracia, have and are still attempting to present the rules of their anti-people and anti-socialist puppets in a number of countries as ‘socialist’. In contradistinction to the struggle of the masses for democracy and socialism, the Soviet rulers have presented the anti-people rule of their puppets as ‘socialist’ in an attempt to prolong the life of the reactionary system and destroy the peoples’ resistance. Hasn’t the demagogue Mengistu’s fascist regime calling itself ‘socialist’ also called the proletariat, broad masses and the proletarian party counterrevolutionaries?

For the social-imperialists and fascists, continues Democracia, socialism means a system of which a regime of handful few dictators has the control of the masses and when the people do not have any control of the government. For them, socialism is being against democracy, anti-proletarian, anti-people and which combines the reactionary superstructure and practices which enables them to maintain their fascist and exploitative rule. The difference between the socialism we are fighting for and the ‘socialism’ of the social-imperialists and fascists is as wide as heaven and earth. To us socialism is a system in which the proletariat and broad masses hold state power; in which they take part in all responsible positions, in which the right of the people to call or change the officials of the government elected locally or at a country-wide level is guaranteed, in which there is a proletarian- led regime that stood for the broad masses of the people.

For the social-imperialists and fascists, ‘socialism’ means depriving the proletariat and broad masses of the people their democratic and human rights; depriving them the right to free speech, press and assembly; and depriving them the freedom of movement in their own country. ‘Socialism’ for the social-imperialists and fascists is a system in which the masses are subjected to constant repression, harassment, torture and execution until they bow to silence. For us, socialism is the exact opposite of this. Socialism without democracy is unthinkable. Socialist democracy is different from and superior to bourgeois democracy both in breadth and form. Socialism is not only a system in which the proletariat and broad masses have the right to free speech, press and assembly and organization; but also the right to sound out their opinions or protests against their regime or any organization without restrictions. Under socialism the masses also have the right to take a different position and make it public, the right to protest. Socialism cannot be a system in which a democracy narrower than bourgeois democracy reigns.

A system in which the proletariat and broad masses do not directly take part in the excercise of power, says Democracia, cannot be socialist. There is no socialism if the proletariat and broad masses do not take part in decisions of government affairs and if they do not administer themselves in a democratic system. Socialism is not democracy for the ruling class and government officials and dictatorship over the masses as it is like in the Soviet Union and its allies. Socialism cannot be a system in which those who oppose are imprisoned, kept in concentration camps, tortured, executed and where the freedom of speech of the masses is abolished.

Under socialism political power is in the hands of the proletariat and broad masses. Thus the existence of the special and highest form of organization of the proletariat, its weapon of struggle and leader, the proletarian party, is indispensable. Without its party the proletariat cannot seize political power. For us, however, a proletarian party is not something that the masses would worship and follow blindly because it claims to be one. It should be one which the masses support and have confidence on due to the correctness of its political positions, the struggle it conducts, its method of work and the day-to-day activity it performs. A proletarian party cannot replace the proletariat to make the revolution. It cannot be commanding and know-all against the proletariat and peasantry once it seizes political power. It is the proletariat and broad masses who are the creators and the driving force of the locomotives of history. This is true under socialism too. The guarantee of the existence of a genuine proletarian party, its source of power and legal base are the masses. The right of the proletariat and broad masses to control their party, to criticize the party, to express their views before any important decision is taken, to oppose or support or to take part in decisions is guaranteed. Socialism does not mean where a party isolated from the masses imposes its dictatorship over the masses as it is in the Soviet Union.

For the social-imperialists, socialism means when few self-proclaimed “geniuses” control state power isolating the party members, suppressing inner-party democracy and speak on behalf of the members of the party. It means where few (or one) individuals become autocrats worshiped and feared like gods. For us socialism means where party members discuss and decide on important decisions, where the leadership is everytime elected, where the party works on the basis of collective responsibility and leadership, where a genuine party which do not have mini-gods seize state power.

For the social-imperialists and fascists socialism is where a policy of chauvinism reigns supreme in the name of ’unity and indivisibility,’ the right of oppressed nations is trampled under the rule of the gun and where national oppression is maintained in many forms.

For us, socialism is a system in which the equality of and right of nations to self-determination is guaranteed; in which the languages, culture existence are respected, in which oppression nations use their own language as the medium of instruction; where there are no national privileges; where unity and assimilation is created on the basis of voluntariness and equality; where proletarian internationalism flourishes; and which is free of chauvinism and narrow national mindedness.

For the social-imperialists, socialism means depriving the political and organizational rights of other political organizations and putting them under their tutelage. It means to claim the right of invading other countries, exploiting peoples, controlling other goverments and abolishing their state sovereignity.

Socialism is democracy, equality and respect of people and countries, brotherhood and proletarian internationalism, justice and peace. What social-imperialism practices is the invasion of Czechoslovakia, dispatching mercenaries to put down national liberation movements of other countries. As an imperialist power, it also competes and contend or collude and agree with other imperialist powers for the plunder and division of the world.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Face of Repression: Political Prisoners

Flyer from the Ethiopian Students Union in Berlin, October 1978

I’m pleased to present another original translation of an Ethiopian Student Movement flyer. This flyer was issued in West Berlin, nominally a part of West Germany, in October of 1978. By this time the worst of the so-called “Red Terror” had more or less run its course: the Derg and its agents had massacred untold thousands of civilian leftists, now including supporters not only of the EPRP but of Meison and WazLeague, and begun to consolidate its rule, its popular support bolstered by its defeat of the Somali invasion of 1977–1978. But the Derg’s repression was not over; the legacy of imposing its will on the Ethiopian people would be jails and prisons filled with dissidents. We can see that the rarified atmosphere of sharp political debate in the Ethiopian student movement has begun to take a back seat to calls for simple and concrete solidarity against repression, as it becomes clear that the Derg’s two years of vicious repression have borne bitter fruit.

Thanks again to the MAO Projekt for excavating and archiving these leaflets, and to comrade LM for the translation from German to English. I’ve made some minor edits to the translation.—ISH



Back of the flyer
The struggle of the Ethiopian peoples for independence, democracy and progress against the reactionary forces and the military junta led to many bloody disputes and have cost many people’s lives. The movement of over sixty nationalities of Ethiopia for the right of self-determination has been quelled repeatedly with armed violence by the military junta. In his speech in September 1978, Mengistu Haile Mariam admitted that during the wars between regular government troops and the liberation fighters in Eritrea over 70,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands made homeless. In the Ogaden War between Ethiopia and Somalia around 100,000 people were killed. At the same time several thousands of the oppressed minorities got shot by the chauvinist Amhara (“Neftegnas”).

For over a year the junta has been hunting down the leaders of the peasant, trade union, workers, women and youth organizations, religious leaders and intellectuals, who struggle for national independence and sovereignty, equal rights, wealth, progress and democracy; both openly and secretly with soldiers and death squads. Daily the number increases of those who are murdered during the day or night in their houses, in their workplaces, on the field, on the street, in private and public transport. We know from unofficial sources that almost 20,000 political prisoners are jailed under inhuman conditions in prisons. Because these 20,000 prisoners “cost much money” for the military junta, it cedes them — without any medical care — to illnesses and epidemics and starvation. Thousands have been partly or fully crippled by brutal torture and or have lost their mental abilities by brain injures. Many are disappeared, some are killed.

Since the end of September 1978, especially during one week, in both Ethiopian radio broadcasts “Radio Ethiopia” and “Voice of Revolutionary Ethiopia” and the two Ethiopian newspapers “Ethiopian Herald” and “Addis Zemen” and in public speeches of the members of the military junta the continuing of the “red terror” against political enemies is being propagated; their slogans include, “The prisoners must become canon fodder!” or “Instant execution of all prisoners!”. Not long ago we got information from unofficial sources, that the military junta already murdered some political prisoners; some are missing and the others are waiting for the so called “red terror”.

We Ethiopian students who live in Germany appeal to all who are for peace, freedom, independence and democracy, to unite in solidarity with the Ethiopian people’s masses and to condemn the repressive actions of the military junta and protest against it in public. We invite all democratic forces to withdraw support the military regime and stand against them with the democratic cause in Ethiopia. Challenge the Ethiopian newspapers “Ethiopian Herald” and “Addis Zemen” at the Ethiopian embassy in Bonn, Brentonastr. 1!

For further information on the founding of a committee for the release of political prisoners in Ethiopia contact: A. Selassie, Postfach 104804, 69 HEIDELBERG

(Ethiopian Students Union - Berlin) 

The attached protest letter should be sent directly to the Provisional Military Council on the following address: P.M.A.C. PO Box 5707, ADDIS ABEBA, ETHIOPIA

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Snapshot: May Day, 1975

I’m pleased to present another original translation of a leaflet from the revolutionary Ethiopian student diaspora of 1970s West Germany. The leaflet was produced for May Day 1975 by the Ethiopian Student Union of West Berlin. Unlike the broader Ethiopian Students Union in Europe, which was dominated by Meison supporters, the West Berlin organization is clearly in the camp of what was shortly to be declared as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP). The leaflet presents a snapshot of both the events in Ethiopia at a pivotal moment, and the sense of participation in a global, revolutionary anti-imperialist movement. 1975 was the first year when Ethiopia saw legal observations of the traditional world-wide socialist and workers holiday; revolutionary opponents of the military regime including contingents from the radicalized Confederation of Ethiopian Labour Unions made a strong showing.

The logo at the top of the flyer is the logo of the Ethiopian student movement; it shows a red flag, a rifle, a pick, the yoke from a plough, and a pen. The German-language original of this leaflet is from the MAO-Projekt archive of German radical materials. Many sincere thanks to comrade LM for the original translation. I’ve made some minor edits to the translation and added some paragraph breaks for readability.—ISH

1 MAY 1975

The first of May is the day on which the whole working class of the whole world stands up and shows their solidarity against the international bourgeoisie, and demonstrates their unity in their common struggle for democracy, freedom and equality.

Before and after February 1974 

The history of struggle of the Ethiopian people against its enemies, feudalism and imperialism, is characterized by peasant uprisings, national movements, demonstrations of students, strikes of local trade unions and open violence. The hard struggle of the working masses began long time before February of last year. The long-term struggle of the people and its growing consciousness, the deepening crisis of international capital and the disintegration of the ruling classes connected to it and the famine in Wollo and Tigre and environs were the direct and structural reasons for the revolutionary movement in February of last year.

This revolutionary movement has the greatest historic importance in the history of the struggle of the Ethiopian masses. The whole struggle against the feudal-fascist regime of Haile Selassie and imperialism was not led with petitions, but with strikes, demonstrations, mutiny and revolutionary violence. The oppressed masses stood together, by smashing the reactionary repressive mechanisms, firmly behind the principles of equality, justice and democracy. Concretely, it found its expression in the successful 4-day general strike, with which the working class made its enemies tremble. The heroic Eritrean people supported with its 14-day armed struggle, by going from victory to victory, essential to the fall of the absolute ruler.

The Ethiopian workers, peasants, students, teachers and all oppressed parts of the society struggled untiringly and smashed the three bureaucratic governments of Aklilu, Endalkachew and Imru and finally deposed the autocratic Haile Selassie. The military committee, which was founded in February ’74 during the uprising and fulfilled to an extent the demands of the people, abused its power and undemocratically declared itself the “Provisional Military Government” and resisted the demand of the people for an “Provisional People’s Government”. The Ethiopian working class shows again class consciousness, by manifesting its role as vanguard of revolution by its historic resolution and by concluding the creation of an Provisional People’s Government and determined their duties. The junta continued its anti-people-directed politics, with backing of American imperialism. It abolished all democratic rights, used the students as alibi for their interests, massacred democratic elements among the army and air force and murdered unemployed. It hunted down, tortured and murdered before the military court militant student leaders like Melese Tekle, Rezene Hagos and Giday. Hundreds and thousands of proletarians are imprisoned in the worst jail of the world, the “Alem Bekagn”. Just to name some of many: Eshetu Chole, Zewde Badads, Melese Gugsa, Yohanes Admasu, Aboma Mitiku and Tibebe. The junta has executed leaders of the national movement like TADESSE BIRU and others, who demanded self-determination for the OROMO people.

Back of the flyer

The junta collaborates with the USA: during the regime of the murdered Aman Andom a deal was made which decided the selling of weapons to Ethiopia for 100 million US dollars. Another example is the latest decision by highest authorities, to ship military aid to Ethiopia. All this proves the collaboration of American and Ethiopian government, to strength the counter-revolution.

The politics of the junta in context of the national question is openly fascist: in January and February 1974 they declared open war on Eritrea. Villages like Umhajjar, Adi Keih Adi Quala were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are forced to go to exile in Sudan. Despite all repression the Eritrean masses show, that the chauvinist, fascist junta and their American lords are paper tigers.

The Ethiopian working class struggles untiringly against the fascist junta. Their leaders, who rejected in a resolution collaboration with the fascists, are in jail. The junta already dismissed  a local trade union federation and is dismissing the Confederation of Ethiopian Labour Unions as a whole.

On the political side, the setting back of the February Revolution came from the lack of proletarian party. The Ethiopian working class urges its construction. But the junta, which liquidates all proletarian elements, and calls itself socialist, prepares the forming of a united “national and socialist party”, which is in reality a fascist party for their own interests. The Ethiopian working class struggles steadily for the fall of the fascist military dictatorship and for the creation of a PROVISIONAL PEOPLE’S GOVERNMENT, which guarantees all civil rights and democratic rights and a constitutional assembly, in a struggle for a democratic republic. Therefore the Ethiopian working class calls all democratic and progressive forces of the world to morally and also materially support the struggle of the working class against the fascist junta and imperialism, for the cause of the oppressed masses, especially for the buildup of their party in the struggle for the PROVISIONAL PEOPLE’S GOVERNMENT.

To the importance of this day: We are in a historic phase, in which the working masses gain victory by victory. The example of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Guinea Bissau, Eritrea, Oman and Dhofar, Palestine, the unity of the Arabs and the defeat of Kissinger, the defeat of fascism in Greece and in Portugal, the intensive struggle of the working class in Italy, Spain and other capitalist and absolutist countries show all the great achievements of glorious socialism towards the death struggle of ailing imperialism. The more united and cohesive the world proletariat struggles, the closer comes the death of the international bourgeoisie.






Responsible: Ernst A. Kraft
1 Berlin 41, Handjerystr. 24

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Contribution: “An injustice towards those who died for democracy and socialism”

Poster for a pro-EPRP solidarity event in Amsterdam, 1978,
protesting Soviet intervention on the side of the military regime.

I am very pleased to present an original contribution to this blog from a long-time veteran of the Ethiopian revolutionary struggle. A few words about how this contribution came to be.

I have been using social media like this blog and Facebook in conjunction with my book project as a resource to  promote my work, to meet and engage with people who can share their perspective and experiences, and to discuss some of the history and ideas confronted by my studies. I have met some amazing people, several of whom have helped my work out in significant ways. I'm very grateful to everyone who has communicated with me in the course of my research. The discussions that have been joined have helped me identify and formulate responses to some of the controversial and complicated political and ideological questions raised by my study of the Ethiopian left and its revolution.

Anyway, I shared some information and a photo on one aspect of my research, and it sparked a lengthy, and at times heated, conversation about the misguided role of much of the American left in supporting the Derg against the Ethiopian civilian left during the period of military rule in the 1970s. I provoked the discussion by stating,The Workers World Party, with which the PSL shares political lineage, enthusiastically and uncritically supported the military regime that murdered an entire generation of Ethiopian leftists.” I backed this up with a 1970s-quote from the WWP, illustrating their endorsement of the vicious terror which took the lives of so many leftists: Red terror was launched just a few months ago against these enemies of the revolution, and many have been killed or captured so that today things are quiet in Addis.” To my surprise, the discussion was joined by a WWP supporter who defended their abhorrent record. A number of other leftists and activists also engaged the conversation — including those with a long record of solidarity work — which focused in large part on how Cuba and the Soviet Union also supported the Mengistu regime against the EPRP.

The WWP apologist on this Facebook thread said drily “sometimes too much blood flows.” It really struck me that historical apologists seem to think it’s easy to wave away real-world horror with abstraction and rationalization; I have come to the conclusion it’s crucial to understand the humanity — or absence of humanity — behind the events we study. When we say the Derg regime eliminated the civilian left, that is an inadequate description of how that was really experienced. There was no button to be pressed to make thousands of EPRP members “disappear.” What there were, were mass shootings, mass torture, midnight raids, neighborhood dragnets. There was mass rape, there was unspeakable tortures involving male and female body parts and fire, iron, and leather. There were hot pincers. There were bodies bent in ways they shouldn't be bent. There were bullets fired into crowds of children. There were years of prison with no charges, often ending in a shot. There were parents asked to pay for the bullets that killed their children. There were piles of bodies left on streetcorners pasted with threatening signs. There were people killed for possessing leaflets and leftist papers, just like the kind most of us have lying around the house. Those who love and serve the people don't revel in such things; monsters do.

Sometime after this conversation, I received the following contribution in response to my post and the commentary afterwards. I am thrilled to be able to share it here; the author is known to me and published here in the tradition of most Ethiopian revolutionary writings under his nom de guerre. As a matter of record, his point of view is solely his own. —ISH


Sometime ago I read in one of your postings some comments made by others as regards Cuba's stand on Ethiopia and the rehashing of the Soviet camp stand on the EPRP. I will like to register some views as a founding member of the revolutionary party, the first political party in Ethiopia, the EPRP.

Fidel Castro was very much a demagogue and he did blunder big time when he declared “Mengistu is a genuine revolutionary” and supported him to the hilt. No matter if Mengistu, a military butcher, was trying to wipe out progressives who emulated Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. The Cuban negativity to the Ethiopian revolutionaries had a history. It was clear that Cuba did not take a stand that in any way did not tag along with the Soviet stand.

The contact with what was to become the EPRP and Cuba tool place in Algiers, Boumedienne's Algeria the early 1970s. The Ethiopians who were to establish the EPRP were looking for passports to use for travel outside of Algiers and asked Cuba for one single passport as an initial aid. Cuba, which gave Miriam Makeba a diplomatic passport she did not need, refused to help. Not only that it did not need any relations with the EPRP. When the EPRP held its founding congress it resolved that it did not go along with Soviet line and policy but will keep this position to itself and will not take any part in the Sino-Soviet dispute in any way. This was a position forced upon it by the concrete situation it had to face, to work under. Obviously this was not a position appreciated by the Soviet bloc.

Fidel Castro with Mengistu Haile Mariam in Addis Ababa
Castro's endorsement of Mengistu the butcher as a revolutionary was stupid demagogy and a damage to the Ethiopian Revolution. No one can deny this especially after all these years.

Following the Soviet interest in the region, those parties following its diktat also fulminated against the EPRP. It is surprising that the American pro-Soviet parties still peddle the Soviet anti-EPRP attack and propaganda against the party which upheld an anti-feudal and anti-imperialist stand as its guideline. The organization was attacked by both Western imperialism and the Soviets because it championed sovereignty and refused to the Soviet bloc diktat. Workers World and others are but their Master' s voice.

The EPRP was formed on one part to fight against imperialism and did fight against it with persistence until today. That is why recycling the lies of the defunct pro-Soviet regime is of no value whatsoever. Those who besmirch the organization's name commit an injustice towards those who died for democracy and socialism (as opposed to real socialism). The EPRP fought for people's democracy and is still fighting for people's government and democracy. The reality on the ground imposes upon it the need to reduce the enemy opposed to it. The EPRP was strongly independent, did not bow to pressures (from China and South Yemen for example), kept its revolutionary line intact an paid high cost for that (expulsion from Aden, break with China, hostility from the Arabs especially from Sudan and Somalia).

To try to allege that the EPRP was with imperialism is to ridicule oneself to no end. The attempt by one poster that the fact that EPRP now stands for social democracy and market economy proves its pro-imperialism stance is pathetic to say the least. Thanks to the Soviet-supported Derg, socialism is now in Ethiopia a hated word and choice.

Secondly, given the actual world reality and the encirclement of Ethiopia by reactionary and pro-imperialist forces the party has to move carefully. In the past it rejected the so called non-capitalist path of the Soviets and the Third World theory of the Chinese and the whole Maoist line. As I said the cost was high. The demands raised by the EPRP resounded with the people and that was why people rallied to it. The demands then presented (democracy, people's government, sovereignty, the rule of law, real multi-party system etc.) have not been properly addressed up to now and that is why the struggle still continues.

One of the people who posted on your line sounded like an Eritrean groupie. The groupies did much damage then. So called progressives and leftists who adopted so called liberation Fronts and became unabashed god fathers of petty bourgeois movements should now regret their nefarious role. They should regret their support to the now ruling Tigrean and Eritrean fronts and their condemnation of the EPRP for advancing class struggle over ethnic championing.

If your interlocutors want to discuss more and have the determination to go above their defunct partisanship and echoing of outdated dogmas I am ready to engage with them to make them aware of the truth.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Research Update; Faces of History

Dr. Nigist Adane, date unknown
The central premise of the book I'm working on is that the Ethiopian revolution may have ultimately been hijacked by the military and become the story of a military regime, but it didn't start out that way. It was actually a much more complicated story than most histories acknowledge. I'm trying in part to humanize the generation of leftists who, while they were ultimately defeated, shared a dream of a liberated, socialist, and democratic Ethiopia.

I've been fascinated by many of the individuals who lost their lives during the revolution and during the period of military consolidation. It's one thing to read about the loss of nameless thousands, it's another to learn the details of the individual lives lost. Somehow finding photographs of the people one reads about adds a whole other dimension to understanding that history is not just dry words in books but the story of multi-dimensional real human beings meeting real-world challenges and suffering real-world loss. Photos humanize even the people who made terrible mistakes.

The photo above is a picture of one such tragic figure. Dr. Nigist Adane was a pediatrician educated in the Soviet Union, not uncommon for radical Ethiopian students under Haile Selassie. Initially in the orbit of the EPRP, she and her husband shifted and became leaders of the All Ethiopian Socialist Movement or Meison, a group which wound up supporting the military and shares responsibility for the military's bloody vendetta against the EPRP wing of the civilian left. She was active in building the women's movement during the revolutionary period ca. 1975-1976. In mid-1977 her group broke with the military regime and went underground, becoming targets of the same repression they had helped instigate. She was captured with most of the other leadership of the group. The story goes that these high-level leftist prisoners were strangled during a graduation ceremony of security forces cadets. She was killed in 1978. She is just one of the figures who as characters in my book, even small players, have drawn me into the human story of the Ethiopian revolution.

My book project is proceeding nicely. I'm following leads on additional research details and still attempting to acquire original materials. I'm still in need of various translation help. But my writing is really coming together; I'm approximately 2/3 done with a first draft. Finishing a first draft will only be a kind of new beginning: there will be an editing process I expect to be painstaking and frustrating; there are details and sources to add and probably some to delete. I will want to make sure the narrative is understandable, compelling, comprehensive and enjoyable. And I will need to make sure the overall political and historical content is accurate and what I want to communicate. I will soon be approaching a carefully chosen list of book publishers.  

Thank you for visiting my research blog and taking an interest in my project.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Senay Likke’s American Connection

Clip from The People’s Tribune with a photo of Dr. Senay Likke

The People’s Tribune was the journal of the Communist Labor Party of USNA, an American left party that was led by veteran communist Nelson Peery. The paper is still published even though the CLP itself no longer exists by that name. The CLP was formed in the early 1970s by the California Communist League, part of the burgeoning New Communist Movement that channeled so many people radicalized by the late 1960s student and anti-war movement into new communist organizations that looked more toward the leadership of Mao and People’s China over the ossified and reformist pro-Soviet Communist Party or the parties of the Trotskyist tradition.

Dr. Senay Likke was a leader of the Ethiopian student movement in the United States, but also a cofounder of the CLP. Upon his return to Ethiopia in the early 1970s, he was one of the chief conduits of Marxist-Leninist ideology to the Derg, and became a staunch supporter of the military regime. He became one of the leaders, with Meison’s Haile Fida, of POMOA, the Provisional Office of Mass Organizational Affairs, the so-called Politburo of civilian leftists who were Mengistu Haile Mariam’s advisors and supporters. Senay had long been a political opponent of the wing of the Ethiopian revolutionary student movement that would coalesce into the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party; the enmity carried forward after 1974 would morph into a lethally antagonistic relationship. The EPRP would accuse Senay Likke of being one of the chief architects of the Derg’s violent repression against the EPRP that began in earnest in late 1976. In a coup d’etat on the morning of February 3, 1977, Derg vice chair Mengistu executed the Derg’s chairman, General Teferi Benti, and several others, seizing full control of the military government for himself. That same day a disgruntled officer named Yohannes Mitike, who may or may not have been influenced by the EPRP, retaliated by assassinating Senay Likke in his offices, along with Derg security chief Daniel Asfaw.

Here is an obituary from Senay’s CLP comrades featured in the People’s Tribune of February 15, 1977. Ironically, Senay Likke’s followers would be purged and largely exterminated by the Derg in 1978 as Mengistu moved to eliminate leftists whom his Soviet advisors accused of being influenced by Maoism. Despite that fact — and the murder of more of its Ethiopian comrades — the CLP continued to politically support the Derg regime.

A short pamphlet by Senay Likke can be downloaded here. I find its politics somewhat horrifying, but for all the details on that, you’ll have to read my book.

Thanks to the editors of the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism Online for this newspaper clip. The original text follows.


Long Live the Ethiopian Revolution

Word has been received, confirming the murder of Comrade Senay Likke, Vice-Chairman of the Political Bureau of the governing Dergue, in Addis Ababa, February 3.

The Political Bureau of the Communist Labor Party expressed to the party cadre, and to all progressives, our profound grief and deep sense of loss.

Comrade Senay, a soon of poor peasants, was a revolutionary of exceptional intelligence and capabilities. After winning a scholarship, Comrade Senay came to the U.S. to complete his education. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Comrade Senay selflessly contributed his considerable talents to the formation of a real Marxist-Leninist party in the US. His theoretical clarity, principled activity, and ideological firmness, was of great value during the struggle to consolidate our Party. A devoted patriot, Comrade Senay returned to Ethiopian and plunged into revolutionary activity. 

Our Party pauses in this moment of sorrow to reaffirm our commitment of comradeship and support to the valiant Ethiopian people and to their history-making revolution.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Professor Alem Habtu, 1944-2016

Professor Alem Habtu in earlier times

One of the extraordinary things about the story that I have been investigating for the last few years is that these dramatic events are not ancient, lost history but memories still living with survivors and veterans of the times I’m attempting to chronicle.

It just came to my attention that somebody I had hoped to interview for my research has passed on. Professor Alem Habtu was a key member of the leadership of the Ethiopian Students Union in North America in the early 1970s. He lived in Manhattan near City College with a number of other Ethiopian students, all of whom were recognized players in the transformation of the Ethiopian Student Movement into a political movement that helped spawn a revolution. I’m saddened at the passing of Professor Alem, and now regret that the questions I hoped to ask him will go unanswered. There’s a lesson there for those hoping to collect oral history.

Mesfin Habtu
Alem Habtu was the brother of Mesfin Habtu, an important figure in the early revolutionary Ethiopian Student Movement, who tragically committed suicide in New York in 1971. Mesfin was a leader in the wing of the ESM that would become the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party, and his suicide came after his personal correspondence was uncovered and published by political opponents including Senay Likke and supporters of the clandestine network that would become the All Ethiopian Socialist Movement (Meison).

From what I can gather, Alem Habtu did not return to Ethiopia along with other members of the diaspora upon the advent of the revolution in 1974, and ultimately became a harsh critic of both the EPRP and Meison, whom he blamed for provoking the violence that would consume so many lives during the period of the so-called “Red Terror.”

Professor Alem Habtu died of cancer. I'm lucky that he left a number of testimonies to his experiences on the internet: his accounts have been helpful to me in understanding some of the factional ins and outs of the movement at the time.

Rest in power!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Deadly Namecalling in the Student Diaspora, 1976

Original flyer front

Original flyer back

The Ethiopian left was deeply divided by the ascent to power of the Derg in 1974. Divisions that had begun in the student movement in the diaspora were exacerbated when abstract political lines became questions of life and death in the unfolding of real world events in real time. Readers of this blog will probably recognize my general sympathies for the EPRP against the military government; but my research teaches me it’s important to present contrasting views to give a clear picture of the time.

And so I am pleased to present this leaflet, published here for the first time in English, issued in West Berlin in late 1976, by the Ethiopian Student Union in Berlin, a member of the Ethiopian Student Union in Europe. Unlike ESUNA, the similar organization of radical Ethiopian students in the United States, ESUE was dominated by supporters of the All Ethiopian Socialist Movement, or Meison.

Until the summer of 1977 Meison were not only supporters of the Derg, they were important members of its ministries and government. When the Derg declared the EPRP its enemy number one in the summer of 1976, supporters of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party blamed Meison for backing, indeed for instigating, the Derg's repression against the EPRP. After the EPRP responded to the Derg assault by attempting to assassinate Major Mengistu Haile Mariam, they proceeded to target for assassination members of Meison who were providing information about EPRP activists to government death squads. The first successful assassination by EPRP urban guerrillas was a Meison leader, Fikre Merid, a veteran of the student movement in Europe.

This leaflet was issued in response to that action. I republish it here without endorsing its extreme, and as near as I can tell, largely fantastic, claims against the EPRP. I post it without endorsing the assassination of Fikre Merid either. But this flyer stands as vivid testimony to the heated passions and often violent sectarianism of the moment. Equating the leftist EPRP with the rightist Ethiopian Democratic Union and the imperialist CIA was pretty standard Derg slander for the time. It’s worth noting that at this time the Ethiopian government itself was actually still being armed by the United States. This blog has previously discussed the circumstances around the elimination of Sisay Habte, cited herein as background.

This leaflet and many other fascinating documents from the Ethiopian Student Movement in exile in Germany in the 1970s can be found at the Mao-Projekt Archive (http://www.mao-projekt.de/INT/AF/Aethiopien.shtml) I'm exceedingly grateful to Eric Burton at the University of Vienna for the translation from the original German. Some slight editing done by me. Following is the translated original text.—ISH

The EPRP, EDU Gang of Terrorists:
With the CIA Against the Ethiopian Revolution

Roughly two weeks ago a leading personality of the Ethiopian revolution and a spearhead of the Ethiopian proletariat, Comrade Fikre Merid, was murdered in cold blood and infamy in broad daylight by the fascist groups of thugs of the so-called EPRP. Thereafter a wave of assassinations targeting revolutionary fighters and workers’ leaders set in.

These infamous actions represent the desperate attempt of the social-fascist EPRP to break off the spearhead of the revolutionary movement of the Ethiopian masses and thus put an end to it.

The background to these fascist assaults against workers’ leaders and other leading revolutionary personalities was the successful abatement of the right-wing military’s and EPRP’s fascist coup attempt in collaboration with the CIA. The attempted coup had the objective to undo the land reform, smash the peasant associations and bring about the disarming of the peasantry, the liquidation of the Marxist-Leninist movement; the smashing of progressive institutions established in the course of the revolution like the political bureau for the Organisation of the People [POMOA—ish], the Marxist-Leninist cadre school, etc.

Tellingly, ultra-right and chauvinist officers like Major Sisay Habte and General Getachew were involved in the EPRP conspiracy. The leaders of this coup attempt had been shot on the spot by their own soldiers; while the roaming EPRP army of bandits, which had been supposed to initiate an uprising in the capital, was denounced on its way there by peasant associations. The weapons, documents and amounts of dollars which were secured in this context are perfect evidence that the CIA was behind this conspiracy.

This fact has exposed EPRP which likes to pose as progressive. This is visible in the fact that during the demonstration of September 12, where at the same time the death of Chairman Mao Zedong and the second anniversary of Emperor Haile Selassie’s downfall was celebrated, 250.000 people demonstrated under the flag of Marxist-Leninist organization, the All-Ethiopian Socialist Movement. They unanimously condemned EPRP’s fascist and counter-revolutionary schemes.

In light of this fact, EPRP reaches for the most obscene means against Ethiopia’s progressive forces. But it will be in vain. Maybe EPRP will succeed in murdering individual fighters, but it cannot stop the revolution, as the broad masses are the motor of history. May the EPRP meddle with the CIA, instigate coup attempts, burn Marxist books — it marches toward a miserable end.

We will convert our grief about the murdered comrades into revolutionary hate, even more so are we determined to fight energetically and alertly against the enemies of the Ethiopian peoples until the final victory.


Ä.S.U. Berlin

(end of original text; flyer is undated but the assassination of Fikre Merid took place in late September 1976)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Translation Assistance Needed!

Hey friends.

I have several documents of different lengths in Amharic, some short documents in German, and some medium documents in French I could use translation help with. They would be a big help for my research/book project. Are any of my readers out there willing to help?

Please leave a confidential comment with your email address. I will not publish your comment but will reply with my own email address and a description of what I need translated.

Any translations would be credited here and and in my book, and I would probably post at least excepts here, with your permission.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Quote of the Day: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

"To anyone who does not have a nodding acquaintance to Marxism-Leninism, what is confusing about the regime in Ethiopia is the contradictions in the regime's talk of socialism while it kills communists; in its declaration of 'unrestricted democratic rights to the broad masses' while it massacres workers who staged peaceful demonstration using their declared 'rights,' in its declaration of land reform while depriving the peasants to defend themselves from counter-revolutionary landlords, and so on. The latest act in this historical drama of self-contradictory double talk is the latest proclamation to disarm the people with the bluff of 'arming the people' at the same time." —Abyot, Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Party Foreign Section, March 1977