|EPRP demonstration, probably Addis Ababa, 1975 or 1976. Scanned from an issue of Forward.|
In 1976 I was eighteen years old and a university student in Chicago. My brief tenure in college was marked by my increasing radicalization, as I became involved with the American revolutionary left. I became a voracious consumer of worldwide revolutionary literature along with the classics of Marxist theory. I attended protests and forums, conferences and demonstrations, and, in those long-ago days, admired the organization and fortitude of leftist students from around the world from places like Iran, Ethiopia, Eritrea and elsewhere. I went to demonstrations where police or right-wingers were menacing and threatening, and certainly saw the potential of brutality. In my years as a radical I've witnessed hundreds of arrests and atrocious acts of police violence. But my life has rarely been in direct danger as a result of my political activities.
In 1976 a revolution in Ethiopia was experiencing a crucial shift, and I watched and studied these events as they happened. Military officers were consolidating their co-optation of a mass, popular uprising. Thousands of revolutionary students my very age were out in the streets fighting for that revolution and attempting to resist the hijacking of the revolution by the military. The students, along with workers and peasants, were organized under the red banners of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), at the time a largely clandestine Marxist-Leninist formation. Very shortly the EPRP faced a massive, genocidal government campaign of violence and extermination. Dubbed "The Red Terror" by the military government, soon thousands of student revolutionaries my age were rounded up and murdered. The commitment of these young revolutionaries was inspirational to me, and gave me great pause to consider the contrasts and contradictions.
The EPRP, who widely used the communist hammer and sickle as a symbol, were engaged in a massive life-and-death struggle with a government that itself used the same communist symbolism. The EPRP was attacked for being "anarchist," "Maoist," or "terrorist," by a government that wielded the same Marxist language and terminology that the EPRP used. At the height of the cold war, the Ethiopian government was soon bolstered by the Soviet Union and revolutionary Cuba on one of the hot fronts of that war that swept across Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. The EPRP was ultimately defeated, and while it survives today as an opposition party in a new "democratic" Ethiopia, it jettisoned its Marxist-Leninist ideology long ago.
The period of "Red Terror" is justly remembered in Ethiopia as a nightmare; a time of mass murder foreshadowing the much more well-known Rwandan genocide some years later. There's a museum, there are scholarly investigations, there are memorials for the thousands of young martyrs. But in repudiating the period of military dictatorship that called itself the "Ethiopian Revolution," it appears to me that much of the actual Ethiopian revolution has also been repudiated. The surviving factions of the EPRP seem to me, a foreigner at a distance, very far removed from the EPRP that so inspired me as a young radical.
This blog is an investigation project.
What was the EPRP at the height of its power? What were the forces it was up against? What was the dynamic of the Ethiopian Revolution? Why did the EPRP lose?
I hope to excavate, if not rehabilitate, the historical reputation of the EPRP during its Marxist-Leninist period through a process of curation, collection, research and reportage. I will post articles, artwork and photos, book excerpts, reviews, and if I find them, reminiscences, about the Ethiopian revolution, primarily in the second half of the 1970s but extending through the 1980s.
And although the Ethiopian revolution was marred by extreme sectarianism, I will post information from other revolutionary currents in the Horn of Africa to provide historical context, even if they are from forces in contradiction with the EPRP.
I invite comment from survivors, veterans, witnesses and fellow students of this struggle.
I am not a neutral observer of revolution, but a partisan of it, and this blog will reflect that perspective.