Saturday, November 26, 2016

Quote of the Day: Power and the State

“[T]he attitude of Marxists toward reform and fundamental change is very clear and unequivocal. Marxists are not against reforms as long as the ‘reforms’ do not create obstacles to the strategic aims of the proletariat; peoples’ democracy and socialism. Similarly; we are not against the Dergue’s decree on land. What we are saying is the hard fact that Lenin taught us on the one hand and what the practical reality in Ethiopia has shown on the other; namely the decree alone won’t be the solution so long as it is devoid of the political power of the popular masses. The Dergue’s decree is simply equalised land tenure, which Lenin castigated as petty-bourgeois utopia and more over, ‘useless.’ Land reform cannot be carried out without the political power of the proletariat and peasantry and against their political participation. History has many cruel examples where attempts to use the feudo-bourgeois state, which is an instrument of enslavement, as an instrument of liberation brought untold sufferings…. It is for the building of the proletarian-peasant dictatorship through a revolution from below to resolve the agrarian question in a revolutionary manner that the EPRP stands.”
From “When Ethiopian Opportunists Are in Trouble Their European Counterparts Also Make the Loudest Noise” by Kelisen Belew, Abyot, Published by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party Foreign Section, Vol. 2, Number 4, March 1977

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Quote of the Day: Prescience

“The demand for the creation of a provisional government is not an idyllic dream as the RIGHT OPPORTUNIST trend in our movement miserably try to blabber but is dictated politically by the urgent need of a popular organ of power to execute and implement these immediate tasks of the revolutionary movement…. What miserable pedantry and lack of political vision that this impotent clique in our movement cannot provide a concrete political alternative to this transition of power and the proper organ necessary that could be instrumental in its execution, except that frantically shrieking the strategic slogan ‘Down with imperialism and feudalism’. It should be observed that the position of RIGHT OPPORTUNISM in our movement contains a dangerous liquidationist character. By evading the concrete issue of transition of power, it disarms the masses politically and exposes the revolutionary movement to the swindling and usurpation of its legitimate right by a self-styled military junta…. In our eyes, the decisive battle between revolution and counter-revolution both within the Armed Forces and in the political life of the country at large will be decided by the urgent political question whether the popular will triumphs in the constitution of a provisional democratic government or in its defeat to be replaced by a rabid cry of ‘law and order!’” —Editorial, Bulletin of the World Wide Federation of Ethiopian Students, Vol. 2, No. 1, Oct. 1974, (published in Geneva, Switzerland)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Quote of the Day: Democracy

“...the Derg cannot fulfill the democratic demands of the people because what the people demanded is not to have a babysitter (guardian of power) but to elect their own representatives, to have freedom of speech, of the press and to organize political parties. A body (the Derg) which has undemocratic policies and working methods cannot guarantee democracy…. If demanding democracy is considered as turning back the wheels of history, then what the Derg is saying is that the solution is to move from the autocratic dictatorship to a military fascist one. In this case it (the Derg) has no other solution but to rely on its brute force.”Democracia, August 23, 1974, as quoted in Babile Tola’s To Kill A Generation, p. 26

(“Babile Tola’s” excellent book can be downloaded for free as a PDF from the website of today’s no-longer Marxist-Leninist EPRP.)

Monday, October 31, 2016

1977: Sectarianism in the Student Movement

I posted a review of Makonen Getu’s memoir a few months ago. I ran across a short article in the March, 1977 issue of Forward, published by the pro-EPRP World Wide Federation of Ethiopian Students, that is a short, mocking diatribe against Makonen. There’s an anecdote in Makonen’s memoir that recalls his run ins with political opponents in Europe, so it’s quite interesting to read about it from the other point of view. The hostility between the pro-EPRP and pro-Meison wings of the student movement (WWFES with its largest member ESUNA were pro-EPRP, ESUE was pro Meison), was certainly understandable given the mutual violence taking place back home, but it’s still something to see the hostility expressed so viscerally. Here is the short article, in full. I’m going to leave the spelling as is, including the unusual “Fidda” for Meison leader Haile Fida:

From Forward, Newsletter of WWFES, Vol. 1, No. 5, March 1977

The handful of social-fascist clique which, after having been ignominously expelled from ESUE in August, 1975, managed to put its members in the payrolls of the junta’s embassies in certain European countries has recently been located in Sweden carrying out its usual dirty agent provocateur work. Led by a certain maggot called Makonnen Getu, whose skills in feudal intrigues and ability to compose lies and fascist propaganda (as a good disciple of his ill-famous teacher, Haile Fidda) has earned him a handful of followers, this clique tried to stage a pro-junta demonstration in Sweden on March 26 in open cooperation with the junta’s embassy there.

The long-planned and organized showdown ended in fiasco: not only that not a single organization or group showed up but its own paid members and sympathizers boycotted it! All counted 13 people turned out! Well, the junta and the Haile Fidda clique better have this many paid agents!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Quote of the Day: Strategy

Wallelign Makonen
“And how do we achieve this genuine democratic and egalitarian state? Can we do it through military? No!! A military coup is nothing more but a change of personalities. It may be a bit more liberal than the existing regime but it can never resolve the contradiction between either classes or nationalities…. To come back to our central question: How can we form a genuine egalitarian national-state? It is clear that we can achieve this goal only through violence, through revolutionary armed struggle. But we must always guard ourselves against the pseudo-nationalist propaganda of the regime.”—Wallelign Makonen, On the Question of Nationalities in Ethiopia, 1969 (originally in Struggle, journal of USUAA)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Quote of the Day: Armed Struggle

“We choose armed struggle knowing it to be the most difficult, the one that calls for the greatest sacrifices, the one that most infuriates the feudalists and imperialists, but at the same time the one that constitutes the highest form of the popular struggle, the one that shatters the skepticism, fatalism, defeatism, obscurantism, fear and deception that have afflicted the masses, the one that brings all the positive qualities of the masses at present submerged under corruption, exploitation and injustice, the one that restores the feelings of national pride and confidence, a bright future, the one that is the only reply to the reactionary violence of the ruling class. We choose armed struggle because it is the only way that leads the broad masses of the people (led by the working class) to power.”
Hand Book On Elementary Notes on Revolution and Organization, prepared by the Executive Council of ESUNA (Ethiopian Student Union in North America), August 1972

Friday, October 28, 2016

Quote of the Day: Fascism

“The military junta in Ethiopia is the personification of a rightist victory, a miscarriage of the February revolution, pre-occupied in concretizing fascism. Our military junta has deserved the title of Fascist because of its political and economic undertakings that are akin to the meaning of the term. Fascism is not used here as an adjective of abuse; because fascism is not merely a system of reprisals, of brute force and of police terror; but also a particular governmental system based on the uprooting of all elements of proletarian democracy at a moment when proletarian or new democracy is a possibility.”
(From editorial “Mussolini Unabridged,” The Proletariat, labelled Vol. 1 No. 1 1974 but actually Vol. 2, 1975, published by the Ethiopian Students’ Union in Holland)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Research Update

I just wanted to post a note here to say that my research is going ahead full-steam, and I am actually putting together a book-length manuscript about the Ethiopian left. That's meant I have had less time to prepare posts here on the blog. I think I'm going to go ahead and try to post smaller, less-ambitious posts to keep this ball rolling. I'm overdue preparing a book review of Worku Lakew's new memoir which should be up soon, and in the interim I will try posting daily quotes from my research.

The Dutch solidarity poster above is from the collection of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam, which has been a really helpful source of original materials. Thanks to readers for coming through with leads and PDF copies.

Please see my posts on "research materials needed" for information on how you can help my project and contact me.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Solidarity with Ethiopian Readers & Bloggers

I don't feel competent to offer a detailed critique or analysis of the current situation in Ethiopia as of this writing in October 2016 following the dramatic escalation of tensions between Ethiopia's Amhara and Oromo communities and the ruling EPRDF government. But it's clear to me that the current situation of advancing state repression is perilous and untenable. I read on Facebook that the Ethiopian government has begun enforcing drastic censorship controls on the internet, and I would just like to offer my own corroborating evidence. This blog, in the scope of things, is small and unimportant with a small readership. But I have been gratified to find Ethiopia normally in the top four viewing countries according to my Google analytics charts. Suddenly despite a current peak in overall pageviews, Ethiopia has dropped off the map completely. This seems highly indicative to me of an unseen hand.

Ethiopians have shown remarkable resilience in creating their own channels of communication, indeed the story of the revolution of the 1970s is the story of the underground press, and I extend a hand of solidarity to those fellow bloggers and readers who are now facing the challenges of government censorship. Of course, where I'm sitting in New York I'm not (yet, anyway) expecting a knock on my door: I salute the courage of those facing that possibility within Ethiopia.

The word wants to be free.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Class Character of the Ethiopian Revolution

Demonstration in Addis Ababa during the early days of the 1974 revolution.

Following is an excerpt from an article published in the first, and to my knowledge only, issue of Ethiopian Marxist Review, published in 1980 by the Study, Publications and Information Center of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party in Europe. This really interesting passage on the class nature of the Ethiopian revolution appears in an article by Mulugeta Osman (a pseudonym?) that is otherwise a review of several books published on the 1974 revolution. The beginning of the essay negatively reviews two books (by Raúl Valdés Vivó and the Ottaways), before generally lauding that by John Markakis and Nega Ayele and then two works by Addis Hiwet. But this extended section stands on its own as a Marxist explication of the nature of the revolution itself. I have made a couple corrections of typos and broken the final extended paragraph up for legibility.—ISH

by Mulugeta Osman; Ethiopian Marxist Review, No. 1, August 1980

Addis Hiwet, whose writings on the formation of the centralized « modern state» and the « transitional social-formation in pre-1974 Ethoipia » are very pertinent, also advances the proposition, in his 1976 book, that the regime is a « Corporate state ».

Underlying the errors in this respect (though Addis Hiwet does not sufficiently explain why he adopts the « Corporate » label while firmly rejecting the « fascist » one), there emerges a wrong understanding of the nature and dynamics of the February Revolution itself, a negation of the proletarian character of this revolution and attributing to it the pettybourgeois label as Nega and Markakis do in the conclusion to their book. Without clearly grasping the character of the Revolution itself, it is evidently difficult to identify « the hidden secret » of the policies and line of the military regime.

The 1974 February Revolution caught in its whirlpool all the classes associated with decaying feudalism (landlords, the aristocracy and nobility the peasants) and with « emergent » capitalism (workers in the factories and industries, in the public administration, the petty bourgeoisie, lumpenproletariat ... ) . The February Revolution was not merely a revolution directed against feudalism and the comprador-bureaucratic bourgecisie, it also, at the same time, manifested an internal crisis for the trade unions, the armed forces, the state adminstration, and for the workers, peasants, women, students, etc ... The assault on the conditions of oppression led to or was intrinsically linked to the attack on the organizational forms of this oppression. Therefore, the February Revolution negated the political and economic forms of domination, in the place of feudal Ethiopia, which recognised an individual's political existence only via the possession of land and the subjugation of the peasant, the revolution forwarded a radically different conception of the organization of the society. The issue is not as to whether a particular class homogenized and led the whole movement. It was rather of a question of which class best embodied the liberation of other classes in its fundamental drive for liberation; in other words the question was not which class imposed its particular class liberation as the « liberation » of the others but rather which class had to liberate the others in order for itself to be really free.

The Ethiopian Revolution was not, therefore, a bourgeois revolution. The existing bourgeoisie, in most cases linked to the land and thus to the feudal system, was not capable of transforming the society on its behalf, to reappropriate and accumulate the mass of labour power under its own rule and to assure the dominance of capitalism. Bureaucratic and comprador in its majority, the bourgeoisie, as the Michael Imru experience showed, failed to recuperate the movement and to put it on its own bourgeois rails. If the February Revolution was not a bourgeois revolution, it was neither a petty-bourgeois revolution. The Ethiopian petty-bourgeoisie, though it played a prominent role in the revolutionary process, was not able to impose its hegemonic hold on the revolution, to assure its privileged position vis a vis the proletariat and to realize its bourgeois aspirations. The contradictions which exploded in February were so great that they surpassed the petty-bourgeois limitations, the petty-bourgeois blueprint of economic and political development were insufficient, and this class had to tie itself to the demands of the proletariat during the revolution. This is why the petty-bourgeois, unable to impose its hegemony over the revolutionary process, had to resort to a coup in order to assert its autonomy as a class in front of both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

The proletarian character of the February Revolution is not to be automatically derived be it from the number of the proletariat in the country or the abscence or presence of a proletarian party, nor is it dependent on the nature of the trade union in place. The Revolution posed the question of political power not in the form of replacing the rulers with new ones but in the revolutionary sense i.e. the social content of this power and the reorganization of the society in new forms which express the utilization of power by the masses, their social participation. The partial and sectarian demands and, thus, partial liberation, could be expressed only within this general struggle for political power and this is why all the various demands could find consensus around this fundamental issue. And this question of power and reorganization was not simply an item on the future plan but one that was being actualized (the popular committees in various areas, of which the People's Committee in Jimma is but one example) is also an important feature of the process as a whole. The revolution, therefore, could not be confined within the limits of the bourgeois democratic revolution (and even the agrarian question was linked to the question of power and a revolutionary organization of the society in opposition to the conditions and organizational forms of oppression), it was not a simple antifeudal struggle (abolition of landlordism, distribution of land, etc), nor did it confirm to the « orderly and gradual » process which the petty-bourgeois dreams of in order to realize its aspirations to turn bourgeois. The only class which could stand as a pole uniting the various revendications of the classes and thus expressing the unification of the individual and collective conditions of the various classes was the proletariat. The February Revolution, as a revolution for social emancipation, had a predominantly proletarian character, a character that cannot be exclusively framed within the actual number or organizational strength of the proletariat in the country.

This being the case, the section of the petty-bourgeoisie which appropriated the state power via a coup had to move in two. interlinked directions. One was to destroy to the last all the means and instruments which could enable the proletariat to appropriate power and social emancipation. And thus the abolition of the various committees set-up by the people, the dissolution of CELU and others and the relentless terror against the EPRP and against any attempt at autonomous organizational action. Secondly, the military regime had to present its own liberation, i.e. the liberation of the petty-bourgeoisie from its conditions of oppression by the Haile Selassie state apparatus and the bourgeoisie as the liberation of the people as a whole, the general interests of the people are thus said to be incarnated in the interests of the regime and, its logical development, in Mengistu. Hence, once again the political existence of the individual or group exists only within the framework of the subjugation of the individual by the state.

Within this framework, the resort to « socialism » as an ideological facade highlights the repression and beyond it the subjugation of the individual to the state. The military regime did not express the interest of one particular class in this respect as it was striving to mould all classes in its interest. True enough, like a bonapartist state it had the appearance of conflict with all classes but unlike such a state it did not enjoy the support of a vast section of the peasantry. The realization of the liberation of the petty-bourgeosie, actualized on the political level by the taking over power and the setting-up of new organizational forms (kebele and the like), required on the economical sphere the appropriation of surplus both from the peasant and the proletariat.

The nationalization measures are intended to facilitate the extraction of increased surplus, the accumulation of capital, etc, i.e. the transformation of the petty-bourgeoisie into a state or bureaucratic bourgeoisie. This transformation necessarily implied a contradiction with the landlords and also with the comprador and bureaucratic bourgeoisie which were compromised (by their role within the Haile Selassie state apparatus and their link with land) and attacked as strategic enemies by the February Revolution. The transformations also called for regimentation of the mass of peasants and workers within the options of the military regime.

From this drive by the regime to impose its interests as the interest and needs of the society at large follows its conflict with almost all the other classes (including the fraction of the petty-bourgeoisie which has gone to the side of the proletariat) and its drive to shape and reorganize the whole socio-economic formation. The overall weakness of the bourgeoisie as a whole, the weakness of the petty-bourgeoisie as a consequence, the continuing revolutionary struggle of the masses and the international crisis of capitalism lie at the root of the weakness of the regime in realizing its aims, a weakness that the intervention of the USSR has partially eliminated while opening up new forms of contradiction accentuating the regime's overall weakness in the long-term. In this sense, then, while the regime may have at one time or another manifested certain features that could be stretched to be called « bonapartist », such a characterization of the regime is off-mark.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Late 1976: A Change in Course?

FORWARD, newsletter of WWFES, January 1977

In late 1976 the Derg was rife with internal conflict. Following the elimination of Major Sisay Habte in the summer, tensions increased between Mengistu and his backers in Meison and WazLeague on the one hand, and others in the upper echelons of the Derg including General Teferi Benti, head of state, vice chairman Atnafu Abate, and others including Alemayahu Haile. A number of the regime's reforms seemed to be faltering, and despite a dramatic uptick in violence between the military and the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party following a failed assassination attempt on Mengistu Hailemariam and the assassination of a number of Meison figures by the EPRP's urban guerrillas, nobody seemed to be decisively winning the war for public opinion.

At the end of the year, the Derg announced a number of internal changes it hoped would start to cool things down. Although Mengistu, still the Derg’s number two, was not to be completely defanged, his allies in POMOA like Haile Fida and Senay Likke were given notice that POMOA was not necessarily the vehicle for future civilian power its members hoped. These reforms culminated with the late January 1977 speech by Teferi Benti that precipated Mengistu's move against him when he called for national unity and refused to demonize the EPRP. At the beginning of February, Mengistu had Teferi, Alemayahu and several others executed, and Dr. Senay Likke was shot by a disgruntled Derg member in a palace shoot out.

The February events were a watershed moment when Mengistu seized total control of the military government, and when the most disastrous period of repression against the EPRP was begun. This article, from the January 1977 issue of Forward, published by the World Wide Federation of Ethiopian Students and representing the pro-EPRP Ethiopian student diaspora in the United States and Europe, seems to have been written after the internal reorganization was announced, but before the fateful events that would change everything at the beginning of the new year.

The polemical and rhetorical flourishes here are vivid: yet within the dated language and what we know now to be the misplaced certainty of its revolutionary optimism, this article contains some clear insights into the differences between the Derg and the EPRP opposition, including some clear explication of the realities of class rule in the new “Socialist” Ethiopia. The article, and accompanying cartoons, doubles-down on the characterization of the Derg as “fascist.”

I have retyped this article from the original, without editing or correcting mistakes in the original printed piece except for a few minor instances for clarity.

from FORWARD, Vol. 1, no. 3, January 1977

Cartoon accompanying this article from FORWARD
The last several weeks have seen a lot of fanfare being made regarding the most recent proclamation which "determines" the "powers and responsibilities" of the Ethiopian military junta and that of its Council of Ministers. The junta's mass media has been making wild claims about the "revolutionary" and "Marxist-Leninist" nature of its recent exploits — just like countless other decrees and proclamations that it had issued in the past. And once again the international press, bourgeois and revisionist alike, is echoing this same declarations. The Ethiopian masses, whose heroic struggle and combative initiatives are dealing heavy blows to the fascist junta, have long understood that this and the many others issued in the past are merely expressions of despair and arrogance at worst and sugar-coated bullets of counter-revolution at best. The deceptive nature of this manuscript as well as the disgusting serenade played by the junta's mass media and its"friends" elsewhere merits a few comments.

Any action of a government is determined by the nature of the state and the class it represents. The state in any society is not a body that stands above classes or reconciles class differences, but rather an organ of class rule by which a definite class exercises its dictatorship over other classes. The different kinds of states obtaining in the world today can be categorized broadly into two types of dictatorships — revolutionary dictatorships and counter-revolutionary dictatorships. In the former case, we are referring to the people‘s democratic dictatorship based on the alliance of revolutionary and democratic classes and social strata under the leadership of the working class and its party as well as the state system of the dictatorship of the proletariat (i.e. socialist states). By counter-revolutionary dictatorship, we mean to refer to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and all other reactionary classes over the broad masses. This could assume a multitude of forms.

The present day Ethiopian state, controlled as it is by the fascist military goons and the social-fascist petty-bourgeois propagandists, both serving the bureaucratic and compradore bourgeoisie, falls within the latter category. Despite the fact that it has meticulously attempted to hide its counter-revolutionary nature by persistently masquerading behind high-sounding "socialist" phraseology and pompous pronouncements and slogans, and this thanks to the Haile Fida-Senai Likke clique of social-fascist intellectuals, it remains to be a puppet of imperialism, especially that of U.S. imperialism, and is used as an instrument for oppressing and exploiting more than 90% of the Ethiopian peoples.

Why are we then being bombarded with such proclamations? What is their real nature? The answers are quite clear. When reactionary classes are besieged, they are led into hypocrisy and into utilizing dual tactics of repression and deception. Hence, they steal the slogans of the masses in order to benumb and confuse the masses so as to preserve their class rule, if only in a new form. Even the notorious Hitler has to masquerade himself as a ‘national socialist,’ as a ‘friend of the working people,’ etc. But Hitler, if it is to be remembered, came to no good end. The military clique and its cohorts are of the same stuff. In their own stupid way they try to sound ‘revolutionary while practising counter-revolution. The words of the great proletarian leader and teacher summarize all of this. “The victory of Marxism in theory,” said he, “compels its enemies to disguise themselves as Marxists; this is the dialectics of history.” (Lenin, “The Historical Destiny of the Marxist Theory”).

In light of the above as well as the unequivocally proven fascistic nature of the Ethiopian junta, how should one see this latest decree about the "new" organizational structure? Under this proclamation, the derg consisting of all its members is called the "Congress" which will have a "central committee"  of 40 and a "standing committee" of 17. Such a reorganization, we are told, is in line with "Marxist-Leninist principles"! And whether one likes it or not, what the junta would like us believe is that it has finally emerged as a Marxist-Leninist organization! But one may be inclined to think that a mere regrouping and change of names cannot transform reality; if this hadn't been so, Ethiopia would have been a socialist country two years ago. One "need' not ask such a question though as one would then become "anarchist", "anti-revolutionary" and what not — labels that the Junta so lavishly attaches to revolutionary and democratic forces.

The other parts of the proclamation deal with the “powers” and "responsibilities" of each of the organs of the derg — its chairman, vice-chairmen, committees, the "congress" and their relations to the council of ministers. Let us just take a pick at their duties proclaimed therein. “The PMAC members assigned to various posts will have the responsibility of tracking down economic saboteurs, bringing them justice...," says one. "The duties of the PMAC members concerned include the disarming of reactionaries both in rural areas and urban centers and arming defence squads guarding the revolution...", says another. We all know, of course, that when the Junta says tracking down economic saboteurs", it means massacring revolutionary workers; when it says "disarming reactionaries, it means disarming the peasants and arming the feudalists and its own hitlerite storm troops; and when it says "guarding the revolution",  it means guarding the counter-revolution. All of these is borne out by the 2-1/2 years of ·its fascist rule! What this reorganization does, in sum, therefore is legalizing the already practised rights of each and every member of the Derg.

But why come at such a time? Since it usurped power, the junta has been beset with contradictions and factions even within its own ranks. Attempted coups and counter-coups, rumours of impending coups, are not unusual these days. Recently, for example, the Abune (the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church) had to interfere in order to avoid "bloodshed" of an impending coup, and to "safeguard the revolution' (!). Recent dissatisfactions amongst members of the armed forces which are expressed through mass defections as well as low morale are also shaking the very foundations of its power. Hence this proclamation is an attempt to cover up this state of desperation and to hoodwink the people into believing that there is a "collective" leadership, that the derg is a "democratic" body, etc. But facts are facts and nothing can be further from the truth. Teferi Benti or mengistu, Atnafu or any other demon can not change the nature of the state by decree!

Another cartoon from the January 1977
issue of FORWARD.
One other aspect of the decree which demands close scrutiny is the expressed desire of the junta in coordinating "efforts of progressive forces (read social-fascist renegades and pro-junta elements) to establish a working class party". This, of course, is not a new "effort". Such a talk has been in the air for over two years. We were told at that time that it will be a party of "all classes", "of all people", etc. But for quite a while now the talk about a "working class party has been getting louder and louder. Why this sudden "change of heart"? Since the EPRP, the vanguard of the Ethiopian proletariat and the undisputed leader of the Ethiopian New Democratic Revolution, declared its program over a year-and-a-half ago (after a 3-1/2 years of clandestine existence), the junta and the renegade clique have been thrown into a fit of rage and desperation and their vile scheme of presenting their so-called "party" was heavily frustrated at that time. After that their "Ethiopian socialism" was re-baptized to "scientific socialism", followed by such pompous slogans as "a new democratic revolution", "revolutionary united front", "a working class party", and what not.

What sort of a working class party can they possibly talk about? You have guessed it all: a “working class party” without the working class, no doubt!! The heroic Ethiopian proletariat, which has unequivocally supported, embraced and defended the EPRP, has already passed its verdict on such manoeuvres of the junta when it resolved in its September, 1975 Congress as follows:
"...such being the reality and when the government has suppressed and trampled upon democratic rights, condemned and persecuted the organization of the masses, a party which is formed by the government for its own interest with hand-picked individuals who are neither elected by nor represent in any way the broad masses is unacceptable. Such a party cannot fulfill the interests, needs and objectives of the oppressed masses and as such cannot be supported by the oppressed masses in general and the proletariat in particular. Such a party is a device by which those who are thrown out through the front door worm their way in by the back door. Such a party cannot safeguard and promote the rights and interests of the masses. On the contrary, as its very creation is meant to dupe and lord over the masses, the proletariat vehemently opposes such devious aims and devices." (CELU Resolution)
And it is such a working class which is called "unconscious" of its class interests! And it is its vanguard — the EPRP — which is called "anarchist" and whose liquidation is the principal preoccupation of the junta and its hired intellectual boot-lickers!!

Seen with this in mind their talk about "facilitating the establishment of a working class party" is simply a fraud designed to deny what is already common knowledge. The so-called "All-Ethiopian Socialist Movement", composed of an assortment of social-fascists, agent-provocateurs, declared CIA agents, most of whom have long years of experience in subversion and sabotage within the Ethiopian Student Movement and were ignominiously expelled from it at one time or another, has already been established. It only remains to be declared, "officially" that is . Then why the attempt to cover it up? For a change of name, perhaps!

A few more words about some other aspects of the junta's decree remain to be said. The junta claims that it has a "historic responsibility of preparing the masses and handing over power to whom it belongs — the people." A lofty and welcome move, indeed — if it were not just bubbles, that is! But we all know that this is just wild talk! "Preparing the masses" can only be taken to mean preparing the necessary public opinion for the declaration of their phoney party. Otherwise the masses are already prepared under the leadership of the EPRP to overthrow the dark rule of the fascist junta.

Further, "handing over power to whom it belongs" can only mean handing over power to their "party" — to themselves, that is! "Handing" over power to oneself is called handing over power to the people. What a weird logic! But historic for its weirdness and absurdity nevertheless!!

Such are the features of this perfidious scheme. It is doomed to fail. As these fascists and social-fascists cannot reconcile themselves to their class enemies, i.e. the broad masses of the Ethiopian masses, they have to go on making attempts after attempts, manoeuvres after manoeuvres. How true it is that reactionaries never learn from their mistakes: they make trouble, fail; make trouble, fail again; again and again til their doom! This is the logic of all reactionaries. And these Ethiopian fascists and their intellectual mentors cannot go against this logic!

– end of original text –

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Research Materials Still Needed!

I have made some great strides in finding research materials. Special thanks to several internet correspondents. I'm reposting this list of things I need, with a few things added and a special appeal.

The following is a partial list of materials I am looking for. I am interested in originals, photocopies, scans or PDFs. Also interested in leads on libraries which might have these materials. I will consider donations, purchase (I'm on a limited budget) or loans.

CONTACT INFO: If you have leads on any of these materials, please comment on this thread with your contact information. Label your comment "Not for Publication" and I will keep your comment private and respond to you personally. Thank you!

Translation Help Needed!
I have many items on Amharic PDF.  I would really like to read these materials. Anyone interested in some free political education by translating into typed English or who can recommend low-cost translation to English, these are among the materials I would like to read. I have these documents in Amharic:
  • “On The Mass Line” by Berhane Meskel
  • Meison self-criticism
  • Investigation testimonies from Berhane Meskel, Tito Hiruy, Haile Fida
  • Certain issues of Democracia, Sefiw Hizbe Demts, LabAder
Original Materials, preferably in English 
  • Struggle, from University Students Union of Addis Ababa, as shown in photo above; esp. 1969–1974
  • “The National Question in Ethiopia” by Tilahun Takele, 1970
  • Abyot, from the EPRP European Office (Especially Vol. 1, No. 1, No. 3, No. 5 and other issues from 1975-1976)
  • Forward, from the WWFES (published in Madison, WI, USA or London; I have a half dozen issues)
  • Zena, from ESUNA
  • Combat, from ESUNA (I have a few issues)
  • Any local materials from EPRP, Meison, Emaledh, WazLeague, English especially but interested in Amharic as well. 
  • Eritreans for Liberation in North America, Eritrea: Revolution or Capitulation?, 1978
  • Any pamphlets or articles from EPLF or TPLF polemicizing against EPRP, 1975-1979
  • Any English translations of Democracia
  • New Ethiopia, journal of Meison's foreign section in Europe. I have one issue in French, looking for any in English. 
  • PDFs of The Ethiopian Herald in English from 1974-1979

  • Ethiopia Red Terror Documentation & Research Center, Documenting the Red Terror: Bearing Witness to Ethiopia's Lost Generation (Ottawa 2012)
  • Ayelew Yimam, Yankee Go Home, Signature Book Printing

  • Photos of EPRP activities in Ethiopia
  • EPRP posters or European or American solidarity items
  • Materials/articles/pamphlets from US left organizations on Ethiopia ca. 1972-1978, especially Communist Labor Party, People’s Tribune

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Derg’s Diary of Repression, 1976

A correspondent has forwarded to me a copy of a fascinating publication. (Thanks JM!) It's a magazine published by the PMAC on the second anniversary of the revolution in September of 1976, which means it dates from the period before Mengistu consolidated his power, and from the period of escalating internal violence and repression on the cusp of all out war between the Derg and the EPRP.

The publication is already a defense of the Ethiopian “Man In Uniform,” the rationalization for the military control of the revolution. As such, it is preoccupied with defending the revolution against “reactionaries” and calling for revolutionary unity. It does not name its enemies. An introduction from the Provisional Military Administrative Council itself says, “If members of the Ethiopian Armed Forces had not taken the necessary measures to safeguard the unity which is as precious as life to them whenever the situation so demanded, it is an incontrovertible truth that our Revolution would not have assumed its present form, shape, and direction.....The Struggle Continues! Reactionaries Will Be Liquidated! The People Will Be Victorious!” 

The photo-filled publication concludes with a several-page “Diary of the Revolution.” However, the diary soon becomes a list of executions. I'm not naive, I understand that revolutions are acts of political violence. The state is an institution of political violence itself. These are part of the basic understandings of Marxism, and recognition of these facts is not glorification of bloodshed. But this diary from the PMAC itself should set aside the notion that the EPRP instigated the violence which was soon directed against it.

To be honest I didn't have the heart to retype this increasingly disturbing list, so I am presenting scans of the last five pages. If you click on the photos, they should enlarge enough to be readable, at least on a computer monitor or tablet.

The deposition of the Emperor on September 12, 1974,  is on the first of these pages. The coup against Aman Mikael Andom is noted on November 23, with the mass executions of members of the previous regimes noted the next day. The execution of Meles Tekle is noted on March 19, 1975.  And of course the execution of Major Sisay Habte who we have been discussing here appears on July 13, 1976. As the months pass, the list of revolutionary achievements — and let it be clear, many of these were quite legitimate and impressive — alternate with an increasing number of repressive acts. It is not clear from most of this Diary, of course, which of these incidents involve actual opponents of the revolution, like the EDU, versus those who advocated civilian control of the revolution, like the EPRP.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fidel Castro and Mengistu Hailemariam

Today marks the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro, undisputed leader of the Cuban revolution that triumphed in 1959. An analysis of the Cuban revolution is certainly outside the scope of this blog, but Cuba played a central role in the consolidation of Mengistu's power in 1977 and 1978, so I felt it would not be out of place to note this historical milestone here. 

To be completely honest I am deeply conflicted about Fidel. I celebrate the achievements of Castro's Cuba, a bastion of world revolution separated by only a few short miles of water from the most deadly imperialist power the world has known. Certainly Cuba under Castro's leadership made some great achievements, along with a few mistakes. Castro's Declarations of Havana speeches from the early 1960s are absolutely canonical examples of brilliant anti-imperialist oratory. But it must be said that Castro's version of Marxism-Leninism is a deeply revisionist one, and Cuba's revolutionary praxis has always been tarred by these distortions and especially by its relationship with the Soviet Union. Is Castroism actually a path to socialism? One suspects the diplomatic rapprochement with the United States and the coming inevitable passing of power to a younger generation of Cubans will determine quite a lot on that score.

To be sure, Soviet aid was probably a key factor in the survival of the Cuban revolution; though it came at quite a cost. Cuba became an instrument of Soviet foreign policy. In the instance of Angola, Cuban forces helped defeat the armies of apartheid in the field. But in Ethiopia, Cuba's stated goal was the defense of a revolution against the foreign, imperialist-backed threat of Somali invasion while the result was not only the defeat of Somalia but the betrayal of the Eritrean independence struggle and the consolidation of a ruthlessly repressive regime. Castro's rallying to the defense of Mengistu came at the exact moment when Mengistu's “Red Terror” against his domestic left-wing opponents was at full-swing. The bullet-riddled bodies of young leftists were being left in the streets, and the prisons were full of torture and blood. Among those leftists were those who had been deeply inspired by the Cuban revolution and especially its leading member, the heroic guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara. To me, Castro's involvement with Mengistu is the bitter stain, frankly, of betrayal.

Here are some excerpts from a fascinating document. The Wilson Center maintains a website of declassified diplomatic documents from the Soviet bloc. Among them is an extensive collection of documents relating to the Ethiopia-Somalia conflict. In part these documents reveal furious efforts behind the scenes to forestall the war between two nominally socialist nations. In the Spring of 1977 Castro himself engaged in shuttle diplomacy, visiting both Mengistu and Somali leader Mohammed Siad Barre. These excerpts are from a transcript of a conversation between Castro and East German  leader Erich Honecker that took place in Berlin in April of 1977 reporting on his visit to East Africa. I thought Castro's appreciation of the events of February where Mengistu eliminated PMAC leader Teferi Benti was absolutely fascinating and revealing. Also, I did not expect to hear Castro explicitly renounce the longstanding Cuban support of the Eritrean struggle, but he pretty much does just that. These words are Fidel Castro's:
“The next day I flew on to Ethiopia. We had earlier agreed that there would be no great reception for me, since at the time they were still fighting the civil war. Shots constantly rang out. Mengistu took me to the old Imperial Palace and the negotiations began on the spot. I found the information that I already had to be confirmed. We continued our negotiations on the following day. Naturally we had to take extensive security precautions. The Ethiopians had come up with a division, and I had brought a company of Cuban soldiers with me. The day of my arrival there were rumors of a coup. It did not happen....
Mengistu strikes me as a quiet, serious, and sincere leader who is aware of the power of the masses. He is an intellectual personality who showed his wisdom on 3 February. The rightists wanted to do away with the leftists on 3 February. The prelude to this was an exuberant speech by the Ethiopian president in favor of nationalism. Mengistu preempted this coup. He called the meeting of the Revolutionary Council one hour early and had the rightist leaders arrested and shot. A very consequential decision was taken on 3 February in Ethiopia. The political landscape of the country changed, which has enabled them to take steps that were impossible before then. Before it was only possible to support the leftist forces indirectly, now we can do so without any constraints....

Above all we must do something for Mengistu. Already we are collecting old weapons in Cuba for Ethiopia, principally French, Belgian and Czech hand-held weapons. About 45,000 men must be supplied with weapons. We are going to send military advisers to train the Ethiopian militia in weapons-use. There are many people in Ethiopia who are qualified for the army. We are supporting the training of the militia. Meanwhile the situation in Eritrea is difficult. There are also progressive people in the liberation movement, but, objectively,they are playing a reactionary role. The Eritrean separatist movement is being supported by the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Ethiopia has good soldiers and a good military tradition, but they need time to organize their army. Mengistu asked us for 100 trainers for the militia, now he is also asking us for military advisers to build up regular units. Our military advisory group is active at the staff level. The Ethiopians have economic means and the personnel necessary to build up their army. Rumors have been spread lately that the reactionaries will conquer Asmara in two months. The revolution in Ethiopia is of great significance.”

Monday, August 8, 2016

Video clip of Tilahun Gizaw

What an absolutely haunting short video clip. The speaker is Ethiopian student leader Tilahun Gizaw; soon to be murdered by the authorities. As he finishes speaking, the crowd starts singing "Fano tesemara." Everyone's eyes are so expressive; the future has been summoned.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Pivotal Moment: The Executions of 1976

The PMAC in the mid-1970s: at center are Mengistu, Teferi, Atnafu.
Continuing a series of reprints from the EPRP’s press of the 1970s, I'm happy to present two related unsigned articles from an issue of Abyot, originally published in August of 1976. These articles deal with the increasing repression by Ethiopia's military regime, foreshadowing the most violent period when the EPRP’s armed urban wing began a series of targeted counter-assassinations only to be met by the massive organized extermination campaign that came to be called the “Red Terror.” 

I have retyped this from the published manuscript, and with a couple minor exceptions, not attempted to add any of my own editing or corrections; some of the writing in these articles is a little awkward.

Following the original text, reproduced here in full, I will add some reference notes on unfamiliar terms and names, and offer a few thoughts of my own analysis, and some correlating details. —ish

From Abyot, Vol. 1 No. 6, August 1976:


THE ETHIOPIAN PEOPLES REVOLUTIONARY PARTY has consistently affirmed that the regime of the Derg is terribly isolated, fascistic and inherently anti-democratic. For all those who had the common sense and the conviction to see through the regime's demogogy and the apologist press, it was/is clear that the Derg is wobbling on its feet and is clinging to power only due to the backing of US imperialism and the use of brute force against the popular masses. Events since May Day have proven the EPRP's affirmation and pointed out that the popular demand for the establishment of a popular provisional government is the only solution to get the country out of chaos by giving power to the masses.

The Derg's problem, which started the day it took over power and even first when it constituted itself and moved objectively to perpetuate the exploitative system, are insoluble and immense. Its demagogy, its radical rhetorics, its blind repression have not succeeded to arrest the mass struggle. In the cities and the rural areas, the class struggle rages on. It has put out fascistic laws curtailing all democratic liberties, it has outlawed strikes (punishable by death “in serious cases”), made contact with the EPRP a fatal “crime,” arrested and executed countless militants. But the defiant struggle of the proletariat and poor peasantry, as well as that of the democratic petty-bourgeoisie, continued unabated. The EPRP is getting stronger more and more. The forms of combat of the masses are diversifying and deepening. The contradictions within the Derg itself are exploding violently and manifesting themselves in bloody purges. The democratic movement of soldiers is gaining strength.

The Derg has led Ethiopia into a political and economic chaos that has never been seen before. It had crowned terror as its demagogy, which was supposed to have been improved by the Haile Fida group of pro-fascist intellectuals, fails miserably to confuse the masses. Within the present context of developing, rich, complex and difficult revolutionary process in which the EPRP is assuming the vanguard role, the neo-colonial regime of the Derg is doomed.


On July 13, the military regime announced that it has executed “19” persons. Among the executed figured Major Sisaye Derg member and chief of the Political and Foreign Affairs commission, General Getachew Nadew, military governor of Eritrea, seven individuals accused of “economic sabotage”, seven others accused of “leading the country into a bloodbath” (actually a junta monopoly!), two of taking “bribes” and one for “selling state secrets.”

To begin with all evidence points out that the number of executed goes up to 75–81 of whom many were arrested workers, students, etc. Secondly one is obliged to go deep into the reasons for these executions as the junta is a known liar and as it has a habit of mixing leftists and rightists and executing them together under the label of “counter revolutionaries.”

Meison leader Haile Fida, left;
with Negede Gobeze,
in Europe in the early 1970s.
The execution of Sisaye manifests the instability that grips the Derg at such a high level of its power-holders. Though Sisaye, a well-known rightist, was rumored many times to be in the process of preparing a coup d'etat, it seems unlikely that he actually attempted one as the Derg wants to make us believe. Sisay's fate was sealed when he came out in open (in a latest Derg meeting) and uncompromising opposition to the alliance between Major Mengistu (chief of the Derg) and the Haile Fida led intellectuals grouped around the “All-Ethiopian Socialist Movement”, a reformist outfit. Thanks to the backing of Major Mengistu, the Haile Fida clique not only started a purge within the military and the bureaucracy but was filling these vacant posts with its own loyal people. As ministers, political commissars, directors, executives of the powerful “Peoples' Organizing Office”, the Haile Fidas were becoming a threat to Sisay and his group. Their Peoples' Organizing Office was making his political commission powerless. They were sending his elements within the Derg to foreign countries on the flimsy pretext of “political education courses” (Sisaye's assistant, lieutenant Bewketu Kassa, refused to go to Moscow for such an education and is now in hiding). Major Kiros member of the Derg and reactionary head of the “zemetcha” (Campaign of students to teach in the rural areas), was also opposed to the Haile Fida group.

There is no doubt that Major Sisaye was a trusted man of the Americans. When Kissinger visited Kenya, Sisaye talked to him for three hours in the Nairobi Continental Hotel. No doubt they must have discussed the chronic instability of the Derg. America, which plays a double game of fully supporting the Derg and also trying to stabilise it via a coup from within it was no doubt symphatetic to the Major. All in all then, Sisaye's elimination is a victory for the Haile Fida group who have utilised the occasion to continue the purge of all the elements opposed to them. Within the Derg itself, the contradictions sharpen and become concretised between the colonel Atnafu and Major Mengistu groups.

In fact, it is reported that the seven civil servants executed under the charge of leading the country into a bloodbath are pro-Atnafu elements. All are Gojjame Amharas, and Atnafu (who is from Gojjam himself) have been known to use regionalist sentiments to find backing for himself. Reports of other pro-Atnafu elements are also coming in.

The death of General Getachew Nadew seems to have been precipitated by his support to the demand of soldiers in Eritrea who refused to fight and called on the Derg to find a peaceful solution. In fact, the general had brought such a message to Addis Abeba prior to his execution. Though politically a rightist, he was claiming to support the soldiers' demands. As to the other seven who were executed on charges of economic sabotage (for having kilos of red pepper) were added to the list of execution for colour. Some of them were mere guards of stores, one was an old man who rented a store to a merchant, one other was the son of a merchant who had escaped. These people, whom the Derg presented as rich traders were so rich that a collection of funds has been initiated at the Mosque in the market area for their bereaved and destitute families! The person executed for “selling state secrets” was an unemployed who had earlier been demoted (from Major) and expelled from the Army by the Haile Sellasie regime for no other reason than for having sold secrets if the state to a foreign country!

Considering the frequent executions that the Derg carries out from time to time (openly and in secrets), it may seem justified to think that it consults a witchdoctor who advices it to engage in such a practice to exorcise all problems! However, these executions are dramatic affirmations of the intense problems that the Derg faces. It is gripped with a developing mass struggle that in turn fuels and accentuates the internal contradictions of the Derg itself. Sisaye's execution may give space to Major Mengistu but is a poisoned atmosphere. The latitude of manoeuver is restricted by the masses who have entered the political scene with conviction and unity since February 1974 and are NOT at all disposed to assume secondary roles. The mounting repression against the masses show that the Derg's so-called programme has failed, it means that its alliance with the traitorous intellectuals led by Haile Fida has not brought it any solace. It means that we shall witness more executions in the near future as a result of the internal power struggle of the Derg.

Unlike the reformists, we do not have worries or nightmares speculating as to whether it will be the body of Major Mengistu or that of colonel Atnafu that will be riddled with bullets. We shall continue the struggle against the whole fascist batch and imperialism. If we have anything to add to this it is to caution the progressive world about the practice of the junta of killing known reactionaries together with revolutionaries and labelling the whole of them as “counter revolutionaries.” In november 1974 (when it executed feudalists along with more than six democratic soldiers and officers) when it executed Tadesse Birru and student leader Melese Tekle, recently in Agare when it killed militant Zematch student along with feudalists, the junta has shown its sly manoeuvre to cover up its anti-revolutionary actions and dupe the international progressive forces. Such forces, who should expose and attack the repressive junta, need to remain vigilant.

— End of original articles —


Sisaye or Sisay is Major Sisaye Habte, who was referred to in a previous post.

Haile Fida was the leader of the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement, or Meison, which we have discussed here at great length. Long active in the Ethiopian Student Movement in Europe, he returned to Ethiopia after the 1974 revolution, opened a left book shop, and began to act as a political adviser to left-leaning members of the Derg; he was a renowned Oromo linguist. Meison joined the Derg's POMOA, and became instrumental in guiding the repression of EPRP. When Meison fell out of official favor in 1977, Haile Fida went underground. He was captured and executed by the Derg in 1978.

Colonel Atnafu Abate was Vice Chairman of the ruling junta, the PMAC, with Mengistu Hailemariam. He has been briefly discussed in previous posts. At this juncture, 1976, the PMAC was led by non Derg-member General Teferi Bente. Teferi was to be killed in early 1977 when Mengistu seized control of the government. As predicted here, Atnafu and Mengistu eventually came to blows: Atnafu was killed by Mengistu later in 1977.

Tadesse Birru was an Oromo nationalist, a General in the Ethiopian Army under Haile Selassie. He was imprisoned by both the Emperor and the Derg for his activities, and executed in 1975.


One of the major revisionist narratives of post-revolutionary Ethiopian history is that the EPRP initiated the violence that ultimately consumed its urban strength and leadership, and therefore bears the brunt of responsibility for the massive bloodletting that was shortly to follow. It's been pretty clear to me from the course of my research that while EPRP may be accused of escalating the violence, or of unwisely pursuing an unwinnable urban guerrilla strategy, the EPRP was absolutely responding to the Derg's consistent use of brute force to inflict its will. These articles, published in advance of the EPRP's decisions to commence military action against the Derg and to violently retaliate against the pro-Derg civilian leftists like Haile Fida's Meison — who seemed, by the way, to have been more than instrumental in picking out targets for government repression — clearly document an already extant pattern of lethal the Derg, not the EPRP.

The political assassinations had actually commenced in November of 1974 when the Derg executed dozens of officials from the previous governments and the ranks of the nobility, adding in a few of its own members for good measure. Setting aside the ongoing military conflicts in Eritrea and the various localized peasant and national minority uprisings that continued to background the first few years of the revolution, the military regime showed an understanding of the utility of violence. The EPRP members executed along with the others in July 1976 were not the first EPRP members to be killed by the Derg, and they certainly wouldn't be the last.

What these articles also document, is that the military government was itself riven with internal conflict, and violence was a way of resolving those internal contradictions with a certain finality. Ironically it was to be a war with external enemies, the Ogaden war of 1977–78, that would ultimately swing the balance of popular support in the Derg's favor, and suppress for at least a while internal dissent within the regime.

Ethiopian red peppers..the motive
force of revolution?
Here's a fascinating sidebar to the story that Abyot reports. (Well, fascinating to me anyway because I am the world's biggest fan of hot pepper!) In researching the events described in these articles, I came across an article from the New York Times which reported on the execution of General Getachew and went on to describe the role of red pepper, alluded to by Abyot, in the Derg's summer 1976 repression. The article was written by Michael T. Kaufman, and entitled “Ethiopian Regime Puts 18 to Death, Charges Plotting.” It was published on July 14, 1976. Here's an excerpt:
“The refugees, mostly university students who fled what they described as harassment and repression by the military, rulers, say that the execution of some persons charged with the hoarding of red pepper underscores the council's inability to arrange effective food distribution to the urban centers despite one of the most bountiful crops in Ethiopian history.

Peasants in such fiercely independent regions as Gojam are reportedly refusing to harvest fields except for their own needs as a way of protest against what they view as Government interference with traditional cultural and religious practices.

The refugees say that in the last three months an underground group, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party has managed through unions and commercial organizations to get control over the sale and distribution of red pepper, a key ingredient in the preparation of the Ethiopian national dish, watandnjeri, a spicy, curry‐like stew.

The refugees say that the clandestine party had organized the distribution of pepper to villages but had withheld it from the army. They believe that the announced executions of the hoarders was a council attempt to quash the protest.”
The Abyot articles mention the Derg's relationship with the United States. I also checked in with Wikileaks for how these events were seen from the viewpoint of the US Embassy. An Embassy cable from July 23, 1976 reads in part:

The embassy cables go on to speculate at great length about ethnic conflict within the Derg.

There was clearly some massive mutual ambivalence between US imperialism and the Derg. Nominally, relations were good: some time around this period the US and the Derg agreed to a massive arms deal, which in the event conveniently failed to be consummated before the Derg's 1977 turn to the USSR. Oddly I think the US embassy's general observations bely the EPRP's suggestion that the Derg was a “neo-colonial” regime. While the US embassy was obviously always looking for evidence of communist meddling, their attitude to the military regime is pretty clearly advanced apprehension: they don't talk about the Derg like it was some American creature, a suggestion that historical evidence certainly doesn't validate. Anyway the cables continue to be fascinating reading.

The Ethiopian revolution was about to take a drastic turn. Popular support for EPRP was certainly at a high watermark. Unfortunately, Abyot's predictions about future violence was to be more accurately prescient than its revolutionary optimism about the instability of the Derg and its faltering popular support.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Revolutionary Agitation Inside the Ethiopian Air Force, 1975

EPRP: Provisional People's Government Through Armed Struggle
I am pleased to post an extraordinary document below. It is the text of a long leaflet written by revolutionary soldiers within the Ethiopian Air Force in late 1975, as translated from Amharic and published by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Party's foreign section in the journal Abyot in 1976. In the tradition of the Russian Bolsheviks, whose agitation among disaffected rank-and-file Russian soldiers in the waning days of the First World War was a crucial part of the revolutionary effort, the EPRP here addresses soldiers with high-level political arguments reflecting the remarkable tenor of the times.

I have included the original introduction and clarifying edits from the Abyot staff below. I have retyped this from the published manuscript, and with a couple minor exceptions, not attempted to add any of my own editing or corrections.

Following the original text, reproduced here in full, I will add some reference notes on unfamiliar terms and names, and offer a few thoughts of my own analysis. ish


“Voice of the Air Force” and the Struggle of Democratic Soldiers.
From ABYOT, Vol. 1, No. 2, January 30, 1976

The struggle of rank and file soldiers and progressive officers played a significant part in the February revolution. Even though, this movement has been recuperated there are still persistent indications that the struggle is continuing within the armed forces for a democratic and socialist society. The number of progressive officers from the Engineering Unit, Army Aviation, Body Guard, etc executed by the Derg testify to this. Truly, the democratic current within the soldiers has a long way to go; but there is no denying that the continuing mass struggle is accentuating the polarisation within the armed forces itself. Beyond and above the rumors of coup attempts and internal power struggle within the Derg, there is an agitation, weak but persistent, within the armed forces for the same demand as the popular masses. Despite the bloody purges the soldiers and democratic officers have made their opposition heard. Such is the case of the anti-junta leaflet distributed by members of the Army Division fighting in Eritrea, in which they expose and oppose the junta's war there. Below, we present a translation of the leaflet distributed clandestinely by by the democratic elements within the Ethiopian Air Force. Though much of the biting irony and forceful tone of the document is lost inevitably through translation, ABYOT believes that it will give a good insight of the developing current within many units of the Armed Forces and show the isolation of the junta.


The member of the Air Force, united with the oppressed Ethiopian masses (the proletariat, peasantry, progressive students and teachers, oppressed soldiers) has played a significant role in the popular revolution that has been going on since February 1974. The Air Force still struggles and will continue to do so.

During this time [February - ABYOT] the Air Force, along with the struggling comrades, demanded — long before the Derg proclaimed its government — major rights including:
1. democratic liberties to the oppressed masses;
2. the establishment of a revolutionary provisional government.

However, since the Derg was obsessed with power it swore that "the military will return to the barracks as soon as the people are organised and we hand them power". The Derg also started to propagate that to allow democratic liberties will give the reactionaries the chance to dupe the people. This propaganda of the Derg was able to dupe for a short period of time. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian masses, who had understood the necessity of democratic rights in order to organise the people, strengthened their struggle demanding full democratic rights (free speech, press, freedom to organise, assemble) for the oppressed, and dictatorship over oppressors; the people struggled to be organised by intellectuals who come from their midst (who have the masses' confidence) and to take over power. The Air Force, on its part, demanded the adoption of socialist democracy.

However, the Derg, though it still continued to trumpet that "we will go back to the barracks as soon as the people get organised to take power",
  1. proclaimed anti-democratic, anti-organisation and counter-revolutionary laws that denied the basic rights that are crucial for organisation;
  2. based on these proclamations it massacred many progressives and arrested countless others;
  3. instead of organising the unorganised, it dissolved existing mass organisations (CELU, Teachers' Association, students unions, peasant associations), arrested or killed their leaders
  4. within the Air .Force it· (Derg) arrested the progressives like Yigezu;
  5. it killed progressive students and Zematchoch whom it villified as "reactionaries"; it arrested them en masse;
  6. ignoring the opposition of the Air Force, it went ahead to squander money on a square [the "Revolution Square" which was built by the junta at huge cost —ABYOT] while the masses suffered from the famine; it, again ignoring the opposition of the Air Force, spent money on new uniforms for soldiers in an effort to buy their allegiance;
  7. it has unleashed its security agents over the masses and imposed on them a fascist regime like Franco of Spain and Salazzar of Portugal.
Understanding this, refusing to be a colonialist over one's own peoples, affirming its oneness with the masses, the Air Force has said NO to the junta's rule. However, the Derg believing wrongly that the Air Force will not bother about the masses once its interests are kept, considering us as mercenaries, as people who do not care about the masses, it (Derg) tries to allege, that the opposition of the Air Force is motivated by “the internal disagreements between ·officers and others”. And with an underestimation of the Air Force, the Derg speaks separately to officers and others [in the A.F. — ABYOT] acting as "a mediator between husband and wife. All this is to cheat us like innocent children the Air Force that has fully opposed their (the Derg’s) rule.

Hence, from now on, as we have fully understood the situation and as we love our country and class comrades more than. any stage character (clown) we affirm that the Air Force will never be tricked by the sweet words and fake smiles of a hundred actors of the likes of Major Sisaye [he is a top member of the Derg and a former Air Force officer known for his ultra-fascist tendencies — ABYOT].

We shall deal below with the reasons for the present attempt (by the Derg) to divert our attention from national issues to inter Air Force ones·by analysing the origin, nature and solutions for the contradictions·in our midst. At present, while we have risen up to oppose the fascist proclamations made, in the name of the ·revolution, against the masses and the Air Force, Major Sisaye and likes are flocking here [to the Air Force base at Bishoftu —ABYOT] uttering one nonesense after another in the belief that the maintenance of the internal contradictions in the Air Force will be advantageous to them.
TPLF/EPRDF rebels capture Bishoftu Airforce Base in 1991

This means that they intend to practice their divide and rule techniques by making sure that the internal problems keep us from following the crimes they commit at the national level and push us to concentrate on battling within ourselves. Now that we have rise up understanding the suffering and injustice prevailing in the country and realised that the oppression and injustice we suffer inside (the Air Force) is just a part, and a small one at that, of the overall fascist oppression existing in the country, and now that we have up together with our class comrades — workers, peasants, progressive intellectuals and students — they (the Derg) want to separate us from our class brothers, to make us "reconciled" even for a short time and to make us continue to bomb and support their fascist massacres (of the masses) by making us believe that the other sections of the oppressed masses are as “free” as we in the Air Force. This attempt reminds us of the attempt made by General Mulugeta [Chairman of the High/Military/Security Commission, a reactionary organisation set-up by the then prime minister Endalkatchew Makonen to control the soldiers' movement —AB] to push us to sacrifice ourselves and the people in defence of a monarchy that the masses hated and wanted removed. Similarly, the Derg at present is trying to make us support it while the masses want it removed and hate it (the Derg). We have fully realised that this attempt is a trap to make us act against the masses!!

The contradictions that exist within the Air Force are, at present, as follows:
  1. between officers and others;
  2. between soldiers (officers included) and civilian employees of the Air Force;
  3. between the Air Police and Airmen, between technicians and cadets.

Of all these, the first one is primary and antagonistic. And this is because the officers and the others stand for quite different and contradictory interests. If one satisfies his interest it will inevitably be at the expense of the others.

The officers, with the exception of a few progressive ones, consider the other soldiers as human animals (beasts) employed to carry out their orders. They consider them ignorant, stupid, incapable of thinking or giving opinions. On the other hand, the officers consider themselves as angels, as learned (philosophers), as those whose orders should always be obeyed because all that they say and do are at all times and places correct, as those whose words are always to be believed as they never "lie"!! If an officer eats with other lower-rank soldiers in one mess hall, if he sleeps with them in one compound... he considers himself degraded/profaned. If soldiers with lower ranks enter the officers' mess hall the officer considers himself and the mess hall profaned. Such is the Air Force officer, the human angel living separately in a special compound. This is the reality that no amount of denial can hide or wish away.

In a society divided into classes, the ruling and oppressed classes have their own distinct outlooks (ideologies). While the ruling class in our Force considers us, the oppressed, in the manner described above, we the oppressed have also our own outlooks on the rulers/officers. We say the officers are human, we say that they (despite their decorations and baseless self-aggrandisement) are in many cases inferior to lower rank soldiers, be it in work or knowledge. We say that the lower-rank soldiers are as human as any other. With the exception of a few paid agents and reactionaries, we all believe this to be true. In fact, officers are reactionary and contra change. As such, lower-rank soldiers oppose the divine respect accorded to these reactionaries and demand the abrogation of the special privileges accorded (hospital, lodging, assignment, gasoline) to these anti-change officers. The soldiers say that to obey anti-revolution officers is to be counterrevolutionary oneself. This is correct. Hence, the lower-rank soldiers (NCOs) say: “let the angels who do want to bear our hardships and who do not want to eat on the same table with us return to the country of the angels”!! They say: “let us administer ourselves by electing for ourselves and by ourselves those who have the capability, the dedication and the knowledge to lead us”.

This contradiction cannot be solved separately from the objective situation that exists in Ethiopia. It can only be solved, and to forget this is foolish/utopian, when a genuine socialist revolution is made in Ethiopia and only when the present army (structure/set up, etc) is destroyed and a new one built. Aside from the contradictions with the officers all the other contradictions within us are now antagonistic, they can be solved in a democratic way.

With the exception of a few reactionaries, all of us NCOs, civil employees and progressive officers within the Air Force demand the implementation of the following demands so that we can solve our own minor differences and struggle together with our class comrades for liberty, equality and a scientific socialist revolution:

1. Demissew and his likes (officers) who say that they have gone to the Soviet Union to learn how to form a political party should stop declaring that "democratic liberties should not be accorded to the masses during revolutionary times." They should stop their deceitful actions because we know fully that they want to cling to power under the pretext that the "masses are not still organised."

We know (and we did not have to voyage to the Soviet Union to know this) that "a revolution without an organisation and an organisation without democratic liberties" cannot just come about. "Revolution is a festival of the oppressed", and we know quite clearly that popular democracy is necessary (crucial) during the time of revolution. HENCE WE DEMAND THAT DEMOCRATIC LIBERTIES BE ACCORDED TO THE OPPRESSED MASSES: (emph. added)

2. We have heard that these persons taking courses in the Soviet Union have erased from Marxist books what Marx and Marxists have said on (a) the need to destroy the army set-up by the oppressing classes and build a new (people's) army and (b) the incapability of soldiers to lead the socialist revolution. Our intelligent·philosophers (!) have made this revision on the ground that ''Ethiopia's revolution is different from all other revolutions"! Bravo socialists!! But this is not socialism.

WE HAVE REALISED THAT THE DERG'S REGIME IS NOT SOCIALIST BUT FASCIST. If it was not so how does one account for, at least, the problems caused by the reactionary officers within the Air Force? The workers, peasants, progressive students and intellectuals as well as oppressed soldiers are struggling to recuperate the rights that the Derg forcefully deprived them. The masses are struggling in an organised manner. Hence, the Derg should immediately stop its attempts to make us believe that the soldiers are the vanguard of the socialist revolution, and it should cease its attacks against the struggling masses whom it accuse of "greedily vying for power" or “of sabotaging the revolution". It is the Derg that is greedily vying for power, it is the Derg that is sabotaging/reversing the revolution. Power, belongs to the masses and it is the masses who are demanding to have power, to have what is justly theirs. It is the Derg that is vying for power and to deny this or blame the people instead of the Derg is like blaming the mother for the father's mistakes.

3. The Derg should stop telling us to obey "our superiors" by claiming that "popular discipline should exist" or that "in the Soviet Union also there are those who are superior and those who obey orders". The Derg dries for discipline, while it assigns to high positions for reactionaries like Demissew, officers who were arrested during the February Revolution, anti-revolution officers like the Air Force general and the agents of the C.I.A. Popular discipline can exist and popular decisions passed in a democratic way can be put in practice only when our superiors are officers who are progressive, who-are elected democratically and whose interests are not contradictory to ours. Otherwise, we say NO. We refuse to conspire and act against the revolution and the revolutionaries by allying with counter-revolutionaries!!

4. WE DEMAND THE REJECTION OF EXPANSIONISM THAT THE DERG TRUMPETS and all such blatant declarations. Major Sisaye's statement that "the Derg is not opposed to Djibouti's independence but will not allow it to be member of the Arab League" is an expression of such expansionism. By independence we understand the right of the people to decide its destiny freely, and thus Sisaye's statement not only manifests expansionism but also a contempt for (underestimation of) intelligence/understanding.

5. To proclaim one fascist law after another over the people and to slaughter individuals.who present revolutionary ideas/options and at the same time to declare "tell us your problems, ask us questions” is no more than an invitation to present ourselves (sheepishly) for sacrifice. Hence, if democratic discussions are really desired, all the present anti-democratic, anti-people and anti-organisation proclamations must be repealed/revoked. Prisoners like Yigezu Benti (Air Force), the labour union leaders, the teachers' association leaders and progressive zematch students should be immediately released.

6. PEASANTS AND WORKERS SHOULD BE ARMED so that the revolution can be victorious, so that they can control their localities and so that they can put an end to the activities of feudal bandits. LANDLORDS SHOULD BE DISARMED. The Derg should stop asking us to bomb whole villages on the grounds that there are bandits.


The struggle of the Oppressed Soldiers and the Broad Masses will be Victorious!!!
(NB — the above document was distributed at the end of NOV/75)

— end of original document —

Derg — a committee of military officers that seized government during the course of 1974. At this time Ethiopia was administered by a junta, the PMAC or Provisional Military Administrative Council, run by two Derg officers as vice chairs (Mengistu Hailemariam and Atnafu Abate) and a non Derg member as head of state, General Teferi Bente.

Zematch, Zematchoch — The Zematch was a national development campaign begun at the very end of 1974 where thousands of urban teachers and students were sent to the countryside to uplift the peasants as the Derg rolled out its reforms. The Zematch students proved to be unruly, and a fertile breeding ground for revolutionary opposition. The Derg attempted to abort the Zematch, executing hundreds of students. Returned campaigners became a mainstay of the EPRP's Youth League, EPRYL.

Major Sisay Habte was a member of the Derg. He was executed along with several other officers in mid-1976 after what the Derg claimed was a coup attempt. It's not clear to me if there were substantial policy differences between Sisay and the rest of PMAC.

CELU was the Confederation of Ethiopian Labour Unions, a major force during the revolutionary year of 1974; by the time of this writing it was in the process of being effectively dominated by the EPRP.

Demissew — I think this refers to Derg member Lt. Demissew Kassaye, who was tried by the Meles government after the fall of Mengistu for crimes committed during the Red Terror. Despite the officially allied relationship between “Socialist” Ethiopia and the United States at this time, hundreds of members of the military including the dwindling numbers of Derg cadre were sent to the Soviet Union for political training starting in 1975.

Djibouti is of course the former French Somaliland; the last colonial holding of France on the African continent. A strategic port claimed variously by both Ethiopia and the Republic of Somalia, at the time of this writing it was slated for independence, which was finally achieved in1977.

I was really excited to read this document. It is important evidence of several things: first, the high political sophistication of participants in the Ethiopian revolution, especially of course, the EPRP which produced it. Critics have derided the EPRP as nothing but the children of the upper classes running amok in a situation above their heads: but clearly their involvement in the ranks of the military and the labor movement belies that view.

The writing is matter of fact, clear and patient; it's also notably better than the cliched triumphalist left-speak that often crept into later writings of the EPRP diaspora, heavily influenced by the sects of the North American New Communist Movement.

Like the EPRP, the Russian Bolsheviks
addressed class conscious soldiers but
they did not use the army of the old state
as a vehicle for seizing power.
Flyer from 1917.
Second, the EPRP actually had a consistent and revolutionary point of view in advocating mass democracy through a civilian government as a path to transforming the democratic revolution into a socialist revolution. The critique leveled against the Derg and its supporters herein is solid, well based in Marxism-Leninism, and convincing in opposition to the self-serving cynicism and rationalizations of the Derg and its Soviet and civilian left advisors. It is extraordinary to me that the EPRP's call — perfectly clear here — for revolutionary socialist democracy was overlooked by most of the world left, who passed it over in favor of claiming revolutionary precedent in the actions of a military junta which had set itself on top of the unfolding popular uprising. This leaflet's derision of the Derg's cynicism is biting and, I think, correct. It makes me shake my head that there are left tendencies that today, decades later, continue to uphold the Derg; the Derg which would began to bloodily uproot the EPRP from Ethiopian society just a few months after this revolutionary leaflet was circulated.

My research into the EPRP's activities in the labor movement has showed me something similar to this leaflet's perspective: how different the EPRP's orientation was to that of the Derg and by extension, the Ethiopian left who attached themselves to the Derg looking for leverage over the revolutionary process. The EPRP's class orientation within the military is as clear as it was in the labor movement: the EPRP is appealing in this case not to the officer corps but to “oppressed soldiers” to join the mass movement. The EPRP actually expresses faith in the organizing potential of the popular masses rather than in attempting to create state institutions to control and steer them. For this they earned the reputation of being “anarchists,” an insult which ought, from my point of view, to make suspect the ideological revisionism of the Soviets and the Derg supporters who rushed in to give provide ideological backing for the Derg's close grip on state power. It seems absolutely true that the revisionists were terrified of the people in revolutionary motion, and could think only of creating institutions of control over the mass movements.

One of the more controversial positions of the EPRP here is that the Derg was not only undemocratic but “fascist.” In a country that was actually occupied by the Italian fascists before World War Two, I think it would be useful before dismissing the EPRP's line here as utterly fantastic, to consider what this word means in the Ethiopian context. And it really should be noted that the Derg was very quick to solve issues of political conflict with the brute finality of simple violence, state repression, and execution. I would like to delve further into the EPRP's analysis here in the future, as some critics have made appropriate observations about the ramifications of calling the Derg “fascist” in the coming showdown between the Party and the government.

It's hard to avoid seeing that the then-Marxist-Leninist EPRP correctly and presciently diagnosed the key challenges for a revolutionary Ethiopia: both of those — popular democracy and the national question — proved to be the undoing of the Derg's regime in the 1991 civil war that finally removed Mengistu from power. They're arguably the key issues in post-Derg Ethiopia today as well.

The EPRP produced a number of clandestine journals and leaflets: eventually possession of these materials was often an instant death sentence from the “Red Terror” death squads. I'm deeply grateful that Abyot preserved and translated this one.