Friday, April 29, 2016

How the EPRP Spiked U.S. Imperialism from the Ethiopian Labor Movement



I ran across a series of remarkable documents on Wikileaks that reveal a fascinating moment when both the Derg and US imperialism were taking action to suppress the radicalization of Ethiopian workers.

CELU Logo
An early June, 1975, cable from an Addis Ababa diplomat back to his boss in the State Department, reveals a US Charge d’Affaires Parker Wyman positively freaking out about developments within CELU, the Confederation of Ethiopian Labour Unions. In following a chain of self-referenced cables on Wikileaks, an incredible story is revealed which I haven’t actually read in this amount of detail anywhere else.

CELU was founded in 1962, assisted by pro-imperialist forces in world labor (aka the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, AFL-CIO) hoping to create a captive, docile labor organization with whom the “business community” could cooperate to forestall more militant working class organizing while claiming to promote the free organization of labor. Of course Ethiopian law forbade strikes, and it wasn’t CELU’s original intention to challenge that. It’s not for nothing that the AFL-CIO is jokingly referred to worldwide as the “AFL-CIA.”

However, bad timing for the AFL-CIO in Ethiopia: The development of an organized urban working class in Ethiopia coincided with revolutionary times, and Ethiopian leftists quickly identified CELU as a valuable conduit for expanding their influence among workers. CELU seems to have been beset by factionalism between its original leaders and younger revolutionaries, but joined EPRP May Day activities out in the streets in 1975. Shortly afterwards the Derg closed it down, and arrested a handful of its leaders. But by the end of May, the Derg relented and allowed CELU to continue to function. The younger generation seized the moment to win leadership of CELU.

Kiflu Tadesse, in the first volume of his landmark The Generation history of EPRP, tells the story in more detail of how the leftists, mainly from EPRP but also from Meison and Senay Likke's WazLeague, gained control of CELU from its old guard. But he doesn’t tell a key part of the story of what was actually an impressive, albeit temporary, EPRP success. Let's piece it together.

Here are excerpts from the cable, which reveals palpable panic over sudden communist subversion of CELU:

"IN SESSIONS JUNE 2 AND 3 NEW CELU PROVISIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE BEGAN CONSIDERATION OF NUMEROUS PROPOSED CHANGES. FIRST ACTION TO BE TAKEN WAS VOTE TO SUSPEND OLD CELU CONSTITUTION.... FIVE POINT RESOLUTION NEXT CONSIDERED.... DEBATE INCLUDED EXTENSIVE CRITIQUE OF AMERICAN LABOR RELATIONS WITH "SOCIALIST COUNTRIES" GOING BACK AS FAR AS BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION. AFL-CIO ESPECIALLY CONDEMNED FOR ALLEGED ANTI-SOCIALIST ACTIONS IN CHILE IN RECENT YEARS. PRESENTATION WAS IN SUCH GREAT DETAIL THAT IT WENT FAR BEYOND KNOWLEDGE OF LABOR GROUP PARTICIPATING IN DEBATE. CONCLUSION PROBABLY THAT MATERIAL WAS FED IN EITHER BY CELU STAFFERS GIRMACHEW LEMMA...AND/OR KIFLU, WHO SPENT SEVERAL YEARS STUDYING JOURNALISM IN RUSSIA. IN ANY CASE, THIS WAS FIRST SPECIFIC APPEARANCE OF COMMUNIST LINE AND CONTENT WAS DISTINCTLY RUSSIAN."


Germatchew (Girmachew) Lemma, EPRP labor leader
Germatchew Lemma and Kiflu (Tadesse), were two former student activists who had become leaders in the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party. At this point in 1975 EPRP was largely underground, and while its “Democrasia” paper was widely circulated, the name “EPRP” was not yet publicized until later that year.

Germatchew was a respected activist. In his memoir Wore Negare, former EPRP activist Mohamed Yimam recounts, “He was an electrifying speaker who mesmerized the audience. Charismatic and towering, he had a commanding presence that that eclipsed anyone who stood near him.... In Girmachew I saw a leader that I was instantly attracted to and seemed capable of leading people to do anything that he wanted them to.”

Kiflu is of course the author of the definitive Generation books we’ve just cited. While he did go to university in the Soviet Union, to attribute his intervention here to Soviet subversion shows how clueless the US embassy was about the dynamics on the ground. While the USSR was not yet in 1975 fully the patron of the Derg, it was then — and ultimately — completely disinterested in the civilian left, and in the end backed the Derg’s state-controlled labor federation.

Back to the cable, again full of insinuations that a dark communist conspiracy is at hand:

MARKOS HAGOS, NEW CHAIRMAN, WAS NOTIFIED LATE JUNE 2 THAT HE APPOINTEDORER DELEGATE TO ILO GENEVA CONFERENCE. FACT THAT HE COULD COMPLETE HEALTH, PASSPORT, TAX AND ALL OTHER FORMALITIES TO ENABLE HIM TO DEPART NEXT DAY SUGGESTS HE MUST HAVE BEEN PREPARED WELL IN ADVANCE....IT IS BECOMING MORE APPARENT THAT STRATEGY OF MAY 31-JUNE 1 MEETING WAS CAREFULLY PRE-PLANNED. SEVERAL INFORMANTS, RELIABLE IN PAST, BELIEVE THAT PRIME MOVERS WERE GIRMACHEW LEMMA OF CELU STAFF AND GETACHEW AMARE WHO SUPPOSEDLY OBTAINED SUPPORT OF LT. COL. ATNAFU ABATE, 2ND VICE CHAIRMAN OF PMAC, AND LEFT-WING GROUP IN DIRG. FORMER OPPOSITION LEADERS, MAINLY FROM SMALL UNIONS, ARE SAID TO HAVE JOINED IN ENTHUSIASTICALLY AND WERE REWARDED WITH SEATS ON PROVISIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE.

Markos Hagos, leader of CELU in 1975.
Markos Hagos, the new leader of CELU, was in fact an EPRP member. He was not a former student leader, but came out of the rank and file of insurance company workers. CELU staffer Getachew Amare seems to have also been EPRP, at least he was accused of being so when he was put on a Derg deathlist in 1977 (Kiflu, v1, p.144). Atnafu Abate was one of the three leaders of the Derg in 1975. The reference here is curious: while Atnafu seems to have often disagreed with eventual Derg sole leader Mengistu — indeed he was eliminated by Mengistu in late 1977 — but I have yet to see a source corroborating communication between EPRP and Atnafu at this time, only later after Mengistu's first, early 1977 purge.

The cable goes on to urge its distribution to US agents attending the upcoming ILO conference to be on the lookout for CELU radicals.

FOR GENEVA: PLEASE PASS FOREGOING INFORMATION TO PAT O'FARRELL AND JERRY FUNK OF AALC ATTENDING ILO CONFERENCE.

AALC is the acronym for “African American Labor Center.” Here’s a brief background on AALC from Beth Sims’ Workers of the World UnderminedThe African-American Labor Center (AALC), founded in 1964, is active in some 31 countries ranging from Angola to Zimbabwe. Its founder and first director was longtime labor activist and CIA operative Irving Brown.' He molded the institute into an anticommunist organization that spread the doctrine of labor-business harmony and bread-and-butter unionism to its African beneficiaries. Under Brown, the AALC became a vehicle for funneling U.S. aid to procapitalist, economistic African trade unions, a role which it continues to play today.”

The US embassy was so clearly concerned about the presence of revolutionaries within CELU, it wanted to keep an eye on the CELU organizer during his trip abroad. And so the relationship between the US government and advocates of labor peace is exposed.

As mentioned,  it wasn’t just the US embassy that was worried about CELU and worker radicalization. The U.S. Embassy was watching the Derg’s repressive moves against CELU with optimistic caution. A previous cable is fascinating. From May 1975:

6. COMMENT: IF CAUSE OF RUCKUS IS -- AS ASSERTED -- SIMPLE EXASPERATION WITHIN DIRG WITH CELU IN-FIGHTING AND MOVE TRIGGERS REASONABLY STRAIGHTFORWARD ELECTIONS, LABOR MOVEMENT COULD CONCEIVABLY EMERGE STRENGTHENED FROM THIS EPISODE. HOWEVER, IF RADICALS HAVE THEIR WAY, THE STRENGTH TO OVERRIDE OPPOSITION IN AT LEAST SOME UNIONS, AND THE MOMENTUM TO PRESS AHEAD WITH ATTEMPT FOIST MORE PLIANT LEADERSHIP ON CELU IN PREPARATION FOR ITS TRANSFORMATION, DIFFICULT DAYS COULD LIE AHEAD.

That May, Derg representatives went to workplaces where the workers were represented by CELU to justify trying to shut down the confederation. Another cable discusses a confrontation between EAL workers (Ethiopian Airlines, organized by CELU) and the Derg:

DIRG CAPTAIN THEN TOOK FLOOR AND WENT THROUGH EXPLANATION ON REASONS FOR CELU HEADQUARTERS.... CAPTAIN PLACED EMPHASIS ON "CAPITALIST ORIGINS" OF AND SUPPORT FOR CELU. HE NOTED THAT SUCH A CELU HAD NO PLACE IN SOCIALIST ETHIOPIA. THIS ELICITED IMMEDIATE REJOINDER FROM SEVERAL EAL EMPLOYEES WHO NOTED THAT CELU HAD BEEN IMPORTANT TO THEM; ASKED BY WHAT AUTHORITY DIRG HAD CLOSED IT; AND DEMANDED TO KNOW WHAT DIRG PROPOSED PUT IN ITS PLACE. "WE HAVE SUPPORTED CELU WITH OUR VOTES AND OUR MONEY* WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR US?" OTHER EMPLOYEES THEN REPORTEDLY SPOKE UP TO SAY THAT DIRG HAD DISSOLVED STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS WHICH HAD SUPPORTED ITS RISE TO POWER AND TO NOTE THAT DIRG NOW SEEMED BENT ON DOING SAME TO UNIONS. DIRG SPOKESMAN REJOINED THAT "CIA" HAD FINANCED CELU AND IT OBVIOUS THIS COULD NOT CONTINUE. SEVERAL EMPLOYEES THEREUPON IMMEDIATELY RESPONDED THAT DIRG WAS FINE ONE TO TALK ABOUT AMERICAN SUPPORT. IT WAS BEING SUPPORTED BY AMERICAN FUNDS AND AMERICAN SUPPORT FOR ETHIOPIA WAS SURELY NOTHING NEW. DIRG MEMBERS THEREUPON WITHDREW. NEW EAL GENERAL MANAGER TRIED CONCLUDE SESSION ON PATRIOTIC NOTE EMPHASIZING NEED FOR DISCIPLINE. EMPLOYEES TOLD HIM THAT EAL WAS DISCIPLINED ORGANIZATION, BUT THAT DID NOT MEAN EMPLOYEES UNPREPARED SPEAK THEIR MIND TO HIM OR TO DIRG.

And so the Derg’s attempt to use a left-wing posture to justify its repression of CELU was rebuffed, and as noted, the Derg at least temporarily relented.

Yet here is the meat of the US concern, and actually the Derg’s concern as well. In the resolution at that June meeting, the workers of CELU under their new, revolutionary leadership, actually did the right thing and formally renounced ties with the AFL-CIO. This gets at the heart of the competing socialist strategies in the Ethiopian revolution: the Derg attempted to impose its will, the EPRP went to the people. The text of this amazing resolution is reported in another cable:

WHAT IS AFL-CIO?
1. THIS ORGANIZATION SHOWED ITS TRUE REACTIONARY NATURE BY SEVERING ITS RELATIONS FROM THE WORLD WIDE LABOR UNION WHICH WAS LED BY PROGRESSIVES AND FROM THE SOCIALIST RUSSIAN LABOR UNIONS ESTABLISHED IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY. 2. THIS ORGANIZATION WAS ANTI-BOLSHEVIK AND WORKED AGAINST THE ANTI-REACTIONARY CAMPAIGN WHICH WAS CARRIED OUT IN THE WEST WHEN THE GREAT BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION CRUSHED THE REACTIONARY ELEMENTS. 3. THIS IMPERIALIST ORGANIZATION REFUSED TO RECOGNIZE THE RUSSIAN PROGRESSIVE GOVERNMENT EVEN AFTER PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT TRIED TO ESTABLISH RELATIONS WITH THE NEW REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT OF RUSSIA. 4. FROM EARLIEST TIMES, WHEN AMERICA DECLARED WAR AGAINST SPAIN THE MADE THE PHILIPPINES ITS COLONY, THIS ORGANIZATION SUPPORTED THE INVASION IN THE NAME OF THE WORKING CLASS AND IS THEREFORE ANTI-WORKING CLASS. 5. THIS ORGANIZATION SUPPORTED THE AMERICAN INVASION OF VIETNAM, WHICH CAUSED THE DEATH OF OVER TWO MILLION PEOPLE. 6. THIS ORGANIZATION HAS SOUGHT TO RULE OVER THE THIRD WORLD AND HAS BEEN A SABOTEUR ESPECIALLY IN AFRICA, THROUGH SUCH ORGANIZATIONS AS THE AALC. 7. THIS ORGANIZATION SUPPORTED THE PREVIOUS LEADERSHIP OF CELU AND CHANNELED ALL ITS MONEY TO REACTIONARY ELEMENTS. THEREFORE, CELU HAS SEVERED ITS TIES WITH THE AFL-CIO AND IS READY TO FACE ANY HARDSHIPS WHICH IT MAY ENCOUNTER AS A CONSEQUENCE.


It’s a remarkable statement, clearly contextualizing AFL-CIA activity within the aggressive agenda of imperialism. Of course this is not an accident: it was written by the EPRP.

In yet another cable the embassy’s informants describe the authors of this resolution, again worriedly insinuating the authors are agents of the Soviet bloc. It’s clear the embassy is unaware of dynamics out on the street, highly confused about the nature of the opposition to the Derg. Their red-baiting is obvious, but their finger pointed at the Eastern bloc is laughable. It is again interesting that they tie the authors to Atnafu: One might note by implication that the embassy saw political stability in Mengistu’s wing of the Derg. Indeed in 1975 the Derg was still being armed by the United States. From the cable:

MESFIN GEBRE MIKAEL, ONE OF ORIGINAL FOUR FOUNDERS OF CELU, NOW WITH ILO, TOLD EMBOFF JUNE 7 THAT THE FOUR "TECHNICAL ADVISORS"LED BY KIFLU AND GIRMATCHEW WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR DRAFTING RESOLUTIONS PASSED BY CELU....HE ALSO BELIEVES THAT KIFLU, "THE BRAINS" OF THE GROUP, WHO HAS FOUR YEARS JOURNALISM EXPERIENCE IN RUSSIA, SECURED FINANCING FROM MOSCOW CHANNELED THROUGH HUNGARY AND BULGARIA AS WELL AS FROM "CHRISTIAN TRADE UNION GROUP-IN BRUSSELS TO PAY ORGANIZING EXPENSES.... PUBLISHED DOCUMENT IS ACTUALLY SECOND DRAFT. FIRST DRAFT WAS VERY RADICAL AND ANTI-DIRG.... GEBRE SELASSIE GEBRE-MARIAM, ANOTHER OF CELU'S FOUR ORIGINAL FOUNDERS AND NOW ADVISER TO MININT, AGREED THAT FIRST DRAFT WAS WRITTEN IN STRONG LANGUAGE AND ATTACKED DIRG.... HE IS FAIRLY CONFIDENT, HOWEVER, THAT ELECTION WAS CONTROLLED THROUGH ABOVE-CITED TECHNICAL ADVISERS WHO, HE ASSERTED, ARE IN TURN CONNECTED TO DIRG FACTION LED BY LT. COL. ATNAFU, PMAC SECOND VICE-CHAIRMAN.

Here is the coup de grace: This final cable, dated June 11, 1975, also recommends that AALC operations in Ethiopia be terminated because of CELU’s new, anti-imperialist position. And so, even in the face of suppression by the Derg military government, EPRP successfully drove US imperialism out of the Ethiopian trade union movement. Wow.

Unfortunately, CELU was finally banned by the Derg in September of 1975, leaving the newly radicalized CELU only a few months to organize. The Derg set up its own pro-government trade union association, the All Ethiopia Trade Union (AETU). A new labor code did not guarantee the right to strike. And so the “socialist” Derg continued the tradition of labor peace. The EPRP meanwhile continued to organize clandestinely in the working class, setting up an underground revolutionary union, the Ethiopian Workers Revolutionary Union, or ELAMA.

Markos Hagos went underground in 1976. Sources conflict on his fate: Kiflu says he was publicly executed as part of the first wave of the Derg’s “War of Annihilation” in 1977. The April-May 1977 issue of Forward, journal of the World Wide Federation of Ethiopian Students, says he was “killed on March 24 in a gun battle with fascists, who attempted to arrest him. In the fierce gun battle, the valiant revolutionary fighter had finished off well over 20 of the search squad soldiers before his death.”

Germatchew Lemma went underground with the rest of the EPRP leadership. Kiflu tells the story in vol. 2 of The Generation how Derg surveillance identified several EPRP safe houses in June of 1977. After a half-hour gunfight, Germatchew and a number of other party members escaped the initial raid. But Germatchew was killed attempting to reach a fallback safe house. Unbeknownst to him it had also been raided and Derg soldiers lay in wait. He “was killed on the spot.”

Atnafu Abate in 1975
Derg member Atnafu Abate, suspected by the embassy of being connected to the CELU rebels, was executed by Mengistu in November of 1977. Ironically Mengistu accusations against him included “consorting with CIA agents.”



Monday, April 25, 2016

Propaganda War

“Ethiopia In Revolution,” Ethiopian Revolution Information Center, 1977

More pamphlets from various publishing arms of the Derg: some of these were also scanned during my NYU Tamiment Library visits already reported on, others I’ve collected elsewhere. These all represent Derg attempts for making its case, largely, one may presume, to the international left. By 1978, the focus of these pamphlets becomes increasingly more focused on the military conflicts with Somalia and Eritrean secessionists. Since the world left, including the Soviet bloc, had a tradition of supporting the Eritrean national liberation movements, the Derg was compelled to persuade that left that such struggles were now somehow “pro-imperialist.”

I scanned the insides of many of these, and will occasionally present worthy excerpts in the future.

“The Ethiopian Revolution and the Problem in Eritrea,” Ethiopian Revolution Information Center, 1977

”Revolutionary Ethiopia Fact Sheet,” ERIC, 1978
“Ethiopia: Women In Revolution,” 1984
“Programme of the National Democratic Revolution”
“Victory Day”
“Fourth Anniversary of the Ethiopian Revolution,” Speech by Mengistu, 1978

“The National Revolutionary War in the North,” 1978
“PMAC Chairman And The World Press” Speech by Mengistu, 1978


“Ethiopia’s Development Campaign,” Central Planning Supreme Council, 1980

“Support the Just Cause of the Ethiopian Peoples,” 1978

Saturday, April 23, 2016

EPRP vs. Meison, 1978

Meison contingent in a pro-Derg rally; possibly May Day 1977
Below I am pleased to reprint an editorial from Abyot, the English-language publication of the Study, Publication and Information Center of the Foreign Committee of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party, from the February–March 1978 issue. The editorial is a bitter, angry polemic against the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement, known as Meison or Meisone, the EPRP’s primary competitor on the civilian left. This editorial is really evocative of the political discourse of the time.

Meison sided with the ruling military Derg against the EPRP, and its members were among those leftists who trained the military cadre of the Derg in Marxist-Leninist concepts. Meison seems to have integrated itself into the security apparatus of the state, and at least according to the EPRP and its survivors, the initial phase of the “red terror” was directed by Meison instigators working inside that apparatus, and correspondingly, EPRP urban military operations were often directed against specific Meison members who assisted the forces of repression. This polemic dates from the period after Meison and the Derg fell out, when Meison was added to the list of targets of government “red terror.” The conflict between EPRP and Meison, rooted in political differences first nurtured in the student movement abroad that evolved into lethal sectarianism after 1974, was the central tragedy at the heart of the early years of the revolution. Yet, it must be said that the true nature of the Derg is best revealed by its evolving relationship with the civilian left. Shortly after this period, the Derg turned against all remaining civilian left groups, leaving Colonel Mengistu’s party Seded to transform itself into a state socialist party. Meison leader Haile Fida, mentioned in this text, was eventually executed by the Derg. Despite the optimistic tone at the end of this article, by this time the majority of the EPRP leadership in urban Ethiopia had already been brutally eliminated.

I will follow this posting up soon with some polemics from the Derg itself against Meison justifying its expanded campaign of repression. I have not yet sourced English-language materials of this time period from Meison itself. Indeed, unfortunately the memoirs published by surviving Meison veterans seem to have appeared only in Amharic.

(Note: I have not corrected typos or spelling inconsistencies from the original typed and mimeographed text. In a few cases where the original was cut off or hard to read, I have made an educated guess. By “social imperialism” and “social imperialists,” this text refers to the Soviet Union and its advocates.—ISH)

MEISONE’S “NEW” TUNES FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE

True enough Meisone never pretended to be a party at first. As its name implied, the “All Ethiopian Socialist Movement”, it posed as a movement and if it ended up being a movement confined to the imperial palace and some government institutions, it is no one’s fault but that of its reactionary line and its anti-people leaders like Haile Fida, Negede Gobeze and some others like Kebede Mengesha and Daniel Tadesse.

In the early days of the February Revolution there was a small group in Addis Abeba which used to put out leaflets, later to be called “Voice of the People”, supporting the demand of the EPRP and the broad masses for the formation of a popular provisional government. However, when Haile Fida returned to Ethiopia after a prolonged sejour in Europe, along with his tetinue, this group underwent a transformation. The local elements who supported the popular demand and stood against the junta were purged. The reformist and reactionary group of Haile Fida took over and later emerged as Meison (or the AESM). Starting with full support to the regime while being outside of the regime and moveing fast to giving full support (in practical sense) to the regime by being the actual functionaries of the regime, the Haile Fida group emerged as the most ferocious enemy of the struggle of the oppressed Ethiopian peoples.

Meisone argued that “the Derg is progressive” and should be given support by revolutionary forces. Hiding behind the slogan of “critical support” the Haile Fida group allied itself with an anti-democratic regime that would have been critically and firmly exposed and combatted. Leaving aside the reformist claptrap about “critical support” let us look briefly if the Meisone grouping did employ this. Primarily, a party or group that allies itself with a regime under the watchword of “'critical support” must have its own independent existence, must have a strong base and must be critical of the regime’s anti-democratic actions while extolling and supporting its progressive ones. We do not subscribe to this opportunist fantasy but that's what its exponents say. Meisone talked a lot about critical support but in practice it not only supported each and every anti-people actions of the Derg but it initiated these repressive acts itself.

Meisone was the organiser, the ideologue, the propagandist and the executioner for the Derg. Meisone filled the bureaucracy, run the so-called Provisional Office for Mass Organizational Affairs (POMOA), etc. At a critical time when the junta was besieged by the mass revolutionary movement and cornered, Meisone mercenaries came to its rescue and beautifying the fascist regime through “Marxist” phrases carried out a wide and extensive campaign of confusion and repression. Together with the full and unconditional backing to the DERG (so much so that there was absolutely no difference practically between Meisone positions and that of the Derg) they undertook the physical liquidation of militants and progressives from all sectors.

Specifically:
  1. Meisone undertook a wide campaign against the formation of a provisional peoples government and struggled for the maintenance of the military regime. It labelled this popular demand for the formation of the provisional peoples government as a “reactionary petty-bourgeois demand.”
  2. Meisone not only pushed for the banning of the Confederation of Ethiopian Labour Unions, the Ethiopian Teachers' Association, the Ethiopian Women Coordinating Committee, etc but it zealously worked to form a pro-Derg, Derg-controlled trade union, women’s union, etc.
  3. Meisone spearheaded the ferocious villification campaign against the EPRP and labelled the EPRP as an “enemy organisation that must be destroyed by force imeediately".
  4. Kebede Mengesha, Chairman of the .Addis Abeba POMOA and central Committee chairman of Meisone was the first to propose the carrying out of house to house searches in Addis Ababa. His proposal presented to the Derg in a written form were later applied causing the loss of so many lives amidst the people.
  5. Long before the Derg declared total war against the EPRP (September 1976), the central committee of Meisone gathered to vote death sentence on a list of EPRP members and sympathisers. The list was forwarded to the Derg and served as the first base for the massive man-hunt carried in Addis Ababa and other places.
  6. The members of Meisone organised within the POMOA and within the Kebeles carried out direct repression on the masses. The examples are many but suffice it to mention that the central committee member of Meisone, Negede Gobezie, led the assault on assembled university students and personally killed scores of students. Abdullahi Yususf, a leading Meisone member, brutally tortured and killed scores of workers and students in Harar, Dire Dawa, etc.
  7. On the eve of May Day 1977, using an anti-Derg demonstration as a pretext, Meisone armed groups roamed according to a predetermined plan killing more than 1000 people, majority of whom were young anti-Derg militants.
  8. The Meisone leaders evolved the Peasant March project on Eritrea and the EPRA areas in Tigrai in 1976. This project, code named Raza Project was defended by Meisone leader Negede Gobezie (in a talk to Ethiopian Ambassadors in Bonn) as a revolutionary action against “reactionary separatists”.
  9. When the Derg members restructured the Derg and reduced the dictatorial powers of Mengistu and tried to curb the killing spree undertaken by Meisone, Haile Fida and his clique schemed and plotted with Mengistu and stage a coup d’├ętat in the palace and executed Major Moges, Teferi Benti and others.
Meisone worked hand in glove with the dictator Mengistu. Their policy was not critical support but uncritical and unconditional backing. And this is hardly surprising as the dictator was implementing the actions drafted and worked out by Meisone. Meisone wanted to be declared the legal and only party ruling the country. On this, Mengistu had other ideas. His group, Sede [sic], was being inflated by forced and whole sale “recruitment.” The contradiction between the dictator and the Haile Fida Group grew and it was not long before Meisone fell like a house of cards. The social imperialists who used Meisone as a bridge to establish good relations with the Mengistu regime knew quite well in which plate they could find their goulash and so remained allied to Mengistu and are helping him establish his “party.”

Meisone was not a group within the camp of the revolution. It had slipped from reformism into outright crime against the people. Meisone members were killers, informers, anti-people vermins. As such, they have been subjected to the wrath of the people and have paid for some of their crimes.
Nowadays, a central committee member of Meisone who has escaped to Europe, the killer and torturer Negede Gobezie, has been giving press interviews in which he has tried to sing “new” tunes and to make it appear as if Meisone had been championing the demards of the masses! Let us briefly look at this “new” position of Meisone (or what has remained of this group).

1. Meisone now claims that it fights for the democratic rights of the masses and the immediate promulagation of these. The truth is that when the EPRP raised the slogan of “democratic rights to the masses without any restriction”, Meisone led the attack against this revolutionary demand and labelled it as a reactionary demand of “anarchists.” One can refer to the various newspaper articles written by Meisone members and the various issues of the Meisone paper, “Voice of the People,”, to see that this group stood against the demand for democracy and favoured the continuation of the military rule without any democracy till the “masses become conscious”'. In fact Meisone argued time and again that democracy did exist under the Derg’s rule.

2. Meisone now claims that it was opposed to the peasant march (Zemetcha) against Eritreans, etc. However, the truth is that the conflict between the regime and Meisone was only as to who (Meisone or Seded) will lead the peasant militia. Making this amply clear, Meisone commented in its organ, “Voice of the People” (No. 59, june 1977), in the following terms:

“Meisone is not a.petty bourgeois pacifist or peace worshipping organization. Thus it supports all the actions in Northern Ethiopia or other areas taken to liquidate reactionaries and to safeguard Ethiopia’s revolution and unity.” (This was written explicitly to counter the “rumors” which, according to Meisone asserted that Meisone was against the peasant march on Eritrea, etc)

3. Meisone now claims that it supports the Eritrean people's right to self-determination and independence. This is another lie. Meisone has been attacking the EPRP as “reactionary” because the EPRP supported the right to independence of the Eritrean masses. Meisone had been crying “death to Eritrean separatists!” in Abyot Square and in its publications. In fact the aforementioned issue of “'Voice of the People” explicitly states on page 3 that “Meisone does not support the separation of Eritrea...and Meisone believes that the solution to the Eritrean question is not independence but the strong unity of the nationalities of Ethiopia.”

Meisone’s new tune is, in short, as false as its previous affirmation of critical support and other related hodge podge. It is another attempt at deception by a group which has taken deception as principle. Meisone tried to play with another devil in the form of Mengistu and found out that the dictator and his followers are as cunning and as devoid of morality as them. Meisone is a victim of its own crimes and if the regime it has tried to strengthen turns against it, we can only say that they got what was coming to them. The Meisone rif raff brought social imperialism into the country and has now found out that the Kremlin criminals have abandoned them and glued themselves to the military thugs. Thus, Meisone may try to wear anti social imperialist masks just as it is trying to e[illegible] the mass demands which it had been fighting against so ferociously just a few months before.

Meisone did a lot of damage to the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed masses. Meisone caused the death of countless invaluable militants of the EPRP and the broad masses. Meisone no longer exists as a viable [word cut off] let alone a movement. However, the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed masses continues to rage unabated. The EPRP continues to grow stronger to deal heavy blows to the enemies of our people. The fate of Meisone shows all opportunists to what end they will come and that all their machinations are futile and will not succeed to destroy the EPRP and the mass revolutionary struggle.

“Against the social-traitors, against reformism and opportunism, this political line can and must be followed in all spheres of the struggle without exception. And then we shall win the working masses. And with the working masses the Marxist centralised political party, the vanguard of the proletariat, will take the people along the right road to the triumph of proletarian dictatorship, to proletarian instead of bourgeois democracy, to the Soviet Republic, to the socialist system.”—LENIN


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Ideological Combat

Mao’s works were distributed worldwide in inexpensive, accessible formats.
“[W]ithin EPRP at first there were not what one would term hardliners. For example, there were no Maoists among the nine members of the [original 1972] Central Committee. Amazingly, within the Algerian [exile] group, Gezahegn Endale was a Trotskyite. The others...had a critical outlook and did not espouse either the Moscow, or the Albanian or Peking line. It is possible that this was to be a problem when they later merged with the ‘Abyot’ group.... [In] ESUNA [the Ethiopian Student Union in North America], as time went on...it degenerated into a Maoist sect. As things worsened, ‘Bejing Review’ became the sole approved reading material. On the battlefield, fighting would break out among guerrillas  belonging to one or other school of thought. This proved to be a thorn in the side of the Foreign Relations Committee.’’ —Melaku Tegegn in Bahru Zewde, Documenting the Ethiopian Student Movement, pp. 148-151)

“[Originally] Chinese books on socialism flooded the streets with Mao's red books for everyone in the cities especially for those who could read English....[Eventually] the Soviets advised Mengistu to burn Chinese communist books and condemn Maoism. They also instructed cadres to burn valuable historical books on Ethiopia, published in the West....While playing a role of destroying Ethiopian and Chinese books in the country, the Soviets advised the cadres to observe Soviet holidays, such as Lenin's birthday, Soviet Armed Forces Day, and the Bolshevik Revolution Day.” —Dawit Shifaw, The Diary of Terror, p.110, 117

“Mao Tse Tung has said it is good when the enemy attack us, paints us black and accuses us wildly. The fascist junta [Derg], continues to wildly accuse and smear the name of the EPRP. It has called the EPRP ‘fascist,’ ‘feudal,’ ‘CIA agent,’ ‘anarchist,‘ etc. And now, as if it has found another food label, it has started to label the EPRP ‘anarchist and Trotskyite.’ That these two tendencies are not the same does not worry the junta. The EPRP, which is a Marxist-Leninist Party, had a clear stand on Trotskyism long before even the junta's top dogs heard the word ‘socialism.’ As a Marxist-Leninist Party opposed to all anti-Marxist trends (like Trotskyism, anarchism), the EPRP has emerged as the undisputed vanguard of the proletariat and no amount of vilification and name-calling is going to change this. We say with Enver Hoxha ‘The other truth has been proved right once again. They are enjoying empty phraseology, labeling us as Trotskyites. We tell them openly it is they who have fallen into the bog of Trotskyism.” — Study, Publication and Information Center of the EPRP Foreign Committee, in Abyot, Feb-March 1978

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Grain of Salt


Ethiopian students in West Berlin, Germany, demonstrate in solidarity with the EPRP, 1977.

This is a widely held view about the generation of young Ethiopian student revolutionaries of the 1970s-era:
“Because of their singular preoccupation with immediate seizure of state power, both [factions of the student movement] mistook the trees for the forest. One side [EPRP] thought violent opposition to the Dergue would secure them state power, while the other [MEISON], which did not have much of a following inside Ethiopia, thought that tactical alliance with the Dergue would bring them to power, after using and then disposing of the soldiers. Both failed in their respective adventures.

“What needs to be underlined is that between 1970 and 1974, the vast majority of rank and file students at home or abroad were not aware, at least for a good while, that they were being used as puppets of two underground communist parties that were struggling for hegemony of the student movement, and through it, of the revolutionary process in Ethiopia. After coming out of the closet in 1974–75, both parties continued to use the student movement as their social base. No revolution has ever succeeded with students as its social base. As such, it was inevitable that the student-based communist parties would fail in their quixotic efforts to seize state power. The tragedy is that they used students as cannon fodder for their blind ambitions. As I used to say at the time, the leaderships of these parties have criminal responsibility for the thousands of students who died needlessly.”
—Professor Alem Habtu, 2015. (Alem was a leader in the expatriate Ethiopian Student Movement in the very early 1970s in the United States, and the brother of Mesfin Habtu)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Revolutionary Optimism

EPRYL graphic from Abyot, 1978

An excerpt from a statement published in Abyot, journal of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party Foreign Committee in Europe, February 1978:

“At present, the EPRP is facing one of the most ruthless campaigns of terror ever seen anywhere in the world. To defeat this and carry the revolutionary war until victory, the members of the EPRP, of the EPRYL and of the various genuine mass organisations are standing side by side with the oppressed masses in a united, firm and determined manner. Daily, fascists, social imperialists and Cuban mercenaries are shedding the blood of thousands of fine revolutionaries all throughout the country. Daily, thousands of our militants and supporters are paying the necessary sacrifice and advancing the revolutionary war to its objectives. The people who have embraced the EPRP and the members of the EPRP knew from the outset that the school of civil war is a painful school. They knew that this bitter war, which necessarily will have very many instances of reactionary terror campaigns and mass slaughter, will melt the will of the faint-hearted and the pseudo-revolutionaries. More importantly, the people and the EPRP knew, know and are ever more certain that the oppressed masses led by the EPRP will triumph over the fascists, social imperialists, traitors and all other scums.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Symbolic Confusion 2 - Hammers and Sickles

From Abyot, 1978. EPRP, EPRA, EPRYL, ELAMA logos.

The hammer and sickle icon was developed in Russia during its 1917 revolution. The hammer symbolizes the proletariat, and the sickle the peasantry. Like Ethiopia, Russia was a country with vast social forces outside the urban working class, and the Bolsheviks wisely sought ways to symbolically reflect this necessary alliance of power and unity against oppression and exploitation. The hammer and sickle became the symbol of communism, wielded proudly by socialist revolutionaries of every imaginable ideological stripe around the world, and wielded menacingly by anti-communist reaction as proof of communism's authoritarian violence.

While the hammer and sickle was replaced by various socialist movements, especially in developing countries seeking to suggest independence from the Soviet Union, it seems to have become the absolute symbol of the Ethiopian revolution's socialist ambitions.

It was adopted by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party, despite the EPRP's general animosity to the modern revisionist Soviet leadership, and used by their mass organizations like the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Army (EPRA), the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Youth League, and the EPRP's revolutionary trade union ELAMA.

But in altered form, the hammer and sickle was also used by the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement (Meison), EPRP's main leftist competitor, and by EMALEDH, the Union of Ethiopian Marxist-Leninist Organizations that was an abortive attempt to unite Ethiopia's civilian left behind the Derg. And of course the hammer and sickle was adopted by the Derg itself, as a symbol of its eventual governing face the Workers Party of Ethiopia, and of Ethiopia's general allegiance to the socialist camp.

Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Army logo (EPRA)

EPRP logo per Wikipedia
Meison journal cover, from Red Terror museum

Meison logo per Wikipedia France

Meison logo per Wikipedia

EMALEDH's Yehibret Demts, Feb 1979

EMALEDH float? Pro-Derg rally.

Derg banners and billboards, Addis Ababa

Monday, April 4, 2016

Women in Revolution

EPRP women at an International Women's Day rally, 1975 or 1976

“Women,” as Mao Zedong is supposed to have said, “hold up half the sky.” But the story of the world's revolutions has often been one of inadequately addressing the concerns of women, and failing to understand how crucially intertwined is the struggle for women’s liberation with the overall political struggle for a better world. It seems that there was some consciousness of the importance of organizing women among Ethiopian leftists, but that it took a bit of a back seat. In his books on the EPRP, Kiflu Tadesse refers a few times to the EPRP wanting to organize a women's organization, but suggests such an effort was only embryonic. Carried over from the days of student activism, the leadership of the movement seems to have been mostly male.

Bahru Zewde convened a retreat in 2005 for veterans of the Ethiopian Student movement to discuss the politicization of that movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and recorded this retreat in the extraordinary book Documenting the Ethiopian Student Movement: An Exercise in Oral History (FFS, 2010). Veterans of the student movement and revolutionary period testified to their experiences. Importantly, several women were asked to contribute. Here, Original Wolde Giorgis shares her experiences:

“It was most assuredly true that even those male members of EPRP reputed to be well-read never accepted female leadership; this was openly expressed in meetings...[yet] women contributed immensely in (EPRP) squads and other activities. I remember an incident at the Darg [sic] Interrogation Center where an interrogator wondered aloud what sort of discipline could have been instilled in women members that enabled them to withstand such tortures as having their breasts set ablaze by torched newspapers. Those heroic young women endured it without divulging any information. Women, contrary to popular belief, are singularly tenacious....Women...have proved themselves equal to the task, this is undeniable....” (Bahru, p. 125)

Hiwot Teffera's Tower in the Sky is a must-read on this subject. A young female militant of the EPRP, Hiwot becomes involved personally with one of the EPRP's controversial leaders, Getachew Maru, but carries on the work of the party faithfully until she is eventually imprisoned by the Derg. It's really an inspiring and tragic story, though she raises many questions about the factionalism with EPRP.

Pro-Derg official International Women's Day rally, 1978
A young French tourist Hubert Tabutiaux attended the Derg's Addis Ababa celebration of International Women's Day in 1978. Describing the event as impressive but clearly unspontaneous, he documented the day in a series of photographs, and reports on the photo above, “Under a placard showing a picture of the Great Helmsman, the rows are formed. The rather inscrutable faces bear witness to the pretty artificial atmosphere of this forced celebration, but can also be due to the presence of the camera.” There are more really interesting photos of the day on his website.

(Top photo from Goh Magazine, 1976; lower photo from Hubert Tabutiaux, 1978)

Friday, April 1, 2016

EPRP: Getting the Message Out

Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party on the march, probably 1976
The EPRP understood the importance of revolutionary propaganda inspite of repressive conditions.

“During one of my monthly trips to Debre Markos to meet with the subzonal committee, our secretary passed along a decision made by the party leadership. The leadership thought we needed to show the presence of our party to the people in our districts...The proposed activities included throwing propaganda pamphlets over the fences of homes, posting slogans and posters on telephone polls and house walls, writing antigovernment slogans on cemented streets, fences and bridges with red ink or paint, and hanging red party banners on telephone wires....Once I returned to Bichena, Misiker and I wrote scores of party slogans on the white sheets. The slogans included, ‘Down with Fascism!’ ‘EPRP will win!’ ‘Down with Reactionary Scholars!’... The action was to be conducted around 1 a.m. when the people would be asleep. Misiker and I had the task of distributing the red paint, the brushes and party slogans to the other members of the district committee and to the several people who worked in our respective cells.” —Gizachew Tiruneh in On The Run in the Blue Nile, recounting his youthful clandestine organizing with the EPRP in the mid-1970s



EPRP demonstration, probably 1976. Note poster of Che Guevara.