|Class and Revolution in Ethiopia, by John Markakis & Nega Ayele|
I am re-reading John Markakis and Nega Ayele’s definitive work Class and Revolution in Ethiopia for the first time since the 1980s. It’s an important book, and while dated, contains a lot of really useful analysis and information, untainted by the questionable analyses of certain Marxist intellectuals (deeply revisionist in my opinion), who were eager to rationalize the Ethiopian military as a legitimate force for socialist revolution. It was published in the US by Red Sea Press in 1986, though I believe a European edition appeared in 1978. It covers the period up to about the end of 1977; and it seems to still be in print.
I wanted to pay tribute to a haunting fact about this book: its coauthors were friends who met in academia. Both were scholars but Nega was also a partisan of the revolution, excited and involved in the history that was rushing up around him. They began working on the book in 1975, but Nega Ayele himself did not live to finish it. A member of the EPRP, he was murdered by a “Red Terror” death squad in March of 1977.
Co-author Markakis penned a touching intro to the book about his friend. It concludes with this passage:
“Nega himself disappeared in September 1976, when the battle against the military dictatorship was joined in earnest. His name was entered on the regime's wanted list; in effect an automatic death sentence. He managed to avoid capture for several months. On 19 March 1977, Nega and two of his comrades were caught inside a factory at the town of Akaki, near Addis Ababa, and were murdered on the spot. Three days later, the newspapers announced that he had been killed while trying to run away. In fact, Nega's leg muscles had been wasted by a debilitating disease, and he could walk only with difficulty.” (p. 14)Hiwot Teffera recounts meeting Nega while he was underground, in her extraordinary memoir, Tower in the Sky:
“That day I went to my cousin Elsa's around six-thirty in the evening. Days before the assessa [Derg campaign against the EPRP], I went there to spend the night and saw a man sitting on the couch in the living room. I instinctively knew he was a Party member. I made friends with him easily and since that day, I sat and talked with him whenever I went there. I became his window to the outside world. At times, people came, took him in a car, and brought him back. He had an infirmity of his legs and I often wondered how he could survive the horrible conditions with his physical infirmity. I wondered if the man was still at my cousin's. He was not. My cousin sadly told me that he had been killed trying to leave town before the assessa. I learned that his name was Nega Ayele....”
Kiflu Tadesse has a more detailed account of Nega's death in volume 2 of The Generation. By way of context, though the Derg and the EPRP had already been exchanging blows, this was only a few weeks after the February 1977 incident in which Mengistu consolidated his mastery of the Derg by having several of his associates executed, blaming conciliation toward the EPRP. A systematic campaign of annihilation was then begun:
“In March 1977, while getting ready to withstand the search and destroy campaign, the EPRP lost four of its invaluable leading members: Yohannes Berhane, a member of the CC and one of the leading members of the Democracia editorial board; Melaku Marcos, a veteran activist and leading intellectual...a CC member without portfolio; Nega Ayele, an economist an a lecturer at the University of Addis Abeba and a member of the EPRP political department; Dr. William Hastings Morton, a British lecturer at the Addis Abeba and a member of the EPRP....Since Dr. Morton was a British citizen, this incident actually made world headlines. I've attached the AP dispatch at left. Entitled “Espionage Claimed by Ethiopians,” it repeats the official Derg line that the four killed, including Dr. Morton, were counterrevolutionary spies, caught red-handed in an espionage mission. The news article obliquely refers to the beginning of the mass campaign of terror against the EPRP, then underway in earnest.
Arrangements were made [to escape Addis] and Dr. Morton came into the picture to provide means of transportation and to give the group a plausible disguise. On a Saturday morning, on the day that the campaign was expected to begin, the [four and another EPRP member named AY] left for the south via the Akaki Road...In order to avoid the checkpoint at Akaki, Yohannes Berhane, AY and Melaku Marcos stepped out of the vehicle just before the city limits. As they walked through an alley, past a factory gate in the Kaliti area...they encountered Abyot Tebeka [Derg-organized “defense guards”] members from one of the factories. They tried to run away, but they were chased by the Abyot Tebeka members and a mob of workers that was just going out on a break. Yohannes and Melaku were killed on the spot... Nega and Dr. Morton, who drove past the checkpoint peacefully were waiting for the others when they heard the gunshots, and sensing danger, cancelled the plan to drive to Langano. As they returned to Addis Abeba, members of the Abyot Tebeka opened fire and killed both of them. Neither the regime nor the Abyot Tebeka members knew that they had eliminated some of the most valuable members of the EPRP.” (p.196)
Back in the late 1970s when I first learned of Nega Ayele, I was profoundly moved by the idea of a leftist revolutionary who was murdered by a supposedly leftist government while writing an early chronicle of an unfolding revolution. He came to symbolize the generation of young revolutionaries who has haunted me for decades, inspiring me to begin this study of the revolution in earnest.
I was unfortunately not able to locate a photo of Nega Ayele to accompany this blog post. He's somebody we should never forget.
(updated May 28, 2016)