|EPRP: Provisional People's Government Through Armed Struggle|
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.
“VOICE OF THE AIR FORCE”
ONE CAN’T REPEATEDLY CHEAT THE AIR FORCE
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",
- proclaimed anti-democratic, anti-organisation and counter-revolutionary laws that denied the basic rights that are crucial for organisation;
- based on these proclamations it massacred many progressives and arrested countless others;
- instead of organising the unorganised, it dissolved existing mass organisations (CELU, Teachers' Association, students unions, peasant associations), arrested or killed their leaders
- within the Air .Force it· (Derg) arrested the progressives like Yigezu;
- it killed progressive students and Zematchoch whom it villified as "reactionaries"; it arrested them en masse;
- 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;
- it has unleashed its security agents over the masses and imposed on them a fascist regime like Franco of Spain and Salazzar of Portugal.
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:
- between officers and others;
- between soldiers (officers included) and civilian employees of the Air Force;
- 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.
7. WE DEMAND THE IMMEDIATE DISSOLUTION OF THE DERG AND THE FORMATION OF A REVOLUTIONARY POPULAR PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT MADE UP OF EXISTING POLITICAL PARTIES, LABOUR UNIONS, PEASANT ASSOCIATION, TEACHERS' UNIONS, STUDENTS UNIONS AND OPPRESSED SOLDIERS.
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.
SOME ANALYSIS FROM ISH:
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.
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.