Questions for Ethiopian Cdes re: EPRP

Ghebremichael Woldeselassie ghebremichael at
Tue Dec 14 17:57:35 MST 1999

Nestor to Tsegai and rest
Tsegai says:  We are ... surprised to find - we think, but are not sure from
The wording - that Ato Nestor seems to have thought that Mengistu
"from afar looked less terrible than Gheb and group tried to explain"
Perhaps he thinks that because Mengistu called himself a Marxist and a
socialist that he was such.

Then Nestor:
I have a built-in, personal distrust for people "calling
themselves Marxists" in Third World countries. As a Marxist, I
have a long experience with myriads of tiny groups of people who

a) canvass their petty bourgeois frustration into "Marxist"
parties. These are, at best, Proudhonian economist groups lacking
usually any real connection with the traditions and living
experience of the actual, flesh and blood, workers.  At worst,
when they get to lead a group of workers, they tend to preside
over sad and terrible defeats, either at the workshop -as on the
Bagley factory three hundred meters from where I am writing now,
or in my own job at the INDEC- or on a national scale -such as
happened with the group of Lora in Bolivia during the early 70s.
Or else,

b) vomit quotations generated by undigested and thoughtless
reading of reams of every page written by the GREAT LORDS OF OUR
MIGHTY MARXIST RELIGION.  These are less harmful, since they are
seldom understood by the workers, but it is a pity that
interesting youth such as these (they are, as a rule of thumb,
University undergraduates) get lost into these labyrinthine
debates, and sterilized for any serious political action.  It is
my experience, also, that this brand of self-appointed Marxists
generally matures into managers of imperialist concerns in the
countries where they were born and have a deep longing in their
souls to abandon these countries forever and become members of
some affluent First World society.

EPRP was almost certainly of this kind, and once their link with CELU
disappeared by its liquidation, before any serious discussion was possible
with workers - themselves not at a high level of political consciousness,
you must understand - they became disoriented.  But they existed, and we
must learn from their experience.  And yes, thousands of Ethiopians rich
enough to leave, are not queuing up to return from their comforts in Europe
and North America.  You can judge them for yourselves, or at least those who
poke their noses into the desperate situation here on various Newsgroups and
the infamous on-line forum, that we will not soil ourselves with.
The EPRP web site is clearly one for managers!

Nestor again:

What I have said on my previous posting was that from the point
of view of the general struggle against imperialism, and from the
little info I could gather in my South American environment, I
had a vague idea that Mengistu was a problem for the United

I think the US State Dept has a nice saying "He may be a bastard, but he's
our bastard".  Although the Derg/fSU axis removed the CIA microwave spy
station in Asmara, it preserved the safety of Arabia and Israel from the
west flank of the Red Sea, that Haile Selassie had previously done.
Although there were feeble attempts by CIA to influence EPLF and TPLF during
the war, what was going on did not constitute any great problem for

Nestor again:
But what I would ask, then, is _what_ has replaced the military
regime of Mengistu. Was it a more 'progressive' regime?  Was it
not?  From what I have read (and understood) our Ethiopian
comrades do not view as a problem the actual Balkanization of
Ethiopia. Am I right? Am I wrong?  When they speak of the history
of the Ethiopian working class, seemingly pointing to the workers
in Asmara, that is rooting their history in the history of the
workers in an imperialist outpost and not in the deep popular
traditions of Ethiopia, something I have always been
uncomfortable with (granted, I may be translating my own limited
point of view: my uneasiness is forged through my own experience
with this kind of "portuary'socialism that dismisses the
'backward' people of its own country, a brand of 'socialism' that
has had an opportunity to flourish fully in the lower River Plate
basin). They seem to dismiss the fact that it was the very
Selassies who, at the turn of the 20th Century, attempted -weakly
but clearly- to try an independent path, before full colonization
by Italian and British capitals, in what seemed to have been an
aborted intention of turning Ethiopia into the Japan of the Horn
of Africa. That is, the feudals who ruled Ethiopia (a country of
arrested development, wrote Samir Amin, not a semicolonial
country as yet) tried to spare the country from the fate of
becoming a colony, turning to a self-reliant capitalist
development. Were they wrong? Was this "reactionary"?  Is Samir
Amin a liar?  Did they enjoy popular support, or not?

The Amhara feudalists over the last millennium carved out a huge empire from
their quite small highland base, so that Tigrigna, Oromo, Afar, Somali and
many other smaller ethnic/linguistic groups became oppressed to one degree
or another.  In some respects that created a mosaic akin to the Balkans, but
not as in the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and it is absurd to
consider Ethiopia in the same way as the former Yugoslavia.  In the case of
Menelik then Haile Selassie and the Ras's (feudal lords) being a bastion
against colonialism in the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries,
yes we agree.  We celebrated the centenary of the Battle of Adwa in 1996,
when the Italian colonial army was crushed.  The present war centres on a
dispute about a border with typical colonial straight lines that the British
and Italians negotiated in 1902.  Likewise the feudal regime defended
Ethiopia bravely but fruitlesley against the Italian fascist invasion in the
1930's.  We understand that Leon Trotsky demanded the fullest support for
the 'Negus' against that invasion, and of course we agree.  However, the
critical period for modern times was following the rout of the Italians in
1941 by the joint British-Ethiopian forces.  Eritrea then was under a
British mandate until 1952.  As we said in our last post, capital was not
Ethiopian but finance capital in a minor way, the coffers of the regime
being from tarrifs, and bribes etc, as well as the feudal exploitation.  It
was not 'self-reliant', and nor was it capitalism

We are not so sure about this word 'progressive' - it is used idly by many.
Put it this way, the removal of Mengistu was supported by millions of
people.  For the Tigrigna and Muslims of the north, it was the armed people
themselves who did this, so how could it be otherwise?  Oromo, Afar and
Somali groups also welcomed the removal of a despot.  For all the Derg's
talk of socialism, and its nationalization of land, industry and banks, it
was for a clique, and toilers were still exploited and oppressed.  Worse
still, as in the fSU hundreds of thousands were forcibly removed to other
areas in the interest of 'development' and tens of thousands perished of
disease.  Food Aid was used to create cannon food through the 'grain
militias' who were sent to die against the Eritrean fighters.  If they did
not go, their families starved to death.  As Haile Selassie presided over
the huge famine of 1973-4, so too did the Derg in 1984-5.  We are speaking
here of the misery of literally millions of people, created by two different
regimes; from their politics, from that of imperialism and from the
perversity of so-called 'lefts' who debate 'progressive or not progressive'.
  If you want to use the word, then please apply it to those millions of
young people in the 'First World' who poured their love and their material
support into Ethiopia and Sudan in 1984-5.  Use it also for the 80 000 who
died to get rid of Mengistu, also young, and including some  'noble born'
with workers and farmers, boys and girls, of all ethnic groups.

As to what replaced the Derg; in both Ethiopia and Eritrea it was the
leadership of the anti-Derg fighters - NOT the fighters themselves, who were
hurriedly disbanded.  This present pair of ruling groups are dominantly
Tigrigna, and they formed a post-war alliance to channel capital into Tigray
and Eritrea, and to exploit the rest of the country through currency
manipulation - Ethiopian currency in both countries, but a higher exchange
rate in Eritrea, so that export goods (eg coffee) flowed northwards to earn
foreign exchange and port dues for Eritrea, while goods flowed into Tigray
in reverse for industrial development - a schoolboy economic trick, but
easily hidden for 6 years.  Eritrea has all the Red Sea coast and ports, so
could make this manipulation.  Assab, of no use for Eritrea, was a principal
target for capture by the EPLF, so this conspiracy was there long before the
end of the war.  The EPRDF glossed this over for the majority of Ethiopians
by a rigged election and false federalism in 1994.  At the same time, both
regimes presented themselves as 'bright lights' to imperialism, again as a
defense of the west flank of the Red Sea.  Eritrea may already have given
Israel naval facilities in the Dahlac islands off Massawa, and maintains a
threat against Khartoum to keep its Islamic fundamentalism at bay for
Arabia, EPRDF supports the South Sudanese struggle against Khartoum,
Musaveni from Uganda.  They are clients of imperialism - that is our view -
a negation of Haile Selassie and Mengistu.  Yet relatively speaking,
conditions became better for the ordinary people, even though that depended
to a large degree on food-aid from imperialism.  While that remains, and
sustainable self-sufficiency is sterilised by the present war, it is an
impasse dominated by jingoism.

Now Nestor:
in general, economism is a widespread disease among us
rebels FROM WITHIN CAPITALIST FORMATIONS (and thus asks us to be
particularly aware of this danger), sepoy thinking is a
widespread disease among us rebels FROM WITHIN SEMICOLONIAL
COUNTRIES (and also asks us to be particularly aware: if you ask
me, I believe it is one of the favorite weapons of our enemy).

Sepoy, as we understand the term, refers to Indian soldiers of the Raj,
properly called 'jawans'.  The rebellious ones were shot from the barrels of
cannon, yes?!  The only 'economism' that may taint our ideas is that an
essential part of the struggle for socialism is to find ways to break from
the dominance of surplus value/labour, markets and capital, that forms the
basis of true independence, and it doesn't then matter so much about
'Balkanisation', does it.  How to achieve that is the problem.  We could say
'let worker and farmer form co-operatives, exchanging use values'.
Excellent!  But this is a country not far short of Roman times in terms of
backwardness, for all our cultural wealth that no doubt gives some our
friends a comfrtable feeling that it remains untouched.  It is impossible
without an international dimension that makes independent links with the
advanced working class of your world - we include Nestor's because we do not
think Argentina is anywhere close to the situation in Africa.  He deludes
himself if he thinks he is in the same plight!

For administrative purposes, two things: Ato means something like honoured
Sir or your honour(!) - we will desist from such sly fun taking!  We shall
never call you Ras.  But since you are interested in sepoys perhaps
Nestorji.  Second, Tsegai not a man, so Ato is inappropriate - be careful
not to say Segen.  Regarding loyalty and your co-modertaor in
Leninits-International, tell him that he has to work on deserving it.  For
you and most on Marxism you deserve it.

To the Ethiopian Comrades from David Altman:

It's interesting that you mention that the Derg army was 70% Oromo.  This
seems somewhat similar to the sitiation in Nigeria, where a good part of the
army & officer corps (I'm not sure of the actual percentage) are "middle
belters," that is, members of smaller nationalities (Tivs, Nupes, etc.) who
under the British & the first years of independence were put
"administratively" under the Hausa-Fulani dominated "Northern Region." They
had a number of rebellions, which were crushed, and then apparently decided
that "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!"  In Igboland (part of the former
Biafra), & I would assume the rest of southern Nigeria, these non-indegenes
are almost an "occupying army," setting up checkpoints to extort money from
motorists, etc.

You misunderstand, though it is good to know that you follow African affairs
closely (are you South African though?)  Oromo are an absolute majority in
Ethiopia, and the most exploited, even now.  Their lot under the Amhara was
the worst, so you might expect that they would support Mengistu.  But they
played their part in his downfall.  You see, many Ethiopian soldiers were
not volunteers, nor were they conscripts.  Far worse.  To receive food aid
during famine, each family in need of food had to give up a husband or a son
to the army.  They were called grain militia.  They were forced to fight and
put in the front line against the Eritreans - i.e. certain death, unless
they were captured or deserted, when they were treated better than the EPLF
fighters.  EPLF/PFDJ is currently helping the OLF against EPRDF.  The latter
is currently playing the same game with poor peaoples lives, who are
conscripted and sent as advance shock troops - actually living mine
clearers.  Checkout Visafric site for words of prisoners in Ertre.  When the
Derg army was disbanded in 1991, many Oromo soldiers ran to the south with
their guns and formed bandit 'shifta' bands - that is a dangerous place to

David again:
Which leads me to my next question.  Back in the '80s I knew a group of
Ethiopian exiles here in Milwaukee. These were all Amharas - some had
connections with the "royal family!" They were for the most part elitist and
chauvinist in their attitudes toward non-Amharas, and the common people in
general.  They reserved their particular hatred, of course, for Mengistu,
whom they called "black".  I take it Mengistu was either from a minority
nationality or some menial Amhara caste.  His mother worked as a servent for
some Amhara aristocrats who treated her badly. This supposedly explained
Mengistu's vengeful attitude toward the Amhara aristocracy - or so these
people said!  Is there truth to this story? Could you tell us a little more
about the social composition of the Derg?

Needless to say, these people weren't much happier when the EPRDF took over
- I don't know who they hated worse, Mengistu or the Tigres!

Thanks for the information on the EPRP.

David Altman


A Tigre is a tiger, someone from Tigray is a Tigrayan, and speaks Tigrigna
as do Eritreans (unless they speak Saho or Arabic).  Tigre is a slip of the
tongue by your Ras Tefari's relatives!

Mengistu was/is half Oromo.  It was not so strange for any servant to be
treated badly by a feudal lord.  Believe us not all Amhara are so bad, but
they need to work on their attitude -difficult after so many centuries.

The great misconception, as we have tried to explain is that the Derg began
as some kind of socialists or Marxists.  That is far from the truth.
Despite the backwardness of the feudal regime, Ethiopian military officers
had a high educational standard, even at low and middle rank.  By 1974, 3000
officers had received US military training, including Mengistu.  However,
there were gross pay differentials which formed the source of resentment
against the regime.  Many officers came from upper layers of the peasantry
in the north and highlands where land was held partly in common or as
isolated farmsteads.  Mengistu's father was an Amhara officer and mother, as
said, an Oromo semi-slave.  The driving force behind the formation of the
Derg was Aman Andom, an Eritrean and 'hero' of the war with Somalia in 1964.
  He and the majority opposed the executions of former feudal administrators
and were for reconciliation with the Eritrean secessionists, but he was
assassinated (maybe by Mengistu - no-one really knows).  The  Provisional
Military Administrative Council (PMAC) at first existed seperately, but
after Aman's death merged with the Derg.  That was the point when the
concept of 'Ethiopian Socialism' entered the scene, when Teferi Banti was
Chairman of the Derg.  It had originally 126 members, but by 1977 Teferi and
all but 20 had been killed - by a clique around Mengistu.  Much is to be
revealed when the trials of former Derg start, but that awaits the return of
Mengistu.  It is common knowledge that Mengistu personally killed many of
the original Derg membership who opposed him or formed a barrier to his
assuming power.  Whether or not he made his immediate supporters drink the
victims' blood in a pact, is perhaps a rumour, but it would be no surprise.
So, to speak of the Derg's social composition is not really valid, except it
was originally from rural or career military families.  In practice it was
the grave-digger of the Ethiopian revolution - Bonapartist may be an apt
term, if a little outdated.  Socialism is something born of a working class
pitted against capital, and grows only now - we hope!

Leul for all (it means 'pearl', so no Ato either please!)

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