Questions for Ethiopian Cdes re: EPRP

Ghebremichael Woldeselassie ghebremichael at
Sun Dec 12 18:41:08 MST 1999

We are happy to see more information regarding Mengistu in South Africa from
Ato Louis, but 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.

With respect to Ato Nestor's accusing us of breaching confidence, we are not
aware that Marx was in favour of private property, especially as regards
political opinion.  If this list was filled with known police spies, then
indeed many things would have been unwise.  The letter we included was
highly disrespectful, and like what happened to Brother Jamal.  We would not
pass on gossip, but an insult is an insult.

Now, Ato Doyle.  No we do not eject anyone, since we are not a party, but a
group of firm friends who trust one another because of long experience.  We
have different views, different social backgrounds and different levels of
education. But we stick together because of our "particular situations"!
Maybe you find that hard to understand.  We are for social production of use
values - that is enough for us at present.  We need to discuss how to do
that in the Horn of Africa, which is split into a hundred, or more,
divisions - it is Africa.  Clearly, we are not from all ethnic groups, but
for us to engage in expulsions over minor matters would not bode well!

Ato David did a wonderful thing finding the EPRP site - it must be in USA or
Europe. This is a very different EPRP from the old.  It is not Amhara
chauvinist, but simply social democrat with a programme that is not far
different from TPLF EPLF, ELF and the many others.  It is national
bourgeois, but the name list suggests a multiethnicity.  Yes there are
members dead and in jail from Woyane, and if they are active, then it is as
with us - quietly.  It is illegal.  Their site makes no mention of their
fatal turn in the revolution, when they assassinated Me'Ison members who
came close to the  Derg, but Me'Ison was a strange mix of workers organising
themselves for the first time and the "unions" permitted by Haile Selassie.
EPRP and Me'Ison were thrown into the air by a trubulent popular movement
that had no leadership.  Me'Ison landed with the strong men, EPRP by
themselves, but the Me'Ison was itself liquidated by the Derg or some of its
leaders entered the party created artificially by the Derg to give it
civilian credentials.  There was interesting reading of how TPLF and EPLF
were against EPRP in the north, which accounts for their disappearence into
the wild places of Begembder in the NW, and long being unheard of.  This is
a strange web site Ato David.  It is eye candy.  EPRP was the young
intellectuals en masse, full of ideas brought back by some who had studied
abroad in the late 60's - New Left and somewhat Italian influenced, with
some US and UK - but we were all too young to have any first hand experience
- around average 10 in 1974.  We shall try to find time to look more deeply
in Addis too.  But please remember that knocking doors is not such a clever
tactic.  Like we said last, some of EPRP are possibly in Woyane, joining
with TPLF opportunistically, being Tigrigna, during the war against the
Derg.  Very many of EPRP were Amhara, and there were Eritreans too, but
probably few from less favoured groups.

How the different groups formed in 1974 is something to write of, but we try
to deal with EPRP here.  First you should know a little background of the
period before.  Migration of rural people to the cities of Addis and Asmara
saw them grow.  Capital was dominated by foreign sources (Italian, Greek,
Lebanese, Armenian), and in 1967 of the 490 factories with more than $5 000
capital (small yes) 385 were foreign owned.  Import substitution, food
processing and textiles accounted for 70% of employed workers (about 74 000
out of more than 30 million people), 20% in state employment and 10% in
traditional artisanal crafts.  By the early 1970s unemployment in Addis was
about 50%.  There were unions but of the vertical kind under the supervision
of the Ministry of Labour, in the Confederation of Ethiopian Labour Unions
(CELU).  This had 80 000 members from 120 separate unions.  CELU leaders
were trained through the African-American Labor Centre, linked with AFL-CIO
and the CIA.  It had no political dimension whatever, and there were no
parties of the working class.  The All Ethiopian Socialist Movement Me'Ison
was formed as a clandestine group of intellectuals in 1968, with a platform
of anti-feudalism and anti-imperialism, and proclaimed itself in 1976.  EPRP
may have formed in 1972, as they claim, but it was inactive in Ethiopia
until 1975.  It was of a later generation of students drawn from land-owning
and mercantile classes - there were about 8 000 at university under Haile
Selassie in Addis and abroad - and 80% Amhara, Eritrean and Tigrayan.  This
elite group was highly receptive to the tumult of socialist and radical
ideas emerging in Europe and North America in the late 1960s, brought back
by those who had studied abroad on government grants.  Brought face to face
with the social injustice in the country and the rapidly worsening
conditions in the rural areas from which many of the students came, these
ideas took on material form.  Within this movement was Eritrean and Tigrayan
nationalism against the Amhara empire, but all fought together against the
regime when it came to its knees because of a disorganised wealth of
disputes among soldiers, teachers, civil servants and taxi drivers in the
main, culminating in March 1974 with a general strike.  CELU then broke with
its control and became the main organiser of the small working class.

In an attempt to disperse the students after assuming power in late 1974,
the Derg/PMAC announced  the infamous zemetcha (rural "campaign") when 50
000 school and university students were sent  to assist in agrarian reform -
a sort of "cultural revolution".  The zemetcha students came back and
clashed with PMAC and formed an alliance with CELU, out of which the proper
foundation of EPRP emerged.  It called for social revolution that
transcended that against feudalism, based on popular democracy rather than
under Derg/PMAC.  Derg did two things, it began  measures of expropriation,
nationalization, state control and land reform, driven by this popular
opposition, but also set out to destroy it.  In September 1975 CELU began a
campaign of general strikes against Derg.  These were crushed, and CELU
dissolved in December 1975, leaving EPRP isolated.  Curiously, Derg began to
try to win over the EPRP and the CELU militant workers.  But in March 1976,
Me'Ison emerged, to support the Derg, helping draft the manifesto of the
National Democratic Revolution for the Derg/PMAC.  Four other groups
(Echa'at - Oppressed People's Party of Ethiopia, Oromo dominated; Was -
Labour League, Maoist; Marxist-Leninist Organization of Ethiopia, Malered;
Seded, Revolutionary Flame - formed by left faction within the army.  None
had any working class credentials and acted as a 'left cover' for Derg.
This was the moment when history took its later bloody course in Ethiopia.
EPRP began an assassination campaign against Derg and its supporters in
September 1976.  There was an attempt (supposedly) on Mengistu's life.  If
it happened at all, it was likely by disaffected army people, but the blame
fell on EPRP.  Then the blood flowed and the jails filled.

Derg had previously organised the 50% unemployed and placed them in position
of local power in the districts of Addis, with a growing network of
informers.  By May 1978 30 000 were in prison, no-one knows how many dead
and how many fled.  EPRP went to Tigray and Gondar, originally allied
militarily with the EPLF and hostile to the rival TPLF.  In 1979, EPLF and
TPLF formed a loose alliance and EPRP and its fighters were driven to
isolated areas.  The reason for this was their orientation to a
multi-regional solution to the nationalities problem in Ethiopia, and
against Eritrea breaking away (TPLF went along with EPLF nationalism, to get
material support from them, at least a decisive group of the TPLF leadership
did, for there was always a pan-Ethiopian wing of TPLF.  By 1979, EPRP had
become aligned to Hoxxaite politics - truly strange.  When we said that some
EPRP ended up in the present regime, it was a section of those
Albania-oriented EPRP who were aligned with the pan-Ethiopian TPLF faction
in 1990-1.  The last now holds sway in the present government.  Meles Zenawi
was for Eritrean separation - he is from the same place as Issayas Afeworki.
  So it could be that some EPRP former members are involved in this awful
war with Eritrea.  Meles, being 'a good man fallen among thieves' remains as
a source of some popular support for Woyane.  Clearly, the Derg by isolating
then liquidating EPRP, together with EPRPs inability to break from its elite
origins, are involved in possibly many claiming to be one EPRP or another

But EPRP has no significance today.  You see the main issue here is
nationalism/regionalism, with Amhara chauvinism increased by that of
Tigrigna (Tigrayans and Eritreans), we are ashamed to say.  That is why it
is very dangerous to express socialist ideas openly, and why we remain
clandestine.  We must try to work with workers who are of all groups, in a
friendly and helpful way, but vvery patiently.  Also, 70% of the disbanded
Derg army were Oromo, and hate the Amhara and distrust the Tigrigna against
whom they were made to fight by Mengistu.  They are armed and roam some
areas.  But they are the majority and the most oppressed people, so we must
somehow try to link with Oromo too, at first through workers.  Oromo have
nowhere to go, though their nationalists demand to have Addis back - it was
formerly Oromo land before the Amhara Ras's from Gondar conquered it!

Sorry for such a long post, but we hope it helps Ato Nestor rid himself of
his clinical views!  He is right not to comment from a long way.  We freely
admit to being confused ourselves.  Come, and be welcome as an
internationalist and a socialist comrade!  But you must stay very quiet
here, for it is easy to make a problem.

Today Tsegai

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