Why the imperialists hate Mengistu

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky gorojovsky at SPAMinea.com.ar
Fri Dec 24 09:18:18 MST 1999

"Dictador Mengistu", "ex-golpista Chávez", 'tirano Castro',
'genocida Milosevic', 'perverso Saddam' (in Spanish, though
almost all of them transparent to English ('ex-golpista' is a
violence made to the language in order to call Chávez 'the one
who attempted a coup').

Epithet is a specific figure of speech, very common in Homer
('vinoso Ponto', 'Odiseo fecundo en ardides') that acts
automatically, attaching to the subject _as if it were a part of
her / his own self_ the attribute that the poet or journalist
wants to apply.

There is an ongoing debate on Ethiopia (and laterally on
Mengistu) on the Marxism list, with the participation of a group
of Ethiopians. Maybe George can give his own points of view, or
our Ethiopian friends may comment on the article he forwarded.

Whenever I see the bourgeois press of the West attack some leader
in the Third World, then I begin to feel that the object of such
hatred may deserve some attention on my side...

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
gorojovsky at inea.com.ar
-----Mensaje original-----
De: Greg Butterfield <theredguard at hotmail.com>
Para: leninist-international at buo319b.econ.utah.edu
<leninist-international at buo319b.econ.utah.edu>
Fecha: Viernes, 24 de Diciembre de 1999 10:59
Asunto: L-I: Why the imperialists hate Mengistu

:Via Workers World News Service
:Reprinted from the Dec. 30, 1999
:issue of Workers World newspaper
:By Deirdre Griswold
:The revolution that swept Ethiopia in the 1970s got the
:most oblique of references from the imperialists this week.
:And then it was only to complain that South Africa had
:allowed the leader of Ethiopia's revolution, Col. Mengistu
:Haile Mariam, to leave for his home in exile in Zimbabwe
:after having received medical treatment.
:The U.S. and other imperialist countries had put strong
:pressure on South Africa to seize Mengistu for "war crimes."
:The Western media add the word "dictator" to his name as
:though that were his title.
:Who is Mengistu and why do the imperialists hate him so
:much? Is it true he is a brutal war criminal?
:Ethiopia is the second-largest country in sub-Saharan
:Africa. Its economic potential is enormous, but its people
:are still among the poorest in the world.
:Mengistu became its leader in the 1970s at a time of great
:revolutionary ferment after the feudal monarchy of Emperor
:Haile Selassie was weakened by peasant rebellions, student
:demonstrations and strikes by the small working class
:following a terrible famine.
:Ethiopia had never been subjected to the worst brutalities
:of colonial rule in the same way as the rest of Africa,
:having defeated an Italian expeditionary force in 1895 at
:the battle of Adawa. But it was invaded by Mussolini's army
:in the 1930s. Selassie survived the occupation in exile in
:Britain, and returned to the throne after Italy's defeat in
:World War II.
:>From then on, the emperor collaborated with U.S. and
:British imperialism. For many years, the largest U.S.
:monitoring post for the Middle East was at its Kagnew air
:base in Eritrea, then part of Ethiopia. However, Selassie
:retained a reputation in the world as the leader of a proud
:and independent African state.
:It was the class struggle within this feudal society that
:eventually produced the revolutionary military government
:led by Mengistu. The working class was too small to take the
:power directly. The aroused peasants were too dispersed,
:although they fought in the same way that peasants fought
:their wars in Europe hundreds of years ago--rising up
:against the landlords or their managers, seizing the land
:and then trying to survive off subsistence farming.
:With the country in turmoil, a struggle erupted in the
:Ethiopian military, which was being called on to repress the
:masses. Junior officers broke with--and even shot--those of
:their officers who supported the old feudal system. They set
:up a 125-member Provisional Military Administrative Council
:to run the country.
:In successive struggles, the leadership of this council
:kept moving to the left. Mengistu, a colonel who came not
:from the elite but from a people who had been serfs, emerged
:as the leader with a socialist orientation. The PMAC deposed
:Emperor Haile Selassie and his Crown Council.
:The social transformation in Ethiopia combined elements of
:both a bourgeois and a socialist revolution. Its first
:sweeping act was to nationalize all land and extra houses in
:1975, thus breaking the back of the landlord class. This was
:followed by the nationalization of the banks, insurance
:companies and what little industry existed.
:All this was greeted with enormous popular support--
:except, of course, from the former rulers and their agents.
:Some of them formed a counter-revolutionary army-- called
:the "Ethiopian Democratic Union," interestingly enough--that
:mounted attacks on the revolution from neighboring Sudan.
:The PMAC organized a huge peasant army in response. This
:writer visited Ethiopia twice in 1978, after the landlord
:army had been thrown back. In the countryside, peasants'
:associations had formed with the support of the government.
:They greeted visitors with signs that read: "We'll never let
:the landlords come back."
:In Addis Ababa, the capital, barefoot militias guarded
:public buildings with Kalashnikov rifles. Women were also
:armed in the urban kebeles, or block associations.
:The kebeles organized cooperative markets that sold basic
:goods at low prices, getting around the price-gouging
:merchants. One proud tender of a stall told me about her
:hard life as a serf before the revolution. She had escaped
:physical abuse by walking for days to get to the capital.
:The growth of popular organizations paralleled a mass
:literacy campaign. In eight years, literacy was boosted from
:10 percent to 63 percent throughout the country.
:As hostility to the Ethiopian Revolution grew in the West,
:support came from the Soviet Union and countries in Eastern
:Europe. The German Democratic Republic in particular helped
:with technical training and items like clothing and toys for
:the small children attending kindergartens for the first
:time in Ethiopian history.
:The U.S. could not be seen as overtly organizing the
:overthrow of an African government, but the media here were
:full of outrage at Ethiopia's orientation toward the
:socialist countries. And behind the scenes, the CIA was busy
:trying to dismember the country by assisting, or having its
:allies assist, separatist movements and outright invasions.
:With 90 different ethnic groupings that had been brought
:into a central state through the conquests of a feudal
:empire, Ethiopia was vulnerable.
:One such invasion came from Somalia in 1977. It was
:depicted in the media here as a liberation movement by
:Somali people in the Ogaden plains of eastern Ethiopia. In
:fact, army troops with tanks and heavy weapons penetrated
:far into the Ethiopian highlands before being repulsed.
:The editor of Newsweek, Arnaud de Borchgrave, revealed in
:the Sept. 26, 1977, issue of that magazine that the Somali
:president had received a secret message from President Jimmy
:Carter encouraging him to seize Ethiopian territory. The
:U.S. soon arranged $500 million in aid from Saudi Arabia--
:equal at that time to two years' gross national product for
:Although Ethiopia won the war, it was at a stiff cost for
:a poor country attempting to reorganize society.
:The thorniest problem for Ethiopia was the Eritrean
:separatist movement. This pro vince on the Red Sea contained
:Ethiopia's only ports. Its struggle for independence had
:begun under Haile Selassie, and its leaders were originally
:anti-imperialist. But once the revolution happened in
:Ethiopia, a subtle shift began. The Eritreans began
:receiving more support from Arab regimes in the region.
:The Eritrean leaders characterized the PMAC as fascist and
:collaborated with all its opponents, including even the army
:of landlords known as the Ethiopian Democratic Union.
:The war between Ethiopia and the Eritrean movement was
:fierce. But the leader who replaced Mengistu with the
:blessings of the U.S. and Britain, Meles Zenawi, has also
:waged a bloody war with Eritrea over the past year. No one
:in the West is calling him a dictator.
:There are no demands from the State Department or the
:White House to bring proven mass murderers like General
:Suharto of Indonesia to justice. Suharto killed a million
:Indonesians and hundreds of thousands of East Timorese. But
:he took power in a military coup with U.S. support, and was
:an anti-communist ally in Asia favored all along by
:Mengistu, on the other hand, told the Organization of
:African Unity in 1977 that "We have cut the umbilical cord
:to imperialism." Could this be why the imperialists still
:want his head?
:In a deal brokered in London, the umbilical cord was
:restored in 1991 when the PMAC was overthrown and Mengistu
:resigned. The USSR had been broken up and the prospect of
:building some form of socialism in Ethiopia, predicated on
:assistance from the socialist camp, had been scuttled.
:In 1993, the new regime accepted a program of
:privatization laid down by the international imperialist
:banks. However, the travails of the revolution were not
:totally in vain. It produced lasting results that cannot be
:The anti-feudal aspect of the revolution achieved its
:objective. Today, Ethiopia describes itself as a place where
:"land is public property." The peasants hold subsistence
:plots on lease from the government. Foreign investors also
:can lease land for modern agriculture. But the days when the
:peasants had to turn over 75 percent of their crops--and
:often their very bodies--to the landlords have passed into
:In essence, every class society is a dictatorship of one
:class over another, whether the political form is that of a
:democracy or a totalitarian state. The huge prison
:population and the armies of police in the United States,
:the self-proclaimed most democratic of the imperialist
:countries, are evidence of the underlying class struggle and
:the brute force needed to contain it.
:Nevertheless, the imperialists, wallowing in cash, find it
:suitable at this point in history to buy legislatures and
:presidents in their home countries rather than nurture
:military regimes--although they have engineered the most
:autocratic and openly brutal forms of rule in oppressed
:countries when the masses there challenged the status quo.
:The imperialists hate Mengistu not because he was a
:dictator, but because the dictatorship in Ethiopia was one
:exercised by the oppressed classes over the bourgeoisified
:feudals and their imperialist allies. And for that very
:reason, Mengistu has earned his place in the history of the
:unfolding African revolution.
:                         - END -
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