Defend Comrade Mengistu!

On the struggle of our Ethiopian brothers


Ahmed Khan

Comrade Mengistu Haile Mariam, a prominent opponent of colonialism, whose regime provided invaluable assistance to the liberation of Zimbabwe from the colonialist white supremacist regime of Ian Smith, now faces an uncertain future within the very country he helped liberate. Since 1991, when the Derg regime was overthrown and replaced by the neo-colonialist regime of Meles Zinawi, Comrade Mengistu has been in refuge in Zimbabwe. Seldom has a historical figure been maligned on the scale that comrade Mengistu has been. On December 2006, the Federal High Court in Ethiopia tried Mengistu and 24 other members of the Derg regime (1974-1991) in absentia. This kangaroo court brought forward charges ranging from genocide, homicide and illegal imprisonment to illegal property seizure. Mengistu and 11 other members of the Derg, including Legesse Afsaw, former Ethiopian vice-president Fisseha Desta and former Prime Minister Fikresellassie Wogderes, were sentenced to death. However, the ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, appreciative of the historical role of this great man and the progressive regime he headed, has refused to extradite him to Ethiopia, where he faces certain torture and death at the hands of a vindictive regime representing the interests of the very classes he waged a titanic struggle against. However, with Zimbabwe itself the victim of an insidious policy of regime-change, the future for the revolutionary looks increasingly uncertain. True to its nature, the pro-imperialist opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has included as part of its future policy the extradition of Mengistu back to Ethiopia. One can only remark that this is a shameless example of utter ingratitude.

To understand why Comrade Mengistu remains such a threatening figure for Zinawi’s compradorial regime, we must go beyond the historical re-writing of Ethiopian history that the Imperialists and Zinawi’s regime have attempted and reclaim the progressive, indeed revolutionary, legacy of the Derg regime.

Ethiopia is deserving of special respect in the hearts of African Nationalists, anti-imperialists and revolutionaries, the world over. For many it is regarded as the birthplace of African nationalism. It had the unique distinction of being the only un-colonized country in the horn of Africa, right up to the Second World War. The late 1800s which were marked by a colonialist scramble for Africa, Ethiopia was an especially attractive target due to its Gold, silver and mineral wealth. Anglo-Italian rivalry culminated in an Italian company purchasing the Port of Asseb near the southern entrance of the Red Sea from the Afar Sultan in 1870. This was transformed into the Italian colony of Eritrea. An Italian push to subjugate Ethiopia was repulsed in 1896 with the defeat of the Italians at the Battle of Adwa. This had a galvanizing effect of anti-colonialist struggles throughout Africa.

With the rise of Fascism in Italy under Mussolini’s rule, Fascist Italy occupied Ethiopia from 1936-1941. This murderous campaign included especially poignant illustrations of the true object of all forms of Imperialism: war-mongers such as Badoglio looted half the silver in the then Bank of Ethiopia and 100 cases of loot, Graziani stole 70 cases of loot of all kinds. However, Ethiopia not only faced the theft of its material wealth, but also its cultural and intellectual heritage; the National archives were also transferred en-masse to Italy. The aggression against the symbol of African independence incensed anti-colonial fighters throughout the continent, and abroad.

Kwame Nkrumah, then based in London, wrote:

`At that moment, it was almost as if the whole of London had declared war on me personally. For the next few minutes I could do nothing but glare at each impassive face, wondering if these people could realise the wickedness of colonialism, and praying that the day might come when I could play my part in bringing about the downfall of such a system. My nationalism surged to the fore; I was ready to go to hell itself, if need be, in order to achieve my object.’

Nelson Mandela, in his autobiography `Long Walk to Freedom’ recalled the same moment, when he heard of the aggression:

`I was seventeen when Mussolini attacked Ethiopia, an invasion that spurred not only my hatred of that despot but of fascism in general.’

In 1941, with joint operations with the British, Ethiopia was liberated from the Fascist yoke. With the signing of the Anglo-Ethiopian agreement in 1944, Emperor Haile Selassie was retained as the head of state. This figure has been much lionized not merely by the pen pushers of imperialism and the counter-revolutionaries within Ethiopia, but also by the Rastafarians, who mistakenly attributed to him the status of divinity. The reality that characterized his rule directly contradicts these false images that are shoved down our gullets by the historical revisionism that followed the counter-revolution and cold war writers-for-sale. During his rule, a vicious feudalism ran rampant. During the monarchical period, life expectancy was a mere 38 years and 90% of the people were illiterate. Only a tiny handful of feudal landowners and royal sycophants controlled the entire wealth of the country. He attempted to extend his rule over neighboring Eritrea in 1952, but following the Eritrean war of independence, was forced to abandon such pretensions in 1962.

Severe drought and famine engulfed Ethiopia which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of peasants, and led to widespread hunger and food crises in the urban areas. The inability of the monarchy to deal with the crisis and the propensity of the feudalists to bleed the peasantry dry led to increasing hatred for the monarchy on part of the oppressed peasants, workers and a section of the emergent urban middle class. In 1974, a series of strikes, demonstrations and unrest led to a coup carried out by radicals within the army led by the Comrade Mengistu. According to Comrade Mengistu, the Ethiopian Revolution was necessary to replace “”very backward, archaic and feudalist system.

Declaring its intention to establish Socialism in Ethiopia, but recognizing the backwardness of Ethiopia’s economic development, fettered by neo-colonialism and a stagnant Feudalism, the newly-established `Derg’ (a military council of revolutionary military officers led by Mengistu) recognized that the stage of the Ethiopian revolution was still Bourgeois-Democratic and all efforts had to be directed towards liquidating the last vestiges of feudalism. The Derg proceeded to expropriate without compensation all holdings above 25 acres. The land was subsequently redistributed amongst the peasantry who utilized it in the form of cooperatives, the revolution abolished tenancy and the hiring of wage labor on private farms. Private holdings were not to exceed 10 hectares. This transformation was put under the supervision and administration of the peasantry themselves in the form of peasant associations. Large commercial farms were brought under state control and management.

The church, which was one of the mainstays of the monarchist order, as well as one of the largest landowning entities in the country, was disestablished and its patriarch dismissed. The Revolutionary government declared that all religions were equal, and for the first time, Muslim as well as Christian holidays were recognized and became official holidays.

The property and assets of the nobility were confiscated, with all foreign-owned and large local enterprises nationalized. Undeveloped urban property and all rental property were nationalized. Banks, insurance companies and large retail enterprises were brought under state management.

In 1975, the government mobilized 60,000 students and teachers to promote literacy in the rural areas, help with the land reform and promote the social and political ideas of the revolution amongst the peasantry.

In the realm of education, the revolution’s achievements are worthy of respect. Primary school enrollment increased from about 957,300 in 1974/75 to nearly 2,450,000 in 1985/86. There were still variations among regions in the number of students enrolled and a disparity in the enrollment of boys and girls. Nevertheless, while the enrollment of boys more than doubled, that of girls more than tripled. In 1974/75 about 55% of senior secondary schools were in Eritrea and Shewa, including Addis Ababa (primarily urban areas). In 1985/86 the figure was down to 40%. Although there were significantly fewer girls enrolled at the secondary level, the proportion of females in the school system at all levels and in all regions increased from about 32% in 1974/75 to 39% in 1985/86.

As a result of these successes, the literacy rate increased from under 10% during Monarchical rule to over 63% in 1984. In 1990/1991 the adult literacy rate was approximately 60%. The language in which the literacy campaigns were conduced began with five; Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Welamo and Somali and later incorporated fifteen; covering the vernacular of 93% the population.

A new health policy was embarked upon, with emphasis on preventive medicine, rural health services, community involvement and self-reliance. The high point in this campaign was the 1975/76 Zemecha which saw a mass movement of students teaching basic hygiene in far-flung rural areas. Despite its impressive achievements, the credit does not go to the Ethiopians alone. Medical assistance was provided in generous amounts by Cuba, the Soviet Union and a number of East European countries. For instance, in 1980, nearly 400 Cuban internationalist medical workers were active in Ethiopia.

In 1986, the Derg military administrative council was brought to an end, and the Worker’s Party of Ethiopia (WPE), a Marxist-Leninist organization was formed to consolidate and further develop the gains made by the revolution. The People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was proclaimed and a constitution modeled along the lines of the Soviet constitution was brought forward.

The revolutionary regime actively provided internationalist assistance to National Liberation movements throughout Africa, according to its capacity, the most prominent example being providing training to the National Liberation movement in Zimbabwe against white racist rule. This earned it the spite of the Imperialist powers, and which is why the puppet and plaything of white landowners and imperialism, the MDC, wish to see this man out of their country, and preferably dead.

Naturally, no social transformation is carried out without resistance. No class is swept away without a bitter struggle to the end; as it sees its end near, the exploiting class always intensifies its opposition. This was equally true for Ethiopia. This period of intensified class struggle is termed in the imperialist gutter press as the `Red Terror’; it is for alleged `crimes’ committed during this period that the imperialists and the counter-revolutionaries are baying for Mengistu’s blood. This period refers to the years 1977 and 1978, when opposition to the revolution intensified. In 1977, Somalia, under orders of its imperialist paymasters attacked Ethiopia in what was termed the Ogaden War. The Somalis were quickly repulsed thanks to Soviet military hardware and the presence of Cuban internationalist fighters as well as East German and South Yemen troops that arrived the following year.

In opposing Socialism and the rule of the working and toiling classes, the class enemies will always carry out their battles for restoration using overt as well as covert means. This was the case in the Soviet Union where renegades such as Trotsky, Bukharin and like plotted against socialism under the guise of ultra-leftism and revolutionary catch-phrases. This was the case in Ethiopia as well where throughout the period 1977-78 where ethnically-based (but self-proclaimed `revolutionary’) parties such as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP) and the `Socialist’ student movement MEISON found common cause against the revolution with the openly monarchist EDU and even a faction within the Derg that deemed socialist construction in Ethiopia to be impossible. The pattern of their resistance transformed into one of open collaboration with Imperialism and surrounding reactionary regimes. The Counter-revolutionaries led by the EPRP attempted to sabotage economic construction and the road of the revolution by attacking farm collectives and factories, slaughtering workers and peasants indiscriminately. In response, out of the peasant associations and collectives a force 500,000-strong was raised, out of the most dedicated to the revolution. These revolutionaries were armed and trained by the Derg. Every factory and mass organization also raised a militia of their own to protect their enterprises from attacks and sabotage by counter-revolutionaries. This resistance, and fight to protect the revolution is what is termed the `Red Terror’. Such slanders serve to divert attention away from the fact that this was merely in response to a very ruthless White Terror.

As communists, we are not pacifists. We do not believe in non-violence as an end in of itself, but will fight to protect and extend the rule of the Workers and toilers by any means necessary, by peaceful means as well as by revolutionary violence. Contrary to what bourgeois academic hacks regurgitate, the `Red Terror’ was not an insidious shadowy state organ, as they would have us believe, but was nothing other than the workers and peasants of Ethiopia defending their revolution; guns in hand, fearing more than death, subjugation once again under exploitative capitalism and feudalism.

What marked the temporary fall of the revolution in Ethiopia was the collapse of the Soviet Union, upon which in depended for military aid as well its major commercial and trading partner. With Mikhail Gorbachev hammering down the final nails in the coffin of socialism in the Soviet Union, Ethiopia was left to its own devices against a renewed counter-revolutionary push armed to the teeth by imperialism and surrounding reactionary regimes such as Eritrea. Thus the Ethiopian Revolution was overthrown in 1991 by Meles Zinawi. The WPE was disbanded and Zinawi took office. Almost all of the senior Derg and WPE figures were arrested.

The First `Free elections’ were held in May 1995, with Zinawi emerging as prime minister, and Negasso Gidada as president. However, both within and without (including the imperialist backers of the counter-revolution admitting) charges of rigging the elections were rampant. This was due to the fact that at the time, Zinawi enjoyed an extremely low approval rating (votes don’t matter in bourgeois `democracy’).

Under Zinawi’s rule, which continues till today, Ethiopia once the cradle of African Nationalism and anti-Imperialism has been transformed into a neo-colonial backwater and basket-case. Despite exporting Gold, Coffee, Qat, Oilseeds, Live animals and being the second largest Maize producer on the continent as well as having the largest livestock population in Africa, on October 10th 2008, Oxfam stated that no less than 6.4 million people were in need of emergency food aid and 13.5 million were in need of `some sort of aid’. According to them: “The number of those suffering severe hunger and destitution has spiralled,”

The plunder of the country has been carried out primarily by Britain, France, Japan, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

Under this rapacious system of re-colonization, Ethiopia which once inspired African Nationalists and progressives with the vision of the future, now is one of the largest conduits of the international drug trade, for Heroin produced in central and south Asia destined for Europe and Cocaine destined for Southern Africa.

The Ethiopia which once proudly stood out as an example of self determination and a beacon of independence, now is reduced to a mere mercenary state; note the country serving as a proxy for the imperialists in the invasion of Somalia in 2006.

Given the anti-popular nature of the regime, given its history of oppressing its own people, resistance from within is growing. After all the patience of the people is not limitless. Since he assumed power in 1991, Zinawi has butchered and imprisoned tens of thousands of former Derg supporters and revolutionaries. Just in June 2005, hundreds of our Ethiopian brothers were killed merely for calling for the people be allowed to participate in government.

It is no wonder then, why Zinawi is so eager to re-write history, why he is so eager to get Mengistu, a potent reminder of an alternative system, out of the way.

We must learn from Africa, we must know that Imperialism only understands the language of revolutionary violence. It won’t heed us until it has daggers pointed at its throat.

The only crime Mengistu is `guilty’ of is seeking liberation from neo-colonial and Capitalist exploitation. Very soon, the `sinners’ will outnumber the `Pious’: and Zinawi and his paymasters know it!

Long Live Mengistu!

Long Live the Ethiopian Revolution!

Down With Neo-Colonialism!

Long Live Marxism-Leninism!

Ahmed Khan is a member of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party (Communist Workers and Peasants Party) of Pakistan and is currently based in Mauritius. Other article by the author can be found here.

One Response to “Defend Comrade Mengistu!”

  1. Whie I admire your writings, this one falls short of my expectations. Mengistu though very ambitious started well in the early years of the revolution. However, as he became more popular, he killed thousands of people including, Generals, Teferi Benti, Aman Michael Andom and Col. Atnafu Abate to name a few. Most of the murdeorus activites took place during the Red terror campaign. To make matters worse, he stole millions of hard earned money belong to the Ethiopian state to establish a farm and live stupendously in Harare. Less face it, Mengistu and his cronies are criminals and deserve to be punished.

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