Ethiopia, People’s Democratic Republic Of

   When Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed in 1974, a left-wing military junta assumed control of Ethiopia. Under the leadership of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, the East African state advocated a MarxistLeninist path of development until the close of the 1980s. Soon after the September toppling of Selassie, the in-coming regime pronounced the creation of the Provisional Military Administrative Council (PMAC), also known as the “Derg.” The PMAC was to become the government of Ethiopia, and despite initially appearing cautious toward the idea of wholesale adoption of Marxism–Leninism, it implemented a statist program that borrowed heavily from that of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The motives for this were as much pragmatic as ideological; such a system would allow for the creation of a reorganized state that could eliminate the ruling bureaucracy of the Selassie era and tighten the new regime’s hold on power. The PMAC decreed a series of orthodox Marxist–Leninist measures, instigating a peasant literacy program to engender revolutionary verve in the majority countryside, nationalizing vast amounts of industry and commerce, and collectivizing both urban and rural land. The price of this was increased political and personal censorship, a clamp down on trade union powers and measures to eliminate anti-government demonstrations.
   The drive toward socialism had been initiated by head of state General Tafari Benti, but when in 1977 he proposed negotiations with the PMAC’s main political rivals, the apparently Maoist Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP), he was arrested and shot under the charge of collaboration with the enemy. Benti was replaced by Mengistu whose opening move was to instigate a “Red Terror” campaign against enemies of the PMAC regime, namely the EPRP, and Tigrayan and Eritrean nationalists who desired independence for their respective provinces. Mengistu was able to garner support and aid from his ideological brethren in the Soviet Union, and this became pivotal in repelling attacks from neighboring Somalia, as well as from the aforementioned nationalist movements within Ethiopia.
   With such military opposition a constant threat, despite resistance to the idea in the early years of his reign, Mengistu realized a robust political organization was required to protect the regime. In December 1979 the Commission for Organizing the Party of the Working People of Ethiopia (COPWE) was launched to act as a Marxist–Leninist vanguard party charged with holding the country together and executing revolutionary strategy. COPWE spent the next five years presiding over a mass expansion of Ethiopian bu- reaucracy and ensuring that state power became subordinate to party will. Having constructed an unassailable position at the helm of government and country, in 1984 despite a horrendous countrywide famine COPWE channeled efforts into giving birth to its own replacement, the Workers’ Party of Ethiopia (WPE). The effect of this was a further centralization of power, with former regional COPWE organs distorted to become mere mouthpieces of the WPE’s central committee, politburo, secretariat, and most crucially general secretary, Mengistu. The party was structured like those of the monopoly regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, strongly adhering to a centralist agenda aimed at transforming Ethiopia via the means of scientific socialism. In reality, it amounted to an ideological legitimatization of sustained one-party military rule, and stood to offer constitutional backing for Mengistu’s place as the venerable and sagacious leader of the country. Ignoring a background of insurrectionary provincial violence, Mengistu and the WPE announced further structural alterations embodied in the constitution of 1987. This represented the regime’s final and unequivocal adoption of orthodox Marxism–Leninism, with the liquidation of the PMAC it entailed presaging the creation of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE). The PDRE was to exist under the tutelage of a centrally elected president, with the first incumbent of that post unsurprisingly Mengistu. However, rather than acting as a democratizing measure, the constitution’s foremost effect was the further ossification of the grasp on power of both the new president and the WPE. This concentration on rapid centralization meant a mollification of tensions with radical groups that had desired and fought for autonomy throughout Ethiopian independence remained distant. One such group, the Eritrea People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) continued to make territorial advances as the government’s overstretched troops floundered. The effects of this were accentuated by the formation of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), who in collaborating with the EPLF contrived to test the WPE’s authority over the country further through 1987 and 1988. Simultaneously, Ethiopia’s command economy was stuttering and on the verge of collapse, and with the Soviet Union, in the throes of Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika initiatives, refusing aid, Mengistu was forced to appeal to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for an urgent financial remedy.
   From the fall of 1989 through to the beginning of 1990, with widespread famine, sweeping territorial gains by oppositional groups and an absence of assistance from communist regimes now crumbling across Eastern Europe and indeed the Soviet Union, Mengistu announced his government’s renunciation of Marxism–Leninism and the extinction of the WPE. The party became the Ethiopian Democratic Unity Party, but before it had had a chance to act upon its capitalist- oriented reformist agenda Mengistu and his government had been forced to flee. Free elections were held in May 1991, with the EPRDF assuming control of Ethiopia, and the EPLF taking over in the imminently independent Eritrea. Both, despite their former commitment to an Albanian creed of Leninism, quickly began implementing free market economics and attempting to create a pluralistic society unthinkable of during Marxist–Leninist military rule. The Marxism–Leninism employed in the PDRE was always more theoretical than actual. Ideology was used to justify measures that would ensure continuing and hegemonic rule, rather than because of a deep-seated commitment to Marxian scientific socialism. While there were occasional bouts of Soviet-style schemes, these were undertaken with practical motivations. This was exemplified by the government’s nationalization and collectivization programs, which were primarily aimed at quelling unrest and achieving disassociation from the previous regime, and in their early reluctance to create a vanguard political party, a mainstay of orthodox Marxism–Leninism. The regime was above all a military one that sought to employ Marxism as an ideological tool with which political supremacy could be secured and maintained.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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