In December 2006, Ethiopia’s former leader Mengistu Haile Mariam was convicted in absentia for “war crimes” after a 12-year show trial spearheaded by the current pro-imperialist government. He was sentenced to life in prison on Jan. 11.
Mengistu and the other Derg officers were tried for their participation in the “Red Terror” of the late 1970s. Zenawi’s government accused Mengistu and his supporters of killing thousands of people. But these crude, anti-communist lies slander the policies actually pursued by the Derg-led government of
Mengistu currently lives in exile in
Despite imperialist and religious propaganda that attempts to deify Selassie, workers, peasants and significant sectors of the middle class were oppressed, exploited and forced to toil in poverty under his rule.
During Selassie’s reign,
The famine and war created a deepening crisis for the Ethiopian government. In 1974, following a wave of strikes and other mass actions, Selassie was deposed by the communist-inspired Derg.
The Derg introduced broad and profound social revolution to the workers and peasants of
The first act of the Derg government was to smash feudalism by expropriating without compensation all land over 25 acres and turning it over to the peasants. The peasants then worked the land either on cooperative farms or on small personal plots. Even on the personal plots, neighbors pooled their harvests.
The Derg quickly declared its goal was to establish a Marxist-Leninist state in
Facing imperialist opposition, but aided by the socialist bloc and
The Derg government also organized hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants into associations to defend nationalized property against active counter-revolutionary currents in society. The government recognized that only the vast majority of the Ethiopian people could move the revolution forward.
‘Red Terror’ fact and fiction
The Ethiopian revolutionary forces, led by Mengistu, did employ violence to counter the violence unleashed by the forces of counter-revolution and in order to defend and extend the revolution. Marxists recognize that the employment of force and violence is the inevitable consequence of the class struggle in the highest phase of confrontation in the revolutionary process. Both sides employ force in defensive and offensive operations.
The bourgeois press paints revolutionary violence as excessive and horrific. But this leaves out the reason why violence can be necessary—the ruling class never gives up its massive amount of wealth and class privilege without a fight. So, even after the Ethiopian revolutionaries triumphed, the imperialists and their counter-revolutionary proxies continued to organize and overthrow the revolution. In this pursuit, the counter-revolutionaries in
Because of the intense imperialist pressure on the Ethiopian process, different political factions began to develop inside the Derg. One faction opposed Mengistu because they did not think building socialism in
In response, the pro-socialist Derg leaders rallied the Ethiopian people to defend the revolution. The country’s peasants’ associations, with 6 million members, raised a force of 500,000 to protect
Additionally, every important factory and mass organization also raised a militia to defend their workplace.
It is this army and the people’s militias that are now dubbed the “Red Terror” by the imperialists and their lackeys, like Zenawi.
Contrary to what the capitalist press claims today, the “Red Terror” was not some repressive secret police force. Rather, it was the armed organizations of the Ethiopian people defending the gains of their revolution. Yes, they used force, sometimes necessary deadly force, all to prevent a return to the days of exploitation under Selassie.
It should be no surprise that Meles Zenawi does not recognize the difference between genocide and revolutionary violence. He is a stooge of imperialism. Zenawi and his followers—armed and funded by
The many years of drought and famine under Selassie’s rule were difficult for the Derg to overcome, despite registering significant social and economic advances. The overthrow of the
Mengistu was forced out of
Since 1991, Zenawi’s rule has been marked by an authoritarian bent. Tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned or killed, many of them Derg supporters. In June 2005, Zenawi’s police killed hundreds of anti-government protesters who demanded a voice in
In late December 2006, Zenawi oversaw the invasion of
The actions of Zenawi and his government towards former Derg officials is no more than an attempt to rewrite history. The government wants to wipe away the achievements of
All revolutionaries and progressives should question claims of “genocide” and “senseless violence” when imperialists and their stooges use them against anti-imperialist governments or organizations. In the case of