Below I am pleased to reprint an editorial from Abyot, the English-language publication of the Study, Publication and Information Center of the Foreign Committee of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Party, from the February–March 1978 issue. The editorial is a bitter, angry polemic against the All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement, known as Meison or Meisone, the EPRP’s primary competitor on the civilian left. This editorial is really evocative of the political discourse of the time.
Meison sided with the ruling military Derg against the EPRP, and its members were among those leftists who trained the military cadre of the Derg in Marxist-Leninist concepts. Meison seems to have integrated itself into the security apparatus of the state, and at least according to the EPRP and its survivors, the initial phase of the “red terror” was directed by Meison instigators working inside that apparatus, and correspondingly, EPRP urban military operations were often directed against specific Meison members who assisted the forces of repression. This polemic dates from the period after Meison and the Derg fell out, when Meison was added to the list of targets of government “red terror.” The conflict between EPRP and Meison, rooted in political differences first nurtured in the student movement abroad that evolved into lethal sectarianism after 1974, was the central tragedy at the heart of the early years of the revolution. Yet, it must be said that the true nature of the Derg is best revealed by its evolving relationship with the civilian left. Shortly after this period, the Derg turned against all remaining civilian left groups, leaving Colonel Mengistu’s party Seded to transform itself into a state socialist party. Meison leader Haile Fida, mentioned in this text, was eventually executed by the Derg. Despite the optimistic tone at the end of this article, by this time the majority of the EPRP leadership in urban Ethiopia had already been brutally eliminated.
I will follow this posting up soon with some polemics from the Derg itself against Meison justifying its expanded campaign of repression. I have not yet sourced English-language materials of this time period from Meison itself. Indeed, unfortunately the memoirs published by surviving Meison veterans seem to have appeared only in Amharic.
(Note: I have not corrected typos or spelling inconsistencies from the original typed and mimeographed text. In a few cases where the original was cut off or hard to read, I have made an educated guess. By “social imperialism” and “social imperialists,” this text refers to the Soviet Union and its advocates.—ISH)
MEISONE’S “NEW” TUNES FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
True enough Meisone never pretended to be a party at first. As its name implied, the “All Ethiopian Socialist Movement”, it posed as a movement and if it ended up being a movement confined to the imperial palace and some government institutions, it is no one’s fault but that of its reactionary line and its anti-people leaders like Haile Fida, Negede Gobeze and some others like Kebede Mengesha and Daniel Tadesse.
Meisone argued that “the Derg is progressive” and should be given support by revolutionary forces. Hiding behind the slogan of “critical support” the Haile Fida group allied itself with an anti-democratic regime that would have been critically and firmly exposed and combatted. Leaving aside the reformist claptrap about “critical support” let us look briefly if the Meisone grouping did employ this. Primarily, a party or group that allies itself with a regime under the watchword of “’critical support” must have its own independent existence, must have a strong base and must be critical of the regime’s anti-democratic actions while extolling and supporting its progressive ones. We do not subscribe to this opportunist fantasy but that’s what its exponents say. Meisone talked a lot about critical support but in practice it not only supported each and every anti-people actions of the Derg but it initiated these repressive acts itself.
Meisone was the organiser, the ideologue, the propagandist and the executioner for the Derg. Meisone filled the bureaucracy, run the so-called Provisional Office for Mass Organizational Affairs (POMOA), etc. At a critical time when the junta was besieged by the mass revolutionary movement and cornered, Meisone mercenaries came to its rescue and beautifying the fascist regime through “Marxist” phrases carried out a wide and extensive campaign of confusion and repression. Together with the full and unconditional backing to the DERG (so much so that there was absolutely no difference practically between Meisone positions and that of the Derg) they undertook the physical liquidation of militants and progressives from all sectors.
Meisone undertook a wide campaign against the formation of a provisional peoples government and struggled for the maintenance of the military regime. It labelled this popular demand for the formation of the provisional peoples government as a “reactionary petty-bourgeois demand.”
Meisone not only pushed for the banning of the Confederation of Ethiopian Labour Unions, the Ethiopian Teachers’ Association, the Ethiopian Women Coordinating Committee, etc but it zealously worked to form a pro-Derg, Derg-controlled trade union, women’s union, etc.
Meisone spearheaded the ferocious villification campaign against the EPRP and labelled the EPRP as an “enemy organisation that must be destroyed by force imeediately”.
Kebede Mengesha, Chairman of the .Addis Abeba POMOA and central Committee chairman of Meisone was the first to propose the carrying out of house to house searches in Addis Ababa. His proposal presented to the Derg in a written form were later applied causing the loss of so many lives amidst the people.
Long before the Derg declared total war against the EPRP (September 1976), the central committee of Meisone gathered to vote death sentence on a list of EPRP members and sympathisers. The list was forwarded to the Derg and served as the first base for the massive man-hunt carried in Addis Ababa and other places.
The members of Meisone organised within the POMOA and within the Kebeles carried out direct repression on the masses. The examples are many but suffice it to mention that the central committee member of Meisone, Negede Gobezie, led the assault on assembled university students and personally killed scores of students. Abdullahi Yususf, a leading Meisone member, brutally tortured and killed scores of workers and students in Harar, Dire Dawa, etc.
On the eve of May Day 1977, using an anti-Derg demonstration as a pretext, Meisone armed groups roamed according to a predetermined plan killing more than 1000 people, majority of whom were young anti-Derg militants.
The Meisone leaders evolved the Peasant March project on Eritrea and the EPRA areas in Tigrai in 1976. This project, code named Raza Project was defended by Meisone leader Negede Gobezie (in a talk to Ethiopian Ambassadors in Bonn) as a revolutionary action against “reactionary separatists”.
When the Derg members restructured the Derg and reduced the dictatorial powers of Mengistu and tried to curb the killing spree undertaken by Meisone, Haile Fida and his clique schemed and plotted with Mengistu and stage a coup d’état in the palace and executed Major Moges, Teferi Benti and others.
Meisone worked hand in glove with the dictator Mengistu. Their policy was not critical support but uncritical and unconditional backing. And this is hardly surprising as the dictator was implementing the actions drafted and worked out by Meisone. Meisone wanted to be declared the legal and only party ruling the country. On this, Mengistu had other ideas. His group, Sede[sic], was being inflated by forced and whole sale “recruitment.” The contradiction between the dictator and the Haile Fida Group grew and it was not long before Meisone fell like a house of cards. The social imperialists who used Meisone as a bridge to establish good relations with the Mengistu regime knew quite well in which plate they could find their goulash and so remained allied to Mengistu and are helping him establish his “party.”
Meisone was not a group within the camp of the revolution. It had slipped from reformism into outright crime against the people. Meisone members were killers, informers, anti-people vermins. As such, they have been subjected to the wrath of the people and have paid for some of their crimes.
Nowadays, a central committee member of Meisone who has escaped to Europe, the killer and torturer Negede Gobezie, has been giving press interviews in which he has tried to sing “new” tunes and to make it appear as if Meisone had been championing the demards of the masses! Let us briefly look at this “new” position of Meisone (or what has remained of this group).
1. Meisone now claims that it fights for the democratic rights of the masses and the immediate promulagation of these. The truth is that when the EPRP raised the slogan of “democratic rights to the masses without any restriction”, Meisone led the attack against this revolutionary demand and labelled it as a reactionary demand of “anarchists.” One can refer to the various newspaper articles written by Meisone members and the various issues of the Meisone paper, “Voice of the People,”, to see that this group stood against the demand for democracy and favoured the continuation of the military rule without any democracy till the “masses become conscious”’. In fact Meisone argued time and again that democracy did exist under the Derg’s rule.
2. Meisone now claims that it was opposed to the peasant march (Zemetcha) against Eritreans, etc. However, the truth is that the conflict between the regime and Meisone was only as to who (Meisone or Seded) will lead the peasant militia. Making this amply clear, Meisone commented in its organ, “Voice of the People” (No. 59, june 1977), in the following terms:
“Meisone is not a.petty bourgeois pacifist or peace worshipping organization. Thus it supports all the actions in Northern Ethiopia or other areas taken to liquidate reactionaries and to safeguard Ethiopia’s revolution and unity.” (This was written explicitly to counter the “rumors” which, according to Meisone asserted that Meisone was against the peasant march on Eritrea, etc)
3. Meisone now claims that it supports the Eritrean people’s right to self-determination and independence. This is another lie. Meisone has been attacking the EPRP as “reactionary” because the EPRP supported the right to independence of the Eritrean masses. Meisone had been crying “death to Eritrean separatists!” in Abyot Square and in its publications. In fact the aforementioned issue of “’Voice of the People” explicitly states on page 3 that “Meisone does not support the separation of Eritrea…and Meisone believes that the solution to the Eritrean question is not independence but the strong unity of the nationalities of Ethiopia.”
Meisone’s new tune is, in short, as false as its previous affirmation of critical support and other related hodge podge. It is another attempt at deception by a group which has taken deception as principle. Meisone tried to play with another devil in the form of Mengistu and found out that the dictator and his followers are as cunning and as devoid of morality as them. Meisone is a victim of its own crimes and if the regime it has tried to strengthen turns against it, we can only say that they got what was coming to them. The Meisone rif raff brought social imperialism into the country and has now found out that the Kremlin criminals have abandoned them and glued themselves to the military thugs. Thus, Meisone may try to wear anti social imperialist masks just as it is trying to e[illegible] the mass demands which it had been fighting against so ferociously just a few months before.
Meisone did a lot of damage to the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed masses. Meisone caused the death of countless invaluable militants of the EPRP and the broad masses. Meisone no longer exists as a viable [word cut off] let alone a movement. However, the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed masses continues to rage unabated. The EPRP continues to grow stronger to deal heavy blows to the enemies of our people. The fate of Meisone shows all opportunists to what end they will come and that all their machinations are futile and will not succeed to destroy the EPRP and the mass revolutionary struggle.
“Against the social-traitors, against reformism and opportunism, this political line can and must be followed in all spheres of the struggle without exception. And then we shall win the working masses. And with the working masses the Marxist centralised political party, the vanguard of the proletariat, will take the people along the right road to the triumph of proletarian dictatorship, to proletarian instead of bourgeois democracy, to the Soviet Republic, to the socialist system.”—LENIN