Saturday, March 26, 2016

A second blog!

EPRP demonstration in Ethiopia in 1976.

“What!?” you say, “He can barely keep up with this one!”

Well, it's true, I've become a very lazy blogger. While I'm extraordinarily proud of the year I wrote for this blog once a day, my contributions here have become far and few between. During the period I was writing for the Kasama Project, now ended, I hardly posted here at all. I'm finding my voice again though, so don't give up on me. Meanwhile, however, I have undertaken a new project I'm really excited about.

My new, second blog, certainly not replacing this one, is called “Abyot: The Lost Revolution” and it is documenting a research project I have undertaken on the Ethiopian revolution of the 1970s. I started this blog over a year ago and didn't really tell anybody about it; but now that I am well into the research project itself, I want to share what I'm learning, and I have begun much more regular postings.

It's a subject I have been interested in for, no lie, forty years. Here's an excerpt from my new blog's statement of intent:

In 1976 I was eighteen years old and a university student in Chicago. My brief tenure in college was marked by my increasing radicalization, as I became involved with the American revolutionary left. I became a voracious consumer of worldwide revolutionary literature along with the classics of Marxist theory. I attended protests and forums, conferences and demonstrations, and, in those long-ago days, admired the organization and fortitude of leftist students from around the world from places like Iran, Ethiopia, Eritrea and elsewhere. I went to demonstrations where police or right-wingers were menacing and threatening, and certainly saw the potential of brutality. In my years as a radical I've witnessed hundreds of arrests and atrocious acts of police violence. But my life has rarely been in direct danger as a result of my political activities....

In 1976 a revolution in Ethiopia was experiencing a crucial shift, and I watched and studied these events as they happened. Military officers were consolidating their co-optation of a mass, popular uprising. Thousands of revolutionary students my very age were out in the streets fighting for that revolution and attempting to resist the hijacking of the revolution by the military. The students, along with workers and peasants, were organized under the red banners of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP), at the time a largely clandestine Marxist-Leninist formation. Very shortly the EPRP faced a massive, genocidal government campaign of violence and extermination. Dubbed "The Red Terror" by the military government, soon thousands of student revolutionaries my age were rounded up and murdered. The commitment of these young revolutionaries was inspirational to me, and gave me great pause to consider the contrasts and contradictions.

This blog is an investigation project.

What was the EPRP at the height of its power? What were the forces it was up against? What was the dynamic of the Ethiopian Revolution? Why did the EPRP lose?

I hope to excavate, if not rehabilitate, the historical reputation of the EPRP during its Marxist-Leninist period through a process of curation, collection, research and reportage. I will post articles, artwork and photos, book excerpts, reviews, and if I find them, reminiscences, about the Ethiopian revolution, primarily in the second half of the 1970s but extending through the 1980s.

At the new blog I have also posted a more expanded series of study questions which explains some of the issues I'm trying to understand. That post is entitled “8 Study Questions on the Ethiopian Revolution.”  And I've posted — and will update, as I go — the reading list of works I'm consulting for my research. I'm posting cool artwork, photos I find, sharing bits of the research and provocative bits of the story as it unfolds, and I hope to eventually produce more substantial essays about the subject of my studies itself.

If you're interested in revolutionary history, a story that is really woefully forgotten or misunderstood, hop on over and take a look!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Crucial Message for Our Times

Cover of the 1920s Turkish Communist journal Aydinlik picturing Rosa Luxemburg

The excerpt below is not rare or hard to find. It's been in print for generations, and thanks to the good comrades at the Marxist Internet Archive, it is freely available on the internet. But this crucial document, Rosa Luxemburg's timely attack on Bernsteinian revisionism "Reform or Revolution?" should be required reading for today's generation of socialists, especially those who, in the process of #FeelingTheBern, think they are merely choosing one of many strategies for a better world. Youthful optimism is a beautiful thing. But sometimes it is of dire importance to look back over a hundred years ago. Truly, there's nothing new under the sun. The revolution is nothing without the wisdom of fighters, leaders, comrades, philosophers and theoreticians who have fought these battles before. Their sacrifices are supposed to make our struggle easier.

Pay attention!

Below are excerpts from Reform or Revolution, chapter 8, "Conquest of Political Power," first published in 1900 and revised in 1908. Luxemburg's entire pamphlet is available on MIA.

"[D]oes the development of democracy render superfluous or impossible a proletarian revolution, that is, the conquest of political power by the workers?

Bernstein settles the question by weighing minutely the good and bad sides of social reform and social revolution. He does it almost in the same manner in which cinnamon or pepper is weighed out in a consumers’ co-operative store. He sees the legislative course of historic development as the action of “intelligence,” while the revolutionary course of historic development is for him the action of “feeling.” Reformist activity, he recognises as a slow method of historic progress, revolution as a rapid method of progress. In legislation he sees a methodical force; in revolution, a spontaneous force.

We have known for a long time that the petty-bourgeoisie reformer finds “good” and “bad” sides in everything. He nibbles a bit at all grasses. But the real course of events is little affected by such combination. The carefully gathered little pile of the “good sides” of all things possible collapses at the first filip of history. Historically, legislative reform and the revolutionary method function in accordance with influences that are much more profound than the consideration of the advantages or inconveniences of one method or another....

Legislative reform and revolution are not different methods of historic development that can be picked out at the pleasure from the counter of history, just as one chooses hot or cold sausages. Legislative reform and revolution are different factors in the development of class society. They condition and complement each other, and are at the same time reciprocally exclusive, as are the north and south poles, the bourgeoisie and proletariat....

That is why people who pronounce themselves in favour of the method of legislative reform in place and in contradistinction to the conquest of political power and social revolution, do not really choose a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal. Instead of taking a stand for the establishment of a new society they take a stand for surface modifications of the old society. If we follow the political conceptions of revisionism, we arrive at the same conclusion that is reached when we follow the economic theories of revisionism. Our program becomes not the realisation of socialism, but the reform of capitalism; not the suppression of the wage labour system but the diminution of exploitation, that is, the suppression of the abuses of capitalism instead of suppression of capitalism itself....

No law obliges the proletariat to submit itself to the yoke of capitalism. Poverty, the lack of means of production, obliges the proletariat to submit itself to the yoke of capitalism. And no law in the world can give to the proletariat the means of production while it remains in the framework of bourgeois society, for not laws but economic development have torn the means of production from the producers’ possession....

In a word, democracy is indispensable not because it renders superfluous the conquest of political power by the proletariat but because it renders this conquest of power both necessary and possible. When Engels, in his preface to the Class Struggles in France, revised the tactics of the modern labour movement and urged the legal struggle as opposed to the barricades, he did not have in mind – this comes out of every line of the preface – the question of a definite conquest of political power, but the contemporary daily struggle. He did not have in mind the attitude that the proletariat must take toward the capitalist State at the time of the seizure of power but the attitude of the proletariat while in the bounds of the capitalist State. Engels was giving directions to the proletariat oppressed, and not to the proletariat victorious....

Just as all roads lead to Rome so too do we logically arrive at the conclusion that the revisionist proposal to slight the final aim of the socialist movement is really a recommendation to renounce the socialist movement itself."