In the 1980's there was published books in a series called the Marxist Regime Series. The books in the series were under the overall editorship of Prof. Bogan Szajowski of University College Cardiff Wales.
The series was intended to provide a objective yet critical overview of regimes that identified themselves as Marxist. The implicit assumption was that these regimes represented a "new" form of human society and were more or less permanent. The series in the end published 35 books.1
As mentioned above one of the characteristics of the series was to provide a neutral Social Science overview of the nature, development and origin of the various Marxist regimes. The assumption implicit in the analysis was that the regimes would be more or less with us for the foreseeable future.
Alas one of the things that this Social Science neutral approach could not see was the signs of rot, and decay in the various Marxist regimes. Although the studies were not without their critical dimensions; by assuming a so-called neutral dimension they skated over the authoritarian and totalitarian dimensions of the regimes being examined.
Thus anyone reading these studies would not be prepared for the implosion of the various Marxist regimes in the late 1980's and early 1990's, or for that matter their transformation of many them into more or less Capitalist states even if retaining various authoritarian features.2
Now not all the studies are valueless, in the sense that they provide a snapshot, time capsule report, of the regimes at a moment in time. Sadly given the "neutral" aspects of the studies they tended to rely very heavily on official statements and are thus less than really objective about said very authoritarian regimes.
The result is that these studies are not of a great deal of help in understanding why the regimes collapsed. For example the study of Soviet Union, while containing much useful info, downplays its authoritarian nature, takes the so-called public involvement in politics way too seriously and largely ignores the fact that the Soviet Union was a Police State. Finally it downplayed the significant economic problems the Soviet Union had and predicted with total inaccuracy that the system had a future.3
Possibly one of the worst of these studies is the utterly absurd Ethiopia, by Peter Schwab.4 The book is full of the most absurd comments about the nature of the Ethiopian Revolution. Another author has put together a short list of quotes from the book.
...the lives of Ethiopia’s poorest citizens have been improved....it is remarkable how quickly the population as a whole has come to accept the radical changes that have taken place.5
Here speaks the fellow traveller, who also says:
However socialist Ethiopia develops, people who once belonged to the lowest strata of the Ethiopian social structure now have hope that their lives, and the lives of their children can flourish in ways that were impossible in the past.
Ethiopia is in the process of becoming fully liberated, ...6
In the book Schwab also fully supports the attack on religion because it represents non-state authority. Schwab more or less supports this because the Ethiopian regime gives:
Credence to the notion of human dignity as consisting of economic rights rather than [predominantly] political or civil rights.7
Schwab talks about the politics of equality being the source of the Ethiopian revolutions policies.
From both a non-Western and a socialist perspective, Ethiopia has taken a correct ideological position in its domestic policies. The entire range of its economic and social policies contain within their frame the politics of equity. Political rights and economic and social rights have a common core and cannot be separated one from another. 8
That Ethiopia was at the time a rigid one party dictatorship with absolutely no equality of political rights escapes him.
Of course Schwab states that :
It has up to now been necessary, because of Ethiopia's peculiar feudal history, to impose socialism from above. But as the revolution institutionalizes and orders itself, there should be an expansion of social and political democracy, that is, the ability to permit the expression of differing values and needs provided however that they accord with socialist values.9
He pontificates that this is necessary in order for Ethiopia not to "degenerate" into something like Poland. He also repeats the standard mantra that the supression of democracy is "required" for beneficial changes to happen and that Democracy and freedom will happen when people are "ready" for it. The fact that dictatorship benifits a small ruling elite and is implimented for such a purpose escapes him. It is rather amusing that he seems to take seriously the idea that Cuba is "democratic". Ah the psychology of the true believer. Thus Schwab states:
Politically, the leadership of Ethiopia has taken the country a long way. The old Feudal order has been completely destroyed, a new ideology based on socialism has been developed with a corresponding political order created and institutionalized. Peasants and the urban proletariat are finally, and fortunately, obtaining their primary human and social, political and economic needs, The country is more unified and more at peace with itself than it has been for decades. The Eritrean problem has been largely resolved, the Ogaden is slowly being reintegrated, and internal opponents are impotent. Politically, Ethiopia is truly at a take-off stage where it can move quickly to solidify socialism and socialist values.10
The sublime idiocy of this is hilarious. The Eritrean problem was not largely resolved, internal disruption was bad and getting worst. Also famine was about to rear its ugly head; and the regime was beginning it's slide into oblivion.
Schwab danced around throughout the book the fact that Ethiopia was a Dictatorship. However he more or less admits it with his fulsome praise of Dictator Mengistu. We are talking about an author here, Schwab, who quotes mass murderer Stalin with approval which probably explains Schwab's approval of terror and violence in this book and his glorification of Mengistu.
There can be little doubt that Mengistu was, and continues to be, the spearhead of the revolution. Whatever happens in the future, he has carved an original niche into the historical tradition of socialism. He has been the engine of the revolution and deserves to be given much credit for its success.11
He [Mengistu] has not only been extremely successful in prodding Ethiopia in the direction of socialism; he has been a vital figure whose value to the revolution has been immense. Rather than being a political innocent, he has been astute and clever. He has been a consistently true believer in the need to establish socialist values and he has done whatever has been necessary to achieve success. In retrospect, his stance has been accurate and without deviation. 12
Pravda under Stalin could not do better, but then since Schwab seems to have approved of Stalin it is not a surprise that he would imitate the butt licking of Pravda.
Of course we all know the sequel. In late 1984 word that Ethiopia was experiencing a major famine came out. This was after the Ethiopian government had spent a huge amount of money celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Revolution and after repeated denials of famine by the said government. massive fund raising in western countries helped alleviate the famine. Word further leaked out of the brutal policies of forced relocation of millions of peasants and the brutal functioning of the police state and of the fact that the Ethiopian government was dealing with two major and several minor insurrections.
What was also revealed gradually was the brutal nature of Mengistu's dictatorship. Gradually the major insurrections gained ground and the regime began to fall apart into corruption, nepotism and brutality. In early 1991 it collapsed and Mengistu fled into exile in Zimbabwe. He is now a wanted war criminal and is considered guilty of many crimes against humanity.13
Schwab's suck up piece utterly failed to divine the famine, the autocratic nature of Mengistu's dictatorship or the rather shallow level of support the regime had. Schwab utterly failed to see that it would come undone. Instead he wrote a book that is simply a suck up to the regime. Very much like the suck ups written by fellow travellers about Stalin's Russia.
To conclude I would like to quote this little piece written in 1984:
We are all friends of Ethiopia but we are not all friends of the Dergue, the group that rules the country. The friend of Ethiopia sees a people in distress and wishes to do something about it. It seems a simple issue—people are starving and should be fed. The friends of the Dergue are a different lot—the object of their identification is a politburo, the former Provisional Military Administrative Council which overthrew Haile Selassie and set up Mengistu Haile-Mariam in his place. The friends of the Dergue need an ability to identify with an apparently omnipotent regime. People have this fantasy, and to a striking degree. It gives the fantasy a particular piquancy if you can feel not just that you are a friend of power, but that, through no fault of that power, you happen to be the only true friend it possesses.The friends of Kim II Sung are like that. And the Maoists in West Germany were similar. They used to turn out in serried ranks to chant their immense slogans in public places. They were not trying to convert the passer-by. They seemed more or less unaware of their surroundings. But they were out to say to the Chinese themselves: look, you are not friendless; few we may be, and persecuted, but we have kept faith. The friends of Enver Hoxha saw themselves as the lone connoisseurs of socialism. Even Pol Pot had friends of this kind, lone supporters from afar. 14
1. Schwab, Peter, Ethiopia, Frances Pinter Pub., London, 1985, pp. ii.
2. Jowitt, Ken, New World Disorder, University of California Press, Berkeley CA, 1992, pp. 306-332.
3. See Hill, Ronald J, Soviet Union, Frances Pinter Pub., London, 1985.
4. Footnote 1.
5. Fenton, James, Ethiopia: Victors and Victims, New York Review of Books, New York, November 7, 1985, Here. Fenton is quoting from Schwab's book.
6. Schwab, pp. 118-119.
7. IBID, p. 94.
8. IBID, p. 95.
9. IBID, p. 72.
10. IBID, pp. 112-113.
11. IBID, p. 118.
12. IBID, p. 117.
13. Priestland, David, The Red Flag, Grove Press, New York, 2009, pp. 480-486, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Wikipedia Here. For a brief summing up of the famine see 1983–1985 famine in Ethiopia, Wikipedia Here.
14. Footnote 5.