Friday, April 8

Politburo Knows Best IV - Revolutionary Feudalism

Revolutionary Feudalism among the Wretched of the Earth and the Feudal Label

The feudal label is both a potent and tired term of derision in the Ethiopian context and it is usually used inaccurately in reference to the past. The Creation of A Nation of Serfs gives a sense of the complexity of land tenure and social relations before the advent of Marxist-Leninism. While that time may not have been a golden age of history its passage represents a loss of hope in change wrought by reform and not by revolution - which is always a dead end. A crucial point for understanding of the role of tradition in limiting the potential brutality of government follows.
In Ethiopia’s modern history, the power of governments has invariably been absolutely unchecked, while individual freedom has been highly stifled. During the imperial era, the Emperor, who believed he was the Elect of God, perceived the limits of his power as concurrent with his lifetime and, but for the fear of God, the then rulers could do anything they wanted to their subjects.
The system usually derided with the feudal pejorative is that exemplified in the modern era by Emperor Haile Selassie. His imperial rule, while by no means that of a liberal democrat, did have crucial limits on its behavior based on tradition and religion. The Dergue and the current government do not because both inhabit moral universes inspired by Marx and Lenin. Two 'gods' whose followers will never be remembered for being in touch with their inner children.

To be fair we should note that the current government is a great improvement over the Derg exactly to the degree that today their shared communist roots have been betrayed. Governmental authority today as inspired by ruinous foreign ideology is far more powerful, intrusive and absolute than ever been in Ethiopian history - (again, except for the rule of the Dergue - and that is no great recommendation).

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the law of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. Property must be sacred or liberty cannot exist.

John Adams

Even for people whose human and civil rights are already secured by their right to own property this quote can be a bit jarring. However, it is clear that prosperity and all manner of rights are habitually found in each others company. Ultimately, no one can be free unless he can be secure in ownership that no one can take away from him. Especially government which habitually tends towards oppression unless there are fearless citizens to keep it in its proper place. The kind of freedom that land ownership represents is the anchor of all the rights given to man by virtue of his existence and therefore it is sacred.

Indeed, the system of land ownership defines a nation and its prospects far more accurately than any other factor. Look for groups in a society who are excluded from that natural right and you will find serfs or slaves. As the circle of owners of land narrows a feudal class is defined. Where the state owns all land, those who own the state become the ultimate feudal aristocracy. Invariably in the human experience misery and oppression are inversely related to rights of land ownership.

In the past religion was abused to dehumanize masses of humanity and to justify the control of a few by their control of land. In ancient Egypt or the antebellum American South god kings or god simply wanted everything that way - at least according to the ruling classes. For them most men were just drones born to servitude.

In modern times the false gods of scientific ideology generated their own religions to justify mass servitude. Totalitarian societies of the National Socialist (Nazi - Fascist) and Socialist (Communist - Marxist / Leninist / Maoist) varieties all denied the right of ownership absolutely or particularly as a precondition of dictatorship. This matched perfectly the process of defining and excluding the designated enemy who was pursued on either on racial/religious or convenient class criteria from 1930s Germany to the 1950s China.

The system of private property is the most important guaranty of freedom, not only for those who own property, but scarcely less for those who do not.

Friedrich August Hayek

Actually, frankly totalitarian or nascent despotisms are little more than modern incarnations of inhuman serf or slave societies that mankind has fought so desperately to escape, All the power of the modern state and of technological and industrial progress along with pledges to the service of ‘the people’ are the instruments and lies of ... why don’t we just come out and say it ... EVIL ... it is simply evil to take away people’s natural rights.

What do we mean by natural rights? Simply put, rights that man has earned simply by virtue of his existence that are not dependent on the whims of the state and the ruling class commanded by it. The 1789 French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man emphasizes that “property is an inviolable and sacred right”. The freedoms found in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution are grounded in the liberating concept of private property. When men know they have something that can not be taken away from them they can freely express themselves and exercise their rights without fear.

Let’s look at three of the amendments. The 3rd and 4th defend property from soldiers in peace and war while prohibiting “against unreasonable searches and seizures”. The 5th states that no person can “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”. This security on one’s own piece of turf guaranteed that the other rights of religion, assembly, and bearing arms had meaning. The laws of every free and prosperous nation of the modern era as well as those on the path of democracy and development recognize these truths.

The tragedy of Ethiopia is that a modern movement to give “land to the tiller” effectively denied all Ethiopians the right to own land forever and thus denied them the most elementary rights every human deserves by virtue of birth. Why can’t Ethiopians kick agents of the government off of their land if they intrude with no warrant just like other humans all over the world with the very same DNA?

For the very same reasons Ethiopians are also destitute and disenfranchised. They have no land. The honest slogan would have been “land to the politburo”.

[H]alf of the commissioners are African.Is this supposed to make Africans feel better? Do they feel encouraged that their fate is the hands of leaders like Ethiopia's Meles [...] who refuses to reform Ethiopia's feudal land system?

The Times of London on Cargo Cult Economics

The Creation of a Nation of Serfs traced the history of land ownership in recent Ethiopia beginning with all of the myriad shortcomings of the Imperial free / communal / feudal system and the society thus defined. However, the state nationalization of all land by the Marxist Dergue was far worse and ushered in an era of eternal catastrophe that any one could have predicted from the most cursory reading of Russian or Chinese history.

Actually, the issue was not ignorance of history but rather an acute appreciation for it. One way in which those bloody tyrannies excelled was gaining and keeping power against all of the interests of the people they allegedly spoke for. Like the pharaohs before them the new god kings of revolution liked the blueprint they found for absolute power and religious authority to justify and support it. Dictators and elites who take land away know exactly what they are doing and why.

In the name of the people the solution agreed upon by both the Dergue and the TPLF for the current state of affairs was a renewed all encompassing ‘revolutionary feudalism’ where no one could own land and all would be subjects not citizens of an ever more rapacious revolutionary aristocracy. The portion of the Dergue’s reign of death and destruction directed against the people of Tigray led to a justified and thankfully successful rebellion - but as far as the victorious rebel leaders and the Dergue were concerned it was in many ways a fight to determine who the ‘real communists’ were.

Indeed, the ethno-radical roots of current tribally based ruling party and political system where ethnicity is the principal determinant of participation in national life is also also based on the precepts of Marxist-Leninism. The Tigrayan People‘s Liberation Front (TPLF), the current ruling or vanguard party hid its Marxist-Leninist roots from the people of Tigray until it no longer depended on their good will to function. The fact that both the Dergue and the TPLF did not think that any Ethiopians had the right to own land was an inconvenient truth until ‘the people’ concerned had no choice in the matter and nowhere else to turn .

In a country where the sole employer [or landlord] is the state, opposition means death by slow starvation

Leon Trotsky

Rurally based revolutionary armies and parties such as Mao’s and that of today’s rulers in Ethiopia have an acute understanding of the profound meaning of land ownership. That is why they don’t want anyone besides themselves to control it. However elite and urban the origins of vanguard parties are, they know very well that recruits voluntary or not can only come from rural areas and that real power lies in the land and the people on it. The revolutionaries are also determined that such power should not belong in the hands of the people.

By their understanding the people are revolutionary when they don’t have land and reactionary when they do. Remember revolutions kill reactionaries - after all they deserve it - and if you don’t agree, hey you just might be a counter-revolutionary too ... This revolutionary feudal paranoia translates into an obsessive desire to control the land because the people in whose name the revolution is being conducted have a marked tendency to do the very opposite of what their revolutionary aristocrats want.

Of course the TPLF had to lie to the Tigrayan people about its intentions. The revolutionary vanguard knew very well that given a choice between two forces who wanted to take their land away and to alienate them from all other Ethiopians they may have searched for other options or at a minimum denied the vision of the ethnic Marxist god its chance for realization.

Those who don’t have property, who want to keep it or who want to get it given back to them become desperate pawns and tools of dictatorship and let slip their moral visions. Because they can have no independent existence without some utitlity to the powerful who command and demean them, they are eternal servants to injustice more determined than familiar traditional feudalism could ever have been.

Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff.

Frank Zappa

The current government is better than the Dergue exactly to the degree it has abandoned their shared ideological roots. In the late 1980s as the Soviet Empire collapsed and the West seemed ascendant both the TPLF and the Dergue made the same tactical decision to turn away from Marxist-Leninism. At least both pretended to do so just enough to garner Western support or at least decrease Western hostility - and most importantly to get Western money.

The Dergue, as brutal and inept as ever, failed because too much blood had been shed and too much suffering caused for Ethiopians and even foreigners to ever believe it. The current government was far more successful. Superior to the Dergue from every standpoint from military acumen to public relations schmoozing the TPLF made a more sincere effort to deal with the prevailing conditions in a world where its cherished worldview was widely seen as defunct.

'A large portion of the motivation for free market and democratic pretense was a dependence on foreign aid and loans that would be more forthcoming to a government with the nominal structure and appearance of successful societies. Where it really matters though in term of law there is no right to private property. Any economic or social backwardness or suffering caused by that policy is considered well worth it as long as it ensures power . Therefore there is eternal aid dependence and dreams of massive infusions of aid instead of conditions for actual growth and the very worst crony capitalism instead of the real thing.

Central to all of these points we have endeavored to make is the state ownership of land based upon the social religion of communism. No matter what accommodations the Dergue or the TPLF could make with reality one point neither could abandon was state, party and their personal control of every single square meter of land and thus control of every Ethiopian life.

The free market is the only mechanism that has ever been discovered for achieving participatory democracy.

Milton Friedman

Every society that has held those views is neither prosperous nor free. It is all that simple. The essential bits of that ideology and its cannibalistic appetite for power such as state ownership of land and beyond the eyes of foreign aid donors the primacy of a single vanguard party will never be abandoned. Western aid donors are financing the proverbial boot on the common Ethiopian neck. The government has 70 million hostages against Western indifference or interference.

Two brands of totalitarianism (or modern slavery) have haunted Ethiopia in the past century. The first was fascism back in the 1930s when Mussolini invaded Ethiopian territory and communism since the 1970s when Marx invaded Ethiopian minds. The first never had a hold on a people determined to be free. The second, and we fear the more insidious for its staying power, may not leave without an exorcism whose trauma can be ill afforded.

The past century was a cauldron of industrialized religious, racial and ideological bloodletting. However, the world entered this new century with the same era's bitterly won legacy of hope. Aside from a few unenviable holdouts, the links between economic rights, prosperity and ultimately human rights has become a commonly accepted point of view.

Tragically, aside from carefully crafted policies to convince foreign observers and donors to the contrary, Ethiopia remains one of the last bastions of human civilization to reject these hard earned rights and rewards that were dreamed of and won at the cost of almost unimaginable sacrifice from Ethiopians.

Land will remain state-owned as long as the EPRDF is at the helm of the country's leadership.

Meles Zenawi

Simply put and deserving of repititon - the absence of prosperity, of human rights, of democracy and of the right to own land are inseperable concepts - and for Ethiopians their time has come.

No people anywhere can be free or experience any meaningful form of democracy without the right to own land as the ultimate factual representation and living symbol of their independence from those who would have them be subjects and not citizens.

Politburo Knows Best V - The Wretched of the Earth will take a look at these truths already evident to the vast majority of Ethiopians who actually live on the land and who are subject to dictatorship far from the eyes of Western aid donors.

Observers, both Ethiopians and ferenjis (foreigners) who comment on Ethiopian affairs uncritically should wonder if they themselves would want to live in such dire straits with no hope of escape. They should wonder why it is somehow OK for Ethiopians to have natural rights denied them that they have suffered and died for over countless generations while an inalienable right to property is a birthright of the rest of humanity.

A glance at the economic system and methods of totalitarian states -- of the Soviet bloc, for example -- is enough to show that state-ownership of the means of production does not lead to an increase of wealth for the people but, on the contrary, to their exploitation, whereas the reverse is true of the free countries and peoples, which are denounced for their so-called capitalism but which clearly illustrates how private ownership of the means of production is contributing more and more to the general welfare.

Ludwig Erhard

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