Thursday, September 8

Revolutionary Democracy Returns

21st Century Maoism - CDs on sale now in Addis Ababa, Pyongyang and Havana
(Images are from a Fark photoshop contest.)

Revolutionary Democracy is the guiding ideology of the Ethiopian ruling party. The first attempt to make sense of it was (1) Revolutionary Democracy which discussed the Marxist - Leninist - Maoist roots of the ideology and found it to be essentially a grab bag of silly but deadly mantras justifying the dictatorship of a few.

With kind permission we are serializing over a number of posts, Chapter 7 of Dr. Theodore Vestal's remarkable book Ethiopia: A Post-Cold War African State. The chapter in question deals with the the ruling party's 'Revolutionary Democratic Goals' based on internal documents of the party that were published as "TPLF/EPRDF's Strategies for Establishing its Hegemony & Perpetuating its Rule," in Ethiopian Register Magazine.

The first part of Chapter 7 was (2) Revolutionary Democracy Redux and it looked at the overall strategy of the ruling EPRDF, its own view of Revolutionary Democracy and the overall political goals that the program was to achieve. The second part of Chapter 7 was (3) Revolutionary Democracy Recycled , and examined the economic aspects of the party program.

The third part of Chapter 7 is this entry (4) Revolutionary Democracy Returns, which notes the political strategies of the party for ensuring permanent hegemony and the rules various actors in society will play or be forced to play in forcing eternal rule.

Finally, the ending of Chapter 7 will be (5) Revolutionary Democracy Reloaded that will include the conclusion of this revealing and stunningly frank blueprint of a revolutionary vanguard party to reach its aim of permanent dictatorship while convincing the whole world otherwise.

At some point after that we will try to summarize the chapter and other sources and place them in the historical context of mankind's struggles against all forms of totalitarianism. Hopefully that will be in a brief post. However, this chapter is really worth reading as is. If you have visited ethiopundit more than once you are used to reading long posts anyway.


Hegemony is a term derived from the work of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, which refers to the ability of a dominant group to exert or maintain control through a combination of overt and subtle mechanisms. One authority commenting on the Ancient Roman state had this to say
Power is very rarely limited to the pure exercise of brute force.... The Roman state bolstered its authority and legitimacy with the trappings of ceremonial — cloaking the actualities of power beneath a display of wealth, the sanction of tradition, and the spectacle of insuperable resources....

Power is a far more complex and mysterious quality than any apparently simple manifestation of it would appear. It is as much a matter of impression, of theatre, of persuading those over whom authority is wielded to collude in their subjugation.

Insofar as power is a matter of presentation, its cultural currency in antiquity (and still today) was the creation, manipulation, and display of images. In the propagation of the imperial office, at any rate, art was power.
Isn't that all a fitting description of 'election' 2005, the false structures of parliament, election board, supreme court and of tribal governance in Ethiopia?



The EPRDF is determined to make its official ideology the dominant political theory of the nation. Led by cadres of revolutionary democracy, the party planned to win the first elections under the TGE and to perpetuate itself in power by winning all subsequent elections. The strategy document is straightforward about how the Front will establish its "permanent" hegemony:
We can attain our objectives and goals only if Revolutionary Democracy becomes the governing outlook in our society, and only by winning the elections successively and holding power without letup can we securely establish the hegemony of Revolutionary Democracy. If we lose in the elections even once, we will encounter a great danger. So, in order to permanently establish this hegemony, we should win in the initial elections and then create a conducive situation that will ensure the establishment of this hegemony. In the subsequent elections, too, we should be able to win without interruption.
Revolutionary Democracy is to be made the governing ideology of the society, and the people should be made to reject the outlook and views of the enemy and vacillators.

The Front's theorists believed that in 1993 objective and subjective conditions were favorable to revolutionary democracy attaining hegemony and staying in power "continuously." They modestly thought that the interest of the majority of the population would be fulfilled only through the EPRDF's Revolutionary Democratic lines. The ideologues contended that objective condition required the establishment and continuity of the Front's hegemony.

In reviewing subjective conditions, the EPRDF's theorists found that the opponents of revolutionary democracy "had not taken root in the society." The opposition lacked organization and material resources. In contrast, the forces of revolutionary democracy were properly organized and embraced by the people. The EPRDF had military and political superiority and material resources. Thus, the subjective conditions also were conducive for the hegemony of the Front.

The gaining of hegemony by the enemy and the vacillators would be impossible, because such a situation would hurl the country into "an endless crisis" and Ethiopia would not survive as a nation. Front apologists reason that although imperialism has massive political and economic power, these cannot be used to establish hegemony in Ethiopia. The local ruling classes that serve imperialism have been weakened and cannot create a strong army or bureaucracy through which to rule. Likewise, the national bourgeoisie lacks economic and political power and is too weak to stand as an independent political force.


Each class or sector of society in the Marxist-Leninist scheme of things is analyzed as a motive force of party ideology. The peasantry is considered the pillar of revolutionary democracy, the center of economic development, and the focus of political work. To ensure the support and massive involvement of the peasant class in the Front's revolutionary activities, its members were to be mobilized through social, political, and economic organizations. The EPRDF would lead these peasant associations through loose organizational ties. Prominent peasants who have earned the respect of their communities would be recruited as cadres. The number of rural cadre would be enlarged with the aim of increasing the influence of EPRDF member organizations. On the basis of their wartime experience, the Front thought it best not to bring in "outsiders" to lead the peasants.

In rural areas, the increasing number of development workers from Government Organizations (GOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) pose a problem. EPRDF theorists feared that these "lower-level members of the intelligentsia" could undermine the Front's influence and development program if they opposed the party's political line. The counter-propaganda of representatives of GOs and NGOs might persuade peasants to deny support to the EPRDF and obstruct the hegemony of revolutionary democracy. Therefore, the strategy document concludes, the GO and NGO development workers must be brought over to the side of the Front.

Urban Petty Bourgeoisie

Next to the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie could be a major beneficiary of EPRDF development programs. The majority of this sector, however, are not supporters of the Front. They tend to be vacillaters who can be infected by narrow nationalism or by chauvinism. In addition, the EPRDF has not yet created the condition which proves to the bourgeoisie that only the Front's approach can fulfill its interests. According to the strategy document, the EPRDF has not done enough political and organizational work in relation to the petty bourgeoisie. Because of this sector's strong political and ideological influence and its growth potential in an expanding economy, the Front will mount a special effort to win over the bourgeoisie to revolutionary democracy.

The intelligentsia and their associations receive serious attention in the strategy document. The EPRDF plans to encourage the associations of the intelligentsia while infiltrating them with members and sympathizers, who can direct these organizations into the camp of revolutionary democracy. As the Front's political influence increases, so will the EPRDF's ability to control indirectly the intellectuals.

The strategy document prescribes another means of persuading the intellectuals: "by filling their bellies and pockets." Because many of the intellectuals are in the civil service or involved in economic activities that can be affected by government incentives or denial of support, "the combined strength of the State and Revolutionary Democracy's economic institutions should be used to attract their support or to neutralize opposition of the intelligentsia." The Front should demonstrate to the intellectuals that the EPRDF's economic strength could serve their interests, and if they oppose revolutionary democracy, the party should make empty their "belly and pocket." More attention is to be given to the large number of lower level intelligentsia in rural areas who are easily amenable to EPRDF influence.

The Proletariat

The workers comprise another large sector of the urban population that could benefit from the Front's development program and also become firm supporters of the EPRDF. The Front should encourage trade unions, but without compromising their organizational independence, try to control and lead them through indirect organizational links. Workers employed in Revolutionary Democratic business companies should be given better pay and training than those in other enterprises at the same levels. Thus, the Front could use its workers to infiltrate national trade unions and play a leading role in drawing the rest of the proletariat into the EPRDF's orbit.

The Local Investor

It will be difficult for the EPRDF to win the support of the upper stratum of investors, so the Front must force this sector to be neutral. On the other hand, the lower stratum, "despite its suspicions and anxieties," can be made firm supporters of the party with the proper care and handling.

The Front should demonstrate in practice and through analysis that its programs can fulfill the interests of local investors. Through representatives of EPRDF firms, the Front should penetrate and lead the organizations which investors form. If the Front is unable to direct such organizations, it should neutralize them so that they will not be adversaries of the EPRDF. The strategy of the Front will be to ensure that the livelihood and profit of investors are dependent on the goodwill and support of the state as well as EPRDF economic institutions and restrain local investors "from taking extreme positions" by filling their bellies and pockets.


In the strategy document, "tactics" are instruments used to mobilize the people for the fulfillment of the goals of revolutionary democracy and for concerted action against enemies of the EPRDF.

The major slogans of the party read in light of the Front's strategy take on added meaning and reflect the
priorities assigned to the motive forces or sectors of society by the EPRDF. The main slogans are:
Protect all the political and human rights of the masses!

Establish a government that ensures the all-round participation of the people!

Respect the right to self-determination as a basis for permanent peace and unity!

Speed up the peasant- based and rural-centered development process!

Strengthen the free trade unions of the proletariat!

Develop the human and natural resources of our country!

Establish a just system in which the masses can benefit from the national development!

Propaganda Machinery

Key propaganda tools of the EPRDF include the mass media, schools, religious organizations, and various mass organizations. These tools should be exploited directly or indirectly in carrying out propaganda activities.

The most important of the mass media are controlled by the state and include newspapers, radio, and television. They can be used by the party to popularize government policies and activities, bring grievances of the people to the attention of the government, and strengthen the relation between the government and the people. The organizational and manpower skills of this sector should be improved so that it can more effectively promote the goals of revolutionary democracy. News reports, articles, and entertainment programs should be of such quality as to attract larger audiences. Theater and motion picture houses controlled by the state should be reorganized and their practices reoriented to serve as useful propaganda tools.

Media owned by forces of revolutionary democracy will compete with others under private control. The Force's media should mobilize their financial and organizational resources and assume a key position in the private sector. The EPRDF plans to strengthen and modernize its existing media, set up new ones, and control the market. The media of revolutionary democracy must work with all their resources to publicize the Front and government's activities and policies, facilitate the people's active participation, and influence the masses to fully support the government. In order for the media to carry out these duties, the EPRDF plans to improve the professional quality of journalists through training and the strengthening of their association.


NEXT: Schools (Indirect Propaganda)

<< Home