Tuesday, May 3

Politburo Knows Best V - The Wretched of the Earth

Feudalism is

1)the system of governing whereby semiautonomous landed nobility have certain well defined responsibilities to the king, in return for the use of grants of land (fiefs) exploited with the labor of a semi-free peasantry (serfs).

2)the medieval social and political system by which the lord-vassal relationship was defined.

The fundamental and elementary importance of property rights for any meaningful expectation of democratic rights was brought up in Politburo Knows Best IV - Revolutionary Feudalism because it is too often ignored. This post, The Wretched of the Earth, will carry that discussion forward by looking at the inhuman consequences of absent property rights on the lives of tens of millions of the politburo’s serfs who make up the great majority of the Ethiopian people.

Their fate is subject to revolutionary feudalism because the radical underpinnings of Ethiopian governance with its policies of ethnic divide and rule in the setting of absent property rights. The country is today a so called federation of tribally based states akin to the old feudal kingdoms and at the center there is a king of kings.

All of this in the setting of an effectively single party state, absent human rights and tribal divide and rule. In return for their fiefdoms and lordship over millions of landless serfs they give loyalty and service to the center. Clearly these are medieval lord-vassal relationships in all but name. In addition in its scientific socialist incarnation, feudalism is everywhere equated with starvation and destitution as we shall see below.

Alright then, who are the people anyway? It depends ....
We must note that everyone concerned is eternally devoted to the 'people' above all else. In fact, the only folks that may be more loved than the people are the 'workers' and the 'peasants'. Oh yeah, the ‘masses’ seem to be a popular favorite as well. Tragically, the more fervently expressed concern is for any of the above - the greater is the likelihood that the terms would be more accurately translated as 'victims'.

Looking back over the past bloody century it is evident that those who value their freedom and want to avoid destitution should carefully avoid political movements that habitually use words like 'people', the ‘masses’, 'peasants', 'workers', ‘liberation’ or 'revolution'. Any variation of the word 'democracy' that accompanies any of the code words of misery above is also dangerous but variations of 'democracy' that are used alone are OK.

Even worse, governments that keep on spewing forth the same revolutionary vocabulary instead of maturing into non-insurgent rule invariably command places where the people suffer the most for the sake of a jealous and rapacious revolutionary feudal aristocracy where poverty and the lack of freedom dominate.

Having trouble with this idea? Just look at a map of our planet and it won't require a political memory more than one generation deep to see that every movement associated with the above catch-phrases became the authors of misery for millions. Have you ever heard of refugees rushing into a place liberated in the name of the people? No, they are usually trying to get out.

Those whose fortunes have long been governed by the veritable alphabet soup of every possible iteration and combination of the above catch phrases, especially in combination with tribal labels, are naturally suspicious of them but have little choice but to play along. The path to hell may be littered with those words and associated slogans but people’s lives depend on taking such nonsense seriously.

Mao said that
The concept of People varies in content in different countries and and in different periods of history in a given country... During the Japanese war all classes and social groups opposing the Japanese invasion were People; Chinese collaborators with the Japanese were the Enemy.

During the war of liberation, US imperialists and their running dogs were the Enemy, those opposed to them were the People. In the present stage the social groups which favour the cause of socialist construction are the People, and those who resist are the Enemy.
Here is what Lenin had to say about who among the people was good or bad
Peasants are revolutionary when they want land, and counter-revolutionary once they have obtained land.
The corresponding and equally convenient definition of the people held by the government as well as the structure of contemporary Ethiopian feudalism is revealed below by the Ethiopianist Theodore Vestal.
The political theory of the EPRDF [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front] is spelled out in a secret sixty-eight page Amharic document approved by the party in June 1993.
Couched in rhetoric reminiscent of the party's Marxist-Leninist roots, the strategy paper provides details about how to keep the EPRDF in power. The document specifically addresses "Materializing the peoples' political and human rights." The self-proclaimed program of the party, "Revolutionary Democracy," is based on a polarized society composed of "the people" and "the ruling classes."

By "the people," the document alludes to "the great majority of the population," also called "the great oppressed majority," while "the ruling classes," or "oppressors" refers to those who were in power during the regimes of the Emperor Haile Selassie or the Derg--or more correctly to any who oppose the EPRDF.
The reader should note that by this convenient definition anyone in opposition past, present and future is thus by definition an enemy of the people and deserving of whatever treatment he gets. Any mention of previous governments is a matter of rhetorical tricks because everyone in a position of authority or challenge with any role in decision making was from the new government.
The party program quite bluntly does not stand equally for the rights of both the people and the ruling classes. The democratic rights of the masses are listed and include a roster of human rights and due process protections, but the document makes clear that when we say that all citizens' democratic rights will be respected in the future socio-political system, it doesn't mean that Revolutionary Democracy will stand equally for the rights of the masses and the ruling classes. Our support is always for the rights of the masses only.
Remember what matters is the ruling privilege of handing out labels and that to oppose the government means opposing the people. This is classic ideological manipulation of language that paints the world solely in terms of good and evil at the service of those in power.
That support would be backed up by a restructured and integrated defense force "to carry out the required revolutionary democratic tasks through indirect ties" to the EPRDF. Thus the "new army" of the FDRE would be free and neutral in appearance, but it really would be an arm of the EPRDF to "protect the constitution and the rights of the masses" (the party line and those who toe it).

The government's army and security forces, then, would have a free hand in crushing any citizens who attempt "to obstruct the exercise of the rights of the masses" (i.e., disagree with the EPRDF or the government). That is exactly what the forces of the state, with its monopoly of power, have done. And without an independent judiciary to protect the due process rights of the accused, human rights abuses of individuals or members of organizations expressing opposition to the government, that lacks popular sovereignty to begin with, are legion.

Highly respected international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, among others, report extrajudicial arrests, torture, disappearances, and murder carried on by the government of Ethiopia.

Another aspect of the EPRDF's strategy is to establish a governing system of ethnic federalism emphasizing rights of "nations, nationalities, and peoples." This high-sounding principle, cribbed from Lenin, is more Machiavellian than Wilsonian however.
Ethnic Federalism is properly translated as Ethnic Feudalism.

So how does feudalism come into all of this?

Ethiopia's constitution is based upon the division of Ethiopians into 'nations, nationalities and peoples' who may leave to form their own independent states on a whim. Of course, this is all a lie. However, that lie rooted in the pretensions of Leninist ethno-radicalism and its associated division of the country into latter day tribal Bantustans does serve to move the Sword of Damocles from above the heads of Ethiopia's rulers onto those of 70 million Ethiopians.

As long as her rulers can keep the divide and rule game going with manufactured enmity against national interest and as long as it is all financed by Western aid things will stay as they are. The growing potential for ethnic bloodletting may be motivation to prepare for exile when Ethiopia falls into an inferno but not motivation enough for changes in policy because those games are seen as the guarantors of power.

Despite any pretension of democracy, Ethiopia is an effectively one party state which has a grip on society at every level. The national party at the center is ostensibly made of smaller ethnic parties but they are in fact creations of the TPLF and are its minions. They in turn rule their ethnic fiefdoms in the periphery of power like the feudal nobility of old.

Party and government jobs as well as life and liberty in the Bantustans are held at the day to day pleasure of the center as long as absolute fielty is given and indeed those positions correspond to old noble titles at every turn. One principal difference is that this center is more jealous of its prerogatives so that the new peripheral feudal aristocracy is even more alienated from those it rules and correspondingly less able to develop their own loyalties and followings.

This revolutionary aristocracy has been called the New Class by Djilas in Yugoslavia, the Nomenklatura in Russia, and something akin to a 'villa and range rover' class in Ethiopia today who according to rank are the feudals of our new century.

Whether they controlled Red October Widget Factory #10 in Europe or control every breath of thousands of their fellow tribesmen in Ethiopia they are the tools of those that set up the whole rotten system to begin with. Given the opportunity they are quite capable of adjusting to a just society, like all their countrymen who just need a chance to do well.

Ladies and Gentlemen we submit to you that Ethiopian governance today is a perverse form of Revolutionary Feudalism witnessed before in Soviet Russia and Maoist China and only less bloody minded in proportion to its dependence on financing from the liberal democracies of the West. The Czar and the Emperor as well as the Communist Party Chairman who followed them into the Kremlin and the Forbidden City were all effectively god-kings of a despotic native tradition who took on convenient modern rhetoric about the people to serve their own ends.

They all proved to be far more brutally minded and jealous of power than those they replaced. Sure the current Ethiopian government is an improvement on the Dergue but now, fourteen years on, so what? It is clear that both governments share the same fundamental worldview but that the current one was simply more intelligent, able and adaptable to the exigencies of a world that found their jointly cherished Marxist-Leninism to be a bloody stupid absurdity.

Eternal secrecy, brutality, unforgiving vicious reactions to criticism, eternal intrigue, manipulation, suspicion and an utter lack of transparency have become vital elements of government. Directed by the center of a vanguard party of old and all in the service of another year, another week, another day in power whatever the consequences to the ruled.

Ethiopia's rulers over the past two generations have kept alive a tradition of feudalism that was not nationwide and that was already dying and they have made it all the worse in its current incarnation. It represents an utter and complete dead end of history for 70 million long suffering people who yearn to be citizens and not eternal subjects and serfs - at harvest 3,000 years and counting.

How do the people experience revolutionary feudalism?

Below are accounts from a variety of sources that reveal or comment on the results of government ownership of land that directly oppress the people. Not surprisingly economic issues are intertwined with the political and social ones.

From the US Congress which is considering a bill to finance scrutiny of Ethiopianelections here is an account of the visit of an American delegation that was provided broad access. Government owns the land ...
As a consequence, farmers have very little incentive to make improvements on their land because there is every likelihood that they may be forced to give up their land at any time. Should they improve their land too much, there is every possibility that the government could seize it and give it to their own friends or family.

In an economy where most farmers make less than $100 per year, there is a need for credit. However, potentially their most valuable asset – their land – is not theirs to use for collateral. Livestock are the only assets of value a household has. Indeed, the only coping mechanism that most families have in a drought year is to sell or trade their livestock for food or seeds. This is the start of a vicious cycle. During a drought, a household sells their livestock for food or seeds. They try to plant the seeds to get a harvest, but because of the lack of rainfall, nothing grows.

Now, not only do they not have any food, they also do not have any seeds for the next year when the rains do come. Finally, because they have already traded their only assets (livestock) they have no way of procuring.
The US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003 adds these details
There continued to be credible reports during the year from EHRCO and opposition parties that in certain rural areas in the Southern Region, Oromiya Region, and Amhara Region, local officials used threats of land redistribution and withholding of food aid and fertilizer to garner support for the ruling coalition.

On February 1, ruling party officials and supporters threatened to withhold food assistance to those participants at an AEUP meeting in Debre Tabor, Amhara Region, and to remove them from their farmland. In September, ruling party cadres threatened to take away land occupied by eight farmers, who were supporters of the United Ethiopia Democratic Party (UEDF), in Masha Woreda, Southern Region. Ruling party cadres told the farmers that opposition party members were not entitled to land and told them to refrain from participating in UEDF activities. When the farmers refused to comply with this demand, they were evicted from their land.

[... women are particularly subject to exploitation from landlessness ...]

All land belonged to the Government. Although women could obtain government leases to land, and the Government had an explicit policy to provide equal access to land for women, this policy rarely was enforced in rural communities. According to the EWLA, in nearly all regions, women do not have any access to land. They cannot inherit land, and the only way for them to gain access to land was to get married. However, when the husband dies, his wife was often kicked off her land by other family members.
This look at the anti-agricultural results of landlessnes is from an analysis of the Dergue's land reform that turned everyone into serfs of the first politburo to begin with
The second problem related to security of tenure, which was threatened by increasing pressure to redistribute land and to collectivize farms. Many peasants were reluctant to improve their land because they were afraid that they would not receive adequate compensation for upgrades.
Human Rights Watch observed that
The ERPDF's land policy gave the cadres an added leverage over the peasantry, as the state was proclaimed to own all land. Individual farming rights were however allowed [we assume this to mean that socialist style forced communal farming ws out while land remained a government monopoly].

The potential implication of this policy was far reaching in that the crucial issue of access to land rendered the peasantry vulnerable to political "persuasion" by local cadres. An independent election monitoring team noted the atmosphere of fear and apprehension that prevailed in rural areas where it monitored the 1994 and 1995 elections and pointed to indications that this atmosphere had influenced a massive rural vote in favor of the ruling party and its regional affiliates.

In interviews with Human Rights Watch, victims of abuses committed by rural security forces attached to the peasant associations consistently claimed that these forces were controlled by security committees, of which local officials, members of the EPRDF and its affiliates, and army officers were members. Typically, the local administrator would belong to the ruling regional party affiliated with the EPRDF. The population therefore tended to perceive the administrator, the militia, and the EPRDF as a single unit.
Hold the presses! ethiopundit has had it dreadfully wrong all along! Public opinion polling of the Ethiopian peasants show that they would prefer to remain landless on government land ... unlike any other people in history anywhere in the world. Get this, an EEA study shows that 46 percent of farmers prefer the existing land- tenure system, while 32 percent want land to be privatized. Almost 85 percent of Ethiopia’s 69 million people live in rural areas.

Sorry but these numbers are not credible to any degree at all. There is no history of political freedom or of opinion in Ethiopia. The people have never heard of opinion surveys, they are pressured to go along in fake elections and are afraid of losing their land if they anger local official. It is simply absurd to expect them to be approached by a foreigner or offical of any kind with such exquisitely sensitive questions without consider the wages of honesty in such a Hobbesian world.

Indeed, according to "An Analysis of the New Consitution and the Process of Its Adoption" from the Journal of Northeast African Studies Volume 3, number 2 1996 (no link available) citizen participation in elections is staged by 'voluntary' mass discussions about the Constitution and was coerced by the government with threats of cessation of "sales of sugar, edible oils, soap and salt at kebele [local government] shops - an especially effective inducement in the countryside".

This is a situation reminiscent of the 'company stores' that West Virginia coal miners and the former slaveowner-landlord's ledger books that Southern sharecroppers depended on to survive. Neither company stores nor kebeles are conducive environments for free and democratic expression. To appreciate the suspension of logic that believing such polls would require imagine the following.

Picture the American South after Reconstruction and after the withdrawal of the Union Army. The Klan terrifies freed slaves by night and by day the people are disenfranchised and forever in debt and servitude as serfs / sharecroppers. Then someone from outside shows up and wants to know how they feel about the system of land tenure ... with the unavoidable knowledge that the oppressors have come along or know what is going on.

Can any reasonable observer doubt that such an opinion poll in 1888 Alabama would not have revealed even more overwhelming African-American support for Jim Crow?

Roll Over Frantz Fanon and give Marcuse the news ...

This post is titled The Wretched of the Earth not only because of how obviously wretched the state and prospects of Ethiopians are at this late date but also after the the book by Frantz Fanon. He was a French psychiatrist, revolutionary writer, member of the anti-Nazi resistance and political thinker born in Martinique whose writings had profound influence on the radical movements in the 1960s all over the world.
The book, analyzed the impact of colonialism and its deforming effects, had a major influence on civil rights, anti-colonial, and black consciousness movements around the world.

Fanon argued that white colonialism imposed an existentially false and degrading existence upon its black victims to the extent that it demanded their conformity to its distorted values. The colonized is not seen by the colonizer a human being; this is also the picture the colonized is forced to accept.

Fanon demonstrates how the problem of race, of color, connects with a whole range of words and images, starting from the symbol of the dark side of the soul. "Is not whiteness in symbols always ascribed in French to Justice, Truth, Virginity?" Fanon examines race prejudices as a philosopher and psychologist although he acknowledges social and economic realities. The tone of the text varies from outrage to cool analysis and its poetic grace has not lost anything from its appeal.
Although he wrote from a Marxist perspective, or because of it, we believe Fanon would have recognized the current ethno-feudal state of affairs in 21st Century Ethiopia exactly for the injustice at its core.

What is not clear is whether or not he would have had the honesty to admit that his cherished revolutionary beliefs had value in diagnosis but were total failures in the treatment of social ills.

Internally he could not avoid being revolted by the fate of Ethiopians who fought so bitterly and so hard over millennia to be physically independent only to fall prey to the insidious mental colonialism of idiotic communists dogma.

Substitute the following words in the context of Fanon and the overall language of liberation - tribalism for racism / landlessness for colonialism / whiteness and darkness for the vanguard party and enemies of the people - and a very clear picture of contemporary Ethiopia emerges.

It is quite evident who the real feudals are.

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