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Socialism and Law in the Ethiopian Revolution

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Most contemporary analyses of Third World affairs tend to replicate the patterns of scholarship laid down during colonial times by those who carried their ethno- centric predispositions intact from Europe. Studies written in reaction to this state of affairs are often little better, involving as they do uncritical transplantations of European notions of Marxism or social democracy. For example, Ethiopia just prior to the Revolution was depicted by academics and journalists as a traditional political system successfully and wholesomely perpetuating and modernizing itself.` Little change was foreseen after the demise of the 82-year-old emperor, even by Ethiopian and foreign Marxists. The African "experts" also badly misjudged the Ethiopian military. Ernest Lefever (now US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights) found a soldier's dedication to promoting social stability under Haile Selassie which was "more patriotic than conspira- tional", "Keynesian rather than Marxist", and pragmatic rather than ideological.2 The Ethiopian military was denied an independent power base or policy voice by Pierre Von den Berghe; its role was seen as the historic one of support ing particular pretenders to the throne during succession crises.3 These extraordinarily bad guesses-they were little more than that-warn us not to venture too far into the thicket of theory and pseudotheory from which they come. We must, rather, trace carefully the pragmatic, the accidental and, above all, the distinctively Ethiopian aspects of an intensely nationalistic military socialism. In order to do this, we must first look briefly at Ethiopia prior to the Revolution.

Affiliations: 1: Valparaiso University Valparaiso, Indiana


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