Remembering the Martyred Revolution

The Revolutionary Left in Ethiopia

Ian Scott Horst
Like Ho Chi Minh! Like Che Guevara! The Revolutionary Left in Ethiopia, 1969-1979
Foreign Language Press, Paris, 2020. 502 pp., $10.00

In both the popular imagination and the memory of the left, the 1960s are remembered as a time of revolution. The Vietnam War showed that imperialism was not invincible and could be defeated on the battlefield. Che Guevara inspired millions by putting his principles into practice. From Paris to Berkeley to Tokyo, protesters marched in the streets to fight injustice and demand a new world. However, as the Brooklyn-based revolutionary activist Ian Scott Horst reminds us in his new work, Like Ho Chi Minh! Like Che Guevara! it was only in Ethiopia that these desires led to an actual revolution: “In a very real way, the Ethiopian revolution was the only actual revolution produced by the wave of youth radicalization that swept Europe and North America in the 1960s. For all the red banners temporarily raised in Paris or Chicago, it was in Addis Ababa that they actually took root.” (15) It is precisely the goal of this well-researched and accessible work to tell the Ethiopian Revolution’s heroic, tragic, and largely unknown story.

The Counter-Narrative

The standard narrative of the Ethiopian Revolution of 1974 and the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie is that it was a spontaneous event. After a committee of junior military officers, popularly known as the Derg came to power and carried out a “revolution from above” until their overthrow in 1991. Considering the repression and famine that accompanied the Derg’s rule, the Ethiopian Revolution is largely recalled as a cautionary tale on the evils of communism. However, this is not exactly what occurred: “The true story is of a mass movement, fueled by dedicated cadres of avowed revolutionaries, whose work was hijacked and ultimately beheaded by the military. It’s not a demonstration of the failure of socialism, but of those who misuse the liberatory ideals of socialism in the service of something else.” (11-12) It is that counter-narrative that this book seeks to tell.

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Doug Enaa Greene is an independent Marxist historian and writer living in the greater Boston area.

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