A military junta sounds as ominous as it is. It ends in a form of government where a few military leaders move into the palace, rip out the gold taps and tell CNN they are liberating the people from corrupt and myopic politicians. With the backing of the army, the locals tend to err on the side of support and dance in the streets oblivious to the looting of the state coffers. A military junta is bad enough then, but one that is Soviet backed comes with a bit more spice bringing with it a political theory we all sort of know about, but one on which we are probably a bit sketchy on the details. When Haile Selassie told his driver to take the back roads to the nearest border crossing in 1974 so Ethiopia came under the grip of one party rule steeped in Marxism-Leninism, a political theory that is based on, unsurprisingly, Marxism and Leninism.
Marxism is based on the work of Karl Marx. Now Karl Marx did a lot of thinking, along with the equally bearded German philosopher Friedrich Engels, about how society all fitted together. It seems that he took specific beef with capitalism and how the rich got richer and the poor worked harder in making the rich get richer. Marx liked the idea of wild-eyed revolution and thought that as the proletariat – those who didn’t own their own house and thought life a brutal existence of survival – came to realise that their hard work was all to the benefit of the chubby cheeked bourgeoisie, they would down tools and storm the Golf Club dining room. Marx would typically then like to see the establishment of socialism, a sort of low-end communism where all the grubby workers now owned the means of production, essentially all the tools, factories and assorted bits of kit that had previously kept the bourgeoisie in kedgeree. Through co-operative enterprises and shared ownership the profits now accrued to the working class and everyone would get to play in the club medal on Saturday morning. Socialism, all things running to plan, would then give way to communism, which was a classless state with no public schools, in-jokes, or priority-boarding founded on the principles of common ownership and the absence of social classes.
Leninism is based on the work of Vladimir Lenin. Whilst Karl Marx is pretty well known as Karl Marx, Lenin seems to have adopted the Brazilian footballer’s want of only going by one name, hence not many people know his Christian name is Vladimir. Lenin was actually called Vladimir Ulyanov but changed his name to Lenin when he began writing for an underground newspaper in Munich in 1901; as you do. Lenin had supposedly got a taste for revolutionary politics when his brother was hanged by the Alexander III of Russian in 1887. The reason his brother found himself in a noose and nothing to stand on was that he and some chums had planned on throwing a bomb into Alexander III’s carriage as he paid tribute to his father, Alexander II, who had himself died when a disgruntled subject threw a bomb at him. Incidentally Alexander II’s end heeded a valuable lesson to any head of state feeling the heat from oppressed oiks. Alexander II had actually survived a first attempt on his life, when a revolutionary activist lobbed a bomb at his carriage. Fortunately Napoleon had given him a bomb proof carriage and so the only casualties were a horse and a guard. Sad, but dispensable. There was only minor damage to his carriage and the Emperor was an unhurt. However, instead of legging it back to the palace waving his arms in the air, he insisted on seeing the site of the explosion for himself whereupon another disgruntled revolutionary, who had been standing by ready for exactly such an eventuality, lobbed a second bomb at the Emperor which did what the first bomb had intended to do. Anyway that Lenin got all revved up is actually disputed. It is reported that on hearing the news of his brother’s death Lenin calmly said “There is another way”, although he may also have then punched the wall. No one seems to know for sure. What is known is that Lenin went for a bit of Marxist theory and after some time in exile, he played a leading role in the October Revolution, sometimes known as the Bolshevik revolution, in 1917 which basically saw off the prevailing Tsarist autocracy. Lenin then redistributed land to the peasants and nationalised pretty much everything he could get his hands on. Opponents were killed or detained in Gulag labour camps. Not nice. Leninism then, appears to be Vladimir’s take on Marxism, and how to bring it to bare in early twentieth-century agrarian Russia. It is a political theory based around a revolutionary vanguard party – those workers with a bit more savvy than the average farm labourer – who then strong arm everyone else in the quest to snuff out capitalism, individuality and fun.
The problem in peeling back the layers of many political ideologies is that the language used by the academics who have shunned life outside the bubble of elbow-patches and stale coffee to critique the social, political and economic framework of society, can leave you a bit weary. The use of long words, stitched together with high-brow intent, can be a bit like eating ryvita straight out the packet. Still we should perhaps be grateful for if they didn’t, who would? And where would that leave us? Anyway that’s about enough of all that.