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Internal political developments of the Eritrean struggle for self-determination

Second stage (1952-61)

The content of the Eritrean people’s struggle in this second stage was the same as the previous one, but it took different forms of organization. Although members of the Independence Bloc constituted the majority of the first Eritrean parliament, this did not translate into party influence and strength, since there was no mass political activity organized along party lines. But this was not the basic problem.

Partial control, which the “Federation” implied, did not satisfy the imperial ambitions of Haile Selassie, which therefore, solved to dismantle the “Federation”. Towards this end, the autocratic regime violated the freedoms of political assembly, the press and speech, proceeded to threaten and dissolve parliament, undermined the powers of the Chief Executive, illegally seized the administration of justice and finally abrogated the Federation abolishing all its institutions.

The Eritrean people responded by intensifying their peaceful political protests. Initially, the mass resistance-mainly centered in the cities-was spontaneous as there was no organization to lead it. Later increased repression made it impossible to stage peaceful demonstrations, organized by open political organizations. This reality and the growth of political awareness led to the formation of clandestine groups. Parallel with this, nationalists who had been forced to flee because of the regime’s repression and persecution started to organize opposition groups abroad. And around 1958, the grouping known abroad as the “Eritrean Liberation Movement” (Haraka) and internally as “Mahber Shewate” (Association of Seven) the name indicating that the group was organized in secret cells of seven members each-assumed the leadership of the national resistance movement. This new forms of organization, the intensified repression mounted by Haile Selassie’s police apparatus and the growing realization that open peaceful resistance alone was ineffective led to the decision to also use force to challenge the Haile Selassie regime and attempts were made on the lives of Ethiopia’s agents. The concept of armed struggle also began to gain acceptance. In short, during the second stage, the Eritrean struggle developed from one relying on the institutions of the Federation (parliament, the courts, etc.) to spontaneous peaceful opposition, to clandestine political activity and finally to armed resistance. The forms of organization, too, became more sophisticated.

But the more marked change of this stage was in the political maturity of the movements rather than in the form of struggle. The religious divisions which haunted the previous stage and which to a certain extent had improved towards the end with the founding of the Independence Bloc were no more. The movement enjoyed the wide participation of all Eritreans, especially of workers and students. This was certainly a big stride in the Eritrean people’s national struggle.

The political struggles of the second stage (1952-61) not only created favorable conditions for the formation of a single national struggle but trained what could be the core of a liberation movement. The questions facing the Eritrean people then were when, where and how to begin armed struggle.

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