Somalia, Democratic Republic Of

Somalia, Democratic Republic Of
   Having gained power through a military coup in 1969, Muhammad Siad Barré and his revolutionary associates attempted to transform Somalia into a Marxist state. Barré became president of the Supreme Revolutionary Council on 15 October 1969 following the assassination by a police officer of President Dr. Abdirashid Ali Shermarke. Government leaders faced instant arrest as the new president’s army abrogated the legislative and declared in 1970 the official state adoption of singleparty scientific socialism. To usher in socialism a number of Marxist measures were hastily undertaken. A majority of the economy was nationalized, and rural land was commandeered by the state as part of a program to establish collective farming in the country. There was a far-reaching drive to increase literacy, legislation to bring about equal pay for women, and the introduction of regional assemblies to lend some credence to the idea that the country was becoming a genuine people’s state. A popular army of “victory pioneers” was raised to proselytize the natives in the vagaries of Somali Marxism, and in 1976 a vanguard party, the Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party (SRSP), was inaugurated to engage the nation in the march toward utopia.
   There was, however, much suspicion that the government was enacting such policies merely to obtain further economic and military aid from the Soviet Union, which had supported Barré’s quest for power through the 1960s and beyond. Yet, a rupture in the amity between the two nations occurred when Moscow signaled its unstinting support for Somalia’s Marxist neighbor, Ethiopia. Somali nationalists inside the government still wished to see their country regain the Ethiopian area of Ogaden, lost in a conflict at the start of the 20th century. The Soviet decision to throw its weight behind Ethiopia prompted Barré to call for an invasion of the region, and in 1977 Somali troops crossed the border to launch the offensive. Relations with the Soviet Union came to an abrupt halt, and Barré sought and attained aid instead from the United States. With Soviet and Cuban assistance decisive, the Ethiopians emerged victorious, and the SRSP government was left reliant on Western countries and institutions, chiefly the United States and the International Monetary Fund, for survival.
   By the 1980s Somalia’s economy was suffering as a consequence of widespread drought and the Ogaden misadventure, which had swallowed up substantial vital resources. Militant oppositional factions from the ever-influential and ancient clan groupings in the country began to dissent as the extent of Somalia’s financial malaise surfaced. The Somali president’s response was an attempt to incite and stoke rivalry between the various clan units, the unfortunate consequence of which was the further destabilization of his nation. Barré’s military government tackled the situation in the only way it knew: a mass army recruitment drive in order to restore government authority. The second half of the 1980s was characterized by fighting between the state army and the rebel clan units, and by the inevitable bloodshed that ensued. Inside the government, it was apparent that the Barré regime was unable to eschew the liberalization process afflicting Marxist governments elsewhere in Africa and beyond, as moves to end the rule of the command economy and institute multiparty elections took place. With the current thus, and the announcement in August 1990 that the three most powerful, and more saliently pro-democracy, clan groupings had joined force, the end of the Barré administration was nigh. Having reneged on a pledge to introduce imminent free elections, Barré and his garrison regime were forced from power by the pro-democracy majority. Barré fled to Nigeria, and Somalia began taking steps toward democracy that were to spark a prolonged civil war.
   In the absence of a developed class system as embodied in Marxist theory, the army assumed the vanguard role usually reserved for a revolutionary proletariat political party, as Barré sought to apply the principles of scientific socialism to the conditions of late 20th-century Somalia. Lacking the galvanizing dynamic provided by a class struggle because of this absence of landowner, bourgeoisie and proletariat, and owing also to the continuing prominence of traditional clan networks and to Somalia’s pariah status as regards the rest of the communist world save China, the October Revolution of 1969 resulted ultimately in the development of military rather than genuinely Marxist rule.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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