On July 17, 1979, Nicaragua’s right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle resigned and fled to Miami as the left-wing guerrillas of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, under the leadership of Daniel Ortega stormed the capital city of Managua. Coming on the heels of 40 years of ruthless repression at the hands of the Somoza dynasty, the Nicaraguan revolution helped fan a new wave of revolutionary struggle throughout Central America. The revolution was met with a different response from the Reagan administration in the U.S., which funded right-wing Contra terrorists against the Sandinista government. The resulting “Iran Contra” scandal, in which Reagan tried to fund this counter-revolutionary terror campaign by selling arms to Iran, was the biggest political scandal in the U.S. since Watergate. In spite of this, the Sandinistas were able to make important social advances.
However they left the majority of the economy in the hands of capitalists, which gradually rolled back the revolution’s gains, culminating in the Sandinista’s defeat to counter-revolutionary forces in the general election of February 25, 1990. The failure of the Sandinistas to decisively break with capitalism has important parallels with more recent developments in Venezuela, where the left-populist forces around Hugo Chavez came to power and sought to implement important social reforms but similarly left most of the economy in private hands. The current economic crisis faced under Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro, and the resulting strengthening of counter-revolutionary forces, is in many ways a repeat of the crisis faced by the Sandinista government by 1990.
More recent developments in Nicaragua itself further draw out the need to understand what how the Sandinista revolution unfolded. Ortega and the Sandinistas returned to power in 2007 but, in the intervening time since their 1990 defeat, the Sandinistas moved to the right and fully embraced neoliberalism. In 2018, the Ortega government employed violent repression against protesters opposing the IMF-imposed pension reform. The resulting crackdown saw hundreds killed and provoked a new wave of mass working-class struggle, this time directed against the Sandinistas, rather than being led by them. The initial successes of the Nicaraguan revolution, its eventual defeat, and the subsequent right-wing degeneration of the Sandinistas, provide valuable lessons for a new generation of Marxists going into struggle.
On the 40th anniversary of this insurrection, we are reprinting four important articles on the Nicaraguan revolution written while the revolution was in progress. The first three articles come from Militant International Review (MIR) which, at the time, was the theoretical journal of our British co-thinkers, then called the Militant tendency. “Marxism and the Nicaraguan Revolution” by Bob Labi appeared in MIR #27 in autumn 1984. “Perspectives for the Nicaraguan Revolution”, written by Tony Saunois under the pseudonym Alejandro Rojas, was written in November 1986 and appeared in MIR #34 in spring 1987 in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal. “The Sandinistas Defeated: A Victory for Reaction”, also by Tony Saunois, appeared in MIR #43 in Spring 1990 in the wake of the Sandinista’s electoral defeat. The fourth and final article, “With the Nicaraguan People Against the Ortega Government and Imperialism”, was written on August 21, 2018 by André Ferrari of Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolução, the Brazilian sister organization of Socialist Alternative, and was first translated into English on September 5 of the same year. This article covers the new wave of protests against the now-degenerate Sandinista government.
Marxism and the Nicaraguan revolution
By Bob Labi
Militant International Review, Issue 27, Autumn 1984
ARISING OUT of the Autumn 1983 issue of the Militant International Review, which was dedicated exclusively to the revolutionary process in Latin America, we are pleased to see that there has been quite a lot of discussion among our readers.
One of the issues which has given rise to the keenest of interest has been the position taken by this journal on the revolutionary developments in Central America in general, and Nicaragua in particular.
For reasons of space, and because the main question under consideration was the revolution in Latin America itself, these questions were only touched upon in passing. For a more detailed account of our position on Central America, we refer our readers to the article written by Ted Grant in the Militant (5 August, 1983, No. 662).
In view of the interest expressed in this issue, we publish here a further contribution to the discussion, by Bob Labi, which has special relevance to the problems of the Nicaraguan revolution.—Editor
The overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 had undoubtedly helped to fan a new wave of revolutionary struggle throughout Central America. The Sandinista victory rekindled the idea of insurrectionary struggle among the young fighters battling against the dictatorships and repressive regimes of Latin America. The undoubted social advances which have been made in Nicaragua since 1979 have also inspired those fighting against capitalism around the world.
This has also enabled the Sandinistas to develop a wide following in many countries. The fundamental basis for this support is the absolutely firm desire among socialists and workers to defend the Nicaraguan revolution against reaction, especially the US financed counter-revolutionaries. But at the same time Marxists cannot be mere cheerleaders. It is vitally necessary to draw the correct lessons from every struggle and so enhance the working class’s understanding of the tasks it faces in struggling to overthrow capitalism.
Unfortunately, there are those in the labour movement, and particularly on the sectarian fringes, who let their enthusiasm for the Nicaraguan revolution take the place of Marxist analysis. This is not a new phenomenon. It is similar to the uncritical, or virtually uncritical, support which many self-proclaimed “Marxists” gave to Stalin in the 1930s, Tito the late 1940s and Mao in the 1960s. These people completely forgot, or never knew, the fundamentals of Marxism in their rush to idealise these regimes.
Because of the obvious and important gains represented by the revolution, which we fully support, many comrades, particularly among the youth, have tended to develop an entirely idealised conception both of the nature of the Nicaraguan revolution, and of the class character and role of the Sandinista leadership. We do not for a moment deny the heroism of the Sandinistas, or the sincerity of their intentions. However, Marxist analysis does not base itself on examining the personal qualities of the Sandinista leadership, but rather on the question of whether or not the proletariat, as a class, is in power in Nicaragua. The fact that at the present time there is overwhelming support for the Sandinista regime does not automatically mean that the working class is in power. Similarly the fact that the Sandinista leadership make speeches about socialism does not result in Marxists adopting an uncritical approach to them. We do not judge people merely by what they say but, more importantly, by what they do.
The general impression is created that the Sandinistas are somehow “carrying through the socialist revolution”. But what does the socialist revolution really consist of? Above all else the socialist revolution is the conscious movement of the working class to take power into its hands. The working class exercises its control over society through a workers’ democracy, based on the principles developed in the 1871 Paris Commune, the first period of the Russian revolution and the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
These principles, expressed by Lenin in State and Revolution, provide the litmus test as to whether or not a socialist revolution has taken place. Summarised briefly these principles are:
- No standing army, but the armed people.
- All officials, managers etc. to be regularly elected by the workers’ organisations, with the immediate right of recall.
- All officials to receive the same wages as a skilled worker.
- Popular participation in all administrative duties; the direct management and control of society by workers’ councils (Soviets).
The Stalinist political counter-revolution in Russia during the 1920s crushed the workers’ democracy based on these principles which had existed in Russia and attempted to bury forever these four points of Lenin.
The degeneration of the Russian revolution and the development of Stalinist regimes in other countries following the Second World War also gave rise to great confusion within the international labour movement as to what constitutes a socialist revolution and a socialist society. The enhanced strength of Stalinism after 1945, the delay in the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries and the postwar weakness of the forces of Marxism resulted in the distorted development of the revolution in many countries.
The revolutions which took place in Eastern Europe, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Syria, Ethiopia etc, certainly led to the overthrow of capitalism (something which still cannot be said to have occurred in Nicaragua, although it is not excluded in the future). Private ownership of the means of production was replaced by nationalised economies with planned production. That certainly represented a gigantic step forward, and, as such, was welcomed by the Marxists. However, the distorted way in which these revolutions were carried out inevitably led to the establishment of one party, bureaucratic totalitarian police states and a new form of slavery for the working class. This despite the fact that, in the initial stages at least, these regimes all had an extremely “popular” character and were enthusiastically greeted by the masses.
Why did this take place? Was it the product of accident, misunderstanding or “bad luck”? On the contrary, it was rooted in the nature of these revolutions which took place without the conscious leading role of the proletariat, the highest expression of which is the Marxist revolutionary party.
Only the working class, organised in democratic revolutionary councils, or soviets, can lead to the socialist transformation of society. No other class or social group—whether peasants, lumpenproletarians, students, bureaucrats, guerrillas or radical army officers—can play the same role. And whenever some other social group attempts to substitute itself for the proletariat in the revolution, the result is a foregone conclusion. Even in the most favourable outcome, where such a movement succeeds in overthrowing landlordism and capitalism, the best which can be hoped for is a new kind of totalitarian bureaucratic slavery which can last for decades until the working class becomes strong enough to overthrow it by a new political revolution and begin to move in the direction of real socialism, by purging the state of bureaucratic parasitism and creating a genuine, democratic workers’ state, or “semi-state”, to use Lenin’s own expression, based on workers’ democracy. From the beginning of these ‘revolutions’ control was firmly in the hands of an elite which sought to create a bureaucratic regime modelled on the Stalinist regime in the USSR. Thus we had the development of what Marxists call proletarian bonapartist regimes in many parts of the world.
However, in the case of Nicaragua, the Sandinista leadership, under the pressure of the Russian and Cuban bureaucracies, has not even carried the process of the expropriation of capitalism to a final conclusion. Because of this policy, it is not completely excluded that capitalist reaction might still succeed in throttling the Nicaraguan revolution at birth. This fact alone illustrates the completely un-Marxist nature of the Sandinista leadership and its narrow, nationalist conception of the revolution as well as the criminal role of Cuban and Russian Stalinism, which do not want to further complicate their relations with US imperialism by being openly seen to support the elimination of capitalism in Central America.
Moscow and Havana have clearly put heavy pressure on the Sandinistas to adopt a “moderate” stand and try to “do a deal” with Washington. That largely explains the vain attempt to conciliate what is left of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie with all kinds of concessions, which only serve to embolden these brazen counter-revolutionaries and heighten the risk of United States invasion. Far from being a “realistic” policy, it will have disastrous consequences.
If the Sandinistas were genuine Marxist Leninists, they would carry through the revolution to its final conclusion, expropriating the bourgeoisie, and then make a revolutionary appeal to the workers and peasants of Central and Latin America, and also of North America, to come to their aid. On a purely Nicaraguan—or, for that matter, on a purely Central American—basis, there is no possibility for victory. Here the lesson of the permanent revolution is poised point-blank: either the revolution spreads to other countries, beginning with Central and Latin America, or it is doomed. The explosive situation in the entire sub-continent is a powerful reserve for the revolution, provided a bold internationalist revolutionary policy is pursued. But on the basis of illusory “realism”, diplomatic manoeuvres and half-policies, there is no hope whatever.
The widespread confusion about the nature of the Nicaraguan regime is based on a superficial appraisal of the great enthusiasm which undoubtedly exists among the masses for the gains of the revolution. Similar enthusiasm existed not only in Yugoslavia, China and Cuba in the early stages of the revolution, but also in Stalin’s Russia in the period of the first Five Year Plans, before the nightmare of the purge trials drowned the last remnants of October in a sea of blood. While the nature of the Sandinista regime is clearly very different from that of Stalin in Russia, it would be a fundamental mistake to imagine either that it represented a genuine workers’ democracy, or that it was capable, on its present course, of evolving in that direction.
Many supporters of the Sandinistas point to the huge growth in popular organisations since 1979 and say that this proves in practice that the Sandinistas cannot develop into a bureaucratic elite. Certainly the growth in these organisations is very impressive, but in reality they do not exercise ultimate power. The real control of Nicaragua is in the hands of the Sandinistas’ own party, the FSLN, which has a very restricted membership.
Out of a total population of only 3,000,000 in Nicaragua there are 100,000 members of the Sandinista Workers’ Federation (CST), 40,000 members in the Rural Workers’ Association (ATC), 70,000 in the farmers union (UNAG), 70,000 in the women’s organisation (AMLAE), 50,000 in the Sandinista youth movement (MJ19), 500,000 in the 12,000 local Sandinista Defence Committees (CDS) and 80,000 in the militia (MPS). In 1979 only 25,000 workers were in trade unions now there are over 250,000 workers in the CST and other trade unions. The growth of these mass organisations represents an important advance of urban and rural workers, peasants and youth taking the first steps in developing their class consciousness.
But while these organisations have expanded, the FSLN itself has remained very small. It is very hard to find membership figures for the Sandinistas’ own party, but it was reported that in January 1981 the FSLN has 500 members and planned to double this to 1,000 by the summer of 1981. It has also been reported that it is not planned to increase the FSLN membership above 5,000.
Even when the mass organisations have grown rapidly there have been severe limitations on the development of their own internal democracy. Thus the CST (Sandinista Workers’ Federation) held its First Congress in 1981, three and a half years after it was formed!
In reality the Sandinsitas’ attitude to the masses is that they are acting on their behalf. Instead of relying on the workers themselves to run society the Sandinista leaders see the workers as ‘too immature’, thus the FSLN must be kept tiny. That is the reason why no elections for any type of government were organised during the first five years of the revolution. The Sandinistas’ attitude of getting the masses merely to rubber stamp their decisions was illustrated in their paper Barricada which claimed that the attendance of 500,000 at the rally to mark the first anniversary of Somoza’s overthrow meant that “the people have voted” to approve the FSLN’s policies. We only have to compare this approach to that of the Bolsheviks after 1917 to see that the Sandinistas are light years away from the programme of Lenin and Trotsky.
The Sandinistas point to the huge size of the mass organisations as a sign of the population’s involvement in decision making. But while it is true that there is plenty of local decision making, for example through the CDSs, the major decisions are taken by the tiny FSLN, an organisation which has arbitrarily set a limit on its size irrespective of the qualities of those who may wish to join it.
While Lenin and Trotsky sought to prevent careerists joining the Bolsheviks after coming to power in 1917 they never sought to prevent tried and tested revolutionary workers becoming members. The Sandinista leaders’ approach, apart from displaying a lack of confidence in the working class, carries with it the seeds of the development of a new ruling elite.
At this moment of writing, the Sandinistas are holding elections in Nicaragua. The main purpose of these elections was clearly an attempt to appease US and world imperialism and offer a palm leaf to the internal bourgeois opposition. They have attempted to find some theoretical justification for this policy by resorting to the absolutely false and discredited theory of the “two stages” invented by Stalin. There is no “democratic” bourgeoisie in Nicaragua. The bourgeoisie is on the side of the “Contras”. They have brazenly boycotted the elections and made use of the concessions offered by the Sandinistas as a platform to organize support for armed reaction.
It is clear that these elections will result in an overwhelming victory for the Sandinistas. The bourgeois parties, openly identified with the counter-revolution are thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the masses. The correct thing to do under these circumstances would be for the Sandinistas to base themselves on this popular vote of confidence to carry through the revolutionary process to the end, nationalising the property of the reactionary Nicaraguan bourgeoisie on the basis of the democratic administration and control of the working class. The existing mass organisations, trade unions, popular committees could be linked up and broadened to include every section of the working class, housewives, farmers and militiamen to provide the basis of a democratic workers’ state and an invincible bulwark against the counter revolution.
Such a step would have an electrifying effect upon the workers not only of Central and Latin America, but also upon those of the USA itself. Coupled with a revolutionary internationalist appeal, it would have a similar effect to the earthquake produced by the Bolshevik revolution all over the world. And if Nicaragua is a backward peasant country, it should not be forgotten that Russia then was like India now. The decisive factor here is not the relative weakness of the proletariat in relation to the peasantry (in reality, in Nicaragua, mainly agricultural labourers, which is not at all the same), but the weakness of the leadership of the proletariat in Nicaragua and on a world scale. With a different policy, the outcome would be entirely different.
The failure of the Sandinistas to carry through the revolution to completion by expropriating the existing capitalists means that the direction of the Nicaraguan revolution has not yet been decisively settled. It is not at all excluded that, under certain conditions, the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie, backed up by imperialism, could begin to push the whole process into reverse. The economic dislocation, low living standards and the sabotage of the capitalists themselves, could create discontent among the more backward layers, leading at a certain stage to a counter-revolutionary situation, a split among the Sandinistas and a rightist coup. Paradoxically, it is the policy of Reagan and the threat of open counter-revolution posed by the “Contras” which at present is cutting the ground from under the feet of the internal opposition which is increasingly being tarred with the same brush. The masses may not be quite clear on what they want but they are perfectly clear on what they do not want: they will fight like tigers against any attempt to reimpose the old Somoza dictatorship by armed force.
As we have stated before, if Reagan could wait some years, there might be a serious possibility that the Nicaraguan revolution, stuck half-way, would succumb to its internal contradictions and permit the triumph of bourgeois counter-revolution from within. But the whole point is that Reagan and US imperialism cannot wait. The dangers posed by even a distorted and incomplete revolution in the explosive context of Central America are too great to be tolerated. Everything points in the direction of an open US intervention against both El Salvador and Nicaragua, especially in the likely event of Reagan winning the next election. Unfortunately, the policies of the Sandinista leadership are only preparing the ground for such a turn. Their attempted concessions will have no effect. Only a bold revolutionary policy can stay the hand of imperialism. Only a bold revolutionary policy can stay the hand of imperialism. Only the complete carrying through of the revolution can guarantee its success. But that cannot be confined to the borders of a tiny, artificial country like Nicaragua. The very survival of the revolution, let alone its development, depends on its rapid spread, at least to the rest of Central America, and then to Latin America, North America, and the rest of the world.
Even the nationalisation and planning of the economy, however, would not be sufficient to define the Nicaraguan regime as “socialist”. Despite the unquestionably progressive nature of the nationalised, planned economies of Cuba, China, the USSR and the other deformed workers’ states, the working class is still held in chains under the rule of a privileged bureaucratic elite. And this is inevitably the case where the revolution is carried out by a guerrillaist minority acting in the name of the proletariat, no matter how heroic, sincere or well-meaning these people may be.
Marxism bases itself on the working class, as the only class which can establish socialism, not for any sentimental reasons or as an arbitrary choice, but because of the social role of the proletariat in production and because it is the only class in society with an instinctive socialist, collectivist consciousness, derived from its very conditions of existence. By contrast the consciousness of the peasant, the intellectual, the student or the lumpen-proletarian, steeped in individualism and moulded in the psychology of the small proprietor, or the army officer, used to the system of command and blind obedience, is least of all fitted for the task of organising society along democratic collectivist lines.
Without workers’ democracy the overthrow of capitalism can only lead to the creation of a regime of proletarian bonapartism. Such a regime while being able to develop society to a certain extent because it rests on a planned nationalised economy, would place before the working class the task of carrying through a new, political, revolution before society could begin to move towards socialism.
The basis of workers’ democracy is that the proletariat as a class controls a society. Through its class organisations—trade unions, workers’ councils, political parties—the proletariat (and, in a country like Nicaragua, in alliance with the poor peasantry) determines what takes place. This is the essence of the socialist revolution, the fact that the proletariat, acting as a collective body, takes power. On the other hand guerrilla struggle, on its own, can never result in a workers’ democracy because it bases itself on the idea of creating an armed force which will take over the urban areas, the home of the proletariat, from outside.
In other words the guerrillaists see the working class playing an auxiliary role, a policy which resulted in a severe defeat for the Salvadorean revolution in 1980. The guerrillaist strategy, which is not the same as one based on the need for a working class led insurrection, leads to the guerrilla army taking power, not the class organisations of the proletariat. The only way this can be avoided is if the guerrilla struggle is seen as an auxiliary to that of the urban working class.
The ruling bureaucratic elites in China, Vietnam and Cuba developed precisely from the leaderships of the victorious guerrilla armies. In Nicaragua, although it was the Managua working class which finally overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in July 1979, political power passed into the hands of the FSLN. Despite the fact that, as Sandinista leader Humberto Ortega has admitted, the movement of the Nicaraguan workers forced the FSLN to change its guerrilla strategy of aiming to surround the towns, the Sandinistas were seen as leaders of the revolution by virtue of their long heroic struggle against Somoza. Without workers democracy a decisive break with capitalism in Nicaragua would inevitably lead to the development of a form of proletarian bonapartism (i.e. Stalinism) whatever good intentions the Sandinistas have.
Some people have attempted to justify the Sandinistas’ reluctance to move decisively against capitalism by comparing their economic policies with those of the Bolsheviks in the early 1920s. Any comparison between Nicaragua today and Russia in the early days of the revolution is completely false because, as already has been explained, a regime of workers’ democracy, control through Soviets and a mass Bolshevik party existed at that time under Lenin and Trotsky.
The introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921, which allowed greater scope to capitalists and rich peasants in Russia, was a retreat in economic policy forced on the Bolsheviks because of the defeat of the socialist revolution in Europe and the devastation caused by the civil war. But despite the NEP the commanding heights of the economy and all foreign trade remained nationalised under the control of a relatively democratic workers’ state. Clearly in a country like Nicaragua, which has a large element of small, petit-bourgeois capitalist producers and traders, Marxists would only advocate the immediate nationalisation of the larger concerns, foreign owned companies, banks and foreign trade. However the Sandinistas have gone out of their way to try to reassure the local capitalists and the foreign governments that they want to preserve a ‘mixed economy’.
One of the main FSLN leaders, Tomas Borge, has again and again spoken of the Sandinistas’ desire to maintain a mixed economy. He told the Paris Le Monde that “we don’t talk about political pluralism and a mixed economy to please the Americans. This is our programme.” (December 19, 1982.) But in another interview a few days earlier in the Lima La Republica Borge complained that: “We provide the businessman with many concessions, credits, facilities, but many of them remain discontented. They will not resign themselves to losing political power” (December 12, 1982).
That neatly sums up the dilemma facing the Sandinistas. The 1979 revolution smashed the old state machine, it left the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie with no “armed bodies of men” with which to guarantee their rule. Without such a guarantee in the form of at least a relatively secure capitalist state machine the capitalists will not invest and without investment a capitalist economy cannot function. But instead of removing the major capitalists and beginning to plan the economy the Sandinistas try to appease them, a policy which has been at least partly pushed onto them by the Russian Cuban leaderships who are reluctant to provoke a confrontation with US imperialism by aiding the establishment of the first proletarian bonapartist regime on the American mainland.
The failure to clearly break with capitalism has helped to worsen Nicaragua’s economic plight and, more importantly, has not stopped Reagan from seeking to crush the revolution. Reagan will keep on trying to secure a victory for reaction because the continued unfolding of the Nicaraguan revolution is encouraging revolutionary struggles throughout Central America. No matter what compromises the Sandinistas try to make with capitalism or the US government Reagan will maintain his policy unless there is a movement within the USA itself or the revolution successfully spreads to other Central American countries. In fact the FSLN’s policies of trying not to provoke Reagan are very dangerous because the best safeguard for the continuation of the revolution is the consolidation of a workers’ democracy within Nicaragua and an internationalist appeal to the workers and peasants in the Americas to follow this example.
However as Alan Woods pointed out in Winter 1983/4 MIR the Sandinistas’ policies are not accidental, they follow from the FSLN’s leaders’ acceptance of “the ideas of ‘two-stages’ theory of the revolution…Capitalism in Nicaragua, as in the whole of Central America, is absolutely rotten, corrupt and degenerate. There is no way forward on this (capitalist) basis for the Nicaraguan revolution. And yet the Sandinistas persist in a vain attempt to maintain some kind of private sector in the Nicaraguan economy. It is a mistake to imagine that capitalism has been eliminated in Nicaragua at the present time. Instead, we have an extremely peculiar state of affairs where, on the one hand the old Somoza state has been utterly smashed—the state in the Marxist sense is armed bodies of men in defence of particular property relationships—and an entirely new state has been set up in Nicaragua controlled by the Sandinistas. And yet, according to the latest figures 60% of the land (and industry) remains in private hands. The economic power of the bourgeoisie therefore has not been decisively destroyed in Nicaragua. Therein lies the danger.
“This situation cannot exist for any length of time. Either the Sandinistas, leaning on the workers and peasants, will carry through the process to the end and nationalise the economy, or else it is not excluded under certain conditions, that the bourgeoisie might gather fresh forces around itself and extinguish the new state.”
The contradictory situation where the capitalists still control the economy but not the state will not last forever. It can only be resolved by either the state taking over the bulk of the economy through nationalisation or by the victory of the counter revolution allowing the bourgeoisie to create a new capitalist state. The tragedy is that the Sandinistas are giving the capitalists the opportunity to develop the counter-revolution, the economy and their attempts to reach political agreements with sections of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie.
The utterly counter-revolutionary nature of the Nicaraguan capitalists is seen in the original refusal of their main political alliance, the CDN, to take part in the elections scheduled for November unless the Sandinistas agree to negotiate with the armed bands of ‘Contras’ attacking the country.
In mid-August the CDN suddenly withdrew this demand. The Guardian reported that “Several Latin American and European governments had privately informed the CDN that their excuse for boycotting the elections was inadequate. Many were also irritated that the CDN had allowed itself to become so closely identified with the Contras.” (16 August 1984.) In other words the counter-revolution’s foreign backers told the CDN to alter its approach in order to manufacture a better sounding excuse for intervention against the revolution.
The capitalists still hope that an election boycott by the parties will provide the public justification for an even greater level of US sponsored intervention against the revolution if Reagan is re-elected. Clearly there is no possibility that the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie can be reconciled to the revolution, yet still the Sandinistas are not prepared to take firm action against groups like the CDN which clearly are the political wing of the ‘Contra’ thugs, possibly in the vain hope that this gesture will stop Reagan’s intervention.
This is the result of the FSLN leaders’ acceptance of the ‘two stage’ theory of the Stalinists that it is necessary to create the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” (sometimes mistakenly called a ‘workers’ and farmers’ government’) as a separate and distinct stage before a workers’ democracy is built on the basis of a planned nationalised economy.
This led to the FSLN attempting all the time to reach agreement with the so-called ‘democratic’ capitalists, when in fact there is no such thing as a democratic bourgeoisie in Nicaragua. Leaving aside a tiny handful of unrepresentative capitalist politicians who think they can personally gain from working with the regime, the bulk of the capitalists are determined to crush the revolution.
But the ‘two stages’ theory has meant that the FSLN leaders have been reluctant to remove the capitalists’ main internal base through the nationalisation. Indeed most of the main leaders of the ‘Contras’ are bourgeois leaders who were once included by the Sandinistas in their ‘revolutionary’ government. Arturo Cruz, the erstwhile CDN Presidential candidate who until recently was demanding talks with the Contras, was in fact appointed by the FSLN to the Junta ruling Nicaragua in May 1980 in the place of another capitalist leader who resigned from the Junta protesting against the Sandinistas’ policies. Today Cruz is repaying his former sponsors by giving Reagan an excuse to intervene because of the ‘undemocratic’ elections.
This theory of the Stalinists is meant to be based on what occurred during the Russian revolution, but in fact it is the complete opposite. There never was a period when Lenin and the Bolsheviks collaborated in government with capitalists’ leaders, yet perverting everything that Lenin had ever fought for the Stalinists always argue for co-operation with the so-called ‘democratic’ capitalists.
Shamefully these ideas are now being repeated by the former followers of Trotsky in the US Socialist Workers Party who have now capitulated to Stalinism. These renegades from Marxism have completely distorted the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky to create a completely new stage, which they call a “workers’ and farmers’ government”, between capitalism and a workers’ democracy where the main sectors of the economy are not yet nationalised. Faced with the difficulty of reconciling this position with that of Marxism an SWP leader was forced to make a “clarification” in a footnote to a recent article admitting that “Marx, Engels, Lenin and others used workers’ democracy in a sense that also encompasses a state in which political power has been wrested from the exploiting classes and taken into the hands of the proletariat and its allies, but in which socialist property forms (i.e. a planned economy) do not yet predominate.” (page 92 New International No. 3).
The US SWP is forced to admit that “Lenin used many different terms in the years following the October victory to describe the revolutionary process the Bolshevik Party was leading: dictatorship of the proletariat, workers’ and peasants’ government, socialist state, soviet republic, dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasants, proletarian state etc” (page 64). This quite clearly shows that these renegades are attempting to give a completely new meaning to the demand for a workers’ and peasants’ government, one which implies the continued existence of a capitalist economy and ends up as a justification for the Sandinistas’ refusal to move decisively against the bourgeoisie, a policy which puts the very future of the revolution in danger. As we have explained before only through the completion of the Nicaraguan revolution, i.e. the overthrow of capitalism, is there any chance to defeat the counter-revolution. Any delay or hesitation displayed towards crushing the capitalists will only give them further opportunity to organize reaction.
Clearly even the establishment of a workers’ democracy in Nicaragua will not immediately lead to socialism. A socialist society can only be built on the basis of overcoming all forms of scarcity through the raising of the productivity of labour to far higher levels than have ever been achieved under capitalism. For this to take place capitalism, and therefore imperialism, must be overthrown in at least in a number of the most advanced capitalist countries, or, alternatively Stalinism overthrown in the Soviet Union. But while small underdeveloped, countries like Nicaragua cannot complete the world socialist revolution they can begin it.
The victory of the socialist revolution in Nicaragua would not only help transform Central America but it would have a profound effect on the major Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Chile etc. The establishment of a workers’ democracy in any of these these major countries would change the entire world situation and herald the final defeat of capitalism and Stalinism. This is why it is so important that even in small countries like Nicaragua, with a population half the size of London, for the working class to be armed with Marxist policies. A victory for the programme of Marxism in a single country today would be the green light for the beginning of the world revolution which will transform all humanity.
Chronology of Nicaraguan History
1821—Independence from Spain won by Central American federation, of which Nicaragua was a part.
1843—Break up of Central American Federation.
1909—US troops invade Nicaragua to prevent President Zelaya building a rival to the Panama Canal with German and Japanese backing. Nicaragua in effect becomes a semi-colony of USA.
1912—US troops again intervene to crush Liberal-led national uprising, after which a permanent force of US Marines are based in Nicaragua.
1925—US Marines withdrawn from Nicaragua. Two months later civil war starts out after Conservatives break their coalition with the Liberals and seize power in coup. US troops immediately return.
1927—Liberals agree to surrender on US terms, but one Liberal leader, General Sandino, refuses and continues to fight on with his 300 strong force based in the north.
1932—With promise that US Marines will leave (which they did in 1933) Sandino agrees to stop fighting after receiving guarantees for some peasant co-operatives.
1934—Sandino killed as he attends banquest in the Presidential Palace in a plot arranged by Somoza, then head of the Nicaraguan National Guard, and the US Ambassador.
1936—Somoza seizes power and used his position to eventually become the richest person in Central America. Somoza was assassinated in 1956 and was succeeded by his eldest son, who in turn was replaced by his younger brother after his death in 1967. By 1979 the Somoza family had a fortune of $150 million inside Nicaragua plus millions more abroad.
1958—New Sandinista guerrilla campaign under General Raudeles opens up in the north of the country.
1962—foundations of FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) by Carlos Fonseca Amador, Silvio Mayorga and Tomas Borge. Fonseca was a former member of the PSN (the pro-Moscow communist party) who had met Che Guevara in Cuba after being wounded in 1959 with the Sandinista guerrillas.
1963—FSLN begins guerrilla activity.
1970—After heavy defeats the FSLN suspends all military activity.
1972—Earthquake destroys the Nicaraguan capital Managua.
1974—FSLN restarts military activity a few days after the formation of the Democratic Liberation Union (UDEL), a ‘popular front’ of liberal capitalists and workers’ organisations.
1975—FSLN majority expel the ‘Proletarian Tendency’ led by Jaime Wheelock which opposes all military adventurism and argued for the FSLN to root itself first in the proletariat.
1976—Further division within the FSLN between the majority ‘Tercerista’ tendency and the ‘protracted people’s war’ tendency (GPP). The Tercerists, led by Daniel Ortega favored commando-type actions, urban guerrilla activity similar to that of the Uruguayan Tupamaros, an orientation toward an earlier uprising and supported the idea of broad alliances with sections of the bourgeoisie. The GPP, led originally by Tomas Borge, wanted to maintain a strategy of rural guerrilla warfare.
1977—Somoza lifts state of emergency after apparently crushing FSLN, but one month later Tercerista tendency of FSLN launches new attacks. In November UDEL publish appeal calling for the creation of a democratic alternative to Somoza regime which should include FSLN.
1978—Assassination by Somoza of UDEL leader and “La Prensa” movement against the regime. 120,000 attend Chamorro’s funeral, employers and unions call general strike. FSLN stage more attacks.
—July: formation of FAO, a broad opposition front linking together forces ranging from the MDN, led by the millionaire industrialist Alfonso Robelo, to the FSLN Terceristas. The Terceristas carried on military attacks while the ‘proletarian tendency’ and GPP wings carried on widespread political work. Uprisings and strikes develop throughout the country, although the September movement in Leon and Esteli is suppressed with the loss of 6,000 lives.
—November: Terceristas break from FAO in protest at US interference in talks between the FAO and Somoza.
1979—February, formation of National Patriotic Front (FPN) by the Sandinistas, trade unions, MPU (a front of popular organisations) and some minor bourgeois groups.
—March: Reunification of FSLN and resumption of its military offensive amid continuing mass movements. Steadily new fronts were opened up.
—June: spontaneous uprising in the capital, Managua. Formation of exile provisional government made up of 3 Sandinistas and their supporters and two capitalists.
—July: entry of Sandinistas into Managua marks the end of civil war which killed over 50,000 (2% of Nicaragua’s population). At this time the FSLN had no more than 500 members. On July 20 the provisional government became the Government Junta of National Reconstruction (JGRN) with a 3 to 2 Sandinista majority and the assets of the Somoza family nationalised. Today the two original capitalist members of the Junta support the ‘Contras’.
Perspectives for the Nicaraguan revolution
By Tony Saunois
Militant International Review, Issue 34, Spring 1987
The American ‘Irangate’ crisis revealed that money raised from the sale of arms to Iran had been used to finance the Nicaraguan ‘Contras’. Once again the future of the Nicaraguan revolution is being raised in the minds of workers and youth throughout the world.
July 1979 saw the overthrow of the hated Somoza dictatorship after 40 years of ruthless repression. It helped to fan anew the flames of the revolutionary struggles which were sweeping through Central and Latin America. Nicaragua’s revolution helped enthuse the youth throughout South America, sections of which have looked to this insurrectionary movement as an example to be emulated. This development alone warrants a thorough study of the Nicaraguan revolution in order to clarify the tasks before the workers and youth in such countries as Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Events in Nicaragua have also brought US imperialism to the brink of a direct military intervention and the financing of the Contras to the tune of over US $100m. US imperialism has been terrified throughout Central America, bringing down the puppet regimes in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala etc where the revolution has been unfolding apace. It has been the fear of revolution throughout Central America, with its inevitable consequences in South America, which has compelled Reagan and US Imperialism to try and ‘snuff out’ the ‘example’ of Nicaragua.
There can be no doubt that the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship heralded a tremendous step forward for the workers and peasants of Nicaragua, especially when weighed against the nightmare of increasing poverty and misery throughout the continent. Under the Somoza dictatorship, preventable diseases killed over 30% of children in the countryside. Since the revolution, infant mortality has been cut from 33% to 8% and over 1 million people were vaccinated in a mass campaign against polio. Consumption of corn has risen by 33%, beans by 40% and rice by 30%. In the final years of the Somoza dictatorship a total of 1,000 doctors throughout Nicaragua were visited a total of 200,000 times. Since the revolution 500 doctors have qualified every year and have visited patients 6 million times annually.
A massive literacy campaign has been carried out, sending armies of teachers and students to the countryside to help eradicate illiteracy. Prior to the revolution it was estimated that 75% of the population had never read a book and over 50% were illiterate! This rate has now been reduced to 14% and 1,200 schools have been constructed.
Such developments are clearly supported by all activists in the Labour movement. They have however resulted in many youth developing illusions in the leadership of the Sandinistas, imagining that the socialist revolution is being carried through. Marxism supports every gain and step forward taken by the exploited masses of Nicaragua and is implacably opposed to US imperialism in its attempts to crush the revolution. However in doing so Marxists cannot and must not reduce themselves to the role of mere cheer leaders. This is especially the case when those gains conquered are threatened by counter revolution. It is necessary to analyse the processes in the revolution and explain how the gains made can best be defended and developed. Such is the case with the Nicaraguan revolution.
The key issue, which goes right to the heart of the matter in Nicaragua and Central America in general, is the theory of the Permanent revolution and the question of the class character of the revolution. For throughout the Colonial world, especially in Central and Southern America, an enormous movement of the masses has taken place. Only three years ago the whole of South America was one gigantic concentration camp. Today only two military police dictatorships remain, in Chile and Paraguay. It has ben the movement of the workers, youth and exploited masses that has resulted in the downfall of these regimes. As we shall see later, the same was true in Nicaragua.
In these countries the immediate task posed has been that of resolving the issues of the bourgeois revolution. That is, the development of industry, the resolution of the land question, securing a unified, independent, nation state and the establishment of a stable parliamentary democracy. In varying degrees these issues lie at the heart of the tasks immediately posed throughout Latin America.
As Trotsky and Lenin explained, in the modern epoch the problem is that these issues cannot be resolved by the national capitalist class in the colonial countries because they are too weak. Bound to the landlords and in the last analysis to the coat tails of the more powerful imperialist powers, the national capitalist class is wholly unable to play any independent or progressive role. The economies of the colonial countries are dominated by the multi-nationals which have used them as a source of cheap labour and to secure raw materials and minerals.
Which class, then, is capable of resolving these fundamental problems, critical to the further development of society? As the experience of the Russian Revolution brilliantly demonstrated it is only the industrial working class, with the support of the poor peasants and exploited layers of society, who can carry out this task. For even in the backward colonial countries, with investment by the imperialist powers and, to a certain extent with the weak development of the national capitalist class, an industrial working class has been created.
However, upon seizing power such a class would not be able to confine itself merely to the question of the bourgeois revolution but, by very necessity, it would transgress such limits and go over to the tasks of the socialist revolution, with the nationalisation of the economy and a centralised plan of production based upon a system of workers’ democracy. To lay the basis for the construction of a socialist society, the revolution must be developed beyond the narrow constraints of the backward and underdeveloped nations to the advanced capitalist countries. Thus whilst the revolution may begin in a colonial country, if it is to result in the building of a socialist society it must be developed on an international scale. Such were the ideas of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. The failure of the international revolution left the USSR isolated, with a backward economy and horrendous shortages which, with the attempts to crush the revolution by imperialism, opened the way for a political counter-revolution in the 1920s. Whilst leaving intact the economic basis of the 1917 revolution (the nationalised planned economy), the political counter-revolution destroyed workers’ democracy and replaced it with a bureaucratic caste—a clique which has now abandoned any idea of a world revolution and instead acts as a counter revolutionary brake on such developments in order to protect its own position. For the development of the revolution on an international level would bring with it a political revolution restoring workers democracy.
In the recent epoch, in the course of the unfolding of the Colonial Revolution, a new twist has developed. The revolution has been carried through in some countries, but in a distorted way. Such has been the impasse of society that, despite the absence of a genuine mass Marxist force, capitalism and landlordism has been overthrown. However it has not been replaced with a workers’ democracy but with a state apparatus in the image of Moscow today rather than that of 1917. At the top of such regimes have been placed guerrilla groupings, students and intellectuals or even radical layers of the officer caste of the army. When assuming power, such leaders never did so with the perspective of completing the revolution. They were pushed into doing so in part by the pressure of the masses and, for example, as in the case of Cuba, because of the reaction of imperialism in the form of an economic boycott. Such regimes, as in Cuba, China, Syria etc have been very popular and enjoyed tremendous support as the benefits of a nationalised planned economy have been felt. Whilst marking a break with landlordism and capitalism and as such representing a tremendous step forward, this development has not, however, signified the socialist revolution and regimes of workers democracy.
The absence of a regime of workers’ democracy has been rooted in the nature of these revolutions, and in particular the absence of a conscious leading role being played by the proletariat, which finds its highest expression in a mass Marxist Party. For it is only the working class which can lead the socialist transformation of society. When other groupings attempt to do so, the best that can be achieved is the social revolution in a distorted form and the establishment of a bureaucratic one party totalitarian regime.
It is these crucial aspects of the Colonial and Permanent revolution which are now of critical importance if a path leading to the successful development of the socialist revolution is to be found in relation to Nicaragua, and the threat of counter revolution, by US Imperialism and the Contras, is to be defeated.
To do so it is necessary to look at the historical development of Nicaragua, especially taking into account the role played by the national bourgeois, the working class and the peasantry.
The historical development of Nicaragua
Like all of the countries of Central and Southern America, Nicaragua has been consistently plundered and exploited by imperialism. Conquered by Spain in 1523, Nicaragua was ruthlessly bled white under colonial rule. Some successful resistance was waged by the Miskito Indians on the Atlantic coast. Later, they were given some support from Britain which at that stage wanted a base for its own operations in the area against the Spanish, French and finally the North American powers. This support was in exchange for British imperialism being able to exploit the area with a relatively free hand.
Three hundred years of Spanish colonisation saw Nicaragua turned into a slave-exporting base to such countries as Santa Domingo, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Being a member of the Central American Federation, it was granted ‘independence’ in 1821 and slavery was abolished in 1824. Servile labour however continued throughout the 19th century. By this time two clear groupings had emerged amongst the ruling class. The first was the so-called ‘Liberal’ wing, based around such areas as the Pacific coastal port of Corinto. Largely drawn from small proprietors, artisans and others, they formed a budding retail merchant class which was politically touched by the great French revolution, and stood as vigorous supporters of free trade. Weighed against them was an arch conservative aristocratic clique of landlords.
Whilst the ‘Liberal’ regimes were perhaps slightly less repressive when they had the upper hand, they rapidly demonstrated their weakness. They were totally incapable of standing up to the dominating influence of North American imperialism and in the last analysis were always dragged along by its coat tails—usually after a few protests against US ‘excesses’, which may have damaged their particular interests. They were incapable of following the tradition of the rising French bourgeois, from whom they nevertheless drew a certain verbal ‘radicalism’.
The conservative clique never even bothered attempting to put up a ‘radical’ mask, but accepted the mantle of outright collaboration with US imperialism from the very beginning. They were nevertheless a powerful grouping basing themselves upon the coffee markets which up until 1950 accounted for 50% of Nicaraguan exports.
Thus the Nicaraguan bourgeois was from the outset weak and feeble, especially when pitched against the mighty imperial powers. As such they were unable to play any substantially independent and certainly not a progressive role. They were unable to come anywhere near completing the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, which the ‘Liberals’ had so enviously watched their French counterparts do historically. In the last analysis they accepted the role of being little more than coupon clippers for imperialism. Between these two groupings a bitter struggle was fought out in the form of military coups, dictatorships and civil war, with US imperialism, as it developed playing the role of arbiter by supporting which ever served its purpose best at the time.
The discovery of gold in 1843 brought with it increased interest in Central America especially with the prospect of constructing a canal coast-to-coast for the shipment of gold and other raw materials. In August 1849, Roberto Ramirez, as Supreme Director Nicaragua, signed the first contract allowing for the construction of such a canal. At the same time the Legislative Assembly accepted the principle of “absolute exclusion of foreign intervention in the state’s internal affairs and calling upon other Central American states to do likewise.”
As events demonstrated, such a declaration was more of a dream of how the Nicaraguan ruling class would have liked things to be. For when US imperialism cracked the whip, they jumped in a flash and accepted the ‘realities’ of life. They were too weak to make any serious stand and feared any mobilisation of the Nicaraguan masses with whom they would have come into collision.
Civil war broke out in 1850 bringing to power the extreme reactionary, Prutos Chamorro. This provoked a revolt by the ‘Liberals’ who, under the leadership of Jerez and Castellon, landed a small military force at El Realejo in 1854. This ‘Liberal’ grouping immediately started peace talks in order to try and secure some concessions. The offer was rejected and the ‘Liberals’ turned North to get the help of an American mercenary, William Walker. He, in return for lavish payments, offered a force of about 300 men. He landed in 1855—with Nicaraguan citizenship and the self-appointed rank of Colonel.
In fact the ‘Liberal’ wing of the Nicaraguan ruling class had enlisted from the support of a renowned slave holder from the South who had his own objectives – to seize control not only of Nicaragua, but of the whole of Central America as a base from which to reinforce the southern slave states of North America.
Rising power of US imperialism
Walker seized power and installed his puppet Rivas as President while he, in reality, ruled from the wings. So reactionary and ruthless were his methods of rule that even Rivas was repelled. Summoning all of Central America to his support, Rivas rebelled in 1856, beginning the so-called ‘National War’. In response, Walker had himself appointed as President of Nicaragua and El Salvador. Walker’s drive to conquer all of Central America brought him into conflict with British imperialism for he tried to spread his influence into the coastal areas of the Miskito Indians—then a British colony which later was incorporated into Nicaragua. Walker was defeated in 1857, whereupon he returned to North America to launch a further attack in 1860.
At this stage the Northern states of America clearly did not want a victory for Walker which would have bolstered the position of the Southern states. They were also beginning to look towards Central America as a potential area for development themselves. Walker was captured by a British gunboat, turned over to the government in Honduras, where he was put up against a wall and shot. The whole incident clearly demonstrated the role of the ‘Liberal’ wing of the Nicaraguan ruling class. The way was formally opened for US penetration of Nicaragua with the signing of the Cassirisarra treaty in 1859.
The ‘Liberals’ eventually took Managua in 1893, after a series of risings. In 1894 they annexed the Miskito coast, paying British Imperialism US $15 million for it in ‘compensation’.
This was the period of the rising power of US imperialism, which was increasingly squeezing out the major European capitalist powers. The policy of so-called ‘dollar diplomacy’ was adopted. Loans were given to certain countries throughout the region. In return the US was granted the exclusive rights of trade and exploited mineral and other raw materials. In reality it meant that the states concerned were signed over to US imperialism to do with as they wished. Terms were imposed to protect investments, banks and railways which, if not adhered to, resulted in the automatic right of military intervention.
In 1893 the Nationalist Liberal Party came to power. It was offered arms to ‘unify Central America’ in return for the US being given exclusive rights to build and operate a canal linking coast to coast. President Zelaya refused. The US thus engineered his downfall and US troops invaded Nicaragua for the first time in 1909. A presidential stooge of US Imperialism was put in power, Diaz. He immediately agreed to the following ‘proposals’: the abolition of all state monopolies; an agreement to pay the external debt; to guarantee the interests of all foreign nationals; all Nicaraguan customs departments, Post Offices, national Banks, railways and harbours to be placed under the control of US creditor banks. The terms were so harsh that once again the ‘Liberals’ revolted in 1912. 2,700 US marines landed to crush the revolt. Diaz was again ‘elected’ President, receiving 4,000 votes from a population of 800,000.
US imperialism was determined to maintain total control of Nicaragua, largely out of its own interest in the construction of a canal. US marines were permanently stationed in Nicaragua until 1925. Elections were held two months after their withdrawal, only to be followed by another coup by the Conservatives under the leadership of Chamorro. Once again civil war raged with widespread attacks undertaken against US investments. The rebellion was led by Vice President Mocada. US troops were once again sent in. Peace terms were offered and accepted by Mocada on behalf of the ‘Liberal’ officers. There was, however, one exception: Sandino, or as he became known, ‘the free man’s general’. He refused to accept the peace officer and began a guerrilla war which lasted until 1932.
The free man’s general
Sandino’s stand rallied the sympathies of thousands of peasants and the urban masses. Having been betrayed by the ‘Liberals’ and imbued with a hatred of US imperialism, his struggle captured the imagination throughout Nicaragua and Central America. Moreover, it drew international support with the memory of the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution of 1927 and the British General Strike of 1926, and was viewed by the activists who were touched by it as another struggle against imperialism. Banners supporting Sandino were even reported to have been carried in Peking in 1927.
The guerrilla army which started with only 27 recruits quickly grew and rose at its height to an armed force of about 3,000. Its support came mainly from peasants and the urban poor, not only from Nicaragua but throughout Central and Southern America. In its ranks were to be found youth from South America, Central America and even some Europeans and a few from Asia. This movement, limited though it was, terrified capitalism and US imperialism. As a result over 800 fully armed US marines were sent in an attempt to crush the guerrillas when they only numbered between 50 and 100 armed men. Sandino and his army conducted what can only be described as an extremely heroic struggle which has left a powerful tradition throughout Central and, to a certain extent, Southern America. At first they suffered some defeats but later won some very convincing military victories against the US and Nicaraguan forces.
The regime became enraged when it first failed to crush this movement, unleashing a reign of terror against the peasant masses. Mass executions, tortures and beatings took place in a completely indiscriminate manner. It served, however, only to increase the sympathy for Sandino’s army. The National Guard undertook much of the repression, having been established at the behest of US imperialism and then officered by it. One example of the ruthlessness deployed was in Ocotal, a small town which was looted by a group of peasants who were not from Sandino’s forces. The result was a mass bombing raid, killing over 300 in one attack. In Managua 70 bombers were flown in from the US and used in the countryside and throughout the country. After a brief interlude of negotiations US troops went onto the offensive. All those taken prisoner were immediately executed. The infamous ‘waistcoat’ torture was established, whereby the victims had both arms cut off.
Against seemingly incredible odds and with few weapons the struggle was continued for some years. In 1932, after being given an assurance that US troops would be withdrawn and the safety of his fighters promised, Sandino agreed to surrender. It was a disastrous mistake from which many lessons can be learned, not least in the situation which has developed in the recent period. As the guerrillas drifted into the cities the so-called ‘safety’ promised to his men proved non-existent. They were taken by the National Guard and executed, under the orders of Somoza.
Later Sandino, after dining with government officials, was himself killed. Even in his death the dominance of US imperialism and the collaboration it enjoyed with the national bourgeois was clearly exposed. Somoza went to the President, declaring, “I have come from the US Embassy where I have had a conference with Ambassador Arturo Bliss, who has assured me that the government in Washington recommends the elimination of Augusto Sandino for considering him a disturber of peace in the country.”
Sandino conducted an heroic struggle. However heroism is not enough for a successful struggle. In his analysis and method lay a fundamental weakness which would deny him victory—a weakness which unfortunately exists amongst the FSLN leadership today. For Sandino the struggle was purely military, the aim being to force US troops from Nicaraguan soil. Even if this aim had been achieved he failed to see that without a social revolution imperialism would still dominate economically. Moreover, it would do so working hand in glove with the national bourgeois.
As a result, he refused to allow the struggle to develop onto the social questions and would not recognise the existence of a struggle between the classes within Nicaragua. The movement was purely national, with no orientation towards winning and mobilising the support of the exploited masses throughout Central America, which could clearly have been achieved. How, after all, could a small nation such as Nicaragua defeat a mighty imperial power alone, without a class content to the movement.
The Somoza dictatorship
For Sandino it was thus “essentially a national thing”. Whilst correctly concluding that “only the peasants and workers will go to the end”, he did not grasp the necessary conclusion in relation to the social revolution, and made no real effort to build a base amongst the urban centres which were growing up at the time. The possibilities to win the young urban masses support for the revolution throughout Central America was demonstrated by events which took place in El Salvador where, in the first and last ‘free’ elections held in 1931 the Labour Party was brought to power on the basis of a movement for land reform and a movement in the cities. In 1932 this was followed by local elections which resulted in large gains for the Communist Party. Even at this stage 10% of the workforce were organised into trade unions. An insurrection was called by the Communist Party, somewhat prematurely, and was crushed. However, these events clearly indicated what possibilities existed at the time.
Sandino however took another course: “Neither extreme right nor extreme left but a united front is our slogan. This being the case it is not illogical that our struggle should get co-operation from all social classes without ‘ism’s or classifications.”
With the withdrawal of American troops, a debate opened up within the Sandinistas over the developing social revolution. Sandino opposed it, having supported the expulsion of the ‘Communists’ from his army beforehand. In part this was undoubtedly due to the ultra-left stand of ‘social fascism’ etc adopted by the Comintern at the time, but it clearly indicated the fundamental weakness in the analysis of the ‘free man’s general’. A ‘patriotic group’ was established which urged Sandino to surrender, end the war and “allow stable conditions for business” to be established under the ‘Liberal’ Sacasa who was President at that time. Sandino accepted and was then assassinated in 1934 after dining with Sacasa and Somoza.
The assassination prepared the way for a coup by the National Guard. Jarquin was named President, who then called rigged elections which brought Somoza to power in January 1937. Elections were banned in all the municipalities and the Presidential term extended. It opened the way for 40 years of dictatorship backed, and indeed brought to power, by US imperialism. Somoza became nothing more than a puppet for US imperialism. However, despite this ruthless repression, all opposition was not crushed. Most significantly in Managua it centred around the CTM (the Workers Confederation of Managua) with over 3,000 members in semi-underground conditions.
Somoza was assassinated in 1956, his place being taken firstly by his elder son who then, upon his death, passed power to his younger brother.
The Somoza dictatorship was a nightmare for the masses of Nicaragua, resulting in the slaughter of tens of thousands which went side by side with grinding poverty and misery. An estimated 30% of the population lacked anything approaching an adequate diet. As in all the colonial countries the industrialisation which took place brought with it no benefits in a material sense for the young proletariat in the cities.
This living hell for the mass of the Nicaraguan population was mirrored by the accumulation of a massive fortune by the Somoza family. By 1979 it was estimated to have amounted to US $150 million inside the country and millions more invested abroad. Apart from this, Somoza owned 150 separate industrial plants accounting for 25% of all industry and over 10% of cultivatable land. He also owned the only airline, a television station, a newspaper and the Mercedes Benz distribution agency.
Economic development of Nicaragua
Somoza saw his primary role, apart from increasing his own personal fortune, as defending the interests of US imperialism. As his son put it, his father was, “the only national leader the US could count on to bat 100% for it in the United Nations.” US imperialism regarded the Somoza dictatorship certainly as ‘one of theirs’, if being somewhat embarrassed by certain ‘excesses’. As Franklin Roosevelt put it, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch. But he is our son of a bitch.”
Somoza ensured that in effect the entire state apparatus was transformed into his own private army, certainly this was the case as far as the 7,500 strong National Guard was concerned. To prevent it becoming infected by any movement of the peasants or workers, Somoza ensured that it was separated from the rest of society and given vast perks and privileges. Good wages were paid and to prevent officers striking up too friendly a relationship with the troops, they were regularly moved around, most being sent to the USA for training. Between 1946 and 1973, 4,120 officers and soldiers were officially sent to the US for these purposes. Nicaragua assumed a vital strategic role for the operations of US imperialism throughout Central America. It was from here that the ill-fated Bay of Pigs operation to crush the Cuban revolution was launched in 1961.
Over the preceding thirty years Nicaragua had become almost unrecognisable. Widespread industrialisation had taken place, largely by direct investment from multinationals and also by loans being given to the national bourgeois, who by Central American standards were relatively powerful. These loans and investments ensured that imperialism had the lion’s share and dominated the economy. Thus by 1972 the foreign debt stood at US $255 million, rising to a staggering US $1,000 million by 1978. The US had important investments in critical sectors of the economy but the national bourgeois had an important influence in light industry. The industrialisation largely took place throughout the 1950s, resulting in the strengthening of the industrial working class as thousands of ex-peasants came into the cities, especially Managua, from the countryside.
Cotton overtook coffee, livestock and sugar as the main basis of the economy. Output rose from 3,300 tonnes in 1950 to 125,000 tonnes in 1965. By 1970 light industry was equal to agriculture as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product. By 1976 it was slightly ahead at 24% as compared to 23%. As a result, the agricultural population fell from 60% of the total in 1960 to 44% by 1977. The urban workers employed in industry, construction and mining constituted 16-18% of the total workforce by 1975—a greater percentage than in pre-revolutionary Russia.
Even in land relations an important development was under way with a certain establishment of capitalist land relations. The concentration of land into a few hands went alongside the growth of land labourers as opposed to peasants—who still constituted the majority. A tiny clique of 1,600 (1.5%) people held 45.1% of all cultivated land and 20.3% held a further 41.1%. The poorest 78% of peasants held a mere 17% of the land. The total number of agricultural labourers stood at 310,000.
Struggles of the 1970’s
Nicaragua, like the rest of the colonial world, never enjoyed the fruits of the boom years of capitalism, the cream being carried off by the imperialist powers. However, between 1969 and 1974 a recession hit the Nicaraguan economy which had devastating effects. During this period 292 factories, or 37% of the total, closed down. Inflation also rose. The grave digger of capitalist society, the industrial proletariat, moved into action during this period, as a young and fresh working class. The industrialisation had aroused tremendous expectations amongst the workers. However, when these expectations were not fulfilled and the economy moved into recession, the proletariat began to flex its muscles and use its newly acquired strength. It coincided with a movement amongst the peasants and a struggle being conducted by the FSLN guerrillas, and culminated in the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in July 1979.
Throughout the 1970’s a considerable movement of the working class took place in the cities. Strikes broke out amongst the teachers, construction workers and health workers. These struggles were mirrored by a movement in the countryside of land seizures and vicious battles involving the National Guard. It was during this movement that the FSLN began to gain an authority and reputation amongst the peasants and land labourers. Because of the lack of any other serious force, after a period of time it also gained a reputation in the cities partly because it was against the FSLN that the hated regime directed a large part of its propaganda and repression. This movement of the workers and peasants terrified both US imperialism and the Somoza dictatorship. Above anything else both the imperialist powers and the national bourgeois of the colonial countries fear a movement of the masses.
By 1977 the construction workers had again been drawn into struggle and demonstrated themselves to be one of the most militant sections of the Nicaraguan proletariat. In the countryside a civil war was in effect taking place. In 1978 major struggles erupted at Leon Esteli, Chirandega and Masaya between the National Guard and armed groups. Eventually the National Guard bombed these small towns killing over 6,000. Masaya held out against the assault for a week. The heroism and determination to struggle was tremendous. In the two years preceding the fall of the dictatorship a staggering 50,000 or 2% of the entire population was killed.
Sections of the national bourgeois, fearing such developments, began to move into opposition against the dictatorship. Adopting a strategy of trying to ease out the regime, they hoped to be able to control the movement of the workers and peasants. In this they were wholly unsuccessful, at least in part due to the determination of Somoza to hang on to power. These divisions had begun to appear as early as 1970 with a split opening up between the Conservative Party and Somoza’s National Liberal Party were reinforced in the light of the earthquake which hit Nicaragua in 1972, destroying Managua. Foreign aid was rushed in, but little found its way to assist those capitalists who had seen their factories and investments destroyed and who needed compensation and the rebuilding of the infrastructure which capitalism requires—none found its way to help the workers and peasants. Somoza, on the other hand, was able to line his pockets still further.
Given the conditions which were developing, had a genuine Marxist party existed, the revolution could have been developed along the more classical lines of events in Russia of 1917, bringing to power a regime of workers’ democracy, as a springboard to developing the revolution throughout Central and Southern America and then to the advanced capitalist countries and even the USA. The three objective conditions for revolution laid down by Lenin existed. The bourgeois was split under the pressure of the movement of the masses. The middle layers of society were increasingly radicalised and being brought into the struggle as demonstrated by the strikes amongst the teachers and health workers. A massive movement was under way in the countryside and the working class was willing to struggle. It was the lack of the fourth condition, a Marxist party, which resulted in the revolution taking a distorted and somewhat peculiar route.
In December 1974 a section of the bourgeois formed what they called a ‘broad front’, the Democratic Liberation Union, UDEL, with certain trade union organisations. Seeing the development of the revolution US imperialism began to look at possible ways to prevent an explosion and gave their backing to UDEL as a possible ‘Liberal’ alternative to the dictatorship.
The Sandinista FSLN had carried out a series of guerrilla attacks during this period which had provoked a massive wave of repression. Somoza calculated that he had crushed them and lifted the State of Emergency in 1977. However, rather than intimidating the movement, this wave of repression provoked an enormous reaction. In November 1977, UDEL published an appeal calling for a ‘democratic alternative’ to Somoza which would include the FSLN. The appeal was carried in the conservative daily, La Prensa which was edited by UDEL leader Chamorro. As a result Chamorro was assassinated in 1978. Revolution sometimes needs the whip of counter revolution, for this killing unleashed a new and decisive movement.
The overthrow of Somoza
UDEL and the trade unions called a general strike to coincide with Chamorro’s funeral. An estimated 120,000 participated. It was a crucial turning point for the revolution and for the first time a generalised urban mobilisation took place. It terrified those bourgeois who, up until then, had thrown their support behind UDEL. As a result, in July 1978, they established a new organisation, FAO, which was made up of sections of the bourgeois and one wing of the FSLN, Las Terceristas. This undertook negotiations with the USA to try and establish a ‘moderate’ solution to the crisis. The FSLN withdrew when negotiations with the USA opened. The FAO then undertook direct negotiations with Somoza. The bourgeois were desperate to try and prevent a social explosion. As a result of its negotiations with Somoza, the FAO lost most of the influence which it had built up amongst the masses. Events had driven the workers and peasants beyond the idea of a ‘chat’ with the hated dictator.
The FSLN had been conducting a struggle in the countryside, and due to the lack of an organised alternative, had also developed a powerful reputation within the cities. This was despite the fact that it was a small organisation of no more than 500 armed activists at any given point in time. It was divided into three fractions advocating a variety of ideas, but dominated by the idea of a guerrilla struggle, as a substitute for the conscious movement of the working class, with the support of the poor peasants, to seize power.
By February 1979, a new organisation had been established including the three fractions of the FSLN, some trade unions and a few minor bourgeois groupings. Having previously been compelled to suspend military activity, by March the unified FSLN opened a new offensive. The regime was totally isolated, with only the National Guard prepared to lend it any support.
A massive social explosion erupted, and the FSLN then issued a call for a mobilisation of the masses. On June 10th a spontaneous general strike broke out in Managua. Sections of the National Guard tried to make a stand but were overwhelmed by the enormous movement which took place. The regime was overthrown and beaten. The National Guard fled, later to form the basis of the present day ‘Contras’.
From Costa Rica, in exile, the Sandinista leaders returned and announced the formation of a Provisional Government made up of three Sandinistas and two bourgeois politicians. They marched into Managua and found themselves placed at the head of the movement. The Provisional Government was renamed the Junta of National Reconstruction—JGRN.
The bourgeois state machine had collapsed! What, however, has replaced it? And what are the perspectives for the Nicaraguan revolution? In order to more fully understand the class basis of the state which has been established, and answer the two questions posed above, it is necessary first of all to look at the ideas and history of the FSLN.
In light of such a rising the impression has been implanted that the Sandinistas are carrying through the socialist revolution. Unfortunately it has been their failure to do exactly that which is now putting the revolution in jeopardy. Above all else, the socialist revolution consists of a conscious movement by the proletariat to take power into its hands, through the establishment of a workers’ democracy, based upon the lessons of the experiences of the Paris Commune of 1871 and then clarified in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin sumarised such a state to rest on the following fundamentals: the abolition of the standing army and its replacement with the arming of the people, all officials to be elected and subject to immediate recall at anytime, all officials to receive the same wages as a skilled worker, popular participation in all administration and the rotation of senior positions with the management and control of society by workers’ councils—Soviets.
A state apparatus based upon these foundations unfortunately does not exist in Nicaragua at the present time. Moreover, the regime was overthrown by a spontaneous rising from below, rather than a conscious movement by the proletariat to seize power. Into this movement has been injected the ideas of guerrillas which have particularly eclipsed the method of proletarian struggle, due to the guerrilla movement which took place and the ideas of the FSLN. Thus we have seen the development of a revolution which has lacked the decisive leadership of the proletariat in conscious form, and impregnated with the false ideas of guerrillas.
Compare this with the October revolution in Russia, which had been consciously prepared by the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky and where the proletariat was embed with the perspective of the international revolution to ensure the success of the revolution and allow for the construction of a socialist society.
In other similar situations the revolution has been carried through, but instead of a regime of workers’ democracy, a bureaucratic one party totalitarian state was established. A regime which was, and to a lesser extent still is today, enormously popular, but which is not a workers’ democracy. In Nicaragua however, the Sandinistas have not taken the revolution to a conclusion, in the sense of overthrowing capitalism which still predominates in relation to the economy. Thus the Sandinistas have found themselves at the head of a new state apparatus, and permitted capitalism to predominate in the market place! What has given rise to this apparently curious phenomenon?
Unfortunately, the leadership of the FSLN have not learnt from the experience of the Russian Revolution nor of the international working class. Tragically they have fallen not under the influence of the Bolshevism of Lenin and Trotsky but have taken up the mantle of Menshevism. For in reality they have accepted the so-called two stages theory. They held a perspective that a ‘progressive’ wing of capitalism existed, that with the fall of the dictatorship a period of capitalist development would be necessary during which they could share power with the bourgeois. They had no perspective for socialist revolution. For the Sandinistas it is fundamentally a ‘national affair’. If such a perspective was doomed to failure from the standpoint of the socialist revolution in 1927, then how much more so is it today? With the increased monopolisation of capitalism and the development of the world market, no revolution or nation can set itself aside from either the international market nor, for a successful revolution, from its development to an international level. From the standpoint of Marxism and the interests of the world revolution and those of the Nicaraguan workers and peasants, the issue is not the good intentions or otherwise of the FSLN leadership. Their heroism is not the issue. The question is how to obtain a lasting victory for the masses as a whole.
The FSLN traces its history back to 1962, being created by Carlos Fonseca, Silvio Mayorga and Tomas Borge. Many of its founding members were drawn from the pro-Moscow orientated PSN (Nicaraguan Socialist Party), fundamentally because they were dissatisfied with the lack of a serious combative struggle being waged against the dictatorship. At the same time they had been tremendously inspired by the development of the revolution in Cuba. Fonseca had met Che Guevara in Cuba one year after the FSLN began its campaign inside Nicaragua. Its initial strategy was that of a classical guerrilla struggle in the countryside. By taking up arms they hoped to be able to develop the conflict to the point where, with the sympathies of the mass of the peasants, a victory could be achieved. Between 1962 and 1967 such a struggle was undertaken.
This method was false from beginning to end, especially given the industrial development of the country in the preceding years. With its handful of members the FSLN tried to substitute itself for a movement of the masses, especially in the towns. By basing itself on a movement of the workers in the towns and a movement of the peasants in the countryside, and with a Marxist programme, perspective and party, the revolution could have resulted in the establishment of a workers’ democracy. But for the leaders of the FSLN such ideas were a closed book.
Marxism has always explained that it is the industrial workers, organised together in the factories and workplaces, who are compelled to struggle as a class, and which will play the decisive role in the revolution. Behind their banner other exploited layers, such as the poor peasants, intellectuals, students and the urban petty bourgeois can be drawn. Any attempt to substitute a tiny organisation for such a movement can never result in the establishment of a workers’ democracy which is the basis for the resolution of the problems of the bourgeois democratic revolution, through the development of the socialist revolution at an international level. Any organization which attempts to substitute itself for such a movement will inevitably become isolated from the masses, leading to mistrust and a contempt for the masses, thus laying the seeds for a bureaucratic clique at a later stage.
Marxism strives for the maximum participation by the working class and peasantry. However, in doing so, it in no way rejects the necessity for the masses to take up arms, including the peasantry organising a war in the countryside, which in Nicaragua would assume a critical role: but always as an auxiliary to a movement in the towns. The Sandinista leaders, however, viewed the movement in the towns as auxiliary, and even imagined that a relatively small organisation would conduct such a struggle. The attitude of the FSLN was underlined by Daniel Ortega when he declared, “we underestimated the masses.” Thus, even amongst the peasantry, whilst developing the widespread sympathy and support, no attempt was made to build a mass party.
By 1970 the FSLN had suffered some heavy defeats and was forced to suspend its activity for a period. This led to an open discussion within the FSLN. Three clear tendencies had developed: a majority led by Ortega, ‘Las Terceristas’, the GPP (the Prolonged Guerrilla War) under the leadership of Tomas Borge; and the smallest, ‘the Proletarian Tendency’ under the leadership of Jaime Wheelock.
A clear majority favored some kind of guerrilla war, although some differences existed as to which kind. ‘Las Terceristas’ favored taking the campaign to the cities following the example of the Tupamaros in Uruguay, after which they hoped the working class would follow them and their bombing campaign. But such a campaign at best would lower the consciousness of the working class, for only the working class can carry through its own emancipation. ‘Why should we fight if they will do it for us?’ would inevitably be the most positive outcome of such a position. No effort was made by the ‘Terceristas’ to build a party of the proletariat in the cities. At the same time, they supported an alliance with certain sections of the national bourgeoisie.
The GPP favored a long struggle in the countryside with no reference to the cities at all. The ‘Proletarian Tendency’ argued that the FSLN must root itself amongst the working class. Whilst this signified a step forward, they lacked the necessary programme to do so. In 1975 the ‘Proletarian Tendency’ was expelled from the FSLN. It was with a clear majority favoring guerrilla struggle that the FSLN found itself in power in 1979.
Character of the state
With the smashing of the Somoza state apparatus the FSLN has become the state apparatus. The hypocrisy of US imperialism in its denunciation of the ‘repression’ in Nicaragua has surpassed all levels, for Nicaragua in reality has been the most democratic state in Central America since the revolution in 1979. The elections which were held in 1984 indicated the overwhelming support that the FSLN has enjoyed. Within four days over 80% of all those over the age of 16 had registered to vote and gave Ortega a greater measure of support than that achieved by Reagan in the US Presidential elections. However the state apparatus which has been constructed will not allow the management of society to be in the hands of the workers and poor peasants. In essence once again it has boiled down to ‘we will do it on your behalf’. The state apparatus has been modelled on Cuba, and as such, despite the tremendous enthusiasm which still exists for the revolution, it would be a mistake to think that a genuine workers’ democracy, beginning to lay the basis for the socialist construction of society, now exists in Nicaragua. This applies to both the state apparatus and property relations. Moreover, on its present course, nor is it capable of moving in such a direction.
The character of the state apparatus is a reflection of the FSLN itself. As an organisation it never took on the characteristics of a healthy workers’ party. It was and still is a tightly controlled organisation which excludes the mass of workers and peasants from its ranks. Thus by January 1981, nearly two years after the revolution, it had a mere 500 members. This was increased to 5,000 and again to 12,000. Even now membership is narrow and restricted to a selected few, who are given specialized training for Government appointments. The Sandinistas argue that the restrictions on membership have been necessary to prevent the infiltration of counter revolutionaries and careerists. Measures to safeguard against such threats are clearly required. However, exactly the opposite has occurred. A party with a mass, active and above all politically conscious membership is the way to safeguard against such a development. A party with a restricted membership, which as we shall see is not controlled by the working class, will pave the way for a rising and privileged group at the top.
This restrictive nature of the party finds its further reflection in the state apparatus. For here control and management is not in the hands of the working class and peasantry. All direction and policy making is instead in the hands of the FSLN leadership, specifically the National Directorate. Since the elections the President has had the major powers concentrated in his hands. The Sandinistas point to the development of mass organisations of the trade unions (CST), rural workers’ associations (ATC), the youth movement (MJ19) and above all the Sandinista Defence Committees (CDS), as the basis of control by the masses. The explosive growth of these organisations after the revolution is undeniable and illustrates the support for the Sandinistas and the enthusiasm for the revolution. The CDSs number 12,000, with an estimated participation of 500,000. However, power is not in their hands. The CDSs, it is true, have a certain autonomy over local issues of a day to day character. However they are more in the mode of a transition belt for FSLN leaders to pass the decisions down. At the same time they act as a sounding board for a certain consultation. They do not control or determine policy and neither is the government under their control. It is often pointed out that this is the function of the National Assembly. This however has little effective power which is firmly concentrated in the so-called Directorate.
This apparatus in no way compares with the Soviet democracy which existed after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin and Trotsky fought against any development of careerism or bureaucracy, but not by preventing workers from entering the party. Membership of the Bolsheviks exploded from 8,000 in February to 240,000 on the eve of the October revolution. The Communist Party of Russia degenerated because of the objective conditions which developed, most specifically the defeat of the world revolution at the time. The Soviet form of government was not comparable with the CDSs in Nicaragua. The Soviets made up the government and determined policy at national and local level. They were elected from the workplaces, with delegates from the peasants and soldiers. All were subject to recall at any time.
Economy still in private hands
By contrast, in Nicaragua the state apparatus, although popular, still has the characteristics of those which emerged in Cuba, China, Yugoslavia and others—regimes which in the early period enjoyed tremendous support, but not regimes of workers’ democracy.
These regimes however carried out the abolition of landlordism and capitalism, thus marking a step forward. This has not been undertaken by the Sandinistas. In Nicaragua the economy is still in private hands.
With the coming of the revolution the bourgeois overwhelmingly passed over to support the Contras, and are determined to crush the revolution. Some of these bourgeois were taken into the government by the Sandinistas in the early stages of the movement. Arturo Cruz, leader of the CDN, was actually brought into the government in 1980. He in effect endorsed US intervention and denounced the elections as ‘undemocratic’. The two original bourgeois representatives in the Government passed over to the contras almost immediately. The national bourgeois will not accept the Sandinista state because it is not their state. This is despite the attempts of the Sandinistas to appease them, flowing from their belief in the existence of the non-existent ‘progressive wing’ of the bourgeois. For the bourgeois to rule they need their own state apparatus upon which to rely.
The Sandinistas, contrary to popular belief, have not taken over the decisive sections of the economy. As they themselves explained in their programme, Plan for Struggle: “At the same time, we set ourselves the aim of regulating the participation in our country’s development of foreign capital from other states and private companies within the mixed economy framework (my emphasis) which offers room both for the functioning of the enterprises of the peoples property sector and for those in the hands of the private owners that correspond to the interests of national development…” In reality, it has meant that the capitalist class still have control of the economy. This is so despite the fact that the properties of Somoza were nationalised: 168 factories, accounting for 25% of industrial plant and employing 13,000 of the 65,000 strong industrial proletariat. However it still left 60% of the economy in private hands. Thus the multi-national giants of Exxon and General Mills were left untouched. In fact the JGRN decreed in its proclamation number 3, that only finance, mining, fishing and all plants belonging to Somoza could be nationalised. In relation to the agricultural sector, private ownership has been even more dominant. Eabier Garvstiaga of the Ministry of Planning claimed in 1981 that, “very few people realise that 80% of agricultural production is in the hands of the private sector as is 75% of industrial production.” A more detailed breakdown illustrates the point still further: 72% of cotton production, 53% coffee, 58% of cattle and 51% of sugar production remain in private hands. Some would claim that these figures give a distorted view because in the agricultural sector most of the land is held by small land owners. Such a claim once again does not stand up to reality. Despite quite a widespread land distribution programme the 200,000 smallest farmers still only have 14% of the land. Reality is concrete!
Such a situation has left the Sandinistas in the worst of both possible worlds. They have terrified, or the masses have terrified, the bourgeois, but by leaving the economy in their hands have left it open to sabotage and chaos. For the bourgeois, as well as having given support to the Contras have, from the beginning, embarked on a programme of economic destabilisation. The capitalists demonstrated their gratitude for the massive state subsidies and reductions in taxes on profits by a massive de-capitalisation programme and strike of investment. Thus the public sector contributed 15% to GDP in 1977 and 41% in 1980. This was in part due to some nationalisations but also due to the reduction in the GDP because of the sabotage by the bourgeois. The economy is thus functioning at 60% of capacity. This has been worsened by the accumulation of a massive foreign debt which by 1981 meant that 40% of all export earnings went to service it.
Following the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship it is clear that a Marxist party would have encountered some problems in a small backward country like Nicaragua. However it has been made worse by the refusal of the Sandinista regime to take over the commanding heights of the economy and establish a centralised democratic state plan of production under democratic workers’ control and management. On the other hand they have reinforced the problems and strengthened the hand of US imperialism by a refusal to try and spread the revolution throughout Central and Southern America and establish a Socialist Federation of Central and Southern American States, which would be the only way to resolve the problems and develop a socialist society in a country such as Nicaragua.
Role of Moscow
The Sandinista leaders view the matter as ‘a national affair’. Imperialism does not! Thus Tomas Borge declared on May Day 1982, “With the victory of the revolution a new phase begins. It is still necessary to unite the widest possible strata of Nicaraguan society to confront the common enemy of all Nicaraguans, which is US imperialism. This new phase, after victory, puts the main emphasis on the defense of the nation, on the struggle to have our national sovereignty respected, on the right of self-determination and the need to unite all Nicaraguan patriots to confront a huge and cruel enemy.” All Marxists support the right to self-determination and oppose the threat of US imperialism. Such tasks will not be accomplished, however, by refusing to appeal to the workers and exploited masses of North and South America. It will not be done by appealing to the national bourgeois who are supporting the Contras and destabilising the economy.
The question is clearly posed as to why the FSLN has refused to adopt the necessary measures and complete the revolution, albeit in a distorted way. As already explained, in part this was due to the entirely false understanding of the FSLN leadership in relation to the role of the national bourgeois. However this in itself is a reflection of the influence of the Moscow bureaucracy which has played a decisive role in holding back the revolution. Indeed at a certain stage the Sandinista leaders were preparing to abolish capitalism and landlordism, although in a distorted form, but the Stalinist bureaucracy held them back. The Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow has completely abandoned any perspective for the world revolution—indeed, they fear its development. For the unfolding of the world revolution and the establishing of genuine workers’ democracies would inevitably act as a pole of attraction to the workers in the Stalinist states. It would unleash convulsions, not heralding a return to capitalism but ushering in the political revolution and the restoration of workers’ democracy in the USSR and its establishment in Eastern Europe, China and the other deformed workers’ states. Such a process would mean the overthrow of the bureaucracy itself.
Therefore on a world scale they have sought to come to an agreement with the imperialist powers and have opposed any development of the revolution, even in a distorted form, which would upset the balance. They have thus striven to prevent the completion of the social revolution in Nicaragua because of the effect it would have throughout the area, substantially damaging the interests of US imperialism. The same process could be seen in relation to Cuba. Moscow’s bureaucratic clique did not want the revolution. Moreover neither Che Guevara nor Fidel Castro had any perspective of a ‘socialist’ revolution prior to or when they came to power. They were compelled to carry through the social revolution because of the objective situation in which they found themselves, partly due to the pressure of the masses and also because of the blockade by US imperialism which controlled 90 per cent of the economy. The Stalinist bureaucracy were thus presented with an accomplished fact which they then had no alternative but to accept. Cuba was then ‘brought into the fold’ in order to manage and contain the situation.
The role of Moscow in holding back the Nicaraguan revolution can be clearly seen in the April 1985 visit by Ortega to Moscow to plead for arms and support to complete the revolution. He returned empty handed, save for US $200 million which was exactly what he got from the EEC countries. The Kremlin above all else has been trying to maintain the ‘balance’ in the region. As the British journal the Times pointed out, “the Kremlin is not eager to become more closely drawn into a proxy war with the US in Central America”. When a State of Emergency was declared in November 1984 to meet the threat of US intervention, the same journal reported “…a small number of older MIGS allegedly destined for Nicaragua have remained in Cuba, embargoed by Dr. Castro.” Such pressure has largely been carried out through the agency of Havana which has encouraged the Sandinistas to hold back the revolution. Speaking in Nicaragua on January 11th 1985, Castro endorsed the ‘mixed economy’: “Yesterday we had the opportunity to hear Comrade Daniel Ortega’s speech, and I must congratulate him for it. It was serious and responsible. He explained the Sandinista Front’s goals in every sector—for a mixed economy and political pluralism and even a foreign investment law…I know there is also room within your conception of a mixed economy. You can have a capitalist economy. What you undoubtedly will not have, and this is the most essential thing, is a Government at the service of the capitalists.” Hardly a perspective for the socialist revolution!
Such comments clearly indicate the brake which the bureaucracies of Cuba and Moscow have placed upon the revolution. The Sandinista leaders have been prepared to accept it because unfortunately they have lacked an understanding about the character of the revolution and have no perspective or programme for the world revolution. Potentially their programme and methods will put in danger the revolution itself.
Perspectives for the revolution
The Nicaraguan revolution is under threat on two fronts. On the one side the prospects of US military intervention have been very real. On the other there has been the Contra war and attempt by the bourgeois to destabilise the Sandinistas with the perspective to overthrow them. Despite the refusal of the Sandinistas to nationalise the economy the bourgeois and US imperialism will not accept the continued existence of the Sandinista state. This ‘halfway’ position has lasted for more than seven years and may last longer still but it cannot go on indefinitely.
There have been two issues which have held US imperialism back from direct intervention. Firstly, the repercussions throughout Central and Southern America. Secondly, when faced with this prospect, the Sandinistas have assisted them by keeping the revolution in check.
Had US imperialism intervened it would have unleashed a massive movement throughout the continent. Massive demonstrations, in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Bolivia etc would have taken place. American embassies would have been burnt to the ground along with US investments. In this sense it would have given an impetus for the revolution throughout the continent. For this reason they have held back. An intervention in the long term would not have solved the problems of US imperialism. In the short term it would have snuffed out ‘the example’ which Nicaragua has given to the workers and youth throughout the Southern Americas. It is elementary that should the US intervene, as is a possibility, Marxism would fight against it explaining the policy, programme and most effective way to combat it. It would however, meet with tremendous resistance and in reality be an unwindable war from the long term point of view. The Times correctly summed up the situation: “When 500 or so hard core Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, rusty pistols, shotguns and sport rifles were the most common weaponry in their makeshift arsenal. Their triumph over much better equipped forces of roughly equal size was an impressive testimony to what could be achieved by commitment and courage. And the worst mistake Washington could make, in its unrelenting campaign against the Sandinistas, is to think or doubt that the excited young people who last week were chanting ‘No pasaran’ are utterly committed to defending their country against even more intimidating odds.”
The Sandinistas have over 150,000 under arms, including the militias which have been established. It would be a bloody fight, but once having decided upon such a course of action, US imperialism would have no choice but to see it through to a conclusion. It may mean mass bombings, for example like those which were carried out in Vietnam or Kampuchea where a staggering 10% of the population was wiped out. However, after a period, American forces would be successful in taking the cities. It would however be a pyrrhic victory. The youth would take to the countryside and the American army would be under permanent siege from the mass of the population, with no prospect of a definitive victory. Such a development would inevitably lead to a demoralisation after a period. The initial support for the war which US imperialism would be able to engender would turn into its opposite after a period. In that sense a movement similar to that which unfolded around the Vietnam war would develop. The army within Nicaragua, with demoralisation, drug abuse, alcoholism etc would begin to disintegrate as it did in Vietnam. The withdrawal of the occupation forces would be posed and along with it a defeat and a fresh victory for the Sandinistas and this time, after such an experience, the establishment of a regime similar to that in Cuba, with the completion of the social revolution, albeit in a distorted form.
US imperialism has seemingly pulled back from intervention at this stage, for fear of the consequences. However, US intervention is not the only danger facing the Nicaraguan revolution. The bourgeois hope that the support enjoyed by the Sandinistas will be eaten away by the frustrations and dissatisfaction which is developing because of the economic crisis and consequential shortages etc. With developing dissatisfaction, they then hope to split the Sandinistas, possibly using the Church around such figures as Bishop Obando and then bring sections of the Contras into the Government and in effect overturn the existing state apparatus and replace it with their own. The situation which has developed economically has certainly given the bourgeois some ground for developing such a perspective.
Given the support currently enjoyed by the Sandinistas, the Contras alone could not overthrow the regime. Recent reports have indicated a plummeting in the morale of the Contras. The recent injection of US aid will allow them to continue, but not seriously posing a direct challenge to the FSLN, who still enjoy the support of the majority of the masses within Nicaragua. According to Alfonso Robel of the right-wing United Nicaraguan Opposition (a fraction of the Contras), of the 23,000 claimed members only 6-7,000 are active. In the South, ARDE (Democratic Revolutionary Alliance), is reduced to 3,000 fighters and further South the infamous FDN commander, El Negro, (The Black One), is down to a mere twenty fighters. The base of the Sandinistas must therefore be eaten away. This is one of the reasons the bourgeois has ensured that economic sabotage is most effective.
The measures they and US imperialism have taken have undoubtedly been effective. Coupled with the slump in world commodity prices the economy has been devastated, to a degree that would have been preventable had the Sandinistas taken over the commanding heights of the economy and instituted a democratic state plan of production. Living standards have fallen dramatically with the economy having its worst performance every year since 1984 when compared with the situation prior to 1979. Inflation now stands at 400%, higher than that ever recorded under the Somoza dictatorship. A massive black market has developed upon which it is now estimated that 130,000 earn their living directly. Unemployment is higher than under the Somoza dictatorship. The situation led to a spate of strikes and even food riots in Managua. As a result the government introduced a State of Emergency, under the cover of the threat of US intervention and banned all strikes, with government proclamations issued attacking the ‘excesses’ of the workers. The FSLN leadership point to the fact that they are compelled to spend 40% of the GNP on the military, to prepare for a US intervention. Marxism would not criticism them for that. However, with a plan of production more resources would be available and with the creation of a genuine workers’ democracy any sacrifices that were necessary would be accepted by the proletariat in the interests of their government, as for example was demonstrated in post-revolutionary Russia.
In Nicaragua, already a certain scepticism is developing which is reflected in the FSLN journals and the trade union publications. Letters asking ‘why won’t you listen to us?’ have appeared. The Sandinistas still enjoy enormous support but dissent and even opposition are beginning to develop. The main reason it has not developed further is the threat of US intervention, which paradoxically has checked the development of more unrest against the inadequacies of the Sandinistas. However, such a situation cannot develop indefinitely.
The Miskito Indians
Some supporters of the FSLN argue that had they completed the social revolution it would have provoked an intervention by US imperialism. Yet all of the concessions given by the Sandinistas have in no way diminished the determination of imperialism to overthrow them. The experience of the Russian Revolution in this respect is essential for the international workers’ movement. Twenty-one armies from the imperial powers intervened to try and crush the revolution. They were fought back by the Red Army under Trotsky’s leadership in no small measure because of the attitude of the Bolsheviks towards the world revolution. They went to the workers of Europe and appealed to the rank and file of the intervening armies in a class manner. By approaching the question in this manner they forced the withdrawal of the imperial powers after they had witnessed the soldiers lending their support to the revolution. Were the Sandinistas to adopt a Marxist approach to the revolution through the expropriation of the commanding heights of the economy, the spreading of the revolution throughout Central America and a class appeal to the American workers and soldiers, they would ensure the defeat of American Imperialism.
The un-Marxist approach of the Sandinista leadership has also been demonstrated in relation to the policy adopted towards the Miskito Indians which has cost the FSLN dearly in terms of support. Thousands of them could have been recruited as the most committed fighters against imperialism, had the FSLN been prepared to grant them autonomous rights as they were asking for. By doing so they could have gained the confidence of this section of the masses and then within the context of a democratically planned socialist economy could have guaranteed them language and cultural rights, and integrated them into the revolution—in other words, by adopting the attitude of Lenin and Trotsky towards the national minorities. The failure to do so drove thousands into the arms of the counter-revolutionary Contras.
About 80,000 Indians live on the East Cost, mostly in the North East, as virtually the sole inhabitants. The refusal to grant or offer any autonomy was then followed by enforced mass resettlement schemes. In 1982 10,000 were forced out of their villages along the Rio Coco by the Sandinistas, who believed a Contra base existed in the area. The Contras had won a certain basis amongst them by offering autonomy. The resettlement programme was carried through ruthlessly with no sensitivity at all. The Saklan village on the Rio Coco was typical. It had a population of 1,500. It was ‘evacuated’ and then burnt to the ground.
It is true that after having first hand experience of the Contras, many have abandoned them. According to one report 30,000 have returned to Nicaragua from Honduras and other bases being used by the Contras. It is nevertheless an indication of the mistaken methods and policies being adopted by the Sandinistas.
As we have explained in this article, the only way to defeat the threat of counter-revolution is by the completion fo the revolution, that is to say, the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a workers’ democracy. Any delay will only give the bourgeois the opportunity to prepare and organise reaction. The establishment of a workers’ democracy in a small country like Nicaragua will not immediately lead to a socialist society. This would be impossible given the scarcities and backwardness which exist and need to be overcome. To accomplish such a task the revolution of a socialist character would be necessary in at least a number of the advanced capitalist countries, or alternatively the political revolution in the Stalinist states. The victory of the working class in a small country can detonate a movement and act as a pole of attraction in the more advanced countries of South America. And a victory in any one of these countries would change the entire international situation and herald the overthrow of capitalism and Stalinism. It is in this context that the crucial importance of the proletariat in such small countries adopting a Marxist programme, and the lessons of the Nicaraguan revolution, must be seen.
The Sandinistas defeated
A victory for reaction
By Tony Saunois
Militant International Review, Issue 43, Spring 1990
Alejandro Rojas examines the reasons for the defeat of the FSLN and draws out lessons for future struggles.
The recent election defeat of the Sandinista FSLN in Nicaragua will be a big disappointment to activists in the labour movement internationally. It has especially shocked and disorientated the youth of Central and South America who have enthusiastically supported the Sandinista regime. From it they drew encouragement and inspiration, perceiving it as a socialist revolution combating the might of ‘Gringo Yanki’ imperialism.
Ortega’s defeat by the 13-party coalition UNO came as a surprise to both the FSLN leadership and the Nicaraguan bourgeois as well as their backers, US imperialism.
The victory of UNO candidate Violeta Chamorro was a victory for the counter-revolution. UNO, despite the participation of two ‘Communist’ Parties, is dominated by various bourgeois parties, the largest being the Independent Liberal Party. It has in reality been the political voice in the recent period of the Contras.
As with all victories and defeats there are crucial lessons to be learnt which can strengthen the struggle against landlordism and capitalism. From the very beginning of the revolution, when the FSLN seized power, the Militant and the MIR warned that the failure of the Sandinistas to complete the revolution and overthrow landlordism and capitalism would eventually pave the way for the counter-revolution. This process is clearly under way. Whether it will be completed, with the bourgeois able to fully regain control, dismantle all the gains of the revolution and establish a relatively stable apparatus, will depend on many factors, not least international developments. The timing of the onset of the forthcoming world recession and the tempo of development of the revolution in the rest of Southern America will be critical.
Marxists have a responsibility to speak the truth, however unpalatable it may be. This defeat unfortunately flows directly form the mistakes of the FSLN leadership and its policy of trying to appease US imperialism and accommodate itself to landlordism and capitalism. Despite the Sandinistas’ control of the state apparatus following the 1979 revolution, they failed to overthrow landlordism and capitalism leaving the majority (60%) of the economy in private hands. But neither imperialism nor the national bourgeois accepted a state apparatus which was not their own, and therefore unreliable. It left the Sandinistas with the worst of all possible worlds: an economy not under their control and open to sabotage by the capitalists and imperialism, combined with a military offensive by the US-backed remnants of the Somoza state machine in the form of the Contras.
The result was an economic catastrophe for which the Nicaraguan masses footed the bill. In reality all of the initial gains made after the revolution have been taken away. The US imposed a trade embargo in 1985, which made a deteriorating situation even worse. With over 50% of GNP committed to defence expenditure the economy has simply collapsed. During 1989 alone industry contracted by 29% and there were 39 successive devaluations. Inflation soared to a record 33,600% per annum in 1988 leading to a massive austerity package in 1989.
Private consumption has fallen by 70% and real wages by 90% since 1981. By March 1989 the average workers’ wage packet could purchase a mere 12% of items in a basic household basket. Unemployment is now higher than under Somoza and living standards actually lower. The standard of living has fallen so far as to leave Nicaragua as the nation with the lowest per capita income in the entire Western hemisphere, lower than even Haiti! This collapse, and the absence of any perspective for a way out being offered by the FSLN, was the underlying cause of the election defeat. The Nicaraguan masses became battle weary, both economically and military. Fifty thousand were killed in the last two years of the struggle against Somoza. Since then a further 35,000 have died in the war against the Contras.
The FSLN leadership have argued that they had no alternative when confronted with the economic and military might of US imperialism. Such a claim goes right to the heart of the analysis and perspective they adopted for the revolution from the very outset.
The Russian revolution of October 1917, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, provided the classical model for how the revolution could proceed along healthy lines in a backward country. The weak national bourgeois, tied to imperialism, was incapable of completing the tasks of the bourgeois revolution which were posed, that is to say, the development of industry, the solution of the land question, national independence and the establishment of a parliamentary or bourgeois democracy.
The Russian revolution highlighted that in such backward countries those tasks which historically had fallen to the capitalist class, now fell to the proletariat, which even when in a minority could draw behind it the poor peasants and other exploited layers and take over the running of society. Having embarked upon the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, the revolution under the leadership of the working class would inevitably pass on to the tasks posed in the socialist revolution, with its success and future development being dependent upon the unfolding of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries. It was the isolation of the Russian revolution, after a series of defeats of the workers’ movement in critical countries such as Germany, which paved the way for political counter-revolution and the growth of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
In the post-war period a further twist developed in the unfolding of the colonial revolution. In a number of countries, the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism has been carried through but in a distorted manner. With society at an impasse, guerrilla armies based on the peasantry have come to power, often with massive support in cities but where the proletariat, in the absence of a Marxist leadership, has not been consciously at the head of the revolution. Alternatively, even sections of the old state apparatus, utilising mass pressure, have intervened and carried through measures to overthrow landlordism and capitalism. The establishment of a state plan of production marked a massive step forward. However these regimes, despite enjoying massive support as in the case of Cuba, were not workers’ democracies. The state machine which was established was that of a bureaucratic regime of proletarian bonapartism, resting on a state plan of production but without the proletariat undertaking the management and planning of society.
The overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in July 1979 was the result of a spontaneous insurrection in the cities. In the absence of any alternative the FSLN found itself thrust into power, but the proletariat did not consciously take over the running of society. Yet at this stage, and for a prolonged period after, the FSLN was tremendously popular and enjoyed massive support.
However, a fundamental contradiction was established from the outset. The state apparatus they constructed was on the model of Cuba but the economy, unlike Cuba, remained dominated by the bourgeois despite some nationalisation, especially of the old Somoza estates and factories. The dominant wing of the FSLN leadership followed the so-called two-stages theory, of a period of capitalist development and collaboration with the so-called ‘progressive wing’ of the national capitalist class.
But the Nicaraguan bourgeois and US imperialism would not accept the Sandinistas who, despite defending a capitalist dominated economy, formed a new state machine that was based upon the forces of the revolution. It was, from the point of view of the bourgeois, unreliable, and threatened at any stage to complete the social revolution, even in a distorted manner, as a result of pressure from below. Given its composition, at the outset of the revolution neither US imperialism nor the national bourgeois felt they could incorporate such a state machine and use it to defend their own interests. They therefore systematically tried to undermine and overthrow it.
As with their Cuban counterparts the FSLN leaders envisaged a period of capitalist development. Under the impact of the crisis and the pressure of the masses, however, they did look at various stages toward overthrowing capitalism and landlordism. After 1979 and again in 1985 they went to the bureaucracy in Moscow to seek endorsement. On each occasion they were rebuffed.
Once again the role of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the process of the world revolution was revealed. It opposed the revolution being carried through, even in a distorted way, because this would upset the balance which it sought for itself and imperialism. As Gorbachev explained in his book Perestroika, “rightwing forces portray our interest in Latin America as an intention to engineer a series of socialist revolutions there. Nonsense! The way we have behaved for decades proves that we don’t plan anything of the kind… We don’t want either its raw materials or its cheap labour. We are not going to exploit anti-US attitudes, let alone fuel them, nor do we intend to erode the traditional links between the US and Latin America.” (pp 187-88).
In Cuba, despite opposition from Moscow, Castro in 1960 had been left with no alternative but to complete the revolution because of the boycott by US imperialism, which dominated 90% of the economy before it was nationalised. Moscow, confronted with the established fact of the overthrow of capitalism, incorporated Cuba into its orbit. In Nicaragua the FSLN did not take this road but systematically attempted to find an accommodation with the Nicaraguan bourgeois and placate US imperialism, making concession after concession to its demands.
The consequence was the election defeat, reflecting an ongoing process over the past period. Mass participation in the CDS’s (Committees for the Defence of the Sandinistas), which reached 500,000 at their peak, had fallen dramatically. These bodies never played the same role as the soviets in Russia, which acted as the organs of control and management by the working class. While reflecting the enthusiasm which existed for the revolution they acted as transmission belts for the decisions of the FSLN Directorate, where power was concentrated.
The professional army was increased to 80,000, together with a 10,000-strong police force, while the ‘popular militia’ was reduced. The mass organisations of the FSLN became less and less democratic with greater evidence of privileges in the life style of the leaders in the face of growing poverty for the masses.
Recently the morale of Sandinista activists and supporters fell dramatically, showing the effects of exhaustion, both economic and military, and the lack of a perspective for a way forward. An interview with one ex-Sandinista, Pablo, reflected what was happening. He simply stated, “I was a radio engineer. Me, a radio engineer, a fighter in the revolution, a Sandinista brigade commander and I had to go to the rubbish dump to collect paper to sell to feed my children… It wasn’t me who changed it was the Sandinistas who let me down. I’m still a revolutionary.” The Independent, 27 February 1990.
The growing political degeneration of the FSLN was reflected in the ‘Americanisation’ of their election campaign. Under the slogan ‘Everything will get better’, everything was offered except a programme to take the revolution forward. The youth (52% of the population are between the ages of 16 and 28) were given free condoms in FSLN colours at election rallies and a poster with the caption, ‘The first time is beautiful when you do it with love.’
US imperialism has watched these developments unfold over a period. They held back from military intervention initially for fear of the consequences in the rest of Central and Latin America. They also feared that after an initial military victory, they would over a period become bogged down in another guerrilla war which they would not be able to win. So with the Sandinista leadership embarked on a programme of appeasing the interests of capitalism, the dominant view of the strategists of US imperialism was simply to allow the Sandinista leaders to do the job for them. The election of Chamorro has vindicated such a strategy.
Only the method adopted by Lenin and Trotsky during the course of the Russian revolution offered any prospect of defeating imperialism and defending the revolution. The completion of the revolution, with the overthrow of landlordism and capitalism and the establishment of a genuine workers’ democracy, would undoubtedly have provoked US imperialism to act. However, with an internationalist perspective, a conscious appeal could have been made for the spreading of the revolution to the rest of Central America and most importantly to Latin America with its more powerful working class. This would have raised the spectre of the defeat of the US, the first steps in the unfolding of the world revolution. Only such an alternative could have offered the Nicaraguan masses the prospect of participating in the defeat of the world’s foremost imperialist power.
As the Russian revolution demonstrated, with such a perspective and confidence in the international proletariat, it was possible to defeat not one but 21 armies of foreign intervention. The proletariat and poor peasants, conscious and confident of the development of the world revolution, were able to sustain even greater sacrifices than the Nicaraguan masses in order to defend the revolution. The failure of the international revolution, although paving the way for a political counter-revolution in the form of the Stalinist bureaucracy, still did not result in the loss of the social revolution and the gains secured by the nationalised planned economy. Now, however, the impasse of the Stalinist bureaucracies has resulted in at least sections of the ruling bureaucratic clique abandoning the idea of the planned economy and attempting to restore the market and private ownership of the means of production.
But for the Sandinista leaders the revolution was, in the words of one of the most ‘radical’ FSLN leaders, Tomas Borge, “a national affair”. This approach has lead to the advent of counter-revolution and the possible loss of all the gains of the revolution itself.
The election is clearly a serious defeat, one which could have been avoided had the FSLN based themselves on the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky and a clear perspective for the international socialist revolution. It does not signify, however, that the bourgeois have now established a completely stable situation. With 42% of the vote, the FSLN are still by far the largest party in the Assembly and a powerful force. UNO is a very unstable coalition.
The UNO leadership clearly intend now to try and incorporate their own representatives into the state apparatus. The majority of the FSLN leadership, grouped around Ortega, seem likely to collaborate with the bourgeois in establishing a more reliable state machine. Exhaustion from the war makes it likely they will succeed. Indeed, even before the elections the Sandinista state was clearly developing tendencies as a bourgeois bonapartist regime, working with the capitalists, banning strikes and agreeing to the demands of US imperialism such as the release of former National Guardsmen of the Somoza dictatorship and even the return to Nicaragua of some ex-contra leaders.
Under the current conditions such a process will continue. However, it will not proceed along an entirely smooth path. The FSLN was established as a coalition of various tendencies and the contradictory pressures have continued. It is quite possible a section of the FSLN, maybe around Tomas Borge, who heads the armed forces, will come into conflict and a split develop within the army. Should imperialism and the bourgeois step too quickly they could easily provoke a backlash from sections of the youth around the FSLN who once again could take to the road of guerrilla struggle.
US imperialism will now take measures to invest in the economy in order to try and stabilise the situation. Indeed this was a factor which gained support for UNO, given the lack of an alternative being offered by the Sandinistas. Bush has pledged an immediate $300m aid package. Such an investment will give the new Government room to make concessions. This may have an effect for a period after such a devastating collapse.
However, with the onset of a new world economic recession, Nicaragua, like all of Central and South America, will be seriously affected. It will inevitably open up new upheavals and struggle, probably pushing the bourgeois at a certain stage to resort once again to a more ruthless form of rule, if it can construct a reliable state machine to rest upon. How far such a process will develop depends upon the speed with which the movement in Nicaragua recovers from the past decade of struggle and the tempo of the unfolding revolution throughout Latin America.
If the lessons of the experience of the Nicaraguan revolution are learnt they can ensure a future victory of the masses throughout Central and Latin America and the establishment of a Socialist Federation of Latin American states.
With the Nicaraguan People Against the Ortega Government and Imperialism
By André Ferrari
Liberdade, Socialismo e Revolução, August 21, 2018
Since April, Nicaragua has become a bloodbath, with already 400 dead on top of thousands of injured, arrested and disappeared.
The trigger for this process was a legitimate mass movement against the attempt of the Daniel Ortega government, in agreement with the IMF, to implement a social security reform. The reform would have lowered the value of pensions and raised the value of contributions.
This mass movement was savagely repressed by the government, which used both the state apparatus and paramilitary organisations to do so, with methods reminiscent of the Somoza dictatorship.
The violence of the government radicalised the popular resistance, transforming it into a genuine rebellion against the government made up of students, peasants, indigenous people, workers and the urban poor. The movement had strong features of spontaneity and self-organisation, with no established centralised leadership.
A few days later, the government was forced to retreat in relation to the pension reform, but it was too late. This social explosion was the expression of years of accumulated discontent and social tension and opposition to the neoliberal, pro-capitalist policies of the Ortega government.
Degeneration of the FSLN (Sandinista Front of National Liberation)
The FSLN, led by Ortega who has ruled the country since 2007, has degenerated to the point of being transformed into another instrument in the service of big capital, and the interests of Ortega himself, his Vice President Rosario Murillo and the “new rich” of pseudo-Sandinista oligarchs.
There is virtually nothing left of the organisation which led the revolution that toppled Somoza in 1979 which inspired millions of workers and peasants all over Latin America. The tragic destiny of the Sandinista revolution has innumerable lessons for the Latin American and world Left.
Once Somoza had been brought down, the government led by Ortega and the FSLN stopped half-way on the road of completing the revolutionary tasks of the day. On the contrary to what had taken place in Cuba, they avoided expropriating the whole of big business and establishing a planned economy. Their illusions in a “mixed economy” opened the way for internal sabotage from US imperialism, including the formation of the reactionary “contras” armed force.
The imperialist offensive and the mistakes of Ortega and the Sandinistas, with the adoption of an increasingly “pragmatic” economic policy which was more and more distant from the ideas of the revolution, led to the defeat of the FSLN and the return of the right wing to power through elections in 1990.
Since then, Ortega and the FSLN turned more and more to the right in policies and in practice. They built alliances with sectors of the old oligarchy and right wing, like the corrupt ex-President Arnoldo Alemán. Ortega also sought ties with the reactionary Catholic church establishment, reconciling himself with old enemy of the Sandinistas, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and supporting legislation to totally ban abortion in the country.
Defeat in 1990
After the defeat in 1990, Ortega also lost elections in 1996 and 2001. When he won elections in 2006, Ortega and the leadership of the FSLN had already consolidated their turn to the right and alliances with the old Nicaraguan oligarchy.
The economic model pushed by Ortega was based on neo-liberal policies like privatisations and the opening of the agribusiness, mining and fishing sectors to foreign capital, etc. This deepened the subservient, dependent character of Nicaraguan capitalism in relation to imperialism, while at the same time guaranteeing profits and wealth to the local oligarchy and new rich elite linked to Sandinismo.
An example of these policies was the project of the building of the Inter-Oceanic canal, linking the Atlantic and Pacific, which was awarded to a Chinese consortium. If it is concluded, this project will be a monumental ecological disaster and a severe attack on the affected regions. Among other consequences, it will cause the contamination of the lake of Nicaragua and the displacement of 25,000 people.
Since 2014, this project has seen peasant and indigenous protests against it to defend the environment, shaking up the political and social situation. The building of the canal began in 2015, but it had to be suspended due to the bankruptcy of the Chinese company which was responsible.
As in other Latin American countries, economic growth based on a primary-exportation model did not eliminate social inequality and poverty, but only built up more contradictions and political volatility.
Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in Latin America, with half the population living in poverty, rising to 68% among the rural community.
A legitimate struggle
In this situation, the popular resistance to Ortega’s pension counter-reform, his neoliberal policies and the authoritarian nature of his repressive government is totally legitimate and deserves the support of the consequent Left, throughout Latin America and the world.
Despite still using some left or anti-imperialist rhetoric to manipulate the memory of the historic 1979 revolution, Ortega’s government plays the game of the right wing and imperialism. Countless former leaders of authentic Sandinismo have clearly denounced Ortega.
However, there are some sectors that stand on the Left who echo the distortions of Ortega. Recently, the Secretary of International Relations of the Brazilian PT, Monica Valente, compared the conflict in Nicaragua with the demonstrations in June 2013 in Brazil, saying that they were a question of actions by “small student groups, especially from private colleges, financed by the USA”.
This statement only makes clear that the leadership of the PT has understood nothing about the June protests of 2013 in Brazil, and less still about the events today in Nicaragua. June 2013 was not a right-wing movement, but a popular explosion with great transformative potential which was not seized upon because of the betrayal of the traditional Brazilian left and the weakness of the new Left in process of construction.
In the case of Nicaragua there can be no question of siding with Ortega in the face of this massacre. He must be fought, and a Left, working class alternative must be built.
It is obvious that, given the grave nature of the situation, sectors of the right wing and of imperialism who previously gained a lot from the Ortega government and its ability to contain social struggle, now see that the government is no longer able to serve their interests. They try to throw him overboard and manage the situation in a way favourable to them.
This is a natural element in these developments. It certainly does not mean that the Left should defend Ortega because of the reactionary intentions of sections of the right and imperialism.
Independent class struggle
The role of the Left is to encourage the independent organisation and struggle of the workers and poor for their rights and interests. The movement must reject any alliance with the bosses, right wing, imperialism or the Church. The working class, students, peasants, indigenous people and women can only rely on their own independent and organised power. The struggle should be democratically organised from below with committees of struggle made up of representatives elected democratically and coordinated on a national level.
Only on this basis can a real alternative to Ortega, the traditional right and imperialism be built. Without this, with or without Ortega, there will be defeats.