Nicaragua, Sandinistas and Socialism

Andy Daitsman adaitsma at
Sun Jul 9 12:48:50 MDT 1995

Jerry wrote:

>As I recall, Mao's program outlined in the pamphlet "On New Democracy"
>proposed a coalition government with the national bourgeoisie and a
>state-directed market economy.  There are analogies, I think Chris is
>correct, between the "new democracy" period in China, the UP government
>under Allende in Chile, and the Nicaraguan government under Sandanista

I haven't read "On New Democracy", so I can't really comment on similarities
or differences.

>What all had in common was a belief that a bourgeois democratic revolution
>was necessary prior to socialism given the underdeveloped nature of the
>economies in each of these countries.  Theoretically, each accepted the
>two-step theory of revolution, i.e. first there is capitalist development
>and bourgeois rule and then social transformation.  This theory was
>endorsed and popularized by the Communist International post-Lenin.

My main objection here is to the assertion that the Sandinistas accepted the
concept of bourgeois rule during the stage of capitalist development.  Borge
really did say in 1984, I heard it with my own ears, that although the FSLN
had no immediate plans to eliminate the bourgeoisie as a class they were
going to construct a state and a society in which the bourgeoisie was
subordinate to the popular classes.  And if you look at the structure of the
Sandinista state until at least 1985 (when they gutted the CDS's (Comite en
Defensa Sandinista, revolutionary block committees analogous to Cuba's
CDR's)), it's hard to argue that they weren't doing exactly that.

The Sandinistas initially attempted to create a state with dual
institutions: on the one hand a formal parliamentary structure to appease
foreign critics, and on the other real power concentrated in an array of
mass organizations which took direction in more or less classic leninist
fashion from the party.  The FSLN, we must remember, *was* a leninist party.
 This dual structure collapsed under the pressure of foreign war and
economic crisis, until by the 1989 elections the "Sandinista" state differed
little from the hegemonic liberal model.

>In China the "new democracy" proposal by the CCP for a coalition
>government was not accepted by the Koumintang leadership, other bourgeois
>parties, or any significant sector of the bourgeoisie (nationally or
>internationally).  As a consequence, Mao and the CCP moved quickly away
>from the "new democracy" proposal to assert direct rule by the CCP and to
>reorganize the economy along Soviet lines (that is, until Mao broke with
>the USSR).  This was obviously a very different dynamic than what we
>observed in Nicaragua.  There, the Nicaraguan government was a "popular"
>government which (other than nationalizing Somosa's holdings and
>redistributing land to the peasantry), did not propose moving towards
>either the Soviet model or any other type of socialism.  No doubt, this

Jerry, you've got to define what you mean by "any other type of socialism".
Clearly, the Sandinistas weren't implementing a Soviet model, but they were
also clearly talking about public control over the means of production.
That's what the whole "commanding heights" idea is all about.  You leave a
sector of the economy in private hands, partly because of the balance of
forces and partly because of the perceived efficiency of the private sector,
but you severely restrict the range of possible economic action by
dominating the most strategic industries.  If that's not social control, I
don't know what is.  We can argue about the viability of the model, but I
think we're doing them a disservice to say it's not socialist.

>policy was heavily influenced by the international pressures placed upon
>the Nicaraguan government by international lending agencies and foreign
>capitalist governments, most particularly Social Democratic governments
>in Europe. I think that so long as the US-inspired war with the "contras"
>continued, the Nicaraguan government believed that it neither had the
>popular support or the economic resources necessary for a socialist
>transformation.  As a previous post also pointed out, the Cuban
>government (and also the USSR) encouraged the Sandanistas to maintain
>their policy of supporting a market economy with government intervention.
>Castro probably thought that the "time was not right" for socialization.
>The Unidad Popular government under Allende in Chile which was overthrown
>in the bloody coup of 1973, was similar in some ways to the "new
>democracy" proposal in China.  The government, led by the Chilean
>Socialist Party, was a coalition government of the SP, the CP, and left
>liberal bourgeois political parties.  Allende favored a "peaceful
>transition to socialism" through gradual reforms and nationalization of
>foreign holdings.  This policy of nationalization inspired the US
>government to organize a CIA-sponsored coup (I believe George Bush was
>the CIA Director at the time).  That coup could not have happened, at the
>time and manner in which it developed, had  Allende moved to reorganize
>state institutions, most particularly the Army  whose Generals orchestrated
>the coup (with CIA guidance).

Bush didn't become head of the CIA until 1975 or thereabouts.  For some
reason, I think Charles Colby was director at the time of the Chilean coup.
And though the CIA absolutely was involved in organizing the coup, an
extreme focus on this fact obscures the domestic origins of Allende's overthrow.

The fundamental problem with your analysis of Chile is that it ignores the
internal polarization of Chilean society that began all the way back during
the Frei government.  By the second year of the Allende administration,
Chile was living the most open period of class war ever experienced in the
Americas, perhaps the most extreme class conflict since the Bolshevik
revolution.  Under these conditions, it is extremely doubtful that Allende
ever exercised sufficient power to reorganize the Armed Forces (the Navy was
actually more important in organizing the coup than the Army, Pinochet came
late to the table, in fact was only recruited to the rebellion the night
before it took place).

Any attempt to have tampered with the chain of command most likely would
only have precipitated an earlier coup.  The MIR strategy of arming the
workers also had dubious prospects.  The flaw here, if you ask me, goes all
the way back to the strategy for arriving at power.  Allende believed that
he could forge a coalition with progressive segments of the bourgeoisie,
especially with the Christian Democrats.  He did not predict the heightened
expectations his election would provoke in the working class, and the
equally great class fear in the bourgeoisie.  The lesson of Chile to me is
don't take power unless you know that you dispose of the means for holding
onto it once you've got it.

>Clearly, the Nicaraguan government was very well aware of the Chilean

Jaime Wheelock, the big wig in the Proletario Tendency and Minister of
Agriculture under the Sandinistas, was in Chile for the duration of the UP
experiment.  I'd say he was "aware" of what was going on...

[stuff deleted]
>All three experiences (China, Chile, Nicaragua) raise a question which
>has been around as long as socialists have been around:  how do you get
>to socialism?  Related questions concern the role of the capitalist
>state, reform vs. revolution, and the prospects for socialism in less
>developed capitalist economies.

Yup, those are some of the questions.


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