g.maclennan at qut.edu.au
Tue Apr 23 22:15:05 MDT 1996
I was so sickened by contact with Matt D.'s mind yesterday that I could not
reply to Louis' very reasonable and restrained reponse to my post on Nicaragua.
1. Let us very briefly deal with what divides us. I have argued that there
are only two possible revolutions in this the epoch of capitalism. socialist
or bourgeois. Louis has described this position as reductive.
I deliberately tried to avoid reductionism by specifying that we do not know
how many ways there are to achieve socialism. My own prejudice here is that
it is unlikely to be achieved that by going into alliance with individual
bourgeoisie (Sandinistas) or even worse the bourgeois class (maoism) or
Now what kind of revolution took place in Nicaragua. we are all agreed that
one did take place. Louis' position is, I think, that there has been a
counter revolution primarily influneced by US imperialism and Russian betrayal.
My position is that the Marixsts within the Sandinista camp lost out to the
bourgeosie. The latter class desperatley need to get rid of the Somozan
kleptocracy. they needed the "level playing field". But the bourgeoisie is
the most cowardly class in history. they rely on the radical middle class
and the sans culottes to do their dirty work for them. They have got it all
now. All that delirium of the brave has served to install Donna Violeta
Chamorro. That is one of the the sad ironies of nicaragua.
2. Now on to religion. One of the key elements in Sandinistasism was the
church of the poor, the communidades de base. I have already written
extensively about Marxism and religion by attempting to use Gramsci's
remarks on religion from the Prison Notebooks, so I will not rehash this.
There was however a very active element of the church, which predated but
was influenced by the historic "option for the poor" adapted at the
Bishop's conference in Medelin, Columbia in 1969. My own, admittedly
hostile and perhaps atavistic feelings, are that the Bishops did this to
avoid being out manoeuvered on the Left by Marxism. whatever.
One should not underestimate the impact of Liberation theology. Moreover
one should acknowledge the courage of church workers, priests and nuns in
places like El Salvador. Many laid down their lives for the poor.
I have read Fr. Miguel D' Escoto's( the Maryknoll priest who defied chruch
authorities and became the foreign minister of Nicaragua) account of the 4
pillars of Sandinista thought. I was specifically interested in the slogan
of "relentless in the struggle, but generous in the victory" raised before
the fall of Somoza because of fear of a "popular reaction that (the
Sandinistas) could not control." (In Roswset & Vandermeer, Nicaragua:
Unfinished Revolution, 1986:443) I am always suspicious of fears of "popular
reaction". In any case this slogan and the politics that informed it led
to the disastrous decision to release the national guard.
Again it is good to have christians as allies. But putting them in command
is foolish. to actually believe or
act like you believed all that mystical bullshit is eventually counter
productive. It serves I believe to reinforce the problem not the solution.
This was shown in the election of 1990. Maureen Dolan describes how UNO
dressed "Donna Violeta" in white and carried her everywhere in procession on
a white cart. She was always accompanied by the priest Obanda. The image
of the Blessed virgin was thus deliberately evoked. Apparently the
Sandinistas had Ortega as "the fighting cock". Well the virgin won hands
Dolan sums up like this
"Women were ideologically reconstructed by the FSLN as suffering mothers
whose chief contribution to the revolution was their sons. This strategy
failed to consolidate either the revolutionary mothers or the other female
segments of the population. The image of Violeta Chamorro as the Virgin
Mary, a conciliatory and magical mother figurre, capable of invoking divine
intervention to end the war, drew on a centuries old Catholic tradition in
Nicaragua. The image of Daniel Ortega as the "fighting cock" was less
convincing as the symbol/candidate capable of bringing peace to the
country." (Dolan, War, religion, and Gender Ideology in Critical Sociology v
17, no 2, 1990:99)
This trick had been played out before of course in the Philipines with Cory
Acquino and Cardinal Sin. The result of UNO's triumph was that
conservativism descended on Nicaragua. Homosexuality & Abortion have been
criminalised. Sounds familiar doesn't it? I do wonder what could be the
Let me hazard a guess. Fear of revolution drove the bourgeoisie into an an
alliance with the Old Right. The historical parallels do not require any
I am also interested here in the question of whether Liberation theology is
built around the figure of Jesus and if the counter revolution is
necessarily built around the figure of Mary. This is too complex an issue
for me at the present and unfortunately Peter Burns abandoned this list long
ago when the reign of the black vomit and the two lines was just descending
So what do I conclude from this brief account of the two faces of religion?
well that it has two faces. that it is indeed a two edged sword for
socialist revolutionaries to deal with. Obviously we need to build a united
front with people like d'Escoto. But a front that does not degenerate into
a popular front and populism. Nor should we be lead into thinking that
somehow we had discovered a new revolutionary ideology. The way to update
Marxism is to purge it of its anti-emancipatory tendencies not to find god.
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