James Miller jamiller at
Sat Apr 27 16:25:55 MDT 1996


   Louis responded to my last post on Nicaragua. Here he refers
to the record of the SWP (of the US):

>Louis: I was referring to your organization not you personally. They took
>a workerist abstenionist attitude toward Central American solidarity
>during the 1980s and bear some responsibility for US imperialism's victory.

   Judging from my political experience in the 1980s, the SWP was very
active in the Central American and Nicaraguan solidarity work. But I
don't think it would be profitable to attempt to argue on the Marxism
List about the quantity and quality of the SWP's participation during
that period. You just end up with an unresolvable dispute over specific
events that may or may not have occurred in the past. It is better to
discuss ideas.

   Then Louis responded by summarizing some of the points he
had posted previously to the list:

>Louis: You were moving into a new house and off the net when I covered
>this subject in elaborate detail. Basically I said that the FSLN adopted a
>position that reflected perestroika. The position of your organization
>was that Nicaragua should have followed the "Cuban road". That indeed was
>the intention of the FSLN when they came to power, although the tempo
>would have been a lot slower for a number of reasons. I also explained
>that Lenin and Trotsky thought that socialism in the USSR was not
>feasible unless revolution was successful in western Europe. Lenin
>specifically said the USSR would "perish".

   The assessment that the FSLN adopted a position that reflected
perestroika is one way of putting it. It points to the reformist slant
that was introduced increasingly in the late 1980s in the political
line of the FSLN. As far as the "Cuban road" is concerned, it should
be clear that neither the FSLN nor the SWP expected the Nicaraguan
revolution to simply copy the Cuban. It's just that it was projected
that the revolution would go on to overthrow capitalism, as was
done in Cuba. This is what the FSLN's program called for, and
it would have been the best outcome for the world's working

    Louis then talks about the relation of Nicaragua to the USSR:

>Nicaragua, unlike Cuba, could not rely on a USSR that was rapidly
>aligning itself with the US on foreign policy questions. Nicaragua,
>unlike Cuba, was not an island and could not be insulated to the same
>degree from counter-revolution. The CIA-backed contras had been pushed back
>but a new contra force with no ties to the CIA was already re-assembling in
>the north. Nicaragua was in a state of total economic collapse and the
>population was war-weary. These were the objective conditions: complete
>isolation internationally, total economic collapse and a population
>exhausted by civil wars for the better part of twenty years. This tiny
>nation whose gross national product is less than what the US spends on
>blue-jeans each year was supposed to accomplish something that Lenin
>thought the USSR *could not*.

   I think it is true that the conditions at the end of the Contra War
(1986-87) were much as Louis describes them. But the picture he
paints is one-sided. In our review of the Nicaraguan situation at
that time, we must keep in mind the fundamental resource of the
revolution: the masses themselves, their consciousness and dedication;
and their revolutionized organizations: the agricultural and industrial
unions, the women's organizaton (AMNLAE) the Sandinista People's
Army and militas, and the Sandinista Defense Committees. The
revolutionary transformation of the consciousness of the people
was the promise for the future. I do not think this consciousness
had deteriorated to the point where--no matter what the FSLN
did or said--the revolution was lost. There was still a chance for
the revolution to move forward, provided that the leadership could
stay the course (and there was no leadership other than the FSLN).
But they didn't stay the course.
   No one can say for sure how long it would have taken for
the Nicaraguan revolution to establish a worker's state. But given
the FSLN's adoption of "perestroika," it soon became a moot point.
In order to keep the revolution moving forward toward its
historic objective, you would have needed a leadership that was
committed to that perspective. But the FSLN, under heavy pressure,
abandoned it.
   Certainly, no one expected the Nicaraguan revolution to
accomplish something that the Russian revolution could not,
as Louis argues. Whether a worker's state could have been
established, and how long that might take, are not the issue.
The issue is whether or not the revolutionary leadership
remains committed to the perspective of fighting for the
victory of the masses of working people over their domestic
and international exploiters.
   The Cubans showed that it is possible to overthrow
capitalism in a poor and backward country. But this doesn't
mean that it would be as easy in Nicaragua as in Cuba. Could
the Nicaraguans have received the same kind of aid from the
USSR that the Cubans received in the 1960s? No. This only
means the conditions were more difficult. The Cubans gave
material aid to Nicaragua, and were in a position to give more,
but the Sandinistas moved away from their Cuban ties in order
to strengthen relations with West European countries.

   Louis goes on to make a characterization of my political

>Miller, an ultraleftist, ignores the objective conditions and from his
>comfortable new house in Seattle declares that the only way forward was
>the "Cuban road". Groups like the American SWP and the English SWP are
>confident that victory is always possible if the vanguard is resolute
>and revolutionary-minded. This is not a Marxist approach, it is
>petty-bourgeois idealism. Sometimes objective conditions make further
>advances in the class-struggle impossible.

   It's true I have a comfortable house in Seattle. But in mentioning
this, I hope Louis doesn't mean to suggest that U.S. workers should
move into less comfortable accommodations.
   With regard to our confidence that victory is always possible if the
vanguard is is resolute and revolutionary-minded, Louis thinks that
this is a non-Marxist approach. But I believe it is the sine qua non
of Marxist politics. If we don't think that victory is possible, then
we can just hang it up. This doesn't mean that victory is guaranteed
by a certain time, or that sacrifices will not be required; but it does
mean that without a resolute revolutionary vanguard, the question
of victory or defeat cannot really be posed. You can't have a
revolution without a revolutionary leadership.
   In 1987, the Sandinistas had just achieved the strategic defeat
of the Contra armies. It was a great revolutionary victory. The
existing Contra remnants at that time posed no serious military
threat, although it required the continued deployment of a relatively
small part of the Sandinista People's Army in the North. The
proof of the victory was the demobilization of the bulk of the
army troops. They were no longer needed. This victory in itself
was a part of the foundation for continued forward momentum
in the revolutionary process. The troops themselves were loyal
to the revolution and were ready for a new assignment. But they
were simply demobilized and nothing was done to employ them
or organize them.
   The solution to the economic crisis in 1987 should have been
the continuation and deepening of the revolution's previous
anti-capitalist course: deepening the agrarian reform to absorb
the surplus rural population and increase the production of
food, increasing the regulation and control of capitalist
enterprises to ensure that they served the interests of the
Nicaraguan population, and strengthening the system of
rationing to sustain the basic needs of the population. These
measures point to placing the needs of the masses on a
higher priority than the needs of the capitalists and
landlords. But the continued enforcement of the revolutionary
worker and peasant economic measures provoked clashes
between the classes, and more and more posed the question
of which class will rule.
   The Sandinistas knew all this in advance. They initially
projected a revolutionary worker and peasant strategy to
take power and advance toward socialism. This is what they
did in the early 1980s. The reasons for their initial successes,
including the victory over the Contras, was that they had
the backing and support of the bulk of the workers and
peasants of Nicaragua. The revolution was an inspiration
to them, and it provoked them to participate, to get active,
to contribute and to sacrifice. In the final analysis, it is
this mass activity and revolutionary consciousness  that
is the only true resource, motive and product of the
revolution. Everything else flows from that.

   The revolutionary economic and political policies that
had  been implemented in the early years of the revolution
had shown their efficacy. But the FSLN turned away from
this course, stopped the land reform, catered more and more
to the needs of the capitalists and landlords, and turned to
the free market in goods and services instead of making
despotic inroads into the rights of private property.
Internationally, the Nicaraguan government adopted the
orientation of reliance on loans and aid from imperialist
Europe, instead of reliance on internationalist Cuban aid
and the international movement in solidarity with the
Nicaraguan revolution.

   Then Louis says:

>The perestroika course of the FSLN was clearly wrong but it was
>understandable. The "forward march, onward to victory" approach
>recommended by Miller is not only wrong, it is arrogant. The best that
>the FSLN could have accomplished in the late 1980s was a mixed economy
>that would remain in a "maintenance" mode until the international
>political context was more favorable. This, of course, is what is happening
>in Cuba today. Cuba is allowing more and more foreign investment, private
>enterprise and other neo-NEP measures. Class divisions are appearing and
>prostitution and other social ills are on the increase.

   The assessment of what Cuba is going through today that Louis
presents here has some truth to it. But it should be pointed out
that the Cubans abolished capitalism. The Nicaraguans didn't.
The Cubans can institute neo-NEP measures because they have
a worker's state. The Nicaraguans never had a worker's state,
so were never in a position to institute NEP-type measures. The
NEP is a policy that can be instituted only in a worker's state.

   Finally, Louis argues:

>The defeat of the revolution in Nicaragua was inevitable given the
>international framework. If the FSLN had merely confronted domestic
>reaction, there is no question that the revolution would have moved
>forward on all fronts. The FSLN had nothing in common with the Spanish
>Popular Front or Allende's government. The fact that shifted to the right
>proves nothing except that the leadership was fallible unlike Miller and
>his band of 500 obscure and irrelevant dogmatists.

   The defeat of the revolution was not inevitable. Only if you argue
that the embrace of reformism by the FSLN was inevitable, can you
argue that the defeat of the revolution was inevitable. But if you
want to know what might have happened had the FSLN stayed the
revolutionary course, you can't say for sure what would have
   But if the adoption of reformist politics by the FSLN was
inevitable, does this mean that revolutionary parties will
inevitably degenerate when the going gets tough? I don't
think we can say that. If that is the perspective for the future,
then we can't hope to defeat imperialism.

   Rahul posted this question:

>I thought the SWP position (I got this from ISO members in Austin) was that
>Cuba was a "state capitalist" society.

   Here Rahul confuses the SWP of Britain with the SWP of the U.S.
In the U.S., there is no more enthusiastic supporter of the Cuban
revolution than the SWP.

Jim Miller

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