Nicaragua

James Miller jamiller at igc.apc.org
Fri May 3 21:10:21 MDT 1996


NICARAGUA

   Louis posted a table of land-holding statistics indicating that,
in 1985, there were 1,503 farms greater than 850 acres. My
suggestion was that, in order to deepen the agrarian reform,
some of that land could have been distributed.
   Then Louis argues:

>"Latifundias", as Miller puts it, represented 11% of Nicaraguan
>agriculture. So what on earth could he be talking about? That's the
>problem when you speak about something that you have little factual
>knowledge about. Nicaragua was not a "banana republic" like other Central
>American nations, including Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica. Indeed,
>Nicaragua's economy was not based on plantation agriculture at all. As a
>result, it did not have the corresponding exploiter and exploited classes
>associated with this form of property ownership.

   "What on earth could he be talking about?" Louis asks. I could be
talking about those 11 % of the farms (the biggest ones).
   But here I believe that Louis avoids the political question. What he
wants to say, but doesn't, is that there was no land left to redistribute
to the small peasants. That is the idea he tries to indirectly express.
As an apologist for the rightward turn of the Sandinistas, he thinks
that the FSLN made the correct decision by ending the land reform
in 1989.
   Louis has indicated previously that he thought it would not be wise
to expropriate the big landowners, those designated as "patriotic
producers," in 1987-89. But he shows us that there were 1,503
farms bigger than 850 acres. The land was there. The decision was
to leave it in the hands of the wealthy and better-off land owners.
   Then Louis says,

>Miller has only a fuzzy idea about the agrarian question in Nicaragua and
>his post shows it. When will this self-assured revolutionary come armed
>with some facts rather than opinions?

   Louis has his facts. I think he's proved that he's qualified to be an
accountant or a statistician. That's good. The revolution needs accountants
and statisticians.

   Louis argues further on:

>With respect to "abandoning their historic program", do I have to spell
>this out? Yes, they were wrong in abandoning their historic program
>unlike the SWP which has never abandoned its "historic program". If
>socialism was about upholding programs (ie., pieces of paper), then
>Trotskyists and post-Trotskyist groups like the SWP would be ruling the
>world today.

   Is the program a scrap of paper? It's only a scrap of paper if you treat
it that way. But Louis knows this. I'm glad Louis has clarified that he
thinks it was wrong for them to abandon the Historic Program. I thought
he had said that before, but I wasn't sure. Louis asks if he should "spell
it out." I would be quite pleased if he would spell out exactly what he
means by "wrong." He argues as if all my criticisms of the FSLN are
incorrect. He can call their policy "wrong," yet he won't make any
specific criticisms.
   Next, Louis puts me in my place on account of my previous bad
behavior:

>Finally, you should reflect a little bit on your behavior on this list.
>When you first appeared, you singled out Steve Keen, an Australian
>economist, for opprobrium because he disagreed with the labor theory of
>value. This guy, who made no claim to be a Marxist, simply wanted to
>exchange ideas with Marxists. You hounded him until he disappeared. You
>could not stop reminding him how opposition to the LTV was the original
>sin in Marxism. You thought you were Lenin and he was Edward Bernstein. I
>found this aggravating and I told you so.

   I didn't "remind" Steve Keen of anything at all. He didn't agree with
the labor theory of value because he didn't understand it. His PhD thesis
(which I still have in my computer) is a disgraceful distortion of Marx's
ideas--as dishonest a piece of work as I've ever seen.
   The only reason I kept after him was because he kept saying he would
show how he defined, and then disproved, the labor theory of value. But
he resorted to one subterfuge after another, and came up with nothing.
There turned out to be nothing but academic gibberish in his thesis.
(Louis forgot to mention that I also "hounded" Father Peter Burns,
although he didn't drop off the list until much later. I think he's on
M2 now.)

   Regarding theory and practice, Louis challenges me:

>Now you have found an organization that you feel comfortable in. You and
>your co-thinkers exist in order to let others know how you are the
>"revolutionary continuity" with Lenin and everybody else is lapsed and
>impure. I challenge this megalomaniac notion. The first thing you need to
>learn is a little modesty. Revolutionary politics is not about what you
>say but about what you do. You have written thousands of words telling us
>how the Sandinistas sold out. Perhaps you can tell the list about why the
>SWP is not only superior to the FSLN, but superior to every other group
>on the left today. What exactly is it that you do, besides working in
>factories, that gives you such a hallowed status?

   It won't do me any good to claim that the SWP members act like
revolutionaries. He won't believe it. He thinks they are sectarian and
abstentionist. So, all I can say is that if there are others on the list
who think it's possible that SWP members are doers, not just talkers,
and would like to find out, you can access the Militant on the internet.
   The Militant describes what the SWPers are doing. They work in
factories (most of them) and are active in their unions. They sell
books and newspapers on the job and at plant gates. They do strike
support work. They are active in Cuba solidarity committees, and
there is lots of coverage in the Militant on this. They go to events,
rallies, meetings, etc., on police brutality, immigrants rights, abortion
rights, gay rights, etc. They run candidates for public office. Right
now they are running James Harris for president and Laura Garza
for vice-president.
   The Militant has a URL gopher (which means you access it with
a WWW browser) and the address is:

gopher://gopher.igc.apc.org:70/11/pubs/militant

   In a later post, Louis talks about the devastation of the war,
the hardships faced by the people:

>Louis: Miller has no capacity to understand how revolutions can go into
>retreat. The Bolsheviks won their civil war and it left the country
>exhausted, battered and spiritless. The economy was in ruins and
>socialism had to be postponed since the state sector was so lacking in
>cadre. The solution was CAPITALISM. The NEP is a euphemism for
>CAPITALISM. Lenin defended the growth of CAPITALISM. He did so because
>the conditions the country was in were not favorable for advances by the
>working-class. There were people like Miller in Russia at that time
>who opposed Lenin from the Left. They opposed the NEP and said that no
>accomodations with CAPITALISM were possible. Unlike Miller and his
>co-thinkers, they at least had the credentials of having led a workers's
>revolution rather than fantasizing about one.

   I said before that the NEP and the Sandinista retreat were not the
same thing. Lenin was not like Daniel Ortega. Lenin didn't abandon
the revolution or its program; Ortega did.
   The NEP was a retreat within the context of a workers state. Lenin
said that capitalism could develop in commerce and agriculture, but
not in the already-nationalized state property (with some minor
exceptions). The reason why the revolution did not fear the limited
growth of capitalism (mainly free trade in grain and manufactured
goods), was because the working class had a secure basis for
maintaining the existence of  the workers state. The bulk of basic
industry and manufacturing, the communication and transportation
infrastructure, the banking system, and foreign trade, were all in
the hands of the workers state.
   The NEP was a controlled retreat, made by a revolutionary
leadership to save the revolution. The Cubans are doing the same
thing now. But the Sandinistas collapsed, abandoned the revolution,
and gave in to capitalism.
   In the case of Nicaragua, as I indicated before, the revolution was
lost and the transition to a workers state was not made. The FSLN
carried out a transition which saved nothing of the revolution. With
the rightward course (which Louis says was "wrong," but which he
defends anyway) resulted in the decline and liquidation of the
revolution. In Russia, the revolution was saved by the NEP, although
it degenerated later, but not as a result of Lenin's policies or the NEP.

   I had accused Jon Flanders (in a provocative way) of defending
the retreat of the FSLN. I didn't think he really was, though. So then
Jon says:

>  No, no, no, that is not what I am saying Jim. What I am saying is that the
>rightward course of the FSLN was a result of the overwhelming pressure of
>imperialism. What I am saying is that at the time, the SWP analysis, while
>correctly pointing out the rightward drift of Sandinista policy,
>underestimated the gravity of the situation, and the difficulties that floored
>the revolution.

   It's possible that the SWP underestimated the gravity of the situation,
but that remains a mere assertion by Jon. It's also possible that Jon
exaggerated the gravity of the situation. Either allegation is really
unmprovable, and can't be defended.
   But these speculations have no bearing on the accuracy of the
prediction that the SWP made in 1989: that if the course wasn't
reversed, the revolution would be lost. At that time what we said was
unique and controversial. Yet it was correct. And it should have been
said. To have remained silent would have been dishonest. Such silence
would not have served the revolution.
   Neither the SWP, nor anyone else, was in a position to psycho-
analyze the comandantes to see how much they suffered under
the hard conditions they faced. That they buckled, anyone could
see. All we did was to point out that what they were doing, from
the standpoint of the revolution, was "wrong" (as Louis put it).
   If a fellow-striker starts going over to the side of the bosses
in the middle of a strike, you can understand it. But you might
want to argue with this fellow worker, to try to convince him or
her to reconsider. Wouldn't you? And if the leaders of your
union start doing the same thing, even when the strike is very
hard, you've got to say something. You've got to sound the alarm.
You've got to do what you can (within your capacities to act)
to try to turn the situation around.

   Jon calls attention to the unanimity of the course taken by the
FSLN after 1987. This is the fact. He argues that such unanimity
could only have come about because the challenges were so
tough. He continues:

>  Don't we need to have a materialist explanation for history? If you follow
>the Siegle analysis, its as though a bunch of Martians came down and took over
>Borge and Ortega.

   My first objection here is to the inappropriate use of the term"materialist."
Just because someone is feeling beleaguered does not necessarily mean
they have to crap out. The Sandinistas had already shown their mettle. To
be a revolutionary means to face adversity and keep fighting. As far as the
details of the decision-making process are concerned, I don't think there's
any need to investigate or speculate. What's done is done. In any case, I
have no way of knowing what went on behind closed doors in Managua.
I don't know how they reached their consensus.
   Then Jon said,

> You said they just threw the opportunity away. How often has this happened in
>the past? I am sorry, but I don't think people like Borge and Ortega went
>through all they did, just to throw something out like a used paper plate. We
>should have enough respect for what they accomplished, to recognize the
>tragedy that took place in Nicaragua, and place the blame where it belongs, on
>US imperialism.

   It's true that U.S. imperialism is to blame for the death and misery
imposed on the Nicaraguan people (and many others). But you cannot
blame U.S. imperialism for the positions taken the the FSLN leaders.
They should be regarded as mature and responsible adults. They were
(and are) accountable for what they said and did. Any other attitude
would be to sentimentalize them, or to regard them as children.

   Hugh Rodwell agrees with a good deal of what I had posted
previously, but disagrees that the Sandinistas were initially
a revolutionary organization:

>             In fact, if comparisons have to be made, then I think a film
>like Land and Freedom could be based on the experiences of the Simon
>Bolivar Brigades and demonstrate very clearly how the ultimate defeat of
>the Nicaraguan revolution was being prepared by the non-revolutionary
>policies of the Sandinistas right from the day of victory against the
>Somoza dictatorship.

   As I recall, the Simon Bolivar Brigade was an ultraleft group that
was denouncing the FSLN for being sell-outs at the very moment when
the Sandinistas were leading the masses to power in Nicaragua.
   Regarding the "non-revolutionary" policies of the Sandinistas--
it's true they were not completely consistent and they made some
serious errors (most noteworthy the attempt to deal with opposition
in the Atlantic Coast region by military means. And they corrected
this error later on, showing their capacity to do the right thing.) But
they were the revolutionary vanguard of the fighting people, and
recognized as such. There was no opposition group in Nicaragua that
could have supplanted the FSLN. The ultraleft critics took advantage
of the errors and weaknesses of the Sandinista leadership in order to
make their own pronouncements appear more revolutionary than the
FLSN, but none of them went beyond posturing. To be a revolutionary
in Nicaragua in the 1980s meant to be a Sandinista, and this was
true right up to 1990.

   In a later post, Louis asked:

>My question to Miller and Rodwell: where are the
>"latifundias" on this list? Also, after
>identifying the "latifundias", I would like to
>know how the divided land would be used. Would a
>cattle ranch be used to produce corn and beans
>to feed the new title-holders? If this became
>generalized, how would Nicaragua have received
>foreign currency since cattle form the basis of
>export agriculture rather than corn and beans?

   As far as the latifundias are concerned, Jaime Wheelock
commented in an interview with Marta Harnecker in 1983,
referring to the second phase of land reform, which had just
been implemented, "the aim of this law ...was to take idle or
insufficiently exploited land out of the hands of the big
landowners and turn it over to landless peasants, so as to form
small units of property, in some cases individually owned but
fundamentally cooperative. I would call this the anti-latifundist
phase." (See: _Nicaragua, the Sandinista People's Revolution_,
Pathfinder, 1985, p. 155.)
   So, according to Wheelock there were latifundias in Nicaragua
in the early 1980s. He also pointed out that most of the properties
expropriated from the Somozas and their cronies were "in reality
agro-industrial plantations. They included sugar refineries, coffee
plantations and modern rice plantations...". These could be called
"latifundias," but I'll use some other term if Louis prefers. Many
of these large, modern farms were converted into state farms or
peasant-oned cooperatives.
   Louis cites statistics showing that land ownership was less
concentrated in Nicaragua than in the other Central American
countries. And Wheelock concurs with this in the interview cited.
But he says that this middle sector owned about 30 % of the land
in 1983. I'm not in favor of expropriating middle-class farmers
and ranchers. What would be the point? But Louis's figures
indicate that there were more than a million manzanas of land in
1988 (13.5 % of the total), being held privately in landholdings
of more than 500 manzanas. (One manzana = 1.75 acres.) You
can't say that there was no potential for land reform there.
   And it's not up to me or Hugh Rodwell to sit down at this
late date and draw up detailed plans for land use in Nicaragua
in 1988. That's not necessary to make the point that we have
made. It's up to Louis to explain why further land reform was
impossible in 1988, if that's what he thinks.

   To sum up:
1. Louis has provided statistics showing that there was a
substantial amount of land in large, privately-owned estates
in 1988.

2. He has implied, but not stated clearly, that the FSLN was
correct, or justified, in halting all land reform in 1988.

3. He has said that the FSLN was "wrong" in abandoning its
Historic Program. The Historic Program, Section II, "The
Agrarian Revolution," states:

   "The Sandinista people's revolution ...(A) will expropriate
and eliminate the big landlords, both capitalist and feudal,"
and, "(B) will turn land over to the peasants free of charge,
in accordance with the principle that land should belong to
those who work it." (From _New International_, No. 9,
p. 132.)

Jim Miller
Seattle



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