Nicaragua

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Tue May 28 07:18:28 MDT 1996


On Fri, 28 Jun 1996, Hugh Rodwell wrote:

"Instead of starting from this fact and nationalizing all land [in
Nicaragua] except that owned by non-exploiting smallholders (this is a
question of the number of workers employed rather than the size of the
holding -- I'd tend to think anything over five employees is ripe for
intervention, but the figure would be thrashed out on the ground using
local knowledge)...."

Louis: Hugh advocates nationalizing the property of all farms that have
more than five employees or so. He realizes that by having dwelt on
the sheer acreage of the average Nicaraguan farm after the revolution, he
was speaking out of ignorance since it turns out that this wasn't the big
problem after all. So he changes the criterion in midstream to the number
of employees. The criterion has changed but his stubborn insistence on
speaking about the Nicaraguan revolution minus the facts hasn't changed.

If he thinks that a Nicaraguan cattle ranch with, for example, ten
workers --double the amount he stipulates-- should have been subject to
state "intervention" than he shows that he still doesn't understand
Nicaraguan reality.

The plain fact of the matter was that it was exactly these types of cattle
ranchers who were to a large extent the social base of the revolution,
like it or not. This was due in no small part to the fact that they were
exploited by Somoza's stranglehold on meatpacking, export and financial
credit operations. Such social forces *did not* exist in El Salvador or
Guatemala and if Hugh decides to discuss the agrarian question in these
countries in those terms, he will get no argument from me.

Unlike El Salvador or Guatemala, however, many of these small and medium
sized ranchers in Nicaragua became STRONG supporters of the revolution and
organized themselves into associations dedicated to uphold their
interests. These rural supporers of the revolution were especially singled
out by the contras for assassination. Hugh views them as exploiters while
the US-backed contras viewed them as "communists". I will leave it to list
members to resolve this contradiction. (Hint: imperialism usually knows
who its class-enemy is.)

It is easy for Hugh to give advice like this from afar because he does not
have to think through or act on the consequences. First of all, he should
spell out what he means by "intervention". Does this mean telling a small
rancher or farmer that his property belongs to the state? Does this mean
deeding a 250 acre ranch to parcels of 25 acres each to the remaining
employees? What happens to the farm products that were formerly
destined for export like cattle or cotton? What does subdividing a 250
ranch or farm do except momentarily satisfy the land-hunger of particular
families? Most importantly, what does this have to do with socialism?

(Hugh, like Jim Miller, believes that these problems should be sorted out
based on local knowledge. What they don't understand is that this is
exactly what took place under Sandinista governance. Not only were the
Sandinistas adept at winning power, they were adept at staying in power.
They were undone by imperialism rather than by the impotent Nicaraguan
bourgeoisie.)

What if the ten employees decided to run the farm themselves collectively
but lacked the technical and administrative experience to do so? No
problem was what Jim Miller said. "Revolution is the best educator,
etc." Is this the sort of thing Lenin was saying in 1922 when he was
facing exactly the same set of problems? I have a feeling that people like
Rodwell and Miller love to read things like "State and Revolution", but
have paid scant attention to "Better Fewer, But Better", an article that
precisely addresses the problems the Sandinistas were facing.

Furthermore, he should once and for all explain to the list why Lenin was
wrong when he stipulated in his article on Communist agricultural policy
that medium-sized farms and ranches should remain privately owned for some
time after a victorious revolution.

The consequences of sweeping *administrative measures* --such as the
confiscation of small properties-- that are not based on the dynamics of a
revolutionary struggle and the relationship of class forces have appeared
in history before. Just take a look at Stalin's wholesale liquidation of
the kulaks for a picture of what kind of nightmare this could turn into.

It is with some dismay that I discover Hugh's eagerness to move on to a
whole new set of concerns after the questions I put to him in my last
post about Spain vs Nicaragua, Nicaraguan "industry", etc. This flitting
around is not the hallmark of serious Marxist thought. I implore him to
adopt a more rigorous approach to the agrarian question in Nicaragua or
just leave it alone until he gains more knowledge.




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