Answering Martin Duberman

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sat Jun 30 00:10:58 MDT 2001

    I wanted to add to Louis's excellent comments on Nicaragua a couple of

    One is that the FSLN was not a sect in any sense of the word. It was not
a tightly homogenous organization with a clearly spelled out doctrine that
all members had to accept. It was not at all what most leftists think of as
a "Leninist" party although it was undoubtedly the vanguard party of the
Nicaraguan revolution.

    At the time it came to power, the FSLN was in fact three separate
organizational structures with a common origin several years back that had
coordinated their actions during the insurrection and had decided to fuse,
but hadn't yet done so. The overwhelming majority of its members had not
been part of it before the split. Those three organizations had somewhat
different ideological inclinations, as is obvious from the names of the
currents (Prolonged People's War, Proletarian's and "terceristas" which
might roughly be translated third way-ists).

    The nucleus of the movement from the guerrilla wars day was made up
largely (though not exclusively) of people who, if they had felt free to
describe themselves in these kinds of terms, would probably have identified
themselves as Marxists and socialists. But by the time they came to power,
there were others, including in the top levels of the Sandinista movement,
who had no such allegiance, including quite prominently vice-resident Sergio
Ramírez, who made no bones about being basically a hardened
West-European-style left social democrat; Minister of  Tourism Herty
Lewites; and the three priests in the cabinet. Until mid-1984, the
government was a coalition government that included, among others, Virgilio
Godoy of the Independent Liberal Party as minister of Labor and a
Conservative whose name escapes me now as a member of the three-person

    Second, the FSLN never showed any particular affinity for the actual,
existing Stalinist parties in Nicaragua, of which there were several. (Nor
did the Stalinists show any affinity for the FSLN, they were all
relentlessly sectarian).

    The FSLN also showed no inclination towards Stalinism in their actions.
If they were forced to curtail democratic rights, that was to defend the
country from the U.S. sponsored contra war and its fifth column around La
Prensa in Managua. One could argue whether, with hindsight, we can see that
one or another one of these measures might have been mistaken, ineffective,
or even counterproductive. And one could also argue whether they should not
have gone further. But at any rate, the Sandinistas were undoubtedly correct
in the general approach that they took in relation to opponents of the
revolution in the major cities, of limiting their room for mischief making
while the country was submerged in a life-and-death civil war against an
imperialist-backed contras.

    These measures were dictated by the situation they were in, and did not
flow from a predisposition to repression or anything else like that. On the
contrary, their predisposition was to be extremely generous with their
opponents. Upon the victory of the revolution, they took no action against
countless somocistas who I daresay well deserved to be punished. This was a
conscious, political act on their part, which gained the revolution a great
deal of respect and goodwill throughout the world, disarming and
discrediting the right-wingers who had predicted a reign of terror in

    The CIA, determined that no good deed should go unpunished, then turned
around and recruited these same elements who had been generously pardoned by
the revolution to serve as the spearhead of the counterrevolutionary war.
And this meant that young Nicaraguans died because the FSLN decided not to
do what was done in Cuba, where thousands of Batista's henchmen received
long and richly deserved prison sentences as war criminals and some 600 of
the most notorious torturers and assassins were shot. I do not say this as a
criticism of either the Nicas or the Cubans. I think both leaderships acted
reasonably given the circumstances of each case. And the imperialists
exacted a high political price from Cuba around the trials of Batista's
henchmen, using them to begin turning the people of the United States, who
were overwhelmingly in sympathy with the barbudos, against the new
government in Havana.

    As to the character of the FSLN itself: I don't think it is useful to
view the Sandinista Front as a static phenomenon, nor to separate it from
its environment. As it emerged from the struggle against Somoza in 1979 and
throughout much of the 1980s, it was, clearly, without any question, the
most conscious, organized expression of the plebeian, national democratic
revolutionary upsurge and movement that toppled the Somoza dictatorship and
then began building a new Nicaragua through a radical transformation of
social and economic relations (a transformation which, although it was not
yet a socialist revolution, I believe would have had inevitably to become
one to succeed).

    However, by the second half of the 1980s a change clearly was taking
place in the FSLN.

    Due to the imperialist-inspired contra war, the country was sunk into a
devastating economic crisis. And the socialist bloc, which was duty-bound to
do everything in its power to prevent the imperialists from strangling the
revolution economically and drowning it in blood militarily, did not provide
nearly enough aid, neither military nor economic. On the part of the Soviet
Union, the leader of the socialist camp, this was a conscious, deliberate
policy, as was quite frankly admitted by high-ranking soviet officials of
those years in interviews done in the 1990s. Cuba did what it could, but its
resources were too limited to by itself contribute the aid the socialist
bloc as a whole could have easily provided without in the least putting a
strain on those economies.

    The pressure of a terrible day-to-day struggle to get food and other
basic necessities, and of a seemingly unending war, drove the masses off the
political stage. Many were demoralized, and the working people as a whole
became atomized and demobilized, they were no longer the protagonists of the
political and social life of the country. And as a result there began to be
growing signs of privilege-taking among some people in and around the FSLN
government, especially in the capital. The FSLN's style of work, for lack of
a better term, tended to become less popular and democratic, more
administrative and hierarchical. In addition, the FSLN did not have
well-structured internal democratic mechanisms, something perfectly
understandable in a guerrilla movement that just emerged from a civil war.
But this weakness persisted for the decade it was in power, and it was a
contributing factor to bureaucratic abuses and mistakes going uncorrected.
Thus the imperialist's success in strangling the revolution even found
expression within the FSLN, and it isn't hard to go back to that period and
point to this or that situation or incident as evidence of growing FSLN
"bureaucratism" or even "Stalinism," and claim that this is what destroyed
the revolution. But fundamentally what it shows is that a revolutionary
organization, a revolutionary government, can't remain in power if the
revolution which brought it to power has been strangled or has dissipated.
Without the conscious, organized and direct participation and mobilization
of the masses around the concrete tasks of the revolution, without a real,
breathing, living revolution, a revolutionary government cannot survive.

    That, I believe, is the fundamental lesson of the bureaucratic
degeneration of the revolution in Russia beginning in the 1920s, and which
culminated with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the restoration of
capitalism in the 1990s.

    It is also, although in a positive sense, the lesson of Cuba. This is
what accounts for the remarkable resilience of the Cuban revolution, despite
its tremendously unfavorable geopolitical situation. Cuba survives because
the revolution has never ended, because it has been and continues to be a
"permanent revolution" (initially in the narrow sense of a democratic
revolution that grew into a socialist revolution in a semicolonial country,
but now in a much broader sense also).


----- Original Message -----
From: "Louis Proyect" <lnp3 at>
To: <marxism at>
Sent: Friday, June 29, 2001 2:29 PM
Subject: Answering Martin Duberman

(response to sections of a review of Ronald Radosh's "Commies" in the
latest Nation,

More information about the Marxism mailing list