Response to Louis' posting

Jose G. Perez jgperez at netzero.net
Sun May 6 12:46:41 MDT 2001


>>But if a revolution is not a historical fluke, then the causes of its
failure are probably much deeper than the accidents that apparently
triggered its demise.  Making of the imperialist siege the main culprit for
the failure of the Sandinista revolution is a diservice to Nicaraguans.  You
  ignore the internal conditions that weakened the revolution, those within
the scope of the Sandinistas' decisions and actions.  The fact is, from the
point of view of a revolution like the Sandinista, imperialist attacks are
to be expected.  They are to be taken as a constant. Hence, it's up to the
revolutionaries to ensure that the factors that are under their direct
control allow them -- within reason -- to hold the ground against
imperialism. <<

This is the flip side of the coin  to your statements that revolutionaries
in imperialist countries should tend to their flock and not worry so much
about solidarity with the struggles of the peoples of the third world. The
limits and constraints on what the imperialists can do, especially in terms
of direct military intervention, have, however, been shaped to a large
degree by the actions of the masses of people, including in the United
States. To take imperialist aggression as a "given" to be accepted with
Job-like resignation is not a revolutionary attitude.

There is simply no way one can just take the imperialist attack as a
"constant," and search for the roots of the defeat of the revolution in the
decisions of the leaders. What proved decisive in the defeat of the
revolution was the imperialists' ability to operate along the lines of
cleavage within Nicaraguan society, and the lines of cleavage in the
socialist camp.

The Nicaraguan revolution did not die of natural causes. It was bled to
death by the imperialist-sponsored contra war.

That war started around 1982, and initially, there was no reason to suppose
the contra would have been more succesful than the mercenary bands from
remnants of the Batista regime the CIA put together against Cuba.

However, the insensitivity of the Sandinistas to the national/ethnic
question within Nicaragua allowed the contra to gain a social base in the
Miskitu population. Miskitus in turn provided the troops the remnants of the
national guard needed to extend the war and their social influence to
broader layers of the peasantry along the agricultural fronteir. By 1984,
the revolutionary government had realized its mistakes vis-a-vis the
Atlantic Cost region, sharply reversing course with the autonomy plan and
depriving the CIA-backed contra of  Miskitu support. But by then the contra
was in a position to root itself in the peasantry of the agricultural
fronteir.

That was due primarily to several interrelated policy decisions. One was
that the agrarian reform in Nicaragua,when compared to, for example, the one
in Cuba (and I suspect also the one in Mexico) was not carried out as a
social movement, but rather as an administrative and economic exercise. In
doing this, the Sandinistas appeared to be guided by criteria I'm afraid you
would approve of. They sought to keep together the large farms and ranches
the state inherited from the Somoza epoch, transforming them into
cooperatives and state farms. Another similar decision was to dismantle the
traditional commercial and financial networks in the countryside, replacing
them with state monopolies. Closely related to this was a series of policies
aimed at maintaining basic living standards in the cities which worked at
the expense of the countryside.

The net result of these policies was that the peasantry on the agricultural
fronteir became disenchanted with the revolution, and even as the revolution
was succeeding in reversing the social base of the contra among the
Miskitus, the damage done to the economy and the country by the first couple
of years of war was making significant layers of the peasantry susceptible
to contra influence.

As the Miskitu case showed, the FSLN was more than capable of recognizing
the uninteded consequences of well-intentioned policies and sharply
reversing them. I have every confidence that the FSLN would soon have
corrected its policy in the countryside if given a chance. But they did not
get that chance, and in this we must talk about the role of the world
socialist camp.

I believe a socialist revolution was possible in Nicaragua as part of the
world revolution. Nicaragua could have survived and prospered if it had
received sufficient and timely aid from the Eastern European socialist
countries. In particular, Nicaragua needed (somewhat) better military
equipment. They needed jet fighters and radars to control their airspace,
and a fleet of several dozen troop transport helicopters (not just the 5 or
10 they had) to gain an advantage in mobility over the contra columns on the
ground.

The Reagan administration was quite conscious of this. That is why they drew
a figurative line in the sand on the question of Nicaragua beginning to
modernize its air force. The contras were being air supplied from Honduras
and El Salvador. If those air supplies had been cut off, which they would
have been if the Soviets had been willing to let Nicaragua have even
museum-piece Korean-war vintage radars and jets, the contras would have been
largely contained on the northern border. And if the Sandinistas had had a
few dozen choppers to transport troops, they could have cut off the retreat
of contra forces that had invaded from Honduras, being able to force
significant military battles with them. Because of the terrain and
Nicaragua's very poor road infrastructure in these areas, the FSLN was
usually unable to get behind the contras and cut off their retreat.

The years 1985-1987 were years of increasing misery, even desperation among
the Nicaraguan masses. There was an incredible economic crisis and
hyper-inflation, people were totally consumed by the day-to-day struggle for
survival. It is true that the specific forms of the crisis were a result of
the economic policies of the revolution. But the only thing different
policies might have achieved were different forms, the crisis itself was
inevitable.

The underlying cause of the crisis was simply such a big war in such a
little country. And there is simply no way to hide that this war had "Made
in USA" stamped all over it. Nevertheless, the effects of the war on the
population were avoidable. Given their size and resources, it would have
cost the Soviet Union and other East European socialist countries next to
nothing to double, triple or quadruple the aid they were giving to
Nicaragua.

To make the kinds of statements you do holding the Sandinistas responsible
for the defeat of the Nicaraguan revolution is unfair and unjust. It is a
demand that revolutions be made by supermen, not flesh-and-blood human
beings who sometimes make mistakes and have limitations. The prolonged death
agony of the Nicaraguan revolution as the life was squeezed out of it by the
imperialist aggression took a horrible toll on the country, and on the FSLN.
The last few years the FSLN remained in power were marked by increasing
manifestations of bureaucratism, privilege-taking, and other negative
phenomena.

Some have looked to these signs of corruption and demoralization as being at
the root of the revolution's defeat. That is also unfair and unjust. Most
FSLN members and leaders did not fall prey to these vices. Moreover, these
were manifestations of the reality that the revolution was bleeding to
death, that it was growing weaker and weaker, that the masses were
increasingly being driven from the stage as the conscious protagonists of
their own destiny. That is, in the last analysis, what determined the
revolution's defeat.

Given the scale and scope of the economic crisis and the war, and the
enormous treachery of the Soviet Union and most other members of the
socialist bloc, it is wrong to assign blame for the revolution's defeat to
its leadership in this instance.

José

----- Original Message -----
From: "Julio Huato" <juliohuato at hotmail.com>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Saturday, May 05, 2001 10:18 PM
Subject: Re: Response to Louis' posting


Louis Proyect writes:

>However, the precapitalist social relations under assault by capitalism
>today are generally those not of fedualism, which exists in pockets
>throughout Africa, but of earlier societies. These are generally
>hunting-and-gathering bands that are utterly defenseless against genocide.
>The Yanomami of the Amazon rain forest are the most notable examples, but
>they exist nearly everywhere. If Marxism can not stand up for their rights,
>then it has no value. That is the reason I find your aversion to the
>Zapatista struggle so worrisome. The Mayan struggle is not just over land,
>it is about cultural and religious identity such as the kind expressed by
>Rigoberta Menchu. There is not much ideological support for standing up for
>their rights in the Grundrisse.

Marxism embraces and extends the democratic principles of the Enlightenment.
  There is nothing new here.  It stands up for the rights of the ethnic
groups you mention.  They have the right to decide by themselves on their
mode of life.  But, Marxism has no hopes about the character of their modes
of production.  For one thing, their modes of production are not likely to
be generalized to the rest of human society or be the basis of a more
advanced civilization.  And it is this more advanced civilization the only
reasonable way to secure the chances of human survival and success.
Furthermore, as important as the defense of the democratic rights of ethnic
groups is, it cannot be the core of the communist struggle in our times.
Not in Latin America.  Not in the US.

To make it the core of today's anticapitalist struggle in the world is to
forego the fundamental responsibility of communists in the rich countries of
North America, which is that of leading the transformation in their own
turf.  Anti-imperialist posturing can make many people in rich countries
feel good about themselves, feel charitable, liberal or revolutionary
depending upon their respective persuasion.  But it doesn't help much the
people in the poor countries, even if it is well-intentioned and even
heroic.  Simply, this is NOT the most effective and direct way activists
from rich countries have to contribute to abolish the ultimate sources of
violation of democratic rights in the Third World.  Anti-imperialist
posturing, at best, deals with symptoms, but it does it in a very idealized
and ineffective manner, and therefore ends up worsening the problems in
terms of human suffering and lives.  Anti-imperialist posturing doesn't even
try to make the fundamental distinction between a democratic defense of
these peoples as human beings and the reactionary defense of their outdated
modes of life.

The main source of violation of the democratic rights of these ethnic groups
is the inability of their own productive structures to ensure for themselves
the necessary well-being.  It is obvious to me that the best way Marxists in
rich North America can contribute to the emancipation of these ethnic groups
from poverty and oppression is by focusing on the needs of the communist
movement at home.   They could even be helpful in helping and encouraging
the self-transformation of these ethnic groups into better producers, but
they equate this with playing in the hands of imperialism.  If we are to
judge by the apparent results, the needs of the communist movement in their
home countries -- something that falls squarely within their own sphere of
responsibility -- are hopelessly neglected.  If not, where are the results?

The volunteerism in some segments of the North-American Left -- which
reaches its most comic expressions when Attention Deficit Disorder meets
Powerpuff-Girl radicalism (killing imperialists with incendiary phrases
before dorm's bedtime) -- is the counter-party of their inability to engage
meaningfully in political activity in their countries.  They are entirely
marginal in their own societies and cultures, they mechanically disengage
from mainstream culture and build "alternative life-style niches," and with
their anti-imperialist and radical rethoric they easily break meaningful
contact with the bulk of direct producers and increase their isolation and
political insignificance.  International solidarity among workers and
peoples from rich and poor countries cannot be based on this.

Political activists, who enjoy the benefits of advanced technical knowledge
and have access to good libraries (or just libraries), good schools, and
powerful technologies, drop the ball when it comes to their own national
struggle.  Consider this e-list, beyond the disconnected denunciations of
the excesses of US capitalism, where's in it the serious analysis of the
current political and economic situation of workers in the US?  I praise you
for keeping it, it is necessary and good topics are discussed here now and
then, but where's the discussion of the strategy and tactics of
revolutionary Marxism in the US?  All I see is a cartoon of anti-imperialism
that would make Lenin and the Rockefellers of the world sneer.  Marxists
should know better.

I have said it already, and it applies entirely to the issue you raise, that
the democratic rights of the peoples who live in societies with backward
economic structures are to be respected and defended.  But it doesn't follow
that one has to endorse their culture tout court.  And, most importantly, it
doesn't follow that one has to endorse their mode of production, which is
deeply intertwined with their culture.  The poverty and social ills of the
Mexican Indian communities is NOT alien to their culture and mode of
production.  They are rooted directly and mainly in the said culture and
mode of production.  The attempt to blame "imperialism" as main culprit for
this is a distraction and it doesn't contribute to a prompt improvement of
their living conditions.  On the contrary, it contributes to reproduce and
lenghten their oppression.

The primary responsibility of honest political activists who are truly
concerned with the interests and welfare of native Mexicans is to say
clearly what they think of the Indian culture and mode of production --
without embellishment -- and to expose the feasible historical alternatives
available to them.

I do not feel aversion towards the Zapatistas.  You are wrong.  I have
supported their democratic struggle to the best of my ability.  I admire the
political skill they've shown so far.  But their plans and objectives are
unclear to me.  I'm extremely critical of their insistence on defending the
"collective access to natural resources" in the Indian regions they have a
claim on.  They don't have to tell me what they mean by this.  I can infer
it.  And Mexican Indians have had a first-hand, set of recent experiences
with this "collective access to natural resources" and all of them have
failed to turn them into effective producers and real historical agents.

And it is irresponsible that Marxists from rich North America, perhaps
frustrated by their own inability to lead the way in applying collective
formulas to production at home, insist on defending them in societies where
the economic base doesn't call for them.

>There is, however, in "What is to Be Done",
>in which Lenin explains that the social democracy is the tribune of the
>masses, even on questions not directly related to the plant-gate. He cites
>defending the right of artists to paint what they like, for example. If the
>revolutionary movement of 1903 was directed to stand up for these kinds of
>rights, then surely we can stand up for the right of native peoples facing
>genocide.

Marxism would not need to distinguish itself from democratic liberalism if
its main and only reason of existence were the defense of these democratic
rights.  Marxists must stand up for the democratic rights of all the
oppressed, whether they are being oppressed by capitalism or by any other
social order.  What is distinctively Marxist is its relentless defense of
democracy within the context of a struggle -- for the workers and by the
workers -- towards their definitive emancipation from all types of
oppression, exploitation, and alienation.  And the form of this struggle,
its strategy, tactics, and forms of organization depend crucially on the
"premises now in existence" -- not on wishful thinking.

If Marxism cannot defend democracy and, simultaneously, ensure that the
premises of communism unfold (first and foremost, a majority of highly
productive direct producers at a world scale), then Marxism as such is dead.
  Moreover, it turns out that the true and immediate defense of the
democratic rights of Indians can only be ensured by means of this
self-transformation of the ethnic groups into modern, advanced producers.
The construction of the premises of communism demands the abolition of
underdevelopment and poverty prevailing in vast areas of the planet and
affecting millions.  Such abolition is NOT in itself a communist struggle,
but without it the communism movement is baseless.

These are elements of your program for Mexico:

>1. expropriation of agribusiness. distribution of the land to the landless.
>2. expropriation of all foreign owned corporations and all Mexican
>corporations falling into the "commanding heights" category.
>3. a planned economy.
>4. a monopoly on foreign trade.
>5. a revolutionary foreign policy, starting with solidarity to the FARC and
>ELN in Colombia and with Chavez's government in Venezuela.

First, you would NEVER get anywhere in Mexico with this program.  Second,
you would NEVER mobilize the people in favor of a political revolution with
these goals.  Third, while a relatively functional democratic political
system like the one currently in place in Mexico exists (I know what its
class character is), NO revolution is possible.  Fourth, the illusion that a
workable economy can be built solely or mainly on the basis of acts of
expropriation and wealth redistribution is head-on opposed to all Marx's
analysis of capitalism and economic history teach us.

>Odd. There seemed to be nothing very spontaneous about the regeneration of
>capitalism in Nicaragua. It took an illegal government conspiracy by the
>most powerful imperialist nation in history and the murder of tens of
>thousands of innocent Nicaraguan civilians. If capitalism is so inexorable,
>you'd think the USA would have left Nicaragua to its own devices.

I wasn't thinking about Nicaragua.  I was thinking about an hypothetical
Mexico after Louis Proyect and akin revolutionaries seized power.  But,
since you are in Nicaragua, do you think capitalism was regenerated in
Nicaragua?  When was it abolished by the Sandinists?  Or make it simpler:
Suppose there was socialism in Nicaragua. While the possibility of
capitalist regeneration would have been a constant, its probability would
have been significantly reduced had socialism been built on a stronger
productive foundation.  The failure of a revolution is the result of many
contingencies.  Revolutions are not baked according to a recipe.  Chance is
always a major player in these events.  However, even if nobody sells
insurance policies to revolutions, it is the responsibility of
revolutionaries to anticipate bad surprises within reason and limit the role
of chance.

But if a revolution is not a historical fluke, then the causes of its
failure are probably much deeper than the accidents that apparently
triggered its demise.  Making of the imperialist siege the main culprit for
the failure of the Sandinista revolution is a diservice to Nicaraguans.  You
  ignore the internal conditions that weakened the revolution, those within
the scope of the Sandinistas' decisions and actions.  The fact is, from the
point of view of a revolution like the Sandinista, imperialist attacks are
to be expected.  They are to be taken as a constant. Hence, it's up to the
revolutionaries to ensure that the factors that are under their direct
control allow them -- within reason -- to hold the ground against
imperialism.  If this is not the case, then the means and ends are not well
aligned, and revolutionaries need to realign them.  The human lives of
thousands or millions are nothing to take lightly.  Marxists take
responsibility.

>I think
>that imperialism, for all its superficial omnipotence, is a very weak
>social and economic system. In the home base, it is filled with alienated
>youth who tattoo themselves or stick metal pins in their noses and lips. In
>the colonies, it is filled with a resentful plebian majority who have no
>ideological conviction to speak of, except personal survival. When under
>extreme circumstances--such as Somoza's thievery after an earthquake, or
>Allende's victory at the polls--they begin moving in revolutionary
>directions, imperialism mobilizes itself for a life and death struggle. Not
>a very stable world system, me thinks.

Colonial plebeians with no ideological conviction to speak of, except
personal survival.  They only mean anything to you when they move in
revolutionary directions.  If that's all you see in the "colonies," your
revolutionary plans are even more dead than I originally thought.  Louis, I
honestly hope you're writing this lightly, because you're tired or sleepy,
and these thoughts don't really reflect your beliefs.

An alienated youth in the home base -- what an opportunity for Marxists.
This is precisely an instance of what I have in mind when I cite the
"premises now in existence."

>The toughness I am looking for is not in the biceps but the brain.

Brain toughness is the ingredient to start an Intellectual World Wrestling
Federation, a Boot Camp Think Tank.  Not an International communist
movement.  Marxist communists need passionate hearts that subject themselves
to clear minds.  And also, of course, clean hands.  Marxist communists look
things in the face -- they build their movement with the "premises now in
existence."

>Of course, but the relation between capitalist nations must be done on the
>basis of a rough equality. For example, in the airline industry Great
>Britain dictated that British Airways had the lion's share of the terminals
>at Heathrow for many years until TWA could hammer out concessions during
>deregulation. Somehow I don't think that Aeronica is in any kind of
>position to dictate such terms at the Managua airport today.

You are measuring the behavior of capitalist nations against an arbitrary
standard: "rough equality."  And, since your standard cannot be met, you
jump to revolutionary conclusions to fix reality.  That's NOT the way to go.

>As Marxists, our main goal is not to make the debate revolve around free
>trade and protectionism.

Indeed.

>However, if I published a Mexican revolutionary
>magazine, the last thing I would do is defend NAFTA as progress.

NAFTA is a mixed thing.  But what follows from what you write above is not
to oppose NAFTA tabula rasa.  That would be precisely to end "a debate
revolving around free trade and protectionism" by taking the side of
protectionism.

>In reality
>the main struggle in Mexico is against the two-party system. That is one of
>the reasons I find the listlessness of Cardenas's party so depressing
>today. There seems to be a kind of ideological retreat in such parties
>today, from Mexico to Brazil's Workers Party. If it deepens, something else
>will have to come along to replace them.

See my notes above.

>This is not about Cuba. It is about socialism. While clearly inspired by
>the intellectual rigor of Marx's economic writings, you seem to have lost
>the political thread somewhere along the line. It happens to the best of
>us.

This is about what Louis Proyect says it is about.  It was you who raised
the issue of Cuba, thus implying it was relevant to our discussion.  You may
decide what this debate is about, but you may not be the Olympian Jupiter
who decides who has lost the political thread and who still holds it.
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