Response to José on Nicaragua

Julio Huato juliohuato at
Tue May 8 07:40:20 MDT 2001

Jose G. Perez writes:

>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.

I stand by that.  I say that this is their MAIN responsibility.  Not their
ONLY one.  Now more than ever the international solidarity of workers is
necessary.  This is not xenophobia.  And it's not only a matter of
'responsibility'.  It is also a matter of being politically effective.  More
on this below.

>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

Indeed.  Hence the need for the Left in the rich countries to focus on their
OWN core problems.  That's the most direct and powerful way to change the
foreign policy of these countries.  Western Europe (NATO), Japan, etc.
should NOT be left off the hook, but most of what we call "imperialism" is
driven by the US foreign policy.  It is not necessary to show that the US
foreign policy depends on domestic policy.  Obviously, although the main
premises of the system have full bi- and tri-partisan support, partisan
disagreements on US domestic policy are more frequent and intense than those
on foreign policy (unless there is a big crisis entailing the possibility of
massive human loses).  In any case, the specifics of the US foreign policy
do depend on the domestic political configuration.

Obviously, the design and implementation of US foreign policy is ultimately
susceptible to pressure (electoral or otherwise) from the US people.  The
extreme case of Vietnam excluded, the opposition of other countries to US
imperialism has rarely elicited massive internal support from the US.
(Correct me if I'm wrong.)  If the imperialist operations do not require a
large-scale deployment of troops who may be at serious risk, it's actually
very unlikely that other peoples' resistance elicit such support.  This is
not an argument in favor of not fighting abuses or not asking for the
solidarity of the US people, but we should observe what works best.  What
works best, IMO, is strong DOMESTIC opposition around DOMESTIC issues of
great import.  Anti-imperialist mobilization in the US, Europe, and Japan is
marginal.  Although there are positive signs (the change in the AFL-CIO
policy on immigration is one), for the most part, the state of affairs in
the US is such that US workers will NOT mobilize soon against the abusive US
foreign policy.

IMO, the only way US workers are going to mobilize strongly against US
abuses abroad is by a DIRECT and immediate linkage between their INTERESTS
and those of workers abroad.  I know that 'free trade' pits workers against
workers.  That's one side.  But I also know that if production is connected
more intensely at an international scale, workers will have a stronger
incentive to join forces internationally and they will be more effective.
So, for all the rage this causes in this list, one aspect of
'globalization', and NAFTA, and the FTAA, is precisely the creation of
conditions that tend to create this immediate linkage.  I welcome THAT
aspect of 'globalization'.  I'm not saying that more international
solidarity among workers will come automatically from 'globalization', but I
do affirm that it will be made easier and necessary by it.

People get impatient with abstractions, but the whole point of theorizing is
to distinguish between what is essential and what is contingent.  The best
way to stop the abuses is to focus on the uses themselves.

>To take imperialist aggression as a "given" to be accepted with
>Job-like resignation is not a revolutionary attitude.

I do not question your explanation of the causes of the Sandinista defeat.
I see your point, but you misunderstand me.  My point is this.  Marxists are
not the efficient cause of many historical events lately, but Marxists
should always take responsibility for what they CAN do or avoid.  Let me use
an example.  There is rain outside.  You get wet and sick.  Why?  An
opportunistic virus plus your depressed immune system plus temperature
changes in your body that depress it further plus etc.  Those are the
causes, but who could have changed that?  Not the rain.  You!  You could
have stayed home, bring an umbrella, eat and sleep better, drink orange
juice, etc.

I think that Trotsky, not long before his assessination, wrote that the MAIN
historical problem of his time was "the crisis of leadership" in
international communism.  Did he mean that the Nazis were off the hook?  No.
  But he thought that what others did was their responsibility.  It was not
under his direct control or influence.  He could only focus on what he could
influence more effectively.  He thought he was more effective at shaking
communists (appealing to their sense of responsibility for the course of
history) than by appealing to the Nazis.

Again, I'm no expert in Nicaragua, but in evaluating the failure of the
Sandinistas, we should analyze things this way, with the mind set to do
things better the next time.  The only reason why we're interested in
identifying causes is because that will allow us to affect the process and
hopefully LEAD it rather than be a victim of it.

>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.

I responded to this.  Let me just say that by 'constant' I don't mean to say
that imperialist attacks are quantitatively constant.  They vary, of course.
  It's obvious, but I rather say it.

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

Yes, but that's not the entire picture.  I won't repeat what I said.

>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.

Right.  There's uncertainty.

>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
>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

This is an immediate cause that I am really not qualified to comment on.
It's hard for me to second guess the specific decisions of the Sandinistas.
That's why I tried to keep myself on a general plane, emphasizing general
aspects that some people don't seem to notice.  As I said, chance plays
always a big role.  Big events in history may even be precipitated by small
things that accumulate and can only be humanly perceived post factum.  But
chance does NOT relieve leaders or anyone from their respective
responsibility.  I understand what you say about political leaders not being
supermen, etc.  This does not contradict my point.

Now, I want to make my views clear.  Someone once wrote: "Mankind thus
inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer
examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the
material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the
course of formation."  The message is clear: Keep an eye on the material
conditions.  There's nothing fatalistic in this.

The Bolsheviks ability to stay in power after the revolution didn't derived
ONLY or MAINLY from their heroism.  A lot was due to their ability to see
their economic, political, and military reality in the face.  Consider the
Brest-Litovsk pact with the Germans.  It's hard to imagine in detail the
circumstances in which the decisions were made, but I'm sure the leftist
noise to pursue the war was deafening.  It helped that Lenin had such
authority to impose sense.  It doesn't matter whether the Germans were going
to lose the war anyway and retreat.  The general lesson, IMO, is clear.

>That was due primarily to several interrelated policy decisions. One was
>that the agrarian reform in Nicaragua,when compared to, for example, the
>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
>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.

Again, I don't know the details.  But I wouldn't have demonized the
Sandinistas for trying not to open too many war fronts at once.  That said,
in some circumstances (when you have enough strength or believe you can
generate on the way), being audacious is the best policy.

I read attentively your description of what happened in Nicaragua.  You're
obviously knowledgeable about the details, and I'm not.  Your description is
very informative.  I just have one last thing to say.  The stance of the
Soviet Union was also an unknown parameter (or, as I say, a given or a
constant) in the 'model'.  That's because the Sandinistas had very little or
no control over the level of support the Soviet Union would give them.

Note to George: I read your suggestion on group therapy.  I'm trying to
limit my postings.
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