Nicaraguan Revolution, Peronism and Moreno
Jose G. Perez
jgperez at netzero.net
Sat Feb 9 01:28:59 MST 2002
I belive that Louis's assessment is essentially correct. I was also in
Nicaragua in the period you recall in your post, and your descriptions
tracks perfectly with my recollection. There was a process of creeping
demoralization, bureaucratization, corruption.
It took me many years before I felt like I had some sense of perspective
on it. And looking back on it now, I do not believe "some sort of
ideological failure" was the mainspring of the degenerative process that
took place within the state apparatus and the Frente.
I think the root cause was the war, and the resulting and absolutely
maddening economic crisis. It is that which demobilized and demoralized and
atomized the population. It came INTO the frente from the outside, from Nica
There were, in retrospect, various things that could have been avoided.
The treatment of the Miskitus until 1984 was a gravely mistaken policy. And
the agrarian reform, which prioritized the development of large-scale
production and cooperatives, and failed to give land to the peasants
individually, was, in my view, also a mistake, especially when coupled with
other policies, like price-freezes on basic grains, which the small farmers
The first one provided the CIA with cannon fodder for the first couple
of years of the contra war 1982-1984, enough that they were able to leverage
the agricultural discontent into providing cannon fodder for the second
stage of the war, 1984-1987.
Such errors need not have proved fatal except for the active
intervention of imperialism. In changing the policy towards the Atlantic
Coast, the FSLN showed it had both the capacity and willingness to reverse
course 180 degrees if needed on the basis of concrete experience.
The problem wasn't that the Frente couldn't have fixed those and other
issues, the problem is that it never got the chance.
I do not believe in and of themselves those sorts of mistaken policies
would have led to the collapse of the revolution. Because these policies
were accompanied by all sorts of other policies, projects and initiatives
that would benefit the population greatly -- the extension of health care
and education into the countryside, for example. They loom large in this
post because they were so skillfully and viciously exploited by imperialism.
I believe what happened to the frente and the revolution is to be
explained in the progressive disintegration of the social base of the
revolutionary process. And in that disintegration, the war and the economic
crisis it provoked was the overriding, overwhelming factor. I believe what
both you and I saw going on within state institutions and the frente in the
second half of the 80s was this grinding down of the revolution due to the
imperialist aggression finding expression also within the revolutionary
There was --clearly-- an erosion of its revolutionary character, but
this was an effect, an expression of the toll the war was taking on the
revolution as a whole, not the cause of the revolution losing steam.
I think the process and the root causes are very similar to what
happened in the first years of the Soviet Union. In that case, the
capitalist and landlord classes had already been expropriated, disbanded as
functioning classes within Soviet territory, and tghe imperialist
intervention beat back. Thus the upshot was the crystalization of a
bureaucratic caste. In the case of Nicaragua, the bourgeoisie, albeit
tremendously weakened, continued to exist and function and thus the
atomization and demoralization of the population led to the re-establishment
of bourgeois hegemony.
In thinking this through, I found a "thought experiment" tremendously
useful. Taking the imperialist aggression as a given, what would have made
it possible for the revolution to survive, concretely? If the contras had
been unable to gain ANY foothold in any social layer, obviously things might
have turned out different. But that is utopian. No revolution is going to
have perfect policies, and even if it does, they aren't going to be
perfectly applied or understood. And even with a much-reduced contra, there
would still have been tremendous economic dislocation and with it a spiral
into a voracious economic crisis.
One obvious measure is stopping the war from spreading from the border
areas, and especially all the way down to Boaco and Chontales, turning the
entire agricultural frontier into a war zone. Could that have been
prevented? Yes. How? By cutting off the air supply to the contra columns
that made it possible for them to penetrate deeply into the country from the
Honduran bases, and by giving the Sandinista army sufficient mobility to
block the advance of contra columns when they were trying to do that.
Preventing the contra and CIA from manipulating the understandable
discontent among a lot of the peasantry with the revolution would also have
created the best conditions to adjust the agrarian policies that had failed
to consolidate the worker-peasant alliance.
Essentially, two things: fighter planes (even very antiquated ones would
have done, essentially Korean War museum pieces) and helicopters sufficient
in number to deploy BLI-size forces (i.e., 600 strong batallions) anywhere
in the country on short notice, with accompanying attack helicopters to
protect the deployments. The Soviet Union could easily have provided the
half dozen planes and few dozen helicopters it would have taken.
On the urban front, and the economic front generally, what would it have
taken? Sufficient provisions to make the insane daily struggle for
subsistence many Nicaraguans were thrown into in those years unnecessary.
Rice. Beans. Wheat. Some medicines and canned goods, a bit more oil. That,
too, was well within the Soviet's reach.
The truth is Nicaragua and the Sandinistas were left twisting slowly in
the wind by the international working class, represented by the socialist
camp. Cuba did what it could, but its resources were limited. And the
agreements with the Soviets prohibited them from doing things like donating
to Nicaragua some of the helicopters and fighter planes Cuba had received.
One failing of the Trotskyist movement in particular and the current I
was associated with is that, unlike in the case of Vietnam, it failed to
denounce the refusal of the USSR to provide Nicaragua with sufficient
weapons in quantity and quality.
The Nicas themselves were not in a position to even hint at this
situation, because they relied on the USSR for such weapons as they did
receive, mostly light infantry weapons and munitions, and because they did
not want to telegraph the imperialists that the socialist block did not have
much of a commitment to their cause.
Of course, we can see much more clearly today what went on. The
proletarian character of the Soviet Union had been so thoroughly undermined
and dissipated by decades of bureaucratic misrule that in a few years the
bureaucracy would feel free to dismember the union and restore capitalism.
In the last analysis, I believe, what proved decisive was the level of
political organization, combativity and consciousness of the Soviet working
class. Which was, to all intent and purposes, nill. As subsequent events
showed, the Soviet Union had become a hollow shell.
Not just in the broadest historical sense, but also in a very direct and
immediate way, a revolution in a country like Nicaragua at that time was
only possible as part of the world revolutionary process, of the advance of
the world working class.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Mike Friedman" <mikedf at amnh.org>
To: <marxism at lists.panix.com>
Sent: Saturday, February 09, 2002 12:23 AM
Subject: Re: Nicaraguan Revolution, Peronism and Moreno
I actually agree with your posterior assesment of the FSLN, as opposed
to Lou's assertion, if I understand Lou correctly, that, "the FSLN's
collapse cannot be attributed to some sort of ideological failure. After
all, sometimes the workers are outnumbered and are forced to fight with
Tomas Borge, in 1984, pointed out in an interview in Pensamiento Propio
something to the effect that "lo nuestro es un proceso enredado, y al pueblo
no le gustan los enredos". I would attribute the FSLN's collapse and
subsequent "pactism" to a political failure, of sorts.
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