Sandinistas, Moreno, etc

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Sun Feb 17 20:01:21 MST 2002

I'm not sure which parallel universe "Alternative" hails from -- perhaps one
akin  to the one where imperialism lost the cold war.

At any rate, I'll just touch on most of these accusations:

- that the FSLN forced Spanish on the native aborigines and Blacks (this
ENTIRELY misses the point of the mistakes the Frente unwittingly fell into
in the Atlantic Coast, which were POLITICAL, not "cultural," at root; the
was much GREATER than mere cultural insensitivity, which mostly did not take
this form anyways);

- that they did not try to extend the revolution (the truth is that they
were GUILTY of doing everything Carter/Reagan accused them of in this
regard, and then some, though not, of course, of mounting adventures like
"international brigades");

- that they jailed left wing critics (can Alternative name even ONE?);

- that they "forced" an agrarian solution (again, the problem here was
POLITICAL, not a question of a "bad" model; my argument is that it was
POLITICALLY correct to adopt an "INFERIOR" model);

- that there was rampant corruption among the FSLNers "even before they took
over,"  (too ridiculous to answer) etc. etc. etc.,

Let me focus on just one:

They put in a draft "sending kids to be killed without proper training."

What does "alternative" base this specific accusation on? Did "alternative"
ever make it out to the main training camp for the BLI's in Mulukuku? Did
he/she/it realize that the comrades doing the training were hardened,
bloodied veterans of dozens of battles of Cuba's internationalist campaigns
in southern Africa? How many combatants did "Alternative" talk to? How many
veterans did he talk to? How many funerals did "Alternative" go to before
coming to this conclusion? How closely did he follow the evolution of the
war? How many shots did he hear fired in anger? How many corpses did he
examine? For four years I did plenty of that, but did not come to the same
conclusion he has drawn.

The Sandinistas showed their military effectiveness time and again. The only
time I can remember that the contras succeeded in completely penetrating a
significant town was Ocotal in June of 1984. The succeeded thanks to that
degree thanks to fifth-columnists elements who helped them infiltrate the
night before, but they were there for only a very short time (perhaps an
hour or less) before being driven out by one of the first Cuban trained
BLI's (Irregular Warfare Batallions) to be deployed.

I think it was a few months later that they succeeded in infiltrating and
deploying a large force to surround and try to take Estelí, but were driven
back by the army and the people of Estelí.

You can search the annals of the war in vain for a large-scale succesful
contra military operation where the CIA forces clashed with the Sandinistas
head on and defeated them.

Of course, I'm no Clausewitz. Perhaps Alternative is, and it is his superior
military knowlege that leads him to make these statements. Does Comandante
Alternative want to enlighten us on the mistakes of Cuban military
doctrinne, strategy, tactics and technique? Has the comrade discovered a
better way to dig a foxhole? A foolproof way to avoid an ambush from a
retreating guerrilla column?

It was veterans of the Angolan war, some of them also veterans of Cuba's
own revolutionary war, who organized and carried out the training. That it
the ONE thing the Nicaraguan army did not lack, the BEST trainers in the
world, because it was ONE thing Cuba wasn't short of. Hardened,
battle-tested, revolutionary military cadre.

Of course, that won't bother "Alternative": like a died-in-the-wool
sectarian, which he/she/it is, I'm willing to bet he dislikes the Cuban
Revolution and the Cuban revolutionaries just as much or more than the
Nicaraguan ones.

Why did the Cubans play this role? Quite simply, the Nicas did not have such
a surplus of battlefield experienced military cadre that they could easily
detach dozens or hundreds from active operations to deploy in rearguard
training missions. The Cubans provided those cadre, as they did in other

The suggestion that a lack of effectiveness of the Sandinista army was due
to a lack of proper training of the troops is false. During the course
of the war, and I was there for much of it, from 1984 until 1988, I cannot
think of a single engagement that I ever got wind of --and I did eventually
have access to extensive information, even though it was not real time--
where the Sandinista Army of the Ministry of the Interior's TPU were ever
bested by the contra in a major engagement. Yes, there was the odd
patrol that got whacked, skirmishes that went badly

But mostly there were many cooperatives and tiny settlements of a few houses
in the hinterlands that got massacred in treacherous pre-dawn sneak attacks
by Reagan's "freedom fighters." The contra really were effective against
civilians, against schoolteachers and health workers and especially women
and children. But mostly the contra weren't particularly effective against
regular troops. Even their carefully planned defenses of their Honduran
camps proved no match to Sandinista infantry

What the Sandinista side was unable to do, strictly on the military plane,
was to properly capitalize on the setbacks they dealt to contra columns or
bases. In other words, they were in most cases unable to turn a victorious
skirmish or battle into a victory of strategic dimensions. That's because
they were unable to effectively surround or pursue the enemy. That sort of
terrain makes it tremendously difficult to accomplish an envelopment, or
even a close pursuit, without a decisive advantage in mobility for an
attacker operating against guerrillas. The Sandinistas lacked, not the
training, not the leadership, and not the morale and combativity to do it,
but the TECHNICAL RESOURCES. And this was a tremendous limitation on their
military effectiveness.

Their military effectiveness was hampered by a lack of weaponry and
logistical resources, specifically, fighter planes (to cut off air supply)
and an adequate number of transport and attack helicopters (to cut off
ground retreats, since there were virtually no roads in the war zones). In
the terrain presented by the Nicaraguan battlefield, those would have been
decisive in very short order until quite late in the war.

That's why the Reagan administration made such a huge stink about the
possibility of Nicaragua acquiring even antiquated fighter jets, or a more
adequate helicopter fleet. Especially in the fall of 1984, when Reagan knew
(as the rest of us would find out some time later) that the FSLN,
thanks to a sharp political turn led by the Tomás Borge, had succeded in
extricating the Miskitu fighters from the CIA and the Contra's embrace and
manipulation. The revolution did this, BTW, not by revising language laws,
but by turning over control of the Miskitu areas to the armed Miskitu
warriors, i.e., by an eminently POLITICAL not "cultural" or "linguistic"

AT THAT POINT, the arrival of a handful or subsonic, Korean-war-era fighters
BY ITSELF quite likely would have been enough to end the large-scale war in
a matter of
months, even if some cross-border raids continued. The economic damage done
by the first couple of years of the war, not helped by the unintended
consequences of the Revolution's agrarian and economic policies, had created
a situation along the "agricultural frontier" where the peasantry was
susceptible to manipulation by the contra. But for that manipulation to
succeed, the contra had to get to those peasant areas deep inside the
country, and that is what the contra air supply operation, run by Oliver
North from the White House via CIA gusano cadre and staffed by mercernaries
trained in the Vietnam War and in Southern Africa, allowed them to do.

The Americans knew it, that's why they made such a huge stink. The
Sandinistas knew it, the Contra knew it, the Cubans knew it, everyone in
the whole world who stopped to consider the matter dispassionately simply
from a military point of view knew it. Moscow knifed the Sandinstas in the
back by refusing the armaments the Sandinistas had been led to expect. The
FSLN even sent cadre to train as pilots and built a military airport to base
the fleet, and the aircraft never showed up.

I said the whole world knew it, but that isn't completely true. Everyone
knew it -- except for the adherents of the Fourth International, World Party
of Socialist Revolution -- all 27 Fourth Internationals. Trotsky must be
turning over in his grave watching those who claim to be his followers
letting the Stalinists off the hook by blaming the victims of the Stalinist
betrayal, the Nicaraguan revolutionaries, instead of the bureaucracy.

You might say, well, if the Sandinistas had had a better agrarian and
economic policy they may have avoided this situation. I'm not so certain it
could have been avoided altogether, though. The specific modalities in which
the economic crisis manifested itself was, of course, the result of
Sandinista policies, but not the FACT of the crisis. NO policy or series of
policies I can think of would have kept the peasantry from taking it on the
chin in such a crisis, that is just how capitalist markets work. And the
Sandinistas would have been blamed, for they had no choice but to try to
administer the crisis.

Nor was abolition of the market a viable alternative. Because of
its degree of economic underdevelopment, Nicaraguan society was
predominantly petty-bourgeois. Much of the large scale industry and
agriculture was already in the hands of the state, and the rest could have
been easily "nationalized" but to what end? For example, Bolaños's "hands"
on the cotton plantations were demanding nationalization -- but so that the
large landholding could be broken up into peasant smallholdings. I do not,
in retrospect, believe this would have been an altogether bad thing, but it
would not have created a planned state economic enterprise in cotton, but
rather hundreds of small farmers operating in a market.

What this shows is that there is simply no way of getting around the fact
that viewed in isolation, in and of itself, Nicaragua did not have the
economic basis nor --most importantly-- the SOCIAL development, the CLASS
development, needed for a socialist revolution. What made Nicaragua ripe for
socialist revolution were external factors, that it was so late in the day
for capitalism on a world scale, that a socialist camp existed.  Yet the
Nicaragua revolution as it arose was a plebeian national democratic
revolution, and not yet a socialist revolution. If the socialist bloc had
been willing to give Nicaragua the aid it needed and deserved, that would
have tremendously hastened the revolution's growing over into a socialist
revolution, much more than a thousand speeches by the nine comandantes
applying the essential lessons of State and Revolution to the Nicaraguan

Such aid would have gone a long way towards nullifying the
imperialist-sponsored military attack, compensating for economic disruption
it caused as well as the narrowness of the economic base, and helping to
develop and consolidate the proletarian class consciousness of the very
small industrial working class and --hopefully-- the much larger
semi-proletarian layers.

As Fidel Castro half jokingly told CNN about US charges that there was a
Soviet-Cuban "master plan" to take over Central America in the 80s, if there
HAD been such a plan the socialist camp would have won the Cold War. And he
added that the problem in Central America was that Cuba's actions "collided
with Soviet interests."

The comments were for the CNN documentary series, Cold War for which Daniel
Ortega and others were also interviewed:

Ortega explained to CNN the priority of the revolutionary government
as the war began: "What we asked for was weapons so that we could defend
ourselves -- that's what we asked of the Soviet Union, of the socialist
countries of Eastern Europe, of the Algerians, of the Vietnamese."

And Yuri Pavlov, who was in the Soviet Foreign Ministry in the 80's
essentially confirmed this in comments incprorated into the documentary:
"The leaders in Moscow did not want to provoke the United States into giving
more military aid to the Contras and to the Honduran government. Therefore
these requests were politely denied every time the Sandinistas brought it up
in Moscow."

Moscow limited itself to providing light infantry weapons. After an initial
number of helicopters that arrived before the war really got underway, no
more were forthcoming. Cadres were sent to train as fighter pilots, but they
returned without planes. An airport was built for military purposes, but the
Nicaraguan air force never received the aircraft to make it operational. The
Revolution was left twisting slowly in the wind.

Under those conditions, the Sandinista leadership faced three options. The
first was to surrender. This they did not contemplate for even a second. The
second was to try to institute a sort of War Communism, trying to radicalize
the revolution to the max from  above. Such an artificial "Bolshevization"
of the revolution almost certainly WOULD have led to it being crushed very
quickly, as it would have
narrowed the social base of the project to a small minority of the
population. The third is what they did: make the axis of their policy defeat
of the imperialist war; subordinate everything else to that; and temporize,
try to buy time in the economic, social, political and diplomatic spheres.
Hang on hoping that new allies would take the field of battle, that the
course of the war itself would eventually bring relief.

And in a sense it did. Although at tremendous cost, the contra were beaten
time and again.. Moreover, in a sense, the manipulation of the peasantry by
the CIA contra cadre came back to haunt them, because it led to the
emergence of a peasant based wing of the contra that eventually became
dominant and made peace with the Sandinista government, which the CIA
puppets would not have done. But by then the revolution had been largely

You express disdain for my testimony that the revolution was bled to death,
that it was the sinking of the broad masses of Nicaraguans into a maddening
economic crisis in the midst of what seemed like an unending war that
atomized them, demoralized and demobilized them.

I'm not sure what you think a revolution is if NOT the conscious and
organized intervention of the masses in making history. The masses, the
working people, taking their destiny into their own hands is the very
essence of revolution; when you no longer have that, your revolution is

You also need to take into account the world context in which the revolution
unwound. One turning point was 1983, with the intensification of the contra
war and the invasion of Grenada. I believe that this is also when the
Nicaraguans discovered that they would not have the support they needed from
the socialist bloc. Various comrades have pointed to decisions adopted
around that time which, viewed as a whole, clearly indicate a decision by
the FSLN leadership to prioritize winning the war above all else, to go into
"temporizing" mode, so to speak.

The other moment to look at is the end of the 1980s. That's when the rest of
us became aware of what the FSLN leadership had already discovered a few
years earlier, that the socialism of the East European countries had become
a completely empty shell, certain property forms perdured for historical
reasons but they lacked completely the corresponding social content. The
bureaucracy made this clear by launching a capitalist restoration, which,
almost completely, went unopposed. In sum, from the early 1980s on, the
of class forces on a world scale became steadily less favorable.

Hopes for an early revolutionary victory in El Salvador and Guatemala went
unfulfilled. Eventually through the Contadora process more or less stable
bourgeois-democratic neocolonial regimes were restored. Another important
blow as the decade ended was the invasion of Panama.

It is true that all these developments took a toll on the FSLN. The Frente
of 1990 was not the same as the one of 1981. I believe the things that were
done during the "piñata" showed this. But how could it be otherwise? How
could a genuine mass party like this been unaffected by the political
retreat it had been forced on by being left alone to face the imperialist
onslaught for more than half a
decade? These were not ideal revolutionaries but real people made of flesh
and blood. Just as the revolution was exhausted, so, too, were many of the
exhausted as revolutionaries.

That the leaders and ranks of the FSLN made mistakes especially in the
latter period goes without saying. That many of these even had roots going
back into the first years of the revolution is also true. Much has been
written and said by the Nicaraguan comrades themselves about the
inadequacies of the Frente's internal regime, for example. "Commandism" was
understandable and even perhaps inevitable and natural after emerging from
the war against Somoza, but it is their judgment that the lack of an
adequately democratic internal regime contributed to many other errors later
on. I believe that is true. But it is also true that if the tide of history
had been running the other way, the mistakes could, and I believe would have
been easily corrected and overcome, rather than becoming entrenched and

To say the Nicaraguan revolution was reversed because of inadequacies in its
leadership is no explanation at all. Because those supposed inadequacies did
not prevent that self same group of people from LEADING the revolution to
begin with. It did not prevent them from defeating Somoza, seizing the
power, and maneuvering in the post-July 19 situation to establish and
consolidate a genuinely revolutionary government, despite the presence in
top governmental spheres of certain bourgeois figures (a presence that, in a
certain sense, could be seen as largely decorative, but in a deeper sense
showed that the Nicaraguan revolution was a popular national democratic
movement, and not yet a socialist revolution). It did not prevent the
beginning of all sorts of broad revolutioary social projects, like the
literacy campaign, the extension of schooling to the countryside, the
agrarian reform (warts and all), and so on. So you have to explain why those
who were so good on Monday turned out by Friday to be so inadequate.

The explanation the sectarians are offering here is essentially the Catholic
one. The Sandinista comrades were born with original sin, and they were not
baptized into the one true church to cleanse them of it. For the sectarians,
the stage of development of the revolutionary process is something a handful
of leaders could have voluntaristically changed at will, if only they had
been saved, gotten religion, "permanent" revolution.

My explanation is materialist, social and political. It does not overlook
the valuable political and organizational lessons the Nicaraguans paid for
with rivers of blood, but it also doesn't seek to turn "the revolutionary
leadership" into an abstract, ahistorical platonic category, with the real
leadership of the real revolution being contrasted against the ideal,
non-existing leadership floating somewhere out there in some other
dimension, and, of course, found wanting.

That the FSLN was destroyed as a revolutionary organization by the same
forces that destroyed the revolution itself should not surprise anyone. It
is only with an idealist method that latter day "Leninist" vanguardists can
somehow imagine that a revolutionary party could come through such an
experience unscathed.

What we should try to do in relation to the Nicaraguan revolution is not to
condemn it and its leadership, but to understand what actually happened and
why it happened.


alternative at>
To: <marxism at>
Sent: Saturday, February 16, 2002 8:12 PM
Subject: RE: Sandinistas, Moreno, etc

dear friends:

My only point on writing what I wrote about Moreno, the Sandinistas and
the Simon Bolivar Brigade was to highlight the facts.  They participated

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