lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Feb 25 11:47:20 MST 2002
Hi, Matilde. Don't know if you remember me. I was a member of the SWP from
1967 until 1978 when I became a casualty of the "turn". During the 1980s I
got involved with Central American issues and eventually became President
of the Board of Tecnica, a nonprofit that sent hundreds of volunteers to
Nicaragua, as well as to the frontline states in Africa during the 1990s.
Today at the Columbia University bookstore, while shopping for a book on
the economic history of Argentina, I stumbled across your book on Carlos
Fonseca. I am pretty much familiar with your research on the topic after
having seen a chapter or two from your dissertation on Arnie W.'s website.
But I hadn't seen your afterword before, which was written for the book
apparently. It tries to counterpose, as you put it, the good Marxist ideas
of Carlos Fonseca from the bad reformist ideas of the FSLN. These ideas
seemed to have crept in sometime during the mid 1980s, perhaps as a result
of astrological disturbances or perhaps because of the iron logic of Lord
Acton's dictum about power. In any case, the problem seems to be rooted in
the decision of the FSLN to "move away" from Carlos Fonseca's ideas.
You've really hit the nail on the head there. This problem of moving away
from one set of ideas to another has nagged at me for the longest time.
Perhaps you can write a follow-up book on how to forestall if not destroy
in the womb this moving away process. Why only this morning I awoke from a
terrible dream in which I had been transformed into a trade union
bureaucrat writing articles for the New Republic on the side, when not
stealing money from pension funds--sort of like Jay Lovestone on steroids.
I woke up all out of breath, my heart pounding a mile a minute. I went into
the bathroom and threw cold water in my face. In no time at all, that
ghastly nightmare faded away like one of Scrooge's ghosts.
But the thing that troubles me is how you can really inoculate yourself
from all that temptation to move away from good ideas in the direction of
bad ideas. After all, Larry Seigle wrote a series of articles in the
Militant in 1990 saying pretty much the same thing that you say in your
afterword, but that didn't stop him from dropping out of the revolutionary
worker-bolshevik, taking the Cuban road, communist vanguard and retreating
to private life in Minnesota. Do you think that he got infected by one of
Daniel Ortega's speeches?
In any case, here's what José Perez has to say about that whole moving away
thing, for what it's worth. It was written in response to a Moreno type of
Marxist, but it seems to relate to Barnes type of Marxism as well.
(Whatever else you want to say about the Moreno tradition, btw, they seem
to believe that revolutionary parties become weaker, not stronger, when
they shrink. Maybe their grasp of dialectics is not as profound as that of
our erstwhile comrades.)
>>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 generalized.
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 revolutionary 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
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
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.<<
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