[Marxism] Nicaragua: The Revolution in 1985

Jose G. Perez elgusanorojo at bellsouth.net
Thu Aug 5 18:02:17 MDT 2004

Some comments about Tom O'Lincoln's 1985 article on Nicaragua.

First, on the character of the agrarian reform. The agrarian reform
carried out in Nicaragua was one of pressured collectivization of
cooperitavization that did not fully embody the aspirations and
sentiments of the peasantry. 

In four years, I did not meet a single Nicaraguan peasant who had
received land from the revolution to work on their own -- and that is
what they all wanted. Instead, people had to join coops, and many did,
not because that is what they preferred, but because that was the option
that was available. Moreover, other policies and factors undercut or
worse the benefits the revolution brought to the countryside. In
particular, the network of rural intermediaries was uprooted, which
would have been fine if the revolution had replaced them with something
better but this it proved incapable of doing.

Second, more than a mixed economy, Nicaragua in the mid-1980's had a
mess of an economy. The joke among some friends of mine at the Ministry
of the Interior was that it was neither capitalism nor socialism, but a
unique Nicaraguan blend combining the worst features of both. All this
stuff about policies to promote a recovery in profits and so on was
poppycock. Whatever the official line and plans called for, the real
policy was to subordinate economic to political and above all military
considerations. The contraction in output and in the real standard of
living was catastrophic. 

And just on the face of it, profits were not well maintained. The
decapitalization of enterprises and individual capitalists was dramatic.

All the mixed-economy stuff was ex-post-facto theorizing about the
actual situation they found themselves in.

Third, by the time of Tom's visit the impact of the economic crisis
provoked by the contra war and the resulting atomization, demobilization
and even demoralization of the population was already well underway.
Thus he got a very static, and already quite bureaucratized picture of
the mass organizations. 

Fourth, largely missing from the article is the war. What determined
everything was not the economy, but the course of the war. The
imperialist succeeded in turning a mercenary aggression into a civil
war. The military aid received from the USSR and other countries of
"really existing" socialism was insufficient. The Sandinistas needed,
and were promised qualitatively more air defense and air mobility for
their armed forces than they got, but the Soviets welched. [All of a
sudden it strikes me that this is quite possibly a chauvinist term and
the historically accurate wording would be to say they "englished". Does
anyone know the etymology?] They needed fighter planes to prevent contra
air resupply and many dozens of helicopter troop transports to be able
to throw troops behind retreating contra columns. They got neither. That
is testimony to the deepening orientation of the Stalinist bureaucracy
towards a capitalist restoration, which would culminate in a few more

Five, many of these things were far from clear at the time. The
Sandinista leadership was particularly opaque about its international
relations, and how they were getting screwed by both the socialist bloc
and West European social-democratic regimes. They were not in a
particularly good position to complain openly. 

I'm not meaning to suggest that Tom's article should be criticized for
not having highlighted things that only became clear to others over
time, or even after the fact. It was a snapshot based on a brief visit,
but there was a lot going on beyond the borders of the frame of that
snapshot, and in the background, that when taken into account give you
quite a different picture -- one that is a lot less about the program or
intention or desires of the FSLN, and a lot more about the situation
they were in domestically and above all in the world.

The most important of these things is that U.S. imperialism's unindicted
co-conspirator in the assassination of the Nicaraguan Revolution was the
Soviet Union. I say "the Soviet Union" and not JUST Andropov-Gorbachev
or the bureaucracy, because if there was a big movement --or even a tiny
one-- among the unions, the perestroikaites, the hard-core Stalinists,
the liberal and social democratic dissidents, the churches, the KGB or
anyone else demanding adequate aid to Nicaragua, I have yet to become
aware of it.

And even the international Trotskyist movement of those days did not
present a clear picture of what the problem was.


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