[Marxism] Re: Nicaragua FSLN, Cuba and "Kremlin betrayal"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jun 18 20:53:00 MDT 2004

DLVinvest at cs.com wrote:
> The dynamics and vacillations of Soviet policy are outlined in Fred 
> Halliday's From Managua to Kabul, but there is much more to learn from accounts of the 
> internal debates within the FMLN and FSLN. Nowhere have I seen a thorough 
> analysis that integrates the internal and external factors, and most of the 
> self-critcism evades questions of what model or combination of policies and 
> alliances would have successfully countered the two inevitable given conditions of 
> superpower contention in which the US was always playing with more cards from the 
> deck stacked against revolutionaries even before the USSR folded and left 
> Cuba holding a losing hand.

Although the FSLN made lots of mistakes especially on the Atlantic 
Coast, there was little that it could have done to withstand a 
combination of imperialist aggression and Soviet betrayal. As a Marxist 
and a Nicaragua activist, I tried to come up with my own analysis:


In a very real sense, the gains of the Nicaraguan revolution were 
partially responsible for their undoing. The Agrarian Reform, in 
particular, caused traditional class relations in the countryside to 
fracture. Agricultural workers and poor campesinos no longer had to sell 
their labor at the cheapest price to the wealthy landowner. This, in 
turn, led to lower production of agricultural commodities.

George Vickers pointed these contradictions out in an article in the 
June 1990 "NACLA Report on the Americas" entitled "A Spider's Web." He 
noted that the Agrarian Reform provided a reduction in rents, greater 
access to credit and improved prices for basic grains. This meant that 
small peasants had no economic pressure on them to do the backbreaking 
work of harvesting export crops on large farms. Even when wages 
increased on these large farms, the campesino avoided picking cotton on 
the large farms. Who could blame them?

This meant that the 1980-1981 cotton harvest, which usually lasts from 
December through March, remained uncompleted until May. Each of the 
three subsequent coffee and cotton harvests suffered as well. The labor 
shortage became even more acute as the Contra war stepped up and rural 
workers were drafted into the Sandinista army.

In addition, Nicaragua faced the same type of contradictions between 
town and countryside that existed in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. It 
was difficult to keep both urban proletariat and peasant satisfied due 
to conflicting class interests of each sector. While both classes fought 
to overthrow Czarism or Somoza, their interests tended to diverge after 
the revolution stabilized.

In 1985, the Agrarian Reform distributed 235,000 acres of land to the 
peasantry. This represented about 75% of all the land distributed to 
peasants since 1980. The purpose of this land distribution was twofold. 
It served to undercut the appeal of the Contras to some campesinos, 
since land hunger would no longer act as an irritant against the 
government in Managua. Daniel Ortega would simultaneously give a peasant 
title to the land and a rifle to defend it in ceremonies in the 
countryside all through 1985.

The second purpose of this land grant was to guarantee ample food 
delivery into the cities. This would allow the government to end food 
subsidies. The urban population had enjoyed a minimum of basic 
foodstuffs at highly subsidized prices. These price subsidies fueled 
budget deficits and, consequently, caused inflation.

The hope of the Sandinistas was that increases from new farm production 
from the countryside would compensate for the ending of food subsidies. 
However, what did occur was a sharp convergence between the price of 
subsidized food and food for sale in the retail markets. A pound of 
beans at the subsidized price was 300 cordobas, while retail market 
prices reached 8,000 cordobas. The subsidized breadbasket became a 
fiction while marketplace food became the harsh reality. Managua 
housewives became outraged as hunger and malnutrition among the poorest 
city-dwellers grew rapidly. The underlying cause of the high price of 
food was the shortage of supply. Contra attacks on food- producers, 
large and small exacerbated the shortage.

What was the solution to Nicaraguan hunger? Was the solution to shift to 
the left and attack the rural bourgeoisie? Should the Sandinistas have 
expropriated the cattle ranchers, cotton farmers and coffee plantations 
and turned the land into small farms for bean and corn production? This 
would have meant that foreign exchange would no longer be available for 
purchase of imported manufactured goods, including medicine, machinery 
and guns. Nicaraguan coffee is marketable overseas, while beans are not.

The simple reality was that the Sandinistas could not find a solution to 
Nicaragua's economic problems within Nicaragua itself. Facing a US trade 
embargo, it grew to depend heavily on outside assistance. The story of 
outside assistance was not one to bolster revolutionary morale. From 
July 1979 through December 1987, the nation received almost $6 billion 
in credits and outright donations. The US pressured other Western 
nations to cut back aid, but Soviet aid increased steadily from 1979 to 
1987 until it amounted to $3.3 billion. Soviet aid was at a high point 
in 1985 when it gave Nicaragua $1 billion in assistance, but it dropped 
by 60% from 1985 to 1986, and declined further in 1987.

Foreign assistance could simply not overcome the ravages of inflation 
within the country. In 1988, the crisis reached its deepest intensity. 
The Sandinistas introduced an IMF-styled austerity program in February 
1988 and repeated with more cruelty in June. It hit the working- class 
and peasantry hardest. The bourgeoisie did not feel the impact of these 
anti-inflationary measures. The government gave them preferential 
treatment in the hope that Nicaraguan agribusiness would step up 
production. The austerity program, as harsh as it was, did not work. In 
December of that year, inflation was up to 33,000%, exacerbated by the 
effects of a powerful Hurricane. The end result was a bankrupt 
"informal" sector of the economy and widespread resentment toward the 
government. Meanwhile, the pampered bourgeoisie continued its attack on 
the "Communist" Sandinistas, no matter how inappropriate this epithet 
had become.

What could have led the Sandinistas to embrace an IMF-inspired austerity 
program? For those of us who had visited Nicaragua and spoken to and 
become friends with Sandinistas, this came as something of a shock, but 
not one that should have been totally unexpected.

In September of 1988, Carlos Chamorro, the editor of the Sandinista 
newspaper "Barricada" tried to justify the new economic orientation. He 
wrote, "the new economic policy has invalidated a series of concepts 
that for years represented...a road map towards...the Revolution's 
economic agenda...'Social control,' 'secure channels,' 'price controls,' 
'government subsidy,' 'preferential prices for the peasantry,' etc., are 
banners of a bygone era that has been left behind by reality." While he 
worried that the sectors of the society most hurt by the changes, namely 
those who don't own or run businesses, would turn against the 
revolution, they agreed that the "change was unassailable and necessary."

Sandinista embrace of the marketplace does not take place in a political 
vacuum. It takes place within the context of Perestroika. In October 
1988 Andrei Kozyrev, a Soviet Foreign Ministry official, wrote that the 
USSR no longer had any reason to be in "a state of class confrontation 
with the United States or any other country," and, with respect to the 
Third World, "the myth that the class interests of socialist and 
developing countries coincide in resisting imperialism does not hold up 
to criticism at all, first of all because the majority of developing 
countries already adhere or tend toward the Western model of 
development, and second, because they suffer not so much from capitalism 
as from lack of it." It is safe to assume that high-level Soviet 
officials must have been talking up these reactionary ideas to the 
Sandinista leadership long before Kozyrev's article appeared. Roger 
Chamorro of Barricada undoubtedly was privy to these discussions.

These new ideas benefited US foreign policy needs in a dramatic way. In 
early 1989, a high- level meeting took place between Undersecretary of 
State Elliot Abrams and his Soviet counterpart, Yuri Pavlov. Abrams made 
the case that relations between the US and the USSR would improve if the 
Nicaragua problem somehow disappeared. Pavlov was noncommital but gave 
Abrams a copy of Kozyrev's article. This telling gesture convinced the 
Reagan administration that the USSR would now be willing to sell out 
Nicaragua. (This meeting is described in Robert Kagan's recently 
published "A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua 1977-1990." 
Kagan was a member of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff in 
the Reagan years and helped to draft key foreign policy statements, 
including the document that contained what has become know as the 
"Reagan Doctrine".)

When the Contra war ended, the USSR began to cut aid to Nicaragua 
dramatically. It thought that Nicaragua could go it alone and urged it 
to rely more on Latin American countries like Venezuela and Mexico. It 
also made these suggestions at the same time a new foreign policy 
statement came out of the Kremlin that considered all governments in 
Latin America as legitimate, regardless of regime type. Nicaragua and 
Peru, in this light, had equal legitimacy.

These intense political and economic pressures had their desired effect. 
The Sandinista leadership adopted a political outlook that was in line 
with "new thinking" in the USSR. After years of revolution and civil 
war, they had become exhausted and isolated. They had seen their nation 
brutalized by endless "low intensity warfare," which to this tiny nation 
was of very high intensity. The vast changes that took place in the 
entire Soviet bloc had to have an impact on Nicaragua. It is utopian to 
think that it could not. It was just another victim in the powerful 
imperialist campaign to eradicate any non-capitalist economy. Only Cuba, 
Vietnam and China have remained socialist, but each country exhibits the 
same kind of deformations that Nicaragua began to exhibit in 1989. 
Initiatives in private enterprise in each country have begun to create 
an elite that lives extremely well, while workers and peasants suffer.

The accusation that the Nicaragua revolutionaries betrayed the 
possibility to move toward socialism is absurd. We can certainly say 
that the Sandinistas abandoned a revolutionary perspective, but the 
pressures on them to do so were extremely powerful. They did not forsake 
revolution because of common class interests with the Nicaraguan 
bourgeoisie, but because world capitalism and a rightward moving Soviet 
bureaucracy beat it into submission. The Nicaraguan revolution failed 
for the same reason that strikes sometimes fail: The boss is much stronger.

A more long term question is whether the era of "anti-imperialist" 
revolutions is past. Victor Tirado, a Sandinista leader, said it was and 
stirred up some controversy.

We as Marxists can not evade this question, however. It brings us back 
to the original understanding of the Russian revolution that Lenin and 
Trotsky had. They thought a revolution in Russia would trigger 
revolutions in Western Europe. Moreover, they believed that unless such 
revolutions happened, Soviet Russia would perish. Isn't Tirado 
expressing something similar when he raises this question? Without the 
aid of a powerful Soviet Union, revolutions in Third World countries 
will either become highly distorted or perish. The infant Soviet 
republic degenerated when Western European revolutions failed. For 
identical reasons, socialism remains a precarious venture today without 
Soviet aid.

There is another side of this dialectic, however. The victory of the 
West against the Soviet bloc coincides with major changes in the 
relationship between the ruling class of advanced countries and the 
working classes. Wages and living conditions are being driven down 
throughout the United States, Europe and Japan. The harshness of the 
attack is beginning to raise questions among broad sections of the 
working-class. They are much less optimistic the system they are living 
under then they used to be. A crisis of confidence is developing. That 
is the source of the worry about the Buchanan campaign. It is also what 
is driving all of the coverage in newspapers and magazines about 
corporate greed.

It is entirely possible that the revolutionary movements of the future 
will not be so neatly segregate itself between "advanced" countries and 
"underdeveloped" countries. There is a growing Latino working-class that 
spans the American southwest down into Mexico and Central America. There 
is every possibility that this working-class will begin to act 
collectively across border. There is also the possibility that it may 
develop converging interests with movements like the Zapatistas.

The ruling-class of the imperialist nations has think tanks that allow 
it to make strategic global policy decisions. Marxism must serve the 
same purpose to the working-class. We need to drop a lot of the stale 
formulas that inhibit our growth and influence. The socialist movement 
of today needs to confront the world of today, not the world of 50 or 75 
years ago. The Sandinistas, for all of their failings, were successful 
at one thing. They looked at Nicaraguan politics in an undogmatic 
fashion. This is an example that is still worth following.


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