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