[Marxism] Nicaraguan Contradictions
jbustelo at gmail.com
Fri Sep 7 21:58:06 MDT 2018
On 9/5/2018 11:23 AM, John Reimann via Marxism wrote:
> I think socialists really need to reflect on the direction the colonial
> revolution has taken over the years, because Ortega is not some lone
> How has the colonial revolution degenerated so much? Isn't what we're
> seeing visible proof of the theory of permanent revolution? After all, the
> leadership of none of these revolutions linked the colonial revolution with
> the overthrow of capitalism itself.
I don't think the Nicaraguan revolution "degenerated" at all. It was
defeated, destroyed. Crushed. Drowned in blood and I believe that had
been consummated before the election of Mrs Chamorro.
In the year 2000 I wrote a very long post on this list going over my
experiences in Nicaragua where I lived for several years. About a year
ago I put it on my blog and it is here:
Rereading it now, there are a couple of things I remember saying in
other posts from that time. Mainly that there simply was no basis in
Nicaragua for what they were trying to do economically and socially,
though I'm not sure I put it that baldly. The policy of pressured
collectivization ("forced" would be an exaggeration) was a conscious
choice with the idea that this would smooth their transition to a
planned economy, and that the social programs and economic benefits
would help them sell it. Wheelock seemed to be totally committed to it.
This affected not just the worker-peasant alliance but the
"worker-worker alliance." A lot of workers viewed themselves as
displaced small farmers and what they wanted was land and to be left
alone on their little homestead.
I'll repeat what I said in my post from 18 years ago: in four years I
was in Nicaragua I never met a single peasant who had gotten land to
work on his own account from the revolution. On the contrary, I saw the
FSLN oppose movements by agricultural workers to break up cotton estates
and distribute them for their families to work individually. And I was
on the lookout because Mike Baumann and Jane Harris, who preceded me
and my companion as Militant correspondents there, made a point of
telling me that had been their experience.
In 1986 or 1987 the government did make a show of handing out land
titles but to people who had long worked their parcels on the
agricultural frontier and to people on state farms (technically turning
them into cooperatives, a distinction without a difference). It did
not change things internally, it was mostly paper. Although I do think
it is true that it showed the FSLN leadership had realized the problem
with the agrarian reform, and was beginning to change course.
As for the rest of their economic and social programs, they required a
lot of resources from abroad that was increasingly withheld. The one
resource they did have was Cuba, but it could offer mostly personnel,
and Nicaragua had decided to forgo the aid of Cuban civilians (like
teachers and doctors) after the Grenada invasion. In part the reason was
that they could not be armed, but with the war spreading, they were
But of course that hit programs in the countryside especially hard
because the Cubans were willing to go places the government had a very
hard time recruiting Nicas for.
So Nicaragua in a lot of ways got ahead of itself, and then was left
twisting in the wind by the Soviets for the Americans to use as a
punching bag. And I mean that quite literally. The Nicas had sent people
to Eastern Europe to train as fighter pilots and helicopter pilots. They
even built a military airport. Only a handful of helicopters had made it
before the Soviets cut them off.
In the CNN documentary series Cold War produced in the 90s there are
interviews with former Soviet foreign ministry officials that confirmed
this is exactly what took place.
Could the revolution have survived if they'd gotten timely military
resources to defeat the contra war? Looking back at the 1990s, I doubt
it. The United States would have strangled them economically. And there
was a very grave economic problem: they had already embarked on the road
outlined in the Communist Manifesto:
* * *
We have seen above, that the first step in the revolution by the working
class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win
the battle of democracy.
The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree,
all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of
production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised
as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as
rapidly as possible.
Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of
despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of
bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear
economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the
movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old
social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising
the mode of production.
* * *
So to begin with, the measures can't be sustained; they must be followed
by more and more measures. But that road was not open to the Sandinistas
once the Soviets pulled back (and perhaps not even before, as they
really didn't have a significant hereditary proletariat). They simply
didn't have the economy, class structure, or resources to do that. The
whole development would have had to be hot-housed from abroad. So they
massively disrupted the capitalist economy of Nicaragua but then could
go no further, and had to pay the price, and in the middle of a war.
I have the impression we may be seeing elements of the same issues in
Venezuela. For example, the policy of keeping gasoline virtually free
for such a long time just about guaranteed that it would be exported to
Costa Rica and Brazil no matter what the law said.
And constantly insisting that what is pretty much the normal operation
of a market,. in this case a Black market, is an imperialist plot
doesn't change things, even though the imperialists are of course
intimately involved and not just for political reasons but straight old
economic plunder: in the immortal words of Don Barzini, "Of course, we
are not Communists."
This impinges on the broader questions of "clientelismo" and
"asistencialismo" that are even relevant to the United States. And that
is carrying out social redistribution through programs to specifically
targeted populations, thus tending to make them captives of the party in
power. In the United States, what is left of the union movement is
disproportionately concentrated in the public sector and especially in
jurisdictions run by Democrats. And that is the difference between
Medicare and the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children welfare
program. AFDC got shitcanned (by Clinton!) but Medicare is a right and
it becomes so entrenched it is virtually impossible to curtail.
That's the difference between Medicare for All and massive expansion of
Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies. That was why Bernie proposed medicare
for all, free college tuition, etc., while Clinton wanted to provide aid
to those who needed it, with arguments like that Bernie would subsidized
the college education of rich people who could pay.
But it is also a question relating to the Ortega-Murillo government
today. (See what happened when Daniel tried to cut social security
benefits: it's what touched off the massive rebellion against him).
José Mujica, without making a big deal about counterpoising it to
clientelism, stressed constantly in the round of visits to various
countries that he carried out as his term was concluding that the main
instrument to redistribute wealth in capitalist society is wages, and a
government of the left should make that its top priority --
strengthening the position of the workers in its negotiations with the
capitalists. And the number two resource are taxes. I was very struck by
how he insisted wages first.
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