[Marxism] Nicaraguan Contradictions

Joaquin Bustelo 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
> exception....
> 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 
sitting ducks.

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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