JULY 1979 saw the overthrow of the hated Somoza dictatorship after 40 years of ruthless repression. It helped to fan anew the flames of the revolutionary struggles which were sweeping through Central and Latin America. Nicaragua’s revolution helped enthuse the youth throughout South America, sections of which have looked to this insurrectionary movement as an example to be emulated. This development alone warrants a thorough study of the Nicaraguan revolution in order to clarify the tasks before the workers and youth in such countries as Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Historical reprint from 1986 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Sandinista’s coming to power. The article was first publish in Militant International Review, forerunner ot Socialism Today, magazine of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales. socialistworld.net.
Perspectives for the Nicaraguan revolution
The American ’Irangate’ crisis revealed that money raised from the sale of arms to Iran had been used to finance the Nicaraguan ’Contras’. Once again the future of the Nicaraguan revolution is being raised in the minds of workers and youth throughout the world.
Events in Nicaragua have also brought US imperialism to the brink of a direct military intervention and the financing of the Contras to the tune of over US $100m. US imperialism has been terrified at the prospect of revolution sweeping throughout Central America, bringing down the puppet regimes in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala etc where the revolution has been unfolding apace. It has been the fear of revolution throughout Central America, with its inevitable consequences in South America, which has compelled Reagan and US Imperialism to try and ’snuff out’ the ’example’ of Nicaragua.
There can be no doubt that the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship heralded a tremendous step forward for the workers and peasants of Nicaragua, especially when weighed against the nightmare of increasing poverty and misery throughout the continent. Under the Somoza dictatorship, preventable diseases killed over 30% of children in the countryside. Since the revolution, infant mortality has been cut from 33°’o to 8% and over 1 million people were vaccinated in a mass campaign against polio. Consumption of corn has risen by 33%, beans by 40% and rice by 30%. In the final years of the Somoza dictatorship a total of 1,000 doctors throughout Nicaragua were visited a total of 200,000 times. Since the revolution 500 doctors have qualified every year and have visited patients 6 million times annually.
A massive literacy campaign has been carried out, sending armies of teachers and students to the countryside to help eradicate illiteracy. Prior to the revolution it was estimated that 75% of the population had never read a book and that over 50% were illiterate! This rate has now been reduced to 14% and 1,200 schools have been constructed.
Such developments are clearly supported by all activists in the Labour movement. They have however resulted in many youth developing illusions in the leadership of the Sandinistas, imagining that the socialist revolution is being carried through. Marxism supports every gain and step forward taken by the exploited masses of Nicaragua and is implacably opposed to US imperialism in its attempts to crush the revolution. However in doing so Marxists cannot and must not reduce themselves to the role of mere cheer leaders. This is especially the case when those gains conquered are threatened by counter revolution. It is necessary to analyse the processes in the revolution and explain how the gains made can best be defended and developed. Such is the case with the Nicaraguan revolution.
The key issue, which goes right to the heart of the matter in Nicaragua and Central America in general, is the theory of .he Permanent revolution and the question of the class character of the revolution. For throughout the Colonial world, especially in Central and Southern America, an enormous movement of the masses has taken place. Only three years ago the whole of South America was one gigantic concentration camp. Today on! two military police dictatorships remain, in Chile and Paraguay. It has been t he movement of the workers, youth and exploited masses that has resulted in the downfall of these regimes. As we shall see later, the same was true in Nicaragua.
In these countries the immediate task posed has been that of resolving the issues of the bourgeois revolution. That is, the development of industry, the resolution of the land question, securing a unified, independent, nation state and the establishment of a stable parliamentary democracy. In varying degrees these issues lie at the heart of the tasks immediately posed throughout Latin America.
As Trotsky and Lenin explained, in the modern epoch the problem is that these issues cannot be resolved by the national capitalist class in the colonial countries because they are too weak. Bound to the landlords and in the last analysis to the coat tails of the more powerful imperialist powers, the national capitalist class is wholly unable to play any independent or progressive role. The economies of the colonial countries are dominated by the multi-nationals which have used them as a source of cheap labour and to secure raw materials and minerals.
Which class, then, is capable of resolving these fundamental problems, critical to the further development of society? As the experience of the Russian Revolution brilliantly demonstrated it is only the industrial working class, with the support of the poor peasants and exploited layers of society, who can carry out this task. For even in the backward colonial countries, with investment by the imperialist powers and, to a certain extent with the weak development of the national capitalist class, an industrial working class has been created.
However, upon seizing power such a class would not be able to confine itself merely to the question of the bourgeois revolution but, by very necessity, it would transgress such limits and go over to the tasks of the socialist revolution, with the nationalisation of the economy and a centralised plan of production based upon a system of workers’ democracy. To lay the basis for the construction of a socialist society, the revolution must be developed beyond the narrow constraints of the backward and underdeveloped nations to the advanced capitalist countries. Thus whilst the revolution may begin in a colonial country, if it is to result in the building of a socialist society it must be developed on an international scale. Such were the ideas of the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. The failure of the international revolution left the USSR isolated, with a backward economy and horrendous shortages which, with the attempts to crush the revolution by imperialism, opened the way for a political counter-revolution in the 1920s. Whilst leaving intact the economic basis of the 1917 revolution (the nationalised planned economy), the political counterrevolution destroyed workers’ democracy and replaced it with a bureaucratic caste – a clique which has now abandoned any idea of world revolution and instead acts as a counter revolutionary brake on such developments in order to protect its own position. For the development of the revolution on an international level would bring with it a political revolution restoring workers democracy.
In the recent epoch, in the course of the unfolding of the Colonial Revolution, a new twist has developed. The revolution has been carried through in some countries, but in a distorted way. Such has been the impasse of society that, despite the absence of a genuine mass Marxist force, capitalism and landlordism has been overthrown. However it has not been replaced with a workers’ democracy but with a state apparatus in the image of Moscow today rather than that of 1917. At the top of such regimes have been placed guerrilla groupings, students and intellectuals or even radical layers of the officer caste of the army. When assuming power, such leaders never did so with the perspective of completing the revolution. They were pushed into doing so in part by the pressure of the masses and, for example, as in the case of Cuba, because of the reaction of imperialism in the form of an economic boycott. Such regimes, as in Cuba, China, Syria etc have been very popular and enjoyed tremendous support as the benefits of a nationalised planned economy have been felt. Whilst marking a break with landlordism and capitalism and as such representing a tremendous step forward, this development has not, however, signified the socialist revolution and regimes of workers democracy.
The absence of a regime of workers’ democracy has been rooted in the nature of these revolutions, and in particular the absence of a conscious leading role being played by the proletariat, which finds its highest expression in a mass Marxist Party. For it is only the working class which can lead the socialist transformation of society. When other groupings attempt to do so, the best that can be achieved is the social revolution in a distorted form and the establishment of a bureaucratic one party totalitarian regime.
It is these crucial aspects of the Colonial and Permanent revolution which are now of critical importance if a path leading to the successful development of the socialist revolution is to be found in relation to Nicaragua, and the threat of counter revolution, by US Imperialism and the Contras, is to be defeated.
To do so it is necessary to look at the historical development of Nicaragua, especially taking into account the role played by the national bourgeois, the working class and the peasantry.
The historical development of Nicaragua
Like all of the countries of Central and Southern America, Nicaragua has been consistently plundered and exploited by imperialism. Conquered by Spain in 1523, Nicaragua was ruthlessly bled white under colonial rule. Some successful resistance was waged by the Miskito Indians on the Atlantic coast. Later, they were given some support from Britain which at that stage wanted a base for its own operations in the area against the Spanish, French and finally the North American powers. This support was in exchange for British imperialism being able to exploit the area with a relatively free hand.
Three hundred years of Spanish colonialisation saw Nicaragua turned into a slave-exporting base to such countries as Santa Domingo, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Being a member of the Central American Federation, it was granted ’independence’ in 1821 and slavery was abolished in 1824. Servile labour however continued throughout the 19th century. By this time two clear groupings had emerged amongst the ruling class. The first was the so-called ’Liberal’ wing, based around such areas as the Pacific coastal port of Corinto. Largely drawn from small proprietors, artisans and others, they formed a budding retail merchant class which was politically touched by the great French revolution, and stood as vigorous supporters of free trade. Weighed against them was an arch conservative aristocratic clique of landlords.
Whilst the ’Liberal’ regimes were perhaps slightly less repressive when they had the upper hand, they rapidly demonstrated their weakness. They were totally incapable of standing up to the dominating influence of North American imperialism and in the last analysis were always dragged along by its coat tails usually after a few protests against US ’excesses’, which may have damaged their particular interests. They were incapable of following the traditions of the rising French bourgeois, from whom they nevertheless drew a certain verbal ’radicalism’.
The conservative clique never even bothered attempting to put up a ’radical’ mask, but accepted the mantle of outright collaboration with US imperialism from the very beginning. They were nevertheless a powerful grouping basing themselves upon the coffee markets which up until 1950 accounted for 50% of Nicaraguan exports.
Thus the Nicaraguan bourgeois was from the outset weak and feeble, especially when pitched against the mighty imperial powers. As such they were unable to play any substantially independent and certainly not a progressive role. They were unable to come anywhere near completing the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, which the ’Liberals’ had so enviously watched their French counterparts do historically. In the last analysis they accepted the role of being little more than coupon clippers for imperialism. Between these two groupings a bitter struggle was fought out in the form of military coups, dictatorships and civil war, with US imperialism, as it developed, playing the role of arbiter by supporting which ever served its purpose best at the time.
The discovery of gold in 1843 brought with it increased interest in Central America especially with the prospect of constructing a canal coast-to-coast for the shipment of gold and other raw materials. In August 1849, Roberto Ramirez, as Supreme Director of Nicaragua, signed the first contract allowing for the construction of such a canal. At the same time the Legislative Assembly accepted the principle of "absolute exclusion of foreign intervention in the state’s internal affairs and calling upon other Central American states to do likewise."
As events demonstrated, such a declaration was more of a dream of how the Nicaraguan ruling class would have liked things to be. For when US imperialism cracked the whip, they jumped in a flash and accepted the ’realities’ of life. They were too weak to make any serious stand and feared any mobilisation of the Nicaraguan masses with whom they would have come into collision.
Civil war broke out in 1850 bringing to power the extreme reactionary, Prutos Chamorro. This provoked a revolt by the ’Liberals’ who, under the leadership of Jerez and Castellon, landed a small military force at El Realejo in 1854. This ’Liberal’ grouping immediately started peace talks in order to try and secure some concessions. The offer was rejected and the ’Liberals’ turned North to get the help of an American mercenary, William Walker. He, in return for lavish payments, offered a force of about 300 men. He landed in 1855 – with Nicaraguan citizenship and the self appointed rank of Colonel.
In fact the ’Liberal’ wing of the Nicaraguan ruling class had enlisted the support of a renowned slave holder from the South who had his own objectives – to seize control not only of Nicaragua, but of the whole of Central America as a base from which to reinforce the southern slave states of North America.
Rising power of US imperialism
Walker seized power and installed his puppet Rivas as President while he, in reality, ruled from the wings. So reactionary and ruthless were his methods of rule that even Rivas was repelled. Summoning all of Central America to his support, Rivas rebelled in 1856, beginning the so-called ’National War’. In response, Walker had himself appointed as President of Nicaragua and El Salvador. Walker’s drive to conquer all of Central America brought him into conflict with British imperialism for he tried to spread his influence into the coastal areas of the Miskito Indians – then a British colony which later was incorporated into Nicaragua. Walker was defeated in 1857, whereupon he returned to North America to launch a further attack in 1860.
At this stage the Northern states of America clearly did not want a victory for Walker which would have bolstered the position of the Southern states. They were also beginning to look towards Central America as a potential area for development themselves. Walker was captured by a British gunboat, turned over to the government in Honduras, where he was put up against a wall and shot. The whole incident clearly demonstrated the role of the ’Liberal’ wing of the Nicaraguan ruling class. The way was formally opened for US penetration of Nicaragua with the signing of the Cassirisarra treaty in 1859.
The ’Liberals’ eventually took Managua in 1893, after a series of risings. In 1894 they annexed the Miskito coast, paying British Imperialism US $15 million for it in ’compensation’.
This was the period of the rising power of US imperialism, which was increasingly squeezing out the major European capitalist powers. The policy of so-called ’dollar diplomacy’ was adopted. Loans were given to certain countries throughout the region. In return the US was granted the exclusive rights of trade and exploited mineral and other raw materials. In reality it meant that the states concerned were signed over to US imperialism to do with as they wished. Terms were imposed to protect investments, banks and railways which, if not adhered to, resulted in the automatic right of military intervention.
In 1893 the Nationalist Liberal Party came to power. It was offered arms to ’unify Central America’ in return for the US being given exclusive rights to build and operate a canal linking coast to coast. President Zelaya refused. The US thus f engineered his downfall and US troops invaded Nicaragua for the first time in 1909. A presidential stooge of US Imperialism was put in power, Diaz. He immediately agreed to the following ’proposals’: the abolition of all state monopolies; an agreement to pay the external debt; to guarantee the interests of all foreign nationals; all Nicaraguan customs departments, Post Offices, national Banks, railways and harbours to be placed under the control of US creditor banks. The terms were so harsh that once again the ’Liberals’ revolted in 1912. 2,700 US marines landed to crush the revolt. Diaz was again ’elected’ President, receiving 4,000 votes from a population of 800,000.
US imperialism was determined to maintain total control of Nicaragua, largely out of its own interest in the construction of a canal. US marines were permanently stationed in Nicaragua until 1925. Elections were held two months after their withdrawal, only to be followed by another coup by the Conservatives under the leadership of Chamorro. Once again civil war raged with widespread attacks undertaken against US investments. The rebellion was led by Vice President Mocada. US troops were once again sent in. Peace terms were offered and accepted by Mocada on behalf of the ’Liberal’ officers. There was, however, one exception: Sandino, or as he became known, ’the free man’s general’. He refused to accept the peace offer and began a guerrilla war which lasted until 1932.
The free man’s general Sandino’s stand rallied the sympathies of thousands of peasants and the urban masses. Having been betrayed by the ’Liberals’ and imbued with a hatred of US imperialism, his struggle captured the imagination throughout Nicaragua and Central America. Moreover, it drew international support with the memory of the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution of 1927 and the British General Strike of 1926, and was viewed by the activists who were touched by it as another struggle against imperialism. Banners supporting Sandino were even reported to have been carried in Peking in 1927.
The guerrilla army which started with only 27 recruits quickly grew and rose at its height to an armed force of about 3,000. Its support came mainly from peasants and the urban poor, not only from Nicaragua but throughout Central and Southern America. In its ranks were to be found youth from South America, Central America and even some Europeans and a few from Asia. This movement, limited though it was, terrified capitalism and US imperialism. As a result over 800 fully armed US marines were sent in an attempt to crush the guerrillas when they only numbered between 50 and 100 armed men. Sandino and his army conducted what can only be described as an extremely heroic struggle which has left a powerful tradition throughout Central and, to a certain extent, Southern America. At first they suffered some defeats but later won some very convincing military victories against the US and Nicaraguan forces.
The regime became enraged when it first failed to crush this movement, unleashing a reign of terror against the peasant masses. Mass executions, tortures and beatings took place in a completely indiscriminate manner. It served, however, only to increase the sympathy for Sandino’s army. The National Guard undertook much of the repression, having been established at the behest of US imperialism and then officered by it. One example of the ruthlessness deployed was in Ocotal, a small town which was looted by a group of peasants who were not from Sandino’s forces. The result was a mass bombing raid, killing over 300 in one attack. In Managua 70 bombers were flown in from the US and used in the countryside and throughout the country. After a brief interlude of negotiations US troops went onto the offensive. All those taken prisoner were immediately executed. The infamous ’waistcoat’ torture was established, whereby the victims had both arms cut off.
Against seemingly incredible odds and with few weapons the struggle was continued for some years. In 1932, after being given an assurance that US troops would be withdrawn and the safety of his fighters promised, Sandino agreed to surrender. It was a disastrous mistake from which many lessons can be learned, not least in the situation which has developed in the recent period. As the guerrillas drifted into the cities the so-called ’safety’ promised to his men proved nonexistent. They were taken by the National Guard and executed, under the orders of Somoza.
Later Sandino, after dining with government officials, was himself killed. Even in his death the dominance of US imperialism and the collaboration it enjoyed with the national bourgeois was clearly exposed. Somoza went to the President, declaring, "I have come from the US Embassy where I have had a conference with Ambassador Arturo Bliss, who has assured me that the government in Washington recommends the elimination of Augusto Sandino for considering him a disturber of peace in the country."
Sandino conducted an heroic struggle. However heroism is not enough for a successful struggle. In his analysis and method lay a fundamental weakness which would deny him victory – a weakness which unfortunately exists amongst the FSLN leadership today. For Sandino the struggle was purely military, the aim being to force US troops from Nicaraguan soil. Even if this aim had been achieved he failed to see that without a social revolution imperialism would still dominate economically. Moreover, it would do so working hand in glove with the national bourgeois.
As a result, he refused to allow the struggle to develop onto the social questions and would not recognise the existence of a struggle between the classes within Nicaragua. The movement was purely national, with no orientation towards winning and mobilising the support of the exploited masses throughout Central America, which could clearly have been achieved. How, after all, could a small nation such as Nicaragua defeat a mighty imperial power alone, without a class content to the movement?
The Somoza dictatorship
For Sandino it was thus "essentially a national thing". Whilst correctly concluding that "only the peasants and workers will go to the end", he did not grasp the necessary conclusion in relation to the social revolution, and made no real effort to build a base amongst the urban centres which were growing up at the time. The possibilities to win the young urban masses support for the revolution throughout Central America was demonstrated by events which took place in El Salvador where, in the first and last ’free’ elections held in 1931 the Labour Party was brought to power on the basis of a movement for land reform and a movement in the cities. In 1932 this was followed by local elections which resulted in large gains for the Communist Party. Even at this stage 10% of the workforce were organised into trade unions. An insurrection was called by the Communist Party, somewhat prematurely, and was crushed. However, these events clearly indicated what possibilities existed at the time.
Sandino however took another course: "Neither extreme right nor extreme left but a united front is our slogan. This being the case it is not illogical that our struggle should get co-operation from all social classes without ’ism’s or classifications."
With the withdrawal of American troops, a debate opened up within the Sandinistas over the developing social revolution. Sandino opposed it, having supported the expulsion of the ’Communists’ from his army beforehand. In part this was undoubtedly due to the ultra-left stand of ’social fascism’ etc adopted by the Comintern at the time, but it clearly indicated the fundamental weakness in the analysis of the ’free man’s general’. A ’patriotic group’ was established which urged Sandino to surrender, end the war and "allow stable conditions for business" to be established under the ’Liberal’ Sacasa who was President at that time. Sandino accepted and was then assassinated in 1934 after dining with Sacasa and Samoza.
The assassination prepared the way for a coup by the National Guard. Jarquin was named President, who then called rigged elections which brought Somoza to power in January 1937. Elections were banned in all the municipalities and the Presidential term extended. It opened the way for 40 years of dictatorship backed, and indeed brought to power, by US imperialism. Somoza became nothing more than a puppet for US imperialism. However, despite this ruthless repression, all opposition was not crushed. Most significantly in Managua it centred around the CTM (the Workers Confederation of Managua) with over 3,000 members in semi-underground conditions.
Somoza was assassinated in 1956, his place being taken firstly by his elder son who then, upon his death, passed power to his younger brother.
The Somoza dictatorship was a nightmare for the masses of Nicaragua, resulting in the slaughter of tens of thousands which went side by side with grinding poverty and misery. An estimated 30% of the population lacked anything approaching an adequate diet. As in all the colonial countries the industrialisation which took place brought with it no benefits in a material sense for the young proletariat in the cities.
This living hell for the mass of the Nicaraguan population was mirrored by the accumulation of a massive fortune by the Somoza family. By 1979 it was estimated to have amounted to US $150 million inside the country and millions more invested abroad. Apart from this, Somoza owned 150 separate industrial plants accounting for 25% of all industry and over IO% of cultivatable land. He also owned the only airline, a television station, a newspaper and the Mercedes Benz distribution agency.
Economic development of Nicaragua
Somoza saw his primary role, apart from increasing his own personal fortune, as defending the interests of US imperialism. As his son put it , his father was, "the only national leader the US could count on to bat 1000% for it in the United Nations." US imperialism regarded the Somoza dictatorship certainly as ,one of theirs’, if being somewhat embarrassed by certain ’excesses’. As Franklin Roosevelt put it, "Somoza may be a son of a bitch. But he is our son of a bitch."
Somoza ensured that in effect the entire state apparatus was transformed into his own private army, certainly this was the case as far as the 7,500 strong National Guard was concerned. To prevent it becoming infected by any movement of the peasants or workers, Somoza ensured that it was separated from the rest of society and given vast perks and privileges. Good wages were paid and to prevent officers striking up too friendly a relationship with the troops, they were regularly moved around, most being sent to the USA for training. Between 1946 and 1973, 4,120 officers and soldiers were officially sent to the US for these purposes. Nicaragua assumed a vital strategic role for the operations of US imperialism throughout Central America. It was from here that the ill-fated Bay of Pigs operation to crush the Cuban revolution was launched in 1961.
Over the preceding thirty years Nicaragua had become almost unrecognisable. Widespread industrialisation had taken place, largely by direct investment from multinationals and also by loans being given to the national bourgeois, who by Central American standards were relatively powerful. These loans and investments ensured that imperialism had the lion’s share and dominated the economy. Thus by 1972 the foreign debt stood at US $255 million, rising to a staggering US $1,000 million by 1978. The US had important investments in critical sectors of the economy but the national bourgeois had an important influence in light industry. The industrialisation largely took place throughout the 1950s, resulting in the strengthening of the industrial working class as thousands of ex-peasants came into the cities, especially Managua, from the countryside
Cotton overtook coffee, livestock and sugar as the main basis of the economy. Output rose from 3,300 tonnes in 1950 to 125,000 tonnes in 1965. By 1970 light industry was equal to agriculture as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product. By 1976 it was slightly ahead at 24% as compared to 23%. As a result, the agricultural population fell from 60% of the total in 1960 to 44% by 1977. The urban workers employed in industry, construction and mining constituted 16-18% of the total workforce by 1975-a greater percentage than in pre-revolutionary Russia.
Even in land relations an important development was under way with a certain establishment of capitalist land relations. The concentration of land into a few hands went alongside the growth of land labourers as opposed to peasants who still constituted the majority. A tiny clique of 1,600 (1.5% people held 45.1 % of all cultivated land and 20.3% held a further 41.1% The poorest 78% of peasants held a mere 17% of the land. The total number of agricultural labourers stood at 310,000.
Struggles of the 1970’s
Nicaragua, like the rest of the colonial world, never enjoyed the fruits of the boom years of capitalism, the cream being carried off by the imperialist powers. However, between 1969 and 1974 a recession hit the Nicaraguan economy which had devastating effects. During this period 292 factories, or 37% of the total, closed down. Inflation also rose. The grave digger of capitalist society, the industrial proletariat, moved into action during this period, as a young and fresh working class. The industrialisation had aroused tremendous expectations amongst the workers s. However, when these expectations were not fulfilled and the economy moved into recession, the proletariat began to flex its muscles and use its newly acquired strength. It coincided with a movement amongst the peasants and a struggle being conducted by the FSLN guerrillas, and culminated in the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in July 1979.
Throughout the 1970’s a considerable movement of the working class took place in the cities. Strikes broke out amongst the teachers, construction workers and health workers. These struggles were mirrored by a movement in the countryside of land seizures and vicious battles involving the National Guard. It was during this movement that the FSLN began to gain an authority and reputation amongst the peasants and land labourers. Because of the lack of any other serious force, after a period of time it also gained a reputation in the cities partly because it was against the FSLN that the hated regime directed a large part of its propaganda and repression. This movement of the workers and peasants terrified both US imperialism and the Somoza dictatorship. Above anything else both the imperialist powers and the national bourgeois of the colonial countries fear a movement of the masses.
By 1977 the construction workers had again been drawn into struggle and demonstrated themselves to be one of the most militant sections of the Nicaraguan proletariat. In the countryside a civil war was in effect taking place. In 1978 major struggles erupted at Leon Esteli, Chirandega and Masaya between the National Guard and armed groups. Eventually the National Guard bombed these small towns killing over 6,000. Masaya held out against the assault for a week. The heroism and determination to struggle was tremendous. In the two years preceding the fall of the dictatorship a staggering 50,000 or 2% of the entire population was killed.
Sections of the national bourgeois, fearing such developments, began to move into opposition against the dictatorship. Adopting a strategy of trying to ease out the regime, they hoped to be able to control the movement of the workers and peasants. In this they were wholly unsuccessful, at least in part due to the determination of Somoza to hang on to power. These divisions had begun to appear as early as 1970 with a split opening up between the Conservative Party and Somoza’s National Liberal Party and were reinforced in the light of the earthquake which hit Nicaragua in 1972, destroying Managua. Foreign aid was rushed in, but little found its way to assist those capitalists who had seen their factories and investments destroyed and who needed compensation and the rebuilding of the infrastructure which capitalism requires-none found its way to help the workers and peasants. Somoza, on the other hand, was able to line his pockets still further.
Given the conditions which were developing, had a genuine Marxist party existed, the revolution could have been developed along the more classical lines of events in Russia of 1917, bringing to power a regime of workers democracy, as a springboard to developing the revolution throughout Central and Southern America and then to the advanced capitalist countries and even the USA. The three objective conditions for revolution laid down by Lenin existed. The bourgeois was split under the pressure of the movement of the masses. The middle layers of society were increasingly radicalised and being brought into the struggle as demonstrated by the strikes amongst the teachers and health workers. A massive movement was under way in the countryside and the working class was willing to struggle. It was the lack of the fourth condition, a Marxist party, which resulted in the revolution taking a distorted and somewhat peculiar route.
In December 1974 a section of the bourgeois formed what they called a ’broad front’, the Democratic Liberation Union, UDEL, with certain trade union organisations. Seeing the development of the revolution US imperialism began to look at possible ways to prevent an explosion and gave their backing to UDEL as a possible ’Liberal’ alternative to the dictatorship.
The Sandinista FSLN had carried out a series of guerrilla attacks during this period which had provoked a massive wave of repression. Somoza calculated that he had crushed them and lifted the State of Emergency in 1977. However, rather than intimidating the movement„ this wave of repression provoked an enormous reaction. In November 1977, UDEL published an appeal calling for a ’democratic alternative’ to Somoza which would include the FSLN. The appeal was carried in the conservative daily, La Prensa which was edited by UDEL leader Chamorro. As a result Chamorro was assassinated in 1978. Revolution sometimes needs the whip of counter revolution, for this killing unleashed a new and decisive movement.
The overthrow of Somoza
UDEL and the trade unions called a general strike to coincide with Chamorros funeral. An estimated 120,000 participated. It was a crucial turning point for the revolution and for the first time a generalised urban mobilisation took place. It terrified those bourgeois who, up until then, had thrown their support behind UDEL. As a result, in July 1978, they established a new organisation, FAO, which was made up of sections of the bourgeois and one wing of the FSLN, Las Terceristas. This undertook negotiations with the USA to try and establish a ’moderate’ solution to the crisis. The FSLN withdrew when negotiations with the USA opened. The FAO then undertook direct negotiations with Somoza. The bourgeois were desperate to try and prevent a social explosion. As a result of its negotiations with Somoza, the FAO lost most of the influence which it had built up amongst the masses. Events had driven the workers and peasants beyond the idea of a ’chat’ with the hated dictator.
The FSLN had been conducting a struggle in the countryside, and due to the lack of an organised alternative, had also developed a powerful reputation within the cities. This was despite the fact that it was a small organisation of no more than 500 armed activists at any given point in time. It was divided into three fractions advocating a variety of ideas, but dominated by the idea of a guerrilla struggle, as a substitute for the conscious movement of the working class, with the support of the poor peasants, to seize power.
By February 1979, a new organisation had been established including the three fractions of the FSLN, some trade unions and a few minor bourgeois groupings. Having previously been compelled to suspend military activity, by March the unified FSLN opened a new offensive. The regime was totally isolated, with only the National Guard prepared to lend it any support.
A massive social explosion erupted, and the FSLN then issued a call for a mobilisation of the masses. On June 10th a spontaneous general strike broke out in Managua. Sections of the National Guard tried to make a stand but were overwhelmed by the enormous movement which took place. The regime was overthrown and beaten. The National Guard fled, later to form the basis of the present day ’Contras’.
From Costa Rica, in exile, the Sandinista leaders returned and announced the formation of a Provisional Government made up of three Sandinistas and two bourgeois politicians. They marched into Managua and found themselves placed at the head of the movement. The Provisional Government was renamed the Junta of National Reconstruction JGRN.
The bourgeois state machine had collapsed! What, however, has replaced it? And what are the perspectives for the Nicaraguan revolution? In order to more fully understand the class basis of the state which has been established, and answer the two questions posed above, it is necessary first of all to look at the ideas and history of the FSLN.
in the light of such a rising the impression has been implanted that the Sandinistas are carrying through the socialist revolution. Unfortunately it has been their failure to do exactly that which is now putting the revolution in jeopardy. Above all else, the socialist revolution consists of a conscious movement by the proletariat to take power into its hands, through the establishment of a workers’ democracy, based upon the lessons of the experiences of the Paris Commune of 1871 and then clarified in the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin summarised such a state to rest on the following fundamentals: the abolition of the standing army and its replacement with the arming of the people, all officials to be elected and subject to immediate recall at anytime, all officials to receive the same wages as a skilled worker, popular participation in all administration and the rotation o’ senior positions with the management and control of society by workers’ councils Soviets.
A state apparatus based upon these foundations unfortunately does not exist in Nicaragua at the present time. Moreover, the regime was overthrown by a spontaneous rising from below, rather than a conscious movement by the proletariat to seize power. Into this movement has been injected the ideas of guerrillaism which have particularly eclipsed the method of proletarian struggle, due to the guerrilla movement which took place and the ideas of the FSLN. Thus we have seen the development of a revolution which has lacked the decisive leadership of the proletariat in conscious form, and impregnated with the false ideas of guerrillaism.
Compare this with the October revolution in Russia, which had been consciously prepared by the Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky and where the proletariat was imbued with the perspective of the international revolution to ensure the success of the revolution and allow for the construction of a socialist society.
In other similar situations the revolution has been carried through, but in a distorted manner. In Cuba, for example, capitalism was abolished but instead of a regime of workers’ democracy, a bureaucratic one party totalitarian state was established. A regime which was, and to a lesser extent still is today, enormously popular, but which is not a workers’ democracy. In Nicaragua however, the Sandinistas have not taken the revolution to a conclusion, in the sense of overthrowing capitalism, which still predominates in relation to the economy.
Thus the Sandinistas have found themselves at the head of a new state apparatus, and permitted capitalism to predominate in the market place! What has given rise to this apparently curious phenomenon?
Unfortunately, the leadership of the FSLN have not learnt from the experience of the Russian Revolution nor of the international working class. Tragically they have fallen not under the influence of the Bolshevism of Lenin and Trotsky but have taken up the mantle of Menshevism. For in reality they have accepted the so called two stages theory. They held a perspective that a ’progressive’ wing of capitalism existed, that with the fall of the dictatorship a period of capitalist development would be necessary during which they could share power with the bourgeois. They had no perspective for the socialist revolution. For the Sandinistas it is fundamentally a ’national affair’. If such a perspective was doomed to failure from the standpoint of the socialist revolution in 1927, then how much more so is it today? With the increased monopolisation of capitalism and the development of the world market, no revolution or nation can set itself aside from either the international market nor, for a successful revolution, from its development to an international level. From the standpoint of Marxism and the interests of the world revolution and those of the Nicaraguan workers and peasants, the issue is not the good intentions or otherwise of the FSLN leadership. Their heroism is not the issue. The question is how to obtain a lasting victory for the masses as a whole.
The FSLN traces its history back to 1962, being created by Carlos Fonseca, Silvio Mayorga and Tomas Borge. Many of its founding members were drawn from the pro Moscow orientated PSN (Nicaraguan Socialist Party), fundamentally because they were dissatisfied with the lack of a serious or combative struggle being waged against the dictatorship. At the same time they had been tremendously inspired by the development of the revolution in Cuba. Fonseca had met Che Guevara in Cuba one year after the FSLN began its campaign inside Nicaragua. Its initial strategy was that of a classical guerrilla struggle in the countryside. By taking up arms they hoped to be able to develop the conflict to the point where, with the sympathies of the mass of the peasants, a victory could be achieved. Between 1962 and 1967 such a struggle was undertaken.
This method was false from beginning to end, especially given the industrial development of the country in the preceding years. With its handful of members the FSLN tried to substitute ,,elf for a movement of the masses, especially in the towns. By basing itself on a movement of the workers in the towns and a movement of the peasants in the countryside, and with a Marxist programme. perspective and party, the revolution could have resulted in the establishment of a workers’ democracy. But for the leaders of the FSLN such ideas were a closed book.
Marxism ha: always explained that it as ’he industrial workers, organised together in the factories and workplaces, w ho are compelled to struggle as a class, and which will play the decisive role in the revolution. Behind their banner other exploited layers, such as the poor peasants, intellectuals, students and the urban petty bourgeois can be drawn. Any attempt ,o substitute a tiny organisation for such a movement can never result in the establishment of a workers democracy which is the basis for the resolution of the problems of the bourgeois democratic revolution, through the development of the socialist revolution at an international level. Any organisation which attempts to substitute itself for such a movement will inevitably become isolated from the masses, leading to mistrust and a contempt for the masses, thus laying the seeds for a bureaucratic clique at a later stage.
Marxism strives for the maximum participation by the working class and peasantry. However, in doing so, it in no way rejects the necessity for the masses to take up arms, including the peasantry organising a war in the countryside, which in Nicaragua would assume a critical role: but always as an auxiliary to a movement in the towns. The Sandanista leaders, however, viewed the movement in the towns as auxiliary, and even imagined that a relatively small organisation would conduct such a struggle. The attitude of the FSLN was underlined by Daniel Ortega when he declared, "we underestimated the masses." Thus, even amongst the peasantry, whilst developing widespread sympathy and support, no attempt was made to build a mass party.
By 1970 the FSLN had suffered some heavy defeats and was forced to suspend its activity for a period. This led to an open discussion within the FSLN. Three clear tendencies had developed: a majority led by Ortega, ’Las Terceristas’; the GPP (the Prolonged Guerrilla War) under the leadership of Tomas Borge; and the smallest, ’the Proletarian Tendency’ under the leadership of Jaime Wheelock.
A clear majority favoured some kind of guerrilla war, although some differences existed as to which kind. ’Las Terceristas’ favoured taking the campaign to the cities following the example of the Tupamaros in Uruguay, after which they hoped the working class would follow them and their bombing campaign. But such a campaign at best would lower the consciousness of the working class, for only the working class can carry through its own emancipation. ’Why should we fight if they will do it for us?’ would inevitably be the most positive outcome of such a position. No effort was made by the ’Terceristas’ to build a party of the proletariat in the cities. At the same time, they supported an alliance with certain sections of the national bourgeoisie.
The GPP favoured a long struggle in the countryside with no reference to the cities at all. The ’Proletarian Tendency’ argued that the FSLN must root itself amongst the working class. Whilst this signified a step forward, they lacked the necessary programme to do so. In 1975 the ’Proletarian Tendency’ was expelled from the FSLN. It was with a clear majority favouring a guerrilla struggle that the FSLN found itself in power in 1979.
Character of the state
With the smashing of the Somoza state apparatus the FSLN has become the state apparatus. The hypocrisy of US imperialism in its denunciation of the ’repression’ in Nicaragua has surpassed all levels, for Nicaragua in reality has been the most democratic state in Central America since the revolution in 1979. The elections which were held in 1984 indicated the overwhelming support that the FSLN has enjoyed. Within four days over 80% of all those over the age of 16 had registered to vote and gave Ortega a greater measure of support than that achieved by Reagan in the US Presidential elections. However the state apparatus which has been constructed will not allow the management of society to be in the hands of the workers and poor peasants. In essence once again it has boiled down to ’we will do it on your behalf. The state apparatus has been modelled on Cuba, and as such, despite the tremendous enthusiasm which still exists for the revolution, it would be a mistake to think that a genuine workers’ democracy, beginning to lay the basis for the socialist construction of society, now exists in Nicaragua. This applies to both the state apparatus and property relations. Moreover, on its present course, nor is it capable of moving in such a direction.
The character of the state apparatus is a reflection of the FSLN itself. As an organisation it never took on the characteristics of a healthy workers’ party. It was and still is a tightly controlled organisation which excludes the mass of workers and peasants from its ranks. Thus by January 1981, nearly two years after the revolution, it had a mere 500 members. This was increased to 5,000 and again to 12,000. Even now membership is narrow and restricted to a selected few, who are given specialised training for Government appointments. The Sandinistas argue that the restrictions on membership have been necessary to prevent the infiltration of counter revolutionaries and careerists. Measures to safeguard against such threats are clearly required. However, exactly the opposite has occurred. A party with a mass, active and above all politically conscious membership is the way to safeguard against such a development. A party with a restricted membership, which as we shall see is not controlled by the working class, will pave the way for a rising and privileged group at the top.
This restrictive nature of the party finds its further reflection in the state apparatus. For here control and management is not in the hands of the working class and peasantry. All direction and policy making is instead in the hands of the FSLN leadership, specifically the National Directorate. Since the elections the President has had the major powers concentrated in his hands. The Sandinistas point to the development of mass organisations of the trade unions (CST), rural workers associations (ATC), the youth movement (MJ19) and above all the Sandinista Defence Committees(CDS), as the basis of control by the masses. The explosive growth of these organisations after the revolution is undeniable and illustrates the support for the Sandinistas and the enthusiasm for the revolution. The CDSs number 12,000, with an estimated participation of 500,000. However, power is not in their hands. The CDSs, it is true, have a certain autonomy over local issues of a day to day character. However they are more in the mode of a transition belt for FSLN leaders to pass the decisions down. At the same time they act as a sounding board for a certain consultation. They do not control or determine policy and neither is the government under their control. It is often pointed out that this is the function of the National Assembly. This however has little effective power which is firmly concentrated in the so-called Directorate.
This apparatus in no way compares with the Soviet democracy which existed after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Lenin and Trotsky fought against any development of careerism or bureaucracy, but not by preventing workers from entering the party. Membership of the Bolsheviks exploded from 8,000 in February to 240,000 on the eve of the October revolution. The Communist Party of Russia degenerated because of the objective conditions which developed, most specifically the defeat of the world revolution at the time. The Soviet form of government was not comparable with the CDSs in Nicaragua. The Soviets made tip the government and determined policy at national and local level. They were elected from the workplaces, with delegates from the peasants and soldiers. All were subject to recall at any time.
Economy still in private hands
By contrast, in Nicaragua the state apparatus, although popular, still has the characteristics of those which emerged in Cuba, China, Yugoslavia and others – regimes which in the early period enjoyed tremendous support, but not regimes of workers’ democracy.
These regimes however carried out the abolition of landlordism and capitalism, thus marking a step forward. This has not been undertaken by the Sandinistas. In Nicaragua the economy is stilt in private hands.
With the coming of the revolution the bourgeois overwhelmingly passed over to support the Contras, and are determined to crush the revolution. Some of these bourgeois were taken into the government by the Sandinistas in the early stages of the movement. Arturo Cruz leader of the CDN, was actually brought into the government in 1980. He in effect endorsed US intervention and denounced the elections as ’undemocratic’. The two original bourgeois representatives in the Government passed over to the contras almost immediately. The national bourgeois will not accept the Sandinista state because it is not their state. This is despite the attempts of the Sandinistas to appease them, flowing from their belief in the existence of the non-existent ’progressive wing’ of the bourgeois. For the bourgeois to rule they need their own state apparatus upon which to rely.
The Sandinistas, contrary to popular belief, have not taken over the decisive sections of the economy. As they themselves explained in their programme, Plan for Struggle: "At the same time, we set ourselves the aim of regulating the participation in our country’s development of foreign capital from other states and private companies within the mixed economy framework (my emphasis which offers room both for the functioning of the enterprises of the peoples property sector and for those in the hands of the private owners that correspond to the interests of national development. . . " In reality, it has meant that the capitalist class still have control of the economy. This is so despite the fact that the properties of Somoza were nationalised: 168 factories, accounting for 25% of industrial plant and employing 13,000 of the 65,000 strong industrial proletariat. However it still left 60% of the economy in private hands. Thus the multi- national giants of Exxon and General Mills were left untouched. In fact the JGRN decreed in its proclamation number 3, that only finance, mining, fishing and all plants belonging to Somoza could be nationalised. In relation to the agricultural sector, private ownership has been even more dominant. Eabier Garvstiaga of the Ministry of Planning claimed in 1981 that, "very few people realise that 80% of agricultural production is in the hands of the private sector as is 75% of industrial production." A more detailed breakdown illustrates the point still further: 72% of cotton production, 53% of coffee, 58% of cattle and 51% of sugar production remain in private hands. Some would claim that these figures give a distorted view because in the agricultural sector most of the land is held by small land owners. Such a claim once again does not stand up to reality. Despite quite a widespread land distribution programme the 200,000 smallest farmers still only have 14% of the land. Reality is concrete!
Such a situation has left the Sandinistas in the worst of both possible worlds. They have terrified, or the masses have terrified, the bourgeois, but by leaving the economy in their hands have left it open to sabotage and chaos. For the bourgeois, as well as having given support to the Contras have, from the beginning, embarked on a programme of economic destabilisation. The capitalists demonstrated their gratitude for the massive state subsidies and reductions in taxes on profits by a massive de-capitalisation programme and strike of investment. Thus the public sector contributed 15% to GDP in 1977 and 41% in 1980. This was in part due to some nationalisations but also due to the reduction in the GDP because of the sabotage by the bourgeois. The economy is thus functioning at 60% of capacity. This has been worsened by the accumulation of a massive foreign debt which by 1981 meant that 40% of all export earnings went to service it.
Following the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship it is clear that a Marxist party would have encountered some problems in a small backward country like Nicaragua. However it has been made worse by the refusal of the Sandinista regime to take over the commanding heights of the economy and establish a centralised democratic state plan of production under democratic workers control and management. On the other hand they have reinforced the problems and strengthened the hand of US imperialism by a refusal to try and spread the revolution throughout Central and Southern America and establish a Socialist Federation of Central and Southern American States, which would be the only way to resolve the problems and develop a socialist society in a country such as Nicaragua.
Role of Moscow
The Sandinista leaders view the matter as ’a national affair’. Imperialism does not! Thus Tomas Borge declared on May Day 1982, "With the victory of the revolution a new phase begins. It is still necessary to unite the widest possible strata of Nicaraguan society to confront the common enemy of all Nicaraguans, which is US imperialism. This new phase, after victory, puts the main emphasis on the defence of the nation, on the struggle to have our national sovereignty respected,