TROTSKYISM AND THE DEFENSE OF THE NICARAGUAN REVOLUTION
Draft Resolution on
Presented by the Comrades Who Signed the "Appeal for the Establishment of a Left Tendency in the Fourth International for the XIII World Congress"
1. The victory of the National Union of the Opposition (UNO) in the elections of 25 February 1990 represents a massive blow to the Nicaraguan revolution. It came after more than ten years of bitter struggle against the determined efforts of imperiali! sm, and specifically of US imperialism, to crush a revolution which posed a threat to its domination of the region and which clearly had mass support. US imperialism organized, armed, and sustained the bloody Contra war, in which 50,000 Nicaraguans were kil! led and tens of thousands more maimed, injured, orphaned, and rendered homeless, while an economic blockade imposed by the US devastated the Nicaraguan economy.
The Soviet bureaucracy limited its support to what was adequate for Nicaragua's mere survival. As Soviet relations with imperialism became more friendly under Gorbachev, this limited support was increasingly used to pressure the FSLN towards an accommodatio! n with the US. This Soviet pressure dovetailed with the efforts of Latin American bourgeois governments through the Contadora Group and the Arias Plan (for example, the temporary suspension of Soviet oil supplies to Nicaragua in early 1989, prior to accepta! nce of the Arias Plan).
The February election result was, then, a victory for the murderous warfare, sabotage, and isolation inflicted on Nicaragua by imperialism, aided by Gorbachev's treachery, which had driven the Nicaraguan economy to exhaustion and the Nicaraguan people to st! arvation.
Since taking office on 25 April 1990, the UNO government has attempted to attack the gains of the revolution while sanctioning the development of former Contra elements as a military force within the country. These attacks have met with significant resistan! ce, beginning with militant strikes in May 1990. However, given the overall situation, including inevitable disorientation among the working class and the oppressed masses, there is the real danger of a defeat that would crush the hopes of the Nicaraguan ma! sses and greatly strengthen imperialism, not only in Central America but throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. This danger is all the greater given the general imperialist offensive expressed most brutally in the war against Iraq.
2. In the face of these threats Trotskyists must recognize the urgency of defending the Nicaraguan revolution. But to defend the Nicaraguan revolution in any meaningful way, we must understand it. This requires an analysis of the revolution itself an! d the main lines of its development since the Sandinista victory in 1979. Further, the recent setbacks suffered by the Sandinista leadership raise critical questions that can only be answered through a probing reassessment of our International's attitude an! d intervention in Nicaragua during the period of Sandinista rule.
Unfortunately, the document entitled "Central America Today," adopted by our International Executive Committee (IEC) in June 1990, fails to provide either the necessary Marxist analysis or a reassessment of our International's role. It contains, in Section ! 10, an analysis of the revolution and the Sandinista regime which ignores the role of the working class, the international context of the revolution, and the balance of class forces. It reasserts past positions while ignoring all the problems which these po! se. This leads, in Section 12, to a treatment of the defense of the revolution which avoids any suggestion of an independent program and ends in a simple statement of faith in the Sandinista leadership.
The analysis of the Nicaraguan revolution ignores the lessons of the colonial and neocolonial revolutions of the last seventy years.
The Nicaraguan revolution was, more than anything else, a national, popular, democratic, and anti-imperialist revolution where the class-struggle demands were not the central ones. This is not unimportant. This limited class-struggle profile was not due, as! some sectarians could think, to the weakness of the leadership or a policy of alliances with the leadership. The explanation is a little deeper. The Sandinista strategy for taking power was the only one possible in a country like Nicaragua. (Internation! al Marxist Review, vol. 5, no. 1, p. 38)
This document argues that the particular character of the country required the substitution of the Sandinista leadership for the working class. In place of the leadership of the working class, the IEC gives us
...the concept of the pueblo ("the people") as not only the sum of the sectors that form the driving force of the revolution, but also the ones who are going [sic] in the direction of building another society where exploitation will not exist. The pe! ople are those underneath, the poor of Latin America...The state that was formed answered to them.
This series of superficial statements abandons the Trotskyist perspective of permanent revolution in favor of the empiricism and eclecticism of the Sandinista leaders. The document simply liquidates the perspective of working-class leadership of the oppress! ed masses in the national, democratic, anti-imperialist struggle into the undifferentiated notion of "the people." The necessity of the independence of the working class in the struggle against the national bourgeoisie is ignored, since it is the view of th! e IEC majority that the proletarian revolution can be won on the basis of the national and democratic tasks alone. And this text effectively repudiates Trotsky's central argument that the perspective of permanent revolution derives from the character of the! world economy as a whole, appealing instead to the "special" character of "a country like Nicaragua."
Yet, despite all this, the regime that resulted from the Sandinista revolution is characterized as a workers' state.
To think that the Sandinista revolution did not qualitatively modify the type of state that existed under Somoza is not to understand anything about the revolution in the colonial and semicolonial world.
In our past debates on the character of the Sandinista revolution, the Socialist Workers Party of the United States (SWP) and its cothinkers argued that the Nicaraguan revolution proves the possibility of "workers' and farmers' governments" -- essentially m! eaning Lenin's old formula of a "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" -- as a distinct stage leading to socialism, and thus the irrelevance of the theory of permanent revolution. Alarmed by this explicit rejection of Trotskyism, the! international majority has defended its accommodation to the politics of the FSLN by declaring that the Sandinistas have created a workers' state.
The only evidence advanced for this claim (quite understandably rejected by the Sandinistas themselves!) is that the Sandinistas were forced to destroy the Somocista state apparatus, replacing it with the Sandinista army and militia as "the framework! of the new state." There is no attempt to explain how it is that this "workers' state" -- not even a deformed workers' state -- never had soviets or equivalent bodies, nor how, after ten years, 60 per cent of the means of production have remained in privat! e hands. In other words, the state presided over by the Sandinistas -- a petty-bourgeois political movement -- is declared a workers' state without reference either to the actual class-character of the political power controlling it or the nature of the mod! e of production on which it is based and which it defends.
It is thus not surprising that, in some four pages, Section 12 has not one word on the program for defending the revolution nor a single criticism of the FSLN, except for the warning that
...the Sandinista discourse on respect for electoral legitimacy poses innumerable problems.
It concludes with a statement of blind optimism about the outcome of a struggle in which there is clearly no role for Trotskyism.
Because of the character of the leadership, as well as the immense economic difficulties that the UNO confronts, we are confident that social hegemony will be recovered and that the Sandinistas will return to government on the basis of a legitimate reconque! st. (p. 45)
3. The FSLN, from its origins to the present, has been a radical petty-bourgeois nationalist movement. Led and dominated by urban petty-bourgeois elements, historically the FSLN built its base primarily among the peasantry. The FSLN's fundamental aim! has been national independence from imperialism. Before 1979 the dominant Sandinista leaders sought to achieve national independence through a struggle for power centered on a guerrillaist strategy, in which the proletarian class struggle was seen as, at b! est, a secondary element. Since taking power, the Sandinistas have sought to keep power and advance Nicaraguan national independence primarily through a series of maneuvers aimed at balancing class forces domestically and internationally, in order to gain s! pace for the construction of an independent "mixed economy" in Nicaragua.
The Sandinistas' "socialism" has consisted in part in populist rhetoric addressed to "the people", to the poor and oppressed, as the basis of the nation, and in part in the assignment of special importance to the development of a large nationalized sector i! n the "mixed economy" as a sort of economic anchor for independence from imperialism. At the same time, however, the Sandinistas have always assigned a strategic role in the struggle for Nicaraguan independence to the "patriotic" bourgeoisie.
In these respects, the FSLN was not especially unusual in the post-World War II neocolonial world. What was unusual is that the FSLN took power on the basis of a profound popular revolution which destroyed the Somoza dictatorship and which thereby destroyed! the fundamental structure of the bourgeois state itself, which had been strictly identified with the regime of the Somoza family for decades. As a result, the formal structures of the government were subordinated to the FSLN leadership, which was compelled! to establish a state apparatus dependent on itself, based on the structures of the Sandinista movement. (While unusual, this experience is not unique: Angola and Mozambique in the 1970s presented fundamentally similar developments.)
Initially the FSLN leadership attempted to implement its popular-front orientation by setting up the Government of National Reconstruction (GNR), including important representatives of the bourgeoisie. However, this government was powerless to act other tha! n through the FSLN, which was constrained from making certain concessions to the bourgeoisie by the existence of tremendous mass mobilizations in rural and urban areas. The bourgeoisie was powerless to prevent nationalization of Somocista property. H! owever, the FSLN itself did all in its power to hold back mass action from going beyond this. Peasants occupying land owned by the anti-Somoza bourgeoisie were ejected by the FSLN-organized peasant union (the ATC) and the state agrarian reform agency (the I! NRA).
The FSLN adopted a strategy of bureaucratizing the independent organs that had been formed by the workers and peasants during the revolution and its immediate aftermath and incorporating these mass organizations into the reconstructed state apparatus. The C! ivil Defense Committees formed spontaneously in the revolution were curbed and bureaucratically incorporated into the Sandinista Defense Committees, and the neighborhood militias which had been formed in many areas were incorporated into the army.
Inevitably this strategy involved attempts to suppress the activity of forces to the left of the FSLN, in particular the Popular Action Movement (Movimiento de Accion Popular: MAP) and its trade union wing, the Workers Front (Frente Obrero), t! he Revolutionary Marxist League (Liga Marxista Revolucionaria: LMR -- the former Nicaraguan sympathizing section of our International), and the Simon Bolivar Brigade. It is not necessary to identify with the politics of these organizations to recogni! ze that they were fighting around important interests of the workers and peasants -- for independent unions, for back-payment of lost wages, against the disarming of the militias and the takeover of the Civil Defense Committees.
At this moment, the leadership of our International defended neither these demands and others of similar importance to the proletarian class struggle in Nicaragua (demands which the June 1990 document declares "not central" and "limited") nor the forces tha! t were fighting for them. On the contrary, it supported the FSLN leadership and the Sandinista leaders' attacks on their left opponents. On the expulsion of the Simon Bolivar Brigade, a delegation from the United Secretariat declared, in a public letter to ! the FSLN leadership:
To defend this revolution means to support the struggle whose vanguard is the FSLN. All activities which seek today to create divisions between the mobilized masses and the FSLN are contrary to the interests of the revolution...
In a political and economic situation that required the greatest possible unity in struggle, the FSLN was right to demand that the non-Nicaraguan members of this group -- which defined itself above all as a military organization -- leave the country. ("Stat! ement by United Secretariat Delegation," 3 September 1979; Intercontinental Press, 24 September 1979)
This was followed by the United Secretariat resolution of 1 October 1979 which called on Trotskyists to act
...as loyal militants in the framework of the organization which led the overthrow of Somoza and leads this revolution.
These and other public statements by our leadership called for Trotskyists to unite politically with the FSLN leadership -- in maintaining the GNR popular front, protecting "patriotic" bourgeois property, and suppressing or bureaucratizing the independent o! rganizations of mass struggle. These statements have remained the basis for all the subsequent positions of our international organization, up to the present. It is thus essential that these statements, including the public declaration of support for the ex! pulsion of the Simon Bolivar Brigade, be repudiated.
4. Despite its popular-frontist methods, the FSLN could not preserve the GNR. The antagonism of US imperialism, the collapse of the bourgeois state apparatus, the weakness of the anti-Somoza bourgeoisie, and the continuing pressure of the masses arou! sed by the revolution, even where (and in part because) this was bureaucratically channelled into the Sandinista mass organizations, produced growing strains between the FSLN and the GNR. This led to the collapse of the GNR, with the resignation of the main! bourgeois leaders and the creation by the FSLN of an unelected Council of State.
This did not, however, signify the emergence of a deformed workers' state (let alone a healthy workers' state). The FSLN was and has remained committed to the preservation of bourgeois property (apart from Somocista property) and thus to a political ! opening to the bourgeoisie. Moreover, the Stalinist bureaucrats of the USSR and Cuba, on whose support the FSLN regime depended for its survival against US imperialism, saw a social overturn in Nicaragua as contrary to their interests. Castro declared that ! the Sandinistas were correct not to expropriate the bourgeoisie and that if he could turn the clock back in Cuba, he would not go so far again. The Stalinists thus have confirmed the FSLN's own petty-bourgeois outlook.
This highly contradictory and unstable situation survived for a decade. The key factor making this contradictory situation possible has been the survival of the gains of the October revolution in the distorted form of the degenerated workers' state of the S! oviet Union. The economic, political, and military power based on the Soviet collectivized economy, despite the stagnation and accumulating crisis of that economy over the 1980s, continued to inhibit imperialism, particularly in the wake of the defeats of i! mperialism in Vietnam and elsewhere in the 1970s. It is essentially this that made it possible for the Sandinista government to survive as long as it did, despite its acutely contradictory character.
On the one hand, the power of the FSLN government was based on its domination of the mass movement that made and grew out of the revolution, with its aspirations for social justice and freedom from imperialism. On the other hand, the Sandinista leadership i! tself has always been imbued with a petty-bourgeois conception of maximizing national economic development through combining capitalist and collectivized property, thus in reality preserving the domination of the capitalist mode of production in Nica! ragua. In power, the FSLN was able to assert a relative independence from imperialism while carrying out measures amounting to an attack on bourgeois economic and political power which went considerably beyond the program of bourgeois nationalism. Bu! t the totality of its measures still fell far short of the creation of a collectivized economy and a workers' state.
Under the Sandinista government, the Nicaraguan economy remained, both domestically and in its international relationships, a capitalist economy. Capitalist economic relations prevailed over the public sector and the nationalized elements of the Nica! raguan economy. The government dominated by the FSLN defended bourgeois property. Yet the Sandinista government attached an importance to the development of the public economic sector different from that of a normal neocolonial bourgeois-nationalist governm! ent. In effect, the Sandinistas saw the public sector of the Nicaraguan economy as to some extent the basis of a future socialist economy.
Based on a predominantly capitalist economy, the Nicaraguan state under the Sandinistas remained a bourgeois state. Moreover, the Sandinista regime never moved to destroy bourgeois political power decisively. The FSLN government vacillated between it! s mass base among the workers and the poor toilers of the countryside and the interests and spokespersons of the domestic capitalists and landowners, just as it vacillated between the development of the public sector and the preservation and development of ! private property relations in industry and land to which it was "equally" committed. Nevertheless, although the FSLN government presided over a capitalist state, it was not politically dominated by the bourgeoisie. Control of the government rested in the ha! nds of a radical petty-bourgeois bureaucratic apparatus, the Sandinista regime headed by the leadership of the FSLN itself.
5. The character of the Sandinista regime contained the basis for its own defeat. Its contradictory character and utopian perspectives played into the hands of imperialism. The root of the problem lies in the narrowly national perspective of the FSLN! , when in fact the Nicaraguan economy could not be developed organically within the limits of its own national framework on either a capitalist or a collectivized basis. The reactionary-utopian attempt to combine the two merely created the opening for the r! eassertion of bourgeois power.
While the defense of the revolution demanded its deepening and extension -- expropriation of the bourgeoisie, arming the workers and peasants under the control of democratically elected soviets, support for spreading the revolution throughout the region -- ! the FSLN left 60 per cent of the means of production in the hands of the bourgeois "fifth column" and attempted to protect itself by improving relations with Latin American national bourgeois regimes.
This political orientation became an increasingly critical threat to the revolution as the international conditions which allowed the regime's survival changed. The rapid change in the relations between imperialism and the Soviet bureaucracy in the late 198! 0s left the Sandinistas increasingly at the mercy of bourgeois forces. Under pressure from the Stalinists, the FSLN sought peaceful accommodation with imperialism: trying to promote foreign investment, imposing IMF-style austerity programs, seeking compromi! ses with the US through the agency of the Contadora Group and through the Arias Plan.
The Arias Plan was a weapon to force concession after concession from the FSLN with nothing given in return. It meant increasing the power of the bourgeoisie, including the freedom of action of internal counterrevolutionary forces, as the economy slid into ! deeper and deeper crisis, with hyperinflation destroying the living standards of the masses and the government launching serious attacks on the masses (the January 1989 austerity plan involved laying off one-third of public-sector workers and freezing wages! in the face of astronomical inflation). Internationally it meant the FSLN recognizing the "legitimacy" of the right-wing Salvadoran government when it was facing an FMLN offensive.
In reality, the Arias Plan was not a defense against the Contra war but a complement to it.
6. The brutal attacks of imperialism and the betrayals of the Stalinists have been the principal enemies of the Nicaraguan revolution. However, the electoral defeat cannot be seen as simply a passive surrender to external pressures and the Contra war! . It reflects the confusion and demoralization of sections of the masses which resulted from the policies of the FSLN itself. Nevertheless, the 40-45 per cent vote for the Sandinistas indicates a real mass base committed to defending the gains of the revolu! tion, eroded though these are. Thus, there is a real opportunity for a successful struggle to defend the revolution, given the right policies to mobilize the masses -- but also the danger that without such a mobilization this base could collapse under furth! er attacks.
Since the election, attacks on the masses and on the social gains of the revolution have increased under the Chamorro government. US imperialism is not bailing out the economy but insisting that the masses must bear the cost of the crisis. It is unwilling t! o increase its support until the gains of the revolution have been decisively reversed. The economic crisis continues unchecked: inflation, with the frequently repeated devaluations of the last seven months, is biting deeper into the living standards of the! poor. These attacks have been met by militant resistance.
The question of control of the state apparatus is critical. The election changed the government, but the state machinery has remained essentially the petty-bourgeois bureaucratic apparatus established by the Sandinistas after the revolution. In particular, ! the army is still the force created by the FSLN. The FSLN remains a major political force in the country.
In effect the bourgeoisie has a two-fold strategy, to some extent expressed by a division within the bourgeoisie.
The dominant strategy at present, principally represented by Chamorro, is to achieve a degree of compromise with the Sandinista state apparatus. The Chamorro government has preserved the Sandinista army on condition that it will remain "professional": even ! if it is not to carry out direct attacks on the working class and the oppressed masses, it will not back their resistance. This was the role of the army in the spring 1990 strikes. This is the logic of "the Sandinista discourse on respect for electoral legi! timacy."
In principle it is entirely possible for the state machinery created by the Sandinistas to be "professionalized" or for sections of it to be brought in line with bourgeois requirements while other sections are "restructured," so that it becomes a normal neo! colonial bourgeois state machine. However, such an evolution is unlikely to be smooth while the apparatus remains closely connected to the FSLN, which is seen by the most militant workers and peasants as representing, in some sense, the survival of at least! some gains of the revolution.
Thus the importance for the bourgeoisie of the other side of its strategy: the deal with the Contras. Under the guise of ending the war, the Contra forces have been brought into Nicaragua and allowed to regroup securely in base areas, free from control by t! he Sandinista forces. The Contras have been able to move about freely and have developed as a kind of parallel repressive state apparatus. The organization of paramilitary brigades to attack the strikers last spring gave a clear warning of what lies in stor! e for the masses if these forces are allowed to continue operating. For the moment, these methods have a secondary role for the bourgeoisie, but in fact they complement the first strategy. In this context, the "professionalism" of the army and "respect for ! electoral legitimacy" leave the workers and peasants at the mercy of the forces of counterrevolution.
It is impossible to forecast whether these developments will lead to a civil war in which the government and the Contras attempt to break up the Sandinista state apparatus or whether under these pressures there will be some process of "professionalization" ! and restructuring of the existing apparatus, perhaps with the incorporation of Contra elements. However, we can be sure that these developments will lead to major defeats for the working class and the oppressed masses unless they are mobilized in action to ! defend the revolution.
Yet this is clearly not the perspective of the FSLN. Its tactics, which the June 1990 IEC document describes as working for a "return to government on the basis of a legitimate reconquest," leave the masses in a passive role and hand the initiative to the g! overnment and the bourgeois forces. They are essentially tactics of waiting for the UNO alliance to break up under the weight of internal conflicts and for discontent with growing hardship to make the government more and more unpopular. Both outcomes are pr! obable, but they will not necessarily benefit the FSLN.
Moreover, if the FSLN was returned to government, its whole political character would leave it no alternative but to pursue the policies which led to its defeat and provided the basis for the present government's policies. In fact, it would have to accept t! he measures of the Chamorro government. US pressure, the policies of the USSR and Cuba, and the increased strength of the domestic bourgeoisie would leave no alternative to a Sandinista leadership returned to power in this way -- as a nonrevolutionary political apparatus.
For us, it is essential to recognize that a situation where a large section of the working class and the oppressed masses is still combative and ready to defend the revolution but where their leadership is increasingly committed to cooperation with the bour! geois government, creates an important opportunity for building a Trotskyist party -- and means that this is an urgent necessity.
7. Trotskyists must fight for the independent mobilization of the masses and the leadership of the working class in order to defend the revolution. It is thus essential to reject our International's passive tailending of the FSLN. Trotskyists will ha! ve to take a struggle for revolutionary policies into the Sandinista mass organizations and the Sandinista army in order for the masses to break from the dangerous nonrevolutionary policies of the FSLN leadership.
Inevitably the struggle will develop on a defensive basis at this stage, but there is nothing passive about this. It is vital to organize and mobilize for action around key demands relating to the conditions of the workers, the peasants, and the poor genera! lly. Thus, under conditions of hyperinflation and massive unemployment, it is necessary to fight for a sliding scale of wages and hours under workers' control. Poor people, the unemployed, housewives, etc., must be drawn into this struggle through neighborh! ood committees on prices and distribution. Nationalized property threatened with privatization must be defended by occupation. Collectivized land must be defended by democratically elected peasants' committees.
Bourgeois paramilitary forces and Contra elements will be used against every serious defensive action by the masses. Thus every strike, occupation, and land defense raises the need for democratically controlled workers' and peasants' militias. It will be ne! cessary to oppose every attempt to use the Sandinista forces against such mobilizations. On the contrary, a fight is needed within the Sandinista forces for military action to defend the resistance of the masses and for the arming of the workers and peasant! s.
A defensive struggle on these lines will inevitably pose the question of passing to the offensive -- to a struggle for power. The working class will have to lead a struggle to break the power of the bourgeoisie: establishing workers' control throughout indu! stry; extending land reform through the revolutionary expropriation and redistribution of land; disarming bourgeois reaction by smashing and disarming the Contras.
Winning the masses to this perspective will involve a fight to split the Sandinista mass organizations and the Sandinista army, winning the majority in a fight against the petty-bourgeois politics of the FSLN. Working-class power will not be won by reformin! g the FSLN and its bureaucratic apparatus. They will have to be overthrown. This will require democratically elected rank-and-file committees in the army, linked to workers' and peasants' councils.
It is not a question of reforming the FSLN or appealing to it. Trotskyists have to build a new leadership, a revolutionary party in Nicaragua. The previous decisions of our International against building a section in Nicaragua must be reversed. The construc! tion of a Nicaraguan section of the Fourth International, not as cheerleaders for the FSLN but as an independent Trotskyist party, is now more urgent than ever.