Written: April / May 1980.
First Published: May 1980.
Source: International Trotskyist Review No. 2, April / June 1985.
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The Trotskyist International Liaison Committee (for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International) hails the victory gained by the workers and peasants of Nicaragua with the revolutionary overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. Their victory has dealt a blow against imperialism and strengthened the revolutionary forces of the international proletariat in its struggle for socialism.
But the Nicaraguan revolution remains uncompleted: its vast potential has not yet been realized. The gains which have already been made are great but limited, and they have not been secured against the threats of attacks from imperialism and international reaction. The strongest defense of the Nicaraguan revolution is the fight to consolidate and develop these existing gains by a proletarian-internationalist struggle for a socialist revolution in Nicaragua.2. The Challenge of the Nicaraguan Revolution
The smashing of the Somoza tyranny struck a heavy blow against US imperialism, which had sustained the dictatorship as a vital force in its strategy of dominating the turbulent southern states of the Americas. Maimed by a succession of attacks, from their defeat in Southeast Asia to the Iranian revolution, the US imperialists now faced the certain prospect of renewed revolutionary mobilizations throughout the region, spurred on by the example of Nicaragua. This threat has already taken concrete form in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Revolution in Nicaragua also brought fresh anxieties to world Stalinism, already grappling with the mounting problems of how to maintain a counterrevolutionary hold on the advancing struggles of the international proletariat. This new problem centered on the role to be adopted by the Castro regime in Cuba, the local agents of the Kremlin bureaucracy.
But at the same time the world Trotskyist movement was confronted with vital questions of revolutionary strategy and the application of the revolutionary program. The Nicaraguan revolution brought once again to the fore issues which have underlain every stage of the postwar crisis of the Fourth International: the theory of permanent revolution and the essential political independence both of the proletariat as a class and of its revolutionary leadership.
Faced with these issues, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) split, and so a new phase was opened up in the struggle to reconstruct the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution.
These developments make it all the more urgent for us to approach the necessary task of assessing the Nicaraguan revolution and answering the two key questions:
1. What lessons are to be learned from the revolutionary struggles which overthrew Somoza’s dictatorship?
2. What tasks are posed for Trotskyists to give a consistently revolutionary leadership to the struggles of the Nicaraguan proletariat and its potential allies in the peasantry and other oppressed social layers?
The particular character of the Somoza dictatorship must first be understood. Installed and maintained in power by US imperialism, Somoza ensured the continued superexploitation of the Nicaraguan workers and peasants through the repressive apparatus of a brutal dictatorship – in particular through the US-trained National Guard. These conditions, with the total suppression of democratic rights, also drove the layers of the urban petty bourgeoisie into opposition.
Yet Somoza’s tyranny also produced enemies among wide sections of the capitalist class itself, for its dictatorship was not merely political. The Somoza family owned 25 percent of all industry and 40 percent of all workable land. The economic dictatorship of this Somoza monopoly antagonized other capitalists, who were prevented by its stranglehold from developing the economy to satisfy their own drive for profits.
Along with the reactionary power of the Roman Catholic church, this “anti-Somoza bourgeoisie” recognized the highly explosive state of the class struggle in Nicaragua. Seeking to avert the threat of revolution, these elements called for the “democratization” of the regime and turned for support to the Carter administration and, especially, to the European Social Democracy. which had begun (through the vehicle of the “Socialist International”) to pay particular attention to the hard tasks of counterrevolutionary activity in South and Central America.
In this way they hoped to establish a bourgeois democracy which would either limit or eliminate the power of Somoza and leave them free to develop the exploitation of the workers and peasants for their own profits and not to stuff the private coffers of the Somoza family and its small surrounding clique.
The Somoza dictatorship thus created the conditions for a “national revolution.” As in Tsarist Russia or as in Iran under the tyranny of the Shah, bourgeoisie, peasantry, and proletariat shared a common interest in the overthrow of the autocracy. The crucial question was which class would give the political leadership to that revolution and determine its class content.4. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)
It was in these conditions that the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) came forward into increasing prominence as a force in the struggle against Somoza. Formed in July 1962, the FSLN was a petty-bourgeois nationalist movement which identified itself as “Marxist” and set itself the task of “national democratic revolution.” Different currents emerged within and split the FSLN over the course of the 1970’s. One developed a relatively fiercer anti-imperialist stance than the others (the Guerra Popular Prolongada tendency [GPP]). Another proclaimed itself “Leninist” and called for a primary orientation of building a party in the working class (Tendencia Proletaria [TP]).
But with “unification” early in 1979, hegemony over the FSLN was established by the Tercerista (“third-force”) tendency, which combined the traditional strategy of rural guerrilla warfare (based on an interpretation of the Cuban revolution) with a popular-frontist alliance with the anti-Somoza bourgeoisie, backed by the Latin American “social democracies” (Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica).
Despite its defeat, the rising of September 1978 revealed both the strength of the FSLN itself and the high degree of mass support which existed for a military victory of the FSLN over Somoza’s forces. But it is particularly important to stress the character of the mass strike action which gripped the cities in this period. Although there was undoubtedly mass enthusiasm among workers for this action, it was not independent class action by the proletariat – neither spontaneous nor led by a revolutionary proletarian leadership.
On the contrary, these strikes were blessed by the Catholic hierarchy and in many cases directly organized by employers from the “anti-Somoza bourgeoisie,” who continued to pay wages throughout the stoppages. As in any other variety of popular-frontist alliance at whatever level between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, it was the class interests of the proletariat which were inevitably subordinated to the political dominance of the bourgeoisie in this confusion of class interests. The “anti-Somoza bourgeoisie,” led by Las Doce [“The Twelve”], sought to gain political power by harnessing the revolutionary energies of the proletariat.
It was clearly the essential task of Trotskyists to fight for the political independence of the working class from the bourgeoisie, in opposition to every section of the FSLN which opposed this strategy in the name of the “democratic” or “anti-imperialist” front. The direction of this strategy could be followed only by fighting to build soviets as organs of workers’ power independent of the “anti-Somoza bourgeoisie” and of the Sandinista leadership itself.
After the September rising, the FSLN was clearly established as the leadership of the mass struggles against the tyranny. Over the next few months – and with their “unification” once accomplished – the FSLN leaders proceeded to consolidate their alliance with bourgeois forces in preparation for the final offensive against Somoza’s dictatorship.5. The Government of National Reconstruction (GNR)
As the last bloody days of the revolution of July 1979 were reached, the FSLN established a junta to replace the crumbling dictatorship. The Government of National Reconstruction (GNR) consisted of one leading Sandinista – and four bourgeois members: a millionaire sugar plantation owner, a large landowner, another major employer, and a technocrat formerly employed by the World Bank.
The relationship between the FSLN leadership and the GNR was clearly spelled out by Daniel Ortega from the Joint National Directorate of the FSLN:
Some people have asked whether the government is the FSLN or the Government of National Reconstruction . . . The truth is that the government Junta is in charge of all the high functions of the state. Then the FSLN, which at the beginning took charge of the country, is now in the process of handing over the administrative and government apparatus to the Junta. (Barricada, 31 July 1979)
Politically dominated by the bourgeoisie, the Government of National Reconstruction derived all its power from the authority of the FSLN forces and was clearly powerless to act in any direction without securing the agreement of – and indeed working through – the agency of the FSLN leadership. Once the Junta had appointed its ministers, it was actually the second tier of new state institutions, directly controlled by the FSLN, which put into practice the decrees of the GNR.
But if the FSLN leadership was able to formalize rapidly the intimate bonds it sought with the bourgeoisie, its relationship with the proletariat and peasantry was a more complex affair.
The final struggles to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship had taken place in conditions of tremendous mass mobilizations in both the urban and rural areas. The neighborhood “Sandinista Defense Committees,”  spontaneously organized on a local basis, were the characteristic form taken by this movement. As their name implies, these bodies were in no way set up in conscious opposition to the FSLN leadership. Nevertheless, they represented a serious potential threat to the popular-frontist strategy of the FSLN, both by their independent class nature and, in particular, by the class demands which they soon began to raise.
The “Sandinista Defense Committees” could have developed into a genuine soviet movement of dual-power proportions, and it was therefore necessary for the FSLN leadership to curb their powers and control their evolution. This process was carried out alongside the first measures of the Government of National Reconstruction.6. Capitalist Reconstruction Begins
Protracted civil war and revolutionary struggles had brought the economy of Nicaragua to the brink of collapse. Agricultural production had been severely disrupted by the campaigns of the FSLN, while industrial production had been thrown into chaos by the mass strike action. The pro- Somoza bourgeoisie had fled, closing down businesses and removing capital, as the international agencies of finance capital (IMF, etc.) vacillated on granting desperately needed loans to a regime clearly on the point of destruction.
Under these circumstances, the GNR set about its task of “reconstruction.” With the political dominance of the bourgeoisie and its class interests conceded by the FSLN, this could mean only one thing: the reconstruction of a capitalist Nicaragua. But the scale of the mass mobilizations and the peculiar character of the Somoza dictatorship meant that the bourgeoisie was forced to act within specific constraints.
The capitalists were unable to move directly to a redistribution of Somoza’s property among themselves. Pressure from the mobilized workers and peasants forced them to concede the nationalization of Somoza’s property, along with that of his family and the Somocistas (those elements most closely identified with the old regime). But the progressive aspect of these substantial nationalizations must be understood as inextricably bound up with the reality that they were carried through by a state committed to the defense of capital. As FSLN Commander Bayardo Ace declared: “Private property will not only be respected, but absolutely guaranteed” (La Prensa, Buenos Aires, 1 August 1979).
State control of the national banks and the state monopoly on exports of agricultural produce were measures whose dual nature was even more strongly dominated by the immediate economic needs of the bourgeoisie.
It was in the field of international relations that the character of the new regime was most sharply revealed. The Government of National Reconstruction set about rescheduling the foreign debt with capitalist states and institutions and opened fresh negotiations for aid from the imperialist powers and the international bodies of finance capital.
At first these approaches coincided with the new strategy imposed on US imperialism by the overthrow of Somoza. As Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher argued:
With aid the chances will be enhanced [that the revolution] will move in the direction of a democratic regime . . . If we walk away we will almost certainly assure what we don’t want, a Communist or Cuban regime.
But the US has vacillated and, a year later, is still refusing aid on any substantial scale.7. The Government of National Reconstruction and the Workers’ Organizations
While the Government of National Reconstruction pursued its aim of a deal with imperialism to stabilize capitalism on a new footing in Nicaragua, the mobilizations of workers and peasants had not subsided into passivity.
The regime could afford no delay in tackling the problems posed to its political orientation by this class activity. But at the same time it was prevented from launching into direct confrontation with the workers and peasants by the precarious balance of class forces, where the weight of the bourgeoisie was maintained at all only by the firm hand of the FSLN leadership.
The Government of National Reconstruction and the FSLN combined, therefore, specific attacks on individual actions taken by workers and peasants with a general drive to incorporate the independent political organs that had been formed into a reconstructed state apparatus. For example, peasants occupying land were ejected from the property of the “anti-Somoza bourgeoisie” by the FSLN-organized peasant union (the ATC) and the state agrarian reform agency (the INRA, headed by Jaime Wheelock, leader of the former Tendencia Proletaria).
This dual offensive inevitably entailed an attack on those organizations which represented – in however distorted or inadequate a form – the independent interests of the proletariat. In particular, the regime has worked to suppress three organizations: 1) the Revolutionary Marxist League (Liga Marxista Revolucionaria: LMR), formerly a sympathizing section of the USFI; 2) the Popular Action Movement (Movimiento de Accion Popular: MAP), with its trade union face, the Workers Front (Frente Obrero: FO), a grouping dominated by Maoism, but including self-styled Trotskyists along with other forces; and 3) the Simon Bolivar Brigade.8. The Simon Bolivar Brigade
Because its intervention has received massive international publicity as an example of Trotskyism in practice and because its expulsion from Nicaragua was the immediate cause of the splitting of the USFI, it is critically important that we make an assessment of this brigade.
The Simon Bolivar Brigade was organized by the Morenist Bolshevik Faction of the USFI and recruited from 13 June 1979 by its Colombian section, the Socialist Workers Party (Partido Socialista de Trabajadores: PST / Columbia).
After an initial period of adaptation to petty-bourgeois nationalism and to the FSLN, the Bolshevik Faction had at length put forward its own program for Nicaragua, which called for a “workers’ and peasants’ government based on the FSLN” without giving any political support to the FSLN. The formal correctness of this demand – and of the rest of the program – was critically weakened by the failure to call for the building of soviet-type bodies to represent the independent interests of the proletariat. This was at the time – and remains – the key demand for Trotskyists to raise in Nicaragua.
However, the Simon Bolivar Brigade was not recruited on the basis of this program. The Bolshevik Faction insisted that the Brigade should be open to all forces prepared to fight “under the military discipline of the FSLN” for what was actually the Brigade’s sole point of program: “to support the struggle of the Sandinista people” (El Socialista [paper of the PST], 22 June 1979). This position was clearly agreed to by the FSLN, but at no stage does the formation of the Simon Bolivar Brigade seem to have been agreed to by the international leadership of the USFI.
Much criticism of the Simon Bolivar Brigade has failed to distinguish two separate issues which were at stake: first, the urgent necessity for Trotskyists to intervene in the mass struggles against Somoza to fight for a revolutionary program, organized as a political force but preferably not trapped in isolation as a military unit; second, the proletarian internationalist duty of Trotskyists to organize material support in solidarity with the revolution against Somoza. (From its statements after the expulsion, the Bolshevik Faction seems, at least later, to have sometimes fallen into the same confusion as its critics.)
The call to form the Simon Bolivar Brigade was a correct, principled action of proletarian internationalism, but such a limited united front was not – and never could have been – an adequate vehicle for Trotskyists to fight for their revolutionary program amid the mass struggles of the Nicaraguan workers and peasants.
When Somoza fled to the USA on 17 July 1979 and the National Guard surrendered on 19 July, most of the Simon Bolivar Brigade was still in fact receiving military training in Costa Rica, and only a few dozen of its militants had been directly involved in the civil war for a couple of days.
The main activities of the Brigade began with the overthrow of the tyranny, in districts of the capital Managua and in the Atlantic port of Bluefields. Here, whatever the program on which it had been recruited, the Simon Bolivar Brigade does seem to have worked strongly and consistently to develop the organizational and political independence of the proletariat. One particular sphere of activity was the building of independent trade unions, and militants of the Simon Bolivar Brigade were instrumental in forming some 100 factory-based unions. A pressing demand from many workers at this time was for the Government of National Reconstruction to guarantee the back-payment of wages lost since they followed the FSLN to come out on strike early in July.
At the same time, the Simon Bolivar Brigade intervened in the Sandinista Defense Committees. In some areas these committees had begun to realize their potential of developing into soviet-type bodies by assuming administrative functions, and many organized the neighborhood armed militias. The Simon Bolivar Brigade attempted to defend these activities against the attacks of the Government of National Reconstruction.
The regime did not have the ability to dismantle the Defense Committees. Rather, it followed the line of trying to control them and to exploit them to its own advantage by transforming them bureaucratically into an arm of the state. The clearest evidence of this process was the move to disarm and dissolve the militias, as explained by FSLN Commander Luis Carron: “The militias are being concentrated and trained to incorporate them into the army” (Barricada, 27 July 1979).
And this new army that was being forged was not designed as a weapon of the proletariat:
The members of the National Army will not be allowed to engage in party political activities, but their political rights as citizens will be guaranteed. (Program of the Government of National Reconstruction, June 1979, paragraph 1.12)
Alongside this fake promise of armed forces free of class interests was the reality that this army was being trained by the military of the bourgeois Panamanian state.
The Simon Bolivar Brigade had already come into conflict with the FSLN over its attempts to agitate around democratic demands within the guerrilla forces and to carry out a propaganda campaign there for a revolutionary socialist perspective for the Nicaraguan revolution. As rumors spread that the Brigade was threatened with expulsion from Nicaragua, correctly a demonstration was organized to accompany the Simon Bolivar Brigade when it was summoned to the FSLN headquarters on 14 August. Three thousand workers marched on that day, their central demand the call for rights of citizenship to be granted to the non-Nicaraguan members of the Simon Bolivar Brigade. They also protested against the disarming of the militias and layoffs, demanded the back-payment of wages, and raised the slogans: “Long live the FSLN!”, “Long live the Simon Bolivar Brigade!”, and, apparently, “Power to the proletariat!” and “The revolution is in the hands of the bourgeoisie!” The FSLN took no action at this point, but within two days the non-Nicaraguan members of the Simon Bolivar Brigade had been deported, with the active and violent cooperation of Panamanian security forces, who beat up these militants and imprisoned them. 9. The USFI Splits
At the next meeting of the international secretariat of the USFI (early October 1979), the Bolshevik Faction – supported by the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency – demanded that the USFI condemn this expulsion.
In July the USFI majority leadership had issued a political statement on Nicaragua (Intercontinental Press, 16 July 1979) which did not differ in essentials from the formal correctness and crucial weaknesses of the Bolshevik Faction’s own program. But, in the meantime, the USFI’s official delegation to Nicaragua had developed (under the leadership of the American Socialist Workers Party) a quite new and sharply contrasting assessment of the revolution, based on their vivid but superficial impressions of the character of the mass mobilizations.
This dramatic revision of position led the delegation to its support for the expulsion of the Simon Bolivar Brigade 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.
This was the case, specifically, with the activities of the Simon Bolivar Brigade. This group actually had a dual policy: to capitalize on the prestige of the FSLN, it cloaked itself with the Sandinista banner; but, at the same time, in the mass organizations its sectarian policy tried to separate the workers from their vanguard.
According to certain assertions that have appeared in the press, the activities of this group represented the attitude of our organization toward the revolution and its leadership. This is totally false. This group acted on its own.
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. (“Statement by United Secretariat Delegation”, 3 September 1979; Intercontinental Press, 24 September 1979)
The logic of this scandalous position was argued through at the October meeting of the USFI international secretariat by Jack Barnes, leader of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP/US). Barnes called for the USFI to give full support to the Government of National Reconstruction (a government dedicated to the capitalist reconstruction of Nicaragua), arguing that the GNR was not to be characterized as a class-collaborationist, counterrevolutionary popular front but as an alliance between the forces of the bourgeoisie and a revolutionary party (that is, the FSLN) in which the politics of the revolutionary party predominates. Thus the Government of National Reconstruction was, he claimed, “a revolutionary government,” and the USFI should give it support against those “sectarian” forces which sought to drive a wedge between it and the masses.
Barnes also argued that the USFI should campaign for a defensive front of the Latin American bourgeois democracies to support the Nicaraguan revolution against the threat of imperialist intervention and that the USFI should make the major thrust of its solidarity campaign the demand on bourgeois and imperialist governments that they give aid to the Government of National Reconstruction – this at a time when the US imperialists were seeking precisely to exploit aid as a method of controlling the development of the Nicaraguan revolution.
Since then, the pages of the USFI’s SWP / US-produced Intercontinental Press have been opened to totally uncritical reproduction of FSLN propaganda – the same treatment already given to the speeches and declarations of Castro’s “revolutionary” Stalinist regime in Havana.
The USFI majority agreed to the fundamental line of these positions in a less blatantly revisionist form and went on to take organizational steps to ensure that they were implemented:
The United Secretariat resolves that in Nicaragua, in El Salvador, in Guatemala, and in Honduras, all the political activity of the members of the Fourth International [that is, the USFI] or those who accept the leadership of the Fourth International, should be undertaken under the direct control of the leadership of the United Secretariat on the basis of the political line adopted by it [in practice, the direct control of the USFI delegation in Nicaragua and so, in practical reality, of the American SWP].
The OST of Costa Rica and the Bolshevik Faction in particular are instructed to cease all activity in Nicaragua – including the construction of organizations – and to limit themselves to activities undertaken in collaboration with the United Secretariat and on the basis of the line of the International [that is, the USFI].
As the resolution on the Nicaraguan revolution adopted by the United Secretariat of 1st October 1979 outlined, all Nicaraguans who are members or sympathizers of the Fourth International [the USFI] should act “as loyal militants in the framework of the organization which led the overthrow of Somoza and leads this revolution . . . to defend the fundamental ideas of revolutionary Marxism.”
The Bolshevik Faction and the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency withdrew from the United Secretariat and issued the call for an open conference against liquidationism in Nicaragua. This call was immediately supported by the Lambertist OCRFI, and these three groupings set up the present Parity Commission. For this action the Bolshevik Faction and the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency were both expelled from the USFI shortly before its “eleventh” World Congress (held 17-25 November).
We have declared our assessment of these developments in other documents. What must be stressed here is the depth of the questions involved, which reach right back through the postwar crisis of the Fourth International to the origins of Pabloism. As Pablo had done before them, today’s leaders of the USFI denied the independent Trotskyist party its leading role as the conscious vanguard of the proletariat in the struggle to realize the perspective of permanent revolution.
Indeed, they went further than Pablo had done in 1953 and followed the example of his later liquidationist exploits in Algeria. They did not only fail to fight for the building of an independent Trotskyist party in Nicaragua and fail to raise demands to develop the political independence of the proletariat; as if this were not enough, they also ordered the liquidation of the Trotskyist forces already there in Nicaragua, ordered them to undertake no factional work within the FSLN, and supported FSLN repression of forces actually fighting for the independent interests of the proletariat.
Beside this foul record of sordid opportunism and gross betrayals, the positions of the Morenist Bolshevik Faction could scarcely fail to appear in a more favorable light. Yet when we recognize the important strengths of their positions, we cannot overlook their failings and weaknesses. We must attempt to understand how they have been able to develop.
For all the formally correct demands of its program – and even despite the apparently principled work of its cadres inside Nicaragua under very difficult conditions – the Bolshevik Faction never raised the critically important demand for the building of soviet-type bodies in Nicaragua.
We do not suggest that the application of this demand would somehow have prevented the expulsion of the Simon Bolivar Brigade. But we do recognize that the adoption of a similarly inadequate program paved the way for the revisionist capitulation of the USFI majority to the forces of petty-bourgeois nationalism. If the comrades of the Bolshevik Faction are to grasp fully the lessons which the Nicaraguan revolution holds for Trotskyists and so be able to play a positive role in the struggle to reconstruct the Fourth International as the democratic-centralist world party of socialist revolution, it is essential that they too understand the way in which the poison of Pabloism, lingering undetected, infected their own political positions.
The sole point of program for recruitment to the Simon Bolivar Brigade represented in its way a parallel capitulation to the ideology of petty-bourgeois nationalism. The Bolshevik Faction did not call for political support to the FSLN, but it did demand support for the “struggle of the Sandinista people” [emphasis added] – one small phrase, yet a formulation which conceded the cross-class, “anti-imperialist,” “national-democratic” character of the revolution, failed utterly to focus on the independent leading role that must be played by the proletariat, and so strengthened the ultimate counterrevolutionary trajectory of the FSLN leadership, which could lead to only one immediate point: the placing of power in the hands of the bourgeoisie.
But any assessment of the Simon Bolivar Brigade must recognize that the initiative of the Bolshevik Faction has posed to all Trotskyists questions of the practice of proletarian internationalism that have been ignored for decades. Their intervention into the Nicaraguan revolution opened up a vital discussion on the methods of work which Trotskyists can use to develop material forms of international solidarity and extend their fight for the revolutionary program into previously inaccessible areas of crisis in the class struggle.
The lessons of this practical experience in struggle will not be won by erecting a defensive barricade of “principled” criticism of the Bolshevik Faction’s activities around the Simon Bolivar Brigade. Abstention, with splendid ritual denunciations of “opportunism”, offers no way forward to resolving the historic crisis of proletarian leadership. These lessons will be grasped only through a full discussion of the opportunities which the concrete situation opened to Trotskyists, of the way in which the Bolshevik Faction sought to exploit those opportunities to fight for the revolutionary program in Nicaragua, and of the implications which that experience in struggle holds for Trotskyists fighting to reconstruct the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution. That discussion can be in no way separated from discussion of the postwar crisis of the Fourth International; on the contrary, the response of Trotskyists to the Nicaraguan revolution reveals in an undeniably living form all the major elements which have compounded that disastrous crisis.
Such discussion must take place on the widest possible basis, and above all it must involve the comrades of the Bolshevik Faction themselves, as they provide their own account and assessment of the Simon Bolivar Brigade.10. The FSLN and the Post-revolutionary Crisis
What direction has the Nicaraguan revolution taken since the overthrow of Somoza?
As the barely disputed leadership of the mass struggles against Somoza’s dictatorship, the FSLN came to power at the head of a political revolution whose particular character posed sharply, in a concrete form, the necessity of moving forward with the tasks of social revolution.
Political and economic conditions combined to determine the nationalization of the Somoza holdings, and other measures of state centralization. Cripplingly deformed by the burden of Somoza’s private plundering and maimed by the struggles of civil war, capitalism offered no solution to the crisis of the economy.
Such a situation demanded the repudiation of the foreign debt to imperialism; expropriation of all the major capitalist holdings in land, industry, finance, and other sectors; and the development of a socialist plan for the reconstruction and development of the economy. A massive program of public works was needed urgently to provide for the needs of the workers and peasants (housing; hospitals and clinics; nurseries, schools, and colleges; irrigation and roads; etc.) and to reduce the huge mass of unemployed workers. Beyond the redistribution of land, a cheap credit scheme for small peasants was essential, along with incentives to encourage cooperative methods and collective farming.
These methods offered the only alternative to a capitalist reconstruction of Nicaragua, and they were all rejected by the FSLN. When a delegation from COSEP (the bosses’ federation) visited New York in December, they argued vehemently that the Government of National Reconstruction and the FSLN were not heading a “communist” regime and declared their firm intention of continuing their business of profitable exploitation in Nicaragua. It was not reprisals they were seeking from the imperialists but economic aid for the “national reconstruction.”
Unemployment shows every sign of rising rather than falling from November’s level of 45 percent. In December Jaime Wheelock (former leader of the Tendencia Proletaria) announced that “Nicaragua” could no longer afford to pay the Christmas bonus – the payment of a month’s wages, won from the Somoza regime by workers in struggle.
After the eviction of peasants occupying land owned by the “anti-Somoza bourgeoisie”, the Government of National Reconstruction proceeded at the end of November to annul the decree of expropriation of the Somocistas, with the argument that this authority was being abused by some local Sandinista leaders. Three birds were killed with this stone: the process of nationalization was halted; a gesture was made to still the rising protests against the arrogance, greed, and various abuses of authority of some local FSLN representatives who were preparing themselves for a future as a corrupt and parasitic bureaucratic caste; and, at the same time, the investigations which were promised to follow would undoubtedly be used as a weapon in the internal power struggles of the FSLN.
Since establishing the Government of National Reconstruction, the FSLN leadership has followed a consistent strategy of bureaucratizing the revolution. The economic measures it has taken in the ultimate defense of capitalist property relations and profitability have been accompanied by counterrevolutionary initiatives to weld the independent bodies of trade unions, peasant unions, and Sandinista Defense Committees into rigid national institutions, subservient to the political authority of the FSLN leadership and intended to function as an arm of the state reaching into the very heart of the labor movement. These initiatives required the expulsion of the Simon Bolivar Brigade and the repression directed against the LMR and MAP / FO (their publications have been suppressed and many of their militants imprisoned – though later to be released after pressure from sections of workers, only to be imprisoned again more recently). And all the while the FSLN leadership has continued to work for the disarming of the workers and the building of some classless, apolitical army, dedicated to serving “Nicaragua” and the “Sandinista people.”
This bureaucratization has been particularly evident with regard to the trade union movement. It was their role in building independent unions which partly prompted the victimization of the members of the Simon Bolivar Brigade. And the suppression of El Pueblo, the paper of the Frente Obrero, followed its attempts to mobilize the workers and its accusations that the FSLN “had sold out to the local bourgeoisie”. More recently, even the trade union body established by the Communist Party, the Centro de Accion y Unidad Sindical (CAUS), has been the object of repression.
But, despite the energy of the FSLN in suppressing any symptoms of the independent mobilization of the masses, it continues to be under pressure from its supporters whom it has failed to bring fully under control. By May 1980 this pressure was being reflected in growing strains between the FSLN and the representatives of the bourgeoisie in the Junta.
First conservative figurehead Violetta Chamorro left the government (on 19 April) to live in Panama. She was followed out (on 22 April) by millionaire capitalist Alfonso Robelo, who remains in Nicaragua at the head of the right-wing Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN). The break coincided with the “coming into being” (announced on 21 April) of the new forty-seven-seat unelected Council of State. The MDN was allocated one seat in this fake legislature. The FSLN only took six seats for itself but packed it with nominees from the Sandinista Defense Committees.
While one of the effects of the retirement of important bourgeois elements from the Junta is to permit the FSLN to refurbish its radical image, the break shows that, regardless of the FSLN’s intentions, the direction in which it will be forced to move is by no means yet finally and definitively decided.11. Nicaragua, Imperialism, and Stalinism
The process of bureaucratization has brought a measure of relief to both the imperialist powers and to the ruling Stalinist bureaucracies. Each had seen most to fear in the independent class mobilization of the proletariat, with the attendant specter of communism.
It has been precisely through the Government of National Reconstruction’s international relations with the imperialists and the Stalinist bureaucracies (specifically, Castro’s regime) that the FSLN has exposed most clearly its own political essence and revealed the pressures bearing down upon it.
Through reaching an agreement with the “anti-Somoza” wing of the bourgeoisie, the FSLN leadership secured the backing of the “social democracies” of Costa Rica, Panama, and Venezuela. Deepening its alliance with the bourgeoisie once in power, the FSLN leadership then sought aid from the imperialist powers, including above all the USA – the only force which had sustained Somoza in his dictatorship! It was the military of capitalist Panama which was brought in to train the re-formed armed forces.
The imperialists have not been slow to take advantage of the FSLN’s evident desire for accommodation and have made the most of the leverage this gives them. Broad promises and partial negotiations have not yet resulted in a flow of funds, as the imperialists (acting especially through the World Bank) have held back both to ensure that the FSLN is capable of controlling the mass movement of workers and peasants and to increase the pressure on the FSLN to make further guarantees of capitalist stability in Nicaragua. This tactical position of the imperialists has been reinforced by developments beyond Nicaragua.
On the one hand has come the new aggressive stance adopted by the US imperialists towards the Kremlin bureaucracy – an aggression already primed, but actually triggered by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This latest posture has involved a shift back to the central position of US foreign policy since the second world war: the maintenance of military dictatorships and other fiercely repressive regimes as bastions of imperialist might against the “threat of communism” – in the shape of independent action by workers and peasants within these states at least as much as against the forces controlled by the Soviet bureaucracy and its underlings.
The implications of this have been evident in Central America, where the rising tide of revolutionary struggles threatens to sweep away the pro-imperialist regimes in El Salvador, Honduras, and now Guatemala. The mass mobilizations in these states have been spurred on to new heights by the example of the Nicaraguan revolution, yet they have received absolutely no direct political or material assistance from the leadership of that revolution.
On the contrary, when the military dictatorship of Honduras resorted to the desperate expedient of fueling a chauvinist campaign directed against the Nicaraguan revolution in order to divert support from the growing revolutionary struggles in Honduras itself, then the FSLN leadership responded by seeking closer ties with the “progressive” military dictatorship of El Salvador, which had been installed with the connivance of US imperialism as a last-ditch stand against the increasing power of the leftist guerrilla movement and its mass support.
This betrayal of the workers and peasants of El Salvador typifies the foreign policy of the FSLN leadership. Far frozen following a policy of proletarian internationalism, it has remained very firmly within the bounds of petty-bourgeois nationalism. Its foreign policy is the Siamese twin of its domestic policy.
Rather than build the surest defense of the Nicaraguan revolution against imperialist intervention – by winning the support of the revolutionary proletariat beyond the borders of Nicaragua through aid and leadership for its other struggles against agents of imperialism in Central America – the FSLN rejected the road towards a Socialist United States of Central America and turned instead to the imperialist powers themselves for their “aid.”
This project has received the enthusiastic backing of Castro. The Cuban Stalinists especially feared the emergence of an independent proletarian opposition to the petty-bourgeois nationalism of the FSLN leadership – a force which could have acted as a revolutionary pole of attraction counterposed to the political hegemony which the Havana bureaucracy seeks to impose on all the anti-imperialist struggles throughout the continent. Such a development would also have produced dangerous repercussions for the bureaucracy within Cuba itself, where Castro is clearly facing an upsurge of pressure from the proletariat and even from within the ranks of the Cuban Communist Party.
Relieved by the firm action which the FSLN leadership has taken to repress the independent strength of the working class, Castro has warmly welcomed its overtures to imperialism. But the tactics of the imperialists themselves are posing fresh problems for the Stalinists.
The imperialists have not yet resigned themselves to a Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, however conciliatory it may be. With the renewal of “cold war” aggression and the real possibility of further revolutionary overthrows in Central America, it has even become more rather than less likely that US imperialism will attempt a military intervention in the region – with one of its aims being to isolate or even crush the FSLN regime.
Such considerations have played their part in the delay by the imperialists in “giving” aid to the Government of National Reconstruction. This, in turn, has increased the difficulties of the GNR itself, which inevitably faces a resurgence of militant pressure from the working class if the colossal economic crisis shows no sign of alleviation. So the imperialists are reviving the very specter of communism which they most want to crush, and in this dilemma it is Castro who comes to their rescue.
The Cuban bureaucracy played no positive role in the overthrow of Somoza; yet it has no desire whatsoever to see imperialism regain all its lost authority and more by a military intervention in the region. And it is as fearful as the imperialists of the consequences of starving the Government of National Reconstruction of the materials with which to reconstruct capitalism in Nicaragua.
For these reasons, the Cuban bureaucracy has been forced to step up its offers of assistance to the GNR. The FSLN leadership has responded cautiously to these initiatives, recognizing the very slippery rope it has chosen to step out on. When Havana offered 4,000 teachers, Managua accepted only 100, emphasizing how ready it was to accept similar offers from other Latin American states. Yet, at the same time, the Panamanian authorities have responded indignantly to what they claim is the swelling influx of Cuban officers and military experts by pulling out many of their military advisers.
The December 1979 cabinet reshuffle was part of this shift in the relations of the FSLN leadership to the imperialists on the one hand and to the Cuban Stalinists on the other. After the collective resignation of 4 December, the new Government of National Reconstruction emerged at the end of the month with fewer bourgeois members and now more evidently dominated numerically by the FSLN.
This move reflected the pressure from workers on the FSLN leadership to break its ties with the bourgeoisie, but the capitalist members still expressed the bourgeois political character of the government, which so far has shown no evidence of changing its established policies inside Nicaragua. The most recent resignations from the government – by Violetta Chamorro and Alfonso Robelo – along with the hardening of relations with the US, take this process one step further – though they still do not mark a definitive qualitative change in the relations of the FSLN with the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie or with imperialism.
Externally, the FSLN leadership is now making a futile attempt to use the threat of Cuban involvement as a gun to hold at the heads of the imperialists when it demands the speeding up of financial aid. In August, FSLN leader Tomas Borge publicly rebuked his deputy for talk of buying arms from the Soviet Union and the deformed workers’ states, declaring that approaches would be made to Belgium and the USA. But on 17 November the same Borge defiantly cried that, “Nicaragua did not stand alone; it had excellent friends, such as Cuba” (Latin American Newsletter).
These threats can mean little to the imperialists. The FSLN leadership is already begging them to take on the mortgage of the Nicaraguan revolution lock, stock, and barrel. If the imperialists continue to hold back, then the Stalinists will have little option but to move towards giving Nicaragua a new status as the Angola of Latin America: a zone whose wealth imperialism may plunder and whose labor imperialism may exploit within limits that can guarantee the economic interests of the Stalinist bureaucracies, yet where imperialism has no direct political or military power but depends for access on the Stalinists and their continued repression of the proletariats symbol of counterrevolutionary Stalinism and its policies of “detente” with imperialism.
But imperialists, Stalinists, and FSLN leaders alike are treading a very dangerous path in unpredictable conditions. Further developments in the “new cold war” and within Latin America could close the “Angola” option for good and all. They could even create conditions that would force the Kremlin and Havana bureaucracies to move for a complete social overturn in Nicaragua, with the transformation of sections of the FSLN leadership into a new Stalinist leadership and so to effect by bureaucratic – and perhaps even military – means the structural assimilation of Nicaragua into a deformed workers’ state. While such a possibility seems remote at present, the rapid tempo of international developments could bring it swiftly to the fore.
What is clear at present, despite the distortions of the American SWP, is that – through the Government of National Reconstruction, the reconstruction of the state apparatus, and the bureaucratization of the revolution – the FSLN leadership has been attempting to lay a firm basis for developing friendly relations with either imperialism or the ruling Stalinist bureaucracies – or indeed both – and that this activity has been undertaken at the expense of the independent class interests of the proletariat in Nicaragua.12. For the Independent Program of the Revolutionary Proletariat
The task of Trotskyists is to give an independent leadership to the proletariat by the fight for a revolutionary program that can unite the peasantry behind the vanguard of the working class in the struggle for socialist revolution in Nicaragua. That program must direct itself centrally and at all times to the independent class interests, independent class organization, and independent class strength of the proletariat.
It is not impossible that even now elements in the FSLN leadership may break from the Government of National Reconstruction and rally to the call for the dictatorship of the proletariat; but no strategy can be based in any way on such possibilities. Any compromise or collaboration with the proven petty-bourgeois nationalism of the FSLN leadership can only betray the workers and peasants of Nicaragua and all Central America. Without the building of an independent Trotskyist party, committed to the reconstruction of the Fourth International and fighting consistently among the workers and peasants for a revolutionary program, the gains made in the great struggles against Somoza will be rolled back by imperialist reaction or chained in bureaucratization by the FSLN leaders and their Stalinist accomplices.
Such a party, which does not yet exist in Nicaragua, would now have vast potential to lead Nicaraguan workers towards an extension of the revolutionary gains which are now threatened by the policy of the FSLN. As workers and peasants so recently mobilized in mass struggles against the imperialist-backed dictator, come in practice into conflict with their new rulers, they will be disposed to align themselves with a party which offers an independent solution to the material and political problems they face.
The program which must be put forward by Trotskyists is one which is directed towards completing the revolution which began with the successful struggle against Somoza and which, therefore, expresses the strategy of permanent revolution. It should include a set of demands placed upon the FSLN, the bureaucratized workers’ states, and the labor movement in the imperialist countries, to defend against imperialist attack – by military means if necessary – all the gains so far made. It must embody the existing political need of the oppressed masses for the right to have their voices heard and for the building of organs through which this could be achieved.
As long as the bourgeois-democratic aspects of the FSLN’s own program remain unfulfilled and the FSLN itself increasingly violates democratic rights, it is incumbent upon the Trotskyists to bring democratic demands to the forefront of the struggle. They must demand the end of all censorship against workers’ publications, the release of all imprisoned worker and peasant militants, an end to bureaucratic measures against independent trade unions, and no disarming of the masses.
In addition to these demands against FSLN repression, the demand for a sovereign constituent assembly elected by universal franchise remains valid and can be sharply counterposed to the bureaucratic Council of State established by the FSLN.
But it is fundamental that, alongside these demands for bourgeois forms of democracy and democratic rights, the Trotskyists fight simultaneously for the building of independent political organs of workers’ power – popular assemblies (soviets) in which workers’ and peasants’ organizations will be represented and which can become the political basis of the establishment of a workers’ state. Revolutionaries will also fight for the establishment of armed workers’ militias responsible to the popular assemblies – as opposed to the FSLN’s attempt to rebuild a standing army.
But before such organs are built, the Trotskyists must at all times advance a governmental slogan which is appropriate to the moment. Today the most important element of this continues to be the call for the expulsion of the bourgeois ministers from the government. Such a call is not a formal one: in fact, it may take place formally by the voluntary departure of the bourgeois ministers. As a political slogan the call for expulsion must be accompanied by demands on the FSLN, which still dominates the mass movement and gains ever more control of the government, to implement a program designed to meet the material needs of the masses.
These demands would focus on the need to expropriate all capitalist property under workers’ management and without compensation – in contrast to the FSLN’s policy of restricting nationalizations to punitive ones against Somocistas; the need for a program of useful public works to resolve the massive unemployment problem; the need for adequate wages protected against inflation and the rationing of essential goods; the need for the expropriation of the remaining large landholdings and their redistribution to democratically elected peasant cooperatives and collectives; the need to disavow all the international debts entered into by the Somoza regime; the need for the nationalized banking system to be placed under workers’ management; the need for the banks to initiate cheap credit schemes for the peasant cooperatives.
Viewed in isolation, of course, such a program, in a country which is as backward and beset with economic crisis as Nicaragua, can easily be laughed out of court as idealistic. Trotskyists, however, see such a program to meet the basic economic needs of the masses as inseparably tied to the political conditions for its fulfillment. The economic program, therefore, must be linked to demands on the bureaucratized workers’ states to supply unconditional economic assistance to a government carrying out such a program – especially assistance which neutralizes any economic sanctions imposed by the imperialists. Demands on the workers’ movement in imperialist countries to mobilize in concrete solidarity against any economic and other sanctions are also important.
In addition, the economic development of Nicaragua in the long run is tied to the rest of the area and to the development of an international socialist planned economy. It is also necessary, therefore, to raise in this context the slogan of the United Socialist States of Central America and the Caribbean. This again is today not an abstract slogan, since political developments with revolutionary potential are taking place throughout the region. In concrete terms, the implementation of the slogan requires maximum possible political and material support to the struggles in neighboring countries – in sharp contrast to the FSLN’s treacherous diplomatic neutrality towards the mass struggle in other countries.
The revolutionary program is not a sectarian method of merely denouncing the FSLN. In the course of a struggle for this program, tens of thousands of supporters of the FSLN and even some of its existing leadership can be won to a revolutionary perspective – and the enemies of the masses within its ranks can be finally exposed and the road to socialism opened.