National Sections of the L5I:

Nicaragua under the Sandinistas

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The insurrection of 19 July 1979 which finally overthrew the Somoza regime in Nicaragua was an event of enormous importance for revolutionaries world wide. It was the most thorough going democratic revolution in Latin America since the July 26th Movement led by Fidel Castro destroyed the Batista regime in Cuba in 1959.

For that very reason it was, and remains, an acid test for the programme of revolutionary communism - Trotskyism. A test of its ability to analyse developments in the Nicaraguan revolution and develop strategy and tactics which could both defend and extend the gains that the Nicaraguan workers and peasants made in 1979, the aim being to break the grip of imperialism over that country and the rest of Central America through the struggle for a genuine socialist revolution.

The purpose of this article is twofold. It attempts to chart the course of the revolution drawing on the analysis made by our tendency over the last eight years.1 Secondly it looks at the analysis of one of the largest centrist organisations claiming to be Trotskyist—the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI). The twists and turns of this organisation on the Nicaraguan Revolution led to one major split in 1979, with the Moreno grouping walking out just before the World Congress, and has contributed to the growing de facto split with the ‘Barnesite’ tendency led by the Socialist Workers Party of the USA (SWP(US)).

The debate over the nature and course of the Nicaraguan revolution has not confined itself to one over ‘tactics’. The positions developed by the USFI in the last eight years have demonstrated once again that politically this tendency has nothing in common with revolutionary Marxism. In happily turning themselves into ‘fellow travellers’ of the FSLN, the USFI has managed to revise every fundamental of Marxism. Included in this catalogue of revisionism is the Marxist understanding of the state, the Trotskyist analysis of popular fronts, the Bolshevik position on the nature of the transition between bourgeois society and socialism, the Leninist position on the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the role of soviets in the socialist revolution and their relation to bourgeois democratic parliaments and elections. In so doing the USFI has shown once again its willingness to liquidate the Trotskyist programme in the direction of ‘third world’ Stalinism and its programme for a ‘democratic stage’ in the revolution. A stage which Trotsky correctly pointed out, after the experience of the Chinese debacle of 1927, could only be a ‘noose around the neck’ of the proletariat.

The politics of the FSLN

The nature of the regime that emerged after the 1979 insurrection can only be understood by examining the politics and strategy of the FSLN from its foundation in 1961. The three founding members of the FSLN, Carlos Fonseca Amador, Tomás Borge and Silvio Mayorga had all been members of the Stalinist Nica ra guan Socialist Party (PSN). The three ex-students had already been politically moulded in under ground struggle against the Somoza family dictatorship which had been in power since 1936.

The leading figure, Carlos Fonseca, was already firmly convinced of the need to found a new organisation in the guerrilla struggle traditions of ‘General’ Augusto César Sandino. Sandino had opposed the US troops occupying Nicaragua between 1927 and 1934, mobilising the poor peasants in a guerrilla struggle until he was assassinated in 1934. Fonseca broke with the PSN over the question of armed struggle, advocating a guerrilla strategy for overthrowing the Somoza dictatorship. In doing this he was given an enormous boost by the successful revolution in Cuba in 1959. Fonseca travelled to Cuba where he met Che Guevara and sought aid and training for the struggle in Nicaragua.

When the FSLN launched its first offensive in 1963 it was already a clearly defined ‘guerrillaist’ organisation. It had adopted Guevara’s ‘foco’ strategy of developing a small group of guerrillas who, with the support of the peasantry, would be able to wear down and defeat the superior armed forces of the state, in the process developing insurrectional activity amongst the peasants and rural workers. The guerrilla combatants were seen as the ‘detonators’, a vanguard of military fighters necessarily detached from the everyday struggles of the masses, particularly of the urban workers who were relegated a largely passive role of providing political and material aid for the guerrilla forces.

When Comandante Heny Ruiz later analysed their tactics during this period he summarised their attitude to the proletarian struggle thus ‘A worker who is transferred to the mountains becomes a far greater danger to the Somocista regime than an economic strike carried out by hundreds of workers.’2

From 1963 through to the mid-1970s the guerrilla strategy met with few successes, indeed it suffered a number of major set backs. The initial 1963 guerrilla ‘foco’ in the department of Matagalpa was liquidated with heavy losses. A second attempt to reopen the campaign in 1967 in Pancasan was crushed in August with thirteen senior members of the organisation killed. By 1970 the FSLN had decided to cease all armed actions, although a small number of combatants remained in the mountains, and the long term guerrilla perspective remained.

So-called ‘intermediate organisations’ had been set up in the cities in the late 1960s, the most important of which was the Revolutionary Students Front (FER). The aim was to give economic support to the guerrillas and recruit members to replenish the FSLN guerrilla force. Bank raids were used to obtain the necessary finance to maintain the guerrillas. The fortunes of the FSLN rose and fell with the Nicaraguan economy which itself was enormously dependent on the world market price of its primary export crops. The 1960s and the first half of the 1970s were years of relative expansion in the economy. Nicaragua’s GDP increased two and a half times, with the manufacturing sector increasing considerably. Nicaragua benefited from the US aid launched with the ‘Alliance for Progress’ (1962), a response of the US ruling class prompted by the fear of the Cuban Revolution. The formation of the Central American Common Market similarly helped the Nicaraguan economy. These developments, together with US military aid to develop counter-insurgency forces in Nicaragua and throughout Latin America, made life for the guerrillas extremely difficult.

It was PSN, not the Sandinista’s, who were able to take advantage of the industrial struggles which followed the massive 1972 earthquake in Nicaragua. The massive corruption and incompetence in dealing with its effects on the masses had a radicalising effect. But the FSLN had little orientation to the workers, except as passive supporters of guerrilla actions. As a result it was the PSN which led the successful building workers’ struggles in 1973 and which led the subsequent strike wave. The FER was left rallying support amongst the students.

Despite spectacular actions such as the December 1974 seizure of a dinner party full of leading Somocistas which extracted the freedom of FSLN political prisoners and a large ransom in exchange for their release, the FSLN was in deep crisis by 1975. The hostage taking had been followed by the declaration of a ‘state of siege’ which was used to impose massive military repression against the Sandinistas and other oppositionists. Especially hard hit was the guerrilla struggle in Matagalpa. It is estimated that 3,000 people, mostly peasants, were murdered during the 33 months the emergency lasted. Casualties included Carlos Fonseca, the leader of the FSLN, killed in an ambush in 1976.

Growing tensions within the FSLN following these defeats led to a three way split over how to find a way out of the impasse. One tendency around Jaime Wheelock, Luis Carrion and Carlos Nunez drew the conclusion that there had to be a greater orientation to the working class in the cities. This ‘Proletarian Tendency’ (TP), as it came to be called, spoke of the need for a ‘Marxist-Leninist party’ and saw itself as an ‘embryo of the future revolutionary party of the working class’.3 Another tendency, which was closer to the ‘orthodox’ FSLN position, saw a protracted guerrilla war in the countryside as the only possible strategy for the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship. Heavily influenced by the strategy of the Vietnamese and Chinese CPs, this ‘Prolonged Peoples War Tendency’ (GPP) was led by Tomás Borge, Henry Ruiz and Bayardo Arce. For this group the ‘political backwardness’ of the masses necessitated a long armed struggle which also educated the masses and developed a socialist consciousness.

A third tendency, the Terceristas or ‘Insurrectional Tendency’, developed primarily amongst those leaders in exile. The Terceristas saw the possibility of a much shorter term insurrectional strategy. This was considered feasible because of the growing alienation of sections of the bourgeoisie and the supposed ‘floating’ nature of Nicaragua’s ‘middle classes’. They explicitly argued for a broad multi-class alliance to bring down Somoza. The leading figures in the Terceristas were the brothers Daniel and Humberto Ortega, the Mexican Victor Tirado Lopez and a Costa Rican, Plutarco Hernandez, who was killed shortly before Somoza’s overthrow in 1979.

With a growing economic crisis in the late 1970s and the increasing dissatisfaction with Somoza even among bourgeois sectors, the Terceristas grew rapidly. Recruiting from the Catholic Church, lay workers, lawyers and academics as well as in the student movement, the Terceristas rapidly overtook the other two tendencies. Their connections with international social democracy and ‘progressive’ regimes and parties in the rest of Latin America gave them a ‘respectability’ amongst bourgeois sectors that the other two tendencies lacked. By the time the three tendencies unified again at the end of 1978, the Terceristas were clearly the dominant force.

In the series of programmatic declarations of the FSLN starting with its ‘historic’ programme of 1969 there were few references to Marxism, let alone the dictatorship of the proletariat. Only the Proletarian Tendency, which was purged in 1975 and therefore not part of the leadership, explicitly called itself Marxist. While the Proletarian Tendency’s 1978 programme called for the ‘liquidation’ of the large landowners and the redistribution of idle land to the poor and landless peasants, for the nationalisation of the banks, a state monopoly of foreign trade and the nationalisation of foreign firms and basic industry, the majority tendency was calling only for the expropriation of Somoza-owned property. A communiqué from the National Directorate in mid-1978 summed up the perspective that the FSLN had for the struggle for socialism. It bore all the hallmarks of the ‘stageist’ perspective of Stalinism despite the guerrilarist method adopted to achieve it:

‘The armed insurrection of the masses is a means to achieve the revolutionary overthrow of the Somoza dynasty and open up a process of popular democracy, which will allow our people to enjoy democratic liberties, a more favourable framework in which to accumulate the revolutionary energies required for the march towards full national liberation and socialism.’4

Despite their differences on the tempo of the struggle and even on the importance of class alliances with the bourgeoisie to overthrow Somoza, neither the TP nor the GPP put forward the idea that the outcome of the struggle against Somoza would be the overthrow of bourgeois rule and the establishment of a workers’ state. All three tendencies agreed that the period of ‘popular democracy’ would involve the reconstruction of a ‘mixed economy’, i.e. capitalist Nicaragua. It was this agreed perspective which allowed the unification of the three tendencies and their unanimous decision to form a government of national reconstruction with bourgeois representatives after the overthrow of Somoza.

The overthrow of Anastasia Somoza Debayle

How was it that despite many years of failure with the guerrilarist project, the FSLN succeeded in taking power through an armed insurrection in 1979? Their success lay above all in the economic crisis which developed in Nicaragua in the late 1970s and the deep divisions that this provoked within the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie. By 1978/79 all of the pre-conditions for a revolutionary situation outlined by Lenin existed in full measure: an economy in profound crisis, a deeply split ruling class which was unable to ‘carry on in the old way’ and above all a massive popular uprising by the workers and urban poor, willing to die on the streets in their thousands in hand to hand combat with the hated National Guard.

Since the 1950s there had been three important ‘fractions’ of the bourgeoisie. These were large, often diverse, business groups built around key banks and often led by family ‘clans’ who had emerged out of the old landed oligarchy or commercial interests. The Banco Nicaraguense group (BANIC) with its ties to the Chase Manhatten Bank in the USA, had its origins in the old Liberal Party landowners and cotton interests. The Banamerica group (linked to Wells Fargo and Citibank in the USA) grew out of the old Granada based commercial sector linked to the Conservative Party and had interests in cattle raising and sugar. The third group was based around the Somoza ‘dynasty’ and its cronies.

By the time of Anastasia Somoza Debayle’s overthrow the Somoza family or their agents, had been in control of government for three and a half decades. Placed there, courtesy of a US marine force in the 1930s, the Somoza clan throughout these years enjoyed the full military and economic backing of US imperialism. By ruthless use of the state machine and outrageous corruption the Somozas had gathered to themselves an enormous agricultural, business and banking empire, often in the most modern and capital intensive sectors of the economy. By 1979 the Somoza family controlled 20% of all Nicaragua’s arable land. Not only was it involved in cotton, rice and tobacco growing but it owned the majority of the modern mills for processing these products. It owned slaughter houses, meat packing plants and was heavily involved in the construction industry as well as banking.

While these three groups co-operated happily in the growth years of the 1960s and early 1970s, the stagnation of the mid-1970s caused serious strains. The Somozas used their control of the state to gather ever more of the economy under their control. The Managuan earthquake of 1972 was particularly damaging to the petty commercial and manufacturing sectors who were further alienated from the regime by the large scale embezzlement of aid meant to rebuild Managua’s commercial centre.

By 1974 sections of the middle and petit bourgeoisie joined in an opposition front called the Democratic Liberation Union (UDEL), led by Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, a Conservative Party dissident, editor of the leading bourgeois daily, La Prensa, and member of one of the leading bourgeois families in Nicaragua. While the leading bourgeois sectors, BANIC and BANAMERICA, stood back from UDEL, the organisation suffered considerable repression by Somoza.

While the Moscow loyal PSN tied itself and its trade union federation (CGT) to the UDEL, the Tercerista dominated FSLN achieved its own multi-class alliance with the formation of Los Doce (The Twelve). These were a group of industrialists, businessmen, priests and academics who declared that no solution could be found to the political crisis without the representation of the FSLN. La Doce included banker Arturo Cruz who was later to join the Sandinistas’ government. Los Doce were to form a bridge to establishing a real popular front with important sections of the bourgeoisie on the eve of the insurrection.

Was any form of ‘multi-class alliance’ impermissible in principle for Marxists in the struggle against the brutal Somoza dictatorship? When serious mass forces willing to struggle existed involving sections of the petit bourgeoisie, when they were entering the road of concrete actions against the imperialist backed Somoza regime, communists would and should have joined in an ‘anti-imperialist united front’ against the regime. Indeed even if some parties or mass formations were under openly bourgeois leadership this would not ipso facto rule them out. Here again the litmus test would be willingness to fight.

But an absolute pre-condition of such unity in action or united front would be for communists to keep clear their own objectives of struggle, fighting in the interests of the proletariat to ensure a strengthening of the workers’ organisations, never confusing their banner with that of the bourgeoisie, but ‘striking together’ through demonstrations, general strikes and armed actions against the National Guard. Above all there could be no common goal with the bourgeoisie with regard to the government that should replace Somoza. Communists, even whilst supporting democratic slogans such as that of a constituent assembly, should make clear that they were fighting to win the workers and peasants to the goal of an anti-capitalist government based on these classes alone.

The perspectives of the FSLN (and the Stalinist PSN) had nothing in common with this method. Rather they pursued the policy of the popular front, tying the working class and urban poor to the programme of the bourgeoisie. In guaranteeing, in its programme, private property rights in post-Somoza Nicaragua, in assuring the bourgeoisie that they had no intention of expropriating them after the revolution, of establishing a workers’ state, the FSLN was ‘reserving a place’ for the bourgeoisie in the government, even though the bourgeoisie itself throughout 1978 and the first half of 1979 rejected such an alliance.

Trotsky contrasted these two methods of struggle in his writings against the ‘people’s front’ policies of the French Stalinists in 1936. Contrasting the practical, united front agreements made between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries with this method, he said:

‘Such episodic agreements and compromises confined strictly to practical aims—and Lenin never spoke of any other kind—have absolutely nothing in common with the people’s front, which represents a conglomeration of heterogeneous organisations, a long term alliance between different classes, which are bound for an entire period—and what a period!—by a common programme and a common policy, the policy of parades, declamations, and of throwing up of smokescreens. The policy of the people’s front will fall to pieces at the first serious test and deep fissures will open up in all its component sections. The policy of the people’s front is the policy of betrayal.’5

Throughout early 1978 and early 1979 the bourgeoisie was desperately trying to make a deal via the US imperialists to allow Somoza to resign, while preserving his system and preventing the ‘Marxist’ FSLN seizing power at the head of a popular rebellion. Their hopes had been raised by the presidency of Jimmy Carter and his supposed ‘human rights’ policy. The US ruling class was, however, far from willing to dump its trusted stooge. Despite suspending arms supplies (quickly replaced by supplies from Israel and Argentina) only to restore them when things looked critical for Somoza, the US government was determined to stand by Somoza until the bourgeois opposition agreed to his terms. Somoza, unfortunately for the US, was too intransigent. He refused to resign under any conditions believing that sheer repression would crush the opposition. He was mistaken.

In January the assassination of Pedro Joaquín Chomorro on his way to work at La Prensa sent deep shock waves through the bourgeoisie. A leading bourgeois oppositionist being bumped off by Somoza’s supporters (probably on the orders of his son, a leading figure in the National Guard) had an effect on the moral sensibilities of the bourgeoisie that up to that point all the massacres of workers and peasants had failed to do. As one banker was quoted as saying at the time, ‘one does not kill people of a certain social condition’6 But Somoza had.

There followed an explosion of popular protest—strikes and demonstrations rocked Managua. Many of Somoza’s businesses and factories were burned to the ground. The first to be torched was Somoza’s plasma business. Known to the Managuans as the ‘House of Dracula’, it was where blood was taken from Managuan drunks and down-and -outs brought there by the Guard. The blood was then sold for $5.50 a litre on the international market!

Thirteen days after the assassination some employers’ associations connected to the UDEL called a ‘General Strike’ to bring down Somoza. The smaller bourgeoisie was becoming desperate. An enormous flight of capital from Nicaragua due to the growing crisis was causing a major wave of bankruptcies amongst small firms. The big capitalists of BANIC and BANAMERICA refused to participate however. Terrified that their actions might fuel the popular mobilisations, the small employers launched their shut down under the slogans ‘civic work stoppage’, ‘peaceful resistance’, 'don’t leave your homes’. Somoza, reassured that the major sectors of the bourgeoisie were not supporting the action, rode out the storm.

The UDEL employers vacillated and quickly capitulated under pressure from the US embassy to end their actions. The shutdown had lasted twelve days. The employers’ strike demonstrated precisely what hopeless and treacherous allies even the smaller bourgeoisie were in the struggle. In a country like Nicaragua, with such a weak bourgeoisie, and one so closely tied to the apron strings of imperialism, any united fronts struck with them were destined at best to be merely episodic. Events in Nicaragua fully confirmed the Trotskyist perspective that the semi-colonial bourgeoisie is a fundamentally counter-revolutionary force in the democratic and anti-imperialist struggle.

During the rest of 1978 and increasingly in the early months of 1979 growing numbers of real, popular urban insurrections against the Somoza regime took place. Sometimes they were spontaneous, like the February 1978 rising in Monimbo, sometimes they were part of a planned offensive by the FSLN. A second employers ‘general strike’ was followed by an FSLN national offensive in September 1978, one which Somoza crushed, inflicting heavy casualties on the insurgents.

Alfonso Robelo Callejas had emerged as the major figure in the bourgeois opposition. Robelo, an industrialist and President of the Nicaraguan Development Institute (INDE) with close links to BANIC, warned in an interview with an Argentinian newspaper (obviously aimed for US consumption) that ‘if Somoza continues in power, giving the people no option but armed insurrection, the country will be in danger of falling under communist rule’.7

Robelo was to become the main bourgeois figure in the FSLN’s ‘Government of National Reconstruction’ of 1979. His New Democratic Movement joined with the UDEL and Los Doce and a number of other opposition parties to form the Broad Opposition Front (FAO) in May 1978. Negotiations between this front and the USA in October, after the defeat of the September 1978 offensive, led to its break up. Los Doce the harvest to other types of labour, often in the towns. Another third owned plots of lan and several other groups went over to the FSLN’s political front organisation, the MPU, and created the National Patriotic Front, in February 1979. They were not willing to accept the conditions being negotiated between the USA and Robelo which included a provisional government containing Somoza’s Liberal Party and the National Guard!

At the end of May 1979 the FSLN called another national insurrection and general strike. The response was overwhelming. By 8 June, 25 towns and villages in the north of the country were under Sandinista control. Fierce battles broke out in Managua following a general strike and insurrection against the heart of Somoza’s regime on 9 June.

Even now the USA desperately tried to salvage something from the wreckage. An appeal to the Organisation of American States for intervention with a ‘peacekeeping force’ was rejected on 22 June 1979. By 8 July, with Esteli fallen, Somoza knew the situation was hopeless and placed his resignation in the hands of the US ambassador.

On 13 July the Junta of the Government of National Reconstruction , which had been formed in June, made a number of ceasefire proposals. This included agreement to the USA’s last desperate attempt to keep part of Somoza’s army intact. Francisco Urcuyo Malianos, Somoza’s President of the Chamber of Deputies, was to hand over power to the Junta in return for an agreement not to disband the remaining National Guard but to integrate its ‘healthy’ elements into a new army.

But Urcuyo badly failed his North American masters and in an attempt to seize power for himself called on the ‘irregular forces’ to lay down their arms and declared he would stay until elections in 1981. The last hope of a ‘controlled’ hand over of power had gone. When the FSLN columns reached Managua on the afternoon of 19 July the city was already in the hands of the militias formed in the insurrectionary general strike. The National Guard in Managua had been beaten and disintegrated under the onslaught of the popular militias, the remnants fleeing or surrendering to the Sandinistas.

Comandante Henry Ruiz told the London Guardian on 21 July 1979 that the FSLN, and the Nicaraguan people, in removing Somoza ‘Took out the heart and the body fell’. ‘Now’ he declared ‘we must fill the empty space’. The bourgeoisie were pressing to fill it.

The class nature of the Sandinista state

Nothing more clearly reflects the theoretical degeneration of the various centrists who lay claim to Trotskyism than the complete confusion over the nature of the Nicaraguan regime. A whole series of labels have been stuck on the regime that emerged out of the 1979 revolution—a ‘dismembered bourgeois state’ (USFI 1979), a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ (SWP(US)), a ‘non-state’ (International Spartacist Tendency), a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ (USFI 1985). The fact that a similar degree of confusion reigned over the analysis of the Cuban revolution of 1959 merely proves that centrism ‘learns nothing and forgets nothing’.

By June 1979 a Popular Front government in exile in Costa Rica had already been formed by the FSLN and the bourgeois opposition. The five members of the ‘Governing Junta of National Reconstruction’ (Junta) were Comandante Daniel Ortega for the FSLN, Moises Hassan from the National Patriotic Front, Sergio Ramirez a member of Los Doce, the industrialist Alfonso Robelo and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, widow of the murdered editor of La Prensa.

An 18 person cabinet was named shortly after, composed predominantly of bourgeois figures. Arturo Cruz, a former economist with the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington became president of the Central Bank, Roberto Mayorga ex-secretary of the Central American Common Market was appointed Minister of Planning, Joaquín Quadra, with his close connections with BANAMERICA, was in charge of finance, and the Minister of Defence was an ex-colonel in the National Guard who had deserted only in 1978. The new government was to have impeccably bourgeois credentials.

The new governing Junta was endorsed by the FAO and the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the largest employers’ grouping, on 22 June 1979. The constituent assembly, which had been a part of the FSLN’s programme, disappeared in favour of a 33 person ‘Council of State’ which was to represent ‘all political, economic and social forces who have contributed to the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship’.8 The plans for the Council gave bourgeois organisations a clear majority. The Junta had agreed to incorporate ‘patriotic’ elements of the National Guard into a new army, and of course the programme guaranteed the rights of private property, apart from that belonging to Somoza, which was to be nationalised.

However, the Junta was to assume power in a very different situation than had been originally envisaged. The repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state, the National Guard, police etc. had been completely smashed. The only armed force in the state was the Sandinista guerrilla ‘army’, estimated at about 2,000 guerrilla ‘veterans’, and about 2,500 persons in the popular militias, themselves very loosely under Sandinista leadership. These militias were mostly armed workers, students and the urban poor who had seized their arms from the National Guard in battle. Some like the Maoist oriented MILPAS were tied to political parties.

Also in existence were Civil Defence Committees (CDCs). These were encouraged and set up by the Sandinista led front the MPU (forerunner of the National Patriotic Front). During the city insurrections they took on the form of proto-soviets, organising armed actions and administration in the cities once the guard had been defeated.

Thus a situation of dual power existed in Nicaragua after the overthrow of Somoza in 1979. On the one side stood the movement of workers, peasants and urban poor, eager to throw off years of exploitation and oppression. On the other side stood the bourgeoisie, backed by imperialism but deprived of its crucial weapon, its direct control of the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state, the army and police. The Government of National Reconstruction was similar in form to the Provisional Government in Russia that emerged out of the revolutionary crisis in February 1917. It was a government made up of parties of ‘petit bourgeois democracy’ in alliance with the bourgeoisie.

Unlike the Russian situation however, and unlike the classical popular fronts analysed by Trotsky in the 1930s, the Junta was not made up of formal blocs between clearly defined workers parties (Stalinist and/or social democratic). We have noted before that a number of factors give rise in the imperialised world to formations like the FSLN:

‘The fluidity and relative lack of definition of class divisions in an under-developed or backward semi-colony; the socialist rhetoric of petit bourgeois nationalists and the chameleonism of the Stalinist currents within the guerrilla movements; and the absence of large bourgeois nationalist parties, given the weakness of the bourgeoisie and its comprador like subordination to US imperialism.’9

All these factors in Nicaragua contributed to the specific nature of the Junta which bore striking similarities to the government that emerged from the overthrow of Batista in 1959.

There should have been no doubt amongst Marxists about the bourgeois character of this government and its commitment to defend and guarantee bourgeois property forms. As Engels made clear it is the property relations that a state defends, not the class character of the personnel who staff it, or the situation of dual power, which defines the class nature of the state.

Certainly it was no ‘normal’ bourgeois government which emerged out of the revolution of July 1979. The lack of control of the bourgeoisie over its armed forces, the existence of armed militias, the inability to impose discipline in the factories and mills not destroyed in Somoza’s last desperate struggle, all pointed to the deep (and to the bourgeoisie frightening) duality of power in the state. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the effective state power wielded by the National Directorate of the FSLN, the nine ‘Comandantes’ of the revolution should take on a ‘left Bonapartist’ character.

Committed to preserving private property and their alliance with the bourgeoisie on the one side, but dependent on the support of the masses of workers and peasants on the other in their attempt to gain Nicaragua a degree of independence from US imperialism and its bourgeois agents in Nicaragua, the Sandinista government gained a ‘certain independence’ from all contending classes.

Such regimes are not ‘new’ or ‘strange’ to the Marxist movement. They have been analysed many times by the founders of our movement. As Engels pointed out in relation to the Bismark government:

‘It is becoming ever clearer to me that the bourgeoisie does not have the stuff in it for ruling directly itself, and that therefore where there is no oligarchy as there is here in England, to take over, for good pay, the management of the state and society in the interests if the bourgeoisie, a Bonapartist semi-dictatorship is the normal form. It upholds the big material interests of the bourgeoisie even against the will of the bourgeoisie, but allows the bourgeoisie no share in the power of government.’10

Indeed throughout Latin America, precisely because of the weakness of the bourgeoisie, and the strength of the revolutionary struggles of the proletariat and poor peasantry, ‘Bonapartist semi-dictatorships’ are the norm. Pinochet’s Chile, and the long term military dictatorships in that have existed in Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia are examples.

Of course, the Sandinista regime was not a right-wing Bonapartist dictatorship but a ‘leftist’ one of the Mexican Cardenas type analysed by Trotsky. It rested and drew its strength from the radicalised petit bourgeois sectors, the urban poor and to an increasing extent in the 1980s, on the middle layers of peasant farmers. But despite its relative independence from the contending classes it was never in doubt that the regime defended capitalist property relations. The FSLN leaders repeat ad nauseum their commitment to preserving the mixed economy. As Tomás Borge put it in a recent interview:

‘In Nicaragua, by contrast, the bourgeoisie is now a social sector of secondary importance. But it is not eliminated, not do we plan to eliminate it; quite the contrary, we have made substantial efforts to keep it in existence as an economic force.’11

The four ‘agents of National Reconstruction’ were listed in the first development plan of the revolution as, the ‘international community, the working people, the patriotic business sector and the revolutionary state’.12

In an almost conscious recognition of their Bonapartist position the Sandinista Comandantes emphasise that the bourgeoisie will be allowed to dominate the economy, as long as they, the FSLN, are left ‘in control’ of the state. Thus Jaime Wheelock’s well known declaration ‘Let the bourgeoisie just produce, and limit itself as a class, to a productive role. Let it use the means of production to live, not as an instrument of power and domination.’13 This is the heart of the FSLN’s utopian project of a ‘popular democracy’ where the capitalists produce but the workers’ and peasants’ representatives supposedly rule. A democratic stage on the road to a (distant) socialist Nicaragua. The Nicaraguan bourgeoisie were soon to prove that the Sandinista tail was unable to wag the capitalist dog!

The USFI grovels before Sandinism

The USFI had to quickly change its position on the FSLN after its victory in July 1979. The USFI’s analysis of the FSLN was largely in the hands of Fausto Amador, the brother of the late leader of the FSLN. Amador had broken from the FSLN in the early 1970s making a public statement, which was used by Somoza, calling on the guerrillas to give up the struggle and surrender their arms. By 1977 Amador was a member of the SWP(US) and writing many of the articles on Nicaragua for Intercontinental Press and Inprecor. As late as June 1978, when the FSLN had already launched its final offensive and controlled most of the towns in the North of Nicaragua, these organs of the USFI were warning that such actions were ‘precipitate’ and ‘voluntaristic’ and could only lead to ‘great disasters’ for the FSLN.14

After the Sandinista triumph these centrists had to perform a complete volte face. Now they heaped mountains of praise on the FSLN in order to cover their tracks. While before the revolution the USFI had a position of calling for the repudiation of the foreign debt, for the nationalisation of not only Somoza’s holdings but also that of ‘imperialist firms and national capitalists’ and calling for a government which would ‘exclude all representatives of the ruling class and imperialism’,15 this formal programme was unceremoniously dumped immediately the Sandinistas were in power. The basis for this was, of course, the ‘anti-capitalist dynamic’ of the revolutionary process which would push the Sandinistas further and further to the left. An October 1979 USFI statement declared:

‘The character and history of the leadership of the FSLN leadership show that it would be an error to place any a priori limits beyond which decisive sectors of the FSLN leadership cannot go as the process of permanent revolution unfolds.’16

Having once again discovered a bunch of ‘unconscious Trotskyists’ leading a revolution the USFI quickly set about trampling on any ‘ultra-left’ demands which might offend them. In particular the demand on the FSLN to break the open governmental coalition with the bourgeoisie was subject to the wrath of the USFI leaders:

‘To focus political intervention today on the slogan “All bourgeois ministers out of the government” would likewise be to succumb to the sectarian temptation of applying abstract schemas.’17

The USFI went on to endorse the FSLN’s popular front justifying it in terms of ‘buying time’ and providing a ‘breathing space’ for the government. This it certainly did. At the critical moment of the dual power when a revolutionary Marxist opposition should have been pushing forward the struggle for workers’ power, to break the popular frontist project of the FSLN leaders, to strengthen the organs of the workers and peasants, on the basis of which a government could be formed to deal a crushing blow to the weakened capitalists, the USFI was throwing itself behind the popular front!

Much of this polemic was, of course, directed against their ‘own comrades’ of the Simon Bolivar Brigade (SBB) which had just been expelled from the country by the FSLN.18 The SBB was organising around demands including the nationalisation of the big capitalists and kicking the bourgeoisie out of the government. While the SBB’s slogan for a ‘Sandinista government without capitalists’ itself showed enormous illusions in the Sandinistas, it clearly tried to draw on the lessons and tactics developed by the Bolsheviks in Russia in the period between February and October 1917.

The Bolsheviks, of course, had had no truck with Menshevik arguments about the need for a ‘breathing space’ because of the war then on and the difficulties it caused. The Bolsheviks refused any support to the Provisional Government precisely because it was a coalition with bourgeois ministers committed to defending capitalism. They demanded the immediate kicking out of the capitalist ministers. For the USFI, adopting such tactics was indulging in ‘sectarian schema. Obviously, the political situations were not identical. Nicaragua was an imperialised country under threat from the USA, even though the US was more concerned at that time to encourage the regime’s moderation than launching a direct attack upon them as it was to do later.

Neither, and this was where the SBB was wrong, were the Sandinistas like the Mensheviks or the Socialist Revolutionaries of 1917. They were more like a coalition of the two, a political tendency resembling the Koumintang of the 1925/26 period. The FSLN was what Trotsky described the Peruvian APRA to be in the 1930s ‘a peoples front party’19. It was itself a popular front containing elements openly committed to capitalism. ‘Comandante Cero’, Eden Pastora of the Terceristas, an ex-member of the Nicaraguan Conservative Party, represented this wing.

Other elements claimed to be Marxists, such as Jamie Wheelock of the TP, and at times reflected the pressure and demands of the workers and peasants within the FSLN coalition. The major grouping, the Tercerista centre, represented by the Ortega brothers, had close links with international social-democracy, especially the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE).

Tactics had to be developed which related to the enormous prestige and support the FSLN had amongst the masses as leaders of the popular insurrection, but which aimed to win the workers and peasants away from the political programme of the FSLN whose aim was to establish a ‘democratic’, that is, non-socialist Nicaragua.

To call for a ‘Sandinista government without capitalists’ failed to address this problem, failed to confront the task of building a revolutionary workers’ party, something the SBB did not call for until after they were expelled from the country. The crucial task of revolutionaries in this period was to fight to develop the CDCs into real soviet-type bodies, democratically representing the workers, militias, and the ‘barrios’ and women’s organisations as well as drawing in the small and poor peasantry.

This was a particularly vital struggle as the FSLN, recognising its lack of organisational control over these bodies, set about using its enormous prestige to bring them under closer bureaucratic control. The CDC’s were being turned into ‘Sandinista Defence Committees’ (CDSs), organs of a future Sandinista government which were to have a largely ‘consultative’ role. The militias were to be disarmed with sections of them integrated into a new Sandinista Peoples’ Army (EPS).

This led to clashes not only with the SBB but also the Maoist oriented MILPAS. The trade unions were to be ‘unified’ under the control of the Sandinista Workers’ Federation (CST). This move led to clashes with the existing trade unions of both the right and left. This control of the mass movement was necessary for the FSLN if it was to deliver its side of the bargain with the bourgeoisie; namely, to allow the capitalist farmers and manufacturers to continue to produce (i.e. exploit) the workers and peasants.

In counter-position to the popular front government of the FSLN and the capitalists, revolutionaries should have been demanding that the FSLN break with the bourgeoisie, not just by kicking out the capitalist ministers, although this was a crucial demand, but politically with the project of a capitalist Nicaragua. The demand for a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ government was vital to this struggle, both within the ranks of, and against the leadership of, the FSLN. The struggle to mobilise the CDCs, the workers and peasants, the armed fighters around such a demand, would have opened the way to the settling of accounts with capitalism.

It would have been fought around the programme of action that such a government needed to take to consolidate and extend the revolution. The strengthening and arming of the militias, not their demobilisation, the expropriation of the major capitalist enterprises, not just Somoza’s, was what was called for in order to lay the basis of a planned economy. The redistribution of the land and recognition of all land seizures, repudiation of the foreign debt, mobilisation of the population in support of the struggles in El Salvador and Honduras were also vital demands.

In this context the demand for the immediate convocation of a constituent assembly was central. Neither the FSLN nor the bourgeoisie wanted such a body. For the FSLN it would have meant defining their policies and placing them before the masses for discussion and approval. The bourgeoisie pinned its hopes on the small, undemocratic ‘Council of State’ to represent its interests. It had everything to fear from the convening of a constituent assembly in the middle of a dual power situation where the masses were armed and they were not. Clearly, if the CDCs had developed into genuine and powerful soviet-type bodies, then soviet power and a workers’ and peasants’ government based upon them would have superceded the demand for an assembly. But as long as this was not the case, then the call for a constituent assembly maintained its relevance. It should have been fought for in a revolutionary manner by Trotskyists by aiming to get the CDCs and peasants’ committees to take charge of its convening, and struggled for the programme of workers’ and peasants’ power when it was convened.

Measured against the needs of the workers and peasants of Nicaragua at this time, the role of the USFI in endorsing the Sandinista programme and grovelling before its every action was particularly criminal. They in fact carried out the same role that Trotsky denounced the CGT and Comintern for carrying out in France in relation to the popular front government that came to power in the period of mass struggles:

‘In order to lead the revolutionary struggles for power, it is necessary to clearly see the class from which the power must be wrested. The workers did not recognise the enemy because he was disguised as a friend. In order to struggle for power, it is necessary, moreover, to have the instruments of struggle: the party, trade unions, and soviets. The workers were deprived of these instruments because the leaders of the workers’ organisations formed a wall around the bourgeois power in order to disguise it, to render it unrecognisable and invulnerable. Thus the revolution that began found itself braked, arrested, demoralised.’ 20

Barnes versus Mandel

The vehemence with which the USFI majority and the SWP(US) denounced the SBB and its actions, hid for a period their differences of analysis. What they were both agreed on was that there could be no separate party from the FSLN nor any criticisms made which might obstruct their desired role as ‘fraternal advisers’ to the FSLN leadership.

At the 1979 World Congress the Mandelites analysed the state in Nicaragua in the following way:

‘Although greatly dismembered a bourgeois state exists, with its fundamental laws that protect private ownership of the means of production (land, property, industry), hence capitalist accumulation.’21

However, a ‘special situation of dual power’ existed, sometimes referred to as ‘dual power at the level of the state’. By this the Mandelites meant that there were two poles of power in Nicaragua, on the one side stood the bourgeoisie, and on the other stood the FSLN and its army representing the workers and peasants. This it was argued was unstable:

‘Such a situation cannot last very long; it must find a solution. It can lead either to the course followed by the Algerian revolution or the path traced by the Cuban revolution.’22

This analysis carefully ignored the fact that the FSLN leaders did not represent the workers and peasants in as far as they supported the maintenance of capitalism in Nicaragua. Certainly there was dual power in Nicaragua, but it also ran through the FSLN. The FSLN was an amorphous movement, it had a leadership, the National Directorate (DN), the nine Comandantes, who made decisions and policy, but no formal membership in 1978.23

In as far as the FSLN leadership consolidated its position, developed a party ‘apparatus’, turned the CDCs into carefully controlled organs of ‘popular power’, established a regular army and reformed the militia under its control (whose arms were kept by the army except in areas threatened by the Contras), it attenuated the dual power. But because of the offensive by imperialism this was never finally resolved in the bourgeoisie’s favour. The FSLN leaders had to mobilise the masses, arm them, against the openly counter-revolutionary sectors of the bourgeoisie (the majority) backed by imperialism. Even now the bourgeoisie knows it can only resolve it, obtain direct control again of its army, police, by purging and dismantling the EPS (Sandinista People’s Army)—a key demand of Reagan and the Contras in the current ‘peace negotiations’.

Further the World Congress offered the workers and peasants of Nicaragua only two roads—nationalist bourgeois counter-revolution (Algeria) or a Stalinist led overturn of capitalism which expropriates the workers from political power (Cuba). Either bourgeois Bonapartism or the Bonapartism of a bureaucratised workers’ state. A socialist revolution, the establishment of a workers’ democracy through soviet power led by a democratic centralist Leninist party, is ruled out as ‘schematic’ by these ‘Trotskyists’.

The SWP(US) which presented a minority resolution, disagreed with the analysis of Nicaragua as a ‘bourgeois state’, even a ‘dismembered one’! They argued that the situation of dual power that existed before July had been resolved in favour of the workers and peasants. The government which had come into being was ‘qualitively different to the bourgeois coalition projected in the July 9th Junta programme’. They continued: ‘The Nicaraguan toilers, under FSLN leadership, have set off down a promising road oriented to the expropriation of the bourgeoisie’.The Sandinistas had ‘displaced the political power of the capitalists, blocked the establishment of a bourgeois government’ and become ‘a workers’ and peasants’ government of the kind described in the Transitional Programme’.24

This description is at complete variance with the actual situation in Nicaragua in 1979 not to say with the declared intentions and programme of the FSLN’s leaders. But this was merely a holding position for the SWP(US). When it became increasingly clear over time that few inroads were being made against private capitalism in Nicaragua, and that the so-called ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ of the Junta was far from the ‘transitory phenomenon’ (the SWP(US) resolution described it as lasting a ‘matter of months’) they developed this position into the full blown stages theory so beloved of the Stalinists.

By 1982 Jack Barnes, leader of the SWP(US), was obliged to explicitly attack Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution to justify a revolution by stages:

‘Workers’ and peasants’ governments are characterised by a stage in the class struggle where capitalist property relations have not yet been abolished, but where the workers and farmers have conquered political power through a genuine revolution.’ 25

Barnes ‘forgot’ one thing about the use of the slogan for a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ government used by the Comintern in 1923. It described a government carrying out a specific programme, a programme aimed at destroying the power of capitalism. It was precisely because of this, because it would set about winning the workers, expropriating the capitalists, disarming the counter-revolution, that it could only be ‘transitional’.

Transitional because, within a very short time, it would provoke a civil war with the capitalists and either triumph as the dictatorship of the proletariat or fall to the counter-revolution. The Barnesite SWP(US), and their British followers around Brian Grogan, are following a well worn path. Like the Stalinists of the 1930s they are attempting to revive the old pre-1917 Leninist formula of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ which had proved itself obsolete in the Russian Revolution, now dressed up as the ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’. It is no surprise that Barnes had to attack Trotskyism to do it. As the Transitional Programme states:

‘The Bolshevik-Leninists resolutely rejected the slogan of the “workers’ and peasants’ government” in the bourgeois democratic version. They affirmed then and they affirm now that when the party of the proletariat refuses to step beyond bourgeois democratic limits, its alliance with the peasantry is simply turned into support for capital, as was the case with the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries in 1917, with the Chinese Communist Party in 1925-27, and as is now the case with the peoples’ front in Spain, France and other countries’26

One can add today, ‘as is now the case with the USFI in Nicaragua’.

The Sandinista regime had turned out not to be transitory at all but remarkably long lasting by comparison to the USFI’s prognosis. It had neither fallen to a bourgeois counter-revolution or followed the Cuban road. If this led the SWP(US) to rediscover a ‘democratic stage’ of the revolution dressed up as a workers’ and peasants’ government, it led the Mandelites in the opposite direction.

For a brief period they also decided it was a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’. A 28 September 1980 USFI resolution declared ‘the existence in Nicaragua of a workers’ and peasants’ government, a brief episode on the road to the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat’.27 Precisely when this change had come about was left vague. It certainly was not to do with a break up in the popular front coalition as there were still bourgeois ministers in the government. The only reasons for this change in governmental form evidenced were the changes made in the Council of State, (it now supposedly had a ‘worker and peasant majority’) and the fact that the FSLN had refused the bourgeoisie’s call for elections and refused to appoint the bourgeois ministers COSEP wanted (i.e. the FSLN had chosen different ones !).28

Once again the USFI perspective was proved quickly wrong. As the policies of the FSLN continued much as before with regard to the private sector, the USFI decided in 1985 that its analysis had been completely wrong since the overthrow of Somoza! True, in the best traditions of other USFI self-criticisms, this one was contained in a footnote to its 12th Congress resolution, but nevertheless the line was changed.29

Now the USFI argued that in July 1979 ‘power passed into the hands of the workers’. The overthrow of Somoza on 19 July:

‘. . . marked the first steps of the dictatorship of the proletariat based on an alliance with the peasantry, of the construction of a workers’ state, which has to be consolidated like any emerging workers’ state.’30

This incredible piece of hokum had to be passed off as Marxism. No explanation was offered of how the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was founded with a majority of bourgeois ministers—surely something unique in the annals of Marxism.

The resolution does not even suggest this is a workers’ state with certain ‘bureaucratic deformations’ as the USFI occasionally admits to in Cuba. The fact that there is no democratic centralist revolutionary party, only a top-down vertically controlled FSLN, the fact that there are no soviet-type bodies placing decision making power in the hands of the workers, only bureaucratically controlled ‘consultative’ bodies, organs of so-called popular power, is of little consequence to these ‘Marxists’. Nor does the fact that 60% of the economy remains under the control of private capitalism, or that there is no central plan, carry much weight with these astute Trotskyist theoreticians either.

A smokescreen of references to the Bolshevik Revolution, ‘they did not immediately want to nationalise the means of production either’; ‘Nicaragua is the equivalent of NEP in the USSR’ and even that ‘the total suppression of private property did not take place in Russia until 15 years after the October Revolution’ are used to try and fool a presumed gullible membership.31 Firstly, the Russian Revolution put into power a soviet government, led by a party committed to the abolition of capitalism, not its preservation. Secondly, whatever their intentions, it proved in practice necessary to expropriate the enormous majority of industry to do this. Thirdly, NEP was seen as a temporary and dangerous retreat, even where a Soviet government existed and where the major industries, distribution and foreign trade were directly under its control. Fourthly, as early as 1925, despite the destruction of World War One, of the Civil War, the retreat of NEP, the Soviet government was developing the mechanisms (Gosplan) to introduce centralised planning which aimed to suppress the law of value and therefore the market.

Trotsky was to ask the question of the Soviet Union in 1925, the high point of NEP; ‘Are we marching towards socialism or capitalism?’ He went on:

‘A premise of a socialist economy is the nationalisation of the means of production. Has this process survived the test of the New Economic Policy? Has the commercial method of distribution of commodities led to the weakening or the strengthening of nationalisation?’32

The USFI would not even dare ask these questions of their Nicaraguan ‘workers’ state’. The ‘premise’ of socialism has not even been carried out. Trotsky argued that figures for Russia showed, even in 1925, that the economy was moving forward to socialised production, not backward. The state had socialised 62% of the whole means of production excluding agriculture, and the proportion of state industries had grown by 3% even in the single year of 1925. The agricultural sector remained 96% in private hands, but still formed only a third of the means of production in Russia. Once planning was introduced in 1929 socialisation of production proceeded apace, albeit bureaucratically. In Nicaragua by 1980 the state sectors (Areas of Peoples’ Property—APP) contributed 41% to the gross domestic product, a figure which has remained roughly static. At the same time, 70% of the production of export items, the crucial area in the Nicaraguan economy, remains in private hands, mainly in the hands of the big cotton and coffee farms.

In their desire to remain uncritical cheer leaders of the FSLN’s policies, the Mandelite wing of the USFI, as well as the SWP(US), (which remains a USFI sympathising section in the USA even to this day), have completely revised and distorted every category of Marxism. If proof was ever needed of the uselessness for revolution of centrism of a Trotskyist origin the USFI has provided it over Nicaragua.
From a bourgeois coalition to a popular front with the ‘shadow of the bourgeoisie’

What was the real course of events during the first years of the Sandinista government as opposed to the fantasising of the USFI? The Governing Junta of National Reconstruction came to power in a country whose economy was moulded to the needs of imperialism—especially of US imperialism.

The Nicaraguan economy, even more so than its fellow members of the Central American Common Market (CACM), was dependent on its primary agricultural products for income. In the 1950s and 1960s the expansion of cattle raising, rice, coffee and above all cotton (a highly capital intensive crop on large Nicaraguan farms) had the effect of driving the peasants from their land. They were either driven to the frontier regions to become small peasant farmers or became semi-proletarian or proletarian rural labourers. It is estimated that as much as one third of the economically active agricultural population at the end of the 1970s was completely dependent on wage labour—transferring from agricultural work during the three months of the harvest to other types of labour, often in the towns. Another third owned plots of land too small to survive on and had to hire out their labour.34

Not surprisingly therefore the ‘land question’ and land hunger was a crucial issue; a bench mark as to just how ‘revolutionary’ the new regime was to be and a measure of the degree to which the FSLN was willing to compromise with big agricultural capital. During the course of the revolution there had been significant numbers of peasant land seizures, and not just of Somoza’s lands. The slogan of the Sandinistas in the war zones had been ‘land to whoever works it’.

A further question that faced the government was the Atlantic coast, an area of sparce population never fully integrated into the country’s economic, political or cultural life. For nearly 60 years, from the early 1800s, the area had been dominated by British imperialism as a ‘protectorate’ of the ‘Miskito Indian Territories’. The Indian groups in this area often spoke English as well as their own languages, looked to the Caribbean and had always viewed with some hostility the ‘Spanish’ central government. The area had not suffered the same revolutionary ferment as the Pacific coast, nor therefore, a history of repression by the Somoza regime. A fact that meant they had to be won over to the revolution.35

Nicaraguan industry was small, but had expanded with the ‘Alliance for Progress’ and the construction of the CACM. Double the amount of foreign investment went into founding manufacturing in Nicaragua compared to other CACM members. But the sector was still small. Although it accounted for 23% of the GDP in 1970 it was highly capital intensive (Nicaragua was the CACM centre for the chemical industry for example) and geared to exports rather than to developing an industrial infrastructure for Nicaragua. This made the country highly dependent on imports of machinery and spare parts—especially agricultural machinery from the USA.

The industrial proletariat was therefore small—about 113,000 workers or 20% of the non-agricultural economically active population. There was a large proportion of city workers involved still in petty commerce or artisan production in the 1970s—street vendors, shoe shiners, fruit sellers etc. The factory workers tended to be concentrated in largish plants, 75% of them working in factories of more than 170 workers. There was also, as elsewhere in Latin America, a large and expanding white collar ‘salariat’—technicians, professionals, administrators and managers and a growing student population.

The new government also inherited the enormous destruction caused by the revolutionary civil war. The National Guard under the direction of Somoza had been particularly destructive of the ‘opposition’ bourgeoisies’ factories and plants in Managua. While the foreign debt was no greater per capita than other countries in Central America, Nicaragua had been systematically ‘looted’ by Somoza and his cronies, with loans in the last period going directly into personal bank accounts abroad. The debt amounted to $1.6 billion dollars. There was $3.5 million in the treasury, not enough for two days import costs! Added to the physical destruction was the disorganisation caused by war and the human costs of struggle—an estimated 50,000 had died in a population of three million (the equivalent of three quarters of a million in a country the size of Britain).

What was the strategy of the FSLN to develop this economy? It was fairly clear and repeated many times in speeches and documents, that they aimed to develop a mixed economy which was independent of US imperialism and was more just and equal in its redistribution of resources. ‘Patriotic’ capitalists would work for this goal and the state sector of the mixed economy would provide the modern and dynamic sector needed to push Nicaragua in the direction of a developed, and finally ‘socialist’ future. Above all this meant keeping open the economy to private investment and foreign aid, especially from the EEC. Europe was already Nicaragua’s most important export market, taking 28% of its exports in 1977 compared to the USA’s 23%, and the Sandinistas wished to ‘lean on’ European imperialism in freeing themselves from their country’s crippling dependence on the giant in the north.

Above all this strategy meant keeping an alliance with the major agrarian capitalists who dominated the country’s export sector and were the leading force within COSEP. This was the heart of the popular front which led to the Junta in 1979. The FSLN quickly discovered that the dominance of the state sector was much less than they thought especially in agriculture. They thought that having nationalised Somoza’s holdings they would control up to 60% of the country’s agricultural production. In fact they discovered they controlled 20%.36

The FSLN proceeded to adopt an agrarian policy which was extremely moderate even by comparison with other Latin American reform programmes (e.g. Peru’s of the 1960s). The big capitalists in cotton and coffee were given enormous incentives to continue and increase production. A large proportion of the state’s resources were put into this sector. These incentives included credit at low interest rates well below inflation, to cover all working costs including fertiliser, repair and replacement of machinery, land, wages; guaranteed prices for export crops (calculated to ensure a profit). The government would bear the burden of any fall in world market prices, levy low taxes on profits, and undertake a lowering of rents, which although aimed at the peasants, also benefited the big farmers who rented as much of 40% of land from absentee landowners in Miami and California. The big farmers association (UPANIC) was also given a seat on the Council of State.

To maintain this alliance and reassure the big farmers, the policy of land to the tillers had to be quickly reversed. Land seizures by the peasants were officially discouraged and prevented, and the courts started proceedings to reclaim seized land.37 However, the attempt to harness the ‘patriotic’ capitalists failed miserably. Despite being paid the equivalent of a fat salary and a bonus for improved production on top, the big farmers proceeded to use the state funds to salt away dollars into foreign bank accounts and sell what they could of the moveable capital on the farms. By mid-1981 the government estimated that over 200,000 head of cattle had been rustled across the Honduran border. Slaughter houses were closed down, coffee plants neglected leaving them open to disease. Lands were left idle.

Why did the capitalists turn down the profits offered to them by the popular front? For a very simple reason. One which exposed the fundamental flaw in the whole project. They recognised that the rural workers and peasants, because of the the situation of dual power, were no longer open to complete exploitation. Their hired bands of thugs and foremen backed by the National Guard could no longer suppress the peasants organisations and force them to accept starvation wages. Worse, they did not trust the government, or more accurately the FSLN, which did control the repressive apparatus. The rural organisations of the FSLN, especially the ATC (Rural Workers' Union), had expanded dramatically and was pressing its demands on the employers. Worse still the ATC was clearly not completely under the control of the FSLN leadership. At a local level militant rural workers and poor peasants demanded further land expropriations especially of the saboteurs who left lands idle while peasants went hungry. The real threat of an agrarian revolution despite the intentions of the FSLN within the Junta, guaranteed the failure of the alliance with the big capitalists.

It also revealed the pressure on the FSLN from its mass base especially the 59,000 strong ATC. Land seizures continued, often encouraged by the local ATC organisation. By February 1980 pressure had built up to such a point that the FSLN was pushed into supporting a demonstration called by the ATC demanding tougher measures against the ‘de-capitalisers’ on the big farms and for further land reforms. Thirty thousand peasants demonstrated in Managua. Jaime Wheelock who addressed the demonstration declared ‘there are elements among the landowners who must be hit hard if their lands are left idle’.38 In March 1980 a decree was passed recognising that all lands taken over up to that time would remain in the public domain. However the big farmers were reassured that this was not the start of wholesale land takeovers which continued to be discouraged. Nor was a further land reform introduced until over eighteen months later because of the attempt to hold onto the alliance with the big agrarian capitalists.

This further land reform when it came was also a result of pressure from below. One particular struggle amongst many focussed the need to take action. A landlord, Adolfo Pastora, living outside the country, planted only 84 acres of his 24,000 acre farm. The local peasants demanded the land should be handed over to them to work. The local agrarian reform officials refused. A demonstration of 600 peasants arrived in Managua and the confiscation was agreed. The courts ruled that the land should be given back and within three months a new agrarian law was introduced—July 1981. Even this was a moderate reform. There was to be no maximum limit to individual landholding, as was the case for example in the US backed land reform in El Salvador. It aimed at taking into the APP (‘Areas of Peoples Property’) idle or under-utilised land and targeted absentee landowners. Owners were compensated with governmental bonds maturing in 15 years at 4% interest. It aimed at both taking some of the steam out of the peasant land hunger and acting as a stick to threaten the uncooperative agrarian capitalists.

Crisis in the government

The fears of the unresolved dual power situation and the weakness of the bourgeoisie in the face of the workers’ and peasants’ struggle led to a crisis in the Junta. Despite having the majority of ministers the disintegration of the National Guard had left the bourgoisie with little leverage over the EPS (Sandinista People’s Army). Despite being a minority in the government, real decision making power rested with the National Directorate of the FSLN, who also headed the armed forces. The Defence Minister had rapidly been demonstrated to be a powerless figure head. Within the Junta the FSLN had developed a consistent three to two majority with Sergio Ramirez and Moises Hassan voting with Daniel Ortega against Chamorro and Robelo.

In December 1979 the government was asked for its resignation and in a reshuffle the Junta brought a number of the FSLN Comandantes into key ministries.39 This, together with the Junta’s decision in October to put off the convening of the Council of State in order to alter its composition, sparked off a period of struggle with COSEP which resulted in the resignation of Chamorro (for health reasons) and Alfonso Robelo specifically over the changes in the Council of Statein May 1980. The changes in the Council reduced the representatives of the bourgeois organisations and introduced representation from the Sandinista mass organisations like the ATC and APRONAC, the women’s organisation.

The FSLN managed to keep its popular front going by finding two other bourgeois figures to take their place—Arturo Cruz, Director of the National Bank, and Rafael Cordova, a lawyer with links to the Democratic Conservative Party and a member of the Supreme Court. But it was already clear that important sections of the bourgeoisie had decided that a real struggle should be instituted against the FSLN’s control over the armed forces and its encouragement of ‘mass organisations’ which the bourgeoisie saw as a potential threat to their prerogatives on the farm and in the factories.

By November 1980 COSEP was accusing the Sandinistas of installing a communist regime and more dramatically the Vice-President of COSEP had been killed in a shoot out with the Sandinista police having been caught with a car load of arms and implicated in a plot to organise armed actions against the regime.

These developments reflected and were encouraged by the change of President in the USA. Under Carter the US government took a ‘wait-and-see’ position, offering aid in return for evidence of ‘moderation’. With the victory of Reagan there was a government in the USA committed to bringing down the Sandinistas unless they capitulated to the US governments’ demands. Increasingly the bourgeoisie as a whole was won over to this perspective. Significantly as well, in May 1980 the Catholic Church hierarchy took its first steps against the FSLN dominated government. An Episcopal Conference in that month called for the resignation from the government of four priests with ministerial positions. 40

The FSLN and the workers’ movement

This period of early 1980 which marked the start of the break up of the formal popular front with the bourgeoisie also saw an accelerated push by the FSLN to bring the workers’ and peasants’ organisations under its unchallenged control. This was especially the case with the workers in the factories, where, unlike the peasantry, long established trade unions existed in the big plants, often affiliated to political parties opposed to the FSLN.

The CST (Sandinista Workers’ Federation) was formed shortly after the insurrection on the initiative of the FSLN leadership to give national leadership and direction to the CLTs (Sandinista Workers’ Defence Committees) and other factory committees which had sprung up during and after the struggle against Somoza. The CST and National Directorate’s aim was to integrate all the unions under the CST’s umbrella, thus having a Sandinista dominated workers’ movement.

From its foundation the CST saw its role as undertaking the organisation of the workers within the overall context of support for the FSLN’s project. It emphasised the necessity of increasing production and improving productivity not only in the new state sector but especially in the private sector where workers often wished to settle accounts with employers whohad frequently used Somoza’s laws and repressive agencies against them. These plans led the FSLN into a series of clashes with the workers organisations, firstly with the PSN and its trade union organisation the CGT-I.

The CST leaders produced a split in the leadership of the CGT-I's constituent building workers union (the SCAAS). This led to a demonstration by SCAAS members to the Ministry of Labour to demand recognition which had been refused to it but given to its rival CST split-off. This was followed by strike action by building workers in Managua on a government project over reductions in working hours and wages. A compromise was possible because the PSN recognised ‘the vanguard role’ of the FSLN at this time and a joint CST/CGT-I leadership was elected at a specially convened congress of the SCAAS.

More serious were clashes with the Frente Obrera (FO), an organisation which had split from the FSLN in the 1970s and become a Maoist tendency. It played an active role in the struggle against Somoza and had an independent militia (the MILPAS) and was to have had a seat on the original Council of State. FO denounced the FSLN strategy in its paper El Pueblo as ‘bourgeois democratic’ and declared of the 1980 plan put forward by the government that it gave ‘great opportunities to the bourgeoisie and businessmen and few to the exploited masses’.41 The FO led a series of strikes for higher wages most importantly at two sugar mills in January 1980. In retaliation the FSLN closed down their paper with the EPS occupying its offices and arresting the editor and FO leaders, who were later given two year prison sentences. El Pueblo’s printing works were handed over to the ‘literacy crusade’. This action combined with the suppression of the MILPAS contributed to the organisation’s decline, although it still exists today as the MAP.42

The Communist Party of Nicaragua (PC de N—the other pro-Moscow party along with the PSN) nearly suffered a similar fate in this period. Its trade union organisation CAUS led a series of strikes in Managua in January/February; sometimes for 100% wage increases, some against ‘decapitalising’ employers and for nationalisation. A major strike was at Fabritex, a high technology textile factory. Like the leaders of FO the leaders of the PC de N were attacked as agents of the counter-revolution. The CST organised demonstrations which seized CAUS offices on 4 March in Leon and Managua and handed them over to the literacy crusade. The CAUS survived but clashed again with the FSLN in October 1981 when its leadership was jailed for several years (later commuted) for violating an emergency decree.

All these measures against relatively small leftist organisations were necessary to consolidate the dominant position in the workers’ movement of the FSLN, which originally had the project of integrating the unions into the state apparatus via the CST. The opposition, particularly of the Stalinist parties, combined with the growing struggle with the bourgeoisie, meant this Bonapartist project had to be shelved. The wave of strikes and occupations in February led to a decree allowing the state to take over firms whose owners were running them down—a major demand of the workers. The right to strike has been severely restricted in Nicaragua. From the March 1982 imposition of the state of emergency through to 1987 the right to strike has been denied except for a short period around the elections of 1984.

The offensive of the bourgeoisie

Throughout 1980 there was an offensive mounted by the bourgeoisie on the question of the Council of State. When this was convened in May 1980, it was changed to demands for elections in 1981 or 1982. The FSLN refused, Ortega announcing that ‘reconstruction’ would not be completed before 1985, then elections would be held.

The announcement of the new agrarian reform in July 1981 combined with the increasing pressure from the USA, led to the departure of the only significant bourgeois figure left in the government —Arturo Cruz—who took up a post as Washington ambassador and defected shortly after. Also in July Eden Pastora, who was deputy Defence Minister and head of the militias, defected along with another FSLN commander. By April the following year Arturo Cruz and Pastora had announced the formation of the ARDE (Democratic Revolutionary Alliance) to launch an armed struggle against the FSLN leaders from Costa Rica. They were joined later by ex-Junta member Alfonso Robelo.

The year 1981 therefore signalled the end of the open popular front with the bourgeoisie. From this time all the major sections of the bourgeoisie openly or tacitly supported armed counter-revolution to regain their control over the state. This included those sections of the FSLN who were closest to the bourgeoisie—like Pastora. However, the policies of the popular front were to continue. The Simon Bolivar Brigade’s demand for a government of ‘Sandinista’s without capitalists’ had come to fruition but the commitment of the Sandinista’s to defend the ‘mixed economy’ remained.

The catholic hierarchy and major parts of the church in Nicaragua threw itself behind the Contra leadership, leading to a de facto split in the church itself with the development of the so called ‘church of the poor’ in support of the Sandinistas. This open warfare continued right up to the 1987 ‘peace process’. Archbishop of Managua Obando Y Bravo became the leading ‘legal’ Contra mouthpiece in Nicaragua, along with La Prensa. In 1983 he proclaimed in a speech to conservative politicians the right to use violence against the regime ‘as a last resort’. By 1985 all four priests with ministerial positions were suspended from their orders. Radio Catolica kept up a constant barrage of propaganda against the national draft to fight the Contra’s, appealing to young men to avoid the draft into the EPS, a campaign that led the FSLN to close the radio station in January 1986. After being rewarded for his services by the Pope by being made a cardinal in 1985, Obando Y Bravo celebrated his first mass in Miami before the Contra leadership!

Throughout this period the heart of the counter-revolution was in Washington. As the ARDE represented those who initially supported the FSLN’s project, Washington found less favour with them. Its main military and financial support went to the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN). From March 1981 $19 million was allocated from the CIA to fund the Contras. This became hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years. Regular military manoeuvres were held in Honduras and massive military bases and airports were developed along the border for the time when Washington thought it might be possible to intervene itself, or through its central American surrogates, against the Sandinista government.

The massive damage the Contras invasions made via their deliberate destruction of economic targets; plus the economic blockade imposed by Washington ending all aid, through freezing all trade and using its dominance in the Inter-American Bank and World Bank to veto loans, drove Nicaragua into a deep economic crisis. Defence costs rocketed to over 50% of government expenditure, inflation raged and living standards plummeted—real wages in Nicaragua now stand at 57% of their 1980 values.

Whither Nicaragua?

What was the response of the FSLN government to this imperialist engineered counter-revolutionary offensive? One possible response would have been the response of the Castro government in 1960 faced with similar circumstances, to resolve the dual power situation and bureaucratically expropriate the bourgeoisie establishing a regime based on a planned economy. This would have involved the establishment of a degenerate workers’ state which not only broke the power of the bourgeoisie and therefore the threat of internal economic sabotage and counter-revolution, but one which also denied the working class political power. Was this a possibility in Nicaragua and is it still?

There are clear differences between the two situations which explain the prolonged existence of the dual power in Nicaragua. US imperialism learnt some lessons from the Cuban events. It has relied on a slow and steady strangulation in Nicaragua hoping that the economic deterioration will weaken the support for the regime and allow its agents to deliver a coup de grâce. Nicaragua itself has been able to use the unwillingness of the European imperialists to go along with the direct imposition of another pro-US dictatorship in Nicaragua. The EEC has attempted to place the bourgeoisie back in the saddle in Nicaragua by constant pressure on the FSLN to make concessions to it, in their demands for elections, freedom of organisation, and ‘neutrality’ of the army. The remaining fears of a repetition of another Vietnam situation have also held the US back from direct intervention, especially where a growing economic crisis in Latin America has meant few reliable allies in the area for such a project. It was recognised that Nicaragua with its regular army of 50,000 plus 40,000 reservists and a militia of 50-100,000 would be a very different military problem to that of the tiny island of Grenada.

Finally, the unwillingness of the Soviet Union to take on yet another economic burden in a period where its own economic growth rates are stagnating (not expanding as they were in the 1960s) is another factor. In 1960 the USSR was willing to underwrite the Cuban economy and revolution for a number of strategic political reasons.43 There is little evidence that either the USSR or Cuba would back any such moves towards expropriating the bourgeoisie. Indeed, Fidel Castro has constantly insisted that Nicaragua should remain a ‘mixed economy’, emphasising the ‘uniqueness’ of both the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions, that is, they were not following the same road.

Although the Soviet Union became the main supplier of oil by 1985, when Venezuela and Mexico stopped supplying Nicaragua, the evidence suggests that it has used this new leverage to pressure the Sandinistas into making further compromises.44 To say this, however, is not to conclude that the wishes of the Soviet bureaucracy are decisive in determining the outcome of the Nicaraguan revolution. If it was confronted with a situation of either underwriting such an overturn or letting the Nicaraguan government go down to defeat, Cuba and the USSR might be forced to do the former or risk losing a considerable degree of prestige amongst various anti-imperialist movements, which themselves help weigh in the balance of forces in its negotiations with the USA.

At the moment the Nicaraguan government is clearly trying a different path; one of compromise especially with international social democracy and European imperialism. The calling of the 1984 elections was a significant shift in the direction of this strategy. The ‘mass organisations’ have come to play a less important role since 1985 with the decline of the CDSs and the promise of municipal elections in the offing. These compromises, taken together with the ‘Contadora’ and more recently the Arias Plan, indicate the direction in which the Nicaraguan government wishes to travel.

At the heart of both Contadora and Arias plans are commitments by Nicaragua to refuse aid to national liberation movements in other Central American countries, especially El Salvador, and the enshrining of guaranteed rights for bourgeois parties, their press and the church, to use their enormous financial and political resources to fight to change the government in Nicaragua. Under negotiation at present is how far the Sandinistas are willing to loosen their grip on the EPS and at least allow the prospect of it returning under bourgeois control.

Internally, the Sandinistas have succeeded in putting the Contras of the Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) on the defensive, while the ARDE has effectively disintegrated. They have also managed to win back many of the disaffected Miskito Indians who went over to the Contras by reversing their policy of national integration and instead offering a degree of autonomy to these peoples.

The 1985 land reform also helped to undermine the Contra's support; previously the slowness of the 1981 land reform to satisfy the land hunger of the peasantry has led to dissatisfaction. Particularly in rich cotton areas such as Masaya little land had been distributed by, with the result that the FSLN received 7% fewer votes in that province with many peasants defecting to Christian Democracy. The 1985 reform, which followed large peasant demonstrations for land, allowed titles to be given to individuals without them entering a co-operative. In the last half of 1985 99,000 hectares of land were distributed to peasants—double the amount of individual land titles distributed in the previous four years. The small and medium peasant farmers, now organised in UNAG, which was separated from the rural workers’ union ATC, have become an increasingly important social base for the FSLN government.45

The Sandinista government therefore still retains many of its original features. Despite no longer being an open popular front with the bourgeoisie it remains committed to a capitalist Nicaragua; defence of the ‘mixed economy’ is even enshrined in the 1987 constitution. It retains its ‘left Bonapartist’ character resting more and more on the small and medium peasantry and its organisations against the bourgeois counter-revolution. The FSLN are obviously still seeking to have the bourgeoisie or sections of it back into a popular front or at least to make it give up the armed struggle against the government.

The FSLN pin their hopes for this on international diplomacy, the good offices of social democracy and a hope that a Democratic Party victory in the US presidential elections will alter that administration’s policy. Even if they achieve that compromise—and it is quite possible that the USA will as yet pull the rug from under the Arias Plan—it will not solve the chronic crisis in Nicaragua. It would only lead to a temporary respite until the bourgeoisie re-launch the offensive from their new position of strength.

What this would involve is not difficult to envisage. They would demand the installation of an ‘impartial’ and professional bourgeois judiciary. That could be relied upon to look favourably on the returning bourgeois emigres’ claims for the restoration of their property and against workers and peasants who had seized or occupied it. In any confrontations over the sacred rights of private property the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie will have the backing of the Contadora heads of state and the EC leaders.

In addition the Socialist International will mount pressure on the FSLN to enforce this process of ‘normalisation’. The Nicaraguan bourgeoisie will demand the restoration of ‘freedom of the press’ for millionaires and the ‘neutrality’ of the state owned media. In short, they will insist that those who have the money shall be able to monopolise the private machinery of mass propaganda,reserving a special role for the religious dope peddlers of the Catholic hierachy. On the other hand, the struggling workers and peasants would be denied access to the media. Doubtless, too, they will step up their demands for an end to the ‘persecution of the church’ and handing over the education system to them so as they can indoctrinate the youth from the earliest age.

But the most crucial demand already voiced by the Contras and their US backers, by the Catholic Church and the Central American bourgeoisie, is for a ‘neutral and professional’ army. This is a demand for the decisive and final resolution of the dual power in favour of the bourgeoisie. It would probably involve the integration of the Contras into the Nicaraguan army, a purge of the FSLN officers and their replacement with a professional (i.e. a bourgeois and US trained) officer corps.

This would be the biggest and indeed the most difficult concession the FSLN leaders could make. To concede it would be an act of political suicide. Therefore, it is the issue sooner or later on which the ‘peace process’ is most likely to stall. It is however the one on which the USA, the church and the Contadora leaders hope to trip up the Sandinistas and intensify the blockade should they refuse it.

Make the revolution permanent

Where do the interests of the workers and peasants of Nicaragua lie in this diplomatic and military duel between US imperialism, its European allies and their Central American bourgeois stooges? Clearly the class conscious Nicaraguan workers—urban and rural—are defending, and should defend, their country against the USA and the Contras. But they must also strive for an independent class standpoint even whilst being the best fighters against imperialism.

What does this mean? It means defending the immediate interests of the workers and peasants. The right to strike should be permanently and unconditionally restored. The well being of the workers and peasants is the best defence of the revolution. It means condemning and calling for an immediate end to the negotiations with the Contras. No further concessions should be made to these Miami racketteers. Quite the reverse. The estates and plantations, the factories, shops and offices of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie should be seized without compensation and put under the control of the workers employed in them. On this foundation alone could an economy be erected totally devoted both to the needs of the workers and peasants and to the defence of the country; one centrally planned but democratically controlled from below. The militia and the Sandinista People’s Army must be thoroughly democratised—with the election of officers and with weapons permanently under the control of the base units. Both forces must become an unshakeable bulwark against external or internal counter-revolution and a defender of the interests of the toilers.

To organise the socialisation of the economy and the defence of Nicaragua the Sandinista Defence Committees and Neighbourhood Committees currently only organs of popular consent, must be transformed into workers’ and peasants’ councils, into organs of power. Their transformation must be carried through around a struggle for the following demands

• For accountable and revocable delegates, elected in the factories, the villages and the shanty towns at open assemblies.
• Freedom for all parties that defend the gains of the Nicaraguan revolution to put forward candidates or lists.
• Freedom of propaganda in the process of elections.
• No special privileges for the FSLN or its officials.

The workers’ and peasants’ councils throughout Nicaragua must send delegates to a central congress in Managua. Within it revolutionary communists would fight for a workers’ and peasants’ government charged with establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasants.

Of course, workers’ power and a planned economy cannot in isolation create socialism in such a small or backward country. But it can give a mighty impulse to social revolution, to anti-imperialist and democratic struggles throughout Central and South America. In the first instance it can revive and help to victory the revolution in El Salvador and Guatemala. It can and should give the fullest support to the Mexican proletariat in its struggle against the austerity programmes enforced by the IMF and supinely imposed by the Mexican bourgeoisie. Indeed the call for the total abrogation of the imperialist debt can rouse the masses of the whole continent, thus helping break the stranglehold of the USA on Nicaragua. The victory of the Cuban and Vietnamese workers and peasants revealed that the North American colossus was not invincible. The victory of the Nicaraguan people in 1979 lengthened the shadows, as the dusk closes in on the ‘American Century’. Permanent revolution in Central and South America under proletarian internationalist leadership can rouse the US proletariat from its long sleep. The return of recession and social crisis to the USA guarantee this is no utopian fantasy. The ‘stages theory’ of Stalinism and social democracy, however, is a petit bourgeois utopia. It means surrendering to the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie within, and to Reagan and his equally reactionary successors without. The Nicaraguan revolution must make a decisive step forward or it will take a disastrous step backwards. The proletarian vanguard must create a revolutionary Trotskyist party to fight for this strategy. It must inscribe on its banner the slogan ‘Forward to working class power in Nicaragua’!

1 For major articles and resolutions on the Nicaraguan Revolution see Workers Power Nos 10, 11, 30, 31 and the MRCI resolution ‘Central America, the Caribbean Revolution and imperialist reaction’, Permanent Revolution 2, (April 1984)
2 H Ruiz quoted in M Gonzalez, Nicaraguan Revolution under Siege, (London 1985) p22
3 Quoted in G Black, Triumph of the people, (London 1981) p93
4 Ibid, p97
5 L Trotsky, ‘France at the turning point’, On France, (New York 1979) p146
6 D Gilbert, Nicaragua: the first five years, (New York), p166
7 G Black, op cit, p112
8 G Black, op cit, p172 quoting from the programme of the Junta of the Government of National Reconstruction
9 MRCI resolution, op cit
10 F Engels, ‘Letter to Marx, 13 April 1866, Selected correspondance, (Moscow 1975) p166
11 Interview with Tomás Borge, New Left Review 164, July/August 1987
12 Quoted in C Vilas, Capital and Class No 28, Spring 1986, p107
13 Quoted in D Close, Nicaragau: politics, economics and society, (London 1988) p74
14 Intercontinental Press (IP), 11 June 1978
15 IP, 16 July 1979
16 IP, 22 October 1979
17 Ibid
18 For the history of the Simon Bolivar Brigade see Workers Power 92, April 1987
19 See Latin American Problems in L Trotsky Writings Supplement 1934-40 (New York 1979) p785
20 L Trotsky, ‘France at the turning point’, op cit, p201
21 ‘1979 World Congress of the FI: major resolutions and reports’, special supplement to IP, New York 1980, p162
22 Ibid
23 Only later was the FSLN ‘party’ launched. It is difficult to get into and even after an FSLN led popular revolution and eight and a half years in power it has only 5,000 members. It has no democratic structures only a consultative ‘Sandinista Assembly’ appointed by the Directorate National. The head of the CDS’s is appointed by the Directorate National and the CDS’s themselves ‘elect’ their leaders from a pre-selected list made by the Directorate. The party is clearly based on the Stalinist model not a Leninist one.
24 World Congress 1979, op cit p170
25 J Barnes, Their Trotsky and ours: communist continuity today, New International, Fall 1983 (New York) p35
26 L Trotsky, Transitional Programme for Socialist Revolution (New York 1973)
27 IP, 24 November 1980
28 A USFI editorial in International Marxist Review (Spring 1982) declared:
‘What remains of bourgeois power is no longer centralised at the level of the state—except in the person of a few ministers who are largely powerless and prisoners of the FSLN.’
Far from being ‘prisoners’ they represented the continuing commitment of the FSLN to its popular front bargain—its defence of capitalist property relations. This editorial is a textbook example of the USFI’s ‘processism’. After noting the Iranian revolution was going through an ‘unexpected detour’ under Khomeini (!!), it goes on to reassure its readers that whatever the FSLN might say they were doing (i.e. maintaining the private sector) they were in fact doing something quite different:
‘The FSLN is objectively following the road of the construction of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of a workers’ state, whatever might be the rather unclear theoretical formulae which it uses to express this real process.’
29 ‘Resolutions of the 12th World Congress of the FI”, International Viewpoint, (special edition, Paris1985) Footnote 4, p110
30 Resolution on ‘The Central American Revolution’, ibid, p94
31 International Marxist Review, op cit, p4
32 L Trotsky, Towards capitalism or socialism?, (London 1976) p17
33 G Black, op cit, p210-11 and D Close, op cit, p85
34 See C Villas, The Sandinista revolution, Chapt 2 (New York 1986) for a detailed breakdown of the class structure in the land.
35 For a useful account of the clashes between British and US imperialism over Central America and the Caribbean see J A Booth, The end of the beginning—the Nicaraguan revolution, (New York 1985)
36 Joseph Collins, Nicaragua: what difference could a revolution make, (New York 1986) gives an account of this discovery on p39
37 Collins, who acted as an advisor on food and farming policies to the government in 1979, quotes a Chinandega Campesino as saying ‘I don’t understand it at all. One minute seizing the land is revolutionary and then they tell you it is counter-revolutionary’ ibid, p80. The USFI knew where it stood on this question—squarely with the popular front and big farmers: ‘. . . disorderly land occupations risk disrupting production and make effective integration of the occupied lands into the agrarian reform quite difficult’, USFI statement, 28 September 1980 in IP, 24 November 1980.
38 Quoted in Collins, op cit, p82
39 Including Humberto Ortega to Defence, Jaime Wheelock as Agrarian Reform Minister, Henry Ruiz to Economic Planning, Luis Carrion to Vice Minister of Defence. See Stephen Gorman, ‘Power and consolidation in the Nicaraguan Revolution’, Journal of Latin American Studies Vol 13, No 1 for details of government changes in this period.
40 These were Miguel D’Escoto—Foreign Minister, Ernesto Cardennai—Minister of Culture, Fernando Cardinal—Sandinista Youth, Edgardo Parrales—Social Services. Over 200 priests and nuns held lesser governmental positions in 1980. See D Close, op cit, p67
41 G Black, op cit, p338
42 The FO leaders were released early in May 1980 when the FSLN clashed with the bourgeoisie. Throughout the January/February strikes the CAUS and FO had been denounced by the FSLN as ‘somocista agents’ or agents of the counter-revolution and CIA. The Mandelites were vaguely critical of the repression but recognised they were ‘ultra lefts’. The SWP(US) greeted one release of imprisoned trade union leaders with the memorable headline ‘Sectarians released from gaol’.
43 For Workers Power’s analysis of the Cuban Revolution see The degenerated revolution, (London 1983)
44 Reports in 1987 indicated that the USSR was claiming it could not fulfill its full quota of oil to Nicaragua just when Gorbachev was pursuing detente with Reagan and an agreed withdrawal of Soviet troops in Afghanistan
45 In line with the preservation of the mixed economy there has been little attempt to extend the area of ‘state farms’ which is still limited to the land taken from Somoza. Although there has been encouragement for the peasants to form cooperatives, the numbers remain small—the ‘credit and service coops’ which are similar to French or North American rural coops (i.e. they are individual owners who band together for credit and services) make up the majority. The CASs (Sandinista Agricultural Communes) cover 6.7% of state lands or 1.3% of national total. See D Close, op cit, p89