Amalgamation on the Left

September 25, 2007

A STRATEGIC ALLIANCE EXISTS TODAY between the Farabundo Marti National Libera- tion Front (FMLN) and the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), yet there are numerous and profound distinctions between the two. The FMLN has united five organizations which had been separate-even antagonistic-since 1969; the FDR has brought together groups of a different kind. One front is primarily politico-military, Marxist in its orientation, with working-class-especially peasant-roots; the other strictly political, social democratic in outlook, middle-class and urban-based. Initially, the present-day members of the FMLN dis- dained any kind of alliance with the organizations that make up the FDR, judging that with their moderate goals and methods the FDR groups would try to water down the revolutionary changes demanded and the methods employed by the FMLN. The exception was perhaps the small Communist Party, which retained membership in both camps. If other groups kept their links with the FDR, it was more for tactical reasons. This thumbnail sketch is important for grasping the situation today. True, the FDR went through a major shift when it endorsed the FMLN's basic belief in armed struggle as the only way to remove an unjust regime and open the way to democracy. But the FMLN has also come a long way in recognizing that the balance of forces in El Salvador, and the country's geopolitical location, make a full-fledged revolution inconceivable. It has abandoned the goal of concentrating all power in the hands of a revolutionary vanguard and, at least theoretically, recognizes the need to share power with other social forces beyond the progressive democrats in the FDR. The FMLN considers that such an alliance could provide an acceptable framework for the popula- tion to express its political will, satisfy its basic needs Guerrilla training on the Guazapa volcano, a longtime FMLN stronghold. Anne Nelson MARCH/APRIL 1984 31Repor4 o. tVh, Ams EL SALVADOR 1984 and enjoy the rights to which it is entitled. The complex history of the FMLN-FDR has taken it down a long road toward two goals: unity among the five separate politico-military organizations of the FMLN and unity between the FMLN and the FDR- once only a tactical alliance but now a strategic one. Reaching those twin goals has not been easy, nor is the process complete. The severe crisis that shook the Pop- ular Liberation Forces (FPL) with the murder of Melida Anaya Montes in April 1983, a non-dogmatic figure sympathetic to unity, by followers of Salvador Cayetano Carpio, the legendary FPL leader known for his rigidity, is further proof of the problems of unity. The harsh reality of El Salvador, plus four years of war, have taught painful lessons as to the difficulty of finding solutions to the Salvadorean conflict. They have led the FMLN-FDR to a rethinking of strategy in a number of important ways. Some of the essential ele- ments of this new strategy seem to be: 1. Greater unity is essential, especially within the FMLN. There are five revolutionary organizations in the FMLN: the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP); Pop- ular Liberation Forces (FPL); Salvadorean Communist Party (PCS); Central American Revolutionary Workers Party (PRTC); National Resistance (RN). Until re- cently, each viewed itself as the budding vanguard of the Salvadorean revolution. Today, the apparent tendency is to assign that role to the unified FMLN. The FMLN is still far from being the sole party of the revolution; each of its member groups retains its autonomy and seeks to grow independently. But each seems to accept the need for a single party, or at least a single vanguard organization, in which no individual group will attempt to impose its leadership on the rest. This acceptance has made a significant difference in the conduct of the war and political activity. The wave of military successes by the FMLN is largely the result of increased mutual support, collaboration, cooperation FMI N guerrillas on the Guazaoa front. and integration among the various revolutionary ar- mies. An explicit agreement seems to have been reached on how to conduct the war, if still with minor differ- ences of opinion. Similarly, recent military offensives seem to be the outcome of joint planning. In some in- stances, there is evidence of unified command opera- tions, even the integration of troops, though this unifi- cation takes many different forms. The same could be said of political work, though unity in this respect is fraught with difficulties, especially outside El Salvador. 2. Though the FMLN is assumed to exercise leadership of the revolutionary process, the FDR plays a full stra- tegic role in the alliance. As we have suggested, this is a key point in assessing the evolution of the FMLN. It would be naive to im- agine that as of now the FMLN and FDR carry equal weight in the alliance. At its founding, the FDR did in- clude a mass component, namely the popular organiza- tions and trade unions aligned with the Left that had engaged in militant but peaceful protest from the late 1970s until 1980. But with the severe repression in the cities, targeted at these very organizations, and the militarization of the war by 1981, these mass organiza- tions became empty shells-their members either dead, in hiding or in the hills with the guerrillas. The FDR was reduced to a core of small parties and professional associations that traditionally had constituted El Sal- vador's democratic opposition. Most important are the National Revolutionary Movement (MNR), affiliated with the Socialist International, and the Popular Social Christian Movement (MPSC), formed by dissidents who left the Christian Democratic Party in March 1980. Both are democratic parties, not revolutionary organi- zations, committed to pluralism and electoral politics. The FDR's delicate and hazardous decision to throw in its lot with the FMLN has brought it immense prob- lems in asserting its political independence and operat- ing politically within El Salvador. While widely recog- nized among the Western democracies, it is condemned to a life of clandestinity at home. Though the FDR has on paper been offered guarantees of political freedom in return for abandoning its alliance with the FMLN, rightist terrorism makes it impossible for FDR leaders or members to function. This cripples any ability to recruit new members or establish a real presence inside El Salvador. The security forces themselves insist on branding the FDR and FMLN as one and the same thing and hunt down both as "political delinquents." The FDR's ability to project itself politically inside El Salvador is minimal compared to that of the FMLN. The latter is well rooted inside the country, both mili- tarily and politically. Its presence is open in the zones of control, clandestine elsewhere. Nevertheless, the FDR's real weight has to be recog- nized, not only in setting the alliance's diplomatic agen- da, but also in working out the broad political lines of FMLN-FDR unity. The FDR, and in particular some of its leaders, can be credited in large measure with the new spirit of compromise visible within the FMLN. REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 32Mass demonstrations in 1980 brought up to 150,000 people into the streets. 3. With this unity as its bedrock, the FMLN-FDR strat- egy aims toward the establishment of a Government of Broad Participation, embracing a range of progressive social sectors. Participation by the masses at every level of government would not come until later-and then only if conditions permitted and the population so desired. At some point, each of the FMLN's member groups declared its intention of carrying out a Marxist-Leninist revolution in El Salvador, leading to the dictatorship of the proletariat. But there were always disagreements on how this would be accomplished and what social forces would be involved. There was also disagreement on the issue of alignment with the socialist bloc, and particu- larly the Soviet Union. By the time of the FMLN's formation in October 1980, however, its aims had softened-not out of prag- matism in any pejorative sense, but out of healthy realism. The FMLN has developed, changed and fine- tuned its goals; the utopian ambiguities still present in the proposal for a "Democratic-Revolutionary Government," issued in early 1980, had disappeared by the time the "Government of Broad Participation" (GAP) plan was adopted by the FMLN-FDR in October 1982. No precise blueprint for the GAP has been pub- lished. But its main features can be deduced from a series of FMLN-FDR communiques: * A direct share in power, but not a monopoly of it, by the FMLN-FDR in a transition government that would include other political parties and the representa- tive political organizations of the middle class and even private enterprise sectors not tied to the oligarchy; * The preservation of the Army as an institution. It would be "purified" to include soldiers from the rebel army and those soldiers from the present Army with a professional attitude who have not been implicated in killings outside of combat; * a mixed economy giving reasonable space and guarantees to private enterprise, but with rigorous and equitable reforms in the agrarian sector, finance and foreign trade; * a non-aligned foreign policy, including a relation- ship of mutual respect with the United States. The GAP would also offer Washington, as well as El Salvador's Central American neighbors, a reciprocal security treaty; * the right of El Salvador to chart its own course free of foreign interference, granting the Salvadorean peo- ple the right to choose forms of political organization and political leadership as they see fit; * full rights of trade union organization and assembly, absolute respect for human rights, freedom of expression and movement. 4. The principal method employed by the FMLN-FDR to advance its political cause continues to be armed struggle. It should be remembered that the government's answer to the mass movement and its leaders was to slaughter them, above all under the Christian Demo- cratic junta in 1980-81. The popular organizations, which first blossomed in 1974, had cornered the Romero regime by 1979; in a certain sense it was the threat that they posed which spurred the young officers to organize the October 15th coup. With the collapse of the first junta and the signing of a pact between the PDC and the Army, any space for political activity was rapidly closed down. A systematic MARCH/APRIL 1984 33REL SALV h A ica1984 EL SALVADOR 1984 Susan Meiselas/Magnum Mother of dead soldier receives his coffin, Dolores. campaign to destroy popular organizations included state persecution of any suspected member or sympa- thizer and the enactment of new legislation to sanction the repression. The FMLN-FDR soon realized that without military protection it was paralyzed. This gave rise to a rapid militarization of the mass movement. The Left set about building regular armies, even at the cost of pull- ing its best people out of mass political work. Today it has those armies. Despite the $263.5 million sent by the United States since 1981 to destroy the insur- gency, the FMLN armies are stronger than ever. U.S. aid has not undermined the FMLN's belief in its mili- tary prowess; on the contrary, the FMLN has dedicated its best efforts to pressing home its military advantage. That may allow it to enter negotiations from a position of strength, or even to foresee a military victory. The FMLN seems to believe that an outright military victory is in the cards, given the success of one offensive after another and the crumbling morale of government forces. 5. This does not mean that the FMLN-FDR has restricted itself to military action. On the contrary, it recognizes more and more the need to create space for political work and reduce the importance of military activity. At the moment, FMLN-FDR strategy seems to re- volve around three basic points: revival of the mass movement, broadening the alliance by forging new links to progressive sectors and starting negotiations. Each of the FMLN's member groups considers itself a mass organization, with differing shades of interpre- tation. One way or another, they agree that the masses can play a key role in bringing victory, either through strike action or widespread popular insurrection. Mass mobilization therefore is essential. This is the threat which state terrorism and the death squads have set out to suppress,- and until now their effectiveness has been undeniable. But the partial rekindling of labor union activity in recent months- both revolutionary and reformist-is one major reason for the public resurgence of the death squads. The revival of the mass movement had been ne- glected by the FMLN-FDR. Partly this was because of the forced militarization of the struggle and the Left's over-reliance on military means, and partly because of the near impossibility of urban organizing when the merest whiff of union connections could mean dis- appearance or death. Today, however, mass organizing is again being given high priority. Most of it takes place in territory controlled by the FMLN, where forms of popular power have been developed-not quite an em- bryo of future state power, but yet vital in developing mass political consciousness. In urban areas, there is a revival of trade union activity linked to the revolu- tionary Left, and in contrast to the mistrust of 1979-81, a serious attempt on their part to approach the "reform- ist" segments of the labor movement. This may be one of the most visible signs of the FMLN's willingness to broaden its alliances. Its work with the FDR and a less dogmatic analysis of social forces has led it to conclude that it cannot solve El Salvador's problems alone. 6. The FMLN-FDR's offer of dialogue and negotiation must be seen in this context. At the end of 1979, dialogue was flatly rejected by REPORT ON THE AMERICAS 34the FMLN: at that point, the Left confidently expected a mass uprising and military triumph. In early 1981, negotiations were still seen as a tactical move on the way to eventual military victory. But since 1982, the FMLN- FDR has posed a negotiated settlement as an integral part of their strategy, even if subordinated to the prin- cipal elements of war and mass mobilization. The FMLN considers that satisfactory negotiations can only be conducted from a position of strength, derived both from domestic factors (the power of the mass movement and success on the battlefield) and in- ternational ones (the support of democratic govern- ments worried by regional instability). But the FMLN shows no desire to rush into talks or negotiations without an adequate agenda. That was demonstrated clearly by the first encounters with the government's Peace Commission and Special Ambassador Richard Stone, who tried to restrict the talks to discussion of the FDR's participation in elections. The FMLN has forced its enemies to recognize its ex- istence and to sit down at the negotiating table. This signifies that the FMLN-FDR is open to talks if its adversaries acknowledge two basic realities: one, the political and military strength demonstrated by the Left in four years of fighting; the other, the objective con- ditions of the country, which demand serious, respon- sible remedies if El Salvador is to survive as a nation. In the meantime, the fighting will continue and intensify. The FMLN will carry the war to the Army, and it will sabotage whatever infrastructure it sees as serving the Army's needs-primarily energy sources and communications. But at the same time it will use the escalation of warfare as a lever to make serious nego- tiations inescapable. Despite the obstacles to negotiations, the FMLN has dropped many of its original preconditions for dialogue and expanded the spectrum of those with whom it is prepared to talk. Virtually the only groups excluded are the oligarchy, the most intransigent members of the business community and those most directly responsible for the carnage. 7. There is no absolute opposition to elections. The Left does however reject electoral processes of the kind held in March 1982 and planned for March 1984. The FMLN-FDR knows very well that security cannot be guaranteed for its candidates, party workers or potential party members. In a context where at least 3,000 signatures are required for party registration, and where the FMLN-FDR is systematically hounded, it is hard to imagine how it would even manage to obtain legal status. The result is that neither the FMLN nor the FDR will run in the elections. It could even mean that the FMLN-against the advice of the FDR-will try to obstruct the elections. But this is unlikely. Two years ago, attempts to disrupt the voting were a costly politi- cal error. It was a vital lesson which has apparently been taken to heart. More likely is that the FMLN's military campaign begun in September 1983 will continue through the early months of 1984, making it clear that for the moment the elections offer no way out of the crisis. Though it rejects the March elections, the FDR- and to a certain degree the FMLN-believes that a key purpose of negotiations would be to prepare the right environment for elections to be held. Without that environment, says the FMLN-FDR, elections can only be a meaningless farce. Elections would be a different matter if conditions were favorable. Then, the FMLN- FDR believes, the justness of its cause would be mani- fest and its organizing talents could come into play. It could revive the organizations that were capable of put- ting 200,000 Salvadoreans on the street in 1980, pull out the disciplined votes of the FMLN's membership and take a considerable number of supporters away from the PDC. The FMLN-FDR's adversaries, including the United States, appear to have reached the same conclu- sions. It would be hard for them to countenance an FMLN-FDR victory, irrespective of whether it was won with guns or votes, given Washington's insistence on equating the platform of the FMLN-FDR with a threat to U.S. national security interests. 8. The geopolitical crisis in Central America and the ex- ample of events in Nicaragua have forced the FMLN- FDR to weigh the possibility of U.S. military inter- vention, with or without troops from the Central American Defense Council (CONDECA). If this happened, it is clear enough that the FMLN would resist an invasion force to the end. But more than this, an invasion would radically change the political equation: the spectrum of alliances open to the FMLN would be broadened-perhaps to encompass anyone who placed patriotism and nationalism above any other concern. The predictable outcome would be a veritable holocaust, which would leave not only El Salvador but a large part of the region in ruins. This is the greatest danger that the FMLN-FDR foresees as a consequence of its own success. But at the same time it is aware of the immense risks an invasion would entail for any U.S. ad- ministration, as well as for the peoples of the region. TIS THEN IS A SUMMARY OF FMLN-FDR I strategy at present. It is foolish to imagine that the FDR and FMLN will part company, even though their tactics may change in the near future-perhaps in response to the election results, perhaps if decisive action is taken against the death squads. Events in El Salvador, it should be remembered, are permanently in flux. But one thing can be said with certainty. The FMLN's growing power, its openness to the democratic proposals and criticisms of the FDR and the capacity it has shown to evolve in the light of experience, indicate yet again that no medium-term solution in El Salvador can succeed if it fails to recognize a significant role for the FMLN-FDR. At the same time, if the FMLN-FDR is taken into account, a solution to the Salvadorean crisis can still be found.

Tags: El Salvador, FMLN, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Politics, strategy

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