Revolution in the Making

September 25, 2007

The most immediately recognizable sign of a revolution in Nicaragua is that people aren't afraid of the soldiers. Such trust didn't exist in the past. Somoza's National Guard was the direct contact people had with the repressive dictatorship, and thus symbolized its ugliest aspects. The repression ebbed and flowed, and often it was arbitrary. Even in quiet times, the Guard was always there, always to be feared, always ready to extort from the people what little they had. The National Guard even committed genocide against its own people. It did this massively by bombing the poorer neighborhoods from the air, after the September insurrection; and individually by shooting young boys in the head in front of their hysterical parents to prevent the boys from joining the FSLN. Now when soldiers stand at attention children come up to examine their canteens and rifles, and to ask what they did during the insurrection. Women dance freely with men in uniform at the street fairs which happen so frequently now in Nicaragua. And nearly everyone has learned to accept the women in uniform, knowing that almost a third of the FSLN guerrilla combatants were women. The new mood is everywhere. For a visitor it starts at the airport: Welcome to Free Nicaragual, the gigantic banner reads. Fresh new murals and graffiti lauding the revolu- tion adorn walls through out the country. Even the Catholic Cathedral, which faces Managua's new Plaza of the Revolution, is graced with a three-story high portrait of Nicaragua's national hero, Cesar Augusto Sandino. The entire country is intense with activity. Throughout the cities crews on government- sponsored public works projects repair the enormous destruction caused by the Somoza regime. On weekends, thousands of volunteers head into the countryside on buses Courtesy of Barricada 2 NACLA Report0 U Plaza of the Revolution on International Workers' Day, May 1, 1980. and trucks to work on state-owned farms and plantations. Both neighborhood mobiliza- tions and massive demonstrations are com- monplace. The causes can be domestic--the inauguration of the literacy campaign, or in- ternational- the assassination of Archbishop Romero in neighboring El Salvador. The motor force of this revolutionary fervor is the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the FSLN -a fact even acknowledged reluc- tantly by the bourgeoisie. The FSLN, like many other Latin American left groups initiated in the early 1960s, was founded by radical students, and began as a rural-based guerrilla organization, engaging in hit-and-run attacks on military outposts. By September 1978, when a nation- wide but premature insurrection was viciously crushed by Somoza's National Guard, it was clear that the FSLN had become the political and military vanguard of the popular forces in the cities and countryside alike. "The black and red flag of the FSLN can be frequently seen flying over schools and slums," described the New York Times correspondent that July.' The Project: "There can only be one solution for us-socialism." If the FSLN is the chief architect of the new Nicaraguan society, what is to be its design? FSLN National Directorate member Daniel Ortega publicly declared the class basis of the new Nicaragua in a major speech in October 1979: "This is the revolution of the vast ma- jority, of the workers and peasants who pro- duce all the country's wealth." While such a general statement could be consistent with even radical reformist aspirations, another Sandinista leader close to the National Direc- torate was more explicit: "The ultimate goal [is] to build a socialist society."s But the revolution in Nicaragua has only just begun, and its ultimate destiny is far from decided. As the Cubans are quick to admit, armed struggle is the easy part. Evaluating the events of the past year, it is clear that this revolution is for the workers and peasants. It also appears that the San- dinista Front is carefully and creatively laying the basis for a socialist society, knowing full well that the dependent capitalist society in- herited from Somoza could not be reformed so as to provide any future for the masses. As one worker said, "We are a poor country with many problems, but there can be only one solution for us--socialism."' This was echoed by a rural organizer for the Associa- tion of Rural Workers (ATC), who declared that, "Our real enemies are all the bourgeois elements, those who own lands and factories, and those who are still in the church and the government." The ATC is but one of the mass organiza- tions that have blossomed under FSLN leadership within the past year. Yet, for all4 this, the workers and peasants, led by their vanguard, the FSLN, have not taken total control of either the state or the economy. The Government of National Reconstruction, set up onJuly 19, 1979, is based on an alliance that includes sectors of the bourgeoisie. Two of the five members on the executive Junta itself represent the private sector, though no initiative is taken without full consultation and approval by the FSLN National Direc- torate. The state controls the banks and much of the economic infrastructure, while most of the country's industries and a large portion of its agricultural lands remain under private control. Bourgeois political parties and business associations continue to exist, voicing the interests and concerns of the privileged sectors of society. If this is truly a revolution of the workers and peasants, why is there such an alliance? Why haven't the means of production--the factories, the fields, the mines, etc. -been totally expropriated so that a socialist society can be developed? To evaluate why the FSLN has carried out two seemingly contradictory policies-the maintenance of an alliance with the bourgeoisie, and the fomenting of mass organizations with a militant class perspec- tive- we must look at how the victory was won and what the objective conditions were that existed on July 19, 1979. There are numerous elements in such an evaluation. One is the physical destruction of a country wracked by a liberation struggle against such a ruthless tyrant. Another is the country's position in the global structure-its relation to economic and political forces that it does not control. And not the least is the debilitating impact on the social forces themselves of a half century of unrelenting dictatorship. The Bourgeoisie: "We don't know where we're go- ing or what will happen next." The Nicaraguan revolution has been pro- foundly affected by the particular characteristics of the Somoza dictatorship. During its 45-year reign, the Somoza family treated Nicaragua as its own personal estate and the country's standing army, the Na- tional Guard, as its personal bodyguard. The Somozas also enjoyed a special rela- tionship with U.S. imperialism. The first Somoza was installed by the U.S. government in the mid-1930s to maintain stability and protect U.S. interests when the Marines departed after two decades of occupation. In many ways the Somoza dynasty was a foreign government imposed on the Nicaraguan peo- ple, always ready to curry favor with its U.S. sponsor as a means of ensuring its own perpetuation in power. While active capitalists themselves, the Somozas were often unresponsive to the in- terests of other sectors of their own class. This had serious economic and political conse- quences for the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie. Taxes, bank loans, import duties and govern- ment subsidies were all manipulated by the Somoza clan in a way that often discriminated against one sector or another of the capitalist class. Politically, this created an emasculated and fragmented bourgeois opposition, never able to develop a coherent alternative project. Constantly on the defensive, its represen- tatives often turned to the United States to mediate their disputes with the Somoza regime. The most sustained attempt of the dissident bourgeoisie to wrest control from Somoza began after the 1972 earthquake. The dynas- ty's greed had finally become untenable. Not only was Tachito Somoza more openly cor- rupt than his family predecessors, he even began to romp on previously independent bourgeois sectors of the economy, such as con- struction and banking. In mid-1978, the bourgeoisie made a last effort to pull itself together. Through its traditional political parties and business organizations, it created the Broad Opposi- tion Front (FAO), to devise a moderate bourgeois alternative to Somoza. This time they had some support from the United States. The Carter Administration had begun to recognize that the FSLN might just succeed in toppling the Somoza dictatorship and establishing a revolutionary government. But the U.S. attempt to negotiate Somoza's departure in exchange for leaving intact ma- jor elements of somocismo ended in failure. Somoza remained intransigent: "This has to end with a military solution." 6 In the final NACLA ReportMaylluns 1980 5 months of the struggle, the opposition was left with no alternative but to cast its lot with the FSLN. "Somoza is more of an obstacle to democracy than the FSLN," said a former university rector. 7 As a class, the bourgeoisie disintegrated even further. Some disinvested and ran, others provided funds for arms to the FSLN, still others continued to urge the U.S. government to do something. "We don't know where we're going or what will happen next. We're living in the early stages of civil war," explained a member of one of Nicaragua's wealthiest families who had par- ticipated in a business strike to overthrow Somoza. 8 The Masses: "In the past many people remained unorganized." The FSLN was literally swept to power through the mass participation of hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans. But this obscures the contradiction that on the eve of the insur- rection Nicaragua had one of Central America's least advanced popular move- ments. It possessed neither a strong organiza- tional base nor developed political con- sciousness. "In the past," explained Silvia Reyes, an FSLN militant and leader in the women's organization, AMNLAE, "many people remained unorganized for fear of repression, for lack of political clarity, or many other factors." 9 This corresponded in part to the tremendous repressive capacity of the National Guard, and to the pervasiveness of Somoza's rabid anti-communist propagan- da. It also corresponded to the historically low level of industrialization and urbanization. By 1979, peasants and rural workers still comprised more than half of Nicaragua's labor force, in total only 600,000 people. The industrial proletariat was at most 35,000, with the majority of urban workers involved in commerce and services. 1 0 Even this represented a growth from the early 70s, as the 1972 earthquake created work in con- struction and related industries. Less than six percent of all workers were members of trade unions." The strength of those unionized was further debilitated both by the division of the union movement into six labor federations (one of which was under the direct control of the Somoza dictatorship), and by the predominance of economist and weak leadership. The FSLN, which historical- ly had emphasized work in the rural sector and among students, did not begin to play a significant role among urban workers until the mid-70s, when one tendency (Proletariat) laid aside rural guerrilla tactics in favor of building a strong political base in urban areas. Yet another FSLN strategy emerged out of the changing conditions of the 70s. The In- surrectionists, or Terceristas, assessed that Somoza's own base of support had grown perilously weak, and that a broad coalition of disaffected forces could be harnessed to a mass insurrection in the short run. Thus they eschewed mass organizing in favor of building a strong military organization which often at- tacked from bases outside the country. For several years the tendencies worked in- dependently, creating separate organizational structures and leadership. Responding to the repressive climate, much of the FSLN's urban work concentrated on developing clandestine nuclei in the workplace and the barrio. Known in the fac- tories as Revolutionary Workers' Committees, Committees for Trade Union Liberty and the Movement of Working People, and in the slums as Civil Defense Committees (CDC), these small units later played an invaluable role in the crucial tasks of the insurrectional struggle. But beginning in 1976, landless peasants were organized by the FSLN into Committees of Agricultural Workers, which led land inva- sions and protest marches. Within two years they had grown strong enough to found the ATC as a national organization. In 1977, the FSLN started AMPRONAC (Association of Women Confronting the Na- tional Problems), which fought to assert women's rights and provide a focus for human rights at the national level. Its initial middle- class image helped it avoid direct repression, but its strength grew particularly among working-class women as its militant commit- ment to the overall struggle became more ex- plicit. 12 By late 1977 the mass movement had begun to pick up real momentum, and in mid-1978, some 20 popular organizations founded the MaylJune 1980 5NACLA Report United People's Movement (MPU). This new body promoted coordination among the em- bryonic organizations and hammered out a program of unity which would become a plat- form for replacing the dictatorship with a new popular and democratic government.13 All three tendencies of the FSLN endorsed this program. The Insurrection: ". . . an imperative that preced- ed full political consciousness." Parallel to the coalescence of this rapidly expanding mass movement, the three tenden- cies initiated a conscious process of reunifica- tion, beginning with a declaration of "unity in action." A revolutionary situation was developing rapidly and the FSLN needed to be able to move in concert if it was to seize the moment. The year 1978 brought with it a tumult of events, starting with the assassination of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, charismatic leader of the bourgeois opposition, by the Somoza forces. By mid-year the initiative had moved to the hands of the FSLN. The Sandinista Front had become the leader of a people in motion. But the return from exile of "The Twelve" in July 1978 symbolized the ideological boun- daries of that motion. The Twelve were in- fluential businessmen, clergy and intellec- tuals, many with close family ties to the FSLN. Speaking to 100,000 cheering people from all social sectors (who had turned out despite dire threats by Somoza), the Twelve espoused armed insurrection as the only way to remove Somoza, and called for the con- stitution of a popular government with FSLN participation. They were the embodiment of the broadest possible project, except that they were the creation of the Terceristas, not the bourgeoisie. Petty bourgeois sectors now flocked to the ranks of the Terceristas, as did sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the somewhat spontaneous September insurrection showed the weakness of the popular forces--lack of sufficient arms, lack of training and lack of organizational cohe- sion. A crossroads had been reached. Each tendency had to reassess certain elements of its strategy. The FSLN determined that the main enemy was imperialism, not its own crippled bourgeoisie. The main manifestation of imperialism, and its weakest link, was the Somoza regime. As long as Somoza held power, the FSLN could not gain more in- itiative than it held at this crucial juncture. Though its conception of an alternative society was limited, the populace fighting alongside the FSLN had shown itself willing to die to get rid of the hated dictator. Life held no other options. But the masses could not succeed alone, and they need not. The banner of national liberation could be sup- ported by other dissident sectors in Nicaragua as well. And it would be embraced by pro- gressive governments and political parties in other countries, whose diplomatic and finan- cial help was indispensable in defeating the National Guard and preventing U.S. in- tervention. As one Sandinista summed it all up, "The insurrection was an imperative that preceded full political consciousness.""14 By March 1979, the three tendencies of the FSLN were able to announce organic unity. The multi-class strategy which had been forged in practice during the previous year was ratified, and within four months would successfully overthrow the entire Somoza dynasty, National Guard and all. Tomas Borge, the only FSLN founder still alive, ex- plained the reunification: "There were never serious ideological differences between us. The differences have been essentially of a political and strategic nature."' Alliance in victory: "In Nicaragua the important point is that the people are armed." The workers, the peasants, the unemployed, the urban poor, the migrant agricultural workers, and the impoverished women who suffered a particularly brutal ex- istence in Nicaragua--these were the people who provided the bulk of the Sandinista fighting forces. As Comandante of the San- dinista Army Humberto Ortega noted, the guerrilla's role was that of providing "support 6MaylJune 1980 for the masses so they could defeat the enemy by means of insurrection.""' Those who didn't become combatants organized supply lines in the cities and the countryside, built bar- ricades to halt the troop movements of the National Guard, provided sanctuaries for the guerrillas and formed civil defense commit- tees that ambushed and harassed the Na- tional Guard units that penetrated their com- munities. Thirty-five thousand people were killed in the year preceding victory." But at the moment of victory, the Nicaraguan masses, having played this decisive role in the victory, were not at a level of political and organizational development that would enable them to immediately con- solidate their position in the revolution. The long struggle against the dictatorship had engendered a broad anti-capitalist bias among the masses, but they were not prepared to launch a full-blown socialist pro- ject. A transitional strategy was called for, one which allowed for the continuing par- ticipation of social classes that wanted to maintain their economic privileges even while speaking of reforms. There were other, even more crucial reasons for this strategy. The struggle against Somoza had left much of the country in ruins. A special study by the United Nations Economic Commission on Latin America (ECLA) reported well over half a billion dollars in physical destruction. Aerial bomb- ing by the National Guard had left many fac- tories destroyed or damaged. Most of the cot- ton crop (a major foreign exchange earner) as well as staple food crops had gone unplanted or been heavily damaged by neglect during the fighting. Thirty percent or more of the population were without jobs. One million people, nearly half the population, needed emergency food supplies. Raw materials and spare parts had to be obtained from abroad to reactivate the economy. With the country bankrupt (Somoza had left $3.5 million in the Central Bank), international grants and credits for these necessities were needed from Western Europe, the United States and the interna- tional aid agencies. Somoza had also left behind a staggering foreign-exchange debt of $1.6 billion, one of the highest per capita debts in the world. Hotel Europa in Estell, destroyed by National Guard Bombing To reactivate the economy, the FSLN and the Government of National Reconstruction called for the participation of all social sec- tors. Petty bourgeois administrators were needed to provide their economic expertise. The professional sectors -doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, etc. - in short the entire middle strata of Nicaraguan society-were needed by the revolution and would have to be won over. The bourgeoisie, too, was asked to par- ticipate in the reconstruction of the war-torn land. The bourgeoisie was given a clear choice: participate in a restructured economy in which social needs would take precedence over profits, or don't participate at all, in which case the enterprise becomes the proper- ty of the state. And finally there was imperialism itself. The U.S. government had tried, even after the Junta of National Reconstruction had been named, to impose elements linked to the Somoza clan on the new government. Even some of the opposition business leaders were incredulous: "It's as if Ike had asked some of the Nazis to stay on in Government," said one." The United States was looking for any opportunity to reverse the revolutionary pro- cess, particularly as struggles against otherNACLA Report Central American dictatorships gained momentum. In the other direction, Nicaragua was tied to its northern neighbor just as securely as Cuba had been tied two decades earlier. The United States was a major trading partner, it had influence over institutions holding most of Nicaragua's foreign debt, and it controlled most of the technology and spare parts for Nicaragua's industry. The FSLN had learned from the Cuban experience that immediate expropriation of the capitalist class was not a viable solution. A blockade such as Cuba has borne these twenty years was to be avoided if at all possible. A major question remained. Was the bourgeoisie weak enough, and FSLN leader- ship of the masses strong enough, that the FSLN could maintain the initiative in an alliance without sacrificing the longer-term goals of the revolution? The FSLN determined that its control of the military forces, its solid position as vanguard of the revolution, and the weakness of the bourgeoisie could allow for such a transitional period. In short, the San- dinista Front would be able to dictate the terms of an alliance with the bourgeoisie. As Comandante Jaime Wheelock pointed out, "Usually the most important characteristic of the bourgeoisie is that it is armed, separated from the people. In Nicaragua the important point is that the people are armed; the Army becomes the base for all the changes."' 9 The initial period of reconstruction is ex- tremely important for the revolution. It is a period of transition and rapid change, a period filled with dangers for the advance of the revolutionary process. The alliance is becoming increasingly unstable as the masses move forward and the FSLN begins to build a new state and economy to respond to the in- terests of the vast majority. Conflict between the bourgeoisie and their political and business organizations on the one hand, and the FSLN and the mass organizations on the other, is inevitable. As one leading member of the FSLN said, "There are two historic pro- jects in conflict, one that wants to forge a new society that ends exploitation, the other that wants to reintegrate elements of the old social order into a society based on class privilege." 20 REVOLUTION 1. Alan Riding, "National Mutiny in Nicaragua," New York Times Magazine, July 30, 1978. 2. Barricada (Managua, Nicaragua), October 30, 1979. 3. NACLA interview, November 1979. 4. NACLA interview with worker at metal fabrication plant. 5. NACLA interview with ATC organizer near Masaya. 6. Riding, "National Mutiny." 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Lynn Silver, "Nicaraguan Women Organize to De- fend the Revolution," Intercontinental Press, October 15, 1979. 10. Adolfo Gilly, "La Central Sandinista de Traba- jadores," Uno Mas Uno (Mexico), December 13, 1979. 11. Barricada, March 16, 1980. 12. "Entrevista al MPU de Nicaragua," Agence Latino-Americaine D'lInformation (Montreal), January 11, 1979. 13. NACLA, "Crisis in Nicaragua," NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. XII, No. 6 (November-December 1978), p. 36. 14. Interview with representative of Casa Nicaragua, New York City. 15. EPICA Task Force, Nicaragua: A People's Revolu- tion (Washington, D.C.: EPICA, 1980), p. 11. 16. Cited in Granma (Havana, Cuba). January 27, 1980. 17. Comision Economica para America Latina (CEPAL), Nicaragua: Repercusiones economicas de los acontecimientos politicos recientes (Santiago, Chile: CEPAL, August 1979), p. 18. 18. New York Times, June 28, 1979. 19. Interview with Jaime Wheelock. 20. Interview with Orlando Nunez, Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (INRA), Managua, Nicaragua.

Tags: Nicaragua, FSLN, socialism, mass movements, revolution struggles

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