Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Do you remember the Sandinistas?

The Sandinistas are back. Or are they? In any event, Daniel Ortega, who headed the revolutionary junta that took over after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and who was President of Nicaragua till he was voted out in 1990, has just been elected President again.

For those with short memories, in the 1980s the Sandinistas enjoyed the same prestige and support amongst Leftwing romantic revolutionaries as does Chavez today. “In 1979,” read the blurb on the back of Nicaragua: The Sandinist Revolution by Henri Weber that came out in 1981, “Nicaragua’s long-lived Somoza dictatorship fell before a mass insurrection led by the Sandinist movement, which has now established the first anti-capitalist power on the American mainland.”

Weber was then a prominent member of the French equivalent of the old IMG. Later he became a “Socialist” Party senator. Ortega’s political evolution has been in the same direction. While still an anti-yankee nationalist he now emphasises his Christian rather than any “Marxist” (read Leninist) credentials.

The Sandinistas were a guerrilla group inspired by the Cuban revolution (and named after a Nicaraguan nationalist who fought against US domination in the 1920s). At the beginning, in 1979, they shared power with the representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie, who were also against the Somoza dictatorship. But they soon came to monopolise power and attempted to transform Nicaragua into the same sort of state-capitalist regime as existed in Cuba, with the same “Marxist-Leninist” ideology: a minority vanguard would liberate the people through opposition to US imperialism, land redistribution, social reforms and a cultural revolution against capitalist influences which would create a “new man”.

The USA wasn’t having it and financed and armed the “contras” who waged a relentless guerrilla campaign against the Sandinista government, so weakening it that in the end it had to agree to abide by the outcome of internationally-monitored elections. Ortega lost, ironically to one of the representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie would had been a member of the original 1979 junta. Most people in Nicaragua were simply fed up with the civil war and the economic privations it and the failure of the Sandinistas’ economic policies had caused.

For the first time a self-appointed “Marxist-Leninist” vanguard had been voted out of office. In any event, even in the absence of the US-provoked civil war, the Sandinistas would have failed to establish socialism or even improve the position of the working class. Quite apart from the fact that, due to the already world nature of capitalism, socialism cannot be establishment in just one country, and certainly not in an economically backward one like Nicaragua (or Cuba), no minority can impose socialism on a majority that does not want and understand it.

Once in power that minority has no alternative but to work within the context of capitalism, but capitalism cannot be made to work in the interest of the class of wage and salary workers. Which was why even in their hey-day the Sandinista government was opposing strikes and urging workers to work harder. They had no alternative since, just to survive within world capitalism, they had to keep costs down so as to make a surplus (a profit) to pay for essential imports.

The Sandinistas’ failure was not that of “the first anti-capitalist power on the American mainland” but the failure of an attempt to establish a Leninist state-capitalist regime there.


PICA Staff said...

I question your assertion that the Sandinista movement was a minority trying to force socialism on an "economically backward" people.

Sandininsta literacy, health, and agricultural projects inspired widespread popular participation.

Organized FSLN communities in rural Nicaragua continue to operate on largely socialist principals on the municipal level (as do organized FMLN communities in rural El Salvador, to an even greater extent.)

The Sandinista government's main downfall was the institution of a highly unpopular draft which cost them support even among many of those committed to socialism and to resisting imperialism.

I do agree with your assesment of Ortega, who at this point is largely interested in his own power, and who gets only grudging support from the Sandinsta partisans in the organized rural communities.

Mondialiste said...

The claim was not that the people of Nicaragua were "economically backward" but that the country's economy was. I don't think the FSLN leadership ever denied that they were a minority; they saw themselves as a vanguard dedicated to serving the people. Yes, they did carry out land reform, but that's not socialism which can't exist in one country, let alone in one village.

ajohnstone said...

Daniel Ortega , that child rapist of his own step-daughter and mansion-house expropriator , for his own personal use , of course .
" State-owned properties were passed into the hands of individual Sandinistas. Every movable piece of equipment was taken. State bank accounts were transformed into personal wealth. The full extent of the pillage is not known, nor can it be measured. But what is clear is that nearly every member of the Sandinista government took what he or she could get and that many leaders of the FSLN became extremely rich...When the transition to the new government was completed, the plunder of the state had created, almost overnight, a new bourgeoisie of ex-bureaucrats, ex-ministers and aides, all members or supporters of the FSLN. They moved into their recently acquired properties in the fashionable (and safe) districts, where they were joined soon after by the returning members of the old bourgeoisie...There was not even a pretence that this would benefit the mass of Nicaraguans. On the contrary, it was barefaced and open pillage." The SWP - 1997

Bill said...

For the first time a self-appointed “Marxist-Leninist” vanguard had been voted out of office.

Hadn't a Marxist group been voted out in Portugal back in '73?