Another Cuba? What Next for Nicaragua?
Another Cuba? What Next for Nicaragua?
For Workers and Peasants Government – Not Bourgeois Sandinista Junta!
[Originally published in Workers Vanguard No. 23, August 1979, by the then revolutionary Spartacist League. Transcribed by Revolutionary Regroupment from the scanned version available in marxists.org.]
When 100.000 jammed Managua’s newly-named Plaza of the Revolution last month to cheer the Sandinista-led overthrow of the blood-drenched Somoza dynasty installed by the U.S. Marines 45 years ago, revolutionaries all over the world cheered with them. It was the first serious defeat for U.S. imperialism in Latin America since the Cuban revolutionary army annihilated the CIA-organized gusanos at the Bay of Pigs.
For two decades since the imperialist defeat on the Playa de Girón, the American ruling class and its local gorillas – haunted obsessively by the spectre of “another Cuba” – have taken a terrible vengeance against the workers, peasants and intellectuals of Latin America: the marines invading the Dominican Republic in 1965, the CIA hunting down and assassinating Che Guevara, the overthrow of bourgeois democracy in Brazil and Uruguay, followed by savage terror against the left, the murder of 30.000 workers and leftists in Chile in 1973, of thousands more in Argentina a few years later. But when West Point graduate “Tacho” Somoza fled to Miami along with the entire command of his National Guard, it had happened again – the first popular revolution against a right-wing dictatorship since Fidel Castro’s Rebel Army marched into Havana on New Year’s Day, 1959.
Would Nicaragua become another Cuba? No wonder this was the question everyone was asking – not only in the headlines of the Washington Post and the Pentagon’s war rooms, but among militants throughout Latin America. While syndicated cold-war columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak wailed that “Central America is going red”, most bourgeois journalists as well as the State Department maintain another Cuba is avoidable.
Nicaragua’s future political and economic course is, at least from afar, not categorically predetermined. (Unlike Iran, where the clearly reactionary religious character of the Khomeiniite opposition to the shah allowed revolutionaries to predict beforehand the nature of the new regime.)
The destruction of the Somoza regime has severely damaged the Nicaraguan bourgeois order. Somoza had more reason than Louis XIV to have said “L’état c’est moi”. Not only was the Somoza family a major component of the ruling class, owning a substantial chunk of key sectors of the economy; the state power had become reduced to Somoza’s personal praetorian guard. The civil war shattered it.
In bargaining with the revolutionary junta over the terms of Somoza’s ouster, the State Department was less concerned to add a few more conservative bourgeois figures to the future government than to preserve the National Guard. And the Sandinistas did agree that “honest and patriotic” Guard officers would be integrated into a new national army, with no reprisals against any of them.
What a cruel betrayal of the Nicaraguan people, who have seen their husbands, children and parents massacred by Somoza’s gangsters in uniform!
“They left the bodies here for 27 days, then they allowed them to be burned in front of the house. All that was left of my father was his head … they should kill every one of them. They shouldn’t let one of them live, but they shouldn’t kill them with just one shot, they should kill them so they suffer”
— The New York Times, 3 August
This cry of torment and vengeance is from a young woman who saw Somoza’s troops machine-gun her elderly father and mother. Later the Guardsmen’s wives came back and looted her home.
Somoza’s private army however did not trust the Sandinista leaders, whatever their promises to Jimmy Carter, to protect them against the blood fury of their victims. When their chief fled, the Guard crumbled into a mass of panicked refugees. The sight of Somoza’s troops abandoning their guns, stripping off their uniforms and piling into helicopters to escape recalls similar scenes during the fall of Saigon. Most of the Somoza Air Force, commandeered by fleeing troops, is now parked on runways in Guatemala and Honduras. Fishing boats were hijacked by desperate Guardsmen in a dash to El Salvador; others formed a ragtag column that hotfooted it over the Honduran border, while the more unlucky troops took refuge in churches, Red Cross camps and foreign embassies. Hopefully at least some of them will be tried for their atrocious crimes.
The country Somoza left behind is in ruins. Every major city was repeatedly bombed and Estelí, the scene of heavy fighting since last September, is practically a ghost town. Factories are destroyed, crops are lost. Transport services are in total disarray as many buses served as barricades during the fighting. Hundreds of thousands are returning from refugee camps to a country without housing or work. Tens of thousands have died in the fighting.
The power vacuum in Nicaragua arises both from the gravely disrupted condition of the bourgeois order and the weakness of the working class, lacking consciousness and organization. This vacuum gives the petty-bourgeois layers and their radical Sandinista representatives exceptional social weight and autonomy from the two counterposed decisive class camps of the proletariat and capitalism. The Sandinista guerrilla army is now the dominant military force. The decisive question is whether a new capitalist state apparatus will be reconstituted from among these petty bourgeois and bourgeois radical forces or whether the revolution will lead to a break with the capitalist-imperialist system.
The destruction of Somoza’s National Guard, just like the destruction of Batista’s Cuban army 20 years before, had opened up a period in which the class nature of the emerging state is not yet fundamentally determined. The Sandinista commanders pledge to respect private property – but so did the initial government of the Cuban Revolution.A s we wrote three years ago:
“ […] what existed in Havana following the overthrow of Batista was an inherently transitory and unstable phenomenon – a petty-bourgeois government which was not committed to the defense of either bourgeois private property or the collectivist property forms of proletarian class rule […] such a regime was temporarily autonomous from the bourgeois order – that is, a capitalist state, namely armed bodies of men dedicated to defending a particular property form, did not exist in the Marxist sense […]
— “Guerrillas in Power”, WV No. 102. 26 March 1976
The Lessons of Cuba
The Cuban Revolution therefore definitely casts its long shadow over Nicaragua, and not primarily because Castro has for many years supported the Sandinista guerrillas. Castro’s Rebel Army was a heterogeneous petty bourgeois force temporarily independent of the bourgeoisie. Generally such formations on coming to power have transformed themselves into new bourgeois bonapartist regimes integrated into the imperialist system. But in Cuba an exceptional development occurred leading to a break with the capitalist-imperialist order.
On first coming to power the 26th of July Movement guerrillas established a coalition government with old-time bourgeois politicians who in fact held the top posts: Manuel Urrutia as president, Jose Miró Cardona as prime-minister and Roberto Agramonte as foreign minister. But Castro’s initial reforms, especially the agrarian reform of June 1959, provoked a violent reaction from U.S. imperialism, which launched an economic boycott and encouraged domestic counterrevolutionaries. Castro in turn reacted with increasingly radical measures, which drove away all bourgeois support. Fearing the wrath of Yankee power, the Cuban bourgeoisie in large part fled to the U.S., expecting to return with the Marines.
To defend itself against U.S. imperialism and the Cuban bourgeoisie’s economic sabotage, in the summer-fall of 1960 the Castro regime expropriated capitalist property. In carrying out this social transformation the petty-bourgeois radicals of the 26th of July Movement also transformed themselves into a Stalinist bureaucracy of a deformed workers state, politically expropriating and oppressing the Cuban workers and peasants. As we pointed out:
“[…] the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy is in one of its central aspects – i.e., the transmission belt for the pressure of the world bourgeois order on a workers state – a petty-bourgeois formation. The decisive section of the Castroites could make the transition to the leadership of a deformed workers state because in the absence of the egalitarianism and proletarian democracy of a state directly won by the working people, they never had to transcend or fundamentally alter their own petty-bourgeois radical social appetites, but only to transform and redirect them”.
— Preface to Marxist Bulletin No. 8, “Cuba and Marxist Theory” (1973)
The chief actors in the overthrow Somoza have, each in their own way, drawn some lessons in seeking to avoid Cuba. About two years ago the largest grouping within the Sandinistas, the terceristas, decided that voicing support to socialism à la Cuba was a fundamental barrier to a broad alliance against Somoza. So they dropped their Castroism and adopted a purely bourgeois-nationalist program. The anti-Somoza bourgeoisie, a large majority of the Nicaraguan capitalist class, responded favorably and has since tried to domesticate the Sandinista guerrillas.
The social revolution from above in Cuba took place only because the bonapartist Castro regime faced exceptional historic conditions. Among them, a decisive factor was the belligerence of the U. S. toward the Cuban rebel government. U.S. imperialism also has learned a lesson from this experience, and in many Washington circles it is now recognized that the U.S.’ blind hostility to Castro in 1959 helped drive him toward the very expropriations it sought to forestall. In contrast, today the American rulers seem to have opted for the carrot instead of the stick in Nicaragua.
At first, fear of Castroite guerrillas coming to power caused the U.S. to support Somoza long after it was clear that his National Guard was fighting literally the entire Nicaraguan people. But when it became obvious that only direct military intervention could save Somoza, the Carter administration changed its tack and has since taken a conciliatory tone toward the revolutionary junta. When Sandinista leader Tomás Borge states he’s never said he is a Marxist, Washington is now willing to let him prove it. Even Castro remarked that Yankee imperialism has “learned something” and is not acting toward the Nicaraguan revolution as it did toward his.
Carter is trying to remove the onus of having backed Somoza until the eleventh hour. The new U.S. ambassador to Managua, Lawrence Pezzullo, strongly denounced any attempts by the defeated National Guard in exile to carry out counterrevolutionary actions. Washington is funneling funds to the new Nicaraguan regime via the Red Cross. And behind the scenes State Department men and CIA operatives are no doubt promising much more if the Sandinista commanders will play ball.
At the same time, the American rulers are not about to give the Sandinistas a blank check. Managua has requested that the U.S. supply it with weapons for the new People’s Army. Washington’s delay in agreeing to do so prompted the famous guerrilla chief and new deputy interior minister “Commander Zero” (Edén Pastora) to threaten that the revolution junta would go to the “socialist bloc” for arms, although this statement was later repudiated by Interior Minister Borge.
Despite the Sandinista regime’s repeated assertions that it wants good relations with Washington, U.S. diplomats are uneasy about the continuing anti-American rhetoric emanating from Managua. According to the Washington Post (7 August), Barricada, the official government organ and only newspaper currently published in the country, portrays the anti-Somoza revolution as a defeat for “U.S. imperialism” and refers to the Organization of American States as the “Department of State’s Ministry of Colonies”. The willingness of Yankee imperialism to deal with the Nicaraguan regime will strongly affect its course and may prove to be decisive in bringing about the reconsolidation of a state committed to defending capitalist property forms. But however shrewd the policy of Washington, the fate of the Nicaraguan regime will also depend upon the development of the class struggle within Nicaragua.
Castroite Guerrillas Govern with Millionaires
This government of “Marxist-Leninist” guerrillas and big capitalists will not easily master a country whose economy has been ruined, whose army has fled and whose masses expect more from the revolution than just slogans about “a new Nicaragua”. One doesn’t have to be a Marxist to figure out that the provisional government of national reconstruction is anything but a stable ruling group committed to a definite program. As the New York Times’ Alan Riding put it on 22 July:
“Anastasio Somoza Debayle was ousted last week because he succeeded in uniting almost all sectors of Nicaragua against him. In the heat of war, he even inspired the strangest of bedfellows to join a provisional government of national reconstruction. But can this potpourri of classes and ideologies work in government as it worked in opposition?
“In reality, the nearer the opposition came to power, the more fragile the coalition seemed. It was always easy to draft joint denunciations of the dictatorship, but it was less simple for conservative businessmen, Social Democratic intellectuals and Marxist guerrillas to agree on what should replace it.”
The Sandinista guerrillas seem to have given the bourgeois representatives the larger share of governmental power. Only two of the dozen or so ministers are leading Sandinistas; the rest are big capitalists, priests and technocrats. But this ministry is not where the real power lies. Castro, too, was not a member of the first post-Batista government; he just happened to be commander of the Rebel Army. If the Sandinista leaders have been generous in allowing their bourgeois allies ministerial portfolios, they have not allowed them to take command of the guns. The more sophisticated bourgeois press points out that the strongman in the Nicaraguan situation seems to be the Sandinista veteran Borge, who is both minister of the interior and one of the three commanders of the new People’s Army. It is Borge, not the minister of defense (an old veteran of the National Guard), who is calling the shots in the armed forces.
But to date the Sandinista commanders have been no less insistent than their bourgeois colleagues that the “new Nicaragua” will be capitalist. Borge, tagged as Nicaragua’s Castro”, protests: “’I’ve never said I’m a Marxist”, going on to substantiate this:
“That’s one thing we want to guarantee. Private property in this country will be respected. The only thing the revolutionary state has taken over to administer is the property of Somoza and his henchmen. The industrialists can keep calm.”
— Washington Post, 25 July
One might think that Fidel Castro might be upset that the Sandinistas, whom he befriended when they were weak, now reject Cuba as a revolutionary model. But no, the Stalinist líder máximo has joined the chorus proclaiming that the Sandinistas stand for a social system unique to Nicaragua:
“To those who have said that Nicaragua will become a new Cuba, we respond to them in the way the Nicaraguans have responded, that Nicaragua will become a new Nicaragua – that is something very distinct.”
— UPI dispatch, 27 July
The Future of the Nicaraguan Revolution
A decisive section of the Sandinista cadre along with their present bourgeois allies may reconstitute a bourgeois state under the sway of Yankee imperialism. But that is not the only possibility. An upsurge of militant social struggle from below (e.g., peasant land seizures, popular vengeance against Somoza’s Guardsmen), especially if it provokes a hostile reaction from the U.S., can pressure a section of the petty-bourgeois radical Sandinistas to the left, leading to bureaucratically-deformed social revolution. Alternatively such an upsurge, particularly in the absence of conscious revolutionary leadership, could well result in a bloody counterrevolution by the local bourgeoisie in alliance with the U.S. imperialists.
There is another road, along which lies the real hope for the victory of the Nicaraguan revolution: the emergence of the working class as an independent, conscious contestant for power. The creation of independent organs of workers power (e.g., workers militias, factory committees, soviets) would reciprocally lay the basis for the rapid development of a revolutionary proletarian (Leninist) party. The development of proletarian revolutionary forces would threaten the petty-bourgeois bonapartist appetites of all wings of the Sandinista leadership; a section of this petty-bourgeois movement would likely go over to the workers and its vanguard, while other elements would retreat into the camp of bourgeois reaction.
The present “unity” of the anti-Somoza revolution will be shattered, one way or another, by class conflict, the overthrow of Somoza in itself poses the radical redistribution of capitalist property in Nicaragua. This blood-sucking billionaire owned more than 30 percent of all the arable land in the country, along with a gigantic cattle herd. He had the controlling share of the national airline, owned the country’s biggest shipping company, its biggest meatpacking operation, some construction companies, and lots more – all now taken over by the new regime.
What is to be done with these vast holdings will be an area of major conflict between the different social classes now supporting the Sandinista/bourgeois junta. The peasants expect and will demand that the Somoza estates be the basis for a radical egalitarian agrarian revolution. The bourgeois politicians in Managua will try to transfer Somoza’s former wealth to their own pockets and those of their friends. The Sandinista minister of agrarian reform, Jaime Wheelock, proposes to turn most of the Somoza lands into cooperative farms, a proposal which must displease his bourgeois fellow ministers, who have a land-hunger of their own. Furthermore, bourgeois landowners must fear that takeovers may well extend beyond “Tacho’s” holdings to their own. It is possible that, as in Cuba in 1959, the scope and nature of agrarian reform may cause the first big blow-up between bourgeois ministers like Alfonso Robelo (Nicaragua’s cottonseed oil king) and petty-bourgeois radicals like Wheelock.
While the Sandinista/bourgeois junta in Managua preaches the virtues of reformed capitalism, the picture in the country’s second city, León, is rather different. This city fell to the Sandinista forces in June, and the more leftist “Prolonged People’s War” faction predominates. In what the Spanish magazine Cambio 16 terms “el León comunista”, food and other supplies are freely distributed through block committees, money has been taken out of circulation, commercial transactions are forbidden and labor is commandeered.
Given the near-total economic devastation caused by the civil war, rationing and other forms of “military communism” are not necessarily attacks on the capitalist system. But many of the Sandinista militants, workers and poor look upon “el León comunista” not as a post-war emergency measure, but as a model for socialist reconstruction of the country. The New York Times (29 Jluly) quotes one of León’s leftist leaders who criticizes the Managua regime as reformist and states, “there are a lot of people here who would like this to be a Marxist state”. He is unquestionably speaking the truth.
Workers to Power! For a Trotskyist Party!
The masses of Nicaragua cannot and do not want to live in the old way. But to produce a socialist revolution, the radicalized masses must be politically led and organized by a revolutlonary vanguard party, centrally based on the proletariat, and with an international perspective. In the absence of such a LeninIst (Trotskyist) party, Nicaragua can at best result only in another Cuba, in a deformed social revolution in which the working class is saddled with a narrowly nationalist, parasitic and oppressive bureaucracy. “Socialism in one banana republic” can only be an obstacle to the development of socialist revolution in Latin America.
But the fake-Trotskyist United Secretariat (USec) sees no need for a Leninist vanguard –because its entire perspective is to pressure the petty-bourgeois Sandinistas into making Nicaragua “another Cuba”. The USec’s 20 June declaration, “Solidarity with the Struggle of the Nicaraguan People” (Intercontinental Press, 9 July), never mentions the need for a revolutionary proletarian party. Instead, these revisionists declare the Sandinista National Liberation Front to be the “vanguard […] of the people of Nicaragua”. But the dominant tercerista faction has a purely bourgeois-democratic program, while the other two factions uphold the standard Stalinist “two-stage” revolution. Now in power, the Sandinistas have not only stated their intention to administer a capitalist Nicaragua, but have taken steps in that direction.
The immediate task facing a revolutionary party in Nicaragua is to oppose the efforts of the Sandinista/bourgeois junta to restore a capitalist state. The Sandinista leaders have already displayed the bonapartist desire to secure a monopoly of military power. One of the first acts of the revolutionary junta was to order all civilians to turn in the guns many acquired when the Guardsmen abandoned their weapons en masse. Given the revolutionary chaos, it is doubtful that this order has yet been carried out. An urgent demand a revolutionary party in Nicaragua must raise is that the toiling masses keep their arms, and that workers militias be established independently of the Sandinista/bourgeois regime.
A revolutionary party would agitate for popular tribunals to try the National Guard criminals hiding in the churches and Red Cross camps. It would demand a radical egalitarian agrarian revolution, the expropriation of industry and commerce and the reconstruction of the economy on a socialist basis. Expropriation must not be limited only to Somoza’s property. Above all, Trotskyists must agitate for a government excluding the anti-Somoza bourgeoisie and based on the democratic organs of the working class and its peasant allies. Such a revolutionary struggle obviously cannot be confined to Nicaragua alone, but must strive for a Socialist United States of Latin America.