This article originally appeared in the Bulletin on January 22, 1987.
1. The decision of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government to enter direct talks with the CIA-organized contra mercenary forces marks a betrayal of the struggle against imperialism and has opened up the oppressed masses of Central America to sharp new dangers.
This action has, above all, exposed the organic incapacity of such petty-bourgeois nationalists to wage a consistent struggle against imperialism and its agents in the native bourgeoisie and to resolve the fundamental tasks of the national democratic revolution. It has posed the tremendous urgency of building revolutionary proletarian parties in Nicaragua and throughout Central America.
After eight years of unparalleled heroism and struggle, including the loss of some 90,000 lives in the insurrection against Somoza and the ensuing battle against the US-sponsored terrorists, the Nicaraguan workers and peasants are confronted with the direct threat that their sacrifice and devotion is to be bartered away to the forces of imperialism and counterrevolution.
President Daniel Ortega Saavedra announced the far-reaching concessions on January 16, following discussions in San Jose, Costa Rica with the chiefs of the four Central American puppet regimes—El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Costa Rica—and a delegation of US politicians.
2. The so-called Central American peace plan was hailed by the Sandinistas themselves, together with Stalinists, revisionists and petty-bourgeois radical movements internationally, as the road to peace and a blow for regional independence. The deal in San Jose has refuted these pacifist illusions and demonstrated that the plan is nothing more than a diplomatic trap set by imperialism and the native ruling classes.
Signed last August by Nicaragua and the region’s four US-backed regimes, the plan is founded on the explicit rejection of revolution in Central America and a guarantee of “stability” for the existing regimes. This statement originally appeared in the Bulletin, January 22, 1987.
Breaking decisively from their earlier slogans of “revolution without frontiers,” the Sandinistas offered themselves as the guarantors of a status quo representing poverty and oppression for millions of Central Americans and as virtual border guards for Washington’s puppets.
The division of Central America into separate nation states, each wholly subordinated to foreign capital, is itself the legacy of the backwardness and oppression imposed over four centuries by Spanish colonialism and Yankee imperialism. On this rotten foundation have grown up the most bloody dictatorships, responsible for the genocidal massacre of literally hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants. With just such regimes, the Sandinistas decided to collaborate in maintaining this bankrupt system throughout the Central American isthmus.
In doing so, they spoke not for the masses and their desire for peace through an end to oppression, but for the bankrupt bourgeois ruling classes who seek “peace” through the savage suppression of the class struggle. In signing the accord with the likes of Duarte, Cerezo, Azcona and Arias, the Sandinistas delivered a stab in the back to the FMLN, which has fought a seven-year civil war in El Salvador, as well as to the Guatemalan workers and peasants, who have faced unspeakable massacres, and the brutally oppressed masses of Honduras and Costa Rica.
Now, through the so-called peace process, the Sandinista regime has betrayed the fundamental task of the national democratic struggle in Central America: establishing the region’s independence from the crushing domination of Yankee imperialism.
It has, in effect, renounced the revolution which brought it to power, agreeing to negotiate with the representatives of the very same Somoza dictatorship that was overthrown in July 1979. The logic of this betrayal flows inexorably from the renunciation of the revolution in Central America as a whole. The puppets and dictators with whom the Sandinistas entered into the Central American accord are the direct blood brothers of the contras themselves.
While having long sought to establish a relation of “peaceful coexistence” with Yankee imperialism, the Sandinista government had consistently declared that it would never negotiate with the contra mercenaries, as demanded by Washington. It declared that such an action would compromise Nicaraguan sovereignty and grant legitimacy to a counterrevolutionary movement which is wholly funded and controlled by US imperialism.
Having crossed the line which it had previously claimed was uncrossable, the Sandinista regime has opened up Nicaragua to redoubled pressure from the imperialists and their regional puppets to dismantle even the limited gains achieved in the 1979 revolution.
3. The agreement reached last weekend in San Jose is a part of Washington’s “two-track” program for counterrevolution in Central America.
In the week before the talks, Reagan’s National Security adviser Gen. Colin Powell and Undersecretary of State Elliot Abrams met with each of the region’s four puppet regimes, dictating the terms to be laid down to the Sandinistas and making it clear that any divergence would provoke a cutoff of the US aid, upon which they all depend.
In addition, a congressional delegation headed by Rep. Lee Hamilton was sent to San Jose to warn Ortega that without the concessions, Congress would renew military funding for the contras. Ortega, who has placed his confidence in these imperialist politicians of the Democratic Party, accepted this blackmail.
Besides the face-to-face negotiations with the chiefs of the mercenary forces, Ortega pledged to release some 3,300 jailed contra terrorists and former National Guardsmen of the deposed Somoza dictatorship. A state of emergency imposed in response to the US aggression has been lifted and the People’s Anti-Somocista Tribunals formed to try the terrorists and their accomplices have been disbanded.
Previously, the Sandinistas had insisted that these last steps would only be taken after Honduras and the other rightist regimes had removed contra bases from their territory and the US had cut off all contra aid.
Honduras continues to provide bases and military assistance for mercenaries, and just last week, the leader of one of the country’s main civil rights groups was shot dead after testifying on the operations of army death squads.
As part of the San Jose agreement, an international verification commission established by the original accord was abolished, thereby assuring that Honduras and the other regimes hosting the contras will not be subjected to on-site inspection. In short, all pretense of a regional settlement has been dropped and the so-called peace plan stands exposed as a direct instrument of imperialist coercion aimed at wresting ever greater concessions from the Sandinistas.
In the wake of Ortega’s announcement, the Reagan administration has not only continued to press for up to $270 million in arms funding for the contras, but has ordered the CIA to resume air drops of arms to the mercenary forces.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, the author of the peace plan, spelled out the character of the San Jose deal. “The future of more aid to the contras is entirely in Daniel Ortega’s hands,” he stated, indicating that if Ortega continued to capitulate to US pressure, “then there’s no more reason for aid to the contras.” If he failed to meet the demands of the imperialists and their puppets, however, “Then I imagine the administration will find the support in the Congress as well as in the Senate for more aid to the contras.”
In an article published the day after Ortega’s offer, the New York Times wrote: “The Reagan administration faces an option that it has declined to take ever since it took office in 1981. That option is to accept that the Sandinistas are going to survive and to concentrate on maximizing the internal and external political limits on their actions, in hopes of moderating the course of their revolution.”
Such a strategy, successfully employed in nations such as Zimbabwe, involves the consolidation of a nationalist petty-bourgeois regime, firmly committed to the defense of imperialist interests and the suppression of the class struggle.
On the same day, in Managua, the official Sandinista daily Barricada declared in a front-page editorial: “There is no longer any pretext for the approval of more [contra] funds. The ball is definitely in Washington’s court.”
Indeed it is. By bowing to the concerted pressure of Yankee imperialism, Ortega and the Sandinista leadership have made Nicaragua considerably more vulnerable to the “two-track” policy which is being employed jointly by the White House, the Congress, the State Department and the CIA, in conjunction with the stooge regimes in Central America.
This imperialist strategy begins from the traditional objective of maintaining the undisputed hegemony of US imperialism in Central America. It relies not only on the use of armed terrorists and the threat of direct invasion, but also on the class contradictions existing in Nicaragua and the use of economic and diplomatic pressures to drive the ruling regime to the right.
4. The Sandinista government in Nicaragua is a bourgeois regime. Brought to power by a popular insurrection of the Nicaraguan masses, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) joined immediately in a coalition with representatives of the “anti-Somoza” bourgeoisie to form a Government of National Reconstruction.
While capitalist figures, such as Alfonso Robelo and Violeta Chamorro, have since passed from this government to the camp of the CIA and the contras, the petty-bourgeois nationalists in the Sandinista leadership continue to serve as the defenders of capitalist property relations and the predominant private ownership of the means of production in Nicaragua. They base themselves on a program of national capitalist reformism and of achieving a relation of “peaceful coexistence” with US imperialism.
This fundamental petty-bourgeois class tendency has asserted itself in the decision of the Sandinista leadership to open up talks with the paid agents of the CIA.
The Nicaraguan masses waged the heroic struggle against Somoza’s National Guard not in order to negotiate with the Somocistas and seek a deal with their counterparts in the rest of the region. They fought to achieve the goals of liberation from imperialist oppression and a revolutionary settlement of the agrarian question, through the expropriation of the latifundistas, who constituted Somoza’s social base. The class nature of the Sandinista movement and its program has made it incapable of realizing these demands.
The Sandinista program of conciliation with domestic capital and US imperialism has remained unaltered, despite seven years of fighting in which tens of thousands have been killed and wounded and the country’s economy has been bled dry. Since the contra war began in 1981, over $2 billion in war damages have been inflicted. Production has declined for the last four years.
Exports last year were valued at $218 million, as compared with $650 million a decade ago. Per capita income has been driven back three decades, and inflation in 1987 was reported at 1,400%, with some predicting it will rise to the five-digit level in the coming year. A full 50% of the national budget must go to defense against the contras and the threat of a US invasion.
US imperialist aggression has placed unbearable pressures on Nicaragua. This pressure, however, far from welding together the opposing classes within the nation, has only increased their polarization.
5. The working class and the most oppressed layers of the landless peasants have been forced to bear the brunt of the crisis. For factory workers, real wages now stand at only 10%-20% of what they were just eight years ago. Agricultural wage laborers have seen a similar devastation of their living standards.
These workers, unable to sustain themselves and their families through their wages, are forced to seek other income in the underground economy, often reselling government-subsidized goods at marked-up prices on the black market. According to most estimates, about 50% of the Nicaraguan economy is now operating in this black market.
As for the small and middle peasants, to whom the Sandinistas have sought to direct much of their reforms in order to prevent the contras from building a base, many have begun holding back produce from the official markets, in order to sell on the black market. As private capital continues to dominate the country’s transportation and distribution network, the government has proved virtually powerless to counter this development.
Meanwhile, over eight years after the overthrow of Somoza, more than 60% of the land remains in the hands of large capitalist landholders producing cotton, cattle, coffee and sugar for export. At the same time, more than 30% of the economically active rural population remain landless peasants with only seasonal employment.
While the Sandinista government nationalized the extensive holdings of the Somoza family and turned them into state farms, it has steadfastly defended the private property of the big landholders. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, peasants engaged in land invasions, which often ended in bloody confrontations with the Somocista National Guard. Much of their anger was turned against the cotton growers, who cultivated vast expanses of land by forcing small peasants off their plots.
In the aftermath of the revolution, the Sandinista regime moved to quell the attempts of the landless to expropriate the capitalist growers. Its economic policies placed the greatest priority on boosting agricultural exports in order to increase foreign exchange. The maintenance of the existing large capitalist operations was seen as the main vehicle for this policy.
Now, as part of the concessions made in conjunction with the Central American “peace process,” the Sandinistas have announced the decision to abolish a law which provided for the expropriation of the land of those who fled the country. This measure, which allowed for the seizure of assets belonging to the contras and their supporters, provided a major source of land for the landless.
Similarly, in the industrial working class, a wave of strikes and factory takeovers—in the latter case often by workers opposing their employers’ attempts to decapitalize industries—prompted the Sandinista regime to condemn “labor anarchy” and pass a 1981 decree outlawing all strikes, stoppages and occupations of either factories or land. Trade unions formed by the Sandinistas both among urban and rural workers have remained controlled by the state, seeking to impose labor discipline and production, rather than defending the interests of the workers themselves.
6. Thus, the Sandinista state has emerged as the defender of private ownership and capitalist relations in Nicaragua, maintaining the country’s fundamental internal and external relations formed over centuries of colonial and imperialist oppression.
The 1979 insurrection was carried out with the support of the majority of the bourgeoisie, which was driven into opposition by Somoza’s monopolization of economic wealth and political power. Their objective was a reformed and more efficient capitalism, in which they could secure for themselves a greater share of the profits and eliminate the interference of the Somozas in their relations to the world capitalist market.
While their private property has been maintained, these same capitalists chafe at the reforms instituted under the Sandinistas, particularly the regime’s control of foreign trade, pricing and taxation. They therefore form a social base for the contra terrorists attacking the country. While working class and peasant youth are armed to fight the contras, their families face increasing hunger, as these private owners seek to starve the country.
Working class families are unable to obtain basic necessities in the official market, while the cotton and beef barons and other capitalists are able to buy anything they want at the diplomatic stores set up by the regime. These dollar-only stores are also frequented by officials of the government itself—often the same ones who make speeches to the workers about the need to sacrifice and work harder.
At the same time, while the real wages of workers have been cut to the bone, the regime has attempted to keep managers and technicians from leaving the country by offering extensive perks, such as cars, housing, foreign trips and expense accounts. These actions have increased class polarization.
These conditions have led to a steady decline in the influence of the “mass organizations” set up by the Sandinistas as the foundation of their “popular democracy.” In particular, the neighborhood CDSs, or Sandinista Defense Committees, have virtually ceased to function in the working class barrios of Managua.
7. The petty-bourgeois nationalist leadership of the Sandinista Front has proven incapable of breaking the chains of imperialist oppression which in Nicaragua, as throughout Central America, have been characterized by the brutal exploitation of landless peasants employed part-time in the production of primary commodities for sale under conditions dictated by the imperialist banks and corporations.
While the Sandinistas leaned heavily on the workers and poor peasantry for support and have sought to maintain their backing through a program of social reforms, they have consistently defended the private property of the big landholders and have exercised the utmost care in assuring them of their future within Nicaraguan society.
Their failure to nationalize the land—a measure which is indispensable to accomplishing the essential tasks of the national democratic revolution—has maintained the base for continued oppression and backwardness. The bourgeoisie and its petty-bourgeois political representatives, no matter how radical, are incapable of carrying out such a measure precisely because of their own dependence on private property and their alliance with the landholders against the working class and poor peasantry.
The relation of Nicaragua’s dependent economy to the world imperialist market made it historically impossible for the bourgeoisie to play any independent role. It has served as the direct political and commercial agent of US finance capital. The Somoza dictatorship provided the classic model for such a native agent of foreign imperialism.
While the Sandinistas attempted to ameliorate the conditions of exploitation through their reformist program and sought to win a measure of national independence from Yankee imperialism, their defense of capitalist property relations has made even these limited goals unrealizable.
This was underscored at the end of last year with the regime’s approval of a foreign investment law providing for the most unrestricted operation of foreign capital in Nicaragua. Under the terms of this legislation, the imperialist multinationals are offered more concessions than presently exist under the stooge regimes in the rest of Central America.
8. The betrayal of Ortega in San Jose has made clear the urgent necessity of building an independent revolutionary party of the working class in Nicaragua to prepare the socialist revolution.
Not only has the Sandinistas’ capitulation to imperialist pressure served to embolden the contra terrorists and their backers in the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie, it will also weaken the resolve of sections of the population, particularly the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie, to defend the country against the external aggression. The decision to negotiate with the contras and accede to the demands of Washington can only raise the question among these social layers of why they should risk their lives to defend a regime which is preparing a compromise with the old oppressors.
The workers and poor peasants of Nicaragua can, of course, adopt no such attitude. The victory of the counterrevolutionary forces backed by US imperialism would mean the complete destruction of their rights and the physical extermination of their most combative layers. The limited gains won since the 1979 insurrection would be obliterated, with all land turned back to the latifundistas and a regime more brutal than even Somoza’s placed in power.
It has been and will continue to be the oppressed of Nicaragua who fight to defeat the contras. But a victory in this struggle ultimately depends less on military power than on a revolutionary socialist program aimed at smashing the social base of the contras in the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie and extending the revolution to the oppressed masses of the rest of Central America and internationally. Precisely this program, the Sandinistas have rejected, both through their economic policies and the so-called peace plan.
The most decisive question for achieving this victory is for the factories, shops and land to pass from the hands of the capitalists to the hands of the workers and peasants. Such a revolution cannot be defended through a policy of “peaceful coexistence” with Yankee imperialism and its Central American puppet regimes, but only through a perspective of extending the revolution internationally.
The petty-bourgeois leadership of the Sandinistas will not carry out this perspective. It requires the construction of a revolutionary proletarian party to mobilize the independent strength of the working class and unite behind this class the masses of poor peasants and landless agricultural workers.
9. The evolution of the Sandinista movement has demonstrated the impossibility of fighting for the socialist revolution in any country without combatting counterrevolutionary Stalinism. The Moscow Stalinist bureaucracy of Mikhail Gorbachev has played the role of direct assistant to US imperialism in pressuring the Sandinista regime into capitulation. The so-called Central American peace plan which has served as the vehicle for the Sandinista betrayal was directly prepared by the Soviet Stalinists’ decision to cut off oil shipments to beseiged Nicaragua.
The Nicaraguan Stalinists themselves have joined in a popular front coalition with domestic supporters of the contra mercenaries to agitate for “democracy,” utterly betraying the working class.
The working class has not been able to take the leadership of the national revolutionary struggles in Central America and elsewhere precisely because of the unresolved crisis of revolutionary proletarian leadership. In the political vacuum created by the betrayals of the Stalinist leaderships in the working class, such movements as Sandinismo, or for that matter Castroism—based in the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie and influenced by retrograde theories of the peasantry as the revolutionary class and the guerrilla road to power—have been able to place themselves at the head of these struggles. In both Nicaragua and Cuba, Stalinism was totally discredited, not only completely opposing any independent struggle of the working class for socialism, but subordinating itself directly to “democratic” US imperialism and the dictatorships of Somoza and Batista themselves.
10. As for the Pabloite revisionists, they have offered themselves as the cheerleaders and errand boys for the petty-bourgeois nationalists in the Sandinista leadership, working consciously to prevent the building of independent Trotskyist parties of the working class in Nicaragua and throughout Central America.
Most notorious of these is the agent-infested US Socialist Workers Party. In the years preceding the 1979 insurrection, it maintained the Somocista traitor and informer Fausto Amador as its Central American representative, savagely denouncing the Sandinistas in its press and appealing for them to lay down their arms. Following the Sandinista victory, they turned into the most slavish supporters of the nationalist regime, fraudulently proclaiming it a “workers’ and farmers’ government” and presenting Sandinismo as a worthy substitute for a conscious proletarian Marxist leadership fighting on the perspective of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
In recent months, the SWP has become the most enthusiastic proponent of the Central American “peace plan,” hailing each new turn to the right, each new betrayal as a diplomatic and political master stroke by the Sandinistas. This line, just as surely as their earlier denunciations of the 1979 revolution, expresses the direct interests of US imperialism and is consciously designed to produce the bloody defeat of the Central American working class.
Equally sinister is the role played by the Morenoite “International Workers League, LIT” and its group in Nicaragua. While making verbal criticisms of the Sandinistas, the Morenoites insist that the petty-bourgeois nationalists can still play a revolutionary role if they will only “follow the example of Cuba.”
The fact that the “Cuban road” has itself proved a deadend and that the Soviet bureaucracy has explicitly stated that it has no intention of providing Nicaragua with the economic subsidies which have propped up the Castro regime is cynically ignored by the Morenoites.
Playing the role of the chief agent of Stalinist counterrevolution in Latin America, Castro has consistently “advised” the Sandinistas that they maintain private property and seek a rapprochement with US imperialism. This has been Castro’s policy since the days of OLAS, rejecting revolution and seeking to cement the closest ties with the reactionary bourgeois regimes in Latin America.
These revisionist tendencies all reject the revolutionary role of the proletariat, both in Central America and internationally, and are fundamentally hostile to the basic Marxist principle that the liberation of the working class is the task of the working class itself.
All of these elements offer the same pathetic apology for each new betrayal: “What else can the Sandinistas do?” Such an attitude only exposes their basic class identity with the petty-bourgeois nationalists and their complete rejection of revolution.
The breaking of US imperialism’s siege of Nicaragua can only be accomplished through the spreading of the revolution. Central America and Latin America as a whole represent a social powder keg, with the bourgeois regimes rotting on their feet and the masses entering into struggle. If accommodation to imperialism appears more “practical” than the program of world socialist revolution, then this is only because of the class position of the petty bourgeoisie itself.
The “objective conditions” which the middle class radicals and revisionists accept as unchangeable represent precisely the continued domination of world imperialism and oppression of the working class. The proletariat, which can only achieve its liberation as an international class fighting to put an end to capitalism on a world scale, cannot accept such a “given.”
11. Through seven years of sacrifice and struggle, the Nicaraguan masses have demonstrated their capacity to defeat both the CIA’s contras and their domestic capitalist supporters. This victory, however, can only be assured by breaking with the policy of alliance with the bourgeoisie, which is the social reality behind the petty-bourgeois nationalist rhetoric of Sandinismo.
The most decisive question is that of revolutionary proletarian leadership. A revolutionary party must be built in the Nicaraguan working class, fighting on the perspective of permanent revolution to resolve the uncompleted democratic tasks of the Nicaraguan revolution through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Rejecting all illusions of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, this party must put forward the slogan of the Soviet United States of South and Central America, fighting to extend the revolution and unite the proletariat of the entire continent into one powerful federation. This struggle in turn will deal a mortal blow to Yankee imperialism, bringing forward the revolutionary strength of the North American proletariat, the most powerful ally of the oppressed masses of Latin America.
Such a party must be built in Nicaragua and throughout Central America as a section of the world Trotskyist movement, the International Committee of the Fourth International.
12. The mounting conspiracies of Washington and the capitulation of the Sandinista leadership requires that the American working class redouble its defense of Nicaragua against imperialist aggression. The working class must demand with one voice an end to the US attack on Nicaragua. It must act in its own unions to overturn the bureaucracy’s support for this aggression and to expel the CIA collaborators in the AFL-CIO leadership from its ranks.
Above all, the fight against imperialist war in Central America must be waged through the method of the class struggle, uniting the forces of the North, South and Central American proletariat in the struggle to put an end to capitalism.