Nicaragua, The Permanent Revolution and the Road to Workers Power
. . .
…The theory of permanent revolution holds that there is no independent road of capitalist development available in the age of imperialism. In rejecting the theory of permanent revolution, Barnes rejects this and backtracks to a Menshevik two-stage theory of a progressive capitalist first stage. With regard to Nicaragua we have a clear choice: Jack Barnes or Leon Trotsky. If the program of permanent revolution is not relevant or is impractical for Nicaragua, as Barnes contends, then the struggle Trotsky waged in the 1920’s and beyond was a sectarian error. Needless to say, Trotsky’s theory retains its full validity, not just in China in 1927 or Spain in 1936 but in Nicaragua where the capitalist property owners have demonstrated beyond dispute that they cannot be won to an alliance with the poor peasants and workers. Rather, they identify their interests as the allies and partners of imperialism.
. . .
Of course it would be a pure Utopian fantasy to believe that tiny Nicaragua could build socialism or long survive as an isolated workers state on its own. Thus the fate of Nicaragua lies in successfully spreading the revolution throughout Central America and beyond. Comrade Barry’s assertion that while this perspective is “abstractly correct,” it is “to advocate doing very little indeed”l reveals a certain “pragmatic” lack of faith in the Trotskyist program. It should be realized that the U.S. bourgeoisie and its regional clients are terrified of a renewed outbreak of revolutionary upheavals in Central America. Mexico is, by all objective standards, on the brink of a potential social explosion. Moreover, Mexico is a country with a multi-millioned proletariat and a significant national extension into the southern U.S. Completing the Nicaraguan revolution by expropriating the capitalists and repudiating the bloodsucking I.M.F. would create an entirely new political configuration in Latin America. To refer to such a perspective as “doing very little” is shocking, especially from a Trotskyist!
The July 1979 insurrection which placed the Sandinistas in power was not simply a popular revolt. What made this different was that the old Somoza state machine was smashed and the question of workers power was potentially posed….
. . .
Almost nine years into the Sandinista revolution, over 60% of the economy remains in private hands. In 1987, 73.6% of export products and 86.4% of internal products are produced by the private sector.2 The bourgeoisie, no friends of the Nicaraguan revolution, control “the major lines of agricultural production (which are) decisive for the export trade.”3 While it is an idealist error to expect the complete nationalization of bourgeois property the day after the revolution, it is simply a truism that a workers state can only be established on the basis of expropriated capitalist property. For comrade Raghu who has expressed the opinion that this is not necessary,4 Lenin is explicit: Russia was a workers state because “proletarian state power is organizing large-scale production on state-owned land and in state-owned enterprises on a national scale.”5 It is, after all, only with the advent of massive nationalizations that the Fourth International declared Cuba to have become a workers state6 (i.e., an armed body of men who defend a particular set of nationalized property relations).
From the Sandinistas we see little of this. If anything, the trend has been away. After the 1984 elections, the right to private property in the means of production became enshrined in the constitution. The ABC of Marxism is that the working class and the bourgeoisie have absolutely antithetical interests. Yet Jamie Wheelock, when asked if he thought the bourgeoisie could limit themselves to “exploiting their means of imposition and use the means of production to live, not as instruments of power,”7 he repeated he thought they could! Today Nicaragua is very much in the same position as
Cuba in 1959: an insurrectionary party faced with a choice of defending the interests of the working class or those of the bourgeoisie. In this sense, the Sandinistas are classically bonapartists and without the existence of soviet-type formations and workers democracy, the working class is incapable of ruling directly.
The Sandinistas however have indicated directions they may head in. As Trotsky remarked, “In Civil War, incomparably more than in ordinary war, politics dominates strategy.”8 Support for the Arias peace plan which is an “attempt by the bourgeois regimes of Central America to contain and isolate the Nicaraguan revolution”9 is ultimately based on the reformist belief of the Sandinistas that it is possible for there to be peace in Central America short of victorious socialist revolution. Within the ASA, comrades who have made this point, have been labelled as “sectarians” who are isolated within the Fourth International. Beside the fact [that] this is unprovable, it appears unlikely that out of an organization of thousands of [militants], only three think it was an error to release a thousand contras, or to appoint the head contra as negotiator, etc., etc. Such a position may of course “isolate” the ASA from reformist solidarity activists who want to maintain illusions in the peace plan, but only by arguing for revolutionary Marxism in the crucial issues which are taking place today, can the best of these militants be won away from a limited solidarity perspective. In any case, as revolutionaries our first duty is always to tell the truth to the masses.
[The] position of not criticizing the Sandinistas for the Arias plan makes less and less sense as they increasingly display their illusions in liberal imperialists. At the same time as he was referring to imperialism’s attempts to crush the revolution as an “unfortunate policy of pressure,” Daniel Ortega was calling on other imperialist powers, including Canada, to monitor the plan.10 To regard the Sandinistas’ illusions as evidence of its revolutionary leadership is to depart from the method of Marxism….
. . .
What then are our demands? Given that the working class and the bourgeoisie have absolutely opposite interests, in Nicaragua it is necessary to raise the call for expropriation of the factories and large capitalist farms, thereby completing the revolution. To argue that social revolution must first wait until the war is ended is to retreat from Bolshevism to the Menshevik theory of stages. Stalin, it should not be forgotten, never said he was opposed to world revolution, he merely argued ‘now was not the time.’ Instead, as Trotsky said of the Spanish civil war, the road to the victory for the workers and peasants lies through accelerating the tempo of the social revolution. Attempts to hold the revolution within the boundaries of respect for bourgeois property are the biggest danger. The results of a “stagist” policy [have been] bloody disasters for the working class in China and Chile to name a couple. While it is impossible to guarantee that the Nicaraguan revolution will definitely succeed by taking up Lenin’s program, the program of permanent revolution, we can say that without it, it will not succeed.
Can the Sandinista leadership adopt such a program? In light of the FSLN’s appraisal of imperialism, its relationship to the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie and its strategy for the revolution, it cannot in any way be considered a revolutionary Marxist organization. Undoubtedly, large sections of the FSLN are subjectively revolutionary, but these elements must be broken from the Sandinistas’ class-collaborationist program. This task can only be achieved by the formation of an independent Trotskyist party in Nicaragua standing as a revolutionary pole of attraction and winning the best elements of the FSLN and union militants to the revolutionary program of permanent revolution.
- Barry W., Internal Discussion Bulletin, Vol. v #l, p. 8
- Livio Maitan, International Viewpoint, 22/5/88, p. 5
- Raghu K., “The ‘Principled’ Coalition Bogey”
- V.I. Lenin, “Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, Marx, Engels, Marxism, Progress, Moscow, 1968, p. 427
- F.I. document, reprinted in Intercontinental Press, 19/10/81
- Jamie Wheelock, “The Great Challenge”, Nicaragua: The Sandinista Peoples Revolultion, Pathfinder, New York, 1985, p. 135
- Leon Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution, Pathfinder, New York, 1986, p. 243
- ASA, Toronto motion, adopted 31/1/88,7-0-1
- New York Times, 25/1/88