40 Years of the Sandinista Revolution: Debating is Important

Raúl Zibechi is an Uruguayan activist-journalist and researcher of social movements in Latin America. His reputation – well known and respected especially by the left- makes this article on the 40th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution so significant.

40 Years of the Sandinista Revolution: Debating is Important

by Raúl Zibechi August 3, 2019 in the online magazine Rebelión

[see original Spanish at https://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=258971 ]

Those who believe that criticism and self criticism are useless, or dangerous, can read the speeches and interventions of Lenin after 1917 to his colleagues in the congresses and plenaries of the party and the soviets. You will observe the rigor of his analyses, merciless with mistakes and deviations, uncompromising with his closest comrades.

He was always like that, but once taking power he improved in density and precision, always exploring new issues. The bureaucracy and traps that his colleagues would make to shirk the problems that they created, or were not capable of solving, exasperated him. All revolutionaries, at all times, are implacable in the field where they militate, because they risk their lives and disparage titles.

When the 40th anniversary of the triumph of the Sandinista revolution happened, deep analyses of the hegemonic left were not heard, in spite of the fact that the process led by Daniel Ortega foundered in corruption and repression, leaving in its wake people murdered, tortured, imprisoned and in exile. A noted academic said, days before, that the massacre of April showed exemplary restraint (…) an example of nerve and a capacity for a constructive, generous and patriotic response.

The most serious analyses these days come from ex combatants who at different moments have abandoned the FSLN. Mónica Baltodano, Dora María Téllez, Luis Carrión, Henry Ruíz and Óscar René Vargas, among the most well known. For reasons of space I will focus on only two of them.

Baltodano considers the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo a dictatorship, in an article published in Brecha. She states that the great majority of the “commandantes of the revolution, guerrillas, popular combatants and common people who massively joined the final offensive disavow Orteguism, its atrocities and the repression unleashed, which includes – according to the conclusions of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights – crimes against humanity.”

She denounces the military-police repression unleashed by Ortega against students and peasants, which she does not hesitate to describe as a massacre, perpetrated starting with the popular mobilizations of April 2018 against the cuts in the pension system.

Allied with bankers, big business and the United States, starting in 2007, according to the ex commandante, Ortega turned into a crusader for capitalism and the free market, for concessions to multinationals, brutal extractivism, the exploitation of natural resources and the privatization of all public wealth. She is outraged that some leftist parties and intellectuals would support the regime, even after the massacre that left hundreds of dead, thousands of wounded and mutilated, as well as more than 70,000 political refugees.

Carrión focuses on self criticism, but after recognizing that he was part of what he is denouncing, in an extensive article in the magazine Envio. He dwells on the achievements of the revolution in health and education, the empowerment of popular sectors and the agrarian reform. The criticism begins with the fact that the Sandinistas assumed absolute power, that led them even to place society and the social movements under their control, following the logic of the single political party.

The conversion of the social organizations into the transmission belt of the leadership of the FSLN, in the worst Stalinist tradition, went hand in hand with the accusation of the contras (counterrevolutionaries) who did not fall into line with the decisions from above. Plurality was not accepted on any terrain, not even in organizations of women, peasants or urban populations. Carrión recognizes that everything had to be painted red and black.

With the passage of time, we can understand the policy toward the Mískitos of the Caribbean Coast, on whom they tried to impose Sandinista logic, which they took to be a new colonization. It was an issue of the traditional mistakes of a State centered policy, in spite of the fact that the Sandinistas themselves tried to correct them with the declaration of autonomy, which he considers a virtue of the revolutionary government.

The treatment that the peasantry received was different, which Carrión assesses as key for the derailment of the revolution. He maintains that the war between the Sandinistas and the contras, supported by the United States, would not have become generalized if a massive uprising against the revolution had not been produced by peasants from the center of the country, from north to south.

In this respect, he thinks that there was abuse with the confiscation of lands that initially affected only the Somocistas, but later was applied to people who were not supporting the revolution. An additional problem was that the confiscations “were carried out by officials and political leaders who came from the cities with an ideological vision of the countryside, without knowing the identity of peasant society.”

Sandinism reproduced the colonial/patriarchal attitude of leftist parties toward the peasants and original peoples. According to Carrión, “an incapacity to relate to the peasantry, who spoke a different language, different from the one that those who arrived in the countryside representing the revolution.”

Lastly, the commandantes addressed the problem of a revolutionary power that reproduced the already existing political cultures in pre-revolutionary societies. Thus like Stalin (and the entire Bolshevik party) reproduced the legacy of the Zarist power, Ortega inserted himself into the authoritarian tradition of Nicaragua, where the Somoza dictatorship lasted for a half century and was preceded by other similar dictatorships.

How can one not reproduce and [instead] transform hegemonic political cultures? This is the nucleus of the debate that we owe one another and that, for now, only the women´s movement and the original people´s movement are beginning to address.

(The approach of the article is reminiscent of the central theme of the historical novel “The man who loved dogs” written in 2009 by Leonardo Padura, who paints an intricate and detailed picture of the type of mindset that ends up betraying revolutionary idealism. The novel is experiencing renewed interest in Nicaragua today).

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