the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Mar 31, 1980
In July, 1979, a popular rebellion led by the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) overthrew the hated Somoza regime in Nicaragua. Decades of brutal repression and domination of the Nicaraguan economy by the Somoza population, including much of the bourgeoisie, against the Somoza regime. The new ruling junta, led by the FSLN, has proposed a relatively radical program of economic, political and social reforms. Certainly, for the present, there is far less political repression than under Somoza.
For the SWP (Socialist Workers Party), what has happened in Nicaragua is enough to justify designating the new regime there a “workers and peasants government.” At the same time, they acknowledge that the state – the organized armed force of class domination – remains, at least for now, bourgeois. However, they think there is a good chance that the revolution will develop and so, in the near future, we could see the establishment of a workers state. Given this evaluation of the situation, the questions are posed: what remains to be done to establish a workers state? What are the tasks of the proletariat in this situation?
The SWP’s characterization of the FSLN-led regime as a workers and peasants government is not very precise. It is possible for such a label to mask the truth as easily as to clarify it. But, if this label has any meaning at all, it must be that the working class is represented in the government, that there is some party or at least some individual representatives of the working class government.
Who are the workers representatives in the government? The SWP does not answer this question. Instead they explain the label, “workers and peasants government”, in another way:
“By recognizing the new government in Nicaragua as a workers and peasants government, we signify:
a. its origin in an anti-dictatorial and anti-imperialist movement with a radical political program;
b. its coming to power as the results of a popular mass struggle, culminating in a civil war and tumultuous urban insurrection;
c. its resoluteness in combating and disarming the counterrevolution;
d. its tendency to respond by practical measures to popular demands for actions against the urban and rural exploiters and against imperialism;
e. the capacity of its leading force, the FSLN, with whatever hesitations and political limitations, to undertake measures against the bourgeois political and economic power and prerogatives. The exact stage in the development of these measures is not decisive in determining the class character of the regime; the decisive factor is the capacity and tendency of the leadership to move in this direction.”
(from the resolution adopted by the SWP National Committee, “Revolution in Nicaragua”, published in the Militant, February 1, 1980)
The SWP speaks of what the government does, and what it might want to do in the near future, but not what it is, what classes are represented in it. In this entire statement, they make no mention at all of any organizations of the working class. They say only that it is the “capacity and tendency” of the FSLN to act against the bourgeois “power and prerogatives” which is essential. When they do characterize the FSLN itself, they simply say, for example, that:
“The FSLN is rooted in Nicaragua’s long tradition of anti-imperialist struggle and plebeian radicalism...in 1962, (this) tradition fused with the fresh wave of radicalism that swept Nicaraguan youth after the victory of the Cuban revolution...the FSLN regrouped those who wanted to learn from the Cuban experience and end the imperialist domination in Nicaragua.”
(Pedro Camejo and Fred Murphy, The Nicaraguan Revolution, p.15.)
Maybe they imply by this vague formulation that the FSLN is a working class party, but why doesn’t the SWP come out openly and call it that? In fact, they don’t dare to say directly that it is a working class party, because they know that it is not. But they also do not dare to say directly that it is not a workers party.
Obviously, nobody would think that the non-FSLN members of the junta represent the working class. They clearly represent different tendencies of the bourgeoisie. So the SWP is unable to find any workers’ representatives in the Nicaraguan government – apparently, however, the SWP sees no contradiction in a workers and peasants government which has no representatives of the workers in it.
If the SWP speaks of the workers and peasants government, but at the same time refuses to define clearly the nature of the FSLN, it’s because they want to give an optimistic evaluation of the FSLN.
With the optimistic evaluation, it’s easier for the SWP to justify their conclusion that the working class needs to do nothing except put their hopes in the FSLN.
Since, for the SWP, there is no independent role for the working class, the class struggle seems to be largely reduced to the question of who has a seat in the government:
“The decisive conflicts will grow out of the intensification of the class struggle, which will be reflected in the government; as the bourgeois forces in the government make themselves known by their deeds, it will then become timely to fight for their ouster.”
(“Revolution in Nicaragua”)
In other words, the SWP believes that the removal of the bourgeois ministers will be the catalyst for the establishment of the workers state. (It’s paradoxical, since the SWP doesn’t seem willing to tell us which ministers are not bourgeois.)
But the questions of creating a workers state is not just a question of removing bourgeois ministers from the government. To establish a workers state, the working class must first destroy the state apparatus of the bourgeoisie and take power into its own hands. In short, the whole process of proletarian revolution still lies ahead in Nicaragua. The working class needs to be conscious of its own interests. It needs to build its own councils, militias and a whole range of organizations. We can’t predict exactly all the forms of organization. But it is clear that the working class must intervene in its own name, with its own program. And it is exactly this independent organization of the working class which the FSLN has never proposed.
The SWP does not explain clearly the class nature of the FSLN. But, finally, it doesn’t matter. Because, regardless, the tasks for the working class remain essentially the same. If the FSLN is a workers’ party, but which nevertheless does not give the goal of revolution to the working class, then the working class has to organize to exert a pressure on the FSLN or to bypass the FSLN. If the FSLN is not a workers’ party, maybe it can be won as an ally of the working class in the struggle for a workers state – but only if the working class is prepared to make the struggle itself.
Regardless of what the current regime is, and regardless of what the FSLN is, the working class must be prepared to intervene itself in the political life to build its own state.
But the policy of the SWP denies that the working class needs to intervene in political life on its own. They do not propose that the revolutionaries in Nicaragua address the working class – except to speak in support of the FSLN. Apparently, they are awaiting the FSLN itself to fulfill all the tasks of the working class.
Since the SWP does not see the need for any independent role for the working class, of course they do not see the need for an independent revolutionary party of the working class.
First, this leads them to oppose the creation of a section of the Fourth International in Nicaragua. Rather, they say:
“Partisans of the Fourth International (should) present their ideas as loyal and hard-working militants in the framework of the organization that led the overthrow of Somoza and is today guiding the revolution forward.” (“Revolution in Nicaragua”)
Second, the SWP’s opposition to an independent role for the working class leads them finally to oppose the existence of any groups which would be independent of the FSLN.
Last year, when some of the SWP’s own Latin American comrades organized the Simon Bolivar Brigade and called on workers to organize against the FSLN-led regime, the FSLN decided to expel these militants from Nicaragua. The SWP reacted by joining aggressively in the criticism of the Brigade. To be sure, the SWP officially opposed the FSLN’s deportation of the Brigade members. But this opposition was almost lost among their criticisms of the Brigade.
Whatever the policy of the Simon Bolivar Brigade – and we probably have disagreements with their policy – the SWP’s position towards the Brigade shows exactly where their policy leads: to the suppression of any policy in the working class other than that of the FSLN.
We can see the same thing more recently when some other leftists were jailed for opposing the regime. The SWP, itself, was forced to admit that the FSLN:
“Often argue as though the sectarians’ ideas alone are sufficient grounds for branding them as counter-revolutionaries and suppressing them....
“...repressive measures against these groups on grounds other than crimes against the revolution may cause some sections of the toilers themselves to feel reluctant to express their viewpoint and their criticisms....”(Militant, February 22, 1980)
Even the SWP says that the FSLN’s act of repression may leave workers feeling “reluctant to express their viewpoint and their criticisms....” The situation is clearly quite far from one when workers act politically on their own. In such circumstance, how can we pose the possibility that the regime of the FSLN can transform itself into a workers state?
The need in Nicaragua – as in every country – is for a revolutionary organization of the working class. The masses will not free themselves by waiting for the FSLN. No matter what their present situation is, the conscious intervention of the working class in the political arena sooner or later is essential if the workers are going to prepare themselves to establish their own state.
But the policy of the SWP, if it had any impact, would lead toward a passive attitude in the Nicaraguan working class – an attitude to wait for the FSLN to provide a better life for the workers and peasants. It’s a policy which blinds the working class to the only real way it has to defend its own interests – organizing its own power to change society.