Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 225 | Abril 2000



William Grigsby: "Refounding" the Sandinista movement

William Grigsby is one of the most incisive and radical voices of Nicaraguan radio and of the Sandinista movement. epresenting a current in the FSLN that calls itself the "Sandinista Left," Grigsby spoke with envío in two talks that we reproduce here about the Sandinista Movement’s evolution and its future prospects.

William Grigsby

In Nicaragua, Sandinismo is a formidable universe that we can be proud of and that must be taken into account. Six hundred thousand Nicaraguans think of themselves as Sandinistas. This Sandinista movement, understood in the broadest sense of the term, includes all Nicaraguans whose political and ideological origins stem from Sandino and his followers, even if they never belonged to the FSLN or no longer belong to it or are no longer even politically active, but nonetheless continue to think of themselves as Sandinistas and identify with Sandino’s programmatic legacy.

We can distinguish three major segments in the Sandinista movement today. The largest is made up of people who are disillusioned not only with the FSLN but also with politics in general. In this segment, an intimate Sandinista conviction coexists with political apathy, alienation from party work, and a virtually nonexistent political perspective.

The disillusionment of many of these Sandinistas is so great that they have fallen into the ideological adversary’s trap, the goal of which is precisely for us to become so disillusioned that we drop out of politics and leave political action in the hands of the corrupt. Their goal is to get us to say, "I don’t get involved in anything, I don’t want to know anything about anything, politics doesn’t put bread on the table, we spent so many years making so many sacrifices for nothing, I don’t believe in anyone, all that effort wasn’t worth the trouble…" All the compañeros and compañeras who feel this way and take this position of indifference and apathy, rejecting political activism, fall into the trap of the adversary, who is seeking not only to liquidate and annihilate us, but also to corner us, wipe us off the political map, knock us out of the game by means of apathy.

It is one thing to feel disillusioned, defrauded, saddened and enraged by all the suffering we’ve seen or experienced, by all we’ve witnessed or been through ourselves, for everything that has happened to us within our Sandinista Front. But it’s something else entirely to reach the extreme position of being unwilling to commit ourselves to anything.

It’s not easy to commit ourselves now. Those of us who think of ourselves as Sandinistas know that in the Nicaraguan political spectrum, there is only one force that defends people’s interests, and that force is the Sandinista movement. But at the same time, increasing numbers of Sandinistas have realized that the party claiming to represent this force has become increasingly distant from people’s interests, that this party no longer represents the majority of Sandinistas, far from it. Today, the letters FSLN cover a minority of Sandinistas. It is no longer like it was five or six years ago, much less ten years ago, when these letters covered 99% of Sandinistas. Today, they cover barely 20%, perhaps far fewer.

During elections, as in 1996, the Sandinistas in this first segment remain faithful to the red-and-black flag when they cast their votes, but that’s the end of it. They are unable to have a political life, or even to get the vote out for the FSLN. They have abandoned all political activism. Disillusionment has turned them into merely passive voters.

The second segment within the Sandinista movement is infinitely smaller than this broad swath of apathetic Sandinistas. It’s made up of those who are active members of the FSLN party or of a Sandinista-affiliated union or association. Through their political membership, they do some kind of political work to advance Sandinismo.

In this segment of politically organized Sandinistas, things aren’t all black and white. There are many nuances. And in light of the political events that have occurred since 1998, these Sandinistas are increasingly confused. Many still feel represented by or better said identified with the emblematic figure of Daniel Ortega, but they already know or intuit that what is happening within the FSLN is very different from what they hoped or expected.

All of us who have been politically active within the FSLN expected belligerent opposition to any current manifestations of Somocista behavior. We wanted to see the party structures dedicated to defending people’s interests. We wanted to see the FSLN lead people in the fight against neoliberalism and stop it. We wanted to see the FSLN determined to re-win people’s hearts and reawaken their consciousness. But we’ve already suffered through three years of a neo-Somocista government, and nothing. Instead of working in opposition, the FSLN’s political leadership has formed a co-government with the Somocistas. Instead of defending the people’s interests, they’ve made a pact to defend their own interests.

The left, or the party that represents the left in Nicaragua, the FSLN, has so disfigured itself that it now seems the same as the right. The Nicaraguan left has no proposal of its own, no alternative model of society to the one we are living in. It has no proposal that can explain to people how to build a different Nicaragua from the one we now have.

In the years since the fall of the Socialist bloc and the FSLN’s electoral defeat, we have not managed to propose, design, develop or build our own proposal for society, our model of society that will allow us to say to people, this is the society we want, we want to create it like this and these are the steps we have to take to do it.

Unfortunately, the FSLN’s political leadership, instead of working to develop this model or establish the main lines of this proposal, has chosen to join the existing model. The pact also means co-optation, neoliberalism’s recruitment of the FSLN’s political leadership. The FSLN’s political leaders have joined the neoliberals. One day they approve the privatization of social security, the next they eliminate from the electoral law the possibility of running as an independent, popular petition candidate… What will they do next? We no longer know.
The activist segment organized within the FSLN or any of the unions or associations identified with the FSLN have not only been reduced to the organizational bare bones, but also have turned inward ideologically. This is because the political leadership of FSLN structures has become solipsistic. The decomposition of these leaders has already reached such levels that many see them as "traitors." A term hardly ever heard not only ten years ago but barely six months ago, is now heard all over the place, in the mouths of any Sandinista.

There is a third segment within Sandinismo. These are the compañeros and compañeras who think of themselves as Sandinistas and aren’t apathetic, who are politically active, but oppose the current FSLN leadership and will never return to the FSLN while this leadership remains at the helm.

All that has happened over these past two years, however, has led many Sandinistas who left the FSLN but remain politically active, and who at some point may have moved ideologically or politically closer to the right, to rethink their positions and say, let’s get back to our roots.

If we take these three segments within the Sandinista movement into account, along with all that has happened, we can see that the movement’s political map is qualitatively different than it was only two years ago. In 1990, 1991 and 1992, we had ideological debates within the FSLN. Some proposed that anti-imperialism no longer made sense, socialism made no sense, grassroots struggles made no sense, that we had to renounce all that and concern ourselves solely with the defense of formal democracy. These were intense discussions that went on for hours, days, full weeks at a time. Some of those who defended these positions definitively left the FSLN and are now ashamed of ever having been Sandinistas. Some are active in right-wing parties; some can even be found in the PLC. Some remained Sandinistas, but outside the FSLN, rejecting its leaders.

Ten years of crude capitalism in Nicaragua has convinced all Sandinistas, those who left the FSLN as well as those who stayed, that we have to find another solution, a new one. We don’t know what it is, but we do know we have to look for it. Many of us are involved in this search. We prefer this search, which means struggling, to submitting and surrendering to the system.

Within the search for this new paradigm of society for Nicaragua, which is an ongoing and never-ending process, we’re convinced that we cannot exclude any Sandinista. We can’t say that those within the party structures are Sandinistas and those outside aren’t Sandinistas. This kind of thinking has become obsolete; it has nothing to do with what we’re living through today or what has happened to us.

Various separate efforts from different perspectives and different settings come together in this search. I can’t dismiss [former Supreme Electoral Council president and longstanding FSLN member] Mariano Fiallos because he has become involved with the "third way." I don’t agree with his decision, but I don’t discredit it. I feel I have a lot in common with him, as a person and as part of a movement, that we share many democratic positions and many revolutionary ones. And the same is true of so many other Sandinistas.

The country’s situation is extremely grave. While thousands of Sandinistas have either no means of expressing themselves politically or only a very dispersed, fragmented voice and while those of us who are still party members have no shared strategy for society, no common political or ideological logic, but rather work haphazardly, as each sees fit, Somocismo has succeeded in consolidating itself as an organized political force. It has increased its influence among broad sectors of society and now has far more financial, political, human and material resources than it did barely three years ago. And this happened not only because Somocistas used the power of the office, but also because they knew how to consolidate their party instrument, the PLC; because Somocista capital has increased; and because Somocista vices have proliferated in the way of doing politics in Nicaragua.

Corruption has especially proliferated. This is the Somocista way of doing politics, and it is fully restored in Nicaragua today, where all of us, or almost all of us, make an immediate analogy between public officials and thieves. And all of us, or almost all of us, equate a job with the state as an opportunity to steal.

Somocismo has been fully restored in Nicaragua. It has returned as a political force, as economic capital and as "values". Somocista counter-values or anti-values are permeating all of society, to the point that they have become nearly hegemonic, while Sandinista values have retreated.

Within the Sandinista movement, the predominant tendency is one of dispersion. We have become a centrifugal force spinning off from the central nucleus of the Sandinista movement, which has historically been the FSLN. We have not merely drifted away, the situation is even worse: we are actively pushing away from this center, repelled by it.

What can we do? We have to seek new nuclei that connect us. It would be ideal to find a single nucleus that pulls us back together, but this is impossible in the short term. But we can form six, seven, ten nuclei around which we can regroup. Later, these ten can become five and, finally, we can found one new nucleus around which all Sandinistas can reunite, with a new political project, a government program and new leadership.

We will find these three elements—leaders, project, program—in the three large segments that now make up Sandinismo: the majority segment that doesn’t want to hear anything about politics, the activist segment organized in what remains of the FSLN structures and the segment actively involved in politics that no longer wants anything to do with the FSLN. New leadership and new organizational forms have to arise from these three segments, which will allow us to find each other and ourselves again and reformulate the project for the society we want to build in Nicaragua, a project that can become a government program that the majority of Nicaraguans can get excited about.

What unites Sandinistas in these three segments? First, being Sandinistas unites us. We all recognize Sandino as our ideological father—Sandino and all he stood for in terms of social justice, national dignity, a spirit of struggle, Latin American identity. Everything Sandino taught us with his struggle and his thought unites us.

But what else unites us today? What other banner can any Sandinista take up, immediately and with total fidelity? We have no other banner we can raise with as much consensus as the flag of Sandino, but there is one that can bring together the majority of Sandinistas, except those in the party apparatus. And this is the banner of the fight against corruption: against the corruption of public officials, led by Arnoldo Alemán; against social corruption; against ideological corruption; against corruption in all its expressions. Corruption now permeates all levels of society and contaminates all of its activities. Corruption has been introduced into society like a cancerous virus and is destroying its essential bases with dizzying speed.

United under this banner, we can derive all kinds of political actions from the struggle against corruption. If we are opposed to corruption in the health care system, we can propose to restore free health care. If we are opposed to corruption in the educational system—which is seen in study plans, illegal fees, and abuse of the teachers’ union—we can propose that education once again become a responsibility assumed by the state with active participation by the citizenry. And so on, for so many issues.

Genuine Sandinistas are indignant about everything that is happening in Nicaragua with this government. Theft has become an everyday occurrence in the state; the public coffers are continuously sacked. But what most discourages Sandinistas is to see the FSLN’s political leaders sit down to negotiate with the most corrupt man who has passed through the Nicaraguan government in the last 50 years—Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo—and even give him the gift of a lifetime seat in the legislature so he can never be judged for this corruption. Sandinistas should fight to assure that the Sandinista government elected in 2001 will take legal action against all thieves, all those who have stolen from the state, starting with Arnoldo Alemán. This should be our first political fight.

The fight against corruption is an eminently Sandinista and revolutionary banner. Opposing corruption is a revolutionary position, because it implies changing things. It implies radically transforming the institutions of society in order to prevent this corruption. It implies completely transforming political work and the way politics is done.

Our generation of Sandinistas still has one last chance. The generation of Sandinistas that will follow us will have a much harder time if we don’t contribute our last grains of sand to prevent the consolidation of a dictatorship with a democratic facade that has been imposed on us through the pact, to prevent our economy from being handed over to the transnationals. The Sandinistas of our generation still have a lot to do.

Sandinista unity is an indispensable requisite for undertaking all we have to do. It will be impossible to reproduce Sandino’s thinking in future generations if we remain dispersed, if we continue working with so much inertia. We have one last opportunity in this generation to reach future generations with Sandino’s thought, to inspire them with his example, so they will take up the torch and keep it raised high through the coming centuries.

To take advantage of this last opportunity, to reach the point of reorganizing the Sandinista movement—"refounding" it, as we would like to call this process—we must have the capacity and the humility to overcome mean-spirited positions. We will have to make many personal efforts to forget a lot of things we have said and that have been said to us, many things we have done and that have been done to us. And to accept that we have done much more than has been done to us. We must have enough humility and wisdom to leave many things aside and seek the reunification of all Sandinistas, through what unites us.

If the immense majority of Sandinistas are opposed to corruption and to the pact, we cannot allow a minority to appropriate Sandino’s historical legacy and the FSLN itself. We cannot hand over our treasure to this minority. We have to keep the confiscation of the FSLN that has taken place in recent years from consolidating. And the only way to do this is by reunifying under concrete banners and concrete programs. With whom? We’ll see as we go. First we must all join together, and then little by little the new leadership we all long for will emerge.

If we all set to work along these lines, if we finally manage to reunify, if we build on the basis of concrete tasks, on the basis of struggle, we will rescue the FSLN. Personally, I am convinced that this effort is the only solution we have to the dramatic situation facing Nicaragua today.

Henry Ruiz, Comandante Modesto, said twenty-some years ago that we Sandinistas must have "strategic patience and tactical speed." This advice remains valid. We must have strategic patience until we succeed in refounding the Sandinista movement. We need tactical speed to stop the consequences of the pact.

The strategic goal of refounding the Sandinista Front is a long-term one, not something we can do from one day to the next. We have to work towards this goal with all Sandinistas on the outside, with all Sandinistas on the inside, with Sandinistas who aren’t anywhere, with Sandinistas who are involved in other organized political expressions with their own political logic. We have to make an effort trusting that we will all find ourselves in a common front over time. What will this front be called? We don’t know, but creating it must be the objective.

At the same time, we must have tactical speed because the political times in Nicaragua conspire against this objective. We have municipal elections coming up in 2000, presidential elections in 2001, the FSLN Congress in 2002. And we have to work with tactical speed for these three events.

Everything that has happened has made us evolve, sometimes in a way that inspires very little perceptible hope. It is possible to strengthen the Sandinista option by each one of us working successfully in our own spheres of action. I remember something else Henry Ruiz said, in 1978, which was publicly condemned quite strongly at the time. He said, "We have to increase division to consolidate unity." This seems to me a very profound idea. To the extent that, in the various different Sandinista spheres, we are strong, we grow, we succeed in our own proposals, we will strengthen the whole Sandinista movement. It will not happen the other way around. It’s not by liquidating Sandinista options outside of the party structures that we will achieve unity. That’s not the route. We will become stronger by finding the points we have in common.

Someone told me one day, when we were discussing these problems, that what we would have to do is really convert the Sandinista Front into a front, with different Sandinista groupings, with a collegial leadership representing these different groupings, each with its own autonomy.

This is one way of seeing things. In the FSLN’s Left we have another way. Our tactic today is to fight the political hegemony of the bourgeoisie that has taken over the leadership of the Sandinista Front, to regain control of the Sandinista Front to create a revolutionary, grassroots hegemony. We mean to fight them for hegemony and win. This can’t be done overnight. We aren’t yet the majority, but I believe we can win this majority within the FSLN in the medium run if we work at it. We don’t want to expel anyone from the FSLN but rather assume revolutionary control of the Sandinista Front, which is different. We don’t believe that the solution involves eradicating the current political leadership or eliminating any leader. We believe the solution lies in changing the correlation of forces at the grass roots, to renovate the FSLN with revolutionary positions. Our fight is not against people, but rather for ideas. It is not against individuals but against their ideas, their way of leading the FSLN, their way of doing politics in Nicaragua, reducing it to mere politicking. The FSLN’s current leadership does not have the right to manage the FSLN as though it were a private company and they were the stockholders’ board.

We do not aspire to change the Sandinista Front by changing its leadership. We’re going to change it from below, insofar as the correlation of forces at the base moves towards revolutionary positions. We know that this will be a stormy, painful process.

From this perspective, in the FSLN Left we have decided to support all the FSLN candidates in the municipal elections, although we like some of them much more than others and don’t like some of them at all. But we won’t give any of them a blank check. Rather, we will demand firm commitments from them to the grassroots voters who are going to elect them. We in the FSLN Left aren’t against the "third way," we’re for the Sandinista Front, for changing the FSLN. We have points in common with the Sandinista compañeros who are in the "third way," but that doesn’t mean we’re going to change bands or support their candidates.

If we don’t support the FSLN candidates, we would effectively be leaving the FSLN. And that would be like baring our chests for the FSLN leadership to shoot us down. If the objective is to remain inside in order to win the fight and gain hegemony, we can’t give them any excuse to kick us out, or to feel excluded in the eyes of the Sandinista grassroots. And the Sandinista grassroots are very confused right now. I travel a lot throughout Nicaragua, and there are Sandinista compañeros and compañeras who don’t understand the discussions around the pact. This is mainly due to lack of information, but also stems from the fact that their own personal situation is so dramatic that they cling to the symbols they know and that have meant so much to them, and those symbols are Daniel and the red and black flag. This clinging to symbols is a political reality that has to be taken into account. If we accept this, we can realize that it’s very hard for a Sandinista who doesn’t have much information to understand that being against the pact means having to vote for a candidate who is not in the FSLN. This option makes no sense to most Sandinistas.

Political parties are created to gain power, but a revolutionary political party is created to gain power and use it to change society. It’s useless for the FSLN to gain power if it’s simply going to administrate neoliberal policies, even if it puts more emphasis on social needs in the process. Our objective is to change the structures of Nicaraguan society because they are unjust and do not resolve the problems of Nicaraguans. This model of society is bankrupt. The poverty, malnutrition, hunger and unemployment indices in the country are ample evidence of this.

If we are revolutionaries, we have to change this model. And if we want to change this it, we need an alternative project that has the massive support of the population. It won’t do us any good to come to power with 35% of the votes—as Daniel Ortega agreed in the pact with Arnoldo Alemán—because even if we win, we would only have the support of a third of the population, making it virtually impossible to undertake structural changes. The FSLN needs to win not only a certain degree of electoral support but also the conscience of the majority, by offering it a different model of society. If it settles for less, it will become just one more party that lives from election to election.

The FSLN was founded by Carlos Fonseca in order to change Nicaraguan society. We achieved that in 1979, made progress over ten years, and in these last ten years have regressed so much that we are further behind than we were before 1979. For this reason, we have the same mission before us today: to transform Nicaraguan society. And we cannot do this merely by winning elections. We have to win the conscience of citizens by offering them a new model of society. We have to make the revolution all over again, but this time without weapons. It’s an enormous challenge, but the Sandinista movement has the capacity to meet it successfully.

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