The FSLN Congress: What's at Stake
What should be the alternative program and strategy of the FSLN as it confronts the neoliberal project that leaves more Nicaraguans impoverished every day?
Looking at the factors that are holding FSLN unity in check, two questions stand out. Is it possible to recover revolutionary identity while accepting a neoliberal project and coexisting with a market logic inclined towards the concentration of wealth in the hands of a new bourgeoisie?
If this is impossible, what would be the program and alternative strategy for an FSLN that does not have armed struggle on its agenda as a means by which to recover political power, but still holds firmly to its commitment to the dispossessed, who today are the overwhelming majority of the Nicaraguan population?
The Great Confrontation of 1990In 1990, the FSLN submitted to popular decision the political power it had won after an armed revolution ten years earlier. The election was its first key defeat, in which, trying out the rules of liberal democracy, it became clear that a decade had been insufficient to transform popular consciousness in a society that had been so long bombarded by the doctrine of the free market.
Looking at things from this perspective, we could easily affirm that the 40% of total votes that the FSLN won in 1990 was one of the revolution's many feats in this century's waning days.
A number of explanations have been given for the electoral defeat. Some attribute the loss to imperialist pressure. Others lay it at the doorstep of the errors made by the FSLN. The truth is that, independent of the accuracy of these arguments or of how the different parties in the elections have remade themselves, the 1990 elections saw a squaring off between the two overarching projects that led the ideological confrontation of the century: capitalism and socialism.
Sandinista efforts towards a mixed economy, political pluralism and nonalignment were for naught; as were, in essence, the efforts at liberation theology, which sought to humanize relations among people and neutralize prevailing anti Communist prejudices. And few Sandinistas raised their voices in time to really turn around either the excesses of revolutionary statism to a population accustomed to other values or the excesses of a party based fundamentalism.
A Worn Out Pact The electoral defeat was followed by an uninterrupted governmental effort to dismantle the still weakly institutionalized revolutionary achievements: democratization of health care, education and agricultural and urban property, administrative integrity and national dignity. The peasant foot soldiers of the counterrevolution were suddenly jobless, as were most Sandinistas. The IMF intervened in Nicaragua, as widespread corruption and the concentration of the country's little wealth in the hands of a few dressed itself up as privatization and neoliberalism.
The FSLN's electoral defeat did not resolve all its contradictions. And the neoliberal counterrevolution and the Sandinista leadership signed a political pact to attenuate them.
Independent of their intentions, the results of that pact have been twofold:
* The government has been able to implement its neoliberal plan in the most draconian form possible.
* The FSLN has been able to hold on to a political, parliamentary and grassroots space as well as houses and goods in proportion to the quotas of political power reached during the revolution. This has been sharply questioned by the right, center and left sectors of Nicaragua's political spectrum. And the country's social, political and ideological contradictions have penetrated to the very heart of the Sandinista party and are flourishing on the eve of its II Congress.
The Two Tendencies The most polarized positions reflect, consciously or unconsciously, the FSLN's new dilemmas. One side proposes renewal within the party and a distancing from all those factors that do not contribute to stability, peace and progress. It invites the FSLN to accept the rules of the electoral democracy game and puts tremendous emphasis on winning over the majority of the population. The other stresses the limits of an electoral discourse, parallel to a search to differentiate the FSLN from traditional political parties. This side also emphasizes putting a limit to how much the popular sectors can be subjected to the government and oligarchic groups.
In any case, democracy and democratization with all its costs have penetrated the FSLN ranks, with some insisting on electoral democracy, while others emphasize the democratization of property. Some insist more on a national project and parliamentary struggles while others underscore a grassroots project with the struggles that implies. Some emphasize the grassroots struggle. Some are ashamed of the past and others are ashamed of the present. Some long for power, while others long for the revolution. While the FSLN debates and looks for unity and consensus to emerge from the Congress, together with a way to recover its lost identity, unemployment and crushing poverty continue to soar. Police led evictions from houses and small plots of land are scenes evocative of the Somoza regime. Governmental corruption is even being questioned by international financial organizations. Crime and prostitution are being "democratized" at all levels. Market values would seem to have no competition.
The population is disillusioned with politics and politicians, as demagogy becomes the currency common to all political parties. The temptation to wait for a savior to come and right all the world's wrongs has multiplied the ranks of the Protestant sects and, in a frontal attack on common sense, falsehoods and fallacies spread quickly.
Many people including its detractors see the FSLN as a force for political stability. The current erosion of its leaders by their Sandinista "adversaries" is a cause for concern. These detractors still do not understand that their blows will come back to haunt them, that they all represent a party that at times loses perspective of its true adversary: the country's growing misery and desperation.
Democracy RevolutionDemocracy and revolution continue to be the complementary and contradictory elements of all revolutionary parties in a poor country like ours. The FSLN is no exception to this dilemma.
Political democracy never resolved social injustices. And revolutions have had neither the opportunity nor the model to govern or transform a country with sufficient hegemony to make it possible to combine political and economic democracy.
For better or for worse, the revolution must move forward at the speed of the masses and not at the pace set by the revolutionaries. And political democracy will continue to be the parameter by which to set this pace. At the same time, political democracy can only function permanently if it has a material base to sustain it. If it does not have this base, dictatorship would be the only way the political classes could impose stability, which all countries need, in the face of the grassroots desperation born of poverty and marginalization.
The Congress has already begun and its last session will only sanction the results of a correlation of forces that has been taking shape through the assemblies and heated debate. The Congress will not resolve the practical and theoretical dilemmas that have been pointed out, but at least they will have been put on the table. This will help the FSLN's ongoing effort to give shape to its nature as a democratic and revolutionary party.
What Must be Combined? To date, the consensual elements that would seem to sketch out a new identity for the FSLN point towards:
* Combining representative and participatory democracy, a democracy that goes beyond the votes on election day and institutionalizes the participation of different organizations unions, social movements and economic associations in administering political power and the economic policies;
* Combining parliamentary struggle with popular struggle to guarantee the defense of all citizens from a legal situation whose balance tips towards those who can buy the law and a market that only allows the entrance of oligarchic economic groups;
* Combining respect for private property with the defense of small holdings, and promoting, associative property, which would neutralize social differentiation and allow for the democratization of the economy;
* Combining the strengthening of party structures with the renewal and revocability of its leaders, which would make more viable the construction of local power and the democratization or control of leadership;
* Combining the general representativity of party militants with the legitimacy of sectoral and territorial participation, which would allow for and stimulate the presence of marginalized groups (both majority and minority), including women, indigenous peoples, young people, professionals and others.
UnitedWhile political and ideological agitation within the FSLN continues to grow and the specter of a division embitters the hearts of the grassroots members, the liberal forces continue to advance and to shrink the opposition space held by the FSLN. We hope that the internal contradictions and conflicts do not exhaust the energies available to take on the real enemy: the liberal restoration.