The New Sandinista Utopia
The Sandinista political force is today faced with a choice: with whom will the Frente unite? On one side the modern neoliberal bourgeoisie is flirting with them, while on the other the economic actors born with the revolution are making demands.
Since the FSLN's electoral defeat in 1990, Nicaragua has been subjected to a liberal offensive wrapped in the banners of representative democracy and the free market, while Sandinismo disputes political hegemony in civil society under the banners of participatory democracy and economic democratization.
Simultaneous to all of this, socialism collapsed and the revolutionary model as it was known folded its banners: armed struggle as a way to win power and state administration of both the market and the class struggle. Ideologically orphaned and out of government, the Sandinista revolution since 1990 has been searching for a new identity and a strategy to survive the new realities of Nicaragua and the world.
The Revolution: Midwife to a New Political ClassWhile the FSLN began as a small, clandestine guerrilla group, it had ten years of training to be a governing strata. But, paradoxically, it did not reveal its real possibilities of becoming a political class until after losing the government in 1990.
The Transition Protocol the political military armistice that put an end to the war left the FSLN in a positive position, particularly compared to what has happened to other revolutionary movements. In 1990, the FSLN established a democratic record unprecedented in Nicaragua by turning over the government after losing in honest elections; it insured an armed forces that was neither repressive nor coup inclined; it won a significant parliamentary minority (40% of the representatives); and it had ample economic resources, various media in the hands of the party, thousands of professional members active in political, cultural, artistic and economic areas, a well articulated territorial organization, and above all, an immense group of political leaders and supporters in all social sectors (women and youth, universities, churches, educational and research centers, unions, trade organizations), able to permanently sustain and reproduce themselves economically. By maintaining these resources and demonstrating its ability to be both government and opposition, the FSLN is begetting a new political class.
In Search of an Economic Subject
A leftist grouping can aspire to become a political class and accept the challenge of disputing hegemony with the right and its bourgeois, neoliberal project, as long as it has two substantial and complementary elements:
* A discourse that can pull the political majorities together around an economic strategy;
* An economic subject that, producing for itself, also works to build an alternative strategy.
Every social system requires an economic subject that articulates the links between economy and culture. We cannot imagine the colonial regime without its encomenderos, the feudal oligarchy without its feudal lords, capitalism without the bourgeois class, or imperialism without transnational corporations.
Up to now, only capitalism has been able to find, in the bourgeoisie, a class that, by directly controlling economic resources, also issues forth from its own center the political expression that runs the project. It can thus delegate the tasks of the state to a bureaucracy that regulates the relationship between capital and labor according to capitalist relations of production.
Working for their own interests, accumulating for their own benefit, all bourgeois entrepreneurs are working for capitalism and thereby consolidating the capitalist system. Even though many of their businesses go under, capitalism as a system does not. It is a solid and totally articulated system: it has its political class and its economic subject, with institutions, laws, values and symbols.
Distributive State SocialismIn contrast, the economic subject through which the socialist political class articulates or should articulate its interests has been an issue of ongoing debate. Beginning with the Soviet revolution, socialism tried to build the proletariat as its economic subject. But reality showed that society was mainly made up of a plurality of grassroots sectors that demanded to share the economic surplus with the workers. Socialist strategy was forced to combine accumulation with consumption, dividing resources between workers' strategic interests and the immediate needs of the whole population.
All socialist revolutions have experimented with a project in which the people, all the people, became the supposed new economic subject, but implicitly treated them only as a subject of consumption. The result was a populist and distributive model with little capacity to compete with the capitalist model. In this distributive model, workers participated less than state functionaries, who were the ones who decided about the direction of production. The workers continued to be salaried laborers of state capital and, together with the population in general, were motivated by nothing beyond the growing consumption promised in the revolutionary discourse. Lacking an economic subject, revolutions became distributive and not productive.
Socialism has never had an economic subject that, working for itself, also worked for the system. It has never had people who, by benefiting themselves, strengthened socialism. This meant that the general interests of the project and the particular interests of each sector ended up having irremediable clashes.
The revolutionary discourse that takes the poor, oppressed and exploited of the earth as its political and social subject serves as a banner for taking political power, but no more. It does not fulfill the requirements of an alternative economic project. It does not create a true economic subject; the poor, oppressed and exploited aspire to shed those conditions, not only by receiving benefits but also by becoming those who take up the baton to organize production and economic administration.
A project to justly distribute society's wealth is a social justice project, but it does not create an alternative to the capitalist system. It should be said, in addition, that property as such has never been defended by the left. Being a property owner is synonymous with not being revolutionary. It has been assumed that property, businesses and capital could only be expressions of capitalism.
In various experiences of a socialist orientation, laborers and urban and rural salaried workers had the opportunity to subordinate the peasantry to their interests. They tried to construct a model of accumulation, in some cases plundering natural resources and in others provoking an urban peasant war that contributed to the model's erosion. The experience of the soviets did not advance, while the Soviet Union's collectivist efforts and Yugoslavia's self management ones were blocked by ethnic national contradictions that prevented them from demonstrating whether their formulas, if sustained, could make greater levels of accumulation possible. In other socialist experiences, political leadership has opted to make the state accumulation model more flexible, using privatization and mixed economy formulas. As in China and Cuba today, the state retains control of strategic means, while giving part of the means of production to private investors and another significant part to self manager workers and peasants.
Who Will Sandinismo Marry?Sandinismo is a political force that has a political class and party organization, as all of its adversaries and detractors acknowledge. The Sandinista political force finds itself today at a crossroads: it must choose between two economic classes in order to make it a viable and permanent social force. On the one hand, the modern neoliberal bourgeoisie is flirting with it, and on the other, the emerging economic subjects, born with the revolution, the reformed sectors of the economy, need it.
If the FSLN and Sandinismo as a whole opt to represent the interests of the neoliberal bourgeoisie, this history will end and everything will go back to the way it was before. If the option is taken to link up with the emerging new sectors of the economy, on the other hand, we will be facing an interesting shift of the revolution, on the way to continuing to build an alternative model to capitalism by other means.
In 1979, what did it mean to make a revolution? It meant taking power through armed struggle, confiscating the holdings of the idle wealthy to distribute them to the hardworking poor, and, after that, to organize production and continue equitably distributing it from a state that it was believed would last forever. This agenda no longer exists and will probably never exist again. So then, what does it mean today to make a revolution?
Up to now, the possibility that the FSLN will opt to be the party of neoliberalism seems not to have gone beyond the political alliances made with the government over the past few years in their shared goal of neutralizing the offensive of the most counterrevolutionary right. The possibilities are far greater that the Sandinista political class will decide to link up with the reformed sector of the economy, even though at a personal level many Sandinista cadres are owners of means of production and lead a business owner's lifestyle.
The Revolution: Midwife to a New Economic SubjectThe reformed sector in Nicaragua is made up first and foremost of the peasantry benefited by the Sandinista agrarian reform and by the cooperatives that grew out of the revolution. Then there are the new property owners benefited by the huge collective privatization made by the Chamorro government to former peasant combatants of the National Resistance, those discharged from the Sandinista armed forces and organized rural and urban workers employed on the state enterprises being privatized. All these thousands of individuals have put together a multitude of cooperatives and other associative and self managing enterprises.
Quantitatively, it is a very important sector. Its members own three sevenths of the country's farmland. It encompasses more than 150,000 peasant families, over 2,000 cooperative or other associative enterprises, and more than 50,000 agricultural and industrial workers who, as a whole, control nearly half of the productive agricultural area; basic grains, coffee, beef and dairy cattle, bananas, tobacco, sesame, soy, sorghum, vegetables, sugar, honey and fish as well as various agroindustrial processing plants.
The sector is organized in economic and political groups, in federations, producers' associations, unions, trade organizations, worker owned companies or those in which workers have a significant share of stocks, and cooperative societies. These various organizations exist in almost all municipalities and departments of the country and most are headed by professional and political leaders toughened in the war and/or in the state's economic administration.
Two dangers threaten the reformed sector of the economy: its properties are not legalized, and it is finding productive survival to be a tough challenge given the economic crisis currently affecting the country.
The struggle over property has become the backbone of Nicaragua's historic transformation. As yet there is no definition. Former owners are pressuring the government to return their properties confiscated by the Sandinista revolution. And the new economic subjects that emerged from the property reforms are fighting to legitimize their gains and legalize their lands and businesses once and for all. We have been paralyzed in this transcendental dilemma for almost five years now, and the situation does not appear to be moving toward any resolution.
This emerging economic sector, born into new forms of organization, faces many other problems as well: the role of unions, the practical appropriation of property and worker management, administrators who bring with them the top down styles of the state functionary, the lack of a clear ideological project to accompany the new experience, etc. But the political and economic potential of these new agents is even greater than the quantity and quality of the problems. The reformed sector of the economy, together with small urban and rural producers and some medium farmers, is quantitatively and qualitatively superior to the bourgeois class; it is capable of competing with them and winning.
Now Starting to Be Profitable and EfficientIn the last few years, these new reformed sectors have advanced in their organization and consolidation as a subject and as an economic force within civil society. Associations of individual producers have gotten foreign credits and diversified their production, and are now starting to export organic products. Agricultural cooperatives have fused and formed a second tier there are now some 100 Agricultural Cooperatives's Unions (UCAs) and begun to behave as businesses. The workers' companies have organized by trade and now include some 20,000 worker shareholders. Hundreds of associative businesses have emerged, linked to municipalities and the autonomous regions, many of them formed by ex armed forces personnel.
This new breed of business organizations is being supported by new economic agents national and international nongovernmental organizations that are filling the vacuum left by the neoliberal state's inattention and disinterest. Statistical proof of this shift is found in the credit these institutions offer to the new producers: while the national bank only finances 20,000 small producers, the NGOs finance more than 40,000.
The new economic subjects are demonstrating their first potential: organic production of coffee, legumes and edible oil products. They are also breaking into the nontraditional products market with shrimp, tempate, artisanry, wood, honey and dried fruits. Perhaps the most important novelty of these new property forms is that they demonstrate that small producers can achieve an economy of scale through territorial association that opens up a competitive place for them in the national market. Put more formally, horizontal integration through territorial associations allows them to vertically integrate their economies up to the level of the national market.
We have already seen groups of 200 small producers of black beans succeed, or an UCA made up of 10 coffee producing cooperatives begin to export, or 300 workers from a self managing enterprise become efficient and profitable organic sesame producers or five small groups of demobilized from the armed forces competitively produce peanuts.
All of them, horizontally associated, have more access to credit, to storage operations, and to domestic and foreign trade than they did as individuals. There are numerous such examples among workers' enterprises, cooperatives or small individual producers' associations; all are participating in societies encompassing dozens of reformed economic groupings, and with increasingly voluminous operations, are achieving a national scale in both commerce and industry.
The New Economic Subject in the FSLN CongressThe reforms to the FSLN's statutes and program in the party's Extraordinary Congress were proposed with the objective of rewinning the government in 1996. The renovation some fought for was fundamentally based on designing a broad discourse attractive to the majority of the population, as different from the past revolutionary discourse as possible. Others insisted on a renovation that, adapted to the new circumstances, would permit the revolution to continue. The first were branded liberals, the second orthodox.
Without completely dissipating the differences, the fine tuning of the FSLN program and statutes reflects a synthesis that leaves many doors open. It is the first time in history that a revolutionary force has maintained such a strong presence as a legitimate opposition force. For the first time a leftist party can work for an alternative project without resorting to armed rebellion as a means to gain power. For the first time the struggle for democratization will happen daily, and not just strictly within the electoral context every so many years.
The FSLN faces the struggle for economic democratization with an initial task; institutionalize the reforms put in place during the revolution, particularly the legalization of property under new owners. The FSLN knows that if these reforms are not preserved, representative democracy will have no meaning. It knows that if it loses the political spaces gained so far, representative democracy will be no different from what it was during the Somoza period; that if we do not build local and sectoral power, guaranteeing the participation of all trade and union organizations in developing economic and cultural policies, representative democracy will continue being a democracy only for holders of large capital.
The Congress determined the following thesis with respect to property: respect private property, defend small landowners and promote associative property. The most discussed and defended thesis during the Congress was the Thesis on the Countryside, which established the priority the FSLN will give to the reformed sectors of the economy, especially the peasantry, cooperatives and workers' enterprises.
In terms of methods of struggle, the Congress decided to combine parliamentary struggle with popular mobilizations to defend revolutionary gains, which implies strengthening the defense of reformed property and supporting the grassroots and associative forms of productive organization.
The new economic subjects small producers' associations, cooperative unions, workers' enterprise federations, trade and union organizations, and social movements that work to defend the specific interests of each sector (women, youth, professionals, environment, religious, cultural, war victims, demobilized from the armed forces and the Resistance) can be the nucleus around which alternative power is organized and constructed. And it can include like minded political parties.
In Organization There Is StrengthOrganization around productive activities is becoming the most strategic of the political, social and ideological tasks. There are already increasingly significant expressions of this, above all in the agricultural sector: the Campesino a Campesino Program, promoted within UNAG; the Farmers' Project drawn up and supported by Nitlapán; the Networks of Peasant Experimenters, promoted by CIPRES; the trade associations in the Area of Workers' Property (APT), organized by UNAPA; the investment and trade programs of the agricultural and agroindustrial cooperatives, sustained by FENACOOP and CONAPI; the productive programs created among the department level groups of retired military, promoted by both government organizations (the Ministry of Social Action) and nongovernmental ones (FACS); the agro ecological organic production programs involving multiple associations of small and medium producers, supported by the environmental movement; the Integrated Labor Societies Program, promoted by the FNT and other union federations; the Alternative Trade Program, promoted by the solidarity networks in coordination with different social organizations; and the non-conventional credit program involving diverse national and multilateral organizations.
A new and massive economic leadership is being born in Nicaragua, in which agro ecological innovations converge with technological ones; productive diversification converges with organizational diversification; economic development converges with social mobility; productivity with solidarity; associativity with territorial organization; primary, agroindustrial and trade production with the search for food sources; jobs with profitability; and last, but hardly least, women, children and other marginalized groups with the world of economy, local power and social welfare.
The new model differs from the traditional one in that, in liberalism everyone aspires to be bourgeois, while in a society with an associative orientation everyone aspires to organize around associative forms of production, consumption and other activities. It is different from the statist model of the 1980s in that the revolution pledges to consolidate the reforms from within civil society.
Win or Lose the Elections: Consolidate the ReformsThe principal strategic objective of the FSLN program for the new electoral campaign will be to consolidate the political spaces won by Sandinismo, both within civil society and in institutional political society. Simultaneously, it will take up the banner of consolidating the new forms of property, aspiring to a shared space in the new national economic project: financing and credit for the peasant sector, cooperatives and associative enterprises, and participation of these new subjects in the management of economic policies.
If the FSLN wins the elections, it will institutionalize these reforms. If it loses, we will patiently and tenaciously continue the daily work of consolidating these new forms of property from below, just as the incipient European bourgeoisie did between the 16th century and the French Revolution in the 18th century.
The work will be immense and will be revolutionary and transforming. We will have to build a new culture around grassroots society and these new forms of property ownership and production that is an alternative to the one based on individual exploitation and alienating consumerism. In this perspective, the FSLN's economic subject will now be the new economic agents, not the people in general.
We will also have to address other tasks linked to the national project food self sufficiency, employment generation and the production/savings of hard currency together with the rest of the economic sectors in Nicaraguan society. While the FSLN is strengthening the alternative project, it will at the same time work with everyone to establish and strengthen a rule of law for all citizens, with no exceptions, and for the progressive growth of a minimum level of social justice for all, also with no exceptions.