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Archive for the ‘Marxism Today’ Category

“Marxism and Freedom” After Sixty Years, For Yesterday and Today- Kevin B. Anderson

Posted by admin On September - 6 - 2018 Comments Off on “Marxism and Freedom” After Sixty Years, For Yesterday and Today- Kevin B. Anderson

Kevin B. Anderson teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the co-editor (with Peter Hudis) of The Rosa Luxemburg Reader (2004) and the author of Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism: A Critical Study (1995), and Marx at the Margins: Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Non-Western Societies (2010).


This article is based on a presentation given in Paris on the occasion of the reissue of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom by Éditions Syllepse; it was published in French, in Entre les lignes entre les mots, on January 19, 2018.

“Marxism and Freedom” After Sixty Years, For Yesterday and Today
by Kevin B. Anderson

It is the sixtieth anniversary of Raya Dunayevskaya’s Marxism and Freedom, a work both of its time and ahead of its time.

First published in 1958, at the height of the Cold War but not long after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, it was one of a number of writings in the period that put forth a democratic, humanist, and revolutionary Marxism, both against the Russian Stalinist system and against the “liberal democratic” capitalism of the United States and Western Europe. This was the same period when E. P. Thompson broke away from the British Communist Party over Hungary, and when Edgar Morin and others formed the Arguments Group in France, both of them reacting against the brutal Russian intervention in Hungary.

However, Dunayevskaya had broken with Stalinism some thirty years earlier and gone on in the 1940s to write economic analyses of the USSR as a totalitarian state-capitalist society. For her, therefore, the newness of Hungary 1956 lay not so much in any proof of the reactionary, anti-worker character of the Russian and East European Stalinist regimes as in the proof it offered that (1) contra Orwell and Arendt, totalitarianism could never extinguish the struggle for human liberation, and (2) contra the Hungarian Revolution’s liberal supporters, the emergence of workers councils and of the Marxist intellectuals of the Petofi circle showed that a third way was possible—a socialist humanism that was entirely different from both Stalinism and Western liberalism. As she wrote with respect to the workers councils, “When all said that everything was over, the Hungarian Workers Councils sprung up. … They began to fight in the factories, which they were using as their places of refuge. … The workers evolved new ways of fighting, both on the job and when they walked out on strike” (256).

Another mass movement of the period, the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956 in Alabama, also figured prominently in Marxism and Freedom. In her treatment of what is now seen as an epochal event that launched the civil rights movement, Dunayevskaya stressed its grassroots character, rather than the leadership of the newly prominent Martin Luther King Jr. She noted that the movement had no visible hierarchy, but was governed by mass meetings held as often as three times per week. She also singled out the fact that in boycotting the buses for over a year, the Black working class had to arrange its own informal transportation networks in the face of threats and repression from the state and the Ku Klux Klan.

In declaring, “Clearly, the greatest thing of all in this … spontaneous organization was its own working existence,” she was pointing to its revolutionary potential (281). For that phrase, “its own working existence,” was the same one that Marx had employed in The Civil War in France, his seminal analysis of the Paris Commune: “The great social measure of the Commune was its own working existence” (www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1871/civil-war-france/ch05.htm). So too for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the movement that launched over a decade of revolutionary activity on the part of African Americans and their allies, much of it based upon grassroots political activism and organizing rather than hierarchical forms of organization.

Dunayevskaya also singled out the new stage reached by the U.S. labor movement in the period just before the book appeared. On the one hand, workers were increasingly distancing themselves from the newly powerful labor bureaucracy, which stifled union democracy and had tied labor to the state ever since World War II. On the other hand, at a time of Fordist high wages in some major industries, the new stage of production represented by automation became a dividing line between rank-and-file workers and the political and economic establishment. And as she saw it, that establishment included not only the corporations, the government, and the liberal social scientists who advised capital and the state from the universities, but also the labor bureaucracy itself. For their part, rank-and-file workers feared and opposed automation both because it was creating mass unemployment and because it was heightening the alienated labor in their workplaces. Workers, Dunayevskaya held, were demanding nothing less than the end of the division between mental and manual labor. She summed this up with a reference to the young Marx: “Thus, the workers, the American workers, made concrete and thereby extended Marx’s most abstract theories of alienated labor and the quest for universality” (276).

To Dunayevskaya, these three movements, the Hungarian workers councils, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the stirrings of rank-and-file labor against both automation and the labor bureaucracy, revealed a new stage of opposition to the rule of capital. This new opposition was emerging not from organized parties of the left or from inspiration from leftist intellectuals, but from the grassroots participants’ own life experience, from practice. Implicitly referring not only to Stalinism, social democracy, and liberalism, but also to orthodox Trotskyism, Dunayevskaya concluded with regard to these kinds of new social movements, “In truth, while the intellectual void today is so great that the movement from theory to practice has nearly come to a standstill, the movement from practice to theory, and with it, a new unity of manual and mental labor in the worker, are in evidence everywhere” (276; here and below, emphasis in original).

This “movement from practice to theory” was the underlying theme of Marxism and Freedom. It captured the spirit of an era that was to see mass social movements, many of them marked by spontaneity, in the 1960s and since. It was obviously a repudiation of the top-down politics of both social democracy and what is usually termed the Leninist vanguard party. In this sense, it anticipated not only the 1960s, but also events like the wave of revolutions and protests that have impacted so many countries since the Arab revolutions of 2011, from the Indignados in Spain to Occupy Wall Street in the United States, and from Gezi Park in Turkey to Nuit Debout in Paris.

However, while Dunayevskaya believed firmly in the creativity of spontaneous, sometimes leaderless movements, she did not, either in Marxism and Freedom or in her writings afterwards, ever argue that the Marxist theoretician was therefore irrelevant or a mere bystander. It was, she held, a movement from practice to theory, not a spontaneous movement that had no need for Marxist theory. What she did argue was that the greatest revolutionary thinkers had absorbed into their philosophical perspectives the creativity of the movements from below of their times, while at the same time offering those movements some theoretical and political direction. And this had organizational implications as well. It differentiated Dunayevskaya from her erstwhile U.S. colleague, the great Afro-Caribbean Marxist C.L.R. James. Despite many commonalities with Dunayevskaya, James hewed to a more spontaneist position, as did other contemporary groups with positions similar to Dunayevskaya’s, like Socialisme ou Barbarie, and later, the Italian operaïstes. As Frédéric Monferrand notes in his well-researched new preface to the 2016 French edition, “Thus, where C.L.R. James called after 1955 for the abolition of ‘the distinction between party and mass,’ the author of Marxism and Freedom never seems to have really renounced the need to form a revolutionary organization relatively autonomous from the social movements” (22).

With those kinds of questions in mind, let us look briefly at some of the key theoretical junctures in Marxism and Freedom.

The chapter on Hegel and the French revolution that begins the book is heavily indebted to the anarchist thinker Daniel Guérin for its account of the sans-culottes as part of a creative movement from below, to the left of the Jacobins, that conceptualized and fought for a popular democracy:

Democracy, thus, was not invented by philosophic theory nor by the bourgeois leadership. It was discovered by the masses in their method of action. There is a double rhythm in destroying the old and creating the new which bears the unmistakable stamp of the self-activity which is the truly working class way of knowing. This, in fact, was the greatest of all the achievements of the great French Revolution—the workers’ discovery of their own way of knowing. (30-31)

In her brief account of Hegel, a real gem of compression that illuminates the truly revolutionary aspects of Hegel’s philosophy, Dunayevskaya stresses the impact of the French Revolution—and its aftermath—on the German inventor of the modern form of dialectics. She also notes how the young Hegel singled out the alienated condition of the modern factory worker but could not yet discern—because it was too early—the yearning for a creative and non-exploitative form of labor that was to imbue the modern working-class movement in its most revolutionary moments. That would have to wait for Marx. What Hegel did discern in his published work—and here the influence of the French Revolution was obvious—was that the quest for freedom and emancipation marked the entire course of human history. Additionally, in seeing the social world not only as substance, but also as subject, Hegel paved the way for the Marxian concept of the collective revolutionary subject.

According to Dunayevskaya, Hegel also elaborated, above all in his Absolute Idea, which he saw as the unity of theory and practice, the dialectical relationship between the social and the individual:

For in Hegel’s Absolute there is embedded, though in abstract form, the full development of the social individual, or what Hegel would call individuality “purified of all that interferes with its universalism, i.e., freedom itself.” Here are the objective and subjective means whereby a new society is going to be born. That new society, struggling to be born, is the concern of our age. (39)

For Dunayevskaya, the key here was not so much the rather banal notion that individuals must become social to fully realize themselves as individuals. Her point centered on something slightly different: how the quest for individual self-development and freedom could link up with broader epochal movements for human emancipation in such a way that both were deepened, in a truly dialectical relationship. Thus, when Rosa Parks sat down on that bus in Montgomery, Alabama, and defied the system of racial segregation, her quest for individual emancipation managed to link up with the universal in such a way that it helped touch off a whole era of revolutionary radicalism.

Dunayevskaya noted as well that Marx drew his concept of the negation of the negation from Hegel, whom he praised in 1844 for having uncovered “the dialectic of negativity as the moving and creative principle” (34). At the same time, Dunayevskaya critiques the retrogression into statism in the later Hegel, while also maintaining the enduring influence of the German idealist on Marx. Finally, the discussion of Hegel turns toward the Stalinist rejection of Hegel, especially his concept of negativity.

With Marx, Dunayevskaya stresses the fundamental continuity of the young Marx of 1844 with Capital, not only in Volume 1, but also in Volumes 2 and 3. I know of no other serious analyst of Marx who swam so easily in both the humanist/dialectical aspect—alienation, fetishism, dialectic, and so on—and in concepts like the tendential decline in the rate of profit as the foundation of Marx’s theory of crises and depressions.

In its original 1958 edition, Marxism and Freedom contained as an appendix the first published English translations of two of the most important of Marx’s 1844 Essays, “Private Property and Communism” and “Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic.” The theme of Marx’s revolutionary humanism continues through one of Dunayevskaya’s four chapters devoted to his magnum opus, “The Humanism and Dialectic of Capital, Vol. I.” In the 1844 Essays, Dunayevskaya sees Marx as having put forth his own version of the dialectic, as having not only “stood [Hegel] on his feet,” but also as having separated himself from “vulgar communism” (85), which Dunayevskaya traces back to some of the communist sects of Marx’s own time, albeit with a clear contemporary target, the vulgate of Soviet Marxist-Leninism. Here she connects philosophy and economics, in the sense that vulgar communism sought to change property relations but not production relations, not the actual daily life of the worker: Marx was strongly “opposed to anyone who thinks that the ills of capitalism can be overcome by changes in the sphere of distribution” (59). As for the Russian Stalinist ideologists, they focused on the merits of state property and they “spend incredible time and energy and vigilance to imprison Marx within the bounds of the private property versus state property concept” (63). This was also an implicit critique of classical Trotskyism, with its focus on nationalized property as the dividing line between capitalism and a workers’ state.

Throughout, Marx is presented as a revolutionary activist as well as a thinker, even during his supposedly cloistered British Museum years when he immersed himself in political economy. Not only was he an activist as well as a thinker, but world events and his engagement with them decisively shaped his greatest theoretical work, Capital. Here the kinds of themes alluded to at the beginning of this essay—the new forms of emancipatory struggle found during the 1950s in the Hungarian revolutionaries, Alabama Black activists, and rank-and-file workers—emerge as central to the book’s underlying theoretical premises.

Thus, the decisive impact of the U.S. Civil War on Capital Volume 1 is elaborated not just as political background, but as having had a decisive theoretical importance. Dunayevskaya’s chapter covering these issues begins with Marx’s applauding from afar the incipient slave insurrection he was hoping for in the wake of John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry. Marx not only differed with Engels on the potentially revolutionary character of the Civil War, but he also strongly attacked the non-revolutionary Lincoln’s reluctance to issue an emancipation proclamation. In addition, Dunayevskaya stresses Marx’s strong support, in his letters and journalism, for the British workers who sided with the North even as the British establishment took the opposite position. In a remarkable display of proletarian internationalism, those workers kept up their support even when told that a British intervention on the side of the South might quickly end the war and the cotton blockade that had led to mass layoffs in the textile industry. She also notes how language about race, class, and the fight for the eight-hour day found its way into Marx’s text, as in this often-overlooked passage from Capital:

In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the Black it is branded. But out of the death of slavery a new life again arose. The first fruit of the Civil War was the eight hours agitation, that ran with the seven-leagued boots of the locomotive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New York to California. (84)

Thus, the dialectics of race and class was no mere sideshow, but a crucial aspect of the struggle for the emancipation of labor.

But there were other theoretical stakes here as well. Dunayevskaya also makes the argument that the very structure of Capital changed as a result of Marx’s engagement with the U.S. Civil War. Based upon a study of the early drafts of Capital, she concludes that it was only after he became engaged with the Civil War that Marx added an entire chapter on “The Working Day,” apparently completed as late as 1866. This chapter is one of the book’s most crucial, not because it exposes the oppression of the worker, which many had done before, but because it shows how the lengthening of the working day constituted the breaking point that produced the modern labor movement. Capital’s chapter on the working day contains the most detailed treatment of working-class resistance to capital of the entire book, as it chronicles the struggle for a shorter working day, first in Britain, and then in France, and then in the United States, where it became intertwined with the dialectics of race and class.

But Marx is not only describing, but also prescribing. For he is suggesting in this chapter that, short of actual proletarian revolution, the fight for a reduced working day challenges capital in a fundamental way, more than that for higher wages. Moreover, this was something that Marx put forward in the First International, helping to place it on the agenda of the working class across Western Europe and North America. Turning to our own times, I would like to note that in recent decades, the French working classes have been carrying out the fight for a shorter working day, but in isolation from other highly developed economies like Britain or the United States, where the issue has lain dormant, or worse. As a result, French workers have been sometimes forced to retreat.

Dunayevskaya conceptualizes a similar process concerning the relationship of the Paris Commune to Capital. Following the framework of Marx’s Civil War in France, she outlines what he saw as the Commune’s revolutionary features: its grassroots democratic character, its destruction of a modern bureaucratic state, its development of worker self-rule in some of the factories. Dunayevskaya added a point not stated explicitly by Marx concerning the leading role of female workers, milkmaids, in touching off the insurrection early in the morning of March 18, 1871: “As in every real people’s revolution, new strata of the population were awakened” (95).

Next, Dunayevskaya argues that several important formulations in Capital were added only after the Commune. The last version of Capital Volume 1 that Marx personally vetted before it was published was the French edition, issued in serial form from 1872 to 1875. Although it was translated by Joseph Roy, Marx’s correspondence shows that he went over every page and reworked many parts of the text. Few except specialist scholars are aware that the 1867 version of Capital was quite different from the text we know today. Most importantly, the first chapter did not exist in its present form. Only after the Paris Commune did Marx reorganize the book, creating for the first time a separate first chapter ending with a discussion of commodity fetishism. Some of the material on fetishism was already there in 1867, but some was added after the Paris Commune. This was because the Commune had illustrated in concrete form what Marx for years had been referring to as free and associated labor. Dunayevskaya argues that after 1867 Marx moves the focus in the discussion of commodity fetishism from “the fantastic form of appearance,” wherein human relations took the form of relations between things, toward “the necessity of that form of appearance,” given that the reification of human relations was “in truth,” the form taken under capitalism of “what relations between people are at the point of production” (100).

This is not only an example of revolutionary events influencing and deepening Marx’s theorization of capitalism, but it is also an example of Marx carrying out some of his most original theoretical labor under the impact of the Commune. In carrying out this work, he developed further a book that aimed not only to reflect, but also to shape the consciousness of the working class, in order for it to carry out the struggle for its self-emancipation more effectively. And it was not Marx’s fault that post-Marx Marxists, beginning with Engels, virtually ignored the crucial section on commodity fetishism until the 1920s.

Dunayevskaya’s discussion of V.I. Lenin as thinker and as revolutionary takes a similar form. The early Lenin’s notion of the vanguard party as elaborated in 1902, in What Is to Be Done?, is seen as undergoing modifications under the impact of the creativity and self-organization displayed by the working class in 1905 and 1917. Moreover, in anticipation of many recent discussions by Lars T. Lih and others, that early form of vanguardism is shown to have been not that different from the prevailing concept of organization in the Second International. Thus, Lenin in 1902 “merely brought to its logical conclusion Karl Kautsky’s formulation” to the effect that workers on their own could achieve trade union but not socialist consciousness, with the latter having to be brought to them by radical intellectuals (179).

World War I undermines Lenin’s support for Kautsky and the other chief theoreticians of the Second International, leading him to embark upon, for the first time, the elaboration of general and global, rather than only Russian, Marxist perspectives. Was this a result of a steadfast adherence to earlier revolutionary principles or a new departure for Lenin? Dunayevskaya holds more to the second possibility, underlining Lenin’s in-depth study of issues he had largely avoided up until then: Hegel and dialectics, imperialism, and the state and revolution.

One major departure, still controversial even today, is Dunayevskaya’s elaboration of a philosophical break in Lenin’s thought as a result of his 1914-1915 notebooks on Hegel’s Science of Logic. This meant an implicit repudiation of his crudely materialist and reductionist 1908 treatise on Marxist philosophy, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Singling out revolutionary Hegelian concepts like self-movement and contradiction, Lenin also embraces aspects of Hegel’s philosophical idealism as superior to crude materialism, writing, “Intelligent idealism is nearer to intelligent materialism than is stupid materialism” (207). Moreover, in an implicit self-critique, Lenin holds that one cannot understand Capital without having studied Hegel’s Logic and that “consequently, none of the Marxists for the past half-century have understood Marx!” (171). Henri Lefebvre translated Lenin’s notebooks on Hegel and introduced them to the French public over two decades earlier, but he did not, until 1959, acknowledge a break in Lenin’s philosophical thought after 1914. Dunayevskaya, on the other hand, had developed her concept of such a break in a dialogue with C.L.R. James in the 1940s. (I discuss Lefebvre, Althusser, James, Dunayevskaya, Lukács, and other commentators on Lenin’s relation to Hegel in my 1995 book, Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism.)

As Dunayevskaya saw it, Lenin took up the development of the capitalist economy into its monopoly stage, and the concomitant emergence of imperialism, soon after his study of Hegel, in part on the basis of the new dialectical insights he gained there. At this point, Lenin became dissatisfied with Rudolf Hilferding’s non-dialectical presentation of monopoly capital, first because it underplayed how competitive capitalism was transformed. Dunayevskaya writes that for Lenin, it was the result of a “development through contradiction, through transformation into opposite” (208).

Second, Lenin taxed Hilferding, and even some of his Bolshevik comrades like Nikolai Bukharin, for not addressing changes brought about by imperialism at the subjective level, that of the working people in both the imperialist lands and the colonies. In terms of the working class at home, imperialism led to a deep internal contradiction, with a small part transforming into an aristocracy of labor that benefited from colonial exploitation. As Lenin saw it, that stratum also formed the core of those elements of the working class that supported World War I. It is a concept that Dunayevskaya connected to racial segmentation within the U.S. working class.

In terms of the colonies, imperialism unleashed modern, progressive nationalist movements. Here Lenin singled out the Easter Uprising in Ireland of 1916, in the middle of the war and up to that point the most serious blow against imperialism and the war anywhere in the world. Ireland was the harbinger of a new form of consciousness and struggle that came to be called national liberation movements. In supporting the Irish uprising, and in polemicizing with less supportive or even hostile class-reductionist perspectives from Karl Radek and Leon Trotsky, Lenin underlined the dialectical underpinnings of his position, referring to the Irish events as part of the “dialectics of history,” wherein colonized nations fighting for their national emancipation can take the lead, moving ahead of the international working class in the struggle against imperialism, and ultimately, capitalism itself.

Here again, Lenin’s originality lay not only in grasping new subjective developments like the development of the labor aristocracy and of the national liberation movements, but also in conceptualizing the relationship of those forces to the overall working-class movement. He incorporated the peasantry as well, especially in his discussions of major countries in the Global South like colonial India and semi-colonial China.

Whatever his flaws as a Marxist thinker and revolutionary leader, which have been pointed out by other revolutionary thinkers ever since Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin’s two major insights—on Hegel and dialectics, and on imperialism and national liberation—are still fruitful theoretical resources today. For Dunayevskaya, Lenin’s Hegelian Marxism was more attractive than that of Lukács or Marcuse because he reached political and economic conclusions on the basis of his dialectical investigations. He was therefore able to elaborate a dialectical theory of the emergence of imperialism and of the contradictions within it, most prominently its giving the impetus to national liberation movements across the colonial and semi-colonial world. Lenin’s great sensitivity, as well, to national and ethnic oppression inside large countries like Russia was an important and related insight that he was to develop in terms of groups like African Americans in the years following his Hegel notebooks and his book on imperialism.

Dunayevskaya took from Hegel, Marx, and Lenin two conceptual threads: on the one hand, a certain type of dialectics of revolution, and on the other hand, a sensitivity to new social forces and movements with revolutionary potential. These two threads of analysis enabled her to conceptualize a new form of capitalism, automated state capitalism, in which workers faced the state, capital, and their own union bureaucracy, and where new social movements like the Black movement in the United States were emerging. At the same time, events like Hungary 1956 showed not only the bankruptcy of the Stalinist regimes, but also that the working people and youth under those regimes shared similar aspirations with those in radical social movements across the world.

While Marxism and Freedom was published six decades ago, it still speaks to us today, when grassroots social movements for radical change have covered the globe in a way not seen since the 1960s, and yet at the same time, the economic and political contradictions of capitalism are more glaring—and ominous—than at any time since the 1930s. This unprecedented situation compels Marxists of the twenty-first century to rethink our old categories, especially those inherited from either social democracy or Stalinism.

Category: Socialism – Left Politics –       Whole Number: 65

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Reconnecting Reform and Revolution: Socialists in the Mist- Michael Hirsch

Posted by admin On August - 29 - 2018 Comments Off on Reconnecting Reform and Revolution: Socialists in the Mist- Michael Hirsch


Michael Hirsch is a New Politics board member, a New York-based labor and politics writer, and a moderator with the Portside news service. He is a member of the Lower Manhattan and Labor branches of New York DSA.


Reconnecting Reform and Revolution: Socialists in the Mist



by Michael Hirsch


Summer 2018         Vol:XVII-1     Whole #: 65 Printer-friendly version



If one thing was clear coming out of the New York City Democratic Socialists of America’s May 5 convention, it was that most delegates uniformly consider themselves socialists and aspire to build an anti-corporate resistance movement nationwide. So far, so good.


It was also clear a solid majority—including this writer—think some range of electoral activity in support of left-leaning Democratic Party electeds and aspirants is called for, though too few offer even a dollop of sympathy for insurgent independent and third-party efforts, which are no less tactical interventions that should never be proscribed. Yet when it comes to propounding a socialist program, those reds among us who have ever worked in Democratic clubs or in independent electoral efforts rarely if ever push the kinds of demands that challenge the capitalist system at its root. We hesitate at our peril.


Our reticence is explained in part because the range of the permissible is so circumscribed it becomes self-censorship. We want to appear practical and not alienate allies who agree with us on shorter-term issues. We want to avoid being caricatured as dreamers and vocal dilettantes or being called “resolutionary” socialists or worse.


Add to the fact that the leadership of most unions has no perspective beyond the next election cycle—witness their near total prostration in New York state before the vindictive, corporate-bought Andrew Cuomo and the studied indifference toward the excellent Gayle McLaughlin’s uphill fight for Golden State lieutenant governor—or even beyond a potential internal union challenge, and swimming against the current comes with a price. In fact, despite our socialist coloration, we lefties add precious little in actual mass work to programmatic arguments that could spur movements and legislation in an anti-capitalist and genuinely “social” direction.


Despite the brave words espoused by two insurgent Democrats addressing the concluding session of the DSA conference, nothing they said was radical in rooting out corporate domination of everyday life. No systemic challenge to property or social relations was even hinted at. The fault was not theirs, in my opinion. They were framing in militant terms the short-term bounds of the electorally possible when not playing to the expectations of the crowd. DSA has a higher purpose, but sadly they and we are not meeting it.


Note that everything does not depend on us. Mass movements often are sparked by rank and file leaders with only the most casual relationships to socialist groups or even theory. The old joke that spontaneity means somebody else did the organizing—a good riposte to stage-managed orthodox Leninist preaching—is true enough, but it doesn’t deny the crying need for anti-capitalist theorizing and for political programs whose winning would transcend capitalism. The much vaunted “base building” won’t come from electoral activity alone, nor will “activism” writ large without confronting the question of activism for what ends. We can’t just be the best builders of the movements, as worthy a goal as that is. We need a turn toward theory and socialist—read anti-capitalist—program.


Neither is a blanket demand for “democracy” of much utility, even in the age of a demented Trump and a regressive neoliberalism. Of course the mass of people should choose, but choose what? What are the choices? What is the left offering in the way of choice?


A turn toward theory—actually a course correction, and not initially a major one, I believe—points to the necessity of doing what contemporary mass movements miss.


Take the demand for free education from pre-K through college. It’s a good demand—who but a right-wing elitist would oppose it?—but it doesn’t in itself begin a critique of capitalist education, whether in furthering its democratic nature or in challenging curricula. What is gained if business school pedagogy remains unchanged, if economics remains the terrain of free-market ideology, if the social sciences remain compartmentalized, if vocational education is widely available but limited to business’ quotidian needs, and if schooling is largely hermetically sealed from creative work in all but the arts and experimental colleges?


Or take the crisis in housing. Sure, we can rightly abrade electeds for not vigorously supporting rent control, and we can get outraged at the rise of luxury housing treated as a trading commodity that leads to hundreds of thousands of vacant lux apartments in cities waiting for high income buyers even as homelessness swells. But at a mass statewide housing rally in New York in mid-June demanding rent-stabilization and just-cause eviction laws, and lambasting the state’s laggard governor as a witting tool of his real-estate funders, just one speaker made the sage intersectional connection between the housing crisis and related social ills, noting how precarious housing is a health care issue, too.


In New York City, we can and should blast the City Council for limiting its oversight to housing authority headaches after the fact and for favoring land use, zoning, and public-private development schemes as the sharp edges of housing policy, but we leave buried the old socialist chestnut of nationalizing large private holdings. Our housing crisis stems from corporate control. Who if not us will address that programmatically?


Then there are the depredations of the financial sectors. Who among lefties in Democratic Party spheres is raising nationalization of the banks, with or without workers’ control, as a viable, rational, necessary, and winnable program? Who is militating against crimes of the finance, insurance, and real estate sector that will cause the next financial bubble’s bursting? Not yet at least are comrades itching to do Democratic Party electoral work ostensibly as socialists.


The same weakness persists in the righteous demand of Medicare for All, a policy that is itself a vast improvement over single-payer, but only the beginning of wisdom. Of course Medicare for All would be a body blow to the insurance industry and bring accessible, quality care to many more millions. That’s reason enough to support it, not to mention its capacity to engage millions more in a struggle to win it. But in itself it will do nothing to democratize medicine or collapse the insane specializations that plague the disabled and older, retired Americans for whom primary care physicians are only traffic cops on the road to a plethora of specialists. Much of leisure time is barely leisurely for many seniors, who are on a first-name basis with as many as a dozen of their widely scattered healers. Without de-emphasizing the demand of Medicare for All, a vital and winnable reform, socialized medicine and reducing private practices to the bare mimimum should be part of our radical credo, too.


Here’s the problem: It’s as if our socialist politics is religiously understood but inapplicable to politics except as the most moderate of ethical reforms. It’s as though we self-described socialists are Marxists in faith but not so much in fact. At our best we are radicals capable in many admirable cases of critiquing the system sharply enough in thought and on the page but moving against it only hesitantly and under heavy restraint, explained as realpolitik and excused in some extreme cases as transactional politics, or what is in reality “too little, too late.”


We say among ourselves—at least those of us honest enough to say it and not afraid of being branding as sectarians—that Bernie Sanders is barely a socialist. We know that although his domestic politics are a breath of fresh air in a fetid clime (though his foreign policy planks are not much removed from the Clintonesque), they are at best rehashed New Deal liberalism, yet some sections of the left are already thinking of how to integrate their work with a possible Bernie boomlet in 2020. That preparatory move may even be tactically wise, facilitating outreach, and so on, but it also abrogates any possibility of these Bernie-entranced boosters acting as articulators of an anti-capitalist point of view, except over coffee. We indeed have things in common with Our Revolution, the staff-dominated Sanders operation, but our many differences can’t be submerged.


Note that in my calling for a course correction toward theorizing our politics to develop a rigorous socialist program for the twenty-first century, I’m not advocating taking the exit ramp to terminal program mongering, the disease of small sects. I am suggesting that if we socialists don’t look at how a systemic critique of capital can be hammered into a popular political program encompassing what Occupy and Podemos did so well—at least symbolically—as one that offers a real-action critique of the depredations of vampire capitalism and that instrumentally connects reform to revolution—Andre Gorz’s radical reform, if you will—then all our work, whether as inside or outside of the Democratic Party or a mix of both—will be just window dressing.


This means putting more of an emphasis on developing program, both to complement organizing work and to spur basic education. I’m talking about an internal education effort by DSA and other left organizations that goes beyond trainings to developing critical theory. A lot of discussion at the aforementioned New York DSA convention seemed to be battling shadows. Some comrades chastised others for being insufficiently Marxist by tamping down class-struggle ideas and mistakenly heralding reform as of prime value in and of itself. Others treated Marxist categories as so much empty rhetoric that got in the way of real organizing and was blind to the needs of reform, something eminently winnable and capable of a mass following.


In a less confrontational moment, I believe comrades would agree—or should agree—that “reform” and “revolution” are not counterpoised, and that the revolutionary pantheon from Marx, Engels, Kautsky, Luxemburg, Gramsci, Lukacs, Alexandra Kollontai, Du Bois, C.L.R. James, and Michael Harrington (at least the young Michael Harrington)  would all agree. Like the arc of the universe, the list is long, but it bends toward justice.


We can even learn from the ventures of Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, who, while no revolutionary either in theory or inclination, can be credited with contributing to the objective conditions for a nationwide upsurge by building a mass extra-parliamentary movement as a catalyst for, and an adjunct to, a future left Labour government.


Where to begin? We needn’t reinvent the wheel. Reintegrating Rosa Luxemburg’s pioneering work is no stretch, either. Her writing is largely in print, and the second volume of her projected multi-volume collected works has just been realized, which is fortuitous, given that January 2019 will mark the hundredth anniversary of her murder by the proto-fascist Freikorps under the direction of the governing right Social Democrats.


The sublime socialist makes clear that the two concepts “reform” and “revolution” are joined at the hip, something all wings of the socialist left tend to forget. The tragedy of social democracy for Luxemburg was the Second International’s disengaging of reform from revolution in practice if not in theory, resulting in the horror of all but three member parties supporting their own national bourgeoisies’ murderous land grab efforts in the catastrophic World War I. If “revolution” absent reform is fools’ gold, which it is, “reform” absent an anti-capitalist end is species extinction.


As Marx and Engels put it in the  Communist Manifesto, the outcome of class struggle was “either a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or the common ruin of the contending classes.” Pick one!


Luxemburg put it another way: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.”


True that! We twenty-first century reds must do better.











How the Nicaraguan Revolution was lost-Review by Todd Chretien

Posted by admin On August - 29 - 2018 Comments Off on How the Nicaraguan Revolution was lost-Review by Todd Chretien


The Nicaraguan Revolution: A Marxist Analysis

By Dan La Botz

Haymarket Books, 2018 · 408 pages · $28.00

During the 2012 presidential elections, Daniel Ortega’s campaign billboards proclaimed, “Nicaragua: The Joy of Living in Peace: Christian, Socialist, and in Solidarity.” Dan La Botz opens his What Went Wrong? The Nicaraguan Revolution: A Marxist Analysis remarking that “By the second decade of the 2000s, however, there was no socialism, little solidarity, and, for many Nicaraguans, not a lot of joy either.” Six years later, at least solidarity is making a comeback as mass protests spearheaded by students have rocked Ortega’s authoritarian state. Where these will lead is impossible to predict, but those looking to make sense of this latest rebellion can do no better than to begin with this book.


As he readily acknowledges, La Botz draws heavily on authors such as Henri Weber, Mike Gonzalez, and Carlos Vilas writing in the 1980s or ’90s, who have plowed some of this ground before. Yet the passage of time has given La Botz the opportunity not only to synthesize the best of the previous literature, but also to see how life has unfolded as we approach the fortieth anniversary of The Triumph, July 19, 1979. On that day, tens of thousands of ordinary Nicaraguans flooded into Managua to celebrate their defeat of the US-backed Somoza family dictatorship that had ruled through the terror of its National Guard for more than four decades.


La Botz effectively traces Nicaraguan history from colonial times up to the revolution, especially emphasizing the constant presence and pressure of US imperialism; for instance recalling the attempt by proslavery adventurer William Walker to bring Nicaragua into the Union as a slave state before the Civil War. Happily, Walker got the firing squad he deserved. Unhappily, President Woodrow Wilson invaded Nicaragua in 1912 and US Marines remained until 1933, only leaving after six years of armed resistance. Upon withdrawing its troops, the United States built up the Nicaraguan National Guard and incorporated some of the former resistance fighters within it. One radical leader stood out for his refusal to liquidate his opposition, Augusto Sandino. For his troubles, he was lured into a trap and assassinated in 1934. Now relying on the National Guard to maintain order, a string of Democratic and Republican presidents, from FDR to Eisenhower to Carter, looked to the Somoza family (whose patriarch got his start as a colonel in the Guard) to safeguard US commercial interests. Torture and bloodletting seemed like a small price to pay.


By the 1960s various radical organizations, taking inspiration from the Cuban Revolution, initiated protest actions including kidnapping an entire Somoza dinner party in 1974 in exchange for the release of leftist prisoners. Although many cheered on the rebels’ daring, the Somoza dictatorship exacted a terrible revenge on the population, torturing, maiming, and murdering thousands. By 1979, unrest was crystallizing and the revolutionary left (re)merged to form the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). La Botz details all this in a fast-paced and insightful style that doesn’t shy away from sharp critiques of the various leftist currents’ political and organizational outlooks.


By the summer of 1979, tens of thousands of Nicaraguan workers, peasants, and students were fighting a life or death struggle. The terms of the revolution were simple: obliterate the National Guard, or the National Guard will obliterate you. The Guard dropped barrel bombs and fought with US-supplied machine guns. Most of the rebels fought with Molotov cocktails and hunting rifles. An estimated fifty thousand died in the fighting, but the people had passed a point of no return. Jimmy Carter watched and waited, only pressuring Somoza to negotiate after National Guard troops were caught executing an ABC News reporter on camera. Having finally lost his US patron, Somoza and his family boarded a plane for exile, carrying as much loot as they could.


Although terrible in human costs, this story is one of the great revolutionary episodes of the twentieth century. The Nicaraguan insurrection ranks alongside the Paris Commune, the October Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the greatest events of 1968, and Tahrir Square in terms of mass participation and self-sacrifice. The people not only won the revolution, the revolution won the people. That is the single most important fact about 1979. As La Botz writes, “the Nicaraguan people were elated at the victory of the revolution and anxious to create a new Nicaragua.”


This “new Nicaragua” was made flesh immediately. The National Guard and the secret police were liquidated, either being killed or driven out of the country. The Somoza family’s property was confiscated and turned over to the popular Sandinista state. Tens of thousands of landless peasants received plots to farm. A student-led campaign reduced illiteracy from an incredible 50 percent to just 13 percent within five months. And twenty days after The Triumph, the Sandinista government created the Single National Health System under the principles that “Health is the right of all and is the responsibility of the state” and “the community should participate in all the health system’s activities.” And if there were real limits, the fact that women constituted a significant percentage of the insurrection’s fighters established feminism and women’s liberation as a real force. All these steps were wildly popular with workers, peasants, students, and the poor. So, what went wrong?


Most of the revolution’s defenders place the lion’s share of the blame for the Sandinista’s 1990 electoral defeat by a pro-US candidate on the brutality of the Contra War and the population’s exhaustion. La Botz outlines the war’s impact, explaining how Ronald Reagan’s “Freedom Fighters” took the lives of 30,865 Nicaraguans, maimed or injured another 30,000, and cost the country of 2.5 million inhabitants approximately $1.9 billion over the course of the ten-year conflict. In the wake of Vietnam, the US population remained wary of sending US troops, so Reagan ordered the CIA to direct the operation and fund it through Col. Oliver North’s secret dealings that eventually came to light in the Iran-Contra scandal. In the end, Reagan could not defeat the revolution militarily, but he did bleed the people dry.


La Botz agrees that the Contra War, as well as the defeat of revolutions in El Salvador and Guatemala, “ultimately doomed” the Nicaraguan Revolution; at the same time, he argues that the “FSLN’s lack of commitment to democracy contributed significantly to the revolution’s failure.” He makes this case convincingly by showing how the FSLN leadership—of whom Ortega was the most important but not only figure—never considered following the example of the Russian Revolution in relying on direct elections by workers, students, peasants, soldiers, and the poor in a system of councils or “soviets.” In fact, as he notes, the FSLN didn’t even call a party congress to elect its own leadership until after 1990. According to La Botz, this failure alienated the FSLN’s mass base and predisposed many high-ranking party leaders to conflate their own positions and power with the politics of liberation. As he puts it, “It was this problem—the lack of democracy—that led to the specific sort of betrayal of the revolution, and to the unique way in which the FSLN was transformed into an authoritarian party. . . . It was the authoritarian politics and ethos of the FLSN that created Daniel Ortega, not the other way around.”


La Botz is undoubtedly right to point to this dangerous tendency, and it has the great virtue of helping orient the international left with respect to the need for solidarity with the 2018 rebellion against Ortega’s regime. Further, What Went Wrong? articulates the necessity for a “new revolutionary movement that places at the center of its political ideas the understanding that socialism is only possible with democracy, and democracy is only possible with socialism.”


Yet, I do wonder if, in stressing this point, La Botz hasn’t succumbed to an overgeneralization. As he writes, “We can only [my emphasis] understand what happened in the Nicaraguan Revolution (and many other Third World countries in the postwar period) if we recognize that for about 70 years there was a three-cornered struggle for power between three social and political systems: capitalism, bureaucratic Communism, and working-class movements struggle to establish democratic socialism.”


Certainly, the pernicious influence of Stalinism in the socialist movement conditioned what took place in Nicaragua. But I think we must begin by assuming there was a tremendously open and liberatory revolution exploding in Nicaragua the few years after 1979. La Botz is right that the FSLN leadership used its tremendous moral and political authority to crack down on leftist opponents. However, should we foreclose the possibility that the Nicaraguan masses might not have chafed more under, and demanded more from, the Sandinista leadership (the right to strike, to widespread and frequent elections, to expropriate US and foreign companies, etc.) had not the Contra War (and US embargo) not sapped the vitality and confidence of the very same people who had just smashed the National Guard?


Of course, counterfactuals only get you so far. The point is that the ideology of the Sandinista leadership should not be seen as an original sin that precluded different potentials arising from elsewhere, or even from within the various tendencies of Sandinismo. Perhaps what Victor Serge remarked about the Russian experience might also apply to Nicaragua, “It is often said that ‘the germ of all Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its beginning.’ Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs, a mass of other germs, and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious socialist revolution ought not to forget it.”


This debate notwithstanding, I cannot recommend La Botz’s book highly enough. It is meticulously researched, but never succumbs to academic jargon. It provides readers with the facts and the drama but makes its theoretical framework clear. It is a gateway into the history of one of the last century’s most heroic revolutions, and it will serve anyone who reads it well in preparing for our century’s coming upheavals. Paraphrasing a popular slogan from 1979: ¡Nicaragua venció, el pueblo vencerá!



Revolutionaries and trade unions: a reply to Mark O’Brien-Tom Machell

Posted by admin On August - 26 - 2018 Comments Off on Revolutionaries and trade unions: a reply to Mark O’Brien-Tom Machell


“What has Happened to the British Labour Movement and What Does it Mean for the Left in the Unions?”, adds to the debates in this journal over the last number of years.1 His conclusions, however, are extremely dangerous. If put in practice they would actually decrease the influence of revolutionary Marxists in the workplace and lead to an “abdication” from key workplace activity. These discussions echo the debates of the British left in the run-up to the formation of the British Communist Party and in British syndicalism that sought to differentiate between the revolutionary trade union struggle and the revolutionary “political” struggle. Fundamentally, I believe Mark misunderstands the concept of the rank and file movement and the struggle for leadership in the workplace.

Mark correctly identifies two broad periods when trade unions operated under different legislation (a pre-1970 era of self-regulation of unions and a post-1970 era of “legalism”). It would be nonsense to argue that the post-1970s legislative framework has done anything other than seek to limit trade union activity. However, Mark’s conclusion, that “the trade union movement itself has fundamentally changed in nature”, is dangerous.2 For those of us active in trade union movements from the late-1970s the narrative of the union bureaucracy seeking to control activity is familiar. However, this is nothing new. It was the case during the preceding period as well—see for example the events described in Glorious Summer: Class Struggle in Britain, 1972 by Ralph Darlington and Dave Lyddon.3

Mark paints a depressing picture of those “local reps…bogged down” in legalistic trade unionism and of reps being sucked into various levels of lay bureaucracy although he concedes “it is hard to see how we can avoid these consequences”.4 Similarly, Mark paints individual representation as being simply time consuming rather than understanding the organisational possibilities that can lie behind this. In my own recent experience, successfully representing a union member last summer in a partially unionised (but not formally recognised) workplace has resulted in not a single month going by without new members—predominantly young and BAME—joining the union. This is just one example. These are workmates recruiting each other on the back of a successful intervention.

Mark’s “picture”, however, looks designed to discourage revolutionaries from actually becoming involved in the lay bodies that, when there is a significant upturn, will lead that struggle. In the universities dispute in spring this year the initial rank and file rebellion within the UCU against the proposed compromise offered by the leadership on 12 March was led by those very activists within the lay structures that Mark would discourage us from being involved in.5

It is also true that this particular dispute reinvigorated those layers with new layers of activists, but leadership of the initial rebellion was in no way limited to them. While the full-time leadership of the union eventually won the day, this was not on the terms of the employers’ initial proposals. This, however, also highlights one of Mark’s other weaknesses; that is, he seems to make no distinction between lay activists, on different levels of facility time, and the full-time salaried bureaucracy that exists in all trade unions.

Mark’s characterisation of the “rank and file moment” as “opening up spaces for activist initiatives” within the context of a “bureaucratically controlled national strike” completely misses how revolutionaries can win leadership in any workplace.6 When I first became active within the union movement the then International Socialists (the forerunners of the Socialist Workers Party) produced many a guide as to how one should operate in the workplace—this did not preclude the “humdrum” of the local branch, committee or whatever body. Indeed, I was taught that it was our responsibility to try to win leadership positions by becoming elected representatives and to carry these out diligently. You did this by being open about your politics but also by going beyond the political to take up day to day industrial relations issues. I’m not naive enough to believe my workmates elected me over the years to both local and national lay positions because I was a Marxist. They probably elected me despite that and because they would rather have me representing their interests than others. The alternative would appear to be standing on the sidelines making broad propaganda points but “refusing” the local leadership role that your workmates want you to carry out: “I’ll criticise the ‘bureaucracy’ but won’t actually do anything to change or influence it” does not in my opinion give you an automatic right to lead any subsequent struggle.

Mark appears to conclude that our primary (if not only) responsibility is to make “socialist propaganda” in the workplace and to build “horizontal networks” so we can take advantage of breaks when they come. He counterposes this to “vertical initiatives” within the trade union machine. These “networks” would then campaign around the political initiatives of the formal machine. This raises a number of key questions. Where does Mark expect the activists we seek to influence to be found? Yes, they will be involved in wider political discussions, but it is highly likely that they will also be found in those very “vertical structures.” Where does Mark think the “political initiatives” of the formal machine come from other than from socialists agitating within the machine? Moreover, suddenly turning up at points of struggle with the correct argument looks in this context akin to “shouting from the back of the room” and demanding the right to lead rather than proving you have such a right.

Does involvement in the formal machine inevitably lead to a drift to the right? I think not, as long as you are aware of the pressures, understand rank and file politics and operate under the wider political direction of socialist ideas and the advice and counsel of trusted comrades. Of course the lure of being a full-time lay representative can be attractive. It can remove individuals from day to day humdrum work. But the counter-arguments, that both your colleagues and your employer take you more seriously when you can show that you have to deal with the same work pressures and actually live like your colleagues and understand them, are compelling. The pressures to conform are there. But in all my years I only ever had a period of one year as a full-time representative (and that at an employer’s behest to deal with a particular issue).

Mark’s conclusions unfortunately put him historically on the side of the pre-1920s Marxist sects who saw their role as making pure propaganda without dirtying their hands with day to day trade union activity.

Tom Machell is a socialist and trade unionist based in Sheffield.


1 O’Brien, 2018.

2 O’Brien, 2018, p155.

3 Darlington and Lyddon, 2001.

4 O’Brien, 2018, p171.

5 See also the discussion of the UCU strikes elsewhere in this issue.

6 O’Brien, 2018, p169.


One hundred years on, the Great October Revolution is alive and calls for a revolutionary proletarian international!

Posted by admin On July - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on One hundred years on, the Great October Revolution is alive and calls for a revolutionary proletarian international!


by The 4th Euro-Mediterranean Conference
June 23, 2017
This year being the centenary of the Great October Revolution, the 4th Emergency Euro-Mediterranean Conference, held in Athens on 26-28 May 2017, adopted a declaration on this so far the most significant socialist revolution in world history, assessing its meaning for the 20th century and for the future and affirming its actuality.

The 4th Euro-Mediterranean Emergency Conference has conducted its deliberations on the Centenary of the Great October Revolution. The Conference wholeheartedly and unwaveringly declares its conviction that the October Revolution is the most important emancipatory event of the modern era and summons the forces of the working class and all progressive movements to follow in its footsteps and to bring to completion its unfinished mission.

The modern epoch, starting from the first Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, brought humanity an immense leap in the spheres of science, technology and the productive forces. Ironically, the very socio-economic system that made this leap possible, the capitalist mode of production, also made exploitation, unemployment, economic insecurity, poverty in the midst of plenty, and war of unprecedented dimensions and cruelty inescapable facts of life. By putting an end to capitalist private property and showing in practice that a different economic and social order based on common property in the means of production and distribution and conscious planning of production, the October Revolution showed, for the first time in a durable manner, that humanity would be able to put the advances in the productive forces to use without the attendant scourges characteristic of capitalism. Whatever criticism may be levelled at Soviet society and those that followed later in its footsteps, nothing can obliterate the fact that the combination of modern productive forces and common property in the means of production can provide the economic basis for a society that shares and cares for its members, without leaving any in fear for their future. This is a feat that no capitalist country, not even the most advanced and powerful, has been able to achieve on a durable basis.

The October Revolution is not solely a Russian revolution. It is the first revolution through which the only modern social force, the international proletariat, itself a specific product of capitalism, rose to power, albeit at first in a single country. It is from this first great leap forward that the other socialist revolutions of the 20th century, from the Chinese and Vietnamese to the Yugoslav and the Cuban, drew their inspiration and lessons. It is thanks to the support received from this revolution and the Soviet state, its most important product, that the colonial and semi-colonial peoples around the world rose and thus emancipated themselves from abject poverty and national oppression. It is under the whip of the threat of socialism, especially after the extension of the socialist revolution to other countries, that the bourgeoisie of imperialist countries and even of some dependent ones, gave in to the struggles and demands of their working masses, creating thus the highly ideological concept of the “welfare state”, which they hurried to dismantle as soon as the workers’ states started to collapse after 1989. In short, the October Revolution, which brought the proletariat into power for the first time, was in effect the trendsetter of the 20th century all around the world. In this sense and in the historic sense that it still shows us the future, the Great October Revolution and its sequel, the other socialist revolutions of the 20th century, as well as Marxism, the guide to these revolutions, are as much French and Italian and British as they are Russian, as much Balkan or Middle Eastern as they are Chinese or Vietnamese, as much African and surely Latin American as they are Cuban.

The Conference also expresses its conviction that the collapse of the workers’ states that were born in the 20th century is by no means a defeat and bankruptcy for the Marxist idea and programme of socialism, but the product of concrete circumstances that led, first, the Soviet state and, later, those that were born in its footsteps down paths that represented the abandonment of the genuine, revolutionary Marxist programme of proletarian democracy and internationalism. It was not the Marxist programme that failed but an aberration that pretended to be Marxist whereas it was only a caricature of it. The celebration with which the international bourgeoisie greeted the collapse of the workers’ states, producing intellectual stupidities of the type “the End of History” was consigned to the dustbin of history as rapidly as it was greeted. Capitalism has once again brought humanity to the threshold of barbarism in the form of an immense economic crisis, war, and an impending environmental catastrophe. Socialism is once again called to save humanity!

When Lenin arrived from his Swiss exile at the Finland Station in Petrograd, he finished his address to an excited crowd of workers gathered in front of the station by calling for the “World Socialist Revolution”. When approximately one month later Trotsky arrived in Russia from his exile in the United States, the day after his arrival he was invited to speak to the Petrograd Soviet in his former capacity of the President of the same soviet in 1905 and, unaware of what Lenin had said a month before, he closed his address by calling for the “World Socialist Revolution”! This is what the Bolshevik leadership was fighting for in the run up to the October revolution and after. It was for this reason that they formed the Communist International in the difficult days of the Civil War. This is what we should be striving for today: an international organisation that will bring together the revolutionary parties that are fighting for workers’ power in each and every country of the world.

The Communist International was not built overnight: it was the result of the groundwork that started during World War I in the form of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal Conferences. On this Centenary of the Great October Revolution, let us create our own Zimmerwald. Let us turn the Centenary Conference to be convened by our Russian comrades on the exact hundredth anniversary of the revolution, on 5-7 November 2017, in the very city where the Russian working class took power a century ago into our own special kind of Zimmerwald! Let us march together to stop an end to this drift into barbarism imposed by a capitalism in decline and build a world party that will unwaveringly strive for workers’ power all around the planet!

Voted unanimously, 28 May 2017

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

What Happened to the Nicaraguan Revolution?-Dan La Botz

Posted by admin On April - 30 - 2018 Comments Off on What Happened to the Nicaraguan Revolution?-Dan La Botz


The upheaval in Nicaragua that lasted from April 18 to April 21 and the repression that reportedly left 63 dead, 15 missing and 160 injured by gunfire, have both subsided for the moment. The protests halted after President Daniel Ortega announced the cancellation of his proposed changes in the social security pension law. Photographers were among those beaten. Other human rights centers and the Jesuit University of Central America in Managua as well as Nicaraguan newspaper accounts and discussions with people in Managua confirm many of these deaths and injuries.

Since April 22 Nicaraguans have participated in numerous marches, some raising the call for “Peace and Justice,” and many of the participants carrying placards calling upon President Ortega and his vice-president and wife Rosario Murillo to resign. On April 26 an enormous pilgrimage of tens of thousands called for peace and negotiation organized by the Catholic Church.

The early protests and the subsequent peace marches—and those killed or injured in them—have involved virtually every sector of Nicaraguan society: students, workers, religious leaders and their lay associates, medical and veterinary students, employees of private companies, and business leaders. La Prensa, a conservative newspaper, produced a photo essay that puts faces on the protesters.

While the protests began with opposition to the increasing in social security payments and the accompany reduction in benefits, they soon became massive outpourings against the violent repression of peaceful protestors, and finally a call for the end to the Ortega dictatorship. The Catholic hierarchy in Nicaragua is attempting to mediate the conflict and to organize a dialog between Ortega and his opponents. The questions now are: Who will get a seat at the table? and Will Ortega be willing to negotiate his own resignation?

The Repression

Ortega and Murillo ultimately hold responsibility for the repression that was organized both through the police forces and by the Sandinista party (FSLN) through the Sandinista Youth (JS). For years, as I discuss in my book What Went Wrong?,  the party and its youth group have harassed and beaten opposition political candidates, feminists, workers, farmers and other dissidents.

Among the most serious incidents (which are documented in my book and also in the Revista Envío available in Spanish and English) were these:

In 2008 both the Catholic Church and the Rosario Murillo who was part of the Ortega administration attacked the Autonomous Women’s Movement which supported abortion rights including helping a nine-year old rape victim get an abortion. The Catholic Church filed a criminal proceeding against the Network of Women Against Violence while Ortega’s Attorney General raided the office of the Autonomous Women’s Movement. The government engaged in a persistent campaign aimed at intimidating feminists.
In May of 2008 the Ortega government sent police to break a strike by truck and taxi drivers, during which police beat the strikers and intentionally broke truck windows.
In August of 2008 Sandinista thugs attacked political opposition protesters in the city of León.
In February of 2009 Sandinista goons attacked protest demonstrations by political opponents in Jinotega, Chinandega, and León.
Throughout 2014 farmers’ and environmentalists’ protests against Ortega’s Chinese-financed inter-oceanic canal were violent repressed with scores of injured and five killed.
In many of these incidents, the police and Sandinista hooligans cooperate, or the police look the other way as the Sandinista heavies do their dirty work.

All of this makes us want to know, What went wrong? The following is a reprint of my October 17, 2016 New Politics article written on the eve of the Nicaraguan election in which Ortega was reelected.

An Authoritarian Government

In late July 2016 President Daniel Ortega, running for his third consecutive term as president—his fourth term altogether—succeeded in having sixteen members of the opposition expelled from the legislature. Also removed were their 12 alternates, 28 legislators altogether. Those who were removed belonged to both the conservative Independent Liberal Party (PLI) led by banker Eduardo Montealegre and to the Movement for Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), originally a leftist breakaway from Ortega’s own FSLN. The legislators’ removal ended any semblance of political pluralism and gave Ortega absolute control over the parliament, making Nicaragua effectively a one-party state on the eve of the November 2016 election.

Then at the beginning of August, Ortega announced that his running mate for vice-president would be his wife Rosario Murillo, now the Minister of Communications and in practice already the country’s co-president. The Nicaraguan Constitution once forbid anyone from holding the office of president for two consecutive terms or from holding more than two non-consecutive terms as president, as well as forbidding a spouse from being a candidate. Ortega’s control of the Supreme Court, the legislature and the Supreme Electoral Council made it possible for him to create a new constitution in 2014 that allowed him to run for president for a third term. To make sure that there is no questioning of the election procedure, Ortega has forbidden international election observers. Ortega and his wife, who have placed their children in positions in government, appear to have insured that, like the Somozas before them, they will hand power on to their children and establish another dynastic dictatorship.

Nicaragua’s National Coalition for Democracy called the coming elections to be carried out under these conditions “a farce,” while the Bishops of the Catholic Church condemned Ortega’s attempt to impose a one-party regime. Faced with the closing off of democratic options important figures on both the right and the left have suggested that a revolt may be the only option. On the right, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the son of former president Violeta Chamorro, told the Nicaraguans that the situation had “legitimized the right to rebel.” Vilma Núñez, a longtime FSLN activist who had challenged Ortega for the FSLN presidential nomination in 1996 and who today heads the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (CENIDH), went even further, calling upon the Nicaraguan people to exercise their “right to rebellion.”[1] Creating a new dictatorship, Ortega may also be creating the conditions for a future revolution, though at the moment neither the forces nor the leadership for a rebellion exist.

Daniel and Danielismo

Ortega has ruled Nicaragua intermittently since the Nicaraguan Revolution of 1979. He headed the revolutionary government from 1979 to 1990, first as head of the revolutionary Junta that ruled the country from 1979-1985 and then as elected president from 1985-1990. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1996 and 2001, but even out of office, he generally controlled the legislature, working as a partner with the conservative Liberal Party governments. Then in the 2006 elections he won the presidency with a plurality of 38 percent of the vote and won again in 2011 with 62 percent of vote. Polls show him likely to win this election by 60 percent or more, a testimony not so much to his leadership as to the ruling couple’s control of the government, of the social welfare programs, and of much of the media.

Ortega’s political domination of the country today is nearly absolute. Since he took office as president for the second time in 2007, Ortega, the former guerrilla fighter and leader of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), has succeeded in concentrating in his hands the control not only of the executive office—which he shares in an irregular and extra-constitutional manner with his wife Rosario Murillo—but also domination of the Supreme Court, of the legislature, and of the Supreme Electoral Council. His political power is reinforced by his personal control over Venezuela’s financial contributions to Nicaragua, and until recently by an alliance with the Catholic Church constructed around opposition to abortion and feminism, as well as by his association with the country’s largest corporations and wealthiest families, not to mention his shrewd buying up of radio and TV stations.

The FSLN, better known as the Sandinistas, once a revolutionary party, functions today as a typical political machine, winning votes through fear and favors. The party is constructed around “Daniel” and a system and ideology of social welfare that has come to be called Danielismo. The FSLN has created a cult of personality around Ortega that rivals any, with huge portraits of Ortega and Murillo appearing on billboards throughout Managua year in and year out, while crowds are brought out to public places to chant, “Daniel! Daniel!” To enhance his image, periodically Ortega stands beside foreign heads of state with left-wing credentials—Hugo Chávez before he died, Nicolás Maduro since then; Fidel and later Raúl Castro; and also Evo Morales of Bolivia—maintaining the illusion that his government has something to do with some sort of socialism. In fact what he shares with those leaders is not socialism but rather his stature as a populist caudillo, though now one with right-wing politics.

Regrettably and shamefully, much of the Latin American and U.S. left continues to support Ortega and the Sandinista government, largely because of its alliance with the Cuban Communist regime and Venezuelan Bolivarian government. The Foro de São Paulo, the conference of Latin America’s left parties, continues to treat the FSLN as if it were a genuine left party, while TeleSUR, the TV station and news service supported by Venezuela, Cuba, and several other Latin American governments, brushes off any criticism of Ortega as right-wing and imperialist. Some on the U.S. and European left suggest that any criticism of Ortega and the FSLN is either directed by or serves the interest of the U.S. State Department.[2] Yet for decades some of the strongest criticism of Ortega has come from Nicaraguans, many of them former Sandinista leaders who argue that Ortega long ago abandoned any socialist principles.

Some American and other foreign leftists, such as Roger Burbach or more recently Jennifer Goett and Courtney Desiree Morris have criticized Daniel Ortega, placing responsibility on U.S. imperialism and on Ortega personally for the betrayal of the revolution, but denying that the Sandinistas’ political values and particular leftist ideals had anything to do with the revolution’s degeneration. In fact, the core beliefs of the Sandinistas—the political vision and theory of Carlos Fonseca, Tomás Borge, and Daniel Ortega—not only contributed to the revolution’s deterioration but lie at its root.

The Nicaraguan situation must be appraised not only in terms of U.S. imperialism and of Ortega as a leader, but also by making analysis of the country’s history and of its political and economic regime. Analyzing Nicaragua’s supposedly “socialist” regime, we must ask the same questions we would if we were analyzing any other nation: What is the nature of the political system? Who rules? Whose voice is not heard? What is the nature of the economic system? Who profits? Who works for low wages? Who must emigrate to find work?

While Ortega and his party govern, a handful of extremely wealthy families dominate the economy, enriching themselves at the expense of the country’s people. Nicaragua remains the poorest nation in Latin America, excepting Haiti, with 12 percent of the population unemployed and over 30 percent of the population living in poverty and 8 percent in extreme poverty. Nicaragua ranked 125th out of 188 nations on the United Nations Human Development Index in 2015.[3]

In 1979 Nicaragua experienced a genuine revolution, one that utterly destroyed the Somoza dictatorship, swept away the state, and created a new political system. At the time there was talk of a mixed economy, political, pluralism, and democratic socialism. National literacy and health campaigns improved the lives of much of the country’s rural population. The U.S.-backed Contra War in Nicaragua kept the Sandinista government of the 1980s from carrying out much of its reform program, while the 1990 election and subsequent elections brought right-wing governments to power. When Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas returned to power in 2006, they were no longer the revolutionary party with the socialist program of the past. Rather Ortega and the Sandinistas allied with big business, the Catholic Church, and right-wing parties lead a government with neoliberal economic programs combined with social welfare programs, what has been called “social liberalism.” We examine here exactly how this transformation took place, as explained in much greater detail in my book What Went Wrong? The Nicaraguan Revolution: A Marxist Analysis.

The Imperialist Background

Imperial powers—the Aztecs, the Spanish, the British, and the Americans—all took advantage of the fact that Nicaragua was a small territory, sparsely populated, and easily penetrated. While the Aztecs never fully controlled the country, Spain conquered and ruled Nicaragua for 300 years, establishing the domination of the conquerors’ descendants over the indigenous and over the African people who had been brought as slaves.

When thanks to revolutions in Mexico and South America between 1810 and 1821 all of Spanish America became independent, Nicaragua did as well, but while the Conservatives in the city of Granada and Liberals in León fought for control of the Pacific coast, the British entered into a treaty with indigenous Miskito people on the Caribbean coast, establishing a protectorate.

Later, with the discovery of gold in California, New York shipping magnate Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt established a shipping line to Nicaragua, together with overland and overwater service across the isthmus to the Pacific coast and from there to California and the goldfields. The American businessman’s involvement in Nicaragua perturbed the British who dominated Latin American banking and ran the import-export houses, leading to rising tensions between the two Anglo-Saxon imperial powers.

Then suddenly William Walker, an American filibuster— a politically ambitious pirate, with a small army of a couple of hundred men—inserted himself into the Conservative-Liberal conflict and quickly took control of the country, making himself president. Walker made English an official language, instituted slavery, and made it clear that he had broader ambitions in Central America and the Caribbean. Seeing the threat to their own existence, the surrounding nations—Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador—raised an army, and, with the support of Vanderbilt and the British, defeated and expelled Walker, who during a later attempted invasion attempt was captured and executed.

Vanderbilt and Walker had brought Nicaragua to the attention of the United States, and the American eagle now had its eyes on the little country to the south, waiting for his chance.

Following the Central American war against Walker, a joint Conservative-Liberal government came to power in Nicaragua and established its authority in the Pacific region—the “Thirty-Year Regime” it was called. But the country languished until the late nineteenth century sugar boom when José Santos Zelaya, a Liberal leader from Managua, center of the new sugar industry, took power in a coup.

Zelaya was determined to make Nicaragua a modern state, to create a United States of Central America, and to establish a degree of independence from the United States of America, which had meanwhile invested heavily in lumber, mining, and agriculture. Zelaya’s national project, however, coincided with the rise of the United States to Great Power status through foreign wars, the taking of colonies, and the building of an empire.

Under President McKinley, the United States fought and won the Spanish American War of 1898 taking Cuba and Puerto Rico, while in 1903, with the subterfuge of support for independence movement, President Roosevelt took Panama from Colombia. With the United States becoming the dominant power in the region, Zelaya’s plans for a stronger Nicaragua and a united Central America were doomed.

With the pretext of supporting a supposed democracy movement in Nicaragua that opposed Zelaya’s tyranny, President Taft ordered the U.S. Marines to invade and occupy the country in 1909, an occupation that in several phases that would last until 1933. The U.S. took control of the political system through a puppet president, while also managing the national finances, and running much of the economy. Nicaragua became a colony in all but name.

The Nicaraguan Liberals, however, continued to fight against the Conservatives who under U.S. tutelage now ran the country, leading to a civil war from 1926 to 1927. But when the Liberals finally gave up the fight, one man, Augusto César Sandino, refused to lay down his arms.


Sandino, a mystic and a radical, organized what he called the Army in Defense of the National Sovereignty of Nicaragua, in reality a ragged band of a few hundred workers and peasants who fought a guerrilla war against the U.S. Marines 1927 until 1933 when the Marines finally left. But it was not Sandino who had driven them away.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, fearing a war in Europe, called for a “Good Neighbor Policy.” FDR withdrew the U.S. Marines from Nicaragua and other nations in the region, but in their stead the United States worked with friendly governments, often dictatorships, establish U.S. Marine-trained “National Guards,” armed forces that could be counted on to protect pro-American governments and American interests.

In Nicaragua, as the U.S. Marines left, Anastasio “Tacho” Somoza García became head of the new National Guard. When the new Nicaraguan Liberal president, Juan Bautista Sacasa, took power in January 1933, he called for peace negotiations between himself, Somoza, and Sandino. Somoza took advantage of one of the meetings to kidnap and assassinate Sandino; from that moment Somoza effectively became the ruler of Nicaragua, winning election to the presidency in 1937.

Somoza, his sons Luis and Antonio Somoza Debayle, backed by the United States, would rule the country from 1937 to 1979, maintaining their power through a series of pacts with the opposition political parties combined with whatever repression as needed. They modernized the country, building highways and improving the agricultural economy, while enriching property-owning class and themselves; the majority of Nicaraguans remained poor, often hungry, unhealthy, and illiterate.

Virtually a monarchy, the Somoza family was for two generations all-powerful in Nicaragua. The Somoza dictatorship led to opposition: various attempts at armed rebellion by the Conservatives, including the assassination of Tacho Somoza in 1956 (succeeded immediately by one of his sons), were followed by the rise in the 1960s of a revolutionary movement taking its name from Sandino and calling itself the Sandinista Front for National Liberation or FSLN.

The Origins of the Sandinistas

Earlier, in the 1930s, pro-Soviet Communists had organized the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN), which, following the Communist International’s line, supported a Popular Front against fascism. In practice this meant supporting Tacho Somoza while simultaneously attempting to expand democratic rights and organize labor unions. This was a virtually impossible task, but this remained the Communist PSN’s position until the 1970s.

It was in this pro-Soviet Communist Party that the founders of the Sandinistas—Carlos Fonseca, Tomás Borge, and others—received their early political education, an experience that made them life-long supporters of the “Communist camp” and believers in a Communist-style of party organization.

In 1957 the PSN chose the young Fonseca to visit the Soviet Union, a year after Nikita Khrushchev’s revelation of Stalin’s crimes at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and not long after the Soviet’s crushing of the Hungarian Revolution. Yet Fonseca, future founder and leader of the Sandinistas until his death in 1976, remained a staunch supporter of Stalin and praised the Soviet Union for crushing the Hungarian uprising.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 changed everything for leftists throughout Latin American, including the Sandinistas. Fidel Castro’s “26 of July” guerrilla movement’s overthrow of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista established an alternative leftist strategy, one not based on peaceful, gradual, electoral politics, but predicated upon armed revolution led by a dedicated guerrilla band.

Latin American revolutionaries in many countries turned away from the Communist Popular Front and took up armed struggle, believing it was possible to struggle not simply for a bourgeois-democratic state but for socialism. Fonseca justified the strategic change of direction in Nicaragua arguing that Augusto César Sandino had used just such a guerrilla war strategy in his struggle against the U.S. Marines in the 1920s.

Convinced by Castro’s model and Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s theory of the guerrilla foco, Fonseca and his co-thinkers left the Communist PSN, breaking with its Popular Front politics, and took up the Cuban example, but they never paused to reflect uponand never  criticized Stalin, Communist Party organization, or the Soviet Union. While becoming guerrilla warriors in the Cuban model, they would remain lifelong supporters of the Soviet Union and the Communist camp.

Founded in 1962, the Sandinistas courageously pursued a guerrilla strategy for more than 15 years, fighting and dying in the mountains of Nicaragua, but their strategy proved unsuccessful and by 1977 they had been virtually wiped out by Somoza’s National Guard. The FSLN’s guerrilla foco established two things: their heroism and their absolute and uncompromised determination to overthrow Somoza, but it also proved that their strategy was an utter failure.

The failure of their approach led the FSLN to split into three rival tendencies. Tomás Borge headed the Prolonged Peoples’ War tendency, which modified the Cuban model by adopting Mao Tse-Tung’s Peoples’ War theory, based on the notion of building up a peasant army in the countryside. Jaime Wheelock led the Proletarian Tendency, with the more traditional Marxist notion of organizing agricultural laborers and other workers.

Daniel Ortega was the leader of the Third or Insurrectionary Tendency that called for an alliance with other political organizations and with all Nicaraguan social classes, while at the same time seeking support from foreign governments in Europe and Latin America, and building a real army to invade Nicaragua from Costa Rica. By 1978, partly under pressure from Cuba, the three tendencies had reconciled, all of them supporting the Third Tendency position.

Dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle had selfishly enriched himself until he dominated so many industries that by the mid-1970s he had alienated and angered many in the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie. Nicaragua’s capitalists and Liberal and Conservative politicians organized the Democratic Union of Liberation in 1974 to oppose Somoza and the FSLN began to work with this bourgeois opposition. In 1978 the Sandinistas and its coalition partners presented to the world a new face of the revolution: Los Doce, the Twelve, a group of intellectuals, businessmen, and religious leaders—not one Sandinista revolutionary among them, apparently—who called upon Somoza to resign.

The country seethed with protest and rebellion as the newly formed Sandinista Army began its offensive. The Somoza government appeared about to collapse, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter, having concluded that it was impossible to save Somoza, worked through the Organization of American States to negotiate the dictator’s exit while preserving the government and the murderous National Guard, in order to prevent the FSLN from coming to power. The Broad Opposition Front (FAO), dominated by moderates, accepted the idea, but, when Somoza called for a plebiscite on his resignation, negotiations broke down. Carter then called for elections to create a “constitutional” successor government.

With that the FSLN left the FAO and with the United Peoples Movement created a new coalition the National Patriot Front. When National Guardsmen murdered ABC reporter Bill Stewart, a murder caught on camera and broadcast to the American public, Carter could no longer prevent the revolution from bringing down not only Somoza but the Guard and the government as well.

The FSLN had meanwhile built up its army under the shield of a friendly government in Costa Rica, strengthened by hundreds of Latin American volunteers. As the FSLN launched its attacks, supported by uprising in cities and towns throughout the country, Somoza’s National Guard tortured and murdered many young people while his air force bombed working class neighborhoods in the major cities.

The revolutionary movement cold not b suppressed. The FSLN, now supported by the entire country, pushed on to Managua in the midst of a popular national uprising, taking power on July 17, 1979. The revolution was greeted with jubilation by virtually the entire Nicaraguan population.


The FSLN in Power

The Sandinistas came to power with extremely widespread support and surprisingly with no competitors for power. The FSLN hurriedly a convened a three-day meeting of 400 members (virtually its entire membership in a nation of almost three million people) and adopted the “72-Hour Document.” The document stated that the FSLN planned to consolidate itself as a Marxist-Leninist Party; that its goal was the “dictatorship of the proletariat”; that it should become part of the Communist camp with the Soviet Union, Eastern European Bloc, Vietnam and Cuba; and that it would work through temporary alliances with other classes and political groups until it achieved those goals. As many of them said, their goal was to create another Cuba.

Publicly, however, the FSLN stated that it wanted to have a mixed economy, a pluralistic government, and a non-aligned foreign policy. That is, while planning to create a Cuban-style, one-party, Communist state that would become part of the Communist camp, the Sandinistas presented themselves as social democrats. Their duplicitous position confused and confounded both their enemies and their allies.

Always until then a clandestine “military-political organization,” now that the Revolution had been won, the FSLN was in a position to call a democratic convention of its members, to adopt a constitution, to ratify a program, and to elect a leadership—but the FSLN did none of those things. In fact, the FSLN would call no convention until after it lost power in 1990. The FSLN’s nine-man directorate would continue to lead the party through top-down commands to the country’s regions and zones as it had since its founding. Democracy in the party was not a core value of the Sandinistas; on the contrary, an authoritarian, quasi-military organization remained in place.

To rule the country, the FSLN created two bodies: la Junta de gobierno (the Governing Committee) and el Consejo del Estado (Council of State). The Consejo, was presented as a kind of popular parliament, though the member organizations were chosen by the Junta and were overwhelmingly FSLN controlled mass organizations: labor unions, women’s groups, and farmers. In reality, the Consejo took no initiatives on its own.

The real decisions were made by the Junta, made up of five members, two moderate business people and two Sandinistas, and a fifth supposedly neutral person. But the fifth person, author Sergio Ramírez, was actually a secret FSLN member, allowing the FSLN to dominate. When the two non-FSLN members realized that they were being lied to and manipulated, naturally they resigned. The FSLN National Directorate headed by Daniel Ortega thus became the country’s government. While other parties existed, they had no role in government.

Democracy wasn’t an important Sandinista value, but equality was. The FSLN launched a remarkable national literacy campaign involving tens of thousands of young people who went to every region of the country teaching people to read and write.

The new revolutionary government also made health care a priority, educating new doctors and nurses, creating a public health system with clinics and hospitals that brought health care to hundreds of thousands of people who had never in their lives seen a doctor.

Once in power, the FSLN leaders and party members took over virtually all of the government’s most important offices, making themselves the heads of ministries that had thousands of employees and managed important resources. In this way the FSLN began to fuse with the state, much like the Communist Party in Cuba or the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico.

The Sandinistas nationalized the country’s banks and the U.S.-owned mines and lumber industry, but avoided confrontation with the largest U.S. corporations such as Caterpillar, Exxon, IBM, and Texaco. Understandably and quite reasonably, the FSLN nationalized the properties of Somoza and of other capitalists who had left the country and supported the armed opposition.

The FSLN did not nationalize the properties of all Nicaraguan businesspeople, however. Those who stayed in the country and continued to produce could keep their property and produce their goods, though the only market for them was the Sandinista government. Still, many of the Nicaraguan capitalists who stayed in the country were hostile to the government, even if not involved in the armed resistance, and worked to undermine it.

The Sandinistas now ran the country’s government, managed national finances and controlled much of the economy. Suddenly, the men who had lived such dangerous and precarious lives in the mountains had salaries, automobiles and homes. Somozas’ fleet of Mercedes-Benz autos passed into the hand of FSLN comandantes. The FSLN took over the mansions of the bourgeoisie and used them for offices and in many cases for residences for the leaders. Even if most at first lived modestly, the slender edge of the wedge of privilege began to separate the leadership from the regular party members.

The Sandinistas developed plans for the management of the economy, but the execution of the plans proved difficult for a variety of reasons. To begin with, the country was poor and suffering from Somoza’s destructive bombing of the cities. Somoza and other wealthy people had carried their money off to Miami or to other Central American or Caribbean countries. The comandantes, each ensconced in his own ministry, worked to strengthen their respective positions within the state, some developing mega-projects that absorbed tremendous resources without necessarily producing many benefits. The capitalists who remained in Nicaragua often resisted the government’s proposals, sabotaging national plans, while the mass of the population raised its own demands for economic improvements, demands that the FSLN administration could not meet.

The FSLN organized and controlled a range of mass organizations in Nicaraguan society to provide the party with a social base of power and to resist the capitalist class and the conservative parties. After more than forty years of dictatorship, the Nicaraguans were anxious to organize themselves and use their collective power to right the wrongs that they had endured.

The farmers wanted land while the working class wanted higher wages, but these groups would find it hard to fulfill their desires. The Sandinistas, who believed in state ownership of the farmland and collectivized agriculture, declined to give farmers titles to their land, and many became disgruntled, some joining the armed opposition.

Workers wanted higher wages, but the Sandinista government, which controlled the largest labor unions, worked to restrain workers’ wages in what the Sandinistas saw as the interests of the whole society. Especially after the U.S. backed Contra War began the Sandinistas cracked down on the independent labor unions. When independent left-wing unions or right-wing unions struck, the government crushed their strikes.

The Contra War

Republican Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 on a campaign platform that included support for “the efforts of the Nicaraguan people to establish a free and independent government.” The meaning of this phrase was clear: he would work to overthrow the Sandinistas. In January of 1981, Reagan, operating through the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, successfully pressured the more moderate Nicaraguan opposition to unite with the more right-wing elements including the former National Guard officers. By March 1982 the Contra War began with the bombing of bridges in northern Nicaragua.

The CIA helped the new Contra movement, armed by the United States, to establish a headquarters in Honduras from which it launched sorties, principally attacks on civilian Sandinista institutions such as schools, health clinics, and agricultural cooperatives, killing many. The U.S. would spend hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the Contras in an attempt to bring down the Sandinista government by force. The CIA’s support for the Contras was supplemented by an economic embargo that strangled the economy and brought tremendous hardship to the Nicaraguan people.

The Sandinistas, however, also made mistakes that deepened what became not simply a foreign military intervention on the side of the old regime, but a genuine civil war with working people fighting and dying on both sides. Many small farmers, disappointed in not receiving title to their land, went off in significant numbers to join the Contras.

The Sandinistas’ dealings with the indigenous Miskito peoples on the Caribbean coast, at first insensitive and then aggressive—aggravated by CIA and U.S. State Department intervention—led some of the Miskitos to join the Contras as well. Finally, fighting not only the old National Guard but also Nicaraguan peasants and indigenous people, and with its back to the wall, the Sandinista government instituted military conscription, a tremendously unpopular policy that led many young Nicaraguans to dodge the draft by fleeing to Contra held territory.

Because Reagan’s principal charge against the Sandinistas and a point of leverage with other governments was the fact that the FSLN had never been elected to power, it was decided to hold national elections to a genuine legislature and to a new set of offices that included a president. Daniel Ortega was the FSLN presidential candidate running against Arturo Cruz, one of Los Doce, who had gone into the legal opposition. Though secretly subsidized by the CIA, the U.S. government came to the conclusion that Cruz could not win and pressured him to withdraw at the last minute, making Ortega’s election with 67 percent of the vote appear to be illegitimate because there was no opposition candidate.

The FSLN government, now based on a national election, and still controlling the country’s mass organizations, was more powerful than ever, though it was a government that less resembled Communist Cuba and more and more resembled Mexico.

By the mid-1980s, under pressure from the Central American solidarity movement, which had a great deal of support from U.S. churches, the United States Congress was beginning to turn against the war. The Boland Amendment to the 1985 budget cut off funding to the war. But Ronald Reagan, not to be stopped, arranged for the secret and illegal sale of weapons to Iran via Israel, the proceeds of the sale to be used to continue to support the Contras. The story of the unlawful Iran-Contra deal came to light in 1986, further discrediting the Reagan administration and leading to the end of U.S. support for the Contras, while at about the same time the Soviet Union began to phase out support to the Sandinistas.

The U.S.-backed Contra War had a devastating impact on Nicaragua, making it virtually impossible for the Sandinistas to pursue their ambitious program of economic and social reforms. In fact, by the mid-1980s the Sandinistas had been forced by the war and embargo to impose neoliberal policies, reducing taxes on businesses and cutting the budget for social programs.

The U.S. intervention in Nicaragua—taking place at the same time as civil wars in both El Salvador and Guatemala, where the U.S. backed right-wing governments against left-wing guerrilla movements—represented a threat to the entire region. Faced with that reality, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias courageously, in defiance of Reagan, called for peace negotiations between the Sandinistas and the Contras, and finally in March of 1988 the war ended.

The war’s impact had been devastating: 30,865 Nicaraguans had been killed, 30,000 or more wounded and maimed; the war had cost of $1.9 billion, while the embargo represented another $1 billion loss. The Nicaraguan government sued the United States for damages at the World Court, which ordered the U.S. to pay Nicaragua $17 billion in war reparations. The U.S. government refused, still intent on destroying the Nicaraguan economy and driving the Sandinistas from power.

From Revolution to Reaction

A year after the war ended, preparations began for the 1990 presidential and legislative elections. Daniel Ortega put himself forward as the FSLN candidate, campaigning in his military uniform as a leader of the revolution and of the war against the Contras. The FSLN, which had still never held a convention, was transformed from a military-political organization into an electoral party aimed at getting out the vote.

Opposing Ortega and the FSLN was “The National Union of Opposition” (UNO), an unwieldy coalition of all the opposition parties, from the Conservatives on the right to the Communists on the left. Encouraged by the CIA, UNO chose as its president Violeta Chamorro, widow of the famous Conservative leader and opposition journalist Pedro Joaquín Chamorroa, widely believed to have been assassinated by Somoza shortly before the Revolution.

Violeta Chamorro had revolutionary credentials herself since she had been a member of the Junta, though now she presented herself as a housewife, mother and grandmother who would reunite the nation in peace. The CIA and the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy largely funded her campaign, while the U.S. Republican and Democratic Party, principally the latter, provided political consultants. U.S. President George H.W. Bush also did everything he could to help her, frequently posing with in her in photos.

Ortega and the FSLN were convinced they would win the election, but to the Nicaraguan people, a vote for the revolutionary Ortega appeared to be a vote for war and the draft, while a vote for Chamorro seemed to be a vote for peace and a return to civilian life. Exhausted by a decade of revolution and war, not surprisingly, the country chose the latter. Some 86 percent of the population voted and to the shock of the Sandinistas, Chamorro garnered 55 percent of the vote, while Ortega received 41 percent. Her coalition won 51 seats in the legislature, while the Sandinistas won 39 out of a total of 93.

Immediately upon her election Chamorro’s UNO coalition split into two parts: a right-wing led by her vice-president Vigil Godoy that wanted to return to the glory days of the Somoza era, and the moderate wing led by her son-in-law Antonio Lacayo, who simply wished to establish a modern capitalist state that could create the conditions for the making of profit and the accumulation of capital. With their electoral coalition collapsing, Chamorro and Lacayo realized that they could only govern with the cooperation of the FSLN.

The FSLN, after all, held not only the largest disciplined block of votes in the National Assembly, but also commanded all of the mass organizations, most importantly the labor unions, which could paralyze Chamorro’s government. And, most significant of all, Humberto Ortega, brother of Daniel Ortega, headed the Sandinista Army.

Lacayo and the Ortega brothers met and negotiated a transition pact that demobilized the Contras, 1) reduced the size of the Sandinista Army and made it a politically neutral, professional organization; 2) respected titles of land distributed to the people; and 3) promised no reprisals against public employees. At the same time, a secret deal was made. Antonio Lacayo, Daniel Ortega, and his brother Humberto Ortega became—in the words of former Sandinista leader Moïses Hassan—the “triumvirs,” the real rulers of Nicaragua during the Chamorro administration.

The three men agreed that they would marginalize “the radicals” in both of their parties, the Somoza element in UNO and the radical, militant leftists in the FSLN, in order to create a center bloc that had a majority in the National Assembly. This was the Popular Front the Sandinistas had rejected twenty years before, but now with a vengeance. This was a kind of government of national unity formed by right and left. Ortega and the FSLN, intent on keeping as much political power as possible, declined to go into opposition and fight the right-wing government, but rather took responsibility for the government and its policies.

The policies would be neoliberal. Nicaragua in 1990 owed $4 billion to the Soviet Union and about $7 billion to western nations. Working together, the triumvirs would make arrangements with the International Monetary Fund to deal with its debt, accepting a program of structural adjustments in exchange for approval for new loans. The banks and industries that had been nationalized by the Sandinistas would be privatized; property that had been expropriated from Nicaraguans who had gone abroad would be returned to them.

Life for the working class deteriorated at once. Soldiers were demobilized; public employees were laid off, and unemployment mounted. When public employees struck, they were granted big wage gains, but inflation then wiped out those increases almost immediately. Free trade zones were reestablished, maquiladoras opened up, with a special tax regime to attract foreign investment, while maquiladora workers were discouraged from organizing unions or striking. Health care and some other social programs survived, if on reduced budgets, but the standard of living of working people declined drastically.

In the last days before Chamorro took office, the FSLN government had passed a series of laws transferring nationalized lands, public buildings, and homes from the government to top Sandinista leaders. The ostensible justification for those laws was that the FSLN would protect social property from being seized by a right, and to a large extent that was what happened. But it was also the case that Sandinista leaders took advantage of the laws to acquire homes and other real estate and to enrich themselves. The laws were often referred to as the piñata, after the papier maché figures that children, breaking the effigy open and spilling the candy inside, then scramble to gather up and put in their pockets. Many Nicaraguans now viewed the Sandinistas as greedy.

During the changeover from the Ortega to the Chamorro government, FSLN leaders also took over various programs and resources that they had managed, transforming them into non-governmental organizations. The new NGOs, some supported by funds from foreign governments, provided the Sandinistas with jobs, titles, incomes, cars and new careers. The wedge of privilege began to drive more deeply into Nicaraguan society and the divide between the FSLN leaders and the members grew.

Faced with entirely new circumstances and demands for a voice from the party’s rank-and-file, in 1991, the FSLN held its first ever convention attended by 581 delegates, the majority of them democratically elected. While some delegates criticized the FSLN’s lack of democracy, and while the convention divided into two factions, there was no strong alternative leadership. Daniel Ortega managed to put himself at the center of the party and to hold on to power.

With the Soviet Union having collapsed, and Cuba economically desperate, the convention voted to affiliate with the Socialist International, the historic organization of social democracy led by the European socialist parties. This development resembled the Eurocommunist movement of the 1970s and 1980s when the formerly Stalinist Communist parties of Western Europe began to transform themselves into social democratic parties. At about the same time, the social democratic parties in government managed capitalism by adopting neoliberal policies.

While the 1991 convention represented the FSLN’s first experience with democracy in almost thirty years, it focused principally on questions of internal party questions and dealt with none of the actual political issues facing the party. The Sandinista members did not seriously discuss and debate the FSLN-UNO coalition, or the secret role of the Ortegas in cahoots with Lacayo (the triumvirs), or the fact that their party was jointly responsible for the government’s neoliberal policies.

So despite the apparently democratic convention, the former comandantes of the National Directorate continued to control the party in a top-down fashion, in the way they had learned from the Communist PSN and the Cuban Communists decades before. Daniel Ortega was not solely responsible for the FSLN’s rightward movement; he had the support of the National Directorate, of many historic FSLN leaders, and the tacit support of the party’s rank-and-file. The argument was that at the end of Chamorro’s term, the FSLN would be elected to office again and return to the struggle for socialism. Trained in the Soviet and Cuban top-down organizational tradition, the ranks by and large followed their leaders loyally, though there were some important exceptions.

During the years of the Chamorro administration, the difference that had surfaced at the 1991 convention would lead to a split at the top of the party. Novelist Sergio Ramírez, comandante Dora María Téllez, FSLN Barricada editor Carlos Fernando Chamorro, and priest-poet Ernesto Cardenal wrote a document, “Return to the Majorities” calling upon the FSLN to make a full transition to a European-style social democratic party. Daniel Ortega, Tomás Borge and other members of the Sandinista National Directorate wrote a rival document, misleading titled “The Democratic Left,” though in fact they defended their historic Soviet- and Cuban-inspired politics. The political divisions in the party were widening.

In a struggle shortly afterwards over amendments to the Nicaraguan constitution, Ramírez led virtually the entire FSLN parliamentary delegation into opposition to Daniel Ortega. Thirty FSLN delegates left and created a new party, the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), though the intellectuals and politicians of the MRS proved no match for the Sandinista organization and were later badly beatenin their bids for reelection to the National Assembly.

Still, for the first time ever, Nicaragua had in the 1994-1997 period a democratic legislature, though the politics were a combination of conservative economic measures and democratic reforms. At the same time, in Nicaraguan society new independent NGOs and social movements appear, most importantly a dynamic new feminist movement and some activist environmental organizations. The economic situation also improved somewhat at the end of the Chamorro years, though about 75 percent of the population remained poor.

The Somocistas Returns to Power

Violeta Chamorro and Antonio Lacayo—working with Ortega and the FSLN—had aligned Nicaragua with the “Washington Consensus”; that is, with the neoliberal policies of the era, but they had not been arch-reactionaries, nor were they fundamentally corrupt. Worse was yet to come.

From 1997 to 2007 Nicaragua would be led by two presidents, Arnoldo Alemán and Enrique Bolaños, who came out of the Somoza political milieu and who would combine profoundly right-wing politics with widespread corruption. But like Chamorro, in order to run the country, they too found that they had either to enter into partnership with Ortega and the Sandinistas or face political paralysis. The Sandinistas were not the principal instigators of the conservatism and corruption that flourished in those years, but they shared political power with the culprits.

Arnoldo Aleman, known as El Gordo, the Fat Man, had lived briefly exile in Miami but then returned to Nicaragua to become leader of the somocista Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC). During Chamorro’s presidency he won election to the Managua city council, which then chose him to be mayor. Alemán encouraged public works like street paving, traffic circles, and fountains, and he promoted the development of gas stations, fast food restaurants, and shopping malls, all very popular with the public. Alemán had the Sandinistas’ revolutionary murals painted over and put up billboards proclaiming, “The Mayor gets things done.” People mostly seemed to agree.

Backed by wealthy Nicaraguans at home and by those still living abroad, Alemán created the Liberal Alliance coalition and built a grassroots organization like the Sandinistas. Unlike the historic Liberal party, which was anti-clerical, Aléman talked religion and won the backing of Cardinal Obando y Bravo, the spiritual leader of the rightwing, who gave a sermon referring to Ortega as a snake. Running on the slogan “War against unemployment and poverty,” Alemán traveled around the country distributing t-shirts and caps bearing his name. An attempt on Alemán’s life, presumed by the public to have been carried out by the Sandinistas, won him the sympathy of some voters.

Daniel Ortega was challenged for the FSLN’s party nomination by comandante Vilma Nuñez, one of the few women comandantes and a leader of the democratic dissidents still within the party. Ortega easily defeated her democratic and feminist challenge, becoming the party’s nominee for the third time.

For this campaign he transformed himself completely, dressing in civilian clothes, appearing as a respectable family man with his wife Rosario Murillo and their children. He talked about the United States as Nicaragua’s “great neighbor,” not its implacable enemy. Ortega advocated a politics of “Neither extreme right nor extreme left” and called for a “United Front.” While accepting neoliberal economic realities, Ortega continued to advocate social programs for working people and the poor. Nevertheless, Alemán won by a landslide, defeating Ortega 51 percent to 38 percent while his Liberal party took 42 of the 93 seats in the National Assembly.

Alemán’s political practice in power was simple: use the public treasury to enrich himself and his Liberal Alliance allies, understanding that every government contract for infrastructure or services provided opportunities for graft. Everything, even a disaster, was an opportunity for larceny. Hurricane Mitch of 1998 led to massive destruction in Nicaragua and then to considerable economic aid from Europe and the United States, which created even more opportunities for embezzlement. When Comptroller General Agustín Jarquín discovered and revealed many of Alemán’s swindles, the president had him jailed, leading to protest demonstrations. The corruption scandal raised the possibility of prison for Alemán

By 1999, Aléman was in serious trouble—but so was Daniel Ortega. Ortega’s step-daughter Zoilamérica Nervaez, 30-year old FSLN member and sociologist, filed detailed charges her step-father, first in a Nicaraguan court and then in the Inter-American Court, accusing Ortega of having sexually molested her since she was 11 years old. Both Alemán and Ortega feared being hauled into court, tried, and possibly convicted and imprisoned, almost surely putting an end to their political careers.

Their common fear of prosecution led them to forge the Pact of 1999. The FSLN and PLC leaders agreed to revise the Constitution and the Electoral Law, and to carve up the government so as to equally distribute positions in the Supreme Court, the Electoral Council, the Controller, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Superintendent of Banks to both parties.

Key to the deal was that Aléman like Ortega would, without an election, become a member of the National Assembly, so that both men would enjoy legislative immunity and could not be brought into court. The number of votes needed to overturn legislative immunity was increased to make it virtually impossible. Thus Ortega and the FSLN now not only participated in a bourgeois political system, but in the most undemocratic and corrupt version of such parliamentary politics.

His reputation destroyed by the revelations of his administration’s corruption, Aléman had no chance as an incumbent candidate, and so he chose as his party’s standard bearer for the 2002 election his vice-president Enrique Bolaños Geyer whom Alemán thought he could control. Bolaños was a cotton farmer, director of the High Council of Private Enterprise, and a member of the somocista PLC. He would prove, however, to be more independent that Alemán expected.

Humberto Ortega suggested that Daniel Ortega sit out the 2002 election so that he would appear to be more democratic, but the ever-ambitious Daniel went ahead with his fourth national presidential campaign, once again in civilian clothes, with his wife beside him, now talking social democracy and religion. Despite Ortega’s new spiritual conversion, Bolaños won by 56 to 43 percent. While Bolaños became the president, Aléman and Ortega together controlled the National Assembly.

Bolaños quickly went to war with Aléman. His Attorney General indicted Alemán for embezzling $96.7 million and using his government credit card to pay for $1.8 million in personal bills: jewels, carpets, hotels in Bali, Paris nightclubs. Aléman responded by revealing that while serving as his vice-president, Bolaños had received from the National Democratic Front—that is, from the Contras—some $7,000 per month in salary and $40,100 per month in expenses, that is $564,000 a year, ostensibly to train election watchers.

Bolaños, unfazed by those revelations, had Aléman arrested, tried, and convicted of corruption, embezzlement, and money laundering. Alemán should have spent years in prison, but, ostensibly because he was ill, the court—controlled by Ortega—allowed him to serve his sentence at first at home and later anywhere in the country he liked. At the same time Ortega and Aléman renewed their pact in 2004, making it virtually impossible for Bolaños, who had no party and little parliamentary support, to govern.

While the government was paralyzed by the feud between Bolaños and Aléman, the Nicaraguan capitalist class continued the process of reconstituting itself that had begun under Chamorro. Large banks—Grupo Proamérica, Bancentro (Lafise); Grupo BAC, Grupo Pellas, and Grupo Uno, which were owned by the McGregor, Montealegre, Pellas and other extremely rich families—dominated Nicaraguan finances. And large landlords grew wealthy in agriculture. Foreign buyers and domestic investors in the maquiladoras prospered. Most Nicaraguans, however, lived in poverty as small farmers, agricultural day laborers, industrial workers or maquiladora laborers. Poverty and hunger remained widespread.

Throughout the period from 1990 to 2006, the Sandinistas entered into political pacts first with Chamorro and then with Aléman—utterly undemocratic political arrangements, corrupt and conservative. Still Ortega and the FSLN continued to use a Marxist-Leninist (that is, Stalinist) discourse within the party while in society they adopted a populist language, promising to improve the lives of the people. On the international stage, Ortega attended conferences and meetings with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, thus identifying himself and the FSLN with the far left of the Latin American pink tide.

“Left” politics of the Soviet-Cuban variety, once sincerely held but now opportunistically deployed, served as a political cover for Ortega and the FSLN, and as an illusory motivation for longtime Sandinista militants. “Marxist-Leninist” politics were not irrelevant, but were absolutely essential to Ortega’s project, a project for which he was not solely responsible, but to which much of the historic leadership of the party and many militants contributed.

The 2006 Election—Ortega to Power

In 2004 Ortega called a quite irregular meeting of FSLN leaders and militants at which he announced that he would be the FSLN candidate. Victor Tinoco, a longtime Sandinista leader and former FSLN Minister of Foreign Affairs, who later joined the MRS, wrote in the Jesuit magazine Envío:

Nearly two years before the 2006 elections, in a final anti-democratic spasm, Daniel Ortega announced the suspension of the FSLN’s primary elections and [declared] that he would be the sole candidate. He made this announcement in Matagalpa, with the “support” and “approval” of some 400 previously selected people, 95% of whom are party or municipal workers, and all of whom have salaries of $2,000-$3,000 a month and are not going to dare to dissent and risk their personal economic prospects. In this way, Daniel Ortega and 400 others decided that the other 600,000 Sandinistas do not have the right to an opinion or to elect their chosen candidate.[4]

The Movement for Sandinista Renovation (MRS) and the Christian Alternative put forward as their candidate the former FSLN leader Henry Lewites. Lewites, who was quite popular and whose campaign began very well, died of a heart attack in July 2006. His running mate Carlos Mejía Godoy, the enormously popular singer, carried on, but the campaign had lost its momentum and fizzled out.

Split by the Bolaños-Aléman feud, there were two rival Liberal Party candidates. Eduardo Montealegre, a former banker who had held cabinet positions in both the Aléman and Bolaños governments, organized the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (later the Independent Liberal Party). George W. Bush did everything possible to support Montealegre, sending several national Republican figures, such as Jeanne Kirkpatrick and Otto Reich, both of whom had organized U.S. support for the Contras, to assist him, as well as providing millions of dollars for his campaign. Aléman’s wing of the Liberal Party put forward José Rizo, lawyer, businessman, and politician, but one with fewer resources. Alemán’s backing of Rizo’s candidacy served the interests of his partner Ortega.

Ortega’s campaign in 2006 was more conservative and more religious than any he had run so far. All was sweetness and light. For the 2006 campaign, the Sandinistas got rid of their revolutionary red and black flags and replaced them with pink and turquoise regalia and bunting. The campaign theme song was a Spanish language version of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, married for more than twenty years, had a Catholic wedding performed by Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. Ortega made a public “confession” to Obando for the Sandinistas’ sins during the Revolution, and in return Obando gave Catholics permission to vote for Ortega.

As Wikileaks has revealed, U.S. Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli informed Secretary of State Condolezza Rice that rumor had it that Ortega had blackmailed Obando with the threat that he would reveal that the Cardinal had had children with his secretary. One of those children was Roberto Rivas, who could also be blackmailed; he would become the future head of the Supreme Electoral Council. To make good on his side of the bargain with Obando, Ortega led the FSLN representatives in a 52-0 vote to make all abortions illegal, without previous exceptions for rape, malformation of the fetus, or risk to the life or health of the mother.

With the Church behind him, Ortega also wanted to reassure the domestic and international capitalist class that the Sandinista government was no threat. So Ortega chose as his running mate Jaime Morales Carazo, banker and former Contra, a choice that nauseated many Sandinistas. He met with foreign investors, assuring them that their investments in Nicaragua would be safe, saying, “Confiscations are not even being considered.” Ortega did not reject the Central American Free Trade Agreement, but rather called for its renegotiation. Yet, by the same token, Ortega had no problem in May of 2006 attending the Third Alba Summit in Havana, joining Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and newly elected Evo Morales.

When the votes were counted, Ortega had received 38 percent—just enough to be elected without a second ballot—Montealegre, 28 percent, and Jose Rizo, 7 percent, while MRS candidate Edmundo Jarquín won just 6 percent. Finally, after three unsuccessful presidential campaigns, Ortega had won the presidency, returning to the office he first occupied in 1984. Then, he had been a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary who admired Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the Communist camp. Now he was…well, what was he now?

Ortega began his presidency by announcing that he would share power equally with his wife Rosario Murillo, saying that people want 50 percent women in the government, so he was giving her half of the presidency. He and Rosario chose a cabinet made up of a congeries of veteran Sandinistas, businessmen, one self-described anarchist, and a New Age reflexologist (whose patients were Daniel and Rosario), as well as several not-very-political professionals. While there were several women, none were feminists in this government that had defined itself as anti-abortion. Ortega and Murillo appointed Cardinal Obando y Bravo to head up the Commission of Verification, Peace, Reconciliation and Justice. Obando also became Ortega’s personal spiritual advisor,

Early in his presidency, Ortega traveled to Venezuela to meet with Chávez and returned to tell a May Day workers meeting that Venezuelan oil money being delivered through the Latin American Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) would soon lift Nicaragua out of poverty. Over the next five years Chávez sent Ortega over $2.2 billion in loans and oil credits. These funds went to Albanisa, a private company, and from there principally to poverty programs aimed at providing housing, ending hunger, assisting farmers, and providing scholarships to low-income students.

Daniel Ortega, unsupervised by either the FSLN or the Nicaraguan government, personally controlled these Venezuelan funds—as much as $200 million per month—which he could use at his discretion: to suborn legislators, to buy the support of NGOs, or to win over church officials. Most famously he gave public employees a $30 per month bonus “a gift of thanks from comandante Ortega.”

At the same time, Ortega worked with the IMF and the World Bank to have some of the country’s more than $1 billion in debts to them cancelled in return for adopting neoliberal structural reforms. With the United States, Ortega arranged a Millennium Challenge Account $175 million to combat poverty in certain regions. Ortega also cooperated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that provided equipment to the Nicaraguan police. While he railed against U.S. imperialism, year after year he accepted anywhere between $25 and $50 million dollars from the American government.

Ortega and Murillo worked to rebuild and reorganize the FSLN. After all, Nicaragua was an altogether different country than it had been when the revolution took place. The population had doubled from 2.4 to more than 5 million inhabitants. Those born the year of “The Triumph” of 1979 were now 25 years old and had had no experience of the revolutionary struggle whatsoever and had grown up under the right-wing Chamorro, Aléman, and Bolaños governments.

Once a party of Marxist-Leninist cadres, the FSLN had become an electoral party that handed out membership cards to hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom had only the vaguest idea of what party membership meant. Yet the party was still led by a handful of Sandinista leaders, the Ortega brothers, Bayardo Arce, and a few others who had been trained in Soviet and Cuban political theory and organizational methods. Now that training and their experience was used to maintain political power in a liberal capitalist state that implemented austerity policies accompanied by social welfare programs.

Rosario Murillo undertook to replace the largely defunct Sandinista Defense Committees (CSSs) with the new Citizens Power Councils (CPCs), claiming to have organized thousands of them with nearly one million members. The CPCs became vehicle to channel aid, scholarships, and, wrote Envío, “other vote-buying goodies.”

At the same time Murillo was largely responsible for creating a cult of personality around Daniel Ortega, giant portraits of whom were erected in Managua. Ortega and Murillo, firmly allied with the Catholic Church, led the FSLN in defining itself in the public mind as an anti-feminist organization. Murillo spoke and wrote pamphlets in which she labeled women who worked for abortion rights as upper-class agents of imperialism.

The FSLN faced challenges—from the independent feminist movement that fought for abortion rights; occasionally from workers’ strikes, such as those of the truck, bus, and taxi drivers strikes of 2008; and from the political opposition left, right, and center which demanded genuine democratic elections. But none of these movements had the leadership, social weight, or strategy to challenge the FSLN successfully.

A Second Consecutive Term…and a Third

Ortega, having finally returned to the presidency after more than twenty years, was not about to give it up. The problem was that the Nicaraguan Constitution prohibited anyone from holding the presidency for a consecutive term or for more than two terms, doubly disqualifying Ortega from running for office. Unable to pass a constitutional change through the legislature, in 2009 Ortega reorganized the Supreme Court and had it overturn the constitutional language, making him eligible to run. As the 2012 election approached Ortega also began to buy up TV and radio stations, the country’s principal source of news and information, installing his children as the managers.

The Liberals, divided amongst themselves and unable to agree on a candidate, found themselves faced with a fait accompli when Fabio Gadea Mantillo threw his hat in the ring. He was an unlikely candidate. A 79-year old pioneer in radio broadcasting and a famous and beloved radio storyteller who held extremely reactionary views on both economic and social issues, Gadea succeeded in winning the Liberal nomination.

Gadea, backed by Montealegre’s wing of the Liberal Party, held rallies of tens of thousands and appeared to have a real chance of winning the election. In the end, however, Ortega was proclaimed the winner with 62 percent of the vote, while Gadea received 31 percent and Arnold Aléman, the other Liberal candidate got 6 percent. European observers suggested that the victory could be attributed to Roberto Rivas, head of the Supreme Electoral Council, who had overseen an utterly fraudulent election.

Contemporary Capitalist Nicaragua

Under Ortega, Nicaragua has become a typical capitalist country with an authoritarian populist political regime. The Nicaraguan government works to promote foreign and domestic investment and to insure that it is profitable. Daniel Ortega, for example, has formed a political and economic alliance with Carlos Pellas, one of the wealthiest men in the country. Nicaragua typically receives nearly $1 billion in foreign direct investment each year in a variety of sectors such as mining, communications, and maquiladoras, the investment coming mainly from countries like Venezuela, Panama, the United States, Spain, and Mexico.

The Nicaraguan capitalist class, some of which had stayed in the country during the revolution and some of which had gone into exile in Miami, other Central American nations, or the Caribbean, returned wealthier and better-connected internationally than ever before. Some of the Sandinistas who enriched themselves with the piñata became very junior partners in the capitalist world, though most remained socially unacceptable there.

Today about a dozen families who run the nation’s largest banks and control its most import industries today control Nicaragua’s economy. Each of the dozen wealthiest families controls financial institutions or companies with earnings of about $1 billion. In addition, according to banker and scholar Francisco J. Mayorga, the country has another 1,500 families in the millionaire range, and beyond them a stunted middle class of small merchants and professionals who are not very well-off. Teachers, for example, earn about $200 per month.

Most Nicaraguans remain farmers or factory workers who earn low wages, and many of them live in poverty. Among those low-wage workers are thousands in the multi-billion dollar maquiladora sector that produces for companies such as the Gap, Levi’s Target, Walmart and JC Penny. Unions have complained that they have difficulty organizing, negotiating contracts, and face unfair treatment. Unable to find decent work and wages in Nicaragua, about one million workers migrate to work abroad in Central America or the United States, and many stay there. Such is Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua.


The argument has been made in several recent articles that criticism of the Nicaraguan government is either a product of imperialism or benefits imperialism. These assertions are belied by the fact that the many of the most incisive critiques of the FSLN and the Nicaraguan government have been made over the years by former comandantes who argue that the FSLN had become authoritarian and abandoned the struggle for socialism. (Their words can be found in many issues of the Jesuit Envío magazine published from 1981 to today as well as in a number of Sandinista memoirs.)

Others are willing to criticize Daniel Ortega and the FSLN of today for betraying the Nicaraguan Revolution, but they deny that the left has any responsibility for what happened. In fact, at the root of the degeneration of Ortega and the leadership of the FSLN were the Stalinist politics in which they had been trained by the Communist PSN in the 1950s as well as the Cuban version of Communism that they later adopted. While they rejected the Soviet Union’s Popular Front politics based on building a reformist electoral party and trade unions, they never questioned the nature of the Soviet Union or the Communist Party model of organization.

The force of U.S. imperialism was enormous throughout the original Sandinista period. The U.S.-backed Contra War and the embargo, followed by the U.S. support for rightwing candidates, had a tremendous negative impact on the Nicaraguan Revolution. U.S. imperialism was the principal external force working to drive Nicaragua to the right. Still, the Sandinistas themselves must also take responsibility for the political choices the made within those highly unfavorable circumstances. Their Soviet-Cuban politics meant that democracy had no central role in the Sandinstas’ conception of socialism. The idea that the working class and the farmers should have a voice and vote in deciding their own fate was simply beyond the ken of the Sandinistas.

Ortega and the FSLN comandantes believed that they were the leaders of the vanguard of the working class and that they knew what was best for the working people of Nicaragua. At the beginning, they sincerely believed that they would create an egalitarian society, uplifting the workers and farmers, but they never believed that those workers and farmers should actually control the party, the government, the society, or their workplaces. While Ortega and the FSLN leadership gradually gave up on their condescending version of the socialist ideal and became simply ordinary politicians in a capitalist state and society they continued to see themselves as the nation’s necessary leaders.

Today in Nicaragua there still exist intellectuals who speak out and criticize the government from the left. And feminists continue to organize against domestic abuse and for abortion rights. Workers organize and fight for a living wage. And farmers and environmentalists march together to oppose Ortega’s transoceanic canal project. Perhaps these movements can coalesce one day into a new political movement for a democratic socialism to be constructed from below by the Nicaraguan people themselves.

*Dan La Botz is the author of What Went Wrong? The Nicaraguan Revolution: A Marxist Analysis, now available in the Haymarket paperback. He is also an editor of New Politics: A Journal of Socialist Thought.


[1] Envío Team, “No Bridge Over These Troubled Waters,” No. 429, July 2016.

[2] Chuck Kaufman, “Political Turmoil on the Right Gives a Pretext for the US to Question Upcoming Election” Nicanotes, Alliance for Global Justice, email, August 3,


[3] UN World Food Programme, Republic of Nicaragua, at: https://www.wfp.org/countries/nicaragua

[4] Victor Tinoco, Nicaragua: “This Crisis Began in the FSLN, With an Unethical Pact,” Envío, July 2005.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Pakistan: Revival of the left-Rashed Rahman  

Posted by admin On March - 30 - 2018 Comments Off on Pakistan: Revival of the left-Rashed Rahman  


Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Rashed Rahman blog  — The task of reviving the Left to once again become an effective player in the polity has been exercising minds in the surviving Left parties and groups for long but the achievement of this goal has proved difficult. It is therefore heartening to note the follow-up of the meeting of 10 Left parties and groups in Lahore on December 29, 2017 by the formation of a 17-parties/groups’ platform dubbed Lahore Left Front (LLF).

Even a cursory perusal of the minimum programmatic pronouncements of these two meetings plus the composition of these brotherly platforms will be enough to prove that the LLF is inspired at least partially by the December 2017 moot.

That 10-parties/groups platform agreed on what it considered the main or crucial tasks before it. These included the recovery of missing persons and their being charged through due process if there is any evidence of wrongdoing against them; deportation to their countries of origin of illegal immigrants; halting forced conversions and marriages of minority girls (particularly Hindu); regulation of the sugar mafia; restoration of tenancy rights in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s protected forest lands; withdrawal of unjust and false criminal cases against the Hashtnagar and Okara Military Farms’ peasants, and the restoration of banned students unions.

The 10-party/groups’ meeting characterised the current narrative dominating politics of corruption as the main if not only problem afflicting society as a phenomenon integral to the bourgeois (capitalist) system, the only solution/alternative to which is provided by socialism. The meeting also dilated on the persistence of feudalism and the need for land reforms.

The participants vowed to wage a concerted struggle against fundamentalism, extremism, intolerance and fanaticism. In their struggle against feudalism they committed themselves to support the workers, farmers and tenants; work for the supremacy of parliament over the national security state; establish Pakistan as a multi-cultural country where every nationality would have full control over its resources; struggle for gender equality, the separation of the state and religion and the creation of a socialist economy in which there would be no class distinction in education and opportunity; implementation of the constitutional guarantees of shelter, employment, education, healthcare, and adherence to a non-aligned foreign policy while promoting friendly relations with all Pakistan’s neighbours on the principle of non-interference.

The follow-up meeting of 17 parties/groups in Lahore on March 24, 2018 adopted a declaration focusing on four main issues to be tackled by the newly formed LLF: fight the growing tide of fundamentalism and terrorism; help develop class-based organisations of the working class; preserve democratic norms, and tackle the missing persons conundrum.

While the 10-parties/groups session on December 29, 2017 set up an eight-member committee to take the process of a dialogue and coming together of the Left forward, the LLF has set up a 17-member organising committee to implement its programme. These two streams, national and local, will hopefully merge as the process plays itself out.

The LLF has kept its doors open to non-Left forces desirous of being part of the endeavour to counter religious radicalism. It also critiqued the current dominant national narrative about corruption as certainly an issue but which fails to challenge the existing system based on exploitation, inequality and injustice.

While the undeniable dearth in numbers on the Left means it has its work cut out for it, the apathy of the intelligentsia, including the progressive intelligentsia, underlines the deep psychological effects of the collapse of the Pakistani Left around 1980-81 and the decade later collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Since the latter event and the consequent end of the Cold War, the world (and in its wake Pakistan) has changed almost beyond recognition. In this brave new world of the internalisation of the inevitability of unfettered capitalism and so-called liberal (bourgeois) democracy, the Left worldwide struggles to re-establish a coherent and credible narrative based on a penetrating in depth analysis and critique of the workings of the system, how this has changed in the last three decades, and what are the effects on state and society of these developments.

In the case of Pakistan, such a narrative cannot escape our early or recent history, which by now has mired us in international isolation (read ‘conflict’ with the west), at odds with all our neighbours, and internally veering towards a new form of fascism allegedly backed by the ubiquitous establishment and representing a new chapter in the control and manipulation of the polity.

Perhaps the only reason (explicitly stated or implicitly internalised) for the Left to support the struggle for a genuine (bourgeois) democracy over the last 70 years, a struggle still in progress, is because they believed this provided the space for articulation of and struggle for their aims and objectives, central amongst them, and to which all other issues were linked but subordinate, being the establishment of a socialist state.

How far in practice that hope has transpired is there for students of our history to peruse.

Currently, such is the crisis of state and society and the consequent insecurity of the establishment despite no serious challenge to its hegemony that it now seeks (and to a considerable extent has silenced) the smothering through all possible means of the voices of dissent and criticism, whether in the mainstream or social media or in society at large.

The hoped for ‘advantage’ therefore of democratic liberties, including freedom of expression, remains an elusive will o’ the wisp. That merely serves to underline the formidable challenges for the Left, ranging from evolving and being allowed to disseminate its message/narrative to confronting the risks to life and limb emanating from such activism. And of course this does not even compare to the greater risks to safety that is the inevitable outcome of practical organisation and struggle of the masses.

Is history on the side of socialism in the 21st century, as its advocates still are convinced of, or is the dream of a just world passé, as capitalist and pre-capitalist advocates would have us believe? Only time will tell, but it would not be out of place to insert a word of caution about premature triumphalism regarding capitalism’s ‘victory’ and the lack of any alternative. History has a habit of surprising us when least expected.

New front to ‘stem the tide of fundamentalism’

By Amjad Mahmood

March 25, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from Dawn — Who could have thought that a social media group formed to better organise the recent Faiz Amn Mela would lead to efforts for uniting the Left-leaning groups, at least in the Punjab capital. But, the unexpected happened as the groups, trade unions and individuals part of the festival organising committee decided to further their joint struggle in the wake of fears of rising religious fundamentalism.

In the first phase, it was decided to keep the attempt confined to Lahore as, what Lahore Left Front (LLF) convener Farooq Tariq put it, a pilot exercise and expanding it to other areas in the later stages.

Mr Tariq says the rising religious fundamentalism, particularly the Islamabad sit-in staged by Khadim Rizvi-led fanatics and their apparent success in getting amended certain laws led the Left groups and liberals to think about working jointly before the fanatics sweep away all that has been gained through secular politics.

The LLF, he says, will organise joint activities on four main themes: to fight against growing tide of religious fundamentalism and terrorism, to help develop class-based organisations of working class in their struggle for a dignified life, to preserve democratic norms, and to campaign for the recovery of missing persons and for rule of law.

A meeting chaired by Mr Tariq the other day was attended by representatives of the Awami Workers Party, the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, the Brabri Party, the Pakistan Trade Unions Defence Campaign, the Communist Party Pakistan, the Anjuman Mazareen Punjab, the Pakistan Kisan Rabita Committee, the Revolutionary Students Front, the Progressive Students Collective, the Peoples Solidarity Forum, the Feminist Collective, the Punjab Union of Journalists, the Railway Mehnat Kash Union and the Progressive Labour Federation.

A 17-member organising committee of the Front was also formed. It included Imtiazul Haque, Irfan Ahmad, Ghulam Mujtaba, Dr Ammar Ali Jan, Dr Sara Suhail, Abdul Ghafoor, Prof Asim Shujai, Haider Butt, Mohiba Ahmad, Sadeeq Baig, Iqbal Haider Butt, Khalid Bhatti, Rashid Rahman, Advocate Ilyas Khan, Mian Mohammed Ashraf and Awais Qarni.

Unlike in the past, says Mr Tariq, those though not believing in the Marxist ideology have also become a part of the endeavour to counter religious radicalism.

Taimur Rahman of the Mazdoor Kisan Party says it’s continuation of the federal level efforts for unity. “In fact, we’re to go down to town level cooperation, where actual activities take place, as a result of the national unification. However, formation of the platform in each town may be different.”

He denies the attempt has anything to do with the revival of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA).

Prof Dr Rashid Ahmad says the need for Left narrative is increasing with the passage of time though class-based politics is on the decline in India and Pakistan.

“Only the Left ideology offers solutions to the contradictions we’re facing at international, national and provincial levels. Its narrative and analysis is relevant for most of problems facing the country though believers of this ideology are so far failing to effectively communicate the message to the masses.”Mr Rahman denies that the Left failed to effectively communicate with the masses and argues that all the three major winners of the 1970 elections – the Awami League, the PPP and the NAP – were proponents of socialism.

17 like-minded parties form Lahore Left Front

March 23, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from The News — Seventeen like-minded parties have formed Lahore Left Front (LLF) with the objective of reviving the left wing politics in the country and to encounter religious fanaticism prevailing in the country.

LLF will run the campaign on four major issues facing the country. Struggle for economic parity will be the main focus. Under the banner of LLF, democratic values will be protected. Religious fanaticism will be encountered. It will struggle for secular and socialist Pakistan. Additionally, equal rights for women, children will be promoted in the country.

More people and organisations will be included in the front; it was decided in a meeting Thursday at Progressive Labour Federation’s office in Garhi Shahu. The parties including Awami Workers Party, Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party, Brabri Party Pakistan, Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign, Communist Party, People’s Solidarity Forum, Anjuman-e-Mujareen Punjab, Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee, Progressive Students Collective, Revolutionary Students Front, Anjuman-e-Taraqi Pasand Musanfeen, Punjab Union of Journalists, Railway Mehnatkash Union and Progressive Labour Federation attended the meeting. Seventeen members organisational committee was made.

Imtiazul Haq, Comrade Irfran, Taimur Rehman, Ghulam Mujtaba, Shazia Khan, Ilyas Khan, Mian Muhammad Ashraf, Ammar Ali Jan, Sara Sohail, Asim Shuajee, Haidar Butt, etc were made the members of the committee while Farooq Tariq was made convener of LLF. Its first meeting will be held on April 2.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

The Destruction of History-RÓBERT NÁRAI

Posted by admin On March - 30 - 2018 Comments Off on The Destruction of History-RÓBERT NÁRAI


György Lukács and Árpád Szakasits, a former Hungarian president, at the Central House of the People’s Army on June 27, 1956. Samai Antónia / hirado.hu

Hungary’s right-wing government is attempting to destroy the Georg Lukács’s archive — and his legacy.
e sun had just set one Friday evening when the phone rang. Miklós Mesterházi of the Lukács Archívum in Budapest learned that the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) would be confiscating the entire collection of manuscripts and correspondence held at the premises.

The following Monday morning, MTA employees arrived and began examining the collection. They checked the inventory and prepared to relocate the material to the Department of Manuscripts & Rare Books in the MTA’s Library and Information Centre.

According to the MTA, their decision is based on the spirit of “academic integrity” —relocating the manuscripts would allow them to digitize the collection, thus allowing more scholars to access the material.

But we should situate the MTA’s decision within Hungary’s historical and political conjuncture.

Since the transition from state socialism to bourgeois democracy in 1989, the MTA has steadily shed staff, making research and editing projects almost impossible. Housing Lukács’s oeuvre — much of it unpublished and yet to be studied — in such a facility serves neither “academic integrity” nor the interests of “research.” Instead, it will negate them.

Moreover, an authoritarian regime now controls Hungary, and it wants to rewrite the nation’s past. The Orbán regime has worked to rehabilitate Hungary’s nationalist and fascist traditions. It has torn down statues honoring those who fought the Horthy military dictatorship and the Arrow Cross regime, replacing them with monuments that glorify antisemites and Nazi collaborators.

The ruling party Fidesz scapegoats immigrants, Roma, Muslims, Jews, Communists, socialists, liberals, and anyone it deems “alien.” It has taken control of numerous state institutions, and threatened to liquidate numerous civil society institutions, including the Central European University.

In this climate of paranoia and fear, the MTA does not want to appear to support a “communist,” so under the cloak of rationalization and efficiency, they are working to dismantle the archives.
What We’ll Lose

The Lukács Archívum is a unique research facility.

Visitors pass through the very rooms Lukács lived and worked in from 1945 until his death in 1971. The apartment — which ironically overlooks Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge) on the banks of the Danube — holds not only his manuscripts but his entire library, complete with his annotations. The scholars who have worked at the facility throughout the years have collected more or less everything ever published on the great Marxist theorist.

But the archive will lose its most valuable asset when the MTA removes the manuscripts. One example offers us a glimpse of their value.

One of Lukács’s most significant theoretical accomplishments was his theorization of the social impacts of commodity production. Under this system, finished products are isolated from the workers who create them. Labor under capitalism is degrading and monotonous; it turns workers into machines. The entire process is designed to maximize profit, transforming the qualitative dimension of human experience — labor — into a quantitative measure of time. “Here,” Lukács wrote in History and Class Consciousness, “the personality can do no more than look on helplessly while its own existence is reduced to an isolated particle fed into an alien system.”

Despite being a product of human labor, commodity production only expresses itself in inhuman social mechanisms — money, markets, capital, and wages. These take on lives of their own, appearing as natural, hostile, and law-abiding systems that no one can comprehend, let alone control.

Once it becomes universal, this logic subordinates all spheres of human existence to its mathematical rationality. An abstract, formal code designed to process thousands of cases governs a legal system charged with making life-and-death decisions. Politics, separated from everyday life, begins to appear unalterable. Giant chasms divide these worlds, and each sphere of existence seems independent from the other.

Lukács would later repudiate these positions under pressure from the Comintern — first, with Zinoviev at the helm, then later under Stalin. His radical views did not fit with the Thermidorian reaction taking place inside the both the Soviet Union and the international Communist movement.

To date, his clearest attempt to justify himself appears in the 1967 introduction to History and Class Consciousness. There, Lukács argues that he failed to distinguish between objectification (labor) and alienation (a mystified form of that labor).

When I visited, however, Mari Székely, the last remaining employee, informed me of a series of unpublished manuscripts from 1933, written during the early years of Lukács’s Moscow period. In one of these texts, Lukács begins to reassess some of his earlier claims in light of his encounter with Marx’s 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. The publication of this essay in a forthcoming collection — along with other previously untranslated material from 1924–33 — will clarify and deepen the terms of this debate, shedding further light on Lukács’s theoretical shift and uneasy reconciliation with Stalinism.

This discovery represents just one untraveled path in a vast labyrinth that has yet to be fully explored.
Saving the Present

Preserving the archives is not simply about the past. It also concerns our present, and the possibilities that lie within it.

The Archívum regularly hosts meetings and events, where researchers from Hungary and all over the world come together to discuss the critical potential of Lukács’s ideas, many of which remain unpublished, neglected, and misunderstood.

For example, one prevalent misunderstanding has been the place of resistance within Lukács’s account of the commodity form. The dominant logic of capitalism is quantitative, but quality — in the sense of human value — can never be completely banished. Whereas the capitalist experiences the drive to maximize profit as something purely quantitative, workers experience it as something qualitative: an assault on their individuality and humanity. This attack on their quality of life provides the basis for resistance.

The guise of rationalization and efficiency, under which the MTA is confiscating Lukács’s manuscripts, expresses the capitalist’s quantitative logic; the Left’s critical rejection of this move, in the name of human values, expresses the logic of resistance.

It is in this spirit that a petition protesting the MTA’s decision — with over 1,500 signatories, including Agnes Heller, Nancy Fraser, and Fredric Jameson, to name but a few — was delivered to academy on January 25. A similar petition is currently circulating on change.org.

Maintaining the theoretical universe that these archives contain — to paraphrase Lukács in The Theory of the Novel — will help guide us through times of darkness and reveal the stars that rule us.
Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Lenin for today-Reviewed by Paul Le Blanc

Posted by admin On March - 28 - 2018 Comments Off on Lenin for today-Reviewed by Paul Le Blanc


Lenin for Today
By John Molyneux
Bookmarks, 2017
289 pages
£12.99; $44.01
The first chapter of John Molyneux’s newest book, Lenin for Today, is one of the best discussions one can find of the relevance of Lenin. It is also the best part of the book. Far from being an organic whole, Lenin for Today offers seven distinct essays, each of which can more or less stand alone. Some offer analysis and explication of Lenin’s own ideas and perspectives, with indications of their continuing relevance. Others – increasingly as the book goes along – present discussions of current issues and recent events from the standpoint of the author and his organization (the Socialist Workers Party in Britain and its sister organization of the same name in Ireland, where he currently resides.)

In addition to the first chapter, Molyneux offers a second chapter focusing on Lenin’s Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, a third chapter focusing on The State and Revolution, a fourth chapter discussing the necessity of the party, a fifth chapter entitled “Lenin and the fight against oppression” (beyond simply the class struggle between workers and capitalists), a sixth chapter arguing that Leninism does not lead to Stalinism, and a summing-up chapter entitled “Leninism today.”

Lenin’s relevance
The brief introduction to Lenin for Today has what strikes me as the quite reasonable title: “We need a revolution.” And Molyneux makes the case quite succinctly and persuasively. This leads quite naturally into the opening chapter. He begins with this three-sentence assertion:

Lenin is relevant in the 21st century because the Russian Revolution is relevant. The Russian Revolution is relevant because the revolution of the 21st century will be a workers’ revolution and the Russian Revolution was a workers’ revolution. These are big claims that require justification. (p.28)

He goes on to make the case beautifully. “The working class here signifies that class of people who live exclusively or almost exclusively by the sale of their labor power,” he tells us. “It includes, therefore, both blue collar and white collar workers, teachers and nurses as well as factory workers and fire fighters, administrative staff along with office cleaners, shop workers and bus drivers.” Socialism, meaning rule by the people over the economy, must mean rule by such people as these, who make up the great majority (70 percent or more) of those living in the advanced capitalist countries, and more than 50 percent of the global labor force, with the numbers and percentages continuing to grow year after year.

This dynamically growing and diversifying social entity has more and more been encompassing humanity’s majority since Karl Marx and Frederick Engels urged “workers of all countries unite” almost two centuries back. “If we take seriously the necessity of global revolution, and the crisis facing humanity compels us to take it seriously,” writes Molyneux, “then we have to talk about a social force that can defeat the immense economic and political power of global capital,” and he concludes: “There is only one force remotely capable of doing this: the 1.5 billion-strong international working class . . .” (28).

Molyneux goes on to observe: “What distinguishes the Russian Revolution of 1917 from all other successful revolutions . . . and numerous failed attempts at revolution . . . is that in it and through it the working class actually came to power in society, at least for a few years” (33). He then proceeds to summarize what a substantial number of serious eyewitnesses and later social historians have conclusively demonstrated – that a “swift and dramatic radicalization of the Russian working class along with the soldiers and sailors [themselves made up of peasants and workers in uniform] is the main feature of the spring, summer and autumn of 1917 and the driving force of the Revolution” (37). He quotes Julius Martov, Lenin’s Menshevik adversary in the Russian workers’ movement, that with October 1917 “what we have before us after all is a victorious uprising of the proletariat – almost the entire proletariat supports Lenin and expects its social liberation from the uprising” (44).

As indicated in Martov’s comment, Lenin was a key element in the making of the working-class revolution. How did Lenin do this? Molyneux goes on to present and demolish what he terms “the Machiavellian interpretation” – advanced by innumerable mainstream academics and the mass media – that “Lenin’s relationship to the mass of working people was elitist and manipulative,” and that “he was, more or less from the outset, a would-be dictator” (44). Combing through Lenin’s actual writings over the decades, probing the psychological improbability of someone motivated by power-lust becoming part of a persecuted movement struggling on behalf of the oppressed against existing power structures (as opposed to worming his way into such existing power structures), and making reference to serious scholarship (such as that of Lars Lih) on Lenin and other Russian Marxists, he concludes that “of all the socialist writers in Russia at the time, Lenin was the most consistently enthusiastic and optimistic about the potential politicization of the working class” (53) and that his orientation – organizationally, strategically and in regard to the society he was fighting for – was permeated by a deeply democratic ethos.

Scholars who insist on “the Machiavellian interpretation” of Lenin without confronting the kind of argument that Molyneux develops here are not being serious. And activists who refuse to come to grips with the challenge that he is posing are selling themselves short.

Interpretive differences
Yet scholars and activists who are in basic agreement on so much (as is the case with Molyneux and myself) should not avoid taking issue with each other when there are actual differences. Only through such confrontations can political clarity and collective understanding advance. In this spirit, several interpretive differences (some quibbles, some more than that) can be offered here.

One quibble is related to the fact that Molyneux’s sustained examination of only certain Lenin texts – What Is To Be Done; Imperialism; State and Revolution – results in less attention being given to other essential texts: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back; Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution; Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, etc. If this volume is to remain a manageable size, perhaps this choice is inevitable – though one wonders if engaging with more of what Lenin has to say might have forced somewhat different and more nuanced interpretations.

Another quibble involves a tendency, hardly unique to Molyneux, in highlighting Lenin while filtering out some of the other voices and currents of thought that helped form the context in which Lenin evolved. There is, in much writing, insufficient comprehension of Bolshevism as a complex and democratic collectivity, which contributed, enhanced and sometimes corrected what Lenin himself was inclined to think and say. Here too, of course, the need to avoid an overly complex and cumbersome volume – and the validity of focusing on the contributions of a single theorist and activist such as Lenin – justifies the pathway that Molyneux has followed.

Overall, the author has done a good job in presenting complex material in a clear and yet also critical-minded manner. At the same time, one can differ with some of the details – in some cases questioning the manner in which he defends Lenin, and in others questioning the manner in which he criticizes him.

There is a factual slip as Molyneux presents what has been a standard interpretation of the Bolshevik/Menshevik split within the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) of 1903: “At issue was a difference about the definition of membership of the party – Lenin and the Bolsheviks were for a ‘hard’ border based on participation in a party organization; Martov and the Mensheviks was a ‘softer’ looser definition – and a dispute about the composition of the editorial board …” (163). In fact, Lenin lost the vote on “hard” definition of party membership at this party congress, and far from wanting to split, was willing to accept that defeat, assuming that he could win this fight a later day. In addition, within a few years the Mensheviks themselves adopted this very same “hard” definition. The initial split, which astonished Lenin and many others, was actually over the absolute refusal by those who then became Mensheviks to accept a democratic decision to reduce the editorial board of Iskra from six to three (which was seen as an insult to the respected old veterans being removed, Pavel Axelrod and Vera Zasulich).

What soon emerged as a far more decisive issue separating Bolsheviks from Mensheviks, a year after the 1903 split, involved divergent conceptions of the necessary alliances and strategic orientation for carrying out the democratic revolution that would overthrow Russia’s Tsarist autocracy. Since this was to be a “bourgeois-democratic revolution” leading to the thoroughgoing development of a capitalist economy that would be the eventual basis for socialism, the Mensheviks believed in the need for a worker-capitalist alliance, with the socialist workers’ movement making necessary compromises to ensure the possibility of such an alliance. Rejecting such class-collaboration, Lenin’s Bolsheviks called for a militant worker-peasant alliance to lead the democratic revolution, with no compromises to pro-capitalist liberals. This more militant approach was in harmony with the outlook of some socialists who had disagreed with Lenin on the initial organizational split (Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, and – despite Molyneux’s simplistic reference to “the reformist nature of Kautskyism” on page 164 – the pre-1914 Karl Kautsky).

The question of Kautsky’s revolutionary Marxism up to 1910 or 1914, and of his influence on Lenin’s thinking, has been contested by some scholars, but in my view has been argued well and persuasively by Lih, for whose outstanding study Lenin Rediscovered Molyneux himself expresses considerable respect. A younger scholar, Eric Blanc, has also been doing path-breaking work on the early Russian working class movement – especially in the so-called “borderlands” of the Russian empire. (See Eric Blanc, “Anti-imperial Marxism: borderland socialists and the evolution of Bolshevism on national liberation,” International Socialist Review #100, Spring 2016, 111-40.) The work of Blanc and others stands as a thoughtful challenge to the position of Lenin and others (including those who became prominent Mensheviks) in the early RSDLP. As a run-up to his critique of “identity politics,” Molyneux praises Lenin’s insistence in What Is To Be Done and elsewhere that the Jewish Labor Bund should not be allowed a separate existence – as he puts it, “there should be a single united organization, not separate organizations for women or Jews (or Blacks etc.)” (199). But Blanc’s research as to the logic, the actual politics, and the contributions of the Bund (and other separately organized oppressed nationalities in the Russian empire) will need to taken into account, and wrestled with, before Molyneux’s stark assertions can be accepted without question.

From a different angle – one that advances a critique of aspects of Lenin’s thinking – Molyneux challenges the conception of an “aristocracy of labor” (a privileged working-class layer) being “bribed” into settling for a limited reformism through the super-profits that capitalists make through the lucrative economic expansion of imperialism. Molyneux quite correctly emphasizes that it is not the most oppressed, downtrodden, impoverished layers of the population that are most radical or revolutionary or class conscious. In fact, crushing oppression can often make it difficult for the victims to think clearly about their objective situation as opposed to simply, almost blindly in some cases, trying to survive. As Molyneux emphasizes, “in the Russian Revolution itself and in the revolutionary wave that swept Europe in 1919-1920 and on many other occasions, it was precisely the better paid skilled workers, such as engineers and metal workers (in the Putilov works, in the Fiat factories in Turin and in the Clyde shipyards) who were the most advanced and most militant, not only in terms of economic struggle but also in political consciousness” (86). A problem with this is that Lenin himself was quite aware of the point that Molyneux uses to “refute” him.

There is no doubt that some of the profits gained – for example – through US imperialism in the early twentieth century facilitated a tendency to buy-off a privileged layer of skilled workers who embraced Samuel Gompers’ ideology of “pure and simple trade unionism” in the American Federation of Labor. Gompers’ soul-mate (despite a mildly socialist gloss) Karl Legien, heading the massive General German Trade Union Federation, represented a similar layer of imperialist-inclined working-class reformists. There were other examples in Lenin’s time as well as before and after. But Lenin hardly believed in the notion too often attributed to him, that the better-off workers inevitably sell out to imperialism and only the poorest of the poor can be trusted to be truly revolutionary. Instead, he insisted that the better-off workers can and should become an essential part of the revolutionary vanguard – provided that the revolutionary workers’ party does its job in advancing class consciousness (as opposed to deferring to economistic reformism) among its ranks. In short, a valid point is overstated in a manner that obscures Lenin’s actual position.

A different overstatement involves Molyneux’s assertion that Lenin was “keen that socialist propaganda should not give offense to people’s religious feelings” (195). Although Lenin opposed all religious persecution, as Molyneux shows, and although he wanted to work with workers, peasants and others who held religious views, asserting that religious people should be able to join the revolutionary party, he also argued for an approach by such a party that would certainly have given offense to some people’s religious feelings. A Marxist party, Lenin insisted, must work to spread the understanding, flowing from science and the Enlightenment, that religious views are superstitions drugging the minds of those who hold them, and that Marxist education is necessary to facilitate the outright rejection of religion, which he believed would die out naturally with the triumph of socialism and science after the revolution. Whether Molyneux’s impulse or Lenin’s makes more sense is a matter that can be debated by socialists of today and tomorrow.

There is one more issue – and this one quite important – that should be raised here. Molyneux does, on the whole, an admirable job of confronting the question of why the working-class power established in 1917 lasted only “a few years” and in fact soon gave way to one of the worst dictatorships in human history – the murderous bureaucratic authoritarianism associated with one of Lenin’s comrades, Joseph Stalin. Stalin always insisted on a unity of his perspectives and those of Lenin’s, and Cold War anti-Communists were happy to agree. In the chapter “Does Leninism lead to Stalinism?” Molyneux marshals a considerable amount of historical material and lucid analysis to explain what happened and why and how. In doing this, he makes the case that what Stalin represented from the mid-1920s up to his death in 1953 was increasingly and profoundly in contradiction to all that Lenin had stood for and struggled to accomplish.

Yet in analyzing why and how Stalinism triumphed over the 1917 revolution, his emphasis very definitely is on objective factors: the impacts of World War I and the civil war, the relentless assaults of imperialist powers and domestic counter-revolutionaries, the economic blockade, the backwardness of Tsarist Russia, the isolation of the revolution in a hostile capitalist world as the expected spread of socialist revolution failed to triumph.

But did Lenin and his comrades do absolutely nothing that also contributed to the tragic outcome? Molyneux seems willing to consider that Lenin and his comrades made mistakes in the post-1917 period, but he also seems inclined to veer away from considering to what extent such mistakes may have contributed to the rise of Stalinism. He asserts that “what really matters is not forming an exact estimation of the degree of the responsibility of Lenin and the Bolsheviks for later Stalinism,” but instead building a Leninist revolutionary party that will “succeed in leading a successful revolution” (245, emphasis added).

Yet the odd fixation on exactitude hardly justifies skittishness among those of us who agree that a contemporary equivalent of Bolshevism is needed to advance the socialist cause. We can afford to look critically at our revolutionary predecessors. Learning from possible mistakes is no less important than learning from what was done right. This is something with which, I imagine, Molyneux would not disagree when all is said and done.

Debating the present, creating the future
More than issues of historical fact and interpretation, there are more current political differences worth raising. This should be comprehended within the context of considerable political and theoretical kinship. For example, Molyneux offers a beautifully articulated critical analysis of how capitalism (political liberals to the contrary notwithstanding) systemically and necessarily makes an utter sham of genuine democracy. And as already noted, his arguments for the necessity of revolution and a revolutionary party are of high quality.

The question of questions is how such a revolutionary party is to be brought into existence. Molyneux suggests the answer when he writes, “in order to be able to grow into a truly mass party in such [a revolutionary] situation, the revolutionary organization needs already, at the onset of the revolution, to have reached a certain critical mass; it needs to appear to the masses as a potentially credible force and it has to have a voice in the national political debate” (254, emphasis added). This suggests the revolutionary party already exists in embryo, its nucleus being a specific revolutionary organization which has a politically correct program and leadership around which a critical mass – and ultimately a majority of the working class – gathered around it.

In the specific context of 1920 – one year after the founding of the Communist International, with a European working class that had more than three decades’ experience through mass socialist-oriented labor parties, reform struggles, and trade unions – this approach made obvious sense. But our context is different – our working class is a quite different one from that of Lenin’s time, as is its experience and consciousness. To forget this is to risk an outcome against which Lenin himself warned in Left-Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder, when “attempts to establish discipline inevitably fall flat and end up in phrase-mongering and clowning.” A revolutionary party, he insisted, can be “created only by prolonged effort and hard-won experience,” guided by theory which “assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a truly mass and truly revolutionary movement.”

In our own specific context, so different from the one that Lenin was writing about, this warning and advice must be even more deeply taken to heart and applied. To assume or pretend otherwise can lead to disastrous mistakes that will set back the creation of a genuinely revolutionary party. Certainly in such countries as Britain and the United States, no single organization is the nucleus of the future party – reality is presently too much in flux and contradictory for that.

Other theoretical rigidities crop up. For example, Molyneux intones against “the banners of separatism …, identity politics of one kind or another and, more recently, of privilege theory and intersectionality” (191). This disdainful and simplistic amalgam can get in the way of understanding and fruitfully engaging with the radicalizing consciousness of various oppressed sectors of the working class majority. Some activists are currently most conscious and engaged around non-class aspects of their specific oppression (having to do with race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).

Molyneux himself acknowledges (citing Lenin’s call for revolutionaries to be “tribunes of the people” opposing all forms of oppression) that there is an elemental validity in each and every struggle against oppression of any element in the human identity. As Leon Trotsky and C.L.R. James emphasized, sometimes it is necessary for an oppressed group (such as African Americans) to organize separately in order to wage their struggle for liberation. And as theorists of “intersectionality” have insightfully demonstrated, to perceive the interconnections of racial, gender and other forms of oppression with each other, and particularly with class oppression, can contribute profoundly to a revolutionary understanding of one’s own life and of the need to struggle for socialist liberation.

Nor is the consciousness of today’s working class sufficiently developed, nor are the experiences of our class sufficiently evolved, for some of Molyneux’s other strictures to be on target. His clarion-call against “an alliance between reformists and revolutionaries” (181) seems to assume a different reality than the one in which we live. Actually, it may be precisely through alliances of theoretically/politically diverse forces, in actual struggles, that many reformists-of-the-moment as well as would-be revolutionaries (of various currently-existing organizations) will be enabled to develop the genuinely revolutionary consciousness that Molyneux is projecting in his stern warning.

In fairness, it must be acknowledged that Molyneux pushes against dogmatic and sectarian inclinations. This comes through in advice that he generously offers to US socialists near the end of his book – a suggestion that the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Alternative (both of which he sees as “serious Leninist groups”) find a way to merge with the newly expanded mass membership of the Democratic Socialists of America “to launch a credible national alternative to the Democrats” (259, 283 n458). Readers with experience either in or with these specific organizations will need to consider the extent to which such advice is practical or problematical.

Nonetheless, the growth of each of the groups Molyneux mentions reflects a developing socialist consciousness in the United States. Such a radicalization process is proceeding, with distinctive variations, in other countries as well. In this context, efforts to consider the relevance of “Lenin for today” may contribute to fruitful discussions and debates among activists. To the extent that this brings greater clarity, activists can more effectively challenge the oppressions and destructiveness of global capitalism, in the quest for a future of the free and the equal.

Note: This article is for educational purposes. Its reproduction, in any form, can be had with the permission of the author/publisher whose original link ,from where it is reprodced, is given above.

Rosa Luxemburg and the revolutionary party revisited-Eric Blanc

Posted by admin On March - 14 - 2018 Comments Off on Rosa Luxemburg and the revolutionary party revisited-Eric Blanc


March 10, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from John Riddell’s Marxist essays and commentary  — This article re-examines Rosa Luxemburg’s approach to the party question by analysing the overlooked experience of her political intervention and organisation in Poland. In particular, I challenge the myth that Rosa Luxemburg advocated a ‘party of the whole class’, ‘spontaneism’ or consistent party democracy. The perspectives and practices of her party – the  Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania (SDKPiL) – demonstrate that there were no steady strategic differences between Luxemburg and V.I. Lenin on the role of a revolutionary party. In practice, the most consequential divergence between their parties was that the Bolsheviks, unlike the SDKPiL, became more effective in mass workers’ struggles during and following the 1905 revolution.
The party and spontaneity
One of the most important political strengths of Luxemburg and her party was undoubtedly their emphasis on working-class action. It was largely due to the SDKPiL’s tireless agitation among working people that it gained a popular base during 1905–6. Moreover, Luxemburg’s famous 1906 pamphlet on the mass strike posed a clear alternative to European Social Democracy’s prevailing prioritisation of organisation and education over action. Arguing that the 1905 revolution pointed the way forward for the workers’ movement across Europe and the world, Luxemburg articulated three inter-related theses:

The working-class majority would storm the political arena before being fully organised and educated by the Social Democracy (i.e., ‘spontaneously’).
Most workers would come to revolutionary conclusions not through party publications or speeches, but through their experience in these tumultuous political upheavals.
Thus the main way for Marxist parties to effectively fight for workers’ power was to promote mass actions and – in the process of the struggle itself – to give them leadership and organisation.
Countless authors have problematically counterposed this strategy to the purported elitism of Lenin and his top-down vanguard party. Bruno Naarden thus argues that Luxemburg advocated a ‘theory of spontaneity’, whose ‘hallmark’ was a ‘glorification of the spontaneity of the masses’. This stance, the author claims, ‘proved how far removed she was’ from the Bolsheviks and how ‘her viewpoint was approaching that of anarchists and syndicalists’.[1]

This false dichotomy has been challenged by various academics and activists, who note Lenin’s shared enthusiasm for ‘spontaneous’ mass action and Luxemburg’s conviction that a revolutionary Marxist party was an indispensable vehicle to lead the insurgent masses to conquer power.[2] Indeed, the mass-action orientation implemented by the Bolsheviks in 1917 basically stood in continuity with the perspectives articulated by Luxemburg in 1906.

Party building in Tsarist Russia
Yet even authors who note Lenin and Luxemburg’s similarities generally maintain that before 1917 there were fundamental differences in their conception of the nature and role of the revolutionary party. Unlike Lenin, according to this analysis, Luxemburg remained wedded to the Second International’s view that the party should embrace the whole class (not just its vanguard) and that revolutionaries should not organise separately from reformist socialists. According to Chris Harman’s influential account, Luxemburg advocated a ‘party of the whole class’ model: ‘All the tendencies within the class had to be represented within it. Any split within it was to be conceived of as a split within the class. Centralisation, although recognised as necessary, was feared as a centralisation over and against the spontaneous activity of the class.’[3] In contrast with Lenin and his independent Bolshevik party, it is argued, Luxemburg refused to organisationally break from the reformists, hoping in vain that the impending revolutionary upsurge would overcome opportunism in the party and its leadership.[4]

While it is justified to criticise Luxemburg (and other SPD radicals) for failing to organise the SPD’s left wing as a distinct current before 1914, it does not follow that this error reflected a strategic divergence with Lenin on party-building. The basic flaw in such an interpretation is that it cannot account for the ‘Leninist’ nature of Luxemburg’s organisation in Poland. Indeed, the SDKPiL shared all of the attributes that are generally said to be the distinct features of Bolshevism: organisational separateness from reformists, political cohesiveness, and/or tight centralisation.

The fact that both Luxemburg’s and Lenin’s parties in Tsarist Russia looked very different from the German SPD was not caused by a break with ‘orthodox’ Marxism. Nobody in Tsarist Russia called for a ‘party of a new type’, for the simple reason that Social-Democratic ‘orthodoxy’ already proclaimed that the party should organise the most advanced layers of the class on the basis of a Marxist programme.[5] German Social Democracy’s descent into reformism was largely due to the emergence of a strata of conservative party functionaries during the SPD’s first decades of peaceful development. It is important to keep this insight in mind, as the party’s reformism is not infrequently blamed on Kautsky’s theories. Yet most SPD leaders, far from being followers of Kautsky, were bureaucratic ‘practicals’ uninterested in socialist theory.[6] To see what a party led by ‘orthodox’ Social Democrats looked like in practice, one must examine the Tsarist empire, not Germany.

The obvious differences between socialist parties in Tsarist Russia and their counterparts across Europe were basically the result of the context of Russian absolutism.[7] Marxists agreed that conditions under Tsarism precluded any attempt to adopt the organisational structure – or the particular political focus – of the German SPD. And at no point in the prewar years did either Lenin or Luxemburg argue that their form of party organisation in the Tsarist empire should be replicated by revolutionaries in Germany or the rest of Europe.

Moreover, the absence of political freedom facilitated a completely different relationship of forces between reformists and revolutionaries inside the Russian empire’s socialist movement. In Russia, the existence of a feudal-absolutist state and the absence of political freedom mitigated against the growth of strong reformist tendencies or the emergence of bureaucratised labour apparatuses. As such, the challenging question – posed in Germany and across Western Europe – of how a revolutionary Marxist minority could effectively overcome the bureaucratised leadership of a mass socialist party was simply not posed under Tsarism. Of course, even within Luxemburg and Lenin’s shared ‘orthodox’ framework, all sorts of concrete differences over how best to politically proceed in the specific conditions of Tsarist Russia were inevitable. But examining the theory and practice of Luxemburg’s party in Poland demonstrates that her well-known debates with Lenin did not reflect any consistent divergences.
On the basis of her influential 1904 polemic against Lenin, Luxemburg is frequently upheld as a consistent promoter of party democracy against the supposedly ‘authoritarian’ Bolsheviks. Yet, in practice, the SDKPiL was certainly one of the least-democratic socialist parties in the whole Tsarist empire. Nettl notes that Luxemburg’s ‘own attitudes in the Polish party hardly bore out such demands for more “democracy”; instead of controlling local organizations, she simply ignored them altogether. Leo Jogiches, on the other hand, later tried to institute a system of control as tight as Lenin’s, even if he did not choose to expound a philosophy of centralization.’[8]

Particularly after 1905, repeated internal SDKPiL oppositions arose to challenge the party’s political line and internal functioning, only to be slandered, isolated, and/or expelled through organisational manoeuvres by the leadership. One particularly egregious method used by Luxemburg and her leadership was their repeated public disclosure of the real names of factional opponents who operated under pseudonyms, opening them up to state repression.[9] ‘The systematic recourse to defamation and intrigues had become a method to maintain power inside the SDKPiL’, notes Swiss historian Jean-François Fayet.[10]
The mass upsurge and relatively more free conditions opened by the 1905 revolution led most socialist parties in the Tsarist empire – including the Bolsheviks – to take significant steps towards internal democracy.[11] But the SDKPiL moved in the exact opposite direction. In 1906, the party rejected all motions by rank-and-file leaders to make concessions to democratic functioning, and instead deepened its centralising tendencies by adopting a new party structure that granted unprecedented powers to its five-man émigré leadership.[12] The SDKPiL was run in an increasingly dictatorial manner by Leo Jogiches and Feliks Dzierżyński – a dynamic that would have been unfeasible without Luxemburg’s consistent backing and ideological support.[13]

And while one can certainly find passages in Luxemburg’s German writings that downplay the distinction between the party and the class, or that argue against organisational splits from reformists, such ambiguities were not reflected in SDKPiL practice, nor were they the norm in her Polish writings. Consider, for example, Luxemburg’s justification for SDKPiL intransigence towards its main political rival, the Polish Socialist Party (PPS):

The fact is that the existence of a strictly class proletarian party – that bases its principles on a theoretical understanding of its activities, that knows no compromise on tactics, that is inflexible in the application and defence of the whole of its views, that is inaccessible to any half-bred and half-hearted shades of socialism – has an effect and impact far beyond its own organisation. It constantly weighs on the other factions and shades of socialism, and on the whole workers’ movement. How many charges were thrown against the ‘intransigent’ Guesde-ists in France for their decades-long rejection of unification with all other socialist groups! History proved them right – it was shown that the strength of a socialist party consists not in superficially cobbling together a plethora of members, nor in opulent cashboxes or an abundance of rubbish party leaflets, but rather in the stability and clarity of its views, in the concordance and spiritual unity of its ranks, in the concurrence between its words and deeds.[14]

So while Luxemburg advocated the organisational unity of Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, she at the same time rejected any organisational merger between the SDKPiL and the PPS-Left (the name taken by the PPS after it expelled its nationalist-separatist minority in 1906), despite the fact that the PPS-Left was consistently to the left of the Mensheviks. In fact, while Luxemburg’s party maintained a separate organisational structure for the whole pre-1917 period, the Bolsheviks were much less consistent. It was the Mensheviks, not the Bolsheviks, who had initiated the RSDRP split in 1903 by refusing to abide by the majority decisions of the Second Congress. In 1906 the two currents reunited. Even after the Bolsheviks began to de facto split away in 1912, they sought to include whole wings of Mensheviks inside their RSDRP, including even for a time those such as Giorgi Plekhanov who were openly committed to a strategic alliance between workers and the liberal bourgeoisie.

Assessing which political differences were permissible, and which tendencies could effectively co-exist, inside a Marxist party or fraction was a challenging question that no a priori formula could provide the concrete answers to. These complexities all too often get forgotten today, leading to an over-simplified understanding of the development of Bolshevism.

While many authors have claimed that the defining element of Bolshevik success in 1917 was its ‘Leninist’ organisational structure, the failure of Luxemburg’s party to lead the 1918–19 Polish revolution to victory would seem to demonstrate that the existence of a separate party of revolutionary Marxists was an insufficient condition for a working-class conquest of power. Luxemburg’s party lacked neither a separate structure, nor a homogenous commitment to revolutionary Marxism – but it proved unable to play a mass-leadership role analogous to the Bolsheviks, despite the favourable conditions for socialist revolution in postwar Poland.

Monopolism and the United Front
If the main political liability of the SDKPiL after 1914 was its continued opposition to Polish independence, in the preceding years its major strategic weakness was a general opposition to united-front mass organisations and united fronts in action with the PPS. Luxemburg and the SDKPiL sought to implement the model of ‘orthodox’ German Marxists, according to which working-class unity must be achieved directly through the party. In this conception, there should only be one workers’ party, to which all mass workers’ organisations (unions, etc.) should be politically and organisationally tied.

This orientation – which I will call ‘monopolism’ – was perhaps plausible in Germany, but it was problematic in places like Poland and central Russia where multiple relatively small socialist organisations existed. Here the dynamics of mass struggle necessitated unity in action between different political tendencies and required the formation of non-party mass organisations (factory committees, unions, workers’ councils) to coordinate actions and organise the wide strata of workers who did not belong to any parties.

In short, there was a major tension between Marxist ‘orthodoxy’ and the main forms of workers’ organisation that spread across the Tsarist empire during and following the 1905 revolution. ‘Monopolism’ was also initially strong among the Bolsheviks, resulting in their infamous calls for the 1905 St Petersburg soviet to follow the RSDRP’s leadership and adopt its programme. But they eventually proved able during late 1905, and particularly afterwards, to flexibly adjust their practices to the actual dynamics of mass struggle. Though the term ‘united front’ was not coined until after the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks and many other Marxists had been practising this method for well over a decade.[15]

The contrast with Luxemburg’s party is striking. Poland, like the rest of the empire, witnessed a spontaneous push for unity by the insurgent working class in 1905. In addition to the formation of ad-hoc united committees in innumerable workplaces, Poland’s four socialist parties (the SDKPiL, PPS, Bund, and PPS-Proletariat) often began to jointly coordinate strikes, demonstrations and self-defence on a city-wide level. Yet time and time again the top SDKPiL leadership intervened to put an end to these united fronts, declaring that programmatic differences precluded coordination with the PPS.[16] To cite one of many examples: after the SDKPiL in Łódź reached an agreement in late 1905 to jointly organise an anti-government strike with the PPS (as it did not have the force to organise this on its own), the top party leadership intervened to annul the agreement, eventually leading top Łódź SDKPiL cadre to resign in protest at what they called the ‘bureaucratisation’ of their party.[17]

It would be hard to exaggerate just how damaging this lack of unity in action proved to be for the Polish revolution. Warsaw SDKPiL head Stanisław Gutt wrote in 1905 that ‘if the proletariat today falls in battle, moving in separate groups rather than as a compact batch, we will be to blame and we will in the future have to answer seriously to history.’[18]

On 27 December 1905, as the empire was engulfed in general strikes and insurrections, the PPS-Proletariat issued a call for Poland to follow the lead of central Russia by establishing workers’ councils (soviets), arguing that this was the only feasible way to successfully overcome the ‘tremendous damage’ done by the prevailing disunity in the Polish workers’ movement:

On the banners of all socialist parties is inscribed the slogan: ‘Proletarians of all countries unite!’ However, it is easy to write this slogan – but to achieve it is harder. … In [Tsarist] Poland there are as many as four different socialist organisations, and each cry: ‘Follow us, for only we can lead you to the Kingdom of Heaven’… [But] there is only one way to defeat the government: it is our solidarity and unity in action. … [To achieve this unity requires] a Council of Workers’ Deputies, which will include representatives from all factories, plants, and professions, and the representatives of all the socialist parties.’[19]

But this proposal – presaging Trotsky’s analysis of soviets as ‘the highest form of the united front’ – was denounced by the SDKPiL.[20] It issued a leaflet declaring that the call for councils in Poland ‘could only create confusion in the revolutionary ranks and harm the workers’ cause’. The purpose of the soviet in central Russia, the leaflet claimed, was not ‘to unite workers of different parties’, but rather to ‘link up the social-democratic party to the unconscious, dark, inert mass’. Councils could not ‘remedy the evil’ of the division of the Polish workers’ movement, because the proletariat ‘must have one programme and one class party’ and because ‘without a programme it is impossible to struggle against the Tsarist government or struggle against the capitalists’. Therefore, unity and victory could be achieved through explaining to the workers that only the SDKPiL represented their ‘real demands and interests’.[21]

The contradiction between ‘monopolism’ and the dynamics of mass struggle was no less evident in regard to labour unions. Poland witnessed an explosive growth of unions in 1905 and 1906 – over 20% of Polish workers became unionised in these years, by far the highest percentage in the whole empire. While the PPS promoted non-party unions open to all workers irrespective of their party affiliation, the SDKPiL instead organised their own separate social-democratic trade unions that were instructed not to cooperate with the other unions. These ‘party unions’ were organisationally tied to the SDKPiL, recognised its political leadership, and gave ten per cent of member-dues to the party. The results were predictably damaging, not only for the unity of the workers’ movement, but also for the influence of the SDKPiL, as their unions consistently represented far fewer workers than the non-partisan unions promoted by the PPS and later the PPS-Left.[22]

Rosa Luxemburg’s participation in Polish socialism was deeply contradictory and, in the end, tragic. Without her tremendous revolutionary prestige and political strengths it is unlikely that the sectarian SDKPiL could have ever played such an influential part in Polish and European history. The tragedy of Luxemburg and her Polish party was that their commitment to proletarian emancipation was undercut by sectarian and doctrinaire tendencies that contributed to the defeat of Poland’s workers’ revolutions in 1905 and 1918–19.[23] A serious balance-sheet of Luxemburg’s legacy cannot focus solely on her positive impact in Germany and beyond – it must also acknowledge her particularly problematic role in Poland.

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[1] Naarden 1992, p. 144. Jack Conrad likewise writes that Luxemburg ‘adhered to a theory of spontaneity .… Because she tended to downplay organisation and over-emphasise spontaneity, Luxemburg was reluctant to establish a serious, disciplined, leftwing faction in the SDP before 1914. Unlike Lenin and the Bolsheviks, of course.’ (Conrad 2006, p. 22.)

[2] See, for instance, Harman 1968–9, p. 26.

[3] Harman 1968–9, p. 30.

[4] This case is made in Gluckstein 2014 and Rose 2015.

[5] Lih 2006.

[6] Kautsky thus argued in 1909 that the German party and union leaders ‘have been so absorbed by the administrative needs of the huge apparatus that they have lost every broad view, every interest for anything outside the affairs of their own offices’ (cited in Day and Gaido (eds.) 2009, p. 52).

[7] The one exception proves the rule: In Finland, the only region of the Tsarist empire with wide political freedom and a legalised socialist party, the Finnish Social-Democratic Party, shared the same organisational form and legalistic-parliamentary orientation as the German SPD.

[8] Nettl 1966, p. 288.

[9] For instance, this method was used against Kelles-Krauz in 1904 (Snyder 1997, pp. 184–5) and against Radek in 1912 (Nettl 1966, pp. 586–7).

[10] Fayet 2004, p. 113.

[11] Similarly, the Bolsheviks moved away from their earlier stress on tight party centralisation – from at least 1905 until the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik current’s organisational practices were significantly looser than the strict centralisation envisioned by Iskra during 1900–3.

[12] Blobaum 1984, pp. 34–5.

[13] Fayet 2004, Blobaum 1984, and Nettl 1966, passim.

[14] Luxemburg 1908a, p. 62.

[15] Consider, for example, Trotsky’s analysis of the Bolsheviks’ united-front tactics during 1917 (Trotsky 1932, pp. 76–83).

[16] Żarnowska 1965, pp. 162, 198, 243, 324.

[17] Michta 1987, pp. 142–3.

[18] Cited in Sobczak (ed.) 1988, p. 64.

[19] Odezwa Komitet Centralny Pol. Par. Soc. ‘Proletaryat’, Warszawa, 27 Grudnia 1905 r. (Dokumenty życia społecznego, Biblioteka Narodowa).

[20] ‘Just as the trade union is the rudimentary form of the united front in the economic struggle, so the soviet is the highest form of the united front under the conditions in which the proletariat enters the epoch of fighting for power.’ (Trotsky 1932, p. 91.)

[21] Odezwa Komitet Warszawski Socjaldemokracji Królestwa Polskiego i Litwy, Warszawa, 12 Lutego 1906 (Dokumenty życia społecznego, Biblioteka Narodowa). Contrary to this leaflet’s assertion, the soviets in St Petersburg and beyond did unite different socialist parties (the various wings of the RSDRP, the Socialist Revolutionaries, non-Russian Marxists, etc.). After the 1917 revolution, both Luxemburg and the SDKPiL came out in support of workers’ councils, but it was not until 1922–3 that the Polish Communist party adopted the theory and practice of the workers’ united front.

[22] Kochański and Orzechowski 1964.

[23] The 1918-19 revolution in Poland will be discussed in the final instalment of this series.
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