The Sandinistas are back. Or are they? In any event, Daniel Ortega, who headed the revolutionary junta that took over after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and who was President of Nicaragua till he was voted out in 1990, has just been elected President again.
For those with short memories, in the 1980s the Sandinistas enjoyed the same prestige and support amongst Leftwing romantic revolutionaries as does Chavez today. “In 1979,” read the blurb on the back of Nicaragua: The Sandinist Revolution by Henri Weber that came out in 1981, “Nicaragua’s long-lived Somoza dictatorship fell before a mass insurrection led by the Sandinist movement, which has now established the first anti-capitalist power on the American mainland.”
Weber was then a prominent member of the French equivalent of the old IMG. Later he became a “Socialist” Party senator. Ortega’s political evolution has been in the same direction. While still an anti-yankee nationalist he now emphasises his Christian rather than any “Marxist” (read Leninist) credentials.
The Sandinistas were a guerrilla group inspired by the Cuban revolution (and named after a Nicaraguan nationalist who fought against US domination in the 1920s). At the beginning, in 1979, they shared power with the representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie, who were also against the Somoza dictatorship. But they soon came to monopolise power and attempted to transform Nicaragua into the same sort of state-capitalist regime as existed in Cuba, with the same “Marxist-Leninist” ideology: a minority vanguard would liberate the people through opposition to US imperialism, land redistribution, social reforms and a cultural revolution against capitalist influences which would create a “new man”.
The USA wasn’t having it and financed and armed the “contras” who waged a relentless guerrilla campaign against the Sandinista government, so weakening it that in the end it had to agree to abide by the outcome of internationally-monitored elections. Ortega lost, ironically to one of the representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie would had been a member of the original 1979 junta. Most people in Nicaragua were simply fed up with the civil war and the economic privations it and the failure of the Sandinistas’ economic policies had caused.
For the first time a self-appointed “Marxist-Leninist” vanguard had been voted out of office. In any event, even in the absence of the US-provoked civil war, the Sandinistas would have failed to establish socialism or even improve the position of the working class. Quite apart from the fact that, due to the already world nature of capitalism, socialism cannot be establishment in just one country, and certainly not in an economically backward one like Nicaragua (or Cuba), no minority can impose socialism on a majority that does not want and understand it.
Once in power that minority has no alternative but to work within the context of capitalism, but capitalism cannot be made to work in the interest of the class of wage and salary workers. Which was why even in their hey-day the Sandinista government was opposing strikes and urging workers to work harder. They had no alternative since, just to survive within world capitalism, they had to keep costs down so as to make a surplus (a profit) to pay for essential imports.
The Sandinistas’ failure was not that of “the first anti-capitalist power on the American mainland” but the failure of an attempt to establish a Leninist state-capitalist regime there.