Saturday, February 16, 2019

Uniquely on the left

“The Indian-Sandinista War in Nicaragua” by Yolanda Alaniz is a pamphlet published in 1986 by the Freedom Socialist Party in Seattle, United States. The FSP is a Trotskyist-feminist party and apparently still exists. I have previously reviewed a relatively interesting pamphlet they published against Lyndon LaRouche, the recently deceased leader of the NCLC political cult.

The FSP supported the 1979 revolution in Nicaragua against the brutal rule of the US-backed dictator Somoza. As good Trotskyists, they also had a tendency to criticize the Sandinista front (the FSLN), the dominant force in the revolution, “from the left”. Somewhat curiously, they also criticized the FSLN “from the right” (according to the definitions of the time) on the issue of Sandinista-Native relations.

The Atlantic Coast regions of western Nicaragua are very different from the eastern parts of the same country (where the capital Managua is situated). During the colonial period, western Nicaragua (then known as the Mosquito Coast) was de facto a British colony, while eastern Nicaragua was Spanish. The western regions weren´t really incorporated into Nicaragua until decades after independence. Culturally, they are still far apart. The Natives (“Indians”) of the Atlantic Coast speak their own languages or Creole English rather than Spanish, many are Protestants, and racially they are heavily mixed with Blacks. The main Native group is known as Miskito or Miskito Indians. They live in the northwest, relatively close to the border with Honduras.

Like almost everyone else at the time, the Miskitos participated in the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship. Despite this, the new Sandinista government, dominated by Spanish-speakers from eastern Nicaragua, was insensitive to Miskito demands for land rights and political autonomy. The FSP claims that the FSLN unceremoniously arrested the Miskito leaders when they presented their demands in Managua. Some traditional Native land was grabbed and opened to logging. After a stand-off in a local church, where several Miskitos were killed, the Miskitos turned against the FSLN government, arms in hand. The Sandinista army responded by forced relocations of thousands of Miskitos away from the war zone. The FSP tries to play down the fact that the Miskito organization MISURATA actually joined the US-backed Contras, who were fighting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government from bases in Honduras. Many Miskitos fled Nicaragua for refugee camps in that country. It wasn´t until 1987, one year after FSP published this pamphlet, that the FSLN finally changed course and agreed to grant autonomy to the Natives and Creoles of the Atlantic region.

The Miskito-Sandinista conflict must have been an acute embarrassment for leftists and radical liberals in the United States, who supported the Sandinistas and demanded an end of US funding for the Contras. The FSP´s pamphlet contains a speech given by party spokesperson Yolanda Alaniz at a discussion forum at which the other speaker, ironically from the American Indian Movement, condemned the Miskitos as lackeys of American imperialism. Alaniz, correctly in my opinion, demands that the leftist government in Managua grants autonomy to the Miskitos and other ethnic groups in western Nicaragua. To Alaniz, this is a way to strengthen the revolution and (hopefully) win back the Miskitos to the side of the revolution. I suppose Alaniz and the FSP were vindicated, in a sense, when the FSLN really did grant the western regions autonomy one year later.

Otherwise, I have to say that the pamphlet is written in a super-dogmatic Leninist-Trotskyist style which today seems almost comic. Thus, the FSP spokeswoman spends considerable time trying to prove that the Miskito Indians are a “nation” and hence have the right to national self-determination. This implies, if taken at face value, that only ethnic groups which are “nations” according to Marxist definition have such a right (presumably, the Bolshevik definition as exposited by Stalin in “Marxism and the National Question” in 1913 – the irony of Trotskyists studying Stalin is brutal). The problem with this, of course, is that the Miskitos are *not* a nation according to Stalin´s definition (yes, I know, I know, the work was approved by Lenin and the Central Committee, it was written when Stalin was still a “revolutionary”, blah blah). Stalin explicitly says that nations are products of capitalism, yet Alaniz states that the Miskitos are pre-capitalist. She also admits that the Miskitos had British support during the colonial period. Thus, the Miskitos are closer to what Marx dubbed “a reactionary people” or a “people without history” than to a nation in the Marxist-Leninist sense. Marx wouldn´t have supported Miskito autonomy! I admit that Lenin, who launched the so-called korenizatsiia policy in Soviet Russia, might have…

The FSP also makes another curious error in the pamphlet, now in the opposite direction. They claim that the right of national self-determination is absolute. This, of course, has never been the position of any Marxist, for whom national self-determination is simply an expedient demand, to put forward or reject as the exigencies of the “class struggle” allows. Soviet Russia granted independence to Finland, while trying to invade Poland and Georgia! I think the FSP took up the cause of the Miskitos due to their strong emphasis on “special oppression” and “specially oppressed groups”. As self-conscious socialist feminists, women were seen as the most important such sector, but others included Blacks, Chicanos and Native Americans. It was probably difficult for the FSP not to support the Miskitos (at least morally and politically), although it probably gave them a bad reputation in broad leftist circles as some kind of Contra dupes. Likewise, it was probably difficult for a Trotskyist group not to sperge Trotskyese in a pamphlet on current events…

That being said, I nevertheless found “The Indian-Sandinista War in Nicaragua” relatively interesting, and therefore give it three stars.

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