On Democracy & Revolution

Against the Current, No. 9, May/June 1987

Stanfield Smith

WALD’S ARTICLE “Some Perspectives on the FSLN” (ATC #7) reads like an anti-communist liberal’s critique of the FSLN. Certainly he hides his “democratic rights” liberalism behind a disguise of Marxism, at least what is passed off as a “Trotskyist” variant of it. He poses his analysis in terms of what Sandinistas say about the Soviet Union, Cuba, Poland, Afghanistan — do they criticize communism enough to satisfy American liberals concerned about “democratic forms.”

Let us look at what he says. “Unfortunately, many of the all-too-few books available in Nicaragua come from the USSR: these are quite prominently displayed…along with pro-Soviet publications in Spanish.” [Italics added.] Do Soviet books somehow contaminate the Nicaraguan revolution? Wald seems to think having Soviet books in Nicaragua is a mark against the revolution-sort of along the lines of what Reagan would say. They have “pro-Soviet publications” too — now does Wald think it more Marxist, more politically correct, to have anti-Soviet publications?

He then says, “some faculty … have been miseducated in the Soviet version of Marxism, and accordingly have a tendency to be a bit too bureaucratic.” Wald, I suppose, in opposition to crude Marxism, such as Stalinism, has the dialectical insight that simply reading a Soviet book will metamorphize someone into a bureaucrat. Next: “Knowledge of revolutionary history and theory seems to be quite low among the FSLN rank and file. When I questioned members and aspirants about the political struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, they seemed entirely ignorant of the debate.” As if that is the criterion of knowledge of revolutionary theory in 1986!

He now goes on to FSLN attitudes towards the USSR and Cuba. By which he really means: How much do they criticize these countries, and, in particular, in what fashion? That is, Wald has his little list of criticisms, and if Sandinistas mention all of them, they score 100 % on his “Correct Political Attitudes” questionnaire.

Wald makes several intimations about what in the international arena scores 100%. He seems to deny the Soviet Union is a natural ally of developing nations; he implies that something is wrong with the FSLN if they have close friendly relations with the USSR. Does he think the Sandinistas should respond to Cuban aid by criticizing Cuba’s one-party state and its refusal to permit open tendencies in its party? Should they attack the peaceful coexistence foreign policy of the Communist bloc and propose an international class war position instead? Would that help defend the Nicaraguan revolution? Should the FSLN declare the Soviet CP Stalinist, and therefore an illegitimate government? As far as I know the FSLN doesn’t even say the Reagan administration is an illegitimate government.

On Afghanistan he seems to think the USSR should simply withdraw its troops and let the Afghan contras take over. Wouldn’t Wald think it rather peculiar if the Sandinistas came out for an Afghan contra victory, which is in effect what a Soviet withdrawal means?

Unfortunately “criticism of other countries is not even a concern” to the Sandinistas he talked to. He seems to think that the most important question for a Sandinista, the measure of his M-L political maturity, is to attack Stalinism. Wald, giving his liberal academic critique, seems to think that selfless commitment to the people’s struggle, concrete actions in building one’s nation and fighting the enemy, not splitting one’s own camp by raising secondary questions (or isn’t that important?) — that’s all fine and dandy, but what really counts is having an articulated critical theory of world Stalinism.

This would be the correct thing to do if the USSR were not supporting Nicaragua and providing aid but, instead, invading it. That, however, is not the material reality. Marxists, Wald should remember, learn how to understand and operate within the constraints of the real world.

Wald is pro-Sandinista. However, he doesn’t give them a fair shake. His method is one that has given Trotskyism a bad name: judging how revolutionary others are by a rosary-bead questionnaire-one bead, Afghanistan? another, Poland? Add up how many beads a person gets right, and we know his Marxist correctness score. This is not materialism, but a test for adherence to the True Faith. It is sectarianism; it is an academic obsession with democratic forms; it is liberal anti-communism masquerading as Marxism.

–Stanfield Smith
Chicago, IL

May-June 1987, ATC 9

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