Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 27, 2012

Bernie McFall, ¡Presente!

Filed under: nicaragua,obituary — louisproyect @ 9:13 pm

I just learned today of the death of Bernie McFall. I have great memories of Bernie as a returned Tecnica volunteer who worked with the N.Y. chapter to oppose contra funding and to provide material aid for Nicaragua. Among all the wonderful people I got to know, Bernie stood out as a kind, gentle, affable human being with a very strong belief in social justice. I knew hardly anything about his personal background except that he was in the Peace Corps at one time and came from Kansas City, Missouri where I was born during WWII.

Here’s the obituary on Bernie that I received from the Weekly News Update on the Americas blog:

Longtime solidarity activist Bernie McFall died of complications from pneumonia in Elmhurst Hospital in Queens on Oct. 16. He was 76 and had been fighting two forms of cancer.

Bernie was a reliable presence at demonstrations, vigils and picket lines in the New York area for more than two decades, with a special focus on solidarity with the peoples of Central America, Cuba, Haiti and Palestine. During the contra war of the 1980s Bernie worked with the California-based organization TecNica in Nicaragua as a volunteer consultant on IBM mainframes. In the 1990s he traveled to the West Bank to observe conditions there, and he visited Cuba in the early 2000s.

Photo: Life or Liberty

Although he was probably best known for his dedication in handling the routine work of political organizing—photocopying, leafleting, mailing out fliers—Bernie was knowledgeable in many areas, especially Middle Eastern history. He could read an astonishing number of languages, including French, Spanish, German, Italian, Latin, Greek and some Mandarin. He studied Fijian in the 1970s when he was in the Peace Corps, and he learned Arabic in a US military school during the late 1950s, when he was stationed in Eritrea, which was then annexed to Ethiopia. Years later he would smile and say: “They wouldn’t necessarily approve of how I’ve used what they taught me.”

The New York-based Palestinian activist Farouk Abdel-Muhti was a close friend, and he was staying at Bernie’s apartment in April 2002 when a joint task force of immigration agents and the New York City police arrested him in what quickly became a cause célèbre. Bernie worked steadily in the two-year campaign that finally won Farouk’s release; the federal judge who freed Farouk described the Palestinian’s imprisonment as “Kafkaesque.” Bernie himself was threatened and harassed by the police and others during the campaign; filmmaker Konrad Aderer provides more information on Bernie’s role at the Life or Liberty website.

Bernie was involved with the Weekly News Update from its first days in 1990, working tirelessly to select and clip articles to be summarized and often arranging for photocopying. We will be joining with others to honor him with a memorial; we’ll announce the plans as soon as we know them.

A few weeks before he died, Bernie asked to make sure his books were made available to people who would make good use of them. Please contact us at weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com if you would like more information on the collection, which includes a number of books in Arabic.

Bernie’s birthday, February 2012. Photo: Rena Cohen/NYC

May 6, 2012

Michael Urmann ¡Presente!

Filed under: nicaragua,South Africa,Tecnica — louisproyect @ 6:49 pm

Michael Urmann, the founder of Tecnica, one of the important Nicaragua solidarity organizations of the 1980s, is dead.

Michael Francis Urmann Nov. 20, 1944 – Apr. 28, 2012 Resident of Berkeley Michael F. Urmann, died April 28 of heart failure. Born Nov. 20, 1944, son of Frank and Katherine (Donovan) Urmann, he grew up in Pasadena, earned a B.S./M.A. (1968) in Economics from UC Berkeley, and Ph.D. at University of Utah. He taught economics for 20 years. He founded TecNica Volunteers, a nonprofit that sent supplies/technical volunteers to Nicaragua, expanding to Africa. He was active in the Free Speech Movement (1960)s, and worked tirelessly for peace and economic justice. He is survived by wife Mary Engle (Berkeley); sons David Urmann of India; Daniel Urmann (Salt Lake); son and daughter, Reed and Lily Urmann (Berkeley); mother, Katherine Urmann and sister, Nancy (Jack) Butler of Gig Harbor, WA. A celebration of his life will be held in June in Berkeley.

I first got word from his cousin, who had read my article on the death of Tecnica volunteer Paul Baizerman that had mentioned Michael. In a chilling coincidence, both Paul and Michael died of heart disease.

I was very close to Michael for about 3 years when we worked together on the project that he founded and where he served as Executive Director. As president of the board, my major responsibility was recruiting volunteers on the East Coast and serving as Michael’s chief adviser. In his trips east, he always stayed at my place and I always dropped in at his rented house in Berkeley when I was in the Bay Area.

Unfortunately, we became estranged after I voted with the rest of the board to remove him as executive director. A couple of years after the event, I wrote a letter to him trying to mend fences. I got an angry reply from Mary Engle telling me how betrayed they felt and requesting that I never write them again.

When I spoke to Hari Dillon, who had replaced Michael as executive director, a few days after my article on Paul Baizerman was posted, he told me that he had hoped to get in touch with Michael who he hadn’t spoken to since Tecnica days. I asked Hari to broker a reconciliation with Michael, if things worked out between the two of them. I was planning a trip out to San Francisco in May and looked forward to seeing both Hari and Michael.

Looking back at the board meeting that resulted in Michael’s firing, I regret having voted with the rest of the board. If I had voted against it or even abstained, our friendship would have continued.  Would it have been wrong to vote against the wisdom of the board? I suppose so but sometimes friendship trumps duty. Tecnica did not have much of a future after the FSLN was ousted in 1990 but at least I would have been able to maintain ties with a valued colleague and comrade who came out of the same sectarian crucible as me, but in his case the Maoist Progressive Labor Party rather than Trotskyism.

Like the SWP, the PLP colonized industry with the same pathetic results. Michael worked in a warehouse in the Bay Area organized by the ILWU, a traditionally leftist union. The work was backbreaking and the political payoff practically nil. After dropping out of the PLP, Michael went to the U. of Utah and earned an economics doctorate in 1981 doing a dissertation on the CIO and rank-and-file Communists that could only be written at a place like that. From the Proquest abstract:

This dissertation asserts the view that the organizing activity of rank and file Communists was an important element in the hitherto undescribed and mysterious process that led to the CIO’s rapid growth and was the basis of the strength of the CIO. It then investigates the nature of the activities as well as the character and personal backgrounds that made it possible for them to play this role. This dissertation presents a new interpretation of the role of rank and file Communists in industrial unions; it offers a new explanation for the successful creation of those unions.

In preparing this article, I learned that U. of Utah professor emeritus E.K. Hunt was Michael’s dissertation chairman. When Hunt came to the U. of Utah in 1978 Michael was already a graduate student and had assembled a lot of material about the CP’s role in organizing the CIO but nobody in the Department wanted to touch it because it was favorable to the CP.  Hunt, an occasional contributor to “Science and Society”, stepped forward and became his dissertation adviser.

Michael was a graduate teaching assistant in the economics department but never held a full-time academic job until after parting ways with Tecnica. When reminiscing about his time in Utah, Michael hardly ever mentioned the U. of Utah. His shining moment was starting up the first art movie theater in Salt Lake City. When he looked around and saw that there was none, he decided to do it himself.

The same kind of seat-of-the-pants initiative was demonstrated in a trip to Nicaragua with a group of economists around that time. Coming back to the U.S., he went to the airport to change to another flight. When the clerk had trouble working the system, Michael volunteered to come around and help him or her out. Since these were the early days of the revolution, when everything seemed possible, Michael was given carte blanche to change his flight. Flying back to the U.S., he realized that many of the country’s more skilled workers had fled. The light bulb went on over his head. Michael has his own take on the origins of Tecnica in 1984, even though he does not mention the encounter with the reservations clerk.

I should add that Michael’s article appears on a relatively new website titled Tecnica Volunteers that has lots of interesting material including the video “At Work in Nicaragua” that I digitized from a VHS tape some years ago. (Unfortunately, there is no contact information.) The video starts with Mary Engle’s observation that the first thing that hit her when she got off the plane in Managua was the heat.

My first trip to Nicaragua was with a Guardian Newspaper (the defunct American newsweekly, not the British liberal newspaper) delegation in November 1984 when Tecnica was in its infancy. A high school student in the delegation handed me a leaflet at some point with words “Programmers needed in Nicaragua” in 24 point type. That experience left me feeling like St. Paul on the road to Damascus.

As soon as I got back to the U.S., I called the number on the leaflet and volunteered for the next brigade to Nicaragua, which occurred just six months or so later. I quit my job at Memorial Sloan-Kettering and was all set on working in Nicaragua as a volunteer. From the minute I met Michael, I found that we were on the same wavelength. We had been burned by sectarian politics and were committed to the kind of broad revolutionary movement that had toppled Somoza. The best thing we could do in that period was work to build solidarity with Nicaragua to help become part of a broader process of revolutionizing Central America and then the rest of the continent. At the time our hopes were best expressed in Roger Burbach and Orlando Nuñez’s “Fire in the Americas: Forging a Revolutionary Agenda”. (Burbach eventually became a member of Tecnica’s advisory council.)

Michael persuaded me to turn down a job at the Ministry of Construction working on one of the country’s few IBM mainframes, about 1/10th the power of what I worked on at Sloan-Kettering, and returning to New York where I would start a Tecnica chapter. Over a 3-year period, we routinely held outreach meetings that drew over 100 people, many of whom became volunteers. I had missionary zeal around this project, so much so that I would allow nothing to get in the way. One time I went to an IBM PC User’s group and raised my hand during the regularly scheduled Q&A, when the typical question was something about the compatibility of some printer with MS-DOS, and starting talking about programmers being needed in Nicaragua. When the attendees starting guffawing at my intervention, the chairman told them to quiet down and invited me to the podium to finish my remarks. Those were the days.

As passionate as I was about Tecnica, nobody could match Michael Urmann for having the vision that was necessary to move the project forward. When he came to New York on fund-raising trips, he was able to convince some very powerful rich liberals to ante up. I remember his description of meetings with people like Stewart Mott, the GM heir, and Abby Rockefeller whose last name should speak for itself. Michael told me that Mott lived in a Fifth Avenue Penthouse equipped with a greenhouse. Mott had apparently become inured to pitches from the left and could barely suppress a yawn during Michael’s presentation. Abby, on the other hand, was more enthusiastic but spent much of the time hyping her own project, which was some kind of toilet that turned excrement into fertilizer right on the spot. We chuckled about this at the time but probably would have figured out some years later how important such a device would be given what John Bellamy Foster refers to as the ecological rift.

As a personality, Michael was one of a kind. Physically, his legs were disproportionately long and he strode forward on his lean frame as if he were wound up. Wearing a Woody Allen floppy hat in all seasons of the year that somehow worked with a professorial tweed jacket and tan khakis, he made his own style work. Considering the fact that he was lean as a rail, a non-smoker, and athletic (his favorite pastime was surfing), I was deeply surprised to learn that he had developed heart troubles.

Michael had an impish sense of humor that once took me by surprise. In 1987 Michael and I had met with a Cuban diplomat at their Mission in NY in order to discuss expanding the program to Cuba. This meeting apparently gave the FBI the pretext it needed to crack down on Tecnica and led to intimidating interrogations of some of our volunteers at their workplaces. They were told that we running a high-tech espionage network that ran from Nicaragua to Cuba to the USSR and that they’d better cooperate. All that because the Cubans were interested in learning more about PC’s at the time.

Out of the blue, Michael called me at work to tell me that the FBI had my name and was coming to see me at Goldman-Sachs that day. I nearly pissed in my pants. He was only joking as it turned out.

The FBI had to stop its harassment because the media called it for what it was. A Washington Post editorial from May 14 1987:

IT IS NOT ILLEGAL to travel to Nicaragua. Any American has a right to go there and to teach, repair tractors, help with the harvest or work in a clinic. Many do go, some as a concrete expression of political opposition to the Reagan administration’s policies in Central America, others for purely humanitarian reasons. This can be extremely dangerous. One American volunteer, Benjamin Linder, who went under the auspicesof a group called Tecnica, was killed there last month. And it can be unpopular, since the Sandinista government understandably does not have many friends in this country. But it is not illegal.

In spite of all this, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been questioning large numbers of those who have returned from volunteer stints in Nicaragua. More than two years ago, Director William Webster testified that about 100 people had already been interviewed, and the pace has apparently picked up in recent months. The FBI will not discuss the reasons for these interviews other than to say that they are related to “foreign counterintelligence investigations.” This may be so, but in justifying inquiries such as these the bureau has a particularly heavy — and thus far unmet — burden of proof to bear.

Tecnica continued to thrive over the next three years, so much so that Michael decided to expand the program to southern Africa. In late December of 1989, we sent a needs assessment team to Zambia to meet with the ANC that consisted of Michael, Mary Engle, myself, Jeff Klein, and Jeff’s companion whose name—like much else—escapes me now. Jeff was a colorful character in his own right. He worked as a machinist but also had advanced electronic communications skills. As a member of the CPUSA, he became “proletarianized” like so many other members of such groups, except for people like Michael and me. Jeff had studied archaeology in graduate school and even did some field work before getting a job at GE in Lynn, long a bastion of left organizing.

One day we paid a cab driver to drive us around Lusaka to get a feel for the capital city. Michael, who considered himself a specialist in household economics more than anything else, asked the driver why so many office buildings were left unfinished. His answer: you people took the construction equipment with you. Although the cabbie had no idea that we were there to fight against neocolonialism, Michael said that he felt lifted up by his militancy. Like many long-time leftists, his greatest joy was seeing people fight against their oppression.

After Michael returned to the academy, he stayed connected to the left. I never got in touch with him but tried to keep up with his activities through Google. Here he is talking on the economics crisis:

And here he is speaking at a peace rally:

March 28, 2012

Paul Baizerman— ¡Presente!

Filed under: nicaragua,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 5:52 pm

Like Proust’s madeleine dipped in tea, Google has always helped to stir up remembrances of things past: high school, Bard College, the SWP, etc. I pop a name into the search field and a flood of hyperlinked associations wells up.

Paul Baizerman on an delegation to observe the Nicaraguan elections in 2001

Yesterday I googled “Paul Baizerman” to check on my erstwhile compañero from Tecnica, a technical aid volunteer project for Sandinista Nicaragua and the liberation movements in southern Africa that existed from the mid-1980s to the early 90s. During my stint as president of the board of directors, I had come into contact with many good people, including Paul.

I was sad to discover that he died last December, a month after suffering a heart attack. A paid announcement in the NY Times stated:

BAIZERMAN–Paul, 67, died December 6, in New York City. Teacher, activist, leader, organizer, community builder, friend, mentor in New York City, Cuba and Central America. Survived by wife Yudalmy Llanes Jenky, brother, and loving family and friends.

There was also this communication from Shelley Sherman that showed up on a Yahoo mailing list dedicated to slain American volunteer in Nicaragua Ben Linder who worked with Tecnica:

We just got news that Paul Baizerman died today in New York City, accompanied by his wife Yudi and his brother, Mike. He had been really sick and in the hospital about a month. He had lost a lot of weight and was quite weak. Apparently he had a heart attack, and wasn’t strong enough to rally. We had been hoping to see him at the end of December, but only found out this weekend that he had really taken a turn for the worse. Paul was a hard worker and a committed friend. We don’t have more news yet, and I am not sure who to notify, but thought I’d start with you. Please pass the word along.

Abrazos,

Shelley

Shelley ran the Tecnica office in Managua and, like Paul, was someone I hadn’t had contact with for over 20 years.

Despite all the time I spent in conversations with him about Nicaragua work, I never asked Paul once about his political background. My tendency is to impute CPUSA affiliations to any Jew from Brooklyn (racial profiling?) but looking back in retrospect, it is probably more accurate to see Paul as not much different than me—someone who got radicalized by the war in Vietnam.

Indeed, doing a bit of research on Google yesterday led me to this conclusion. A book titled Justice, justice: school politics and the eclipse of liberalism by Daniel Hiram Perlstein mentioned Paul:

Whereas the class-based, organizationally disciplined politics of the Communist Party lacked appeal, the civil rights and peace movements animated the young activists. In the late 1950s, Susan Metz participated in the Youth Marches for Integrated Schools organized by Bayard Rustin, and later she picketed northern Woolworth’s branches in support of southern sit-ins. In college Metz was campus chairwoman of the Student Peace Union. While in college, Bronx elementary school teacher Vivian Stromberg joined campaigns against strontium-90 and bomb tests. In the early 1960s, Stromberg went south as a freedom rider. Brooklyn teacher Paul Baizerman became involved in protests against racism and the Vietnam War while attending Brooklyn College between 1961 and 1967.

I should add that Vivian Stromberg became deeply involved with Central American issues in the 1980s, serving as the executive director of MADRE.

Paul went down to Nicaragua on a Tecnica delegation mainly to support his brother-in-law Mark who was an electrician but who did not speak a word of Spanish (Paul was fluent). The two of them came back to New York totally fired up with a commitment to recruit other skilled trades people and line up material aid for state-owned enterprises that were desperately in need of spare parts and tools. Somewhere along the line I suggested to Paul that he set up a Skilled Trades Task Force to organize the work and he embraced the idea. Long after Tecnica folded, an outcome almost guaranteed by the loss of Sandinista power in Nicaragua, the task force continued providing material aid to those enterprises that clung to the revolutionary ideals of the past.

Michael Urmann

From the very moment Paul got involved with Tecnica, he clashed with the founder and executive director Michael Urmann, an economist from the University of Utah who founded Tecnica. Michael was resented by Tecnica volunteers in Berkeley who preferred a more “horizontal” model for the project. He insisted that in order for the project to do any good, it had to have a professional apparatus run like a nonprofit. I agreed with his perspective and defended his approach to people like Paul. My guess is that there would have been a lot more static if I had not served as his defender in the organization.

I grew fairly close to Michael in this period, mostly because we had a similar past. As a member of the Progressive Labor Party, he had “colonized” an ILWU-organized warehouse in the Bay Area long before my own ill-fated attempt at joining the industrial working class in 1978 and with pretty much the same results. Backbreaking work and working class indifference to his “communist” message convinced him to resign from the PLP and concentrate on an economics degree.

Despite his academic pursuits, Michael’s real passion was entrepreneurialism. After arriving in Salt Lake City to begin teaching, he was disappointed to discover that there were no good movie theaters. This led him to start his own, a decision influenced by his father-in-law’s own entrepreneurial drive.

Hari Dillon in 2004

Perhaps in an effort to buffer his own top-down and even haughty manner from the displeasure of the Tecnica rank-and-file, Michael hired Hari Dillon to serve as project director for Tecnica. Like Michael, Hari was a former member of the PLP but unlike Michael had remained an activist over the years, earning respect particularly for his anti-apartheid work.

Hari co-authored a book with Jim Dann, another PLP ex-member, titled The Five Retreats: A History of the Failure of the Progressive Labor Party. Their analysis was shared by Michael Urmann. Moreover, they came to conclusions not that different from my own. This made collaboration between the three of us all the more possible, even when Hari and I were troubled by Michael’s stubborn refusal to work with others as a team.

In November 1968, PL’ers at San Francisco State led one of the most important student strikes of the time. One of its main demands was to create a Black Studies Department, something that university presidents were far more reluctant to satisfy back then than today. For his part in the protests, Hari spent a year in prison on riot charges. One of the other key leaders of the struggle, although not a PL’er, was fellow student Danny Glover who became close friends with Hari.

In 1991 Michael Urmann’s unilateral decision-making went too far. He began making financial decisions that went against Tecnica’s board of directors’ oversight and was fired. He was replaced by Hari Dillon who tried to keep the organization going until a shortfall of donations traceable to the collapse of the Sandinista project shut our doors.

Not long after Tecnica collapsed, Hari landed a job as executive director of the Vanguard Foundation, a Bay Area funding source for many different left causes. Every so often I googled “Hari Dillon” to see what he was up to, just as I do for Michael Urmann (he appears to be a retired professor.)

After discovering that Paul had died, I checked to see if I could find a current email address for Hari to tell him the news. He probably had much less interest than I did in a figure from his past, but I felt obligated to spread the word.

What I discovered truly shocked me:

Glover fraudster faces prison

By WENN.com | Friday, November 11, 2011

Samuel Cohen, 53, approached Lethal Weapon star Glover when the actor was a director of the Vanguard Public Foundation in 2002, offering to allow the organisation to profit from a Microsoft buyout of his software company.

Glover introduced Cohen to Vanguard president Hari Dillon, and they eventually invested a total of $30 million in Cohen’s company – but the Microsoft deal didn’t exist and Cohen was no longer even working for the business he claimed was about to be sold.

A court in San Francisco, California heard Cohen spent the profits of the scam on flashy cars, priceless gems, private jets, and a luxury home.

On Wednesday (09Nov11), he was found guilty of 29 counts of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering. He is due to be sentenced in February (12).

This scandal has sent shock waves through the liberal and leftist foundation world. You can find a three partanalysis by Richard Cohen (not the dreadful Washington Post columnist) on the Blue Avocado website (part one, part two, part three) that is devoted to nonprofit issues.  To put it mildly, Hari Dillon’s mishandling of finances made Michael Urmann’s look like stealing a dollar or two from a cookie jar by comparison.

Under a subheading titled Character Counts, Cohen observes:

Dillon and many of the Vanguard people are hard to find now or won’t speak on the record, but Mouli continues to issue self-congratulatory pronouncements on his website. It’s hard to imagine that the philanthropic values of Mouli Cohen (or his wife, the author of the Kosher Billionaire’s Secret Recipe) were any kind of comfortable match with those of the foundation.

For instance, representative of Mouli’s philanthropic activities were support for the European Center for Jewish Students, which works to increase the Jewish population of Europe against the threat of intermarriage and assimilation; a Jewish orphanage in Odessa; facilities development at the Ukraine tomb of a Lubavitcher Hasidic rabbi; and a library and museum in Israel affiliated with the Lubavitcher Hasids. In addition, he claims to be a leader and donor to several organizations which mention him nowhere on their websites, including Camp Okizu, Seva Foundation, and Soroko Medical Center.

Doesn’t sound like the kind of guy who would identify with the goals of a foundation that donated money to the ANSWER coalition, does it?

Cohen adds that Dillon’s ambitions, ironically mirroring Michael Urmann’s back in the early 90s who gambled that work with the ANC would pay huge dividends, amounted to political hubris:

Hari Dillon and the donors were frustrated with what they saw as relatively little impact through making small grants to others. Instead, they dreamed of the impact and profile they could have with millions of dollars deployed directly on Vanguard’s own staff-led initiatives.

Poignantly, donors and Dillon even became convinced that they had “converted” Mouli into a progressive left-winger. They brought him to a program of “urban peace awards” for the opportunity to observe his reactions. Later they congratulated one another on Mouli’s solemn statement that he was “moved.”

Back in the early 90s, after Tecnica’s collapse, I made a mental note to myself never to get involved with the world of liberal foundations again. There is something rotten at the core of such enterprises since they are based on values that run contrary to my own socialist beliefs. When you have to rely on the generosity of millionaire liberals, who might decide that Nicaragua is not “sexy” enough for them, you are at their mercy.

Paul Baizerman, with his pronounced Brooklyn accent and love for the average Nicaraguan worker, was about as far from that world as can be imagined. The future of humanity rests on the gathering together of such people into a powerful movement that can eliminate the profit motive and usher in true democracy for the first time in our history.

Paul Baizerman— ¡Presente!

Tecnica at work in Nicaragua

September 7, 2010

Plumpy’nut and the politics of food

Filed under: health and fitness,nicaragua — louisproyect @ 6:56 pm

Last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine section has a fascinating article titled The Peanut Solution that is focused on a food product called Plumpy’nut that is supposed to be a savior for children suffering from malnutrition in very poor third world countries. Basically, it is a mixture of peanut and other high calorie food additives that has a dramatic effect:

One doctor who decided to take a risk was Mark Manary, a pediatrician and professor, who was working at a hospital in Malawi. His malnutrition ward was crammed full of dozens of children lying on mats. “It was really an incredible burden,” Manary recalled. “These kids are deathly ill, you’re doing whatever you can for them, and you think you’re on the right track, and then you come in the next morning and four of them have died.” Manary emptied out the ward, sending his patients home with Plumpy’nut. Many malnutrition experts were horrified. “It seemed dangerous to them, and it made them afraid,” said Manary, who recalled that one eminent figure stood up at a conference and said, “You’re killing children.” In fact, when the results were analyzed, it was found that 95 percent of the subjects who received Plumpy’nut at home made a full recovery, a rate far better than that achieved with inpatient treatment.

The Malawi test emboldened Doctors Without Borders, which recognized that treating children outside clinical settings would allow a vastly scaled-up response to humanitarian emergencies. In 2005, it distributed Plumpy’nut to 60,000 children with severe acute malnutrition during a famine in Niger. Ninety percent completely recovered, and only 3 percent died. Within two years, the United Nations endorsed home care with Plumpy’nut as the preferred treatment for severe acute malnutrition. “This is an enormous breakthrough,” said Werner Schultink, chief of nutrition for Unicef. “It has created the opportunity to reach many more children with relatively limited resources.” Nonetheless, Schultink estimates that the product reaches only 10 to 15 percent of those who need it, because of logistical and budgetary constraints.

Plumpy’nut was invented by a French physician named André Briend who got the idea for the food product after opening a jar of Nutella, a hazel nut spread, one morning. Once he had put the finishing touches on it, he approached Nutriset, a French manufacturer, with a proposal to mass produce it. Briend and Michael Lescanne, the founder of Nutriset, own the patent but have licensed it almost exclusively to poorer countries, all in Africa. Attempts to get a license in more developed countries have been turned down, thus raising concerns that Nutriset is using its humanitarian reputation to protect the bottom line of a highly profitable business ($66 million in 2009). America’s sole licensee for Plumpy’nut, a 38 year old Rhode Island woman named Navyn Salem, defended the tight control:

“What we don’t want,” Salem told me, “is for General Mills to take over and put our Ethiopian producer out of business.” Opponents of the patent, however, say that Nutriset is just trying to avoid competition that would cut into its bottom line. Recently, a handful of companies have set up shop in countries where, because of the vagaries of various treaties, the Plumpy’nut patent is not in force. In the United States, two would-be competitors have taken a more confrontational route. They filed a lawsuit with the federal district court in Washington, D.C., seeking to have the patent invalidated.

Some American businesses challenging the Nutriset monopoly also appear to be mixing equal amounts of philanthropy and mammon:

The plaintiffs are a Texas-based manufacturer called Breedlove Foods and the Mama Cares Foundation, the charitable arm of a snack-food manufacturer based in Carlsbad, Calif. Both are small nonprofit organizations with strong ties to Christian aid organizations. But Nutriset’s defenders suspect that larger corporate interests are lurking in the background. In the French press, the patent dispute has been portrayed as a case of a plucky Gallic company besieged, as Le Monde put it, by “ ‘légions’ Américaines.”

In fact, there is a not-so-hidden instigator behind the case: the American peanut lobby. A few years ago, a Unicef official gave a presentation to an industry trade group, forecasting dramatically increasing demand for peanut pastes. That got the growers excited. They looked at Nutriset’s patent and came to the conclusion that, as a technical matter, Plumpy’nut was really nothing more than fortified peanut butter. “People have been making this stuff for centuries,” Jeff Johnson, a board member of the Peanut Institute, said. “It’s nothing new.” Johnson is the president of Birdsong Peanuts, one of the country’s largest shelling operations. Through a friend, he heard about Breedlove Foods, which was based in Lubbock, close to one of his processing plants. Johnson met with the company and proposed a challenge to Nutriset.

“It’s a cotton-pickin’ shame that they decided to take the stance that they have with the intellectual-property issue,” said David Fish, Breedlove’s chief executive, whose lawsuit contends that the patent is hurting starving children. But even some Nutriset critics have questioned the motives behind the lawsuit, pointing out that America has a long and controversial history of dumping its agricultural surpluses on poor countries through food aid. “If you want to develop countries out of third-world status,” Fish replies, “they’ve got to come out and compete on the open market.”

Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, a fairly long-time advocate of policies that favor the poor in developing countries (after an earlier experience in making such people poor through “shock therapy” programs), approached the Plumpy’nut controversy from an entirely different angle in this morning’s Huffington Post. While hailing an innovation that could save children’s lives, he thought that something more was needed:

It is critical, however, that we not confuse the many types of hunger and malnutrition (poor nutrition) around the world. Plumpy’Nut is not a miracle cure for global hunger or for global malnutrition. Plumpy’Nut addresses only one kind of hunger — acute episodes of extreme food deprivation or illness, the kind mainly associated with famines and conflicts. Plumpy’Nut is not designed for the other major kind of hunger, notably chronic hunger due to long-term poor diets. Nor is it designed to fight long-term malnutrition that is due to various kinds of chronic micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron, zinc and vitamin-A deficiencies.

The chronic kind of hunger is by far the most prevalent kind of hunger in the world, though it is more hidden and less recognized by the American public. As part of the UN Millennium Project, which one of us (Jeffrey Sachs) directed on behalf of then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Hunger Task Force found that chronic undernourishment accounts for more than 90 percent of global hunger, while acute undernourishment (starvation) addressed by Plumpy’Nut accounts for less than 10 percent. Of course, the acute episodes are far more widely known to the US public because those are the ones seen on TV in the context of wars, droughts, and other upheavals.

Additionally, Sachs looks at the problem of hunger from the angle of political economy, something that is ignored entirely in the NY Times article:

Our recommended solutions therefore include the following. In cases of acute malnutrition, UNICEF and other agencies should promote locally produced, quality-controlled, ready-to-use fortified foods and should resist claims of patent protection that impede local production or low-cost imports, as needed. In cases of chronic undernourishment, rich and poor governments in partnership should promote improved agriculture and dietary diversity.

Unfortunately, the goal of “improved agriculture” is not something that rich countries would shoot for if it entails a clash with the export-agriculture oriented agrarian gentry that have been in cahoots with American imperialism for the past century at least.

That was something that I was reminded of when I saw this reference in the Times article in a passage describing the operations in Navyn Salem’s Nutriset factory:

After the Plumpy’nut was mixed, it was run through overhead pipes into a contraption that squirted it into foil packets, which were sealed and ejected onto a conveyor belt, where workers packed them for shipping. In an adjacent warehouse, there were pallets of boxes labeled for delivery to Haiti, Yemen and Nicaragua.

When I visited Nicaragua in 1987, the director of a large-scale cooperative told our delegation that Nicaragua soil, enriched by volcano eruptions and steady rainfall, was the most productive in the hemisphere. You drop seeds in the ground and the crops will grow themselves. What needed to happen, however, was an end to the contra war which resulted in crops being burned, tractors being blown up and campesinos murdered.

Between 1980 and 1984, the first four years of Sandinista power, the gross product in agriculture increased by 10 percent a year. While continuing to maintain the large-scale farms that produced cash crops for export like coffee, cotton and sugar, land reform empowered smaller holdings owned by the formerly landless to produce beans, corn and other foodstuffs for the local market. It was the success of this approach that antagonized Washington, anxious to snuff out what Noam Chomsky refers to as the power of a positive example.

After Violeta Chamorro defeated Daniel Ortega in the 1990 election, she enacted “economic reforms” that were ripped from the pages of the Jeffrey Sachs of yore. The May 17, 1993 Journal of Commerce reported:

State-owned enterprises were sold or closed, the huge government bureaucracy was retrenched, and markets were thrown open to foreign trade. This sort of economic shock therapy was dictated to Mrs. Chamorro’s government by foreign lenders, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. But the technocrats in Mrs. Chamorro’s inner circle believed strongly that their policies would be a magnet for foreign investors.

In other words, Nicaragua was turned into Haiti. Haiti was the hemisphere’s poorest country and now Nicaragua would land in second place.

After Daniel Ortega’s return to power in 2007, nobody expected a return to the ambitious goals of the 1980s least of all the Sandinista party that had become accommodated to global capitalism. If socialism was no longer on the agenda, the party—to its credit—was reinstating some of the egalitarian measures that benefited the poor as the website Tortilla con sal reported:

Since coming to power in January 2007 the FSLN government has brought in a number of measures aimed at increasing food security and sovereignty for the population and the nation as a whole.

The measures implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG-FOR) and other public institutions related to agricultural production include the Zero Hunger Program which aims to ensure that 75,000 rural families previously suffering varying levels of food insecurity are able to produce enough food to meet their own needs over a period of five years.

During the first two years of the FSLN government 32,359 food production packages (consisting of a pregnant cow, a pregnant sow, ten chickens, one cockerel, seeds and other inputs) were provided to the same number of families in rural areas of Nicaragua.

The government has also successfully increased the amount of basic grains being produced by small and medium farmers and agricultural cooperatives since 2007 as a result of its certified seeds program. 140,010 small and medium farmers who previously did not have access to credit to produce food were provided with zero interest in-kind loans of certified seeds and fertilizer in 2008.

Additionally MAG-FOR has overseen the implementation of the National Seed System, an inter-institutional system involving a number of public institutions. By November 2008, the national seed system had converted Nicaragua into the biggest producer of certified seeds for national production in Central America.

All this, of course, has motivated the ultraright in the U.S. to paint Daniel Ortega as a threat to American interests. As might be expected, President Obama has found their complaints seductive. In June 2009, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a government aid agency, decided to withhold $62 million from Nicaragua, a substantial sum for a poor country. The head of the agency complained that Daniel Ortega’s party had been involved in voting irregularities, a stunning complaint from a government that filled the pockets of the FSLN opposition parties with millions of dollars in 1990. As is always the case with such behavior, we are not dealing with a double standard. As Noam Chomsky once wrote:

Reigning doctrines are often called a “double standard.” The term is misleading. It is more accurate to describe them as a single standard, clear and unmistakable, the standard that Adam Smith called the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind: . . . All for ourselves, and nothing for other people.” Much has changed since his day, but the vile maxim flourishes.

From: Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

June 17, 2010

How a young Nicaraguan changed my life

Filed under: nicaragua,sectarianism,socialism — louisproyect @ 5:38 pm

Back in the early 1980s, when I had my first face-to-face with Peter Camejo about his new ideas for building a revolutionary movement, I asked where he got them since they were so different from anything I had ever heard. He smiled and said, “I stole them from the Nicaraguans”.

Of course, he was just making a joke of the sort that I and so many others had enjoyed over the years. But beneath the joke there was a serious message that I got a much better understanding of over the years. He was trying to say that the Marxism of Carlos Fonseca and other Latin American rebels who had been influenced by the Cuban revolution, Mariategui and other currents indigenous to Latin America had replaced the kind of doctrinaire Trotskyism he had believed in for decades.

I have now discovered that while my interpretation of Camejo’s quip was true, on another level he was being literal. He did in effect steal (or appropriate) the political approach of a Nicaraguan but ironically it was not one of the top Sandinista leaders, but a young rank-and-filer. My experience in Nicaragua in the late 1980s was almost identical. I was always astonished by the high level of comprehension of ordinary men and women in the barrios who knew more about US politics than 99 percent of the people living there.

Reading the chapter in Peter’s memoir “North Star” finally revealed to me the source of his confession about “stealing from the Nicaraguans”. As anybody who has been reading my commentary online over the years, it will be obvious that I stole my ideas from Peter who stole them in turn from a Nicaraguan.

* * * *

From “North Star: a Memoir”

Sometimes even a small event in life can bring about much greater understanding. I had such an experience in Nicaragua, one that started a change in my life.

The FSLN gathered people together for block meetings by setting a tire on fire as a way to let everyone on the block know that a meeting was about to happen. One day I came across such a meeting by accident. I can’t remember who was with me but we decided to stay. A young man, probably no more than twenty-four, stood on a box and began speaking to the whole neighborhood that had come out to listen.

As he spoke it dawned on me. The way he communicated, the message he gave, was what I had always tried to say; but he used only clear, understandable words and his message built on the living history of Nicaragua and the consciousness of the workers and their families who were listening.

He explained how Nicaragua belongs to its own people. How rich foreigners had come and taken their country from them but that they were the people who worked and created the wealth of their nation. They had the right to run it and to decide what should be done. He spoke about the homeless children in the streets and how under the U.S.-backed dictatorship nothing was done for them. He described in detail how the FSLN was trying to solve each problem. That it would take time. That Nicaragua was still in danger of foreign intervention. To never forget those who gave their lives so that Nicaragua could be a free nation. At each mention of the departed, the crowd shouted, “Presente,” to affirm that the missing ones were still with them, here. At every meeting of the Sandinistas, regardless where it was held, someone would read off the names of people from that block, school, or union who had given their lives for freedom. Everyone at the meeting would shout “Presente.”

My mind began to race. Of course this young man was not going to use terms that would lead to confusion; he would place these issues in the culture, history, and language of his people. It dawned on me—that is why this movement had won. They didn’t name their newspaper after some term from European history; they didn’t speak of “socialism” or “Marxism.” While the rest of the left of the 1960s and ’70s was in decline throughout Latin America, caught up in the rhetoric of European Marxism and the influence of Stalinism, the FSLN had delivered a great victory for freedom.

I thought about the United States—the great traditions of our struggles for justice, our symbols, our language—and how disconnected the left was from that reality. I am not sure if it was on that night or another that I had the concrete thought, “We need a paper called the North Star” the greatest symbol of our nation’s struggle for freedom. I remember keeping these thoughts to myself. I didn’t talk to Fred about it. Possibly I told Gloria, I can’t remember. But etched in my memory forever is that block meeting with the fire in the middle of street and some unknown youth changing my life.

June 5, 2010

Letter to John Weeks

Filed under: nicaragua — louisproyect @ 2:18 pm

John Weeks

Hello, John

I don’t know if you remember me but I chaired the debate between you and  Paul Berman just after the Sandinistas were voted out of office.  Originally Michael Moore had agreed to debate Berman but I was persuaded  that you would be a better choice because you were an “expert”. Worst  decision of my life, I am afraid.

I just took a look at your website (http://jweeks.org) that was  announced on Jerry Levy’s mailing list, a gathering place for Marxist  economists. Out of curiosity, I went there and found a paper that you  and your wife wrote in 1992 making the discovery that the FSLN was not  really “revolutionary socialist”, like you–a professor emeritus–I  suppose. It was the same argument I heard from James Petras around that  time. One imagines that if you or him had been president of Nicaragua,  then the country would have been saved.

But leaving aside your politics, which someone described to me as Maoist  (unfortunately after the event), the real question I have always had is  why you were so unprepared. You winged it for 20 minutes or so, while  the filthy Paul Berman had a well-prepared presentation. I remember it  like yesterday, you informing an audience of solidarity activists that  the FSLN was just like the PRI in Mexico–something in clear distinction  to the cozy relationship the USA enjoyed with Mexico.

Anyhow, I hope you are enjoying your professor emeritus status. My  advice is to take up gardening or basket-weaving and turn down any  invitations to speak at such debates in the future for the sake of the  radicals who might mistakenly invite you.

Yours truly,

Louis Proyect

January 18, 2008

A sectarian version of the lessons of Nicaragua

Filed under: Latin America,nicaragua — louisproyect @ 6:41 pm

Typical Nicaraguan home: Permanent Revolution
could have brought peace and prosperity, however

As somebody who was very involved with Nicaragua solidarity in the 1980s, I was curious to see what Claudio Villas had to say in an article titled “Nicaragua: Lessons of a country that did not finish its revolution” that appears on the In Defense of Marxism website. For those who are not familiar with the Internationalist Marxist Tendency (IMT) that produces this website, a word or two of introduction might be necessary.

The IMT is a fairly orthodox Trotskyist grouping that is the result of a split by the late Ted Grant and Alan Woods from the so-called Militant Tendency now led by Peter Taaffe. Both groups project themselves as the core members of a Fourth International that will supposedly vindicate Leon Trotsky’s political legacy. Neither group has shown the slightest interest in rethinking what the Bolshevik experience might mean in a context other than turn-of-the-century Czarist Russia, but the Grant-Woods tendency has demonstrated an enthusiasm for the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela that does not fit exactly into the October 1917 template.

Villas states that his article studies “the lessons of the Nicaraguan Revolution” in order to help “understand the ongoing processes in Venezuela today.” As becomes obvious in no time at all, Nicaragua becomes one of those negative examples that the Trotskyist movement dotes on. Forever wagging its finger at the mass movement, it assumes that calling attention to a betrayal is conducive to correct revolutionary practice. This is what I call the subway preacher school of Marxism. Once a week or so, I get stuck on the number one train going up to Columbia University with a free-lance preacher who lectures the subway car about the perils of sin. Let me put it this way, preaching against sin or reformist betrayal might make the preacher feel good but it hardly changes people’s behavior.

I was struck by the similarities between Villas’s article and those I have read about Cuba in the Trotskyist press, which revolve around the incapacity and unwillingness of the guerrillas to link up to the working class. As one example, he writes, “For the first time, the workers in the cities mobilised in a massive and independent manner with their own political slogans. But because there was no revolutionary leadership of the workers’ movement this meant that all the attention and expectations of the working class became focused on the FSLN, in spite of the fact that the Sandinistas only had 500 armed guerrillas.”

Keeping in mind that the total population of Nicaragua in the 1970s was about 3 million, an army of 500 combatants would amount to something like 50,000 in a country the size of the USA. What are the chances that a rebel army this size could be put together without a massive and powerful movement in the cities? Next to zero, I would say.

Part one of Villas’s article is filled with idealist errors that are hardly worth commenting on. He analyzes everything that went wrong in Nicaragua as a function of an incorrect theory, namely a belief in the progressive bourgeoisie that the FSLN picked up from the CP. It includes a patronizing swipe at both Augusto Sandino and Carlos Fonseca, who launched the FSLN in a bid to consummate Sandino’s struggle against imperialism in the 1920s. Both men, unlike the Grant-Woods tendency, believed in collaborating with the “national-colonial bourgeoisie”. For his part, Villas understands the way forward even though the misguided reformists will not listen:

The extinguishing of capitalism in Russia in 1917, in China in 1949 and in Cuba in 1960 demonstrated that social and economic development in the underdeveloped countries could only be achieved on a non-capitalist economic basis, in other words, on a socialist economic basis that involved a break with private property and the taking over of the means of production and finance. There are no exceptions to this law.

When you reduce this paragraph to its essence, you will discover that it contains a tautology that can be reduced to a few words: “Socialism can only be achieved through socialist revolution”. Keeping in mind that everybody on the socialist left, from Alan Woods to the late Gus Hall, agrees that socialism is the goal, the only real difference would be about the need for revolution and for resolute struggle against the bourgeoisie. Unfortunately, the intellectual recognition of such a task does not translate easily into practical politics.

For its over 75 year existence in Latin America (not to speak of the world), Trotskyism has remained a very marginal force, including in Nicaragua itself where voices similar to Villas’s were heard. Why did the FSLN gain the allegiance of the masses and why did the Trotskyists stay small and irrelevant? I would suggest that the appeal of both Sandino’s movement and the FSLN would be lost on the comrades of the In Defense of Marxism website, who have a mechanical understanding of Bolshevism. Leaving aside the question of the FSLN’s “reformism”, there is something quite different about the way that they got started and the way that Villas believes revolutionary parties should be built.

Unlike the IMT, the FSLN rooted its program and language in the Nicaraguan framework. By utilizing Augusto Sandino as a symbol of their revolution, they tapped into the psyche of the Nicaraguan people. They also eschewed the iconography of the Russian Revolution, which is a dead giveaway for a sectarian mindset. For example, the IMT home page has images of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky on the left and a hammer-and-sickle on the right. These images might appeal to those “in the know” but not to the average Nicaraguan peasant who went to church every Sunday. Whatever mistakes the FSLN made (and they were plenty), they did not make the mistake of such sectarianism. As we look back at the wreckage of the 20th century revolutionary movement, we have to come to terms with sins of commission and sins of omission–to return once again to the example of the subway preacher. Everybody knows that the CP’s have sins of commission to repent for, but what about the Trotskyists? By maintaining sectarian habits that keep them small and marginal, don’t they have a responsibility for the failures of revolutions to succeed in countries where they have a toehold? These “sins of omission” will prevent you from getting into communist heaven.

Part two of Villas’s article consists mainly of a lecture derived from Lenin’s “State and Revolution”, whose sage advice the FSLN refused to pay attention to. Instead of setting up Soviets, creating militias, nationalizing Nicaraguan industry, dividing up the land and extending the socialist revolution beyond their borders, they were content to operate what amounted to a Nicaraguan version of Kerensky’s government, which soon fell apart because of its inner contradictions. He writes:

The Sandinista leadership ruled the country together with the treacherous national bourgeoisie during the first months of the revolution. However, the economic crisis continued to get worse. But the bourgeoisie, by now reassured that the FSLN leadership had halted the revolution, left the economic problems for the Sandinistas to sort out. The first move of the FSLN in the National Reconstruction government (made up of just 5 people) was to install a State Council. This was a bourgeois-democratic body made up of 33 members in which all the social, political and trade union forces that accepted the Sandinista leadership were represented. In 1984, this parliament was transformed into the Nicaraguan National Assembly, by now a bourgeois parliament with a leftwing majority.

In this manner, the FSLN leadership preserved the traditional parliament and government structures of the capitalist state. Executive power was concentrated in the hands of the National Directorate which was chaired by the President of the Republic. In 1984 in a few days more than 80% of the population over the age of 16 registered on the electoral register. The election results revealed the huge support of the masses for the FSLN.

One of the most remarkable things about this entire exercise is the almost entirely absent reference to American imperialism and the terrorist army it funded and organized. The word “contra” is mentioned infrequently and not assigned its proper weight. Villas even blames the FSLN for giving backhanded support for the terrorists: “While the government was subsidising the private sector through tax cuts to get its support and collaboration, the capitalists boycotted the economy and supported the Contras!” He also thought that it was not really responsible for the collapse of the revolution: “Despite their treacherous role, it was not the fascist Contra paramilitaries that defeated the revolution. Popular resistance had demoralised the Contra and they had been cornered by the mid-1980s.” Unfortunately, the Nicaraguan people were so demoralized after a decade of war that they gave their vote to a candidate supported by the USA who promised an end to the war if and only if she was elected.

Most people in touch with reality understand that nothing can stop a country that is 100 times the size of a country it wants to destroy from its goal, including the correct application of the Permanent Revolution. In 2006, the GDP of Nicaragua was 5 billion dollars, while that of the USA was 13 trillion, or 13,000 billion. Try to imagine what an economy that is nearly 3000 times as large as the economy of its victim can do. Apparently, the IMT cannot. Even if the FSLN had carried out the strictures set down by Villas, the revolution was doomed from the beginning. It occurred at the very moment that the USSR was transforming itself into a capitalist society and had no interest in lining up with an enemy of its new friends in Washington, DC.

Villas’s solution to Nicaragua’s economic woes are laughable: “The narrowness of the productive base of a country as small as Nicaragua, which had fewer inhabitants than Caracas or Havana, meant that to stimulate genuine development what was required was a truly revolutionary initiative such as the expulsion of the bourgeoisie, and the establishment of a Socialist Federation with Cuba.” A Socialist Federation with Cuba? Good grief. It was just around this period that the socialist foundations of the Russian economy were being dismantled and support for Cuba cut off. This led to an “emergency period” that most commentators viewed as coming close to destroying Cuba as well as Nicaragua. Talk of a “socialist federation” is simply empty rhetoric. Words are cheap for a sectarian group that has never had responsibility anywhere in the world–and never will–for putting food on a worker’s table.

I have my own analysis of why the Sandinista revolution collapsed and would recommend that people read it in its entirety here.

I would only like to conclude with this excerpt:

Trotsky sharpened his insights as a participant and leader of the uprising of 1905, which in many ways was a dress-rehearsal for the 1917 revolution. He wrote “Results and Prospects” to draw the lessons of 1905. Virtually alone among leading Russian socialists, he rejected the idea that workers holding state power would protect private property:

“The political domination of the proletariat is incompatible with its economic enslavement. No matter under what political flag the proletariat has come to power, it is obliged to take the path of socialist policy. It would be the greatest utopianism to think that the proletariat, having been raised to political domination by the internal mechanism of a bourgeois revolution, can, even if it so desires, limit its mission to the creation of republican-democratic conditions for the social domination of the bourgeoisie.”

Does not this accurately describe the events following the Bolshevik revolution in October, 1917? The workers took the socialist path almost immediately. If this alone defined the shape of revolutions to come, then Trotsky would appear as a prophet of the first magnitude.

Before leaping to this conclusion, we should consider Trotsky’s entire argument. Not only would the workers adopt socialist policies once in power, their ability to maintain these policies depended on the class-struggle outside of Russia, not within it. He is emphatic:

“But how far can the socialist policy of the working class be applied in the economic conditions of Russia? We can say one thing with certainty–that it will come up against obstacles much sooner than it will stumble over the technical backwardness of the country. Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialistic dictatorship.”

While there is disagreement between Lenin and Trotsky on the exact character of the Russian revolution, there is none over the grim prospects for socialism in an isolated Russia. We must keep this uppermost in our mind when we consider the case of Nicaragua. Well-meaning Trotskyist comrades who castigate the Sandinistas for not carrying out permanent revolution should remind themselves of the full dimensions of Trotsky’s theory. According to this theory, Russia was a beachhead for future socialist advances. If these advances did not occur, Russia would perish. Was Nicaragua a beachhead also? If socialism could not survive in a vast nation as Russia endowed with immense resources, what were Nicaragua’s prospects, a nation smaller than Brooklyn, New York?

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