In 1979, the Bolshevik Fraction of the Fourth International promoted, from Colombia with the Socialist Workers Party (PST-Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores) the building a brigade of fighters to support the Nicaraguan people in their battle to overthrow the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship. Since its founding in 1977, the PST fought against the Guerrilla tactic of the Colombian insurgency. This time it took the side of the Nicaraguan fighters in a concrete application of Marxist fighting conception, which we will attempt to approach in this article.
By Fernando Graco – PST Colombia.
The Characterization of the Nicaraguan Revolution
The Bolshevik Fraction (FB) of the Fourth International developed, since 1978, a characterization of the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Process and the role that could be fulfilled by the guerrilla of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) if it acted in the revolution to oust “Tacho” Somoza. In short, the characterization of the FB was that there would be a combination of strikes and partial insurrections with guerrilla actions on behalf of FSLN, and this combination would pose the Sandinista Front as the vanguard of the struggle against the dictatorship. Sandinismo found the bourgeoisie divided, without possibilities to make a controlled change in the political regime. Imperialism saw the uprising advance and saw no better way than seeking the support of Latin American governments to intervene deviating the process through bourgeois democracy.
In fact, the combination of strikes and partial insurrections with guerrilla actions of the FSLN took place, very similar to the FB’s prediction, between 1978 and the first semester of 1979. In February 1978, an insurrection begun in the city of Masaya, on the south of the country. On September that same year, this repeated in several departments of the country: Leon, Matagalpa, Chinandega, Managualos, Estelí, and once again Masaya. The revolutionary wave that already embraced half the Nicaraguan population led, in April 1979, to a new uprising of the Estelí population where the unsubordinated masses incorporated armed struggle.
After the September uprisings, the Bolshevik Fraction concluded, “The entire process of strikes and mobilizations is generating the objective conditions for the general strike and for a definitive defeat of the dictatorship… these experiences and the immense prestige of the FSLN, make generalized uprising of the People growingly possible.” And it added, “The FSLN is the only force that could promote this task at the time [to organize the masses for insurrection], and provide the bases for a power alternative.” To define that “Working consequently, we decided to continue supporting the struggle to the FSLN and raising the slogan ‘For a government of the FSLN and the workers’ organizations”. (Journal El Socialista Nº 128, September 4, 1978; our translation).
The Organization of the Simon Bolivar Brigade
In May 1979, Daniel Samper Pizano, well-known Colombian journalist, entitled his column in the El Tiempo journal, “People are needed”. The text began with the following information, “In the street 17 N 4-49, office 201 in Bogota, people are needed. No overnight jobs or wealth are promised through the selling of encyclopedias. They only offer the possibility to lose your life, submitting to risks and discomfort and leading for a period a life filled with dangers. In exchange, they only provide the opportunity to struggle for the liberation of a people. This place is the office of recruitment of Colombian fighters who want to voluntarily enlist in armed struggle against the Anastasio Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua.”
A report written a few months after the Sandinista triumph summarized, “The Simon Bolivar Brigade received applications of over 1.200 Colombians. There were voluntaries around the country… From them, nearly 329 had been selected, but only 53 managed to travel, from these seven were Nicaraguan. When Somoza fell, there were 200 more brigade members rushing to leave for Nicaragua.
There were members of the Simon Bolivar Brigade from around Latin America, which had volunteers from Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. Even three North Americans joined the Brigade. There were three deaths in the group; they belonged to the Colombian office.” (Taken from: “Nicaragua: reforma o revolución” tomo I. Recopilación de artículos, 1980, Bogotá Colombia; Our translation).
A Calling to organize Fighters Brigades
An internal report of the Brigade organizer read, “In the press conference summoned by the Socialist Workers Party of Colombia on June 13, 1979, they summoned through dissemination means the conformation of the Simon Bolivar Brigade. To be composed by Colombian men, women, workers and students of any party or ideology, who want to participate militarily in the struggle of the people of Nicaragua and the Sandinista Front, in the crucial moments of their confrontation against the dictatorship.
This way, Journalists of all national means of communication, plus representatives of several international agencies made the solidarity calling of the PST to thousands of Colombians, becoming the most important news of the day. The calling also became known worldwide, with significant repercussion in promoting groups or personalities to call brigades or directly join the struggle against Somoza. An example of this repercussion were the Haiti brigades built in New York or the ‘Sandinistas to Socialism’ composed by Nicaraguan and Salvadoran people in Los Angeles (USA). They both reached agreements with the Simon Bolivar Brigade later on, contributing with 150 volunteers. The Colombian LCR also adhered to the Simon Bolivar Brigade and sent three leaders to combat.
Some organizations of the Fourth International rapidly answered the summoning in their own countries. In Costa Rica, two groups of voluntaries were constituted, the Simon Bolivar Brigade and the Juan Santamaría, which added up to 190 co-workers. In Panamá, the PST contributed with two Trotskyist to the Victoriano Lorenzo Brigade and called to form the Simon Bolivar Brigade, recruiting 70 people. The same happened in Ecuador with 30 people. In Argentina and Brazil, it was not possible to carry out public callings due to hiding, but Trotskyist were enlisted. In Chile, the Salvador Allende Column was constituted by co-workers of the Socialist Party (CNR), which reached an agreement with the Simon Bolivar Brigade based on two points: 1. To discipline militarily to the FSLN rank and file; 2. To promote a policy of class independence in Nicaragua. In other countries like Bolivia that was in the midst of the electoral campaign, they managed to recruit co-workers. In Mexico three Trotskyists enlisted.” (Taken from an internal report at the time).
The Brigade in Nicaragua
In Nicaragua, the members of the Brigade were enlisted in the South Front. “The South Front was traditionally led by the insurrectionist tendency or ‘thirdist’. Its main military leader was Eden Pastora and the political leaders were the brothers Humberto and Daniel Ortega…” (Ídem).
With voluntaries from several countries of Latin America, 110 fighters reached Nicaragua. In Nicaragua, others joined, reaching 250 members of the Simon Bolivar Brigade. After intense training, they were incorporated to the South Front of the FSLN. In this front, the dictatorship resisted until the final day, when the National Guard, accompanied by North American mercenaries, Vietnamese and Cuban worms fled.
“In the South of the fire line [the advance of Sandinism] the situation was stagnated due to an unfavorable situation: the best troops of the Guard controlled the parallel ‘corridor’ to the Nicaraguan Lake from the Colina de la Virgen and the scarce population of the zone leaves the FSLN without the mass support it has in the North.
It was a positions war, where each piece of land was achieved through many deaths and wounded. The FSLN suffered the greatest percentage of casualties – approximately 25% of the troops, between deaths and wounded – and the members of the Simon Bolivar Brigade faced danger.
There is only one testimony of the courage of our comrades in the combat, and there is mainly one painful proof: three deaths in the firing line, Mario Cruz Morales and Pedro J. Ochoa, Colombians and Max Leoncio Senqui, Nicaraguan…” (Taken from El Socialista Nº 165, August 1979; our translation).
The Expulsion of the Brigade
When the Simon Bolivar Brigade was organized, they defined that they would support militarily the Sandinista National Liberation Front, fighting under their discipline to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship. At the same time, it was clear that this did not imply political support to the program of rebuilding the bourgeois state defended by the Sandinistas.
In opposition, the Simon Bolivar Brigade proclaimed and defended that, “The crisis that Nicaragua goes through will not have a favorable ending for the working, peasant and toiling masses within the framework of imperialism, Church and opposition bourgeoisie. The only outing for this crisis is to overthrow Somoza and instate a government with the following program:
-Arming of the working, peasant and toiling masses and liquidation of the National Guard.
-Expropriation of all companies of Somoza, their family and all the collaborators of the dictatorship, to set them under workers’ control. Expropriation, under workers control, of all imperialist monopolies.
-Agrarian reform, expropriating landowners and handing in the lands to the peasants.
-To break all political and military pacts with imperialism.
-Freedom to all political prisoners and for the return of the exiled. Full freedom of press, of political and union organization, meeting, demonstration and strike.
-The dissolution of parliament and all institutions of the Somoza State.
-Free elections for a Constituent Assembly to reorganize the country in service of workers, peasant and the people. (Revista de América, año 1 Nº 8/9 – Tercera época. Bogotá, Jan-Feb 1979; Our translation).
While they fought to overthrow Somoza, no significant differences emerged. The members of the Simon Bolivar Brigade remained under the military discipline of the Sandinista Front. However, once the dictatorship was overthrown, political and programmatic differences unavoidably emerged. The brigade members consequently promoted the program they had proposed taking into account the dynamic of the revolutionary process and the masses’ initiative.
Regarding general arming of the masses, they advocated for the strengthening of the Sandinista Defense Committees (CDS), armed committees that in the course of confrontation with the National Guard had become self-defense organisms, named Civil Defense Committees (CDC). On the contrary, the policy of the Government of National Reconstruction dismantled them and replaced them with a regular bourgeois army and police as any other bourgeois state.
The role of the Brigade in the organization of the masses in the neighborhoods, goods distributions, medicines, arms and building of anti-bomb shelters and barricades was just as important. The brigade members also promoted the building of unions; in few days they founded 80 unions and promoted the building of Factory Committees, which became a sort of power bodies with political, military and management control within the factories. With these organisms, the workers dismissed the managers and executives of the companies and demanded the national government expropriation of the companies without compensation and their nationalization under workers’ control.
In the fields, the Brigade stimulated similar bodies to expropriate land and freely distribute it to peasants, developing the democratic task of agrarian reform. The brigade promoted this program calling the Sandinistas to rule through workers and toiling masses organization, without bourgeois. However, the pressure of imperialism and Latin American bourgeoisie to stop Nicaragua from becoming a new Cuba with collectivization of means of production led the Government of National Reconstruction to expel the Simon Bolivar Brigade “for being extreme”.
Significant sectors of workers expressed their sympathy with the Brigade and 5,000 people participated in a demonstration in Managua vindicating Nicaraguan citizenship for the Brigade members. However, the Brigade members were summoned to a meeting where they were disarmed and sent in a private airplane to Panama, where they were handed in to the army that tortured them and sent them back to Colombia. In Colombia, the brigade members and the PST had to bear the persecution of Julio Cesar Turbay’s reactionary regime, which mistakenly believed they intended to organize a new guerrilla in Colombia.
Article published in the Marxism Alive magazine, n. 21, 2009, pp. 62-67. Available in Spanish in www.archivoleontrotsky.org.