Sandinista ideology

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History of the implementation of Sandinism[edit]

Through the transformation of the Movement for a New Nicaragua (MNN) to the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1961, Carlos Fonseca and his fellow revolutionary leaders adopted the image of 1930s guerrilla fighter, Augusto César Sandino to gain popular support across Nicaragua. Prior to the 1970s, the FSLN competed for peasant and worker support with other Somoza opposition groups such as the Partido Socialista de Nicaragua (PSN). The PSN claimed to be a "pure" Marxist group that was committed to fostering mass support of the proletariat and participating in elections before agreeing to any type of revolution. While the FSLN and PSN had been aligned at first, this alliance broke due to the PSN refusing to take on Sandino's image because he had originally refused to embrace Marxism, and the FSLN leaders disagreeing with the PSN and Conservative association.

In the mid-1960s, the FLSN failed at their revolutionary attempts by using Ché Guevara's foco model, which stated that under the correct repressive and alienating economic and political conditions of the rural population, a small armed movement would be able to spread like wildfire throughout rural and urban populations. While many FSLN members were wiped out, the decade Fonseca spent underground allowed him to research Sandino and come up with a more concrete ideological framework and a more appropriate time to resurface on the Nicaraguan scene.

This opportunity emerged in the 1970s, when the Somoza government confiscated relief funds for personal gain instead of giving aid to individuals and families after the 1972 Managua earthquake. Fonseca stated that the persistent problems that existed in Nicaragua could not be solved through legal activities and elections. Instead, Fonseca drew from the success of the Cuban Revolution and the life of Sandino to persuade students, workers, and peasants to gain power through the revolutionary force of the FSLN.

Sandino, who had fought a six-year guerrilla war against the Conservatives and the United States marines in Nicaragua from 1927 to 1933, was generally viewed as a popular war hero prior to his death. While student movements had used his name in brief struggles, Sandino's assassination in 1934 and the censorship of his name by the Somoza regime and United States backed Guardia Nacional (Nicaragua) resulted in the meaning of his struggle being lost through the generations. Incidentally, the only book that was publicly available domestically to Nicaraguans was an account of Sandino that portrayed him as a bandit and communist, written by Somoza.

Fonseca revived Sandino's image by writing five texts: Proletarian Guerrilla, Tricontinental, The Political Ideology of General Sandino, Chronology of Sandinista Resistance and Secret Chronicle: Augusto César Sandino Confronts His Betrayers. While symbolic heroes are remembered for their successes, Sandinistas value Sandino as a hero but also recognize his failure to fulfill his mission due to the lack of class-consciousness that existed during the 1930s. Fonseca explained, "It was to the glory of the people of Nicaragua that the most humble class responded for the stained honor of the nation. At the same time, it was a tragedy because we are speaking of a peasantry without any political awareness. The result was that once Sandino was assassinated, his movement was incapable of continuity."[1] Due to Sandino's ambiguous writings, such as those indicating his years as a Liberal and his friendship and break with Augustín Farabundo Marti, a communist, it is difficult to ascertain how Fonseca reconstructed Sandino's image. However, the end result focused on Sandino's anti-imperialist struggle as a path that failed but would succeed under the correct path, making use of the masses.

Theory of Sandinismo[edit]

Populism and guerrilla warfare[edit]

Carlos Fonseca is considered the principle ideologue of the Sandinistas because he established the fundamental ideas of Sandinism.[citation needed] It was revolutionaries like David Nolan and Hugo Cancino Troncoso who provided the sophisticated proponents of Sandinista ideology: Sandinisimo, but it was Fonseca who popularized the Sandinista's political thought.[citation needed]

Many aspects of Sandinismo are similar to tendencies in other forms of political thought in Latin America like its appeal to the largest mass of the population and its anti-imperialist rhetoric. The most important attributes of the ideology make it solely a Nicaraguan creation. In Sandinismo there is an emphasis that revolution begins in rural regions among Nicaragua's oppressed peasantry, Sandinista ideas are rooted in the symbols of Augusto César Sandino and there is an effort to develop conscious growth through education.[citation needed]

Carlos Fonseca adopted many of the Sandinis military goals from the Cuban Revolutionary experience led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in 1959. Just as Guevara had implemented his Guerrilla foco in the Sierra Maestra mountains of the Oriente province, Fonseca believed Nicaragua's Revolution would begin with mass insurgence in the countryside.

Fonseca's ideological tendency was entitled the "Prolonged Popular War" because of its mass support among the peasantry and its reliance on guerrilla tactics.[citation needed] The gradualist approach in the countryside involved isolating portions of the superiorly armed and trained National Guard into weaker portions, and eliminating these smaller segments one by one. Popular support from the rural masses was needed to take on the Somoza forces. These peasants that were taking part in guerrilla activities had to have developed a new revolutionary consciousness for them to risk their lives to attain freedom.


Fonseca was highly influenced by Nicaraguan hero Augusto Sandino; Sadino led a peasant insurgence against American Marines who were monitoring a peace treaty between liberal and conservative factions in Nicaragua before the first Somoza government in the 1930s.

When the Somoza dictatorship was in power education was at a very low standard.[citation needed] In school classes Sandino was described as a bandit and an enemy of good government. In the 1970s Fonseca fostered a different conception of Sandino to the rural masses. He portrayed Sandino as a man on a quest to attain the sovereign-independence of Nicaragua, and as a leader who wished to remove the foreign influences that were dominant in the country and prevented the government from conducting business for the well being of the Nicaraguan people.[citation needed] Fonseca attempted to use this myth of Sandino as uniting narrative in order to mobilize the masses in an eventual Marxist insurgency. Sandino was not a Marxist unlike Fonseca.[citation needed] The Nicaraguan people's struggle against William Walker and Sandino's struggle against the Somoza forces were not directed at a socialist telos. Like Sandino, Fonseca wished to ignite the consciousness of the peasantry, they were a collective force that was shown they could be in control of their futures.(Zwerling; 67) Fonseca believed that the first liberty that the masses should have was their ownership of the land that they laboured.[citation needed] Economic sovereignty in the majority of Nicaragua's economic sectors would allow growth to remain in the state and reward the people who rightfully deserved some profit.[citation needed]

Sandino's guerrilla experience symbolized to Fonseca that revolutionary processes could be developed among the peasantry.[citation needed] Fonseca also learned understood from Sandino's endeavors that: revolutionaries had to learn from experience/past errors, there was a need for theory to guide action and the collective sharing of knowledge was essential.(Arnove; 7)

While rejecting teleological visions, Fonseca still believed that the formation of revolutionary consciousness was making peasants into "complete human beings." The idea of consciousness was borrowed from Sandino and also from the Cuban revolutionaries. As the peasants were taught to read and write they developed conscious awareness of their reality, and were able to see the exploitation they endured under the Somoza regime.


Education is a manifestation of the beliefs of the ruling government so the regime's ideological tendencies are passed down to the youth.[citation needed] Under the Somozas there was a lack of properly funded schools in the countryside, most peasant children received no lessons and their parents were illiterate as well. In Somoza's state, he wanted: "… uneducated people, little more than beasts of burden."(Zwerling; 67) When assessing the democratic practices in Costa Rica, Somoza stated: "I want oxen, not men in my country."(ibid)

Fonseca's Sandinistas were bent on "freeing" the minds of the peasantry, through political indoctrination. This was attempted under the banner of showing them the their "true" history, which, included instilling the socialist conception of an ongoing struggle against imperialism.[citation needed] The Fonseca Sandinistas also used a panthon of popular national heroes in their political education. They also attempted to instil in their pupils the conviction that their economic conditions were unnecessary. Central to their education was the attempt to create class consciousness and Nicaraguan nationalism. This was seen as an important part of mobilizing the population for war.[citation needed]

Modern caudillo[edit]

Fonseca made himself a modern Sandino; at times he overlooked the importance of obtaining support from the urban revolutionaries (Humberto Ortega).[citation needed] Fonseca envisioned himself as a patriot of the true indigenous Nicaragua. His supporters saw him as a respectful leader, inspirational, imaginative, determined, self-confident, displayed personal-magnetism and had absolute integrity.[citation needed] Where Fonseca distinguished himself from Sandino was in his emphasis on education for the peasantry. When Sandino was assassinated his revolutionary thought died with him.[citation needed] In the case of Fonseca, he had put so much work into making a "collective will" and consciousness among the peasantry that the Sandinista Revolution was able to survive and thrive after Fonseca's death in battle.[citation needed] The Sandinista political thought was so deeply enshrined in the peasants that the Somoza forces could not bring an end to the revolt by simply killing revolutionary leaders.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Palmer, Steven. "Carlos Fonseca and the Construction of Sandinismo in Nicaragua." Latin American Research Review; 1988, 23(1), 100
  • Arnove, Robert E. Education and Revolution in Nicaragua. Praeger Publishers. New York; 1986.
  • Palmer, Steven. Carlos Fonseca and the Construction of Sandinismo in Nicaragua. Latin American Research Review; 1988, 23(1), 91-109.
  • Philip Zwerling and Connie Martin. Nicaragua - A New Kind of Revolution. Lawrence Hill Books. Chicago; 1985.
  • Zimmermann, Matilde (2000). Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gambone, Michael D. Capturing the Revolution: the United States, Central America and Nicaragua, 1961–1972. Praeger Publishers. New York; 2001.
  • Macaulay, Neil. The Sandino Affair. Quandrangle Books. USA; 1967.
  • Walker, Thomas. Nicaragua, the Land of Sandino. Westview Press. USA; 1991.