Solidarity - a key arena in the battle of ideas

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Tortilla con Sal, February 25th 2016

Like most things, solidarity comes in varieties and in perhaps unexpected forms. For example, the connection may not be obvious between the ideas and practice of solidarity and the role of non-governmental organizations but a look at that connection is certainly relevant to recent events in Latin America and the Caribbean. Since the 1980s, the governments of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries have made an art of co-opting non-governmental organizations and that process is increasingly being refined to undermine the effectiveness of solidarity movements too. The political crisis in Haiti, the disappointing result for the Bolivian government in last Sunday's referendum, opposition to the governments in Ecuador and Venezuela, all have in common the underlying war of ideas long identified by Fidel Castro and other regional leaders as fundamental to regional peace and development.

The actual battleground of that war is multifaceted, globally most clearly in the internet and other communications media and locally in the style and content of community work at grass roots. Here in Nicaragua on February 17th, we had a very explicit example of that battle and its political side effects when the government published a note in relation to the work of the United Nations Program for Development. In unusually direct terms the Nicaraguan government questioned the real intentions and role of the UNDP, highlighting its unwillingness to work closely with the Nicaraguan authorities. In effect, the UNDP, from 2006 to date, has set up parallel programs valued at around US$270 million effectively in competition with those of the government's National Development Plan. The Nicaraguan government's note also questioned the appropriateness of the very high salary levels (US$3500 – US$7000 a month) and consultancy fees of around US$30,000 each, that the UNDP doled out to its program functionaries and development professional cronies in Nicaragua.

The tone of exasperation from the Nicaraguan government's note is unmistakeable, “And to cap it all, this technocracy, fed on funds destined for the Nicaraguan people and competing for them for their own benefit, turned into the main enemy of the Poverty Reduction Programs of the Government of National Unity and Reconciliation”. The note goes on, “As we have pointed out many times, we insist that the UNDP can develop its work in Nicaragua in consonance with our government and in accordance with international agreements governing the operation and working of agencies whose role should be poverty reduction. There is no way for them to work destructively as they have done with funds that belong exclusively to the people of Nicaragua.

“These are the reasons on which we base our request to the UNDP to accompany the government and people of Nicaragua, without self-serving administration and clear political bias nor interference in our affairs which unfortunately has been the practice that we now need to change. We invite the United Nations Program for Development agency to work with Nicaragua, with our government and our people in Respect, Coordination and Complementarity.” Here, the Nicaraguan government is stating explicitly what has been common knowledge for people in Nicaragua since at least the elections of 2006. From even before that time, the social democrat managerial class of the Sandinista Renewal Movement dominated by former leading Sandinistas worked with embassies and organizations of the United States and the European Union among many others.

That managerial class came to depend on its relationship with foreign funding to sustain its national political influence. Now, they have practically zero popular support in Nicaragua, a fraction of 1%. Despite that, openly aligned with Nicaragua's right wing political opposition, they continue to try and influence national politics using agencies like the UNDP as their funding base. And yet the jargon of the UNDP's programs and their partner organizations consistently use the vocabulary of grass roots accompaniment and solidarity. Manipulating the motif of solidarity like this is a long standing component of the psychological warfare applied by the US government and its allies to co-opt non-governmental organizations, so as to destabilize governments and political movements opposed to US and European Union policies. The most obvious example of this was the US government funded 1980s Polish labor and protest movement, itself named “Solidarity”.

This is the same kind of process US and allied governments have used ever since 1945 to foment and promote pro-NATO opposition movements that would otherwise struggle to survive.In the same way that over the last thirty years an international non-governmental human rights industry has grown up in parallel with the NATO countries' development and humanitarian relief industry, solidarity movements of one kind or another have also proliferated. This process has thrown up many contradictions about which the veteran US activist Chuck Kaufman has written sensitively in relation to solidarity work with progressive political movements and governments in Latin America and the Caribbean in his article “Critical Support: What does it mean for solidarity with Latin America?

In Nicaragua, the Sandinista government promotes solidarity as a fundamental ethic of their program. For progressive minded outsiders, the official motto “Christian, Socialist, in Solidarity” may seem foreign and forced. But for this small Central American nation, that formula addresses two fundamental realities. Firstly, Nicaragua's people are overwhelmingly Christian. Even now around 50% of the population would probably describe themselves as Catholic and most of the remainder would say they are evangelicals. Politically, recent opinion polls like those of the business sector oriented M&R polling company and the clearly anti-Sandinista CID-Gallup company indicate that over 50% of Nicaraguans support the Frente Sandinista party whose program of government is explicitly inspired by socialism.

Like Bolivia and Ecuador, its fellow members of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA), Nicaragua has led the way showing low income countries how to find a balance between successfully implementing socialist inspired public investment policies and coping with the implacable demands of a global economy based on ruthless competition. For their part, Cuba and Venezuela continue to demonstrate to the world the regional benefits of solidarity-based economic policies, despite all the severe difficulties imposed by the irredeemably corrupt, hopelessly inefficient global capitalist economic system. They continue to do so despite being under constant attack from the ruling elites in the United States and Europe and their regional allies. The power of those elites was perhaps never more self-evident than in the tragicomic proceedings in December last year at the Climate Change Summit in Paris.

There, the complete lack of even minimal gestures in the direction of solidarity have condemned majority world countries to suffer the increasingly damaging and destructive effects of climate change. For their part, NATO country corporate elites and the government leaders who front for them wash their hands of their countries' historic responsibilities and obligations. Nicaragua and its fellow member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas have insistently challenged the criminal negligence and avarice of North America and Europe. Since the Paris summit, especially, their call for a recognition of the need for fundamental solidarity to protect human life and the planet's natural environment has become more compelling than ever.In his latest book called “The Metabolism of the Market”, the Nicaraguan writer Orlando Nuñez Soto makes a deep appraisal of the internal and external challenges facing political projects like those of Nicaragua and the ALBA countries.

Sketching out a potential practical way forward for socialism faced with current world realities, he writes, “Put briefly, the socialist strategy aims in several directions, among others planning the market and socializing capital as well as demerchandizing the market and democratizing society. Regulation and socializing can be undertaken via government and State enterprises, municipal and regional governments, and too via worker producer associative structures in the form of a broad network of freely associated workers. On the other hand, demerchandizing the economy can be undertaken directly, producing goods and services to be distributed freely or indirectly through the redistribution of income, a moment when the public sector collects and redistributes a part of the surpluses generated and contributed by society.”

Under current global conditions, Nicaragua's Sandinista government's slogan “Christian, Socialist, in Solidarity” has so far been a successful formula making possible in practice the kind of socialist vision explained by Orlando Nuñez Soto. Like its ALBA partners, the Nicaraguan government promotes free education and free health care, prioritizing social spending of all kinds, emphasizing gender equality in terms of political participation and economic democracy and making possible forms of associative labor, in Nicaragua's case especially via the Ministry for the Family, Community Cooperative and Associative Economy. The ALBA country governments are doing all this in a global economic environment dominated by corporate elites determined to impose quasi-feudal structures under the fake progressive guise of corporate globalization.

The fundamental idea enabling the ALBA country governments to meet the multiple complex challenges they face is their powerful, cogent vision of solidarity. That is why solidarity activism is now such a crucial area to defend against increasing efforts by NATO country governments to co-opt, undermine, and manipulate the idea and practice of solidarity against governments like those of the ALBA countries. The peoples and governments of those countries are creating conditions for rational, sustainable, socialized economies, putting people and the needs of the human person at the center of their economic and social policies. Perhaps one way of explaining that struggle might be to say that the proponents of corporate capitalism are in a race against time to turn the idea of solidarity into just another merchandise before the ALBA countries can make it an unassailable economic and social reality, ultimately commanding the political loyalty of the great majority of people in Latin America and the Caribbean.