Rules of the road


On the Shelf

« 1,000 in "Great March" of Iranian Women Against Misogynist Laws | Main | "There Is No War on Terror" »

March 16, 2006



And today over 20,000 FMLN supporters tried to march to the hotel where the ARENA-led electoral tribunal was delaying the vote count and refusing to announce that the FMLN had won. En route they were attacked by riot police with tear gas and rubber bullets. ( see reactionary Salvadoran media story here: ) The article reports that there were shots fired in the protests, and that many protesters are injured. Things are tense.

The FMLN today released a deep statement to the international community:

This statement (in Spanish) says that ARENA in trying to steal the election is doing the same things that the military dictatorships (1932-1992) did in stealing elections and repressing the people. It says that ARENA is flagrantly violating the Peace Accords of 1992 in multiple ways and that they are trying to carry out a fraudulent theft of the election. This is no small deal.

As I posted earlier, the right's theft of two elections in the 1970s that the left had won was a key point in the growth of the armed struggle as all other avenues of struggle were closed off. And if it becomes clearer that the bourgeoisie in El Salvador will not allow the FMLN to win important elections anymore, then, well, all bets are off.

The comment that Christopher made earlier about how some Latin American leftists are participating in bourgeois elections to make them an arena of struggle and to expose the class nature of the state is becoming relevant before our eyes in El Salvador. The fact that the FMLN is relying on and mobilizing the masses to defend their victory is a very interesting development.

the burningman

What effect do you think de-militarization has had on the capacity of the FMLN to return to clandestine work if the election is stolen and democratic legitimacy denied to what would be, in effect -- a right-wing coup?

Do you know any links to the FMLN's assessments of where they are at strategically, how they view their relationship (material and ideological) with the former Soviet Union?

I don't mean to lay heavy questions out -- but not many people (particularly where there are few or no Salvadorans) are aware of the history down there.

Any links would be appreciated, I'm sure. Or anything else that may answer better questions that the ones I through out.

some FMLN history

I have some documents about where the FMLN sees themselves strategically, but they are in Spanish and they are not in electronic form.

I don't know of any assessment they have done of their relationship with the former Soviet Union. I’d guess that their relationships with Cuba and Nicaragua were far more extensive and politically important than relations they had with the USSR. But the Surface-to-Air missiles they got from the USSR near the end of the war promptly put an end to the US/Salvadoran government's ability to bomb the countryside from the air at will.

For a quick overview of the FMLN (but with some real inaccuracies) you can start with wikipedia:

The FMLN’s website:
Canadian FMLN supporters website:

Here's my brief history of the FMLN (missing all kinds of context and details of course):

FMLN formed in 1980 from 5 groups:

* Fuerzas Popular de Liberación "Farabundo Martí" (FPL)
* Partido Comunista de El Salvador (PC)
* Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP)
* Resistencia Nacional (RN)
* Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroamericanos (PRTC)

All five considered themselves Marxist-Leninist. The 5 groups maintained their separate organizations and structures throughout the war. That is, people were recruited to one of the five orgs, not to the FMLN directly. The 5 groups formed a general command though, which decided the overall plan and strategy that all then carried out together. Here’s a bit about the 5 groups:

Partido Comunista (PC)

The PC is the oldest group, formed in the 1930s. One of the founders was Farabundo Marti. They launched an uprising in 1932 that was drowned in blood, with over 30,000 people killed within a week or so, including Farabundo Marti. This massacre started 6 decades of military dictatorship.

The CP was a mainline pro-Soviet party. They had the fraternal relations with Cuba, USSR, and Eastern European countries. They were a banned and persecuted party; they organized clandestinely during the dictatorship years and ran in elections (when they were held) in broader fronts since the CP was illegal and couldn't run as themselves. They were the last to join the armed struggle. All the other groups launched armed struggle in early-to-mid 1970s; the CP didn’t join the armed struggle until after Archbishop Romero was assassinated in 1980.

Fuerzas Popular de Liberación "Farabundo Martí" (FPL)

The FPL was formed in 1970 by Cayetano Carpio, a former Communist Party leader who left the CP to initiate armed struggle. The FPL looked positively to the Vietnamese experience for lessons and implemented the military strategy of protracted people's war. They also had the most extensive mass organization work and were the largest organization in the FMLN by far.

The FPL was the closest to a 'Maoist' type group in the FMLN but they weren't Maoist, other than their military strategy. Their initial leader Cayetano Carpio, died in 1982 as part of a fratricidal leadership struggle in the FPL. He had been more on the ‘go-it-alone’ side of things, being uneasy with the alliance with the other groups in the FMLN that had a different military and political strategy. After he died, the remaining FPL leadership was much more committed to fully subsuming the FPL into the FMLN even though there were differences with the other groups.

Some people from the other orgs sometimes accused the FPL of unfairly dominating the FMLN because they were bigger than the other groups.

Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo (ERP)

The ERP was formed around 1972 by former Christian Democrats who took up arms against the military dictatorship. They developed an ultra-militarist line and became more insurrectionalist. In 1974 or 75 the ERP leadership carried out probably the greatest tragedy that the left carried out during the war – in an internal dispute they executed famous Salvadoran poet Roque Dalton (see a beautiful history of Roque Dalton here: along with a section of the leadership that agreed with him that the ERP’s militarist line was wrong and they needed to do more work to organize the masses. The ERP leadership accused Dalton of being a CIA agent and killed him. (Dalton was a member of the ERP and is still considered the greatest poet El Salvador has produced).

As fallout from that incident, the remaining people that agreed with Dalton & his comrades split from the ERP and formed a new group, Resistencia Nacional. Paradoxically, the best known leaders of the ERP, including the one who gave the order to kill Roque Dalton, have become outright right wingers in recent years. But many from the ERP are still dedicated and active socialist revolutionaries in the FMLN.

Resistencia Nacional (RN)

RN was formed around 1974 out of a split with the ERP after the ERP killed Roque Dalton and a grouping around him. The RN was always small, but they led some very important mass organizations. One assessment is that after an important founder of the RN died the people who took over leadership after that led the group away from it’s initial communist orientation into a more social democratic direction. Of course it’s more complicated than that though.

Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Centroamericanos (PRTC)

The PRTC is an interesting little group. They have often been characterized as Trotskyists because they were part of a Central America-wide organization to try to lead a multi-country socialist revolution. They claim that they weren’t Trotskyists, that that is a distortion of their views. Nonetheless, the Salvadoran section of the group had to break with the multinational group when it joined the FMLN.


All five groups have produced countless martyrs and heroes who gave their lives in battle in the struggle for national liberation and socialism, in the fight against imperialism and military dictatorship. All five groups also still have active leaders and members in the FMLN.

In 1992 the war ended, after 75,000 people were killed (the vast majority by the US backed military), and after 12 years of civil war (actually 22 years since the initiation of the first armed group in 1970, but most mark the official ‘start’ of the civil war with the formation of the FMLN not long after Archbishop Romero was assassinated in March 1980). Peace accords were signed between the FMLN and government. They integrated the FMLN into the armed forces, and for the first time created a civilian police force separate from the military that would not be ‘political’ (ha ha). FMLN combatants were integrated into the police force too. The most brutal units of the army (that carried out most massacres and that the death squads operated out of) were disbanded. These were not insignificant gains after 60 years of brutal military dictatorship, but it was not the ‘victory’ that people had fought for either.

In 1994 the 5 groups inside the FMLN were dissolved and the FMLN became a single party. There have been organized tendencies that have developed within the FMLN since then but no separate organizations per se. Now there are no explicitly organized tendencies and the group seems to be more united around clearer politics than in a long time. The right wing media now accuses the ex-Communist Party of not having fully dissolved and of dominating the leadership of the FMLN. It’s true that many ex-CP leaders are in leadership positions of the FMLN. But so are people from all the other orgs.

Burningman is interested in how the FMLN’s relation with the USSR affected their politics, and how they sum up that period. I don’t have the answer. But it is interesting to note that of the five organizations that formed the FMLN, it is the ex-pro-Soviet Communist Party that has stood the test of time, in terms of having its cadre stay firm with revolutionary and socialist politics and not having any major section of their former members split in an anti-communist or social democratic direction. This is probably what gives the right wing the impression that the CP still exists in some form and controls the FMLN. I don’t know if the CP fully dissolved or not but I’d guess that they did. I think the ex-CP has maintained more coherence than the other groups probably because they had strong internal education and they also are the only group of the five that had experience doing electoral work before the war. So their cadre were better prepared ideologically and practically for the post-war terrain of struggle. All four of the other groups formed in the 1970s as armed groups and had no previous experience with ‘playing the electoral game’ and some have become confused and subsumed by it.

One ex-CP leader created a new organization/tendency that’s sort of inside/outside of the FMLN, called the Tendencia Revolucionaria. See website here: They are the only group to have directly questioned the electoral path and made anything remotely like a call for a return to armed struggle, but they are small, they’re not clear about what they are (a tendency? an organization? inside or outside the FMLN?), and their politics are not fully formed or consistent either.

I could go on, but that’s enough for now.


The election commission (finally) just verified the FMLN candidate, Violeta Menjivar, as the new mayor of San Salvador. Story in right wing media:

the lines

The FMLN is one of those groups that seems (from far away) to want things to go as far as they can conceive of, but that they really demobilized when the Soviet Union fell apart and US power exerted throughout the region.

This might be contentious to their more ardent supporters, but I'd say that they surrendered.

I remember Maoists discussing their acceptance of the US terms when they disarmed. Genuine sadness because their was real respect for the people in struggle.

The hesitation to dig into those connections (apparently not here) has not served the political development of the Latin American movements well.

It's like we've been down so long, so far, that we'll take any lifeline -- even those that really don't answer the problems.

The bourgeois state is not an arena of struggle for the communist movement. Even if it is won, it will prove impossible to carry out the fundamental break with capitalist relations. The proletariat has the right and the duty to rule.

The FMLN rules San Salvador, but cannot promote a socialist hegemony. There is a capitalist state in the way, backed by powerful sponsors who just won't allow it.

The FMLN does not problematize power clearly internally nor externally. They do not accept the distinctions between state-capitalism and socialism, or between electoralism and revolution.

These dividing line issues are crucial. The dividing line is not armed force. Every political movement engages armed force in one way or another. The issue is line, and in this case the (apparent) triumph of openly revisionist positions among the highest leaders of the FMLN.

The history of bloodshed that was described above is depressing. That a great poet like Roque Dalton was killed in an internal dispute, apparently for taking a more advanced line is just horrible.

It reminds me of the killing of Chris Hani in South Africa. When revisionists dominate the resistance movements, good militant almost always struggle where the struggle is at. It takes alot to swim against the tide of our own side.

Chavez is much more interesting to me than the FMLN because of the random factor at play. He, and the movement he floats on while leading, can bounce in all kinds of ways -- but has a socialistic, anti-imperialist and pan-American nationalist trajectory. On balance, some great stuff that by almost every account I've seen involves real turmoil and projection from the oppressed.

But they are still oppressed and the state and society are still not even remotely socialist. (Not even by the dismal standards Cuba sets in that regard.)

Whatever the means of criticial engagement, it needs to be happening. I don't think our duty is to judge the Salvadoran left, but to engage it.

the burningman

Thank you so much for that detailed history of the FMLN's dynamics, all around.

Sometimes it seems that for fear of drudging up the wooden polemical styles of the 1970s, which most of us don't even remember from lived experience, there is a tendency to avoid deeper "engagement" with the various lines in the international left.

For example, the recent Revolution piece on the situation in Latin America was really disappointing in its brevity and general shallowness.

These are life-and-death questions and as the world left is on the most definite upswing, the terms which the most advanced elements struggle for has a weight we may not be used to.

We're not all commentators here, but actors in history.

The urge I feel, as do many others, to "put all the bad, old day behind us" will not serve us well.

Anecdote: Coming home last night I stopped off at the closest thing my neighborhood has to a diner to pick up their slammin' $8 steak, rice, beans and salad special that they serve from their side-line Salvadoran menu.

I asked who won the elections, the middle-aged woman putting it together said "it must be the FMLN."

That the progressive people of El Salvador see their fate tied in with that of the FMLN is crucial when we approach discussing the choices they make, choices constrained by an organic relationship to the Salvadoran masses and not, simply, ideological deductions.

Disentangling lessons -- what we can learn from them -- is not easy, and quick, facile judgements about who is "for real" just can't be made by anyone.

That said, I really do hope we learned a few things from the 20th century, specifically about that very real phenom called "revisionism."


burningman: their choices are also largely constrained by the material conditions in which they find themselves, and which they helped to shape. The sentiment among the masses is part of this as well as the larger political landscape and the socio-economic system.

In the blog on dialectics, many people, including myself, argued that dialectics does not entail that history can be predicted. Unfortunately, many seem to believe that it DOES entail a 'wait and see' attitude in which we can say nothing at all.

Dogmatism is to be rejected but agnosticism is no alternative - and it's neither dialectical nor materialist.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Hot Shots