Awarded a prize by Casa de las Amérícas in 1984, Perfiles de la revolución sandinista is one of the most insightful and thorough analyses of the Sandinista revolution written in Spanish. An Argentinian professor who has worked with the revolutionary government since 1980, Vilas displays a thorough grasp of applicable theory and an easy familiarity with a wealth of empirical data. He argues that the Sandinista revolution is one in a chain of Third World struggles for national liberation, but that to understand it one must be fully cognizant of the specific conditions that define its uniqueness. Vilas first underlines the importance of studying the historical subject (the Nicaraguan people) rather than just the (objective) economic conditions. Then he carefully considers the exact nature of the socioeconomic structures that arose in Nicaragua because of the unique way in which Nicaragua developed as a peripheral nation in the international capitalist system. Like the other Central American countries, Nicaragua was incorporated into the international division of labor as an exporter of primary goods. Its agrarian bourgeoisie became tightly linked to coffee production, and a substantial portion of the production came from small and medium-sized farms. In contrast to what happened in some other Central American countries, foreign capital never became dominant in production. Thus, the United States was more prone to use direct political and military means to guarantee the continuation of Nicaraguan production for the international system.
Unlike many studies of the Nicaraguan revolution, this work does not see the fall of Somoza as the result of an economic crisis. Employing a decidedly Gramscian view of the importance of political action, Vilas argues, rather, that “the fall of the Somocista dictatorship was the product of a revolutionary political crisis, which at a certain point in its evolution activated an economic crisis” (1986, p. 92). The importance of the peasants and the urban laboring masses in the revolutionary process is noted, but Vilas doubts that there could have been a successful revolution without the vanguard role played by the FSLN. Indeed, “The FSLN knew how to unite under their leadership all the forces exploited and oppressed by the dictatorship” (1986, p. 143). Vilas does not believe that the role of the bourgeoisie in the revolutionary process was as great as some have suggested. He sees the political work of the FSLN as a much more important factor.
The conditions of differing laboring groups in the countryside are carefully analyzed as Vilas explores the bases of support for the current regime. Organized labor is seen as the principal bulwark of the revolution. While the mixed economy is a result of the revolutionary coalition, the bourgeoisie seems unable to respond to production inducements as well as the small and medium-sized producers or the increasingly popular cooperative/worker-owned productive units. Vilas wonders about the capacity of the bourgeoisie to accept its subordinate political position in the new regime, and the willingness of the workers to continue a high level of support for the regime while often suffering a decline in their real wages. He foresees, nonetheless, continued support from an ever more conscious people (who are forged not only by their class origins but by revolutionary education and their political experience).
Although the formulations are often complex (particularly the theoretical discussion in the first chapter), the work becomes increasingly clear as one proceeds to the treatment of specific themes. Many of the formulations are quite original and the statistical support is excellent. The work would be rewarding for anyone who wanted an insider’s view of the revolution. Most advanced undergraduate students could read it with profit. The English translation is precise, and captures the subtleties and complexities of the original language.