The Relationship of CISPES to the FDR/FMLN
Michael Letwin & John King
July 14, 1982
(Note: The New York steering committee has proposed that our relationship to the FDR/FMLN be the first part of an ongoing discussion of CISPES positions and strategy. This paper is a contribution to that discussion.)
1. The central purpose of CISPES is to provide unconditional solidarity and support for the right of the people of El Salvador and Central America to determine their own future: to be free of U.S. military, political and economic domination-imperialism-and to overthrow the U.S. backed Junta. That solidarity includes the recognition that in this struggle the people of El Salvador are currently represented by a broad front which includes virtually all opposition groups: the FDR/FMLN, and it is on that basis that we support the victory of that organization.
2. By educating people in this country about the history of the brutal Junta, the U.S. role in El Salvador, about the popular support enjoyed by the FDR/FMLN and about the ways that the war in El Salvador has a direct impact on the lives of North Americans, we can most effectively mobilize mass opposition-particularly among working class and oppressed people (Black and other nonwhite communities, women, gay people)-to U.S. intervention in El Salvador and Central America, the success of which would contribute greatly to El Salvadoran self determination.
3. Carrying out this solidarity in practice requires that CISPES have the fullest, freest, most open discussion and decision-making process possible in order to map out effective politics and strategy for its anti intervention work. The insights of the FDR/FMLN will be an invaluable re-source to us in this process, since it will have a perspective on the situation in El Salvador that will not otherwise be available to us. However, a political and/or strategic subordination of CISPES to the FDR/FMLN, or a principle that the FDR/FMLN must in all cases be automatically correct on any question, is in direct conflict with building an effective solidarity movement in this country. There are several reasons why this is so.
4. First, the priorities of CISPES are by necessity directed primarily toward external work and will never allow for a full discussion of a wide range of the FDR/FMLN’s domestic and in-ternational politics and programs. To automatically endorse political positions which we haven’t and probably can’t fully discuss would inevitably require a blind, and therefore, unhealthy judgement.
5. Second, even when a position of the FDR/FMLN is known and discussed, no revolu-tion’s direction or politics are undebatable or infallible, and CISPES members-sometimes a majority of members-will not always agree with those views. Many of the most important issues, in fact, will be related to debates that have been going on in the international left, some of which go back half a century or more, such as overall revolutionary strategy, the role of Cuba or the USSR, the nature of socialism, etc. On such issues especially, CISPES should not be bound to the views of the FDR/FMLN.
6. The Nicaraguan revolution is a case in point. Solidarity activists internationally differ over Sandinista policies such as the jailing of 4 Communist Party leaders who advocated worker occupation of the factories, the structure of power in Nicaragua, or the Sandinista’s opposition to Solidarity in Poland. The same kind of issues are likely to arise in our relationship with the FDR/FMLN. Our support for the FDR/FMLN should be based not on an assumption of overall political agreement with it but on support for its struggle against North American imperialism and the bloody Junta. We are not part of a common political party based on joint political views, nor should it be assumed that such a relationship exists between us and the Cuban or Nicaraguan re-gimes.
7. Finally and most important, disagreement may exist between members of CISPES and representatives of the FDR/FMLN over how best to build the solidarity movement in this country. A recent example might have been our discussion of whether or not to endorse the abortion rights demonstration at Cherry Hill on July 17 .
8. Should the position of the FDR/FMLN or that of its representatives automatically de-termine our position on such a question? Members of the North American solidarity movement are most likely to have an accurate sense of the political situation in this country, with a particular eye to the experiences of the last Antiwar movement regarding mass action and to the issues of racism, sexism and class. In addition, the FDR/FMLN will often be addressing a different audience, such as European governments, than ours. A central FDR/FMLN slogan such as the call for a “political solution” and negotiations with the U.S. government and D’Aubuisson may not be appropriate for the solidarity movement in this country, whose job it is to convince people here that the American government has no right to be negotiating anyone’s future, but rather that it should get out of El Salvador immediately and completely. In other words, the diplomatic initiatives of the FDR/FMLN and the political needs of the solidarity movement may differ.
9. This variance in approach may also result from the responsibility of CISPES as part of a broader movement at home, which requires us to participate in activities and address political issues not directly faced by the FDR/FMLN. This role is in the interests of the El Salvadoran people, since a movement of working class and oppressed people in the U.S. is one of the most important barriers to current and future intervention in El Salvador and Central America.
10. In discussing these issues, we should welcome a dialogue with the FDR/FMLN. But given the serious consequences that such decisions have both for the Salvadoran revolution and the movement in the U.S., a subordination of CISPES to the FDR/FMLN could lead to serious and sometimes avoidable mistakes. Moreover, uncritical subordination of CISPES to the FDR/FMLN in any of these areas would require that membership be based not only on support for the victory of the El Salvadoran people-which is the real basis for self determination-but also on an overall, often undefined, political agreement with the FDR/FMLN. The result would be a smaller politically narrower, and less effective solidarity organization with nothing to be gained in return.
11. For all of these reasons, CISPES must remain politically and organizationally inde-pendent and internally democratic, with a respect for the FDR/FMLN based on a relationship of equality. While dialogue with the FDR/FMLN is critical, the North American solidarity movement must be free to analyze and incorporate those views of the FDR/FMLN with which we have ge-nuine political agreement, and which have value to our work.