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Carlos Fonseca is considered the principal ideologue of the Sandinistas because he established the fundamental ideas of Sandinismo, which is named after Augusto Sandino, an ardent fighter who voraciously supported anti-imperialism.

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.

Carlos Fonseca adopted many of the Sandinista military goals from 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" (GPP) because of its ideological commitment to creating an insurgency among the peasantry and its reliance on Maoist guerrilla strategy. 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. The GPP desired popular support from the rural masses, a desire that remained illusive throughout the insurrectional years. The GPP believed that, in order to take part in guerrilla activities, peasants had to develop new 'revolutionary consciousness'.

Augusto César Sandino.

Formative Years

The formative years of Sandinismo are found in the origins of the interest of Sandino among Marxist revolutionary students and influence from revolutionary Cuba. Ernesto "Che" Guevara and Fidel Castro had studied Sandino's war against the American Marines in Nicaragua during the late 1950s.[1] Fonseca's early experiences with student activism led him to declare himself a Marxist in 1954.[2] In the 1950s at the National University of Nicaragua in Leon, Fonseca began developing his radical ideology by studying the Marxist classics [3] As a student in the 1960s, Fonseca split from the Pro-Moscow Communist Party of which he was a member of due to their unwillingness to commit to armed warfare.[4] This began Fonseca's ideological move toward scientific socialism and revolutionary nationalism following the foot steps of Che and Fidel.[5] Fonseca's own writings began mentioning Sandino in 1959 and in the context of the Cuban Revolution during his stay in Havana [this is incorrect: the Front was founded in Honduras in 1961] where the Sandinista Front was created.[6] In Cuba, where he found a biography called "Sandino: General of Free Men", Fonseca was able to study Sandino freely and to begin constructing what he saw as a uniquely Nicaraguan revolutionary ideology.[7] Fonseca's biographer, Matilde Zimmermann, argues that the year 1958 to 1960 were crucial years in the development of Sandinismo as they marked a turning point in Fonseca's political thought, shifting from Stalin to Sandino as the banner of revolutionary struggle.[8] In the 1961–1962 debates in Havana over the creation of a Nicaraguan revolutionary front, it was Fonseca who persuaded his Nicaraguan student counterparts that Sandino's name should be incorporated in their party.[9]

The Terceristas

Sandinismo had several doctrinary strands during the years of insurgency and throughout the revolutionary period. However, the Sandinismo of the Terceristas, led by Daniel and Humberto Ortega, gained preponderance over its more doctrinaire rivals during the revolutionary years. The Tercerista's identified capitalism as 'the main obstacle to social progress'.[10] They believed in a gradual transformation of society toward socialism. The Terceristas believed Nicaragua would have to go through a transitional popular-democratic revolutionary phase which would not be explicitly Marxist-Leninist until it reached a socialist society.[11] The Sandinismo of the Terceristas called for "Marxist ideological clarity" only among its top ranks and not among the "masses" in fear of Nicaraguans' reaction to such policies.[12] What differentiates Tercerista ideology from other Sandinismo strains is their willingness to have tactical alliances with "bourgeoisie" sectors of society. Their appeals for "tactical and temporary broad alliances" were victorious within the party's National Directorate, however, not without controversy over the preservation of pure Marxist analysis.[13]


Fonseca was highly influenced by Nicaraguan hero Augusto Sandino, whose history he was introduced to by Cuban revolutionaries. Sandino led a peasant insurgence against the first Somoza government in the 1930s under the Liberal Party banner.

When the Somoza dictatorship was in power they had failed to develop proper educational institutions. To the dismay of Sandinistas, in school classes Sandino was described as a bandit and an enemy of good government. In the 1970s, Fonseca brought a new interpretation of Sandino to the Sandinista party members which he wished to dispense upon the masses: his quest to attain the sovereign-independence of Nicaragua had not been accomplished generations after his assassination. Sandino wished to remove the foreign influences that were dominant in the country, and which prevented the government from conducting business for the well being of the Nicaraguan people. Fonseca wished to use his newly developed history of Nicaragua to unite the rural peasants in order to instill a greater sense of pride, to encourage men to take part in the anti-imperial struggle, and to increase revolutionary solidarity.

Unlike Fonseca, Sandino was not a Marxist-Leninist. The Nicaraguan people's struggle against William Walker and Sandino's struggle against the Somoza forces was not directed at a socialist telos. Like Sandino, Fonseca wished to ignite the consciousness of the peasantry, and they were a collective force that Fonseca showed could be in control of their own futures.(Zwerling; 67) Fonseca believed that the first liberty that the masses should have was the ownership of the land on which they laboured. Economic sovereignty in the majority of Nicaragua's economic sectors would allow growth to remain in the state, as well as reward the people who rightfully deserved some profit.

In some ways Sandino's mission had been a failure, since he did not remove the dictator who was in power, but Fonseca was able to retain the strong legacy of Sandino's spirit in his contemporary military approach. Sandino's guerrilla experience showed Fonseca that revolutionary processes could be developed among the peasantry. Fonseca also learned from Sandino's endeavors that revolutionaries had to learn from 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." This should not be taken as Sandinista brainwashing. In truth, 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.

The message Fonseca and Sandino left was to teach the peasants to read and write. This did not occur too often in the 1930s. But for Sandinistas, education was a major function of the movement. Conscious people were committed to the revolution, even with the fatal risks involved.


Sandinistas, like many Marxists, believe that education is a manifestation of the beliefs of the ruling government, so the regime's ideological tendencies are passed down to the youth. 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 by instilling in them an 'official' understanding of history which places the struggle against imperialism and the abundance of the national heroes the peasants gradually at the center of a Marxist historical interpretation of Nicaragua. Nationalism and class solidarity were developed through the growth of consciousness, and with time, the realization that the use arms would be required was also fostered.

In Sandinismo, nationalism and sovereign independence are key motivators. The sometimes mythic tales of Sandino tapped into the artistic imaginations of the peasants who needed to be convinced, and political passion was given a more concrete form.(Palmer,92) As with any populist movement, to go along with its abstract ideas an excellent leader was required to march in front of the masses.

Modern Caudillo

To the Sandinistas, Fonseca was considered a "modern Sandino". At times he overlooked the importance of obtaining support from the urban revolutionaries (Humberto Ortega). At the same time, his loyalty to the peasantry could not be questioned. Fonseca perceived himself as a patriot of the true indigenous Nicaragua; he was respected among his followers and was characterized by them as inspirational, imaginative, determined, and confident. 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. In the case of Fonseca; he put much work into constructing a revolutionary ideology within the party. By using his concepts, the Sandinista Revolution was able to survive and thrive after Fonseca's death in battle. The Sandinista political thought was deeply enshrined among party ideologues. After their victory, they attempted to instill this ideology among the peasants.

See also


  1. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 61.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 43.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 38.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 59.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 61.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Zimmerman, Matilde (2000). Sandinista. Duke University Press. p. 74.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Nolan, David (1984). The Ideology of the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan Revolution. The Institute of InterAmerican Studies. p. 66.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Anderson, Leslie E. (May 2005). Learning Democracy: Citizen Engagement and Electoral Choice in Nicaragua, 1990–2001. University Of Chicago Press. p. 67. ISBN 0-226-01971-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Anderson, Leslie E. (May 2005). Learning Democracy: Citizen Engagement and Electoral Choice in Nicaragua, 1990–2001. University Of Chicago Press. p. 68. ISBN 0-226-01971-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Anderson, Leslie E. (May 2005). Learning Democracy: Citizen Engagement and Electoral Choice in Nicaragua, 1990–2001. University Of Chicago Press. p. 76. ISBN 0-226-01971-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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.


  • 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.