In This Review

After Insurgency: Revolution and Electoral Politics in El Salvador
After Insurgency: Revolution and Electoral Politics in El Salvador
By Ralph Sprenkels
University of Notre Dame Press, 2018, 484 pp
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In 1992, a negotiated peace concluded El Salvador’s prolonged, bloody civil war and paved the way for an electoral democracy. The leftist insurgents emerged as a political party and eventually took the presidency. Sprenkels, who aided the guerrilla forces during the war, used his grass-roots contacts to conduct revealing interviews with wartime combatants. The book gives a nuanced, humane assessment of the lives of former revolutionaries in peacetime. Sprenkels avoids the simple tropes of postrevolutionary political disillusionment and moral decay. Rather, he identifies five peacetime narratives, each of which shows up among the former revolutionaries: permanent revolutionary pride amid social tensions; persistent civil war animosities and loyalties; the tendency to see politics as a conspiracy, often of the powerful against the poor; reliance on a system of patronage, with its logic of reciprocal exchange; and an emphasis on democratic citizenship. Particularly interesting is his discussion of the conversion of clandestine trust networks between former insurgent commanders and the rank and file into patronage systems. Sprenkels asks, “To what extent should we interpret post-insurgent clientelism as distinctly new?” Or were the former rebels simply absorbed into age-old methods of machine politics?