Argentine Left Debates Strategy as Mass Protests Continue

By GERRY FOLEY

The social explosion that blew away Argentina’s neoliberal government in December is obviously continuing and deepening. On Feb. 1, there were again massive demonstrations throughout the country.

The new president, the populist Eduardo Duhalde, is trying to pursue the same objectives as the ousted government-though with demagogic garnishes. Duhalde is saying, for example, that if he were not president, he would be in the street with the angry crowds. His tactic is to claim that his heart is with the people but his mind tells him he has to do what the banks and the imperialists demand.

This, however, is not a new act in Argentina. And it does not seem playing to a receptive audience any more.

One of the most popular slogans of the demonstrations against the Duhalde government-which are continuing on a daily basis-is “Que se vayan todos,” (“They’ve all got to go,” meaning all of the bourgeois politicians, including Duhalde).

A Feb. 4 Reuters dispatch commented: “Argentines point to signs that violent social unrest could be around the corner amid daily incidents that shock a nation long proud of its European ancestry, which for years helped give it one of the highest standard of living in Latin America.”

Reuters reflected the racist attitude that used to be common in Argentina, that the country was really European and not Latin American at all. That idea has now been exploded, along with the mirage of the “free market” economy.

Argentina used to be the prime example of populism, which was a general response in the region to the economic crisis of the 1930s-that is, bourgeois nationalist demagogues who would oppose imperialist dictates to a limited extent and offer some social-welfare type concessions to the masses. Now, the populists in Argentina-the party founded by the populist strongman Juan Domingo Peron-are being included in the “they’ve all got to go,” although the Peronists still control the bureaucratic leaderships of the trade unions.

Because of the bureaucratic control of the unions and the extent of unemployment, it has been primarily the neighborhood organizations of the poor and the unemployed that have been the vanguard of the protests. But under the pressure of the massive social revolt, the unions have begun to move as well.

Trotskyists urge neighborhood committees

Although the Trotskyist organizations in Argentina are badly divided, they seem to have a broad agreement in pushing the formation of neighborhood committees, which are organized like territorial soviets, and in getting them affiliated on a national basis to form the basis for a workers’ government.

In the Jan. 31 issue of Prensa Obrera, the weekly newspaper of Politica Obrera, the largest of the Trotskyist groups, its main leader, Jorge Altamira, wrote:

“The decision of the Inter-Neighborhood Assembly on Jan. 20 led to the setting up of a new political framework for the people’s movement. Five days after that we had the first really national pan-banging march since the mass uprising of Dec. 19-20. From the north, in Salta, to Neuquen on the coast, including in the center of Mar del Plata [the country’s main seacoast resort], tens and tens of thousands of people mobilized in response to the Assembly’s call in downtown Buenos Aires.

“Although this went unnoticed by the press, this movement gave rise to the first people’s assemblies in Greater Buenos Aires, and in particular in La Matanza. This new phenomenon included the ‘unity of the pan-bangers and the pickets,’ that began to be talked about in subsequent days. Because it is clear that the assemblies in the conurban area cannot be anything else but a fusion of the people in the neighborhoods and the employed workers.”

The Jan. 22 issue of Democracia Obrera, the organ of the Argentine section of the International Workers League (IWL), which used to include the largest Trotskyist current in Argentina, called for a National Workers and People’s Congress to fight for a “workers and people’s government based on the insurgent masses.”

Democracia Obrera reported: “In Neuquen, hundreds of workers, unemployed, and even small savers are meeting. In La Matanza, leaders of various unions are pushing for area-wide coordination. In Corboda, university professors, delegates from Luz y Fuerza [the electricity company], and the UEPC have issued a statement in the name of the Workers Committee for Coordination and called for a regional coordinating committee and a national assembly.

“In the capital [Buenos Aires], dozens of neighborhood assemblies have begun to coordinate their activities, as we saw in the mass assembly in the Parque Centenario on Sunday, Jan. 20. … The Bloque Piquetero has called an Assembly of Picketers for the middle of February.

“The motorcycle couriers of SiMeCa and the heroic working-class youth that gave its martyrs in the Dec. 20 battle have taken the lead in the fight for punishing the murderers of all those who fell.”

“The conditions and the forces for calling such a congress already exist! All of the fighting sections of society can already call it, with one recallable voting delegate for every 100 workers elected in every factory and enterprise, and including representatives of the urban small businessmen and producers and of the ruined population of the country-all of the sections of the population that are fighting.”

The “Constituent Assembly” slogan

The IWL has denounced the other Trotskyist groups, especially the PO, as the largest of them, for calling for a Constituent Assembly, which it says would amount only to new bourgeois elections, which the bourgeois political parties are offering as the ultimate alternative.

It is true that a Constituent Assembly was part of the program of the Bolsheviks at the time of the Russian Revolution, although they disbanded it later in the name of the workers government based on the soviets. Conditions in Argentina are very different, however.

It may be that some Argentine Trotskyist groups are holding onto to this slogan out of ideological conservatism. But it can be used in different ways. It is not clear what the groups that raise this slogan mean by it.

In Altamira’s lead article in the Jan. 31 Prensa Obrera, he suggests that he is giving the traditional meaning to the slogan, that is, the ultimate form of bourgeois democracy. But another article in the paper suggests another interpretation:

“The slogan of the struggle that is looming is ‘they’ve all got to go,’ and ‘don’t leave a single one.’ It is to multiply the people’s assemblies and to fuse them with the fighting picketers.

“It is to reinforce the authority of people’s assemblies and the picketers’ assemblies. It is to convert them into a government of the exploited people.

“A People’s Constituent Assembly is needed, called by the mobilized people, that will take charge of reorganizing the country on new social and political bases.”

Under the conditions of constant and deepening mass mobilizations and a catastrophic political crisis of the bourgeoisie, the program of the various Trotskyist groups will obviously be tested rapidly, and they will experiment with new slogans and organizational formulas.

Some concrete slogans seem to be becoming established, such as repudiating the national debt, returning the money of depositors, paying back wages and pensions, creating jobs.

There is no solution for Argentina’s economic crisis short of socialism, despite the claims that are routinely inserted in the capitalist press reporting that Argentina was an “economic star” in the 1990s.

It was in this period and the preceding decade that the economy of what had been the most prosperous of the larger countries in Latin America was undermined. The state companies were privatized, the country was opened to imperialist banks and exporters, and Argentine manufacturing was destroyed.

“Globalized” Argentina now has jobs for only about half its working population. The “free market” that created this disaster has no solution for it.

However, Argentina’s past prosperity has left it with probably the biggest organized working class in Latin America and with the largest revolutionary workers organizations. That seems to give it the best conditions for a socialist revolution in the world at the moment.

The next few months will be an historic test that socialists throughout the world will have to watch very closely. And they will have to be on the alert to build international solidarity with the working people who are likely be subjected to violent attacks by a threatened ruling class. Already 30 people are known to have been killed in the Dec. 19-20 confrontations.