Argentina in revolt

Argentina today is in a simmering pre-revolutionary situation. The established capitalist parties - Radicals and Peronists - are unable to rule in the old way: the mass of the population is also unwilling to allow itself to be so ruled. The resultant rapid alternation of presidents and governments, with two substantial pretenders to 'national leadership' driven from presidential office in a fortnight, and a revolving alternation of cabinets, unable to implement the austerity plans demanded by the parasitic financial institutions of 'globalised' capitalism in the face of massive popular resistance, points to a major opportunity for the working class. Now the Peronist Duhalde has been put into power as 'interim' president to carry out a controlled devaluation of the peso, while maintaining many of the hated austerity measures that provoked the masses to drive out his predecessors. The working class has shown great combativity, although the leadership of the main trade union organisation, the CGT, with its links to the Peronists, has had to be pushed from below into calling a series of actions, which it has so far limited to one-day general strikes. The conservative nature of the old, Peronist-influenced union leadership has led to the masses flowing outside the unions, and the subsequent movement has had the character of a spontaneous plebeian revolt, with large elements of what many consider the 'new' middle class also involved heavily in militant mass actions. There have been mass 'sackings' of supermarkets by the hungry, and militant confrontations with armed police outside the parliament and government buildings - actions whose evident mass support was enough to bring down both the Radical De La Rua and his Peronist successor, Rodriguez Saà , and hated subordinates such as the finance minister Domingo Cavallo, stooges of the international bankers who want to starve the Argentine masses to pay the debts run up by previous gangster-capitalist regimes. In particular, the years-long recession that has blighted the lives of the majority of the population - resulting from the irrational experiment of making the Argentine peso convertible one-to-one with the US dollar - has produced a sense of mass outrage among the population. 'Why should we be expected to starve because of the collapse of this nonsense?' the masses are justly shouting at the bankers and their political front-men. And indeed, such was the irrationality of this scam that its effects have not only devastated the working class, the unemployed and the poor, but have been directly ruinous to the middle classes - the upshot of a devaluation of the peso to its real value against the dollar would be the depreciation in savings of 40-50%. The debts of many of the same people (particularly those who have mortgages or loans from banks or similar institutions) will still be payable in dollars, and thus may be nearly doubled in real terms at the stroke of devaluation. Capitalist enterprises facing a similar problem are able, unlike the petty bourgeoisie, to pass the costs onto the working class, through mass sackings and attacks on benefits. Conversely, a refusal to devalue would mean an enormous austerity programme together with massive interest rates to artificially push up the value of the peso towards dollar parity - which itself will inevitably lead to economic collapse through the pricing of Argentine exports out of foreign markets - plus the draconian freezing of the bank account of workers and the middle class designed to shore up the banking sector at their expense. The chaos is in some ways redolent of the 'Black Wednesday' currency crisis that crippled the Major government in Britain in 1992, when an artificially overvalued currency in the European Monetary System, the precursor to the euro, brought about a threatening economic crisis and the crippling of exports. But the current situation, because of the major disparity between the economies of the United States and Argentina, is infinitely worse. Such is the power of this mass rising that it has the potential to effect a major shift in the balance of class forces - and not just in Argentina, but in the wider world context. One only has to recall the role of the upheaval in France in May 1968 in not only radicalising a whole generation of student youth, but also creating a major opening for the development of socialist politics and organisations in the working class internationally. The Zeitgeist of the past decade or so since the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, the reactionary period whose backwash robbed the working class of its sense of being a class and its belief in its independent politics and historical mission, would appear at first glance to militate against that. The current international situation in the aftermath of September 11, with the US-led reactionary war against equally reactionary islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and elsewhere, might also appear to make such a potentially earth-shaking, progressive event less likely. But this is a powerful upheaval, which has the potential to resonate around the world and act as a counterweight to these reactionary circumstances. It is without a doubt the most deep-going class conflict, not based on a militant sectional group, but rather a broad mobilisation of the masses in explicitly political conflict with the established parties in a strategic country on the South American continent, since the pre-revolutionary situation that brought to power the popular front regime of Salvador Allende in neighbouring Chile at the beginning of the 1970s. This comparison also points to dangers in the situation. While the Argentinian army is at this point a deeply discredited force, as a result of the 'dirty war' of mass-murder and torture directed against the left in the 1970s, followed by the losing, diversionary military adventure in the Falklands/Malvinas islands in 1982 (whose purpose was in fact to head off a rising wave of militant protest from the masses then also), nevertheless there are conceivable circumstances where, in the absence of a viable political direction arising from the current upheaval, a political vacuum could arise which a military strongman could see an opportunity to fill. The key to ensuring this does not take place is independent working class politics. The Argentine left faces an historic opportunity - yet what Argentina lacks at the moment is an authoritative, broadly based revolutionary party with roots in the masses that can unite the class-conscious elements of the working class in a struggle for power. Socialists and communists in Argentina need above all to create such a centre, capable of unifying the various fragmented left groups, at present competing with each other for the loyalties of sections of the masses, into a single fist. Such a party needs to be equipped with an action programme for the current situation: a programme that must include as a matter of urgency a concentrated, mass agitation for the formation of generalised councils of recallable delegates from the mass workers' and popular organisations as have sprung up in the current upheaval. These bodies, which would have the potential to act as an alternative source of power to the ramshackle capitalist government, must be formed alongside and in conjunction with an independent armed organisation of the insurgent masses. Indeed, in the event that the army or other reactionary armed formations do attempt to crush the mass movement, such independent organs with an armed capacity would be crucial in ensuring that the masses are not left powerless or, worse, crushed and obliterated, as in Chile. The left in Argentina, as is the case throughout the world, in presently divided into competing organisations whose fundamental raison d'être is their confessional nature - their attachment to some particular competing brand of Trotskyism or other amorphous form of subjective revolutionism. There are no doubt many political differences between the various Argentine left currents that are of importance to the working class. We, as people not intimately familiar with every aspect of the history and development of the Argentine left, do not claim any expertise on them beyond the most general insights that can be discernible at a distance. One thing we would note, however, is that the Argentine left has in the past allowed itself to be disarmed by 'anti-imperialist' nationalism - as evidenced by the support of many of the Trotskyist groups in Argentina for Galtieri's Falklands/Malvinas adventure in the name of some kind of 'anti-imperialist' united front - despite its obviously being a device to head off an incipient revolution. These are the kind of matters that must be thrashed out publicly among the revolutionary cadres within a single revolutionary party - a party that through its unified nature the masses can come to see as the authoritative voice of the working class. Indeed, the working class must be an active participant in thrashing out such matters, and must be drawn into such discussions as much as is practicable. This is desirable not only from a standpoint of simply maximising democratic participation of the masses in what they must come to see as their party, but from a programmatic standpoint also. In such a potentially revolutionary situation as the current one, the most far-sighted elements of the left, those whose leadership qualities are most essential for the successful outcome of the crisis, will inevitably find their authority strengthened both within the party and among the revolutionary masses, by the programmatic impulses that come from the masses themselves acting on such a genuine, Bolshevik-style organisation. This will be crucial in blowing away the political cobwebs that have accumulated among the ossified and divided revolutionary socialist currents and have clung on during the years of reaction that preceded this upheaval. A socialist upheaval in Argentina could not be confined to one country. Indeed, the attempt to build some kind of isolated Argentine form of socialism, even on the social basis of the strong, if historically nationalist-influenced, workers' movement in that country, would be to rob the proletariat of its potential role as a regional trail-blazer, as well as to risk a repetition of some of the more tragic consequences that have resulted from attempts to build 'socialism' in some kind of national isolation during the 20 century. Socialism must be international, or it will not be socialism. A revolution in Argentina must spread itself on a regional basis, most immediately to Brazil and Chile, in order to bring into play the decisive proletarian forces on the South American continent, as a stepping stone to world revolution. The upheaval in Argentina is a key event that has the potential to qualitatively deepen the existing amorphous, youth-centred 'anti-capitalist' movement that has grown up in the last few years, and ignite a real new left movement internationally based on the revolutionary power of the working class. It portends not only the series of limited victories that the power of the masses has won against the bourgeoisie in Argentine, but something much more lasting - a reborn communist movement that can win decisive victories against the rule of capital internationally. Ian Donovan