Eric Toussaint and the debt: Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk

Belgian historian and political scientist Éric Toussaint is one of the most recognized figures of the United Secretariat – Fourth International (USFI), which coordinates a sector of Trotskyism. For the last couple of days, he has been complaining about the Argentine government´s political use of a pronouncement on foreign debts… which Toussaint signed because both he and his organization agree with it.

By Alejandro Bodart and Pablo Vasco

In 15 Argentine media outlets, I see my signature being used in favor of the government: this is serious. I did not imagine that this was possible. It is a scandal. It is totally unacceptable,” Toussaint complained on his social networks.

He was referring to the foreseeable political use that Alberto Fernández´s government officials have made of a text on the external debts of Latin American countries entitled The Debt With the People´s Health is the Priority, which Toussaint signed. Although it proposes “the immediate suspension of the payment of capital and interest on all sovereign debts,” the text proposes “to legitimize postponements of terms and essential deductions in public debts before multilateral organizations and private creditors.”

Well, postponements and deductions of debts are exactly what sectors of the establishment like Pope Francis and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), as well as the IMF itself – which recognizes that there are some “unsustainable debts” – are proposing as a road map.

Have they suddenly become benevolent? Absolutely not. Capitalists know very well that creditors can squeeze debtors hard but not suffocate them to death, since they will obviously not pay if they are dead. And that is why postponements and deductions is the combo that Alberto Fernández and his Minister of Economy propose in the negotiations with bondholders – that is, the vulture funds – to pay them, in a couple of years and with some deductions, bonds that are already depreciated in the market.

When Something Has Four Legs…

…a tail, it barks and looks like a dog, it is a dog! If the pronouncement that Toussaint signed defends the essential line held by the Argentine government; if it was drafted and promoted by pro-government congresswoman and economist Fernanda Vallejos, president of the congressional finance commission; if the initiative “coincidentally” came up during the government’s negotiations with bondholders; and if 99% of the statement´s signatories are government officials or akin to the government, what pro-government “use” is Toussaint surprised about and complaining about?

In a very long subsequent letter seeking to justify his signature, Toussaint claims that they have used it because he and other signatories put the aforementioned suspension of payment as “a precondition, a matter prior to any negotiation”. He then acknowledges that the Fernández government has not done this. The problem is that, though Toussaint interprets such a hypothetical suspension as “a precondition,” the text says nothing of the sort. And the main issue: Toussaint signed the text in question after the Argentine government had made at least two billion-dollars payments of the foreign debt.

Furthermore, given the slightest doubt, Toussaint could have consulted the opinion any representative of Argentine Trotskyism – which has insertion and evident influence in the country as a current – about the opportunity, the risks or the political convenience of signing the statement. It is a pity that he did not take this into account and preferred to surround himself with the leaders of the traditional Argentine bourgeois party that governs the country today.

That the Argentine capitalist government seeks to give a its capitulating policy of paying the debt a left-wing coating, does not surprise us at all: it is part of its permanent double speak. What is unfortunate is that individuals and organizations that consider themselves Trotskyists, like Toussaint and the USFI, who have decades of experience to know what to sign or not, end up falling into mistakes that confuse people and benefit bourgeois policies.

The Wrong Course

Instead of acknowledging his mistake, Toussaint tries to justify it with a text four times longer than the one he signed. It is not an individual mistake, but an organic one, because it derives from the global political scaffolding of the USFI, the current he belongs to. For several years now, its political documents have characterized that there is a “change of epoch” in an essentially regressive sense, in which capitalism is stronger and the socialist revolution is farther away.

This unilateral and mistaken vision that we have criticized, has led them to abandon the construction of revolutionary parties and adopt the formation of broad parties with reformists as a strategy, and to furthering a campist shift that has led them closer to bourgeois political spaces supposedly different from “neoliberal capitalism.” For example, Toussaint himself defines President Alberto Fernández as “anti-neoliberal” in his latest text. It is the old argument that feeds the fable, typical of reformism, of the “lesser evil.”

These same problems are expressed in the USFI Bureau´s recent international statement on the pandemic, whose proposal on external debts is limited to proposing “immediate suspension of the payment of public debt with audit of public debt with citizen participation, in the perspective of the repudiation/abolition of the illegitimate part”. Although some of these points may eventually be raised as tactical slogans to facilitate some mobilization in particular in unity of action against the capitalist governments, the center of the proposal and the strategy of revolutionary socialist currents must be the non-payment of external debts.

This new international statement, with a strong humanist and non-class-based overtone, beyond the single phrase that “we must attack the entire capitalist structure,” once again emphasizes a general framework against neo-liberalism, without warning against the supposedly non-neoliberal governments that apply austerity plans, privatizations and extractivist policies as much or just about as much as the neo-liberalists. That is why they propose to replace their centrist central slogan Another world is possible… with another one that is just as centrist: Another world is necessary and urgent. We disagree. The only possible, necessary and urgent “other world” against capitalism, neoliberal or otherwise, has its own name and it must be said out loud: socialism!