Argentina: All or nothing

New far-right Argentine president Javier Milei, accompanied by other sectors of the right, seeks to bring about a profound political, economic and social change in the country with a package of reforms that would completely reconfigure the political landscape and provide a boost for the extreme right at a continental level. His arrival was aided by the disaster of the previous government, led by the Peronist Justice Party (PJ). The struggle to stop him is complex, but it is now open. This article analyzes the situation in Argentina, placing it in a global context

By Martín Carcione

The new government of Argentina, headed by far-right politician Javier Milei, is preparing to bring about a profound transformation of the country. Milei is working in partnership with sectors of the center-right coalition Together for Change, which is headed by ex-president Mauricio Macri, and the Peronist Justice Party (PJ). In late December, Milei launched the Decree of Necessity and Urgency (DNU) and a package of measures known as the Omnibus Law. Together, the packages open up state assets to privatization, restrict workers’ rights, crack down on the right to protest, and change important aspects of Argentina’s democratic system. The debate that has played out between sectors of the bourgeoisie over whether to carry out a more gradual adjustment or a deep and rapid shock has been settled in favor of the latter. This represents a radical change, not only in Argentina, but also in many countries around the world. We are witnessing an experiment. It is no coincidence that it is being carried out in this country of the Southern Cone, one of the continent’s most important economically and politically.

The Argentinian bourgeoisie needs to definitively break a negative economic cycle that has been dragging on for years. This requires them to impose a significant defeat on the workers and popular sectors of the country, the active protagonists of the class struggle in recent times. These two things are the central motivation of the Milei experiment. He is also attempting to tackle the ever deepening crisis of the economic, political and social regime that was intended to be immutable after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a crisis which has had different expressions and cycles of intense social conflict. It has seen governments ousted and has led to a profound deterioration of state institutions at all levels. Capitalist democracy, as we know it in Argentina, seems to be coming to an end. The discussion of the content and form of what will replace it is starting to take place in the streets.

Just a few weeks after the government took office, the main trade union federation, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) was forced to call a national strike that will paralyze the country on January 24. The Trotskyist left, an influential factor in the country, carried out the first mobilization against the new government on December 20. This, combined with the response of various sectors that have mobilized in recent weeks, has generated a significant part of the pressure that forced the CGT to call the strike. General strikes, workers’ highest caliber weapon, are rarely seen in the world these days. So much so that Milei’s entire plan is in limbo, at the mercy of a difficult but open struggle, with all contenders awaiting the outcome of the battle that will take place on the 24th to assess the perspective going forward.

A global crisis, a polarized world

It is impossible to understand the development of events in Argentina without placing them in the international context. We are witnessing a deepening global crisis of capitalism with no solution and, as a consequence, the development of an extreme social and political polarization.

In this context, at a global level and also in Argentina, the political expressions of the extreme right have achieved a higher level of institutionalization than before in political forces, parties and coalitions. Among other factors, this is a result of the fact that sectors of the bourgeoisie want to constitute a definitive closure (at least in relative terms) of the prevailing instability, provoking a shift of the political center to the right. Another significant factor has undoubtedly been provided by the failure of the experiences of the so-called international “new left”: sectors of progressivism or Bolivarianism that supported a project of “humanized” capitalism or a capital with certain state controls. These ended up as guarantors of imperialist interests, significantly delegitimizing the possibility of a radical left or socialist solution.

Both factors can be seen, with their particularities, in Argentina. On the one hand there’s the shift of the country’s main party, the Justice Party, toward neoliberal policies and unambiguous surrender to imperialism. Returning to power in 2019, it continued the path traced by the 2015-2019 administration of center-right president Mauricio Macri with practically no alteration, applying an enormous adjustment against the working people, paying the scam of foreign debt and deepening the country’s submission to imperialist powers. On the other hand is the development of Milei’s far-right political force, sponsored by sectors of the bourgeoisie, that took over much of the space of the traditional right. During his campaign, Milei lashed out not only against the economic problems, but also against the political and social structure, placing himself “outside” the traditional system of parties and coalitions until the very moment of the electoral result. Immediately after, he took a sharp turn towards incorporating into his administration the political “caste” that he claimed to fight against. 

But the situation among the bourgeoisie and their political machines is only one side of the international situation. The other one has ample vitality and strength, but still lacks ideological reference points. It resides in mass mobilizations and confrontation with the global plans of the bourgeoisie. It has had significant experience in this in recent years. Without going any further, it is this expression of struggles, strikes, mass mobilizations and uprisings, which has, in many cases, stopped the forces of the extreme right, as well as those of the center, from imposing significant defeats and has limited the possibility of their programs being imposed.

The Milei experiment incorporates these conclusions

Milei can clearly be described as a madman. However, stopping at that would disarm us in confronting him. Around this character, who talks to his dead dogs and maintains a dubious relationship with his sister, most of the bourgeoisie has organized itself. Their aim is to carry out a political experiment based on the thesis that a brutal shock is necessary, not only in the economic field, but also politically and socially, to close the crisis and inaugurate a new cycle of accumulation.

Economic measures, privatizations, layoffs, devaluation and the reduction of the state are not enough. In order to give consistency and durability to these blows, it is necessary to transform the political regime and create a profound social change. That is why it is no exaggeration to say that the advance of the DNU, the Omnibus Law and the anti-mobilization protocol would imply a change of political regime. A reactionary coup, aimed at confronting the main problem that the bourgeoisie has not been able to eradicate from the country and the world: mobilization and social organization.

Parliamentarism, traditional bourgeois institutionality, the right to assemble and to protest, and the “division of powers” that make up the basis of the bourgeois democratic regime; all of these are in question. Not only for broad layers of workers and popular sectors, but also for the bourgeoisie itself and its propagandists. It is time to change to another type of social organization. That is why we are not facing a parliamentary dispute for the approval of the DNU package, but the beginning of a confrontation to determine what the new model will be and in whose interests it will operate. At this juncture, the offensive in this struggle is in the hands of the reactionary right wing. However, signs of resistance are beginning to appear and the call for a general strike on January 24 is a very important development that will set the agenda for the coming weeks. It marks the entry on the scene of the organized labor movement, of the social and popular organizations and of the left. Now, all will be put to the test in dispute with the bureaucratic apparatuses, the reformist and center parties and the government’s own repression.

Double challenge: confronting the reactionary package and fighting for a change of leadership and a socialist solution

The country, and to a great extent the situation, with its pace and particularities, is entering a defining moment: a crossroads that will strain the class struggle to the maximum.

The revolutionary left has a double challenge in this scenario. On the one hand, to be the first line in confronting the package of measures and the government that promotes it. That is why for weeks we have been demanding the central unions and other sectors to call for a general strike with mobilization. They finally had to call this action for January 24. We also mobilized in the week following Milei’s inauguration, with an important action on December 20. This fueled the response that took place that same night with pot-banging protests, known as cacerolazos, throughout the country. And through it we managed to break the repressive anti-picket protocol instated by the Minister of Security Patricia Bullrich, which banned all protests that blocked streets. On December 27, the CGT called for a demonstration in front of the Supreme Court as part of an attempt to present an appeal against the DNU. The demonstration was during work hours. This demonstration was massive despite the fact that the bureaucracy itself had specified that only the officials of each union should go, and did not call for a strike. Neighborhood organizing spaces have begun to develop, still timidly, seeking to emulate the neighborhood assemblies that emerged in 2001. And the workers and students of the culture sector are clearly at the forefront of the struggle, leading huge assemblies and actions throughout the country. Not coincidentally, this is a sector in which the left has significant implantation and influence. United for Culture, an organizing committee that functioned as a battering ram in the struggle for the extension of funds for culture during the Administration of the previous Justice Party government, is gradually becoming a national reference point. Of course, it lacks the support of the decisive force: the heavyweights of the labor movement.

In relation to the national strike, the fundamental task is to prepare diligently. We need to build the action to be massive and ensure that the mobilization has continuity, breaking the floodgates of the union bureaucracy which intends to use the action to contain the process and negotiate reforms with the government. The Justice Party and other politicians are acting along the same lines. Sergio Massa, former Minister of Economy and defeated candidate in the last presidential election, and Cristina Kirchner, a Peronist former president, have both publicly spoken out against the upcoming strike. They have argued against an immediate confrontation with Milei’s government, arguing the unions should give him time to govern. This shows that beyond nuances, there is a bipartisan commitment to austerity.

Another important challenge for the left is to build a force capable of taking part in the change of leadership. This process of change is beginning to open after the blow suffered by the Justice Party in the previous election, and its more than probable capitulations at the service of austerity. For this, it is not enough to only promote mobilization and independent organization of the labor movement. It is also imperative to achieve a more widespread and firm implantation in the base of the working class, fighting the bureaucracy for the leadership and challenging the parties of the regime for political representation.

Key days, urgent tasks, strategic debates

A struggle is at stake in Argentina that goes far beyond the country’s borders, and may have regional implications. In view of this, a response commensurate with the magnitude of the attack, and even greater, is key. The work for the success, extension and continuity of the general strike is the fundamental step ahead of us. Participating in and developing assemblies and grassroots organization, and participation of the labor and mass movement are of strategic importance. We need unity and confrontation, a fight place by place, worker by worker, to achieve not only strength but an ever greater cohesion of the revolutionary left with the workers’, students’, piqueteros, environmental and popular movement. This must be done with the clear objective of overturning the package of measures that the capitalist class are bent on passing through the narrow road of the bourgeois parliament. And we must be clear on the rottenness of the thread of negotiation behind the backs of the masses.

In this framework, in the tension of these struggles, it would be mistaken to ignore the strategic debates that the revolutionary left has the responsibility to face if we really want to play a leading role in the times that are coming together with the sectors that are fighting their hearts out in the mobilization against the government and its intended coup, as well as against the false options that bet on a negotiation. We participate in the electoral sphere, but this is insufficient to resolve the situation at the service of the masses. We must organize that force and multiply it, building spaces of participation for the hundreds of thousands that accompany us with their vote so that they can advance from supporters to active militants. That is what the MST and the ISL in Argentina proposes, arguing fraternally but firmly against those sectors that privilege their own electoral or sectorial promotion and deny the necessary transformation of the FITU into a tool of mass organization.