Reflections on the revolutionary days in Argentina
22 Dec 2001
Por: Prensa PTS
We have just lived through extraordinary moments in our country"s history. The revolutionary fall of the De La Rúa - Cavallo government opens a revolutionary period in Argentina that presents revolutionary Marxists with a great opportunity.
The revolutionary days
What we saw on the 19 and 20 of December were two great revolutionary days where the workers, the poor and the middle class of the great urban centres, with various but simultaneous methods gave battle to one of the most exploitative and servile (to imperialism) governments. This event did not come out of the blue but synthesised more than one year of acute class struggle that included local uprisings with a semi-insurrectional character, like those of Salta province at the end of 2000, the emergence of a powerful movement of the unemployed (piqueteros), that carried to the national arena the demands of the most oppressed and exploited sectors of society, and last but not least eight general strikes that supported by the transport workers paralysed the country. This collection of struggles and organisation, made despite the official leaderships of the workers movement, ended with the explosion of the December days
The December events are chronicled in three great episodes. Perhaps the most important was the process of around 600 lootings of supermarkets and shops in one week (as against the 800 that happened at the end of the Alfonsin government in 52 days). I say "perhaps the most important" because it opened a situation without a reformist solution for the government. Either the looters would have linked up with other classes in struggle, even though it would be with their own demands, or the bourgeois state would have isolated them and eventually crushed them. It couldn"t do this because the middle class of the great urban centres and the small business sector of the outskirts of the cities were outraged with the government. With the "corralito" measure (a limit of $250 per week that could be drawn out of bank deposits including salaries), Cavallo and De La Rúa not only raised the spectre of a confiscation of deposits, as Cavallo did as minister in Menem"s government at the beginning of the 90s but also by the same measure "dried up" the country of money in circulation, which is vital to maintain the informal economy. Throughout this month from the most exploited sectors like those who scavenge through rubbish tips through to the small business people who operate using cash and to whom it seems ridiculous to demand that they use "credit cards" and to force them to use the banking system for their business, suffered a brutal fall in living conditions.
This contributed to the lootings and far from transforming itself into a war of poor against poor (an element that existed but in the end resulted in being secondary) started to direct itself against the supermarkets, breaking with bourgeois legality and unleashing a process of insubordination of all classes against the government. Therefore the lootings constituted the first episode of these days.
On the night of the 19 the middle class provoked by De La Rúa"s speech in which he took no responsibility for the crisis and decreed a state of emergency, unleashing the second episode: an impressive simultaneous response from hundreds of thousands of people who started an infernal cacerolazo (banging of pans), using bombas de estruendo (thunder bombs) where scores of thousands created a human tide in the centres of the principal cities, fundamentally in Buenos Aires. When we arrived in the Plaza (de Mayo) half of it was already occupied and the eight blocks of the Avenida de Mayo which separates the Plaza from the Houses of Congress was replete with people walking, meanwhile in all of the city"s districts street bonfires were burning (that lasted until dawn) gathering together thousands more. In the city of Cordoba, according to our comrades at 2am 10,000 people marched to the centre. Those who maintain "history with no subject" or those pseudomarxists that base themselves in the "methodology of individualism" are in a bind to explain how in five minutes, through "transmission of thought", hundreds of thousands of people with a distance of many kilometres between them, gather around the cry "Cavallo, hijo de puta . . ." and "que boludo, el estado de sitio, se lo meten en el culo" (what an idiot, stick the state of siege up your arse). For us, revolutionary Marxists that consider society divided into classes with their own interests, it is easier to explain the process of how, on the basis of their interests, a collective subject in action can arise.
On Thursday 20, while the cities were covered in smoke from the street bonfires and having many districts with shops looted in the suburbs of the great cities, some remnants of the mobilisations of the night before stayed on the streets, banging the rubbish bins in front of the Casa Rosada (Presidential Palace) plagued by police, with the hope that the multitude of the night before that had been dispersed with tear gas would return with the news of the resignation of the Cavallo. (In a certain way, the "bridge" between one day and another was the massive contingent that marched to the Congress after the police repression and stayed there until 3am).
All Thursday morning, their ranks grew with workers (office workers, bank workers, etc.) that had decided to "take a detour" on their way to work, with students and activists. Here the third episode started, what the press has called the Battle of the Plaza de Mayo. The Federal Police, with a hard attitude, tried to stop the Plaza filling up all day. Dozens of repressive attacks with a combination of armoured cars, horse charges, tear gas rounds and rubber bullets at the beginning and then on various occasions with live rounds, received the reply of the mixed crowd, a type of guerrilla war, counter attacks from side streets and avenues that access the Plaza. All of this transmitted live by four television stations and various cable channels showing the actions from all possible angles. This allowed the whole nation to follow the events. From midday, the participation of young workers increased, employed and unemployed, and students gaining a sweeping weight among the most decisive groups in combat. By 4pm De a Rúa"s fate was sealed. With five comrades already dead from lead bullets (two more died the following day in hospital) the brief last speech of the ex president was a last ditch and miserable for posterity: offering a government of national unity with the Peronists to share the responsibility for the tragic ending. As the afternoon arrived and at about 7pm the incredible happened De La Rúa resigned and fled the Casa Rosada by helicopter.
This put a temporary end to the dramatic revolutionary days. The outcome: the city centre full of stones in the streets and with dozens of shops, banks and vans burnt or ransacked. The tragic outcome: already 25 dead from distinct episodes.
As for the workers movement, being the most backward sector, it participated, however, in two important events on Wednesday 19: the march headed by the shipyard workers of Astillero Rio Santiago, teachers and state employees of La Plata, that I commented on my previous letter, and the confrontation of the Cordoba municipal workers that I referred to aswell. The comrades in Cordoba inform us "the resistance of the municipal workers was the important thing, first at all by forming a mass presence at the entrance of the regional palace and then in that zone. By midday groups of 30-40 municipal workers blockaded certain crossroads and effectively controlled some areas of the city centre. The police took care of clearing the people with tear gas and rubber bullets. About 70 municipal workers, including the general secretary, took refuge in the office of Luz y Fuerza (the trade union of electricity and power companies). The police launched tear gases into the building and sealed the door, as well as blocking the road with police cordons. Dozens of people were surrounded by a cloud of tear gas, even children who were in the building for leisure activities, and they had to be taken away by ambulance. This provoked enormous indignation among workers and was shown on television. As a result 20 people were arrested and a demonstration to the police station was organised but they remain in jail.
On Wednesday afternoon, the unions organised a plenary of all the different sections. A bloc was formed of the CGT - CTA (Confederación de Trabajadores de Argentina - ex Peronists and FREPASO supporters) - SEP (Sindicato Empleados Públicos) - UEPC (Union Empleados Públicos de Córdoba) and this called, after many hours of doubts, a rally for Thursday morning. 2000 people attended. It was significant because we believe it was one the few places where sections of workers intervened in the crisis. Even though Daniele, of SUOEM (Sindicato Unificado Obreros Emplaedos Municipals), the only speaker, put the emphasis on local questions, everyone regarded it as a response to the national crisis. The position of the government on repression changed abruptly. Not only was there no repression but there were no police to be seen in the area. In Neuquen the bureaucracy of the CTA, that had just confronted the bosses with the strike of 13 December, when not only were there confrontations with the police but also unjustified attacks on shops, organised a march with Argentinian flags that was tiny and in which the comrades of Zanon participated. More, in general, the bureaucracy of the two CGTs stopped the workers making their mark by declaring on Thursday midday an overdue general strike starting from Friday. The climate in the factories, of which we know, was one of elation and combativeness. De La Rúa"s resignation held back the expression of the class as a whole. However the working class had intervened, as we said above, through the powerful general strikes.
Without going further, the last general strike on Thursday 13 December, came together with the start of the massive caceralazos and actions of the small business people and the lootings started the next day. The bureaucracy, immediately after De La Rúa"s resignation deactivated the general strike for Friday despite more than 25 dead, hundreds of injured and thousands of people jailed. The "combative" Moyano (Moyano is the leader of the lorry drivers" union - camioneros and general secretary of the transport federation and has led important industrial action. He is a traditional Peronist - translators note) and the quasiimpresario bureaucracy of Daer (this section of the bureaucracy is involved in managing industries - TN) had already played their role and were now confident that Peronism would resolve the popular demands. The social democratic CTA - that had played a pernicious role making the National Picket"s Assembly disappear in reality - was absent from all the events without notice and did all it could to avoid getting mixed up with the "revolts". The worst example was the calling off of a mobilisation for the same Thursday 20 in the Plaza de Mayo by the FTV-CTA and the CCC (the leadership of the Matanza Pickets" Assembly) and D"Elia condemned the lootings with the attitude of an indignant government functionary.
The CCC wing of the pickets" bureaucracy, played no role in the events, ending up supporting spontaneous lootings of small shops (with the large ones having agreed to hand over food), it did not show its face in the Battle of The Plaza de Mayo and under pressure from the rank and file tried to blockade Ruta 3 in La Matanza but were repressed by the Greater Buenos Aires police without organising any resistance. The Pickets" movement, having won authority among the unemployed, was not even an alternative leadership in the widespread phenomena of the lootings where the protagonists were those that the CCC says it represents let alone during the events of the Plaza de Mayo.
Up until now this has been a description of the objective events. To this we must add that our organisation took part in the Battle of The Plaza de Mayo giving out 4000 of the special edition of the newspaper that was edited in the early hours and we participated in a column of the left (with MTR - Movimiento Teresa Rodríguez (unemployed movement), MIJP, IU, PO and other groups) in the first hours and when the main groups retreated (before De La Rúa"s resignation) we had a column of hundreds of comrades alongside the demonstrators who were fighting against the police around the Obelisk.
This is a small comment on the balance of our intervention because the task is to write more about how a revolutionary propaganda organisation should intervene in events like these that are very acute but did not transform themselves into "semi-insurrections" like the Cordabazo, where the working class participated.
The Marxist definition of the events
We define the events as revolutionary days from a Marxist point of view for the following reasons:
a) Because all exploited and oppressed classes participated with a distinct undertaking and with the objective of getting rid of the government.
b) Because they were the motor, expressed in thousands of declarations by the participants, the denouncement of hunger (the struggle for bread), unemployment (the struggle for work) and against the national bourgeois government and in the provinces against the Peronist or Alliance governors that had executed the attack.
c) By the repudiation of all bourgeois political leaderships, in particular against De La Rúa, Cavallo and Menem.
d) Because, from the lootings, passing thorough the mobilisations against the state of siege, to the Battle of the Plaza de Mayo, there was a revolutionary questioning, more or less profound, of bourgeois legality and the increase in the subjectivity of the masses putting the "justice" of their demands before the "legality" of the bourgeois state apparatus. This is particularly significant because unlike Indonesia, the revolutionary days in Argentina were made against a bourgeois democratic government and regime.
e) In synthesis, it is an independent historic action of the movement of the masses, a sharp reply to the question the leadership of the PTS had formulated in an internal minute on the 7 December: "to what extent will the general strike called for serve for the working class and the masses to burst onto the scene as an independent factor in the national crisis?"
If the ferocious infighting of those above us lasts "90 days" (expected duration of the Cavallo plan - TN), will it open the possibility of new independent actions of the masses before this period closes with one of a number of reactionary options?"
The revolutionary days opened up a new stage in the Argentinian class struggle, pre-revolutionary and objectively revolutionary, where the lack of organs of dual power and an alternative revolutionary leadership with the least bit of influence in a sector of the masses" movement, are the least developed elements which prevents its transformation into a classic revolutionary situation. This is the definition of the situation that opened up. However, as Marxists, we have to take scrupulous care not to exaggerate in an impressionist way this rich process in which we live. Leon Trotsky defined the February revolution of 1917 that overturned the army and recreated the soviets as an insurrection with the appearance of spontaneity but led in fact by the cadres of the party of Lenin. It is evident in our country there was not the participation of the class as such, nor the breaking of the police, nor the assault on the organs where power is situated. To compare it in minor but key way with the Russian Revolution neither was it a Cordobazo (1969), that Marxists define as a semi-insurrection where the protagonists were combatitive unions and the student movement, that defeated the police obliging them to fall back to barracks and where the bourgeoisie was only able to retake control of the city with the intervention of the army much later, being resisted by snipers that covered the retreat of the demonstrators to the workers districts. Other processes of this period, like the Rosariazos (1969) or the second Cordobazo (el Viborazo, 1971) had the same semi-insurrectional character.
We denominate these events as revolutionary days (the same way we did with the overthrow of Suharto in Indonesia in 1998) in order to signal their potential but at the same time to define that, the events in themselves, are lest developed than semi-insurrections such as the Cordobazo, and even further still from a revolution like that of February 1917. Furthermore the transitory international situation, after the events of 11 September, and more precisely today the international reactionary conjuncture after the US triumph in Afghanistan, act negatively in comparison with the international revolutionary process opened by the French May. However, these revolutionary days happened with a background of social-economic crisis and national decay infinitely sharper than the 70s, with the middle class enormously pauperised contributing to the potentially revolutionary "tinder-dry wood".
The government, regime and the economy
With no "spontaneous insurrection" the bourgeoisie still do not need the counter-revolutionary collaboration expressed at government level between sections of the bourgeoisie and the workers" organisations in a Popular Front, that , as we know, is the "penultimate resource before fascism or the proletarian revolution" (Leon Trotsky).
In the 70s the bourgeoisie had to bring back Peron, paraphrasing Trotsky, affirming that Mexican Cardenism was a "popular front in the form of a party", we could say that altogether his movement was the personal and party incarnation of the popular front. Today the bourgeoisie tries to support itself with an infinitely weaker and more divided Peronism if we compare it to what it was during the life of Peron.
But it is the only thing that the bourgeoisie can rely upon because of its connections with the masses" movement, in order to act as a "party of containment", as we define in the article "Tomar partido" in the issue of La Verdad Obrera after the October elections. The bourgeoisie hopes, through its more or less organic links with the unions of the industrial proletariat and with the poor through their local apparatchiks (leaders of the neighbourhood, thugs and "manzaneras" [person in charge of local job schemes]), to rebuild bourgeois legality.
At the present conjuncture the new government with Saa as interim president until 3 March, checked by imperialism and financial capital on one side, that in their way are at war with the industrial bourgeoisie and part of the agrarian capitalists and having to govern over the masses invigorated by having overthrown the previous government, it will be so weak that it will remain "as if suspended in mid-air". From the Marxist point of view it will be a Kerenskyist government. The regime is looking to legitimise itself again through new elections in three months, even though it will not be Kerenskyist (because dual power does not exist) will be extremely weak as well. The central enemy of the masses" movement is once again Peronism that, even though enormously divided and carrying the stigma of Menemism hated by the masses, still offers great assistance to the system.
The economic, financial and monetary crisis constitutes the principal objective revolutionary element that has made the majority of foreign analysts compare the situation in Argentina with the most terrible situations like the US depression of the 30s or the transition between the Weimar Republic and fascism in Germany. Any measure that is taken (floating devaluation or dollarisation, debt default, confiscation of deposits, "fiscal discipline", etc) will have traumatic effects for the masses and all processes of recovery will end with new bankruptcies of banks and companies, that is to say in a greater concentration of capital as we explain in LVO. This could only be cushioned by a multimillion dollar rescue plan by imperialism that for now is out of the question. In this context, more or less peaceful reformist solutions are highly improbable. The acuteness of the situation is such that the official editorial of the imperialist newspaper The Washington Post of today, recommends to Peronism that it ceases paying the debt and devalues so that the "Argentinians" can see light at the end of the tunnel and the limit that it sets is to avoid a populist return "renationalising the privatised companies or closing up the economy". Imperialism is worried because even in a country with 60% of the economy in foreign hands, the new government may try win support among the masses by taking anti-imperialist measures. What Marxists define as a left Bonarpartist government sui generis, even though this is actually improbable, is one of the options already written in the dynamic of the situation.
Programmatic Aspects and Perspectives
In the next days and months it is proposed to highlight within the general program of action that we proposed in LVO, the tactical slogan sovereign Constituent Assembly against the provisional government and the elections brought about by the corrupt Parliament and a hated political leadership. This slogan that has to be articulated with the minimum slogans of "bread and genuine work for all" (making them adequate in the light of the subsidies and plans of precarious work the new government is promising) allow us to propagandise the totality of our action program. However the permanent strategy starting from now will be, more than ever, that of trying to develop and generalise organs of dual power. For this the slogan will be that of the employed and unemployed Workers assembly, at national and provincial level, with a delegate for every 20 persons, that at the same time should co-ordinate with student organisations, of small business, of ruined farmers, etc. On the terrain of the "extreme left" we already have adversaries of this policy that we raised in the Neuquen meeting of 2 December, in PO and the MTR who proposed "popular assemblies" (PO) or "cabildos" (popular assemblies reminiscent of the first independent government) (MTR) as polyclass organisations without defined limits. Today when the workers" movement has its organisation expropriated by the bureaucracy, meanwhile that all the petit bourgeois sectors are full of representative organisations (small business chambers, PyMES [small and medium sized businesses], etc) the workers will end up being diluted in organs with a conciliatory and petit bourgeois orientation, of the multisector type.
Of course we will have to distinguish whether popular assemblies arise as a real movement with the participation of the workers, in which case we would have to raise a transitional program that included that the workers delegates would have so many votes as workers from the factories, companies and organisations of the unemployed that they represent the majority of the society - that is to say the workers. By the way, is not even necessary because the workers are the majority to impose a "qualified vote" as the Bolsheviks imposed in a majority peasant country. Of course, achieving the numeric hegemony will not be the same as realising revolutionary political hegemony, because it could be a workers" but conciliatory majority. Even though these points appear abstract in the embryonic phase of the process, we have to be prepared because, locally and provincially, it is probable that through various ambiguous forms these discussions will begin to be the order of the day.
The open situation in Argentina has possibilities of spreading throughout the Southern Cone, as the Stratfor Agency signalled when they said that the masses of the neighbouring countries are on the popular counterattack against a "brilliant market economy" and that this could become contagious including helping left governments to triumph in Brazil or Ecuador. This possibility not only arises from various newspapers of the world but is written in the logic of the situation. The revolutionary days that shook up the country are without doubt a counter tendency in the reactionary conjuncture after the imperialist triumph in Afghanistan.
It appears to us that to act as true internationalists implies we advance the reconstruction of the IV International from the Argentinian process, with an offensive policy and the construction of the PTS, winning hundreds of new comrades that agree with and share our program of revolutionary action in the actual situation. I consider it very important to have a policy of political separation from Izquierda Unida (IU) making a call to form a Bloc of the socialist and Workers" Left, that is to say, to those who are for, even though it is nominally, a workers" government and an independent revolutionary and class policy. This implies making a direct proposal to the comrades of the PO and the MAS (without ceasing our criticism of their concrete politics, on all the class struggle, that continues to leave much to be desired) and a demand on the MST that they break with IU and form a bloc of this type. What we are saying is in no way easy because with the elections in the short term and the "ley de lemas" (multiple-candidate tickets) all the opportunist elements of these organisations will develop and they will try to pressure us to join the "unity of the left" in general without class independence and much less a revolutionary program. However we have to have confidence in the totality of the open process because however much pressure there is from the regime on these organisations, at some point they will feel the pressure of the masses. This will be the moment to propose the unity of a common party with the best elements of the extreme left in the national social and political spectrum. I hope to receive many contributions like those sent by the comrades of Bolivia and England.
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