Argentina: from Pink Tide to reactionary wave

We re-post from Tempest the interview of Cele Fierro about the recent elections in Argentina. Cele Fiero was elected as an MP of FIT-U (Workers’ Left Front – Unity) and is a member of MST (Workers’ Socialist Movement- section of the International Socialist League).

Tempest: What do newly elected President Javier Milei and his party represent politically? What is his core political base?

Cele Fierro: Milei is an expression of the far right. The bourgeoisie and the traditional political parties allowed him to grow by giving him a lot of air-time in the media and financing an important part of his campaign. At the beginning he lagged behind the more traditional forces and they tried to slow his growth in the run-up to the primary elections, but his performance caused a major crisis in Juntos por el Cambio/Together for Change,1 and attracted an important part of the base of that coalition and its most right wing sectors, headed by Mauricio Macri. The latter finally decidedly supported Milei in the runoff election.

Milei’s social base is still in the process of consolidating and reflects different sectors. There is a hard core of the right and middle-class sectors affected by the economic situation who oppose the social movements and are strongly influenced by the government’s economic failures. There are undoubtedly also voters from popular sectors and the working class who suffer the brutal deterioration of living conditions, inflation, low salaries, the lack of perspectives for the future, and who are furious with what Milei calls “the caste,” that is, the conglomerate of politicians marked by corruption and mismanagement of public affairs. And there are sections of youth—mostly middle-class men—who react against the gains of the Green Wave2 and the LGBTIQ+ community, as well as right-wing expressions that are still marginal but exist within the armed forces and police and their circles.

It is a complex social base without a completely defined identity yet, with sectors that even position themselves against some of the measures proposed by Milei in the electoral campaign, for example in relation to public education and healthcare. An important test will come from the response to the measures he will try to carry out, as most of them are aimed squarely at his own voters.

Tempest: Since the Argentinazo in 2001, Argentina has been seen as a bulwark internationally against neoliberalism. It was one of the cornerstones of the so-called Pink Tide. Kirchnerism built much of its popularity through reformist policies that were limited but showed there was mass support for an agenda of structural change. In recent years there has been an electoral base for revolutionary socialist politics of at least half a million people. Given all this, how do you account for the election of such a far right populist? How does it relate to the limits and failures of Peronism/Kirchnerism?

CF: I think that the central aspect to understand this is the disaster caused by Peronism in its different variants during their government. They did not meet the expectations of their voters who wanted profound changes and transformations after Macri’s government. Without a doubt, the disappointment caused by a government that ended up applying very harsh austerity in agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is the main reason the far right came to power. They capitalized on the disappointment and anger against those who have a progressive or center-left discourse but governed in defense of the status quo.

At the same time it is important to point out that in these conditions the political space for the Left did not dissipate. We maintained around 800,000 votes and we even managed to expand our parliamentary representation. That is to say, a new far right political actor has appeared but the anti-capitalist and socialist Left maintained our space and social insertion. These are contradictions, or rather combined processes, that can be explained by a phenomenon that is not exclusive to our country, but that we can observe globally. I am referring to the social and political polarization that translates into a development of the forces located at the poles of the ideological spectrum.

Without a doubt, the disappointment caused by a government that ended up applying a very harsh austerity in agreement with the IMF is the main reason why the far-right came to power.

In our view, the Left had greater difficulty in capitalizing on this situation and making an important leap for two central reasons. On the one hand, due to the limitations of the Left that are under debate and that our party—the Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores/ Workers’ Socialist Movement (MST), section of the Liga Internacional Socialista/International Socialist League (ISL) in Argentina—has raised within the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores/ Workers’ Left Front-Unity (FIT-U). We need the FIT-U to stop being just an electoral front and truly act together in all areas.

On the other hand, because Kirchnerism has been presented by large hegemonic media as “the progressive Left,” its failure, unfortunately, ends up being associated with policies that appear to be left-wing, even though they are not. Without going any further, during the campaign itself and for several years Milei has accused even the head of government of the City of Buenos Aires—a member of the PRO (Propuesta Republicana/Republican Proposal) and representative of the most traditional right—of being on the Left and a Marxist. This combination has hit hard, generating great confusion.

Tempest: Inflation in Argentina is forecast to surpass 200 percent by the end of the year. Net foreign currency reserves are billions of dollars in deficit. And the country still owes the IMF and foreign bondholders more than $44 billion from loans agreed by the last right wing government led by Mauricio Macri in the final days of his term in 2019. What are the structural constraints on Milei? When he promises to “smash the Central Bank” and dollarize the economy, are these realistic possibilities? How should socialists understand and respond to these policies?

CF: In the last stretch of the campaign—between the general elections and the runoff—a new coalition began to take shape around Milei. Macri, Bullrich, and a considerable portion of leaders who governed between 2015 and 2019 joined not only in support of his candidacy, but also in the construction of a kind of co-government. This process is underway. They are debating the cabinet and the first measures. They agree that a very important austerity program must be implemented and that they must do it quickly, precisely due to the fragile conditions of the economy. In this framework, it is unlikely that they will move forward with the destruction of the Central Bank and they have already said that they will not advance in adopting the dollar, at least in the beginning.

They are talking about a strong reduction in the fiscal deficit of between 15 and 20 percent of the GDP, a plan to reduce state agencies by removing ministries, firing contracted workers, and some privatization. What we could call a radicalized classic adjustment. The plan is under debate. They have just traveled to the United States to receive directives and agree on the roadmap. But it is clear that to meet these proposed objectives, very strong cuts are coming— which will surely be met with a strong resistance. Milei promised from the outset to guarantee all payments to international credit organizations and has explained from the first minute that they voted for him to produce an adjustment, and that is what he is going to do. Also, foreseeing problems, he has already begun to shift blame, saying  the country was handed over to him in such bad shape, and he is already saying that lowering inflation will take about two years and that meantime there will be stagflation, which means that in addition to high inflation, there will be recession and layoffs.

[The Milei government is] talking about a strong reduction in the fiscal deficit of between 15 and 20 percent of the GDP, a plan to reduce state agencies by removing ministries, firing contracted workers and some privatizations. What we could call a radicalized classic adjustment.

Tempest: Milei is harshly anti-abortion, openly misogynistic, but apparently against the state regulation of sexuality, prostitution, or drugs, though tied to a deep reactionary moralism. He is also a virulent anti-leftist who has tied the “LGBT lobby” to a “socialist agenda.” How are we to understand the ideological elements of Milei’s purported “libertarianism”?

CF: Milei has managed to gather around his figure—essentially that of an “economist”—a true community of reactionaries. Adding to what you listed, he openly defends Zionism and the barbarism carried out by the genocidal State of Israel against the Palestinian people.

This mirrors other far right forces internationally that group around themselves the reaction to the advances of recent years in terms of civil rights, gender rights, and so on. In our country, where the struggle for many of these rights has been and still is very important, it is logical that the reaction seeks to unite to push back. That is partly what Milei has achieved, as Donald Trump was able to do in the United States at one point.

He combines an extreme form of economic “liberalism” and a strong reaction in social terms. This is not contradictory, since to advance in the application of his economic plans he will need a society strongly conditioned and disarticulated into the different “identities” that compose it. It still constitutes a way of veiling the class struggle and opening multiple fronts that divide the struggles. This point represents an important challenge for us on the Left and among LGBTIQ+ collectives.We need to be able to articulate a common struggle that also does not detach itself from the most heartfelt demands of the popular and working classes, who in many cases are bombarded with the propaganda that their rights are violated so that minorities can have theirs.

Tempest: Relatedly, Milei positions himself as a “law and order” politician, a friend of the police and the military. At the level of state violence and the far right, what do you expect to be the short-term impact of these elections?

CF: This is one of the most important issues to take into account. Milei’s space—especially around the vice-president Victoria Villarruel, who defends the dictatorship and denies the genocide they committed—has a policy of responding with “law and order” to any claim that may arise against the application of their plans.

To be specific, we have not yet seen expressions or actions of paramilitary bands or sectors physically confronting the mass movement in their abundant demands and mobilizations, other than in a marginal and isolated manner. But it is true that with the electoral victory, the support for this type of action is strengthened. And Macri himself declared that Milei’s young voters have to take to the streets to defend the project, encouraging this confrontation.

[W]e have not yet seen expressions or actions of paramilitary bands or sectors physically confronting the mass movement in their abundant demands and mobilizations, other than in a marginal and isolated manner. But it is true that with the electoral victory, the support for this type of action is strengthened.

It is important to prepare ourselves politically for a scenario in which such confrontations can occur and these conflicts become increasingly harsher. At the same time, we trust in the important democratic reserves that the workers and the people have shown whenever an attempt has been made to confront demands with repression or to roll-back gains. At the same time, they have also begun to propose lowering the age of imputability to 14 years, seeking to repress and criminalize youth without a future, instead of guaranteeing them work and education.

I think that in the coming days we will have to evaluate the level of response to the first measures of the government and closely follow the expressions of violence that may arise in order to take the necessary measures to defend each process of struggle so that they can win.

Tempest: What impact has the election of Milei had on the parties of the traditional right and center-left?

CF: As I mentioned, we are seeing a reorganization of the system of parties and coalitions that was established in recent years. The election blew up what was the main bourgeois alternative coalition (Together for Change) and a part of it is in the process of constituting a kind of co-government with Milei. For example Bullrich, a former candidate for president, has just been appointed Milei’s security minister. This government team and this political unity is in its infancy and surely the result will depend on the success they have in implementing their plans, but it is a fact that there is a new coalition in place that is farther to the right. It will also be important to follow the path of those who didn’t support Milei in the center-right space of Together for Change to see how they will reorganize and what space they intend to occupy.

Peronism is also at a watershed moment. The candidacy of Sergio Massa constituted a withdrawal of the Kirchnerist sectors from the center of the scene. Cristina Kirchner did not attend a single campaign rally and practically did not appear in any way in the whole process. Even Axel Kicillof, 3 the representative of this “progressive space” of the Partido Justicialista/Justicialist Party (PJ), had strong friction with Máximo Kirchner over a government official who was discovered on a yacht in the middle of the electoral process and was accused of corruption and so on.

On the other hand, the result of the election left Massa badly hurt. He even speculated on the possibility of leaving politics and going into the private sphere. On the night of the election, he also threatened to resign from his position as minister. Peronism is an increasingly feudalized structure that will have the challenge of being the opposition in the context of a brutal structural adjustment plan that will require levels of political support from provincial governors and also in parliament. That will be a first important challenge that will help determine if they are able to recover.

The governor of Córdoba, for example, who is a Peronist but not a Kirchnerist, has already contributed members to a future Milei government, and the same has happened with some union structures. Without a doubt it will be a relationship of dispute and collaboration with “governance.” That is why we propose to the working class base and to the young people who voted for Peronism, and today are disappointed, that we do something new with the Left and outside of the Justicialist Party.

Tempest: Milei has expressed his unconditional support for U.S. imperialism and Israel, and opposition to China. Given the important role China has played in recent years in the Argentine economy, what are the expectations at the level of international politics?

CF: On this point evidently the priority for Milei and his government will be to increasingly realign the country with the United States. That is the axis of his international position and that is why he rejects Argentina moving forward with the BRICS (The alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – Eds.). However, thinking about not having commercial relations with China or Brazil is ridiculous, and no section of the bourgeoisie thinks of this. They have million-dollar businesses, so they will have to allow them to continue. Therefore, beyond the campaign’s bravado and madness, it is very likely that trade relations will not, at least initially, undergo major alterations. We are talking about China, Brazil, and other countries that are the main trading partners of our country and the region. It would be practically suicidal to put a stop to that.

All of this, of course, takes place within the framework of an international struggle for imperialist hegemony, where the United States will seek to take advantage of the government’s alignment under its orbit. We’ll see how it plays out, but I tend to believe that the madness is more of a campaign slogan than a concrete decision to sever business relations.

Tempest: How do these elections change the strategic perspective for the Left in Argentina? To the extent that the election of Milei can be understood as an expression of crisis and exhaustion with the Kirchnerite/Peronist politics, is the Left up to the task to presenting a viable alternative between developmentalism/reformism in a period of global stagnation and unbridled free-market capitalism with a reactionary face?

CF: The possibility of capitalizing on the crisis of Peronism/Kirchnerism is without a doubt the main challenge that the revolutionary Left faces in Argentina. There is no real possibility to achieve revolutionary change if we do not put an end to the hegemony of a force that for years has represented a wall of contention between the mass movement and socialism.

The first thing to say is that our party works to achieve that objective. We believe that “objective” conditions, so to speak, are more than sufficient. But it is important that the Left carry out a deep debate about the methods and politics to achieve this. The MST deeply defends the construction of the FIT-U as the most important expression of the unity of the Left in our country and even at the continental level. At the same time we are very critical that we have not been able to move beyond the electoral stage— a problem that deepened in this last election, since forces such as the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialista/ Socialist Workers’ Party (PTS)4 intend to assume a hegemonic and undemocratic role for the development of the Front, imposing formulas, refusing to hold plenaries and democratic assemblies of the membership, and preventing the coordination of a common campaign.

In this context, the debates that we have been putting forward from the MST for the last two years, and to which in the last elections the Partido Obrero/Workers’ Party  joined to a limited extent, are key. The FIT-U needs to provoke changes that allow us to take advantage of the situation that is opening.

Returning to what progressivism will do, an expression that aims to re-launch that space to the left of the PJ is that of Juan Grabois, a Vatican activist. But for now he has done nothing other than remaining under the wing of the rotten structure of Peronism. That is why, more than ever, it is key that the FIT-U becomes something more than an electoral front that can play a role in the unions, the places of study, the popular neighborhoods. We need to establish an alternative capable of being tested in the confrontation with the structural adjustment that is coming and temper a program and an organization with chances of bringing together a sector of the mass movement in the next period.

That is what the MST works for. And the legislative seat that I will occupy and the others that we conquered, as well as all our strength in the neighborhoods, the workplaces, and among the youth will be at the service of this task.

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