Forwarded from Anthony (ex-Morenoists commentary)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 24 09:22:51 MST 2001


The following is a long article from 'Frontlines' newspaper in San 
Francisco about Argentina. that newspaper is published by a group of 
former Morenoists now working in the CWI group in the USA. As you can 
see from the article, they have their own connections in Argentina, 
and their own spin on events. I think it is worht posting in it's 
entriety because of the information, and because of the viewpoint - 
which is different than that of Nestor and his comrades.

Part 1

Frontlines Exclusive 

Revolutionary crisis rocks Argentina By Sebastian Robles With 
Correspondents at the Frontlines This post contains a main article 
and three more recent updates.

Argentina is in economic default, its banking system shut off, 
stricken with massive bankruptcies. Unemployment has risen to 2.5 
million (22%). This figure does not include the 1.2 million 
unemployed (11% of the population) in the "Black Economy" - informal 
economic activities.

Earlier this week, the Argentinean government fell twice in 48 hours. 
First, the massive and spontaneous protests, massive looting of 
Super- Markets in twenty cities in ten different provinces, including 
the country's capital, forced the entire cabinet to resign. Then the 
President himself resigned when the opposition Peronists refused to 
join a National Unity government. 

Hours before de la Rua's resignation, Washington told him he was on 
his own. Around a week ago, the IMF refused to give Argentina the 
$1.3 billion scheduled for disbursement. No money, no bailout or 
renegotiations, no liquidity for the economy, despite the fact that 
de la Rua was the first Latin American president to commit troops to 
the peace force in Afghanistan (which also produced indignation among 
the people) and that he was inclined to accept or at least negotiate 
with the US to erect American military bases in northeastern 
Argentina on the borders of Brazil and Paraguay. According to the US, 
this is a pro-Bin Laden enclave because there are numerous Arab 
residents in the area.

Despite ferocious police repression, there have only been 2000 people 
arrested all over the country, 350 in Buenos Aires. Around 30 people 
were killed and over 900 wounded on Thursday, December 20. In working 
class neighborhoods, people organized self-defense committees, cut 
off access roads to their areas of control and erected barricades. 
Tens of thousands are marching in downtown areas of the country's 
major cities.

Immediate Background

The now ex-President, Fernando de la Rua, was from the traditionally 
liberal Radical Party. He was elected two years ago in coalition with 
some center-left politicians and in alliance with a segment of the 
Peronist Party. The election gave the Radicals some relative mass 
support once again.

But the government continued the previous Peronist government of 
Carlos Menem's policies of shock, privatization and cuts in 
government spending. Widespread discontent with these policies led 
two ministers of the economy to resign within 72 hours of each other 
last year. The buck finally stopped with Domingo Cavallo, who had, 
ironically, also served as Menem's minister of the economy. This 
government imposed the dollarization of the economy, which failed. 
The stock market was soon in ruins.

Unemployment rose, services were cut. Over 40% of public employees 
were fired and the wages of those remaining were cut twice in the 
last year, the last one announced last week (20% once, 20% the second 
time). Wages for pensioners and retirees were also drastically cut. 
Many provincial governments owe their employees 4-7 months back 
wages.

A year ago, the Vice-President Carlos Alvarez - a dissident Peronist 
allied with the Radicals - resigned when de la Rua insisted on 
retaining two members of his cabinet who had been implicated in a 
congressional bribery scandal. No replacement had been found, further 
souring the pickle of the Argentinean ruling class when de la Rua 
quit.

Then came a massive general strike and more than 300 other labor 
actions since March.

In October, the government's alliance lost the elections to the 
Peronists - formerly a populist party, now a fragmented confederation 
of right wing, conservative and center right factions , who recovered 
control of both the House and the Senate.

The Peronists also control the majority of the governors' mansions. 
But the Peronists were not the real winners of that election. More 
than 25% of the Argentineans who went to the polls to vote that day 
either did not mark any candidate or spoiled their ballots in 
protest. The fragmented left (including the Communist Party and four 
Trotskyist parties) got over 1 million votes.

Most of the million were cast for the Trotskyists, scattered 
throughout four different small parties leftover from splits in the 
Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), arguably the largest Trotskyist party 
the world has ever seen. The MAS, which virtually became THE left in 
the eary 80s, exploded in different factions when they shifted their 
traditional revolutionary policies.

One of these fragments only ran candidates in Buenos Aires and got 
20% of the vote, electing two Congressmen. The Humanist Party (who 
some consider a left party) also had a good election, with more than 
240,000 votes nationwide. 

Social Explosion

Argentina will officially default on its foreign debt in January, but 
banks are already running out of money. The Central Bank can no 
longer guarantee the value of the money. Many Argentineans were 
already withdrawing their savings accounts for fear of losing them in 
the looming default. The Argentine government responded by freezing 
bank deposits and restricting withdrawal or transfer of funds to $250 
a week, leaving citizens to get by as best they could on their credit 
card transactions at a cost as high as 30 cents on the dollar. 

In this situation, a couple of days ago, with Christmas fast 
approaching, desperate people began to loot some supermarkets, 
particularly in the provinces, which are poorer and have a much 
higher unemployment rate. De la Rua denounced the looting as the work 
of "subversives" and "terrorists." As he concluded his speech, 
spontaneous demonstrations erupted on the streets in every major 
city, including the capital.

Every Thursday, like clockwork, in front of the Presidential Palace 
in Downtown Buenos Aires, a demonstration is held in memory of the 
more than 20,000 Argentinean activists, intellectuals, artists, and 
writers "disappeared" by the military dictatorship during la Guerra 
Sucia (or "Dirty War"). On Thursday, December 20, more than 10,000 
transformed this demonstration into one demanding the government's 
resignation.

One eyewitness wrote about the initial moments of the protest:

"I was - like every Thursday for the last 10 years or so - at the 
Madres de la Plaza de Mayo´s rally for the disappeared. While I think 
Madres have gone nuts (their leader said she was happy on September 
11) and that they are trying to form an alternative extreme left wing 
organization, they are the only ones preserving the memory of the 
"dirty war"... in any case, I was there with several hundred others 
in Plaza de Mayo when thousands of people started to show up ... at 
the beginning I could not believe that so many people would be 
attending the Madres event ... but they weren't ... they were there 
to demand that De La Rua resign ... the Madres, who are not stupid 
and had a sound system and banners - the only ones in the entire park 
- started to organize the people, gave speeches. The Madres formed 
protective lines separating the people from the mounted police ... 
and when the whole thing went to hell, they were the ones who stood 
their ground (after all they stood their ground against the military 
dictatorship) and gave people some sense of direction... but they 
were the leadership by default, not design ..."

Tens of thousands more demonstrated Buenos Aires' neighborhoods, and 
in every City in the country. Everywhere the demonstrators clashed 
with the police.

"In my neighborhood, yesterday, we all got together after the 
President´s speech," remembers Hugo B., a teacher. "No one organized 
it. We just walked out of our houses to scream at each other about 
what a son of a bitch he is. People were looting supermarkets because 
they are hungry ... and he called them subversives and terrorists ... 
I don't even know who was the first one who proposed to march to the 
Plaza del Mayo ... soon we were about 1,000 people marching down the 
streets ... Every time we reached another neighborhood, more people 
would join us, not individually, but in large groups .... half of the 
people or more were young, most were shirtless ... when we were on 
Entre Rios avenue I looked back and I could not see the end of the 
demonstration, so many people were there ... the only flag we had was 
a huge Argentinean flag we picked up from a secondary school's 
entrance ..."

Committees are being organized in working class neighborhoods and 
starting to link which each other on a more or less regional basis. 
This tradition harks back to the revolutionary struggles of the 70s. 
While still in its infancy, this could develop into a truly genuine 
expression of the mass movement, since the disintegration of industry 
due to the crisis limits the development of a channel exclusively 
based in the workplaces. 

The labor bureaucracy also serves as a certain brake on the 
development of factory committees as well. BG, a union activist in 
the Northern suburban area of the Capital wrote that, "We still 
remember the last general strike organized by the unions. It was 
great and showed that the rank and file wanted to fight and the 
success and participation was incredible. But the labor leaders did 
not follow up ... they just thought of it as a de-compression valve."

There are now neighborhoods firmly in the hands of demonstrators. 
Dozens of gun shops and neighborhood police stations have been looted 
for weapons. In the provinces, reports of assaults of local police 
stations abound. The army reported that thousands of rank and file 
soldiers - who are allowed to return home on weekends and most nights 
to save money during the economic crisis - did not return to their 
garrisons.

Constitutional Crisis

The resignation of the President opened up a constitutional crisis. 
Without a Vice-President (who, again, resigned a year ago), the House 
and the Senate will meet hold a joint meeting on Saturday to elect a 
new President. The proposed new President, Rodriguez Saa, is a 
conservative Peronist who is the present governor of the province of 
San Luis. Saa belongs to an oligarchic clan that has controlled San 
Luis for the last 20 years. (See Updates Below)

The Provisional President of the Senate, Ramon Puerta, assumed the 
post of interim President on Friday. He told the media: "I will be a 
President for 48 hours or for two years, never mind for 90 days." 
Puerta is a Peronist of one of the most right wing, pro-imperialist 
wings of the party - now fragmented in at least 10 warring factions. 
Puerta is also a member of the so-called oligarchy. A landlordist, 
owner of massive yerba mate plantations in Misiones and other semi- 
rural industrial concerns and lots of real estate.

If Puerta can command the support of the various Peronist factions, 
he may be Washington's man. Otherwise, Bush may very well negotiate 
with other factions of the Peronist Party or with the now-evident 
block of ultraconservatives and Peronists that are talking to high- 
ranking Army officers).

But the coup d'etat strategy is a risky proposition. The Argentinean 
Armed Forces have a shadow of their former social support and 
logistical strength. They are widely despised by a majority of the 
population. People remember the Dirty War.

But there are other right wing sectors of the Armed Forces, those who 
retired immediately after the advent of the new "democratic process." 
They have staged numerous failed attempts against democratic 
governments of the last two decades. In the late 80s, this sector 
formed political parties that elected people to Congress and even a 
couple of governors who later informally joined the Peronists. They 
may very well be a reserve option to change the political regime if 
need be.

The Left

Thousands of former left wing activists who entered a protracted 
crisis in the 90s are now re-activated. But these activists are not 
responding to those organizations, but rather intervening in events 
on their own, without leadership.

These are the most visible political forces of the left:

Communist Party: split into at least three factions, two of them 
public operating of their own accord. They lost most of their 
influence in the 80s because the rise of the MAS.

MAS (Trotskyist): Lost most of its active members and its huge 
periphery of the 80s in the 90s. It is now reduced to less than 500 
members divided in factions. In the last election, they formed a 
block with the Workers' Party, another Trotskyist party.

MST: A more moderate faction of the MAS. It has about 1,000 active 
members. In the last election, they preserved their historical 
alliance with the remnants of the CP - Izquierda Unida. The Coalition 
elected a House member. 

PTS: Another split from the MAS. They have about 500 members, very 
sectarian, with some influence among students. They have the best 
publishing house of all the Trotskyists. It is a quasi cult. 

Patria Libre: A Stalinist/Castroist current, traditionally very weak, 
reinforced lately due to the crisis in the CP. Maybe 300 active 
members.

Revolutionary Communist Party / Party of the People and Labor: In the 
1970s, they used to have up to 20,000 members, but the rise of 
Trotskyism condemned them to two decades of irrelevance. After the 
MAS exploded, the RCP/PPL grew, particularly in extremely poor areas, 
some areas of the working class, particularly in the provinces. They 
are today the strongest left tendency in the unions and among all 
other left organizations. Probably 2,000 active members but they also 
command a wide array of sympathizing groups.

There are at least another 10-12 Trotskyist groups with memberships 
ranging from a couple dozen to about 100 or so active members. There 
are also half a dozen of proto-guerrilla groups, all of them very 
small. For now. 

While there is definitely an uprising in progress, its leadership has 
yet to materialize. The main slogan now is "Que se vayan todos!" (All 
Must Go!) The uprising is a massive and widespread, but it is mostly 
spontaneous. This may progress as time goes by.

So far, judging from their leaflets and other materials, none of 
these left organizations saw the writing on the wall. While they all 
celebrated the electoral results of last October, they did not draw 
all of the conclusions from it or the last two years of political, 
social and economic events. For example, not one of them pointed out 
that the government should resign AND NEW GENERAL ELECTIONS SHOULD BE 
CALLED after its defeat last October. Nor did they raise a series of 
demands to confront the crisis.

The left in Argentina, in answering their own crisis of the 90s (that 
they never fully understood as te decade of capitalist counter- 
offensive worldwide), raise mostly a combination of very reformist 
slogans tinted with very ultra-left rhetoric. None of these 
organizations were able to advance the events of this week even 
though all the signals had been there at least since the October 
elections.

Revolutionary crisis without a revolutionary situation

It is obvious that, save one, all the conditions that define a 
revolutionary situation exist today in Argentina: economic crisis, 
division of the ruling class, mass upheavals, the inability of those 
on the top to continue governing and those under them refusing to 
continue to be governed. The missing condition is the existence of a 
Workers or Socialist party enjoying mass support. That is why we can 
talk about a "revolutionary crisis" without a revolutionary 
situation.

Given the present circumstances, the situation will continue to 
deteriorate in the coming months. The remaining political capital of 
the Peronists will be spent trying to stabilize the country. Violence 
and repression are likely to continue. The crisis will deepen with a 
desperate working class and popular sectors continuing to realize, as 
they do today, that they have nothing to lose by revolting.

The effects of the situation there will have enormous repercussions 
in Latin America since Argentina, despite the crisis, is still 
considered the third largest economy in Latin America (behind Brazil 
and Mexico), and also because, more than Brazil or even Mexico, 
Argentinean politics have had a more continental influence 
historically.

Common Sense in Action 

The conventional wisdom among ruling class experts is that no one 
with political aspirations will accept the Argentinean presidency 
during a social, political and economic catastrophe. Puerta counts on 
the support of a number of the internal factions of Peronism and that 
of former President Carlos Menem. Menem also announced few weeks back 
that he would like to be President once again.

There are strong sentiments in layers of the population that 
"everyone must go." This puts pressure on the government to hold 
elections in 90 days or less. But Menem and others in the Peronist 
movement would like to see a President named for the next two years, 
for, among other reasons, because Menem served two terms as President 
and cannot serve a third term before another President serves at 
least one complete term. If elections are called in 90 days, Menem 
could be disqualified as a candidate if the elections are called just 
to replace De la Rua.

There are many echoes for a call for a General - not only 
Presidential - elections and a Constituent Assembly, but no group or 
political party is presently pushing for that position.

The Mass Movement

Demonstrations continued on Friday, but somewhat receded in some 
cities to bury those killed yesterday and to regroup and because the 
announcement of De La Rua´s resignation. Testimony from a number of 
participants shows that many feel they won a battle by forcing the 
resignation of the cabinet and De La Rua. That perception is building 
up confidence in many layers of society.

All day Friday, there were meetings and assemblies in neighborhoods 
across the country, some with as many as 2,000 participants, some 
with only a few dozen in attendance. Improvised public meetings with 
free for all speakers from all tendencies and unaffiliated activists 
are being held on street corners in downtown Buenos Aires and in 
every major city.

Leaflets are starting to circulate calling for a mass demonstration 
on Christmas Day, others call for a mass demo on Monday. It is very 
possible that Christmas will be marked by new protests, in a place 
where Christmas and New Year celebrations are usually calm.

CTA and other labor groups called a general strike. Transportation 
workers are driving their vehicles to allow people to cross the 
cities. But activists are discussing whether or not a general strike, 
particularly if it is declared for an indefinite period of time, 
would not be a maneuver by the Peronists to cool down the situation 
to allow their party to take the Presidency.

Another proposal made in factories and by left activists is to call 
for the lately abandoned active strikes. Active strikes mean workers 
would go to work and at 10 AM, they would organize assemblies and 
meetings and then march to a central meeting place, usually in parks 
in front of government houses.

"We have had more than 200 general strikes since the 1930s," wrote 
PA, a union activist who is formally a member of the MST in a food 
factory, "but the labor leaders, at different times, used that weapon 
for different purposes. In the 1970s, it was an active weapon to 
organize the workers in each factory. In the 1980s, it was just to 
let off steam and continue with the status quo. Of course, sometimes 
the labor bureaucrats planned something and the rank and file went 
beyond their desires ... but that is more difficult."

There are many neighborhoods completely in the hands of the locals 
and at least one of the main access bridges to the capitol was in the 
hands of demonstrators this morning. Roads and routes across the 
country have been cut and demonstrators are there, burning tires and 
setting up barricades.

There is no question that the issue of factory sit-downs to protect 
the factories from being dismantled (something that workers in Villa 
Constitution discussed yesterday in their general assembly after the 
company announced its bankruptcy); the taking over the banks and 
financial institutions (to protect wages and deposits, the money in 
the vaults) by their workers and the occupation of food industries 
and supermarkets by elected committees of neighborhoods and workers 
(to organize the distribution according to the needs of workers and 
stop the looting)are not simply propagandistic slogans, but something 
that must be done in order for the working class to survive.

What's Up with the Cops?

There are discrepancies about the number of people killed that ranges 
from 23 to 40. One of the questions circulating is why the police 
were absent from the province surrounding the capital for the last 
two days, accounting for the relatively low casualty rate. It is 
speculated that Antonio Francisco Cafiero, the Peronist governor, 
ordered the police to not repress those attacking supermarkets and 
businesses to precipitate the crisis of the Radical Party government.

The new appointed President, a Peronist as Cafiero, warned him that 
we could order the Federalization of the Provincial police if he did 
not mobilize it immediately to impose "law and order." Obviously, the 
first shot of the electoral process: Cafiero is one of the potential 
candidates for the Presidency, but is opposed by Menem, Puerta and 
others.

Meanwhile, back to the Capital:

Another participant in Plaza de Mayo wrote that: "The Federal Police 
were out in force. But I noticed something peculiar. They were not 
interested in defeating the demonstrators, just in keeping a safe 
ground for them around the public buildings. They erected barricades, 
used water cannons and when they felt overwhelmed by the crowds they 
launched the cavalry and shot live ammunition ... and then they 
retreated back to their positions around the buildings .... but it 
was a defensive war, not an offensive one. Some of the cops looked 
pretty scared to me ... in addition, I saw only few older and more 
experienced cops among those repressing ... most of them were pretty 
young..."

Emergency Measures

"We need a Chavez here...," said a young demonstrator at the 
Obelisco, one of the main public monuments in Buenos Aires where 
thousands of demonstrators fought with the police for over 10 hours 
and destroyed the local McDonald and Citibank and numerous other 
shops. He is referring to left populist President of Venezuela, Hugo 
Chavez. Others talked of the first period of Peronism in the mid-40s.

What this means is that many will readily accept a someone who will 
enact a number of emergency measures - non-payment of the foreign 
debt, nationalization of the food and bank industries, massive 
distribution of food and the creation of even provisory sources of 
jobs and income.

But it is difficult to imagine such a leader emerging from the 
Peronist, the Radical Party or their allies, so much are these 
organizations in the pockets of US imperialism and the IMF.

-- 
Louis Proyect, lnp3 at panix.com on 12/24/2001

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