The following statement from the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP-U.S.) is dated May 2, 2002. It was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 64 (Spring 2002).
We go to press over four months after the popular uprising which ousted the Radical Party government in Argentina. In this period the LRP issued a statement, in which we criticized the main parties of the far left. Our main point was their failure to propose an explicitly working class strategy to build the revolutionary party.
As of now, the U.S., the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and their bourgeois lackeys on the home front continue their war against the masses. The Duhalde government is licking the boots of its imperialist master, which has been notably belligerent in its demands, even compared to the brutal treatment normally given to other oppressed nations. But there are some formidable obstacles to imperialism’s designs.
On April 23, armed police encircled Congress in order to protect legislators from furious protestors opposed to the so-called “Bonex” Bill. Under this last-ditch effort to save the banking system from collapse, the accounts of small savers, already frozen for months, would have been converted into low-interest government bonds.
Popular pressure wrecked this plan and forced the resignation of the Minister of the Economy. (Of course the “new” economy minister is coming up with a “new” plan not much different.) Four months ago, the previous economy minister, Domingo Cavallo, had been run out of office, signaling the downfall of the de la Rúa regime. Much of the ruling class has tried to circle its wagons around Duhalde in the name of stability. But there is also a current pressing for new elections.
The Duhalde presidency had been characterized by indecision, with new announcements of measures and countermeasures virtually every day. Now the walls are closing in. For the President, between the demands of imperialism and the masses, there is very little room left for maneuver. All in all, the capitalists are aware that there is an even bigger obstacle in their path than the middle class protests which have tended to dominate the scene—especially in the city of Buenos Aires. Whatever stop-gap measures and whatever bourgeois face is put in office, the fundamental question is whether or not more can be extracted from the working class. The bourgeoisie needs to pay its debt to the imperialists to live to see another day. It can’t do this only by stealing the accounts of the small holders, laying off even more massive numbers of state workers and making the lower and middle classes poorer. It can’t just cut apart health care, education and every other human need. It must devastate the working class as a whole. If Duhalde can’t do the job, then sooner or later the ruling class will find some one and some way who will—if the working class doesn’t take power first.
The fundamental problem for the rulers is that the working class and the mass struggle as a whole has not been defeated. In fact the proletarian struggle has still hardly begun to cohere, because of the absence of large parts of our class from the battlefield. But while Duhalde’s main power base has rested on the Peronist unions, that ground is shifting. (Given his dire need for labor support, it is no accident that Duhalde’s recent cabinet shift included the promotion of two long time trade union leaders.)
The employed workers are divided into three major union federations: the openly pro-imperialist CGT led by Daer, the so-called CGT-rebelde led by Moyano, and the CTA led by De Gennaro. Only the CTA, which organizes the bulk of state workers, has mounted sizeable struggles in this period, including an ongoing strike by teachers.
But now, Hugo Moyano, head of the “rebel” CGT labor confederation (but who is nonetheless as treacherous as the traditional Peronist leadership), has announced a limited strike for May 14. He has denounced the government for prostituting itself to the IMF without even charging for it. And he told the conservative paper La Nación that “Duhalde doesn’t have much time to live.” Of course, his time would have been up four months ago—if this class traitor hadn’t been busy backing the anti-worker regime, meeting with Duhalde literally every day during the recent week of bank holiday and mass unrest. Also, the CTA has announced a national active strike to take place toward the end of May. And even Daer has had to squawk more about the situation of low wages and unemployment facing his constituency. Despite every intention of the craven union bureaucrats, a new chapter in the class struggle appears to be opening up. Any opposition to Duhalde and the IMF raises the opportunities for revolutionaries to fight for mass working-class action.
We have been arguing all along for a serious fight in the unions and consistent propaganda for a general strike. For revolutionary Marxists, the most ominous political feature in Argentina is that the employed industrial workforce has by and large not been mobilized. It is not unusual for employed workers, at the beginning of a traumatic crisis featuring mass unemployment, to be conservative and fearful. But the major blame for inaction lies with the labor bureaucracy. A serious general strike today—against a regime that could be the last best hope for preserving Argentine capitalism—is a frightening spectre to the labor bureaucracy. That is why the Peronist labor heads haven’t called anything at all since December 13; in contrast they were pretty busy pulling the workers in and out on strike in the years before. But now, strikes will be harder to contain to one issue. Even an issue like the one the CGT is pushing now—for wage hikes to contend with inflation—can’t avoid raising the big question of the IMF. And with the vast majority of the population palpably opposed to all pro-IMF schemes, to not raise the issue of fighting the IMF is to risk not reflecting mass sentiment. So the bureaucrats are also under pressure at a time when their positions are more shaky than ever.
The Peronist union leaders today don’t want to strike, and they don’t want to strike against a Peronist regime. They desire a serious strike today less than when they did it in 1975, when they were forced into an action that the workers were already taking. For all these reasons—because the union bureaucrats are the masters of inaction, stalling maneuvers and all other conceivable forms of capitulations and acts against the working class—today the fight for the needed mobilization must be even more vigorous and sharp.
In the course of propagandizing (and agitating where possible) for a general strike, Marxists are not only interested in challenging the leadership of the bureaucracy. Even when we are addressing the bureaucrats, we are also in dialogue with our fellow workers, trying to get across the main idea that they indeed have this tremendous power. We explain all the advantages of a classwide action that can unite the workers of the nation, and in fact even build support internationally.
It is not that workers are under illusions that their current leaders are these heroic figures. Far from it. In many cases these union leaders are rightfully despised. But the workers by and large still accept them as all-powerful. This misconception reflects the fact that they have been miseducated, by these same bureaucratic criminals, into believing that there is no other class alternative. This contradictory consciousness can only be altered through struggle that shows what is possible and demonstrates that what revolutionaries say is true.
The workers have proved time and again their loyalty to every strike they are called out on. However they haven’t yet really seen their own class power and the fact that they don’t have to be stuck forever with these miserable misleaders. Only when workers do recognize their own class power, will the current leaders become fully “exposed” and their days really be numbered. We raise the conception of a powerful general strike as a path that the workers can begin fighting for now, in order to build a new leadership out of the best militants through the course of struggle.
The Argentine working class contains an ever-growing army of the unemployed and a shrinking sector of employed workers. In the absence of decisive action from the organized working class, militant unemployed workers took leadership in the class struggles in recent years. Unemployed “piqueteros” (picketers) used organized roadblocks to foul up transport. Lately they have added frequent actions demanding food at supermarkets, participation in assemblies and mass marches.
The unemployed movement in Argentina has been exceptional in its duration, its militancy and its creativity. Its potential for even more was demonstrated at a national assembly in October 2001, where a motion was passed to build unity with the employed workers. But subsequently a split occurred in the piqueteros’ movement because the CTA union bureaucrats who had become part of the leadership did not want to go any further or call another assembly.
The CTA leadership, which controls one wing of the piqueteros, along with the Maoist “opposition” closely aligned to it, have signed a deal with the government. Under this, heads of households are promised subsidies of only 150 pesos per month in exchange for “workfare” jobs, which will be used as another divisive tool against the workers. The piqueteros’ actions have often already produced temporary jobs and food distributions on the spot, but these were seen as part of a continuing struggle. The real sellout here is the legitimization of a governmental plan of crumbs to serve as a barrier to any continued fight for real jobs. The CTA piqueteros bureaucracy will be integrated into the National Consultative Council that will administer the scheme; they will sit at the table with the already comfortable CGT labor bureaucrats, business and clergy representatives. They have made it into the big time.
Another important feature of the Argentine struggle has been the popular assemblies. They consist mainly but not exclusively of middle-class neighbors, getting together on a regular basis to discuss and pass motions ranging from community or local-based problems to the big national issues of the debt and the banking disaster. For four months they have engaged in weekly cacerolazos (pot-banging demonstrations), both small and large assemblies, and mass marches.
The persistence of this self-activity of the middle class is notable, and so is its insistence on the leading battle cry: “que se vayan todos"—"out with them all.” It means that all the politicians should get out, reflecting the fact that the middle class has become disenchanted with the political parties and promises they once supported. But the slogan also shows that the middle class has absolutely no answer to the political crisis in the country. And how could they? Middle-class cacerolazos and perpetual self-activity is hardly what the bourgeoisie wants, but by its very nature the middle class does not represent a threat to state power.
Nevertheless, the middle class presents the regime with a real problem: simply put, modern bourgeois democracy depends on having some fat in the system to buy off middle layers as well as a labor aristocracy. But now the cash drawers are empty and other divisive ploys are not yet in place. Duhalde, at least as of yet, has not been able to divide the bulk of the middle class from its current sympathies with the workers and the poor, which has to be a critical part of any bourgeois strategy. The popular assemblies have welcomed piqueteros as well as striking teachers and other public employees into their ranks. But they haven’t lost their overwhelmingly middle class character. Above all, the constituents of the popular assemblies remain united in their disgust with the politicians over one overwhelming matter: everybody is owed money and is angry about it.
Within the constituency of the popular assemblies, there are activated white collar government employees (which include both working class and middle class layers). There are the small shop keepers and other small savers who have long accepted downward mobility but now can’t get their hard-earned funds from the thieving bank system at all. Up the ladder, we find more well-off elements including yesterday’s wheelers, dealers and managers of the finance markets and the multinationals, the middle-class layers born and bred during the numerous industrial privatizations and infiltrations of foreign capital in past decades. They want their wealth back.
It is very possible for the working class to win the bulk of the middle class to its side. The working class is the only class capable of resolving Argentina’s crisis. But the current unity of the popular assemblies only conceals the lines of fracture that definitely do exist. The “middle class” is not and can never be a unified class. The current scene shows that Duhalde has not been able to make good use of them.
Our document, Argentina: Crisis and Revolutionary Program, was written in response to the initial events of last December and January. We received a critical letter from a self-identified Trotskyist leader, Vicente Balvanera. We considered his letter to be valuable in that it defended and echoed the substantive political line of the major “Trotskyist” groups in Argentina. It allowed us to sharpen our polemics on the need for an authentic revolutionary party and the need for a mass strategy to oust the union bureaucracy. [Our reply is also available.]
A main point of contention is our insistence that revolutionaries must do revolutionary work in the CGT trade unions—as opposed to the widespread notion that the iron control by the Peronist labor bureaucrats is a reason to evade that fight. Other arguments have been raised by political activists we have talked with. The main one is that the two CGT’s now represent only a small section of the class. Since much of the economy has shifted to the service and finance sectors rather than classical industrial production, therefore new methods of struggle, like the piqueteros’ roadblocks and factory takeovers by militant locals, have made obsolete the traditional Trotskyist strategy of fighting to oust the bureaucracy from within.
Only a dogmatic loon would deny the changes in the working class in Argentina and many other countries. But our argument is that much of the far left is in opportunistic denial about the power that these labor bureaucrats still hold over the class.
Our document argues that centrists are following the yellow brick road of trying to glue the workers to the middle class rather than offering communist working-class leadership. It is necessary instead to advise our fellow workers of the need to smash the capitalist state and make the revolution itself, to build a federation of workers’ states in Latin America. If the Argentine working class can find the leadership they need to wage a resolute struggle against imperialist capitalism, then they can count on winning support from a large portion of the middle class, as well as the working class and poor of the region.
Look at the political environment on the continent as a whole. Just recently the workers in Venezuela rapidly confronted an attempted coup backed by the U.S. There are growing struggles in Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and other nations. As revolutionary-minded workers everywhere celebrated the passage of our international May Day holiday, stories abounded of the explosions against imperialism in the Middle East and the growing polarization in Western Europe as well. Despite all its adversities and misleadership, the Argentine working class is a powderkeg. This is a working class with an abundantly militant history and a tremendous capacity for struggle right now. It will surely take its place in the vanguard of the world revolution.