Crisis In Argentina - The Masses Move Into Action
WITH FIVE Presidents in less than two weeks, Argentina faces the deepest crisis in its history. The cancellation of elections convened for March and the installation of the Peronist Senator Eduardo Duhalde as the new President, will not stabilise the situation as DIMITRI SILVEIRA in Buenos Aries, Argentina and ANDRE FERRARI in Sao Paulo, Brazil explain.
PRESIDENT DUHALDE and his wealthy backers are terrified of the effects of devaluation of the national currency - the peso - and of maintaining the embargo on withdrawing more than US$250 a month from bank accounts. This could provoke a "mega-cacerolazo" - mass protests characterised by people banging their empty pots and pans.
Their fears are well justified. The main feature of the crisis has been the tremendous power of the masses. The generalised popular uprising that took place on the 19/20 December put the final nail in the coffin of the right-wing government headed by President De La Rua and economy minister Cavallo.
Eight general strikes followed the election of De La Rua in 1999. Mass picketing blocked the streets, and factory occupations and mass "cacerlazos" were used by the masses to unite employed and unemployed workers and other oppressed people.
Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, elected President by parliament following the booting out of De La Rua, could not keep himself in office for more than one week. His populist rhetoric, his attempt to achieve a "ceasefire" and open a dialogue with the mass pickets, the trade unions and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the 'Disappeared' - see below) together with his promises to re-establish a minimum wage and create one million jobs, all came to nothing.
Splits at the top of the regime caused by the mass pressure from below bought down Saa. Now the ruling class is trying to take the initiative and has cancelled the March elections and put Duhalde in power until 2003. The votes of the Peronists (PJ), the UCR (the Radicals, a liberal capitalist party) and FREPASO (a centre capitalist coalition), gave Duhalde a majority in the legislative assembly.
Duhalde has attempted to put together a "government of national salvation" to try and overcome the divisions within the Peronists. This is an attempt to find a way out of the dead end in which Argentina finds itself as a result of the economic crisis. Duhalde is attempting to balance between the different political forces.
Some sections of the population initially hoped that a government of "national unity" would offer a way out but there is now no hope of this.
The crisis of the Argentinean capitalist regime has now reached an extremely deep point. With Duhalde in crisis there are now few alternatives from the capitalist class.
The alternatives from the centre-left such as API (Action for a Republic of Equals) around the Deputy Carrio is gaining more support because of his high profile in opposing corruption. In fact, if new elections were held now it is possible that Carrio would win. He remains an 'emergency reserve' for an even more desperate situation. Carrio (a dissident of the Radicals) and the ARI continue to support calling fresh elections although he has not openly opposed Duhalde.
The socialist Left in Argentina, despite being fragmented, won over 1 million votes in the 14 October elections last year and three socialist deputies were elected to the federal parliament. the Left has grown in support since then.
A unified candidate of the Left, possibly headed by the Deputy Luis Zamora (ex-Deputy of the old MAS - a large Trotskyist party which fragmented in the 1990s), would certainly win a big vote. One reason the vote for the Left would grow is because new elections would take place against the background of further mass mobilisations and the defeat of the government in the streets by the masses.
Making the poor pay
The economic plan to be presented by the new Minister of the Economy, Jorge Remes Lenicov, will have a profound impact on the life of thousands of Argentinians.
The Chamber of Deputies voted overwhelmingly to back Duhalde's emergency economic plan. As the BBC tersely stated: "This plan is about jumping off a cliff."
The plan includes:
- Devaluing the peso by 30-40%.
- Converting debts of up to $100,000 into pesos at the old rate of one peso to the US dollar, to protect consumers from the full impact of devaluation.
- Setting price caps on fuel, medicines, and other utilities to avert hyper-inflation.
- Fixing the exchange rate against the US dollar for strategic transactions, including essential imports.
- Renegotiating Argentina's $1.4 billion international debt.
- Imposing a 180-day freeze on job layoffs and double compensation for workers made redundant.
The government has also raised the prospect of state intervention in bankrupt companies.
The impact of the crisis has forced Duhalde's government to halt the 'neo-liberal' or 'free market' capitalist policies which typified Argentina in the 1990s. The plan represents a move back towards more classical policies of Peronism and of state intervention. However, they will not solve the crisis nor solve the problems facing the working class and middle classes.
There will be a reduction in purchasing power with the devaluation of the peso and price increases.
And although the devaluation of the peso will have a positive effect in stimulating exports, against the background of a world economic recession the perspectives for the Argentinian economy are not very favourable. The measures taken will force the working class and middle class to pay for the crisis.
"We do not want more of the same," was the chant of the days of struggle on 19/20 December. Duhalde represents "the same".
The end of currency parity does not change in essence the economic policy that will try to save the big speculators by punishing the workers. Sooner or later the masses will again return to the streets against the government policies.
The Argentinian economic crisis is a reflection of the structural crisis of capitalism in a semi-colonial country which has been recolonised by imperialism.
The only alternative that offers a way out for the poor is anti-capitalist and socialist. This programme must be based upon:
- Non-payment of the foreign debt to the big capitalists. There should be no illusion in the temporary suspension of payment to the foreign creditors.
- Nationalisation of the banks under workers' control. Immediate releasing of resources of small and medium account holders.
- Massive investment in public services including health, education, social security and emergency projects of public housing and agricultural products.
- Re-nationalisation of privatised companies and nationalisation of companies that lay off workers. Open the books to inspection and democratic workers control of production.
- Reduction of the working day with no reduction in wages and a decent minimum wage for all.
- Democratic socialist plan of production based on nationalisation of the major companies and the formation of a workers' government.
Anger and discontent with the economic situation will provoke new mobilisations. The socialist Left must clearly reject and oppose the parliamentary coup that the installation of Duhalde represents and campaign for a continuation in the struggle by the masses.
The trade unions also must call an indefinite general strike to overthrow Duhalde and force the convening of new elections to a Constituent Assembly to transform the economic and political basis of Argentina.
These demands can only be realised with the independent organisation of all oppressed layers - workers, unemployed, the youth, pensions and students.
Rank and file committees with elected delegates from all workplaces need to be organised to take the struggle forward and distribute food to the hungry from the big supermarkets on an organised basis.
A national assembly of workers' delegates, public employees, unemployed, students needs to be elected. All delegates should be subject to recall and not receive any privileges.
Socialists must also work for the formation of a new, mass workers' party with a socialist programme.
The 19/20 December "Cacerolazos"
ARGENTINA, IN the last few weeks has passed through a situation with clear elements of a classical revolutionary crisis. The high point of the mass movement was 19/20 December. Massive contingents of unemployed and under-employed led assaults on the supermarkets to take what was necessary to feed their hunger. Hundreds of such raids took place throughout Greater Buenos Aires.
The "cacerolazos" followed by mass demonstrations of workers, unemployed and sections of the middle class forced Cavallo to resign. Very soon the demonstrators were chanting: "All of them must go - not just one".
On the morning of the 20th the battle of the Plaza de Mayo began. Tens of thousands of demonstrators confronted the police in an attempt to reach the Palacio de Governo. The youth played the key role in this confrontation. Amongst them were the 'motorboys' - young motorcyclists who are amongst the most exploited group of young workers. At the end of the day which resulted in nearly 30 deaths and hundreds of injured or taken prisoner, De La Rua resigned and was forced to flee the Casa Rosada by helicopter.
The lack of any leadership from the trade union confederations resulted in an unorganised intervention by the working class in this struggle. Both the CGT and the CTA union federations ended up by calling off a general strike and were not present at the most critical stage of the conflict.
At the same time some sections of the leadership of the National Assembly of Pickets were also absent because of a wrong, passive estimation of the movement. The movement also took a big part of the socialist Left parties by surprise.
It was at this moment of revolutionary crisis that the oppressed workers were drawing deep political conclusions. The bureaucratic leadership of the CGT trade union federation was strongly criticised by the activists in the protests. In many localities the poorest sections began to organise themselves autonomously and called the protests themselves.
These powerful demonstrations by the working class drew behind them the middle class and provoked splits amongst the ruling class.
It plunged the political regime into crisis and created the conditions for a genuinely revolutionary way out of the crisis.
The crucial element necessary to develop this process is the building of a genuinely revolutionary socialist alternative. It is to assist in the building of this socialist alternative that the CWI intervened in the recent protests in Argentina and will mobilise its parties in solidarity with the Argentinean workers.
What is Peronism?
PERONISM IS the 'populist' and nationalist movement named after the army officer Juan Domingo Peron who led a military junta between 1943-1946.
Peron built a social movement with support among the trade unions by demagogically attacking the rich 'oligarchy' of landowners and bosses. He was elected President in 1946 and again in 1952.
Social reforms were financed by the favourable economic conditions which existed in Argentina then but at the same time he attacked the interests of the working class.
Deposed by the military in 1955 and exiled to Spain, he returned in 1973 during a period of massive social upheaval and assumed the presidency, but died in 1974.
In 1976 the military again took power and thousands of left-wingers were 'disappeared' (Their relatives - 'Mothers of the Disappeared' - have campaigned for justice in the central square in Buenos Aries, the Plaza de Mayo, ever since.) The military junta under General Galtieri collapsed in 1982 following the Anglo-Argentine war in the Falklands Islands/Malvinas.
In 1989 the Peronist candidate Carlos Menem was elected President but he abandoned social reforms and instead pursued neo-liberal policies, including the dollarisation of the peso and privatisations - the roots of the current crisis.