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Argentine elections: Which way forward for the left?

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By Christian Gebhardt

After Argentina’s “revolutionary days” in December 2001 – the driving from power in quick succession of two presidents, the blockades by unemployed workers, and the occupation of over 200 companies by their workers – the mass movement was eventually contained by the ruling class – with a little help from imperialism. The principle political tool for this was Argentina’s classical bourgeois populism, Peronism, which has as a key feature its incorporation of much of the trade union movement.

 

Under the leadership of Nestor and then Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, thanks to its powerful trade unions, Peronism was able to derail and demobilize the masses, re-establishing control over important sectors of the working class via a return to corporatism and the incorporation of the labour aristocracy and the middle classes. This went hand in hand with an economic re-stabilisation, which allowed a certain space for concessions to the working class and youth.

 

However – like in most of Latin America – this conjuncture is coming to an end in the years of the Great Recession. In many countries – Britain, France, Italy, this has been accompanied by something of a crisis of the far left; an inability to expand its influence and grow in numbers, damaging splits etc. But in Argentina, sections of the far left have been able to gain from the crisis, at least on the electoral level.

 

Already in 2011, three large Trotskyist organizations with between 1500 to 3000 members each and several thousand supporters had agreed to stand together in the presidential and congress elections. The joint front was called ”Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores“ (FIT Front of the Left and the Workers). It was formed by the Partido de los Trabajadores socialistas (PTS), the Partido Obrero (PO), and the Izquierda Socialista (IS) and was able to gain around 500.000 votes (2,3 percent) in its first election. Although, they could not elect a representative into the national parliament they won places in provincial parliaments, e.g. in Neuquén with Raúl Godoy (PTS), one of the main leaders of the historic Zanon factory occupation.

 

In the general elections on 27th October, this could be increased. Already in the pre-elections, the joint list was able to achieve nearly 900.000, nearly doubling its 2011result. It seems that the FIT really has a good chance this year of entering into the national as well as in other regional parliaments. But, who is behind this front of the left and the workers and what are its goals and its programmatic answers, both for the Argentine and the international working class?

 

The FIT’s components and its programmatic demands

The election campaign 2011, and this year too, are based on a programmatic manifesto (1) behind which the groups within the FIT united. In this statement the FIT declares that it seeks to become an instrument that defends the independence of the Argentine working class, that defends it against the politics of the capitalists and their governments, and to give it its own political voice. In addition, the FIT wants to be a rallying point for all the forces that fight for the independence of the trade unions and the removal of the trade union bureaucracy.

 

This happens, according to their own statement, at a time when parts of the working class are turning away from Kirchnerismo, are coming into conflict with the trade union bureaucracy and building opposition to it. This year, we have seen the first national mass strikes against a Peronist-led government since the revolutionary developments at the beginning of the century.

 

To build a bridge between these developments within the working class and an independent organization for the Argentine workers, the FIT is proposing an election programme that not only proposes solutions to burning everyday problems, such as inflation or the legal right to abortion, but also demands the expropriation of big landowners, an end to the payment of the foreign debt, or the ousting of the trade union bureaucracy. It includes important everyday demands and connects them with the demand of workers control and also tries to open the perspective of the formation of a workers’ government.

 

In short, the program aims to provide an overtly anti-capitalist solution.

 

However, the manifesto has a number of substantial political shortcomings, which will need to be overcome, if the FIT is to become the basis for a revolutionary unification of far left organizations in Argentina, rather than a stumbling block to this. Of course, the fact that currently, the FIT is essentially an electoral alliance between its three constituent organizations, makes it clear that an election manifesto will be of a limited character and that substantial differences remain between the groups who make up the front.

 

However, what is interesting, is the fact that none of them – PTS, PO or IS – are raising their own programme, independently of that of the front. This is even more problematic, as there are very important political weaknesses in the FIT manifesto which give it a centrist, rather than revolutionary character. We will concentrate only on the key points:

 

Firstly, the manifesto correctly points out the need for a break with the trade union bureaucracy and stands for the independence from it of the working class. However, the working class and its mass organizations in Argentina are still largely under control of the Peronist leaders. Furthermore, the manifesto itself points out that the masses need to prepare for a deepening socio-economic crisis and a fight against the government’s, the bosses’ and imperialists’ attempts to force the workers, the youth, the poor to pay for it once again.

 

We think that in such a situation, the call for a workers’ united front against the crisis – addressing the rank and file militants and the leaderships – is a key agitational task of revolutionaries. Likewise, the manifesto includes no agitation, no call on the trade unions to break with the Peronist Party, nor does it address the question of overcoming the division of the unions under competing “federations” (centrales). And finally, it does not raise the need for the creation of committees of action in the workplaces and workers estates, drawing in the unions, the unemployed and other working class organizations. In short, the manifesto tends to limit the united front in a sectarian manner to the “united front from below”- i.e. in effect asking the rank and file to abandon their leaders first. Thus a major tactical weapon to expose the bureaucrats as the obstacle to fighting unity is left aside, in favour of propaganda exposing their crimes.

 

Secondly, the manifesto conflates the struggle for workers’ control with the struggle for “workers’ management”, as if the two were the same thing. Of course no revolutionary will deny, that under certain conditions of crisis, workers may be forced to take over and manage “their” factory themselves. However, there is a good reason why communists, when the call for workers’ control was developed, differentiated it from the call for “self-management”. Workers’ control, when achieved before a seizure of power by the working class, recognizes that either the individual capitalists or, in the case of nationalized industries the state, still manages the enterprise but that their decisions are checked and wherever necessary vetoed by the workers, when they conflict with their interests. It is tied to opening the accounts of the firm, ending business secrecy and is a process whereby the workers learn to manage the enterprise and see how it links into the national and international economy.

 

Of course the capitalists and their state do not give this free lesson on how to run the economy to the workers willingly. They have to be forced to by the occupation of the plant, the solidarity and protection of other workers. Moreover the workers will face constant threats of sabotage from the management, the banks and the state and often as in Argentina in 2001-02 outright abandonment of the factories, so that workers have to take over full management of them, whether they are ready or not.

 

In short workers’ control is only a temporary instrument, a sort of dual-power within the enterprise, which needs to be resolved one way or the other. Workers’ self-management under a stabilized capitalism inevitably means that the workers have to take responsibility for making “their” company profitable under the conditions of a market economy. It inevitably means that the workers stop acting as wage laborers, but become private owners of the means of production, – in effect shareholders, even if this may be done under the form of a co-operative.

 

We acknowledge that workers may be forced into such a situation under conditions of crisis – when the capitalists “abandon” their factory, leave it idle and the workers have no choice than to produce for their living. But we think this is not a “model” to promote, but something whose dangers – self-exploitation, rationalization, a business mentality, are dangers to warn of and to try to avoid.

 

The manifesto goes in the opposite, wrong direction on this and introduces a notion of workers’ self-management, as if it was a road towards socialism.

 

Thirdly, the manifesto correctly points to the need for a workers’ government (or, as it says, a workers and people’s government). The manifesto refers to this key slogan twice:

 

“To this state of exception and crisis, and to government by means of decrees – as the expression of a crisis of government and of a political system – the Front of the Left counter poses the government of the workers, deeply rooted in all the levels of social and political management, based on the workers’ and people’s self-organization. It is a matter of initiating a process of transition towards socialism and the abolition of every form of social discrimination and exploitation.”

 

And

 

“The Workers’ and Left Front calls for popular organization in the neighborhoods and in the places of work and study, to fight against the ‘trigger-happy’ police and human trafficking. To combat the penetration of drug trafficking, with police support, in the neighborhoods, or police and political complicity with organized crime. No to the municipal police of the Mayors of corruption and crime: to put an end to the leaders’ apparatus, it is necessary to end the social misery that capitalism causes and replace the repressive apparatus of this state, that is at the service of the exploiters, by organizations of the workers themselves on the path of struggle for their own government. Down with Project X, and espionage and infiltration of the people’s organizations! For the dissolution of all the intelligence organs placed in order to spy on and infiltrate the people’s organizations!”

 

The problem with these formulations is not what they say, but what they do not say.

 

The programme does not tell us what such a workers’ government would look like. Would it be constituted only by the members of the FIT or would the FIT also join a workers’ government with other left parties (e.g. the MAS)? Should the trade unions be won for such a government, should one call on them to break with Peronism and fight for an independent mass working class party?

 

Equally important, the programme does not talk about the inevitable steps the working class has to take to form such a government and, in the face of the inevitable attacks from the counterrevolution, to defend it by force. The manifesto does indeed suggest that a breakup of the bourgeois state apparatus would be essential. Good. But by whom? On what, if not the capitalists “special bodies of armed men” will such a workers’ government rely to enforce its decisions? To answer such a question reveals the necessity for the formation of strike committees and assemblies, for neighborhood committees, and finally for workers’ councils and a workers militia to defend these democratic bodies.

 

These must develop first as organs of struggle against the bosses and their government, then in the stormy days of mass struggle as in 2001-02 into instruments for seizing political power. It was the failure of these to develop at that time which led eventually to the ebbing of the revolutionary tide. But these bodies can become essential organs, which support and defend a workers’ government.

 

However, the election programme of the FIT does not broach these questions and therefore, keeps their voters in the dark. It does not mention the need for a government based on workers’ councils and a workers’ militia. Indeed, the word “workers’ council” is not mentioned once.

 

The FIT manifesto repeats the weaknesses of other programmes of “new anti-capitalist party” formations or blocs like the NPA in France (although the NPA’s formulations were more precise and far reaching than the FIT’s manifesto).

 

Finally, concentrating on the international dimension of the capitalist crisis since 2008, the FIT rightly demands international solidarity from the working class and raises important international demands like withdrawal of all imperialist troops from the Middle East/North Africa and an end to the occupation of Palestine. However, with a look at the included groups, one might ask why the declaration of the FIT does not mention the foundation or re-foundation of any international party of the world working class? One needs to keep in mind that all its groups belong to international tendencies which are in favor of the re-foundation of the Fourth International. Therefore, it brings up the question why the declaration does not publicise the necessity amongst Argentine workers, of an international organization of the working class around the globe.

 

Beside all the mentioned criticisms, the biggest deficit of all is the question: What is the future and purpose of the FIT itself? Can it be the foundation stone of a revolutionary workers’ party or will it just exist as an electoral alliance?

 

The FIT and its future

Independently of the elections this year, it is interesting to look at the differing opinions about the future of the FIT that can be found within it. Here, one can discover, that a discussion of different viewpoints is indeed taking place within the FIT at the moment. The PTS is arguing for the creation of a ”party without bosses” (Partido sin patrones) and to base itself on resolutions passed by a “national conference of the workers” (Conferencia nacional de los Trabajadores), which was co-organized by the PTS (2).

 

In contrast, the PO does not see any need to use the FIT for the creation of a revolutionary workers’ party at the moment. According to the PO, a historic possibility is evolving, in which the workers’ movement can be won for the revolutionary left ideas, thus, more and more workers seem to be slowly ridding themselves of their Kirchernite chains. Only such a convergence would open a revolutionary perspective. Hence, the PO is arguing for the formation of a “political front of workers and socialists“ (Frente Político obrero y socialista) to advance towards such a perspective (3).

 

Due to the reason that the election program of the FIT does not tell anything about its future, the internal discussion is certainly welcome. We believe that the current dynamic around the FIT could, and indeed should, be used for the creation of a revolutionary workers’ party. The dynamic of the elction and its aftermath should be used to encourage, not just a big increase in of voters, but encouraging thousands of them to participate in the political and programmatic discussion and formation of a new party. It should be used also as a call on other working class forces to join in the process, on trade unions or trade union bodies to break with their political allegiance to Peronism and to join in.

 

The building of local groups for example could enable people to participate in the discussion without having to first become a member of any of the three groups. The potential for this exists. The FIT organized well-attended base assemblies during this year’s election campaign. These could be a starting point to win them for a new party.

 

Furthermore, the integration of other forces of the Argentine radical left as well as the foundation of FIT workplace cells and branches, could take this dynamic even further. Connected with these proposals is the question, what kind of activity the FIT should undertake, apart from election campaigns, and therefore, whether it can it represent an organizational alternative in the daily struggles of the Argentine workers.

 

If the activity of the FIT is considered from its foundation in 2011 until 2013, one can clearly see that the groups within the FIT were mainly using it as an election platform, but it also engaged in other mobilizations like May Day this year. But to go beyond election campaigns and joint demonstrations, it is necessary to build permanent FIT structures that work every day, that enable people to participate and therefore are able to expand the basis and influence of the FIT.

 

Perspectives after the election?

With a look at the coming elections on 27th October, it appears to be possible for the FIT to win deputies in the national parliament as well gain more in provincial parliaments. This would not only be a big success for the FIT, but also to be welcomed by socialists all over the world, since it would pose the question of build a new, revolutionary party of the Argentinian working class more acutely.

 

However, in order to achieve this aim, two interrelated tasks are ahead. One is that the FIT needs to set itself the goal of overcoming its current character as an electoral alliance. Secondly, it would require a break with its centrist vacillations – some of an ultra-left, some of a right-opportunist character. Otherwise the FIT could end up adding to the litter of centrist organizations, and would prove unable to give revolutionary lead to the working class in Argentina in the years ahead.

FIT wins three deputies

The Front of the Left and Workers (FIT) was once again able to improve on its score during the elections on October 27. It received around 1,150,000 votes (5.12 per cent (4), 300,000 votes more than at the pre-elections. Indeed the FIT entered the national Congress for the first time, with Néstor Pitrola (PO), winning in the province of Buenos Aires, Pablo López (PO) in Salta and Nicolás del Caño (PTS, in Mendoza. In addition the FIT is challenging the result in Cordoba, where they suspect fraud and demand a recount of the votes

The FIT is understandably celebrating their wins as a historic triumph yet amidst the euphoria, one should not forget that this is not the first time in the history of the Argentine Trotskyist movement, an election block achieved substantial supportand scored victories in elections (5).

We will have to wait to see how the FIT uses their deputies to promote revolutionary politics at a national level and how it can profit from the present crisis of Peronism/Kirchnerism, which manifested itself during these elections.

However, the most important question – aside from the electoral spectacle – is whether the FIT is capable of contributing to the foundation of a revolutionary workers party in Argentina. Taken in conjunction with the objective circumstances in the country, in Latin America and the world; this question is the measure by the FIT’s participating groups will have to be judged and not by the number of seats they have in parliament.

 

 Notes

(1) The manifesto for 2013 can be read in Spanish under:

http://po.org.ar/pdf/manifiesto_fit_2013.pdf

http://www.pts.org.ar/Declaracion-programatica-del-Frente-de-Izquierda-y-de-los-Trabajadores-2013

For an English translation, see: www.ft-co.org/Political-election-manifesto-of-the-Workers-and-the-Left-Front?lang=en

(2) http://www.ft-ci.org/Apuntes-del-PTS-sobre-la-construccion-de-un-partido-revolucionario-en-Argentina?lang=es

(3) http://po.org.ar/blog/2012/07/20/resolucion-politica-por-la-fusion-del-movimiento-obrero-con-la-izquierda-revolucionaria/

(4) http://argentinienportal.com.ar/content/wahl-2013-das-ergebnis

(5) http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/mas-izquierda-unida-and-argent…

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