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Argentina: It's only a small step from sectarianism to support for Kirchner

By Sergio Garcia, translated and introduced by Federico Fuentes for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

After more than 100 days of intense conflict between supporters and opponents of the Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner government in Argentina, centred on the conflict over the divisive move to increase taxes on exports of foodstuff such as soya and sunflower oil, Fernandez has been forced to put the resolution to debate in congress.

Faced with this conflict the various left and socialist groups in Argentina have taken a variety of positions, ranging from support for the government, to support to the rural producers opposing the tax increases, to opposing both sides. Following the contribution from Argentina Marxist economist Claudio Katz, ``Argentina: the clash over rent’’ (http://links.org.au/node/453), along with a statement signed by Katz and a range of other left intellectuals and organisations, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal publishes here an article by Sergio Garcia, from the Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores – Nueva Izquierda (MST, Socialist Movement of Workers-New Left), which argues against the position of Katz and in defence of its controversial position of supporting the small producers in this battle. The article was first published in Spanish in Alternativa Socialista, no. 478, on July 2, 2008. It has been translated by Federico Fuentes, with permission, especially for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal.

* * *

The agrarian conflict, with its political, economic and social consequences, has revealed the different positions on the left.

Besides our support for the small producers, there are those that take a ``ni-ni” position, who position themselves as commentators on the most important crisis that kirchnerismo has faced, as well as another sector which tragically calls on people to take the side of the government.

Here we present our opinion, as part of a debate that has to be had publicly, and not limited to being discussed between left forces. And this is of great importance because, faced with the biggest crisis that the country has lived through, we believe that it is a tremendous error to, in the name of a supposed left or independent stance, that concretely, through action or omission, ends up supporting the government.

Falsehood 1: `Government vs. the right’

The government has tried to argue that the axis of the conflict with the countryside is its supposed fight with the right.

Unfortunately, sections of the left have fallen into the same false argument. Using this analysis, they develop a critique of those who support the small producers. Claudio Katz, member of Economistas de Izquierda (EDI, Economists of the Left) stated: “The incapacity to register the conflicts between Kirchner and the right and the obsession with locating the government as the principal enemy, leads to sharing media space and practical actions with figures of the reaction.” [1] Arguing along the same line, Eduardo Lucita, also from EDI, writes: “The right –although lacking leadership and organisation- has found an important social base.” [2]

However, the position of these respected comrades faces a problem: their position has nothing to do with the reality of the towns and cities of the interior, or with the self-convoked assemblies of chacareros [owners of small farms known as chacras] which they have not bothered to visit. If they had, they would have seen that their abstract analysis does not fit with the living reality of this process of conflict.

They locate the crisis from an unreal viewpoint, as if we were faced with a government that takes leftwing measures and an agrarian movement that resists them in favour of a right-wing model.

The reality is different: the government implements a regressive model of concentration in the countryside and applies indiscriminate taxes that hit hardest against the smallest producers, the same ones who have radicalised and have come out fighting, raising proposals that are – even if in a somewhat distorted manner – to the left of the government and not to its right.

The massive protest in Rosario[3] was proof of this: more than 250,000 people, the absolute majority small producers, where the first speaker was from the Autoconvocados (self-convoked) and the closing speech was given by the Federación Agraria [4], demonstrating who was in the driver’s seat during the most important action to occur during this conflict. This is the context within which the sectors linked to the right have had to act, such as the Sociedad Rural[5], unable to develop their proposals in depth because they do not coincide with the sentiments of the grassroots movement that demands other measures. Due to the mass nature of the conflict, the politicians of the right have appeared, but due to their content, the reference points for the small and medium sectors, such as De Angeli[6] and Buzzi[7], are demanding that, for example, progressive taxes be applied on profits and for a law on leasing to ensure that the pools[8] do not continue to gobble up the small producers. This is part of the concrete denunciation of an agricultural model that continues to increase concentration of production into fewer and fewer hands, subsidises the large exporters and which, although the right would like to replace with its own discourse, has not been able to for now.

Unfortunately, this realty is ignored by this sector of the left, whose actions part from the arguments of the government, giving it left cover. They do not see – and do not want to see – that the government, logically, is utilising the argument of “fighting against the oligarchy or the right” in order to confuse sectors of the population. But what is most illogical is that while 80% of the country is not buying this story and rejects the government, there are left leaders that do.

Peròn used to say that “in politics, when you have to turn to the right, you have to indicate to the left”. Kirchner knows this. That is why her policy is an economic plan that in content consolidates a right-wing course, while in her discourse makes out that she is fighting against the oligarchy. These sectors of the intelligentsia who raise the spectre of the right should also know this. That is, they take note of the signal but they forget the real course of the policy of the government and its consequences.

Falsehood 2: `The Sociedad Rural is the principal actor in all this’

The declaration titled “Another path to overcome the crisis”[9], signed by members of EDI, the Darío Santillán Front, some union leaders and other smaller groups says: “a conflict has escalated to the point of installing a political polarisation between the government and the rural institutions ... with the accompaniment and the social force of the small producers that have fallen into the trap of an agrarian lockout that favours the large capitalists in the sector and which is aimed at creating favourable conditions of a neoliberal restoration”. Truth be told, they seem to be writing about a different conflict. They talk about the fight as if it can be reduced simply to the government against the entities and with the “accompaniment of the small producers”. The whole country has seen for itself that these entities have not been able to take any decision on their own, because the self-convoked assemblies impose what happens. More than once the Sociedad Rural or Coninagro[10] have wanted to end the conflict, without success. Even Kirchner and the Fernàndezs said that it just wasn’t right that the organisations did not control the highways and the roadblocks. The newspaper Clarín, enemy of all grassroots decision making, had to recognise this, defining the situation in the following manner: “The rural leaders have almost lost control of the protest... They have been swamped by groups defined as autoconvocados, who respond only to the mandate of the decision-making assemblies, removed from [these entities] any in organic sense. The autoconvocados have had an enormous weight in defining the strategy that the leaders of the rural organisations should have provided.”[11] This reality made it impossible for the policy of the government to be approved, and ensured that the positions of the entities have not predominated, but rather those of the chacarera grassroots.

As Luis Bilbao, director of the magazine América XXI, well explained following the protest in Rosario: “After the 25th it is possible to affirm that the radicalisation has given way to a shift in the relations of forces and now it is the chacareros who are the principal protagonists, not only in a numerical sense but politically. With the finely tuned ear of the most rancid oligarchy, the newspaper La Nación registered what had occurred and alerted to the fact that the speech by Buzzi had swung ‘the countryside, on bloc, towards the left’. This is an exact interpretation of what occurred. The large landowners could not defend their own program, because the vast multitude that was listening would have reacted violently against them.”[12]

It is a grave error to not see that the Sociedad Rural and its social sector are always a danger that needs to be confronted. But to not see that in this process they are not the determining element is an error just as big or worse, that leads to swallowing the government’s publicity-based denouncements against the oligarchy … which it subsidises and defends behind the scenes. Or it directly leads to have to alter reality in order to argue an incorrect political position. Claudio Katz, trying to explain that the movement accompanies and supports the right wing of the countryside, says that “nor Buzzi or De Angeli have let a word slip out against the agrarian establishment”.[13]

Disproving this commentary, during the protest on May 25 in Rosario, Buzzi stated that “it is a lie to say that the purpose of the taxes is to redistribute wealth; it is to pay the $12,000 million of external debt to the [International Monetary Fund] for the agreements with the Paris Club… the beneficiaries of Kirchner’s plan are Nidera, La Serenísima, Grobocopatel [some of the largest corporations involved in soya production]. This is the truth that madam president denies.” Beyond the differences one can have with Buzzi or De Angeli, we cannot deny reality nor distort their statements, which on many occasions correctly denounce the official agricultural and economic model that affects the whole country.

Falsehood 3: `State intervention vs. liberal restoration’

Some also say that behind the protest is the countryside’s intention to stop state intervention and instead achieve the liberalisation of exports in order to keep all the extraordinary rent for themselves. They part from the position of a supposed progressive state intervention over a free market of exports. The state always intervenes, in one way or another. The problem is if it does it correctly and in favour of the popular and poor majorities of the country.

Over the last few years it has allowed free exportation to the point of accepting sworn declarations and anticipated sales of exporters and allowing the six large companies to decide which foodstuffs and how much leaves the country, while millions starve or are malnourished. The same occurs in the oil and mining sector, where exports, and the financial rent, triple that of the countryside, and where it does not pay any taxes.

We defend the right of the state to intervene with force in export policy, which is exactly what it has not done, either before or after Resolution 125 [regarding the new taxes]. State intervention which benefits the popular majority would require control over foreign trade, which would have to be nationalised. The Kirchners aim to make use of international prices in order to collect money for a political project that is not interventionist in favour of the people, and instead apply a regressive economic model, which does not distribute wealth, increases poverty and concentrates profits. And it is desperate to collect taxes in order to pay off external debts that are due to be paid before the end of the year and in 2009.

The large producers do not want the state to intervene in their business. But once again, this is not the central driving force behind the conflict. Given the situation in the country, which is not one of a general shift towards the right, they have to accept that the taxes will exist. In fact there was no conflict up until they reached the 35% mark. The conflict emerged – and once again we return to reality – when the government in its desire to collect taxes surpassed the capacity of small and medium producers to produce with such a level of taxation. And this measure, which would lead thousands of chacareros to bankruptcy, is in no way progressive. If it was applied, the large producers would end up resisting via government subsidies and part of their fabulous profits. But not the small characareros; their land would also end up in hands of the pools de siembra.

This is the consequence of such government “intervention”, which would benefit its political purse on one side and liquidate small producers on the other. That is why the vision that takes as the central element of this process a supposed fight against state intervention is false. In reality, what is at stake is whether it is possible to have an agricultural model with strong intervention ... but against the large pools de siembra and companies and in favour of the small producers, something which is not being proposed by the K model and this pro-imperialist government, which continues to have an economic and political relationship with the Urquias and the Grobocopatels and confronting the autoconvocados and entire towns from the interior.

Falsehood 4: `This has nothing to do with 2001’

For this section of the left, the process that the Argentinazo [2001 uprising] opened up no longer exists. Instead, we are faced with a strong political regime, which is only threatened by the right. They struggle to squeeze reality into their vision. “The cacerolazos that we have seen in the capital and other urban centres, despite their initial heterogeneity, has been gradually shaping itself into the antithesis of the 2001 rebellion, driven by high sectors of society, many of them rentiers and by the right-wing opposition that had already manifested itself in the legislative elections and in the presidential elections last October.”[14]

We have just come out of a period of enormous cacerolazos [pot-banging protests made famous during the 2001 uprising] in different neighbourhoods in the capital. More than 20,000 in Cordoba, 10,000 in Rosario, thousands and thousands in all the cities of the interior of the province [state] of Buenos Aires. As well as in parts of Greater Buenos Aires. The statistics indicate, taking the whole of the country into consideration, that more than 1 million people came out onto the streets against the government. Driven by high society? No, driven by the general rejection of repression, arrogance, the patotas [thugs] of D’Elia[15] and the CGT [Central General de Trabajadores, the main union confederation], inflation and poverty.

This is the only explanation for why different social sectors were present in the protests and cacerolazos, including of course the poor, middle-class sectors and students. Who in turn have nothing to do with the right-wing parties, but who instead want, above all else, nothing to do with the government that does not respond to their demands. In the aftermath of these protests, the newspapers were saying that “the ghosts of the 2001 crisis have returned”.[16] And Kirchner himself, located a little closer to reality than this section of the left, said in private, to his group of closest collaborators before ratifying the protest action in the Plaza de Mayo: “If we do not come out in force, we will end up like De la Rúa.”

Only by deeply understanding the Argentinazo process, that continues to deal blows to the political regime, can we act faced with a crisis of such a magnitude without being left in a position of writing analyses that are functional for the government. It is this underlying process which is now acting over congress, where following the forced retreats by the government, the taxes are now being debated. Although there are no roadblocks, the social unrest has not disappeared, nor has the lack of confidence in the institutions. Which is why we are willing to go out on a limb and say that if a new fraud is committed in congress, the conflict will reignite and the cacerolazos, most likely, as well.

Far from the demands of the chacareros and close to the kircherista government

The cited declaration, “Another path to overcome the crisis”, defines itself in relation to what position to take faced with this struggle. Going beyond the fact that its arguments make some criticisms of the government, the conclusion leaves no room for doubt: “One cannot remain neutral in the face of the threat that the right could achieve part of its demands and place on the future agenda its program of neoliberal restoration.”[17] And in their second declaration they ratify this position: “We do not support a false neutralism which would convert us into spectators of a crisis.”[18] Extremely clear: we have to support the government. The only thing they fail to take into consideration in the name of “the struggle against the right”, is reality: it is the government that is applying a right-wing policy in the countryside and the city, not the chacareros autoconvocados. They forget that it is the government who utilises the proposed taxes to pay the debt and consolidate its political power, and not to solve social problems or redistribute wealth. With this position they end up capitulating to a government which is the enemy of the popular interests of the country.

The `ni-ni’ position also hides objective support for the government

On the other hand, one section of the sectarian left (Partido Obrero, Workers Party; PO - Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas, Party of Socialist Workers; PTS - Movimiento al Socialismo, Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) call on people to not be part of the conflict, ending up as spectators, or in the ridiculous (and empty) Carpa Roja [Red Tent] in front of congress, removed from the real confrontation. In this way, although they disguise themselves with radical speeches, they also end up vouching for the government, given that politics is always concrete: those who maintain a position that one should not join up with the struggle of the chacareros end up inevitably and objectively on the side of the Kirchners.

The Partido Obrero even warns of the dangers of “a coup”, taking its position to the ridiculous extreme, and by doing so repeating the false denunciations of D’Elia. In 2001 they viewed Nito Artaza[19] as a “piquetero” [unemployed workers who use the tactic of roadblocks to demand jobs and unemployment benefits], but now they do not want to support the chacareros. The PO is going through a period of complete bewilderment.

Whether parting from a “ni-ni” position or one of direct support for the government, both the sectarian left and the opportunists are against the just fight of the chacareros, and end up on the wrong side of the battle, supporting the kirchnerista model.

Today, in our country, there are millions involved in a process of political rupture with the government, which frightens even the industrial and financial bourgeoisie, who are asking for an end be put on this situation.

For the moment, within this process there is no right-wing current -- Macri, Sobisch, López Murphy – that has been able to strengthen itself. On the other hand, the left, if it were to act in a united manner with the chacareros, could pose itself as an alternative and reach hundreds of thousands in the countryside and the city. But unfortunately, the more that kirchnerismo crumbles the more sections of the left do what is possible to tie themselves up … with the danger of being dragged down in this same fall.

With the chacareros, in order to confront the right and strengthen a project for profound change

When Vilma Ripoll[20] and our party came out in force – together with other left organisations – to give our support to the small producers, a section of the left that did not support the chacareros, in a tone not dissimilar to that of D’Elia , protested that it was an error to participate on a platform with the Sociedad Rural or protest together with figures from the right.

First, the MST-Nueva Izquierda never shared a stage and did not even dialogue with the Sociedad Rural. We go to the protests to give our support to the small producers and to raise our proposals, which are against the government and the oligarchy. [Others on the left] want to resolve the problem of the presence of right-wing leaders in the massive protests by not challenging them, abstaining and in doing so strengthening them, handing over to them the consciousness of thousands and thousands of small producers and millions who have sympathy for their demands. We do not view this attitude as a revolutionary position, rather it is the best way to help the right.

We have a process of struggle that has opened up and a middle-class social actor – the small producers – who have the support of millions.

We cannot bring a section of them closer to the left if we are not part of their fight and their real actions, challenging the positions of the right. It is one thing for the chacareros to break with the government and only see alternatives coming from the right. But if they see that the left has concrete proposals for them, suggesting that they unite with the workers, that is something completely different. We have thrown our lot behind this last proposal, because it is fundamental for the development of a process and a revolutionary political project. During the 2001 Argentinazo we had to support the middle-class sectors of the city who were demanding the return of their savings. Now we have to support the middle-class sectors of the countryside whose demands are against a government that burdens them on the same scale as the large producers. And this support is always in dispute with other political leaderships.

Faced with such a huge political crisis and struggle, socialists participate so that the millions of workers, popular sectors and small producers from the countryside can know that there is another way out. To locate oneself in a sectarian position, commentating from outside of the real and living struggle, serves no purpose except for self-condolences without a future. Supporting the government is even less useful.

For all these reasons we once again, from the left, call on the workers and the popular sectors to support the small producers and their actions. To together raise our own demands. To unite the demands against the government and a political regime that is leading us towards failure. And to begin to construct a new broad and united political alternative along the way that fights for a different model, that will put an end to monopolisation in the countryside and to the oligarchy. A model that renationalises the rail system and other privatised services, fights inflation, increases wages and pensions, and puts an end to the dependence on the United States and the multinationals.

Notes by translator

[1] Claudio Katz; “Argentina: The clash over rent”, in Links at http://links.org.au/node/453

[2] Eduardo Lucita “Conflict in Argentina's countryside”, Socialist Worker, July 2, 2008 http://socialistworker.org/2008/07/02/conflict-in-argentina

[3] The protest in Rosario on May 25 brought together some 200,000 people in one of the largest anti-government protests in Argentina’s history. That same day, some 80,000 people mobilised in the city of San Miguel de Tucuman in support of the government, with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as the sole speaker.

[4] Argentine Agrarian Federation (FAA): the private institution that serves as a business organisation for small and medium agricultural producers in Argentina. It was founded on August 15, 1912, after the first strike action of agrarian farmers demanding protection from the exploitation of big landowners.

[5] Argentine Rural Society: a private organisation that unites the large landowners tied to agricultural activities in Argentina.

[6] Alfredo De Angeli: president of the FAA affiliate in Entre Rios, one of the key sites of protest against the government.

[7] Eduardo Buzzi: head of the FAA

[8] Pools de siembra: Sowing pools, investment funds that rent land for soya production.

[9] http://links.org.au/node/453

[10] Coninagro: Confederación Intercooperativa Agropecuaria Cooperativa Limitada, Intercooperative, or Agricultural Confederation Cooperative Limited, an organisation that brings together agricultural cooperatives.

[11] “La crisis es más grave de lo que era”, June 15, 2008.

[12] “Después del 25 de mayo”, Rebelión, http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=68123

[13] http://links.org.au/node/453

[14] “Another path to overcome the crisis”, http://links.org.au/node/453

[15] Luis D’Elia: leader of Federación de Tierra y Vivienda, which is aligned with the government. D’Elia has a post in the Kirchner government.

[16] La crisis es más grave de lo que era”, June 15, 2008.

[17] http://links.org.au/node/453

[18]Otro camino para superar la crisis/2”, http://otrocamino.wordpress.com/2008/07/02/otro-camino-para-superar-la-crisis2/

[19] Nito Artaza was a leader of the ahorristas, middle-class people who protested the loss of their savings during the 2001 economic crisis, and a candidate for the Union Civico Radical, Radical Civic Union.

[20] Vilma Ripoll: leader of the Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores - Nueva Izquierda.

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