International Journal of Socialist Renewal’s presentation of various
positions in the debate within Argentina’s
left around the rural crisis, we publish an exclusive translation of a recent
article by Claudio Katz, an economist, researcher, professor and member of Economista
de Izquierda (EDI -- Left Economists). Translated by Janet Duckworth. For
previous articles on Argentina,
go to http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/147
* * *
The most important social and political conflict since
the 2001 rebellion ended with a clear win for the right. The Sociedad Rural shared an unforeseen victory
with Patricia Bullrich, Elisa Carrio, Eduardo Duhalde and Luis Barrionuevo.
They celebrated the defeat of the variable export duties in the Senate with the
kind of enthusiasm they have not shown for decades.
The conservative bloc managed to swing the vote in the
upper chamberof parliament because it had first won the battle in the streets.
This street presence split the government bloc since the right defeated Peronism
in the traditionally adverse terrain of the multitudes. Its crowds were twice
as big as those supporting kirchnerismo
in all rallies and it snatched the capital from them after having imposed
themselves in Rosario.
The shift from scenes of the road blocks to parliament -- with a huge
spontaneous gathering around the ruralista
tents near Congress -- highlighted the rural presence. All of the praise for
the way in which the institutions functioned hid this shift to extra-parliamentary
pressure, which included provocations and public denunciations. Cobos’ pathetic
decision to cast his decisive vote obeyed an old legislative principle about
guessing which way the wind is blowing. He didn’t vote according to conviction,
since he has absolutely no principles. Trained in bourgeois politics, he sensed
that the time was ripe to change sides.
Ruralismo won because it channelled a change in
direction by the middle class which has gone from questioning corruption (“All
of them must go”) to a conservative revolt. This shift began with Blumberg, was
strengthened with Macri´s victory and culminated in a low-budget epic. This shift
was confirmed on innumerable occasions during the conflict. The best known was
that of the deputy president of the CRA who, accustomed to mistreating the farm
workers on his estate, suggested dissolving Congress.
The reactionary climate was also reflected in the teflon
“cacerolazos” (demonstrations in which participants bang pots and pans) which
extolled the virtues of “the homeland united with the countryside”, announced
their rejection of “tyrants” and demanded an end to the “human rights theme”.
In some skirmishes -- all well covered by the media which discovered that
blocking roads is legitimate when there are gringos and tractors involved -- voices
were raised against “blacks”, “lazy bums” and “montoneros”.
Right-wing ideology was revived by the nature of a
revolt championing profitability and consummated by a lockout. The bosses
withstood four months of conflict because their workers never stopped working.
The ultimate joy of the rightists contrasts with the
sorrow their spokesperson manifested when the outcome was still uncertain. At
that time they tormented themselves over the appearance of “an invented conflict”
which showed the “worst of Argentinean politics”. They were angry because
there was no stability in which to exercise unhindered domination and they called
for capitalism to function without traumas. The same fantasy haunts the
oppressors in any latitude when they look in the mirror of a more successful equal.
However, victory improved their mood and now they are
advising Christina. Unlike past crises, this one did not include financial
catastrophe or hyperinflation. Therefore nobody is demanding a change of
presidents. Cobos’ action is different from Chacho Alvarez’ resignation as vice
president [in 2001], as it comes at a time when economic circumstances leave some
room for a the government to rebuild itself.
The right wants to shore itself up by encouraging the
government to become more conservative and this could begin with a ministerial
shuffle and an increase in [custom] duties. Its spokespeople think that “the
government has an opportunity to start anew” if it abandons the ”Kirchnerist
style”. In the immediate future what they want is peace and quiet. The
demonstrations that had the government cornered have done their job and are now
irritating the owners of power.
of the defeat
The government received an angry blow. It staked all
or nothing and was rewarded with a mighty slap in the face. A few months after
taking power it has suffered the erosion of its electoral support, lost
popularity and distanced itself from the middle class. Its parliamentary bloc
broke discipline, several governors changed sides and the Radical K [members
and ex-members of the Civic Radical Union that support Kirchner] are preparing
an exodus. In the Peronist ranks, the option led by Duhalde and Rodriguez Saa and
other experts at adapting to the reactionary mood (Sola, Reutman, Schiaretti)
has recovered its strength.
Nestor Kirchner’s backsliding is attributed to his
obstinacy, whims and autism. However, it in fact followed a course that had
been rehearsed by many presidents before. It is not only the desire for power
that links the Alfonsinist dream of creating a third historic movement from
the capital in Viedma with the Menem-like manoeuvres for re-election. All
strategic projects have sought to consolidate presidential power.
The government lost out in the confrontation with the
rural movement because of a series of blunders and desperate acts which made it
appear to have completely lost control. For four months, the government
oscillated between economic concessions and political provocation. Using
mob-style language accompanied by authoritarian gestures, it demanded
“unconditional surrender” from its adversaries, all the while accepting the
requests from the rural faction, except the emblematic Resolution 125.
In spite of having a fairly large fiscal surplus to go
up against the considerable harvest stored up by agrobusiness, the Kirchners
only managed to get a momentary breathing space when the roadblocks were
lifted. The winners never lost the initiative.
The first reason for this failure was the government’s
refusal to encourage popular mobilisation outside of the regimented framework
of the Partido Justicialista (Peronist), the CGT and the coopted organisations.
They didn’t build up this support during their five-year administration and
neither did they come up with anything during the crisis. The fear of reviving
the 2001-2002 uprising made cowards of a couple who got to the presidency to
rebuild the state and dissipate any signs of an uprising from below.
Second, the government lost because it never distanced
itself from the bankers and industrialists who demanded that the confrontation
be brought to an end. This alliance prevented the trumpeted income
redistribution in an inflationary context. If the government did not
significantly increase wages and pensions it is because it advocates a
neo-developmentalist capitalism that is incompatible with such improvements.
The third reason for the right’s victory was the lack
of trust shown by the majority in a government whose discourse is divorced from
practice. The population’s sixth sense can tell that INDEC’s [National
Institute of Statistics and Census] tricks indicate there will be no movement
in wages, and not just against any movement in income from indexed securities.
The Menem stamp on the bullet train doesn’t go unnoticed either and the
exaggerated attacks by Kirchner against “civilian commandos and work groups”
only highlighted the lack of credibility of a policy that turns close allies
into enemies overnight.
This radicalism discourse which Luis D’Elia and Hebe
de Bonafini were the first to put into practice made the right very angry
but aroused no popular support since a shower of accusations does not correct
political orphanhood. While Alfredo De Angelis managed to fire up his
conservative base, the government’s words did not meet with a similar reaction.
The people’s distrust has been generated by the
government’s duplicity. The tolerance for the rural sector’s protest contrasted
with the repression dished out to the impoverished in Jujuy
by a Kirchnerista governor. The same unequal treatment was seen again in the
favourable way the government reacted to the tents near Congress whereas those
who attempted to hold a popular demonstration in the Plaza de Mayo were beaten
back with truncheons.
But what explains all this is the fact that Peronism
as a popular movement has been worn out. The political structure allows it to
win elections and manage the state, but arouses no enthusiasm. What is
currently being recreated in Venezuela
has gone into decline in Argentina.
The Kirchners lost because they head a movement laden down with the baggage of
too many disappointments and which cannot rebuild a popular project.
for the progressives.
For the intellectuals who support the government the
success of the right only goes to show how big the challenge facing it is. They
think that the Kirchners confronted the interests of the establishment over a
project to redistribute income and that it lost because of the extremely
explosive nature of the interests at stake.
However the conservatives’ reaction to it does not
make the government a champion of popular causes. This role should be
demonstrated by the way it -- and not the opposition -- behaves. Increasing
inequality and the subsidies to the powerful show that the government is not in
the oppressed’s camp, notwithstanding the rejection it gets from the
establishment. What people think about a government should be based on what it
does and not on the diatribes of ultra-right journalist Marciano Grondona or La Nación.
A kind of “inverse sympathy” (“the right attacks them
so I defend them”) once again brought a sector of the progressive movement
closer to the government. They put their criticisms on the back burner so as to
ponder about a government which created spaces that were “hardly bourgeois” in
the absence of “proposals coming from its left” or movements with “more advanced
demands”. But in fact there are plenty of these alternatives and demands made
to a government which turns its back on them.
Every time a social conflict erupted outside of the
government structures, the Kirchners’ response was hostile. This kind of
reaction is consistent with a policy -- which it has followed since 2002 -- aimed
at rebuilding the dominant classes’ power. The right also rejects them because
they don’t belong to the conservative elite, govern by arbitrating between all
capitalist factions, limit the worst social inequalities and spout an
The progressive camp confuses this political enmity
with a clash of social interests. It cannot distinguish the former divergence
from the latter coincidence. This is why they attribute the current defeat to
bad management of the conflict and not to a commitment to the banks, the UIA (Union
Industrial Argentina, Argentine Industrial Union) and the sowing pools. This
way of looking at things tends to repeat the same message made fashionable by ruralismo.
Some people highlight the [Kirchners’] monarchical
attitude of running the country as if it were a province, of avoiding consensus
and of locking themselves into sectarian-type logic as if this style were
something new in the Peronist tradition. Others object to the election of annoying
protagonists or the repetition of a seventies-style discourse which “talks
about the oligarchy and does not adapt itself to the fact that times have
changed”.This latter objection
comes from the dissident wing of Peronism that aims to promote a conservative shift
in the government.
These evaluations lead towards the conclusion of building
bridges to the opposition, along the same lines as demanded by the
establishment. However these are conclusions which contradict the repeated
assessment that there is a coup in the making. If there were a threat of
destabilisation (that is, actions aimed at organising an attempted economic-institutional
coup) it would make more sense to get ready for a more radical battle instead
of making agreements with the enemy.
Those who support the government have not taken note
of the fact that the people are hardly receptive to its messages. This
indifference is because government publicity emphasises certain facts
(“employment has risen”, “we have overcome the crisis”) and hides what is most
important (the lack of social reforms, of political democratisation and
redistribution of income).
During the conflict many from the government ranks
repeated constitutionalist banalities (“the government is defending general
interests against sectoral interests”) as if the Kirchners had no commitments
to the capitalists. They stressed those legal-type arguments (“the government
won the elections and should be challenged in elections”) which are often used
against social struggles which support the left. If these arguments which
stick closely to the letter of the law ruled political life in Argentina De la Rúa would still
be in office.
The ruralista left
Contrary to what has happened in the last few years,
the left’s participation in the conflict was diluted. Its role was less visible
than in any preceding crisis but this time not because of sectarianism,
internal squabbles or tactical mistakes but because of the unprecedented
alignment between one sector of the left with ruralismo.
The Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores (MST, Socialist
Movement of Workers), along with the Partido Comunista Revolucionario (PCR,
Revolutionary Communist Party) and Raul Castells took an active position in
favour of this bloc. They attended its rallies, guarded the Green Tent, carried
red flags to the Palermo
meeting, took part in the vigil which surrounded the Senate when it was deliberating
and in the end celebrated together with the Rural Society. They have
constructed an upside down world so they can present this victory for the right
as a popular triumph.
The main justification of this nonsense is the mass
nature of the rural demands “which went unnoticed by a large part of the left”
because “it bought the government’s tall tales” and “did not take the trouble
to go and see the real situation in the small towns”. However, the massive
scope of the ruralista demonstration is
an irrefutable fact that no one denies; what is in debate is whether it had or
not a progressive character. As has been shown by the autonomists in Bolivia,
the students in Venezuela
and the Zionists in Israel,
a reactionary demonstration can attract huge crowds. The history of Argentinean
“gorilismo” is a well-known example of such a case.
Those who are ignorant of the existence of
conservative rebellions with a strong social underpinnings think that “the left
had lost its bearings” by “standing on the opposite side of the road to that
that of the mass movement.” But they didn’t realise that the starting point
for a socialist policy begins with deciding what is the nature of the demand at
stake and in seeing where the principle enemies stand.
In the case in point, the demand to eliminate a tax on
agrarian rent led all of the right to align itself with ruralismo. The mere presence of the Sociedad Rural and the Coalición Cívica demanding the repeal of
the variable customs duty confirmed that position from the start. When it acted
in conjunction with the two latter groups, the ruralista left legitimised a campaign for capitalist profits.
It is true that the self-convened assemblies gave a
more bellicose tone to the protest, against leaders who would have preferred to
negotiate. However, this behaviour only reinforced the disastrous effects of
the lockout on food supply. It is absurd to equate this action with a strike.
The farm labourers worked while their bosses blocked roads demanding higher
profits and not better wages. This is why the proposal to radicalise the
protest coincided with the PRO’s belligerence.
Presenting a demand by the bosses as a demand of
“small farmers” was given the lie by the lasting alliance between the Federación Agrario and the other
groupings. Eduardo Buzzi and De Angeli did not set forth “a correct
criticism of the agricultural model”. They hierarchised the repeal of the
taxes and therefore the conflict eased when the resolution was defeated.
To draw an analogy with the uprising seven years ago
is completely erroneous. Whereas at that time those who had small deposits and
the unemployed defended their savings against the banks, this time around the
middle class acted in conjunction with the owners of agribusiness.
Other sectors of the rural left – like the PCR -- have
even questioned the validity of the taxes arguing that this kind of fiscal
measure was suggested “by the oligarchy to avoid a direct tax on property”.
However, they forget to add that in the recent demonstrations no proposals were
made to overcome this distortion with progressive tax collection mechanisms. On
the contrary, there was a struggle to reduce any tax to the lowest possible
amount in order to improve the income of capitalists. Those who are proud to
“be part of the FAA’s leadership” have accompanied their regression without
noticing that the old agrarian cooperativism that was left leaning has withered
away as soy has advanced.
During the first Peronism the left was buried because
it chose the wrong side. Seventy years later a sector of the left is making the
same mistake again. Some justify this behaviour with the argument that it was
the only option left in the face of Kirchnerism. However, there are in fact
many ways to fight the reactionaries without supporting the government. Taking
this road means recognising that the right “is not a ghost” and was located
within the ruralist bloc.
A left policy
For four months the country was polarised and no third
path that rejected conservative ruralismo
and was critical of the government emerged. We have to reflect on these
difficulties since it is possible that the same scenario will reoccur in the
future. One problem that could come up again is the program. In order to
intervene in a crisis it is absolutely essential to put forward proposals that
are relevant to the problems in play so as to build bridges between the
population’s concerns and the banners of the left. In the recent crisis this
nexus obviously included the variable [customs] duties which caused the
confrontation. Suggesting they be applied temporarily as a progressive tax to
reduce VAT and increase wages is one example of the kind of connection that
could be made. When the whole country is convulsed by the duties, it is
essential to deal with the subject and come up with a proposal.
It is true that these duties are an economic policy
tool to divorce local and international prices but in recent events they were
being used as a tax. This complexity does not justify silence. All Argentineans
knew during the conflict that a [customs] duty was being discussed and that
their progressive implementation to be used for social priorities was on the
It is a serious mistake to suppose that the continued
existence or repeal of the variable export duties is “a bourgeois problem that has
nothing to do with the workers’ interests”. If both situations were identical, we
would also have to be indifferent to taxes on huge fortunes or on the goods the
population in general consumes. The problem is similar to that of
privatisations. The government’s wastefulness or arbitrariness in the way it
runs public companies do not mean it does not matter if the oil, telephone or
water companies are in state or in private hands.
A false polarisation once again dominated Argentine
political life and the left was not able to come up with any other option. Simple
denunciations of “struggle between capitalists” in which “all are the same” do
not aid in the construction of an alternative, given that this message leads to
passivity. In the nascent space, “another path to overcome the crisis” a more
useful course of action began to appear which needs to be extended.
 Argentine Rural Society: a private organisation
that unites the large landowners tied to agricultural activities in Argentina.
 Patricia Bullrich: national deputy for the city of
for the centre right Civic Coalition; Elisa Carrio: leader of the centre right
Civic Coalition; Eduardo Duhalde: former president of Argentina
(2001-2003) from the Peronist Justicialist Party; Luis Barrionuevo: secretary
of the right-wing split from the General Confederation of Workers.
 Montoneros: Peronist guerrilla organisation in the
 Sergio Bernstein, “La duras lecciones que deja
la crisis”, La Nacion
 Raul Alfonsin: first Argentine president (1983-89)
following the fall of the military dictatorship. He was elected on the UCR
 Luis D’Elia: leader of Federación de Tierra y
Vivienda (FTV, Federation for Land and Housing), which is aligned with kirchnerismo,
including hold posts in the government.
 Hebe de Bonafini: leader of the Madres de la Plaza
de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo).
 Alberto De Angeli: president of the Federación
(FAA, Argentina Agrarian Federation) affiliate in Entre Rios, one of the key
sites of protest against the government.
 This is Edgardo Mocca`s conclusion “¿Tuvo
sentido el conflicto?”, Pagina 12, 20/07/08.
This idea is also common amongst the intellectuals who make up “Carta
Abierta” (Open Letter).
 Toer Mario, “De illusiones y realidad” Pagina 12, 06/04/08.
 Alcira Argumedo y Pino Solanas,
“La noche del Senado” Pagina 12, 18/07/08.
 “Si tengo problemas con la clase media no puedo
elegir a Luis D’Elia para que las persuada” Mocca.
 Ricardo Sidicaro, “Apenas ayer” Pagina 12, 19/07/08.
 Giardinelli, Mempo, “Paisajes después de la batalla”, Página 12, 18/07/08;
Mempo, “De golpes, Carmonas y tiros por la culata”, Página 12, 18/07/08.
 “The 200.000 people in Rosario
have to be weighed up against the eight million votes... The
law must rule”,
Carlos Vilas, “Es el poder”, Página 12,
 Raul Castells: leader of the Movimiento
Independiente de Jubilados y Desocupados (MIJD, Independent Movement of Retired
Workers and Unemployed).
It's only a small step from sectarianism to support for Kirchner”, Sergio Garcia, Links, http://links.org.au/node/526.
 Used to refer to right-wing anti-Peronist forces,
more broadly refers to right wing military coup plotters.
 Arturo Vaca, “Perdió la brújula” Alternativa Socialista 477, 19/6/08; Vilma Ripoll, “Con los
chacareros”, Página 12, 3/7/08.
 Argentine Agrarian Federation: 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 employers' strike action of
agrarian farmers demanding protection from the exploitation of big landowners.
 Eduardo Buzzi: head of the FAA.
Garcia, Links, http://links.org.au/node/526
 “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.” Sergio
Garcia, Links, http://links.org.au/node/526
 See “Another path to overcome the crisis”, Links, http://links.org.au/node/453