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Argentina’s new President: ‘Crisis and confrontation’

Argentina’s new President: ‘Crisis and confrontation’

Half the world is supposed to be voting in 2024, but it looks like the swing to the far right is far from over. I’m not just talking about the Netherlands and Trump-2 here, but where the whole system is going. Extractive civilisation is posed to colonise its own collapse, and the State is devolving back to its authoritarian foundations – any wonder the far right is riding the wave? The only problem with this line of thinking is where it leads to: “We’re fucked”. Now, there’s your starting point for anarchist strategy and theory.

In December, we spoke to comrades from Buenos Aires following the elections of Javier Milei, and here we bring combined responses from Pablo and Analia from the Libertarian Federation of Argentina.

Milei assumed the presidency on December 10, 1and there is uncertainty about how far his policies will go. The State will not disappear, but it will eliminate the state mechanisms related to social assistance and the regulated distribution of wealth and will increase its controlling and repressive role. It will undoubtedly create a greater concentration of wealth, an increase in unemployment, greater subjugation of the popular sectors and greater poverty.

On December 20, Milei presented a pervasive Government Decree, bypassing parliament, that directly attacks the legal rights of workers and the right to strike. A day before, he had developed a repressive protocol for protests and demonstrations, prohibiting blocking the streets, and a few days before, he had nationalised the debts of export companies to the sum of 40,000 million dollars.

Despite the above, on December 20, there was a huge demonstration to commemorate those killed in the repression of the 2001 revolts, and, what is more significant, at night, thousands of people spontaneously came out to demonstrate against the government decree in each neighbourhood, blocking the streets, violating the protocol of the ministry of security.

How do you understand the election results and Miliei’s appeal to “anarcho-capitalism”?

Milei obtained 56% of the votes. This result was possible since, during the previous government, there was 140% annual inflation and 40% poverty. But it’s still surprising because of Milei’s extravagant positions. The core, he believes, is small and new, with many young people. But he got the support of the right of the previous government (Macri). The hard core can be 30%. The other 26% are likely to be dissatisfied with the previous government, hoping for something new, and ignorant of Milei’s proposed policies.

Milei defines himself as a minarchist rather than an ‘anarcho-capitalist’, although his horizon is ‘anarcho-capitalism’. In any case, we do not know what his degree of pragmatism will be; in that case, he may become an extreme neoliberal. It is difficult to imagine that he can carry out his ‘anarcho-capitalist’ postulates of eliminating the State since the State and capital are complementary and necessary elements in the capitalist system.

Paradoxically, being an ‘anarcho-capitalist’, he worked in recent years in a hierarchical position in a company whose primary income comes from contracts with the State. It seems that this economic group now has a lot of influence in his government. Furthermore, Milei was very critical of the person responsible (Caputo) for requesting credit from the IMF during Macri’s government; he described him as one of the culprits of the crisis. But now he has appointed him Minister of Economy.

Milei seemed to have solid ‘anarcho-capitalist’ convictions, but we know his image from the media. Macri is a millionaire who preaches liberal policies, but he turns out to be a mere opportunist whose wealth comes from the inheritance of his father’s companies, which grew up doing business with the State. Milei accepted Macri’s support and interference in his government, and a clear alliance was produced where there were no differences when applying policies. Milei’s economy minister was significant in Macri’s government, and the same happened with the security minister.

Can you tell us more about the counter-mobilisation and social movement responses? 

The new government began very recently, with 56% support. Given this, there is a debate about how to respond to the government’s first measures. The 44% who did not vote for him know that there will be crisis and confrontation. The unions and social organisations have a sufficient capacity for mobilisation, but they have the contradiction that many members voted for Milei and that many union leaders are bureaucrats and businessmen. The debate consists of 1- waiting for some of their voters to become disappointed and increase the ranks of the opposition and 2- taking to the streets now to protest. It must be added that the new government has an explicit repressive agenda and threatens to violently repress any type of protest in the streets. The security forces support this government, and the Vice President is from an army family, and he vindicates the last military dictatorship.

All organisations are thinking about the best ways to fight. At the demonstration on December 20, a new kind of action took place. It was called by Trotskyist organisations, which are important in Argentina, and considered that the fight must begin immediately. The rest of the social organisations linked to the previous government considered that it was not yet time; they did not attend the protest but decided to provide support by deploying lawyers and observers so that the repression would not occur. In this sense, there seems to be a certain awareness of building a common resistance in the face of the brutal advance of the right. Finally, approximately 20,000 people attended the demonstration.

How successful have people been in building resilient mutual aid over the past 22 years? What worked and what didn’t work?

The crisis of 2001, with the takeover of factories and the birth of many collective projects, gave rise to the rebirth of the word self-management, which had been almost nonexistent. Many recovered factories still exist and resist, but they suffer from the conditions of the capitalist economy (competition, credit, productivity, capital investment) and their “wages” are generally worse than in capitalist companies. Social organisations have created a “popular economy” with a network from agricultural production to housing construction. But they subsist in precarious conditions. The success of these experiences is in the form of community and assembly organisation. Although they vary in their degree of centralism and verticality, they are important and are a popular alternative to individualistic capitalist competition. There is a “popular economy” space at the FLA premises, where many producers bring their products, and sales and distribution are organised. Although all of these experiences may show some type of exhaustion in the face of the aggressiveness of the market and capitalist competition, it is surprising that many still exist, and others have been created after 20 years.

What does the fall of Peronism, the old left, mean? Opportunities or just a vacuum?

The defeat of Peronism is complex to analyse since Peronism is a complex movement. It is possible to say that the previous government had a lot of responsibility for Milei’s victory since it did not solve any popular problems and increased them, opening the possibility for a messianic and saviour character like Milei. We do not believe that Milei’s victory and the defeat of Peronism opens the possibility of a growth of popular, assembly-based and self-managed alternatives. We find ourselves in a scenario where brutal repression is quite possible, as well as economic drowning and the growth of drug trafficking gangs. But we are in the middle of the hurricane; we will have to see the capacity that can be built for reaction and response in a few months. There are networks formed from all struggles and organisations, but atomisation is also important. It is likely that in light of the concern and threat posed by the Milei government, coordination and relations will improve.

Is it correct that Fernández inherited the burden of the IMF from Macri and hindered his ability to do anything?

Without a doubt, the foreign debt that the previous government inherited was the right’s tool to condition any policy. Foreign debt is a mechanism that has been used for many decades to impose policies that limit the welfare state, attack salaries, public health, public education, electrical services, gas, and water and subject the economy to international corporations.

The previous Peronist government was aware of the influence of the IMF and was complicit in not applying any policy that attacked it. The left-wing sectors of Peronism also did not act to pressure the government since their argument was that if the government was attacked, the right would benefit. The perverse game of bourgeois democracy always seeks to show limited options and uses fear so that moderate options are the ones that triumph. But reality clearly shows, given Milei’s victory, that moderate options, far from convincing, often better pave the way for the extreme right.

Will he be able to implement policies such as breaking ties with Brazil and China and the dollarisation of the economy? 

The first country to which Argentina exports is Brazil, and the second is China. It is impossible to imagine a break in commercial relations; Milei’s words are more like a demagogic discursive construction to divert the central issues of economic and social policy. Regarding dollarisation, it is difficult to predict; most economists believe that it is almost impossible to do so, but we think that the possibility cannot be ruled out since the government’s first economic measures have the consequence of giving more and more importance to the Argentine peso.

How do non-incels in Argentina perceive him? How can we stop people calling him an “anarcho-capitalist”?

Milei is associated with incels. This is quite possible since Milei’s antics build an image of him that causes sympathy in social sectors with those characteristics (cloning his dead dog and communicating with her spirit through rituals; not being married or having children; tantric practices; misogynistic attitudes; having suffered violent abuse by her father as a child; following rituals of Jewish orthodoxy without being Jewish; etc.). Most people do not know what ‘anarcho-capitalism’ is; Milei gave it publicity. We are concerned about their use of the word “libertarian.” The FLA has written a document and distributed it. Our diffusion capacity is minimal compared to the large media. There is no other possibility but to continue spreading until this situation that favours them passes. Another tool that can be used is insistently sending letters to journalists from the big media.

If Milei doesn’t get his way, what conditions would or wouldn’t allow him to become a dictator? 

It is a very difficult question. We think it is difficult due to the important tradition of struggle that unions, social organisations and the position of other political parties and media have. But this can be seen during this year when resistance to economic and social policies develops. We understand that the question refers to breaking the institutionality of bourgeois democracy, that is, closing Congress, censoring and persecuting opposition media, intervening in the Judiciary, and repressing protests. In that sense, it must be clarified that the Judiciary is strongly co-opted and manipulated by the right, to a large extent, as well as the Supreme Court. Media owners were imprisoned during the Macri government, and there were murders by the forces of repression, whose best-known cases were Santiago Maldonado and Rafael Nahuel. The degree of repression and persecution reached during Milei’s government will probably be proportional to the resistance offered. If there is little political resistance, the persecution may be institutional; that is, it will be repressed like a common crime, and the people will suffer poverty and the ridicule of the prison system under the law. If there is political resistance, repression will likely bypass bourgeois legality and look more like a dictatorship. But it is also possible that there will be a lot of resistance, and the possibility of extreme state political violence will be defeated. The truth is that there is a lot of uncertainty.

What tools do people have to defend themselves against shock therapy and to put pressure on corporations and the government? 

The immediate tools we have to oppose the advance of Milei’s policies are the traditional ones: strikes, street mobilisations and dissemination. But the most critical work, which is continuous, is about building spaces where mutual support, solidarity, and anti-hierarchical and assembly-oriented values can be lived daily. These are spaces where not only theoretical training is important but also where experiences that contrast with capitalist values can be experienced. That is why in the FLA, the school support group for children, where kids from the neighbourhood come, the space for self-managed producers, where neighbours shop, the free school, the cinema space, and the reading workshop are very important. All activities that have been carried out for many years.

Thank you very much to the Freedom comrades for being attentive and concerned and accompanying us in these moments we are experiencing. We regret not having better answers; we think that everything will depend on how society reacts in these months; we are in a moment of great uncertainty, and we assume that many things will be seen in March when the cost of living has a frontal impact on society. Meanwhile, we are very active, building our spaces and participating in and establishing relationships.

~ Interviewed by Uri Gordon (International Editor)

Image: Santiago Sito / Protestas por cortes de luz. Buenos Aires 2015 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed

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