Argentina: Mass revolt topples government

"It’s great that Cavallo’s gone…but they all have to go..we want a fair government of the people."

Thousands took to the streets, raided supermarkets and shops in a desperate bid to feed themselves following the mass poverty and despair that has gripped Argentina following the economic collapse. President De La Rua declared a state of emergency and has now reportedly deployed troops onto the streets of Buenos Aires.

The massive sweep of the protests forced the resignation of the hated Minister of the Economy, Domingo Cavallo, the entire cabinet and on the second day of the rioting De La Rua himself was forced to flee leaving a vacuum that none of the capitalist parties are eager to step into because of the depth of the crisis. The protest has already resulted in over twenty deaths as riot police were deployed by the government in an attempt to quell the protests. More social upheaval and turmoil are certain to develop in the next hours, days and weeks.

Argentina has plunged into a crisis with features of Germany in the early 1920’s such as the pauperization of the middle class and a collapse of confidence in the government and capitalist institutions. From a Marxist analysis it has many elements of the classical objective conditions of a revolutionary situation. These can be summarized as a crisis of confidence in the ruling class and its institutions; a willingness to struggle by the working class; a radicalization amongst the middle classes and open divisions amongst the ruling class.

The main elements of these objective conditions are now present in Argentina. Absent are the critical subjective factors. These would include the mass of workers understanding the need not only to overthrow the government but the need for a socialist alternative and a revolutionary socialist party with mass support and a programme to overthrow capitalism and establish a workers’ government.

The absence of these crucial subjective factors will mean a protracted crisis and the existence of what is in reality a pre-pre-revolutionary situation.

These earth- shaking events will have international consequences and terrify the ruling class. They will inspire workers throughout Latin America and internationally. This social revolt is particularly significant in that it has rocked a country that was the most developed in Latin America and boasted the ninth largest economy in the world. A relatively wealthy economy has now crashed bringing economic misery and devastation on a mass scale. These events are a harbinger of events and upheavals that will rock other countries, including in Europe, as the world economic recession deepens.

The back- ground to the eruption of the current social revolt was a massive general strike, which paralysed the country on December 13 th and included raids on supermarkets in the poor districts. This was the eighth general strike in two years!

This strike was called in protest at the most recent austerity package that the government is attempting to introduce to release further funds from the IMF to cover payment of the crippling foreign debt and avoid a default on the public debt which now stands at a crippling US$132 billion. Now in its fourth year of recession which some commentators claim is the longest in the history of Argentina industrial activity plummeted by 11% in the last month alone.

The most recent round of proposed cuts would slash public expenditure again by 20%. 300,000 public sector workers would be laid off and wages slashed. This is on top of the already desperate situation in which the Argentine masses now find themselves. With 18% officially unemployed and 15 million of the 36 million-population living below the poverty line, big sections of the working class and even the middle class now face hunger and even starvation. 2,000 people every day are falling below the poverty line!

As one of the rioters chanted in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the Presidential Palace, "We don’t have any money, we are hungry and we have to eat."

During the 1920’s and 1930’s immigrants flooded to Argentina from Italy and Spain in an attempt to escape the ravages of the crisis in Europe. Now, in a reversal of the wheel of history, thousands queue outside the Italian embassy in a desperate attempt to flee back to the country that their forefathers left one or two generations ago for the same reasons of economic and political turmoil.

All of the main capitalist parties, including the populist nationalist Peronist movement are blamed by the mass of workers and middle class for bankrupting the country. This was reflected in the elections, which took place in October where in Buenos Aires the "winners" were the blank votes, which with 40% of the total vote, was the largest "Vote".

The rioting and attacks on the supermarkets, food shops and banks by thousands of desperate working and middle class people was an unorganized protest by the hungry of the capital, Buenos Aires. As Clarin pointed out, "Neither agitators or agitated: spontaneous."

The protests started in some of the poorest districts on December 13 th have now spread to encompass the middle class districts. One sobbing middle class protestor angrily declared, " I can’t get any work. I have four children. I can’t feed them. I speak fluent English, and still I can’t get work. I am now ashamed to be Argentinean."

Clarin reported groups of hundreds of people marching in all of the main boulevards of the city centre, " Belgrano y Jujuy, Santa Fe y Pueyrredon, Araoz y Charcas, Santa Fe y Coronel Diaz, Diaz Valez y Eduardo Acevedo, Peron y Medrano, Alsina y Entre Rios, Rivadavia y Larrea, Uriburu y Cordoba, Rivadavia y Nazca, La Plata e Independencia, Quinquela Martin y Montes de Oca (the main boulevards) One converging demonstration. People of all ages and diverse social conditions.

Every minute, more and more city dwellers, with what they could take in their hands, invaded the streets with their song of dissatisfaction. At mid-night they finally came together and all became one. In front of the Casa Rosada (the Presidential Palace) the deafening voices cried, "Que se vaya! Que se vaya! Go! Go!" (Clarin 20/12/01) This referred to De La Rua. However, the chant was widened to "Que se vayan, que se vayan" which was a more general demand directed against the capitalist politicians in the plural!

What has become known as a corrupt and hated "political class" of party bureaucrats and administrators of all the main parties is detested by the mass of the population. Local councilors pay themselves US$15,000 while their electors starve. A gravy train involving 4,900 "advisers and employees" to service 72 Senators have lined their own pockets while the mass of the population has been plunged into poverty.

As Elena Sicilia, a demonstrator in front of the Presidential Palace put it, "It’s great that Cavallo’s gone..but they all have to go…we want a fair government of the people."

Clarin also reported that De La Rua, "..Anxiously walked up and down in front of his desk as he was about to sign the declaration of a State of Emergency. As the looting of supermarkets and loss of political control extended through the country, Fernando de la Rua, looked into the air thinking at the moment that, "Me quieren echar, me quieren echar…" ("They want to throw me out, they want to throw me out.")

The fears of De La Rua were fully justified as thousands of people surrounded the Presidential Palace forcing him to resign and flee by helicopter.

Four thousand, including single mothers holding their babies in their arms, but with no food in their bellies, marched to the house of Cavallo, Minister of the Economy chanting, "El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido" (The people united will never be defeated)

With reason to fear for his own safety Cavallo had demanded extra security measures and according to one report in Clarin his family were making plans to flee the country on 20/12/01.

These protests have affected workers throughout the country. In Cordoba government clerks organised massive protests, which included burning their desks and attempts to burn down the town hall when they were told that wages were to be cut yet again. Thousands had not been paid at all for months! Some workers involved in this protest were seen to be carrying rifles.

In the Presidential Palace the workers refused to participate in a traditional end of year celebration with the President and remained at their desks following announcements of job losses affecting 24,000 government employees.

Clarin reported that following the protests, "..The salads and cakes were prepared in the conference room. But at the last moment the venue was changed to the principal office of the President.. " Neither cameras nor tape recorders were permitted. The President could not be seen sipping Champagne while the people emptied the supermarkets."

The ruling class of Argentina is now confronted with a major crisis of how to proceed. An editorial in Clarin protested about the "… poverty of ideas and lack of energy of De La Rua" in confronting the crisis. Indecisive and lacking the authority to lead even his own party, De La Rua, took the same route as Cavallo and was swept away by the stormy events that lie ahead.

Sections of the ruling class attempted to assemble a "government of national unity" that would include the Peronists.

Although the Peronists (PJ) together with the capitalist Radical Civil Union (UCR) have recently supported moves in the Congress to limit the economic powers of the Presidency, they have also declared that they will "not obstruct" the introduction of the State of Emergency.

De La Rua attempted to form a government of ‘National Unity’ which would include the divided Peronists who offer no alternative programme to the De La Rua government. Menem, the former Peronist President, was the driving force for the privatizations and neo-liberal policies that were implemented throughout the 1990’s and has recently faced corruption scandals involving arms shipments.

These attempts collapsed as the Peronists refused to join it reflecting the splits amongst the ruling class and reluctance of them to take responsibility for the crisis. It is now possible however that they will be compelled to head a government. The Peronist have fully embraced the policies of neo-liberalism during the last decade and have adopted a right-wing programme. However, because of the depth of the crisis it is not excluded that they could be compelled in government to take some ‘populist’ measures, such as refusing to pay the debt.

However, the depth of the current crisis will not allow a ‘populist’ regime to return to the relatively lengthy period of reforms that previous Peronist government implemented. Any limited future concessions made to the workers will be given with the left hand and taken back two-fold with the right hand.

Whatever government is formed will have to face the prospect of defaulting on the foreign debt and devaluation or dollarisation of the economy. Devaluation or dollarisation are both poisoned tablets that will result in a further driving down in living standards of the masses.

The depth of the crisis makes a default a virtual certainty. As Clarin commentated in its editorial, "..spokes-persons from employers and financiers yesterday considered it inevitable that Argentina will default on debts to its creditors." (Clarin 20/12/01)

If, as seems most likely, Argentina does default, it will trigger the prospect of a series of defaults throughout Latin America and other continents and deepen the deepening international economic crisis.

The impact of the current crisis may also force another split from the Peronists, a section of which, under the impact of this crisis may attempt to re-adopt the radical nationalist populist ideas of the past.

The Argentinian working class and other exploited classes have begun a struggle against the brutal attacks of the government and the ruling class. However, to take this struggle forward crucial steps must now be urgently taken to organize it and build an independent working class movement with a revolutionary socialist programme.

Committees of struggle must be established in each work- place and local district and linked up on a district, city- wide, regional and national basis. These committees should be comprised of elected representatives from assemblies of workers and local communities. A national plan of struggle must be organised to take the movement forward. Delegates elected to such committees should be accountable to mass assemblies of those that elected them and subject to recall at any time.

Committees of struggle should also immediately requisition food from the retailers and supermarkets to distribute it to the hungry and the poor on a co-ordinated and systematic basis. They should also appeal for local shop keepers to join the committees and prevent attacks on small local businesses.

Already a National Assembly of Pickets involving some elected delegates from the work places and unemployed people has been established. This should immediately be reconvened as a basis for building a national organization through which the struggle should be organised and around which committees of struggle could be established.

An indefinite general strike should be prepared immediately with a view to overthrowing the government and establishing a new government of working people to overthrow capitalism.

Rank and file trade unionists and the trade unions must also take the necessary steps to form a new mass workers party with a revolutionary socialist programme to defend the interests of the working class, urban poor and other sections of society exploited by capitalism.

The government of De La Rua is preparing to try and repress the protests that have already broken out. Committees of struggle must also take responsibility to organize the defence demonstrations and other protests. An appeal to the rank and file of the army and the police is necessary urging them to join the struggle and not to be used to repress the movement.

A new workers’ and people’s government will need to take emergency measures and introduce an emergency action programme to deal with the crisis. This must include expropriation of all banks, the big super market chains and major monopolies and a refusal to pay the foreign debt.

The working class must draw up an emergency democratic socialist plan for the economy and others exploited by capitalism that will end the poverty and desperate plight of the mass of the population.

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December 2001