By ALEX KOLE
Argentina’s ruling Peronist party and its center-left partners in the Frente de Todos (Front for All) coalition suffered a bruising defeat in the Sunday, Nov. 14, midterm elections that robbed them of their 40-year old majority in the Senate of the National Congress.
The conservative opposition, a coalition of center-right parties that campaigned as Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change), was the most immediate beneficiary of voter discontent, winning a majority in the Senate and a plurality in the Chamber of Deputies. At the same time, however, election night proved to be a significant victory for the coalition of revolutionary socialists that ran under the banner, Worker’s Left Front-Unity (FIT-U). The coalition won over a million votes (5.91 percent) and doubled its presence in the Chamber of Deputies from two to four seats, to become the third largest party.
The electoral success of the FIT-U is a boon for the socialist left in Argentina and signals that sections of Argentina’s working class may be drifting away from the failed left-populist politics of the Peronists and Kirchners and toward genuine working-class and socialist politics. The FIT-U campaigned around several radical demands, including a call for Argentina to refuse to pay illegitimate debt, to nationalize banks and foreign trade, and to reduce the work day to six hours while distributing work hours among all able workers without a reduction in pay. Each of these demands represents a pole of attraction to workers tired of the ruling parties on both the left and right, who repeatedly capitulate to International Monetary Fund (IMF)-imposed austerity measures that have eroded the already declining living standard of Argentina’s working class.
The bourgeois press in the United States is characterizing the Peronists’ defeat as a referendum on the economic policies of President Alberto Fernández and Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, which have left the country facing explosive inflation and escalating poverty. There is much truth in this assessment given the prevailing economic conditions in Argentina. Furthermore, the conservative parties are not offering a substantive program to address Argentina’s problems, and much of the commentary recognizes their benefitting from protest votes intended to politically punish Fernández and his party. Let us not forget that a mere two years ago, the Together for Change presidential candidate, Mauricio Macri, was voted out of office resoundingly due in large part to his inability to stave off rapid inflation.
Argentina’s financial woes have haunted the country for decades, and there is little evidence that Argentines can escape debt and persistent poverty without first turning their backs on the ruling-class parties and their embrace of neoliberalism. In particular, the Peronist parties, including Fernández’s Frente de Todos bloc, act as an obstacle to working-class militancy by pursuing a two-pronged strategy of social spending, on the one hand, and embracing IMF-driven austerity measures on the other. They seek to placate their working-class and petty-bourgeois base with social spending to alleviate their conditions of life, which have declined for several years straight. While the Peronists have a penchant for borrowing from the IMF, they lack an economic program that can consistently address the considerable challenges that working-class Argentines face in their daily life.
Before the election, President Fernández and his economy minister, Martin Guzman, took a confrontational approach to negotiations over Argentina’s staggering US$57 billion debt to the Fund, demanding that the IMF make concessions over interest rates and the timeline for repayment of the debt. As an electoral tactic, Fernández’s tough guy approach with the IMF apparently did not translate to victory at the polls, and he now faces IMF negotiations with the political opposition in control of the National Congress.
Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the most likely scenario facing working-class Argentines will involve austerity and rising unemployment. The FIT-U appeared to have successfully capitalized on voter discontent with the status quo. As already pointed out, the FIT-U garnered over a million votes, exhibiting a strong showing in and around Buenos Aires and especially in JuJuy province, where the front carried 25% of the vote and secured a seat for the country’s first Indigenous candidate, the sanitation worker Alejandro Vilca. Former political prisoner Daniel Ruiz, who ran for the Senate, won 8.52% of the vote in Chubut. As comrades in the the Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores Unidos (PSTU), the Argentine section of the Liga Internacional de los Trabajadores – Cuarta Internacional (LIT-CI), noted in a recent article on the election results, “the high vote in districts with a high concentration of workers … without a doubt, from the perspective of the working people this is the favorable fact of the election.”
Roots of the economic crisis in Argentina
Since before the pandemic struck, the real wages of Argentine workers have been in decline as prices for food and basic utilities have risen. Since 2018, Argentina’s GDP has been in steep decline, and the ongoing devaluation of its currency is driving the inflation that has cut into working-class wages. Poverty is on the rise at over 40 percent, and in order to pay its debts to the IMF, the state has enacted austerity measures that have resulted in cuts to the salaries and pensions of its government workers.
The ruling-class parties are wedded to the IMF and both major parties, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, are willing to accept the conditions of its loans in order to shore up their political power. A striking example comes from 2018, when the US$57 billion IMF bailout was extended to Argentina after a financial crisis prompted a run on the peso. In a recent commentary on the political and economic situation in Argentina today, the Financial Times noted that for many Argentines, the bailout was controversial, perceived by many as providing political cover to then President Mauricio Macri, who was facing an election the following year. As evidence of this, the funds were distributed almost entirely prior to the October 2019 elections, and repayments were delayed until 2022 and 2023. It is also noted in the report that the purpose of the loan was to shore up foreign currency reserves that evaporated as finance capital fled the country in 2018-19.
The situation Argentina faced then is a perennial predicament facing countries whose economies are dominated by the imperialist powers that finance IMF loans—primary among them being its chief investor, the United States. IMF loans are an instrument of neoliberal monetary policy, which uses high-interest loans to bolster the currencies of countries facing revenue shortfalls from capital flight or depressed commodity prices. In most cases, the country receiving the loan is required to make structural adjustments, which come in the form of slashing government spending, i.e., layoffs in the public sector combined with cuts in wages, pensions, and social services. In other words, fiscal discipline is achieved at the expense of the middle and working classes.
Argentina now faces a situation where it no longer has access to IMF funds, and to meet its budgetary obligations, the government is printing money, spurring inflation of over 50 percent per year. While this predicament Argentina faces is certainly a consequence of its subjugation to global capital, the country’s ruling parties are keen to play by its rules as long as it maintains them in power.
Challenges ahead for the FIT-U and revolutionary socialists
The electoral successes of the FIT-U suggests that layers of the Argentine working class are open to socialist politics and prepared to support the revolutionary vanguard who are advancing the cause of independent class politics. As noted in a statement that the FIT-U issued ahead of the elections, which was signed by many socialist organizations around the world to express their solidarity, a number these activists have been at the forefront of the struggle to legalize abortion in Argentina, the fight against multinational mining interests, and opposition to the trade-union bureaucracy that ties the working class to the Peronists and Kirchners. The statement also outlines the FIT-U platform, which comprises a series of democratic and transitional demands and illustrates its commitment to developing the class-consciousness of workers in Argentina. Their platform makes clear that in order to break with international capital, it is necessary for the working class to nationalize the banks and foreign trade and place them under workers’ control, and to advance the class struggle toward its goal of “expropriating the expropriators.”
In order to achieve its goals, the FIT-U must remain committed to advancing a revolutionary program without compromise, which means to expose the bourgeois state at every turn, especially its undemocratic nature and ties to imperialism. FIT-U legislators must resist what is undoubtedly tremendous pressure to make concessions in principle and to accommodate their activity to bourgeois democratic norms. With Argentina facing debt payments to the IMF, it will be necessary for this coalition of parties and its supporters to maintain class independence as they advance a militant resistance to the austerity measures that are bound to come in the near future.
As the PSTU-LIT noted in a recent statement on the election outcome, as the government gears up to impose austerity on the Argentine masses, the union bureaucracy will mobilize its ranks to support the government’s anti-worker policies, and the state will enforce its measures with repression of militants who oppose it—as was the case with Daniel Ruiz and Cesar Arakaki, who were jailed for opposing the IMF, while Sebastian Romero was put under house arrest. The FIT-U must use its electoral success to free these political prisoners, advance the struggle of the working class against capitalist austerity, and act as a beacon to all oppressed groups in Argentina that only through socialism can the vicious cycle of poverty and want be broken.
 “International Statement of Support for the Workers Left Front – Unity (FIT-U) in Argentina.” Left Voice. 12 November 2021.
2 Argentina’s GNI has been in decline since 2018. See GNI data at https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/ARG/argentina/gni-per-capita.
3 “Primeras conclusiones del resultado electoral.” PSTU. 16 November 2021. https://www.pstu.com.ar/primeras-conclusiones-del-resultado-electoral/
4 Flakin, Nathaniel. “A Historic Result for the Left Front in Argentina: Almost 1.3 Million Votes and Four Seats in Congress.” Left Voice. 15 November 2021.
5 Stott, Michael and Lucinda Elliott. “Argentina and the IMF: the looming clash over its $57 billion bailout.” Financial Times. 10 November 2021.
6 “International Statement of Support for the Workers Left Front – Unity (FIT-U) in Argentina” Left Voice. 12 November 2021.
7 “First conclusions of the election result.” PSTU. 16 November 2021.
Photo: Parties in Argentina’s Left Front march together at a May Day event. (via Left Voice)