Argentinians are currently in the process of electing a new president. The country is facing its usual state of economic turmoil and political uncertainty. Sergio Massa, a centrist candidate, will compete against Javier Milei, a right-wing firebrand, in a run-off election scheduled for November 19th. Concerns about financial and currency turbulence could lead to another wave of harsh austerity measures, causing a decline in the standard of living for ordinary people. However, both candidates hope that once the necessary adjustments are made, the country will be able to achieve post-adjustment gains and flourish.
The management of this intricate conjuncture will fall into the hands of the next president. The fierce contest over this trophy contrasts with the scarce interest it arouses in the bulk of the population. The limited impact shown by the ballot boxes on the country’s general trajectory explains such withdrawal of citizen engagement. The future of Argentina’s next administration is not inconsequential, but political responsibility over Argentina’s prolonged crisis exceeds the policies of any particular government.
The disintegration of the social is the most visible everyday tragedy. The expansion of poverty and precariousness is imbricated with the deterioration of education, a growing housing deficit, the dismantling of the healthcare system and the emigration of skilled professionals. A degradation which becomes increasingly normalised vis-a-vis the shrinking of incomes. Each crisis degrades the social sphere to a lower state than the preceding conjuncture.
The naive expectation of 1983 (¨with democracy you eat, get educated and receive healthcare¨) has remained unfulfilled. The consolidation of the constitutional regime did not alter the downward slope of the economy.
The most inconsistent accounts attribute this regression to the idiosyncrasy of Argentinians, as if the country's inhabitants shared a self-destructive gene. Right-wing narratives avoid that hazy terrain and blame the dispossessed while absolving the powerful. They decry a lack of working ethos amongst the poor; an argument which clashes with the drop in unemployment rates, in each upswing of economic activity.
The drop in productivity results from the lack of genuine employment rather than the behaviour of the victims of this deficiency. Reactionaries attack welfare schemes, as if they were a choice rather than a necessary means of basic subsistence. They slander women who support their households, with the absurd accusation that women are "getting pregnant to collect child benefits". They generically extol education as the magic solution, overlooking the fact that education alone cannot counteract the absence of job opportunities.
In bashing the most vulnerable sections of the population, experts grant full immunity to the ruling classes, singing the praises of capitalists’ creativity, the cunning of bankers and the audacious risk-taking of entrepreneurs. In their rhapsodies of praise however, they omit that the main culprits shaping the country’s course are the governing elites.
Neoliberal refrains attribute economic decline to high public spending, turning a blind eye to the actuality that the quota allocated do not surpass international or regional averages. With this blissful ignorance, they lash out at public employment and enterprises, glossing over the regressive tax system in place.
They also seem to ignore that the fiscal imbalance is actually a consequence of pouring handouts to the affluent. All governments have refined these subsidy mechanisms, they provide bailouts for losses, offer exchange insurance agreements, nationalise bankrupt companies, and convert private debts into public obligations.
Right-wing analyses centre the Argentine problem on “populism”, forgetting that in the last 40 years rather than social demagogy and concessions to the dispossessed, state support for the major capitalist groups has defined the general tendency. The great paradox of this relief lies in the fact that its beneficiaries condemn the politicians who provide this assistance. A more recent basher of the “caste”, the millionaire Eurnekian, expanded his textile company using credits from the state bank, profited from state-regulated media, established his wealth by privatising airports and made fortunes in partnership with YPF (Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales - majority state-owned Argentine energy company).
The same duplicity is exhibited by Galperín, Rocca, Magnetto, Pérez Companc, Fortabat, Macri and every other tycoon of the business world. The right is very condescending toward the elite who have relocated their firms to tax havens to avoid paying taxes and ruthless towards workers who aspire to preserve their incomes. It presents any form of popular aspiration as a symptom of distributionism, unsustainable consumption, or "wage extortion.”
Right-wingers lament Argentina's divorce from the West as the source of its decline. They imagined the country as a ward of Paris (and now of Miami), coincidentally located in the Latin American continent. With this fantasy in mind, they idealise a past based in landownership and rhapsodise about the oligarchy that profited from the exploitation of tenants and wage earners. They also omit that this exalted model sowed the enduring imbalances that followed.
The Agro-export Reconfiguration
Heterodox critiques of neoliberalism have unmasked widespread myths about the Argentine economy. Yet, all too often critical interventions highlight the effects rather than the causes of the country’s regression.
Various Marxist perspectives have correctly highlighted that Argentina's misfortunes are not exclusive to our country; they constitute structural disadvantages generated by a capitalist system affecting the disenfranchised majorities of the entire planet. While this acknowledgment is certainly useful, it fails to elucidate why local imbalances are more pronounced than in similar economies.
Few other countries undergo disruptions on the scale and periodicity that shake Argentina. Nor have there been many degradations comparable to those suffered by a nation, in which over the past five decades the poverty rate rose from 3% to 40% of the population. This staggering setback coincides with the failure of all the economic models employed to reverse the country’s decline. The dismay resulting from this outcome, explains the scepticism, incredulity and pragmatism exhibited by many intellectuals. However, such disposition does not help to bring clarity to our current conjuncture.
A thorough analysis must recognise as its starting point Argentina’s objective position, as a mid-sized economy within the Latin American context. Situated within a political geography of underdevelopment, the country has remained confined at a lower tier of the semiperiphery.
Like other subordinated countries burdened by a relation of dependency, Argentina initially stood out by consolidating its comparative advantage around the primary sector. In a context of high land rental prices and a structural scarcity of native population to exploit it, this deficiency was compensated for by a large influx of immigration, which transformed the country into the “granary of the world”, supplying meat for the metropolises.
In the second half of the 20th century, facing a rise in new competitors which challenged its export advantages, investment in more sophisticated technology to raise agricultural productivity was sought to mitigate this general trend. This extractivist model of agribusiness and direct sowing perpetuates a specialisation in basic inputs and displaces labour force. Rather than absorbing immigrants and fostering the growth of small-scale farmers, this system contributes to the expansion of the impoverished population of informal workers in urban areas.
Argentina experienced an early industrialization, fuelled by resources redirected from agrarian rents. However it never succeeded in establishing a self-sustaining and competitive industrial structure. The sector does not generate enough foreign currency for its own continuity. Its reliance on imports guaranteed by the State through indirect subsidies results in highly concentrated activity around few sectors, significant foreign predominance and low integration of local components.
Manufacturing branches have been greatly affected by the new profitability parameters imposed by neoliberal globalisation. While the same decoupling has been common to other countries affected by the shift in investment towards Asia, Argentina’s adversities are far greater. The economy that inaugurated the import substitution model has been unable to overcome the consequences of that early adoption.
More unbalanced than its counterparts, in the face of the new patterns of assemblies and value chains dictated by transnational corporations, Argentina lacks the compensation mechanisms that Mexico retains due to its proximity to the US market. Nor does it have the size of Brazil to expand the scale of its production.
Structural imbalances caused by the squandering of rent diverted from building an efficient industrial complex, vis-a-vis the intense contest over this surplus between the agribusiness and the industrial sector, have undermined the entire productive apparatus throwing the whole of society in a succession of enduring crises.
The magnitude of these convulsions (1989, 2001) is an additional consequence of the fiscal and financial measures which have been adopted by the State to manage crises.
State interventions have aggravated the imbalances stirred by the struggle for rent, by arbitrating between different dominant groups. Four policy instruments in particular ended up exacerbating the imbalances.
The first mechanism was devaluation, which has traditionally been employed to prop up the incomes of exporters dissatisfied with the state’s share of rent. This currency devaluation fuels the escalation of prices without improving competitiveness.
Inflation's own dynamics act as a second instrument of intervention, consolidating the permanent scourge of high prices. The counting of monetary units that removed zeros from the denomination of the peso has already been lost, consecrating the operation of a bi-monetary economy.
Inflation is high because the economy suffers from a long-term setback, which reduces investment, deteriorates productivity, and contracts the supply of products. At the same time, it has also become an autonomous mechanism for the appropriation of popular income by large corporations. Ingrained as a habit in the current management of business, capitalists have grown accustomed to adjusting prices and ensuring their profitability with the backing of the state's currency issuance.
The third mechanism of state intervention is public debt, which in recent decades has taken on a frenetic pace, unfolding in direct correspondence with a ruling class that invests little. Having transformed the country into the primary recipient of private loans, Macri exacerbated this trend with the unpayable loan agreed upon with the IMF.
Influential financial capital is involved in the management of these liabilities, by profiting on the commissions. The payment of interest on these debts imposes a resource haemorrhage, which renders the continuity of any economic model unsustainable. Reserves periodically face a critical situation and this slump prevents the maintenance of any currency stability.
Capital flight is the fourth driver of the crisis. It increases the decapitalization of a productive apparatus burdened by the expatriation of 70% of its GDP. Dominant groups shelter a significant portion of their profits obtained in the local circuit outside the country. Public indebtedness tends to foster a drainage that suffocates the periodic upturns in the level of activity.
The mechanisms that arose to mitigate the dispute between agriculture and industry for income, no longer fulfil that function. After so many years of corrosive interventions, devaluation, inflation, public debt and capital flight have become self-propagating instruments of an unmanageable crisis.
Neoliberal Failures and the Limits of Neo-Developmentalism
The neoliberal recipe to reverse Argentina’s endemic decline boils down to the simple liquidation of the least profitable sectors, blatantly manifesting its alignment with the minority interests of the agro-export and financial capital. In seeking to demolish the bulk of the manufacturing apparatus while burying two thirds of the population under that steamroller, neoliberals invoke the devastation of lagging industry and much of the public sector offering nothing in return.
They assume that once the “industricide" is complete, coupled with a severe reduction in public employment, investments will pour in, ushering in a beneficial trickle-down effect. This social engineering experiment has never been successfully implemented anywhere in the world and 20 million Argentinians are not spared when attempting to apply it.
The Menem-Cavallo model bears the closest resemblance to this approach, culminating in the breakdown of convertibility after a decade marked by privatisation, trade liberalisation, and labour deregulation. The scheme eventually foundered amidst acute depression, spikes in unemployment and uncontrolled indebtedness. Lacking an alternative agenda the right always reverts to the same script.
Its extreme variants propose the dollarization of the economy, which would lead to hyperinflation, the expropriation of deposits or the liquidation of the ANSES Guarantee Fund. The more conventional fringes shy away from such an adventure and advocate a return to Macri's failed model, involving tariff hikes, pension cuts, erosion of labour rights, and privatisation of public enterprises.
Right-wing economists differ on the pace favoured for the upcoming adjustment and on the consequent speed of withholdings reduction and exchange rate unification. They have unsuccessfully attempted to trigger the model's collapse before the elections, through the effects of a mega devaluation or a bank run. They seek to provoke chaos and to induce the acceptance of collective suffering (¨shock doctrine¨), envisaging that this necessary disaster will lead to the advent of an export-driven economic paradise. They overlook that these fantasies have succumbed time and time again and currently clash with the international decline of neoliberalism and a global shift towards policies of greater state regulation.
To the contrary, neo-developmentalist approaches advocate a much different formula to rebuild the economy based in a set of heterodox interventions centred around a plan of re-industrialisation. It builds upon the economic programs implemented in countries equally affected by the predominance of agro-export revenue, which discourage industrial reconversion. But unlike canonical versions of developmental thought, its aspiration to channel that surplus into industrial activity, is less concerned with the preservation of the more fragile sectors, favouring instead greater integration into global value chains.
During the progressive wave of the past decade, this model has been tested in different ways across the Latin American continent. Kirchnerism represented one of these variants, leveraging on the domestic scenario created by the 2001 crisis and an international context marked by heightened commodity prices. While this approach succeeded in boosting the overall rate of employment, it fell short in tackling the structural fallacies of the Argentine economy. Lack of resolution in addressing them, sparked a resurgence in inflation and fiscal deficit, within a framework of flickering attempts at reindustrialising a greater share of the soybean rent. The same hesitancy led to belated and ineffective exchange rate control and the postponement of progressive tax reforms or changes in a financial system adverse to investment. However, the main flaw in that model was the continued subsidisation of capitalists, who expatriated the resources provided by the State through capital flights. Neo-developmentalism demonstrated significant shortcomings in reversing the current economic decline.
Immediate Adjustments and Future Business Prospects
Over the past four years the economy has been in disarray. Neither Macri's neoliberalism nor Kirchner's neo-developmentalism could be resumed. Instead, a governance of the crisis marked by inefficiency prevailed.
The ruling party attributes its inaction to the adversities caused by the pandemic, drought and war, omitting that all countries faced the same adversities with different outcomes. In fact, Fernández strengthened a highly orthodox model based on several regressive pillars.
He validated above all high inflation as an instrument of recovery. Higher costs first affected food supplies due to the refusal to raise tax withholdings, and later spread as a result of the inflationary effects of the agreement with the IMF. At the same time, capitalists were given the green light to continue their uncontrolled price hikes.
With a certain degree of reactivation, a rebound in investment and stabilisation of employment, Fernández's model triggered a significant collapse in wages. It consolidated precarious employment and the poor status of formal workers, in favour of enormous gains for companies. It also bolstered inequality, which expanded alongside a tourism boom amidst a desolate scenario of dispossession.
The scheme of the last three years relied on further privatisation of the economy as a means of paying foreign debt through greater exports of basic commodities. The intensive exploitation of the Vaca Muerta reservoir, unregulated lithium extraction, and the deregulation of navigable waterways are all markers of a capitulation to the IMF.
Fernández is spendings the end of his term juggling to avoid an electoral debacle in the midst of a major crisis, which is marked by great devaluation pressure and a Central Bank without reserves. In that agonising survival he has ignited a bomb of internal indebtedness by refinancing bonds at unsustainable rates. Rather than forcing banks to grant loans to the productive sector, his administration sustained the bubble that fattens financiers.
The coming adjustment conceived by the elites will include tariff increases, salary cuts and contraction of social spending. This outrageous onslaught supervised by the IMF, will be carried out through the three possible tracks: dollarization, exchange rate unification or a deepening of the current course.
The current predicament of imminent adjustments coexists with the prospect of future business deals that galvanise the establishment. Argentina found itself placed in a privileged international position as a major supplier of raw materials. For this reason, the elites do not want a socio-economic explosion that threatens the flourishing profits envisioned for the coming years.
They already foresee the end of the drought and the proximity of a harvest with high prices. They are betting on doubling lithium exports envisioning a large energy surplus with the pumping of the new gas pipeline. They multiply plans to turn the country into a large mining supplier and a continuous provider for fishing, attracting vessels from various continents. Argentina has also become one of the main spoils in the dispute between the United States and China. The IMF operates as Washington's instrument to hinder Beijing's presence by vetoing investments in nuclear energy, ports, power plants and 5G technologies. Having achieved unprecedented prominence, China is negotiating the expansion of credits in yuan to finance its exports and shore up its subsequent capture of natural resources. Oscillating between American demands and Eastern temptations, the establishment is unable to cohere a common position. Its political and cultural dependence on the North clashes with the attractive deals offered by China. The resolution of this dilemma would require first managing the stormy adjustment that the next government will implement.
Argentina continues to grapple with an unresolved crisis of hegemony, which prevents the ruling classes from forging the necessary alliances to achieve lasting political stability.
Alfonsín failed to build that minimum consensus to confront the erosion of the economy. Menem managed to maintain some cohesion around Convertibility, but was exposed to rapid decline when the inconsistencies of his model came to the fore. He introduced the greatest wave of neoliberal restructuring in recent decades, without the stability achieved by his counterparts in Chile, Peru or Colombia.
Kirchnerism forged another mode of consent and consolidated its leadership until 2012. Tensions ignited with the reappearance of the economic crisis and its tenuous hegemony dissipated again when faced with a new right-wing challenger. Macri’s short-lived prominence was more fleeting and completely dissolved in 2017. Finally, Fernández has been the antithesis of any hegemony. Demonstrating a huge degree of incapacity to deal with his political opponents, his authority was pulverised by the pandemic.
This succession of failures reaffirmed the instability that previously affected dictatorships and civil-military administrations. Mismanagement has been a lasting feature of Argentine crises, corroding the administrations of the country’s main political formations (radicals, Peronists and rightists). None managed to meet their commitments to their voters nor their respective representatives from the country’s dominant groups.
In view of this instability, the economic establishment has chosen to strengthen its influence over non-elective state bureaucracies. With this patronage, the Judiciary increased its influence through vetoes, injunctions, conditioning of candidates and election supervision. It has harassed adversaries with unprecedented virulence and transformed the Court into a parallel power, with its own agenda and vested economic interests.
The same political gravitation has been achieved by the media, whose power is more relevant than traditional political actors. The displacement of major parties by the press through the systematic promotion of scandals at the expense of the political figures it objects to and in favour of those which supports, has proven its disruptive potential. With these manipulations the press undermines the ordinary management of public affairs and deteriorates the State’s course of action.
The same triad of economic, judicial and media power has been the architect in Latin America of lawfare against key exponents of the progressive cycle. With this onslaught, capitalist elites, judges and communicators, who hold actual power in Argentina, have undermined the authority of governors, ministers and presidents. This well-established course of action enhances political disorder in the country.
Within the context of the region, Argentina stands out for the absence (or weakness) of military power, which maintains its traditional influence in the rest of the continent. After the demise of the dictatorship, the defeat of the Malvinas and the elimination of the Carapintadas, the army lost its previous centrality. That displacement reduced the use of coercion to counter political vulnerability. The armed forces inability to exercise power explicitly or perform the underlying role which they retain in Colombia, Brazil, Chile or Peru, deprives the capitalist class of an important instrument of domination.
Mainstream and radical right wingers
The current political spectrum underwent a significant mutation, particularly in the Radical Civic Union (UCR), which failed to survive in its traditional form after the decline of Alfonsín and the catastrophe of De la Rúa. While it persists as a great structure of governors, mayors and legislators, it lacks any vestige of progressivism. Over the past years the UCR has remained subordinated to Macrism, which managed to forge the first right-wing coalition to win elections.Together for Change, Juntos por el Cambio (JxC), converges on the priority of subduing social protest advocating for a repressive turn in Argentinian politics. The wave of repression unleashed in the recent events of Jujuy anticipates the direction that a future administration of that sign would take. Jujuy’s governor Gerardo Morales, recently passed a constitutional reform which slashes rights, eliminates midterm elections and aids the clientelist interests of his family circle, with the aim of dispossessing indigenous communities and handing over lithium to large companies.
To carry out this assault, he legitimised shootings against protesters, encouraged million-dollar embargoes on the detainees, pushed for unprecedented sentences and supported the police raid on the University. Every member of that front consistently spread the same lies to cover up the reappearance of infiltrators and unlicensed cars in the demonstrations.
The main objective of this right-wing alliance is to carry out a virulent attack against popular achievements. The establishment celebrates this brutality but is sceptical of its feasibility and worries about the loss of popularity suffered by its candidates intended to replace the current government. These political references maintain significant electoral support - fuelled by the disappointment in Fernández - but lacking the same street support of previous years. There were no cacerolazos or marches, present at the time of Nisman or during the pandemic period.
JxC also faces the unexpected rivalry of its far-right competitor, La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances). Its political affirmation stands out as the main channel for capturing discontent with the political system and its shocking victory in the primaries (PASO), confirms its positioning as a major contender for the leadership of the entire conservative space.
Its leader Javier Milei was artificially manufactured by the media and launched in the political arena without any prior experience. His recruitment was intended to reinforce an agenda of aggression by spreading ridiculous beliefs. His ramblings include promising high salaries in foreign currency, extinguishing the fiscal deficit by setting fire to the Central Bank, and overcoming national decline by eradicating the “political caste” (which he now belongs to). Libertarians have been promoted to reintroduce a repressive atmosphere and encourage punitive demagoguery with the free carrying of weapons. Their representatives do not hesitate to disseminate homophobic, elitist or racist expressions, nor inflammatory remarks on the marketisation of organs and minors. In this regard, Cristina’s failed assassination attempt also demonstrated that their actions are not limited to a verbal delirium.
While Milei’s popularity sits within a broader momentum shared by the same political current across the world, it does not rest on the traditional party that Trump has, nor does it enjoy the socio-ideological base of Kast or the evangelical-military support of Bolsonaro. His singularity could equally represent a limit as well as an advantage.
Milei has channelled the anger of a new generation fed up with the continued degradation of the country. He succeeded in co-opting the rebel emblem of 2001 ("Que se vayan todos" - "They all must go”) turning it into an empty demand directed against the spectre of caste. Galvanising this wave of discontent, he blames the aspiration to equality (¨social justice is an aberration¨), creating the illusion that the market will solve the misfortunes of the dispossessed.
On the other hand, this champion of libertarianism has generated paradoxical challenges for his promoters. While gaining traction by fuelling the popularisation of lies sponsored by the establishment, he simultaneously fractured the coalition forged by the "red circle" to secure the next government.
In the midterm elections of 2021, Juntos por el Cambio demonstrated that it could win the presidency in the first round. The extreme right emerged to reinforce this reactionary course, but created an ungovernable monster that unsettles the establishment's plans.
Having achieved a competitive electoral result which corroded the supremacy of the PRO, the UCR stuck a sharp wedge right through the right-wing bloc by the improvisationally hiring of candidates in different provinces. The media now attempts to cool the support for this wayward fascistic creature that has taken on a life of its own.
The future of this Frankenstein is now uncertain. His ultra-reactionary discourse captured followers with poses and outbursts. Yet, in contrast to most of his assertions, many of his own voters responded to surveys in favour of public education and rejecting the privatisation of Aerolíneas. He is a character potentially more fragile or more dangerous than his counterparts in other parts of the world.
The Disillusionment with Peronism 5.0
A distinctive feature of Argentinian politics is the persistence of Peronism as a dominant political formation, which retained over the years a great degree of influence as a political culture and identity, electoral force and network of power. Having managed to recover from Alfonsín's defeat and the Menemist disappointment with a new internal mutation, it confirmed the plasticity shown by his five precedent versions.
In its classical version (1945-55), Peronism was imbued with elements of military nationalism, with the industrial bourgeoisie as its main political referent against foreign capital and local elites. The implementation of unprecedented social reforms for the region, the creation of a welfare state akin to European social democracy, Peronism consolidated lasting support amongst the organised working classes.
The second wave of Peronism (1973-76) was totally different, marked by the violent offensive of its reactionary sectors (López Rega) against the more radicalised currents (Juventud Peronista, Montoneros). In the insurgent context of the 1970s, the right acted with counterrevolutionary fury, waging war against the vast network of militancy forged in the resistance to Peron’s proscription. The co-presence of these two opposite poles within the same movement was a peculiarity of that Peronism.
The third Peronism (1989-99) evolved along the neoliberal turn of the 1980s, introducing policies of privatisation, trade liberalisation, and labour flexibility, which the Thatcherites were implementing in other places. Far from being the only convert of that period (Cardoso in Brazil, PRI in Mexico), no other political formation embodied such an impudent desertion from the old nationalism. The same reactionary mutation had equivalents in similar cases across the region, such as the MNR in Bolivia or the APRA in Peru. When these formations severed all ties with their popular base, they eventually faced dissolution or decline.
The three versions of Peronism of the last century illustrate the multiplicity of variations that this movement assumed. A consistent protagonist in Argentinian politics, it experienced great crises and surprising reconstitutions, rising from its ashes into a new version adapted to its time.
Kirchnerism promoted a fourth Peronism of a progressive nature, reclaiming the social improvements of the first period, recast on a different socio-political foundation. The old conservative paternalism linked to the figure of Perón, was replaced by the new post-dictatorial ideals of popular participation. The internal confrontation with its right leaning currents was far from a dramatic showdown and was settled with a distancing from the Duhalde faction.
Kirchner rebuilt the state apparatus demolished by the collapse of 2001, while restoring the same structure that guarantees the privileges of the dominant classes. However, that reconstitution was accomplished through the expansion of assistance schemes to the impoverished, extending democratic rights and facilitating the recovery of living standards.
Cristina introduced a more antagonistic imprint to her agenda, channelled in the confrontation against the agro-soy business, mainstream media and vulture funds. This polarisation of the political eroded the balance that Néstor had maintained with the establishment. Her fourth Peronism positioned itself in the regional centre-left block (alongside Lula, Correa and Tabaré Vázquez), but established connections with the more radical aspects of Chávez and Evo, although without the same institutional deification that prevailed in Brazil or Uruguay.
Fernández's fifth Peronism embodied an unprecedented failure. If Peronism was always characterised by contradictory experiences, it never resulted in such a useless validation of the status quo. Right from the first round of confrontation (Vicentin), the right bent his arm and Alberto accumulated a record of capitulations. He could not even defend his health protection policy and when inflation began to pulverise salaries, he opted for submission to the IMF.
Such helplessness contrasts not only with Peron, but also with Néstor and Cristina. Not the slightest hint of a dispute with the agribusiness (2010), nor initiatives comparable to the nationalisation of oil (YPF) and pension funds (AFJP) or the Media law, ever materialised under his governance. Fernández's failure places him in the same box as other leaders of the new progressive wave (such as Boric in Chile and Castillo in Peru) who have disappointed their electorate.
Three Scenarios for Peronism
Following its disappointing experience of government there are three possible scenarios for the future of Peronism. The first possibility is a right-wing reconfiguration, with the imprint of figures like Schiaretti and the Cordobean PJ (Justicialist Party) forging a coalition with Together for Change, a political scenario that the leader of Jujuy's PJ certainly sponsors. Having secured control over the legislative and the province's main news outlet, this figure supported Morales’ reform and the crackdown on the protests. Other governors may conform to this re-arrangement in the interior and the Senate, which could result from an upcoming right-wing mandate.
Major political representatives of the current executive, including the Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa, could endorse that scenario. Renown as a man linked to the U.S. embassy with strong sympathies for Republican Trumpism, his affiliations have been displayed in the past by his support for Guaidó and alignment with Macri. He has maintained a prudent silence on the repression in Jujuy due to his patronage of Vice Governor Haquim.
The current candidate of the ruling party never shared Alberto Fernández’s reserved temperament. He could position himself as an effective adversary of Kirchnerism, if he were to reach the assume, re-enacting the treacherous trajectory of Lenin Moreno in Ecuador. Massa could also embody a new version of Menemism, with the establishment contemplating his endorsement as a reliable candidate from its inner circle. After a year at the head of the Ministry of Economy, his legacy could already count the reinforcement of austerity measures, cuts in primary spending and reductions in pensions and social schemes.
A different scenario for Peronism, might unfold in the event of a major electoral defeat for the ruling party which would fracture the coalition In that case, the PJ could enter a phase of disintegration, similar to the one registered after Alfonsín's victory and the collapse of Menemism. This eventuality would align with the end-of-cycle of the past two decades that some analysts forecast. They estimate that the emergence of Milei could trigger the decline of Kirchnerism and the remodelling of its Macrista counterpart. The results of the primary elections point to this possibility, as Peronism suffered a greater loss than expected, marking its lowest result in its history and even relinquishing the symbolic governorship of Santa Cruz.
A third possibility exists for the preservation and potential reconstitution of the PJ under the leadership of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK). Cristina has managed to maintain her credibility, through a calibrated distancing from the diminished figure of Alberto. She has preserved her protagonism, weaponizing the threat of proscription against her by the Judiciary, waved by several commentators and members of the establishment, although it never represented a concrete possibility. If such inhibition would have materialised, it would have warranted challenging the elections (like at the time of the Resistance), with a public call for blank voting.
After evaluating all the repercussions of a potential defeat or a Pyrrhic victory without the chance to forge a solid government, Cristina opted to not present her candidacy, choosing instead to lay the basis for a future course of action centred in the stronghold of the province of Buenos Aires. However, her renunciation also erodes the feasibility of that project, as the postponement of that struggle could result in a lasting defeat. Understanding that risk, in Brazil Lula chose to present his candidacy against Bolsonaro.
But the core of the problem lies in Cristina’s lack of an economic plan alternative to Massa. Hence she limits herself to quietly endorsing austerity with praises for capitalism. Her call to renegotiate the foreign debt on different terms already failed during Alberto's administration. In this sense, her message of a promising past, which would reappear in the future, lacks consistency. If that project were feasible, she would have started implementing it under the current government. Peronism does not currently offer any credible direction to overcome the crisis and its script has lost credibility amongst the popular classes.
Pillars of Resistance
The social relation of forces is a determining factor in shaping the Argentine political arena due to the traditional centrality of its popular struggles. The omission of this regular occurrence prevents an understanding of the dynamics currently at work. Argentina’s workers movement, the most prominent in the whole continent, has shown its willingness and capacity to struggle in the 40 general strikes carried out since the end of the dictatorship. Majority support with the strikes has persisted, with a consistency that is unusual in other regions, and a rate of unionisation well above international averages.
Argentina shares certain similarities with France in regards to the political weight of unions and their mobilising power. This prominence of workers has a similar impact in the region to the role played by their French counterparts in Europe.
But the main political novelty of recent decades has been the consolidation of social movements composed by informal workers. Largely the result of previous union experiences, these organisations erupted during the 2001 crisis, when workers deprived of employment found themselves forced to block the country’s roads to demand their rights. They resorted to this modality of struggle out of a simple need for survival.
The struggle of these movements has made it possible to maintain social schemes, which the ruling classes granted as they feared a major revolt. Initially emerging as provisional responses against economic collapse, these plans have soon transformed into a structural factor, essential for the reproduction of the social fabric.
These new forms of resistance are historically linked with the previous militancy of the working class. They facilitated the return of progressivism in government and played an active role in organising the dispossessed. They have given rise to a network of solidarity crucial for the development of many localities.
The street prominence of the piqueteros movement carries strong resemblances with its indigenous counterpart in Ecuador. Even though they come from very different traditions and organise around equally divergent socio-cultural conglomerates, they are related by the political impact of their actions.
While in Ecuador they recently defeated Guillermo Lasso's neoliberal agenda, the piqueteros movement demonstrated an equivalent impact, precipitating the end of Duhalde and the subsequent emergence of Kirchnerism. Over the last two decades they have maintained a striking presence as visible representatives of popular discontent.
Argentina also counts on a huge reserve of human rights fighters. The democratic consciousness that prevails in the country annually manifests itself in the great marches of March 24. The massive attendance at this commemoration illustrates how four successive generations have kept alive a collective memory over the dictatorship’s crimes.
The legitimacy of democratic achievements is corroborated by the 300 trials conducted for crimes against humanity resulting in 1,115 convictions. The genocidaires are still in prison and all attempts to free them failed. The “2x1 law” sparked a resounding rejection and the killing of Maldonado was followed by a shared collective outrage. After 47 years of searching for the grandchildren 'stolen' during 1976-1983 dictatorship, a new nieto has been recovered in the tireless battle for stolen identities. Major achievements such as abortion and gender equality laws shall be included in this framework.
It is important to highlight these popular gains, which point to an alternative path to the ongoing socio-economic degradation and to avoid unilateral assessments of the last 40 years. The characterization of this period as a mere “failure of democracy” is an oversimplification. In the midst of terrible declines in living standards, important democratic successes have been maintained.
To a certain extent, these improvements can partly be attributed to the enduring legacy of public education. Mass schooling in secular institutions forged an ethos of coexistence and progress, which has not been replaced by the Chilean model of privatisation. Despite the dramatic collapse of state education, the right has not managed to generalise elitist beliefs, nor nullify the vitality of critical thinking in universities.
Social Stalemate Revisited
The strength retained by labour, social, and democratic movements constitutes the country's primary asset and serves as the bedrock for any popular resolution to the crisis. Hence, the right-wing places a high priority on undermining that resistance. Their candidates have expressed with brutal sincerity the intention to dismantle popular organisations. They are very mindful of the 2001 rebellion and the harsh setback Macri suffered when attempting pension reform. A grassroots response to the impending austerity measures is the right-wing's major concern. They have long been strategizing on how to break the pickets, thwart strikes, and hinder mobilizations.
The very popular power that enrages our adversaries tends to often go unrecognised even within our own camp. The thesis of "passivisation," "neutralisation," or "co-optation" of struggles exemplifies this disqualification. After many battles, what has predominantly emerged in practice is a contradictory pattern of concessions aimed at mitigating conflicts. It is indeed true that in the past three years, the disappointment stemming from Fernandez's policies has only sparked limited protests. While many labour unions have secured victories and carried out significant actions, the overall response from the oppressed has been somewhat restrained. In contrast to the recent wave of protests that contained the conservative restoration in the region (2019-2022), the country remained relatively absent from these tumultuous events. These grassroots uprisings forced the swift ousting of right-wing leaders in Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Honduras, and Colombia. In Argentina, social discontent failed to ignite rebellions of the same calibre, although it did translate into the same type of progressive victories at the ballot box.
Under the Fernandez administration, the general popular response fell below its usual intensity, given the severity of the ongoing austerity measures. The leadership of the CGT - General Confederation of Labour - managed to maintain the demobilisation of the rank and file through the bureaucratisation of its actions. Popular discontent found partial expression through marches and picket encampments, which demonstrated remarkable courage in the face of the demonization orchestrated by major media outlets. This mobilisation had the merit of countering the amnesia regarding popular traditions that the right-wing has sought to promote, while sustaining the endurance of significant levels of activism and political engagement.
The limited resistance of recent years can be attributed to various factors. The effectiveness of social welfare programs played a role, serving as widespread coverage to temper potential upheavals. In certain segments of the population, there was also a sense of resignation towards inflation, especially as it coexisted with ongoing employment.
While the crisis runs deep, it doesn't replicate the conditions of 2001. The persistence of informal job positions counterbalances the discontent, and income deterioration is viewed as a lesser evil compared to the tragedy of unemployment. Moreover, the inability to save pushes the middle class to either consume or incur debt to escape adversity. Despite these circumstances, the significant mobilisation in Jujuy illustrates the kind of response the next government might face.
Looking back over the past few decades, it's evident that Argentina continues to grapple with an unresolved stalemate in its social relations of power. This concept was employed in the 60s and 70s by several intellectuals to characterise the scenario shaped by the weight of the working class and labour unions. The same notion regained relevance in 2001, following a rebellion that halted neoliberal austerity measures.
This balance has endured to the present day, and the powerful are determined to alter it through a brutal assault. This time they are going all out and will try to dismantle collective bargaining agreements and severance pay, granting pardons to military officials and repealing abortion rights. But they will have to contend with popular resistance, and the outcome of this battle will determine the course of the upcoming period.
Critical Kirchnerism and the Left
The most committed forces to social and democratic struggle are the critical faction within Kirchnerism and the left. While their modes of intervention vary in terms of persistence and impact, both factions encapsulate the essential activist core required to steer an alternative trajectory.
Critical Kirchnerism encompasses a heterogeneous array of formations aligned with the official government, yet marked by substantial criticisms of the policies implemented over the past four years. The pivotal moment that triggered a critical stance within Kirchnerism was the agreement with the IMF. Amidst the various nuances within that spectrum, the position on the IMF agreement represented a polarising factor between different segments.
In the realm of mainstream Kirchnerism, a prevailing sense of resignation holds sway. Its theorists justify this sentiment by pointing to the “contingent adversity of power relations”, yet they overlook that the current equilibrium is not a fixed given but the outcome of political action. Its efficacy can either solidify or reverse unfavourable scenarios.
In other instances, it excuses its passivity by sounding the alarm of the greater danger posed by the right, while failing to recognise that this threat is continually manufactured by the powerful to ensure their dominance. They tend to endorse more ruthless adversaries, thereby making the current oppressor seem more acceptable in comparison to a more extreme alternative.
Critical Kirchnerism refuses to acquiesce to the current scenario, promoting instead a confrontation within the Peronist movement. Their objective is to exert influence over the undesirable candidate selected by the pro government camp for a potential new term. However, it would be worth recalling that Alberto was already markedly influenced by Cristina's vice presidency, and that did not avert the disastrous outcome of his administration. Furthermore, the capacity to sway a committed rightist like Massa is likely to be far more limited than any pressure applied to the wavering Alberto.
The project of forging a radicalised faction within Peronism is not a novelty. It carries the traumatic precedent of Peron’s relationship with the Youth Peronists (JP). A review of that experience would serve as a reminder of how frustrating the attempt to cultivate an alternative pole within the highly centralised PJ has been.
The left faces a different set of dilemmas. It has consolidated around the FIT (Workers' Left Front) a socialist formation with a minority but notably visible electoral presence. It distinguishes itself by its combativeness, as demonstrated once again during the events in Jujuy. Rather than merely conveying formal messages of support, its leaders actively participated, putting themselves on the line during the protests.
As this daunting scenario unfolds, a more substantial presence of left-wing legislators would be crucial in fortifying resistance both within the halls of Congress and on the streets. The proposals put forth by this political formation are essential to counter the tepid state of progressivism. The possibility of a transformative project will only emerge through the articulation of robust critiques addressing the inconsistencies within that political sphere.
However, voters do not cast their ballots for the FIT with the expectation of ushering in its immediate, future, or distant election. This scepticism constrains the prospects of this political force. The FIT in fact, does not present itself as a viable governmental alternative. It lacks a strategy to achieve that objective and does not participate in elections with the exclusive ambition of winning. Its sole perspective is tied to the eruption of a revolutionary process, an occurrence that has not transpired in the past few decades.
An evaluation of this latter deficiency is often overlooked, much like any hypothesis of attaining government to challenge power over an extended period of transition. Adopting such a political approach would require an acknowledgment of the qualitative distinctions that exist between the struggle for supremacy within a government, a political regime, a state, and a society. The discernment of these different instances would pave the way for new avenues, exploring paths to conquer local administrations or governorships. These assessments are intrinsic to Argentina's intense political agenda. The rise of the far right and the prospect of significant conflicts once again position this country at the centre of the major events that are shaking Latin America.
Claudio Katz is an economist, member of the Conicet - National Scientific and Technical Research Council of Argentina - and professor at the University of Buenos Aires. Katz is the head of several research projects and author of numerous books and articles on economics, politics, and Latin American society. Katz is actively involved in different unions, social movements and political formations in Argentina, including the collective “Economistas de Izquierda” (EDI, ’Economists of the Left’ ) and Fellow of the IIRE.
Translated and edited by Giovanni Tosti Croce - Contested Editing
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