Argentina

Reflections about the class dynamics and the tempo of the revolutionary phase

June 08, 2009

The revolutionary days of December 19 and 20 have ushered in a revolutionary phase in Argentina. A series of three revolutionary events shattered the country to its foundations back then, bringing down De la Rúa’s government in a revolutionary fashion. These bore the marks that Lenin highlighted as the hallmark for such situations:

- an exceptional situation in which the ruling classes are no longer able to rule as they did, thus having to change their "normal" ways of domination for exceptional ones.

- an exceptional situation fuelled by an "extraordinary aggravation" of the hardships and "the plight of the oppressed classes", which in turn leads to:

- "a considerable intensification, due to such causes, of the activity of the masses that in times of "peace" let themselves be exploited peacefully, but in times of turmoil are driven to historically independent actions -by both the crisis itself as well as those at the top.

However, there are many different kinds of revolutionary phases or situations ushered in by "historically independent actions". In previous articles we defined the events of December 19 and 20 as "revolutionary days", pointing at their revolutionary nature (i.e., actions that brought down De la Rúa’s government going beyond the framework of bourgeois legality), while at the same time we differentiated them from superior forms of revolutionary developments, such as the 1917 February revolution in Russia that smashed the army and nourished dual power bodies, or the so-called "Cordobazo". The latter was a mass semi-insurrection (both the workers and the students participated) that inflicted a partial defeat on the repressive forces. (see below)
That is why, regardless of the merely descriptive use of the term, we do not share the view of most left wing parties that claim the December events were a so-called "Argentinazo" . Such term, given the Argentine political tradition, can only mean a re-run of the "Cordobazo" -i.e., a semi-insurrection led by the workers that defeat the police through street fights-, this time on the national arena. Last but not least, we do not share in the least the view of those superficially claiming that what we have seen is a "victorious revolution".

How can one ponder the events from a Marxist angle while not taking heed of the fact that the working class was by and large absent from the December events? How can one overlook the fact that, unlike the "Cordobazo", the repressive forces were not militarily defeated this time? They gloss over the fact that the industrial workers are today in disarray in the face of both the unions’ support for the government and increased unemployment, thus "forgetting" all about the main advantage playing in the hands of the ruling class, one that enables them to buy time and also rebuild their weakened domination.

The lack of any serious appraisal by the left means they cast aside all the sequels that the lack of a distinct working class intervention have for the new opening phase. But it also means they cannot accurately gauge the intervention of the middle classes -which did intervene to an unprecedented extent for Argentine standards. No matter how progressive and innovative their actions have been so far (the pot banging has rapidly become a symbol of struggle worldwide), these have yet lagged far behind revolutionary actions like the ones staged by the Albanian masses back in 1997 when the "financial pyramids" came tumbling down. Back then, the proletariat also failed to gain the upper hand, but the masses nevertheless stormed the barracks and armed themselves in the south of the country, building rebels’ committees and momentarily breaking down state power. The whole series of subsequent pot bangings and their impact on the population have mesmerized many people, making them forget that the December events broke the limits of bourgeois legality because they combined the massive pot banging in the morning of December 20 against the siege, with the lootings of the urban poor in the big cities in search for food, along with the long violent clashes with the police in the so-called Battle of Plaza de Mayo. It was not the pot banging alone that ousted De la Rúa’s government.

The tempo of the new phase

This first comparison will enable us to chart the likely tempo of the ongoing process. In Trotsky’s words, "accurately charting the tempo of revolution is of utmost importance, if not to trace the fundamental strategic line, but to shape the tactics. Now then, without a just tactic, the best strategic line might lead to bankruptcy. Naturally, foreseeing the tempo for a protracted period is impossible. The tempo must be tested in the course of the struggle, picking up on the most variegated symptoms. Furthermore, the tempo might suddenly change as the events are unfolding. But, nevertheless, one should always bear in mind a given perspective, so that one will be able to make any necessary corrections to it through experience."

It is unlikely that the revolutionary phase in Argentina will come to a quick denouement. Its tempo is more in tune with those processes where the revolutionary phase goes through many changing situations or phases. We might draw a certain analogy with the Spanish events in the 30s here - a process sparked off by the downfall of the king that culminated in the civil war.

In the work quoted above -when the Spanish events were still in the making- Trotsky set out the difference between the latter and the dynamics of Russia 1917: "The 1917 Russian revolution was preceded by the 1905 Revolution, which was branded by Lenin as a dress rehearsal. All the elements of the second and the third revolutions were prepared beforehand, in such a way that the forces participating of the struggle were walking down a road familiar to them. This sped up the upswing of the revolution extraordinarily until it reached its climax. But all things considered, we deem the war was a decisive factor when it came to the tempo in 1917. The question of the land could still be postponed for some months, even years. But the question of dying in the trenches could not wait. The soldiers said: ’What do I need the land for if I’m not going to be there?’ The pressure exerted by the mass of 12 million soldiers was a factor that sped up the revolution extraordinarily. Without the war, no matter the 1905 ’dress rehearsal’ and the existence of the Bolshevik party, the preparatory, pre-Bolshevik period of the revolution could have lasted longer than eight months, maybe one or two years, or even longer than that.

The [Spanish] Communist Party has come into the fray in a state of extreme weakness. Spain is not at war; the Spanish peasants are not rallied in the barracks and the trenches in their millions, nor are they facing the immediate danger of extermination. All these circumstances speak in favour of a longer period of time available to build the party and seize power."

Trotsky’s approach of the Spanish events is relevant for present-day Argentina, bearing in mind that the recent revolutionary experience of the Argentine working class is a far cry from that of the Spanish workers back then. The combination of a deep-going slump, the weakening of the ruling classes, the lack of a central working class intervention, the revolutionary immaturity of the masses in general and the great weakness of revolutionary Marxists- all these tell us that we "might foresee that we shall have more time to build the party and seize power". As it happened in Spain back then, it is least likely that the Argentine process will come to a quick denouement. We can state, as Nin did when referring to the Spanish events in the 30s that we are in for "a protracted and painstaking process, during which the masses try to find a way forward in a struggle fraught with difficulties, ’chaotic’ actions, partial offensives, victories and defeats." (The General Strike in Barcelona, October 1931)

The class dynamics at the onset of the revolutionary phase

Having said that, what is the class dynamics at work at the onset of the phase?

Given the non-intervention of the working class as such in the revolutionary days, the very beginning of the revolutionary phase bears the mark of the middle layers. These sectors nourish a "February coalition" styled atmosphere (or else "December bloc" as we call it somewhere else), in the sense that Marx spoke of the equivocal "union of all the classes" that commonly mobilized against the finance aristocracy headed by Louis Phillip in France 1848. Never mind the struggle is aimed against a government led by the so-called "productive sector" that in the past used to voice opposition "against the model" under De la Rúa’s government. Such predominance of the middle classes accounts for the strong tendencies to a sort of "citizens" and "neighbours" styled representation, a non-class one, and also the "anti-party" mood. This reflects a contradictory phenomenon -similar to that of the so-called "rage vote" in the last October elections-, with a progressive strand whenever it reflects a mass hatred against the bourgeois parties, but rather reactionary when aimed at the left. This is true to the extent that it also encompasses sectors likely to provide the basis for future reactionary solutions, coexisting with others who seek an alliance with the working class, as shown by their participation in a march with the unemployed. This reflects a phase in which the inevitable split in the middle classes has not yet taken place openly and also the absence of the working class movement.

The working class is responding to the crisis unevenly. The unemployed have mobilized much faster, demanding the job schemes they were promised. The government might try and incorporate some of its sectors. They may succeed in this endeavour by implementing the already announced increase in job schemes, although a tug of war as to their distribution might ensue also. More than ever before, the progressive nature of the picketers’ movements lie in their ability to fight for genuine jobs and not merely demanding "workfare schemes".

State workers in general, particularly municipal workers, are more likely to come out and fight, rather than those in the industrial sector and the big service companies, given the fact that their jobs are much more stable than those of the "private sector" and also suffer chronic wage arrears. The actions undertaken by municipal workers in the cities of Córdoba, Santiago del Estero, Mendoza or Villa Constitución -or else the formation of the "Intergremial" in La Plata- are all symptoms of this.

Although we witness partial fights in response to closures and wage arrears, and if inflation rises we shall see fights against wage loss, the industrial working class is being held back by both sky-rocketing unemployment and the collaboration of the unions with the government. The bosses are profiting from having 30 or 40% of casual workers in the factories -this percentage being higher in some cases. It is them who are bearing the full brunt of the bosses’ offensive. The union bureaucracy refuses time and again to defend all temporary workers, and so far, the response by the workers has been a rather conservative one, given their fear of losing their jobs. In the short term, they are paying a high price for not having got rid of the union bureaucracy as a whole, and also for their trust both in Peronism and the so-called "productive" and "national" bosses -never mind their trust in Peronism has decreased a lot in the last few years. Two possible ways to outmanoeuvre the union bureaucracy that will allow workers to be at the center of the scene could be a response to an all-out onslaught or else hard strikes becoming an example. This is a key aspect for the future unfolding of the class struggle. It goes with a saying that the middle class protests exposing the banks and forming people’s assemblies, along with their sympathy for the picketers and their actions in common with them, all herald the possibility of welding a far-reaching popular and working class alliance no sooner the working class enters the fray. But this will not be the outcome of just making the pickets come together with the pot bangings, as some put it. Unless the main contingents of the working class come out in struggle, thus giving the proletariat the leading role in the people’s and workers’ alliance, the tasks posed by the December events will not be duly accomplished. Getting ready for this likely upsurge of the working class in the next period ahead is precisely the main task for revolutionary Marxists. Our bet is for a revolutionary leadership up to the task of leading new coming "Cordobazos" to victory.

The hindrances blocking the working class

We deem, however, that the working class does not have a few obstacles to overcome if it is to become a revolutionary actor.
1) The working class has not waged major revolutionary combats worldwide after the 1968 revolutionary upswing, which came to a close with the failed Polish revolution in 1980-81. With the sole exception of Bolivia in 1985, it has not been in the spotlight ever since, but quite otherwise, has been put on the defensive by the "neoliberal" imperialist offensive. The French state workers strike back in 1995 marked the beginning of the decline of the "neoliberal" agenda and also showed the reinvigoration of the working class, which ever since staged major fightbacks. In Argentina, there have been more than ten general strikes since 1996. This went hand in hand with more revolutionary fights being waged by the unemployed. But the working class has not been the main actor, either in Argentina or worldwide, in the revolutionary events we have witnessed in the last few years. Other sectors of the exploited classes have instead being at the forefront, as it happened with great mass revolutionary actions that brought down the governments in Albania, Ecuador, Indonesia or Serbia -all the more so in the more contradictory upheavals which provoked the demise of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former USSR.

2) Both the masses and the vanguard now fighting in Argentina have no revolutionary experience whatsoever, contrariwise to those in the 70s that had participated in radicalized (and sometimes revolutionary) actions, from the 1955 coup onwards -a protracted experience in the workers’ and youth vanguard. They had fought back both military dictatorships and bogus democratic administration, and even challenged the union bureaucracy. Although the 1969-76 period was a sort of revolutionary "dress rehearsal" in our country, the lessons to be drawn from it are not incarnated in the vanguard, and the generation that took part in it was either annihilated or else became part of the bourgeois regime. The 18 year-long bourgeois democratic regime, along with the nefarious experience of the guerrilla in the previous period, have nourished strong pacifist prejudices in the masses and the vanguard alike. Although there were tendencies to an embryonic civil war in the struggles waged by the unemployed from 1996 onwards (if we understand it in a broad sense, as Trotsky put it , only on rare occasions did the clashes with the repressive forces go beyond spontaneous stone-hurling, and these did not take place in the main economic and political centres of the country.

3) Although the union bureaucrats are massively discredited, no anti-bureaucratic fights have yet unfolded within the working class challenging the rule of the union bureaucracy in main working class battalions. There exist hundreds of "fighting" shop stewards, dozens of internal commissions and shop stewards committees, but there are few independent and anti-bureaucratic unions. Furthermore, the workers have hardly any experience at all in building inter-union bodies, coordinating forums or else other bodies of their own going beyond the narrow union framework which might thus become a mass united front of the fighting masses as an embryo of a new working class and popular power. The revolutionaries should do their best to encourage every step taken in this direction.

4) The lack of "socialist horizon" for the working class movement and the masses is another additional factor hindering the political ripening of the vanguard and the revolutionary process in general. People have taken bold steps and identified all those responsible for the "neoliberal" agenda -the banks, the privatized companies, the IMF, the politicians of the establishment, the judiciary, the police, the unions bureaucrats- as their enemies, but there are some sector that still have expectations in the so-called "productive and national" bourgeoisie, and the workers have not still made their final experience with Peronism, either. The middle classes, on their part, even those far left-leaning sectors within it, might provide the basis for a "new regime" -one that while doing away with most of the old political caste, props up the capitalist system and prevents the realization of the workers’ and people’s alliance.

5) Last but not least, there is no revolutionary Marxist leadership with mass influence (such as the Bolsheviks in Russia) that could be able to accelerate the process, and also a key element so that the mass mobilization culminates in a people’s and workers’ government. The conquest of political independence by the workers in a revolutionary fashion is a key task ahead of us. So far, we have carefully described all the limits holding back the working class movement from intervening decisively in the ongoing revolutionary process. However, we conclude that no matter how big such obstacles can be, the colossal economic, social and political crisis today along with the social weight of the proletariat make a revolutionary intervention by the Argentine working class all the more likely. To these we should add the crisis of the reformist misleaderships, both the fighting and organizational experiences done by the unemployed, and also sectors of state workers and the workers’ vanguard (such as the ceramic workers in Neuquén or else the miners in Río Turbio), and also the influence of several left tendencies on hundreds or perhaps thousands of working class activists nationwide. Such elements have developed more in Argentina than in those countries going through revolutionary or acute pre-revolutionary situations in the last few years. They are dealt with in the article "The Argentine working class is confronted with a new ’historical turn’".