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Building “A Real Alternative to the Bosses’ Parties”: Interview with Argentinian Socialist Congresswoman Myriam Bregman

Socialist feminist leader, congress member and presidential candidate Myriam Bregman spoke with Jacobin Latin America about the record of the Peronists in government, the new far right, and the necessity of a true alternative for working people.

Myriam Bregman

August 13, 2023
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Argentina holds primary elections today ahead of October’s general elections. We are mirroring the following interview from Jacobin Latin America with Myriam Bregman, presidential candidate for one the two slates of the Workers’ Left Front. In 2021, Bregman was one of the four Left Front representatives elected to Congress, becoming the first leftist congressional representative in the city of Buenos Aires in 40 years. Bregman is also a longtime human rights lawyer, a widely recognized leader in the abortion rights movement and a member of the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS), the sister party of Left Voice in Argentina. Here, she discusses the need for an independent political alternative of the working class to confront both the parties of the extreme right and the center, who despite their rhetorical differences, share a program based on austerity, wage cuts, and extractivism.

What is your perspective on the record of the [Peronist] Frente de Todos Government and the current economic and political situation? And what can we expect in the next period? 

I think it’s a government that has deeply disappointed its voters. What we predicted during the 2019 elections has taken place: We said that if the government paid off the debt taken on by [former President] Mauricio Macri, the result would be widespread hunger among the people. The government would not “put food on the tables of the Argentinian people” as it promised. It’s true that we lived through a pandemic, the effects of the war [in Ukraine], and a drought. But this doesn’t explain the tremendous increase in inequality that has occurred over the past four years or the decreases in real salaries and pension payments, which were already lowered under Macri’s government. Today, we are witnessing a poverty rate of around 40 percent, a rate which last occurred when 20 percent of the country’s workers were unemployed but which now exists alongside relatively high levels of employment. In other words, the poverty rate is directly linked to low wages and a growing level of precarity among workers. It would be difficult to point to a single measure taken by this government to increase workers’ wages. Meanwhile, agribusiness and the large grain companies can receive dollars at preferential exchange rates. 1The government of Alberto Fernandez has created “agro dollars” or “soy dollars” several times in recent years for agricultural exports.  The agro dollar currently offered has an exchange rate of around 300 Argentinian pesos per U.S. dollar, compared with an official rate of over 500 pesos per dollar. The moves have been encouraged by current Economy Minister and presidential candidate Sergio Massa in order to provide incentives for grain exporters, who have seen their incomes in dollars drop as a result of the country’s inflation and monetary devaluation.

This is a direct consequence of accepting the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and paying off the illegal, illegitimate, and fraudulently incurred foreign debt. It is an odious debt, as many have called it, and a true swindling of the Argentinian people. And every politician within the [Peronist] Frente de Todos, now known as the Unión por the Patria (or UxP), is responsible. When discussions around an agreement with the IMF began, the only political force that came out against it was the Frente de Izquierda [The Left and Workers’ Front, FIT-U]. We organized a broad coalition of more than 200 organizations to oppose the agreement. Together, we demanded the suspension of all payments and an investigation into the debt, and we organized massive demonstrations and actions against the agreement.

Now, the entire governing party is backing the austerity imposed by the current Economy Minister and presidential candidate for the UxP, Sergio Massa, and demanded by the IMF. This austerity plan has included major cuts to social security and other areas of the federal budget. In addition, the government has squandered the more than $45 million trade surplus and today, there is not one single dollar in the Central Bank, a precarious situation that many speculators are trying to use to force a devaluation which would further undercut wages. 

Given this scenario, don’t you think that the FIT-U is capitalizing less than it could on the clear social discontent that exists nationally, and the deep crisis of Peronism? It seems the Right has taken greater advantage than the Left so far. What are your expectations for the primary taking place now and the general elections in October? 

I think that the contradiction of the current situation is that the widespread social discontent has not been accompanied by major expressions of class struggle, with the exception of the demonstrations in [the northern province of] Jujuy against the anti-democratic constitutional reforms pushed forward by Governor Gerardo Morales with the support of Radical Party and Peronist politicians. The [federal] government has also benefited from the powerful forces of containment in the union bureaucracy and sections of the social movements, which have divided the working class between those whose wages have risen with inflation and those who have seen their incomes fall consistently each month.

The situation has allowed the ruling class to channel discontent with the traditional political leadership towards figures of the extreme Right like Javier Milei, in whom it invested serious resources. I’ll give one example: In the 2021 midterm elections, the FIT-U had its best electoral results yet. In the city of Buenos Aires, where the Left has not won a Congressional seat in more than 20 years, I was elected Deputy with 8 percent of the vote. In Buenos Aires Province, the slate led by Nicolás Del Caño performed exceedingly well, earning two Deputy seats in Congress, two seats in the provincial legislature, and council seats in the neighborhoods of La Matanza, Merlo, moreno, and José C. Paz, neighborhoods where we achieved between 8 and 10 percent of the vote. And in Jujuy, Alejandro Vilca earned 25 percent of the vote, enough to become Deputy. But the corporate media only highlighted the performance of Milei, who earned 16 percent in the city of Buenos Aires, while repeating again and again the idea that it was the Right who took advantage of the government’s unpopularity. Clearly, they had no interest in focusing on Vilca, a sanitation worker of Indigenous descent and Trotskyist, who was supported by one-in-four voters in Jujuy. They didn’t say that the vote for Left expressed the popular discontent. To the contrary, every media outlet attempted to downplay the phenomenon. In the gubernatorial elections this past year, Vilca won 13 percent of the vote, the best result the Left had achieved in an election of this type since 1983.

We’ll see if we can repeat or surpass these results in the presidential elections, which are always more difficult for us because of the pressure to vote for the “lesser evil.” This is the fight we’re waging now — to demonstrate the need to support a socialist and anticapitalist alternative and to avoid the trap of lesser evilism.

Would it be correct to say there has been a shift to the right recently, both in terms of the prevailing discourse and in the moods of voters? What do you think explains this? 

I think it’s evident that there has been a shift to the right within the political regime. But this is not necessarily expressive of what’s going on below. From what I’ve seen, the sentiments below are disillusionment, frustration, and confusion. Take a look at Jujuy. Gerardo Morales thought that since he had won the elections with almost 50 percent of the vote, he could, after making deals with the local Peronist politicians, impose an anti-democratic reform to the constitution without any opposition. But the opposite occurred. In part thanks to the actions of the six FIT-U representatives in the constitutional convention, including my comrades of the PTS, Alejandro Vilca, Natalia Morales, Gastón Remy, and Keila Zequeiros, the media blackout was broken and the people of Jujuy could see what was being debated. Teachers linked their struggle for better wages to the fight against the constitutional reform. “Raise the Salaries, Tear Down the Reform” became the slogan of the movement. And they were joined by municipal workers, healthcare workers, university and high school students, miners, and, above all, Indigenous people, who are continuing the fight to this day and connecting it to the fight for the defense of their lands and against the extraction of lithium by multinational businesses. The governor promised to put an end to the practice of roadblocks by demonstrators, but today these roadblocks are being organized like never before in the province. 

This is, in my opinion, what we can expect to see across the country when the next government attempts to deepen the austerity plan in accord with the demands of the IMF. Of course, the popular anger expressed by working people in Jujuy will not mean a directly equal political performance of the Left. There are various polls which indicate that many sectors who rejected the constitutional reform and the repression carried out by Morales’s administration are considering a vote for Milei as “punishment,” even as they hold favorable views of Vilca. That’s why I say that the most common sentiment is confusion, which is logical given that the main political battle for the last ten years has been between Cristina Kirchner and Mauricio Macri. And today, neither is standing as a candidate in the elections. The coalitions of [Kirchner’s] Unión por la Patria and Juntos por el Cambio [allied with Macri] were both in serious crisis heading into the elections; no one can say with confidence that they will remain intact after October. This is one of those moments where, to quote Gramsci, the old world is dying the new struggles to be born.  

Of course, what happens in the class struggle will determine the contours of this reconfiguration. But one thing we have in our favor is an avowedly anticapitalist and socialist Left, represented by the FIT-U, that can offer an alternative for the working class and its allies. This is unlike almost anywhere in the world; in virtually every other country, the opposition parties offer only different strategies in managing the capitalist state.

Why did the parties that make up the FIT-U find it necessary to present two different slates in the primaries? What are the major differences between the slates? 

The FIT-U has had separate slates in previous primaries. In 2015, the slate led by Nicolás Del Caño, who stood for president and me, who stood for vice president, defeated the slate headed by Jorge Altamira of the Partido Obrero [Workers’ Party, PO] in alliance with Izquierda Socialista [Socialist Left, IS]. In 2021, we also had two slates in the primaries, one led by the PTS, PO, and IS and another by the MST [Socialist Workers’ Movement]. This time around, the comrades of the PO and MST decided to present their own slate in the primaries and have focused their campaign on attacking us [in the PTS] whereas we decided to concentrate on confronting the parties of austerity. We remain opposed to using the few spaces available to us in the media to criticize other candidates of the Left, which is precisely what the corporate media wants. 

Our focus has been to demonstrate that every [mainstream] party represents austerity and to fight to amplify, to the greatest extent possible, the vote for the FIT-U among those who are disillusioned by the government, among those young people who are planning to vote for Milei — without conceding political ground to the Right, and among those who plan to abstain from voting. Our objective is to put forward a program that represents a real alternative to the bosses’ parties, one which includes increasing wages and pensions, the creation of one million new jobs through the reduction of the workday to six hours, a public works plan focused on the creation of affordable homes, the nationalization of the banking sector, and foreign trade, the lithium industry, and other strategic sectors under worker control. These demands, in addition to amplifying the demands of the feminist movement and the environmental movement, are part of the only true way out of the crises we face: a workers’ government that fights for the construction of a socialist society. 

This does not mean that we don’t have differences, which are quite public, with the comrades of the PO and MST. For example, we have criticized their method of using the unemployed workers’ organizations as mere party tools, rather than promoting a united movement with the freedom for tendencies to exist within them. But this criticism, which goes back many years, is totally different from the numerous attacks directed at us [by the PO and MST] during the election campaign. It is not legitimate to say just any nonsense in order to gain a vote. The working-class composition of our slate, which you can read about in La Izquierda Diario, speaks for itself. 

Let me ask you about the candidates of the major parties. Sergio Massa and Juan Grabois will lead separate Peronist slates. Then there’s Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Patricia Bullrich who will compete to represent the Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) coalition. In particular, I’d like to know whether you think Grabois will siphon votes away from the FIT-U? 

To begin with, Massa, Larreta, Bullrich, and Milei share a program based on increasing extractive activity in the country (agribusiness, mining in Vaca Muerta, and lithium extraction) in order to pay off the IMF and private lenders, while keeping salaries low, maintaining widespread precarity, and reining in social struggles. Their differences exist within this shared program. If we look at the upcoming debt payments required by the IMF and private funds, they’re astounding. In 2024, it’s around $10 billion but in 2025 it becomes $20 billion and it continues like that until 2032. In other words, the amount lost this past year because of the drought will be paid to foreign creditors every year. How do they intend to pay that? Continuing and deepening the austerity program. 

Juan Grabois offers different rhetoric but has many of the same figures as Massa does on his slate. So, on his slate you can find die-hard extractivists like the Governor of Chubut Mariano Arcioni, who stood with the big mining companies and directed repression against the activists protesting them. Or the Minister of Security in the province of Buenos Aires, Sergio Berni, who repressed the families of Guernica in order to deny them their right to land and homes, the same rights Grabois says he will prioritize. Or Victoria Tolosa Paz, the Minister of Social Development, who was responsible for implementing cuts to social programs. 

It’s clear that the Peronists allowed Grabois’s candidacy in order to try and contain the discontent with the candidacy of Sergio Massa, an ally of the U.S. embassy and a friend to the big businesses, and avoid having disenchanted voters go over to the FIT-U. To what extent they’ll achieve that objective remains to be seen. In any case, Grabois will not be on the ballot come October, and voting for Massa will be a bitter pill to swallow for many people.

Before we finish, I’d like to mention one final aspect of our campaign. My candidacy — the first time a woman has stood for president within the FIT-U — is also focused on confronting the patriarchal reaction underway, expressed not only by the proposals of Milei but also by those who have removed all the demands of the women’s movement from their electoral campaigns, who don’t bother to put a single woman on their slates, who refuse to even have their photos taken together with the activists of Ni una menos. And this is occurring while we are seeing femicides nearly each day and while women are facing the heaviest burden of the government’s austerity program. That’s why I think it’s very important to vote for our FIT-U slate in the primaries on August 13. Let’s deliver a message of total rejection to austerity and subordination to the IMF. 

 Originally published in Spanish on August 11 in Jacobin.

Translation by Robert Belano

Notes

Notes
1 The government of Alberto Fernandez has created “agro dollars” or “soy dollars” several times in recent years for agricultural exports.  The agro dollar currently offered has an exchange rate of around 300 Argentinian pesos per U.S. dollar, compared with an official rate of over 500 pesos per dollar. The moves have been encouraged by current Economy Minister and presidential candidate Sergio Massa in order to provide incentives for grain exporters, who have seen their incomes in dollars drop as a result of the country’s inflation and monetary devaluation.
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