Argentina: the position of communists in the run-off election

After the results of Argentina’s general elections last month, the two leading candidates, Peronist Sergio Massa and far-right Javier Milei, will contest the presidency in a run-off election on 19 November. The prospect of a run-off election, a device of bourgeois democracy that is meant to force working-class voters to support one of two capitalist candidates who do not represent their interests, has revealed enormous confusion among Argentina’s largest left parties.

On the one hand is the Peronist candidate Massa. He represents the openly class-collaborationist current of Peronism. As sitting Minister of Economy, he has been desperate to keep the economy from going over the brink, at least until after the election. He has deployed a slew of short-term measures to maintain a sense of stability, paid for by printing money. This short-term strategy consists of putting out fires whenever an issue arises, while the underlying contradictions of Argentine capitalism continue to accumulate.

Masa is firmly committed to managing capitalism in Argentina in the interest of the ruling class. There is no doubt that he will implement the counter-reforms demanded by the Argentinian bourgeoisie and imperialism to try to restore economic stability. To this end, he is preparing a government of national unity with Argentina’s traditional right-wing parties, an idea first suggested by US Ambassador Marc Stanley a year ago. The Financial Times notes that: “Argentina’s financial and economic plight has become so dire that a president Massa would probably lack the option of continuing to defer its most pressing structural problems, such as overspending… despite the further short-term pain that addressing these issues would cause for the population.”

Argentina is not yet in a recession and already the economic situation is incredibly difficult for most of the working class. Measures to restore economic equilibrium at the cost of pain to the working class are a recipe for intense class struggle. As president, Massa and his government of national unity will try to apply a programme of austerity as carefully as possible to avoid a social explosion, but the crisis of capitalism in Argentina will leave them with very little room to manoeuvre.

On the other hand is Milei, the far-right populist proposing a brutal anti-worker programme. His political team contains open sympathisers of Argentina’s last military dictatorship, most notoriously his vice-presidential candidate Victoria Villarruel. These naked enemies of the working class would not waver in unleashing the most brutal physical repression against the working class if the balance of forces permits it.

Massa, a veteran opportunist and cunning politician, exploits the real fears of the working class over a Milei presidency to distract from his own programme and to win back some of the votes that his Peronist coalition has lost over the course of Alberto Fernandez’s presidency. Presenting the election as a choice between democracy on one side and fascism on the other is an intentional misrepresentation of the political situation for the benefit of the candidate who is already preparing to carry out IMF-dictated counter-reforms against the working class. In fact, a significant section of the ruling class in Argentina and abroad is backing Massa as the candidate that can best guarantee “stability” (read: the defence of the interests of capitalists and imperialism). 

While Milei is a dangerous reactionary, fascism is not around the corner in Argentina. The same argument was used prior to the election of Trump in the US and Bolsonaro in Brazil, and in both countries bourgeois democracy is still intact. 

Communists must be clearly against a vote or any kind of support for either of these two capitalist candidates. This is the position taken by the Argentine section of the IMT. 

How to fight the far right

For communists, it is clear that we cannot fight against the far right by supporting a  bourgeois politician like Massa. We stand for a mass movement of the working class against Milei’s provocations. The history of the Argentinian workers’ movement is full of examples of marches, strikes, and factory occupations. These are the methods that can stop the offensive of the ruling class and demonstrate that it is the working class that holds the real power in society.

The working class will need to take action to defend their standard of living no matter which candidate wins the presidency. Relying on Massa to stop Milei would politically disarm the working class and only cause confusion when workers have to enter into struggle against Massa’s own government. The class-collaborationist strategy of supporting the lesser evil blurs class lines and is a recipe for defeat. The workers can only rely on their own forces in the battles to come and their class-independence is the best guarantee of success.

In an age of worldwide capitalist crisis and political polarisation, we do not need to look far to see the fruits of the policy of supporting the lesser evil. In France, where voters reluctantly voted for Macron to stop the ultra-reactionary Marine Le Pen, what are the results? Macron resorted to undemocratic measures to pass a hated pension counter-reform in the face of overwhelming opposition by the mass of workers, and now has banned demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. In both cases Macron violently repressed protests. In the United States, Biden was elected as a “lesser evil” than Trump, but almost four years later it appears that Trump has every possibility of taking back the presidency as Biden has implemented a capitalist policy at home and abroad. Over the four years of a Massa presidency, Milei would be waiting patiently on the sidelines, feeding off the discontent that Massa’s counter-reforms would generate.

Unfortunately, the main left parties in Argentina have failed to learn these lessons. The parties of the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores – Unidad (FIT-U) could not produce a unified position on the run-off. The leadership PTS and the MST issued very confused statements calling on members not to vote for Milei while on the other hand giving “no support” to Massa. Both parties give their members and voters the freedom to vote, while polls show that most FIT-U voters will cast their ballot for Massa in the run-off. These parties try to have it both ways. They want a semblance of independence from Massa but happily supply him with de facto electoral support. Even worse is the position of the Izquierda Socialista, which blatantly calls for a “critical vote for Massa to stop Milei”. Massa should not be overly bothered that they claim to give him no “political support”. Only the Partido Obrero called not to vote for either candidate. The so-called Communist Party of Argentina, which has long ago forgotten about class independence, is part of the Peronist-led Unión por la Patria coalition that Massa leads.

All the main trade unions are led by Peronists and support Massa’s candidacy. During Peronist presidencies the bureaucratic trade union leaders seek to maintain governability by stifling the class struggle. This layer is long overdue to be shaken off of the workers’ organisations.

The working class of Argentina will have to fight against either the frontal attack of a Milei government or the ‘democratic’ austerity of a Massa government. But beyond that, it must do away with the conditions that make it possible for reactionary demagogues to find a base in society. This means taking control of production and of society to guarantee health, education, decent wages and pensions permanently, and to end the scourges of hunger and unemployment that haunt the working class today.

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