Letter From Argentina

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A strong showing for Trotskyist currents in the elections provide a golden opportunity for revolutionary forces, but they must overcome historic weaknesses, argue two Argentinian socialists, CM and ICB.

On the 30th anniversary of the return of democracy in Argentina, a coalition of Trotskyist parties won over 5 percent of the vote (1.15 million in total) in legislative elections at the end of October last year.

The coalition, Front of the Left and the Workers (FIT according to its Spanish initials), did even better than its overall 5 percent in some key areas.

It won 10 percent of the vote in Santa Cruz, and 19 percent in the province of Salta. It also gained significant results in many parts of Buenos Aires City as well as the provinces of Mendoza, Tucuman, Chaco, Cordoba and Buenos Aires.

This outstanding electoral result gave the Trotskyist left, for the first time in Argentinian history, a block of three deputies in the national parliament as well as a number of deputies in provincial parliaments.

This breakthrough came against the background of a fall in support for the ruling Peronists, whose vote fell from 54 percent in 2011 to just 32 percent in October. The current president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and her late husband Nestor, who preceded her, have dominated the political scene over the last decade.

Argentinian capitalism was shaken by an economic crisis in 2000-1 that saw it default on its debts, and a popular rebellion in December 2001 that forced five presidents out in a matter of days.

The Kirchners presided over a re-stabilisation of Argentinian capitalism, underpinned by an Asian-driven commodity boom. They looked to relaunch a process of industrialisation backed by certain bourgeois groups.

They also sustained a broad swathe of small and mid-sized enterprises which allowed the level of employment to be improved (though a high percentage of precarious workers persists). But return of economic crisis has created a crisis in Peronism, opening up a space to the left.

Another factor was that a section of the nationalist Centre Left, that isn't tied to Kirchnerism, collapsed into alliances with the neoliberal right. As a result, a section of their vote passed to the FIT.

The formation of the FIT reflected the pressure of a new electoral law approved by the ruling administration in 2010 which aimed at creating difficulties for the right wing parties, and which fixed a 2 percent floor for entry into parliament.

Faced with the real danger of losing their electoral presence as a result of these changes, three of the larger Trotskyist groups, PO (Workers Party), the PTS (Party of Workers for Socialism) and IS (Socialist Left) formed an electoral front, though some of their old vices led them to exclude the New MAS (New Movement For Socialism) which has the same electoral weight as IS, as well as other smaller groups.

Most of the Trotskyist left in Argentina has been marked by sectarianism (though also combined with opportunism at times too) and theoretical sterility. But it is remarkable that the FIT has positioned itself as the alternative to Kirchnerism, as well as to the main right wing anti-Peronist opposition around the Radical Party (UCR).

The vote for the FIT was a protest vote, although aided by the fact that people also voted for the coalition because they have seen its militants marching on the streets and active in the unions, in communities and in the students' movement.

Voters have invested in the Trotskyist left as they look for new alternatives. What is remarkable is that it doesn't reflect any qualitative advance in the level of popular and workers' mobilisation.

But as the votes came towards the FIT, so they can fly to other candidates in the future (for example, they could return to the FPV in a presidential election or to return to the Center Left).

The FIT's electoral programme wasn't particularly radical - the programme of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France has been much more to the left. But the FIT stood on its history of struggle and a record of combative trade unionism. It also emphasised the importance of a left presence in Congress.

The big question is, will the FIT be able to overcome its traditional weaknesses and transform itself into a real and effective channel of struggle for the oppressed? It now has such an opportunity.