Applying the lessons of history:

Argentina's current crisis hit the headlines over the new year period as the US war against Afghanistan wound down. What had appeared to be a massive victory for the US in its first round of the war against terrorism, became upstaged by the Argentinean masses as they brought down three governments, and four presidents within two weeks. What is going on there? Is this some isolated crisis brought on by local conditions? The national character of a volatile Southern European migrant population? The failure of economic policy? The bourgeois press looks around desperately for explanations that blame Argentina or the mismanagement of international finance by the IMF. What they try to ignore is that what is happening in Argentina is merely one example of a mass rebellion building up against global capitalism. This means that what is happening in Argentina sets the pace for what can happen anywhere as the anti-capitalist mood spreads and mounts against world capitalism.

But just as the victory of the US in Afghanistan consolidated its hegemony as the dominant imperialist power, the revolt in Argentina opened up a weak flank against US imperialism in the heartland of the Empire, Latin America.

The Argentinean revolution has begun and it can either become a victorious workers' revolution as an example for all of us to follow, or it can fail under the combined pressure of local reaction and imperialist intervention. This is why the situation in Argentina is so crucial. Here workers can make history provided they adopt the correct strategy and tactics. But they can also be defeated if they become victim to counter-revolutionary forces.

Revolution and Counter-revolution

To understand the causes of the current crisis is it necessary to know why the workers are rebelling and what it will take to turn a rebellion into a socialist revolution. To do this is it necessary to apply Marxist theory and practice to the situation and to put to the test the competing versions of Marxism, and the various tendencies within the reformist, centrist and revolutionary left. Then, the correct answers to these questions can be formulated in time to create a new vanguard party capable of leading a victorious Argentine revolution. Readers should look to Trotsky’s writings on the Civil War in Spain for invaluable lessons that apply today to Argentina.[see article on Argentina and Anarchism’.]

Argentinean workers are rebelling because imperialism sucks out more and more of their surplus value to fill the coffers of the multinational companies. Marx called this the absolute law of accumulation. As capitalism develops it concentrates wealth at the centre and impoverishes the periphery. Argentina, like most of the former colonial and semi-colonial world has experienced relative impoverishment as its wealth is transferred to the imperialist center. This leaves Argentinean workers relatively poorer and in debt as the country borrows to live and taxes workers to pay back the IMF, the World Bank and other banks.

It is important to recognise that debt is just a symptom of workers borrowing to live. Personal debt becomes combined as the national debt. The need to borrow results from inadequate income in the first place. But it is the bosses who borrow expecting works to pay the debt. This is the effect of the super-exploitation of workers in colonies and semi-colonies where more and more of the value they produce being siphoned off as surplus-value. And when high profits cannot be made any more, production stops, jobs are lost and a growing reserve army of unemployed gets bigger and bigger. As Marx said the fantastic accumulation of wealth at one pole is opposed to the massive misery of the poor at the other pole. This polarisation has grown fantastically worse in the last twenty years.

Globalisation only makes it worse

What today is called 'globalisation' or 'neo-liberalism' is the deliberate policy of imperialism to intensify its super-exploitation of colonies and neo-colonies over the last twenty years. This policy was necessary to try to offset the falling profits that followed the end of the post-war boom. Countries like Argentina and New Zealand benefited from the post-war boom because their economies were protected by tariffs and their main exports were in demand at high prices. Workers real living standards rose during this period also.

But the end of the boom and the onset of a general crisis of capitalism in the early 1970's saw these export markets and prices slump. To offset the balance of payments deficits, more and more money was borrowed increasing the national debt. This forced a change of policy, and Argentina like NZ deregulated its economy and opened up to direct foreign investment. The process of super-exploitation became intensified and spedup under the IMF and World Bank which oversaw the economic reforms ('structural adjustment') and the attacks on workers living standards. The result was dramatically falling living standards, rising debt and loss of jobs.

So the immediate causes of the rebellion of the picqueteros (unemployed) and low paid and unpaid workers, as well as the petty bourgeois whose savings have been confiscated to pay off the debt, is relative impoverishment and immiseration.

This is not some freak event or accident. It is a fundamental fact of capitalist development, and intensified by neo-liberal globalisation over the last two decades. This is why those in rebellion have raised the demands for jobs, wages, savings, etc. Flowing from these demands are those that offer solutions: nonpayment of the external debt, nationalisation of the banks, the re-nationalisation of the privatised companies; the end to corrupt and repressive governments, and opposition to devaluation because it will further reduce living standards.

The bosses’ state

No bourgeois government can meet these demands. Bourgeois governments are committed to defending the rights of capitalist property including the owners of industry and the banks. While they may also be filled by corrupt and incompetent politicians, replacing them with honest and competent ones will not change anything.

This is because the state must serve the capitalist economy by guaranteeing by force the rights of private property and the operation of the market. Any breach of these rights and market mechanisms are in themselves therefore anti-capitalist. So honest and competent politicians are better servants of capitalism than dishonest and incompetent ones.

Because workers do not spontaneously recognise that exploitation takes place at the point of production, they see their exploitation as the result of inequalities that are unjust even in capitalist terms. They therefore look to honest and competent governments that will meet their needs. They will vote for parties that promise they can act in the workers interests. But since nationalisation, nonpayment of debt etc represent an infringement on capitalists property rights, no bosses government can make more than token moves in this direction. When workers find that instead of reforms they get repressed and cheated they ask what other solution is there? While socialism is one solution, fascism is another.

This is the situation that faces workers in Argentina in February 2002. They have brought down 3 governments and 4 presidents who have proven incapable of meeting their demands. Now Duhalde has been 'elected' by the combined parties in the legislature as a President of a government of 'national salvation'. Duhalde is a member of the Peronist party, a former vice President under Menem in the 1980's and the unsuccessful opponent of de la Rua who was elected President in 1999. His ‘election’ is an attempt to revive Peronism’s left credentials with the labour aristocracy and petty bourgeoisie and to head off revolution and to pave the way for fascism.

Semi-Bonaparte Duhalde?

The Argentine ruling class parties have appointed Duhalde with support from the reformist left, in consultation with the US ruling class. His job is to buy time and support from the 'middle class' to isolate and contain opposition to the state in preparation for a full scale attack on rebelling workers. To understand this tactic on the part of the bosses it is necessary to understand several important concepts such as the 'popular front', Bonapartism and fascism.

Because the contradictions and crises of capitalism always polarise the two main classes and mobilise workers as a potential revolutionary force, the bosses try to hide class conflict under the blanket of nationalism. The class that takes a leading role in trying to manage class antagonism within a nationalist framework is the petty bourgeois. Their class interests are to own their own independent property and to become personally wealthy. As capitalism constantly squeezes them downwards into the working class they are antagonistic to workers and see them as the causes of their own economic insecurity or bankruptcy.

The Popular Front

The bosses usually attempt to rig the electoral law to keep majority workers parties out of power. Failing that where workers have won proportional representation they are pushed into coalitions in which petty bourgeois or even bourgeois parties set limits to their programs so that do not challenge capitalist property rights. Any combination of worker parties with petty bourgeois or bourgeois parties is called a popular front. Usually it is also a patriotic front where the class interests of the parties are buried under the concept of the 'national interest'. The role of the popular, patriotic front is to prevent workers parties from becoming independent class parties challenging capitalist property rights.

During economic crises when the petty bourgeois is being squeezed downwards they can become allies of workers struggles since they too are defending their living standards, savings etc. Whether they join in with workers, or turn against workers, depends on which class can promise them the most. One the one hand, workers can promise petty bourgeois salvation by building a revolutionary movement that will replace the anarchic capitalist economy with a planned socialist economy. Even if they won't be petty bourgeois any more at least they will be alive and kicking.

On the other hand, bosses will promise salvation with an economic package which claims to protect the welfare and rights of the petty bourgeois from monopoly capital and monopoly labour. The bosses bribe them to kick the workers. In reality the workers pay for these bribes not the bosses. Thus the petty bourgeois become bureaucratic or paramilitary forces that act in the interests of the property holders. They act for monopoly capital by taking strong measures against 'anarchists' and 'communists'.

Where the attempts to form popular front governments fail it is necessary to create governments that personify the patriotic front in the office of a strong leader usually a President or General. Argentina has a history of such governments and leaders, Peron being the best known. To create a government of 'national salvation' that can manage the crisis in the interests of the bosses by retaining the loyalty of the petty bourgeois requires a strong state.

To be convincing and win mass support this state has to appear to be genuinely class neutral and put limits on both big capital and big labour. This form of state is called a Bonapartist state after the French Napoleon Bonaparte III who ruled France in this manner in the 1830's. Full blown Bonapartism usually results when a minority takes power with the passive support of the majority a so-called coup d etat. Semi-Bonapartism is constitutionally created: Duhalde is a semi-Bonaparte because he was elected to the job by the legislature.

Such a government is necessary because the two main classes are at roughly equal strengths. The Bonapartist policy is to win over the petty bourgeois and tip the scales in favour of the bosses. Duhalde's government has a policy that is designed to do just this; to split the rebellious petty bourgeois from the militant workers and unemployed. And in the process to isolate the workers and prepare for an open counter-revolution or civil war to defeat the revolutionary threat of a socialist revolution.

Defeating Bonapartism

Bonapartism is attractive to the petty bourgeoisie because it offers strong and decisive leadership. Yet under conditions of extreme crisis, default, massive devaluation etc Duhalde's government cannot keep these promises and defend the economic interests of the petty bourgeoisie.

This is why Duhalde is advocating constitutional reform. He knows that the popular rejection of all bourgeois governments is such that only radical reforms will restore any legitimacy to the state. His proposals to reform the Constitution are designed to appeal to the Peronist workers in the unions and the petty bourgeois and split them away from the poor workers and unemployed. By doing this he hopes to isolate and marginalise the main sources of the rebellion and so mobilise support to restore social order by police or military repression.

If these measures fail to win support from the ‘middle class’ (i.e. labour aristocracy, petty bourgeoisie) the question becomes, can Duhalde retain their loyalty by attacking organised labour? Here the question of workers strategy and tactics in response to Bonapartism is of crucial importance.

To win the class war against the bosses, workers must take strong action. Only a revolutionary proletariat can stop Bonapartism and fascism. Therefore this action must not be moderated out of fear of losing the support of the petty bourgeois. The line of least resistance is the most disastrous. The petty bourgeois can only be won over by proving that the workers solution to the crisis is better than the bosses. The way to defeat Bonapartism is not to play dead in the hope that it will go away. This is the same as saying that the class struggle will go away, and that capitalism can live in a state of suspended animation. To refuse to defend workers under attack by Bonapartism, proves to the petty bourgeois that bosses are going to win and they want to be on the winning side.

The Constituent Assembly

One tactic that unfortunately leads to passivity and defeat in the current situation is that of diverting the working class response to Bonapartism into a campaign for a Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly is a special parliament that is called so that all the people can work out the most democratic form of bourgeois government. It is an important demand to mobilise workers to fight for democracy when workers have yet to experience bourgeois democracy. But this is a backward move at a time when the workers are building an offensive that already shows they have few illusions in bourgeois democracy.

The advent of Bonapartism represents a defensive move for capital against a working class offensive that has shown the ruling class to be divided and desperate. That offensive follows decades of the development of a capitalist semi-colony in which the working class is now the huge majority, where capitalist agriculture has largely eliminated the peasantry, and where the petty bourgeoisie has become increasingly disguised wage labour.

Moverover, the 'defensive' struggles of the last decades against military dictatorships and the austerity Peronist governments that followed, show that the current offensive is firmly based upon the working class methods that are based on occupations, blockades, strikes and demonstrations.

Why then, with the bosses forced to resort to a Bonapartist regime should workers turn back from creating workers’ councils (soviets) and generalising strike action? What is the point of the Constituent Assembly?

Like any democratic right, the Constituent Assembly is based on the ideal of bourgeois individual rights. But it is important to defend those rights only insofar as they advance the cause of revolution. The CA is useful in situations where workers or peasants still have illusions in bourgeois democracy as capable of meeting their interests.

In Russia, China and Spain in the early part of the 20th century, the Bolshevik-Leninists used the tactic as a way of bringing peasants and workers who had little or no experience of bourgeois democracy into the struggle for socialism. By calling for the CA. based on the secret ballot for all over the age of 18, a single legislative chamber and combined legislative and executive powers, workers would find that despite such radical 'democracy', their needs for land, bread and peace could not be met.

Today in Argentina where an advanced working class has long experience of democracy and dictatorship and is mobilising in their own proto-soviets and fighting outside parliament it is already clear to the militant minority that no bourgeois 'democracy' is going to meet their needs. The best way to win over the remaining workers to a revolutionary perspective is to prove that independent working class struggle works.

Those who are calling for the CA in Argentina are saying that a CA can take power and win workers what they want. They say that the socialist revolution can be won without overthrowing the bourgeois state They say that the Argentine people can get rid of imperialism and bring about the reforms they need.

On the contrary, the completion of the national democratic revolutionary tasks of independence, cancellation of the debt, nationalisation of the banks most of which are foreign owned, as well as the elementary democratic rights of freedom from imperialist backed military dictatorships, cannot be won short of a socialist revolution.

For a Workers' Government

The correct response to the bosses' Bonapartism must be to intensify to the fullest extent possible, the methods of working class struggle. To take the boldest initiatives and firmest action possible. To build on the organisations and methods that have so far proven successful in forcing the bosses to a Bonapartist solution. To build the Popular Assemblies into working class councils or soviets. To form workers' militia and food distribution committees. To raise a program of demands for the expropriation of the bosses and the creditors, for workers control, for the unlimited general strike, and for a workers' government.

It should be clear that a ‘workers’ government’ is the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a government that comes to power after taking power and smashing the bosses’ state including its armed forces. A revolutionary program must state what its objective is and how to get there. The limiting of demands to immediate or democratic demands does not point the way forward to socialism and leaves room for the reformists to win support.

To go from the popular assemblies and strike action which spontaneously develop, to soviets and the unlimited general strike which is aimed at the overthrow of the state, is a qualitative leap from bourgeois to socialist consciousness. This leap cannot develop without the intervention of already class conscious workers. Such a development requires a correct program and in turn a revolutionary party. A revolutionary program states what workers need now and shows step by step how to meet these needs by mobilising class struggle. It adapts concrete demands and tactics to concrete situations quickly in response to the changing conditions.

This can only be done by a party that combines theory and practice in the program. Why? Because without such theory and practice there can be no living program capable of applying lessons from the past and testing them in practice. How? This requires a vanguard party and democratic centralism.

A vanguard party by definition is a layer of workers whose understanding of Marxism in theory and practice makes them class conscious and qualifies them to act as a leadership.

Democratic centralism is the method by which the leadership leads. Democracy requires full discussion and debate with all differences allowed and tested. Centralism means unity and discipline in action around the agreed program so that it can be tested in practice. Lack of unity and discipline means that no conclusions can be scientifically drawn about the correctness of a program.

What is the Transitional Program?

Democratic, transitional and socialist demands must all be present as a complete package to allow workers to see the necessary transition from one to the other. For example the CA is a democratic demand and should always be accompanied by transitional demands such as jobs for all, a living wage etc. and by socialist demands such as nationalisation of the banks under workers control.

The necessity for a Workers Government to come to power to make this happen has to be stated from the outset to make it clear that only an independent armed workers movement can resolve the crisis in favour of workers and prevent a counter-revolution from smashing the revolution.

[from Class Struggle 43 February/March 2002

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