Argentina: the mystification of the 'piquetero' movement

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We are publishing below extracts from a long article by the comrades of the Nucleo Comunista Internacional in Argentina which makes an in-depth analysis of the so-called “piquetero” movement, denouncing its anti-working class nature and the self-interested lies with which leftist groups of every hue “have dedicated themselves to deceiving the workers with false hopes to make them believe that the aims and means of the piquetero movement contribute to advancing their struggle”.

This task of deception, falsifying events, and preventing the proletariat from drawing the real lessons of this movement and thus arming themselves against the traps of the class enemy, which is aided by the invaluable contribution of the semi-anarchist group the GCI[1] with its pseudo-Marxist language, is clearly denounced by the comrades of the NCI.

The bourgeois origins and nature of the piquetero movement

There may be those who consider that many of the organisations of the unemployed have their origins in the poverty, unemployment and hunger that have worsened in the large slums of Gran Buenos Aires, Rosario, Cordoba, etc, over the last 5 or 6 years. This is not the case. The origin of the piquetero movement lies in the so-called “Manzaneras” which were controlled by the wife of the then governor of the province of Buenos Aires, Eduardo Duhalde, in the 1990s. These had a dual function: on the one hand, social and political control and providing the means to mobilise extensive layers of the desperate poor to support the bourgeois fraction represented by Duhalde, and on the other hand, the control of the distribution of food to the unemployed (one egg and half a litre of milk a day), since there were no unemployment plans, benefits etc, then. But as the unemployment figures grew geometrically, along with the protests of the unemployed, the Manzaneras began to disappear from the scene. This left a political vacuum that had to be filled. This was done by a choice bunch of organisations, most of which were run by the Catholic Church, leftist political organisations and so on. The last to appear on the scene was the Maoist Partido Comunista Revolutionario with its Corriente Clasista y Combativa; the Trotskyist Partido Obrero had formed its own apparatus for the unemployed (Polo Obrero) and was followed by other organisations.

These first organisations had their baptism of fire in Buenos Aires, at a mass level, with the blockading of the strategic Route 3, which links Buenos Aires with Patagonia in the extreme south . They demanded increased unemployment benefits: benefits that were to be controlled and managed by the consultative councils that included the municipality, the piqueteros, the Church, etc, or to put it another way: the bourgeois state.

These “work plans” and the different benefits thus allowed the bourgeoisie to exercise social and political control of the unemployed through the various piquetero organisations, be they Peronist, Trotskyist, Guevarist, Stalinist or trade unionist run by the CTA.[2] These organisations then began to fan out throughout the working class districts hardest hit by unemployment, hunger and marginalisation. The spreading of these structures was above all carried out with money from the bourgeois state. They demand only two things of the unemployed in order to be able to receive benefits and food parcels (5Kg): to mobilise behind the flags of the organisation, and to take part in political actions if the organisation possessed a political structure, and to vote for the propositions of the group that they “belong to”. All this on pain of losing their wretched benefits of 150 pesos a month (50 dollars).

But these movements’ demands on the unemployed did not stop there. The unemployed also found themselves obliged by some of these organisations to carry out a series of duties where fulfilment is recorded in a ledger where those with the highest score gained by participating in meetings, demonstrations, and voting for the official position kept their benefits, while those who disagreed with the official position lost points, benefits, and eventually the right to take part in the plan. Moreover, these organisations also extract a percentage or a fixed sum from the unemployed with the idea of “dues”. This money is used to pay the officials of these organisations, to pay for locals (meeting rooms) – which were used by the unemployed organisations and the political groups upon which the former depend etc. The handing over of these dues is obligatory, and to this end, the so-called “referees” from each district local of the various unemployed movements accompany the unemployed to the bank where they have handover their money as soon as they have received their benefits.

In 2001, before the inter-classist events of 19th and 20th December, the so-called piquetero assembly was dominated by the Polo Obrero, the Maoist Corriente Clasista y Combativa, and the Federación de Tierra y Vivienda.

The positions adopted by these assemblies and those that followed clearly demonstrated the nature of the different piquetero groups, as an apparatus in the service of the bourgeois state. This nature did not change later after the split between the Polo Obrero and the other two currents, leading to the formation of the Bloque Piquetero.

The Partido Obrero says that the aim of the unemployed or the “piquetero subject” as the Partido Obrera like to call it in its monthly publication Prensa Obreara, is to turn the piquetero movement into a movement of the masses, which is understood to be the mass of the unemployed, active workers and all the middle sectors that are being pushed into the working class and the dispossessed. This means that the working class must integrate itself into a wide inter-classist front and must struggle, not on its own terrain, but, on a totally alien terrain. This shows the correctness of the ICC's position, which we defend, when its classifies the events of the 19th and 20th December as an inter-classist revolt.

The Partido Obrero does not mince its words in a shameless paragraph from its XIIIth Congress where it says “Whoever controls the masses food controls the masses....”. In other words, despite the PO’s declamations, about its control of the food being used to try and stop the bourgeoisie's control of the masses, what this shows in reality is the same attitude as that of the bourgeoisie, which is to control the social plans, to control the food parcels, in order thus to control the unemployed. This attitude is not exclusive to the Partido Obrero, but is that of all the piquetero movements, groups and regroupments.

These few examples show that the unemployed movements which have occupied the mass media, nationally and internationally, and which have led the radicalised petty-bourgeoisie to imagine that they are seeing the beginning of “a revolution”, the existence of “workers's councils” etc, are a perfect swindle.

To consider, as the Partido Obrero does, that the piquetero movement is the most significant workers' movement since the Cordobazo,[3] and the other struggles of the same period, is to discredit the latter which were not a popular rebellion or in anyway inter-classist, but on the contrary were working class struggles that developed workers' committees, which took charge of various functions, such as defence, solidarity committees etc.

A critic might say that this is the position of the leadership of the piquetero movements and organisations, but that what is important is the dynamic process or the piquetero phenomena: its struggles, its demonstrations, its initiatives.

The answer is simple, and is the same we gave in Revolución Comunista n°2,[4] with, our critique of the IBRP’s[5] positions on the “Argentinazo” of the 19th and 20th December: that this current’s positions are simply idealist wishful thinking. The piquetero organisations are its leaders, its bosses, nothing more. The rest of the piqueteros with their masked faces burning tyres, are prisoners of the 150 pesos a month and the 5kg of food that the bourgeois state grants them via these organisations. And as we have said above, all this must be done on pain of loosing said “benefits”.

To summarise, the piqueteros absolutely do not represent a development of consciousness, on the contrary, they are a regression in workers' consciousness, since they introduce an alien ideology into the working class: that whoever manages the food manages consciousness, as the PO put it. This bourgeois position, this perverse logic, can only lead to the defeat of the working class and of the unemployed, since the function of leftism is to defeat the working class and extinguish class autonomy; no matter how “revolutionary” the slogans it adopts.

The GCI lie about the nature of the piquetero movement

Inaccuracies, half-truths, and mystifications are of no help to the world proletariat; on the contrary, they further worsen the errors and limitations of the struggles to come. However this is the attitude of the GCI when it writes in its journal Comunismo (n°49, 50 and 51), that “for the first time in the history of Argentina the revolutionary violence of the proletariat has brought down a government (…) the distribution of expropriated goods amongst the proletariat and the ‘popular’ kitchens supplied with the result of the recuperations (…) Confrontations with the police and other forces of the state, such as mercenary Peronist street gangs, especially on the day that Duhalde assumed the presidency of the government....”. The GCI, with its attitude and its lies sows confusion in the international working class, stopping it from drawing the necessary lessons from the events in Argentina in 2001.

In the first place it was not “revolutionary violence” that overthrew the De La Rua government, on the contrary, this bourgeois government fell as the result of inter-bourgeois faction fights. Neither have the “expropriated goods” been shared out, the looting was not as the GCI says “a generalised attack on private property and the state”, but the actions of desperate, starving people, who never thought, even momentarily, about attacking private property, but were rather concerned with quelling their hunger for a couple of days.

In the same way, they continue with their falsifications, when they talk about the rise of Duhalde as a struggle between the “movement” of the proletariat and the Peronist street gangs, this is false, this is a lie, the confrontation that took place on the day that Duhalde became president, was between factions of of the bourgeois state apparatus, on the one hand Peronism, and on the other the leftist MST,[6] the PCA[7] and other less important Trotskyist and Guevarist groups. The working class was absent that day.

Perhaps for a moment one might think that these “errors” of the GCI are due to an excess of revolutionary enthusiasm, in all good faith. But when one reads the rest of this journal it is possible to see that this is not the case: its role is to sow confusion that serves the interests of the bourgeoisie. The GCI lies to the international working class and feeds the piquetero mystification, when it says that: “...The affirmation of the proletariat in Argentina could not have taken place without the development of the piquetero movement, the spearhead of the proletarian associationism, during the last ten years.” and “In Argentina, the development of this class force in recent months has such a potential that proletarians in work are joining it (…). During the last years a whole great struggle has been coordinated and articulated through the pickets, the assemblies and coordinating structures of the piqueteros...”. It would be worrying if these affirmations were being made by groups within the Proletarian Political Milieu, but they are not strange coming from the mouth of the GCI, a semi-anarchist group that adopts the petty-bourgeois and racist ideology of Bakunin. But what concerns us is the deception that this publication is carrying out on its readers.

The piquetero movement, as we have already said above (with the exceptions of Patagonia and Norte de Salta) is heir to the Manzaneras, and the supposed associationism that was generated by the pickets, is nothing more than the obligation imposed upon each of those benefiting from the “work plan” or benefits in order not to lose the crumbs that the bourgeois states throws them. There exists no solidarity within them, quite the contrary, it is each against all, seeking to obtain benefits to the detriment and at the cost of the hunger of others.

Therefore, we cannot, in any way, classify the pickets as something of great significance for the working class and it is a shameless lie to talk of the “coordination” of the employed workers with the piqueteros. The GCI continues with its mendacity when it says that “the generalised associationism of the proletariat in Argentina is without a doubt an incipient affirmation of the autonomization of the proletariat (…) direct action, a powerful organisation against bourgeois legality, an action without the mediation of intermediaries (…) an attack on private property (…) these are extraordinary affirmations of the tendency of the proletariat to constitute itself as a destructive force against the whole of the established order...”. These affirmations are without a doubt a clear demonstration of their open intent to deceive the international working class in order to avoid it drawing the necessary lessons. The GCI definitely carry out a great service for the bourgeoisie and the ruling class. It cannot swindle the working class without distorting the meaning of events, actions and slogans: the slogan “get rid of them all” (ie, the politicians) is not a revolutionary call, but rather, a call for everyone to look for an “honest bourgeois government”.

We have ask ourselves what the GCI means when it refers to the proletariat. For this group the proletariat is not defined by the role it plays in capitalist production, that is, if they are the owners of the means of production or if they sell their labour power. For the GCI, the proletariat is a category that includes the unemployed (which are indeed part of the working class) as well as the lumpenproletariat and other non-exploiting social strata and layers, as we can see in its publication Comunismo n°50.

The position of the GCI, considering the lumpen as within the category of the proletariat, is nothing more than a veiled effort to present it as a new revolutionary social subject, in order to separate the unemployed from belonging to the working class. Far from being against the Left, the GCI, has many similar positions to those adopted by Argentinean leftism, such as the Partido Obrero when it creates a sub-category of workers, the “piquetero workers”. And we see this when the GCI tries to explain its vision (which is semi-anarchist and “guerrilaist” and has nothing to do with Marxism) about this proletarian subject and says about the lumpen that they are “the most decided elements against private property” due to being the most desperate elements.

What has to be asked about this formulation is: is the lumpenproletariat a social layer distinct from the proletariat? For the GCI it is not, for them the lumpen is the most put upon sector of the proletariat. Here the GCI are clearly assimilating the unemployed with the lumpenproletariat, which is absolutely false. This absolutely does not imply that the bourgeoisie does not try to demoralise these detachments of workers without work through isolation and that it likewise tries to lumpenise them in order that they lose their class consciousness. However, there is a great difference between this and the GCI's position, since to think, no matter how tangentially, that the lumpen is the most desperate sector of the proletariat and that this desperation implies “no respect for private property”, is false. The lumpenproletariat is fully integrated into the present capitalist society with its “take what you can, every man for himself”. As for its “no respect for private property” this is nothing but the desperation of this social layer.

The GCI's underhand proclamation about the end of the proletariat, does nothing but echo the ideologies and theories spread by the bourgeoisie in the 1990's, when it says that these futureless social strata are part of the proletariat, and denies the character of the working class as the only revolutionary social class in our epoch and the only class that has the perspective of communism and the destruction of the system of exploitation that capitalism imposes.

It is false to characterise the revolt of 2001 as proletarian and revolutionary; it is a lie that the proletariat challenged private property. The associative structures to which the GCI refer are an integral part of the state apparatus, used to divide the working class, since whatever the structure of the piquetero groups, they never thought about or posed the destruction of private property nor did they pose the communist perspective.

In reality, the GCI bally-hoo about the pickets and the piquetero groups, is used to divide the working class, and to deny the revolutionary character of the proletariat. The GCI uses a marxist phraseology, but this group is nothing more than a deformation of bourgeois ideology.

Furthermore, the GCI has launched an open attack on the ICC, and against the position that this Current defends about the events of 2001. We firmly consider that the position adopted by the ICC on the events in Argentina is the only one able to draw the correct lessons from this popular revolt, whilst that of the IBRP is purely and exclusively based on the fetish of the “new vanguard” and the “radicalised masses of the peripheral nations”. The GCI (like the Internal Fraction of the ICC) adopted a non-proletarian and clearly anarchist petty-bourgeois position. (…)

Our little group draws the same lessons on the inter-classist revolt in Argentina as the comrades of the ICC, without being blinded by the IBRP's Third World impressionism, nor by the “proletarian revolutionary action” of the lumpen put forward by the GCI.

It is absurd to assimilate the Argentinean inter-classist rebellion with the Russian revolution of 1917. What are reference to Kerensky doing in the analysis of the 2001 rising? The answer is they are meaningless. (…) The analogy of the GCI's is clearly self-serving. It is not a matter of errors or hasty analysis or idealist visions, quite the opposite, it is purely and simply the product of its ideology that distances it from dialectical materialism and historical materialism, whilst it embraces anarchist positions, that are a difficult mix to swallow, in its superficial terminology it adopts the petty-bourgeois ideology of the desperate and futureless middling strata.

The positions of the IFICC

It is worth mentioning here the positions of the IFICC.[8] This group, despite its pretence of being the “real ICC”, its self-proclamation as “the only continuity with the revolutionary programme of the ICC”, clearly demonstrates that it is doing nothing but tailing along behind the IBRP and the latter’s incorrect analyses of Argentina. This group’s answer to a note published in Revolucion Comunista gives a clear idea of its positions: “…unlike all the other communist forces, the present-dat ICC has rejected the reality of the workers’ struggles in Argentina (…) we think that the movements in Argentina were a movement of the working class (…) a schematic vision thinks that the proletariat of the peripheral countries has nothing else to do but to wait for the proletariat of the central countries to open the road to revolution. Such a vision obviously has implications, consequences for one’s orientations and even for the militant attitude towards the struggle. Already in the 1970s, this incorrect, vulgar, mechanical incomprehension tended to find expression in the ICC’s press. Today, we think that this vision has returned in strength in the present-day ICC’s positions, in the an absolute, and therefore idealist, vision of decomposition, which has led ‘our’ organisation to adopt an indifferent, even defeatist position towards, and even to denounce, the struggles of the Argentine workers en 2001-2002 (see the ICC’s press of the time)”.[9]

These long quotations from the IFICC’s publication clearly show the same errors as those of the IBRP, and of the GCI, behind which the IFICC trails along in a completely unprincipled way. They all agree that the popular revolt in Argentina was a workers’ struggle. Nothing could be more false.

It is true that the position of the ICC, and of our little group, is different from that of the other communist currents, notably the IBRP. But this is not, as the IFICC falsely claims, a defeatist position. We are tired of repeating that it is necessary to learn the lessons of the struggles, in order not to make mistakes and to fall into impressionism, as apparently has happened to these groups with respect to the piquetero experience. To say that there was not a workers’ struggle in Argentina on 19th December 2001 in no way implies being a deserter of the class struggle, as the IFICC pretends. Their position is typical of the despairing petty bourgeois who try at any cost to see workers’ struggles where they do not exist.

The most industrialised are in a more favourable position for a revolutionary workers’ struggle than the nations on the periphery. The conditions for proletarian revolution, understood as a break with the ruling class, are more favourable in countries where the bourgeoisie is strongest, and where the productive forces are most developed (…)

Like the GCI, the IFICC has done nothing but develop a policy of slander and insults against the ICC. And such an approach has led it to deny the undeniable, and to accept the unacceptable, in the first place that the struggle of 2001 in Argentina was a workers’ struggle, and to put forward the mystification that the unemployed movement, the “pickets”, etc., are class organs when the concrete practice of the class struggle demonstrates the opposite.

For a proletarian perspective

The piquetero currents which as a whole control around 200,000 unemployed workers, are not unions in the exact meaning of the word, but they have union aspects: paying dues, blind obedience to the group managing the plan, or the one delivering the food parcels etc., and fundamentally above all their permanent character. It does not matter that they are controlled by the Leftist parties or by the CTA in the case of the FTV. Thus, since the early struggles of the unemployed in 1996 and 1997 in Patagonia where the unemployed organised themselves through committees, assembles etc., the leftist parties have managed to infiltrate themselves, as organs of capital and have sterilised the struggle of the employed and unemployed workers.

But some critics could say: “Could not these groups be regenerated by the action of the rank and file? Do you mean that the unemployed should abandon the struggle?” The answer to these questions is quite simply: NO. The piquetero organisations,are appendages of the parties of the Left, whether they are “independent” or arms of the main unions, as is the case of the CTA with the FTV and its official leader D'Elia, are irretrievably part of capital, the bourgeois apparatus. Their purpose is the division and dispersal of the struggles, sterilising the unemployed until they are transformed into an integral part of the urban landscape, without revolutionary perspective, and isolated from their class.

In the same way, we are not saying that the unemployed should abandon the struggle, on the contrary they have to redouble it. Nevertheless, it is necessary to constantly explain that unemployed workers cannot gain their demands or reforms within this system, therefore, the unemployed have to struggle shoulder to shoulder with the employed against this system, and that in order to do this it is necessary to break with isolation, not only in relation to the employed but among the unemployed themselves. An isolation that the bourgeoisie has skilfully created through the leftist parties and the piquetero currents which have established their own separate groupings, and have thus introduced divisions within the unemployed, which has generated a way of thinking that sees one’s neighbour or comrade in the district as a potential adversary and enemy that could take your benefits and food.

This trap has to be broken. The unemployed have to break out of the isolation that capital has imposed on them and unite with the whole of the working class, of which they are part. But this means a great transformation in the way it organises itself: not by means of permanent organs, but by following the examples of the workers in Patagonia in 1997, or in Norte de Salta, where there was unity within the class and where the organisation of the struggle was through assembles, general assemblies with revocable mandates, even though they were eventually brought under the control of the Leftist parties.

Nevertheless, the experience of these struggles is valid, since the unemployed have to struggle against the miserable benefits they are given, against the price increases in public services, etc., which in a certain way is the same struggle as that carried out by the employed for wages. The unemployed must participate as a support in the class struggle and transform its struggles into an integral part of the general struggle against capital.

The piquetero currents have created the term “piquetero” in order to establish not only a separation from the employed, but also with those unemployed who are not controlled by their organisations. Through the creation of new social categories and new social subjects such as the “unemployed piquetero”, these groups of the unemployed try to divide and exclude millions of employed and unemployed workers, which only benefits the ruling class.

The pipueteros, as is the case with the Zapatistas, were and are tools in the service of capital., Their “fashion” of balaclavas, burning tyres in the middle of motorways, is only a “marketing” by capitalism in order to say two things to the class as a whole: on the one hand that there are millions of unemployed ready to take the jobs of the employed for less money, and in this way to paralyse the development of class struggle, and on the other hand, by means of the programmes set up by the various piqueteros groups – more food parcels and 150 pesos a month in benefits, genuine work in capitalist factories – that nothing is possible outside capitalism, even when they talk about a workers’ and popular government.

It is thus necessary for unemployed workers to break free from the traps of the bourgeoisie, and break from the piquetero organisations by abandoning them, because as with the unions and the Left parties they are integral to capital. Despite what leftism says, the unemployed are workers and not “piqueteros”. Such a description means dividing the unemployed from the rest of the working class, and their transformation into a caste; this is what the positions of the Left of capital mean.

Employed and unemployed workers as a whole have to tend towards class unity, since both sectors belong to the same social class: the working class, and there is no solution within this system, since it is bankrupt. Only the proletarian revolution can destroy this system that can only bring poverty, hunger, marginalisation. This is the challenge.

Buenos Aires June 16th 2004.

[1] Groupe Communiste Internationaliste

[2] Central de los Trabajadores Argentinos, which has set up its own union for the unemployed under the name “Federación de Tierra y Vivienda” (FTV)

[3] Workers’ uprising in the industrial town of Cordoba, Argentina, in 1969.

[4] The journal of the NCI

[6] Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores, qui siege au parlement sous le nom de Izquierda Unida.

[7] Partido Comunista de la Argentina (Argentine Stalinists).

[9] IFICC bulletin n°22, 23rd December 2003. The translation from the French is ours.