Milei takes his chainsaw to the Argentine working class

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Milei has become president of Argentina using an ultra-right-wing rhetoric, despite the fact that two years ago he and his political party were completely unknown. This is another example of a populist party emerging within the accelerated decomposition of capitalism and characterised by the bourgeoisie's loss of control of its political game, as seen primarily in the most developed countries. The rise of populist or rightist parties has been confirmed by recent examples in Europe such as the electoral success of Gert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (PVV) in Holland and that of Georgi Meloni and the Brothers of Italy who now lead the coalition government in Italy. This phenomenon has spread from the central countries but has also affected the peripheral countries for several years. The mystification of populism in the working class is rooted in a sense of not being listened to by the elites and a belief that ‘global forces’ and ‘alien outsiders’ pose a threat to the national interest, all of which constitutes a barrier to development of class consciousness.

"There is no alternative", "... they left us no choice..." are phrases used by Milei in his inaugural speech, in which he announced plans for the series of attacks he has prepared against the exploited. The deepening economic crisis and the long chain of right-wing and left-wing governments, despite claiming to be 'cleaning up' the Argentine economy, have actually made things worse. This has meant that all confidence in the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie has been lost. Neither the Peronists, whether on the left or the right, nor the Radicals, nor the formation of electoral alliances, made restoring confidence in the traditional, institutionalised state political parties possible. This situation opened the door to the emergence of a messianic leader like Milei from the populist right-wing, who, although patronised by certain sectors of the bourgeoisie, was not in a position where he could count on the support of the entire bourgeois class or claim to exercise total control over the state.

Some sectors of the bourgeoisie did indeed get behind him at the beginning of his election campaign, seeking to benefit from his unbalanced personality, his outbursts and his economic measures based on the sanctity of the market and a staunch defence of private property. Then a larger part of the ruling class became concerned and tried to curtail his ascent, but without success. Since what has been established as the dominant trend in the current phase of decomposition is the bourgeoisie's loss of control over its own political strategy, this made it possible for a figure like Milei to "sneak in" as head of the government, with a team, described by Mauricio Macri as "immature and lacking experience without real resources and easily manipulated", so that, immediately in the first round, they tried to "soften him up" by accompanying and mentoring him with experienced members of the traditional political "elite" that he claimed to reject...

The arrival of a populist party in government certainly poses a problem for the Argentine bourgeoisie, but the bourgeoisie is nevertheless using this against the workers. The working class will be the main target of Milei's famous chainsaw.

The bourgeoisie has lost control of its political game

In riding the populist wave, Milei has upset the electoral machinery that was established between two coalitions, the centre-left wing of the Peronists led by the Kirchner husband and wife team, and the centre-right Peronist faction led by Mauricio Macri. This competition between two bourgeois factions, which dates back to 2015, had tried to restore new life to the stale two-party system that gravitated around Peronism and anti-Peronism. But the exhaustion of the traditional parties and their coalitions was clear to see, because at the moment that this process was repeating itself, with a 12-year centre-left Peronist government being replaced with a centre-right government headed by Macri, which then failed to manage the economy effectively, it was replaced at an early stage by a centre-left Peronist coalition.

This is what led certain sectors of the bourgeoisie to back Milei, who was vehemently opposed to this already worn-out and discredited political system, describing it as a "political caste" that had, moreover, been implicated in corruption scandals for years, as was the case with the Kirchner and Macri governments. This is why, in order to limit the development of political uncertainty, the need to employ figures from the ranks of the "privileged elite", those whom Milei says he despises, has been impressed upon Milei, forcing him to give the key positions in the government portfolios to people such as Patricia Bullrich at the Ministry of the Interior and Luis Caputo at the Ministry of the Economy.

The worsening economic crisis has provided fertile ground for Milei's rise

Another factor that has aggravated the conflicts within the Argentine bourgeoisie, and contributed to the splits within traditional parties, has been the worsening of the economic crisis. The measures adopted by the Kirchnerist governments and by Macri's right-wing government, in their attempt to clean up the economic system, had significantly contributed to the rise in inflation. Public spending and the resort to credit, which they thought would stimulate and re-balance the economy, ended up being a liability, and although the bourgeoisie and its state had already transferred the main bulk of the consequences of the worsening crisis onto the backs of the workers, this did not prevent discontent developing within the bourgeoisie itself.

But the bourgeoisie is not alone in having cause for concern with these developments. There are sections of the working class who have let themselves to be ensnared by the radical populist right-wing rhetoric which, with its attacks on past governments' records, has led these workers into having illusions and false hopes of sweeping improvements, as the answer to the despair and nihilism that is rife within society.

The growing impoverishment of the Argentine population, whose wages are being eroded daily by accelerating inflation, has led to despair among a large mass of the exploited (especially the young), who, in the context of the loss of class identity, have ended up falling into the trap set by Milei's promises.

But with only a few weeks having gone by since Milei assumed power and with the economic blows and the threats they face being implemented, it is becoming clear to the workers that the bourgeoisie, no matter which party is at the head of the government, and no matter how outrageous its rhetoric, has no solution to offer in the face of the capitalist crisis. The only thing it can provide is greater exploitation, greater hardship and more repression.

Neither state ownership nor the free market offer a solution for workers

The choice betweeen a greater state intervention in the economy or the liberalisation of the market are old arguments used by the bourgeoisie when explaining the direction of its economic policies, but they are a pure mystification, because whether it is with a greater share of state ownership or through private capital, the bourgeoisie is always looking to the conditions which will allow it to continue its exploitation in the most profitable way it can find. For a worker, it makes no difference whether his exploitation is managed by private capital or by the state.

Engels has already explained that: "the transformation, either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State ownership, does not alter the capitalist nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, for its part, is also no more than an organisation created by bourgeois society (…) The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine - the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital.” [1] The danger presented by Milei does not, therefore, come from the threat of privatisation or the loss of "national sovereignty" that would be a consequence of adopting the US dollar as its currency as some leftwingers claim. As we are seeing, Milei's chainsaw is directed towards crushing the workers by adopting measures that will enable him to achieve his real objective: defending the profits and interests of the national capital by launching the most brutal attacks on workers' living conditions.

Reducing the deficit and "choosing" to dollarise the currency and remove the central bank, while giving full rein to market forces, will entail a large dose of austerity, which will quickly paralyse production and cause an increase in prices and tariffs. This will mean a steep rise in inflation, further degrading purchasing power and the value of pensions, all in the name of "protecting the national economy".

The ideological campaign of the Argentine ruling class against the workers

Populism, as a general phenomenon of capitalist society, “springs from within an element present in most advanced countries, the profound loss of confidence in the ‘elites’  (…) due to their inability to restore health to the economy and stem the steady rise in unemployment and poverty” This revolt against the political leaders "(…) can in no way lead to an alternative perspective to capitalism". [2]

In this sense, it directly affects the working class, because the populist campaigns of hatred and resentment against the "establishment" are looking for a scapegoat to try and explain what is "not working", thereby masking the fact that it is the capitalist system as a whole that is responsible and not this or that personality or political party. For the workers, there is nothing to celebrate in the bourgeoisie's  frenzy around the celebration of 40 years of democratic elections in the country since 1983 after the end of military dictatorship, or in the fact that since the massive "protest vote" in the last election (56% of the total, the highest in 4 decades) against the traditional parties, there is now an "outsider" at the head of government since 10 December 2023. Alternating the parties in power in an electoral democracy is certainly a trap for workers, making them believe that their vote is what decides changes in government and public policy; but the "punitive vote" is nothing more than an offer to “get revenge”, which merely keeps them bound to the ideology of democracy.

If there is no difference between the Kirchnerists and Macri's supporters when it comes to defending national capital and targeting the workers, it is clear that Milei has taken charge of the government precisely to continue this defence by attacking the working and living conditions of the working class; he has also demonised workers by naming the "beneficiaries" of state welfare benefits as accomplices in the crisis, in other words scapegoats whom he describes as lazy, profiteers and thieves.

In short, if the phenomena of decomposition such as populism affects its political game, the bourgeoisie still has the means to use its effects against the working class, for example by reinforcing the myth of democracy, with its alternating governments based on the illusory power of the vote, etc.

What can the working class do in the face of the attacks of the Milei government?

Milei's entire election campaign was based on his being a "libertarian", a critic of the traditional political elites, who had succeeded in frightening the "establishment", and therefore offering an alternative. But as soon as he took office, he began a head-on attack of the working class, which are reminiscent of the "shock measures" widely used by the dictatorial regimes in Latin America in the 1980s.

The old bourgeois recipe of alternating carrot and stick also means there are measures that are claimed to "improve social welfare". For example, the new government has announced a 50% increase in the amounts granted for programmes such as "universal child support" and the "credit card for food", which are in fact crumbs that are sprinkled around to appear to be "more caring", but which are also used as an instrument of control, with the threat of taking them away from anyone who is involved in street protests.

This “anti-piquetero” policy, " is a counterpart to the proposed plan, announced by the Minister of the Interior Patricia Bullrich, to crack down hard on demonstrations, making those people taking part in strikes and demonstrations pay the costs of the police operation! Furthermore, these fines will be imposed on parents who bring their young children with them on the demonstrations. What arrogance and contempt the bourgeoisie has for the exploited and oppressed class!

For our part, we are convinced of the fact that the Argentine workers, who have a historic tradition of struggle, will be pushed to fight back in the face of attacks on their living conditions. A glimpse of what workers are capable of was evident on the night of 20 December. Following Milei's televised presentation of his "Decree of Necessity and Urgency" (DNU), which, among other aspects, set out "the deregulation of the economy" and the ban on strikes, in many places in Buenos Aires as well as in the provinces, large crowds of workers spontaneously gathered in the streets banging on pots and pans, and hundreds of them in the capital marched to the parliament to protest.

Such responses, even if they are still quite weak, are important in highlighting the workers' discontent. They reflect a recognition of the need to break the chains of their illusions in the promises of the government, to show that they will not readily sacrifice themselves to further pauperisation.

The proletariat in Argentina must learn from the experience of the recent mobilisations of its class brothers and sisters in Europe and the United States. These mass mobilisations show that the working class "... by fighting against the effects of the economic crisis, against the attacks orchestrated by the States, against the sacrifices imposed by the development of the war economy, that the proletariat is rising up, not as citizens demanding "rights" and "justice", but as the exploited against their exploiters and, ultimately, as a class against the system itself. This is why the international dynamic of the working class struggle carries within it the seeds of a fundamental challenge to the whole of capitalism". [3].

JRT (7 January 2024)


[1] In order to assess the scale of the burden that public spending and debt have become, we can relate them to GDP, bearing in mind that public spending represents 40% of GDP and that the level of debt, from 2018 to the present day, is evolving within a range of between 80% and 100% of this GDP. It should be added that these credits have hardly had a positive effect for the capitalists, who have created numerous fictitious companies to pretend they need capital investment, enabling them to acquire "cheap" dollars and shelter them in other countries. The outgoing government of Alberto Fernandez is presenting the bill according to which, of the $45 billion in credits obtained by Macri from the IMF, around 90% ended up being squandered in this way.

[2] Report on the impact of the decomposition on the political life of the bourgeoisie (23rd ICC Congress), Internatonal Review no. 164, 2020.

[3] “Strikes and demonstrations in the United States, Spain, Greece, France... How can we develop and unite our struggles?”  World Revolution no. 398



Populism in Argentina