Lessons of the Argentine elections - The conclusions and the tasks that lie ahead

The results of the first round of the presidential elections show that the period of instability that began in Argentina a year and a half ago has not ended. The massive scattering of votes also reveals the high level of discontent present in all layers of society. These elections mark a new milestone in the social and political situation in Argentina. The results of the first round of the presidential elections show that the period of instability that began in Argentina a year and a half ago has not ended. The massive scattering of votes, with barely 10 percentage points separating the first and fifth placed contenders, also reveals the high level of discontent present in all layers of society. These elections mark a new milestone in the social and political situation in Argentina.

The Marxists and the elections

Before analysing and drawing the main lessons from the vote of April 27, we believe it appropriate to give a general outline of the Marxists' attitude towards these bourgeois elections.

As Marxists, we have no illusions in the bourgeois democratic electoral process, whose worth we consider to be only relative and certainly not absolute. The idea that the result of any election is the absolute, free and sovereign decision of the population, like when you go into a shop to buy a pair of shoes, is completely false. Parties, electoral coalitions and leaders are not something that emanate "freely" from the will of the people but are the expression of the various class interests that compose modern capitalist society: the capitalists, the petit-bourgeois and the working class.

In particular, the leaders and parties of the ruling or capitalist class bend over backwards to hide the real class interests that they defend from the workers by using the demagogic and populist phraseology that we are all familiar with e.g. "we must all unite: businessmen, workers and the middle classes around the supreme interests of the nation, the fatherland etc" and such like. However, when they do get into power, they always carry out whichever policy is the most favourable to the interests of the capitalists, both foreign and native.

Furthermore, it is incorrect to say that all parties and organisations play on a level playing field. The bourgeois parties are backed by the millionaires and the stinking rich who supply them with the millions of pesos needed to make sure that their message reaches even the most far-flung corners of the country. Whilst the left parties that represent the interests of the workers must make do with the scarce resources obtained by the sacrifice of their members and sympathisers, thus making it extremely difficult to reach the whole population with their programme and policies.

Another factor is the mass media. The private radio and TV stations and the newspapers are businesses just like any other. Their owners are capitalists (or governments when they are state-owned) who use them to do business as well as to broadcast those ideas, information and opinions which best serve their own class interests. In the sense that they have the monopoly over the source of information to which the majority of the population has access, which is in fact tantamount to a veritable dictatorship of information, the mass media is one of the most powerful instruments in the hands of the ruling class, which uses it to shape and create so-called "public opinion". They use it to support bourgeois organisations and politicians, especially during election campaigns, whilst ignoring the actions of the workers and their organisations, when not actually silencing them.

Finally, capitalist society can only offer millions of workers, unemployed and youth an uncertain future. Unemployment, poverty, job insecurity, low wages, scarcity, fear of "tomorrow" combined to create the conditions in which many were ready to believe in the demagogy, lies and impossible promises of the professional bourgeois politicians. From this fear and uncertainty, those politicians with the best resources, access to the media and electoral machines were able to benefit the most. In these conditions, millions of people did not actually vote for those who most identified with their interests, but for the "best of a bad bunch".

All this must be borne in mind when we say that the worth of any particular set of elections is fairly relative and is actually mitigated by a whole series of factors that the majority of the population, and particularly the working class, has no control over.

In reality, the result of any election is like a photo that only records the frame of mind and the political maturity of the workers at one given moment in time. It by no means shows the whole film. After every election, life goes inexorably on.

Occasionally, when events reveal the wide gulf between what a politician promises and the cold, hard reality endured by millions of workers, the latter turn to the more direct forms of action such as strikes, marches and riots. Workers' consciousness changes rapidly under the white heat of experience and millions of workers, who only a few months before were able to vote for a bourgeois politician, rebel and show a readiness to listen and search for new ideas and policies that offer a solution to the problems caused by capitalism. It is during these periods that a revolutionary party of the working class must try to patiently win the confidence of the working class, starting with its most active layers.

Marxists are no anarchists. We are well aware of the fact that no genuine change in society is possible whilst it remains in the hands of people that nobody elected, such as the bankers, the big businessmen and landowners, who are the ones who really take the most important decisions for country, through the bourgeois governments and politicians that they control. The only way of bringing about real change and progress and creating a society which enjoys full employment, high standards of living, health, education, housing as well as a decent and human level of retirement pensions is through the working class taking power and controlling the commanding heights of the economy: the banks, big business and the land.

Marxists are in favour of taking part in elections as a way of reaching the maximum amount of people, who would otherwise only be exposed (during public meetings, in the mass media, in electoral propaganda, etc) to the ideology, the ideas, the programmes, the lies, the ploys and the demagogy of the pro-capitalist parties. This is the position that we must defend when we are not in a position to immediately replace the current fallacious regime of "bourgeois democracy" with the infinitely more democratic regime of genuine workers' democracy and when we are in the minority in our class.

The task is to win over the widest possible layers of the working class to our programme and ideas and not only those thousand or so activists that have already been won over. From a Marxist point of view, it is correct to use all the opportunities provided by bourgeois society to reach the maximum number of workers with our ideas, and elections are one of those ways, whether they are presidential, parliamentary or regional.

The results of the April 27 elections

The results of the elections that took place on the April 27 in fact show a number of things. Firstly, the level of participation was high at 80% of the electoral register, which was almost the same level as in the 1999 presidential elections. Secondly, the massive scattering of votes, particularly amongst the five top candidates, which means that in the first time in recent Argentinean history a president has not been elected after the first round of voting. Thirdly, the "de facto" disappearance of one of the two traditional parties of the Argentine bourgeoisie - Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), which was founded more than a 100 years ago and won little more than 2% of the vote. FREPASO, one of the parties forming the Alliance government of De la Rúa, was also dissolved. Fourthly, and finally, these elections saw the splitting of Peronism into three opposing camps, reflecting the differing interests of various sectors of the ruling class.

One only has to look at the results to see that we are certainly not heading for the period of calm and relative stability that existed before the December 2001 uprising (el "Argentinazo"). On the other hand, the instability is continuing and is revealed by the continuing inability of the Argentine bourgeoisie to equip itself with a political party able to enjoy wide support in the population.

Below is a list of the shares of the vote:

Menem: 23.8% (Peronist)
Kirchner: 21.8% (Peronist)
L.Murphy: 16.8% (ex-UCR)
Carrió: 14.4% (ARI)
Rodríguez Saá: 13.9% (Peronist)
Moreau: 2.3% (Radical, UCR)
Walsh 1.8% (United Left - IU)
Bravo 1,1% (Socialist party)
Altamira 0.8% (Workers' party - PO)
Others 3.4%

Since no candidate won 45% of the vote (or 40% plus more than 10 percentage points than the next) there will be another round within 20 days (18th May). This stage is called the "Ballotage" and will be between the top two presidential contenders (Menem and Kirchner).

What happened to the protest vote?

By "protest" vote we mean total abstentions plus blank, void and spoiled ballot papers. For many years, this was a good indication of the depth of popular discontent with the two-party system of the Peronists and Radicals. The general elections of October 2001 saw the "protest" vote at a record high of no less than 47.4%, which, together with the marked increase in support for the left parties in many areas, was an early signal of the revolutionary uprising that broke out in December 2001, only two months later.

There is no doubt that the uprising of December 2001 opened a new phase in the country's history. For many weeks, as Duhalde himself admitted on a number of occasions afterwards, the level of popular anger placed the very existence of bourgeois institutions in serious doubt: e.g. the presidency, parliament, provincial governments, the Supreme Court etc. Ad-hoc embryos of popular power such as the people's and district assemblies began to spring up everywhere. Hundreds and thousands of people were able to see the strength and power of collective action through the countless marches and pot-banging protests that took place during this period. Many began to demand that the foreign debt should not be paid whilst others demanded the renationalisation of privatised companies and the nationalisation of the banks, and many shutdown factories began to be occupied. The notion of "private property" took a severe battering.

From a Marxist or scientific point of view, this situation was a revolutionary one. The political consciousness of wide layers of the masses made a huge leap forward in only a number of weeks, reflected in the social tensions and increasing popularity of genuinely socialist ideas, demands and programmes. If there had been a genuine revolutionary party with influence over the masses at that moment, the working class could have taken power with the backing of millions of the nation's oppressed in an almost completely peaceful fashion.

Unfortunately, no such party existed. The workers' leaders at the head of the only existing mass class-based organisations in the country (the unions), not only had no intention of carrying out a revolution but in the notorious case of the CGT, actually collaborated directly with the Argentine bourgeoisie in trying to put the fire out.

Leaderless and in the midst of a terrible economic crisis with a high level of unemployment, the vast majority of workers were paralysed by their union leaders. The vanguard of militant union activists, the piqueteros, as well as other militants together with the left organisations fought bravely during the weeks and months after the uprising to try and give a leadership to the movement, but were not able to break their isolation from wider sections of the working class. It is a law that the masses cannot remain in a permanent state of rebellion. In the final analysis, if there is no decisive outcome to the struggle, the ruling class is always able to regain control of the situation. This is what has happened, although this hold is still rather precarious as shown by the continuing political and social instability in the country.

From a Marxist point of view, the revolutionary process that began in December 2001 in Argentina is not over. However, due to the lack of the subjective factor (the revolutionary party and its leadership) it will ebb and flow over the next few years until the final outcome is decided. Either the working class will take power or there will be a new bloody dictatorship if the Argentine workers fail in this task and the bourgeoisie does not find a solution to the country's catastrophic social and economic situation.

The revolutionary process does not advance in a continual straight line up to the taking of power. This is far from the reality of the actual processes taking place within society. Within the revolutionary process coexist periods of heightened class struggle and periods of social peace, paralysis and even temporary setbacks in the struggle, during which reaction seems to get the upper hand. However, such periods inevitably lead onto new social explosions and the movement moves on to a higher stage, accumulating further new contradictions. The whole history of revolutionary movements shows that in all these processes, if the masses are not able to take power in the initial stages, the bourgeoisie is always able to temporarily divert the masses' attention on to the safer roads of elections and bourgeois parliamentarianism.

This was the case in the Spanish Revolution of 1931-37 (during which there were three parliamentary and presidential elections and two municipal elections before the fascist coup in 1936), in May 1968 in France, in Portugal in 1974-76, in Chile in 1970-73, etc. In these situations it was correct to participate in the elections, as time was needed to convince the majority of the working class of the necessity of workers' power and socialism. The reason why all these revolutionary movements failed, some of which in a very bloody manner, was due to the failure of the leadership of the worker' parties, which either betrayed or vacillated at the decisive moment, once they had been able to secure the majority of the working class behind them, and not because they had participated in this or that election in the period immediately before the decisive moment in the revolutionary process.

Even when Duhalde announced the presidential elections last July, in the wake of the events at Avellaneda, it was already clear that a temporary retreat in the movement had started. The immediate task was no longer taking power, as we did not have the strength to set this as an objective, given that we had not and still haven't managed to win the majority of the Argentine working class over to the ideas of socialism and revolution. There was and still is much bold work to do in the grassroots of the unions, in order to consolidate positions and put forward a transitionary programme towards socialism which links the more immediate demands on wages, employment, prices and housing etc with the necessity of eventually establishing workers' power.

In these conditions it was correct, as we stated in the pages of El Militante right from the beginning, to participate in these elections in order to explain all of these ideas as well as the Argentine bourgeoisie's aim of diverting the masses' attention with this ballot. In order to do this, we proposed that the whole left form a United Front in its daily struggles and in the electoral arena in order to expand and consolidate its positions within the working class. Unfortunately, the refusal of Zamora and other groups on the left, who opted to boycott the elections, the attitude of the CTA leader, who declined to use the influence of the union to give a political lead to its hundreds of thousands of members, and the IU's and PO's inexcusable failure to unite for the electoral fight all combined to weaken the left's position during the elections.

We warned that it was a mistake to confuse the situation of thousands of left-wing activists with the situation of millions of workers and their families who, facing a present and future of unemployment, insecure jobs, low wages, corruption and uncertainty and without the perspective of an immediate revolutionary change, were looking to these elections, admittedly without much conviction, as a solution to their most urgent of problems by voting for those who they thought were the "best of a bad bunch", particularly when faced with the choice of openly reactionary candidates such as Menem or L. Murphy who were mainly proposing repression and putting the army on the streets as a way of dealing with social problems.

Millions of workers, women and youth intuitively felt that the result of these elections would determine "their" future, i.e. their chances of finding a job, of better wages, getting accommodation etc. This is why the level of participation was so high.

In the end, the level of abstention was more than 20%, with blank, void and spoiled ballot papers only representing an additional 2.70%; in other words, the "protest" vote was barely 23%, which was even lower than the level posted during the presidential campaign of De la Rúa in 1999. It was for the above reasons, therefore, that the tactic of the boycott and the so-called "protest vote" completely failed.

Not understanding the inevitability of this reaction from millions of workers and youth, who wanted to express their opinion by means of the ballot box, is not to understand how ordinary workers, women and youth of our class think, feel and act. It also shows the high level of confusion surrounding the choice of revolutionary tactics in general and regarding the current situation of the revolutionary process that began in our country in December 2001.

We of course respect the sincerity, commitment and honesty of those comrades that defended the tactic of the boycott or the blank vote. They sincerely believed that this was the best way to defend the interests of the movement, although, in our opinion, they were mistaken. Nevertheless, we ask them not draw pessimistic conclusions from this situation and not to presume that the big scores won by the various bourgeois candidates reflects in any way whatsoever satisfaction or agreement with their programmes or with the chaos caused by capitalism in the country. On the contrary, the massive scattering of the vote amongst many different candidates shows that this support is only superficial in nature. The hopes and illusions that the electorate may have placed in the promises of the various candidates (and there were all sorts of promises being made during this campaign!) will inevitably transform in to anger and frustration in the next few months once it is understood that nothing has fundamentally changed. There will then be a further rise in struggle and consciousness, which will prepare the way for a leap forward in the movement.

The votes of the bourgeois candidates: Menem, L. Murphy, Saá, Kirchner and Carri�

The Argentine ruling class was unable to put forward one or even just two presidential candidates, which is usually the norm in most capitalist countries and what had always happened in Argentina in the past. The running of 6 opposing candidates is not a sign of the strength or the "health" of the democratic system, as some have tried to make us believe, but is a reflection of the divisions and the differences of opinion over how capitalism should be managed in the future in Argentina. It is a reflection of the divisions in the ruling class that started to appear in the months before the "Argentinazo" (the December 2001 uprising), which deepened afterwards and are continuing today.

Of course Menem, Kirchner, L. Murphy, Saá and Carrió also have their own personal ambitions, which is always the case in such contests. However, attached to each candidate are the invisible strings that link them to their real masters, in other words, the various cliques that make up the ruling class of this country. Although this ruling class acts in unison when it comes to confronting the working class, it is riven with contradictory interests when it comes to sharing out between the different sections of the bourgeois and its henchmen abroad, the surplus value squeezed out of the Argentine working class.

Behind Menem and López Murphy stand the banks, the foreign multinationals and a section of the national oligarchy. It is also likely that they are supported by US imperialism. Their aim is to continue with the policy of cuts in services and a reduced public sector in order to pay the foreign debt and carry out tax cuts for big business. They would also like the peso's value to be the closest possible to the dollar in order to boost the profits that the multinationals and banks repatriate to their countries of origin or that the oligarchy takes out of the country to send abroad. All this adds up to bleeding and squeezing even more wealth out of Argentina. They were also openly proposing to repress the piquetero and other movements, although this did not form the central platform of their campaign as they wanted to gain as many votes as possible. Therefore, even this section of the ruling class split its affections between two different candidates. Perhaps the most conscious representative of this sector was L. Murphy, who talked quite openly using the brazen language of the ruling class, whilst Menem, faithful to his own usual style, used a more "populist" demagogic language promising to cut taxes for big business and to increase wages by up to 30%. The ruling class is reserving L. Murphy for the future, given that Menem is a spent and ill person who is opposed by most of the country, despite the misleading result he managed to obtain in the first round.

Kirchner and Saá represent the same section of the ruling class, but which is more tied to the export sector. They also enjoy the conniving support of European imperialism, especially of those countries with major interests in the country such as Spain, Italy, France and Germany. They want a weaker peso versus the dollar in order to boost exports. They defend the idea of a "progressive" capitalism, their leitmotiv being a "productive" economy. Consequently, Kirchner continually declared himself to be a "Keynesian", or in other words in favour of issuing more state debt in order to stimulate production with public works etc, increasing state spending, providing cheap loans to businesses and a thousand and one other marvellous plans. However, Kirchner must prove just one simple thing: where is he going to get the money from the Argentine state to do all of this, if it is already bankrupt? How is he to pay the interest on the foreign debt and at the same time increase social and state spending? All this is pure demagogy as there is no way that he could carry out his programme.

Argentine capitalism can only survive on the basis of low wages and insecure jobs in order to compete successfully on the world market. All the candidates agree on this point. The economy melted down because both national and foreign capital fled on a massive scale. The only way that the Argentine economy will be able to rise from the ashes is through a massive investment programme. The state cannot do this as we have already explained above. However, private capital cannot do this on a widespread scale given the recession in the economy, which has been aggravated by the whole Latin American context.

Carrió was the defender of capitalism with "a human face", however, unfortunately for her, his time came at the worst possible moment. What we see today is all that capitalism can genuinely offer the masses of workers and youth. All the rest is pure demagogy. Whatever they might say, if all the candidates agree that the infamous foreign debt must be paid by increasing the cost of public services (Kirchner wants them to rise 10% in the next few months) without increasing taxes on businesses, the negative consequences on the working class will be the same, whoever is in government. The only difference between them, as we said above, is how to share out the surplus value extracted from the working class and which section of the ruling class will have the biggest share of it. This is the only genuine difference between them.

As Saá and Carrió were increasingly forced to employ certain "anti-FMI" and "anti-American" diatribes in their speeches and campaign against the "mafia" in the state apparatus etc. in order to carve out a certain base of support amongst the masses, they began to lose their support from the frightened ruling class which then abandoned them to their fate by limiting their access to the economic resources required to finance their electoral campaigns, by cutting their support in the phoney opinion polls carried out on special request and finally by limiting their media exposure.

The ruling class were thus able to concentrate on promoting the candidates that offered the most guarantees: Menem, L. Murphy and Kirchner. Given that L. Murphy had little popular support and few backers in the state apparatus, which is firmly in the hands of the various Peronist clans, it was therefore logical that it would finally plump for Kirchner and Menem in these elections.

Many were surprised by the massive amount of votes won by L. Murphy and Menem, despite the openly reactionary content of their election manifestos. However, on closer inspection, this is hardly surprising. True, they were the representatives of the so-called "neo-liberal" sector tainted with the stringent austerity programme of the last 10 years. However, in their public appearances and in the media, they went to great pains to reveal as little as possible of their programmes. The masses do not generally read the manifestos of the bourgeois candidates, to which they normally do not have access anyway. The election "marketing" industry consciously promotes the most demagogic and "populist" aspects of their speeches in order to hoodwink the masses. It is also true to say that a part of the vote for Menem came from layers of backward workers, made completely desperate by their situations. They remembered that the economy was not so bad 10 years ago as it is today and they wanted to believe that by some miracle all would become as it was before, forgetting that it was precisely the Menem policies of that period that were responsible for most of the disasters of the current period. Furthermore, Menem also enjoys a lot "clientelist" votes, from the huge swathes of urban poor living in the most marginalized shantytowns. Finally, a sector of the middle class is always ready to believe in today's and yesterday's messiahs. Scandalously, a part of the bourgeois media also openly supported his electoral campaign.

The votes of L. Murphy came from similar sections of society as Menem's, although there was a higher content of middle class votes. It is no coincidence that L. Murphy triumphed in the wealthiest areas of Argentina's main towns and cities. Others took the view that L. Murphy was less tainted by the past corruption of Peronism and despite a fleeting appearance in the De la Rúa government, he appeared to be a relatively "new" face. In the last two weeks of the campaign, the propaganda in favour of L. Murphy in the media was massively boosted in order to shore up his electoral support.

Kirchner, who was a Peronist relatively unknown by the masses a year ago, enjoyed major support from Peronist party apparatus, given that he was the party's "unofficial" candidate. He did not appear to be openly linked to the past corruption of other Peronist leaders and he was skilful in the use of his anti-corruption message, assigning Menem with complete responsibility for the country's economic disaster. He cleverly directed his campaign to the most disillusioned sections of "Menemism", competing with Carrió for the same layer of the so-called "progressive" vote, criticising the corruption of the past and promising to boost social and state spending, making a direct appeal to the workers etc. Given that there was not one single left organisation with enough strength to combat all this demagogy, Kirchner and Carrió naturally appeared as the main flag bearers of the fight against "Menemism" during the electoral campaign, which consequently brought them a large amount of votes from the workers and youth who in other circumstances would have been a natural source of support for the left. If he had enjoyed more support from the party apparatus, more backing in the media and more resources, it is clear that Kirchner would have been able to go on to the second round, the so-called "ballotage" stage.

It is not certain that the results of these elections signify a "swing to the right" in society. Most voters believed that Kirchner, Carrió and Saá, despite all their contradictions and demagogy, were the only candidates prepared to reject the past 12 years and the legacy of Menem and his plundering of the country. Between them, they won 50% of the vote. This was helped by the fact that there was absolutely no left-wing alternative seen as sufficiently attractive and big enough by the majority of workers and their families. If we add to this a part of the votes for L. Murphy, most of all the votes from the youngest voters, which also had an element of a "protest" vote against the past, as well as the votes won by the small forces of the left, it is clear that there has not been a "reactionary" turn in society and in the working class (the majority of the population). In simple terms, the mass of the workers and their families, believing that these elections were highly important for their future, had no other alternative but to vote for these candidates as a way of trying to change their situations.

The results of the left parties

Under these circumstances, as we explained months ago, if Zamora and the rest of the left had formed a wide coalition of the left to fight the elections, they could have become a major rallying point for workers and youth. It is doubtful that they would have been able to get to the second round or "ballotage" (although neither this could have been ruled out), but they would have been able to rally millions of working class voters and from there build a strong political opposition to the new government, which in turn would have strengthened the mettle of the workers and the masses for the battles to come. This in turn would have created the conditions in which the left would have been able for the first time to wrench vast swathes of the working class from the influence of the Peronists and the other bourgeois currents that preach class collaboration, which in essence means the subjugation of the workers by the capitalists. However, failing to do this meant that the left sent out the message that it was dispersed, divided and riven with splits.

The only left organisations that finally fought the elections were IU and PO, which went into battle divided. Together they only managed to win a little more than half a million votes (2.6% of the total vote), which is actually less than they gained in the general elections of October 2001. Other small left groups linked to the older socialist and other parties added a further 1.9%.

The left organisations, particularly the first two, were completely ignored by the media and were no competition for the other bourgeois parties who received almost unlimited funds to finance their campaigns.

During the elections, both organisations continued to focus their campaign on the demand for a "free" and "sovereign" Constituent Assembly as the only alternative to solve the problems of the country, as if for workers there is the slightest qualitative difference between a bourgeois parliament and a constituent assembly (apart from the name)! What they should have done was to have campaigned on the necessity of workers' power and explain, where conditions permitted, to workers the need for them to organise their own organs of power and workers' control in the workplace (factory committees) to check the books, prevent sackings and fight for better wages etc. Furthermore and in parallel to the above, it would also have been correct to defend a more general programme including the demand to refuse to repay the foreign debt, the re-nationalisation of privatised companies, the nationalisation of the banks as well an increase in wages to prevent an erosion in purchasing power and the elimination of job insecurity etc.

In spite of all this, the fact that hundreds of thousands of workers and youth voted for left candidates who stood for revolutionary socialist ideas and programme (although we do not agree with all of their positions and demands) is an extremely positive development. It provides a very good basis for getting them actively involved in the struggles of the workers, the piqueteros, the popular assemblies and the youth. It is a priority to educate tens of thousands of them as revolutionary cadres so as to prepare ourselves for the battles of the future. If we can have tens of thousands of activists rooted amongst the masses, these will become millions when the conditions become more favourable.

This task can be carried out much faster if the leaders of the left correct their mistakes in the light of past experience. They must firmly stand for the United Front in all fields of their activities, and also defend a bold programme which goes from the most immediate demands of the masses, to the more general question of the need for Socialism.

The second round or "ballotage" between Menem and Kirchner

The next president will therefore be chosen following a second round of voting ("ballotage") between Menem and Kirchner on 18th May. For all the reasons that we have detailed above, we believe that it is most likely that Kirchner will win. If the all the bourgeois commentators in their chat shows on radio and TV are agreed on one thing, it is that most people are in fact anti-Menem. Already some forecasters are putting the level of votes for Kirchner at between 65% and 75%. It is almost certain that Saá and Carrió will ask the people who voted for them in the first round to vote against Menem in the second.

It would also be quite logical that most workers and their families, including many people who sympathise with the left, decide to choose the "best of a bad bunch" to try and block the route to Menem, by voting for Kirchner. Millions of workers and their families still remember how the nation's wealth was handed over to foreign multinationals and to the "friends" of Menem and they still remember the rise in unemployment, poverty, the political and judicial mafia, the destruction of industry and other sources of work etc during Menem's reign. Nevertheless, we must not forget that 10 years ago no one in the Peronist party (not even Kirchner during his time) questioned these policies.

We support therefore neither Menem nor Kirchner. It goes without saying that we reject Menem, for the corrupt bourgeois politician he is, who has already said that he would not hesitate to send the army out to put down the people. He was personally involved in the looting of the country's riches and he himself grew wealthy through this and has been implicated in arms trafficking and other criminal dealings. His rightful place is undoubtedly in jail, and he would be had it not been for the extremely corrupt nature of the Argentinean judiciary.

However, we would be lying if we said that Kirchner represents a more "progressive" alternative. Kirchner is a representative of the capitalist interests that we described above. His programme is not fundamentally different from Menem's in content. In order to maintain the capitalists' profit margins, in order to pay the foreign debt, to increase tariffs, he will not hesitate to attack the living and working conditions of the working class and youth. If there are street protests against this, he will be forced to repress them. There are no half-way measures in capitalism. You are either with the workers or you are with the capitalists. You cannot please both sides at the same time and Kirchner has already made it quite clear which side he serves. In any case, if he does not act as they wish him to do so, the capitalists will soon kick him out of office and install a replacement. Tomorrow, when Kirchner dashes the hopes that he raised in many, workers will start to bring those who created these false illusions to account. We must be honest with our own class. There is no other alternative for workers and our families under capitalism. The only alternative is the struggle for socialism. There is no "third way". This is why we call for abstention or a blank vote in the second round of the presidential election on the 18th May.

The tasks of the left and perspectives

The most important left organisations and leaders have been disorientated by this electoral campaign. Both those who stood for a boycott and those that took part in the elections have seen their objectives undermined. The former expected a marked increase in the so-called "protest" vote, which in the end did not happen whilst the latter won far fewer votes than they had expected. All the militants, activists and leaders of the various groups on the left must take a while to think on what conclusions must be drawn from the experience of the last year and a half.

The lessons are clear. Firstly, an effort must be made to take the pulse of the working class and not mistake the situation experienced by the activists for the one experienced by the masses, who always take a little longer to reach the same conclusions as the vanguard.

Secondly, they must also try and find a way of linking up even more with the workers. In this sense it is very important to carry out co-ordinated work in the grassroots of the unions. The unions are the key to reaching the organised layers of the working class. Whatever the subjective desires of the union bureaucracy, the objective reality will sooner or latter push the workers into fresh struggle. They will have no alternative when the cost of public services are hiked by the new government, when they continue to lose purchasing power due to diminishing wages and when they see that the health and education systems continue to worsen because the money needed to educate their children is going to pay back the foreign debt mountain. The upsurge in workers' struggles will create better conditions for union activists in their workplaces to stand apart as the best fighters. They will be in a better position to wrench the leadership of the unions from the conciliating and bureaucratised leadership, as the level of working class struggle increases in the next few months.

In addition to this, activists must equip themselves with a concrete programme of demands on wages, housing, infrastructure, health, education which includes more general measures for the renationalisation of privatised companies, for the refusal of the payment of the foreign debt and the nationalisation without compensation of the commanding heights of the economy under workers' control.

The peoples' assemblies here have an important role to play in accompanying these measures and all the future struggles that will take place. A fresh upsurge in the struggle of the workers and the masses will revitalise and strengthen these bodies, which must build a more tighter co-ordination between each other on the local as well national levels.

As we said above, there is no space left for pessimism. The experience of the coming months will teach the workers. They will draw increasingly more advanced conclusions. The inertia created by the election results will melt like snow in the sun. Left-wing activists from the peoples' assemblies, from the occupied factories, from the grassroots of the unions together with the honest, militant union leaders are bound meet more and more support for their ideas and for collective action. A powerful tendency in favour of unity and a clearly anti-capitalist programme will begin to form.

The working class does not see small organisations. Sooner or later, especially from the grassroots of the unions, the call will come to build a mass party of the working class, to take over from the bourgeois parties and leaders who have no way of finding a solution to the current capitalist crisis. The left activists can play a vital role in such a mass organisation, fertilising it with the ideas of scientific Marxism and of socialism. The comrades of El Militante are preparing themselves now for just such an occasion.

Join us, join El Militante!

April 29, 2003.

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