One year ago, shortly before Christmas, the world was shaken by reports of a popular uprising in Argentina. In extraordinary scenes, recalling the fall of Saigon, President De la Rua had to escape in a helicopter from the roof of his Presidential palace, fleeing from his own people. In less than two weeks Argentina had four presidents.
The movement of the masses was sparked off by an unprecedented financial collapse which overnight bankrupted the nation and ruined a large number of middle class people who saw their life's savings in dollars turned into devalued pesos. The accumulated anger of the unemployed, the ruined middle class, the workers and the youth had reached that critical point when quantity becomes transformed into quality. As I wrote in my article last December, the Argentine revolution had begun.
Twelve months later, how does this characterization fit in with the current situation? On the face of it, after a turbulent year, things have calmed down. The bourgeoisie is still in command. The economy seems to have achieved a relative stability. The infamous "corralito" whereby savers could not withdraw more than 300 pesos (about 80 dollars) a week from the bank and long term accounts could not be touched without losing two-thirds of one's savings (at first it was not permitted to withdraw anything), has been partially abolished as of the December 12.
So should we perhaps modify our previous position? Should we admit that revolution is now off the agenda in Argentina? The usual chorus of cynics and sceptics, always eager to paint in glowing colours the prospects for capitalism and to denigrate the revolutionary potential of the working class, is now in full voice. But their enthusiasm for the viability of Argentine capitalism is premature. In practice, nothing has been resolved. What we are seeing is only the end of the first act. The finale is as yet a long way off.
At the other extreme of the political spectrum there are some who, on principle, deny the possibility of any lull or retreat in the movement, let alone a defeat. Their motto is like that of Superman in the old black and white movies: "Up! Up! And Away!" This is what passes in some circles (unfortunately not only in Argentina) for an intransigent revolutionism. In practice, however, this political impressionism has nothing to do with revolutionism, or at any rate with the Marxist conception of revolution.
A revolution is not a single act. Many people confuse revolution with insurrection, that is, they confuse the whole with the part. In reality, before we reach the stage of the final transfer of power, the revolution passes through many stages, corresponding to the process of the development of consciousness of the masses. This is not, and cannot be, a straight line. Periods of mass awakening, of heightened class struggle in which the masses participate actively, inevitably give way to periods of exhaustion, disappointment and despair, which end in a new upswing, until the fundamental contradiction in society is finally resolved - one way or another.
After the storm and stress of the past year, the masses are trying to digest their experiences. For its part the bourgeoisie, having had a serious fright, breathed a sigh of relief. We have thus arrived at a state of unstable equilibrium in which neither side is capable, for the time being, of achieving a decisive victory.
Falling living standards
On the December 5, the main daily paper Clarin carried on its front page in big letters "The Government Says that Unemployment is Down". It is perhaps significant that the paper did not say that this was a fact, but only that the government claims it to be the case. In fact, even if we accept that this is true, the official figures still place the level of unemployment at nearly 20 percent (19.5 percent). Moreover these figures underestimate the gravity of the situation since they conceal the fact that subemployment is on the increase.
The optimism of the bourgeois is premature. The Argentine economy is still contracting, having shrunk no less than 11 percent in 2002 - five consecutive years of decline. It is true that some indices of economic activity are positive. From January to October there was a surplus in foreign trade of 13,826 million dollars, compared with 4,484 million dollars in the same period of 2001. This mainly reflects the exports of agricultural products that have been helped by the steep devaluation of the peso.
However, this has another side. The favourable balance of trade also reflects a steep fall in imports, which in turn is only the expression of a collapse in purchasing power and a contraction of the internal market. The effect of the devaluation can only be maintained if living standards remain depressed and wages are held down while prices continue to rise. This is the central plank of the economic policy of the Argentinian bourgeoisie, that is, to place the full weight of the crisis on the shoulders of the working class, the unemployed and the middle class.
The figures of unemployment tell their own story. The black economy continues to grow at the expense of the official economy. There are now four millions working in the "formal economy" and another 3,5 millions in the "black economy", compared with 3 million under-occupied and 3 millions unemployed according to the Ministry of Labour. These figures, which undoubtedly understate the seriousness of the real situation, are already an indication that the levels of unemployment remain extremely high.
In a country that not long ago enjoyed a fairly high standard of living, the average monthly wage now stands at 548.50 pesos (US$156.7), one of the lowest in all Latin America and lower than the wages in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile or Peru. This year alone saw a fall in purchasing power of 40 percent. The increase of 100 pesos decreed in June benefited only 25 percent of workers (state employees, agricultural and fisheries workers, those in small enterprises and the informal economy received no wage increase).
Even those who got rises in July have seen the value of their incomes eroded by rising prices. From January to November the accumulated figure for inflation was 40.7 percent. But this figure conceals the real situation, because since then the increase in the prices of basic necessities has been in the order of 100 percent. As a result a large number of people have been reduced to unprecedented conditions of misery, semi-malnutrition and beggary. Fifty three per cent of the population (20 millions) are now living below the poverty line. Twenty six per cent are completely destitute (over 9 millions). In a land of plenty people are dying of hunger, especially old people and children. This is the gift of the "market economy" to the people of Argentina.
A large number of Argentine workers, sacked from their jobs, are obliged to resort to all kinds of marginal economic activities - street selling, shoe-shining, distributing advertisements and the like - in order to live. They are considered officially as "employed". Moreover, the payment of the princely sum of 150 pesos (around US$40) permits the government to claim that the number of people living in poverty has fallen, since those who receive this subsidy are considered to be "well-off". In practice, this is not remotely enough to maintain a family. In poor districts, where this is the only income for many families, people have to go to communal kitchens where they may get a meal, but frequently only receive a glass of milk and some biscuits.
The truth is that the number of Argentinians living in poverty has increased sharply, not declined as the government claims. Falling incomes of those lucky enough to have a job have meant that the number of those living in poverty in the urban areas is not less than 53 percent of the total. This was admitted by the director general of the national institute of statistics, Juan Carlos de Bello, as reported in the same issue of Clarin. The same source revealed that the government has massaged the figures of unemployed by using different criteria to the past, in order to show a fall in unemployment where none exists. In particular, the official figures exclude no fewer than two million people who are on public relief schemes, which provide "employment" that may consist of just a few hours.
The situation with regard to wages is that apart from the increase of 100 pesos (about US$30) from July and August, there have been no new increases, with very few exceptions. Wages in the public sector remain frozen. Even the much- trumpeted abolition of the "corralito" was only a partial measure, since the prohibition on the withdrawal of long-term accounts remains in place. Thus the middle class as well as the working class is suffering severely from the effects of the crisis.
Thus, the crisis remains acute. Objectively Argentina is already once more in default, despite having paid more than US$4,000 millions to different financial organisms. From a capitalist point of view, more cuts are needed. They cannot "afford" concessions to the workers and the unemployed. But the masses cannot afford to continue in this way. The stage is therefore set for a new upsurge of the class struggle in the next few months, in which the organized working class will begin to participate. This is a decisive question.
The basic contradiction is as follows: that Argentine capitalism twelve months after the December events has failed to achieve anything more than a temporary and unstable equilibrium in the economic field, and that all attempts to achieve a new economic equilibrium can only be at the expense of disturbing the social and political equilibrium. Thus, the stage will be set in the next few months and years for new explosions.
Manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie
The crisis of Argentine capitalism is manifested as a profound crisis of the ruling class and its political parties. In the past such a profound crisis would inevitably have led to a military coup. But, as we explained twelve months ago, this option is not on the order of the day - at least not yet. The memories are too fresh, the wounds too recent, for them to take such a step. They fear - with some reason - that a coup would lead directly to civil war - and moreover a civil war that they are not sure they can win. They are therefore obliged to resort to manoeuvres, delaying tactics and deception to keep the masses under control.
One of the main weaknesses of the Argentine bourgeoisie is that it does not have a stable traditional party. The Radicals have practically collapsed. The Peronists are split and in crisis. The people of Argentina have had the experience of these tired and bankrupt politicians in power over the last 20 years. They have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. This rogue's gallery of corrupt thieves and gangsters are completely discredited. Their speeches and promises are met with disgust and hatred, mixed with boredom.
For decades the ruling class made use of the Peronists to divert the attention of the masses when they got into difficulties. But now the Peronists are in a mess. At least four squabbling factions are disputing power like dogs fighting over a bone. The "left" Peronist, Rodríguez Saá, who was briefly thrust into power after the overturn last December, made use of the old populist demagogy to fool the masses, but was quickly pushed aside by the bourgeoisie which was frightened by the thought that "appetite comes with eating".
Duhalde was pushed forward as a more reliable candidate to hold the line, and he has loyally honoured his obligations to the bourgeoisie. But he is a spent force. People blame him for their falling living standards. A new face is needed. But who? Out of the murky shadows steps Carlos Menem, the personification of all that is most rotten and corrupt in Peronism - the man who pushed Argentina onto the road of "market reform" and who more than anyone else was responsible for preparing the present collapse. Saá has now split away from the official Peronist parliamentary group (duhaldistas). So now the Peronists are fragmented within the Congress into three different parliamentary groups: duhaldistas, menemistas and saaístas.
To boycott or not to boycott?
An important weapon in the armoury of the bourgeoisie is the calling of elections. The usual method is to arouse expectations in the hearts of the masses, to create an illusion of an "easy road" whereby the problems of the masses can be solved painlessly and without struggle, by placing a slip of paper in a ballot box. But the people of Argentina have had a good lesson in the value of such promises for the last 20 years and they know just how much they are worth.
For two decades the masses have had the opportunity to test one political party and one leader after another: first Alfonsin and the Radicals, then Menem and the Peronists, then de la Rua…They have peeled one skin after another off this tempting fruit and found at its core - a giant zero. The promisary notes of the politicians were all as fraudulent as a devalued peso. In the end, these gentlemen were interested only in lining their own pockets - the only thing in which they displayed any degree of efficiency.
That a change of government does not signify a real change in society is a matter of ABC for a Marxist. What is necessary is not just a change of ministers but a fundamental change in society, a social revolution through the expropriation of the land, the banks and the big companies that dominate the economy and which really decide the fate of millions of people.
Yes, all this is quite clear TO US. But it is not quite so clear to millions of people in Argentina who are desperately seeking a way out of the crisis. On the one hand, they curse the politicians who have betrayed them. On the other hand, in the absence of a clear and immediate perspective of revolutionary overturn, at least a part of the masses will grudgingly look to elections for some kind of solution to their most pressing problems, or, if not a solution, then at least some improvement. They will see elections as a means of hitting at those in power, of kicking out the present government and replacing them with another government, on the grounds that "we cannot be any worse off than now". The logic of this argument is, as we know, not very sound. But the problem is that, for the present, the masses see no other logic. This is particularly the case since, after one year of hard struggle, a revolutionary solution is not yet in sight.
The argument in favour of a boycott of the elections appears to be very radical. In practice it is quite the opposite. Marxists are not anarchists. We do not oppose participation in election in principle. We do not support parliamentary cretinism, but neither do we advocate anti-parliamentary cretinism. In general, we take advantage of each and every opportunity that is presented by bourgeois democracy to agitate and organize against the capitalist system. Election campaigns present an opportunity to reach the masses with our programme and ideas, and it is stupid to refuse such an opportunity. That is all.
Is it in general permissible to campaign for a boycott of elections? That depends on circumstances. As a general rule, the only situation in which we would advocate a boycott of elections is when we were in a position to dispense with bourgeois parliamentarism and introduce a higher system of democracy - that is, the rule of the soviets, workers' power. Are we in such a situation in Argentina today? No, we are not yet in such a situation. The objective task of the Argentine Marxists and the advanced guard of the proletariat is not yet to conquer power, because we do not yet have the forces to do this. Our task is to conquer the masses. We are still in the stage of organizing the masses, of engaging in a broad campaign of propaganda and agitation to win them to the idea of taking power. It is true that a colossal amount has been done over the last 12 months. But a lot more still has to be done - particularly to win over the organized working class.
The appropriate slogan of the day is not insurrection but, to repeat Lenin's celebrated slogan, "Patiently explain!" We must develop the broadest campaign of explanation, propaganda and agitation, while simultaneously educating and training the cadres of the revolutionary party. In this phase, it is not only permissible but obligatory to make the fullest use of every opening and every opportunity to put the revolutionary case before the widest layers of the people. That includes participating in elections. This was always the position of Lenin and the Bolsheviks who more than once had to sharply criticise the ultra-lefts whose verbal intransigence always conceals an organic inability to really penetrate the masses.
Once again on the Constituent Assembly
The argument in favour of the constituent assembly slogan is that the masses (in particular the middle class) are not yet ready for revolution and moreover that they suffer from democratic illusions. If this is true, then it is an argument in favour of participating in elections in order to convince the masses of the correctness of the socialist programme, since, by boycotting elections in a period when the masses are not yet ready for revolution and have illusions in bourgeois democracy, we would only be boycotting ourselves!
What are we supposed to tell the masses? No, we don't want this bourgeois democracy; what we really need is another, different bourgeois democracy. We don't want this bourgeois parliament, we want another bourgeois parliament… And so on and so forth. Such arguments at a time when the masses are suffering from the effects of a terrible crisis, really makes very little sense to anyone but those who have made a big thing out of a slogan arbitrarily copied from the Russian revolution with no relevance to the real situation in Argentina.
The slogan of the constituent assembly would have made a lot of sense 20 years ago, when Argentina was under the jackboot of a military dictatorship. At that time (as in tsarist Russia) democratic demands had a clearly revolutionary content and played a central role. But at the present time, what role can such a slogan play? Only that of confusing the vanguard and diverting the attention of the masses away from the central task, which is the establishment of WORKERS' POWER in Argentina.
By raising as the CENTRAL SLOGAN a bourgeois democratic slogan, in a situation where the working class is the overwhelming majority and the central task must be the transfer of power to the proletariat, whether you like it or not, you are creating the impression that there can be some kind of "third way", a democratic stage that lies between the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat. And this is extremely dangerous for the revolution and the working class. It is particularly dangerous in Argentina where the left has been traditionally affected by nationalist tendencies. The danger is that at a certain stage the revolution may be pushed off course and thrust along the false path of popular frontism and collaboration with the so-called "democratic" and "patriotic" sections of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. We see this already in relation to ARI, which has - not accidentally - embraced the slogan of the constituent assembly in order to cover its bare backside and deceive people by adopting a radical-sounding slogan that commits it to nothing.
We see the mess into which an incorrect theory leads us in practice in the confusion in the left parties over the attitude to take in relation to the elections. All manner of "clever" reasons have been put forward to justify the boycott tactic, but they do not bear serious examination. The main argument is that our central slogan is "¡Que se vayan todos!" (Get them all out!). Yes, indeed! Get them all out! But the question is HOW? By revolutionary, not parliamentary means, it is said. But the question is how to assemble the forces that can achieve this aim. And that brings us back right to the beginning. We need a serious and sustained campaign to win over the masses, and one cannot abstain from any field of activity that enables us to agitate for our ideas among the masses - including elections.
Luis Zamora, the former member of parliament of the left wing MAS, enjoyed great popularity as a result of his consistent denunciation of corrupt politicians. Being the left candidate with the best chance of winning - or at least obtaining a large number of votes - Zamora could have used the opportunity to denounce the whole corrupt system, using mass meetings, the press and television. From the moment he came out in favour of a boycott, he has been effectively silenced. The opportunity of uniting the left in a mass campaign of denunciation has been lost. And since Zamora's party had a mainly electoralist character, it has been plunged into internal crises and splits.
The beneficiaries of Zamora's short-sightedness will undoubtedly be the ARI (Argentinos por una República de Iguales - "Argentines for a Republic of Equals") led by Elisa Carrió. The ARI emerged out of a split in the Radicals three years ago. Despite its "left" demagogy, it is a bourgeois political formation that defends "capitalism with a human face" (whatever that is supposed to be). This group won a certain degree of popularity as a result of its denunciation of cases of corruption in the latter stages of the De la Rua government. But it has no significant social base, and scarcely any in the working class. Its membership is overwhelmingly petty bourgeois in composition: lawyers, journalists, students and a few leaders of the CTA trade union.
The ARI opposes the re-nationalization of privatised companies. It has already made it quite clear that, if it comes to power, it will reach an agreement with the IMF. It does not even support the repudiation of the foreign debt. Its most "radical" slogan is that is wishes to change the Constitution by means of - a constituent assembly! By this means it hopes to that all the corrupt elements will be sent to jail. If only it were that easy! ARI lives in a petty bourgeois dream world. It wants capitalism, but it does not want this capitalism, with its exploitation and corruption, but another capitalism, a perfect capitalism "with a human face", a world where the lion will lay down with the lamb and honey cakes will grow on trees. Unfortunately, there is only one kind of capitalism, and we are living under it. And those who try to teach a tiger to eat salad instead of meat tend to end up inside the belly of the tiger.
Lacking any real social base, ARI made skilful use of Zamora, with whom they formed a bloc last August to demand the resignation of all the members of parliament, senators and mayors. The intention was to win over a part of Zamora's base - which they have clearly succeeded in doing. Having obtained their objective, they then ditched Zamora as soon as he announced his intention of boycotting the elections, a stand that obviously seemed too "left" for their liking. Now Carrió, the arch-opportunist, has announced her intention of standing, with the aim of harvesting the votes that would have gone to Zamora. She has also been successful in this manoeuvre, since the latest opinion polls put her in third place, on the same level as Menem, behind Saa and Kirchner.
The decision of Zamora to boycott the elections has not helped the cause of the working class but has set it back. True, many Argentinians will not vote. But many others who are disgusted with the present government and want to register a protest through the ballot box will find that they are confronted with a choice between one or other bourgeois candidate. The votes that should have gone to a left candidate will go to the bourgeois ARI and its unprincipled candidate Carrió. This cannot be good.
Zamora's group, Autodeterminación y Libertad, is virtually split. Naturally! If he had stood in the elections he would have provided a point of reference for rallying the left forces in national campaign against the right wing. A common left candidate would have created the conditions for a nationwide campaign of agitation and propaganda. By refusing to stand, Zamora has played into the hands of the bourgeoisie and the right wing, depriving the workers, unemployed and the poor people of an alternative and surrendering the electoral field to the enemies of the working class. The bourgeoisie cannot believe its luck!
The United Left (MST and CP) have announce their intention to stand in the election, although their appeal will obviously be much less that Zamora's. The PO, having denounced everyone else as "electoralists" (whether they are standing or not!) has in practice left open the possibility of standing, and may well do so. In that case, we will have the worst of all worlds, with the left vote split between competing candidates, which will further divide and disorient the movement.
The confusion over electoral tactics in the left parties is the inevitable result of a confusion over revolutionary tactics in general and the stage the revolution is at. The slogan of the constituent assembly - a slogan that has no relation to the real situation in Argentina and which has been dragged in by the hair - has caused enormous confusion among the activists, as we predicted some months ago.
For a revolutionary class policy!
The revolution in Argentina is a socialist revolution or it is nothing. The central task is not to carry out the bourgeois democratic revolution, since Argentina is not tsarist Russia but a relatively developed capitalist country in which the working class forms the decisive majority of the population. The fact that the degenerate Argentine bourgeoisie has destroyed a significant part of the industrial infrastructure of the country in recent years is another question. The central task is to create and generalise committees of action that can give coherence and form to the struggle for the demands that can carry the movement forward. These demands must have a class character, and must aim to link the day-to-day struggles of the workers and the unemployed to the central goal of workers' power.
The embryos of these committees already exist in the committees of the piqueteros and popular assemblies. The movement of the piqueteros has played a most important role and is still in the vanguard. However, even the marvellous movement of the piqueteros has weaknesses that are painfully evident to the activists. The most important of these weaknesses is the lack of unity. There is really no excuse for the present fragmentation of the piquetero movement. It cannot be justified by any objective reason. The interests of all piqueteros are broadly similar. Their demands are broadly the same, as are their tactics. Yet they are divided into a number of separate organizations that demonstrate at different times and in different places. Such division is frankly inexcusable, especially for a section whose only strength lies in its unity.
Regrettably, the only real reason for this division lies in the political groups and parties that stand at the head of the piquetero movement and are reluctant to support a fusion because it would mean loss of control of an important area of influence. This is exactly the opposite of what one expects from a real revolutionary leadership. The interests of the class must always come first! What is needed is a united, democratic, mass piquetero movement, where every political tendency has the right to put forward its ideas, slogans and programme, while fighting for every step forward and reform that can alleviate the conditions of the unemployed.
Despite the colossal struggles of the last 12 months it must be evident that the piquetero movement - on its own - lacks the necessary strength to carry through the revolution to the end. It is absolutely necessary to link it up with the movement of the workers in the factories. This unity of workers and piqueteros is the prior condition for the success of the revolution. The idea that it is possible for the unemployed and the piqueteros to move to take power without the employed workers is a mistaken idea.
The main weakness of the revolutionary movement in Argentina so far is precisely that the big battalions of the working class have been slow to move. And the sooner the Left recognises this fact, the better. The reasons for this inertia are not hard to understand. Under conditions of massive unemployment, workers are fearful of their jobs. They are clinging desperately to their employment, in spite of the sharp drop in the purchasing power of their wages.
On the other hand, the majority of organized workers remain in the Peronist union, the CGT, where the bureaucracy seems to be in firm control and rules with a rod of iron. The workers have their heads down and the bureaucrats rule the roost. This, at least, seems to be the position. But this cannot last. The sharp drop in living standards also affects the workers in the CGT. The discontent is present, although it has not yet found its voice. The turning point will probably come after the elections, especially if, as seems likely, a Peronist candidate wins.
The workers will demand improved wages and conditions. This will be even more the case if the economy achieves some kind of amelioration, but it will take place anyway. The union bosses will find themselves under pressure and will in turn try to put pressure on the government for concessions. But the government will be under even greater pressure from the oligarchy and imperialism to hold wages down and carry out a policy of austerity. The result will be a growing tension between the unions and the government and a growing crisis inside the unions.
One of the most pressing needs of the moment is the need to develop an organized left opposition within the trade unions - not only the CTA but also the CGT. There will be all kinds of objections, of course: it is impossible to work in the CGT, they are Peronists, the bureaucracy is too strong, we will be expelled, and so on and so forth. Yes, we know the melody, and the words as well! But these "arguments" are no arguments at all. Lenin pointed out long ago that the Bolsheviks worked in all sorts of unions, even the most reactionary unions organized by the tsarist police!
There is no excuse, nor can there ever be an excuse for not working in the mass organisations of the working class to conduct a ruthless struggle against the bureaucracy. Ultimately, the fate of the Argentine revolution will depend on the results of this work.
Parallels with the Russian revolution
The Russian revolution of 1917 lasted for nine months, during which time there were several ebbs and flows. The initial revolutionary upsurge in February - which bears a striking similarity to the uprising in Argentina last December - led to the formation of the soviets, in which were represented not only the working class but also the peasantry in the form of the soldiers. The peculiar regime known as dual power lasted until power was transferred into the hands of the soviets under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party.
However, this process was neither automatic nor smooth. The stormy mass demonstrations of May and June culminated in the July Days. Similar events may be observed in every revolution in history. Their inner meaning is as follows: a section of the masses moves ahead faster than the rest. It is impatient. It desires a quick solution through the taking of power, when the majority of the working class has not yet drawn this conclusion. The more radical layers feel that the movement is not advancing as they would wish. They are affected by moods of frustration and anger at the fact that the power that seemed to be within their grasp in the early days is slipping out of their hands.
The anger of the advanced guard is often directed as much against the more inert sections of their own class as against the hated class enemy. They do not understand why the big battalions of the organized working class in the trade unions are not joining in the fight. They shake their fists at them and curse them for their apparent apathy. They want to act, and act now.
This is an extremely dangerous moment for any revolution, and one that demands a clear-headed and far-sighted leadership. In the case of the Russian revolution such a leadership existed in the shape of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky. The Bolsheviks realised that in July the advanced workers and sailors of Petrograd had moved too far too fast. The advanced guard was straining at the leash. The calling of an armed demonstration in Petrograd was really an attempt to take power in the capital when the more backward provinces were not yet ready for such a move.
The Bolsheviks were faced with an acute dilemma. Ultra-left and anarchist elements were urging the workers and sailors to take power. Lenin and Trotsky attempted to restrain them. Finally, the Bolsheviks placed themselves at the head of the armed demonstration in order to steer it away from clashes that could only have a damaging effect. Lenin and Trotsky always understood very well the need to avoid splitting the advanced elements away from the rest of the class, hence Lenin's slogan "Patiently explain!"
Predictably, the July events were utilised by government provocateurs to stage bloody clashes and cause chaos. Thanks to the far-sighted policy and flexible tactics of the Bolsheviks the losses incurred in the July Days were relatively small. But the authorities made use of it to pass onto the offensive, smashing the Party's press and arresting its leaders. Lenin was forced for a time to go into exile in Finland.
For most of July and August reaction reigned in Russia. But the Bolsheviks continued the patient work of winning over the majority in the soviets and the trade unions, most of which were dominated by the Mensheviks until the eve of October, whereas the Soviets were under the control of the Mensheviks and SRs at least until September-October. In fact, a number of key unions, like the railwaymen, remained hostile to the Soviet power even after the insurrection had succeeded.
The slogan "All Power to the Soviets!" was advanced by Lenin at a time when the soviets were under the leadership of the Mensheviks and SRs. It never occurred to Lenin to propose the creation of separate soviets or "revolutionary trade unions". The tactic of the Bolsheviks was to conduct patient work inside the soviets and unions to win the majority for the revolution. The fact that these organizations were under the control of pro-bourgeois elements who were conducting a counterrevolutionary policy (at one stage Lenin characterised them as "counterrevolutionary soviets") made not the slightest difference.
It is true that in July and August, when the soviet leaders were pursuing an openly counterrevolutionary policy, Lenin, for a time, advocated abandoning the slogan of "All Power to the Soviets!" in favour of a different slogan "All Power to the Factory Committees!" But this was a mistake. By persisting in patient work in the soviets, and by pursuing an intelligent policy of united front, the Bolsheviks succeeded in winning a majority in the soviets (and in many unions also) by September-October. Only then was the question of insurrection posed.
The reason why the October revolution was almost bloodless (at least in Petrograd) was that nine-tenths of the work had already been accomplished in the previous nine months of agitation, organization and propaganda.
And the Spanish revolution
The comparison with the Spanish revolution of 1931-37 is even more striking. The Spanish revolution began with the overthrow of the Monarchy in 1931. That was similar in many ways to the overthrow of De la Rua last December. The masses burst onto the scene with elemental force. But, as in February 1917, the weakness of the subjective factor allowed the bourgeois regime to achieve a temporary and unstable equilibrium.
In the years that followed, there were many ebbs and flows. The stormy strikes and demonstrations of 1930-31 ended, and a reaction set in. The masses were disappointed and settled into apathy, punctuated by adventurist uprisings of the anarchists. Then in 1934 the workers of Asturias rose up to defeat the threat of fascism. The crushing of the Asturian Commune led to a period of black reaction - the Bienio Negro - with thousands of workers killed and imprisoned. However, even these two years of black reaction - the equivalent of the July-August period in 1917 - ended in a new period of revolutionary upswing in 1936-37, with the election of the popular front government and the civil war.
Does this mean that the Argentine revolution will follow the same path as the Spanish and Russian revolutions? Not at all. History does not repeat itself in such a mechanical way. There are many differences, cross-currents and so on. But the main thing to see is that the Argentine revolution has not yet run its course, as some people imagine, nor has it exhausted its potential. Quite the opposite, in fact.
To pursue a military analogy, the Argentine revolution has so far only employed its light brigade for the purpose of reconnoitring the battleground and testing the enemy's defences. There has been some vigorous skirmishing, but no decisive battles have yet been fought. In the meanwhile the forces of the working class remain intact, and await the summons to battle. That summons will inevitably come.
In any war it is inevitable that the troops who have been in the front line will at some point retire, exhausted by the combat that seems to have no end. Symptoms of tiredness, disappointment and even disillusionment can set in. It is the duty of the leadership, who, it is supposed, possess a broader and more profound understanding of the conflict than the average footsoldier, to encourage the troops and to instil in them fresh heart to return to the battle.
However, a good leader will never try to deceive his troops with false information. If the situation is difficult, he must say so. He must above all not urge his troops to advance in a situation when such a move can only result in the army being cut to bits. A general who only knows one word of command: "Advance!" would very soon reduce his forces to dust. It is the same in politics.
Marxism and sectarianism
Trotsky once pointed out that, whereas perspectives is a science, tactics is an art. It is not enough to have a general understanding of the need for revolution. It is also necessary to be able to follow the revolution through all its different stages and to adjust the tactics of the vanguard accordingly.
Last December the masses showed that they were strong enough to bring down the government and throw the bourgeois system into crisis from which it has not really recovered. But they were not yet strong enough to finally put an end to the bourgeois regime and take power into their hands.
Exactly one year later, a mass demonstration has been called. Without doubt an impressive number will respond to the call. But those who look forward to a repeat of the events of last December will be disappointed. The mass movement cannot be kept permanently in a state of white heat nor can it be turned on and off like a water tap. After all the colossal exertions of the last year, the movement needs a little time to absorb the lessons, to spread its influence, to strengthen its organizations and to prepare for the next phase of the struggle.
The mass of the working class learns from experience, particularly the experience of great events. Argentina stands on the eve of such great events, which will shake society to its foundations. Time after time the masses will move to take power. There will be many defeats and setbacks. But in the course of the struggle, ever broader layers will be drawn into the class war. Ideas and slogans that are today listened to by a minority will in the future be listened to eagerly by hundreds of thousands and by millions.
The decisive element in this equation is the revolutionary party and leadership. Yet at present many activists regard the very idea of political parties and leadership with deep distrust. They see this as a threat to the autonomy of their mass organizations. This distrust is systematically encouraged by all kinds of anarchist and semi-anarchist elements who loudly denounce all "leaders" and advocate supposedly "new ideas" (which really belong to the prehistory of the workers' movement). Unfortunately, these anti-party and anarchist moods are at least in part the result of the bad policies and sectarian conduct of some who call themselves Marxists.
The logic of the anti-party people is completely threadbare. All their wisdom is reduced to the idea, which they repeat tirelessly: "Parties are bad. Leaders are bad. We don't need them!" But wait a minute! If our shoes pinch, we do not draw the conclusion that we must go barefoot. If the food is bad, we do not advocate going hungry. We look for a new pair of shoes and good, wholesome food to fill our belly. If a worker has to work with bad tools that give poor results, he does not conclude that he should do without tools altogether, which would mean even worse results, but only that a new and better tool is required. If there are bad, poorly trained doctors and teachers in the hospitals and schools, the answer is to demand better trained ones, and not to advocate a society that is illiterate and where old women pronounce magic spells over sick people.
The ideas of the anarchists, as Trotsky once remarked, are like an umbrella full of holes - useless precisely when it rains. It is fairly obvious that the alternative to bad leadership is not no leadership but good leadership - that is, a leadership that consistently defends the interests of the working class. It is also clear that those elements who denounce "all leaders" themselves aspire to leadership that is every bit as bad as that which they criticise, if not worse..
As a matter of fact, there is always leadership. Even in a strike of half an hour, someone has to go into the manager's office to put the workers' case. Who is that person? An accidental element? No, it is someone the workers trust to put their case in the best possible way. It is a colleague who they know is best equipped to defend their interests, someone who has the courage and knowledge to argue with the bosses. This is already leadership, and we cannot do without it. The natural leaders of the working class are present in every strike committee and every group of piqueteros. Without such people it would not be possible to organize a strike, a demonstration or a communal kitchen. Everybody knows this.
The tasks of organizing strikes, demonstrations and communal kitchens are complicated enough. But the tasks of preparing the socialist transformation of society are far more complicated. They require serious preparation and the systematic education of cadres over a period of time. This is the meaning of the revolutionary party, which cannot be improvised. The masses learn through their experience of the class struggle, but the idea that this process of collective learning through trial and error can somehow be a substitute for the revolutionary party is extremely foolish.
The revolutionary movement cannot do without trained cadres. It cannot do without theory. This should be evident to any worker. A carpenter who puts in a window frame in a house does not approach his task in this way. He does not try to work out his tasks by a process of trial and error, but applies the lessons he has received in a long process of training. The same is true of any other occupation, from cookery to surgery. A cook that had no idea of how to prepare food but merely relied on trial and error would give a lot of people indigestion. And how many of us would be content to place ourselves in the hands of a surgeon who had no idea of how to wield a scalpel, but was quite happy to experiment on our body?
Yes, the working class learns from its collective experience, and this is tremendously important. The working people of Argentina have undoubtedly learnt more in the last 12 months of storm and stress than in all the previous 20 years. But there is a problem. A revolutionary situation, by its very nature, is not of infinite duration, and mistakes in the course of the revolution carry a heavy price. Here it is not the life of one person that is at stake, as with the surgeon, but the lives of many people. We cannot approach this question in a frivolous manner! And it is a very simple proposition that the difference between having a serious leadership and not having it is very often the difference between victory and defeat, between life and death. Not to understand this is to understand nothing at all about the revolution.
By leadership, however, we do not have in mind a small group of intellectuals who dictate to the working class "from on high" and who manipulate the mass movement in a bureaucratic fashion. That was never the method of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky! It is the task of the advanced guard to work patiently and loyally shoulder to shoulder with the masses, to propel the struggle forward, while at the same time to engage in a friendly dialogue with the masses, to listen to their views and answer their questions. Where we are in a minority, we must accept it quietly and work patiently to win a majority by democratic means. Only in this way will a genuine Marxist revolutionary party be built in Argentina - or anywhere else.
Shrill sectarian denunciations, the fomenting of splits in the mass movement for sectarian and bureaucratic aims, manoeuvres at the top to keep control - such methods are anathema to genuine Marxism. They came out of the swamp of Stalinism, and it is there that they belong.
Long ago, in the pages of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels pointed out that Communists do not form a party separate and opposed to other workers' parties. Nor do they set up sectarian principles whereby to shape and mould the movement. The Communists are distinguished from other workers only by two things: that in every struggle of the working class they are always the most militant and revolutionary elements and that they alone have the advantage of a clear programme and perspectives, and finally and above all that they are INTERNATIONALISTS, not nationalists.
On this glorious anniversary it is necessary for the vanguard to draw a balance sheet of the events of the past year, giving serious consideration to the strong and weak sides of the movement, drawing all the lessons and posing the tasks of the next stage in a way that can lead to the strengthening of the vanguard, raising it to the level demanded by the next, decisive stage of the Argentine revolution.