Editorial ... Argentina: Imperialist rivalry means workers’ misery

16 February 2024 424 hits

In late January, in another sign of the international crisis of capitalism, masses of workers handed U.S.-friendly Argentinian President Javier Milei a humiliating defeat. More than 1.5 million workers joined a national strike against Milei’s “omnibus” austerity reform bill, a vicious attack on the working class. After four days of militant fightback in the streets, Milei’s administration was forced to withdraw the bill (Truthout, 2/7).

As Argentina continues to whiplash between rightwing and fake-left misleaders, the third largest economy in Latin America is a vivid illustration of how voting and reforms will never bring workers the world we need. Only a revolutionary mass communist party—Progressive Labor Party—will finally put an end to the terrors of capitalism.

Capitalism=unending misery for workers
Under the dictatorship of Juan Peron after World War Two, Argentina welcomed hundreds of Nazis to build a fascist movement in Argentina. Peron also put in a wave of reforms, including pensions and subsidized electricity, to pacify revolutionary activity and set up the working class for decades of future misery.

In the worldwide capitalist crisis of the 1990s, Argentina was hit hard and never recovered. The richest 10 percent in Argentina now control 60 percent of the wealth (Buenos Aires Times, 1/28), and the country’s poverty rate exceeds 40 percent (BBC, 1/29)—including more than eight million children. In 2023, inflation soared to 211 percent, its highest rate in 32 years, leaving workers with pesos that are next to worthless (NBC News, 1/11/24). 

Over the past twenty years, conditions in Argentina’s notorious favelas have gotten even worse for workers who have nowhere else to live. Many search through landfills to find scrap to build flimsy houses—or even food to bring back and cook (BBC, 6/26/22). That’s capitalism in a nutshell, a system where workers are forced to search through garbage for their next meal. Under communism, we will ensure all workers have adequate housing and healthy food available, according to their need. 

China gaining in U.S. “backyard”
U.S. dominance in Latin America faced little competition until the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) forced a series of widely unpopular austerity cutbacks. That left an opening for China, which has made loans totaling $138 billion to Latin America and the Caribbean (Wilson Center, 9/23). From 2005 to 2019, around 40 percent of Chinese investment in South America went into Argentina (Council of Foreign Relations, 2/5)—making it no surprise when  Argentina joined China’s international infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, in 2022. The struggle between U.S. and Chinese imperialism is forcing smaller capitalist bosses to choose a side.

Under Milei, Argentina has shifted its policy away from China and back toward the United States. Milei recently cancelled Argentina’s planned entry into BRICS, the China-led alliance with Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa (AP, 12/29/23). He went so far as to call Chinese leaders “thieves” and “murderers” and has pushed for doing more business with “the U.S., Israel and other countries that defend freedom” (Financial Times, 2/6).

Rising facism in Argentina
Not so long ago, U.S. imperialism had unchecked control over most of the world. Today, however, their influence is degrading with every deal another country signs with China. While the U.S. and China battle it out for world supremacy, smaller countries are being pulled into the rising tide of fascism, and Argentina is no exception. As Milei and his group of “free market” capitalists struggle to build closer ties with the U.S. and wean the country off dependence on Chinese imperialism, they must try to smash worker fightback as well as disagreements within their own class.

After Milei took office on December 10, he eliminated half of the government’s 18 ministries and promised to cut subsidies and privatize state-owned companies. For “moving “quickly and decisively” to “restore macroeconomic stability,” the IMF rewarded the new administration by agreeing to resume payouts (The Economist, 1/14). Since then, however, the Donald Trump admirer has encountered significant obstacles in implementing his big initiatives.

On December 27, Milei submitted the omnibus bill that would allow him to rule by decree for two years--and encountered stiff resistance from Argentina’s Congress (Reuters, 2/6). He’s been forced to back off from his campaign promise to scrap Argentina’s peso and replace it with the U.S. dollar. While Milei has rejected China’s offer to finance Argentina’s $43 billion debt to the IMF, and is pushing instead to pay off the debt by terrorizing workers through austerity cuts (Financial Times, 11/11/24), his pivot to the U.S. may not be so easy to achieve. Argentina still has contracts with China for lithium mining and soybean sales (Reuters, 12/7/23). Many of the country’s bosses see China as an economic lifeline. They know they desperately need to avoid another credit default (Atlantic Council, 11/3).

To rebuild Argentina’s ties to the U.S. in such a volatile period, Milei has no choice but to intensify his attacks on the working class. His omnibus bill would force workers to opt into boss-controlled unions and imprison protest organizers for six years. The president is also pushing for mass layoffs, massive privatization, and huge cuts to government services and subsidies (The Economist, 1/14). For Milei and the capitalist bosses he represents, fascism is not an option—it’s a necessity.

As Chinese imperialism grows stronger, some workers may find comfort in China’s challenge to U.S. dominance. But we must be clear: All capitalist bosses stand for mass exploitation, for rising fascism, and for building toward the next world war. 

Workers must build revolutionary leadership
While we applaud the bold protesters in Argentina, workers cannot rely on short-term reforms. Even if the current fightback delays or dilutes the bosses’ next round of attacks, liberal misleaders will leave the working class unprepared to face even sharper attacks down the line. Nothing short of building a communist movement, led by Progressive Labor Party, will serve workers’ long-term interests. 

Capitalism inevitably breeds inter-imperialist rivalry. In Argentina, neither Chinese nor U.,S. imperialism will bring anything but fascism and disaster for the working class. We must build a revolutionary communist movement that destroys capitalism once and for all.