Front in Argentina:
A Reformist Electoral Cartel
March of the Left and Workers Front in Argentina.
The following article is translated from Vanguarda Operária No. 14, October-November 2018, published by the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, section of the League for the Fourth International.
In discussions of the left’s electoral politics in Brazil, the Movimento Revolucionário de Trabalhadores (MRT) raises as an example of the way forward the Left and Workers Front (FIT) in Argentina. The MRT is the Brazilian section of the international Trotskyist Faction (FT) tendency, led by the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (PTS – Party of Socialist Workers) in Argentina, which is one of the three components of the Front. From the Southern Cone of South America to Europe and the United States, affiliates of the FT point to FIT as the model and very embodiment of class independence in the electoral arena. They announce with great fanfare their electoral advances, from 500,000 votes (2.3% of the total) in the 2011 presidential election to more than 1,000,000 (4.3% of the total) in the elections for the National Congress in 2017. “Nothing succeeds like success” would seem to be their motto, even if the results are still very modest in terms of electoral arithmetic.
So, what is the Argentine Left Front? Not to keep the reader in suspense, it is a reformist and opportunist electoral alliance. It represents a coalition based on a program of the lowest common denominator, in which centrist parties claiming to be revolutionary abandon the Marxist principles they claim to defend. It is precisely the type of propaganda bloc against which Trotsky warned against in the 1930s. And we shall spell this out not only with Marxist analysis but also by quoting the words of the very participants in this electoral consortium.
So let’s get started:
The FIT is made up of the PTS, the Partido Obrero (PO – Workers Party) and Izquierda Socialista (I.S. – Socialist Left). It was founded to run candidates in the presidential election of 2011, when these organizations presented a slate headed by Jorge Altamira for president, with Christian Castillo as vice president, those being the main leaders of PO and the PTS, respectively. Its program, the “Programmatic Declaration of the Workers and Left Front” (August 2011), consists of a laundry list of typical demands of militant economist trade-unionism: “minimum wage equal to the cost of the indexed family basket” (a measure of basic expenses of a typical family), pensions at 82% of a worker’s minimum wage, a ban on firings, “an end to outsourcing”; nationalizations, state takeovers and “expropriations” of particular sectors (occupied factories, railroads, the “large landowning oligarchy”); defense of social programs (health, education, public housing); union independence from the state, oust the bureaucracy. To this it adds other demands such as free abortion, police out of working-class neighborhoods, withdrawal of troops from Haiti, etc.
As for the economic crisis, the program demands that it “be paid for by imperialism, the multinationals, bankers and capitalists,” as if it were all a matter of distribution. This is a liberal/reformist utopia. The crisis is due to the fact that bankers and capitalists are in deep trouble. Even with raising taxes on profits, inheritances and fortunes (which won’t happen), until we overthrow the rule of capital, it will be the workers who pay the cost of the crisis. Among the 22 numbered items of the FIT program, there are some that might seem more radical, such as the “nationalization of land, beginning with the expropriation of the 4,000 main estates.” The latter, however, would only be a classic capitalist agrarian reform, and “nationalization of the land” has been a bourgeois-democratic demand since the days of bourgeois economist Adam Smith in the 18th century.1 And when the program speaks of supporting the victory of “revolutions” in the Middle East, it actually means supporting pro-imperialist reactionary Islamist “rebels” in Libya and Syria, for example.
In short, the program of the Left and Workers Front in Argentina is a collection of reformist recipes, which in no way goes beyond the bounds of capitalism nor does it challenge imperialist domination and the bourgeois state. You don’t have to take our word for it. Let’s read what the Partido Obrero itself writes about the FIT Programmatic Declaration: “The program ‘approved’ in 2011 (there was no discussion) is a recipe for state takeovers and by no means lays out the method that should lead the proletariat to establish a government of working people” (“Resolution on the Left Front,” En defensa del marxismo No. 47, 1 April 2016).
But what about this maximum slogan of the FIT, of a “government of the working people and of the people [gobierno de los trabajadores y del pueblo] imposed by the mobilization of the exploited and oppressed”? Is that not a revolutionary demand? By no means. Based on this platform of reforms, it would instead be another government of the capitalist state. This could be the slogan of any reformist social democrats (like the Labor Party in England) or even some bourgeois populist. In fact, the formula is copied from the greatest Argentine populist of all time, General Juan Domingo Perón. Among many other mentions, in the speech of then-president Peron on May Day 1949 , he hailed the “government of the working people that I have the honor of presiding over.” That phrase is in the memory of many Peronist workers. Let’s also remember that the PTS came out of the Morenoite tendency, and that Nahuel Moreno began his trajectory as a political quick-change artist posing as a spokesman for “revolutionary worker Peronism.”2
We explain in another text that the concept of working people is not limited to the working class, but encompasses broad petty-bourgeois sectors; and that a “government of the working people” is not the equivalent of “workers government” or “workers and peasants government,” which for Trotskyists (and the Bolsheviks of 1917) means the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat (see “The Electoralist Campaigns of the Brazilian Left”). When the FIT program adds “and the people,” it underscores the “multiclass”, and therefore bourgeois, character of such a government. A government “imposed by the mobilization of the exploited and oppressed”? It could be said of any government elected in connection with a strike wave.
But let’s take a concrete example: the Social-Democratic government of Germany presided over by Friedrich Ebert which took office on 9 November 1919. A government of the working people? Of course, it consisted of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) of Germany. “Imposed by the mobilization of the exploited and oppressed”? Undoubtedly, it was the result of the workers uprising that overthrew the emperor Wilhelm II. This government approved many of the reforms contained in FIT’s catalog of demands. But it was a government of the capitalist state whose task was to bury the revolution. Or, more explicitly: Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered on the orders of a counterrevolutionary “government of the working people imposed by the mobilization of the exploited and oppressed”!
FIT leaders are not newcomers and are well aware of the meaning of their words. So let’s read what the PTS says about the government of the working people slogan. In an article on “Programmatic Debates in the Left Front of Argentina” (Izquierda Diario, 7 October 2015) it writes that: “This is a general formulation, but it responds to the agreement that we could reach in the Front.” However, the slogan “government of the working people” is “ambiguous” and “subject to different interpretations” because of the absence of a sentence on the need “to replace the repressive apparatus of this state, which is at the service of the exploiters, by workers’ organizations on the road of struggle for their own government.” However, PO objected to spelling this out. So the program remains as written, without “making it clear that the working class cannot simply rely on the bourgeois state as it is.” It’s not just ambiguity. In the context of the FIT reform program, the meaning of “government of the working people” is unequivocal: it would be a government of the capitalist state.
The response of the Workers’ Party? In its “Resolution on the Left Front,” PO writes that the “contradictory political composition” of the FIT – with the presence of “militant but democratizing parties” (i.e., Izquierda Socialista and the PTS), due to their origins in the Morenoite tendency – “has led us to characterize the FIT as ‘opportunist’ since its foundation.” The partners themselves say it’s an opportunist conglomerate!
It is not just a matter of disputes over formulations in the program, but rather of acute internal contradictions of the Left Front that have come to the fore amid the biggest class struggles in the country. A notable case was the provincial police “strike” (mutiny) in Cordoba in December 2013. During a salary dispute, police officers declared an acuartelamiento (confinement to barracks) of their forces, which then led to looting. The next day, the governor yielded to the demands of the police. Thereupon several unions of public employees demanded equal wage hikes, and police from other states won much higher increases. What was the FIT’s response? The I.S., which in line with its Morenioite tradition calls the police workers, spoke of a “police strike” and welcomed the “important raises” won. Altamira’s PO published an article saying that the “riots” by the police won increases “to continue to fulfill their present repressive functions”, but that workers should demand equal raises under the motto “Let’s Get Ours.” The PTS wrote that “the elementary position was not to give any support to the police riots,” and that a “clear political denunciation of the mutiny” was required along with demanding “raises for the workers, not for the repressors” (La Verdad Obrera, 12 December 2013).
“Strike” (mutiny) by the police in the city of Córdoba, Argentina, December 2013. In this test in the class struggle, the partner parties in the FIT found themselves on both sides of the barricades, with one sector openly supporting the action of the police (confinement to barracks) while another called on workers to follow their example. Afterwards, the components of this rotten bloc have continued to run common candidates. The League for the Fourth International insists: cops are not workers, but instead the armed fist of capital, and we act to expel police organizations from the labor movement.
In spite of these very different positions, which were already known before the Front was formed, on December 13 the FIT approved a communiqué that said: “We warn against the illusion that the police crisis has transformed the security forces into allies of the workers, or that it has diminished their repressive function.” However, even after the joint statement of position, the infighting in the FIT continued. PO called for participating with a FIT contingent in a demonstration of the Argentine Workers Confederation (CTA) that December 19. The PTS did not agree, saying that they should not march with police officers (the CTA includes a police “union”). PO replied that “such situations cannot be resolved with the phrase “a policeman is not a worker,” and that [with its line] the PTS should have signed the statement against the police riot voted by the government and opposition, both of them capitalist (Prensa Obrera, 3 January 2014).
So with such strident mutual condemnations, how did they manage to write a joint statement? Did you already catch the word game? The members of this rotten bloc hid their differences by denouncing the police as an institution while covering over their diametrically opposed positions on the police officers. And then they continue to present candidates on the same list in the elections, until the next crisis arrives.
This a highly disputed issue on the left. Revolutionary Marxists (Trotskyists) insist that police are not workers exploited by bosses, but “the armed fist of capital”, and hence they are the declared enemies of the movements of the workers and oppressed. As Trotsky wrote in the early 1930s about Germany, where the Social Democrats had many illusions about the police: “The workers who become police in the service of the capitalist state are bourgeois policemen, not workers” (What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat ). The police themselves attest to this by engaging in their repressive “work” in every strike or protest against the violence unleashed by these guard dogs of capital. Organizations of the police are not workers’ unions but bands of uniformed gun thugs in the service of the bosses: we call for their expulsion from the labor movement. Not only do we call for this, the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, now a section of the League for the Fourth International, mobilized to separate the local police from the municipal workers’ union of the city of Volta Redonda in 1996, which resulted in a repressive offensive with more than nine lawsuits against us.3 The following year, the PSTU and a large part of the Brazilian left celebrated the riots of the military police.4
Municipal workers of Volta Redonda, Brazil demand (July 1996): “Bosses' courts, military police and municipal guards, stay out of the SFPMVR,” the union of city employees. The union leaders, Trotskyists of the Liga Quarta-Internacionalista do Brasil, launched the campaign to separate the police, triggering heavy repression against our comrades.
And just to be clear, the Trotskyist Fraction is no model of Marxist orthodoxy or consistency on the police. In Bolivia in 2003, a few months before the start of the “gas war,” there was a riot by police, dissatisfied that they had not received a salary increase in the budget of the imperialists’ puppet president, Sánchez de Losada. Virtually the entire left supported the cops, even shouting “Long live the uprising of uniformed workers” (as a leaflet of the Partido Obrero Revolucionario of Guillermo Lora proclaimed). We commented on the response of the Bolivian section of the FT: “Others, like the small Liga Obrera Revolucionaria por la Cuarta Internacional (LOR-CI, Revolutionary Workers League for the Fourth International), more timidly raised the call for ‘a policy that would make support for the mutiny conditional,’ at the same time as it declared February 12 and 13 to be ‘revolutionary days’ (Lucha Obrera, March 2003).”5 The LOR-CI then accused us of falsifying its policy (in Revista de los Andes, Autumn 2004). But when we showed them the quotations from their newspaper, some LOR-CI cadre admitted that there was no falsification, and that our criticism was politically correct.6 However, it never published a correction of the accusation.
The multiple political differences within FIT and the frequency of attacks between the PTS and PO (with accusations of “cretin,” “sabotage,” “slanderers,” “idiocy”, “lies”, “playing to the media,” “and even physical violence,” among others) are so pronounced that one has to ask why such hostile groups would ever join a common electoral front. The answer has to do with the Argentine parliamentary system, and particularly with state funding. The Front was formed shortly after a political reform of 2009, supposedly aimed at “democratizing” the electoral system, established a “floor” of 1.5% of the votes cast in “primary, open, simultaneous and mandatory elections” (PASO). These primaries function as a first round of the voting, to decide who can run in the general election (and receive state funds). The formation of the FIT enabled the participating parties to surpass the cutoff point and, at the same time, to free up funds from the “public” coffers. The amounts are not negligible. According to the accounts of the Permanent Party Fund, in 2017 the FIT received a total of 42,361,918 Argentine pesos for the primary and general elections, which at the time was worth nearly US$ 2.5 million. A nice piece of change.
As we explain elsewhere, revolutionary Trotskyists reject financing by the capitalist state, which we struggle to overthrow, because it gives the bourgeoisie a powerful tool to control, paralyze or even eliminate the workers party. The only honest justification that the FIT and its constituent parties (PST, PO, IS) could put forward for being funded by the state would be a statement that they are not trying to do away with capitalism, but to reform it (an impossible goal). Moreover, the FIT is not the only reformist option in the Argentine elections. Whoever wants to vote for a left-wing party that seeks to reform the irreformable capitalist system could also choose the MST (Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores, Socialist Movement of the Workers) or the Forward to the Left for Socialism that includes the MST and the Nuevo MAS (New Movement for Socialism), both Morenites, with a 40-point platform almost identical to the FIT’s reformist program. Bon appetit! Genuine revolutionary Marxists would not vote for any of these pseudo-Trotskyists who peddle devalued, second-hand goods or shoddy knock-off copies of the real thing.
We must be clear in saying that the electoral terrain is the territory of the class enemy. Elections, like the judicial system or any other institution of the capitalist state, are not neutral. They are a rigged jogo de bicho (numbers racket), which serves to deceive the masses into thinking that they decide the course of society, when in reality it is capital that does. Authentic Trotskyists are not opposed in principle to participating in bourgeois elections, provided that the candidacy is based on class independence. We categorically refuse to vote for a capitalist party or popular front, an alliance of class collaboration that necessarily has a bourgeois class character. But when we run for election, it must always be to put forward the revolutionary program, as the Bolsheviks did in the tsarist Duma. We can also fight for one or another reform, but in this time of putrefying capitalism, a reformist program is doomed to failure. Therefore, in general, voting for the reformists serves no purpose. Exceptionally, in the middle of a heated class dispute, where it is imperative to take one side or the other, one could give critical support for a workers’ candidacy in order to draw the class line. But we do not call for votes to the Argentine FIT because, far from using the electoral platform to disseminate revolutionary propaganda, they take advantage of it to sell reformist fool’s god.
Leon Trotsky, in the face of the rise of the fascists in the early 1930s, argued with centrist groups in Germany that sought to dilute the program in election fronts, pretending (as do the members of the Argentine FIT today) that it is an expression of the united front. Trotsky emphasized:
“The united front is to unite the Communist and Social Democratic working masses and not to patch up an agreement with political groups that are without the masses.
“We shall be told that the bloc between Rosenfeld-Brandler-Urbahns is only a propaganda bloc for the united front. But it is precisely in the sphere of propaganda that a bloc is out of the question. Propaganda must lean upon clear-cut principles and on a definite program. March separately, strike together. A bloc is solely for practical mass actions. Deals arranged from above which lack a basis in principle will bring nothing except confusion.
“The idea of nominating a candidate for president on the part of the united workers front is at its root a false one. A candidate can be nominated only on the grounds of a definite program. The party has no right to sacrifice during elections the mobilization of its supporters and the census of its strength. “
–What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat (1932)
The fact that we do not support FIT in Argentina, nor any of the candidates of the opportunist groups (reformists or centrists) in these elections in Brazil, does not mean in any way a passive policy. The real dangers on the horizon – from a bonapartist “strong state” regime under the supervision of the judiciary and the military, or from a light version with a PT associated with bourgeois “coup plotters” of yesteryear – in both cases spell harsh attacks on the workers and the oppressed population. We must fight. now, in the midst of the electoral frenzy, to mobilize a workers’ response – working-class and revolutionary – with strikes, protests and plant occupations against the electoral fraud and the capitalist attacks it is facilitating. The League for the Fourth International calls for the organization of a Leninist-Trotskyist workers party which fights for a workers and peasants government and for international socialist revolution! ■
- 1. Calling for nationalization of land is relevant in a country of huge landed estates like Argentina or Brazil, but it is not a socialist measure. As Lenin explained in The Agrarian Program of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution : “Nationalization of the land under capitalist relations is neither more nor less than the transfer of rent to the state.” (Rent being “that part of surplus value which remains after average profit on capital is deducted.”) Nationalization of the land would seize the added surplus value that the large landowners enjoy due to their monopoly of the land.
- 2. See our brochure La Verdad sobre Moreno (Moreno Truth Kit in English), published in 1982 and reprinted by the League for the Fourth International in 2011.
- 3. See “Class Struggle in Volta Redonda: ‘Cops, Courts Out of the Unions,” in The Internationalist No. 1, January-February 1997, translated from Vanguarda Operária No. 1, July-September 1997. See also the Internationalist Group pamphlet, Dossier: Class Struggle and Repression in Volta Redonda, Brazil (February 1997) .
- 4. See “Brazil: Crisis of the Capitalist State,” The Internationalist No. 3, September-October 1997, translated from Vanguarda Operária No. 2, August-October 1997. See also “Latin America: Opportunist Left Embraces the Cops,” The Internationalist No. 4, January-February 1998.
- 5. “Bolivia Aflame: ‘Gas War’ on the Altiplano,” The Internationalist No. 17, October-November 2003.
- 6. See “Bolivia Explodes in Sharp Class Battle,” The Internationalist No. 21, Summer 2005.