Argentina- the electoral rise of the Trotskyist FIT-U: Interview with A. Bodart

The Marxist FIT-U (Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores – Unidad/ Workers’ and Left Front), a coalition of four Trotskyist socialist organizations, achieved a tremendous success in the November national elections in Argentina, gaining almost 1.3 million votes (6 percent of the national vote), and electing four members in the National Congress of Deputies. 
This result makes FIT-U the third largest electoral force in the country at a time of deepening economic and social crisis.  Large sections of the working class are increasingly disillusioned with the Peronist government of Alberto Fernandez’s Frente de Todos/ Front for Everyone. However, it is significant to note that the populist extreme right made important gains and they represent a real danger for the workers movement.
The election result represents great opportunities for the revolutionary left and the working class movement in Argentina. But also there are important lessons for the Greek (and international) anti-capitalist, socialist and Trotskyist left. Nikos Kanellis from Xekinima- Internationalist Socialist Organization spoke with Alejandro Bodart, a leading member of MST (Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores/ Workers’ Socialist Movement) one of the four organizations that make up FIT-U/Left Front and their candidate in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.

Q: Comrade Alejandro, first of all congratulations for the electoral success of FIT-U. The Peronist coalition of Alberto Fernández and Cristina Kirchner faced a defeat. What are the main reasons for that?

Alejandro Bodart: The elections were a clear defeat of the governing coalition. After a bad result in the primaries in September, the Fernandez government mobilized all its apparatus of clientelism and managed to reduce the difference in the Province of Buenos Aires but they suffered a clear setback. With 33% of the national vote, the government lost almost 40% of its social/electoral base since the presidential elections two years ago (when the Peronists promising reforms defeated the right-wing neoliberal Macri government). It lost in most provinces, including the four most important ones, maintaining its plurality in the National Congress by just one seat, but losing control of the Senate where (former Peronist president and current vice president) Cristina Kirchner now presides.

The main reason for the government’s defeat is the massive deterioration in the standard of living of working people due to the economic crisis, aggravated by the pandemic and the austerity measures that the government has been applying in order to meet debt payments to the IMF and other international lenders and bondholders.

Poverty is now at 51% (70% among the youth), unemployment is at 14%, there is enormous job precariousness, growing deprivation, currency devaluations and an inflation rate that exceeds 50% per year. These are compounded by a questionable management of the pandemic that has already cost more than 116,000 lives in Argentina.

After the defeat in the electoral primaries in September, the government coalition’s internal divisions exploded publicly with a cabinet reshuffle that signaled a clear shift to the right. The final stretch of the campaign was marked by the government’s desperate attempts to seal a new agreement with the IMF, to whom the country owes over 50 billion dollars. Many who believed that Alberto Fernandez and Cristina Kirchner came to change the disasters of the right-wing Macri government felt utterly disappointed and punished them with a large protest vote.

Q: Does the victory of the traditional bourgeois coalition around Mauricio Macri represent a turn to the right in Argentinian society?

Alejandro Bodart: Not at all. Even though Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change) won the election, it simply maintained its vote total, and did not grow in relation to the 2019 election when it lost against the Peronist Justice Party (Partido Justicialista). Nor was there an atmosphere of celebration among its leaders, who expected a stronger victory. It revealed deeper divisions and an internal crisis.

The vote for this bourgeois opposition was a protest vote intended to punish the government by a more backward layer of the masses. The central feature of the election was not a strengthening of Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio, but the deepening polarization at the expense of both main coalitions, expressed by the third place achieved for the FIT-U /Left Front and the growth of the populist right that took the fourth place.

Q: The far-right coalition led by the extreme neoliberal Javier Milei also made important gains. How did they achieve that, what is the character of this party and how big a danger do you think they represent?

Alejandro Bodart: The far-right coalition got a bigger vote in the capital of Buenos Aires and also the Province of Buenos Aires, though it also made some gains in other provinces. This had to do with the social polarization, as I mentioned before. It is part of a phenomenon that has continental and global expressions (Bolsonaro, Trump, etc.), though in our country it is of a smaller magnitude. In a way, it is an expression of the same phenomenon that allowed the great electoral gains for the left, but from the opposite direction. Milei’s populist far-right contains elements of opposition against the political regime, of the corrupt political “caste,” but it’s party is mostly composed of defenders of the repression of the last dictatorship, conservatives that are against women’s and diversity rights, those who oppose the workers movement, etc.

It is important to point out that Milei and other representatives of the far-right were allowed a prominent place in the mass media, abundant resources and the backing even of sectors of Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio coalition, who hope to include them in a future government. Although they presented candidate lists in several provinces, they do not yet have a consolidated national structure. In parliament, they will surely work closely with the traditional right wing Juntos por el Cambio. This process is open-ended and it will be part of the country’s new reality, like similar expressions that exist in other countries.

Without a doubt, the main danger is that they can develop and grow, but it is something that does not depend exclusively on them alone – it will depend on the development of the class struggle and the actions of the left. The social catastrophe generated by the current Peronist government of Frente de Todos (Front of Everyone) has created the conditions for the emergence of the far right- this makes the Peronists unfit to stop them. The more traditional right-wing party is currently immersed in an intense internal debate, with a section that proposes to move further towards the radical right. In the context of those political battles and the social and working class struggles that will undoubtedly unfold, our bet is that the left will be the one that is most strengthened and to become a brake on these extreme-right expressions.

Q: How did FIT-U/Left Front manage to achieve its best result since it was formed?

Alejandro Bodart: The result shows that Argentina is getting in tune with the more general dynamic of the world and of Latin America in particular. Faced with the crisis and erosion of the traditional forces that apply austerity plans, discontent tends to be reflected sometimes in rebellions and large street actions, sometimes in the emergence and electoral gains of forces located on the left, and sometimes in a combination of both. In some countries, this electoral leap was capitalized by sectors with a left discourse and a reformist and conciliatory program, like in Peru and Chile or what is emerging in Colombia. In Argentina, Trotskyism is the main current of the left. Stalinism has for long been weakened to inconsequential levels, and the various expressions of the center-left have been absorbed by the Peronist Frente de Todos coalition. For this reason, with the erosion of the traditional forces and the emergence of an angry far-right, it is the Left Front that is able to position itself as an alternative on the left.

One thing to keep in mind is that for our party, the MST, this is the first time that we are part of this front in a legislative election. We joined the Left Front in the presidential election in 2019. This allowed the Front, in addition to capitalizing on the objective situation, to grow by an additional 30% that we contributed. This was quantified because in the September primary elections we presented separate lists, ours and that of the rest of the forces that make up the front.

The electoral result that we achieved is important especially because the FIT-U/Left Front is politically and programmatically solid, militant, independent of bourgeois or petty-bourgeois forces and clearly anti-capitalist and socialist, which in the perspective of the great social conflict that we foresee, is an element that plays in favor of the left, provided it knows how to take advantage of situations and it is not closed-minded. It is also significant that the best results occurred in the most working-class and impoverished areas.

We managed to consolidate the left as the third national force with 1,300,000 votes throughout the country, representing more than 6% nationally. In several provinces and regions, we were close to 10% and in the province of Jujuy we reached 25%. With that result, the Left Front elected four national deputies, two provincial deputies in Buenos Aires, two legislators in CABA and a new important gain of enormous significance: a dozen councilors in the heart of the Buenos Aires suburbs, the territory of the formerly untouchable Peronist “barons,” where the bulk of the country’s working class is concentrated. For the first time, the left partially managed to crack the dam that seemed unbreakable. That barrier is beginning to break down and this is an expression of a deeper process that has the potential to open much more in the future. It is, without a doubt, the process to which we must pay the most attention not only at the electoral level, but above all in everyday life in the factories, popular neighborhoods and the enormous sections of young people without a future.

This is because the electoral gains reflect a process of discontent and rupture from below against the way things are in society.

Q: Can you tell us a few things about the history of the Left Front, its character, how it is structured and how it functions?

Alejandro Bodart: Since its constitution, the Left Front was formed essentially as an electoral front. In fact, that is also one of the main criticisms that we have from the MST, that although the Left Front played a very important role from the point of view of the electoral struggle (with some ups and downs), it has not managed to advance from that stage to a higher one in the field of the class struggle. This is part of an ongoing debate and we are confident in being able to advance even further. In fact, this was part of the public discussion promoted by our candidates within the Left Front during the last elections.

The Left Front has now achieved a national expansion and the creation of a national committee where the Front’s main actions are discussed and the bigger debates are taking place. This committee has a local version in the different geographical jurisdictions to address regional particular issues. This committee has a political and organizational character, within the framework of a common program and the participation of the parties that make up the Left Front.

We could say that this is the current structure of the Left Front, a national political and organizational coordination committee. The challenge in front of us after the latest electoral result is -among other things- to examine the possibility of organizational structures with the capacity to incorporate a broad sector of labor, social, feminist and environmentalist activists who are not members of the four parties that constitute the Left Front and would join the front if they could, as well as new organizations that may decide to join the Left Front.

On the other hand, taking into account the political and social situation that exists in the country and across the continent, another challenge is to make sure that the unity that has been achieved in the electoral field can take shape in the field of the class struggle in general. This means especially to challenge for leadership of the labor, student and popular movement, with all the particularities that may exist in each of these spaces. The main issue is that the Left Front can and must be more than just a superstructural electoral representation- it has to become a vehicle for fighting for the leadership of the social base in the struggles, etc.

Q: What do you think are the main perspectives for the country and the tasks that the Left Front faces in the next period? 

Alejandro Bodart: The government came out of the election calling for a social and political understanding with the right-wing opposition, based on the need to reach an agreement with the IMF. There will be major attacks on workers’ rights and great struggles to prevent them. These attacks are not only austerity, but also the pending reactionary “reforms”, starting with labor law reform and aiming to complete the pension and fiscal reactionary reforms. An even greater reduction in social spending is expected in order to achieve the goals of reducing the fiscal deficit. This means even greater cuts in the retirement and pension budget, continuing to destroy salaries for public servants, cuts in welfare and social assistance, public services rate hikes (there is talk of increases between 30% and 45%), devaluation of the peso, and making the economy more “competitive.”

This perspective leads us to expect new social struggles, since the mass movement is showing a growing activity in the streets and in the processes of organization independently of the bureaucratic apparatuses. The combination of the government’s growing political weakness and the more general crisis of the regime can open up new crises and abrupt changes in the general situation that could lead to a social explosion.

This perspective and the position achieved in the election pose a great challenge for the Left Front. This starts right away with the need to promote the broadest possible mobilization against the new agreement with the IMF, and putting the Left Front forward as the only real alternative to the traditional parties, after the elections.

The important political and electoral achievement of the November 14 elections should not be seen as an end in itself, but as a new starting point, which gives us a strong impetus to break through and advance much more in all areas. It requires audacity and a political offensive from our part. 

The Left Front has the potential to be much more than an electoral front. The conditions exist to think of something deeper, more permanent. From the MST, we have repeatedly proposed that we could launch a big political movement or a united multi-tendency party, with a national coordinating body, with weekly meetings, that debates and agrees on how to intervene on all fronts of struggle, jointly supporting and promoting the struggles and challenges for leadership in the labor movement and in the youth, in which each organization can maintain its own independence and organizational structure as a current. We should try to work out, for example, how to actively and permanently include independent people like intellectuals, and leaders of social movements. How do we give them a place that is of greater prominence than just supporting us with their vote in each election. We also have to think about proposals for the  the rank-and-file of other organizations that are moving away from Peronism, and how to take advantage of that process, which could also serve as an example to encourage others to join us on the left.

This is not a time for conservatism, or routinism, or to tie ourselves to merely electoral formats. Revolutionary politics do not stop at that stage, but seek to advance them more thoroughly and comprehensively. This is perhaps the best opportunity in many years to attempt to place the revolutionary left on a much greater plane than we have already achieved. And that can be done with a program, politics and taking advantage of opportunities and timing, which are not abstract but need concrete responses according to the new situation that is emerging.

Q: Latin America as a whole seems to have entered a new stage in the class struggle after the revolts in Chile and Ecuador. What do you think are the tasks for the revolutionary – marxist left on a continental basis? 

Alejandro Bodart: In the International Socialist League (ISL), of which the MST is a part, we have been working on the definition of a pre-revolutionary situation to refer to the situation that has begun in the continent since the revolts and revolutions that you point out in the question. This does not mean that the revolution is around the corner, or that we do not have to overcome countless contradictions.

Focusing on Latin America, it is important to point out that not only is the region coming from an important process of upheaval, but it is also the continent hardest hit by the pandemic at an economic and health level. Most of the countries have suffered dramatic economic decline in terms of GDP and a violent increase in inequality. This, from my point of view, makes the scenario of social polarization more likely and raises the possibility of rising conflict going forward.

In this sense, I would say that the fundamental task of the revolutionary left is to strengthen itself by standing in the vanguard of the struggles against the austerity plans, in most cases promoted by the IMF and the imperialist institutions, which then are enforced by the local governments. This strengthening can occur if we are able to act decisively, fighting for the leadership of the labor movement, intervening with socialist politics in the powerful women’s and LGBTI+ movements, reaching the working class suburbs where the masses live and of course overcoming the sectarianism and opportunism that prevail in many leaderships of the revolutionary left. This is the challenge we take up from the International Socialist League, seeking to strengthen our work in each country and the international coordination to support them.

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