Argentina’s Election Primary: Popular Triumph

Matías Pacheco, Federico Simonetti
Last Sunday, primary elections were held in Argentina. They were a resounding popular triumph, consummating the defeat of the official candidate of Cambiemos, crushed by more than fifteen percentage points. A result that not even the most optimistic polls came close to predicting. The Argentine people turned massively to the polls to deliver a hard blow to the most reactionary fraction of capital, a vehicle of the IMF, an ally of the judiciary and major media, a crystalline enemy of the workers. The one who capitalized electorally on the debacle of officialism in these primaries was the Peronist formula that carried Alberto Fernandez as candidate for president and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as vice president.

A bit of history

In 2001, neoliberalism in Argentina suffered a severe blow within the context of a social and economic crisis of magnitude caused by its own policies. The heroic days of December, with the mass of people in the streets like the Caracazo against neoliberal measures, put in check the government of Fernando de La Rúa who, besieged by popular mobilization, was forced to flee by helicopter from the Casa Rosada. With that rebellion, the Argentine people made their contribution to the modification of the correlation of forces that would take place in the whole continent and that would give rise to the progressive cycle of Latin America. A cycle that, with Commander Chavez at the helm, would say NO to Bush’s FTAA in 2005. In Argentina, important demands of the popular movement would be assumed by the governments of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner, recomposing in that way the rickety bourgeois institutionality that in 2001 had been called into question. Unlike the processes that advanced the most in those years (Venezuela or Bolivia), in Argentina the neoliberal Constitution of 1994 was not modified.

This reconstituted institutionality would be the one that by 2015 would allow the triumph of Mauricio Macri and his coronation as president. Those who had been forced to flee by helicopter from the Casa Rosada returned fourteen years later through the front door. The right-wing government of Cambiemos had as its fundamental objective the modification of the correlation of forces achieved after the days of 2001, its goal was to inflict a lasting defeat on the popular sectors, consolidating a regressive restructuring of Argentine capitalism, modifying the model of accumulation to the detriment of the internal market, the SMEs and popular consumption, sweeping “human capitalism” (as Cristina herself described the government), for a model that was openly against the majority.

During its four years of management, the economic policy of macrismo produced hundreds of thousands of layoffs, four million new poor, exorbitant tariffs, reduction of real wages, transfer of income to the winners of the model (financial capital, energy, large agricultural exporters and miners), hunger and misery in the Argentine people. Nevertheless, the structural reforms proposed for implementation could not be executed. The popular mobilization did not allow it (the multitudinous struggles for the legalization of abortion and against the pension reform were expressive). Faced with this deterrent, the markets began to distrust the macrismo’s capacity to carry out the task that it was invested in. The disorderly response to this disenchantment was what precipitated the exchange rush, the blockade of international financing and the consequent referral to the IMF. At the best moment of Cambiemos, after having won the mid-term elections in 2017, the popular movement in the street lit the fuse that exploded last Sunday.

Power vacuum and perspectives

For the Argentine electoral regime, last Sunday’s vote was a great poll that in itself resolves nothing. These are obligatory primaries that are only decided by party members; neither executive nor legislative positions were elected; this will happen in the October general elections. But the forcefulness of the results (47% for Alberto Fernandez, 32% for Mauricio Macri), buried the chances of the official candidate, opening an otherwise complex situation. A virtual period of transition, without transition, since neither a new president nor a new Congress has yet been elected.

This paradox creates a power vacuum. The IMF played all its cards for Macri’s re-election, lending $50 billion to a candidate and not to the country. The defeat of their puppet forcefully exposes the international organization. The debt, by all means unpayable, places Argentina on the verge of default. All these situations, unleashed an exchange run the Monday after the elections, which pulverized the wages of the workers. This attack on the popular sectors has extortive purposes in view of the next definitive elections in October.

The situation is tense and unsettled. Last Sunday’s popular victory was defined independently of the government that will replace that of Mauricio Macri. Alberto Fernandez is a moderate Peronist with a good relationship with the U.S. embassy, which denied the most progressive policies of Cristina, as Diosdado Cabello warned recently.

The resounding defeat of macrism in the primaries constitutes a blow to the continental right and U.S. interests in the region. But it can only be consummated with popular mobilization. That mobilization that generated the victory, the same mobilization that can expand it.