Right-Wing Javier Milei Wins Argentinian Primary

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As all signs point toward a 2024 Trump-Biden rematch here in the US, the Argentinian primaries have just seen the victory of a Trump-inspired figure of their own. Javier Milei joins a growing international wave of right-wing figures emerging to attack the gains of mass feminist and abortion rights movements, like the Green Tide which swept Argentina, as well as against the broader reawakening of the working class. He represents a virulent anti-worker, anti-feminist agenda, taking positions against sex education and social welfare, dismissing climate change as a lie, and aiming to make it easier for Argentinians to own handguns – alongside a massive austerity agenda.

This is in the context of a deep economic crisis which has been overseen by the ruling government, the centrist Frente de Todos coalition. 2023 annual inflation is projected at an astronomical 110% and has hit pensioners particularly hard, piling into the effects of the 2008 financial crisis. The poverty rate has soared to 40% despite low unemployment, occurring alongside a massive increase in inequality where the ruling class has partnered up with the IMF to push the strains of imperialist debt repayment, COVID, and the Ukraine War onto working people, while big business has continued to profit. The political establishment also made enormous concessions to the right-wing and the Catholic Church in the final abortion rights legislation passed in 2021, paving the road for the very same right-wing backlash that figures like Milei represent.

It’s on this basis that working people in Argentina are rapidly losing faith in the two main center and center-right establishment parties, leaving a polarized political vacuum. Milei and his supporters on the right are filling it by cynically speaking to working people’s needs and pointing toward libertarian “solutions” while sowing divisions among the working class. The left has also made gains in the primaries (which have been underreported by the capitalist press), but are falling behind the right, in no small part because the bureaucratic union leadership is tied to the ruling Peronist establishment and has acted as a brake on the fight against austerity.

If all this sounds familiar, it’s because the trend of economic crisis and political polarization is a global one. The difference between right populism and a genuine program for working people to fight for better lives is that the right ultimately aims to uphold the system that exploits the working class for the bosses’ profits, redirecting anger toward “culture war” issues and oppressed minorities, while a genuine left program would aim its fire squarely at the capitalists while building maximum unity among workers and the oppressed.

So it’s also no wonder that the establishment prefers to lean into right populism as the traditional centrist parties are losing their hold, even if this strategy compounds problems for the establishment’s credibility in the long term – as we’re seeing now with Trump in the US. In Argentina, the ruling class has invested resources into Milei and other right-wing candidates to vent anger over centrist politicians. Milei’s primary win has itself also opened the road for greater attacks on working people by giving cover to a currency devaluation that was already on the ruling class’s agenda, which will further strain working people’s budgets as the rich go on a shopping spree to spend their extra money while they have it.

While analysts predict a rightward shift in this election, it won’t be on the basis of Argentinians broadly preferring right-wing ideas. Polarization is always a two-way process; the abortion rights win of only a few years ago attests to the appetite for radical progressive change and a rejection of Milei’s rhetoric and support of the Catholic Church. What this is really about is an enormous desperation for an alternative to business-as-usual politics.

That the momentum is currently with the right is a matter of confusion about what that alternative can and should look like, confusion which has been stoked by the ruling class and in particular those “left” misleaders in the union bureaucracies and political parties who provide cover to the establishment, and undermine the idea that an independent and militant working class fight can be waged and won.

In a bid to save themselves this election cycle, the Frente de Todos will likely form an alliance with other center and center-right parties and lean heavily on the logic that they are the lesser of two evils – aiming to stamp out left challengers without having to provide any real answers for working people. But this process will only further expose their bankruptcy, open space for right populism, and ultimately make Milei and those like him stronger.

So what will it really take to stop the right-wing backlash and build a left capable of winning transformative change?

As we’ve called for in Brazil, the US, and other places where right populists have emerged among broad polarization, the front line of the fight against Milei will not be in the halls of power. It must be in the streets in the form of a mass movement, independent from the political establishment, that has democratic structures and puts forward its own demands.

The FIT-U (Left and Workers Front), Argentina’s anti-capitalist electoral coalition, has put forward a strong slate of demands around fighting austerity, including increasing wages and pensions, the creation of one million new jobs through the reduction of the workday to six hours, a public works plan focused on the creation of affordable homes, and the nationalization of key strategic sectors under worker control, all of which are demands a mass movement should take up. These have the ability to cut across Milei’s base of support among those alienated by the political establishment, and simultaneously lay the basis to confront neoliberal policies.

The FIT-U also says it will amplify the demands of the feminist and environmental movements to not cede any ground to Milei’s divisive rhetoric. But it should do more than just echo the demands—in order to win people away from Milei they will need to fight for an anti-austerity movement that links up directly with the feminist and environmental movements, and insist that a unified struggle and cohesive platform of social and economic demands are unequivocally necessary to fight the right. Any movement against Milei must, for example, fight for the passage of new, strengthened abortion rights legislation that makes no concessions to the Catholic Church, and explicitly link it to the demand for high-quality, free healthcare for all, funded by taxing the rich and corporations.

This means that the FIT-U’s task is to become more than just an electoral engine. The left must root itself directly in the feminist and environmental movements as well as in the trade unions, where they will need to take up the fight against representatives of the establishment and wage a struggle for militant, worker-led struggle based on a unified political program. What this will entail is the building of a new mass party based in the working class and mass movements of the oppressed, which can present a challenge in the streets and the government to both the populist right and the establishment center. Such a party could organize local anti-inflation committees to monitor price increases and unify the economic fight within the unions and wider community. They could also set up community organizations that discuss and carry out strategies to bring the fight against oppression into all corners of the country.

This is the type of struggle that can challenge the right not only in this election cycle in Argentina, but all over the globe as capitalism’s decay produces more and more reactionary figures whose aim is to block what we really need: a fight against the entire capitalist system and for an international socialist alternative!

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