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Argentina | 20 years of the Argentinazo, Memories, and Lessons

December 8, 2021
During the 90s, Carlos Menem’s government unleashed a neoliberal offensive on our country. Once taking power, he allied himself with Alsogaray (a mix of Macri and Milei of yesteryear, a servant of all dictatorships), privatized national industries, handed over our sovereignty to foreign capital, accelerated the transition of our economy to focus on the production of raw materials, generalized job insecurity, and fired hundreds of thousands of state employees. At the end of his term, the situation was unbelievable, with millions unemployed.
By PSTU-Argentina
Throughout the country, demonstrations broke out (initially called by community organizing groups). Strikes were called all over as Argentina erupted.
The 1999 elections were won by the  De la Rúa alliance, a very brief hope. A new debt crisis, the continuation of privatizations (such as the state’s decision to refrain from taking over Aerolíneas Argentinas, Argentina’s largest airplane company), and the increase in unemployment (with more than 50% of the workforce un- or under-employed) made the situation inhospitable.
The workers, who had lost their confidence in Peronism for the first time in decades, saw no way out. Either the crisis would be resolved or they would die of hunger. A series of general strikes, including blockades of roads led by community organizations were bringing down the government bit by bit.
De la Rúa and Cavallo (an ex-minister of the Menem government, whom the Alliance appointed to Minister of the Economy) announced the “corralito” (lit. “playpen”) policy, dipping into the middle class’s savings, which pushed them to join the mobilizations and cacerolazos (coordinated banging of pots and pans) as resistance was organized in neighborhood assemblies. The rebellion was becoming uncontainable.
Having lost control, De la Rúa declared a state of emergency on December 19. This provoked a massive spontaneous mobilization which condemned not only the sitting government but also the Parliament and the Peronist opposition, unifying under the slogan “Everyone needs to go, leave no one behind” to defeat the state of emergency.
On the 20th, hundreds of thousands took the streets once more in Buenos Aires and across the whole country, forcing De la Rúa to resign his post. This was a true revolution, bringing down an elected government for the first time. The movement was working-class in its composition and its political goals. It was also anti-imperialist in its demands: private businesses and banks had to board up their windows to withstand the attacks of the masses of retirees, workers, women, and students.
A break with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was a unifying demand in the popular assemblies. It was violent: the demonstrations faced police and armed groups that opened fire against unarmed protestors. 35 people were murdered, and we have yet to avenge their deaths. But we still won the day.
Five presidents came and went, the political regime was in shambles and unable to retake control. Finally, the Peronist Eduardo Duhalde took charge. For months in 2002, constant mobilizations kept up the fight against the new government.
In June, Duhalde moved to end the crisis through brutal repression. It was on this day that Kosteki and Santillán were killed. The quick response forced Duhalde to retreat: the murderous policemen were arrested (although the politicians responsible for the crackdown, such as Duhalde, Felipe Solá, or Aníbal Fernández, did not face justice). Elections were called for early 2003.
All of the bourgeois parties, as well as the union bureaucracy and even the majority of the organizations that had led the Argentinazo, abandoned the streets and turned to focus on the electoral campaign. The majority of the parties of the left (which today comprise the FIT-U, MAS, etc.) did the same. This allowed Argentine capitalism to begin to exit from its state of severe crisis.
The Argentinazo was a major lesson for the working class. Kirchnerists decry the events of 2001 as a disgrace. Nothing could be further from the truth. The disgrace was the misery, poverty, and unemployment that the bourgeois government led us into.
The Argentinazo was a heroic fightback that saved thousands from starvation. It was like a second October 17, 1945 (on this date, a working-class demonstration forced the release of Juan Perón from jail, allowing for the political ascent of Peronism), but instead of facing down a military government behind a bourgeois leadership, it was a leaderless movement facing down a “democratic” government.
The Argentinazo did not fulfill its goals
A few measures were put into place in response to the popular demands, such as the cancellation of sovereign debt, the expansion of subsidies and holidays, and the abolition of impunity for state forces. But capitalism and its political regime survived. The goals in the hearts and minds of the demonstrators were not realized.

Telam 12/20/2004: POPULAR UPRISING OF THE 19TH AND 20TH OF DECEMBER 2001, which led to the fall of Fernando de la Rúa’s government. Credit: Fernando Gens/Archivo Telam

The movement lacked a revolutionary party that could harness and organize this energy, spread its organs regionally and nationally to coordinate efforts, with a political outlook of class independence for the working class, that could develop self-defense for workers against the repression, through picket lines and militias, to build the working class’s power. In other words, a party that could lead a workers’ socialist revolution. Such a task remains incomplete.
They learned their lesson…did we learn ours?
The capitalists were wise enough to learn their lessons. They learned how to co-opt the new union leaderships, the unemployed, and the whole process through maneuvers such as the “green wave”, etc. When there is crisis, they extend their networks of patronage, snuffing out leaders with promises of privileges.
They have learned to avoid relying on popular mobilizations to settle differences within the ruling class, as this could quickly spiral out of their control.
The trade union bureaucracy pushes against all attempts to mount working-class actions. Under Macri, they called for just one general strike because workers forced them to, on “the day of the lectern” (el día del atril). They block all attempts by the working classes to organize themselves independently.
More than ever, they infiltrate community and political organizations, strengthening the state’s mechanisms of social control (criminalization, antiterrorist laws, etc.) while the armed forces and police are being trained in new methods of repression.
More than ever, they rely on the Church, the media, and all types of trickery to stop the struggle.
We should also learn our lessons. The lesson of relying on direct action by our class, without any illusions regarding Parliament, the courts, or the regime.
The working class needs to lead, with its democratic organs, independent of the influence of the bosses and the bureaucrats. To build our defenses against repression in every factory, shop, and neighborhood, using any method necessary.
With a working-class program and for independence from the IMF, from multinational corporations, and imperialism.
And above all else, for the construction of a mass working-class revolutionary party, ready for combat and struggle, as part of an international organization to stand and fight united.
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