Argentine socialist speaks in Belfast, Dublin
On 9th and 10th April Argentine socialist Alejandra Rios addressed meetings in Belfast and Dublin on the subject of socialists and elections. Her talk focused on the recent electoral success of the Workers Left Front of Argentina (FIT) and how its approach contrasted with left formations in Europe.
Alejandra began by giving the background to the formation of the FIT. She said that the immediate impetus for the formation of the FIT (made out of three parties from the Trotskyist tradition) was a change in electoral law that enabled parties in provincial elections to claim seats if they passed a threshold of 3 per cent. In the provincial elections of 2011 the FIT had two MPs elected. In the 2013 elections the FIT registered an average national vote of 5 per cent (though significantly higher in some areas) that saw three MP’s elected to the national assembly as well as a number of local and provincial representatives.
Alejandra put this electoral breakthrough in the context of the industrial and social struggles that had been escalating since the onset of the global financial crisis. She said that while Argentina had weathered the crisis better than most countries things deteriorated in 2012 with rising inflation and the introduction on a tax on low-income families. This resulted in a significant decline in support for the Peronist government that had been in power for the last decade. Alejandra explained that Peronism, while a bourgeoisie nationalist movement, fulfils a similar role to social democracy in Europe. It has and continues to enjoy support from a section of the Argentine working class, particularly older people who remember reforms that were introduced by earlier Peronist governments. However, the support for Peronism among a younger generation of workers is much weaker. It is from this section of the working class that FIT draws much of its support.
Alejandra went on to online the FIT political programme which emphasised human rights, issues such housing, transport and energy, and also women’s rights (in particular abortion rights). She said what was key was for the parties to unite behind a working class programme rather than dilute the programme for the sake of unity. The FIT had a clear view that parliamentary representation was not an end but a means to advance struggle. This was demonstrated by its MPs being paid the same wage as a teacher (the remainder used to support various struggles) and representatives being rotated. Alejandra said that FIT was open about its revolutionary politics and its objectives of building a mass workers party and establishing a workers’ government. She admitted that there were differences within FIT but these were not a barrier to unity and could be discussed openly.
Alejandra said that while there had also been electoral success for the left in Europe it was not comparable. This is because formations (such as Syriza) do not have a revolutionary programme or tasks, but rather hold to the idea that capitalism can be reformed in some way. The critical point about the electoral success of the FIT was that it followed in the wake of various social and industrial struggles. It was not just a protest vote but evidence of the emergence of a revolutionary consciousness amongst a section of the working class in Argentina.
A broad discussion followed both meetings.
The importance of working class mobilisations, including a wave of factory occupations, in building socialist unity was discussed. The most successful outcome was the former Zanón ceramics factory, which after a long struggle, both industrial and legal, had won recognition as a worker owned enterprise.
One speaker compared the situation in Ireland with that in Argentina. The left here rested on the back of defeats that had produced the peace process and social partnership. In a recent controversy over abortion none of the left groups made a clear demand for free and legal abortion, in contrast to its place as a central demand in the election broadcasts of the FIT.
The discussion covered the role of trade unions. The trade union leadership in Argentina was very corrupt and saw itself as being a part of management and government rather than a representative of workers. However, they were so neglectful of their membership that they started to lose control. Again the impetus for independent action was coming from younger workers who did not have the same adherence to the traditional trade union and political structures. This was reflected in the success of left candidates in trade union elections.
Both meetings were ignored by the broader socialist movement in Ireland, committed to electoral campaigns innocent of the revolutionary content of our Argentine comrades. The audience was from independent left and independent republican traditions. The Belfast meeting was more vibrant, with an audience all rejecting a reformist approach to elections and thus with a common discussion. In Dublin there was a defence of reformism and of the possibilities of left victories leading to social change from some speakers and the meeting was less focused.
Alejandra concluded that each country was different and the Argentine experience could not be translated directly. However there were methods and principles - primarily an orientation on the working class and the defence of a revolutionary programme - that could be applied generally.