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Barricada Exclusive: On the Ground in Argentina
by Barricada Collective
Email: barricadacollective (nospam) hotmail.com
Address: Barricada, PO Box 73, Boston MA 02133
14 Jan 2002
The January issue of Barricada is now Available. Featuring 10 pages of on teh ground coverage from the Uprising in Argentina.
Barricada: On the Ground in Argentina Exclusive
Available Now in Barricada January
Ten pages of reporting from our on the ground correspondent in Argentina
The new issue of Barricada is now available. The primary feature is the Argentine uprising. Barricada is North America’s only revolutionary anarchist monthly publication. This issue includes...
Table of Contents:
-Italian Schoolchildren Protest Education Plans
-Boston Anarchists Walk Free
-Pittsburgh ‘May Day 3’ Receive Light Sentences
-Anti-Fascist Punks Sentenced to 3 to 5 in Poland
-Demonstrators greet EU summit in Brussels with riot
-Urgent Update: Argentina Erupts Again!
-The Last Straw
-Wednesday December 19th: Argentina Erupts
-The Battle for Plaza de Mayo
-The Bankruptcy of the Argentine Political Establishment
-A Revolution Half Accomplished
-Prospective for Anarchist Organizing
-Syndicalism in Argentina
-This is NEFAC!
-Unsettling Imagi(nations): Anti-Border Conference
-Anti-Racist Protest Against WCOTC in York, PA
-Intergalactic Anarchist Convention
-Anti-Capitalist Convergence Against WEF Meetings
-Festival del Pueblo: Converge Against Capitalism
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Revolutionary Greetings, The Barricada Collective
The following are 3 of the 11 sections of our feature on Argentina. You can read the rest by subscribing to Barricada, or checking the webpage once it is updated (don’t hold your breathe). www.barricada.org
On the Ground in Argentina
For several years now Argentina has been suffering from a deep economic crisis, mainly a result of the debt that burdens the nation (136,000,000$), along with record unemployment (over 18%), and a serious recession.
Two years ago Argentines voted for an end to the rule of Carlos Menem and the Partido Justicialista. Menem's ten year rule became synonymous with rampant corruption and luxury for a select few at the expense of the majority of the Argentine people.
Fernando de la Rua, a Radical (member of the Union Civica Radical, Argentina's second largest party) was voted president as part of the Alliance, a wide coalition of center-left parties, led by the UCR. The campaign that brought De la Rua to power was centered around doing away with the unjust privileges of the Argentine ruling class, doing away with the rampant corruption, and building a fairer and more equitable Argentina.
However, soon after coming to power, the Alliance essentially fell apart, as parties left in disgust with the fact that, in order to continue receiving loans from the International Monetary Fund, De la Rua was implementing the economic adjustment plans dictated by the IMF. These plans essentially meant serious wage cuts for public workers, all sorts of neglect for the, already quite minimal, social security networks in Argentina. Once again, the workers and the poor (along with the middle class) were being made to suffer in order to pay for a debt that was the result of excessive spending and corruption of the Argentine military and ruling class.
It quickly became abundantly clear that, once again, a president was not responding to the needs and interests of the people, but to those of the banks and economic elites. Nothing made this clearer than the return of Domingo Cavallo as Economy minister (Cavallo, who instrumented "convertibility" which tied the Argentine peso to the dollar, was ousted by Menem himself during his rule, only to be brought back by De la Rua). Cavallo is known to be the banker's best friend, the mastermind behind several multi-million dollar deals (of which much disappeared), and, above all, a man with no regard whatsoever to the fate of the common man/woman. He is without any discussion, the most hated man in Argentina.
The Battle for Plaza de Mayo:
In the calm that followed the police repression at the congress and the Plaza de Mayo, a calm that soon turned out to be the calm at the eye of the storm, a few brave souls, numbering very likely not more than one or two hundred, began during the course of the night installing themselves once again in front of the Presidential palace at the Plaza de Mayo. They held firmly to the belief that, as the day progressed and people awoke or went to work, they would join them once again and the mobilization would grow to be as large, or larger, than the day before.
Evidently, they were not the only ones of this opinion. A march was called by the alphabet soup of the Argentine left (United Left, Communist Party, Socialist Movement of the Workers, Socialist Workers Movement, Workers Party, Socialist Convergence, Workers Pole, Movement Towards Socialism, Revolutionary Communist Party, etc.) and several student and unemployed organizations (such as the Combative Classist Current) at 1 pm from the congress to the Plaza de Mayo, to call for the resignation of De la Rua and denounce the state of emergency.
At approximately 10 am, the police began slowly pushing people back from the Plaza, away from the Presidential palace. This was done with relative calm, despite several rather rough arrests.
Several hours later, with the couple of hundred demonstrators, from all walks of life, often joined by people coming and going from work, or on their lunch breaks, joined by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (those brave mothers who defied both the military dictatorship and the bipartisan dictatorship to demand justice for their disappeared sons and daughters, and punishment for their killers), the police announced via loudspeaker that they had orders to "clean the Plaza," and were thus giving people 15 minutes to disperse. Needless to say, the demonstrators went nowhere.
Soon enough, the mounted police were riding into the crowd, which resisted by any means it could. Some fought back, some sat down, others threw things. Every single car that drove by honked. People left their offices and joined on the side of the demonstrators. Cars that could interfere with the police did so. Despite this, the Plaza was cleared. However, every ten or fifteen minutes, dozens and hundreds of demonstrators, more numerous by the minute, returned up the diagonal streets that led to the Plaza de Mayo. The people knew their objective, and were thus impossible to disperse.
It was during these first battles of the day that the struggle for the Plaza de Mayo claimed its first victims. One via a rubber bullet to the neck, and the other via a bullet, very much real, to the chest.
What happened over the next hour or two I do not know in detail, aside from the obvious fighting back and forth for control of the Plaza de Mayo. From this point on, and until nightfall, this account becomes firsthand, from participation in the leftist march on the Plaza de Mayo.
Upon arriving at the congress, one found the sight of a left wing demonstration with an energy and enthusiasm not seen for quite a while among the Argentine left. Well over two thousand people were in attendance, and the spirit of battle, was in the air.
[As a side note, it was also clear that the spirit of power was there as well. Either because there was some delusional dream of taking the presidential palace and refusing to leave, or because there was the realization that these events would very likely lead to an increase in votes to the left at the next elections. However, the chants were clear, "You Will See What You Have Coming When We Take Power," "In Argentina We Can Make the Revolution, With All the Left United to Take Power," and such.]
We marched little more than two blocks when already the gas was clearly visible from the front. Instantly, the t-shirts became hoods, the benches and trash cans became barricades, the slingshots emerged, the pavement became ammunition, and on occasion, the banks the target when cops were not to be found. However, after not long, it became clear that a long term resistance at the current location was unwise and tactically unsound, given the relatively small number of people present and the fact that the true battle was around the Plaza de Mayo, which was still quite a distance away.
Thus, we started out again along a different route. Surprisingly, the police were nowhere to be found and, aside from the occasional bank window, the march transpired in relative calm until arriving at the 9 de Julio avenue, location of the Obelisk, and only a four or five block distance away from the Plaza de Mayo.
From then on, as we marched to the front lines, some leftists, true to the rhetoric, fighting bravely up at the front, while others, sadly, watched from a safe distance while waving their flags.
The scene at the front of Diagonal Norte and Plaza de Mayo was truly incredible, inspiring, and unforgettable. Thousands upon thousands of people, men and women, of all social and economic backgrounds, young and old, thrusting themselves straight into the gas and the bullets, not knowing if the one they shot at you would be rubber or lead.
Like this we advanced in any way we could, carrying forward desks, chairs, fences, and anything that could serve as barricade and shield as we advanced. Step by step, meter by meter, block by block, we moved forward, retreating only to regroup, take respite from the gas, and advance again, growing stronger with the sight of the Presidential palace in the distance.
It cannot be stressed enough. This was not, as the newspapers are now trying to say, merely a few thousand activists and syndicalists. True, we were there. But this was the people. The old men with rocks in their hands urging youths forward, the over 50 motorcycle delivery boys doing all they could to stop the police (and who paid for their efforts with two deaths), the people in suits and ties breaking parts of pavement to send to the front lines, the store owners providing water and a place to sit to fighters who needed a rest before returning to the front. The many youths, with whom I spoke at length, that I, seeing hooded and fighting in the front lines, assumed were young revolutionaries like myself, who in fact were just youths who decided that the situation had reached an intolerable point and felt compelled to spring into action. Without parties and without leaders, only with conviction and courage.
Of course, this was not, as it was the night before, mainly the middle class, and neither was it a crowd willing to flee at the sight of police repression. It was a fighting crowd, and it is this that scares the corporate media, and it is this that compels it to lie about the events of Thursday.
But despite the usual lies, the unarguable truth is, and will always be, that this was the righteous anger of a people tired of lies, corruption, and injustice. It was the battle of thousands of people who truly thought they were giving birth to a new future and a new reality, and like all births, it would be painful and bloody.
Possibly it is true, in hindsight, that we were naive. We sacrificed our well being and our lives not simply to oust De la Rua, and pave the way for the return of the Partido Justicialista, a simple continuation of the bipartisan dictatorship. Maybe it was the sight of the Presidential Palace ahead, or the fact that for some time, we truly thought (and I certainly thought so) that sooner or later, the police would run out of bullets and gas (as they did at one point on Wednesday night), or that they would simply give up, as they did in Yugoslavia.
I have to admit, painful as it may be, that even my anarchism (which has been with me for many years and which I consider strong) wavered when I thought of the prospect of entering the Presidential Palace. We would take over I thought, and even without guns we would defend it with our lives. And nobody would be able to take us out. From then on, the people would rule, and we would do things right. We would build a better future, starting right there, and with the red flag flying high.
It was with this thought, that now may seem laughable and delusional, that many of us fought, and we did so like it was the last battle. We advanced regardless of the difficulty. We barricaded each and every single side street to avoid being ambushed from behind. We threw further than we ever imagined we could throw, and we ran faster and longer than we ever imagined possible. Furthermore, we were not alone. We later learned that essentially every street leading to the Plaza de Mayo witnessed similar, and simultaneous, battles.
But, as has happened so often in the history of the people worldwide, and particularly in Argentina, the balance of power unfortunately shifted against us. Eventually, the water cannon tanks rolled in and pulverized our barricades. The front barricade, at the last corner before the Plaza de Mayo, a barricade so large we thought it unbreakable, disappeared before our eyes. Before we knew it, we were being pushed back towards the obelisk, and away from our delusions of a new order. Sometimes we regained ground, but overall, it was clear that it was over.
We made the advance as difficult as possible for the police. Banks and multinationals were destroyed and set fire to, their furniture dragged into the street and set alight to make barricades of fire. However, at this point I, and I believe many other left wing revolutionaries present there, were hit with a sudden realization that, almost literally knocked the wind out of us. At this point, De la Rua had resigned, and had been seen escaping, almost pathetically, on a helicopter from the roof of the presidential palace. Knowing this, hearing that the police had orders to keep us out of the Presidential palace and the congress no matter what the costs, and seeing that the vacuum of power was to be filled, certainly not by a decentralized and self-managed system of community power and direct democracy, not even by the Argentine left, but once again by the rats that infest the halls of power in Argentina, the Partido Justicialista.
As we were pushed back to the other side of the 9 de Julio, onto Corrientes Avenue, it was this thought that rushed constantly through our minds. The sight of police instinctively carried some of us towards the front, but then we reminded ourselves that the Peronists were to take power, that those who gave their lives did so in order to end the bipartisan dictatorship, and not, as it turns out, to change the puppet at the top.
From this point on, approximately 8 pm, we continued our gradual retreat. There were still many thousands of us, and the atmosphere was still combative, but it was gradually giving way to indiscriminate looting. Of course, banks, McDonalds, and assorted multinationals were always in bounds. However, as the hours passed, the politicized groups (for lack of a better term) began to slowly disperse, and people took to taking what they wanted, from where they wanted, irrespective of the owners of the establishment. Once again, it began to look like a battle of poor versus poor, as some neighbors exited their apartments and began attacking looters, defending the shops that are the source of their meager wages.
And so it continued for several hours. While there was still the clear political content of a people long denied the pleasures of life taking what they wanted in order to have a bit merrier of a Christmas, it was not as overt as it had been in the earlier hours. Music chain stores were looted, a men's clothing store, a sports store, etc. etc. In one of the more surreal moments of the day, as we sat across from an Havana store, a store that sells some of the fancier and most well known (not to mention delicious) chocolates and "alfajores", we suddenly heard the, very frequent, sound of breaking glass. Soon enough, all sorts of chocolates and sweets began flying through the air. They fell on our laps, people threw handfuls of them into the air while they yelled "Merry Christmas," a teenager came up to the middle aged university teacher (there because her monthly paycheck went from approximately 800$ to 150$ in two years) and gave her a chocolate cake, others went around giving whole boxes of alfajores to people. It truly was a beautiful site. First of all, the abundance of, and free access to, goods made the greed and desperation factor disappear, and second, if candy and chocolate falling from the sky straight into people's laps is not a sure sign that things are looking up, then nothing is!
Although sporadic looting continued for several hours in the city center, until approximately midnight, this essentially marked the end of the popular mobilization. Two days later, Saturday, the alphabet soup of the left called for a mobilization in front of the congress, where the discussions regarding who the next president would be, for how long he would rule, how the next elections would be carried out, etc. Approximately 500 were present outside, while inside the Partido Justicialista, despite stiff resistance from virtually every other party (particularly the left), was carrying out it's seizure of power, a shameless expropriation of the victory of the people. The parliamentary session began at approximately 9 pm. It finished, with the appointment of Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, governor of the Province of San Luis, as president of Argentina.
Thus ends this chapter of popular resistance in Argentina. At least, the part of it that takes place in the streets. From now on, at least until the next popular rebellion, the resistance will take place once again in the neighborhoods and workplaces. However, this chapter that we are now closing leaves us with many, often contradictory, impressions, and many lessons to be learned. Perhaps, it is still to soon to attempt to sit down and objectively analyze the events of the last week, as the bloodstains are still on the streets for all to see, and the mind is not as much at ease as one would like. Nonetheless, there are certainly important lessons here, and possibly, the anger many of us still feel will help us to write the truth, with less regard for who it might offend or please.
Prospective for Anarchist Organizing
It might be beginning to sound redundant, but the fact is that it cannot be stressed enough. The Argentine working class, and even the middle class for that matter, is ripe for the spread of anarchist ideas and practices. The Argentine ruling class has managed to do a better job discrediting and subverting parliamentary democracy than a million rabid anarchists could ever aspire to. Their corruption, lack of regard for the people, and abuses of power are the living proof of what anarchism denounces about authoritarian systems, and the people know it.
As was previously stated, there is a vacuum of power in Argentina, or more precisely, a rejection of one system without a clear alternative to replace it. It is up to us, as anarchists, to present the alternative that we feel is best to the people and hope that they adopt it as theirs. This will require a serious and organized work in neighborhoods and workplaces. A campaign that pushes the alternative of neighborhood general assemblies to manage local affairs and build the power of the working classes while eating away at that of the state institutions. A campaign that pushes popular self-management of workplaces, rather than nationalizing them as the Marxist left proposes, as the way forward for the working class.
The practical bases of this alternative are already falling into place. Many neighborhoods are organizing popular general assemblies in order to decide what is the best way to carry the struggle forward, while at the same time strengthening the community.
These should be the principle two focuses of anarchist organizing and agitation in Argentina. Furthermore, anarchists should be involved in every struggle possible (and there are many in Argentina) of the working classes against the ruling class. The retirees who spend long days at banks trying to receive their meager pay, the railway workers trying to receive their wages, the teachers resisting wage cuts, the students defending free universities, and the many other struggles currently taking place. In each and every one, the priority should be exposing the deeper causes of conflict. The inherently conflicting interests of workers and bosses, and the alternative of popular autonomous struggle and decentralized, self-managed, democratic forms of organization.
Currently, the strongest current of organized anarchism in Argentina is the OSL, or Libertarian Socialist Organization. Approximately 50 OSL members were present in the struggle of the last week in Buenos Aires, as they have been present in the struggles of the people on a constant basis. The work that they do is based around the priorities stated above, and is carried out from within the popular organizations of struggle by individual anarchist activists, but with the OSL serving as a pole of organization providing an effective praxis and direction. We can only hope this new wave of discontent and rebellion will lead to a resurgence of anarchism in Argentina, a movement that once upon a time counted with hundreds of thousands of adherents.
Excerpt from Barricada January, 2002