Starting to wake up from the nightmare

Image: Gabriel Ramos


The threat to Argentine university and union institutions led to a gigantic and historic demonstration against the Milei government

It was expected; I expected that. Human rivers overflowed city canals across the country. The conquest of the streets follows a cumulative process, particularly in the Argentine capital. It was January 24th with the call of the CGT that reinforced the presence and participation in the embryonic popular assemblies and self-convened groups that still survive in a limited way. Then the 8th of March for gender equality and later the resounding 24th of March for memory, which exceeded the limits of history by several blocks. Plaza de Mayo.

In the case that I will analyze, April 23rd, I don't remember having so much difficulty in reaching the concentration point of my teaching staff, nor such a level of density of people per surface, to the limit of suffocation. It surpassed everything that had been experienced in 40 years of constitutional validity, profuse in street protests. Closing this publication upon returning from the march makes me rush to write, as much as it prevents me from analyzing the repercussions it will inevitably have. Not only because of its magnitude in the city of Buenos Aires, but throughout the country.

The police, always underestimating, estimated the attendance at more than 150 thousand people. For the organizers it was 800 thousand. The Argentine newspaper La Nación, which usually follows police negligence, developed an infographic with an approximate estimate of 430 thousand based on three categories of density per square meter: four in the most compressed area, two in the average and one in the dispersed area, applying these rules across the entire surface of streets and avenues surveyed by drones. Possibly the reality is closer to an intersection between the most optimistic estimate and that of the newspaper. The entire press, however, seems to accept without further details or calculations that there were more than 1.000.000 throughout the national territory. Truly historic.

The previous week, the government began implementing maneuvers with the aim of breaking or eventually weakening the call. He began by stating that he had reached an agreement with the universities to guarantee operation, as it would grant a limited increase to such expenses. It was simply an informal, one-sided announcement that, at best, would only cover 10% of basic needs.

The National Interuniversity Council (CIN) rejected the measure, insisting on the invitation to the march. The party in power continued to exert individual pressure on the rectors of the CIN and the governors of the provinces, necessarily close to and interested in university provision in their territory, with the same methodology that the minister of the interior uses with them to convince parliamentarians in their districts to vote on the new reduced general bill: blackmail. Despite the talk of renewing politics, they continue to appeal to what is worst in it: corruption and the exchange of favors and resources between representatives behind closed doors and behind the backs of those they represent. The offensive culminated in the threat of ratification of Minister Patrícia Bullrich's fearsome security protocol, violating the constitutional right to protest and freedom of association and assembly, already used in smaller demonstrations with hundreds of participants beaten, injured, intoxicated and detained - in addition of injured journalists.

Already during deconcentration, the two highest authorities displayed, through X (formerly Twitter) in one case, and through Instagram in another, the disgusting hatred that animates them and the climate of violence and cruelty that they project on society. Vice President Villarruel published a photo of Taty Almeida, mother of Plaza de Mayo speaking on stage with the following phrase: “Hebe what did you lose” (the omission of the comma is the author’s). She alludes to one of the founders and leader of the Mothers, Hebe de Bonafini, who “you lost” because she died just over a year ago. Revealing the nature of this employee.

President Javier Milei, in turn, posted a drawing of a lion (usually he introduces himself, saying in a roaring tone: “Hello, I am the lion”) drinking from a cup with the inscription “tears of leftists”. It is still encouraging that Javier Milei's tyranny leads him to detonate the alliances offered to him without further conditions, expanding the theme of his communicational fragments. In his speech at Davos, he lumped the tycoons and leaders present into the same “collectivist” bag that included everything from Nazis, Keynesians, to neoclassicists. He considered the Argentine parliament a “rat's nest”, from which he simultaneously demands the approval of his bills.

The case of the former ultra-liberal Economy Minister López Murphy, expelled by the Alliance government, deserves an Oedipal mention because he considered him his “second father”, when celebrating his candidacy for deputy. Javier Milei, once out, mentioned this when warning his audience that “it is good that they know who are those who disguise themselves as liberals and are true aberrations who go against ideas”.

A similar fate befell more than a dozen journalists, most of whom demonstrated great leniency, a collaborative spirit and submission to his onslaught. He doesn't just hate leftists. In this way, he presents himself as a heroic and lonely crusader in the face of an army of mercenaries of “statist socialism”, although they do not know it. A Rambo in a war of reality shows and tweets.

Just as for McLuhan the message was the means, for Javier Milei hate is politics. The link between dogma and violence takes us back to the conservative and religious obscurantism of the 18th century, against which the Enlightenment philosophers took a stand, among whom I prefer to include Immanuel Kant, contrary to the judgment of Frederich Nietzsche who attributed darkness to him by its complex literary style and the absence of explanatory mediations.

Kant would respond that intelligence is measurable by the amount of uncertainty it is capable of withstanding. Regardless of this detailed distinction, it is still useful for the discussion on university progress, when in his small book on the dispute between faculties, he defends the critical power of the philosophical faculty, against the three remaining practical knowledge of the time (law, medicine and theology). ) because they have the possibility of investigating the specific doctrines that they must dogmatically transmit (The Streit Der Facultaten).

Javier Milei cannot tolerate a single uncertainty, his conception is that faculties indoctrinate, which is why he imagines that the entire ideological arc against which he fights bravely has been formed. What Javier Milei considers indoctrination is what two and a half centuries ago Kant attributed to the philosophical faculty and to enlightenment as the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. Just over a century ago, the protagonists of the 1918 university reform in Córdoba maintained that if “in the name of order they want to continue to mock and brutalize us, we loudly proclaim the right to insurrection”.

Also in Córdoba, almost half a century ago, the protagonists of “Cordobazo”, the most combative unions of the time, maintained an alliance of workers and students to face the repression of the dictatorship. The same one that three years earlier displaced the occupation of five faculties of the University of Buenos Aires when that dictatorship intervened, thus eliminating co-government. It forced the exodus of its best exponents in the well-known “night of the long sticks” of 1966.

I do not claim that there is a mechanical correspondence between these events and those that allowed this week's march. However, there are three approaches. On the one hand, Javier Milei's government, although not a dictatorship, has so many features of authoritarianism and repressive violence that it puts the validity of constitutional guarantees under pressure. However, beyond that, universities are not under intervention, nor is the press.

On the other hand, current union representations do not have the combative profile or influence over the increasingly precarious and informal world of work, as they had in much of the 1960s. Finally, the current student movement is much more heterogeneous due to the exponential increase in universities, their students and their penetration throughout the national territory. The broader and more diverse National Interuniversity Council now also differs from that of half a century ago.

However, the nature of the threat, the intervention of university and trade union institutions, challenged an unprecedented magnitude of the population who responded to an appeal that they considered unitary and unifying. The ideological-partisan diversity of the National Interuniversity Council and the pluralism of the main universities, the structuring of a university inter-union front, the support of the three union confederations, some picket organizations and something even more powerful: the imaginary of upward social mobility that the university public has in society which means that, according to the latest record (2022), 2.162.497 adults studied in 73 public universities compared to 551.330 in private universities (of excellence, research and extension, with some specific exceptions). From the toilets emerged four of the five politicians, not coincidentally conservative to use a mild expression, who ran for president in the last decade: Macri, Scioli, Massa and Milei.

Although it may seem trite, some minimal provisional conclusions would indicate that on this larval alliance, resistance could be deepened. Above all, looking for ways to institutionalize the coordinations that were effectively constituted. The detail should be left for a future contribution.

I will remember having participated in a colossal, heterogeneous, noisy and transversal party. Festival of hugs, surprises and reunions. Oxygenating in the welcoming squeeze paradoxical lung compression.

*Emilio Cafassi is senior professor of sociology at the University of Buenos Aires.

Translation: Arthur Scavone.

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