Peronism, Lulism and elections in Argentina

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By VALERIO ARCARY*

The long life of Peronism and the future of the left in the post-Lula stage

                                                 It's when it's dark that we see the stars
                                                                        Portuguese popular proverb

1.

Sergio Massa will contest the second round, on November 19th, against Javier Milei, the candidate who will unify the right and the extreme right. The stakes are extremely serious. Argentina is experiencing a historic “impasse”.
The least unequal country with the highest average standard of living in the Southern Cone entered a long stagnation, or even regression of “Latin-Americanization”. The historical decadence, in its ebbs and flows, was not interrupted. This impasse refers to a structural relationship of forces between classes. The great adjustment that the Argentine bourgeoisie has been pursuing for decades, in order to compete for foreign investments, favor exports, increase the levels of dollar reserves, and stabilize the currency, requires a reduction in the “Argentine cost”: (a) the average salary would have that be leveled by the average Brazilian or, at least, São Paulo salaries; (b) public income transfer policies, whether through direct distribution of money or through subsidies that make public tariffs cheaper, would have to be suspended or drastically reduced; (c) privatizations would have to be resumed to support mining expansion plans and major public works; (d) the social shock force of unions and popular movements would have to be neutralized. Is an adjustment of this nature possible without a historic defeat of the working class? Is it possible without a change of political regime and a threat to democratic freedoms? The nightmare of what was the military dictatorship of Videla and Galtieri still torments the memory of the older generation. Disregarding other differences, such as the role of education and public health, Sergio Massa represents a gradualist adjustment project. Milei represents a shock project. The challenge for the Argentine left, which underestimated the danger of the extreme right, is to understand that, until November, it is not possible to fight against both at the same time. The denunciation of Massa by the left, in the next four weeks, even when very fair, favors Milei.     

2.   

The longevity of the influence of Peronism is one of the central, most thought-provoking, but also disturbing themes in the contemporary history of Argentina. Why did Peronism survive? It is not possible to understand the longevity of Peronism without highlighting that it is supported by one of the most active working classes in the world, union-wise, very combative, but politically, orphaned by independent representation. Peronism takes over the center-left space, but it is not Argentina's PT. Peronism is a progressive bourgeois nationalism, contemporary with the late Getulism in Brazil, which was displaced by the PT and Lulism, uniting diverse and, apparently, “incompatible” currents, from reactionary, neoliberal, and social democrats to socialists, such as the politician who maintains greater influence among the popular classes and collects, electorally, the majority of votes from the working class. Perhaps, because the Argentine working class was the one that, historically, achieved the most achievements among dependent countries. Therefore, those in which the reformist illusions of capitalist regulation are more powerful. Peronism is strong because the left is weak, but this is a circular argument, it explains nothing. Neither the communist nor the socialist parties managed to go beyond marginality, largely due to serious political errors, on different occasions. Paradoxically, alongside Bolivia and France, Argentina is the country where Trotskyism had in the past, and still maintains today, the largest audience.

3.

In Brazil, comparatively, Vargasism did not survive. Getúlio's suicide in 1954 provoked an explosion of popular fury, inverted the social relationship of forces, and managed to postpone the coup d'état until 1964 for ten years. Peron was overthrown from government by the gorilla coup of 1955, but his authority over The union movement and the popular layers remained intact until 1973, when he returned from exile and was elected president. He passed away the following year, but Peronism survived his death, and returned to power in 1989 with Carlos Menem. The historical experience had not been overcome and, still in 2003, it reinvented itself as Kirchnerism and governed until 2015. It won the elections again in 2019 with Alberto Fernandez and Cristina, confirming immense resilience. In Brazil, in 1979, when worker, student and popular struggles changed the social relationship of forces, the leader who expressed the continuity of the Vargas current, Leonel Brizola, had to compete with the PT for the representation of workers and, after ten years , was defeated, when it was Lula who reached the second round against Collor, by a difference of less than 1%, an “electoral accident”.

4.

The long life of Peronism went through six stages: (a) the national-developmentalist moment, during the first term of General Péron and Evita, when it relied on unions to counterbalance the weight of the agro-export sector, strengthen industrialization and market expansion internal; (b) the moment of resistance, when it maintained its influence after the 1955 coup until 1973, because the social achievements of the first post-war decade remained alive in the social memory of the working class during the military dictatorships, and because the opposition recognized Péron in exile as the leader of the movement; (c) the counter-revolutionary moment, between 1975/76, when Isabelita and the far-right “wizard” Lopez Rega took office, who ended up paving the way for the 1976 coup; (d) the heroic moment, when the military dictatorship of 1976/82 carried out a genocide, caused a historical trauma, and led the country to a military defeat in the Falklands war, leaving Peronism as the leadership of the popular classes; (e) the neoliberal moment, when it repositioned itself as a center-right party with Menem, after the capitalist restoration and the end of the USSR, and dollarization in the 2003s; (f) the “reformist” moment when it reinvented itself as Kirchnerism between 15/2002 and managed to contain the wave of popular mobilization with concessions, after the pre-revolutionary situation of XNUMX, and stabilized the regime.

5.

What will be the future of the left in the post-Lula stage? Will Lulism survive after Lula, like Peronism without Perón? The long life of the PT also went through six stages: (a) the heroic classist moment of the founding of the PT in the heat of the wave of strikes between 1978/81 and the 1989 elections; (b) the moment of institutionalization, or full integration as a party of the regime, between the support for the inauguration of Itamar Franco in 1992, after Collor's impeachment, and the electoral victory of 2002, when it consolidated itself as the largest national opposition party ; (c) the Lulist moment of the two mandates, between 2003 and 2010, when Lula's personal influence took off, and became, qualitatively, greater than PTism; (d) the DLM moment, between 2010 and 2016, when Lula ended up reluctantly accepting the re-election dispute, a neo-developmentalist phase that ended with the shift of the bourgeoisie to the opposition and, finally, to the coup; (e) the heroic moment, Lula's imprisonment for a year and a half, the resistance during seven years of accumulation of defeats that culminated in Bolsonaro's election; (f) the current moment, opened by the narrow election victory of Lula against Bolsonaro in 2022.   

6.

The PT has already demonstrated immense resilience, but can it maintain the mass influence of Lulism of the last forty years, without Lula? It will depend, at least, on four factors: (a) the economy cannot stop growing, even if slowly, because stagnation, or worse, a contraction will threaten the broad coalition with bourgeois parties, and governability; (b) growth will not be enough, the Lula government needs to respond, by 2026, to the most acute popular demands, nurturing the hope that it is possible, through a reformist strategy, to improve life; (c) the neo-fascist current must be defeated, and its audience in parts of the working class in the southeast and south of the country will have to recede; (d) a PT leadership will need to emerge, overcoming personal disputes for power, and assert itself with the capacity to build internal cohesion. A slower, safer and more controlled transition could be made, if Lula can run in 2026 and win. But it will be abrupt, convulsive and, probably, cause irreparable damage, if it is carried out without Lula. The only certainty is that the left will split, because there will be a devastating fight within the PT, internal disputes in the PSol and PCdoB and, probably, more “volcanic” moments, such as the split of the Consulta Popular and the PCB, on the radical left.

7.

It is still too early to predict the design of the fields, but there are some more likely hypotheses, depending on the current positions. The PT interrupted the dynamic crisis that had been accumulating since 2013, and regained authority, due to the institutional coup against Dilma Rousseff, and the impact of seven years of accumulated defeats. It reached its peak in 2022 with the rise of Lula when he left prison leading the campaign against Bolsonaro. But he was unable to completely close the flank on his left. The relocation of PSol, which assumed leadership in the feminist and black, indigenous and LGBT, student and popular movements, and the protagonism of MTST projected Boulos, who reached the second round in São Paulo in 2020 and, winning more than one million votes in 2022, established himself as the second most influential popular leader in the country, matching or even surpassing Haddad, who had replaced Lula in the election against Bolsonaro in 2018. No one can predict what the outcome of the Lula government will be. Will it maintain its current approval ratings, above 50%, will it strengthen or weaken? The answer depends on many factors, currently unpredictable, which recommends a healthy “Leninist empiricism”. But the São Paulo mayoral race in 2024 will be the mother of all future battles. If Boulos is reinforced, qualitatively, by a victory, the balance of forces within the left will change, and the PT will be inescapably diminished, even though it has supported the Psol since the first round. But perhaps there will still be Lula's “letter”, which could delay the PT's left-wing reorganization, and a greater role for Boulos.

8.

It is not possible to anticipate the scenario of the 2026 presidential elections, given key unknowns. Will Lula be able to run for re-election? Could Bolsonaro be a candidate? Will the extreme right without Bolsonaro be able to preserve the degree of influence it has achieved? Will Brazil be able to maintain growth, or will it head towards stagnation or even recession, due to the retraction of the world market? What is the outcome of the two current wars, in Ukraine and Gaza, and their impacts? What is the outcome of the US elections? However, if the 2022 context repeats itself, and considering the immense difficulties that the Lula government will face in the coming years, the most likely hypothesis is that the election will be very difficult, and the majority of the left's social base will position itself on a defensive strategy. , like in Argentina now. If this were to happen, the PT would gain historic time, even if it collapsed from within. But there are many counterfactuals, and there are other hypotheses. It is still too early to know whether the PT will have seven lives.

* Valerio Arcary is a retired professor of history at the IFSP. Author, among other books, of No one said it would be Easy (boitempo). [https://amzn.to/3OWSRAc]


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