Seven keys to the Argentine election

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By MARIANO SCHUSTER & PABLO STEFANONI*

Will Javier Milei's victory lead to a cultural change in the country in line with its ultra-capitalist ideology? Can it transform electoral support into effective institutional power?

1.

Javier Milei, a man with no political experience, known for his virulent anti-Keynesian speeches and his contempt for political “caste”, expressed, in the Argentine elections, a kind of anti-progressive electoral mutiny. This process certainly has local particularities, but it expresses a broader phenomenon that transcends the country that has just elected it. If the economic foundations can be found in the reasons for the nonconformity that led part of the citizens to vote for Javier Milei, in many cases, the expansion of libertarianism is also linked to a global phenomenon of emergence of alternative right-wing discourses anti-status quo that capture social unrest and rejection from political and cultural elites. And the basis for the expansion of law is not always economic.

The extreme right builds cleavages based on local realities and grows in countries with high levels of prosperity. Javier Milei incorporated many of the discourses of these global radical rightists, often in a poorly digested form, such as the one that postulates that climate change is an invention of socialism or “cultural Marxism”, or the one that points out that we live under a kind of progressive neototalitarianism.

To a large extent, the Javier Milei phenomenon grew from the bottom up and for a long time went beyond the focus of political scientists – and the political and economic elites themselves – and managed to color social discontent with a “paleolibertarian” ideology without any tradition in Argentina. (supply created its own demand). Your Slogans “Caste is afraid” or “Long live freedom, damn it” were mixed with a rock aesthetic that distanced Javier Milei from the stuffiness of the old liberal-conservatives.

His speech was connected with a spirit of “let everyone go" (let everyone go), to the point that he managed to transform this slogans, launched in 2001 against neoliberal hegemony, in the battle cry of the new right.

2.

A mathematical economist, originally a defender of conventional liberalism, Javier Milei converted, around 2013, to the ideas of the Austrian school of economics in its most radical version: that of the American Murray Rothbard. Javier Milei's political growth was driven by his extravagant style, his obscene speech against political “caste” and a set of ultra-radical ideas identified with anarcho-capitalism and distrustful of democracy.

Since 2016, mainly through television appearances, book presentations, YouTube videos or public classes in parks, Javier Milei has managed to generate a strong attraction among countless young people, who started to read different libertarian authors and became his first base of support . After his leap into politics in 2021, upon entering the Chamber of Deputies, he achieved socially transversal support, which included popular neighborhoods. Then his speech, which seemed to come from Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, connected with popular entrepreneurship and the ambivalence – sometimes radical – of these sectors in relation to the State. The pandemic and state confinement measures have also fueled several of the pro-“freedom” dynamics that Javier Milei embodies.

3.

The support of Mauricio Macri, former president between 2015 and 2019 and leader of the “hard wing” of the Together for Change coalition, was decisive in allowing Javier Milei to approach the second round with possibilities. With the support of Mauricio Macri and Patricia Bullrich (who had been relegated to third place in the first electoral round), Javier Milei's anti-caste speech – which seemed to have a ceiling of 30% of the votes – became that of “Kirchnerism or freedom”, which was Patricia Bullrich’s motto.

His strategy, from then on, was to express the anti-Kirchnerist vote. From this base he became strong to face Peronism. But at the same time, Javier Milei became enormously dependent on Mauricio Macri. The latter saw in Javier Milei's lack of structure and equipment the possibility of regaining power after the failure of his government: Macriism will not only provide frameworks for the nascent mileism, but the latter will depend on Macri's legislators to achieve minimum governability.

4.

After the first round, Javier Milei set aside his more radical proclamations of total privatization of the State, as these clashed with the egalitarian and pro-public services sensibilities of a large part of the electorate. This Sunday, the candidate of freedom advances It achieved impressive results in the strategic province of Buenos Aires, where it was just a little more than a point behind Peronism. The case of Buenos Aires is, moreover, symptomatic: for years Peronism made a point of maintaining its political-spiritual stronghold there.

The fact that the difference was small requires a reconsideration of the historical territorial power of Peronism in the province – which in 2015 had already been challenged by Macrismo – and, above all, in its most impoverished areas. Javier Milei also swept areas of the country's productive center such as Córdoba, Santa Fé and Mendoza, but also won in almost all Argentine provinces. The big question is what now remains of his most radical program, including the dollarization of the economy, which he never finished explaining, or the closure of the Central Bank.

5.

Javier Milei managed to reverse his defeat in the presidential debate in his favor. That day, Sergio Massa defeated him almost by knockout. He was the man who knew the State inside out, who knew which camera to look at and who “didn't have any bullets that could hit him” despite being Minister of Economy with annual inflation exceeding 140%. Ahead of him was an almost dejected Javier Milei, with no ability as a debater – far from his particular charisma at election rallies, in which he appeared with a chainsaw and asked to “kick the ass of impoverishing politicians”.

But Sergio Massa's victory, as it turned out, was a Pyrrhic victory. In addition to appearing as an Economy Minister who was only “pretending to be insane”, he represented like no one else the type of hyper-professionalized politician rejected by a large part of the electorate. In the campaign, Sergio Massa incorporated a kind of “caste” front, with the more or less explicit support of leaders of the Radical Civic Union (UCR) and moderate sectors of the center-right, such as the outgoing mayor of Buenos Aires, Horacio Rodríguez . Javier Milei finally managed to turn anti-progressive “trolling” into a presidential project.

After his victory on November 19, a crowd spontaneously took to the streets, as if it were a football victory. The vote for Javier Milei combined an angry vote with a new type of hope, associated with a speech with a strong utopian and messianic charge and with some reactionary proclamations: Javier Milei presented himself, even comparing himself to Moses himself, as a liberator of “statism” and “decadence”. In just two years, he stopped being a kind of Joker, who called for rebellion in Gotham City, to become an unexpected new president. Javier Milei's strategy was a whirlwind, often erratic, disorderly, but effective and unifying the agitation. “People paid with their vote to enter a new program with Javier Milei as the protagonist,” wrote analyst Mario Riorda in a post of X.

How this utopia will land in a government program is the big question at the moment. Will it be something more than “macrismo 2.0”? It is already planned that his office will be an assembly between Milleistas and Macristas, with a central role for Patricia Bullrich. It will also be necessary to understand the role of vice-president Victoria Villarruel, a lawyer associated with the radical right, including former soldiers of the dictatorship, and who is mentioned by the Italian Giorgia Meloni.

6.

The progressive “micro-militancy” of recent days – ordinary people intervening in public transport and other mass spaces – was not enough to reverse a wave that was more powerful than expected. This micro-militancy, which emphasized Javier Milei's denialism – regarding the crimes of the last dictatorship, but also climate change – and his proposals against social justice (which he considers a monstrosity), sought to be a voice of warning.

But they did not explain why Sergio Massa's project could be attractive, only that a barrier vote was necessary to avoid the loss of rights. Many of these progressive micro militancies ended up appealing to a defense of the political system (embodied by Sergio Massa's proposal for “national unity”), against which Javier Milei himself had mounted his speech “against castes”. On the other hand, instead of highlighting the qualities of the Peronist candidate (which they often did not believe in), micro-militancy warned of the “fascist” danger of his opponent.

The very weakening of Kirchnerism meant that these speeches were often inaudible or perceived as sermons for a part of the population determined to vote for “the new” – even when the new could, in fact, be a leap into the void. Added to this is the fact that millenism has its own micro-militants, many of them digital.

The election result ended up being almost a carbon copy of Jair Bolsonaro's election against Fernando Haddad in 2018. The “fear” that Sergio Massa's campaign installed faced the “fatigue” of Javier Milei's campaign. Argentine progressivism is now facing a balance in these years; to the need for its reinvention in a new political-cultural context: a potential reactionary wave. “These elections do not just represent a defeat of Kirchnerism, of Union for the Fatherland or Peronism in general. Above all, they are a defeat for the left. A political, social and cultural defeat of the left, its values, its traditions, its conquered rights, its credibility”, wrote historian Horacio Tarcus.

7.

Will Javier Milei's victory lead to a cultural change in the country in line with its ultra-capitalist ideology? Can it transform electoral support into effective institutional power? Will this new right, product of the assembly of libertarians and macristas, be able to govern “normally”?

If Milei gave the surprise to Together for Change, he, however, depended on Mauricio Macri and Patricia Bullrich to obtain votes for the second round. Javier Milei won the presidency; Mauricio Macri gained political power. Can he make the radical adjustment he promised? How strong will the resistance be – from unions and social movements – against a government that will be very far to the right of Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) and that promises shock therapy? Will Javier Milei be able to build a social base to support his reforms?

After 22pm on Sunday, November 19th, the president-elect recovered the tone of the barricade and made history in front of his followers. There he presented himself as the “first liberal-libertarian president in the history of humanity”, referred to XNUMXth century liberalism and repeated that in his project there is no place “for lukewarm people”. His followers responded by singing “That they all go away, that there is no one left alone".

*Mariano Schuster is a journalist.

*Pablo Stefanoni He is a professor of history at the National University of San Martín. Author of, among others, books, Has the rebellion become right-wing? (Unicamp Publisher).

Originally published in the magazine New Society.


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