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PETRAS ESSAYS IN ENGLISH

9 de diciembre del 2001

DEDICATED TO THE MADRES DE LA PLAZADE MAYO



Argentina: The Big Bed and the Popular Uprising ( Under the Bed Revolution )


James Petras

This account is based on a variety of stories told to me by various friends and companeros who were active in the Argentinazo. I am indebted to them for their time and confidence in sharing their experiences and personal observations. No doubt this account will be attacked by those who find it offensive as an anarchist provocation based on hearsay. All I can reply is that I trust the street fighters' version more than that of their critics.

The bed was big. It had to be, because underneath you had the leaders of the entire Argentine Left plus the heads of the three trade union confederations.

If one may ask an impertinent question: What were they doing under the Big Bed during the popular uprising - the historic Argentinazo? Many things ( that only they can tell you ) and nothing. This paradoxical situation can be easily explained. The leaders spent several days and nights discussing among themselves and within their groups and issuing many revolutionary manifestos from their allocated places under the bed. Except for militants who fell under the the spell of the uprising, the leaders were notable by their absence from the mass demonstrations, marches and food distribution programs at the supermarkets.

Under the bed, the Left was distributed in four corners according to their wisdom: the electoral, the intellectual, the revolutionary and the voyeuristic. In the center of the bed the leaders of the three trade union confederations congregated: the official, the dissident and the unofficial dissident.

The revolutionary left square was in turn subdivided into the Partido InOperario (PiO), the Partido de la Revolucion Socialista - Para Ayer (PRS-PA), Partido de la Revolucion Socialista - Para Manana (PRS - PM), Partido Bolchevique Sin Saqueo (PB-SS) and the two sections of the formerly unified Partido Proletario ( PP) divided into the PP-AL ( Anti-Lumpen ) and the PP-AE ( Anti-Espontaneismo ).

Before the Argentinazo the PiO usually had the biggest banners of self-promotion in every march. But in the Argentinazo they were notably absent. However they made up for it by issuing the most leaflets, pronouncements and manifestos to the "awakened masses". They were as generous in their advice to the rebellious workers as they were cautious in protecting their cadres.

The absence of all the leaders of the revolutionary left was not the product of any consensus - among the quarrelsome Secretary Generals, rather it was the result of deliberations between each secretary general and their politbureau.

The PRS-PA argued that the Argentinazo did not meet the requirements of a revolution - there were no Soviets not even of a reformist character. At best, they said it was a popular rebellion. The reason it was not a revolution, according to the Secretary General was the absence of a revolutionary vanguard. The vanguard should prepare itself to intervene when and if Soviets appeared, according to an internal document circulating under the bed.

The PRS-PM thought that objective and subjective conditions were not mature. According to the Secretary General the Argentinazo was only the first stage of a "molecular process, whose class character had not yet become visible."

The PiO alerted its cadres to sell the newspaper but avoid participating in direct confrontations, in order to avoid "confusing our program with the popular front nature of the middle class caceroleros." According to an internal document, " the workers and unemployed were mixed with the middle class in the demonstrations and it was important to wait until further polarization developed to clarify the situation."

The two wings of the PP were absent from the Argentinazo because " there was no programatic or political leadership" . In a word, the masses did not consult the vanguard. According to the two oracles of the two PP's, the sacking of stores was not the road to revolution. According to the PP leaders the correct path was for the clerks and supermarket workers to unite with their party and demand the expropriation of capital. The division of the PP was over the question of the characterization of the "process". One sector , the PP-AL, argued that the "so-called " Argentinazo was basically a "lumpen-dominated activity which however had some misguided unemployed youth who should be approached by PP cadres."

The other section, the PP-AE argued that it was a "purely spontaneous" protest lacking leadership and program, in danger of being infiltrated by the extreme right, opportunist Peronists etc The Secretary General ordered the cadre to go back to the factories and convoke an assembly to discuss a General Strike, and not be distracted by the rebellious petit-bourgeois youth.

The leaders of the Trade Union Confederation met in the center of the Big Bed. The Grand Caliph of the Sindicalismo Oficial denounced the President after he was forced to resign and defended the subsequent President before he resigned. His main objection was the Government's seizure of the union pension funds, which prevented the Grand Caliph from finishing payments on a multi-million dollar penthouse in Miami. The President of the Sindicato Disidente Oficial denounced the President before he left office and had his picture taken with the second President on his first day in office. He called the Argentinazo a "victory for the people over the IMF and the Banks" and then told them to go home and wait for the new President to realize the "national popular revolution". Since he spoke from under the bed only his paid functionaries heard and applauded. The secretary-general of the Disidente-No-Oficial was the most vehement in denouncing the outgoing President. During the Argentinazo he was so deeply involved in elaborating a Program to Fight Poverty that he failed to see the poor fighting the police in the streets and alleviating their poverty by taking food from the supermarkets. During the uprising, the secretary general was negotiating with other trade union chiefs. According to a spokesman his absence from all the mass marches and meetings in the plazas was due to his concern with strategic planning. He couldn't be bothered with day to day protests.

The electoral left welcomed the fall of the Presidents and demanded new elections. The left of the left demanded elections for a constituent assembly, at the commemoration meeting for the 30 street fighters who were killed. No doubt the various revolutionary-electoralist left parties will find excellent reasons to fight among themselves for "hegemony" in the electoral lists.

Some of the left intellectuals were angry enough to join the street demonstraters ( their bank accounts were frozen and they were not able to go on vacation ). Some wrote of the "end of neo-liberalism" and the "historical significance of December 20" based on their observation of the televised events, the news on the internet and, in some daring cases, observations from their balconies and reports by the local kiosk venders. The sound and the fury of the mass demonstrations sprang from their written words, but not a word was heard in the bloody plazas and avenues.

The Left-wing voyeurs were actually in the streets - in their individual capacity. They actually smelled the gas. They witnessed the crowds, from a distance. They moved quickly and perceptively when the police appeared on horseback. They saw the bloody faces, the battered Madres, the street fighters. They noted it all. They were impressed by the valor of the demonstrators and disgusted with the violence. "If only it had stayed peaceful" was a common refrain sent out to the lengthy list of e-mail correspondents.

The Big Bed housed the organized Left. All of them were preparing to come out from under the Big Bed and do battle when conditions matured, the lumpen stayed in the villas, and the proletarian summoned them -not any workers, it had to be a disciplined, organized, class-conscious working class meeting in Soviets.

In the meantime while the unruly multitude was in the streets and the police were firing real bullets, under the Big Bed was the best place to develop a pristine and lucid class perspective.