Excerpts on the Argentinian Crisis of the Early 2000’s

Cacerolazo in Plaza de Mayo. Banner reads "ALL OF THEM MUST GO - Government of workers and neighborhood assemblies"
Cacerolazo in Plaza de Mayo. Banner reads “ALL OF THEM MUST GO – Government of workers and neighborhood assemblies”

The Argentinian crisis at the opening of the 21st century and the aftermath of those events up to the present day are an important experience. For some of us here at Recomposition, these events relate to what we’ve discussed in terms of militant reformism, the idea of mobilizing a population to fight for reforms that would yield to an improved form of capitalism. We think we’re likely to see more of this, and with that in mind, we hope to stir up dialogue by presenting some excerpts from Sebastian Touza’s introduction to an article by Colectivo Situaciones, and then excerpts from the article “Crisis, Governmentality and New Social Conflict: Argentina as a laboratory” by the Colectivo Situaciones. Lastly we link to a piece about militant reformism by S. N. Nappalos.

From Sebastian Touza’s intro:

“Chanting ‘All of them must go!’, on December 19th and 20th, 2001, massive demonstrations forced the resignation of president de la Rúa in Argentina. A new protagonism, which included unemployed workers movements, human rights organizations, factories running under workers’ control, and neighborhood assemblies made clear that neoliberal policies were no longer viable in the country. [After the 2001 revolts there came] the reorganization of institutions that followed the 2003 presidential election in which Nestor Kirchner, a former Peronist governor of the province of Santa Cruz, was elected.

It soon became clear that Kirchner’s ability to listen to the struggles and movements that preceded him was allowing him to rebuild credibility in the institutions of representative democracy eroded by the movements. His government clearly shifted away from the path followed by the Argentine democratically elected administrations of the previous two decades. It rejected the Washington Consensus, revised the privatization of public companies, established programs to help those affected by the devastating policies brought about by the previous neoliberal administrations, committed to bringing to justice those responsible for the state repression of the last dictatorship, and wrapped policies in a narrative that rescued the values of the revolutionary generation of the 1960s and 1970s. At the international level, it aligned itself with the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador and Uruguay. Many members of the generation that awoke to politics in the struggles against neoliberalism gradually became part of the Kirchner government’s support basis. In 2007 Cristina Fernández, Kirchner’s wife and former senator, was elected to succeed him. By this time the new post-neoliberal period was in the process of becoming a form of ‘neodevelopmentalism’, an updated version of the developmentalist policies promoted five decades earlier in Argentina by Peronism and other parties: state intervention in the economy, Keynesian counter-cyclical measures, a boost to construction and public works to encourage job creation, expansion of mass consumption to low income to sectors of the population previously excluded from it, promotion of the national industry (mostly cars and consumer electronics), and exports based on agribusiness (particularly for the production of genetically modified soybean) and large-scale mining to take advantage of the international boom of commodities.”
(Find the whole introduction here)

Protests during 2001
Protests during 2001

From the Colectivo Situaciones piece:

In Latin America, the nineties were the decade of growth for both neoliberal policies and the production of subjectivities in resistance. These subjectivities (…) social movements, if we can still call them that, currently confront new dilemmas about whether to participate or not (and when, and how) in what could be called a ‘new governmentality’, thus expressing the distinguishing features of a new phase of the state form (…) the new governmentality consists of an expansion of its capacities to incorporate much of the dynamics represented by the cycle of social protests (…) a way of governing the crisis

(…) We will try to characterize this new phase that opens with the governments that emerged in many Latin American countries, which mark a (relative but important) level of rupture vis-à-vis those strictly neoliberal governments of the past decades. (…) these governments seek to govern these movements directly. For most movements this meant a whole series of complex dilemmas and a permanent obligation to announce their stances on official policies: those who think they have to include themselves in the governments, those that think they don’t have to, those that melt away, and those that remain standing even if in a nostalgic way.

Arguably, the new statehood in Argentina – and perhaps in Latin America – can be characterized succinctly by the following features: a new legitimacy for so-called ‘progressive’ governments achieved through a specific mode of insertion in the world market, increasingly sustained by a discourse on technological development; a growing importance of popular consumer culture linked to a decisive reconfiguration of the world of work; the role of social policy as a means for sustaining consumption and governing social organizations; and the rhetoric on human and social rights, increasingly mixed with the discourse on national sovereignty.

In this process of production of statehood, State structures harbour multiple contradictions, imposing new issues on the political agenda, reestablishing hierarchies and foreshadowing different rules in social policy, increasingly central to economic dynamics and to the mechanisms of government, particularly in a scenario of global crisis.

Inside these processes, and simultaneously, new state functions have arisen that correspond to specific institutional structures that take on a growing importance in countries like Argentina. For instance, institutions that govern economic interdependence and insertion in the global market are important because they constitute a point of conjunction through which the specificity of Latin American capitalism is articulated to the unifying logic of global capitalism.
(…) This new situation brings us to the need to deepen the analysis of the relationship between contemporary capitalism (which is both one and multiple) and the new role played by the state in many ‘emerging’ countries (not only in Latin America).
When we talk about the new modes of government we not only talk about new ways of producing ‘statehood’, but also new mechanisms to regulate subjective production, which we could define as follows:
1)       Complex treatment of social movements, which, on one hand, includes and combines negotiation, subordination, recognition, and reparation, with, on the other hand, the creation of parallel structures and more or less direct confrontation.
2)      Symbolic centralization of state action and dispersion of collective networks: there is also a combination of funding for movements and individual assistance. But a mixture of these modalities also happens inside the movements themselves. On one hand, it is dealt with one on one, instituting command structures known as political patronage, which manage the individual and the negotiated incorporation into social benefit packages run by State agencies such as municipalities, and the Ministry of Social Development and Labour. [Translator’s note: The Kirchner administrations have introduced several programs with the goal of achieving a more equal income distribution by helping people ‘find a way out of exclusion’. These include the Heads of Households Program for the unemployed and the Universal Allowance per Child, aimed at assisting poor families in the completion of their children’s primary and secondary education. There are also government programs to help people buy or build their first house, scholarships to finish university education in public institutions, funds to help cooperatives, etc.] On the other hand, there are complex channels of collective bargaining and institutional dialogue, which range from access to resources to direct management of a social project.
3)       Knowledge production as a form of government: social benefits packages are means for making the popular world intelligible; a world that has been deeply changed by mutations that have taken place since the nineties and the crisis of 2001. It is a form of recording and classifying modes of living that can be considered to exist neither within the world of formal employment nor within the classical cannons of state administration. For this to happen, it was necessary for the state to add to its staff many public servants originating from the movements and the social sciences. Their knowledge of the groups and their operative, territorial, and organizational knowledge are at the base of a new interlocution (but also of a system of exclusion).
4)      Security policy: territorial knowledge and control made viable through social benefits packages foster a knowledge of groups and movements that no law enforcement agency can compete with. The recent appointment of the man who has historically been responsible for negotiating with social movements as Deputy Minister of Security is a clear statement on the realistic reformulation of the concept of security itself.
5)       Social benefits packages as producers of a new form of citizenship: part of the requisite of the packages consists in a form of legal registration of the ‘beneficiaries’ living in zones in which informality is prominent; in return, schooling, vaccination and obtaining personal IDs are mandatory for them. However, here we see another novelty at work: classic state institutions cannot answer the massive demand that arises from these mandatory benefits. To do this, the state often uses the help of autonomous initiatives in order to make up for the lack of an institutional solution. For example, the increase of school registration, after this became a requirement to obtain the benefit of AUH (Universal Child Benefit), forced the state to use the self-managed ‘popular high schools’, which practice popular education in factories run under workers’ control since 2001 and, simultaneously, to acknowledge the latter’s existence by funding teachers’ salaries, outside the collective agreements with teachers’ unions.

This brief map of how social policy works allows us to highlight a key point: the dominant rhetoric that says that employment is back coexists with subsidies – granted using this language from the world of work – and they are strictly intended to fuel consumption. In this regard, what kind of scenario is configured by this model for funding consumption?
As we just pointed out, the ‘reinvention’ of the state in a country like Argentina is played out, first, in the production of mediation vis-à-vis the global market. But in the so-called ‘emerging’ countries, this mediation is, in turn, linked to immense social activity, both self-managed and informal, with increasing presence in the economy, which at the same time helps develop the economic power of those enterprises and captures them. But, in the so-called emerging countries, this mediation is linked to an immense sector of self-managed and informal social activity that has an increasing presence in the economy, which simultaneously fosters and absorbs their economic power. The world of the informal and self-managed economy looks vigorous, healthy, and fluid, while at the same time it is subordinate and hyper-exploited.

The rise of a ‘popular’ capitalist world is tightly connected to the capacity to recover experiences and practices of self-management capable of dealing with non-state social relationships, transactions, and policies in an increasingly heterogeneous society. This capacity is regenerated again and again from below, in a close relationship with the market.

This universe of informal practices has an increasingly important presence and is explicitly recognized inside the national economy. At the same time, it constitutes a ‘mirror’ in which to read some general tendencies that are redefining ‘work’ in Argentina, both in terms of its characteristic precarity and its capacity to manage and negotiate its relationship to a rapidly changing world. These innovative features form the basis of the extension of exploitation to increasingly broader aspects of life.

(Find the whole article here)

Lastly, we share a response to militant reformism titled “Responding to the Growing Importance of the State in the Workers’ Movement” written by one of our editors, S. N. Nappalos.