Argentina: A Dictatorship by Democratic Means?

Repre­sión: Las madres y la mon­tada. Eduardo Lon­goni, 1982.

Mauri­cio Macri, the right-wing can­di­date of the Cam­biemos (Let’s Change) Party, was elected pres­i­dent of Argentina in Novem­ber 2015, end­ing twelve years of gov­ern­ment by the cen­ter Left, Per­o­nist gov­ern­ments of Nés­tor Kirch­ner and Cristina Fer­nán­dez de Kirch­ner. In the fol­low­ing, Car­o­line Kim of Lateinamerika Nachrichten inter­views Diego Sztul­wark of the Insti­tuto de Inves­ti­gación y Exper­i­mentación Política to dis­cuss the rela­tion­ship between Macri and the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship that ruled the coun­try between 1976 and 1983 and the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of social move­ments in the coun­try.

Caro Kim: In an inter­view with FM La Tribu before the elec­tions you said that Macri was the con­tin­u­a­tion of the project of the dic­ta­tor­ship by demo­c­ra­tic means. Can you explain why you said this and if today, after two months of Macri’s gov­ern­ment, you would still say it?

Diego Sztul­wark: I haven’t changed my opin­ion about Macri and the group of power that accom­pa­nies him and which he rep­re­sents, although I think we have to adopt a pru­dent atti­tude. When I claim that Macri rep­re­sents a con­ti­nu­ity in respect to the dic­ta­tor­ship, I am try­ing to empha­size two issues. The first is the cor­po­rate (as well as the mil­i­tary) aspect of the last dic­ta­tor­ship (1976–1983). Along with the geno­cide, the dic­ta­tor­ship was a reac­tionary “con­stituent” process: it mod­i­fied state func­tion­ing in favor of finan­cial accu­mu­la­tion, cre­at­ing infa­mous laws – for exam­ple, those reg­u­lat­ing for­eign invest­ment, or the behav­ior of finan­cial enti­ties – that are cur­rently still in force. That legacy of the dic­ta­tor­ship reap­pears today. The sec­ond aspect of the rebirth of the dic­ta­tor­ship under Cambiemos’s gov­ern­ment is a com­pletely banal cul­ture, that wor­ships order for the sake of order. That banal­ity, as Arendt would say, entails an “evil.” Dur­ing the first months of Macri’s gov­ern­ment, we have seen the return of repres­sive pro­to­cols for social protest and the strength­en­ing of secu­rity forces; we have seen an inten­si­fi­ca­tion of poli­cies of mas­sive lay­offs (in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors); we have seen how peo­ple with ties to large cor­po­ra­tions have been given impor­tant gov­ern­ment posi­tions again.

This said, I should add that we must remain pru­dent, not in regards to the nature of the new gov­ern­ment – although it is clear there are impor­tant nov­el­ties on this level: we are faced with a right-wing that is more mod­ern, ver­sa­tile in the world of mass media and social net­works, much more atten­tive and lucid in every­thing that has to do with the pro­duc­tion of con­sen­sus – but rather in respect to the polit­i­cal process as such. We must ask our­selves, how is a gov­ern­ment like this pos­si­ble in the coun­try today? We have a lot to under­stand. We can­not sim­ply say that Macri is the dic­ta­tor­ship. If we do not under­stand the cur­rent process, our attempts to stop it won’t be effec­tive. Nor can we for­get that, by being suc­cess­ful on its own terms, this gov­ern­ment can serve as a lab­o­ra­tory for the region.

CK: Would you have pre­dicted that the new gov­ern­ment would start its term with this shower of (anti-demo­c­ra­tic) mea­sures? Was there some­thing that sur­prised you?

DS: With­out hav­ing antic­i­pated the auto­cratic tough­ness of many of the mea­sures that are being taken, I don’t think there have been any real sur­prises. The gov­ern­ment acts with con­sid­er­able ratio­nal­ity accord­ing to its own terms. It tries by all means and advances where it sees there is less resis­tance. In any case, the sur­prises should be sit­u­ated on another level: in the docil­ity dur­ing the pre­vi­ous process of the select­ing can­di­dates – all of the can­di­dates with real chances of win­ning (Macri, but also Per­o­nists Sci­oli and Massa) lacked the per­sonal or polit­i­cal resources to con­front the con­trol that emerges from the con­tin­u­ous cri­sis at the level of the global mar­ket –; in Macri’s tri­umph in the country’s three main states (the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, the City of Buenos Aires, and the Province of Buenos Aires); and in the ease in which the gov­ern­ment is dis­man­tling the poli­cies of the Kirch­ner gov­ern­ments. These three sur­prises exac­er­bate the fact that the capac­ity of pop­u­lar resis­tance is no longer effec­tive and there­fore the gov­ern­ment is able to ori­ent its pol­i­tics to the total sub­mis­sion to a new ver­sion of neolib­er­al­ism suited for the cur­rent South Amer­i­can con­text.

CK: What is the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try, how has the polit­i­cal cli­mate devel­oped dur­ing these two months? What do social move­ments, the base, say? What are they most crit­i­cal of?

DS: I think the social orga­ni­za­tions, like all of us, are still try­ing to under­stand what hap­pened. Going at full speed, they are try­ing to take account of the Kirch­ner­ist polit­i­cal process (and what many call an “end of cycle”) and to bet­ter under­stand what is com­ing. Many orga­ni­za­tions were part of the gov­ern­ment and now they find them­selves sub­jected to a new dynamic. I think that we are going from a phase of ini­tial per­plex­ity to one where it is becom­ing increas­ingly urgent to define new instru­ments to put lim­its on the government’s offen­sives: above all, in terms of defend­ing work­ers’ earn­ing power, the anti-repres­sive aspect, and con­fronting the strength­en­ing of agribusi­ness. The first national strike against the gov­ern­ment (pub­lic sec­tor employ­ees, teach­ers, the key trade unions of the CTA) will be this week and I think that on March 24th (the 40th anniver­sary of the coup) there will be a mas­sive expres­sion of the rejec­tion of state poli­cies on streets across the coun­try.

CK: How does the role of social protest change with the new gov­ern­ment? What hap­pens in terms of the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of protest? Is there more mobi­liza­tion now? How do you see the devel­op­ment of social move­ments in the near future?

DS: It appears to me that new modes of social strug­gle will be affirmed although it is still not easy to antic­i­pate them. The orga­ni­za­tions that were not part of the gov­ern­ment have real con­tact with the pop­u­lar per­cep­tions and prob­lems and expe­ri­ence in engag­ing in pol­i­tics with­out sup­port from the state. Those that were part of the gov­ern­ment, on the other hand, are still pro­cess­ing the impact of the new sit­u­a­tion. Besides the large unions, which tend to sup­port the new gov­ern­ment, other more com­bat­ive ones have emerged, based on grass­roots and assem­bly processes. Highly inter­est­ing polit­i­cal reflec­tions have also devel­oped from within the ter­ri­to­rial orga­ni­za­tions. It is to hope for that the expe­ri­ence of strug­gle com­ing from the mid 1990s can now be recov­ered in a dif­fer­ent con­text, of unprece­dented polit­i­cal aggres­sive­ness from the state, of the retrac­tion of the so-called “pro­gres­sive” gov­ern­ments in the region, but also of the unde­ni­able tri­umph of a mode of accu­mu­la­tion that ties together the gov­ern­ment of finances, neoex­trac­tivism and pop­u­lar inclu­sion through increas­ing con­sump­tion. Is this model going to be replaced by another or will its terms be refor­mu­lated? I think that the move­ments that know how to read the con­text are going to tend to affirm their pres­ence and effec­tive­ness.

CK: Would it be pos­si­ble to com­pare the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion a lit­tle with the sit­u­a­tion after 2001? In terms of orga­ni­za­tion, mobi­liza­tion, mil­i­tancy? What are the sim­i­lar­i­ties, dif­fer­ences?

DS: I don’t think there can be a direct com­par­ison. In 2001 there was mas­sive exclu­sion and hunger. There was also a con­ver­gence of dif­fer­ent, highly effec­tive autonomous strug­gles (the piquetero strug­gle, forms of sur­vival through barter, thou­sands of recu­per­ated fac­to­ries, the for­mi­da­ble dif­fu­sion of human rights strug­gles, etc.). Today the sit­u­a­tion is quite dif­fer­ent. The Kirch­n­ers’ gov­ern­ment included many peo­ple in con­sump­tion through ben­e­fits pro­grams and the cre­ation of pre­car­i­ous jobs. Addi­tion­ally, the cir­cuit of infor­mal economies grew sig­nif­i­cantly. In 2001, there was a response based on a prac­tice of com­mu­nity, united around the “ollas pop­u­lares” in neigh­bor­hoods. This is not what we see today in the ter­ri­to­ries. The capac­ity of cre­at­ing orga­ni­za­tion, today, requires a very high level of prepa­ra­tion to con­front the ter­ri­to­ri­al­ized vio­lence related to the pur­suit of rent. There has been a dra­matic increase in patri­ar­chal, racist, police vio­lence and it presents a real chal­lenge for mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tions. That said, 2001 does not stop return­ing (per­haps it never com­pletely dis­ap­peared), because 2001 is the mem­ory of sub­jec­tiv­i­ties that inhabit the cri­sis, that extract their polit­i­cal and sub­jec­tive power from the cri­sis.

CK: What is pub­lic opin­ion (even in the most con­ser­v­a­tive sec­tors) of the gov­ern­ment? Do they con­demn Macri’s style of gov­ern­ment? Is there a part of the sec­tors that voted for Macri that are now dis­tanc­ing them­selves?

DS: There are cri­tiques of a cer­tain insti­tu­tional care­less­ness, peo­ple harmed by the lay­offs, con­cern about infla­tion and price increases, aware­ness of the loss of pur­chas­ing power. But, even so, sup­port for the gov­ern­ment still pre­dom­i­nates. And he has lost some sup­port. On the con­trary, impor­tant sec­tors of Per­o­nism are help­ing Macri to gov­ern and the president’s pop­u­lar­ity, accord­ing to the polls, remains high. How can this sup­port for the new gov­ern­ment be under­stood? Put in per­spec­tive, it is not easy to begin respond­ing to this ques­tion with­out tak­ing the fol­low­ing fac­tors into account: 1. The pre­car­i­ti­za­tion of the pre­vi­ous government’s processes of “social inclu­sion;” 2. The increase of a “sub­jec­ti­va­tion” tied more to con­sump­tion (to a type of of stan­dard­ized con­sump­tion linked to the gen­er­al­iza­tion of rent) than to cit­i­zen­ship, where val­ues linked to secu­rity and a wide­spread desire for nor­malcy (a demand for moral order against cor­rup­tion, insti­tu­tional order against the exchange rate “cepo,” order in the streets against inse­cu­rity and the “piqueteros,”, etc.); 3. The weak­en­ing of autonomous politi­ciza­tion as a form of col­lec­tive pro­cess­ing and its replace­ment by a polar­iza­tion in which the over­whelm­ing pres­ence of the mass media is responded to by a type of mil­i­tancy that is more self-absorbed and obe­di­ent to the gov­ern­ing group.

CK: Is there fear among the sec­tors that are now in the oppo­si­tion? For exam­ple, in the thou­sands of pub­lic sec­tors work­ers who have been laid off? Are the lay­offs part of an “anti-Kirch­ner­ist revenge?” What about the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of activism? What role does the famous “rift” between Kirch­ner­ists and anti-Kirch­ner­ists play? How does the new gov­ern­ment make dis­cur­sive use of the con­cept of cri­sis to legit­i­mate polit­i­cal mea­sures?

DS: Anx­i­ety and fear due to job loss pre­dom­i­nate. The lay­offs have been mas­sive and cruel. Thou­sands of peo­ple are liv­ing with the daily threat of los­ing their income. The lay­offs are entirely revan­chist. The gov­ern­ment argues that the pop­ulist poli­cies brought about an increase in unpro­duc­tive employ­ment which caused the deficit to increase. It argues that this can be resolved by throw­ing out work­ers that are Kirch­ner­ist activists. The gov­ern­ment has pro­posed to dis­man­tle Kirch­ner­ism, to take the Kirch­ner­ism out of Per­o­nism. The cri­sis plays a jus­ti­fy­ing role, as a way of request­ing time, trust. Pres­i­dent Macri, who cam­paigned on promis­ing to improve the stan­dard of repub­li­can­ism, has made the excep­tion the juridi­cal basis of almost all of his mea­sures dur­ing these first few months.

CK: What do you con­sider to be “new” about Macri? What is dan­ger­ous about him?

DS: What is new, from my per­spec­tive, is to have chan­neled the for­ma­tion of a desire for order and nor­malcy that was grow­ing as a con­ser­v­a­tive response to the 2001 cri­sis. This nov­elty, I think, basi­cally con­sists of two oper­a­tions: under­stand­ing that this “desire for reg­u­la­tion” was a promis­ing place from which to read and incor­po­rate social dis­con­tent, max­i­miz­ing the use of tech­nolo­gies of social pen­e­tra­tion to tune into and provide a com­mon code for very diverse sit­u­a­tions.

CK: How do you think the polit­i­cal cul­ture will change with the new gov­ern­ment?

DS: I think Macri­ism cap­i­tal­izes on the for­ma­tion of a cul­ture of order that has been grow­ing for years. It has, in any case, known how to read it, is in tune with it, and chan­nels it. It makes this desire for order into the gen­eral com­mon sense. The force of this nor­mal­iza­tion is dev­as­tat­ing. Kirch­ner­ism (and much of the Left) thought that the hege­monic dis­pute was on the order of ide­ol­ogy, ideas, in the the­o­ret­i­cal or intel­lec­tual sense. The cur­rent vic­tory of Macri­ism, how­ever, is prin­ci­pally at the level of senses, of per­cep­tion.

The desire for order is also an extreme nat­u­ral­iza­tion of social, eth­nic, clas­sist dif­fer­ences and it sup­poses a pathol­o­giza­tion of any desire to flee or sub­vert that order. In this regard, it is not a cul­ture of gov­ern­ment but of soci­ety, that the gov­ern­ment takes advan­tage of because it fits well with its own, based on the idea of mod­ern­iza­tion as adap­ta­tion to the world mar­ket. That adap­ta­tion is pro­duced through an irri­tat­ing, deprob­lema­tiz­ing aes­thetic and rhetoric that promises a “rev­o­lu­tion of joy” with yel­low bal­loons.

CK: How do you expect the polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try to con­tinue? Can the gov­ern­ment keep using this dis­course of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and joy when con­flicts arise? Will social protest strengthen in this strug­gle? Could we say, as you have writ­ten, that it is pos­si­ble for the mil­i­tant Left to become more pop­u­lar and open space for a new rebel­lion?

DS: It is not easy to say. Argen­tine his­tory shows that in sit­u­a­tions like this the polit­i­cal dynamic depends on how long it takes for Per­o­nism to unify and decide where it wants to go. For the moment, rul­ing around val­ues like unity and con­cil­i­a­tion cred­its the gov­ern­ment, and among those that don’t form part of it there is a marked divi­sion between those who pro­pose engag­ing in resis­tance (empha­siz­ing the idea of con­flict) and those who posit them­selves as oppo­si­tion (empha­siz­ing the game of insti­tu­tions and the mod­er­a­tion that their inter­pre­ta­tion of polit­i­cal time seems to impose on them). All of this is easy to describe. But this is not the most impor­tant, rather what mat­ters is the lesson that we can extract from the entire polit­i­cal cycle, which started in 2001, at the national (as well as the regional) level. I would put it like this: What are we, those of us who con­firm that pol­i­tics is only trans­for­ma­tive when it is artic­u­lated with sub­jec­tiv­i­ties in cri­sis, going to do?

–Trans­lated by Liz Mason-Deese

Author of the article

is a member of Colectivo Situaciones, a militant research collective based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In addition, he is involved with the publisher Tinta Limón, regularly blogs for Lobo Suelto, and participates in the Instituto de Investigación y Experimentación Política (IIEP). Two recent Colectivo Situaciones books have been published in English: 19 & 20: Notes for a New Social Protagonism and Genocide in the Neighborhood.