National Sections of the L5I:

‘We have to get rid of them all!’

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An interview conducted with a militant from the PTS in Argentina who visited Europe on a speakers tour after the revolutionary days of 2002.

Worker Power: What role did the left play in the fall of de la Rúa on 20 December?

Martin: I participated with my comrades of the PTS (Partido de los Trabajadores por el Socialismo) on 19 and 20 December. The night of the 19, the massive response to the state of siege, and the clamour for the head of Cavallo called forth a spontaneous demonstration the like of which we have not seen in Argentina since the fall of the dictatorship in the 1980s.

There were probably hundreds of thousands of people on the streets.This human tide tried to enter the Plaza de Mayo and was repelled by the police. There were families with children, workers, youth, old people, everyone in the streets saying “Enough!” .

That night, at the foot of Congress, demonstrators chanted: “They all have to go, not one should remain”, when the news about the resignation of Cavallo filtered through.

The next day the masses fought the police to try and enter the Plaza de Mayo. Thousands and thousands, this time the majority were young and activists, repeatedly confronted the police. The battle was unequal: we had no more than stones and we were confronted by the elite squads of the PFA (Policia Federal de Argentina). They used vomitting gas (prohibited by the Geneva convention), rubber bullets, horses and so on.

The PTS arrived at the place with other left groups. Izquierda Unida (MST and PCA) fled as soon as fighting started. Partido Obrero left after the second or third charge by the police. We and other organisations stayed along with thousands of youth until sunset and De La Rúa fled in the helicopter.

Advances and retreats continued in order to avoid the bullets and to try to hit the police with stones. Barricades were thrown up to stop the advance of the police and some Molotov cocktails were thrown at the police shields. The courage shown by the youth who were with me was enormous: we advanced, retreated, regrouped and advanced again. “Let’s go, let’s go” shouted one youth next to me, “don’t give up”. Lemon juice and vinegar helped us to combat the gases.

Our skin was irritated by the effects of the gas. We found out that the police had killed several of us with live rounds. You could feel an enormous tension but the anger was greater than the fear. A man of about 50 fell a few metres from us, he was covered in blood and he didn’t get up again. The people steeled themselves and returned to battle with greater hatred. The participation of the young workers and of the students on the streets of Buenos Aires was evident. However there were no contingents of unions or of the unemployed.

This would have probably changed the balance of forces and perhaps we could have broken the police lines. The workers’ and pickets’ leadership prevented it from happening. Around 7pm we fell back and the other combatants followed.

We had fought all day but there was no tiredness, the tension was much stronger. There was a mixture of happiness and rage: we threw out De La Rúa but we knew they would try to overcome this triumph. The struggle continues. Night fell and the PTS column went back to the Avenida Corrientes singing: “They’re shitting themselves, they’re shitting themselves, we threw out De La Rúa.” Everyone joined in and the song echoed in the night on this day that will be part of our revolutionary history.

Can you tell us about the popular assemblies that seem to be spreading right now?

Lenin said that a distinctive element of revolutionary situations is that thousands of “ordinary people” start to participate in political life. In Argentina the revolutionary fall of the De La Rúa government opened a truly historical revolutionary stage. All of society has been deeply affected and we are living through a state of generalised insubordination. The popular assemblies that have arisen in the neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires are a constant challenge to bourgeois legality. Thousands of people meet in dozens of assemblies to discuss events, understanding that the normal ways no longer serve to resolve their most acute problems. The popular assemblies play an enormously progressive role in organising some of the most advanced sectors, including help organising the last “cacerolazo” against Duhalde on 25 January.

However they have important limitations. If it is true that within them there is a large percentage of salaried workers, the workers don’t intervene into them as delegates of their workplaces. They intervene as “citizens” the same as the small business people, and it is the middle class sectors that play the leading role in these assemblies.

In the latest meetings the positions have started to divide more between the left and right. On one side there are sectors that only want their “confiscated” money returned and don’t want the left to participate. But on the other side there are sectors whose demands are getting more radical and that pay attention to the left parties and are looking to unite with the workers and the “piqueteros”.

For example on 28 January there was a 15,000 strong march of the unemployed that was supported by the popular assemblies which voted for the demands of: nationalisation of the banks, nationalisation of the privatised companies and the AFJP (privatised pension funds), punishment for the assassins of 19 and 20 December, no payment of the foreign debt, and IMF go to hell.

The PTS participates in the assemblies and recognises they are a step forward in the organisation of sectors of the masses independent of the state and the bureaucracy. But they are not sufficient. We fight for united front organisations for the struggle of the employed and unemployed workers (co-ordinations, assemblies and so on).

Only the workers are capable of seizing the economic and political power from the hands of the bourgeoisie. For this they need organisations of the soviet type that could become an alternative power to that of the capitalists and the IMF. That the workers are not imposing their leadership is one of the defects of current situation (see box). The popular assemblies are a step forward but they are not the organisations that the working class needs. We do not share the vision of groups like Partido Obrero who believe that these assemblies are the embryonic form of dual power.

There cannot be dual power based on such an unstable sector like the middle classes and without the participation of the workers organised through their workplaces.

There has been recent progress in uniting the assemblies with the workers in struggle. In the last one, Saturday 26 January, there were casual workers from Telefonica (Pasantes), unemployed workers, textile workers of Brukman, rail workers and an assembly of state workers sent their own delegates.

The PTS is fighting to bring about a national assembly of workers made up of recallable delegates: we propose that the workers elect their own delegates to the popular assemblies and we are trying to unite the organisations of struggle of the working class and the neighbourhood assemblies.

As part of our struggle for workers’ councils, the PTS together with other organisations has convened a National Assembly of employed and unemployed workers for 16 February. It will surely be a regroupment of the most conscious sectors and fighters.

Perhaps it will not have any weight yet among the masses because we still have to overcome the bureaucrats of the workers and pickets’ movement. But it can serve to take a step forward towards a true national workers’ congress and the Buenos Aires Interbarrial Assembly will have to vote for delegates and to participate as a result.