International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International Vol. 15 No. 3-4 (July-December 1988)

Argentina: A Warning to the Working Class

This Bulletin editorial originally appeared in the December 12, 1988 issue.

For the third time in less than 20 months, a section of the Argentine military has carried out an uprising against the civilian government. With each successive rebellion, the number of troops involved has grown, together with the magnitude of concessions offered to the military by President Raul Alfonsin.

Each time, the mutinous officers and troops have demanded a complete amnesty for the uniformed assassins and torturers of the dictatorship which ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983 and official government vindication of the junta’s bloodbath which claimed the lives of some 30,000 workers and youth. In addition, they have demanded the removal of the army chief of staff and other changes within the military command.

This time, nearly 900 troops joined in the revolt, while over 4,000 others in 20 different units from throughout the country refused orders to take part in its suppression. The “loyal” troops which were sent to put down the mutiny refused Alfonsin’s orders to attack and allowed the rebel troops to leave their first headquarters at the Campo de Mayo Army base and regroup at the Villa Martelli garrison.

The “surrender” of the mutineers was announced following negotiations conducted by military commander Gen. Jose Dante Caridi, who ignored Alfonsin’s order to attack. The “loyal” troops surrounding Villa Martelli marked this “surrender” by withdrawing from their positions, leaving the rebel unit in possession of the garrison. The latter, together with riot police brought on the scene, proceeded to open fire on thousands of workers and youth who had marched on the base to confront the fascist military with rocks and bottles. At least three of the demonstrators were killed and many more wounded.

The terms negotiated by Caridi have begun to surface, contradicting Alfonsin’s hollow claims that there were no concessions made to the mutineers. Aside from the rebellion’s leader, Col. Mohamed Ali Seineldin, who the army said “took full responsibility” for the uprising, no one else was arrested. Other officers and men were allowed to return to their units with no apparent action being taken against them. The government is reportedly searching for a country where it can send Seineldin into exile so as not to try and imprison him.

Furthermore, on the day after the revolt ended, Alfonsin delivered a speech in which he referred to the military’s “dirty war” of torture, executions and repression of the working class as something which had been “necessary to recover the institutions of the nation.” Thus, the man who came to power five years ago demagogically denouncing the crimes of the military dictatorship has now become their foremost apologist.

Nothing could more clearly expose the bankruptcy of the bourgeois parliamentary regimes which assumed power from military dictatorships, not only in Argentina, but throughout virtually all of Latin America over the last decade.

Since the mid-1970s, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Uruguay have all passed from military dictatorships to civilian regimes under conditions in which the mass murder and torture carried out by the juntas were covered up and the military apparatus maintained intact. The new civilian presidents have been reduced to mere window-dressing for political systems which are largely directed by the same military forces.

The entire experience of Latin America over the past period has written in blood the fundamental tenets of Marxism on the state. The capitalist state is not some neutral body which can be used by one class or another to defend its rights. Rather it is the executive committee of the ruling class—an apparatus for the coercion of the working class by the capitalists and for the defense of capitalist property relations. In the epoch of imperialism, in which the conflict between the development of the world economy and the outmoded nation-state system, and between the growth of the productive forces and capitalist private ownership, are sharply intensified, the repressive role of this state is correspondingly greater.

Frederick Engels, who together with Marx was the cofounder of scientific socialism, defined the state machine as “bodies of armed men” and signaled this as the pervasive feature of capitalist rule.

Nowhere has this fundamental truth been more clearly demonstrated than in Latin America where behind every presidential figurehead and parliamentary system stand armies of professional counterrevolutionaries trained by the Pentagon and the CIA.

The impact of the insoluble world crisis of capitalism, which finds its expression in the $56 billion debt of Argentina to the imperialist banks, is pushing these forces once more into action. The civilian regime has proved incapable of carrying out the type of starvation economic policies required to meet the payments to Wall Street.

If the military is unable to seize power at present in Argentina and other countries, it is because the bourgeoisie fears that a coup would be answered by a revolutionary uprising of the working class. Nonetheless, with such revolts as that of Col. Seineldin, it is carrying out continuing reconnaissance, gauging the reaction of the population and the various political forces. This is the real purpose behind the choreographed charade between the “rebel” and the “loyal” troops.

More fundamentally, the military requires the political disarming and demoralization of the proletariat and its complete subordination to the capitalist state. This is the task of the popular front.

In Argentina, such a front, known as the United Left, was reconstituted barely a month before the latest coup attempt. Its constituents—the Stalinist Communist Party, the Morenoite revisionist MAS and a host of petty-bourgeois radical and Peronist organizations—had broken up their last front in April 1987, under the impact of the so-called Easter Coup. During that military rebellion, the Stalinists betrayed the working class by joining with the capitalist parties in support of the “due obedience” law, which was introduced to placate the military. The law provided a virtual amnesty for the junta’s assassins and torturers.

While the MAS originally criticized the Stalinists for this grotesque betrayal, now, in their single-minded quest for electoral “unity of the left,” the Morenoites have fallen totally silent on the affair, just as the Argentine working class once again is faced with the military danger.

This is how these forces play the decisive role in paving the way for the next military coup. Their election propaganda is dedicated not to exposing these real dangers and preparing the working class for revolutionary struggle. Rather, it attempts to deceive workers into thinking that they can solve their problems through the election of “left” deputies to parliament. Their entire activity is dedicated to covering up the essential truth established by Lenin in his work State and Revolution over 70 years ago:

...in these [parliamentary] countries the real business of ‘state’ is performed behind the scenes and carried on by the departments, chancelleries and General Staffs. Parliament is given up to talk for the special purpose of fooling the ‘common people.’

In Argentina, these forces operating “behind the scenes” (and repeatedly through military uprisings) are the same forces which ran the military dictatorship.

Lenin counseled that, in order to defend its rights against the capitalist state, the working class must “crush, smash to atoms, wipe off the face of the earth, the bourgeois, even the republican-bourgeois, state machine, the standing army, the police and the bureaucracy and to substitute for them a more democratic state machine, but a state machine, nevertheless, in the shape of armed workers who proceed to form a militia involving the entire population.”

In other words, it must overthrow capitalism through the socialist revolution and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This is no less true in the US and the other advanced capitalist countries than in Argentina and Latin America as a whole. The preparation of this struggle requires, above all, the building of a new revolutionary internationalist proletarian leadership in irreconcilable struggle against the Stalinist and revisionist traitors of the working class. That is the task being fought for by the International Committee of the Fourth International and, in the United States, the Workers League.