PM Press Blog

Six Months in a Neoliberal Dystopia

Social Cannibalism versus Mutual Aid and Resistance in Argentina

Crimethinc
June 17th, 2024

In December 2023, Javier Milei came to power in Argentina, introducing sweeping deregulation and austerity measures. Promising to crush social movements in the name of unfettered capitalism, his administration is paving the way for complete social collapse and the emergence of narco-violence on a mass scale. In the following account, our correspondent paints a vivid picture of the rival forces and visions that are contending for the future of Argentina, culminating most recently in the clashes of June 12, when militant demonstrators took on nearly three thousand police officers surrounding a barricaded congress.

If you are inspired by what you read here, please consider donating to La Cultura Del Barrio, a decade-running anti-fascist social and sports club in Buenos Aires. Skyrocketing inflation and the complete deregulation of the Argentine real estate market have made it difficult to hold on to physical community spaces at precisely the moment that they are most desperately needed. If you are positioned outside the Argentine economic crisis, you may have an opportunity to help those on the front lines there to survive cutthroat capitalism and demonstrate an alternative.

The anti-fascist, anarchist, and autonomous bloc during the demonstration of March 24: “Against state violence—popular self-defense.”

Snapshots

In late January 2024, social movements, neighborhood assemblies, and leftist organizations gather in front of congress to protest the massive package of neoliberal reforms being debated inside. Police respond in massive numbers. One officer can be seen strolling around wearing a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsen flag patch on his vest.

By the end of the evening, although nothing much has happened, police are riding around in pairs on motorbikes, shooting rubber bullets indiscriminately into the crowd.

A police officer with a Gadsen flag in front of congress in January 2024.

A few days later, Sandra Pettovello, Minister of “Human Capital,” refuses to meet with social organizations to discuss the delivery of food aid to thousands of comedores populares (neighborhood soup kitchens). Taking a page from Marie Antoinette, she declares, “If there is anybody who is hungry, I will meet with them one on one,” but without the intermediation of social organizations.

The next day, thousands take her up on her offer, lining up in front of her ministry. She refuses to meet with any of them.

The line downtown stretches for 20 blocks the day after the Minister of Human Capital declared that she would receive those who were hungry on an individual basis.

By early March, Telam, the public news agency, has been shut down and shuttered. So has the INADI, the national institute against discrimination. Waves of layoffs decimate almost all public institutions, including the national library. There is talk of privatizing the national bank. As workers mobilize to defend public institutions and their workplace, they find the buildings barricaded off and surrounded by riot police. So-called “libertarian” activists stage a photo op celebrating the closings and firings.

Cops surround the shuttered building of the public news agency Telam.

Ursula is interviewed on live TV by a reporter from one of the pro-government channels. “I’m a widower, I receive a government subsidy, and live with my mother, who is retired.” She mentions that she has three children, one of whom is standing on the street in the cold next to her as she’s being interviewed. She says that she recently lost her job. As she explains that they try to survive by selling packs of stickers on the street, she breaks down in tears in front of her teenage daughter.

Minutes before Ursula’s interview, another woman had been interviewed on the street. “I work three jobs to make ends meet.” Neither of them mentioned the political and economic decisions that have led them to these situations.


The cost of living has exploded. Inflation is “under control” now—if one can call a 9% monthly inflation rate under control—only because consumer demand has collapsed. The cost of utilities, medicine, and basic food items have exploded with well over 100% price increases in all of these categories. At the same time, rent contracts have been completely deregulated.

The result is not surprising. As the real value of wages collapses, sales plummet. It’s not just the public workers that the ultraliberals have stigmatized as “parasites living off of society” who are losing their jobs. Small businesses and factories are closing one after the other. During the month of May, 300,000 “salary accounts”—bank accounts used exclusively to receive monthly wages—have been closed.

In one factory in the province of Catamarca, workers have not taken the loss of their workplace laying down. The 134 workers of the Textilcom textile factory, suspecting that it was about to be shut down, occupied the factory as an act of resistance against the closure and as leverage to ensure that they would not be robbed of back pay.

Yet even here, the workers who are taking collective action, occupying a factory, and suffering the practical consequences of capitalist market logic still make it a point to distance themselves from the unemployed, informally employed, and marginalized people that make up the bulk of the social movements. “We don’t depend on state aid, we don’t want aid, we aren’t like the piqueteros.”


A random person confronts President Milei on the street, yelling, “People can’t make ends meet!”

Milei responds, “If people weren’t making ends meet, they would be dying in the streets, so that’s false.”

Even the pro-government and right-wing press describe his statement as “despicable.”


At the same time, social organizations break the news that the Ministry of Human Capital has been refusing to distribute over five thousand tons of food and goods. While the Ministry has been accusing the vast network of comedores populares run by social organizations of extortion and alleging that an audit revealed that half of the comedores populares do not exist, all of that food has been sitting in their warehouses, rotting.

A judge orders the government to begin distributing the food. Rather than comply, they appeal the judicial order.

Meanwhile, 49% of the country in living in poverty, with 11.9% of the population in extreme poverty—defined as “those unable to meet their basic food needs.”

Demonstrators outside the location where the Ministry of Human Capital is holding up thousands of tons of food aid.

These are just a few glimpses of the massive economic and social tragedy that has unfolded in Argentina since the government of Javier Milei came to power. The last four are from early June, as tensions ramped up ahead of June 12. Through his government, the neoliberal political class of the past has once again reentered the halls of power, with a cabinet representing a who’s who of neoliberal ideologues responsible for Argentina’s last economic crash in the early 2000s.

Spiraling poverty rates and out-of-control inflation didn’t begin with Milei’s government. They already existed, which was one of the factors that contributed to Milei’s popular appeal and electoral triumph. The preceding center-left Kirchnerist government’s failures stemmed from a misconception about the fundamental nature of capitalism: the Kirchnerist either did not recognize or did not acknowledge the impossibility of reaching a lasting truce between market interests and the general interest of society. Nonetheless, the previous government understood society as a connected whole, at least in principle, and saw freedom as something produced collectively. The friction between their words and their deeds paved the way for today’s experiment in completely deregulated capitalism.

Now, Argentine society is at the mercy of people who believe that the invisible hand of the market will resolve all problems—and others who pretend to believe this for the sake of political gain. People whose definition of freedom is every man for himself. We are in the hands of the most fanatical adherents of obscure Austrian ultra-capitalist economists. As their fantasies meet the real world, the consequences are immediate—precipitating an explosion in collective suffering and misery.

Buenos Aires, June 12, 2024.

The Ultraliberal Capitalist Fantasy Meets the Real World

It was like watching a child learning in real time during their first economics class. Esteban Trebucq, one of the most pro-Milei journalists on the right-wing news channel La Nacion+, was discussing the skyrocketing of monthly premiums at private insurance companies. In a span of five months, private insurers have raised their premiums by over 150%, one of the many consequences of Milei’s massive executive order deregulating large sectors of the Argentine economy including the insurance “industry.”

“There are old people, retired people on fixed budgets,” Trebucq was saying, “people who have pre-existing conditions, families who can no longer afford the premiums and fall back into the public system.” A public health system which is already feeling the impact of the greatest austerity project in history—as Milei likes to boast—and is ill-equipped to handle the influx of tens of thousands of new patients from the private sector. “With inelastic goods and services, the things that people need in order to survive, there’s a power imbalance between the one who needs the good or service and the provider.”

I remember blinking blankly at the screen, wondering how he could get so close, yet still be so far.

Milei’s executive order abolishing over forty regulations and loosening hundreds more was announced last December on live television, immediately provoking spontaneous mobilizations in many neighborhoods of Buenos Aires as well as in front of congress. It was a flagrant abuse of presidential authority: executive orders were meant for responding to emergencies, not creating them. Essentially, Milei used the Decreto de Necesidad y Urgencia (“Executive Order of Need and Emergency”) to bypass congress in order to unilaterally impose a constitutional reform. The lower house of congress has since rejected the executive order, but is still in effect because, due to a Kirchnerist modification in 2005, executive orders must be rejected by both houses of congress in order to be repealed.

The deregulatory changes express the most extreme neoliberalism. The logic behind them pretends that social and commercial relations are always taking place between equals, and that any intervention in the interest of society as a whole will only result in inefficiency and poor service, hindering competition and therefore growth and productivity. According to this reasoning, regulations to protect the poor are the chief cause of poverty itself.

In their eyes, the tenants who needs a roof over their heads and the landlords who own the homes are negotiating on an equal footing. You have the freedom to pay your entire salary to have a roof over your head, if that’s what the landlords choose to charge you, or else you can freely choose to sleep under the stars. The workers who have no choice other than to sell their labor in order to feed their families are not being coerced by the capitalists who control the housing market and the means of production. That is the reasoning that Esteban Trebucq and his colleagues promote.

Yet, here he was on television, almost conceding that the world doesn’t work that way.

But he never connected the dots. Eventually, the government made the formal accusation, which has become a judicial affair, that the insurance companies constituted themselves into a de facto “cartel,” conspiring to uniformly raise prices. Of course they did! That’s what always happens when an industry reaches the monopoly stage of capitalist development and is left to exploit and extort freely.

Police try to remove a laid off bus driver who has thrown himself under a bus in protest. “I just want to feed my family.”

Deregulation has sparked an explosion in utilities costs and basic living expenses: increases in the 300% to 400% range on public transportation, over 100% in gas and electricity bills and the cost of fuel, well over 100% in the cost of rice and bread and other essentials. Coupled with austerity measures, this has set off a brutal recession, as evidenced by dramatic drops in consumption in two areas with inelastic demand— basic foodstuffs and medicine.

Within six months of the capitalist fantasy economy meeting the real world, the consequences are that in Argentina, many people are going without their medicine and skipping meals on a regular basis. In a country that is known as “the wheat field of the world,” a loaf of bread costs the same as it does in Paris. In a country where average wages are a tenth of what they are in Europe, a cup of coffee costs as much in Buenos Aires as it does in Madrid. In a country that processes its own oil and has a public oil company, fuel now costs what it does in the United States. Argentina now has both the highest cost of living in Latin America and the lowest minimum wage.

The brunt of austerity is not being born by the political class, as Milei promised, but by the country’s workers—both employed and unemployed—and middle class. Given free reign, the capitalist class has shown that its program is simply maximum extraction of wealth from the producing class.

This is no surprise to us. Anarchists warned of the bait and switch from the beginning, yelling to anyone who would listen that it was no coincidence that all the oligarchs of Argentina were uniting behind this supposed “rebel.” The eternal dream of capitalists is to strip the state of any elements that do not function to enable them to accumulate wealth—maximizing profits by returning us to the conditions of the late 19th century.

Their dream is our nightmare. Larger and larger sectors of society are realizing this as they experience it for themselves. European prices, African wages, Southeast Asian labor conditions.

“We are the nightmare of those who want to rob us of our dreams.”

The Battle of Ideas

When it is obvious to ordinary people that they are materially worse off by any measure, how is it possible to contain disturbances and prevent a general upheaval? Even more incredibly, how is it possible that Milei still maintains popular support of around 50%?

The answer is ideology.

Ideology, paired with resentment, distraction, and the leveraging of poor against very poor.

Milei has spent a lot of time abroad, arranging to be seen with the likes of Donald Trump, Spain’s far-right Vox leader Santiago Abascal, the white supremacist Elon Musk, and El Salvador’s president Nayib Bukele. To Milei’s hard-core supporters, this is proof of his popularity as a defender of capitalism, freedom, and Western values. His diehard base is similar to the supporters of Donald Trump: they are overwhelmingly male, prone to conspiracy theories, frustrated with their life circumstances, and convinced that what they see as socialism, foreigners, and the woke agenda are responsible for their personal misfortunes and for Argentina’s economic crisis in general. They still zealously believe that we need to suffer now in order to be better off tomorrow, that a “V-shaped” economic recovery is imminent.

Likewise, the discourse about abortion being murder and the positive references to the military and the last dictatorship are red meat for the older, relatively well-to-do right-wing voters who feel the economic pressure somewhat less than other sectors of society. They have accepted Milei—first grudgingly, and now somewhat more eagerly—following the political marginalization of a more moderate right-wing option. Again, this is reminiscent of the way Trump absorbed large segments of the traditional conservative base in the United States.

But there is a broader ideological conflict at play. Milei and the ultraliberals reference this constantly. The true believers say they want to transform the core mentality of Argentines and Argentine politics. The pragmatically-minded among the far right and the capitalist class understand that their best protection against solidarity spreading between struggles and across demographics is to drive wedges between different sectors of the working class, dividing those suffering the economic crisis to different extents and in different ways.

The public worker has to be pitted against the worker in the private sector of the formal economy. The worker in the formal economy has to be pitted against the worker in the informal economy. Those who have work, formal or not, have to look with disdain and contempt at the unemployed who are trying to survive on their own or organizing collectively to demand the means of survival. It’s especially important to demonize those who are unemployed, are active in social organizations, and also happen to be lack Argentine citizenship.

Every day, we see right-wing media outlets promoting these divisions. The small shopkeeper rages against the street vendors who don’t pay taxes and supposedly “aren’t even from this country.” The office worker tells the camera that he’s glad public employees are being fired and institutions shut down, since he has been convinced that there is a high tax burden on private enterprise in Argentina, created by the need to finance the state—and that this, not capitalist greed, is what is keeping his wages from increasing. The taxi driver stuck in traffic while unemployed workers are blocked from reaching the president’s residence fumes against the lazy moochers who don’t provide to the economy and don’t let others work. He is outraged that they expect to live from handouts and that the “culture of work” has been lost. Later, the same journalist will go from one store to the next, talking to shopkeepers about how severe the losses to their daily revenue created by the demonstration were. We are to believe that the unemployed and the social organizations, the most vulnerable and poor of Argentina, are the demons keeping the Argentine economy from booming.

The recession is reducing the inflation rates, while unemployment rates are exploding. For the last few years, job “opportunities” were abundant in Argentina, but they were poorly paid; one job was often not enough to survive on, and the real value of salaries was constantly diminishing against inflation. Inflation hits the lowest earners hardest and is almost always a de facto tax on the poor, but it is still an unarguably collective phenomenon—one that no advocate of the market economy can blame on the personal failures of individuals.

As recession advances and we trade one crisis for another, the ideological campaign that the capitalist class has been waging is coming into focus. Unemployment unfolds as a personal drama. Inside thousands of homes across the country, death by a thousand cuts is taking place as somebody sits alone thinking how they will make ends meet next month, or arrives home to tell their partner that they’ll have to turn to odd jobs to keep the kids fed, or as they head, timid and embarrassed, to a comedor popular for the first time because the fridge is empty. Each unemployed person is bombarded with propaganda emphasizing that it is their fault. You should work more, if you really look you’ll find something, you should hustle more, start a small business. Unemployment is a personal failure for which you alone are responsible. That narrative is no coincidence: it’s a containment dam against the spread of solidarity and resistance.

And because for now, they are winning the battle of ideas, we see examples like the Textilcom workers mentioned above. These workers are involved in a classic model of labor struggle—occupying a factory to defend their interests against bosses who are firing them as a result of this government’s policies. Yet even as they are about to become unemployed themselves, they still find it necessary to distance themselves from those who are currently unemployed. In hopes of appealing to the good will of society, they do not identify with the ones on social plans, the piqueteros. When asked about this government and its policies, they answer that they are “not interested in politics.”

How long can the dam hold?

Police and ideology work hand in hand to suppress resistance.

It’s the afternoon of May 30. La Nacion+ has a correspondent on the train Roca, one of Buenos Aires’ main train lines, because the train is traveling at a reduced maximum speed of 30 kilometers per hour as a protest by railway workers demanding wage increases—a partial measure as a prelude to a 24-hour strike on June 4 if no agreement is reached.

The journalist is interviewing commuters, clearly hoping to elicit something like “They should protest, but without complicating the lives of other workers” or “I make half of what they make and you don’t see me out here blocking roads,” or “This is the problem in this country, people always protesting and not working.” Instead, a woman in her mid-thirties answers, “I’m fine with it. Everything that is done in defense of the workers is perfectly fine. Of course, it will affect us all, but I’m in favor of all protests against injustices against workers.”

He pushes her about the “inconvenience of the delays.” She sticks to her guns. “It’s part of what we have to go through. If we aren’t all united in the situation that we’re going through, there’s no way out. We’re all workers, and if I were in their position one day, I would like others to support me too.” The next person, a young guy in a hoodie, flatly states “They need to negotiate wages, this is all Milei’s fault. He’s a son a bitch.” The next person, a machinist wearing a Boca Juniors jersey, responds, “Of course it’s annoying, I’m taking over an hour to get home. But Milei should resign. Everybody should take to the streets.”

The reporter accosts four or five more people, but they all respond in the same vein, so the studio announcer—once again, it’s de facto government spokesperson Esteban Trebucq—takes over. “Seems to be a lot of leftists on the train today.”

Maybe. Or maybe, even if the tide has yet to turn, the cracks in the dam are multiplying.

Society versus the forces of order.

The Construction of the Internal Enemy: Journalists Point the Gun, Cops Pull the Trigger

So it has to be again, the good Argentines against the Orcs, as ex-President Mauricio Macri recently referred to leftists and social organizations. Classism and racism are becoming ever more normalized. A teenage Milei fanatic at the president’s book release and concert (yes, he sang… no, I don’t care to explain) flatly states that “Milei has a tough job ahead of him, but I believe he can get this country of negros going again.” Negros literally means blacks, but in Argentina this term has classist as well as racist implications. Used to describe a socioeconomic condition rather than a skin color per se, it is basically slang for “lazy ignorant poors.” It’s a scandalous thing to say on national TV, but the journalist on La Nacion+ doesn’t bat an eye.

Anyone who resists in an active and organized manner becomes public enemy number one, the embodiment of the negros, the Orcs. Those who dare take to the streets and inconvenience the good Argentines. The violent ones who won’t cede their dignity to the 56% of voters who asked for this. The social organizations of the poor, unemployed, and informally employed.

In Argentina, there is an incredible quilt of solidarity that protects the most exposed, forgotten, and marginalized from capitalism as best it can. Over decades of chronic poverty, unemployment, and starvation wages, the social organizations—known as piqueteros, which essentially grew as a response to the neoliberal policies of the 1990s—have woven a network of comedores populares. These are spaces where anybody can find a warm plate of food, or at the very least, some maté, the traditional Argentine drink, to silence the rumblings of hunger in their stomach. But they are also much more than that.

A comedor popular.

They often provide local youth with a space where they have access to free cultural activities, much as a neighborhood sports club might. A place where kids can sit and draw or see a free puppet show, a safe space in neighborhoods where the streets are often overrun with petty crime, illegal capitalism, and drug addiction—which many children fall prey to without the networks of support that the comedores populares and the social organizations provide

Of course, if the government and corporate media are to be believed, the comedores and social organizations are the dregs of society, criminals who have made it their business to leech off of the poor for economic and political gain. For weeks now, the “Ministry of Human Capital” has been spearheading a campaign of stigmatization gleefully amplified by the press. They allege that a government audit revealed approximately half of the comedores do not actually exist. That leftist and Peronist organizations, who manage access to the comedores and the government subsidized jobs that exist there, were forcing people to attend marches and demonstrations on threat of being expelled from the comedor or not receiving food. In other cases, they claim that the food aid delivered by the government was sold in neighborhoods rather than distributed at the comedores. Finally, they claim that the participants were providing fake expense reports to the government in order to divert funds intended for the comedores to their own political organizations.

This is where it gets complicated, as the right wing is instrumentalizing a grain of truth.

There are approximately 35,000 comedores populares in Argentina, employing over 130,000 people and feeding who knows how many hundreds of thousands. Many of these are run by the mass organizations of traditional leftist parties—the largest being the Polo Obrero, the unemployed workers front of the Trotskyist Partido Obrero. Others are extensions of left-wing Peronist organizations, while still others are truly independent, simply based in neighborhoods. In the early 2000s, the Kirchnerists recognized that the social organizations had a revolutionary potential and posed a potential threat to governability; in response, they incorporated them into a system of interdependence with the state. The social organizations act as intermediaries providing the subsidized work plans that many people who aren’t strictly volunteers at the comedores depend on to subsist. Likewise, the comedores depend on food aid that comes directly from the federal government. Considering the scale of the network of comedores, the dire conditions in which many of them are organized, the corruption that is endemic in Argentina, and the clientelism, verticality, and authoritarianism that permeate Peronist political organizations, nobody should be surprised that there are indeed cases of abuse, corruption, and extortion.

As anarchists, we are critical of the dynamics of clientelismo politico, political clientelism. It may look like mutual aid, but it is a tool via which authoritarian organizations—not just corrupt elements within them—exploit the needs of poor communities to consolidate their own political influence and financial gain.

But the vast majority of the comedores are collectively generated and run, an essential bulwark of community defense against the consequences of capitalism in the country’s poor neighborhoods. Milei’s government is trying to stigmatize them as a whole in order to make it easier to isolate and target them, cutting the remaining threads of the social safety net in order to create a more atomized society.

Workers involved in a comedor popular protest. The sign reads “Hunger Doesn’t Wait.”

Where the comedores populares and social organizations cease to exist, people will look to escape poverty and hunger through other means. The government is paving the way for social cannibalism and the narco-state—free market capitalism in its purest form.

Social Collapse

And this is already happening, on both fronts.

Rosario, March 5

The slums of Rosario, Argentina’s third largest city, are already largely dominated by rival narco gangs. The fact that Rosario is a port city and that its ports are privatized makes it a particularly attractive hub for the drug trade. Many local youths, faced with the choice between 12 hours a day of low-wage exploitation or a relatively lucrative and “glamorous” role as a narco foot soldier, choose the latter option.

Emboldened by the “law and order” line of the new government, Pablo Coccocioni, Minister of Security of the province in which Rosario is located, posts an image to his Instagram account on March 5. Under the headline “They’re Going to Have a Worse and Worse Time,” it shows dozens of prisoners lined up in rows, sitting cross-legged, shirtless, heads down. It is a carbon copy of the photos of captured gang members we see coming from Bukele’s El Salvador.

The image posted by the Minister of Security of Santa Fe, where Rosario is located.

Only four days later, a fifteen-year-old narco foot soldier walks into a gas station and murders the gas station attendant. This is the fourth in a string of random murders of workers across Rosario since Coccocioni posted that image. Two taxi drivers and a bus driver have also been killed in cold blood while working. People are afraid to leave their homes.

In retrospect, Bukele had said, “That picture was a grave mistake; you can only do that when the gangs are neutralized and you have control of the street.” This is not the case in Rosario, and the consequences do not impact the political class, nor the police or armed forces, but rather, innocent workers going about their day. If we imagine that the government is actually trying to suppress gang activity, Coccocioni’s post was a strategic mistake—but such provocations create the conditions for voters to shift even further to the right. We live in a jungle, we are faced with animals and murderers, “law and order” politics are the only way out of this jungle. Even though, in fact, those politics are the cause of the crisis.

Narco state brutality. A fifteen-year-old narco foot soldier executes a worker at random.

Western Suburbs of Buenos Aires, May 26

Like countless other young people in Argentina, the musician Manuel Lopez Ledesma is working as a Rappi delivery driver to make ends meet. As he waits outside a pizzeria for his order, he’s intercepted by two teenagers who kill him while attempting to steal his motorcycle. This is a classic example of the kind of social cannibalism that poverty generates.

The next day, a militant protest of Rappi delivery drivers in front of the local police precinct results in the burning of five vehicles, including a police cruiser. It’s a small explosion of anger and fury. Righteous, but also providing fodder to those who want to campaign for more law-and-order policing.

Delivery drivers set fire to a police cruiser in protest against the murder of a colleague.

As crime rates surge, it isn’t the rich who are exposed. They are protected behind walls, by private security, in closed neighborhoods. They travel in private vehicles; they never set foot in a bus or train. People from working class neighborhoods are the ones who suffer the social cannibalism, who must fear being beaten or perhaps killed for their cellphones or backpacks while riding the train or waiting for the bus. This only deepens social resentment, paving the way for people to become more reactionary. With labor struggles and other forms of resistance multiplying, the escalation of social cannibalism and narco-trafficking serve to legitimize the structures of repression that are essential to the project of completely deregulating the Argentine economy.

If we live in a jungle, if anybody on the street could rob me as I wait for the bus on a cold Monday morning, if every hooded figured on the street could kill me as I wait to make a delivery for a few pesos, most people will end up supporting whatever measures the authorities promise to take to exert more control. The result is a war of “law and order” against those who have been lumped together as an amorphous and terrifying horde of petty criminals, cold-blooded murderers, orcs, dirty leftists, and corrupt social organizations who prey on the poor and vulnerable.

In the eyes of a terrified population and a society decimated by the propaganda of resentment and individualism, there is no alternative.


Solidarity and Mutual Aid versus Hustle Culture and the Narco-State

Fortunately, there are still people fighting the good fight, even in the midst of this mess.

Isla Maciel, Any Given Saturday Morning

In the middle of the “famous Isla Maciel,” an island near the internationally recognized neighborhood of La Boca—notoriously poor and dangerous even by Buenos Aires standards—a couple dozen teenagers are gathered. A closer look reveals that they are wearing t-shirts sporting the internationally recognized emblem of the twin flags of anti-fascism. The kids are taking part in one of several free boxing sessions that Boxeo Popular holds in the neighborhood every Saturday for local kids and teenagers. Boxeo Popular—“People’s Boxing”—is a project started and run by Accion Antifascista Buenos Aires (Anti-Fascist Action Buenos Aires) and the anti-fascist sporting and social club La Cultura del Barrio. Laura, one of the founders of the project, reports that “thirty-three families participate in the project, through which we support and empower about eighty-five kids.” The club provides the kids with uniforms, equipment, a licensed coach, and a post-training snack.

Boxeo Popular: “Grassroots Organization. Mutual Aid. Generating Alternatives.”

“We understand this project, which is now in its sixth year, in the logic of mutual aid, not of welfarism,” explains Laura. “We provide a framework and an initiative, while the kids and the families contribute to making it possible every week by providing the necessary infrastructure and participating actively in its realization.” As for how the project defines itself, “It’s a means, not an end in itself. Guaranteeing access to sport and recreation at no cost, without prejudices or discrimination, through physical, sporting, and play activities which are oriented towards fostering values opposed to all forms of oppression—without losing sight of the different psycho-social situations of vulnerability that the youths participating in the project might be experiencing.” She sees the project as a concrete manifestation of values with much broader implications. “It’s a means through which we foster working class sport, organization and self-management through mutual aid, active participation, and education—reappropriating our strength as a class and collectively building real alternatives and spaces of social resistance.”

Teenagers participate in a boxing session in Isla Maciel.
A Boxeo Popular session.

Villa Crespo, Central Buenos Aires, Every Day at 8 am

La Cultura del Barrio, Latin America’s only explicitly anti-fascist sporting and social club, opens its doors for the day. The first participants strolling through its doors might be here for a functional fitness training class, yoga, boxing, or Muay Thai. Later, in the evening, they can attend more sporting activities, or a straightedge hardcore show, a discussion, or any one of the myriad activities spread out through the club’s two stories. All of these events feature a mix of young and old, all genders, subcultural types and regular folks from the neighborhood. The political culture of the space is explicit: it is covered in anti-fascist and queer flags, posters and stickers from anarchist organizations across the world, and a large banner reading “Against State Violence—Popular Self-Defense.”

The club, founded in 2011 as an outgrowth of Accion Antifascista Buenos Aires, is unique in that, without hiding its political convictions, it has become a space used by the entire local community, with hundreds of dues-paying members participating regularly in its activities—though no one is ever turned away due to lack of funds, and the club strives to maintain accessible prices. The club’s core values reflect the anarchist leanings of its active members: mutual aid, grassroots organization, a pursuit of alternatives outside of the logic of profit and capital.

A show at La Cultura del Barrio.
A discussion at La Cultura del Barrio.

Social organizations, neighborhood assemblies, neighborhood sports clubs (which the current government also wants to privatize), mutual aid and solidarity groups, and rank and file unions are all representations of our concept of society. As these exist in Argentina today, they are imperfect. This is not surprising, as—like all of us—they can’t help but show the influence of the society from which they emerged.

The attacks of the state and its press may masquerade as an ethical crusade against corruption or abuse, but this is just an excuse. Yes, corruption and abuse are endemic to Argentine society. But if that were really the issue here, we would be talking about the need to dismantle the police apparatus, which is wildly corrupt, abusive, and, in many neighborhoods, central to organizing crime and drug gangs. Or we would be talking about the church, with its history of subservience to military repression and its numerous child abuse scandals. Yet, to no one’s surprise, there no breathless outrage targeted towards those institutions.

The state is attacking social organizations, trade unions, and neighborhood social and sports clubs on principle because they are tangible and material representations of the relations we want to build. We want to create a context in which people may truly interact as equals in pursuit of their collective interests, defying the logic of neoliberal capitalism.

Police guarding the entrance to La Cultura del Barrio during the anti-anarchist raids ahead of the 2018 G20 summit.

They want us isolated, atomized, each one with three jobs hustling until our luck turns, imagining that we could be millionaires if only we wake up early enough and work diligently enough. Every volunteer at a comedor popular, every militant in a social organization, every rank-and-file worker at a workplace assembly, and every kid taking part in a free activity in their neighborhood club is a brick in the wall of resistance to the capitalist project.

But just as a barricade blocks a street but opens the way, our projects of mutual aid and solidarity are much more than collective acts of resistance. They also enable us to experience life outside the logic of capitalism. They show that one can participate in fulfilling activities without having to spend money, that one can be welcome in a traditionally macho space regardless of appearance or gender, that anyone can get together with friends and start a band or organize a demonstration. They show that each of us is much more than our earning or spending power. In a time when a future outside of capitalism has become almost unimaginable, they offer glimpses of a different world.

An aerial view of the massive march in defense of public universities in April 2024.

Resistance

Despite the events of June 12, which both sides have an interest in playing up, the current objective reality remains sobering. There is no convergence of struggles, no sign of an imminent uprising. The Peronist movement, including its left wing, is largely absent from the streets and protests—banking on letting the ultraliberals crash on their own so as to present themselves once again as the only viable governing power. The major unions refuse to execute a plan of struggle, limiting themselves to periodic measures in order to negotiate behind closed doors to protect themselves against changes in labor law that would diminish their influence. While it was nice to see the right-wing press cry about the losses generated by a 24-hour general strike (a reminder of who actually creates wealth), traditional industrial strike action can only get us so far in an economy in which half of the workforce is in the informal sector. The Marxist left can be commended for being present on the streets and in the struggles, but their influence is marginal, speaking both qualitatively and quantitatively.

History does not inevitably tend towards “progress,” nor is this a Hollywood movie in which the good guys will inevitably win. As poverty and hunger advance and the capitalists attack the social fabric woven over the decades since the last neoliberal experiment here failed, a grim dystopia awaits us if they succeed. Poverty, isolation, extreme exploitation, and finally, the narco-state.

Resistance is stirring, and flashpoints of conflict are coming quicker and stronger. On March 24, hundreds of thousands participated in the traditional demonstration remembering the military coup, rejecting Milei’s efforts to rehabilitate the memory of the last dictatorship. In late April, close to a million people took to the streets in defense of free and public universities. The bureaucratic unions, led by the Confederacion General del Trabajo, have held two general strikes, one of which involved considerable participation in the transport sectors. In the province of Misiones, education workers have been camping in protest for almost two weeks now. Hostility towards ultraliberals is growing—as could be seen during Milei’s last public event in Buenos Aires, on May 23, when people attacked his supporters and stole their flags.

An attack against a Milei party office on May Day 2024.
Flags seized from Milei supporters during his appearance in Buenos Aires in May 2024.

And then, on June 12…


One More Snapshot: June 12, 2024

It’s 10 am and the upper house of congress is in session. Today is the day of the vote on Milei’s mega-package of over two hundred ultra-neoliberal reforms, and another vote about whether to grant him extraordinary powers.

Tens of thousands have mobilized in front of congress again. The mainstream unions, the center-left and left-wing Peronist parties and organizations, the powerful Trotskyist left and the rest of the Marxist groupings, social organizations, neighborhood assemblies, and students.1 The social movements and the “popular camp” face a congress that is completely barricaded off and defended by almost three thousand cops. Nonetheless, a Molotov cocktail flies through the air and strikes a police water cannon. Union workers can be seen in hand-to-hand combat with police. The entire area surrounding the congress erupts into pitched battle. Demonstrators overturn a press vehicle and set it on fire; they use another as a barricade; they light fires and use projectiles to defend themselves against police on motorbikes, police shooting tear gas and rubber bullets.

Buenos Aires, June 12, 2024.
Buenos Aires, June 12, 2024.
Buenos Aires, June 12, 2024.

Nonetheless, the package passes by a vote of 37-36, a result only possible thanks to the betrayal of two Peronist senators, and with Vice President Victoria Villarruel—an enthusiast of the dictatorship—casting the tie-breaking vote while Milei waits to board a plane to the G7 summit. The Office of the Presidency releases a statement describing the demonstrators as “terrorists” attempting to “overthrow the government.” The thirty-five arrestees are placed in pre-trial detention and charged with “crimes against the public powers and constitutional order.”2

As I reflect on the scenes of battle, my thoughts return to late May, just two weeks earlier, when Milei was giving a speech in the United States while police vehicles and a water cannon guarded one of the deposits where thousands of tons of food were being held. He had been emphasizing his usual talking points. “A moment will come when people are starving to death. So somehow, they’ll figure something out in order to not die. There doesn’t need to be an intervention to resolve the external question of consumption, because somebody will resolve it.”

I think back to his last sentence. “You think people are so stupid that they won’t do something so as to not die of hunger in the streets?” There, at least, he and I agree—and I have no doubt that tens of thousands who heard him had the same thought. In 2001, that “something” was a popular uprising that forced the president to resign and flee in a helicopter from the rooftop of the presidential palace.

Buenos Aires, June 12, 2024.
Buenos Aires, June 12, 2024.

Still, the clashes of June 12 were nothing compared to what happened in December 2001. The reality is that Milei still retains a significant amount of social and political capital. But as the ultra-neoliberal project plunges Argentina further into poverty and unemployment, social conflict can only intensify. Our enemies in power are acutely aware of this and are preparing accordingly. We must do the same if we are to finish the task started in 2001.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=itjeynqoL3g

Sensationalistic news coverage of the events of June 12.