Across the country people of all ages and from all walks of life descended into the streets, armed with pots, pans and sticks. They gathered outside the presidential palace in Plaza De Mayo, outside congress and outside the residences of the Prime Minister, De La Rua, and his senior ministers. The police repeatedly attacked demonstrators and tried to drive them from the streets. The battle was particularly intense in The Plaza de Mayo, the historical centre of power in Argentina. More than twenty people died in the fighting. Despite the repression, the sound emanating from thousands of sticks banging empty pots was enough to force the government to resign.
Although Argentineans were united in opposition to the government and its economic policies, they lacked any political strategy or idea of an alternative. One of the distinguishing features of the demonstrations was the rejection of party flags. The only accepted identity was the national flag, the only unanimous song the anthem, the only slogan "Argentina, Argentina". This attitude of popular nationalism was encouraged by the mass media and meant that the demonstrators were very unwilling to listen to the ideas of radical organisations. As a result the protests tended to lack coordination and were often fragmented.
Although these huge demonstrations seemed to be entirely unheralded, they did not come out of the blue. The Unemployed Workers Union (MTD) was the focus of much of the opposition to the government's economic policies in the previous year. In response to ever increasing unemployment and impoverishment they repeatedly mounted roadblocks on the principle routes of the country. However, despite the importance of the MTD to the resistance, they had not attained the political development and experience necessary to involve the working class as a whole in their struggle.*
Many Argentine anarchists took part in the revolt, In the street battles individual anarchists played a prominent part and anarchist militants did participate in the organization of barricades, but this was a minor and relatively anonymous role in a massive popular mobilisation. Nevertheless the anarchist have learned some valuable lessons. They have been able to reflect on their need for a strategy of action in such cases of spontaneous revolt. They have also learned that the left in general is not considered a valid representative of the "people arisen".
In the weeks since December 20th, there have been ongoing large demonstrations, several of which have erupted into violence, but away from the demonstrations there have been other, more constructive elements of the uprising which have been completely ignored by the mass media.
After the 20th, in every district of the Federal Capital and in some districts of Greater Buenos Aires, people began to organise popular assemblies to meet once per week. On Sunday the 13th of January, there was an assembly of all the districts, in a mass meeting which brought together more than a thousand representatives. This meeting included a delegate from an occupied factory in Tierra del Fuego, friends of the demonstrators who were killed by the police, delegates from the messengers' union and 200 delegates from the University of Buenos Aires.
The neighbourhood assemblies have resolved, among other things; to renationalise the privatized electricity and telephones services; to renege on external debts; to develop the 'revolts of pots' against the Supreme Court; to march with the friends and relatives of the three young people murdered by the police while protesting in the Plaza de Mayo. Most importantly they have rejected the present rulers and recognized the class character that the movement needs.
Although the revolt cannot be attributed to any particular political strategy, it did bring together the experiences of more than ten years of working-class struggle against neoliberalism. It did bring forward new actors, new ways and new values to understand this policy. The radicalising effects of the uprising and the growth of the popular assemblies have created an opportunity for the revolutionary forces. Capitalism seems incapable of solving Argentina's problems. The challenge now for Argentine anarchists is to persuade the Argentine people that the only real solution is libertarian revolution.
* because of limited space this paragraph did not appear in the print or PDF editions
As well as writting a letter to us at WSM, PO Box 1528, Dublin 8 you can also comment on any of the articles in this issue at www.struggle.ws/wsm/comment.html
This edition is No69 published in March 2002