On August 13, Argentina went through its primary elections. Unlike the United States, primary elections are a stage in national elections, and all voters are expected to participate and vote for the party they prefer. In this way, the Argentine primaries are really the first step in the elections and a good way to determine which candidate has the most popularity among the general population. This time, the majority of Argentines who voted in the primary voted for an outsider to the political establishment, the far right candidate Javier Milei.
Milei is a so-called “libertarian” economics professor. His economic perspective is to cut social spending, attack unions, gut education, destroy health care, and leave everything to the free market. How did a candidate with such a drastic anti-social program become so popular?
Argentina is shaken by a horrible economic crisis. The country has faced a 100 percent annual inflation rate as its currency collapsed. Not only has Argentina faced the same global economic disorganization that has impacted other countries in the wake of the COVID pandemic, Argentina is in massive debt. Argentina owes 44 billion dollars to the International Monetary Fund. Now, in this period of global economic slowdown, Argentina cannot pay its debt, and the costs of this economic disaster are being imposed on poor and working people by the devaluing of their paychecks through inflation. Argentines are watching their personal wealth evaporate almost overnight. For example, shortly after the primary election, the government revalued the currency and its value dropped by 20 percent all at once!
Milei has promised that everything will be okay if Argentina simply adjusts its currency to match the dollar, making one Argentine peso equal to one dollar by law. Milei promises that this scheme will solve everything and, like a con artist, he is tapping into the desires and illusions of the population. The vision of a stable economy with opportunities that Milei promises resonates with many Argentinians who look at their economic situation and despair. Unfortunately, Milei’s program is a con artist’s scam, and behind it stand the interests of the rich – to gut social spending, to destroy union protections for workers, and to maximize profits for themselves.
The support for Milei shouldn’t be surprising for those of us in the United States. Trump built a similar popularity based on his supposed anti-elitism, promising to “drain the swamp” and cut through the red tape and government corruption that is supposedly holding things back. However, once in power, Trump delivered tax cuts to the wealthy and little else except his attacks on immigrants, and validation of xenophobic and racist ideas.
Milei is similar to Trump in his appeals to far-right ideas. Milei has criticized sex education in schools as a way to destroy the family. He attacks LGBTQ+ people’s rights. Argentina only recently legalized the right to an abortion, and Milei has voiced his opposition to this, aligning himself with the religious right wing in Argentina. In addition, Milei has participated in far-right demonstrations that glorify Argentina’s 1976-1983 dictatorship during which tens of thousands of people were killed and their remains hidden from their families. This was a major repression of left-wing activists, trade unionists, and popular movements. Milei and his supporters marched in demonstrations remembering the victims of so-called “left wing terrorism,” the excuse that the dictatorship made for its bloody crimes.
For those of us who see through the illusions, false promises, and prejudices of the far right, it can lead us to despair to watch people fall for these con artists. However, it’s important to understand that the rise of the far right in Argentina, the U.S., and elsewhere is caused by the crisis of capitalism, and the deepening misery which the system is creating. The far right offers illusions, false promises, cruelty and prejudice to stoke people’s anger, but they cannot offer real solutions to the problems the capitalist system creates. At the end of the day, all they offer is more misery, excused by prejudice and imposed with violence. We must stand up against their false solutions and say the truth – the only solution to the problems caused by this system is for poor and working people take matters into our own hands, fight together for what we need, and ultimately change the system which is the real source of our problems.