- Interview by
- Ian Steinman
The Workers’ Left Front (FIT) won a surprise 3.3 percent of the vote in Argentina’s August primary elections and is looking for another positive result today. The fresh face of the formation is its presidential candidate Nicolás del Caño, a thirty-five-year-old who surprised observers in 2013 when he won a congressional seat in a traditionally conservative province. Caño was recently interviewed for Jacobin by Ian Steinman, an activist living in Rio de Janeiro and a contributor to Left Voice.
FIT’s approach to coalition building and far left strategy is in many ways more orthodox than their counterparts in Europe and Latin America and Caño’s rhetoric in the following interview reflects that. But the possibility that space will continue to open to the left of Peronism means that the Workers’ Left Front and the debates that range within it are worth taking seriously.
What is the Workers’ Left Front (FIT) and how was it formed?
The Workers’ Left Front is a coalition that was created in 2011 in order to present an independent, working-class alternative in the electoral field. It’s made up of the major Trotskyist parties in Argentina — the Socialist Workers Party (PTS), the Workers Party (PO), and Left Socialists (IS), as well as some other supporters. It was created to overcome the Kirchner government’s electoral reform which sought to prohibit smaller parties by imposing a 3 percent vote minimum to be on the ballot. This resulted in a great opportunity to regroup the Left around a common program of workers’ political independence.
In the 2013 legislative elections we won three seats in the national congress. We are also represented in the major state legislatures and in dozens of city councils. In 2015 we had very good results in the state and national elections. In Mendoza, where I stood as candidate for mayor, the FIT won second place, beating the Peronist candidate with 17 percent of the votes.
The FIT has transformed itself into a political reference point for the youth, workers, and women who struggle for their rights. Our perspective is that we will grow even more.
How would you describe the current political conjuncture in Argentina with the end of Cristina Kirchner’s term? What role does the FIT play?
The end of Cristina Kirchner’s term is unfolding in a situation marked by China’s economic slowdown and the economic crisis in Europe. In Brazil there has been a new devaluation of the Real and a further crisis. After the recession their deficit has gone up, they have cut social spending and frozen the salaries of public employees and seen a reduction in imports — something which has a direct impact on our country’s automotive industry.
All of this means that the Kirchneristas will have to implement austerity after an epoch of 8 to 9 percent growth allowed the government to pacify the social question. Today the contradictions are coming to light and are being expressed in hard labor struggles like that in the brutally repressed strike at Lear last year. Political scandals around electoral fraud have emerged as recently as a few weeks ago.
The delegitimation of the government is rising and its popularity is falling, in large measure due to the rightward turn that the economic situation has forced it to take. Scioli is a political successor to Carlos Menem, the emblematic president that advanced neoliberalism in 1990s Argentina. The fact that Scioli has become Cristina’s successor has caused widespread discontent among the “progressive” base of Kirchnerism. The attacks against the workers and poor people are becoming more and more clear.
In this context the Workers’ Left Front is a political reference not only for those sectors which are already active in the struggle, but also has been transformed into a political pole for the new generation of workers who see neither Kirchnerism nor the bourgeois opposition as an alternative. In the FIT we have thousands of militants who are part of these struggles, organizing day-to-day resistance.
How have FIT candidates used their national elected positions? How do you differentiate your political practice from that of the other parties?
Our role has been to advance a working-class program and denounce the self-enriching political caste which governs for the big businesses and multinational corporations. We opposed the privatization of the state hydrocarbon company YPF to the Spanish company Repsol. We opposed the delivery of our resources to the big mining companies like Barrick Gold. We opposed fracking in Neuquen province.
More than this we have been part of the struggle against dismissals in auto factories. In defense of the Lear workers our deputies in the national legislature denounced the pacts between business, the government, and the union bureaucracy. They want to make workers pay for the crisis with dismissals and suspensions, increase work rates, and force out the most combative workers.
We agitate in congress for the right to abortion, present projects for the nationalization of the oil and gas industry, advocate the expropriation of businesses which close or fire employees and support projects for Argentina’s indigenous people. We fight against the femicides, the criminalization of protest and pollution by the mining corporations. We bring to parliament the voice of immigrants, environmentalists, the youth, and the homeless.
We started our mandate with a bill proposing that all deputies and public employees should earn the same salary as a teacher
However all the demands made in congress have been accompanied by protests and mobilizations, direct action in the street. This is the only way we can win demands against the bourgeois state.
This differentiates us from the other political parties. We build our party from the base, aiming for a combative party with militants in workplaces and in the streets. We do not seek to be a parliamentary party with big media figures that talk on behalf of the oppressed while negotiating better terms of exploitation. Our party is made of men and women who struggle everyday against their bosses, against the union bureaucracy, against state repression, and for the right of abortion. Our representatives in congress fundamentally serve to role of lending a voice to voiceless and spreading, supporting and encouraging the day-to-day struggle.
Peronism in Argentina has historically exercised strong control over the working class. The victory of Daniel Scioli seems to the show that the majority of workers still vote for Peronist candidates. How can the FIT become a real threat to Peronism?
The victory of Scioli in the primary elections was with a much smaller margin than they would like. It’s possible that he will have to compete in a runoff with Macri. This is a clear setback compared to the undisputed electoral hegemony that Nestor and Cristina Kirchner enjoyed.
However the numbers in the elections cannot be the unique method of measuring the growth of the radical left in relation to Peronism. Peronism also counts on a network of clients, a political mafia implicated in drug smuggling and human trafficking, as well as control of the state apparatus and funds from the businesses who profit from the regime. The elections are only a part of what we have to analyze, however they show that the FIT has grown stronger.
The real advance of the Trotskyist left must be seen in workers militancy and organization, in winning university students to our ranks and in the hundreds of women who are organized in feminist collectives like the PTS-backed Pan y Rosas. The union bureaucracy, which is one of the pillars of the ‘’governability’’ of the Kirchneristas, has recognized our advances and launched attacks on us such as that at Lear, in the Buenos Aires Teachers Union, at Volkswagen and in all the workplaces where they feel threatened.
Many of the supporters of the FIT have advanced it as a counterexample to the broad parties of the international left. With only 4-5 percent of the vote the FIT does not yet represent a real alternative for most of the Argentine working class. How then can the FIT than represent an alternative not only for Argentina but for the international left?
The FIT has strengthened itself since its founding in the face of the crisis of Kirchnerismo and Latin America’s “post-neoliberal” governments. In the last elections we overcame all of the broad left coalitions which did not reach the 3 percent minimum needed to go on after the primaries.
The FIT is an important example at the international level because we are a coalition of the left which has not had to ally itself to either the center-left or the national bourgeoisie to strengthen ourselves. Neither have we had to hide our political program, if you read the electoral platform of the FIT it clearly says we struggle for socialism and consider a social revolution necessary to achieve that. It is with this anti-capitalist, revolutionary strategy that we develop our political activity.
The parties and groups which sympathize with the Latin American “pink tide” now have to explain why their “post-neoliberal” governments are implementing austerity and attacking popular sectors. It doesn’t even need to be said that the same happened with Syriza.
We are distinct from all these projects which offer a bourgeois nationalist program, which water down their program to win votes and then once in power betray the working class.
What is new about the relation between the FIT, the working class, and the social movements? Can you give some examples?
Our front is made up of many of the best militants to come from the working class these last few years. Railway workers, steel workers, mechanics, teamsters, workers from Zanon, and many more. It is also made up of activists from the student movement at high schools and universities who have played key roles in school occupations. Those who have struggled against state repression, who have organized against the atrocities of the military dictatorship and women who fight against all forms of gender and sexual oppression.
In Neuqeun, Raul Godoy has played a historic role as a delegate at Zanon, a factory which has worked under workers control for fifteen years. In Jujuy, Alendra Vilca works as a trash collector and many other militants who have been candidates work in agriculture. Myriam Bregman, our candidate for the vice presidency, is a recognized activist in the struggle for human rights and the condemnation of the crimes of the military dictatorship.
It is our candidates who put themselves in the frontlines of the major struggles, who are shop stewards in the factories and who fight against the bosses and the union bureaucracy. They organize to take the factories and place them under workers control like in the Mardygraf factory. They organize women at their workplaces and at school to fight against gender oppression and for women’s rights. They organize against open-pit mining, fracking, and the large agribusiness companies.
How would you respond to the criticisms of many like the left-economist Claudio Katz that the FIT could have a much greater vote and influence if it was more inclusive?
We support the entry of any political force which agrees with our political program. I am sure that the FIT will continue growing in political influence and votes. The problem with Katz’s criticism is that it aims to incorporate currents which don’t necessarily agree with our program. With that we face the same old problem of putting the cart before the horse. We have a political program and a strategy and we believe this is a program for triumphing over the long term in the struggle to overthrow capitalism. The shortcuts taken to grow rapidly like the broad left parties and the reformist left coalitions are weakening and will weaken again and again.
The problem with this discourse is also that it ends up renouncing the program which is necessary, which is the only realistic program. In order that we, the workers, do not pay for the crisis we need to take on the interests of the big businesses which have accumulated profits in the last decades. There are no half measures possible and what is in play are the conditions of life of millions of people.
The idea of watering down our program or including sectors which don’t agree with it to win votes is completely mistaken and leads to disaster, as we can see in the case of Greece.
Why were there two different slates in the primary elections and how would you characterize the differences between them? Why do you believe your list won?
In all the time leading up to the presentation of the two lists, our party (the PTS) made many proposals which would reflect the real relation of forces between the parties inside the FIT. On a number of occasions we proposed the ticket of Altamira-Del Cano in order to have our forces united against the candidates of austerity. Our proposal was rejected by the comrades of the PO and IS, so the FIT went to the primaries with two lists; the one headed by Altamira and the one headed by myself and Myriam Bregman, which won with the majority of votes.
As well there was a discussion about other smaller political forces on the Left who expressed interest in entering the FIT, something which is good news. The problem is that some of these currents have programmatic differences with the FIT, that are sympathetic to Evo Morales and other Latin American “post-neoliberal” governments. Our position is that they could enter, but after a discussion around the program and taking a balance of these positions. The comrades of the IS and PO did not consider this necessary and wanted to open up the FIT without that discussion. As a result the new currents were all together with them on this list against the PTS.
I believe that our victory was a reflection of the growth in the militant strength and influence of the PTS and also showed support for a more principled position around the FIT’s program. Also it was very important that our lists in the election were made up of young people and a majority of women — in some districts 70 percent of the candidates — reflecting a new wave of militant cadre and young people struggling in the universities and factories.
Are you worried about the unity of the FIT in the next elections? Doesn’t the division of the FIT into competing parties make it more difficult to build the FIT?
We don’t believe that there is any threat to the unity of the FIT, on the contrary we are taking on the next stage of the campaign united. We are working hard in the major districts of the country to strengthen our representation in congress and the state legislatures so that there is a real struggle against the austerity measures being prepared for working people.
All of the debates and differences we we have had are on the basis of broad programmatic and political agreement. In our press we have published criticism of and debates with the PO, and they have done the same. This shows that the FIT is alive with debate and discussion. We have great respect for our comrades in the PO and we are united in the day-to-day struggles against the repressive state and the union bureaucracy.
I don’t believe these divisions have made the construction of the FIT more difficult. It’s necessary to remember that it is an electoral front and not a party.
What self-criticism would you make of the FIT and the PTS so far?
There are many things that we need to improve. For example, the vote for the FIT was on a mass scale, hundreds of thousands voted for us and this represents a huge gain. However, we believe that we need to construct a revolutionary party and more than votes we need workers who are in the front line of this struggle to be part of this project.
La Izquierda Diario is a big project by members of the PTS with the goal of closing this gap and avoiding the danger of becoming another reformist left party without a militant base, like Podemos. Hundreds of discussion groups are being organized to capitalize on the “FIT phenomenon,” but we still have a ways to go.
Another difficulty the revolutionary left faces is that since we have no real possibility of winning the presidential elections, many will choose what they consider to be the “useful vote” for the lesser evil. However a “useful” vote for Massa or Macri is a vote for the mining companies that pollute the environment and a vote for rural and urban businesses and corporations. Scioli has pledged to pay the vulture funds and will criminalize popular protest.
The more votes the Workers’ Left Front wins, the stronger and more legitimate will be the positions of our representatives fighting for workers’ demands. The only truly “useful vote” for the working class is a vote for the Left Front.