The Anti-Capitalist Left in Argentina’s Elections

The 2013 and 2015 elections will be remembered as a landmark for Argentina’s anti-capitalist left. In the legislative elections held in 2013, it became a relevant electoral force for the first time since the 1980s. The ballot of the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores (Left and Workers’ Front, or FIT) – a coalition of three Trotskyist parties – was chosen by 5.32 percent of the voters. In some of the provinces the percentage reached astonishing levels: 18.88 percent in Salta, 14.3 percent in Mendoza, 9.39 percent in Neuquén, to mention but three. The FIT became the fourth electoral force in the country and three Deputies of their own made it to the Congress (the one and only Trotskyist ever sitting there had been elected back in 1989). And it was not only a matter of higher percentages. The anti-capitalist Left had survived for the past two decades in several tiny organizations, electorally insignificant and with little or no contact with the working class. Both their votes and their rank-and-file were overwhelmingly middle class and they rarely had political victories other than at High schools and Universities. 2013 marked a visible change in that too. For the first time the Trotskyists managed to attract support among lower-class voters – a small fraction of them to be sure, but nevertheless noticeable.

They are not happy with admitting it, but their success was partially enabled by a law that the government passed in 2009, which they strongly resisted. The electoral system was amended that year in a way that forced all parties to run candidates in open primaries. Only those with at least 1.5 percent of the votes would have the right to compete in the real elections; parties obtaining less would eventually lose their legal standing. It was that law that forced the Partido Obrero (PO) and the Partido de los Trabajadores por el Socialismo (PTS) – the main Trotskyists parties, none of which usually reached 1 percent in elections – to forget their rather incomprehensible doctrinal disputes and internecine quarrels and unite in order to survive. A third organization – Izquierda Socialista – joined them and in 2011 the FIT was born. Having a front with electoral potential sparked enthusiasm among Left-wingers and the coalition grew spectacularly in the following two years.

The performance of the FIT this year was also remarkable. Yet, the results suggest that the path of continuous growth that their leaders imagined in 2013 will be more difficult to conquer. In the general elections held a few days ago – which, unlike the previous one, was both legislative and presidential – the FIT lost over 400,000 votes and obtained 3.27 percent of the total. It is natural that, for an anti-capitalist force, presidential votes will be harder to gain. And yet, in the run for Deputies their candidates also experienced serious losses. In Salta they lost over 76,000 votes and fell dramatically from 18.88 percent to 6.64 percent; in Mendoza the loses were of over 20,000 votes and the FIT fell to 11.77 percent, while in Neuquén they lost over 5,000, falling to 8.31 percent.

Such performance suggests that the Left is facing limitations of its own. The FIT had envisioned a scenario in which the Kirchnerist party, now in power, would lose support in this election. As the government is perceived as a progressive, pro-worker force, the Trotskyists thought that those disenchanted voters would migrate to the left. The Kirchneriststs did have a very poor election this time –Daniel Scioli, their presidential candidate, won the first round with only 36 percent and faces real chances to be defeated by businessman Mauricio Macri in the ballotage to be held in three weeks. Yet, the FIT’s prognosis did not materialize. Instead, it was Right wing options that gained most dissatisfied voters. In fact, a portion of the supporters that the FIT lost are likely to have migrated to the Kirchnerist field and to non-Left parties. In Salta, for example, FIT votes for Deputies increased by comparison to the primaries, but the contrary happened with their presidential candidates.

The past two years will also be a landmark for the so-called “independent Left,” the political groupings associated to social movements that emerged as part of the 2001 crisis or shortly before. Of a loosely “autonomist” orientation – at least at the beginning – and deeply critical of the traditional Left, these groups had hitherto not participated in electoral politics. After years of intense debates, between 2013 and the recent general elections most of them decided to venture into that field. After the FIT’s good performance in 2013, part of these groups decided to critically join the Trotskyist front. It was the case of Pueblo en Marcha, a new organization created by few smaller groups, the best known of which was the Frente Popular Darío Santillán. In 2015 they requested to be admitted in the FIT, but the PTS vetoed them on ideological purity grounds. Yet, as their partners of the PO granted Pueblo en Marcha some of their own places in candidates’ lists of the city of Buenos Aires, there was an informal confluence at the local level. Other groupings decided to run with parties of their own at the provincial or municipal level. Considering that the names of such new parties and of its candidates were little known to the public, their performance was not bad. The most successful was the Frente para la Ciudad Futura (or FCF), set up by the Movimiento Giros and other social movements in Rosario (Argentina’s third largest city), were they were the choice of 15.76 percent of the local population in this year’s election. An astonishing achievement indeed. In Buenos Aires and in a few other cities a group of organizations mostly of the students’ movement set up Patria Grande. They did not pass the test of the primaries in Buenos Aires this year (they got 1.4 percent of the votes), but they did in other cities. In the general elections they were chosen by 3.74 percent in La Plata and by 2.37 percent in Luján. In the province of Jujuy the organization Tupaj Katari and the Movimiento Popular La Dignidad founded the new Partido de la Dignidad del Pueblo (or PDP), led by the legendary union leader Carlos “el perro” Santillán. This year it was voted by 1.84 percent of the province’s population. To this mapping of alternative anti-capitalist groups we should add the performance of Luis Zamora in Buenos Aires, with his party. Zamora run for Deputy this year, obtaining 3.42 percent. As none of these parties had nationwide presence, they could not present candidates for the presidential elections. In that scenario, unlike Zamora and the FCF, Patria Grande and the PDP decided to call the voters to support the FIT at the national level. Summing up, although still a minority choice, several anti-capitalist options are showing that they can be electorally competitive. Future growth will depend on their capacity to build coalitions among themselves and to reach wider audiences. Understanding complex electoral behavior as the one displayed by the voters this time so as to establish a productive dialogue with them will probably require intellectual tools more sophisticated than the ones we in the Left often employ.

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