In search of a material base

Argentina’s democracy needs to build new dreams but also insure they can be turned into achievable goals

Pablo Touzón is a political scientist and Editor of Panamá Revista

A philosopher of History, one who favors synthesis and historical continuity, could say that up until 2008 (maybe even up to 2011), the story of the Argentine democracy born in 1983 was a tale of progress. Not in the sense of it being a linear, pure, pristine, or contradiction-free affair, to be sure. Just to take one graphic, albeit significant, example: the comings and goings, the triumphs and failures of a human rights policy that spans from the Trial of the Juntas to the approval of the Due Obedience and Full Stop laws, as well as the presidential pardons, ending in the final repeal of the impunity laws during the years of Kirchnerism, show a twisting and complicated path but also a direction and a “happy ending” that are more or less clear. A winding road, but a road nonetheless. 

Up until the second decade of the 2000s, our philosopher of History might speak of a process laid out in stages, with commonly veiled goals fulfilled over certain periods of time regardless of who was in power. 

In the 1980s, the need to consolidate a new democracy implied ending the political predominance of the Military Party, a hegemonic presence during the praetorian Argentine 20th century. The afermentioned trials were a founding event, yes, as was the reciprocal solidarity of new democratic political actors in the face of military rebellion and violent protests by the so-called carapintadas: Peronist and Radical leadership did the opposite of what had been done for decades and stood back to back against their common enemy in 1987, during the Alfonsín administration, as well as in 1991, when Menem was president. For 30 years, and through different strategies ranging from financial to legal mechanisms, Argentine democracy “tamed” its own monster and neutralized the Armed Forces as an agent of power, leaving only the physical remains of its gigantic buildings scattered around Buenos Aires City, such as the Edificio Libertador, a Chichen Itza of a previous civilization. 

In the 1990s, arising from the ashes of the hyperinflation explosion that detonated the end of Alfonsín’s government, the “task of the time” was building an economy for a democracy that had managed to survive, but at the expense of destroying two of the main institutions that define any state: its currency and its ability to effectively control legitimate violence. There is a direct line of continuity or synchrony between the repression of the final carapintada  uprising and the approval of the convertibility scheme during the Menem administration. In an attempt to further consolidate the power of this new democracy and its elites risen after the fall of the dictatorship, this process was completed with an Argentine Moncloa Pact that will not state its name (the so-called Olivos Pact) and a constitutional reform that seemed to set the basis of a new post-hyperinflation order.    

A curious verification follows: the deep crisis of 2001, which swept away the better part of the proud leadership and many principles of that “democracy of inequality” built upon the end of the Cold War and the pillars of the Washington Consensus, did not end the purpose of the search Argentine democracy was on. On the contrary, the newly created Kirchnerism set out to be a synthetic combination of sorts of what Alfonsín and Menem represented, an actually existing historical Third Movement capable of simultaneously fulfilling the unkept promises of its predecessors. The expansion of democratic rights led by Alfonsín, updated with the new “political rights” of the 21st century (gender issues, sexual dissidences, etc.). The expansion of rights and a rise in consumption through monthly payments. Kirchnerism intended to be the prometheus of Argentina’s new democracy, the repairer of its social costs, and the executor of its public and private desires. And during some of its best years, it almost achieved it. 

The long process that ends this Sunday with the presidential inauguration of Javier Milei began in 2008 with the global financial crisis and the local agricultural crisis, which laid bare the weakness of that economic model and from which Argentina never really recovered nor was capable of forging an alternative for, a failure shared by all three presidencies of the “lost decade of the Grieta,” Cristina Kirchner’s second term and Mauricio Macri and Alberto Fernández’s only one. The slow but systematic drop of all socioeconomic variables, the return of super inflation, the unbreathable climate of political and cultural polarization — all of it strengthened a crisis of meaning for Argentine democracy, which no longer knows what it wants nor if it is capable of achieving it. Contrary to the political generation present between 2001 and 2008, the politicians of coalitions that have now ceased to exist cannot add a single success to their resume. They operate as the sad expression of this systemic crisis, which they have left more exposed than before. It could be said that they successfully deepened this model and that they were the ones who broke the famous consensus of the Alfonsín years due to the poor execution of their duties. 

The years to come present a two-fold challenge. The task of not only building new dreams for Argentina’s democracy that go beyond the ritual and empty repetition of old formulas from 1983 — which for new generations many times sound like a scam — but also giving them a material base, to use an old Marxist term, that turns these dreams into achievable goals instead of remaining the mere enunciation of abstract and nonexistent rights. To rebuild the country’s damaged relationship with its own material nature, the one it has and presently exists, in order to achieve what could become. 1983 is the Old Testament of Argentina’s democracy. It is time to write the new one.  


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