Less than a decade ago, Javier Milei suddenly began to have an incomprehensibly frequent media presence that quickly became unjustifiably magnified. Still, almost no one thought that he would emerge as president of Argentina in 2023. His contradictory rhetoric, verbal assaults on the establishment, incomprehensible analogies, and disheveled and clownish appearance made him ideal fare for political commentary and gossip shows. For North Americans, doesn’t this all sound familiar?
As an employee of a business group that owned the multimedia company “América,” Milei began to have almost daily slots on the company’s shows. With a free market capitalist line, and a strong reactionary tone, he attacked the previous administrations from the right.
It was not until 2021 that he decided to embark on a political career. As an economist, he zeroed in on Argentina’s economic and financial crisis to seduce an electorate disenchanted with government and distressed by its living conditions: annual inflation of 140%, depreciation of wages and increasing poverty. Milei used this disillusionment to introduce the concept of “political caste” and to blame this sector — from elected politicians to public workers — as the origin of all evil.
His electoral growth was rapid. After becoming a deputy in the city of Buenos Aires with 17% of the vote, he decided to launch his presidential candidacy.
In the 2023 primary, he got the most votes among the many parties, with 30%. This election was characterized by low voter turnout and a very close race among the three main candidates. There were less than three percentage points between Milei (first) and Massa (third).
This was a wake-up call for the establishment. The best candidate for big business and the International Monetary Fund was Patricia Bullrich, of the center-right Juntos por el Cambio, who had polled in second place. This is the party of Mauricio Macri, president from 2015-2019.
Milei was seen as an unreliable candidate, not because of his ideological positions, but his weakness and divisiveness, which could threaten the necessary “social peace” required by the ruling political powers.
The media, previously condescending toward Milei’s “libertarian” rhetoric, began to grasp how a victory for Milei could be a serious problem. Propaganda changed and the ensuing fear campaign had its effect at the polls. Sergio Massa, a center-right politician and Minister of Economy in the outgoing neoliberal austerity government, built his campaign around maintaining the confidence and support of international imperialism.
Massa of the Partido Justicialista won the first round of the presidential election with 37%, relegating Milei of La Libertad Avanza to 30% and Bullrich of Juntos por el Cambio to a meager 24%.
But to the surprise of many, the final round ended with a clear victory by eleven points for Milei, who was supported by former president Macri’s Juntos por el Cambio. Because Macri was the architect of Milei’s victory, his party took two powerful cabinet posts, the ministries of Economy and Security. Or, in terms of our class: ministries of Cutbacks and Repression.
Austerity and revolt
Cutbacks were a sure bet whoever won. Milei’s version is what we saw in a few weeks. Bypassing parliament, he issued “emergency” decrees that deregulated the economy, devalued the peso by 120%, attacked worker rights, and criminalized protest. These ferocious policies have hit workers, a struggling middle class and small and medium enterprises hard.
Only a few of the larger national businesses and many from abroad, such as “BlackRock,” Elon Musk, and other imperialist multinationals stand to benefit. They are already rubbing their hands together at the prospect of plundering Argentina’s vast human and natural resources.
What is certain is that, as in the past, the Argentine people are not willing to surrender. The workers and middle class took to the streets en masse after Milei’s emergency decree of December 20, issued just ten days after his inauguration. Even his own voters came out to demonstrate that they never intended to give him a blank check.
The situation has forced the bureaucracy of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), Argentina’s largest union group, to mobilize a national general strike on January 24. The struggle will not be won in the courts or in parliament, but in the streets.