Argentina has been experiencing economic woes for quite some time. Over the past few years, there have been mass demonstrations of the poor and unemployed,, road blockades, battles with police and so on. Already deeply in debt, the Argentine government has been seeking a loan from the IMF which has required it to institute harsh austerity measures, measures that inevitably strike those at the bottom the hardest. In the second week of December, there was a general strike. Over the next week or so, fear of economic collapse led many people to withdraw their money from the bank. So on December 19, the Economy Minister, Domingo, issued a declaration that limited bank withdrawals to $250 a week. Of course, those most affected by this measure were those without credit, without other means to make the purchases needed to feed themselves and their families. The response was immediate.
As soon as people heard about the new measure that Domingo had enacted, road blockades went up all over the country. People began looting supermarkets and other stores, mainly for food. People battled police and attacked banks. In La Plata and Cordoba, the state houses were attacked as well. Of course, the Argentine government declared a state of emergency and outlawed all public gatherings.
On the 20th, both official left and spontaneous demonstrations continued, as did looting and attacks on banks. The unions, whose role of course depends on the continued functioning of the present social order, were afraid to agitate because the situation might “get out of their hands”. But the initiative for demonstrations required no formal organization. Those who wanted to gather people simply went to street corners, clapped their hands and gathered people to demonstrate in the Plaza del Mayo. When police moved in to remove people from the plaza passersby aided the demonstrators, harassing the cops and attacking them with a variety of objects. In the course of the day people destroyed eight banks in Buenos Aires. Looting continued throughout the country.
The president then in office was compelled to step down, and the Peronists took advantage of the situation, presenting themselves as potential saviors of the nation. One of their party was appointed interim president. The Argentine secret service went out to on the streets of Buenos Aires to spread rumors to frighten people from the streets, and within a few days, things quieted down… briefly.
Then on December 29, fed up with the lack of any real answers from the new president, a “self-convened” (i.e., autonomous—not called by any formal organization) demonstration took place in the Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace. People attacked the doors of the palace. Chants included: “Everybody out, nobody stay” and “Without Peronists, without radicals, we will live better”, indicating the level of disillusion with the government. When the police attempted to disperse the demonstration with tear gas, some stayed to battle the cops. Others marched to the Parliament and still others took to the streets. In the streets, people attacked banks and billboards, and at least one ruling class observer perched on the balcony of a luxury hotel received a bruise from a projectile. At the parliament, people built bonfires on the steps and looted the building, taking out furniture for barricades, bonfires and so on. When the cops used teargas in an attempt to disperse this crowd, most instead took to the street together with the idea of going on to the supreme court. But cops armed with tear gas and rubber bullets ambushed the march. Fortunately, people in cars and on foot who sympathized with the demonstrators helped them as they retreated, blocking and attacking the cops. The next day, the interim president resigned and a few more have followed suit.
In US newspapers, this rebellion has been largely described as “middle class” (an ambiguous term, at best, when used by the US press), but reports from Argentine and the nature of the looting indicate significant involvement by the poor as well. At least one person has described the events as “bread riots”. And the unrest among the unemployed and marginalized in Argentine has been going on for quite some time.
Most of the reports that I found of these events came from anarchists who were there. These accounts raise many questions. Though there has been unrest on some level in Argentina for quite some time, this rebellion seemed to take anarchists by surprise. The accounts treat these events in a spectacular manner as a moment separated from life and from the ongoing struggle. This is not at all surprising. Events like this tend to be unpredictable, and sometimes the apparently most politically aware have the most difficulty figuring out how to respond. Clearly we need to bring our analytical capacities and our insurrectional project into such events, but how?
It was also clear from the reports that although the formal anarchist organizations had no idea how to respond to the situation, no real initiatives to propose, they saw their task as that of educating the people in revolt, of getting their message out. But what message could these formal groups have for those who have entered the sphere of informality that is real revolt? It became increasingly clear to me as I read these reports, how important it is to pursue the self-organization of our lives, our struggles, our revolt as an ongoing movement against all formalization and institutionalization so that we will be able to encounter situations such as this not with ideologies, platforms or programs (like any politician) but with the capacity to carry out initiatives for the ongoing expansion of the self-organization of struggle that spontaneously appears in such uprisings to more and more aspects of life, aiming at the total transformation of existence.