(The following is based on a visit to Argentina (February 2006) It makes no pretense to be comprehensive or anything beyond impressions. Most of it is based on conversations with militants and intellectuals. The main discovery of the trip was the current of the radical piqueteros, who for nearly ten years have been grappling with the problem of strategy and tactics in the epoch of de-industrialization, precarious employment, temp jobs and mass unemployment, a period in which the old workplace-centered strategies no longer seem viable. The main aim of the article is to bring the rich Argentine experience of strategy and tactics to an international audience, to hopefully stimulate further discussion of its strengths and weaknesses.)

A left-ideological haze hangs over Argentina, and presumably much of Latin America. Figures as diverse as Castro, Guevara, Chavez, Sub-Comandante Marcos, and Evo Morales are viewed across the spectrum in a warm and fuzzy way, expressing an omnipresent populism, even by people who are critical of them politically. Argentine nationalism, and beyond that a palpable Latin American “continentalism”, are delicate subjects, laced with the hurt of centuries of imperialism, as is/was the 1982 Malvinas war. Even an older woman, self-professed anarchist and ex-lover of the (now deceased) interesting anarcho-Marxist theorist Abraham Guillen bristled when I suggested that Che Guevara had been a Stalinist. And Guillen’s life had been threatened by Castro and Guevara and he was forced to flee Cuba (ca. 1960) after falling out with them over their commitment to a rural foco guerrilla strategy (Guillen argued for an orientation to the urban working class).

One finds everywhere in Argentina important vestiges, or somewhat more (since it is still, in truncated form, in power), of Peronism, which seemed roughly analogous to a kind of nostalgia one finds in the U.S. for Roosevelt, though stronger. Peronism was and to some extent still is an enormous tent which could accommodate everyone from fascists to ex-anarchists, by way of Trotskyists. Several people said to me that Peron himself had been a Nazi, but that the Peronist movement was something else again. I even met an autonomist Marxist who considered himself a Peronist.

Much contemporary radical political activity in Buenos Aires, including from other Latin American countries, passes through the Hotel Bauen. The Bauen was a luxury hotel which a few years ago split when the owner abandoned half the hotel. (The other half is still run by the old management around the corner.) It was occupied by its former employees and is currently run on a self-management basis, aiming to be a resource for the broader movement. It is run by a collective of all employees and has expanded its staff under self-management to help create employment. All decisions affecting the entire staff are made in regular assemblies. The assembly is of course the scene of conflict between the solidaristic aims of the workers and the necessities of maintaining it as a profitable enterprise. There are about 180 factories operating under similar arrangements in Argentina, employing about 10,000 workers. They were taken over before, during and after December 2001 (when the mass movement toppled the government) and subsequently, often not so much to “expropriate” as to claim back pay and maintain income when the owners absconded. The government recognizes some of these takeovers and gives ownership to the collectives, in some cases (as to date with the Bauen) does not. Most people I talked to were well aware of the problems of self-management in a capitalist context. In some of the more successful self-managed plants, the workers have withdrawn into private life and turned away from any political outreach. The Bauen has avoided this, and actually has “use value” exchanges with other occupied entities that provide it with some materials and services, in exchange for use of Bauen facilities.

In the western suburban belt of greater Buenos Aires is an arc of such factories, such as the La Foresta meatpacking plant, and there are other striking examples in other parts of the country, such as the very modern Zanon ceramics factory in Neuquen province. As indicated above, there is a complicated legal procedure whereby some of these expropriations are licensed by the government, as well as a complicated financing system to keep them afloat. (A most interesting group of media activists is the Grupo Alavio, whose website is http://www.revolucionvideo.org/alavio/) who have made videos of various lengths about these experiences, including as tools for educating other workers in the methods and problems of self-management.)

On Feb. 9th, a strike of oil workers in Patagonia (the far south) took a violent turn. The workers had been blocking freeways, and one worker and one cop had been killed, and 15 workers injured, in a confrontation. A few days later, I attended a meeting at the Bauen of about 250 workers from all kind of sectors discussing strategy for turning the Patagonia struggle into a nationwide one. The struggle still continues at this writing (March 10). Though my Spanish was not always up to the rapid-fire delivery of the speakers, it was one of the most bracing labor meetings I have ever attended. Totally absent was the kind of rah-rah unanimity one sees at so many labor “support” rallies in the U.S., where open criticism of the way the strike is being run is the last thing anyone wants to hear.(In this case, and in many others, the local union leadership was totally opposed to the strike. The strike was centered in the town of Las Heras, population 10,000, which had been largely sealed off by the police and army, with massive repressive reinforcements pouring into the area.)

(A number of militants present at this meeting were from a new extra-union “class struggle” (clasista) current which has some hundreds of members around Argentina.)

One of the most interesting and successful struggles of recent years has been a series of wildcat strikes by the Buenos Aires subway workers whereby, in 2003, they won a 6-hour day. These struggles were also part of a larger movement demanding a 6-hour day and salary increase for all workers, potentially creating 3 million jobs. (The rather exceptional power of the subway workers is part of an international pattern in recent years in which workers in key transportation sectors, more than in production, have staged some of the most militant strikes: the Madrid subway workers through the 80’s and 90’s, the UPS strike in America in 1997, the Australian wharfies in 1998, the wildcats at British Air in 2005 ).

In different conversations, the portrait that emerged of Argentine unions was one of virtually total control by the Peronist old guard, who run the unions as private businesses for themselves and who gain legitimacy with the state by opposing any kind of militancy. This arrangement of course has a long history. Some union officials actually benefited from owning stock in companies that were downsized or liquidated, causing major job less for their own members.

The piquetero movement has its origins ca. 1997 (in the last years of the boom under the neo-liberal Peronist Menem) in the city of Salta, where thousands of workers had been laid off in the privatization of some oil production. Argentina in the 1990’s was a madhouse of privatizations, resulting in massive downsizing of the working class and a great increase of the precarious population. In Salta, interestingly, the leading role was played by wives of the laid-off oil workers, the latter having sunk into downsized despair. Needing basic necessities for their children, these women began the tactics of blocking highways and moving the picket lines to public places other than factories. Argentina had experienced significant industrialization with the old statist “import substitution” strategy through the 1960’s, alongside the invariable foreign investment in sectors such as auto. Starting in the 1970’s, after the 1976-1983 dictatorship, thousands of these factories closed and never reopened. (Today, according to the Grupo Alavio film collective, unemployment is 19.5%, and underemployment 16%, meaning 5.2 million people are without jobs or precariously employed.) One result, according to some people in and around the piquetero movement, was that the young working class, while seriously cut off from the collective experience and memory of the earlier (pre-1976) period, also has nothing to lose and everything to win, in contrast to the 1960’s/1970’s generation, which grew up in the expansion of the postwar period.

Argentina at the peak of the working-class base of Peronism had a rate of unionization of over 90%, and that rate has fallen to ca. 25% today. The meaning of this trend is of course ambiguous, insofar as such unions were always a transmission belt for Peronist policy (which meant corporatist containment of the working class) and as indicated, were by the 1960’s mainly fighting worker militancy, with extremely violent means (including kidnapping and torture) when necessary.

What is striking in general about Argentina, like a number of “semi-peripheral” countries, is the closeness to the surface of political violence in many aspects of life, whether one is talking about strikes, battles between workers and the union bosses, or police torture and brutality routinely used on detainees (political or not). In the “advanced capitalist countries” one experiences commodity fetishism, i.e. a certain distance between the anonymity of wage labor and conflicts around it, and the violence of the state. In countries such as Argentina, historically and today, it seems as if that distance separating daily life and state (or semi-official) violence is small indeed.

By the time of the December 2001 crisis, piquetero tactics had spread through the casualized and unemployed work force to the extent that they were used to topple a government. Somewhat to the bafflement of this writer, the books of John Holloway (How to Change the World Without Taking Power) and the Hardt/Negri book Empire had been widely influential in the piquetero movement at that time. The influence of these authors has apparently diminished considerably since then. There is also a wide concensus that December 2001 and the political crisis extending into 2002 had not been a revolutionary situation, insofar (summed up in the main slogan of the movement “Que se vayan todos”, “They should all get out”) as everyone “knew what they didn’t want”-i.e. the entire political class-but few “knew what they did want”. The result was a power vacuum in which the Peronist party was able to reinvent itself once again, after three or four heads of state in a few days, until a long process ended with the vaguely left Peronist Kirchner. (1)

The immediate backdrop to the 2001 crisis had been the collapse of the 1:1 peso-dollar exchange rate, which had been a lynchpin of the previous decade’s “expansion” and which permitted wealthy Argentines to move considerable funds abroad, engage in luxury consumption and travel widely in the fast lane. Many such people established dollar accounts abroad (the dollars being acquired at the 1:1 rate) and after the brutal devaluation of 67%, repatriated those dollars into pesos at 3:1. Michael Hudson has also pointed out how billions of IMF loans to Argentina (and other “free market” economies under IMF tutelage) had found their way into private Swiss and offshore bank accounts within weeks of disbursement, thereby contributing to nothing but the country’s external indebtedness. In Argentina, one sees “financial arbitrage capitalism”, a nominally impressive expansion built on the devastation of the real economy, in its most savage form, but it is only the extreme of a worldwide trend visible almost everywhere. Up until shortly before the crash, Argentine-style “dollarization” had been widely promoted as a model for Latin America.)

Also significant in 2001-2002 was the temporary support of the middle classes for the piqueteros, cheering them on and providing them (for example) with food and water as they surged into downtown Buenos Aires from the outlying suburbs, in contrast to the present, where the middle classes have relegated the piqueteros back into the “classes dangereuses.”

The developing piquetero strategy of moving the picket line into a social space broader than the specific workplace continues to this day, and is used to highlight struggles and sometimes win concessions in everything from health care (supposedly a universal right but in fact a bureaucratic nightmare for most working and poor people) to conditions in prisons to outing police torturers past and present. (The latter is a very interesting and apparently effective method of making “historical memory” more than a literary exercise. Militants track former and current torturers to their homes and, in actions called “escraches”, plaster the walls of their immediate neighborhoods with exposes of what they have done and are doing. The Argentine army, if not the police, is apparently still widely discredited from both the dictatorship and from the debacle of the Malvinas war, which was launched in 1982 a few days after the biggest demonstration of strikers since the military seized power in 1976.) One clear indication of the cosmetic quality of the shift to Kirchner’s left populism is that police and prison treatment of workers and poor people has barely changed from the pre-2001 period, with torture and brutality being the norm for arrested militants, prostitutes or homeless people. The police in Argentina, as in many places, merely regulate criminality and prostitution for their own benefit, arresting mainly people who defy their regulatory role and payoff system. Drugs, and particularly crack, are a growing problem and part of this picture. The piqueteros were frank in acknowledging lumpenization of the long-term unemployed as a serious problem for organizing. Significant outlying areas of “greater Buenos Aires”, while not yet reaching the surreal levels portrayed in the Brazilian film “City of God”, are characterized by high levels of criminality.

Roving pickets can be threatened by bureaucracy much like factory pickets, as shown in the emergence of a “piquetero bureaucracy”, which initially sounds like as much an oxymoron as a libertarian or situationist or autonomist bureaucracy. In such a phenomenon one sees an important dimension of the Peronist management of society. Peron’s government had long ago established grassroots surveillance by a system of “manzaneros”, literally a blockwatch network of Peronist ward heelers who dispensed favors and fingered troublemakers. After 2001 (and even earlier), under the pressure of the movement that had begun in Salta, the government developed a “plan social” or welfare system that today provides a meager monthly allowance of 150 pesos ($50 at the current exchange rate) to families of the unemployed. (It is essentially identical to the WEP program in New York City, where welfare recipients do work, e.g. in the parks and subways, formerly performed by union labor. In both the U.S. and Argentine cases, many people are recycled into doing their own former jobs for a welfare check.) The “plan social” compels the unemployed to do menial work in exchange for this pittance. They give a grassroots footing to the Peronist state by the disbursement of money and jobs, essentially updating the old manzanero system. The “piquetero bureaucracy” grew directly out of this arrangement. They are today state civil servants, often people who had nothing to do with the piquetero movement in its heyday.

Clausewitz for Street Fighters and Irregular Warfare

Radical piquetero strategy and tactics are only the latest manifestation of a rich engagement, by the Argentine radical left, with the “military” dimension of class struggle and revolution. Two earlier instances were the working-class street-fighting tactics in the 1969 Cordoba uprising (Cordoba being a highly-industrialized city with significant foreign investment in industry), known as the “Cordobazo” and the more problematic “armed struggle” of the 1960’s and 1970’s, carried out by the Montoneros, the Uruguayan Tupamaros, and the PRT-ERP (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores and the Ejercito Revolucionario del Pueblo) which had some sprinkling of Trotskyism but which had evolved to left Peronism.

One current development of interest is a sifting of “historical memory” about that period, which still strongly colors Argentina, and the Argentine left. 30,000 leftists were “disappeared” in the repression that extended from ca. 1972 to 1983 (with the fall of the military dictatorship). These disappeared virtually amount to gaping hole in the succession of political generations, because in addition to those killed, many other people left and never returned. Half or more of the disappeared were working-class militants who, unlike the middle-class elements making up the base of the armed struggle groups, did not have the means and contacts enabling them to leave the country. In political and cultural and intellectual life, the devastated ranks of the 1960’s and 1970’s generation stands out starkly. The repression in Argentina overshadowed that of Pinochet’s Chile.

Today, a journal entitled Lucha Armada (Armed Struggle) has come out in four issues attempting to explore this legacy critically, both in terms of armed struggle’s impact at the time as well as on the present. Each issue (in a limited run of 2000) has sold out quickly, and bookstores are also full of books on the subject. Such is the unhealed scar being probed by Lucha Armada that, according to its chief editor , it is difficult to get people to write for it, for a variety of reasons ranging from a belief “we were right, anyway” to an unwillingness to undertake a painful assessment of the past.

The basic story of armed struggle was as follows. From 1955, with the ouster of Peron by a military coup until his return in 1973, Argentina was ruled a series of military and civilian governments determined to exorcise the specter of Peron and Peronism. Mention of Peron’s name in public was banned, and an overall ideological regimentation was set in motion. As a result, from about 1957 onward, a Peronist underground resistance, both in the working and middle classes, began to burgeon. This Peronism had, as indicated earlier, the widest ideological gamut. Like all the rest of Latin America, the Argentine left was electrified by the Cuban Revolution and as early as 1960 leftists were traveling to Cuba for military training.

The Montoneros were a curious grouping, which initially included elements coming from the Catholic right. (One of their leaders, Firmenich, has been accused of having been a double agent, a theory that seems widely rejected. No one questions, however, that after the defeat of the Montoneros, Firmenich had in fact gone into exile and had established ties to dubious right-wing elements.) The Montoneros, like the later PRT-ERP and some smaller armed struggle groups, drew on a mainly middle-class base. Some currents adapted the Castro-Guevara “foco” strategy to urban working-class areas, and did succeed in establishing a sympathetic working-class periphery, as evidenced in the aftermath of the spectacular (and disastrous) Monte Chingolo action in 1973 (cf. below).

The new face of Argentine repression became evident in 1972, when a number of armed struggle militants escaped from the prison in Trelew, were recaptured, and never seen again, something which up to that point was unprecedented. A far more dramatic escalation took place at Ezeiza airport (Buenos Aires’ main airport) on June 20, 1973, the day Peron returned from exile in Franco’s Spain. (The Montoneros had been urging him to move to Cuba to begin armed struggle operations from there.) From Madrid, Peron skillfully presented himself as all things to all people. On the left, he had designated his lieutenant, a far-left “Marxist-Peronist” named John Wilson Cooke, to be his political heir, but Cooke died in 1968. Peron met with the Montoneros and gave them the impression of sympathy with their movement and actions.

The left wing of Peronism surged in the last years before Peron’s return (as part of the early 1970’s radicalization in the “southern cone”, including Chile and Uruguay, both of which also ended in military dictatorship), and two million people turned out to meet him at the airport, with the left Peronists and Montoneros having the highest hopes. Instead, the right-wing Peronists and the AAA, a paramilitary death squad, opened fire on the left-wing Peronists and killed 200 people. From that point on, a left-Peronist myth developed that Peron was surrounded by evil people (echoing the old Russian peasant myth of “if the czar only knew” about the cruelty and brutality of the landlord class) keeping him from the left-wing Peronist constituency that he truly favored. (Some people even believe this entourage interfered with his medical treatment in the year before he died in 1974.) All in all, it was estimated that the left-wing guerrillas killed perhaps 2,000 people in their entire existence (in attacks on police stations and armories for weapons) compared to the 30,000 leftists killed by the AAA and later by the military. ( A very powerful mural of the Ezeiza massacre, about 75 feet long and 6 feet high, has just been unveiled at the main museum of modern art in Buenos Aires.)

Leftist armed struggle in Argentina had its last stand with the PRT-ERP raid on Monte Chingolo, an armory in Buenos Aires. The goal of the raid was the seizure of arms for the organization’s rural foco. Hundreds of militants actually managed to penetrate the armory where, due to the work of an informant, the army was waiting for them. Great debate swirls around this incident, as the organization had previously been told by several people that it had been penetrated by an informant. Nonetheless, even seeing the element of surprise pass to the other side, the guerrillas put up a serious fight, and the army was calling for reinforcements at the time the guerrillas decamped. 80 guerrillas were killed inside the armory itself, and those who were able to do so fled into the nearby working-class area where they enjoyed popular support and where they were hidden and helped to escape.

The army proceeded to execute all wounded guerrillas left behind, and hunted down and executed many who had managed to escape to the neighboring areas.(3)

(A certain debate on the left has taken place over the widespread use of the term “dirty war” to refer to the events of 1974-1979, when most killings and disappearances occurred. Some say that the term “war”, which implies two sides, is inappropriate, and that what occurred was a wholesale slaughter of the left. Others say the term is indeed appropriate, insofar as the left was in fact carrying out military actions, some of them successful.)

One little-known theoretician and activist in this whirlwind was the anarcho-Marxist theoretician and strategist Abraham Guillen (1913-1993) (whose life and work is analyzed in an article in Lucha Armada #4). Guillen was born in Spain and became an anarchist, fighting with the anarchist battalions in the civil war. He was captured and imprisoned with hundreds of thousands of other combatants on the Republican side, escaping from prison and making his way to Argentina in 1945. His anarchist roots remained with him to the end of his life, but his military experience drew him into the orbit of the “armed struggle” elements (who were anything but anarchists) in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He was an incredibly prolific writer, authoring more than 30 books and leaving many unpublished manuscripts. As indicated earlier, he influenced both the Montoneros and the Tupamaros but is still largely unknown. A number of his books have been translated into English. He broke, as indicated above, with the Cuban leadership because of his orientation to the urban working class (his book on urban guerrilla warfare was translated into English and was known in the U.S. New Left of the 1960’s). Other books have been translated into English by anarchists attracted to his focus on self-management. Having not been able to see any of this work to date, it is hard for me to make an assessment, but he stands out from typical Third Worldist theoreticians of guerrilla warfare by his emphasis on the central role of the working class and his vision of a “self-managed” society. (Donald Hodges, a leftist Latin America scholar, has published a collection of Guillen’s writings in English.) (4)

Argentina is hardly exempt from the worldwide skepticism about vanguardism of recent decades, part of the reassessment of the unquestioned vanguardism of the 1960’s and 1970’s. With the return to bourgeois democracy and legal oppositional activity in 1983, a Trotskyist movement called MAS had carved out a serious mini-mass base, and had elected several deputies to parliament, but more recently had faded away. One small neo-Leninist current “Firemen for Socialism” (Fogoneros por el Socialismo, firemen as in the firemen of a locomotive) exemplifies this new questioning, working with the radical piquetero groups as well as with his own group and a trade-union current of the same tendency. This group is concerned with the meaning of the vanguard organization in the era of the proliferation of vanguard groups. They point out that Lenin’s Bolshevik Party was in its time an innovation that had no rivals, and easily trumped all opposition in 1917 and the years immediately thereafter. Today, on the contrary, there are 40 vanguard groups all applying the same methodology that “the truth is us”. In this group’s view, the mass assemblies of 2001-2002 had been fatally demoralized by the struggles of these vanguards to assume leadership of the movement, and they are attempting to conceive of a form of party organization in which certain differences could be bracketed in the interests of the movement as a whole. They argue that vanguard groups large and small (beginning with the Bolsheviks themselves) had shown a tendency to fall apart after the death or departure of the one figure who was key to maintaining its internal equilibrium, and he felt this pointed to a fatal flaw in the received idea of the vanguard. They offer no solutions, merely questions. They would like to see the 40 self-appointed vanguards fuse into a broader organization of the three or four real tendencies they contain. (FOOTNOTE: In the course of this conversation, my interlocutor reminded me that some of the strangest Trotskyist groups in the history of the movement have come out of Argentina, such as the Posadistas (now defunct). The Posadistas called on the “workers’ states” to carry out a unilateral nuclear strike against the capitalist West to free the Third World from imperialism. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, some Posadistas were arrested by the Cuban government on their way to attack the U.S. base at Guantanamo, while calling on the Castro regime to fire the Soviet missiles.)

Another manifestation of the intense politicization of life in Argentina is also illustrated by the Club Socialista, with a mailing list of roughly 500 middle-class and middle-aged intellectuals of the older generation. They appear to be overwhelmingly of the moderate left, and mainly having been militants in their 20’s, and no longer politically active. They are worthy of mention primarily because, over twenty years of existence, they have managed to meet once a week nine months of the year, with every fourth meeting devoted to an analysis of the current political situation, and the rest to presentations by individuals of their current projects or discussion of a book. Between 50 and 100 people attend the average meeting, and larger numbers turn out for particularly interesting topics or visiting international super-stars. I mention this because I can hardly imagine such a formation existing in any large city where I have lived in the U.S. or Europe, where so many people come together so often and in such a focused way where nothing but public intellectual life in the classic bourgeois (18th and 19th century sense) is involved. (6)

Another theoretician undergoing a certain revival is the Peruvian Marxist theoretician Jose Carlos Mariategui. Mariategui died in 1930 at the age of 36 but in his short life (which included helping to found the party that became the Peruvian Communist Party) was both completely involved with the cutting-edge philosophical and aesthetic currents of the 1920’s in Europe but also theorized the importance of the Andean indigenous populations as a force that Marxism had to consider more seriously.

Mariategui was attacked as a populist by the hacks of the Peruvian Communist Party, and was denounced as a Marxist by the actual populists of his time. The current radicalization of precisely that population has resulted in a serious revival of interest in his work. (7)

Anarchism historically played a key role in the history of the Argentine working class. Up to the aftermath of World War I, it was the majority working-class tendency. As in many other countries with important “non-statist” forms of working-class radicalism (the U.S. with the IWW, France with revolutionary syndicalism, Italy with anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, etc.) Argentine anarchism ultimately lost many of its militants to Peronism after it faded away in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Mention must also be made of Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, the mothers of the disappeared who began courageously demonstrating in the main square of Buenos Aires under the military dictatorship, demanding information about their sons and daughters. They remain active, even if some of them have been co-opted by the left “anti-imperialist” rhetoric of the Kirchner government. They run a Universidad de las Madres, offering courses to a broad activist population, which has is probably the best explicitly left-wing bookstore in the city, prominently featuring the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and, in a more Third Worldist vein, Guevara and Mao.

On Feb. 23, a demonstration was called to support the Patagonia oil workers’ strike. As demonstrations go, it was fairly garden-variety, attracting perhaps 10,000-15,000 people. Many people seemed ready for some kind of mix-up with the police, bringing staves and other fighting gear, but as far as I know none occurred. The contingents marched overwhelming behind red and black banners (with red in the majority), going from the Plaza de Congreso (where the parliament and the Universidad de las Madres is located) to the Plaza de Mayo where the Casa Rosada (the Argentine “White House”) is located. The demonstration was smaller than it would have otherwise been as many militants were in Patagonia to support the strikers there.

Thus, once again, is a snapshot of a political culture which, drawing on a rich historical experience, is attempting to grapple with the problems of strategy and tactics in the era in which long-term jobs in a single workplace have largely disappeared, to be replaced by the “churning” of the workforce and ever-larger numbers left out of the workforce entirely. We can learn from the radical piqueteros, as well as the pitfalls presented by the co-opted piqueteros, for the struggles of the future, in Latin America and everywhere else.

Notes

(1) The definitive work on the history of Peronism, in a new edition taking the story up to the past few years, is apparently Alejandro Horowicz’s Los Cuatro Peronismos, 2 nd edition (2004).

(2) See Hudson’s website for “An Insider Spills the Beans on Offshore Banking Centers”; also, closely related, his article on privatization in Chile.

(3) The entire story of Monte Chingolo is told in the book of the same name by Gustavo Plis-Sterenberg, who participated in the attack and who, thirty years later, reconstructed the event through painstaking interviews with other participants. According to the editor of Lucha Armada, it is one of the best books on the mindset of the period.

(4) Among Guillen’s 30-odd books are Guillén, Abraham. El capitalismo soviético : última etapa del imperialismo (1980) Philosophy of the urban guerrilla; the revolutionary writings of Abraham Guillén (1973) Socialismo de autogestión; de la utopia a la realidad (1972).

(5) In the course of this conversation, I was reminded that some of the strangest Trotskyist groups in the history of the movement have come out of Argentina, such as the Posadistas (now defunct). The Posadistas called on the “workers’ states” to carry out a unilateral nuclear strike against the capitalist West to free the Third World from imperialism. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, some Posadistas were arrested by the Cuban government on their way to attack the U.S. base at Guantanamo, while calling on the Castro regime to fire the Soviet missiles. A sketch of the history of Argentine Trotskyism can be found in Robert Alexander’s book International Trotskyism, pp. 32-52)

(6) Similarly, the impressive level of the bookstores must be mentioned. There are 5000 bookstores in Buenos Aires, dozens of them of real quality. I can think of only two or three bookstores in New York City that come close to rivaling them. The “new arrivals” tables were filled with books arising from the current debate about the political developments of the past 40 years.

(7) As one sign of this revival, ca. 80 books have been published about Mariategui in different languages in the past 15years. His key ideas are presented in Siete Ensayos de Interpretation de la Realidad Peruana. I feel no great affinity with Mariategui’s ideas about an “Incan communism”, and I do not blame him because the Peruvian Maoist guerrilla group Shining Path took their name from his writings. Nonetheless, in the coming years, I think we will be hearing more about Mariategui and the problem of theorizing the historical experience of the Andean peoples in capitalism.

(8) A key study of the decline of Argentine anarchism is Fernando Lopez Trujillo, Vidas en rojo y negro (2005).

Lopez Trujillo told me he became interested in the topic when researching the Peronism of the 1950’s; a Peronist union bureaucrat had mentioned casually and both he and many of his colleagues had been anarchists in the 1930’s. This stimulated Lopez Trujillo’s curiosity about what he discovered to be the large-scale absorption of anarchists by Peronism, similar to the absorption of many anti-statist currents from the pre-1914 by Communist Parties (France) and even fascism (Italy). Lopez Trujillo finds contemporary anarchists theoretically sterile and largely incapable of posing these delicate historical questions.

(9) It’s over when it’s over. We got into a cab to go to Ezeiza airport to leave. I began making small talk with the cabbie. Gradually the conversation shifted to Argentine politics. He was about 50 years old. He had been a left Peronist activist in the early 1970’s, but opposed to armed struggle. He talked about the regimentation of life under the repressive governments prior to Peron’s return. By 1973, he was a university engineering student. He had been present at the June 1973 Ezeiza massacre. He was elected to some kind of student office as a Peronist. Around that time the university administration appointed an unknown outsider to head the student government, and in short order eight of the cabbie’s left Peronist friends were disappeared by the AAA para-military group that had been central at Ezeiza. He had continued to meet informally with close friends after the 1976 coup, and in about 1978 had decided to retreat to private life and raise a family. Politics made driving a cab the main alternative. He carefully distinguished between Peronist “justicialismo” and socialism. He proceeded to lay out an analysis of the 1980’s “lost decade”, not just for Argentina, but for Latin America as a whole. He described the “return to democracy” (under IMF tutelage) throughout the continent in that period, followed by the current leftward swing associated with Lula, Kirchner, Evo Morales, Chavez, in Uruguay and Chile and, quite possibly in a few weeks with the radical populist candidate in Peru.

Never got such a political tableau from a cabbie in the U.S.