Argentinian Diary – The Anti G-20 demonstration in Buenos Aires

Anti G-20 Demonstration - November 2018

Anti G-20 Demonstration – November 2018

Argentinian Diary – Day 7 – Part 2

The Anti G-20 Summit Demonstration

The Argentinian State had done all it could to reduce the scale of the demonstrations called by local workers’ organisations against the G-20 Summit but still thousands of people turned up to show their hated and distrust of the oligarchs who had, effectively, taken over their city.

As I’ve stated before public transport to and from the city centre was virtually non-existent. In the morning there was more movement than I expected but even so that was very limited. As the demonstration assembled and the riot police got prepared those few access roads were closed down. Vehicular traffic was virtually zero and pedestrians had a much longer walk from certain parts of the centre. More as a matter of design, I would have thought, rather than ignorance meant that there was no clear information of what exactly was closed.

The meeting up place was at the crossroads of Avenidas 9 de Julio and San Juan, at the very edge of what had been declared as a no-go area. On the other hand the very wide streets, devoid of vehicles made it a good, and safe, place to start.

I don’t intend to write too much about the demonstration itself providing the reader with the opportunity to see a number of videos which, I hope, capture the sense of occasion, the number of people involved, the colour, the noise and the intensity of feeling that the holding of this short summit in Buenos Aires had created amongst the working population.

Here I want to make a number of observations which came to me in the few hours I was on the street as well as what I’ve learnt from other information that I been able to gain by the very fact of being here.

The official start time was 15.00 (I arrived about 14.30) and already there were a lot of people lining up behind their respective banners. I assume that a later than normal start (midday I believe is the norm) was to allow people to get from the outskirts of town. In the blog that talked about the demonstrations in the centre of town which I came across, purely by chance, on Monday I mentioned how Argentinians are almost tribal when it comes to sticking with their group.

The principal organiser seems to have been the MST (Unemployed Workers Movement) as they held the pole position and a line of their stewards were in place to prevent any other group take the space planned for their about to arrive supporters. I did notice a few confrontations which didn’t come to violence but there were definitely stand-offs with people holding their corner.

Although the MST help the lead they did cede to a small group that included a couple of Madres of the Plaza de Mayo. Obviously out of respect for their long-term struggle but I would have thought it unlikely the women would have been there for more than a token period of time. It was a hot afternoon and demonstrations take an age to get a short distance.

As a publicity stunt the first line of the MST contingent was a line of women carrying the groups slogan against the G-20. Eight of them were bare-breasted and had the top parts of their bodies and faces painted in the colours of eight of the countries represented at the summit – the UK wasn’t amongst that group of eight. I assume the plan would have been to represent the twenty but they couldn’t get enough volunteers – one space was taken by a male with false, painted breasts.

By the number of press photographers shoving to get the right angle, and the number of interviews I saw as I went back and forth, their tactic worked. I’m sure those images went around the world – even if the message that the demonstration was giving to the world might not have been. There are some images in the gallery below.

I decided to record the event rather than be part of it. I would have walked alone and that didn’t make sense. By seeing the totality of the march I was able to get a sense of the number of political parties, obviously from the ‘left’, that exist in Argentina. I’m an outsider and haven’t really studied Argentina but I’m sure the differences between some of those groups are like the stones on an Incan temple, you would have difficulty in pushing a knife between them.

When you have a sizeable contingent which are supposed to be a United Front and then there are still separate groups then the united front isn’t very united.

I’m certainly not pushing for unity for the sake of it but the only winners with this division of the left throughout the world is then very people and interests this demonstration was against.

In all gatherings in Latin America, and I’ve seen it here whenever more than a handful of people get together, it’s not long before the street hawkers are swooping. With thousands of people standing around in the sun for a few hours the ice cream, cold drinks and even the sandwich sellers were making a killing. One near to me can be seen at a table where they were making sandwiches to order can be seen on one of the videos.

Police presence was very low-key until the march took the turn down the road to the Congress building. What the authorities didn’t want was for anyone to go straight ahead. This is the logic of the road but down there the Summit was being held.

To prevent that happening a wall of these metal ‘vallas’ had been created, the ‘L’ shaped metal Meccano like barriers which could be made as long as you like. Behind this barrier could be seen the heads of some of the 20,000 police who were there to ‘maintain order’. Their helmeted heads peeking out like Kilroy. Behind them stood all the technology developed to be used against people who a modern state can provide – the power of which I wouldn’t have a clue.

(I did pass small groups of police in riot gear along the route of the march as I overtook the main march after ending my recording. But they were discreet and many of the marchers would have been unaware of their presence, yet there was one group I passed who were being taunted with the chant below.)

On reaching this area many of the groups would start a chant which basically meant that what they wanted was for the federales to ‘fuck off’. I’ll try to (eventually) post that chant here.

And that last point is worthwhile stressing. Demonstrations, for those who can remember when people were prepared to fight for what they believed in and against injustice were like being in a morgue. Some people would chant something but after a while everyone else would get bored and silence would resume.

Not in Buenos Aires. A singer, with amplification, would start a chant and it would go on forever. Often accompanied by drummers and other instruments. When I say forever I mean from before the march moved off to when I arrived at whatever its eventual end would have been. And this was all amongst all the different groups.

The march moved off, hesitatingly, at just after 15.30 and arrived at the Congress Building about two hours later. From there the march broke into different groups following a route they had planned beforehand, taking the message to the people living in that area and then (I learnt afterwards) heading towards the Teatro Colon where a Gala was to be held at more or less that time. I’m sure the ‘dignitaries’ had all arrived there in plenty of time to avoid being molested by the hoi poloi.)

I made a mistake in my last post saying that this Gala was to be held on the Saturday night. That would have meant them staying in the country for a few more hours and no one really wanted to do that. Once the photo calls and press conferences had been endure it was time to go home.

I had a long diversion to get around the blocked streets but ended up in a bar a little before 19.00. I then had the very dubious ‘pleasure’ of being able to watch this Gala performance.

First came the group photo with all the world’s most powerful ‘leaders’ having made sure they weren’t by their worst enemy.

Then the Gala.

As I watched this mercifully short (about 40 minutes) performance I honestly started to feel sorry – but only for a few seconds – for these people who were forced to watch such performances and do so with a smile. It was supposed to have represented Argentinian culture, especially the tango dance and its regional varieties. But I though the choreography was banal and generic. What might work with a couple doesn’t necessarily do so on a full stage. I’m sure all the 19 ‘heads of state’ and the EU would have liked to have been anywhere else.

(But the theatre looks like it would merit a tour once the hype of the weekend is forgotten. Perhaps when I return to Buenos Aires later in my stay.)

Then they all went off for a meal, the cost of which would have kept an Argentinian worker in food for a year.

They do it because they can. Why do we let them?

(There are a series of ten videos, of varying length, which I’ve posted on YouTube. The first of these can be found at The mass demonstration against the G-20 in Buenos Aires, November 30th 2018.)

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Argentinian Diary – Demonstrations in central Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Demonstration - 26th November 2018

Buenos Aires Demonstration – 26th November 2018

Argentinian Diary – Day 3

The day of the demonstration – or two

I was lucky on my first Monday morning in Buenos Aires/Argentina. I was looking for a shop to get a local SIM card. I didn’t find the place I was looking for but in the process came across people congregating for a demonstration – or was it two?

It seems that the little garden area to the south of the Obelisk, on Avenida 9 de Julio, in the central part of Buenos Aires is the traditional starting place for workers’ demonstrations. Arriving at that part of the city at around 11.00 on Monday 26th November 2018 I noticed a number of banners and went to investigate.

It was immediately obvious that this was a left-wing, anti-government gathering. The first banner I saw was one of the MST (Movimiento Sin Trabajo – Unemployed Workers Movement) but this was still in the early stages of people arriving and others were in the process of fixing their banners to their carrying poles.

In various Latin American countries there’s a form of displaying your banners and statements which is nation specific. Many countries don’t use poles at all and the banner is carried in the hands of the supporters. In many ways these banners are not designed to be preserved but address a particular issue. Here in Argentina they seem to go closer to what was the British tradition. That’s having a distinctive and long-term banner which indicates who the organisation is that is supporting the aims of the march.

Whilst not being as ornate as some of the Trade Union Banners that used to be paraded through the streets of various cities and towns of Britain (many of which, with factory and whole industry closures many of these are now only seen in the museum context of the People’s History Museum in Manchester) some of the banners had had significant time and effort expended upon their creation.

There was a variety of Party Political banners (not all of their political allegiance I could work out) but also a number of very local neighbourhood (barrio) banners. I liked that approach, in a way, as it was good that people are demonstrating in a way that shows solidarity based on where they lived. Trade Unions having been attacked and seriously challenged in all countries for various reasons what the working class needs are organisations which bring people together with something in common. ‘Issue politics’, which is becoming dominant throughout the world divides us rather than unites us. Where the working class live is still a positive uniting and organisation positive.

As we got closer to midday more and more people started to arrive. This demonstration was not going to be damp squib. But at that time I didn’t know of the strange situation that existed, but which all those there did.

One matter that struck me as I walked amongst this crowd (which had a higher presence of women than most of the demonstrations I have been on) was that this was not a representative selection of people from Argentinian society. I’ve only been here for a few days but on the streets there’s a mix of people from those with European features to those whose roots are obviously from a pre-Columbian culture. The latter tend to be shorter and with a darker complexion.

The overwhelming features of the crowd congregating close to the Obelisk were with an indigenous background. This is not really surprising. Throughout Latin America those with roots pre-Hispanic invasion are lucky to have survived. Those who have will almost invariably get the dirty end of the stick. Racism is as rife in Latin America as in other parts of the world. This ‘racial divide’ indicates that Argentina still has some way to go if the workers want to face the severe situation that is worsening by the day.

What was surprising, and disappointing, when I had the chance to think about my chance experience, was the lack of any organised, working class, trade union presence at this gathering. If they were there then I didn’t see them and there were certainly no work related banners. Organised labour was absent and that has obvious serious consequences for any struggle. It just demonstrates the effectiveness of the ruling class in being able to divert any struggle into a local matter (however important) rather than confront issues from a class standpoint.

This ‘neighbourhood environment, however, did have its positives. There was evidence that the ‘barrios’ had organised food for the people who had come to the demonstration. Some of them marched as a group to the meeting place, together with their drummers. As a foreigner I could see that people wanted to be with those they knew, their neighbours and friends. The jockeying for places was something I’ve never seen in the many demonstrations I’ve been on in my political life.

Without any announcement, at least which I heard, at 12.00 a section of the crowd moved away from the garden in the middle of what I understand is supposed to be the widest road in the world and started to form up at one of the slip roads.

Remembering two martyrs

Remembering two martyrs

But I should be giving an explanation of why this demonstration was taking place at all, To the best of my knowledge it was a reaction to the murder of a 36 year old activist, Rodrigo Orellana, who was involved in the occupation of a piece of empty land in an area to the south of Buenos Aires. He was shot in the back by the police very early in the morning of Thursday 22nd November. Another activist, Marcos Jesus Soria was killed by police in Cordoba last Saturday. There were other issues, there always are, in a time when the working class throughout the world are still paying the cost of the last capitalist crisis with the next one only around the corner, but Rodrigo’s and Marcos’s murders seems to have been the main reason for the calling of this demonstration, when the week itself was full of events due to the G20 meeting.

If I have read the situation correctly it was very impressive that so many people could have been called out onto the streets in such a short space of time.

Ready for action

Ready for action

Up to now there had been no obvious police presence. That changed when the first part of the demonstration moved away from the garden and onto the road. At first I was pleased that so many people were on the streets and would cause traffic chaos. But however many people were there it was all controlled by a couple of motorcycle, city police who were at the front of the march. The hundreds, thousands, of people who were on to the road would only be allowed to cross an intersection if the chaos of people blocking junctions could be minimised.

For reasons that make no sense, other than making a statement that the state is always ready to stand up against any workers manifestation of defiance, at the very place where the head of the march formed up, a contingent of about 30 riot police, with all their ‘necessary’ equipment were standing on the pavement, letting the demonstrators (many of whom were with very young children) know who was really in control. These miserable lapdogs of the ruling class are a carbuncle on society – in whatever country they might appear – and a rational approach to how to deal with them is something that should be in the thoughts of all revolutionaries. As a demonstration of female inclusiveness there was one woman, at least, in this group of state-sponsored and armed thugs.

Slowly more people joined the others on the road and the area around the garden started to empty out and eventually the MST banner mentioned above was at the rear. For some reason there appeared to be some hesitation to move off but when it did I was bemused to see that there were still hundreds of people, and a not inconsiderable number of banners still by the Obelisk – and there was no sign that they were going to move. All kinds of thoughts came through my mind. Was there some sort of political schism that I was unaware of and there had been a decision to split the march? I certainly hadn’t been aware of any animosity when I was mingling with the crowd. I just couldn’t work it out.

The march moves off

The march moves off

I followed the march for a few blocks to just before it turned right off the main avenue, heading in the direction of the Congress Building only a few more blocks away. I didn’t know what to do. I would have liked to have seen the march to its end but wanted to try to find out the reason why those who had not joined the march did so.

(From my political point of view I did see a banner and a flag of an organisation calling itself the ‘Partido Revolutionario Marxista-Leninista – which doesn’t seem to have an Internet presence (which I personally is over-rated but must be there if for no other reason that to direct people to Party publications and activities) so don’t know if it is a realistic entity. Depending upon my future plans I will attempt to search out this group in the coming weeks.)

Arriving back at the meeting point it was soon obvious that this was very much a neighbourhood event (ALL the banners were displaying that fact) as speakers were making their thoughts known. However, the PA system was far too inadequate for any but those really close to the speakers to be able to hear anything. Being at a busy traffic intersection didn’t help. This rally was also about deaths at the hands of the authorities and probably had been planned for some time – the reason that two separate demonstrations were taking place at the same time.

I don’t know if that rally was to later go on the streets and make their feelings known at a government building as the rally seemed to be going on forever and there was no sign of movement. Later that evening, reading a newspaper in a bar, a lot of my questions were answered – even more so the next day when the big demo that had moved towards the Congress Building was reported in Tuesday’s papers. I didn’t see any mention of the rally.

I can see that there might have been a desire on behalf of the organisers and supporters of this neighbourhood rally to have their case separate, in the hope of giving the issue more publicity but I don’t really understand why some effort wasn’t made to incorporate the original cause in the wider movement.

An efficient and effective PA could have been set up and the speakers could have addressed the whole of the crowd that had assembled. Then together the expanded group could have marched to the Congress. Nothing will change based on either of those two events but it would have been a move forward to unite all the grievances of the people against the ruling class of Argentina and the world.

(When I first planned this post I wasn’t aware that the 2018 G20 summit was due to take place here at the end of this week. That presents a couple of issues. First is that the area I am staying in will be virtually shut down from Thursday night until late on Sunday. That creates a logistical problem as I have a flight to the south early on Friday morning and, as of now, have no idea how to get to the airport as all the buses and transport are seriously disrupted. The other issue is that I would like to be here as I know there are a number of demonstrations planned and I’ll miss out. Hopefully, the Argentinian National Airline, Aerolineas Argentinas, are planning strike action this week and that might give me the opportunity to change my flight and stay for another few days. Time will tell.)

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‘The Currency of Communism’ and the role of money under Socialism

Albania 3 Lek - 1964

Albania 3 Lek – 1964

The British Museum is currently hosting a small exhibition under the title ‘The Currency of Communism’ – which is running until the 18th March 2018. It’s hardly a huge exhibition, barely more than a half a dozen (small) display cabinets in a room where you can swing a cat – but only just.

In such a tiny space you’re not going to get a lot but what is there is quite interesting in the sense that many of the notes are from countries where the construction of Socialist is no longer in vigour. But it does give the visitor a chance to see some of the images that have been used on coins and notes in the last hundred years – since the Great October Revolution in Russia in November 2017.

Although I haven’t mentioned coinage or notes in my discussions about Socialist Realist Art they are another area where the different socialist societies sought to present the values of collectivity and to promote labour as something to celebrate and honour.

As it mentions in this exhibition the images on the notes were part of the propaganda battle that all socialist societies have to wage against the insidiousness of the capitalist past in a particular country and the capitalist present in a hostile world.

But when the word ‘propaganda’ is used in most circumstances in Britain it’s always in a negative context. THEY, i.e., the enemy, use propaganda WE, the good guys in all this (although the country is constantly invading other countries and killing people in their millions) don’t stoop to such perfidy.

For some reason in Britain it is not accepted that having the head of a Saxe-Coburg and Gotha on all British coins and notes has nothing to do with the promotion of a monarchy. That having the face of a bloated, drunken, racist and class warrior for his class – the aristocracy – doesn’t also promote the values that he believed in to his core and carried out with total disregard to the harm he might cause to ordinary people both in this country and abroad. The values of the monarchy and Churchill are those of the perpetuation and promotion of a society of oppression and exploitation.

But then, as they don’t get challenged by enough people they can get away with their lies. That’s OK, they fight for their class the problem is that too few of us fight for our class. And, what’s worse in some respects, don’t even know their own history to be able to challenge the idea that the aristocracy are parasites on the body politic and their destruction is necessary for our freedom.

Back to the currency.

There were a few things of interest in the handful (literally) of notes and coins on display.

One was the innovative manner in the manner in which all kinds of materials were used as a stop-gap when the old currency became useless after a revolution. You can’t allow the old currency to remain in circulation as the old rich will be able to remain rich. One example following the February Revolution in Russia was of a small sheet of postage stamps over printed with the declaration of the abdication of the Tsar. Other examples were simple printed pieces of paper that gained their value from the trust that people placed in them or the over stamping of coins with a hammer and sickle – which soon became the symbol of Soviet Communism and an integral part of the coat of arms of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

When financial stability had been achieved the new states started to produce notes as are recognised throughout the world. Now they used the skill of proletarian artists and engravers to reproduce the story of the building of Socialism as was seen in art galleries throughout the socialist world as well as in that most extensive of all Socialist Realist Art galleries – the Metro systems, primarily Moscow but also Leningrad and other major cities, in the Soviet Union.

But what grated with this exhibition was the ignorance of the curator/s and their total lack of understanding of what Communism is all about. Obviously they haven’t read any Mao Tse-tung as they write (giving the impression of authority – after all it’s the British Museum) about something they know absolutely nothing.

Not only do they not know anything about the ideology of Marxism-Leninism (the overriding theory that has been behind all the socialist revolutions of the last hundred years and will be the ideology of those revolutions to happen in the future) they know nothing of history.

The curators state: ‘Communism proposes that money has no role in a utopian society. To date though, no communist state has successfully removed money from its economy.’ Here they create a false premise just so that they can then attack it and add to the propaganda battle of capitalism against those who aim to construct a better society free from oppression and exploitation.

The existence of a Communist Party as the ruling party in any particular country doesn’t mean that the country has achieved the ultimate aim of the establishment of Communism.

No Marxist-Leninist of the 20th century ever argued that Communism had been established in any country. Socialism had been established, the first and necessary stage of Communism, but that would exist for an indeterminate time until the conditions for the establishment of Communism arose. And they were unlikely to arise when so much of the world was still under the yoke of capitalism and imperialism.

In the limited ‘explanation’ given in the text in this small room there was constant reference to the fact that many things that are paid for by money in capitalist societies (such as health, education, housing, leisure, transport and social services) are included as part of a worker’s social wage. However, this does not mean that ALL that people need in their daily existence in a Socialist society is there for people to take without some sort of cash transaction taking place.

It is true that the vestiges of the old order, that are demonstrated by the existence of money, means there are opportunities for the unscrupulous and corrupt to take advantage of that ‘weakness’ in Socialism and attempt to use that weakness for their personal benefit. Realising that the taking of State power was only the first act along the road to Communism and that all could be sabotaged by such rotten elements Stalin declared: ‘The Party becomes strong by purging itself of opportunist elements.’ For it was in the ruling party that such opportunists saw their best chance of success.

No Socialist society has existed for more than 46 years (in Albania) so even the best of Communists is more than likely to be tainted by the venom that has been bred into people’s attitudes over the millennia of various systems of exploitation and class differentiation. The construction of Socialism, aiming for Communism, is both a struggle to create the material level to satisfy the needs of the whole of the population but it is also a struggle of ideas to temper their desires to a level that the is sustainable for the whole of society.

Save for the Future

Save for the Future

‘Consumerism’ that developed, principally after 1945, in the capitalist countries was a serious problem for the war damaged Socialist countries. An increasing number of ordinary working people were seen as being able to surround themselves by ‘luxuries’, a term used in the past for items that are now considered the norm. But this consumerism is, and has always been, fed by debt. It started out with Hire Purchase and is reaching its nadir at the moment with credit card debt where people are buying things they don’t need with money they don’t have and, in many cases, won’t ever have.

Perhaps the people in socialist societies were asked for too much of a sacrifice, working for the future without getting something over and above the necessities today. This idea is represented in the exhibition by the reproductions of posters which encouraged workers and collective peasants to save rather spend all they earned on goods for the present. This is one of the many aspects of the first period of Socialist construction that will need to be considered during the start of the second.

The opposite is the case in capitalist countries where all the State and capitalist propaganda is geared to encourage workers to live only for the now, only for consumerism. How else is it possible to explain the inane concept of ‘retail therapy’? All the debt is being pushed into the future, for later generations to deal with – which will almost certainly lead to a military conflict – as has been the solution so many times in the past.

Because money under capitalism leads to regular economic crisis. It creates the conditions for the innumerable ‘bubbles’ that have plagued capitalism from the start and which are growing in various aspects of present day society. Even staunch supporters of the capitalist system talk of ‘when’, not ‘if’, the crisis will occur when referring to the future.

Capitalism concerns itself only for gratification now and to maintain its control of society does all that it can to instil such a narrow-minded, short-term attitude in their populations. This can be seen in the manner that the system has cut a swathe through cultures, nature and the lives of countless millions of working people. They are prepared to destroy the world if it means they can accumulate more and more wealth, more ‘money’.

This is why all past Socialist societies have argued for the gradual diminution of the importance of money and its eventual abolition – but only when the conditions are right.

In the village of Nanjiecun, in central China, a small community of a few thousand have been able to reduce the amount of cash transactions but not all. But it’s a small, isolated community, an oasis in a vast ocean of capitalism, in China itself as well as the rest of the world. In such a situation it will never be anything more than an aberration, however admirable the effort might be.

Under conditions of Socialism the slogan is: from each according to his ability; to each according to his work. Money will cease to exist when the slogan, under conditions of Communism, is: from each according to his ability; to each according to his needs. (‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, Karl Marx, 1875.)

When that time arrives ‘intellectuals’ will work for the betterment of society in general and won’t be the self-important, self-congratulatory, self-aggrandising bunch of self-serving sycophants they are now. Is it a surprise they had a hard time in the past in those countries where the construction of Socialism was taking place?

This is probably the smallest exhibition the British Museum has ever presented but brings up some of the biggest questions.