In Argentina but also in Spain and half the world, the germs of fascism are widespread, but not where the media usually focus on. The xenophobic and homophobic gangs are dangerous, indeed, but just by themselves they are not going to control, subdue and mobilize the neighborhoods. It is quite a different matter when the state itself generates autonomous, "grassroots" structures to mediate access to basic necessities and "social justice" plans to "build the people."
Fascism as a movement of corporatization of workers, past and present
Italian fascist poster from 1943. Petty-bourgeois "anti-capitalism" finds in fascism political expression.
The general trivialization and brutalization of the political apparatus' discourse is not innocent. It serves to confuse and divert the gaze to places where critique finds no footing and becomes sterile. The use and de-signification of the term fascism is perhaps the clearest example.
Both in Spain and in Argentina the products and evolutions of the fascist matrix, through Falangism and Peronism, are quite diverse, reproduced through reflexes, messages and forms all across the right and left wings of the parliamentary spectrum, and cannot at all be reduced to ultra-nationalist delusions, xenophobic or homophobic ravings or violent provocations.
Essentially fascism is the expression of petty-bourgeois revolutionarism in an era of decadence: its original historical mission was to sweep away any expression of the autonomous organization of the workers, replacing it with forced corporatization through more or less verticalized unions integrated into the formal and functional structure of the state.
Evidently the Argentine trade union regime and the institutional place of trade unions in Spain are heirs of the historical triumph of fascism. But the tension towards the corporatization and framing of workers in the state did not end there, by no means.
The essential dynamic of fascism continued in full swing under revolutionarist forms in that "building the people" which, theorized by Laclau from the practice of the "Peronist left", then became a banner of Podemos' growth and development. A "people-building process" that is also the unaccomplished practice of the catalan CUP and, at the conservative end of the petty bourgeoisie, with its own fears and symbols, of Vox.
"Puntaje", the contemporary form of corporatization in working-class neighborhoods
Podemos' Errejón claiming both patriotic belonging and a common ground with France's Le Pen in the press
The tactical logic of fascism is not only an "everything adds up however contradictory it may be", which is also true, but corporatization requires first to permanently bind the apparatus to the territory (like nails piercing the ground, "puntajes"), then to generate basic dependencies among the workers and finally to instutionalize by fusing "grassroots" and state structures.
Errejón, on behalf of Podemos, made a famous intervention, well aired later by the Spanish PP, instructing his party colleagues on how to start a puntaje process from the government to economically maintain the "militant cadres" when they lose the municipal elections. He did not even fail to stress the need for "mountaineering groups", a classic.
Corporatization requires first permanently binding, then generating basic dependencies among workers, and finally instutionalizing by fusing "grassroots" and state structures.
It is not just a matter of creating like-minded organizations that "represent" neighbors and answer to a party. Where this move towards corporatization becomes dangerous for workers is when it begins to structure neighborhoods through the "puntaje" system. We could say that puntaje is the characteristic form of corporatization in our days, the most vivid and dangerous remnant of fascism.
Under this system a series of "social organizations" led by "punteros", become mediators of state social aid. The puntero distributes "plans" (aid and subsidies), bags (basic food aid), organizes in false cooperatives the neighbors to build social housing with state money... and guarantees the alignment of the neighborhood with the political guidelines arrived "from above."
Argentina and the Milagro Sala case
The leadership of Podemos protests in parliament against Macri's visit, in support of Milagro Sala. Irene Montero, now minister of equality, like the Peronist leader who defended Sala in court, wears a T-shirt demanding the release of the Jujuy puntero.
It is striking that the first "happening" staged by Podemos in the Spanish parliament was a protest against the visit of then President Macri on the occasion of the imprisonment of Milagro Sala.
Milagro Sala is a Jujuy "social leader" once elevated by the Kirchners. Sala's movement emerged as a way to contest Jujuy's working-class neighborhoods against an earlier puntero, "dog" Santillán, born out of the local civil servants' union and especially adverse to Peronism. Santillán then headed the "Corriente Clasista y Combativa" a coalition of trade unionists originally aligned with Maoist nationalism that became the referent of the piquetero movement.
After coming to power, the Kirchners wanted to "control" Jujuy, eliminating Santillan's power and the governor's influence over the barrios. So they turned Milagro Sala and her movement, created on the fly and from Buenos Aires, into the distributor of most of the social aid that came to the province. These were immense amounts over 13 years.
And Milagro Sala did not disappoint: she built a system of iron-fisted control and dependence neighborhood by neighborhood. Workers who joined the movement had to mobilize permanently. Disguise themselves - today as Quechua, tomorrow as a construction official, the day after as a factory worker - to portray an image of strength and march for hours and days. If they "failed" Sala's paramilitary groups would evict them and their families from their homes and blacklist them from ever going back to work.
Sala, with true totalitarian vocation, persecuted the alternative punteros with viciousness. There began the other side of the tactic of fascism: blackmail, beatings and group harassment became for more than a decade a normalized part of neighborhood control. Under impunity, abuses and violence abounded, workers' associations and Quechua communities "rebellious" against Milagro were assaulted with sticks and bullets -under protection from the police- and, among the "godchildren" of Sala, rapes and humiliations inevitably occurred as a reflection of a sadistic organizational culture which had nothing to envy to that of the Mussolinian black shirts.
For years the system was functional to power and was sustained with increasingly outlandish expressions. The now Vice President Cristina Kirchner went so far as to say that she wanted "a Milagro in every province" and "Open Letter", the pro-government group of Peronist leftist intellectuals, crowned her as a model of "people's power."
And it could have stayed that way under Macrismo, but when Cristina Kirchner left the Casa Rosada and Peronism lost the elections, instead of "negotiating the handover" and accepting a certain downscaling of the business as the rest of the Peronist punteros in the country did with the Macri government - which had no intention of giving up control of the neighborhoods - Sala occupied the capital of the province as an act of force. And the newly elected governor asserted himself by going on the attack and mobilizing his judges, who detained her and placed her under arrest.
From then on, deprived of public funds, the movement crumbles and the "Sala case" becomes part of the political spectacle and the battle between Macristas and Peronistas.
The documentary: "Jujuy Desoído"
In order not to lose their jobs and homes, the workers under Milagro Sala had to attend the marches disguised as whatever suited the leader. Today as workers, tomorrow as "native groups", the day after...
It is obviously a tool of the battle between the two main tendencies of the Argentine bourgeoisie in the province and in the country, and... in a certain sense and with nuances, in the whole continent. That is why it presents the "dog" Santillán as a model of honesty and working class "authenticity". It is the way of avoiding delving into the root of the puntaje system that is already deeply imbricated in the Argentine state and on which Macrismo also relies.
However, the documentary remains far from exaggeration, although short on voices and protagonists. The lack does not detract from its merits; it was predictably difficult to obtain testimony beyond those who testified at the trial; not even the technical team wanted to appear in the credits for fear of K reprisals when working on other productions.
The bet to include an "outside look" in the form of journalist of Madrid's ABC is probably not fortunate and the historian of the Government House of Jujuy, more concerned about the smoke absorbed by the flag of Belgrano than the lives that Sala destroyed among his working class neighbors, probably does not generate greater sympathy. But this is how it is. Argentina's ruling class includes many profiles with such views. And though surely inadvertently, it doesn't deceive on that score either.
The full documentary
First chapter of "Jujuy Desoído"
Second chapter of "Jujuy Desoído"
Third chapter of "Jujuy Desoído"
Fourth chapter of "Jujuy Desoído"