Javier Milei, the far right and resistance in Argentina

Issue: 182

Liam Winning

On 10 December 2023, Javier Milei was inaugurated as the president of Argentina. He came to power on the back of a barnstorming campaign, sweeping aside the traditional parties and winning 56 percent of the vote in the second round of elections, a run-off against his Peronist opponent, former finance minister Sergio Massa.

This result reflects the polarisation in global politics. Insurgent right-wing forces able to win mass votes and sometimes attain positions of power—a trend that encompasses Donald Trump in the United States, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Georgia Meloni in Italy. In Latin America, the best-known example is Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, whose eccentricities bear a resemblance to those of Milei and who was also able to benefit from disillusion with established parties.1 Milei, too, is a far-right outsider exploiting the crumbling of the neoliberal centre and the worldwide crisis of the system. His victory will further exacerbate the polarisation of Argentinian society.

In some ways, Milei also appears as an anomaly in the political landscape of the far right. His political lineage is a mixture of fringe and established far-right ideas. For one thing, Milei draws from the political and economic principles of figures such as economist Murray Rothbard, a follower of Austrian economic theorists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, who merged economic libertarianism with conservative, authoritarian values.2 However, alongside Melei’s extreme neoliberalism and libertarianism sits more established far-right principles in Argentinian politics. For example, he offers a defence of the armed forces, denying of the crimes of the 1976-83 dictatorship, and he rejects women’s rights, a position traditionally held by the Catholic right. He also holds to a vehement anti-Communist ideology. As he rose to prominence, Milei became well known in the so-called anti-Communist right, signing the Madrid Charter that was initiated by a think tank associated with the far-right Vox party in Spain. The Charter proposes a united opposition to the “Communist” influences of Venezuela and Cuba, including hitting back at state ownership of the economy.3

Anti-Communism, the far right and Peronism

Argentinian anti-Communism has a long history. The late 1960s witnessed a moral panic in reaction to liberation movements focused on LGBT+ people and women, hippy and youth cultures, and rising workers’ struggles. The latter peaked in May 1969, when students and workers momentarily seized control of the city of Cordoba in a general strike and uprising against the dictatorship. This uprising became known as the Cordobazo.4 The main organisation established to confront the left was the Federación Argentina de Entidades Democráticas Anticomunistas (Argentinian Federation of Democratic Anti-Communist Entities), which consisted of various right-wing, Catholic and liberal organisations.5 This would be the first of many private organisations set up to combat left-wing influences in Argentina in the years that followed.

Industrial unrest and student rebellion continued into the 1970s. To stabilise the situation, former president Juan Perón briefly returned to office in 1973-74, after 18 years in exile. Perón, the namesake of the ideology of Peronism, had risen to prominence in 1943, when he participated in a coup of nationalist military officers. He served as secretary of labour and social security in the resulting government. To ride the tide of workers’ militancy, while simultaneously seeking to contain it, Perón and his allies worked with the Argentinian trade unions. They took over positions within the unions and thus gained influence, but they also conceded reforms to workers. When sections of the ruling elite began to fear that Perón had gone too far in promoting workers’ organisation, they tried to overthrow him, forcing his resignation before detaining him in October 1945. This prompted a mass revolt from the trade unions and a general strike. Perón was released and won elections held in 1946, ruling until 1955. These processes laid the basis for the emergence of the Justicialist Party, founded in 1946, which continues to be a dominant force within Argentinian politics today.

Chris Harman argues that the gains of Argentinian workers in the 1940s were a “double-edged sword”. On the one hand, employers were forced to concede real wage increases of “more than 30 percent” over a four-year period. A welfare state was established, including “union recognition, paid holidays, compensation for redundancy and welfare benefit”. On the other hand, however, these reforms also tied the unions and millions of workers to the Peronist myth of patriotic unity between bosses and workers against international capital.6 The lyrics of the Peronist anthem, “Marcha Peronista”, state that Perón “knew how to captivate the mass of the people, fighting against capital”, and that Perón was “the first worker”. This reformist ideal would persist even as wages for many workers fell following the ousting of Perón in a coup. Under the repressive government that followed, many expressed their desire for a better life through participation in Peronist trade unions and support for the Peronist tradition more generally.

When Perón returned in 1973, he became the focus of deeply contradictory aspirations. For some, he was a figure who could stem the tide of workers’ and radical left-wing militancy; for others, such as the substantial left-Peronist forces fighting for reforms, he was the man who could help them to realise national and social liberation. This tension led to a significant breach between the left and right wings of Peronism. After Perón died in summer 1974, and his wife, Isabel Perón, succeeded him, the powerful Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT; General Confederation of Labour) found itself in the unprecedented position of leading a general strike against a Peronist regime. The tensions embodied by Peronism also led to the establishment of a paramilitary terror organisation, the Alianza Anti-Comunista Argentina (Argentinian Anti-Communist Alliance, as known as Triple A), coordinated by key figures within the government. Ultimately, Triple A killed 1,500-2,000 workers, students, socialists and left-Peronists.7

These killings formed a prelude to the “dirty war” waged under the 1976-83 dictatorship, led by a military junta, which had taken power in yet another coup amid spiralling violence and deepening economic crisis. The dirty war involved the detention, torture and execution of tens of thousands of dissidents, including leftist guerillas, trade unionists and political activists. Many right wingers today still identify with this gruesome history, which continues to haunt Argentinian politics.

The rise of Milei

Peronism would retain considerable influence within Argentina’s politics and trade union movement after the end of the dictatorship. Indeed, in the 1990s, Peronist president Carlos Menem led a major privatisation programme that helped to usher in a new period of instability, which culminated in a mass uprising beginning in December 2001. This struggle reflected how a crushing economic crisis, which ran from 1998 to 2002, had caught up with sections of the middle classes, along with workers. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets, largely independent of any political organisation. Such was the scale of the rebellion that the presidency passed through four pairs of hands in as many weeks.

Protesters also organised in neighbourhood assemblies, which numbered in the hundreds in the capital, Buenos Aires. Around 5,000 people came together for a city-wide assembly to discuss demands that “included non-payment of the foreign debt, nationalisation of privatised enterprises under the control of workers and the neighbourhood committees, punishment of those responsible for repression…establishment of security committees at both the district and the city level to deal with police attempts at provocation in assemblies and demonstrations”, and a number of others.8

The assemblies were not organs of working-class self-organisation in the manner of workers’ councils. People attended as individuals, rather than as elected delegates subject to recall. The attendees included people from different class backgrounds, reflecting both working-class and affluent neighbourhoods. Crucially, the assemblies were not tied to workplaces and were not an “organic expression of Argentina’s working class, with its long and militant history”.9 In the absence of this, the assemblies could not impose a solution to the crisis from below, and nor could the movement sustain itself. A degree of stability was only be restored when Néstor Kirchner, another Peronist, won office in May 2003.

Kirchner and his successor (and wife), Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who held office from 2007 to 2015, formed part of the “Pink Tide”. This saw a variety of left-wing governments gain power across much of Latin America as part of a rejection of the neoliberal policies that had prevailed through much of the 1990s. In 2005, Argentinian Marxist Claudio Katz argued that Néstor Kirchner managed to veil “clientelism with gestures in defence of human rights, the independence of the judiciary and an attack on corruption”.10 Among other things, he offered some hope of justice to families of the victims of the dictatorship of the 1970s. Cristina Kirchner increased her popularity when she partially nationalised the oil industry, helping to establish a recognition of “Kirchnerism” as a left-nationalist project and an offshoot of Peronism. As was the case for other Pink Tide governments, high commodity prices gave the Argentinian state more room for reforms and poverty reduction measures, at least until the global economic crisis hit Argentina in 2008-9.

The rise of Milei reflects the exhaustion of both centre-left Kirchnerism and its centre-right alternative, which was embodied in the presidency of conservative businessman Mauricio Macri from 2015 to 2019. Under Macri, Argentina amassed unprecedented amounts of debt without being able to address its growing poverty and discontent. These debts included the largest loan in the history of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), amounting to some $44 billion.11 The IMF would come to dominate Argentina’s economy, demanding austerity measures to reduce state expenditure. Macri’s growing unpopularity allowed Peronism to return to power, with Cristina Kirchner now serving as vice president under Alberto Fernandez. However, the pair were unable to overcome the deepening economic malaise.

As Milei’s popularity grew, he started to establish a hard-right alliance with figures such as Victoria Villarruel, who became his presidential running mate. Villarruel founded and worked with organisations dedicated to preventing the judicial reforms sought by victims of the former dictatorship and their relatives. Her father, Eduardo Marcelo Villarruel, was a naval commander during the dictatorship and thus one of those who sent hundreds of young men to die in the war with Britain over the Malvinas (known in English as the Falklands Isles) in 1982.

Nonetheless, for many, Milei seemed to offer an alternative to the crushing poverty and crisis they experienced over the past five years. Since 2018, the poverty rate has soared from 27 to 40 percent, and inflation has reached 200 percent. The local ruling class has wrought havoc on the economy while removing its own wealth from the country; capital flight means that around 75-80 percent of Argentinian GDP is now held abroad. As Katz puts it: “The state takes on debt, it sells bonds on the market, and Argentinian capitalists take out dollars and relocate their money abroad”.12

Milei was able to tap into disillusion with the political establishment, referring to the entire existing political elite as the “caste”, a term that became widespread in the country. Milei’s eccentricities and “outsider” status bolstered his support due to the political failure of the established forces who had ruled since the dictatorship.

What is Milei’s real programme?

Many will have seen images of Milei’s election campaign, including massive dollar bills with his face on them and footage of him wielding a chainsaw outside the central bank. He promised “El Plan Motosierra” (the Chainsaw Plan), which would aim at radically reforming the economy and state. In power, however, the reality of his project is becoming plain. It is not the political “caste” that Milei is going after; in fact, many of its members continue to staff his government. Instead, attacks are being launched on the working class. An intense programme of neoliberal shock therapy is planned. Days after taking power, Milei and his minister of the economy, Luis Caputo, who served as finance minister in Macri’s government, oversaw a dramatic devaluation of the Argentinian Peso by 50 percent in just one day.13 They also cut subsidies, in a move that will see electricity and gas prices rise four-fold.

Two weeks into the presidency, Milei and his government announced the “Decree of Necessity and Urgency”. Its 366 articles abolish many laws and introduce new ones, with congressional approval required only retrospectively, rather than in advance of the changes. One of these removes the exclusive right of Banco de la Nación Argentina (National Bank of Argentina), the largest national bank, to receive deposits from national and federal courts and deposits in dollars. Another step is the almost complete deregulation of tenancy laws, removing protections for renters. There is also draconian anti-trade union legislation, including the extension of trial periods for new hires, limitations on the right to strike action in certain sectors and changes making it easier for bosses to fire workers. This labour reform was rejected by the National Chamber of Labour, a first (albeit small and temporary) defeat for Milei.

The most recent assault by Milei and his government came in the form of another massive package of laws, entitled “Laws of Bases and Starting Points for the Liberty of the Argentinians”. Legislative packages such as this are common in Argentinian politics and are colloquially known as “omnibus laws”. An initial 664 articles, later reduced by half, covered changes to the electoral system, pensions, administrative organisation, the justice system, environmental regulation, tourism, sport, public health, infrastructure and services, as well as the further criminalisation of protest. Milei wants to declare a public emergency that would allow him to pass these radical measures. Moreover, his government plans to privatise around 27 state-owned companies, including the state airline, the railways, the postal service and the national water supplier.14

Argentinian capitalists and their counterparts around the world are “infatuated” and entranced by Milei.15 The IMF praises his austerity and deregulation policies as “pragmatic”.16 Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, calls Milei’s measures “absolutely vital” and has talked up investment plans in the mineral extraction industry.17 It appears that international capital will seek to gain from a more “stable” Argentinian economy with fewer restrictions on exports and foreign investment, while the state crushes the poor to pay off its monumental loans. Despite the disruptive nature of Milei’s policies, they do seem capable of securing these objectives.

To be able to enforce all these measures, Milei and his minister of security, Patricia Bullrich, are introducing a great deal of authoritarian and repressive legislation. On 14 December 2023, Bullrich announced a “Protocol of Public Order”, which included reviving a law from the dictatorship of the late 1960s that prohibited the cutting off of roads and other transport routes, giving full authority to the armed forces to clear anyone blocking a road.18 New laws also threaten to fine any recognised “organiser” of a demonstration that causes damages. A demonstration is defined here as a gathering of three or more people.19

State racism and attacks on abortion rights have also intensified. Bullrich recently went on a xenophobic tirade, blaming the poorest of immigrants for “usurping lands” and arguing that they should be deported.20 Meanwhile, days before meeting the pope in February 2024, a group from Milei’s La Libertad Avanza (“Freedom Advances”) party drew up plans to abolish newly won abortion rights.

Prospects for resistance

The early months of Milei’s presidency have produced the highest level of struggle Argentina has seen for many years. Visiting the country in December, just as the new laws were being introduced, it was reassuring to witness thousands of people on the streets despite the threats.

On 20 December 2023, ten days after Milei’s presidential inauguration, the first demonstration against the proposed economic measures and anti-protest laws took place. Thousands of people took the streets, despite mobilising in the face of police intimidation. That evening, spontaneous demonstrations erupted in neighbourhoods across Buenos Aires and other cities, with participants banging pots and pans, a form of protest known as a “cacerolazos” (literally, “casserole”). These continued every night until Christmas.

Pressure also mounted on the CGT and Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina (Argentinian Workers’ Central Union) trade union federations as workers began mobilising against the government. General strikes (at least in name) are common in Argentina. Since the return to democracy, there have been 42, including five during the Macri government. Often, they function both as an expression of mass discontent and a tool to preserve the control of the trade union bureaucracy. So, on 24 January 2024, a general strike was called, with union leaderships reporting that 1.5 million workers walked out across the country. This is nowhere near a truly “general” strike, but it does show that the power and willingness of workers to mobilise at the point of production remains. At the same time, there are limits to the militancy of the union leaders. For example, transport workers were told to stay at work until 7pm so that those not in a union and in precarious employment would not be victimised.21 Should those workers not also be involved in the fightback? Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the union leadership does not show much sign of initiating another mass confrontation.

Resistance to Milei’s Chainsaw Plan came not just on the streets, but also through the defeat of his omnibus law in the Chamber of Deputies. Although Milei won the second round of the presidential elections with 56 percent of the vote, his party holds just 38 out of 257 congressional seats, seven of the 72 seats in the Senate, and not a single regional governorship.22 Furthermore, the alliance he has made with the right-wing Propuesta Republicana (Republican Proposal) is not enough to secure a majority, especially with the large Peronist voting bloc, the Union por la Patria (Union for the Homeland), making up the biggest force in both chambers of National Congress.23

Christian Castillo, a Trotskyist congressional deputy, argues that a major reason for the failure of the omnibus law is the mass resistance from below.24 This defeat has exposed Milei’s weakness. However, the official opposition in the National Congress and the trade union movement has great limitations.

After the 2001 uprising and the ascendancy of Kirchnerism, no major party on the left was able to contest Peronism. This opened the door for a number of Trotskyist groups to coalesce into the electoral coalition known as the Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores—Unidad (FIT-U; Workers Left Front—Unity). This is made up of the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas (Socialist Workers’ Party), the Partido Obrero (the Workers’ Party), the Izquierda Socialista (Socialist Left), the Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores (Workers’ Socialist Movement) and the Partido Socialista de los Trabajadores Unificado (United Socialist Workers’ Party). The coalition entered electoral politics in 2011. Its vote share has since risen from 2.5 percent (with three congressional seats) to 3.3 percent in the 2023 election (equalling 850,000 votes and five congressional seats).

Although space does not permit a full analysis of the politics of FIT-U, it can be considered a positive attempt to address the fractured nature of the Argentinian revolutionary left, which hindered the development of a unified revolutionary current within the 2001 uprising. It relies on an active base of students and workers, with an orientation on the streets and workplaces as arenas of change. Congressional deputies take part in demonstrations, even if they are attacked by the police, as happened recently in the case of Alejandro Vilca, who was teargassed on a protest.25 There seems to be no pretence of seeking to form part of a pro-capitalist government, thus distinguishing FIT-U from the left-reformist projects with which most European readers will be more familiar. Presidential candidate Myriam Bregman stated in an interview that the aim is not to “manage the capitalist state, but rather to produce a…transformation” through “the construction of a socialist society from below”.26

In a country where reformism is deeply entrenched in the working-class movement and trade unions, a revolutionary force with a voice in the National Congress and at the centre of struggles is significant. This is not to say that Peronism and reformism more generally will simply slip away. Nationalist sentiment also remains strong, emanating from the trade union bureaucracies and illustrated by the prevalence of Argentinian flags on demonstrations and popular chants such as “The Homeland Isn’t Sold—It’s to Be Defended!”. Revolutionary perspectives will need to be both elaborated and applied creatively to liberate the masses from the grip of Peronism amidst the relentless assault of Milei’s hard-right agenda.

Liam Winning is a member of the SWP and a student at the University of Edinburgh.


1 See Callinicos, 2021.

2 Dominguez, 2023.

3 Madrid Forum, 2020.

4 Castilla, 2023.

5 Dominguez, 2023.

6 Harman, 2002.

7 La Izquierda Diario, 2020.

8 Harman, 2002.

9 Harman, 2002.

10 Katz, 2015.

11 Rosario, 2023.

12 Katz, 2019.

13 Nugent and Stott, 2023.

14 Smink, 2023.

15 Chassany, 2024.

16 Nugent and Jones, 2024.

17 Lewis and Jourdan, 2024.

18 Pérez, 2023.

19 Satur, 2023.

20 La Izquierda Diario, 2024.

21 La Izquierda Diario, 2024a.

22 Castillo, 2024.

23 Nugent, 2024.

24 Castillo, 2024.

25 La Izquierda Diario, 2024b.

26 Bregman, 2023.


Bregman, Myriam, 2023, “Entrevista a Myriam Bregman para Cuba”, Izquierda Diario (18 October).

Callinicos, Alex, 2021, “Neoliberal Capitalism Implodes”, International Socialism 170 (spring), https://isj.org.uk/implodes-catastrophe

Castilla, Eduardo, 2023, “El Cordobazo: un levantamiento revolucionario de masas que cambio la historia nacional”, Izquierda Diario (29 May).

Castillo, Christian, 2024 “Lo que dejó la derrota de la Ley Ómnibus y lo que se viene”, Izquierda Diario (13 February).

Chassany, Anne-Sylvaine, 2024, “The Global Business Elite is Infatuated with Javier Milei”, Financial Times (26 January).

Dominguez, Nahuel, 2023, “A proposito de las derechas argentinas en el siglo XX”, Izquierda Diario (30 July).

Madrid Forum, 2020, “Carta de Madrid: In Defense of Freedom and Democracy in the Iberosphere” (26 October), https://ecrgroup.eu/files/CartaDeMadrid-EN.pdf

Harman, Chris, 2002, “Argentina: Rebellion at the Sharp End of the World Crisis”, International Socialism 94 (spring), https://tinyurl.com/4jc975sk

Katz, Claudio, 2015 “Electoral Amnesia in Argentina”, International Viewpoint (10 June), https://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4072

La Izquierda Diario, 2024a, “Repudiable. Bullrich lanza una campaña xenófoba contra los inmigrantes pobres” (16 January), https://tinyurl.com/mr43ttdk

La Izquierda Diario, 2024b, “Congreso Nacional. Reprimen al diputado nacional Alejandro Vilca” (31 January), https://tinyurl.com/2e6b5d6k

La Izquierda Diario, 2020, “Historia. La represión estatal antes del golpe: ¿qué fue la Triple A?” (23 March), www.laizquierdadiario.com/Video-La-represion-estatal-antes-del-golpe-que-fue-la-Triple-A

Lewis, Simon, and Adam Jourdan, 2024, “Blinken, in Argentina, Hails Milei’s Efforts on Economy, Touts Mining Opportunities”, Reuters (23 February).

Nugent, Ciara, 2024, “Milei’s ‘All-or-nothing’ Stance Faces Crunch Time in Argentina’s Congress”, Financial Times (17 January).

Nugent, Ciara, and Claire Jones, 2024, “IMF Chief Confident in ‘Pragmatic’ Milei Despite Setbacks”, Financial Times (1 February).

Nugent, Ciara, and Michael Stott, 2023, “Argentina’s New Government Halves Peso’s Value and Cuts Spending to Jolt Economy”, Financial Times (13 December).

Pérez, Larisa, 2023, “Para intentar garantizar el ajuste de Milei: Bullrich anunció represión a la protesta social”, Izquierda Diario (14 December).

Rosario, Jorgelina, 2023, “IMF has a Tough Call on Argentina: Force Major Reforms or Pull the Plug”, Reuters (15 September).

Satur, Daniel, 2023, “Tributo a Onganía: la ley ómnibus de Milei busca mucha bala y cero libertad para protestar”, Izquierda Diario (28 December).

Smink, Veronica, 2023, “What is Milei’s Controversial ‘Omnibus Law’ that is being Voted on in the Argentine Congress and that has Unleashed Violent Protests”, BBC News (27 December), www.bbc.com/mundo/articles/c51zlz63lp3o