The far right wing (also) comes to power in Argentina
The far right wing (also) comes to power in Argentina
Why was Peronism defeated in Argentina’s November elections? Who supports the new far-right president, Javier Milei? Do his views differ from other far-right leaders and will Milei be able to implement his radical market-oriented program? Historian Martin Baña discusses a new page in Argentina’s political life

Since 19 November 2023, Argentina has a new president: far right-wing Javier Milei. Despite the fact that polls predicted an even competition, the leader of the party La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) defeated the candidate for the governing Peronist coalition, Sergio Massa, in the second round by more than ten points (55.69% to 44.3%), after an electoral process that included primary elections in August and general elections in October. In the latter, the victory had gone to Massa, who had obtained 36.68%, followed by 29.98% for Milei, and 23.83% for Patricia Bullrich, the candidate for the conservative coalition Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change).

The major winner

An economist by profession, Javier Milei became known less than a decade ago as a panelist in several TV shows and in other media, and even as the protagonist in a low-budget play. From there, he proclaimed a discourse that was based on three main pillars: a call to reduce the size of the State, a criticism of the “Keynesianism” of Argentine governments, and a crusade against what he himself christened “the caste”, that is, Argentine politicians considered as a whole as “parasites on society.” In those interventions, Milei liked to present himself as an “anarcho-capitalist,” and he used to justify his discourse in the postulates of the Austrian School of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. His personal aesthetics,  including a strange hairstyle and black leather jacket, combined with bombastic gestures, a challenging attitude, shouts and insults, helped to build the idea of a rebellious outsider who came to confront the political status quo. In a little less than ten years, Milei managed to go from being a minuscule celebrity to president of the nation.

The reasons for Milei’s victory are not only linked to his status as a fresh outsider who comes to overturn the board. On the one hand, Argentina has been experiencing more than a decade of economic stagnation, with an inflation close to 140% per year and poverty reaching 40%, which neither Juntos por el Cambio during the presidency of Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) nor Peronism under Alberto Fernández (2019-2023) were able to reverse. On the contrary, they made it worse. On the other hand, Milei faced a candidate like Massa, who was also Fernández’s Minister of Economy. In that sense, many saw Massa not only as one of the greatest representatives of that “parasitic caste” who also carried the main responsibility for their poor material situation. Undoubtedly, a fundamental reason for Milei’s triumph turned out to be the agreement reached with a section of Juntos por el Cambio, whose candidate, Patricia Bullrich, had been left out of the ballotage. A few days after the results of the October general elections were known, the leader of the conservative coalition, Mauricio Macri, agreed to support Milei in the November elections. Then, Milei’s discourse was lightened and mutated to the dichotomist “populism (meaning “Peronism”) or republic,” a slogan defended by Bullrich, which helped him to get an important number of anti-Peronist votes. Finally, we should not disregard the strong support received, on one hand, from sections of the population who felt that they were poor compared to rich politicians and, on the other, by young people who felt that they needed a space of relative autonomy to develop their enterprises without the State overwhelming them with taxes and regulations. These last two things, the fight against “rich politicians” and the denunciation of the “omnipresent State” were central to Milei’s discourse.

The big losers

As long as there was one major winner, the election results brought a big defeat for two political forces. The first one is Peronism, the political movement which since 1945 managed to capture the working-class vote and to have an enormous influence in the political life of the country, specially as the “party of order.” Despite the fact that all its factions were unified for this election, it had one of the worst performances in its history, losing not only part of its historical electorate but also governorships of provinces it had held since the return of democracy in 1983. It is a fact that the majority in the Senate will be lost as well. Without a clear leadership, Peronism has the difficult task of recovering from a hard blow for which, however, it collaborated.

The second force defeated during the elections was the Left. As historian Horacio Tarcus pointed out, the triumph of a figure like Milei meant “a political, social and cultural defeat of the Left, of its values, of its traditions, of the rights conquered, of its credibility.” Since 2011, various left-wing parties, although not all of them, have been grouped in the Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores (Workers’ Left Front). From there they managed to place a couple of deputies in Congress but they remain far from becoming a real alternative power or reaching broad layers of the working population. In the general elections of August, the candidate Myriam Bregman obtained only 2.7% of the votes. The inability to see the real threat posed by Milei, the constant divisions among its components, and the repetition of slogans that are rooted in the 20th century, among others, were important factors for the Left to be relegated to a very marginal place in the Argentine political scenario. Despite the enormous work involved, the left movement must present fresh ideas and more original tactics.

A link in the (global) chain

It should be clear that Milei’s triumph is not just an isolated local phenomenon but a link in the great chain of the new global far right-wing movement. Several of them managed to come to power, such as Donald Trump in the United States in 2017 or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil in 2019. Others who were already in power, such as Vladimir Putin in Russia since 2000, gradually mutated their government into a dictatorial one. Some authors, such as Pablo Stefanoni, analyzed this phenomenon as a sort of alternative right that “disputes the left’s capacity to be indignant in the face of reality and to propose ways to transform it.”1 Others, like Enzo Traverso, consider that it is better to describe it directly as a “post-fascist phenomenon”.2 In any case, and beyond the characterizations, commentators agree in pointing out the emergence of a radicalized right wing with a strong presence in societies and governments in both central and peripheral countries.

Undoubtedly, Javier Milei is part of that phenomenon. As Pablo Stefanoni explains, “at the international level, Milei was linked to the Spanish far right-wing party Vox, to Jair Bolsonaro (especially to his son Eduardo) and to figures such as José Antonio Kast in Chile. Besides, he supports Donald Trump, even in his allegations of fraudю” In fact, Milei has several views which coincide with Donald Trump, such as the denial of climate change or his anti-politics discourse. As soon as Milei’s victory was confirmed, Trump phoned Milei and confirmed his visit to Argentina. At the same time, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian right-wing Prime Minister, confirmed his visit to Argentina, as well. Milei is also close to conservative values, such as opposing abortion and rejecting feminism, as Vladimir Putin does. Like Bolsonaro, Milei supports the free carrying of firearms and a tough hand with criminals, and feels aversion to what he calls “cultural Marxism.” In fact, his antipathy went so far as to say that he would not meet with Lula, President of Brazil and Argentina’s main trading partner, because “he is a communist.” His vice-president Victoria Villarruel is a lawyer close to members of the last military dictatorship in Argentina, with close links to conservative Catholicism, and an admirer of Giorgia Meloni. In sum, Milei’s project goes hand with hand with the new far right gospel.

Despite the similarities with these new right-wingers, such as Trump, Putin or even Bolsonaro, Milei does have important differences. Unlike those leaders, he is not a nationalist. During the presidential debate he trivialized an important cause within Argentine nationalism such as the Malvinas war by comparing it to a soccer match. In international politics he prefers to place himself under the sphere of influence of the United States, a historical enemy within the Argentine popular consciousness. But it is also necessary to differentiate Milei’s next government from a characterization as “neo-fascist,” insofar as his discourse is an enemy of the State and favors an almost total presence of the market in social life. Milei defines himself as a liberal. It is important to emphasize this, because in that sense Milei would be closer to liberalism, in its most authoritarian aspect, than to a fascist characterization, which by definition was anti-liberal. In any case, as Ezequiel Adamovsky argues, “in a certain sense he shares with fascism the same totalizing vision, only displaced to the fantasy that capital — and not the State — is the one who totalizes social life”.3

The latter is linked to the structural reasons that fostered a triumph like Milei’s in Argentina, which are also those that allowed the flourishing of radical right-wingers around the world. Milei likes to say that Murray Rothbard, the American economist who wanted to improve the libertarian movement in an alliance with right forces, is one of his major referents. That is why he is also described as a “paleolibertarian.” As Stefanoni points out: “in a country without the traditions of right-wing autonomy that exist in the United States — where various anti-Washington groups, often armed, swarm — Milei combined the Austrian School in its most radical version (the anarcho-capitalist) with elements of the global alternative right, generally in an undigested form,” which was quickly accepted by a large part of the population. Why? Adamovsky gives us clues to the answer. On the one hand, the irruption of the implosive phase of capitalism that makes resources scarce and the pressure of capital inward, which generates greater tensions and discontent. In that sense, “the anguish over social order summons the fantasy that some powerful individual will come to set things right”.4 On the other hand, the rapid growth of China, which is leading the rest of the countries to emulate the organizational and political control capacities that give China a comparative advantage, is pushing towards authoritarian exits. That authoritarian exit could be Trump, Putin, or even Milei.

Milei has no experience in political management. He has never been in an executive position and the only practice in politics he has are the two years in the Congress seat he obtained in the 2021 elections. Neither does he have his own majority in Congress nor governors or mayors of his own party. In this sense, it is not known how far he will be able to advance with the measures he announced during his campaign, and which he reaffirmed once the results were known, which include the privatization of several public companies, the tariffing of health and education, the reduction of the State structure (from 18 to 8 ministries, eliminating Health and Culture, among others) and other more drastic measures such as the dollarization of the economy or the closing of the Central Bank. In this sense, it will not be easy for him to move forward in the implementation of other measures announced by his party, which range from the tenebrous to the eccentric, such as the organ market, the free carrying of weapons, the renunciation of paternity, the annulment of the abortion law or the privatization of the streets. Undoubtedly, the support of Mauricio Macri and the Juntos por el Cambio faction that followed him will be of vital importance, but it is not yet clear how far this extreme reform plan could be effectively implemented without doses of repression and authoritarian practices. What is clear is the fact that a triumph like Milei’s will not only inaugurate a period of changes against the great majority in Argentina, but will also help consolidate the neoconservative restoration project that has been observed for some years around the world.

  1. Pablo Stefanoni, ¿La rebeldía se volvió de derecha? Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI, 2019, p. 15. ↩︎
  2. Enzo Traverso, Las nuevas caras de la derecha. Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI, 2018, p. 19. ↩︎
  3. Ezequiel Adamovsky, Del antiperonismo al individualismo autoritario. San Martín, UNSAM Edita, 2023, p. 95. ↩︎
  4. Adamovsky, op cit, p. 113. ↩︎

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The far right wing (also) comes to power in Argentina
The far right wing (also) comes to power in Argentina
Why was Peronism defeated in Argentina’s November elections? Who supports the new far-right president, Javier Milei? Do his views differ from other far-right leaders and will Milei be able to implement his radical market-oriented program? Historian Martin Baña discusses a new page in Argentina’s political life

Since 19 November 2023, Argentina has a new president: far right-wing Javier Milei. Despite the fact that polls predicted an even competition, the leader of the party La Libertad Avanza (Freedom Advances) defeated the candidate for the governing Peronist coalition, Sergio Massa, in the second round by more than ten points (55.69% to 44.3%), after an electoral process that included primary elections in August and general elections in October. In the latter, the victory had gone to Massa, who had obtained 36.68%, followed by 29.98% for Milei, and 23.83% for Patricia Bullrich, the candidate for the conservative coalition Juntos por el Cambio (Together for Change).

The major winner

An economist by profession, Javier Milei became known less than a decade ago as a panelist in several TV shows and in other media, and even as the protagonist in a low-budget play. From there, he proclaimed a discourse that was based on three main pillars: a call to reduce the size of the State, a criticism of the “Keynesianism” of Argentine governments, and a crusade against what he himself christened “the caste”, that is, Argentine politicians considered as a whole as “parasites on society.” In those interventions, Milei liked to present himself as an “anarcho-capitalist,” and he used to justify his discourse in the postulates of the Austrian School of Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. His personal aesthetics,  including a strange hairstyle and black leather jacket, combined with bombastic gestures, a challenging attitude, shouts and insults, helped to build the idea of a rebellious outsider who came to confront the political status quo. In a little less than ten years, Milei managed to go from being a minuscule celebrity to president of the nation.

The reasons for Milei’s victory are not only linked to his status as a fresh outsider who comes to overturn the board. On the one hand, Argentina has been experiencing more than a decade of economic stagnation, with an inflation close to 140% per year and poverty reaching 40%, which neither Juntos por el Cambio during the presidency of Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) nor Peronism under Alberto Fernández (2019-2023) were able to reverse. On the contrary, they made it worse. On the other hand, Milei faced a candidate like Massa, who was also Fernández’s Minister of Economy. In that sense, many saw Massa not only as one of the greatest representatives of that “parasitic caste” who also carried the main responsibility for their poor material situation. Undoubtedly, a fundamental reason for Milei’s triumph turned out to be the agreement reached with a section of Juntos por el Cambio, whose candidate, Patricia Bullrich, had been left out of the ballotage. A few days after the results of the October general elections were known, the leader of the conservative coalition, Mauricio Macri, agreed to support Milei in the November elections. Then, Milei’s discourse was lightened and mutated to the dichotomist “populism (meaning “Peronism”) or republic,” a slogan defended by Bullrich, which helped him to get an important number of anti-Peronist votes. Finally, we should not disregard the strong support received, on one hand, from sections of the population who felt that they were poor compared to rich politicians and, on the other, by young people who felt that they needed a space of relative autonomy to develop their enterprises without the State overwhelming them with taxes and regulations. These last two things, the fight against “rich politicians” and the denunciation of the “omnipresent State” were central to Milei’s discourse.

The big losers

As long as there was one major winner, the election results brought a big defeat for two political forces. The first one is Peronism, the political movement which since 1945 managed to capture the working-class vote and to have an enormous influence in the political life of the country, specially as the “party of order.” Despite the fact that all its factions were unified for this election, it had one of the worst performances in its history, losing not only part of its historical electorate but also governorships of provinces it had held since the return of democracy in 1983. It is a fact that the majority in the Senate will be lost as well. Without a clear leadership, Peronism has the difficult task of recovering from a hard blow for which, however, it collaborated.

The second force defeated during the elections was the Left. As historian Horacio Tarcus pointed out, the triumph of a figure like Milei meant “a political, social and cultural defeat of the Left, of its values, of its traditions, of the rights conquered, of its credibility.” Since 2011, various left-wing parties, although not all of them, have been grouped in the Frente de Izquierda y de Trabajadores (Workers’ Left Front). From there they managed to place a couple of deputies in Congress but they remain far from becoming a real alternative power or reaching broad layers of the working population. In the general elections of August, the candidate Myriam Bregman obtained only 2.7% of the votes. The inability to see the real threat posed by Milei, the constant divisions among its components, and the repetition of slogans that are rooted in the 20th century, among others, were important factors for the Left to be relegated to a very marginal place in the Argentine political scenario. Despite the enormous work involved, the left movement must present fresh ideas and more original tactics.

A link in the (global) chain

It should be clear that Milei’s triumph is not just an isolated local phenomenon but a link in the great chain of the new global far right-wing movement. Several of them managed to come to power, such as Donald Trump in the United States in 2017 or Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil in 2019. Others who were already in power, such as Vladimir Putin in Russia since 2000, gradually mutated their government into a dictatorial one. Some authors, such as Pablo Stefanoni, analyzed this phenomenon as a sort of alternative right that “disputes the left’s capacity to be indignant in the face of reality and to propose ways to transform it.”1 Others, like Enzo Traverso, consider that it is better to describe it directly as a “post-fascist phenomenon”.2 In any case, and beyond the characterizations, commentators agree in pointing out the emergence of a radicalized right wing with a strong presence in societies and governments in both central and peripheral countries.

Undoubtedly, Javier Milei is part of that phenomenon. As Pablo Stefanoni explains, “at the international level, Milei was linked to the Spanish far right-wing party Vox, to Jair Bolsonaro (especially to his son Eduardo) and to figures such as José Antonio Kast in Chile. Besides, he supports Donald Trump, even in his allegations of fraudю” In fact, Milei has several views which coincide with Donald Trump, such as the denial of climate change or his anti-politics discourse. As soon as Milei’s victory was confirmed, Trump phoned Milei and confirmed his visit to Argentina. At the same time, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian right-wing Prime Minister, confirmed his visit to Argentina, as well. Milei is also close to conservative values, such as opposing abortion and rejecting feminism, as Vladimir Putin does. Like Bolsonaro, Milei supports the free carrying of firearms and a tough hand with criminals, and feels aversion to what he calls “cultural Marxism.” In fact, his antipathy went so far as to say that he would not meet with Lula, President of Brazil and Argentina’s main trading partner, because “he is a communist.” His vice-president Victoria Villarruel is a lawyer close to members of the last military dictatorship in Argentina, with close links to conservative Catholicism, and an admirer of Giorgia Meloni. In sum, Milei’s project goes hand with hand with the new far right gospel.

Despite the similarities with these new right-wingers, such as Trump, Putin or even Bolsonaro, Milei does have important differences. Unlike those leaders, he is not a nationalist. During the presidential debate he trivialized an important cause within Argentine nationalism such as the Malvinas war by comparing it to a soccer match. In international politics he prefers to place himself under the sphere of influence of the United States, a historical enemy within the Argentine popular consciousness. But it is also necessary to differentiate Milei’s next government from a characterization as “neo-fascist,” insofar as his discourse is an enemy of the State and favors an almost total presence of the market in social life. Milei defines himself as a liberal. It is important to emphasize this, because in that sense Milei would be closer to liberalism, in its most authoritarian aspect, than to a fascist characterization, which by definition was anti-liberal. In any case, as Ezequiel Adamovsky argues, “in a certain sense he shares with fascism the same totalizing vision, only displaced to the fantasy that capital — and not the State — is the one who totalizes social life”.3

The latter is linked to the structural reasons that fostered a triumph like Milei’s in Argentina, which are also those that allowed the flourishing of radical right-wingers around the world. Milei likes to say that Murray Rothbard, the American economist who wanted to improve the libertarian movement in an alliance with right forces, is one of his major referents. That is why he is also described as a “paleolibertarian.” As Stefanoni points out: “in a country without the traditions of right-wing autonomy that exist in the United States — where various anti-Washington groups, often armed, swarm — Milei combined the Austrian School in its most radical version (the anarcho-capitalist) with elements of the global alternative right, generally in an undigested form,” which was quickly accepted by a large part of the population. Why? Adamovsky gives us clues to the answer. On the one hand, the irruption of the implosive phase of capitalism that makes resources scarce and the pressure of capital inward, which generates greater tensions and discontent. In that sense, “the anguish over social order summons the fantasy that some powerful individual will come to set things right”.4 On the other hand, the rapid growth of China, which is leading the rest of the countries to emulate the organizational and political control capacities that give China a comparative advantage, is pushing towards authoritarian exits. That authoritarian exit could be Trump, Putin, or even Milei.

Milei has no experience in political management. He has never been in an executive position and the only practice in politics he has are the two years in the Congress seat he obtained in the 2021 elections. Neither does he have his own majority in Congress nor governors or mayors of his own party. In this sense, it is not known how far he will be able to advance with the measures he announced during his campaign, and which he reaffirmed once the results were known, which include the privatization of several public companies, the tariffing of health and education, the reduction of the State structure (from 18 to 8 ministries, eliminating Health and Culture, among others) and other more drastic measures such as the dollarization of the economy or the closing of the Central Bank. In this sense, it will not be easy for him to move forward in the implementation of other measures announced by his party, which range from the tenebrous to the eccentric, such as the organ market, the free carrying of weapons, the renunciation of paternity, the annulment of the abortion law or the privatization of the streets. Undoubtedly, the support of Mauricio Macri and the Juntos por el Cambio faction that followed him will be of vital importance, but it is not yet clear how far this extreme reform plan could be effectively implemented without doses of repression and authoritarian practices. What is clear is the fact that a triumph like Milei’s will not only inaugurate a period of changes against the great majority in Argentina, but will also help consolidate the neoconservative restoration project that has been observed for some years around the world.

  1. Pablo Stefanoni, ¿La rebeldía se volvió de derecha? Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI, 2019, p. 15. ↩︎
  2. Enzo Traverso, Las nuevas caras de la derecha. Buenos Aires, Siglo XXI, 2018, p. 19. ↩︎
  3. Ezequiel Adamovsky, Del antiperonismo al individualismo autoritario. San Martín, UNSAM Edita, 2023, p. 95. ↩︎
  4. Adamovsky, op cit, p. 113. ↩︎

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