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While most opposition parties were left to rethink their campaigns after failing to challenge President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner in the primary elections on 14th August, Hermes Binner, the candidate for the Socialist alliance Frente Amplio Progresista, had good reason to celebrate.
Binner, who co-founded the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP) in 1972, became Argentina’s first socialist governor when he won the 2007 election in Sante Fe. Earlier this year, Antonio Bonfatti, another PSP co-founder and current Minister of Government and Reform of the province, was elected governor, meaning socialism will rule the region for another four years.
The important agricultural province has been a stronghold for Socialism in Argentina for years. In Rosario, one of the major cities in the country, and, according to some, the most important soy port in the entire world, has been governed by the PSP for 22 years, and its candidate for this year’s mayoral election, Mónica Fein won with more than 50% of the votes, triumphing in every single district of the city.
But what does “socialism” mean, exactly, for the PSP? Does it have any resemblance with Leon Trotsky or Vladimir Lenin? Are there any similarities with Hugo Chávez’ so called “United Socialist Party of Venezuela”? Are the principles and ideology from the Socialist Party that Juan B. Justo founded in 1896 shared by the modern Popular Socialist Party? To answer these questions, The Argentina Independent interviewed Juan Carlos Zabalza, biochemist, senator in Santa Fe since 2007, and co-founder of the PSP in 1972, alongside Hermes Binner, Antonio Bonfatti and Guillermo Estévez Boero.
Is the P.S.P founded in 1972 the same party that the one that was founded by Juan B. Justo in 1896?
No. They are two different ages, though there is some continuity in ideals and a loyalty to the basic principles of socialism: democracy, equality, solidarity.
What are the principles of the P.S.P? How do they differ from other parties?
The principles are exactly those: democracy, equality and solidarity. The main difference with other parties in Argentina is the fact that socialism is a political identification with principles and values that are universal. That’s not the way with the Partido Justicialista or Unión Cívica Radical, which are parties that are specific to Argentina’s reality.
Is the P.S.P. like the socialist governments of countries like Brasil, Chile, Uruguay, Spain or Sweden?
I believe we have more resemblance with Latin American countries—not necessarily with socialists governments, but ones with parties that have adhered to leftist democratic, socialist or progressive ideas. One thing is the P.T. in Brazil, another is Chile’s Concertación, [the alliance] in which the Socialist Party participates, and yet another is Uruguay, where the Socialist Party is a participant in the Frente Amplio.
Spain is a different example, where the P.S.O.E. party governed effectively during a historical period that corresponded with the great Spanish ‘awakening’ after the Franco dictatorship. Sweden’s Social democrat Party operates within a pretty different social reality to that of Latin American countries.
The Popular Socialist Party was born in 1972 as a synthesis of different socialist groups who used their own experiences to contribute to its formation. After that the party began a period of ‘unequal’ development but managed to grow and become a real force, first in Rosario, a very important city in Argentina and now, integrated in a political coalition ‘The Social and Civic Progressive Front’, by governing the Santa Fe Province. As a socialist I view this construction, led by activism from the ground up, positively.
Editor’s note: the PSP effectively ceased to be in 2002, when it became the Argentine Socialist Party, after uniting almost all the existing socialist groups.
Where did the idea of forming a new party during the Alejandro A Lanusse dictatorship come from?
There was a group of generally young people—especially in Santa Fe province—who were creating an activist and transformational movement in university, and who had managed to get a high participation of students in mass demonstrations, which they later continued after entering the labour force.
It needed to be a party that embraced socialist principles, demanded positive legislative traditions and the austere and democratic behaviour of its members. But it also had to be one that strongly upheld the idea that defending the State constitutes an indispensable value from the viewpoint of socialism.
Being such a young party at the time, what problems did you face during the last military dictatorship?
When there are no democratic freedoms and political parties are unable to function legally, it becomes enormously difficult. If you also add political persecution, exile, prison, and terror exercised by the state, you get a panorama that is really difficult to overcome. Despite that, our incipient organisation managed to get through that difficult era and begin the democratic process in 1983 with a lot of strength, despite winning very few votes.
I would dare to say that it is the city that has changed the most in the country. It changed the awareness of many citizens, who value issues such as publich healthcare, which is a value and right, above the clientilism of traditional parties,
Rosario demonstrated that you can advance an alternative health policy that serves the majority. There was also a deep cultural change: society understood what it meant to decentralise, and after a ten-year process we managed to align the municipal districts: North, Centre, South, West, Southeast and Northwest. Residents therefore have their municipal centre, which is also a cultural centre and where they actively participate, nearby. And this is an irreversible process. From decentralisation comes greater participation and more public involvement in government matters. The government ceases to be a distant body that belongs only to those who govern, and becomes something close, in which people participate and construct a strategic plan.
The other notable characteristic of the city is the recovery of public space, which is guaranteed by the local government and now enjoyed by thousands of Rosario residents.
How do you attempt to form long-term plans [in Rosario], which are implemented under the different governors that come to office, when on a national level it seems that there are never long-term policies and different presidents- even from the same party – end up undoing the work of their predecessors.
The answer is in the question. Having a plan in which the different sectors of civil society have participated, and where there are public servants who believe in this participation and therefore respect the decisions made, and who also act transparently, creates the confidence necessary that in time acts as support for these initiatives.
Is this why within the PJ there are different movements which take the name of their leader (Menemismo, Kirchnerismo etc)? This phenomenon doesn’t exist in the PSP…
The PJ, in my opinion, isn’t a party. It is more like a movement that fundamentally unites a collection of men and women who in decision-making are eager for power. To obtain it, you could be rightist, centrist or pseudo-leftist. These different doctrines can fit in a party like the PJ but not the PSP.
I aspire to less than that. I aspire to have a national government that allows provinces an effective participation, that respects the federalism sanctioned in the national constitution, and that calls on the provinces to co-ordinate public policy. Because what this is really about – and you alluded to it in a previous questions. It is about having a country with a project, constructed by everyone, and respecting and communicating with everyone. The national government has to understand this, but it is even more fundamental that citizens understand it to be able to vote for a direction that will allow us to advance more quickly in the objective of creating a country with more equality, solidarity, and justice.
Why does the party have such a stronghold in Santa Fe Province and not in others?
This is just the reality of our development, because in Santa Fe conditions are ripe to form a group of strong activism.
How do you view the first ever PSP candidate for the presidency?
In different historical eras of the country there have been important socialist candidates. In the last 40 years and after the construction of a united Socialist Party in Argentina, socialism advanced progressively at the national level. The differences today, with the Frente [Amplio Progresista], socialism has become an important national reality.
FAP is going to have a positive result in the 23rd October elections, and our candidate Hermes Binner will be projected on the national stage with great strength, sustained by his capacity to govern, to promote the application of public policies that transform, in a positive manner, the reality for citizens, and to know the undissolvable bond between ethics and politics.