Reports from Argentina
Election Round-Up Pt. I: History of Peronism
Posted: Jan. 27 2003, 20:43There will be presidential elections in Argentina on April 27. Well, maybe. Nobody really knows.
The current President, Duhalde, has the power to decidde when elections will take place. So there might be elections in April, but then again Duhalde might stay around until October.
Nonetheless, everybody is getting ready for elections.
Argentina, like almost all other countries, has two big "traditional" parties: the Peronists and the Radicals. However, these two parties don't represent a traditional left/right dichotomy. It's hard to say which of the big parties in Argentina is on the left. On the one hand, there are a lot of Peronists who are against neoliberalism and want a return to Keynesian economics or a "national economy." On the other hand, the Radicals are in the Socialist International along with the British Labour Party and the German SPD.
All this confusion began when a military coup ousted the Argentinian government in 1943. Coronel Juan Peron was made Labor Minister in the new military government, and in 1946 he became President of Argentina.
Peron was a classic populist. He rallied the proletariat but supported the bourgeoisie, so his policies had to satisfy both groups.
For the workers of Argentina he built schools and hospitals, created social services, and helped establish the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), which organized millions of workers in order to keep them under control and loyal to the regime. Peron's first years were accompanied by an economic prosperity which reached the working class.
For Argentina's capitalist class Peron nationalized foreign monopolies like the railroads and encouraged domestic industrialization – he even implemented a five-year plan! These policies of protectionism and subsidies meant domestic capitalists had a big advantage over foreign investors, and as a result Argentinian industry grew tremendously.
This style of populism worked for a time, but in the end the contradictions were too big. As was said in the Russian Revolution, "The working class and the capitalist class have no common interests." Any politician trying to represent the interests of both classes in the name of "national unity" is doomed to fail – just look at Salvador Allende or Hugo Chavez.
Workers were upset that the prosperity of previous years was being erroded by inflation, and strikes burst out all over the country. Imperialists were upset that they were prevented from investing in Argentina, and they decided to intervene. A pro-imperialist coup removed Peron in 1955.
The subsequent regimes, both military and civilian, were very unpopular. The economic situation of the working class got worse as the country was sold back to the imperialists. Large sections of the working class saw Peron as "their" man, having fond memories of the populist measures of Peron's early years, so the Peronists, despite being banned in most elections, maintained considerable support.
The entire post-Peron era was marked with conflicts: the workers engaged in strikes and protests, and in the early 1970s Peronist guerrilla groups (the "Monteneros") were operating all over the country.
In 1973, Peron returned from exile in Spain to assume the presidency of Argentina, but this time things weren't so easy. Peronism had always been a house of cards, but now that house of cards was trying to withstand an earthquake. The party contained multiple completely irreconcilable groups: sindicalists fighting for union rights, the nationalist bourgeoisue who wanted a break with imperialism, and guerilla fighters demanding radical social change. No policy could have satisfied all these groups, and Peron couldn't satisfy any of them, because the economy was in bad shape and the imperialists had a tight grip on the country.
And if that weren't enough, right-wing paramilitary or parapolice groups were set up and began to kidnap, torture, and execute Peron's leftist supporters. Many of these paramilitaries were actually right-wing Peronists, and Peron defended them.
Fortunately for Peron, he was released from this incredible pressure when he died in 1974. His wife assumed the Presidency, but she was even less capable of bringing stability to the social chaos dominating the country. Right-wing groups were killing people at will all across the country while working class upheavals in several regions were rapidly turning into social revolution. It was inevitable that this situation would be ended by a new military coup which disposed Sra. Peron in 1976.
I'm going to skip the rest of the story: military
dictatorship, Falkland Islands War, democracy, bla bla bla.
Here's a cheap-o history of Argentina that is hopefully more
accurate and complete than mine:
So that is basically how we ended up with modern Peronism. It is all things to all people:
- Rallying the poor and the working class with promises of new
social services? Sure!
- Cutting the workers' standard of living to increase profits for the bourgeoisie? That too!
- Breaking with imperialism to create a more nationalist economy? Of course!
- Being loyal to the IMF and filling all of imperialism's wishes? Obviously!
Now more than ever Peronism is totally incoherent. There are various factions with very distinct philosophies, and there is nothing whatsoever to hold them together except the name Peron gave to his party, el Partido Justicialista.
Peronism is the most important political force in Argentina today. Now that we have such a thorough history of this party and all its internal divisions, it will make sense when we hear that the Peronists will present three separate candidates in the upcoming elections.
So stay tuned for part two, three, and maybe even four of this exciting election round-up!
– Dzhon Rid
p.s. any corrections, and I'm sure there are plenty, should be posted below as comments.