Reports from Argentina
Election Round-Up Pt. 1.5: Marxists on Peronism
Posted: Jan. 31 2003, 16:48After talking to Carlos and other PTS militants I decided that I need to add a bit of Marxist analysis to my report on the history of Peronism.
Capitalist society has two basic classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat, i.e. those that own everything and those that own nothing. *
However, in colonial and semi-colonial countries like Argentina the social structure is a bit more complicated. The bourgeoisie is divided into the national bourgeoisie (the ruling class of the country) and the imperialist bourgeoisie (the ruling classes of the imperialst countries). Both groups basically want the same thing – money – but there are often conflicts about how this should be done. Should profits from the exploitation of Argentinian workers go to Argentinian capitalists or to American and European capitalists? In reality these profits are split, but the two groups are in a constant tug-of-war to get the upper hand.
(Today in the era of neo-liberal globalization, the national bourgeoisie of virtually all colonial countries has made itself completely subservient to international capital, it has accepted the position of complying with imperialism's wishes in exchange for a healthy reward. However, in the era of Peronism, the 40's and 50's, the conflicts between national bourgeoisie and imperialist bourgeoisie were much more pronounced.)
Peron's policies favored the Argentinian bourgeoisie at the expense of the imperialist bourgeoisie. For example, he expropriated the country's railroads from British capitalists and put them under control of Argentinian capitalists.
How was he able to successfully fight against the terrible might of imperialism? By mobilizing the working class of Argentina. Peron used a small percentage of the profits of the national bourgeoisie to offer minor concessions to the workers like hospitals, schools, social security, etc. In exchange for this the workers supported the national bourgeoisie in its struggle against imperialism.
After a few years of Peronism the Argentinian bourgeoisie came to learn an important lesson: The workers' movement, as Trotsky liked to say, cannot be turned on and off like a tap. Once they had mobilized the proletariat "in the interests of the fatherland" and with other populist rhetoric, they could not simply calm them again with a command.
The Argentinian capitalists needed to set the the working class in motion to gain an advantage over imperialism; but now that they had that advantage they wanted the workers to return to their jobs.
But the workers now began to make their own demands. They used demonstrations and strikes to demand better living conditions and more social services. The bourgeoisie had been happy to grant small concessions when it served their interests, but now they no longer needed the support of the workers and thus they had no reason to grant more concessions.
The Argentinian bourgeoisie thus decided it was safer to make an alliance with imperialism than with the workers' movement. Sure, imperialism would take a part of their profits, but the workers' movement, if it continued to gain momentum, would eventually expropriate them completely.
So Peron lost his the support of the national bourgeoisie and was removed by a coup. But he maintained the support of the working class – the workers saw Peron as someone who genuinely wanted reform, but had been prevented from this by circumstances beyong his control. This is why workers continued to support him throughout the 60's and 70's.
The big question for Europeans trying to understand Peronism is: what is the difference between Peronism and Social Democracy? Social Democracy surged from the workers' movement and thus has deep roots in the working class. Peronism was born from a section of the bourgeoisie that coopted the workers' movement for their own interests. Therefore, no matter how much the Peronists talk about the interests of the workers, it will always be a thoroughly bourgeois movement. European Social Democracy on the other hand, even though it serves the interests of capitalism, is still a movement based exclusively on the working class.
p.s. for hardcore Marxists, Peronism is Bonapartism sui generis a lo latinoamericano i.e. Bonapartism of a different type, Latin-style. I'm not really smart enough to explain this, unfortunately. Please ask the nearest Trotskyist militant for an explanation.
– Dzhon Rid
* According to Fredrick Engels: "By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labor. By proletariat, the class of modern wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live." [1888 English edition of the Communist Manifesto]