populism

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Thu Feb 2 14:52:58 MST 1995


On Wed, 1 Feb 1995, Jon Beasley-Murray wrote:

> I'd love to hear people's thoughts on populism.  Right now I'm attempting
> to think through Peronism (another conundrum--Peron practically created
> the working class, the unions were consistently behind him, and the
> Peronist coalition certainly included leftists and revolutionaries, but
> at the end of the day one would be hard-pressed to say that Peronism was
> anything but a bad thing; in the middle of the day, however, no one
> seemed sure--as was evident by the vacillations of Cuba towards Peron and
> the incomprehension of the rest of the Latin American left).
>
> Peronism is a counter-example to Doug's stress on populism being
> pro-small business, by the way.
>

The subject of Peronism is one of the most fascinating and challenging
topics for Marxist analysis. What makes it so interesting is that Peron was
in many ways beyond category.

Yes, in one sense he's a populist, but in another sense he could be called a
Bonapartist with fascist tendencies who relied on a proletarian rather than
the petty-bourgeois base of support typical of European fascism. Maybe what
I'm trying to say is that categories cloak rather than reveal the essence of
Juan Peron and the Peronista movement

In the mid 70's, when I was wasting away my youth in the Trotskyist SWP,
I got involved with a political fight in the 4th International over which
Trotskyist group to sponsor in Argentina. The Europeans, led by Ernest
Mandel, supported the PRT/ERP, an eclectic urban guerilla formation that
supported Trotsky, Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung. Tactically, their main
activity was Robin Hood-inspired expropriations of trailer trucks carrying
meat and groceries whose goods they dispensed in working-class
neighborhoods. We Americans supported the SWP of Argentina which ran
in elections and did trade union work. We deluded ourselves into thinking
that this group was latter day Bolsheviks, just like us, while the PRT/ERP
was latter-day Narodniks. All of us were actually Nudniks.

But what was interesting was how pervasive support for Peronism was
among the working-class. Both the Argentinian SWP and the PRT/ERP formed
loose alliances with Peronista unions, political formations and guerilla
groups who dominated the Argentinian left.

The Peronista unions were historically some of the most militant and
successful workers organizations in Argentina, in some respects the
counterpart of the American unions who benefitted from the CIO upsurge
of the 1930's, such as the USW and the UAW.

The Peronista unions, although they were part of the state, were not
curtailed by the state. In some ways they were reminiscent of the PRI
backed unions in Mexico when the PRI was still relatively radical. Peron in
Argentina was in some ways the counterpart of Cardenas in Mexico in the
1930's. The unions of Argentina emerged with Peron's help. Peron was the
representative of a wing of the bourgeoisie that was at war with another
wing of the bourgeoisie that was comprador and pro-imperialist. The
unions served as a power base for Peron's wing of the ruling class. Sound
complicated? You bet.

Peron is also interesting because of his economic nationalism. Peron is one
of the few examples in Latin American history of a government leader who
was able to put up a stiff resistance to Wall Street and British imperialism.
This is one of the reasons he was hated so much by American opinion
makers who branded him as fascist.

There were progressive aspects to Peronism. That is what made Isabel
Peron's election campaign in the 1970's so disorienting to the left in
Argentina. The left tied their fate to her's and when she was defeated, the
ensuing demoralization made it a lot easier for the coup to prevail.

I strongly urge Jon to continue his study of Peronism. Some interesting
primary sources exist within the Trotskyist press of the 1950's through
1970's. It's probably not available at Duke, but its worth following up on at
a place like the Tamiment library at NYU.

Louis Proyect

PS-- What a relief to post a message absent of spleen

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