Argentina After Peron

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Sat Jun 10 11:42:55 MDT 2000


American Socialist, November 1958

The Peron era, authoritarian though it was, left a tradition of social
benefits and an awakening of labor aspirations. The next stage of Argentine
politics turns on the question: Which political group will inherit Peron’s
labor backing?

Argentina After Peron

by Irving L Horowitz

(Irving L. Horowitz has recently returned from Argentina, where he was
Visiting Professor at the Institute of Sociology of The University of
Buenos Aires. He is now a teaching-fellow at Brandeis University.)

"To close the cycle of Argentine fascism, a cycle of twenty five years of
bitterness, political thought began showing sufficient maturity to perceive
that there are always hidden alternatives in politics."
—José Luis Romero, Las ideas politicas en Argentina

AN old Spanish proverb says that "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is
king." In many ways, Argentina, by virtue of its enigmatic politics and
ambiguous economics, is a land of the blind, where even one-eyed prophets
may be considered kings. The notorious partisanship of Argentine politics
often prevents the committed man, particularly if he happens to be a member
of a minority movement, whether of a rightist (Civico Independiente) or
super-leftist (Praxis) type, from looking at the situation with even his
one good eye. Parties ranging in size from 600 to 600,000 claim to be the
sole inheritors of the Marxian mantle. Analogous situations are the case
for the factions vying for leadership of Peronist and Nationalist elements.
The extent of Argentine democracy today can in some measure be gauged by
the number of political parties, no less than the hilarious criticisms made
of all and sundry politicians by the popular weeklies. It is a situation
believers in Mill’s canon of minority conscience might approve, were it not
for the fact that political pronunciamentos are a far cry from political
power.

Now in the first place it is time to stop viewing Peron, much less the
movement he led, in terms which are applicable to Hitler and Nazism. If we
simply note the absence of religious, racial, or political genocide under
Peron, this would by itself be sufficient cause to ponder the meaning of
Argentine fascism as distinct from the European models. A huge gap exists
between imprisonment and even torture, and the outright execution of
political enemies; a gap reflecting the character of Peron’s era more
profoundly than abstract parallels.

The word "authoritarianism" takes on a rightfully suspicious cast if it
disguises beneath a platitude real differences in forms of political rule,
in forms of coercion. I suspect that this verbal camouflage is in no small
measure responsible for the American’s easy identification of Peronism with
European fascist models. In truth, Argentina under Peron represented in
economics, a variety of Italian corporatism; in politics, a typical Latin
American innovation—the strong man regime employing various parties and
power factions to keep dissident and potentially opposition elements in
line; in intellectual affairs, Peronism reverted to clericalism and
anti-scientific perspectives, from an undefined "personalism" to an
unrefined "existentialism."

SOCIALLY, Peronism is quite another phenomenon. We may list as its primary
achievements: (a) what Gino Germani (Argentina’s leading sociologist)
describes as the political and ideological integration of the masses; (b)
the first large-scale break-through of trade unionism as the primary means
of workers’ organization; (c) the first concentrated effort at the
emancipation of peasant, domestic, and factory women; (d) the socialization
of health and welfare; and finally (e) the continuation and strengthening
of nationalist tendencies clearly etched a hundred years ago in "la era
Criolla"; the effort to create a strong Argentine State of expansionist
tendencies and a self-sustaining economic system.

When we consider the impact of these social changes initiated during the
Peron era, it becomes clearer (whether we agree with their reasoning or
not) why proletarians fought so bitterly on behalf of Peron, and why
politics is today still faced with the specter of Peronism as the one
outstanding example of "anti-official" ideology. In this connection, it
might be mentioned that Argentina is by no means an illustration of the
possibility of overthrowing a modern dictatorship whose power in large
measure rests on popular support. For it was only at that point when
popular support for Peron became fragmented—by the adoption of an
anti-nationalist oil policy, ideological and physical attacks on the Roman
Catholic Church (to which many Peronists still felt deep personal
attachments), and a failure to keep pace with the demands of the
trade-union movement—only at that point was it possible to successfully
achieve a military palace revolt. True, this revolt could also claim wide
support: from business interests tired of "paying off" for everything from
import licenses to being left alone; clergymen unhappy about their
diminishing role in State affairs, especially education; intellectuals
stifling under a decade of a tyranny over ideas and ideals; and of course,
the military itself, particularly the Navy and Air Force which had a
thousand reasons to hope for an end to the monopoly of Army officer
control. Given such tensions and conflicting interests, Peron found himself
in an impossible position. But as every Argentine commentator has noted,
even at the end, Peron still had the option of surviving by the risky
expedient of arming the shock-workers still very much aligned with him. But
this calculated risk Peron did not take, in the first place because it
would have absolutely and qualitatively changed the structure of the power
basis in Peronism, from the military to the workers; and second, because
Peron had no stomach for leading a revolutionary movement divested of a
Prussianized military base.

>From the moment Peron fell in 1955, Peron and Peronism became increasingly
divergent in attitudes and ambitions. As Amado Olmos, a tough union leader
of the New Peronism recently said: "We want him back (from exile), but as a
sort of party hero, not as President. Peron is not a revolutionary." In
that last sentence is precisely the crux of the difference between man and
movement.

IT is precisely Peronism as a revolutionary force of workers that Arturo
Frondizi, the present legally elected President of Argentina (the first
since 1930) has responded to. The recently enacted Labor Organization Law
which will re-establish a General Labor Confederation, something which the
"liberal" military regime of General Aramburu tried desperately to destroy,
will probably be under the aegis of the New Peronism. Frondizi is extremely
clever. He is not playing off a "paper tiger"—Peron—-against the very real
strength of the military force of Isaac Rojas, Pedro Aramburu and Roberto
Huerta. He is indeed compelled to secure an anchor amongst Peronists, or
jeopardize his regime entirely. Peronism, precisely because it is as yet
the one mass element that remains in fact (not in posters), leaderless and
fragmented at the top, offers wider possibilities of a reliable support
than the military elite. It is the natural target of Frondizi’s affections.

A popular saying is that Frondizi is the most unpopular man ever popularly
elected to office. What this means in political terms is that his electoral
support reflects only the divisions amongst the power elements in Argentine
society, and not any real support at the roots for Frondizi. Had Balbin,
Frondizi’s forgotten opponent in the February elections, been victorious,
one could have anticipated wide support for the former from land-holding
interests, still the most powerful single voice in the country. But neither
the economic conservatism or political vacuity of Balbin attracted the
mass. Frondizi offered the only other possibility, for fascists and
Communists, no less than for liberals and Peronists.

Frondizi’s first task upon assuming office was the consolidation of state
power. He achieved this in amazingly short order. For in the first place,
no single power group was in a position to cancel Frondizi’s electoral
strength; and second, he consolidated power by carefully and accurately
judging the might of each segment of the populace, and responding in kind.
Thus, in the pre-election period, the socialist elements counted for much
more than they did after the election, for the simple reason that
socialists (and Communists) boasted numbers but no significant
organizational strength. Likewise, Frondizi assumed the unlikely posture of
a Catholic moralist before the election, while his efforts on behalf of the
high clergy after the election have been minimal enough to start raising
eyebrows as to just how much power the clergy commands.

AT present, Frondizi is at an entirely different stage. Now he must find an
economic anchor for his policies. The only mass uncommitted element are the
workers, whose sentiments are Peronist. It is in this direction that
Frondizi is drawn to seek support, even if it means violating his own
intellectualist desire for constitutional liberalism. His legal training
compels him to believe that, in Argentina at least, behind
constitutionalism is a mass base willing to defend it, and behind law is
the power of enforcement and coercion.

It is scarcely an accident that Frondizi has raised the slogan "libertad
con poder" (liberty with power). It represents not just a policy decision,
but the basis of survival of the state apparatus he has constructed. There
is no escaping neo-Peronism as the basic political orientation of the
workers. It is an ineluctable fact that Frondizi of the Radical
Intransigents, Palacios of the Socialists, Ghioldi of the Communists are
beginning to realize. However, it is the really European type of fascists
and falangists, the Alianza movement, that recognized this at a much
earlier date, and in more intimate terms, as a branch of Peronism itself.
The future of Argentine politics, of even the minimal liberal democracy
that Frondizi has erected, depends in large measure on just which of these
aforementioned political shadings comes to lead the proletarian bête.
machine. The basis of the reorganization of the Peronist movement, now
taking place under the amnesty decree, will reveal more about the prospects
of Frondizi living out his six-year term in office than any and all doses
of foreign capital.

It is not sentimental nationalism which alone conditions the Argentine to
look suspiciously at "foreign capital." Those who see the dilemma of
Argentina in the absence of large scale capital investment miss the point.
Capital investment is not an issue, except in propaganda leaflets, but the
forms of such investment are. There are three basic observable forms of
capital investment in present-day Argentina. There is first the investment
of the classic imperialist type: A corporation sets up operations in its
field, imports the machinery from the home country, uses domestic raw
materials and labor, and exports the profits. Many of the U.S.
pharmaceutical giants operate in such a fashion.

A second type is the extension of cash grants for either part interest or
part exploitation of the item or mineral. While these grants stabilize the
currency temporarily, they have a long run inflationary pull because loans
have to be repaid, and with interest. If the yield for which the loan is
originally given is not great enough, catastrophic consequences may flow.
The oil arrangements recently concluded by Frondizi have this essential
nature. The fervent hope in government circles is that YPF (the national
oil monopoly) will increase its yield sufficiently to offset the interest
element.

The third form, and the one held to be most desirable terms of Argentine
national interests, is the establishment of factories in Argentina with
joint ownership, manufacturing heavy and light equipment of commercial or
consumer need, and payable in domestic currency. Increasingly, Argentine
industrialists and government agencies are fighting for such arrangements.
It is precisely the material wealth which accrues to Argentina in the third
form of investment procedure that causes friction between imperialist
countries and Argentina.

To be sure, the risks are multiplied for Argentina in the last two methods
of accepting foreign assistance. But the risks are far greater on the other
side. For one thing, straight concessions to foreign economies would
jeopardize the Frondizi regime from two sides: First, the foreign
assistance could be employed to bludgeon or oust the constitutional regime
(something hardly unknown in Latin American affairs) ; second, such deals
would create the seeds for revolution from below and revolt from above. It
is no secret that Frondizi is counting on increasing dilemmas for the West,
particularly the United States, in economic struggles with the Soviet
Union. A shrinking world market is counted on to reveal the wisdom in
small-profits and a greater sharing of rewards no less than risks. If Peron
could be beaten by a short range policy of money-now through
extra-territorial concessions, how long could Frondizi hope to exist with a
far shakier state apparatus?

Then there is yet another aspect involved that foreign investors rarely
consider; but that the Argentine always does. Argentina is a rich nation
with a potentially diversified economy. It possesses everything from basic
foods and basic minerals to a technologically productive industrial force.
The ideal of a self-sustaining economy is entertained in many powerful
quarters, from industrialists to workers. The proletariat in particular has
the least to gain from an economy oriented around investment capital from
abroad. It has the most to gain from an economy internally organized and
controlled. True, the lower classes would be sacrificing velocity, the rate
of industrial growth, while muddling through to a higher level of
existence. But in the meanwhile they have the comfort of knowing that beef
and potatoes can still be had by all. The sacrifice in velocity yields a
feeling that the refrigerator, phonograph, and automobile will be his own.
This psychological-economic complex is far more operative in the lower
classes, in the Peronist strata, than in the portions of society that can
afford to import its household goods and personal transportation now.
Frondizi’s early moves to curb imports on non-essential goods, equipment
manufactured by Argentine industry, is an indication that there is indeed
an alternative to the commercial hue and cry for more foreign capital;
albeit a painful alternative in terms of immediate material desires.

IF Frondizi chooses the slow, internal road to economic stability, instead
of the fast, foreign road, assuming he has such an option, the one section
of society he could count upon for undeviating support would be the.
workers. Important in the calculations of Frondizistas and the presently
fractured socialist movement alike, is that the obreros conception of
Peronism would necessarily become infused with the values of a planned
economy. Peron’s. huge error was in preparing the material and human ground
for a diversified economy, centering on the export of raw materials and
foodstuffs, in exchange for the import of industrial equipment; and then in
a time of crisis capitulating to commercial interests and the military
clique interested only in extracting and exporting the monetary fat. Few
Peronists are not bitter over maneuvers. to regain power through foreign
aid influence. Peron might be forgiven his ghastly plundering of the
national treasury were he shrewd enough to stave off the cry for foreign
concessions emanating from the embassies and piped to government agents.
The exaggerated nationalism everywhere present in Argentine society is as
much a response to the sense of betrayal of Peron’s leadership, as it is. a
rejection of foreign assistance. It is not Frondizi’s authorship of a
nationalist tract, Petroleum and Politics, that prevents him from adopting
a carefree manner with the budding oil industry, but his keen sense of
political survival.

A large advantage for the Frondizi regime in responding to nationalism, is
that in addition to setting the stage for proletarian support, he
undermines the provincial character of traditional Argentine politics. It
is a fact of logistics that revolutions, palace or factory inspired, are a
lot harder to. carry off in an advancing economy, than in a strictly
agrarian society. Already, there are signs which point to a lessening of
the ordinary porteños zeal for direct action. The enormous activity in the
building industries, hydroelectric power projects, increased activity in
the manufacture of consumer goods, and the growth of industrial centers
outside of Greater Buenos Aires, make the running of society a much more
complicated enterprise than it is in almost every other part of Latin
America. National pride and the national economy both work in favor of
Frondizi. His task now is to raise productivity and control the forms of
foreign capital expenditure. Only then will the mounting inflationary
pressures be curbed.

OF course, the factors operating to undermine Frondizi’s position are not
to be ignored: The need of Argentine. industry to keep pace with the
Brazilian neighbor to the North—a neighbor committed far more to the
American economic chariot and thus to a high velocity of economic
expansion; the virtual bankruptcy of the national treasury which tends to
undermine Argentina’s bargaining position; pressures from North American
and West European capital, through cartel arrangements and underselling
Argentine manufacturers on the open market; finally, there is the general
pressure from the more comfortable elements for a free consumer market.
Against these factors of economic dis-equilibrium, Frondizi’s hand is
considerably strengthened by the troubles of United States foreign aid
programs, specifically the collapse of the Middle East oil development
program; the growing need of Europe for Argentine meat products; and the
upsurge of interest in a Latin American economic union, independent of
United States control.

The real big tests are as yet in the future; as indeed, all Argentina is a
past and future, with not much to show in the present. Frondizi is
apparently convinced that he must integrate the masses behind a program not
too distant from Peronist socio-economlc reform demands, and yet not so
close as to require political integration of the masses at the expense of
constitutional guarantees. The denial of these reforms would surely result
in yet another reign of terror, and greater changes in the social structure
than the present regime offers. It also seems to be the case that Frondizi
is relying upon the steady radicalization of the New Peronism to allow him
to enlarge the scope of his efforts to extricate Argentina from its present
economic morass. The New Peronism can also be employed as a warning to
other sections of society that they face a far more drastic alternative
unless Frondizi receives the sanction to carry out his program of liberty
with power, industrialization without terrorism.


Louis Proyect
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