On Argentinean History (Reply to the Nestor's Reply)

Alternative alternative at sbcglobal.net
Fri Apr 5 18:48:15 MST 2002


Nestor wrote an extensive mail in response to mine.  I will try to be as
brief as possible since I take these exchanges as conversational pieces
rather than fully documented debates and I'm replying as I would in a
conversation.  I disagree with Nestor's general approach to history but
I consider some of the points he made pretty interesting and some that I
do not answer directly or indirectly with this response, very agreeable.

Nestor wrote:

"...I would not recommend Galeano´s otherwise excellent book if one
tries 
to understand the reasons for the collapse of Argentina, and there 
are two reasons for that ..."

Carlos:

On authors:

I think I made clear that Galeano, Moreno, Pena, Ramos and others quoted
books and works from authors who wrote in English and therefore those
references could become sources to read about Argentina, and Latin
America in general, in English.  While I agree with you on the
characterization of Galeano - with the exception of avoiding his
"Marxism" - his books contains tons of references and information that
could be useful for additional research.

I believe that one of the problems of Latin America historians,
particularly in South America was their extreme and contemporaneously
ideological partisanship needs. They setup a priori to demonstrate or
justify a political "line."  This approach, while common to all
historians from most countries, was extremely pronounced in Argentina.
Nestor's approach to the "truth" of historical events in his brief post
is just the continuation of that practice.

For him, there is almost no other clear interpretation of history that
that of his own current.  I tend to have a broader view of research and
reading about specific themes. As for interpretation, I certainly do not
agree with the "revisionist" school in general or the Ramos/Spilinbergo
school (and I'm not comparing these last two with the fascist wing of
the "revisionists" at all) That includes the books of his tendency and
many others.

In the case of the National Left current (Izquierda Nacional), their
coherence is challenged by their insistence on maintaining the
revolutionary character of Peronism. The same goes for the left of the
"revisionist" current of Argentina's history in general (including Ramos
and Spilinbergo), who maintain the "anti-imperialist" character of Rosas
and company and have a one-sided view of the Montoneros and Federalism
and of its opposite, Unitarianism and liberalism.

On the one-sided, non-dialectical view of historical events:

While Rosas had his battles with the British, there are other sides to
the story, like his friendship with the British (after all, he did
nothing on the Malvinas were taken over during his government by the
British and he tried to exchange them in some kind of commercial deal,
right?). I also recall his commercial associations with Anchorena and
the British and the concessions he gave to the British for meat exports
(Rosas' government both maintained the monopoly of the Buenos Aires port
for interior provinces' exports while allowing the British to build
their own little port nearby to export meat?).

These are one-sided views of historical process in relationship with
Peronism as well. Peronism had battles with imperialism (mostly
American, but also with others) that essentially gave Peronism the
character, for a while, of a bourgeois nationalist movement, roughly in
the same category as Vargas (to a lesser degree) in Brazil, Cardenas in
Mexico or today's Chavez.

In order to have a mass base of support in the working class to use it
as a lever in their struggle with imperialism, all these nationalist
bourgeois movements made concessions to the working class. That was, if
you wish, one of the "progressive" sides of these movements. The gains
for the working class under these regimes, such as the nationalization
of oil and other industries in Mexico or progressive labor legislation
is what Marxists defend against imperialist attacks and domestic
reaction.

Another very progressive gain of these nationalist bourgeois movements
was the integration into production and political life of very oppressed
layers of the working class: the "descamisados" of Peron, the peasants
and indigenous peoples of Cardenas and the peasantry and slum-dwellers
of the Caracas of Chavez. These masses were first integrated into
political life by nationalist bourgeois movements that brought them into
conflict with the more "aristocratic" layers of the existing labor
bureaucracy and aristocracy.

The eruption of the masses into the political scene also confronted the
mostly Europeanized left (Communist and socialist parties) with their
shortcomings and betrayals as well as their reformist limitations (after
all, Peron and Cardenas went beyond the parliamentary demands that, for
decades, were raised by Socialists and Communists.)

On the other hand, all these bourgeois nationalist movements developed
common characteristics of supreme Bonapartism through institutionalizing
the working class organizations, uprooting any possibility of class
independence and tying labor unions and political expressions of the
working class to the bourgeois state. Nationalist bourgeois movements
wanted the support of their working classes to be in a position of
strength to negotiate a better deal with imperialism, get a larger slice
of the cake, so to speak, for the national bourgeoisie.

Sometimes they did so  by imprisoning and dissolving relatively
independent leaders and organizations of the working class.  Peron
jailed the leaders of the Labor Party (one of his initial main
supporters), dissolved their organization and practiced the overthrowing
of leaders of the CGT (remember who Espejo replaced?)  What happened
with the Argentinean CGT and the Mexican CTM, broadly the same process.
Without the class independence of the working class there is no
consistent fight against imperialism. Peron clearly said, as did Vargas
and Cardenas: the ideal is to have agreements between the bourgeoisie
and the working class, between employers and employees for the sake of
the "nation."

This is why Cardenas smashed independent union struggles (railroad
workers, etc.)and Peron did the same (meatpackers, etc.).  Sure, the
participation of the working masses in the distribution of wealth under
both Cardenas and Peron, to a much lesser degree under Vargas, grew - in
the case of Peron to reach a level of around 60% (?) but when the push
came to shove, Peron convened the "Congress of Productivity" (1951?) and
sided with the bosses' demands of cutting back on rights and wages. So
did Cardenas and to a greater extent were the attempts by Vargas in the
same direction.

Added to these processes is the fact that, at one point or another, the
leadership of these movements, confronted with imperialism and the local
oligarchies (in the cases of Vargas and Peron) failed to unleash the
power of the working class, and in the case of Mexico of its peasantry
as well, to defeat imperialism.  They did not do it not out of ignorance
or an oversight, but out of the class fear that they will be confronted
with class forces they could not longer control an would have opened the
road for a revolutionary process of the working class and the oppressed
that could threaten, not only imperialism, but also the national
bourgeoisie. Peron's calls for workers to "go from home to work and back
home" and let him "play this game alone" were very clear in the days and
weeks previous to the coup d'etat.

All these nationalist bourgeois movements also evolved over time.
Peronism of the 1940w was not the one of the 1950s and certainly not the
same when he returned to power in 1974 or its re-incarnation in
Menemism.  The evolution of Peronism was one of nationalist bourgeois to
neo-liberalism, passing through all the shades in between.  Cardenas's
party became the PRI of latter days and the heirs of Vargas and Goulart
can be seen today in the opposing trenches of the Workers Party and the
left in Brazil. 

In analyzing the theory and practice of Marxism in relationship to these
movements, it is my opinion that very few passed the test of the events.
Of course, the CP and the PS sided with US imperialism and the
Conservative and liberals of the Popular front (Union Democratica) and
American ambassador Braden against "fascist" Peronism: a complete and
total surrender of Marxism.  Still others capitulated to Peronism (and
to Vargaism and Cardenism) and became part of the nationalist
bourgeois-led popular front against the imperialist-led popular front.

A critical look at Marxism in relationship with these movements would
tell us a story in which dialectics was just a big misunderstanding and
a closed book for Latin American Marxists.  Very few understood that the
defense of the gains of these processes (nationalizations of the means
of production, labor laws, etc) should be defended through the
mobilization of the working class and that the coup d'etat against Peron
confronted and defeated as well for it was not only against Peron but
against the working class.

Never mind the incredible arrogant and reactionary characterization in
Argentinean communist Party's newspaper in 1945 of the Peronist workers
marching on October 17 as "lumpen hordes" or that, after Peron was
overthrown, Socialist and Communist participated in the military
government and tried to smash the Peronist unions.

But, on the other hand, the working class and the left should have
remained independent, "whipping forward nationalist bourgeois proposals"
to use Lunxembourguist language, basing themselves in the most
unrestricted defense of class independence and workers democracy.  They
should have fought against all attempts of the nationalist bourgeoisie
to integrate the unions and working class parties to the state and they
certainly should have marched on the streets and participated in the gun
battles against the military in 1955 and the resistance that followed
the coup.  And they should do the same against the attempts at a coup
d'etat against Chavez in Venezuela.

Nestor wrote:

"...Both Peña and Moreno share the same view on Argentina. Moreno, in 
fact, precedes Peña and set the general thrust of his ideas, even 
though he has not been acknowledged by his follower -mainly because 
Moreno´s views were always coarsely exposed and thusly rather 
unpalatable for academic minds or for readers with a strong general 
culture- and in fact Peña linked himself and his current with the 
European Trotskyists while Moreno did so with the American branch of 
Trotskyism ..."

Carlos:

Saying that Pena and Moreno share the same view on Argentina is like
saying that Martov and Lenin had the same position on the question of
membership in the party in 1903.

Dismissive comments about Moreno's cultural level notwithstanding, Pena
did not acknowledge Moreno simply because there is no debt.  As a matter
of fact, the book I recommended from Moreno was written after Pena main
works, not before.

IMO, Pena's views on Argentinean history and Peronism are closer to
Scalabrini Ortiz and Puigros than Moreno.  This is not dismissive, is
just an appraisal, since I too read with enjoyment many of Ortiz and
Puigros books (not agreeing with many of their conclusions, though).

Both the linking of Pena with European Marxists and Moreno's linking
with American Trotskyism were circumstantial, not historic, in both
cases. Neither Moreno nor Pena determined their politics or views of
history or their political work by their political relationships abroad.
Those were more of a united front character. 

Nestor:

"All of their work tends to demonstrate that Perón was (as against the 
official line of the Communist Party, which tended to toe the 
American imperialist original definition of Peronism as a local form 
of Fascism) either a British (yes, British) agent against the "more 
progressive" American imperialists (Moreno) or a bourgeois in the 
same level as, say, Nelson Rockefeller."

Carlos:

No.  The work of these authors was to try to balance the one-sided view
of "revisionists" and former Stalinists and social democrats who sided
unconditionally with Peronism and marketed Peron as the champion of
"socialismo nacional" and anti-imperialism (Both anti-American and
anti-British) and explained the roots of the conflicts with US
imperialism but also the limitations of the anti-imperialism of the
national bourgeoisie.

They certainly never presented Peron as an agent of British imperialism,
they just explained that the nationalization of the railroads and some
other businesses were not precisely done against the will of the
British.

The Rockefeller analogy is another crude invention.  Not even the most
backward of the Marxist would do that in Argentina or elsewhere in the
Americas.  Nevermind Pena or Moreno.

Nestor:

"The common appraisal of Peña and Moreno was that there was no ground 
for a _national_ struggle in Argentina, and some of Peña´s followers 
have extracted the logical conclusion that since the Argentinean 
bourgeoisie and the imperialist bourgeoisies are both bourgeoisies 
like, say, the American bourgeoisie, the political task for the 
workers is to generate their own proletarian party, not to lead the 
national front against imperialism."

Carlos:

This is crude invention. First because Pena and Moreno differ greatly on
this and second because Marxists, and Moreno among them, said not that
there was no ground for a "national struggle", - and I guess you're
meaning political and economic independence - but the bourgeoisie would
not carry it out consistently and those are democratic tasks that needed
to be guaranteed by the independent struggle and leadership of the
working class.  This is, after all, no more than a classic Marxist
understanding. 


NESTOR:

"Well, Abelardo Ramos drifted towards the national bourgeoisie ever 
since 1975 (he ended his life as a Menemist), so that I would hardly 
propose his later work in order to establish some kind of 
interpretation. If I had to quote some of his things, I would 
recommend his _Historia de la nación latinoamericana_ (1968) or the 
1972 edition of _Revolución y contrarrevolución en Argentina_."

Carlos:

Those are the two books I wil recommend, too.  The evolution of Ramos
was just the logical conclusion of his one-sided view of the "national
struggle" led by the bourgeoisie.  He did however, wrote a number of
things that need to be read to put together the fragmented
interpretations of Argentina's and Latin America's history.

Nestor:

"As to the parenthetical phrase by "Alternative", I believe that the 
"revisionist" school of history in Argentina had nothing to do with 
Bernsteinian revisionism."

Carlos:

Of course not. Bernstein was generally to their left (just a joke).  I
was referring, yes, to the so-called revisionist school of history not
to the Marxist "revisionist" current of Berstein.

Nestor:

"It had to do with the restoration of 
historical truth and consciousness against the "official" oligarchic 
and imperialist history that was imposed on Argentina after 1890. 
This school of thought and historic analysis, by the way, has many 
internal divisions."

Carlos:

Yes ... and not.  It was also an attempt to probe contemporaneous
political positions and party's positions through the prism of
analytical revision of the most conservative and traditional schools of
history and events of the past.  But in doing so they involved
themselves in the war of selective "details" which actually deformed
truth and made them reach conclusions that were just the overblown of
circumstantial events, not the product of general trends. i.e: the
assertion that Rosas was a consistent anti-imperialist ...

Nestor:

"One can find semi-fascist, Catholic authoritarian revisionists, who 
believe that Argentinean history reached its apex with the 
authoritarian rule of the Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires 
Juan Manuel de Rosas during the 1830-1850 years (this brand of 
"revisionism" was used by Peronism in order to freeze ideological 
debate among the working classes after the mid-1940s)."

Carlos:

See what I mean?

Nestor:

"One can also find national-popular, democratic and workerist 
revisionists such as Jauretche, Scalabrini Ortiz, Hernández Arregui 
and others. And you also have a left-wing revisionism, mainly 
represented by the Izquierda Nacional, but not only by us. You have, 
for example, Belloni´s semi-anarchistic history of the Argentinean 
labour movement, and many others. Among the Izquierda Nacional 
writers, in the widest sense of the definition, you can also count 
the works by Galasso, Calello, or Cangiano."

Carlos:

Aside from the opinion that Jauretche, Ortiz and Arregui were not
workerists but middle class radicals - both themselves and their history
works - I would say that all those authors are a must read but with the
critical eye of not allowing their specific and contemporaneous partisan
needs interfere with historical analysis.  Hey, while a Morenist of
"hueso Colorado" in politics, I'm very skeptical on his history works
and disagree with a bunch of his conclusions.  He had the same problem,
so did Pena and Ramos.  All of them were under pressure to prove their
politics correct - the latest strategy, turn and tactic - and I can
understand that ... but history suffered as a consequence, so did true
that many times got stretched a little.

Nestor:

"None of the above has, however, been translated into English. None. 
Not a matter of chance in my opinion. The Argentinean intelligentsia 
has been structurally reluctant to admit the positions of the 
Izquierda Nacional, in the same way it has been reluctant to accept 
the progressive, and even revolutionary, essence of Peronism."

Carlos:

That should give a reason for a pause. Historians are recognized either
because they powerful effect, or because they work for the victors or
because they led a significant movement.  Maybe they should have tried
the second alternative. The fact that they tied their work to the
revolutionary character of Peronism is a theoretical disqualification in
my book.


NESTOR:
This is very insightful, clerical mistake aside as to the Chaco War 
(see below).

Carlos:

Yes. Sorry. A mistake. I meant to write Bolivia-Paraguay war, not Peru
in the Chaco war.  As I said, for me these are conversations and I do
not look back at what I said before sending it out.  Thanks for the
correction.

Nestor:

"The example "Alternative" may have been confusing with the 
Paraguay-Bolivia war was the nasty Chilean war against both Bolivia 
and Perú, the War of the Pacific, which led Bolivia to become a 
landlocked country and put all of the "caliche", "salitre" and 
"guano" fertilizer deposits that had been shared by the three 
countries (lying in what today is Northern Chile) in the hands of the 
British traders and Santiaguino momios and partners of Britain. This 
war took place during the late 1870s."

Carlos:

I'm clear on that war.  A war over shit needed to make the lands in
Europe fertile again.  Galeano had good and humorous material on that.

Nestor:

"In the second place, it is  a great mistake to believe that the
Brazilian, Argentinean or Uruguayan oligarchies who led the Alliance
simply acted as proxies. 

In fact, both in Uruguay and Argentina the Paraguay war was also a 
civil war, and this side of the history is the essential one from the 
point of view of the construction of a revolutionary national 
consciousness, which was the task that the "revisionists" set forth 
as their goal."

Carlos:

In Uruguay, a civil war of sorts ... in reality a layer of the ruling
class, supported militarily by the Brazilians overthrew the government
in Montevideo to integrate Uruguay in the war against Paraguay.

Civil war in Paraguay?  While there was resistance to the governments of
Carlos A. Lopez and his son Francisco Solano because their paternalistic
state-oriented dictatorships one cannot talk about a civil war.

In fact, the main reason for the war was the relative independence of
Paraguay, his state capitalism (nationalized lands mixed with agrarian
reform) and its relative economic self-sufficiency.

Nestor:

"(it would be interesting if "Alternative" could 
give us his reasons for the Paraguayan "bravery" -a mild term, if one 
keeps in mind that the Paraguay war was fought until no male in 
military age and condition was left alive in Paraguay- without 
resorting to the "revisionist" accounts of the popular character of 
the Argentinean and Uruguayan upheavals or resistences against the 
massacre). One of the great historical contributions of that 
"Argentinean "revisionist" school of history (if you can call them 
that)" was to restore the truth in this sense. And it was not only an 
"Argentinean" school, since there are many Paraguayans and Uruguayans 
who share the basic positions of historic revisionists in Argentina."

Carlos:

Yes, "bravery" was a mild term, given the circumstances and odds of the
war.  I would say that, if I lived at the time, I would have sided with
Paraguay.  I do so, historically.  As to the assertion that was
"revisionism" that clarified the truth in this respect is partially true
and that is one more reason why we should be broader in our readings.
But a number of exaggerations were made in the process and bad
characterizations.  The resistance in Uruguay was important, not so in
Argentina and Brazil.

NESTOR:

"I can´t see the reason for the qualification. Of course, Argentina is 
not India, and it never was. But Louis is talking about the 
structural relationship, which is strikingly similar. In fact, when 
the whole formation whose highest stage was Peronist Argentina 
crashed down during the 1980s, Argentina began a fast descending 
spiral which will take it, if unarrested, to an ever increasing 
formal (not only structural) likeness with the India of the Raj. Just 
take a ride and a walk into the massive shantytowns around any 
Argentinean city, close your eyes to Catholic imagery and posters in 
Spanish, forget that Argentineans like to eat beef, and you will have 
to admit, as a group of Canadian transportation experts did in my 
presence many years ago, that "this is Calcutta".

Carlos:

The fact that the shantytowns in Buenos Aires may look as Calcutta does
not make India and Argentina structurally very similar.  Nor politically
or economically. India remained as a colony until the mid-20th century,
Argentina by then had 150 years as a semicolony (this made a big, big
difference).  The class and caste character of India society was and is
completely different to Argentina (what I understand as the structures
in society) and so were the economic models upon which both countries
were built.  By the way, Calcutta's shanty towns are worse than our
Villa Miserias, any day of the week.  And certainly much more extense
and stratified. Be careful, I'm not saying that the Villas are luxurious
motels, they are also miserable.

Nestor:

"To begin with, the British did not force Peron to buy anything. What 
they had done was to freeze Argentinean assets in pounds for beef and 
grain exported during the war years. That is, they decided not to pay 
their foreign debt to Argentina. Peron, who saw the situation 
clearly, used these frozen pounds which would anyway never get to 
Argentina as a payment for the whole railway complex...

"... As regards the contention that the British forced Peron to buy the 
trains, there is something else to be said, which "Alternative" may 
most probably ignore. In fact, it was just the other way round. At 
first, and taking profit of the clumsiness of the Peronist 
negotiators, they attempted to remain in control of the railroads by 
means of a "Sociedad Mixta" where the Argentinean state would be 
their partner while they, of course, would have been holding the 
golden share and weight decissively in every critical issue."

Carlos:

Well, well ... here it is what I was talking about.  Nothing preclude
Marxists to support some of the nationalizations made by Peron _ I would
like to stress here the support for the nationalization of CADE, some
lands, Sanitary Works, etc.  But the record on the railroads is very
clear as to who pressured who and who had the upper hand in the
transaction and who benefited the most.

The British DID freeze Argentinean assets in pounds for beef and grain
exported during the war years.  They did, however, accept that Peron
will use most of it to buy the railroads back from the British which, at
the same time, had became obsolete and outdated for the British (not the
Argentineans, which is the progressive side of the buy, because they
were in need of transportation of the means of production, fundamentally
workers).  This sounds like a deal imposed by the British to me.

Here is the translation of an article published in the magazine "Que" of
Buenos Aires, August 8, 1946 where the meeting between the British and
the government of Peron is described:

"With a paused voice Mr. Eady remind that Argentina has 140 million
pounds blocked by the Bank of England which correspond to its sales to
Britain during the war and that Great Britain is in no position to pay.
Then, he offered the railroads for sale - nothing less! - which they
said could be paid with Argentinean blocked funds.  The only question -
said Mr. Eady, was to "lower the price."  The answer of the Argentinean
delegation was immediate.  'I'm not interested in the railroads -
answered Miranda - I will propose you a different thing.  I give you the
140 millions as a loan, with the same interest fixed by your allies the
Americans - 2.5 percent and you'll pay us with machinery and
manufactured products that we need.  We already have railroads and they
are functioning'." (translated hastily by me, but you can check its
accuracy, I'm sure)

Few months later, Peron under pressure, accepted the initial deal of the
British.

Nestor:

"If there is something you can NEVER arrive too late to, it is the 
barbaric methods of primitive accumulation. The whole sugar industry 
was mounted on such methods (as among others on this list the late 
Jim Blaut explained), and nothing but primitive accumulation was the 
brutalising destruction of human life depicted by Galeano in the 
mines and haciendas of Latin America."

Carlos:

Sugar, cocoa, latex and even the guano and the oil, etc of Latin America
did not lead but to a limited and temporarily, not stable and
diversified, primitive accumulation of capital FOR the Latin American
bourgeoisie.  But primarily to the development of the means of
production of the imperialist centers with the crumbs, and only the
crumbs, benefiting the ruling class of Latin America.  There resides, as
opposed to that of the US, the structural weakness of the Latin American
bourgeoisie through the meager primitive accumulation that remained in
the Latin America continent.  That is all I'm saying and in NO WAY I'm
saying that primitive accumulation did not take a barbaric form - both
in the US and Latin America, as well as in India and Africa.

Cheers!

C.




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