Peron in a nutshell, or the prequel to Hugo Chavez

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Apr 22 17:15:14 MDT 2002

>From the Corradi article on Argentina in Chilcote-Edelstein, "Latin 
America: the struggle with dependency and beyond":

An officer in the ministry of war, an important member of the GOU, 
Colonel Juan D. Perón, had asked and obtained the job of running the 
labor department.

Perón was intelligent enough to realize that the military project 
could not survive by force alone, isolated from different political 
groupings and social interests and against overwhelming pressure from 
abroad. Perón was responsible for ending the assault on the workers' 
organizations and proceeded to reverse labor policy. He achieved this 
end with remarkable skill. The unions were well organized and well 
run when Perón began his work. Despite splits and demoralization 
after a decade of repression, they withstood the vicious attacks by 
conservatives and militarists and continued to uphold demands which 
had been systematically denied by successive administrations since 
1930. We have already seen how the working class had borne the full 
weight of industrial accumulation during the thirties and early 
forties. By satisfying the pent-up demands of the workers' 
organizations, Perón easily gained the upper hand over left and 
center parties which had been rendered impotent by the previous 
regimes. His approach was eminently reasonable, though opportunist, 
and the workers' support for Perón was eminently rational. To 
interpret Perón's appeal as exclusively charismatic, that is, as the 
irrational attachment of miserable, undereducated, unorganized masses 
of migrants from the countryside to a Latin caudillo is to forget the 
important role played by older, mature worker organizations and 
leaders in the initial phase of Perónism. It is my impression that 
during the initial phase of Perónism there was an objective advance 
of the Argentine working class as a whole. Under Perón's leadership 
the Argentine labor movement experienced a phase of liberation and 
growth before passing under his control in later stages of the 
regime, when cross-pressures and contradictions turned it into a 
stagnant and reactionary system.

Perón's first step was to raise the labor department to full 
ministerial status. He then persuaded his military friends to join 
with him in meeting some of the trade union leaders. He managed to 
convince the latter that he meant business when he spoke of 
satisfying the demands of the working class. He thus obtained the 
support of a number of leaders and organizations. But many workers 
were not organized, and many were, because of rapid 
industrialization, recent arrivals in the Buenos Aires labor market. 
These were shirtless ones, the descamisados about whom Perón and his 
companion, Eva Duarte, often spoke. The packing plants, to take an 
important example, had long resisted attempts at unionizing the 
workers. The meat workers were subjected to wide wage differentials 
and to seasonal unemployment. There were many other workers in a 
similar position, seasonally unemployed, ill paid, and hard to 
organize. Perón helped them. He got union leaders out of prison and 
tried to win their support. He organized the unorganized. He opened 
government posts to union men. In short, he provided many short-run 
benefits to the workers and added a large welfare dimension to the 
activities of the state. The support Perón obtained as a result of 
these measures was not too different from the support of F. D. 
Roosevelt's social security legislation won from the American poor. 
Welfarism went deep, and transformed Argentine politics. In 1946 the 
welfare colonel was able to win the presidency in free elections 
against a solid block of privilege ranging from large conservative 
landowners on the right, to the socialist and communists politicos on 
the left. Perón's success should be understood, however, in terms of 
his opponents' weakness and serious political mistakes. Perónism came 
to fill a vacuum created by the debilitation of the different social 
classes and the weakening of the political fabric in the previous 
decade. The crisis of the thirties had dealt a serious economic blow 
to the landed bourgeoisie. It responded to economic weakness with 
political usurpation, and in so doing, corroded and corrupted the 
entire political system. On the other hand, industrialization could 
not be prevented, even though it took place haltingly, was kept 
contained, and was initially designed as a mere import-substitution 
device by the agrarians. Industrialization had produced a new 
bourgeoisie that was politically timid, ethnically segregated, and 
above all dependent for its prosperity on exceptional international 
circumstances and on the often reluctant protection of the state. 
Industry also had given birth to a large urban proletariat-exploited, 
and repressed, which found its demands unfulfilled and its struggles 
frustrated. From 1930 to 1935 high unemployment and political 
repression had weakened the power of the unions. After 1935, rapid 
industrial expansion reduced unemployment and brought masses of rural 
migrants into the cities. The union movement began to grow again, but 
under the severe repression of the conservative regimes, strikes did 
not produce gains for the workers during this period. These pressures 
undermined the leadership of socialists and communists in the unions. 
The General Confederation of Labor (CGT) split into two rival 
factions in 1942, one controlled by socialists and the other by 
communists. The frustration of those years finally led workers away 
from political activity and from union participation. After 1943,

Perón's labor policies offered the workers an opportunity to regroup 
and advance their position in society.

The political fragmentation and the inconclusive conflict of classes 
in Argentina had its counterpart in the conflicts between the 
imperialist powers which impeded any metropolis from controlling the 
country. World War II exacerbated these trends. In brief, no single 
class within, and no major power without, could control Argentina. 
This conjuncture made political action decisive. Perón's strategy was 
to use the state apparatus in order to forge a new coalition of 
classes from above that would support a program of national 
capitalist development.

During 1945 the military authorities searched for a constitutional 
way out from the impasse in which they found themselves. That was 
very difficult because the different political parties-until recently 
victimized by the army-were reluctant to respond to the new 
solicitations of the regime. Their capacity to strike any deal with 
the military regime was limited by their zealous middle class 
constituencies, encouraged by the Allied victories in the War, and by 
the suspicion of the .upper classes who were becoming increasingly 
alarmed at Perón's labor policies. Perón's attempts to improve the 
lot of the rural workers and to change tenancy regulations were 
considered an attack on the landed bourgeoisie. Thus, conciliatory 
moves failed. Negotiations between the military and their civilian 
opponents broke down and gave way to a frontal clash.

After seeking unsuccessfully to obtain support from traditional 
parties, Perón launched his presidential candidacy relying almost 
exclusively on the political forces which he had managed to mobilize 
from above. These forces, aided by the political mistakes of Perón's 
opponents, proved sufficient to propel him to power. The military 
were by then as divided and confused about their own goals as any 
body of civilian politicians. In August 1945 they lifted the state of 
siege, trying to placate their opponents. This opened the gates for 
fairly massive civilian demonstrations-mostly by the middle and upper 
strata-in favor of the restoration of the constitution and of liberal 
freedoms. The state of siege was reimposed and repression resumed, at 
which point an army faction rebelled and marched on Buenos Aires. 
After some hesitation, they managed to have Perón removed from office 
and arrested. Not content with the arrest of Perón, civilian 
politicians demanded the immediate overthrow of President Farrell and 
the transfer of power to the Supreme Court. Simultaneously, the 
employer's organizations announced their intention not to give their 
workers a paid holiday on October 12, 1945, which was traditionally 
celebrated as Columbus Day. Thus, it became clear that the liberal 
struggle for constitutional guarantees was at the same time an attack 
on the proletariat. This was not lost on the workers. When Perón was 
arrested he was with his companion, Eva Duarte, who immediately 
rushed to tell union leaders what had happened. Packinghouse workers 
then organized a counter-demonstration. Rioting began on October 15. 
During the next days, workers from the industrial suburbs (Avellaneda 
and Berisso) began to move into central Buenos Aires. By the 17th 
they had taken over the city without the opposition of either the 
police or the local military garrison, which were well disposed 
towards Perón. Nobody knew exactly what to do but there was the 
feeling that this was a turning point. Perón was released from prison 
and appeared on the balcony of the government house, the Casa Rosada, 
with President Farrell. He gestured in victory to the thousands of 
workers cheering him in the Plaza de Mayo. Then the labor 
confederation (CGT) declared a general strike in support of Perón. 
His military opponents were arrested. Perón won the day.

October 17, 1945 was a turning point in Perón's career also. It 
marked his transformation from a military man of fascist proclivities 
into a new sort of civilian politician-a democratic populist. From 
then on he worked for the restoration of the constitution. He retired 
from the army and accepted the challenge of open elections. He began 
organizing a new party to give expression to the new coalition of 
forces behind him. This was the Labor Party which was patterned after 
its British counterpart. This it not to deny Perón's personal 
opportunism or his heavy-handed attempts at controlling the working 
class movement by having his military friends in the government issue 
special regulatory laws to deal with unions that were cantankerous or 
by forming parallel rival unions. But the bulk of the working class 
was solidly behind him. Nor did Perón rely solely upon the workers. 
He had already won over decisive sectors of the armed forces. He now 
began courting the favors of an institution that had deep roots in 
Argentine society and reached across class lines: the Catholic 
Church. He made several concessions to the church-among them his 
marriage to Eva Duarte and promises of blocking legal divorce and lay 
education. The bishops-with sound political instinct-began praying 
for Perón's victory. Perón also established some rather tenuous links 
to the traditional parties. He secured a second-rank radical 
politician, Hortensio Quijano, as his vice-presidential running mate.

Arrayed against Perón was almost the entire Argentine Establishment: 
the Conservative Party and the landed elite, cattlemen and grain 
farmers of the Littoral, the Industrial Union representing big 
industrial capital, the middle-class radicals, and even the 
socialists and communists providing a left-wing embellishment to the 
conservative conglomerate. It was an establishment coalition parading 
as a popular front-the Union Democrdtica. But two ingredients were 
missing from the conservative coalition: the army and the church. 
They had joined the new alliance of classes: workers, national 
industrialists of recent vintage, and scattered middle sectors.

Most observers agree that the election which followed was one of the 
few free and honest elections in Argentine history. The victory for 
Perón was clear, if not overwhelming: 1,479,517 votes for 
Perón-Quijano, the candidates of the Labor Party and 1,220,822 for 
Tamborini-Mosca, the candidates of the Union Democrdtica. In the 
congressional elections the result was even more favorable for Perón. 
His Labor Party won substantial majorities in the Senate and the 
Chamber of Deputies. All but one of the provincial governorships went 
to Perónista candidates. There were several amusing episodes in the 
situation. The American businessman-Ambassador, Spruille Braden, 
threw himself into the election campaign against Perón, with an 
enthusiasm worthy of a better cause and sharper judgement. He 
produced a Blue Book exposing all the political sins of Perón, 
especially his alleged connections with Nazis and fascists (but 
carefully deleting the names of fascists who were now opposing 
Perón). Perón's answer was a Blue and White (the Argentine national 
colors) book denouncing the imperialist intervention. "Braden or 
Perón" became one favorite campaign slogan of the Labor Party.

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