3. Peron [Part I]
rfidler at cyberus.ca
Sun Apr 28 18:14:39 MDT 2002
In his recent post on Perón and Peronism, Louis Proyect says he is
"attempting to address the question of what Perón stood for". However, while
his research is quite interesting, I am not sure Lou has adequately answered
the question he put for himself. He begins by indicating he does not agree
with those socialists who see Perón as a "Bonapartist caudillo", and
suggesting that in his view Perón was "in a progressive struggle with
imperialism". At one point, describing Perón's initial orientation, Lou
>>... he embarked on a strongly leftist and pro-labor path.
Shortly after the coup took power, Perón persuaded his fellow
officers to name him Secretary of Labor. Using this department as a
battering ram, he challenged all the old dominant classes in
Argentina and promoted the class interests of the workers and the
nascent industrial bourgeoisie. <<
In my opinion, Perón was in fact a Bonapartist figure (in the context of an
underdeveloped or dependent country, of course), and rather than "promoting"
the class interests of workers _and_ the industrial bourgeoisie, I think it
is more accurate to say he attempted to straddle those interests, which were
fundamentally conflictual as well as parallel in some respects. In the end,
his downfall is explained by the impossibility of his project.
I think this is explained rather well by the following text, which is
excerpted from a pamphlet produced by the Argentine Partido Revolucionario
de los Trabajadores (Fourth International) in the early 1970s. It was
published in English translation in "Populism in Latin America", a
publication of the International Institute for Research and Education. [This
seems to be my day for citing the IIRE's publications; they can be obtained
The original title of the pamphlet is "El Perónismo Ayer y Hoy", México:
Editorial Diogenes, 1974. At the time the PRT was led by, among others,
Roberto Santucho and Daniel Pereyra. Translated from Spanish to English by
In two parts because of length.
* * *
Peronism Yesterday and Today
There are many interpretations of Peronism. Almost everyone who has studied
the movement has come up with their own approach. Characterizations range
from the Unión Democrática's "a fascist movement of the declassed rabble," a
label now discredited and forgotten, to the official Peronists'
self-definition as the "National Movement;" through every possible nuance.*
In our view, Peronism was a historical movement that tried to bring about an
independent capitalist development through a Bonapartist government which
would control the working class in order to use it as a base.
The definition may appear somewhat complex. It calls, in fact, for an
explanation of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, one of Karl
Marx's key works.
In it, Marx analyzes with great clarity and accuracy the growth and
conflicts of various social forces and class segments struggling in
capitalist society, focusing on particularly illuminating moments. These are
the junctures when an economic or social event suddenly throws the old
structures of capitalist society into crisis and pits the various social
strata against each other. When such a crisis breaks out after the
revolutionary class has fully matured, a stage evidenced by the existence of
a strong proletarian party and fighting workers and people's forces, a
revolution takes place.
When this crisis takes the proletariat by surprise and erupts before it has
succeeded to build its own party and army, the crisis ends with a mere
readjustment of bourgeois society.
This is precisely the sort of event analyzed by Marx in his work: Louis
Bonaparte's coup which led to his being crowned emperor Napoleon III a few
Basing himself on the state apparatus, particularly the army, Louis
Bonaparte took power and, though he did not represent any particular section
of the bourgeoisie, ruled on behalf of the bourgeoisie as a whole.
Normally this sort of maneuver does not work. The very reason for bourgeois
parties to exist is precisely that each represents a different section of
the bourgeoisie and prepares to succeed the other at the head of the
government through the electoral game.
But when capitalist society is shaken by these major crises, no bourgeois
section fighting for its own particular interests can govern effectively on
behalf of the entire bourgeoisie, carry out a readjustment and save the
A leader then emerges tied to no particular section, but pledged to defend
them all, drawing his strength from an organ of the system such as the army
or the whole state apparatus.
This was what Louis Bonaparte did, hence the label of Bonapartism which
Marxists use to describe this sort of government. Incidentally, this was
also what his uncle, the first Bonaparte, Napoleon the Great, did some fifty
The international conjuncture
It is also what General Perdn did in Argentina in 1945. Argentina's old
structure based on dependence on British imperialism and an almost exclusive
focus on cereals and cattle could no longer contain the development of
productive forces. The 1929 economic crisis and then the war had reduced the
amount of foreign manufactured goods imported into the country and
stimulated local industry. Argentina's old set-up was incapable of
containing this new phenomenon of industrialization which took off in the
The old British Empire was badly shaken by the second imperialist war and
could not stop this development with a renewed influx of manufactured goods.
Nor could it join the feast by investing since, at that time, it was
concentrating its efforts on rebuilding its own territory razed by German
The mighty Yankee Empire, the new world-class superpower, was for the time
being not interested in these distant latitudes. It focused primarily on the
reconstruction of Europe as a means to thwart the advance of its former
ally, the Soviet Union. It also was busy trying to stop the advance of the
People's Liberation Army in China and, more generally, any further extension
of people's struggles in Asia. Its hands were too full to get more involved
in Latin America, where it already controlled many countries.
So the international conjuncture made a certain independent capitalist
development of our country both necessary and possible. The same conjuncture
provided the economic basis for such a development: exchanges on favorable
terms with European countries suffering from destruction and hunger and
prepared to purchase our wheat and meat at any price.
There was a snag, though, which had to be resolved before the favorable
conjuncture could be turned to advantage: the Argentine industrial
bourgeoisie, the class which this perspective should have aroused most
forcefully, was very weak, close to non-existent. National capital was
almost entirely in the hands of the old farming and ranching oligarchy, a
notably parasitic class, with little or no interest in investing in
The most enlightened sections of the armed forces therefore began to wonder
whether they might not be able to assume the role of this weak bourgeoisie
and formulate a perspective for independent capitalist development. The
narrowness of the bourgeois layers which they could hope to involve in this
project suggested that they ought to look elsewhere for support.
The only class that could provide such support was the working class,
insofar as the development of industry would entail its own development as a
The group of officers led by Perón therefore set out to win the support of
the workers by offering them certain advantages while building a new type of
labor movement through which it could control the working class and prevent
it from struggling for its own historic interests, that is for socialism.
This is why we say that Perón's government was a Bonapartist government
which tried to implement an independent capitalist development project by
controlling and basing itself on the working class.
The Bonapartist project
"People say, gentlemen, that I am an enemy of the capitalists, but if you
carefully noted what I just said, you will not find a defender more, let us
say, determined than myself, because I know that the defense of businessmen,
industrialists and traders is the defense of the state itself." (...) "I
have been steeped in discipline. I have been abiding by discipline or
enforcing discipline for thirty five years now, and during that time I have
learnt that discipline had one fundamental basis: justice." (...) "This is
why I believe that if I was the owner of a factory, it would not cost me to
earn the affection of my workers by some intelligently conceived social
work. Quite often, you can achieve that simply by sending the doctor to the
house of a worker whose son is sick; by offering a little gift on a special
day; by the boss going by and tapping the shoulder of his men in a friendly
way, and speaking to them every now and then, as we do with our soldiers."
"The result of the 1914-1918 war was that one European country disappeared
from capitalism: Russia. (...) In that war, that country ranked among those
with the greatest debt in the world (...) and I therefore wonder what the
situation of the Argentine Republic will be when the war ends, when
paralysis and probably unusually high unemployment will grip our land, and
money, men and ideologies will infiltrate our state organism and labor
organization from the outside (...) there will be an awakening of communism
which though dormant still festers among the masses and will reemerge, like
all endemic diseases, in the postwar period when the natural factors are
"With us, the General Labor Confederation (CGT) will operate as it should
and we will not have the slightest objection, when we want firms X or Z to
run well, to dispense our advice to them and transmit such advice to them
through their natural commanders; we will tell the General Confederation:
something has to be done for this firm, and they will take it upon
themselves to get it done. I can guarantee that they are disciplined and
will do such things with the utmost good will."
"This will be the safety catch, this organization of the masses. However,
the state will organize a second insurance, namely the authority required
for no one, once at his post, to be able to leave that post, because the
state organism has the means, if necessary by force, to lock things into
place and not allow them to go off track."
These statements are extracts of the speech delivered by Juan Domingo Perón,
at the time a colonel and the Secretary for Labor and Welfare, on August 25,
1944, to the Buenos Aires Chamber of Commerce. The same message was read
before delegates from all trade unions on August 31, because, as Perón
explained: "I do not want my words to be misused, neither in our country or
abroad, and if they must be published for that, there is no objection to
that taking place." (1)
These statements of the leader of Peronism, uttered at a key juncture of his
political career (the struggle for total power), shed a revealing light on
the nature of Perón's Bonapartist government and his approach to achieving
an independent capitalist development. This perspective of independent
capitalist development, leaving aside the limitations corresponding to its
bourgeois character, was quite limited: it did not stem from a genuine
impulse emanating from a rising bourgeoisie, as in Cromwell's England or the
French Revolution. The situation was quite the opposite in fact: the
Argentine bourgeoisie, mean, dull-witted and pledged to imperialism since
the day of its birth, never even understood that Peronism reflected its
Preempting the revolution
This development project was therefore not elaborated by the group of
Bonapartist officers led by Perón as a response to appeals from the class to
whom it would profit, but to forestall with the utmost lucidity the danger
that a revolutionary process might be unleashed in the concrete conditions
of Argentina and the world. Its aim was to put a brake on this process.
This comes through quite clearly in Perón's speech quoted above, but one can
add further evidence.
The paragraphs reproduced below are taken from a speech delivered August 7,
1945, to the Military College. The date as well as the audience to which it
was given make this a speech of capital importance. One can only assume
that, within the bounds of his chameleon-like ability to tell each and
everyone whatever they wished to hear, Perón spoke most sincerely to his own
comrades-in-arms. "The Russian revolution is an accomplished fact in the
world. (...) It is a fact which the army must accept; the army must position
itself in this trend. That is unavoidable. If we do not carry out the
peaceful revolution ourselves, the people will carry out the violent
revolution. Think of Spain, Greece and all the countries through which the
revolution has passed. (...) You must know that I am not a communist, far
from it. (...) And the solution of this problem must be sought in bringing
social justice to the masses. That is the remedy which, by eliminating the
cause, will eliminate the effect. We must organize the popular groupings and
have the forces necessary to maintain the equilibrium of the state. (...)
Our social endeavor can be carried out in one way only: by taking from those
who have too much to give to those who have too little. It is undeniable
that this will trigger reactions and resistance from these gentlemen who are
the worst enemies of their own welfare, since in refusing to give 30% today,
they stand to lose all, including their own ears, in a few years or months."
The limits of Bonapartist nationalism
Can we say that Perón was purely and simply an agent of British imperialism
and its old allies, against the new bourgeois alignment around the United
That would be falling to the level of the lowest form of left-wing
Perón relied in part on the declining imperialist power with whom he could
negotiate more easily and enlarge his room for maneuver in dealing with the
rising imperialist power, the United States.
In the following limited sense, Perón was nationalist: he aspired to the
independent capitalist development of our country. But the limits of such
nationalism in circumstances where imperialism exists and controls the world
market stem precisely from its bourgeois character.
We can see one of the limitations of his approach in the policy he followed
towards British capital. It is not necessary here to recall all the reasons
why the nationalization of the British-owned railroads was a very bad
bargain for the country. We need only quote the statements of the
spokespeople of those who "suffered" from the nationalization: "According to
Don Miguel Miranda -the Financial Times stated- the purchase of the
British-owned railroads will never be submitted to Parliament because the
latter would not approve the generosity with which the British shareholders
have been treated." (3) "The lines have shown no profit over the last
fifteen years. During the same period, the operation costs increased 250%
and Argentina's new social legislation has now become effective in railroad
management. It was high time for us to disengage." (Statement to La Prensa,
By contrast, the meatpacking and freezing firms, which British capital
preferred to keep, were not nationalized. On the contrary, they received
subsidies which enabled the English monopolies to absorb the wage increases
won by meatpackers, and to continue to export their products at a profit,
without reinvesting a single peso in their installations, with consequences
that are clear today. It continued even after the freezing installations
were sold to the US monopoly Packers Ltd of Chicago, now fused with other
monopolies of the industry in the supermonopoly DELTEC International, whose
activities are equally well known in our country.
Another limitation appeared in relation to the agrarian policy, the basis of
any genuine independent development. In his August 7, 1945 speech to the
Military College, Perón promised: "The theme of the Land Reform is that the
land is not to be used for profit but for labor, and that each Argentinian
has the right to work land and own the land that he works." What was left of
this Land Reform ten years later, at the time of the fall of the Peronist
government? Very little, almost nothing. The Peronist government restricted
itself to promulgating the Statute of the Rural Peon and the Law on Rural
Rents and Farming Contracts, which granted the rural proletariat and poor
peasant a few gains. But the land remained the property of the old
landowners who were therefore able, after the "16th of September" , to
erase with one stroke of the pen, at no cost to themselves, all the
"conquests" of Peronism. In addition, the farming and cattle-raising output
has remained blocked at its 1930 level and the productive methods have
barely changed in the countryside. Large-scale use of labor compensates for
the lack of tractors in sufficient numbers, of chemical fertilizers, of
appropriate seed, in a word, of rational methods of operation.
Something similar happened in urban industry. Industrial growth under
Peronism was based on the massive use manpower rather than on a genuine
renovation and extension of the country's industrial equipment.
What is the cause of this anomaly so contrary to the laws of industrial
development? Again, the Bonapartist nature of the Peronist government. Under
a bourgeois regime, the only way to adequately increase capital in industry
is to overexploit the workers and extract from their labor the capital
needed for the purchase of industrial equipment.
Another path to industrialization does exist: it involves socializing
industry and letting the working class itself develop through a workers
state. But socialism was far from Perón's intentions. (...) At the same
time, by allowing the workers to be overexploited by the capitalists; he
would have lost the massive support of the working class and eliminated his
own margin for maneuver with the bourgeoisie and imperialism.
Trapped by the contradictions of his own tepidly reformist bourgeois policy,
Perón's government preferred to continue to pretend to be on the best terms
with both God and the Devil.
Bonapartism and the class struggle
For Bonapartism hoped to profit from the times of prosperity to eliminate
the class struggle and "balance" the forces of the bourgeoisie, imperialism
and the working class, by transforming itself into the supreme arbiter of
But the class struggle is the motor of history and cannot be swept aside by
a simple system of political and economic checks and balances.
The working class, even when it has not reached a high level of class
consciousness, even when it does not clearly understand its historic mission
as a class, cannot and never will be a mere title in the hands of some
ruling group, whoever they may be. On October 17, 1945, Bonapartism gave the
signal for a mass mobilization to support its leader against the right wing
of the military government which was bending to the pressures of the
bourgeoisie and imperialism. But the working class, by taking to the streets
of Buenos Aires and all cities of the hinterland, threw its own class weight
into the political arena
Therein lies one of the most explosive contradictions of Peronism: the class
origin of this base. Even without struggling for its own historic goals, the
working class deeply suffused Peronist ranks and left its imprint on many
measures of the Bonapartist government.
The process of mass unionization of the working class was promoted and
controlled from above, but it was also taken over and given a new impulse by
the rank-and-file as a weapon in the struggle against the employers. Between
1945 and 1949, the class struggle passed through the economic struggle over
the distribution of profits. Employers hoped to turn all the huge postwar
profits into capital investments. The workers claimed they deserved an
increasing share of this wealth which they had created by their labor. The
Bonapartist government tried to balance these struggles in favor of the
capitalist regime as a whole and constantly bolstered the state apparatus
and state control of the CGT to that effect.
Prosperity began to wane in 1949 but the Korean War (1950-1953) gave
Bonapartism a reprieve. By 1954, the crisis of the system had begun to burst
out in the open. The huge profits that made possible big wage increases for
the working class and fat profits for the ruling class already were no
longer coming in. The time to choose had come.
What did Perón's Bonapartist government choose? In 1953, it created the
Economic General Confederation to organize Argentine employers and
counterbalance the CGT 's influence in the Peronist political machine. This
produced good results so fast that Guillermo Kraft, who represented the
organization at the Seventh Plenary Meeting of the Inter-American Trade
Council in Mexico, in 1954, boasted that : "A profound transformation is
under way in our country. People are grateful for private enterprise and
trust entrepreneurs. The goods that were nationalized are now being turned
over one after another to private firms. We are invited to participate in
the management of the state institutions."
Those of us who are above a certain age remember the most immediate
day-to-day evidence of the crisis of Bonapartism at that time: the congress
for productivity, the tours for productivity among the workers, the famous
speeches in which Perón said that he saw too many things wasted in the
garbage cans at five in the morning, the poor dark bread one ate at meals
for the first time in a long time.
The most active sections of the working class also noticed this phenomenon
and strikes that were not organized from the top down, appeared again. On
the other hand, the official CGT acted as a strikebreaker in the work
stoppages -- which lasted over two months -- in the engineering industry and
in the other movements of a variety of trades.
Bonapartism and the new empire
A thorough analysis of Peronism's economic policy would take us beyond the
limits of this article. We will merely indicate the basic skeleton of this
policy: an independent capitalist development project, designed to put a
brake on the revolutionary process, but thwarted by its own class
limitations. In the epoch of imperialism, only a workers government, an
authentic workers and people's government, can successfully carry out the
gigantic task of transforming a backward and dependent country into a
prosperous, industrialized and independent country.
To remove any doubt about this assertion, one need only ask the following:
Would the "gorilla" reaction have succeeded in turning the country over to
the Yankees and smash the working class so easily if the relations of
property had not been exactly the same on September 16, 1955, as they were
on October 17, 1945? Would Aramburu, Rojas and company have succeeded in
taking power so easily if the workers and people had been organized in armed
militias when they faced the professional bourgeois army? Would Yankee
imperialism have penetrated our country so rapidly if it had not begun to do
so before September 16? And could the Cuban oligarchy recapture the power in
its own country, today, after ten years of Castroist revolution, as our own
gorillas recaptured it after ten years of Peronist "revolution"? Of course
Why did Perón not carry out the land reform, nationalize industry and arm
the proletariat? Certainly not for lack of popular support. Never had a
government of our country enjoyed such widespread support. In 1946, Perón
was elected to the Casa Rosada in the first truly clean elections of our
history, with 1.4 million votes, that is 260 000 more than the opposition
united under the banner of Unión Democrática. When he asked for another term
as president in 1951, his lead had jumped to 2.3 million as against the
Uni6n Civica Radical ticket headed by the Balbín-Frondizi tandem.
The reason Perón did not carry out a genuine revolution is simply that he
did not want to. Because that was not part of his plan which was conceived
within the strictly bourgeois boundaries of his Bonapartist project.
When the "brave" Navy airmen massacred the unarmed people assembled in the
Plaza de Mayo on June 16, 1955, Perón answered the workers who asked for
weapons: "From home to work and from work to home." Three months later he
fell without pain or glory.
"It was to avoid bloodshed," he said. The Peronist workers massacred at
Avellaneda and Rosario between September 23 and 29, those shot on June 9,
Vallese, the dozens of anonymous Peronist militants, the children who
continue to die of hunger and curable diseases could tell General Perón how
much more blood has been shed, though in a different way.
Some people try to justify these twenty-five years by emphasizing the
alleged anti-imperialism of the Peronist "National Movement." "During his
government," they tell us, "Perón stopped US imperialism, liquidated English
imperialism, and gave us genuine economic independence, social justice and
political sovereignty. He could go no further because the conditions did not
exist. Today, however, the National Movement has been through that
experience and knows that it must fight for socialism."
Every word a lie. As far as British imperialism is concerned, we already
explained above the real content of Peronist policy: nationalize those
British goods [properties? - RF] which the British wanted to abandon as part
of their worldwide retrenchment. We made their orderly retreat easier and
offered them a financial bonanza. Those resources the British wanted to
keep -- like the meatpacking installations and La Forestal -- remained
British as long as the British still wanted them.
What about his attitude towards the United States? In 1946, Peronism built
its election campaign around the slogan of "Perón or Braden". But in 1947,
the Peronist government signed the Treaty of Rio de Janeiro, the first link
in a long chain that binds us to the North American imperial system. This
Treaty pledged us -- and continues to pledge us -- to "defend any country of
the hemisphere that might be the object of extra-continental aggression." In
other words, to embark on any military adventure which the United States
might decided to undertake. Later on, the Peronist government sent its
representatives to the OAS conferences in Caracas and Bogota.
In 1950, when the postwar reserves began to run out, we underwrote the first
loan issue of the Washington-based Import-Export Bank, to the tune of $125
million. The same year, the sending of a contingent of our troops to fight
in Korea was prevented by the famous Pérez to Rosario march and other
spontaneous demonstrations of the Argentine people against the war. The fate
that would have befallen our soldiers if the Yankees had been allowed to
turn them into cannon fodder can be gauged by the following figures: of the
5000 men sent to Korea in the Brazilian battalion, only 325 came home.
On July 30, 1953, Perón wrote in the official daily Democracia: "A few day
ago, an illustrious American, Doctor Milton Eisenhower, visited our country
on behalf of his brother, the president of the United States. (...) A new
era is opening in the friendship between our governments, our countries and
The oil contracts with Standard Oil were supposed to be signed some time in
1954 or 1955; but the "gorillas"' coup d'état postponed the actual signing
and the deal was consummated under Frondizi's government. (...)
[end of Part I]
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