On the history of the Argentinean Left (2)

Nestor Gorojovsky nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar
Mon May 5 06:37:52 MDT 2003

This was meant to be the fourth installment of a long history of
Argentina and its left. It deals with the generation that built up
the Argentinean state, the Generation of 1880:

A Belated history of Argentine Left, part 4, first installment

Yes, the Jedi came back!  When everyone supposed it had melted away
in the eons of a fathomless time-space warp, the Jedi came back!  And
here is the next part of the long story.

1.  State and bourgeosie in the Spanish world

One of the most striking features in Spanish history is the weakness
or helplesness of the Spanish bourgeoisie, which generated a fateful
blockage in the social and economic evolution of the country that
first arrived at American shores from Europe. The consequences of
this arrest in bourgeois development still resound in our countries.
How?  Let us see.

Many think that what we know term the West began to exist only after
the enormous riches of America allowed the merchant classes of the
"Old" Continent's Westernmost tip to outcompete their Eastern
counterparts.  [Our Jim Blaut has written very interesting things on
this, a whole book to be clear. And his case is really among the
easiest to defend, only that one needs to be a revolutionary to raise
it.]  Now, it was Spain (and to a lesser degree, Portugal) who opened
the gates for the inflow of riches.  Wouldn't it have been reasonable
that these countries would outcompete their own European counterparts
first and foremost?  This is not, obviously, what happened.  How,
then, were not Spain and Portugal but England, Holland, and France,
the countries that most benefitted from the endless stream of gold
and silver, first, and of tropical products soon afterwards, that
were ruthlessly extracted from America?

The many reasons may be reasonably -though somewhat harshly-
condensed in one: while in Northern and Western Europe these riches
were captured by the nascent bourgeoisies, in the Iberian Peninsula
they were used by the old nobility to crush the local bourgoisies
(much to the happiness of the bourgeoisies abroad, who always feared
the event of a bourgeois Spain, owner of the planet's most immense
colonial possessions). The gold and silver of America were used by
the Spanish Habsburgs (the "Austrias") to fight against Reformation
and the French kings (bourgeoisie abroad) and against the
Hermandades and Comuneros (bourgeoisie at home) for the best part of
almost two centuries.  The loans contracted by the Spanish Crown -in
the very usual way the Kings (Popes included) of the Middle Ages
contracted loans with the Jews and other usurers- were the first
avenue along which these riches jumped away from Spain.  The
destruction of local industries and the protection that the first
Austria (Charles the Fifth of Germany and First of Spain) gave to the
Flemish merchants and mill owners were another.  Finally, the Spanish
aristocracy found in the gold and silver from America a wonderful
tool to buttress their improductive behavior and their prejudices
against "vile" labour.

These three causes, in essence, bled Spain dry and turned Portugal
into a pawn in the hands of Great Britain.  After the Treaty of
Ryswick (early 1670s), Spain (the Kingdom where "the Sun never set"
of the 1500s) became a second rank country [and the Treaty of Methuen
(early 1700s, Methuen is no placename, it is the name of the
_merchant_ who had it signed on behalf of Britain) turned Portugal
into almost a colony of England].  But history gave the Spanish
bourgeoisie a new opportunity with the Spanish Borbons.  This
dinasty, which began with the 18th. Century (that is in 1701) attemp
ted to transform the social structure of the country --from above,
following a cold policy that was summed up as "everything for the
people, but WITHOUT the people"-- and to generate a bourgeoisie by
means of State power. The results, though scant, were meaningful.
Essentially, the modern Spanish bourgeoisie is not the child of the
old bourgeoisie of the late 1400s (this one was destroyed by the
successive expulsions of the Jews and the Moriscos, and by the
general reactionary thrust of the policy of the Austrias) but of the
Spanish state of the Eighteenth Century.  But due to many reasons
(the French Revolution among them) the reform lost momentum and was
finally crushed by the events when in 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain.

While the Spanish people rose in arms against the invader, the older
classes supported the struggle _against the bourgeoisies or the
bourgeois reformers, either French or Spanish_, and finally whisked
the victory away from the hands of the people and turned it into a
victory of the old nobility,  the landed Spanish oligarchs and the
high clergy.  In America, as I had already told you, the
revolutionaries were forced to break with the Spanish revolution
(doomed) and attempt a path of their own. The story of their defeat
is, in fact, the story of our most essential current tasks.

And the first of them is the restoration of some kind of State in
Latin America.  Funny, is it not, that socialists must struggle to
_restore_ a State?  But this is the way history has developed.  Now,
this task of restoring a State is not something that nobody had
attempted after the defeat of the 1820s and 1830s.  The attempt was
very succesful, in particular, in Argentina and Uruguay, the two
River Plate countries.  So succesful it was that it took more than a
century to the imperialists and the local oligarchies to destroy that
State, and at least twice in that long century (if not three times),
due to the inmanent logics of a formal national state existing within
an objectivelly semicolonial country, these classes faced a true
danger of popular (that is, workers-led) takeover.

While in Uruguay the man of the moment was Colonel Latorre (I hope I
can extend on Uruguay some day, it is a very interesting complement
to my story), in Argentina the builder of this Argentinian state, and
in many senses of the Argentinian "peculiarity" that the Proceso of
1976 was bent on elliminating -and Menem elliminated to a great
extent-, was General Julio Argentino Roca.  We shall have to dwell a
little on this man and his Generation (the very vilified "Generation
of the 80s", probably the most brilliant Argentinian political
generation, and certainly one of the most progressive ones), because
the roots of the Argentinian Left's misunderstanding of the country
lie very deeply entangled with the original misunderstanding of the
politics of the country to which the European immigrants were
arriving.  This country was the country that Roca and his people were
building, and Mitre and his own crew tried (on behalf of Britain, and
to an important extent succesfully) to deform and abort.

2.  Closing the age of the civil wars: Roca in Buenos Aires.

By 1875, immigration to Argentina was already a steady inflow of
Europeans, mainly Spanish and Italian, but to a lesser though sizable
degree French and Irish also.  The immigrants settled mostly in
Buenos Aires and Rosario at first, and at the end of the 70s the
accumulated migratory balance had surpassed the 270,000 mark, that is
15% of the total population enumerated by the 1869 Census. The day-to-
day impact was much heavier, since the balance implied some 450,000
inbound migrants (25% of the Census) and 180,000 outbound.  While
they arrived, strove to find a place under the Sun (almost to the
letter) and eventually thrived, the Argentinians were struggling in a
political scenario that included armed upheavals, the actual
annexation of Patagonia (_de facto_ a no man's land up to 1879), and
a final blow to the interests of Buenos Aires and Mitre when Julio A.
Roca became President in 1880.  This blow was the federalization of
the city of Buenos Aires, and cost many thousands of lives.  With it,
the age of the civil war ended in Argentina, and a new age set in.

Who were these people who were taking power at the same time the
immigrants began to get in touch with their new world?  Two
mainstream interpretations miss the kernel of the issue, which is by
no means a matter of chance.  Both consider Roca and his group of
supporters the core of Argentinian "oligarchy".  The first one makes
of Roca the founder and chief of the Conservative party, and
glorifies him for that. The second one makes of Roca the founder and
chief of the Cosnervative party, and considers him the incarnation of
the Devil on earth.

I, for one, think quite differently.  Because -as a minimum- there
were many Rocas along the period of thirty years that one can safely
define as the age of Roca, a period that witnessed so many
revolutionary transformations in Argentina that not even the most
Parmenidean of the Aristotelics would fail to recognize that here, at
least, something had changed a bit.  And, moreover, Roca and the
Roquists built a great deal of thier power on the remains of the
Federal party of the Inland country, clearly against the Argentinian
oligarchy that has always been a Buenos Aires -  centered "rosca".
Roca himself seems to have silently backed the Socialist party of
Alfredo Palacios in the 1904 elections.  Among the Roquist
intellectuals outstanded some of the most advanced men of the age
(the founder of the Argentine Socialist Party, Hermann Aue Lallemant,
had a very important technical and administrative carreer in the
Roquist administrations of Cuyo).  The Roquists lay the foundations
of the protective tariffs that allowed Argentina to have an industry
of its own while most Latin American countries were crushed to
oblivion.  They confronted the British railroads and built State-
owned lines that only afterwards were given (against Roca's personal
advice) to British ownership.  They built the great educational
network that Argentina boasted as almost unique for decades.  And
they were supported for decades by the most humble of the
Argentinians, the Creole poor people who were being sunken to the
lowest ranks of society to accomodate the newcomers, the immigrants
who were to become the middle class.

There is more, and when we begin to analyze the mistakes of
Argentinian Leftists of the time (ironically, Lallemant included) we
shall deal with them. But these facts may prepare the terrain.  I
will show you with different eyes the country that the immigrants saw
half-blindfolded, the politicians the immigrants despised, and the
great generation that built what was called Argentina until the 1976
counter-revolution set the stage for Alfonsin, first, and essentially
Menem later to destroy anything these great men had done. In a
certain sense, Peronism is a consequence of this Roquism that the
Left misunderstood, something the Peronists themselves fail to
acknowledge. But this will be the subject matter of another posting.

Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
"Sí, una sola debe ser la patria de los sudamericanos".
Simón Bolívar al gobierno secesionista y disgregador de
Buenos Aires, 1822
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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