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.

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