From Fourth International, Vol.6 No.12, December 1945, pp.371-373.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
To have a broad understanding of what is happening in Argentina, it is necessary to sketch in a few words its history for the last 15 years.
The Uriburu revolution in September 1930 pulled down the Radical party boss Hipolito Yrigoyen, leader of the flourishing commercial and industrial bourgeoisie of Argentina. Uriburu handed over the power to a conservative government (Justo) of land-and-cattle lords who were strongly bound to English imperialism, their main customer. Amidst all the political seesawing, the latter maneuvers to maintain its privileged position in the market here and to resist all attempts of the United States to take its place. The political fights in Argentina are understandable only if they are linked up with the inter-imperialist struggle.
British imperialism owns the transport trust, a good part of the meat-packing industry, controls the banking system (from its foundation in 1935 the Central Bank of the Republic has been tied to British finance) as well as many other important industries. The United Kingdom is the premier customer of and seller to the Argentine Republic.
American imperialism ranks second only to the United Kingdom in the external trade of Argentina. It is the owner of the electrical trust in the country (with the notable exceptions of Buenos Aires and Rosario which are in the hands of the Anglo-Belgian SOFINA), controls mines, oil fields, meat packing, textiles and chemical industries. Up until a few years ago, the Argentine Republic, which is a great exporter of meat and cereals and importer of manufactured goods and raw materials for its industry and transport, depended upon its foreign trade with the imperialist powers.
In the 1938 elections the Ortiz-Castillo combination won out, deposing General Justo by fraud and violence, the usual means of winning elections in Argentina. Ortiz, a former liberal, tried to approach the Radical (liberal) party and had promised clean elections against the strong resistance of the agrarian oligarchy. He died and his successor, Castillo, took the old path again.
In the meantime a new power had been emerging, the industrial bourgeoisie which was still without much of a party of its own but growing stronger every day. It wanted to obtain tariff walls and a cheaper government, that is, less direct taxes. From 1939 on Argentine industry grew up enormously, favored by the Second World War, which practically interrupted importations and opened some markets in Latin American and South Africa to Argentine products.
Since 1935 the industrial proletariat has grown quickly. From 471,000 workers in that year, it has jumped to 1,000,000 in 1945. In addition, there are more than a half million workers in the transport corporations, the rural proletariat, etc. One extremely important fact is the very great industrial concentration: within a radius of 100 kilometers of Buenos Aires there are 900,000 workers. The Argentine proletariat is new and young, and the union membership is very weak (about ten to twenty per cent).
The possibilities of development and the attempts at independence of the industrial bourgeoisie found an indirect advocate in the brass-hats, who are interested in having a heavy industry. Furthermore, the strong financial resources and continuously favorable trade balance put the Argentine bourgeoisie as a whole in a good position to fight for its “sovereignty.”
The Rawson-Ramirez revolt of June 4, 1943 was the final consequence of this process. But the initial unity of the military caste, which was obliged to satisfy simultaneously the needs of the industrial bourgeoisie, the English and American imperialisms, the middle class, the agrarian oligarchy and the proletariat, quickly melted away. Colonel Peron, the “grey eminence” of the military clique, found it easy to take advantage of this situation and climbed rapidly upward in a typically bonapartist campaign.
In studying the case of Peron, it is necessary to remember the South American “caudillo” tradition, which made possible political maneuvers difficult to carry on in more advanced countries. In December 1943 Peron took into his hands the National Board of Labor and transformed it into a Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare, which is now the center of his presidential campaign. He turned to his account some wage increases won by the workers (which, without Peron’s intervention, would have been much greater), speeded up the formation of yellow unions (now strong enough), tried to destroy the independent unions, and used a cynical demagogic language among the less advanced sectors of the urban and rural working class.
In a speech delivered at the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange in September 1944 Peron said to the Babbitts of this country:
“If you want social peace, you have to know how to handle workers. You must walk through the plant, amicably tapping the workers on their shoulders and kindly asking about their family. At the end of the year, give them a bond as a gift. ... They say I am an enemy of capitalism. It’s not true. There is no better supporter of capitalism than I. But ... but ... it’s better to give a thirty per cent now, then to be forced to give it all afterwards.”
This characteristic speech, published by every newspaper in the country on September 3, 1944, has some points in common with the meeting at which Hitler was presented to the German industrial barons and promised them to be their faithful servant.
Peron’s plan of penetration into the working class was facilitated by the great disorganization prevailing in most of the unions owing to a great extent to the Stalinist policy of “national unity.” But Stalinism has lost a lot of prestige among the militant rank and file. The general strike of 80,000 metal workers in 1942, betrayed by the Stalinist leadership, the Avellaneda-Berisso meat-packing general strike of 50,000 in November 1943, when the Stalinist leader Peter was carried from a concentration camp in a military plane in order to break the strike, the annihilation by Peron’s police of the Stalinist dominated Textile Union, have dealt strong blows to the Stalinist influence in the unions.
Now the Communist Party is more and more followed by the petty-bourgeoisie, but it does not attract the proletariat in the same way. The Peronist workers attack the Stalinists, saying they are “on the capitalist side.” Peron has neutralized the Stalinist influence over the masses to an extent unknown in other countries. It is quite impossible to elaborate correct tactics in the mass movement without fully understanding this capital point.
The Socialist Party of Palacios and Repetto is very weak in the union movement. The Anarchists have some strength in small independent unions, but they are only a shadow of what they were 25 years ago, when the FORA had 300,000 members. This relationship of forces, the great importance of the industrial proletariat and the continuous increase of its class consciousness creates extremely favorable conditions for the expansion of the Trotskyist movement.
The Trotskyist UOR (Union Obrera Revolucionaria) has already set into motion an independent group in the Metal-Workers Union which is very active and well-organized. It is gathering around it a number of new leaders, genuine representatives of the working class. The following open letter to the Executive Board of the Workers Syndicate of the Metallurgical Industry, written by one of these leaders, provides a good example of its program and activities. In this syndicate the Local Workers Union is controlled by the Communist Party.
Buenos Aires, September 14, 1945
Comrades: The Assembly on September 12 enthusiastically applauded my suggestions to complete and improve the list of union demands. However, I was accused of being ‘provocative’ and ‘peronista,’ that is, an ally of Peron, without any proof. I tried to defend my position but was bluntly prevented from appearing on the platform.
For that reason I address this open letter to you in behalf of myself and the Agrupcion Metalurgica Independiente (Independent Metal-Workers Group). The AMI has been formed in order to defend a particular union policy within the Workers Syndicate of the Metallurgical Industry. This policy is expressed in the 5-point declaration we distributed during the Assembly.
Here they are:
In these five points there is nothing ‘provocative.’ Moreover, the rising scale of wages was recommended by the Local Workers Union to which our union belongs.
The new proposal for our industry is the sliding scale of working hours. What does this mean? If there is unemployment, there must be solidarity among the workers, both employed and unemployed. Henceforward in each factory, workshop and department the work to be done will be shared without preference among the workers and jobless, without reducing wages.
Instead of working 48 hours, work 30 with the same pay. Somebody may tell you that this is a very ‘advanced’ demand. This is not true! The solution suggested by the Local Workers Union, to subsidize every jobless worker, is much more ‘advanced.’ This subsidy would be paid by the State, that is, in the last instance, paid by the working people through taxes.
The sliding scale of working hours is a genuine subsidy. But it will be paid directly by the industries. If they were enriched in the past good years, it is not fair for the workers alone to pay for the consequences during the bad years.
We must be realistic. The workers have very sad prospects confronting them. I am not against the list of demands, because I think we need to improve our situation. But I affirm that without the rising scale of wages and sliding scale of working hours, it will be useless.
Why is there such a small attendance at the Assembly? There were only 2,000 workers while we are 70,000. The answer is: the list of demands are not satisfactory. We need a bolder program.
They accused me of being a ‘peronista.’ They beat me over the head but, being a militant worker, I do not care. But let us see what Peron did. He raised wages – but at the same time raising the cost of living.
Our union seeks to raise wages. Just the same, comrades, you are doing the same thing that Peron did. But I would not call you ‘peronista’ or ‘provocative.’ I will tell you that you are wrong. We are against the mistakes, not against you, com-rades. That is why we fight as an organized group inside the union.
The time of monolithic parties is over. We are now in a period of trade union democracy. It is necessary to talk and let everybody talk. Necessarily there are differences of opinion in our union. If we call those who do not think like the leaders do ‘peronist,’ ‘provocative,’and ‘fascist,’ then we are playing the game of the bourgeoisie.
I hope our comrades of the Executive Board will think this over very carefully.”
This open letter was given out at the factory gates. Through such work we are getting excellent results. In the coming months we anticipate that the Union Obrera Revolucionaria and the entire movement of the Fourth International will acquire an exceptional force which will have as its immediate consequence the formation of the revolutionary party.
Buenos Aires, October 1945
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Last updated on 12.9.2008