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Fourth International, September-October 1947


Louis T. Gordon

The Class Struggle in Argentina


From Fourth International, September-October 1947, Vol.8 No.8, pp.233-236.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The present Argentine regime is an enigma to many people. Peron’s numerous contradictory statements, as well as the demagogic measures carried out under his influence by the government which finally arose out of the military coup of June 4, 1943, have confused especially those who are used to pay attention only to what is on the surface of phenomena. Naturally, we will be confused if we read one of the speeches, made by the Argentine dictator for the purpose of winning the favor of the workers and a moment later read his statements for the circles of the bourgeoisie. But if we analyze at the same time the government’s actions and view them against the background of Argentine economic reality, all darkness vanishes and undeniable reality appears.

Who Rules Argentina?

Nowadays there cannot be any doubt that Peron’s regime is the representative in power of the native Argentine big bourgeoisie. The native-owned sectors of industry and commerce hold the reins of power. They are, of course, restrained and controlled, in their possibilities of growth by the forces of imperialism, which in the last analysis will impose the limits beyond which their development will not be able to pass.

Traditionally, Argentina was an agricultural and cattle-raising country completely subdued by imperialism, primarily the British, who had reduced it to a semi-colonial condition. The agricultural and cattle-raising interests gleaned benefits from this dependent economic position of the country, because in return for surrendering the Argentine market to imperialist exploitation, they received an assured market for their products. For this reason during the long years of their unchallenged domination, they tried to check industrialization, obeying the dictates of the ruling imperialism. Nevertheless, industrialization advanced at a relatively rapid pace, especially profiting from brilliant opportunities afforded by the two world wars. Industrialization profited mainly from World War II, with the big world demand for agricultural and cattle products and the impossibility of importing manufactured articles in return. As a consequence of this, Argentina emerged with large favorable trade balances and as a creditor country.

During the Second World War the value of industrial output reached and even surpassed the value of agricultural and meat products; and, for the first time, Argentina started exporting manufactured goods. This industrial growth exerted— it could not have been otherwise—immediately noticeable effects on the Argentine situation. The native bourgeoisie started fighting intensely for the adoption of a high tariff policy to protect its own young industries from the ruinous competition of its more advanced rivals. Meanwhile, the agricultural and cattle-raising sectors (dependent on British imperialism), whose most prominent mouthpiece is the daily La Prensa, didn’t cease defending free trade and Argentina’s need to keep trading her food products, and her raw materials generally for European manufactured goods.

The native bourgeoisie managed to elect their first president, Yrigoyen, during the First World War; Peron took power during the Second. It is not by coincidence or mere demagogy that the government’s most faithful mouthpiece, the daily La Epoca carries on its masthead the superimposed effigies of Peron and Yrigoyen.

Peron offered his services to the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie needed a strong hand to break through innumerable obstacles barring the consolidation of their rule. And although a little hesitant and fearful of the consequences of Peron’s demagogic appeals to the working class, the bourgeoisie finally agreed that he was the right man for the job and accepted him.

The Native Argentine Big Bourgeoisie

The native Argentine bourgeoisie wants to industrialize the country in spite of all obstacles. They are ready to mobilize all the state resources, actual and potential, to attain their objective. And this attempt is not being carried out, as some people contend, in secrecy, hidden as much as possible from the eyes of the public. On the contrary, the government admits it and brags about it.

Proof of this is to be found in a speech made on May 29, 1947, by Miranda, big industrialist, director of the Banco Central and virtual dictator of Argentine economy. Referring in his speech to the railroad problem and especially the modification of freight rates, a problem with which the government was confronted after the purchase of the British-owned railroads, Miranda took advantage of the opportunity to explain the economic aims of the government. Literally his every word expresses the strong will of a successful industrialist, determined to put the state at the service of his class.

Miranda remarked that the rates established, when the British owned the railroads, protected products destined for export to the detriment of the manufactured or manufacturable goods, and that legislation generally was used to favor agriculture and cattle-raising as against industry. He fervently defended industry:

Although the products of the soil are given the utmost protection, there are still voices to be heard, fortunately each time more isolated, complaining about the expensive protection they say industries are allegedly receiving. The facts, I have stated, lead rather to an opposite conclusion.

In all fairness it must be acknowledged that the national industry has made a supreme effort to remedy this situation [inflation] ... We have to continue down the road we have entered and press as much as possible our country’s industrialization.

We are passing beyond the agricultural and cattle-raising stage ... To sum up, we are living in a transitional epoch, passing from a primitive economy to a more industrialized economy—that is, complementing both to bring about a higher standard of living ... This should have taken place immediately after the first war, but the old oligarchy preferred to squander in luxury and ostentation the resources that would have served to consolidate at that time the opportunity which now repeats itself after a lapse of thirty years.

The so-called “five year plan” so much publicized lately, sets forth the way in which the government intends to carry out industrialization. This plan has aroused widespread opposition among the peasants for obvious reasons, since it actually means nothing else but a legal theft of their profits. The government is the sole buyer of agricultural products. This means that the peasant must sell his crops at officially fixed prices which are very low as compared with the prices the government itself gets by selling these products in the world market. The state, despite the peasants’ discontent, pockets these profits, using them to help finance the industrialization plan.

The profits obtained from these governmental sales of agricultural products are not enough to supply all the funds needed. Where does the balance come from? A part comes from the profits from government control of foreign currency exchange; but the bulk comes from the utilization of bank deposits. All bank deposits must be registered in the name of the Banco Central which may use them in any manner it wishes. Keeping in mind that Miranda is the director of Banco Central, we get a fairly clear picture of the overall situation.

Despite their verbal attacks on imperialism and against the landowning oligarchy, the representatives of the national big bourgeoisie are attached to both by many ties. Upon reaching a certain stage of development, many members of the bourgeoisie transform themselves, too, into big landowners. The bourgeoisie is tied to the landlords through the banks which hold mortgages on landed estates. Besides, the landowners and the bourgeoisie unite in a solid bloc whenever the onslaughts of the proletariat threaten the very system of private property. In Argentina the native bourgeoisie is already engaged in agreements with the landowners in order to prevent agrarian reforms. At the same time, they make deals with imperialism, which they allow to dominate in many ways, including the formation of joint corporations, partly owned by the government and partly by imperialists. On top of all this, they are capitulating to the Truman Doctrine.

The Peasants

The majority of Argentine peasants are tenants. Those who are proprietors are burdened with mortgages and debts. Their economic situation is endemically bad. Apart from the ever looming menace of natural catastrophes, they lack the necessary money to carry on their activities normally.

Owing to the very nature of rural life, the usual credit terms do not suit the needs of the peasants. The farmer has to receive a loan before sowing time, and he cannot repay it until his crop is sold. Nevertheless, in Argentina there never existed an agricultural bank or some other official institution to facilitate cheap credit as required by the peasants. Consequently, they are left defenseless in the hands of usurers. The “independence” of small peasants, proprietors and tenants alike, rests mainly on their exploiting their own labor power and the labor power of their families.

The Argentine farmer who went through so many hard times in recent years, envisaged at last art opportunity of making some money by taking advantage of a very favorable world market. But when the long awaited moment came, the government intervened to siphon off the lion’s share of the profits into the pockets of the bourgeoisie. And this was not the only blow. In his striving to win the backing of agricultural laborers (the peortes), Peron decreed severe limitations to the use of family help on the farms. This means that a farmer can use the help of his family only to a limited extent; over and above these limits, he has to hire a laborer, even if his sons might have to stay idle as a consequence.

It is therefore only natural that, in contrast to the agricultural laborers, the peasants bitterly oppose Peron. On many occasions, the government has dissolved peasants’ meetings and forbidden them to assemble to discuss their problems. In view of this situation, the peasants have threatened seriously not to gather their harvests.

The Argentine peasantry needs agrarian reform urgently. The Perortist government has been promising agrarian reform since it took power. “The land must belong to those who till it.” This was and remains one of Peron’s demagogic slogans. A parody of agrarian reform is already taking place, solely for the purpose of hiding from the people the fact that genuine agrarian reform cannot and will not be fulfilled under this or any other bourgeois government.

The Working Class and Peronism

Peron utilized the workers as a spearhead in his ascent to power. He used unlimited demagogy to get and keep their support especially until after the elections of February of 1946, when he won the presidency. He took advantage of the unrest of the masses. But at the same time he unwittingly and unwillingly helped raise their fighting spirit, their self-confidence, and their consciousness of their own power.

The workers pressed forward to improve their living and working conditions, and under this pressure on several occasions the government forced the employers to grant them wage increases. But these wage increases were only nominal; very soon they became converted into reductions of real wages, because of the fantastically soaring cost of living authorized by the government although it pretended, as it still does, to fight against it.

In the very midst of the February 1946 electoral campaign, Farrell’s government (always Peron’s faithful tool), promulgated Decree No.33,302, which gave the final touches to Peron’s campaign. This decree granted the workers, white-collar workers included, considerable wage increases and also a yearly bonus of a month’s salary.

In spite of this decree, the workers’ unrest did not subside. Just the contrary. Official statistics records for 1946, 142 strikes—the highest number in the last 25 years, surpassed only in 1907, 1910 and 1919-20. What is behind this unrest? It is this: While nominal wages and salaries have increased 36.4% from 1944 to 1946, the cost of living has increased 40.%. As a consequence real wages and salaries, if we take 1944 as 100, had decreased to 89.5 by 1946.

In short, the policy of the present Argentine government is to grant higher nominal wages and salaries while lowering the real salaries and wages.

The true situation remains concealed today only because Argentina is still in a period of relative prosperity and there is enough work for the wives and young children who contribute to swell the proletarian families’ incomes.

After Peron’s victory at the polls, his attitude toward the workers changed. While his press still continues talking “in behalf” of the workers, there ensued very soon his divergences with one section of the working class, grouped around the so-called Labor Party. Peron attempted to dissolve it. Concurrently, the state machinery began to be used openly in order to avert or break strikes, which were in many instances prohibited as “illegal.” To illustrate:

In May, Tucuman workers planned a general walkout in solidarity with the workers of the wine distilleries who were on strike. This movement failed. Why? The police threw cordons around all union headquarters in order to prevent the labor leaders from gathering to discuss their position towards the walkout. The National Gendarmerie and the police patrolled the city to dissolve any meeting or even mere gatherings on the street. The workers who organized the walkout were imprisoned.

Again, in the Buenos Aires port, on June 2, the workers belonging to the Sociedad de Resistencia de Obreros del Puerto decided to go on strike. The walkout took place; immediately the government declared it “illegal.”

The most significant and unusual strike—significant be. cause it proves that the workers are ready to fight when necessary even against the authorities—was the street-cleaners’ strike. These municipal workers went on strike demanding wage increases.

Peronist “Interventors”

The “Interventor” of the Municipal Workers Union—the government “intervenes” in unions whenever it considers it necessary, being invested with power to remove from office regularly elected union officials and to appoint “receivers” or “interventors” in their place-declared that the strike was not authorized by the union and demanded that the strikers go back to work. Later the strike was declared “illegal” and it was announced that the Municipality would discharge those who continued the walkout. The workers were informed of this while gathered at a meeting; but in spite of it they decided to go on with the strike. Finally, after the walkout had lasted 10 days, under terrific pressure, the strikers decided to return to work, after they were granted small concessions by the government.

From a formal point of view, the government has almost complete control of the trade union movement. The trade unionists are continually warned to keep the unions free from “political interference.” This means only that radical parties have no right to “interfere” in union activities.

The Confederation General del Trabajo (CGT—General Confederation of Labor), which embraces the great’ majority of Argentine trade unions, is absolutely at the government’s service. This is not so strange when we stop to consider that those “elected” to union posts are often people completely alien to trade union life; that union members are expelled without any explanations; and that some of the labor-fakers receive, in addition to their union pay, high governmental salaries. As a consequence the CGT is primarily a tool to implement the official policy.

Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie has already started demanding an increase in the number of working hours. The Industrial Union (the organization of Argentine industrialists) has demanded that working hours be raised to 9, whereas Peronist papers talk of increasing them to 10, with a bonus of 50%. Naturally, in a short time the soaring cost of living would leave nothing of the bonus, but the 10-hour day would stay.

Peronism will not succeed indefinitely in duping the Argentine masses. Each day, more and more workers realize the true nature of a regime which has posed as their defender only to deliver them defenseless to their exploiters.

We have to admit that the Socialist Party is consistent: Before, during, and after Peron’s electoral victory, its attitude has been thoroughly petty-bourgeois, clear proof of its anti-Marxist character.

The Socialist Party

The Argentine Socialists consider that the main task of the hour is the “rehabilitation” of the democratic and republican institutions. That is all. Their program of action begins and ends here. Imperialism and the agrarian problem appear to them no problems at all. But, on the other hand, how all-important is even the slightest transgression of sacred parliamentarian rules! Long editorials are dedicated to insignificant questions but never to a thorough analysis of the class nature of the regime and, of course, never, never to a program of action based on such a Marxist analysis.

The position of political parties toward imperialism and toward agrarian reform is the touchstone in Argentina so far as their political character is concerned. The Socialist Party defends the peasants from the government’s spoliations but they do not utter a single word on the necessity of agrarian reform. They “criticize” the government for industrializing the country “too rapidly” instead of letting it continue peacefully its agricultural and cattle-raising life. They do not even refer to the progressive role that a real industrialization of the country would play.

The Socialist position on imperialism is likewise more than symptomatic. They do not fight, not even with words, against British imperialism; nor, in effect, against American imperialism. If there is a Truman Doctrine that openly lays bare the will of American imperialism to turn the whole world into an American colony; if Wall Street is trying might and main to start a Third World War to destroy what little there is left of the October Revolution in the Soviet Union—what does it matter? At all events, the leaders of the Socialist Party are not aware of it. They do not have time for such “little things.”

The Stalinist Party

The position of the Communist (Stalinist) Party clearly proves once more the total bankruptcy of the parties of the ex-Communist International, theoretically as well as practically. We cannot even grant them that they are consistent.

Before the February 1946 elections, when the relations between the USSR and the United States had not yet cooled off completely, the Stalinist party united with all the capitalist parties in an opposition to Peron, based on a bourgeois platform. They did not deem it necessary then to speak out against American imperialism. When Spruille Braden was in Argentina acting as the most shameless and bold agent of Wall Street, the Stalinists remained silent. Their theoretical genius, Codovilla, after a “deep” analysis, pronounced his verdict: “Peronism is Nazism.” But the winds blowing from Moscow shifted their direction and the Argentine Stalinist party, faithful to its role as pliable instrument of the Soviet bureaucracy, changed its course accordingly. Suddenly it became anti-imperialist. Peron was not a Nazi any longer, and so on and so forth.

But no sooner do we analyze the facts seriously, than we see that the “anti-imperialism” of the Stalinists is likewise false. Because the whole point is that it is not “being against” imperialism but fighting against imperialism that really counts. And a Marxist party reveals itself above all by the methods it employs in this fight.

The Stalinist party hopes that the Argentine national bourgeoisie will be consistent in its “anti-imperialism.” To encourage them, the Stalinists think no time wasted in explaining the advantages they would obtain by being anti-imperialist; to avoid frightening them, they have forsaken all struggle against the native bourgeoisie. In the Stalinist press all guns point to foreign concerns, but very seldom does a word slip against the national enterprises. For instance, referring to profiteers, Orientacion, official organ of the Stalinist party, does not say a word against the greedy exploiters of the national bourgeoisie. Not even the Peronist La Epoca dares go as far. They at least mention the native profiteers!

The national bourgeoisie is, according to the Stalinists, “progressive.” Consequently, they do not voice any open opposition to Peron. They are not for socialism in any foreseeable future. They defend the “May ideals,” that is, bourgeois ideals. The vocabulary they use is remarkable for its loud and cheap patriotism.

The Stalinist Line

On the front page of the June 4 issue of Orientacion appeared an unsigned article entitled Los Yanquis no dejan (The Yankees Say No). Let us quote some passages, which are, even if lengthy, a good illustration of the present Stalinist line:

In a recent speech the President of the Republic has reaffirmed that the government aims to assure the economic independence of the nation. There is not and there cannot be any higher aim. We communists can say this, because it is we who preached this policy for decades.

Not a word explaining that Peron cannot possibly assure the economic independence of Argentina. Meanwhile, the masses are led to believe at least in the good intentions of the government. We yield the floor again to Orientacion:

It is obvious that a policy timed to obtain our independence from imperialist economic coercion would meet the economic and political resistance of those directly or indirectly affected. It is obvious that this resistance would not be unimportant. But it is also obvious that if this policy is carried on thoroughly, energetically, and without concessions; and if it is based on the large masses of the toiling people of city and country, as well as on the progressive groups [read: the Argentine bourgeoisie] who desire anxiously the national development, then the objections of the imperialists could not prevent the promotion of our economic independence. Moreover, this consistent orientation would coincide with the similar course adopted by other countries throughout the world and it would invest our international relations, in the economic as well as all the other fields, with unexampled splendor and prestige.

It is no less obvious that the foregoing words are addressed to the national bourgeoisie and to the Peron government. The Stalinists try cynically to convince them of the benefits they would attain by following the anti-imperialist path, seeking to dazzle them even with the “prestige” they would thus acquire. But what is much more important, the whole analysis is false and only serves to deceive the masses with the fake prospect of a consistent anti-imperialist struggle led by the bourgeoisie—and not by the proletariat. The Stalinists, obeying Moscow’s orders, are serving the bourgeoisie. Their attitude, by diverting the workers from the only anti-imperialist road to put them under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, constitutes nothing else but despicable betrayal of the proletariat.

The Stalinist party now advocates as the main point of their program of action, the organization of a “National Front.”

We finally say [reads a Stalinist party statement] that a great national congress with the participation of all the forces engaged in the country’s economic life could draw up a concrete plan of immediate practical work and could coordinate all efforts in behalf of a progressive development of the national economy and the improvement of the standard of living of the working masses.

The Stalinists advocate openly the submission of the proletariat to the bourgeoisie, because who if not the bourgeoisie would lead this proposed congress?

Agrarian Policy

As concerns the agrarian question, the Stalinists pay lip-service to the need of agrarian reform but they never say that it cannot possibly take place under the yoke of the bourgeoisie.

The Stalinists start from the premise that the democratic revolution can be fulfilled independently from the socialist revolution. That is, that the tasks of the democratic revolution can be carried out within the framework of capitalism. This premise is absolutely false because in this period of the death-agony of capitalism, the bourgeoisie nowhere on our planet represents a progressive force. Under the leadership of the bourgeoisie neither the agrarianreform can take place nor can Argentina secure her economic independence in struggle against imperialism.

Although it is true that Argentina’s industrialization has been noteworthy, it does not at all run counter to Wall Street’s interests. Wall Street favors a limited industrial development, so that Argentinean economy will not remain so dependent, as it has been, on England. But it must be borne in mind that Argentina has to import most of the machinery she needs, in the first instance from the United States. And it is all too obvious that American imperialism will not facilitate for Argentina the means of becoming more industrialized than suits best the interests of Wall Street.

The Permanent Revolution

The tasks of the democratic revolution cannot be fulfilled in this period except through the dictatorship of the proletariat in alliance with the peasantry. Argentina can neither be freed of vestiges of feudalism nor can she obtain true independence, except under the leadership of the proletariat, in a struggle integrated with the world anti-imperialist struggle. But the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot stop with the democratic revolution. As Leon Trotsky said: “In the course of its development, the democratic revolution passes directly into the socialist revolution and thus it becomes the permanent revolution.”

To be successful, the Argentine proletariat has to forge for itself a true revolutionary party. And such a leadership cannot be provided by any party other than the Argentine section of the Fourth International—a section which is still in its formative stages. For this world party is the only heir of the traditions of the great October revolution and the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

August 1947

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