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The New International, November 1944

Peter Smiles

What Happened in the Argentine

Col. Peron and the ‘Good-Neighbor’ Policy


From The New International, Vol. X No. 11, November 1944, pp. 373–376.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The situation in Argentina having been placed on the order of the day in the world press, it deserves some attention by us to keep the readers of The New International informed of some preliminaries and details in this situation.

The Present Situation the Result of Past Circumstances

The political situation of the country before the coup d’état of June 4, 1943, can be defined exactly, and without fear of exaggeration, as one of complete chaos. To the purely domestic questions of local politics whose monotony was interrupted from time to time by resounding administrative scandals and the not always secret activities of a conglomeration of public thieves of varied political hues, who profited from all that came their way, were added the complicating factors stemming from the international situation on the outbreak of the Second World War.

The Argentine bourgeoisie and its political representatives – including the Socialist Party – were closely linked with the British. They were, in large part, despite their appearance of independence, pure and simple administrators for British interests. Which is not to say they did not oppose their superiors, nor fight among themselves, to obtain a greater share of the spoils. From the onset of the hostilities of the war, this section of Argentine society was on that side which called itself so arbitrarily the “cause of the United Nations.”

One outstanding, though not honorable, exception, can be mentioned here: the Stalinist party, which at the time of the honeymoon with the Hitlerites and their Creole counterparts (here knowns as “nationalists”) was stridently out of tune in the midst of the chorus of praise to “the nations fighting for freedom and democracy.” It accused the latter of being the promoters of the war and of pursuing “plutocratic and imperialist” aims. Copying faithfully that celebrated editorial which appeared in the Moscow Pravda, it added: “To carry on a war over ideology or political systems would be a criminal stupidity. One may or may not be sympathetic with Nazism. It is a question of taste. But to wage war to destroy it is complete folly.” Of course, a little later these gentlemen were to change the record of their not always prudent or clear warnings and intone hymns of fervid praise to those whom yesterday they had vituperated.

The “old and glorious” Socialist Party was continuing its collaborationist policy, completely unaware of the changes occurring on the political front and the condition of the labor movement in general, due to the existence of a strong movement of clerical-fascist opposition. The numerical strength of the latter was shown in the demonstration they staged on May Day 1943. To the astonishment of many, the fascists surpassed greatly the traditional demonstration of the Socialist Party. Confronted with this hitherto unsuspected fact, the leaders of the party now became panic-stricken and thus impotent to formulate a program of immediate recovery which would mobilize the masses of workers against the real danger which had been revealed in the demonstration – that of native fascism.

On the contrary, fearful of any action and any criticism “which might give arms to reaction” – as if this reaction did not have its own ideological arsenal, further reinforced by the corrupt prostration of the pseudo-democratic forces – they compromised themselves seriously by their silence, if not by their participation in all the plunder and dirty deals which had been carried out in the past, such as that of the Palomar lands, the matter of the government program for agriculture, that of CHADE, the Ordnance Division [1], etc., etc., covering them up politically for the “purpose of not injuring the cause of democracy,” and not giving “arms to the enemies of the parliamentary system of government who would use them for their own political advantage.” The fascists, neither stupid nor lazy, immediately seized upon this silence, and with evidence on their side, launched a venomous campaign on the corruption of the political parties and the vices of the parliamentary system.

Of course, in the ranks of the Socialist Party there were some weak and quavering voices raised against this silence, but in general its leaders persisted in their sapient policy of fending off the storm with a sieve.

The Role of the Stalinists

In all of this, the Stalinists went beyond any known or imagined limits, not merely of collaboration, but of utter abandonment of class position or class feeling, in word and deed. They were the first – a thing never before seen in this country – to hoist “the sacred flag of the fatherland,” a symbol here as in any other country of the national bourgeoisie and its institutions, in the May Day celebrations of the workers. (Such a thing the Socialist Party had never dared.) Their large meetings in Luna Park they began with the national anthem. Their movements in behalf of progress they carried on in bureaucratic fashion in the anterooms of cabinet ministers, in spite of the opposition of the workers, as in the cases of the metallurgical and construction workers. And one frequently observed the Stalinist leaders, in their search for allies for the working class, presenting themselves, full of unction and Christian fervor, to kiss the episcopal rings of the Monsignors De Andrea and Fassolino. The blue and white colors of the national flag often appeared on the first page of their newspaper, rivalling those of the Nazis. Their papers also competed with the latter in using such slogans as: “We want a great and powerful country,” or “For the national unity of all Argentinians.” (Who was the fool who once spoke of the class struggle and the irreconcilable antagonism of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat? Bah! Undoubtedly some counter-revolutionary Trotskyite!)

In order to treat the malady that was racking the country in the form of a growth of the Nazi forces, the Stalinists at best applied the homeopathic therapy of similia similibus curatur. Without any success, it may be noted, as they had to admit later. Like does not cure like ...

(Although things did not go to such extremes in the unions, where there was active opposition the situation was not much better. There was some success in awakening the sleeping conscience of the workers in the convention of the CORS, in which one of our Fourth Internationalist comrades participated, but without great practical results.)

To the policy of prostitution and atomization of working-class sentiment which the Nazis pursued, and continue to pursue, nothing was opposed save the same prostitution and the same atomization. This contemptible policy was called Realpolitik, “a clever tactic to deceive the fools.” The end result of this “political realism” was that its sole beneficiary – and it could be no other – was the Nazis. And the “deceived fools,” the self-deceived, were the authors of this “clever tactic” themselves.”

With these things in mind, one can understand how confused and ideologically disarmed the workers are. Their spirit of resistance and struggle has been patiently – we do not say treacherously – destroyed, or at least numbed. Accustomed for some time to see their economic problems solved through the intervention and negotiation of their leaders with the ministers, bishops or at time the Department of Labor, the workers remained passive, hopeful or, like the Israelites in the desert, waiting for the manna of better economic conditions to fall graciously from heaven. All of these things formed the preconditions for what was to occur later. The effects could be foreseen from the causes. (We might mention, in passing, that the present Department of Labor and Planning is nothing more than the Argentine model of the Hitlerite “Labor Front” or of “Mussolini’s “corporative unions,” and has its ideological base in the “political realism” of Stalinism. It is its organizational and political embodiment.)

The Military Seize Power

Things had reached this stage at the end of the term of former President Castillo when the numerous efforts of the pseudo-democratic parties to present a common candidate in the election of the new President, ended, after many deals, conferences and maneuvers, in a resounding failure. The Stalinists participated in these negotiations, represented by the unfortunately celebrated Codovilla (the Medina whose share in the Spanish successes was known and who was arrested after one of the many secret meetings held for the purpose of presenting a joint candidate, and who was freed a little later by the Farrell government, apparently on the intervention of the British Embassy). “National unity,” so dear to the Stalinists, did not look so promising ...

Institutional and administrative breakdown, tremendous confusion among the workers, uncertainty and inactivity on the part of the political parties, scandal after scandal, collegiate bodies converted into business exchanges, business houses where everything, concessions, rates, etc., were offered and sold to the highest bidder – showed any intelligent observer that the country was dangerously adrift. The only organized force, and the least compromised, was the military, which found itself in the position of taking the helm for the purpose of avoiding – according to an expression actually in vogue at the time – the sinking of the ship of state, and in so doing, we add, safeguarding the permanent and general interests of the Argentine bourgeoisie and their good friends, the imperialists. Thus the action of the 4th of June. The military seized political power due to the lack of activity, program and real democratic and socialist sentiment on the part of the pseudo-working class parties. Those who lack a program are always exposed to having the program of others imposed upon them.

That the new rulers lacked a program to solve the social and political problems on a national as well as an international scale can be demonstrated by adducing one eloquent and symptomatic fact: in a period of months only we have had three Presidents of the Republic without counting the ministers, state governors and other high officials who have been continually replaced.

There is no doubt that the pressure of the warring imperialist powers, as well as the antagonisms between the Yankee and English groups had much to do with these successive changes.

Finally, after many vacillations, lobbyings and pressures, we come to the break in relations with the Axis powers. It would seem, according to the first of the Presidents and leader of the movement of the 4th of June, General Rawson, that this break was one of the objectives of the movement. These declarations were immediately met with disapproval and indignant protest by the Nazi elements. But anyhow relations with the Axis remained broken.

It is natural that when a man trespasses the bounds of holy matrimony and the absolute, though not very practical, fidelity which the latter implies, and goes on a spree with a mistress, and his legal wife is aware of this, she diligently applies the rolling pin to make her unfaithful spouse feel her humiliation in his fleshly weakness. And something like this occurred after the break was made. The Nazis – the outraged wife – made the weight of their disgust felt; they worked for, and obtained, the punishment of the guilty, that is, the “resignation,” or more strictly, the dismissal of General Ramirez. The latter had succeeded General Rawson to the Presidency by imposition of the Nazis themselves, according to popular comment. This imposition was followed by other attempts to take control of the situation. The Nazis took over education, primary, secondary and university, and immediately afterward introduced religious education in the institutions of learning, giving rise to the “purge” and in many cases, the imprisonment of professors, teachers and students suspected of “unpatriotic” ideas. Actually they were only liberal bourgeois, socialists and, here and there, a Stalinist sympathizer.

But these demands and pressures of the Nazis (preached in the endless sermons in the Nazi dailies: El Federal, Cabildo or La Fronda) were not to the liking of some of the military men, who, more for reasons of professional pride and the habit of giving orders than for opposite ideas, do not like to receive orders; and they liked it even less when these orders were given by civilians.

The Rise of Colonel Peron

And now there appears on the stage a character who until this moment remained a modest prompter behind the scenes in the Department of Labor and Planning: Colonel Juan Peron.

He was a dynamic person, and in contrast to his governmental confreres, of considerable intelligence. He understood that to break with the insolent demands of the Nazis it was necessary to have a definite policy and through it a support among the masses which up till this time the government, i.e., he himself, lacked. And then, advised by some corrupt and bureaucratic union leaders, among whom some “socialists” and Stalinists were outstanding, this man launched a wild, demagogic campaign, designed to capture working-class opinion. He constantly turned up in workers’ meetings, proclaiming himself a “unionist,” insisting that “It is time for the workers to abandon the foreign ideas of the political parties who have betrayed them” – not an untruth – “and likewise the union leaders who sold out” – which was in part true – “and take over directly through the trade unions” – not as a class, but as “corporations” – “the defense of their own interests.” Naturally, in the printed words that followed, he added: “Strikes will not be tolerated because they disturb the economic life of the country,” and that in the future “National unity will be achieved, since the revolution of the 4th of June was undertaken to convert the state into a representative and defender of rich and poor within a great and powerful country.”

Inevitably this medley of “ideas” brings to memory some of the platitudes of Dr. Ley, or the blustering speeches of Mussolini. But it is undeniable that in the state of confusion reigning in the minds of the workers, and owing to the causes we have already mentioned, this fraternal and conciliatory “trouvaille” uniting wolves and lambs had its seductive power – always with such happy, substantial results – for the wolves.

Withal and notwithstanding, we must say in all fairness, that just as it is not possible to make a cake without breaking some eggs, so this sermon was not preached without obtaining some beneficial results. These were in the form of wage increases, and although these were insignificant in comparison with the high cost of living, they were effective enough for propaganda purposes (thunderously proclaimed by followers of the Colonel). These increases were easily achieved at the slight expense of the exorbitant profits of a few industries, such as refrigeration, transport, gas, etc., all property of the Yankees or British. Je höher der Affe steigt, je mehr es den Hintern zeigt. He doth as the ape, that the higher he climbs, the more he showeth his rear.

Profiting by this political demagogy (“Demagogues are the worst enemies of the working class” – Lenin) and some satisfactory results, relatively speaking, the actions of Colonel Peron were recognized in high government circles, proof of which is that from Secretary of Labor and Planning he stepped into the office of Minister of War. And here occurred an episode which would have repercussions of international importance.

But before we go further we must add, to be completely truthful, à tout seigneur tout honneur, that this neo-syndicalist and demagogic policy was accompanied by mass arrests and imprisonments, among whom were some of our Trotsky-ist friends, confined in jails and concentration camps, together with the dissolution of the parties, student unions and democratic organizations. Let us mention that accusations (for which the spiritual authority of the sacristans is sometimes used) are easily fomented and rewarded. Parties, unions and democratic institutions are deemed unnecessary and harmful, given the “state as guardian of the unity and well-being of all Argentinians.”

And now let us pass to the famous incident of which we have already made mention. It consists of a memorable speech given by the resplendent Minister of War, Peron, at the Universidad de la Plata, which was to occupy the precious time and the valuable energies of Cordell Hull. Colonel Peron, as a professional soldier and since he already held a strategic portfolio, and naturally, pursuing the aim that has taken the name of “the defense of the permanent and general interests of the nation,” which are synonymous with the general and permanent interests of the bourgeoisie, tried in the same way as any other group of bourgeois in the government to favor the interests of the group he represented. To accomplish this end it was necessary to carry out a campaign of “national defense” for the two-fold purpose of manufacturing the weapons of war and augmenting the resources of the army. This program of vast military expansion was announced by the dynamic and “pro-labor” Colonel in the memorable meeting held in the Universidad de la Plata, and was heralded as though it were a matter of great cheer as well as importance. We will not reproduce the text here, since it is too well known already inside and outside the country. For the sake of brevity, let us report that the speech resembled greatly a speech of Goebbels badly translated into Castillian. Shortly after this, despite a memorandum from Cordell Hull, the Colonel became Vice-President of the Republic. But, like the proverbial monkey, the higher he climbs, the more he shows his arse.

Economics Determines Politics

Cordell Hull’s memorandum, plus the withdrawal of the diplomatic representatives, created a delicate enough situation. The air was filled with uncertainty, the most varied comments and conjecture. The “democratic” element either did not know how or did not want to take advantage of the happy opportunity that came to them as rain from the sky. How could it be otherwise? The secret of the strength of fascism lies in the weakness of democracy. The Nazi elements, headed by the Argentine Nationalist group, ardently assisted by the German Nazi groups, the Italian fascists and the Spanish Falangists went out into the streets, taking charge of the defense of “national sovereignty.” They rallied the people to a huge demonstration. Trucks with loudspeakers went through the city calling the citizens to come to the defense of “the endangered fatherland.” A few days later the demonstration took place. Placards with incendiary slogans against “Yankee imperialism”; fluttering leaflets with varied slogans in dubious taste; imprecations and denunciations; all in all, there was a little of everything and something to please everyone. Finally to give color to the thing, they stoned and threw bombs at some of the democratic daily newspapers. The demonstration was strong enough numerically. Of course, there were those who saw among the attendants at the demonstration such a large number of municipal street-cleaners, mailmen, lamp-lighters and other employees of the government that they suspected the demonstration was not “so free, nor so spontaneous” and that it had been organized “from above.” But, you understand, there are always suspicious people. A curious thing: among all the placards and all the cursing and insults, one could neither see nor hear one word in favor of the “restitution of the Malvinas islands.”

We do not know who said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. In a time when, to our shame, our country was ruled by Juan Manuel de Rosas, an idol of our native fascists, this fine gentleman also played the role of defender of the “national sovereignty” against the bloc of France and Spain. The truth was that Rosas, who was celebrated for the expeditious manner in which he freed himself from his opponents – his method consisted in passing a jagged knife across the throats of his enemies, thus separating the head from the body – was merely defending his own tyrannical system of government. Like these nationalists who declare frequently, and it must have been the same with Don Juan Manuel, that “the country is one and indivisible.” Rosas never remembered to mention a word about the restitution of the Malvinas. Confronted with these coincidences, one ought to ask himself if there is not present in all these machinations, the fine hand of some emulator of Canning.

Be that as it may, it would be well to remember once again that economics determines politics. Argentina has, fortunately or unfortunately an economy that is similar but not complementary to that of North America. This is not our fault, nor do we believe it is the fault of Mr. Hull. But it is a fact.

On the other hand, it would be well if Mr. Hull and whoever succeeds to his office, were warned, in behalf of good government, that in this blessed country there exists a lively feeling of hatred toward imperialism, all imperialism. This hatred is based on sound democratic sentiment that the Creole Nazis are now trying to channelize for the success of their own foul ends. It is a sentiment derived from a true recognition of the exploitive character and aim of capitalist imperialism.

It would be well to add that in possibly no other American country as in the Argentine, are the writings of North American philosophers, writers, economists and teachers so widely translated, published and read. We have knowledge of the economic, political, cultural and social life of North America from a wide range of writers: Sinclair Lewis, John Dos Passos, Upton Sinclair, John Steinbeck, Pearl Buck, James T. Farrell, etc.; philosophers and pragmatists such as William James and Mark Baldwin; eminent teachers like John Dewey. We are aware of the existence of revolutionary and socialist currents such as are represented in that country by the Workers Party. We know of its admirable and inimitable firmness by the study of social and political questions such as those expounded in articles that appear in reviews such as The New International, Politics, New Essays, The Fourth International and many others. We know all this. But we also know many other things, such as the episode of the “martyrs of Chicago,” of Sacco and Vanzetti, of Augusto Cesar Sandino, of the martyrdom of Puerto Rico, etc., etc. And we could add many etceteras, my friends. We know that in North America, as in every other country on earth, there are “two nations,” that of the oppressors and that of the fighters for freedom. And we know of the international solidarity of the oppressors as we know of the solidarity of the oppressed and the fighters for freedom. We know all this and know it well. It is our hope that in the movement of really renewed spiritual and physical forces existing in North America, and in view of our weakness before the powerful monster of North American imperialism we will be remembered.

The beautiful phrases contained in the memorandum of Mr. Hull about “liberty, the rights of the peoples, democracy and human laws” sound hollow, not to say something worse, when we still recall the eager assistance which the same Mr. Hull rendered to the petty tyrants of Central and South America, where the slate was wiped clean of all liberty, peoples’ rights, democracy and human laws. One cannot lose sight of the popular reaction to the Hull memorandum, which had some of the characteristics of a truly popular repudiation, although it was intertwined for circumstantial reasons with interests that were spurious and foreign to the true anti-imperialist feeling of this country. This feeling, you should understand, does not come from a chauvinistic sentiment but from love of democracy – without the quotation marks – and from fondness for freedom.

Effects of Hull’s Denunciation

In spite of all this, it would appear that the Catilinarian denunciation of Cordell Hull has had its effect in government spheres. For immediately the freedom of the press – not the workers’ press-was re-established. Some political prisoners-the great majority was still in the fails – were freed. The Chamber of Justice in Lo Comercial just dictated a policy against the expropriation of the Gas Company. The ex-Minister of the Interior, Culaciati, first in the trial “for the corruption of the political parties who sold out to imperialism” – a fact established in his own confessions – was just “absolved of guilt.” By reason of all this, newer and greater frictions have been produced among some of the rulers and the native fascists. The latter accuse the government of “trying to place the country in a new electoral crisis.” If this comes to pass, we shall find ourselves again in the unenviable situation where the pseudo-democratic parties, who were directly responsible for the coup d’état, will try to return us again to the starting

point. Those parties, and not alone in this country, have shown over and over to the point of boredom, their complete incapacity to solve the most urgent and vital problems of society. They have not even shown themselves capable of resolving the problems of their own democratic bourgeoisie. In which case it is not adventurous to predict that their incapacity will be grist for the fascist mills. There is a phrase not lacking in scientific content which Lenin used to repeat: “In the present era of imperialism, no solution or advance is possible without taking the road of socialism.” But that is not the task – in fact it is quite the contrary – that the pseudo-democratic and pseudo-socialist parties undertake, especially when one considers the counter-revolutionary r61e played – and not in this country alone – by the Stalinists, who serve as the baggage car on the conservative train of these parties.

But here is another fact that has caused us much astonishment, although we had expected it for a long time. A good number of workers and students have almost spontaneously formed various groups to work for the ideas and program of the Fourth International. Without any organic connection among themselves for reasons of illegality, nevertheless these groups work, study and show signs of activity. One of them edits a mimeographed Bulletin which his own comrades would do well to imitate. (It is all but impossible in conditions of illegality to find printers for our propaganda.) Some of these comrades come from the ranks of the Socialist Party, where they were disgusted or nauseated by their leaders who, instead of resisting the order to dissolve the party, preferred the political hara-kiri of non-resistance, gave the order to dissolve to the affiliated sections of the party and – sold their books to the libraries! I repeat that this unexpected affluence of new comrades in the Fourth International was a surprise for us. It augurs well for the times ahead.

I notice now that this sketch has grown longer than I intended.

Just now the radio announced the fall of Paris to the French insurgents. They say that enormous crowds throng the streets in a demonstration – this time free and spontaneous, indeed. I close here to join them.

The Parisian workers, like their forebears during the heroic days of the Commune of 1870, intoned with a profound and moving sacredness emanating from the great liberating forces of humanity, the martial strophes of La Marseillaise.

With sure vision and profound conviction in the final triumph, we work, brothers of America and the world, whatever might happen, for that not distant day when, over every sea and frontier will wave proud and supreme, one single flag, the red banner of socialist freedom; when man will be, and deem himself, the brother of mankind. When this day comes – and never doubt for a moment that it will come – we shall all be able to sing from the depths of our hearts: “Le jour de gloire est arrivé!”

Buenos Aires, August 23, 1944

Peter Smiles


1. Various and corrupt administrative scandals.

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