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Henry Judd

Argentina: Why Does It Refuse to Break with Axis?

(August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 33, 17 August 1942, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Last week in this column we described how, by means of a temporary business boom, the United States is advancing its policy of economic penetration into South America and assuming greater and greater imperialist domination over that continent.

The beating given to Waldo Frank, prominent American writer and former Communist Party supporter, by a gang of fascist hoodlums in Buenos Aires caused a sensation both in Argentina and in the United States. It forcibly brought to everyone’s attention a fact that American papers had been pointing out for some time – namely, that one South American country, at least, was openly resisting American “good neighbor” policy and refusing to line up with the cause of America and the United Nations.

What Is Argentina’s Position?

As we pointed out last week, nineteen of the twenty-one Latin American nations have broken off all diplomatic relations with the Axis, and many of these nineteen have followed up that action with a war declaration that brought them into the World War on America’s side. Only Chile and Argentina have failed to take the initial step in breaking off relations and Argentina has vigorously indicated that it has no intention of doing so. The fact that Argentina is the richest, most powerful and industrially advanced of ALL the South American nations make this refusal, this insistence upon retaining its neutrality, of great interest. Why does Argentina act in this manner?

The answer to this question will throw further light on the imperialist character of the war and prove – once more – the underlying economic motives that drive each power into acting the way it does; economic motives, rather than “moral” or “spiritual” reasons, as the propagandists would have us believe!

We have already mentioned that Argentina is the most advanced and industrialized country of Latin America. Yet, despite its high degree of development compared to the other backward South American nations, it is not a completely independent nation! Because of the fact that a large portion of Argentine industry and capital is in the hands of England and America (with England leading), Argentina is more of a semi-independent or semi-colonial country, somewhat like China or Mexico.

But there is a well established and important class of native Argentine capitalists (landowners, cattlemen, exporters, bankers, etc.). This native capitalist class finds itself greatly handicapped by the rival foreign capitalists (or, more accurately, imperialists) who have great influence over the banking, financing, exporting of their country and own great sections of the transportation, land and public utilities. In a word, there is an economic conflict between the native capitalists of Argentina and the foreign (British and American) imperialists. It is this conflict that lies behind the struggle now going on between the government of Argentina and the United States.

Argentina – by virtue of its whole economic life – is far closer to the European economic sphere than to that of the United States. Before the war Argentina had more trade with Europe (shipping its wheat, meat, hides, corn, etc.) than with North America. Furthermore, the materials and commodities of Argentina competed with similar materials and commodities grown by Yankee farmers! Under our competitive-capitalist economic system, this meant trade rivalry, one of the basic causes of modern war.

As a result of all this, Argentine native capitalism is now resisting American penetration because it dreads a victory of United States imperialism (its rival in many fields) more than it does a victory of German-Axis imperialism (its best pre-war customer).

Argentine Rulers Divided

Naturally, the Argentine capitalist class is divided within itself. The dominant section of it (now in control of the government) is pro-Hitler and pro-Axis. The non-competitive section is pro-Roosevelt and wishes to support the United Nations in the war. This section is organized into the so-called Radical Democratic Party. To further complicate the situation, there are the pro-British (as against American imperialism) elements, who while on the surface of things must naturally support the United Nations cause, nevertheless have many a doubt, particularly as they see American imperialism steadily oust its British “ally” from one position after the other. This group more or less maintains silence, while the pro-German and pro-American capitalists fight it out among themselves.

On July 21, in a secret session of the Argentine Parliament reported in the New York Times, Foreign Minister Guinazu, spokesman for the “neutral” or pro-Axis capitalists, once more refused to break off relations with the Axis, despite sinkings of Argentine ships by German U-boats. Guinazu cited the failure of his recent military mission to America – a failure, since it failed to get any arms or munitions. He claimed that Roosevelt refused to give any arms unless Argentina agreed to convoy shipping to the United States – a demand that Guinazu could obviously cite as further proof that Roosevelt wanted Argentina dragged into the war via the route of U-boat sinkings. He was upheld in his program, further proof of which group controls the government.

This is the situation in Argentina at the moment: a vicious struggle between two wings of the native capitalist class – one of them pro-German (with tremendous German pressure exerted upon it); another pro-Roosevelt and pro-America. At any moment (especially with more great Nazi victories in the war) a bloody civil war could break out between these factions of the capitalist class.

We must note, of course, that in this violent struggle neither group consults the wishes of the Argentine people (the millions of workers and poor farmers) in the matter. Their native rulers want to tie them to one or another of the two great imperialist blocs, but their desires are more accurately expressed in the program of the revolutionary socialists of Argentina, who call for independent class action against both imperialists and for the freeing of Argentina from the rule of any and all foreign capital. They warn the people against submission to Axis domination, and at the same time oppose a military-naval occupation by forces of the United Nations.

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