, Research Paper
In Argentina, a type of populist politics, based on a coalition of urban labour and other social groups, emerged by the mid-1940 s under the charismatic leadership of Juan Peron. For the first time the mobilisation of the urban working class became a major factor in the country s political life, though only with the toleration of the army.
Peronism began with the 1943 revolution, with a document written by General Juan Domingo Peron. In fact, it was written in barely 14 minutes because he believed that proclamations must be felt, not thought . Written in his own handwriting, it explained the prevailing situation, and the reason of the intervention of the Armed Forces to defend the sacred interests of the Nation , because it was necessary to recover the integrity, the National unity. On October 17 1950, Peron delivered from the balcony of the Pink House, Head government building, to the multitude united in Mayo Square, the essentials of the Peronist doctrine. These are 20 ideals that would eventually become the essential platform of the Justicialist party.
The true democracy is that in which the government does what People want, and defends but only one interest: That of the People. Peronism is essentially a popular movement. Every political circle is anti-popular, therefore not Peronist. The Peronist follower works for the movement. He who works on its behalf but does it for a simple circle, or person, is a Peronist but only by name. For Peronism there is only one kind of person: He who works. In the new Argentina, working is a right that assures the dignity of all men, and it is also an obligation, because it is fair for every man to produce at least what he consumes. For a Peronist there can be nothing better than another Peronist. No Peronist should believe himself to be superior to what really he is, nor less than what he could be. When a Peronist begins to believe to be someone superior, he becomes an oligarch. In political action, the value scale of every Peronist is the following: First the homeland, then the movement, then the men. Politics is not for us an end in itself, but only the means for benefit of the Nation, which is the happiness of its children and its own greatness. The two arms of Peronism are social justice and social aid . With these we embrace the People with justice and love. Peronism seeks national unity and not fight or struggle. It wishes heroes but not martyrs. In the new Argentina the only privileged ones are the workers. A government without a doctrine is a body without a soul. That is why Peronism has its own political and social doctrine: Justicialism. Justicialism is a new philosophy of life, simple, pragmatic, deeply Christian, and deeply humanistic. As a political doctrine, Justicialism seeks the balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community. As an economical doctrine, Justicialism seeks a social economy, placing the capital in service of the economy and this in benefit of social welfare. As a social doctrine, Justicialism seeks social justice which entitles every man to its rights in accordance to the society. We want a socially just Argentina, economically free and politically sovereign. We constitute a centralised government, an organised state, and a free nation. In this land our best asset is the People.
These principles constitute the doctrinal platform of Peronism. We must go into the street and preach this doctrine Peron said in his political conduction class not teach but preach. I mean you must make people know it, understand it and feel it. That is preaching. Preaching is not saying. Saying is very easy: preaching is very hard. However, one question that has to be answered is whether Peronism is completely a new doctrine or not simply a modification or moulding of more traditional regimes.
The rise of Juan Peron was as Vadney put it a lucky break . As a result of the coup in 1943, few of the officers involved had any better ideas about how to manage the new political classes that had been forming over the last several decades. But one among their number did. This was Juan Peron. As a member of the War Department, Peron was in a position to influence appointments in the army and thus to increase his personal following among the officer corps. And the Labour Department provided an opportunity to cultivate the masses, mainly by intervening in strikes to win settlements favourable to the working class and by co-opting the trade union leadership. He promoted the expansion of labour organisation as a way of furthering his own political ambitions. At Peron s prodding, the military government also improved health and retirement benefits for the working class, and provided for job security, workplace inspections, and paid vacations and holidays.
Peron saw the necessity of a new political strategy, one that would satisfy the masses, if stability were ever to be more than a mere chimera he believed that the people could not be ignored any longer. He has been described as a charismatic figure, at ease with the common folk, Peron was also a demagogue, and he proved quite willing to use force and terror against his enemies a trait of a communist if not totalitarian regime. However, this was all before he even became President and once he did he managed to consolidate his power by using the post-war boom. Accumulated credits from wartime sales also helped. However, the good times lasted until about 1950. However, most importantly, the government embarked upon a new programme of industrialisation. The idea was to expand the domestic market which would be a gain for Argentinean entrepreneurs, labour and the urban middle class i.e. Peron s principal supporters. Furthermore, in 1947 Peron issued a symbolic declaration of economic independence from foreign domination, and the next year the government bought control of the country s railways and assumed ownership of most of the banking, insurance, shipping, grain elevator and communications sector. More importantly, it promoted a state agency to take over the marketing of the country s key exports and the purchase of imports, and to guide the reallocation of resources from the rural to the urban sectors.
One key and dominant aspect of his regime was coercion and terror, While Peronism cultivated an image of social progress, they also backed this up with a heavy dose of repression. The strategy was to trade social welfare for civil liberties. For example, the Peronists deployed gangs called the descamisados, which were much like Mussolini s Black Shirts or Hitler s Brown Shirts, to discipline the regime s enemies. In fact the methods were the same as in the Nazi era, that of beatings, destruction of property and other forms of terrorism. One could therefore easily evaluate that Peronism had elements of Fascism too, with the certain involvement of terrorism being dominant and as James Scobie cited in his book Argentina a city and a nation he too agreed that Peron could not tolerate opposition . Labour union leaders who challenged his wishes found themselves in prison or in exile. Impeachment proceedings removed opposition from the Supreme Court. A malleable Senate and Chamber of Deputies soon gagged the few members who dared to criticise the presidency. Intervention in the provinces removed governors or legislators opposed to Peron. The universities and schools quickly lost their independence; students and faculty either acquiesced or Left Argentina. Radio stations and newspapers became government propaganda outlets. Secret police, concentration camps, political arrests and repeated states of siege became accepted components of the increasing centralisation of the political power. By 1949 Peron could make significant revisions and amendments to the Constitution of 1853, including authority to succeed himself in the presidency, and establish the Peronist Party as an official government political party. In review of this regime of terror highlights the almost identical likeness to the infamous Third Reich Regime in Germany under Hitler Peron could not have made all this up himself and therefore one can easily assume that Peron merely liked and therefore copied this regime making his regime merely an amalgamation of others.
Whatever view one takes of Peron, there is no denying that, for good or evil, he left his imprint on Argentina. As secretary of labour and social welfare, he employed all the power of a dictatorial state to overcome opposition to long-overdue labour legislation and to build up powerful unions personally attached to him in every economic field. These became the mass base for the Peronist movement. In his years as president they constituted a watershed in the country s history in terms of the expansion of government power over the economy, social reform legislation, and the strengthening of the labour movement. In fact his ideas of economic revival and industrialisation were not too distant from those of Communist Russia under Stalin. For example, Stalin implemented highly centralised planning with top priority for heavy industry and minimal attention to citizens needs. Although in this respect, we must note that Peron took the opposite view of helping the citizens by implementing social reforms for the working class mentioned earlier a more Capitalist regime rather than Communist one. However, in respect to industrialisation, Peron believed in the same principals as Stalin that the way forward was improving the economy, and in fact implemented a similar system of a five year plan almost like Stalin s five year plan regime. In late 1946 Peron s regime issued its economic program in the form of a five year plan (Plan de Gobierno) The plan, a crude first effort, as much as propaganda as a statement of policy, was eventually submitted to Congress as 27 separate items of legislation and to his credit it yielded striking and immediate results such as a GNP increase of 29% between 1945 and 1948.
In retrospect, you can see the distinct familiarities of both Peron s and Stalin s doctrine. Stalin too believed in systematic use of terror to cow the population and to destroy even potential opposition. Stalin used tight censorship and had total control of the media and he banned any independent social or cultural organisations. In addition, in Russia, Nationalism was extremely important in rallying popular support for Stalin and ultimately portrays him as a God like figure. One interesting fact to know is that whereas 1930-44 saw the nationalisation of the working class i.e. the predominance of native over immigrant workers, the period 1945-55 saw the Peronisation of the working class, whereby a bourgeois nationalist ideology was imposed on the mass movement. Thus nationalism was used to motivate a mass labour movement in favour of Peron. Nationalism was growing in strength since the 1930 s and Peron merely used it in his favour. However, Peron did remind his audience especially the businessmen and landowners, who he abused in his campaign to win the workers, about the struggle against Communism. He mentions that the world has witnessed the fall of Russia to Communism.
In fact, theories of Capitalism are no clearer than in a speech he made in 1944: My dear Capitalists Don t be afraid of my labour movement Capitalism has never been safer, because I too am a Capitalist. I own a ranch, and there are labourers on it. What I want is to organise the workers so that the state can control them, and lay down guidelines for them, and neutralise in their hearts the ideological and revolutionary passions that might endanger our post-war capitalist society. But the workers will become easily manageable only if they are given some improvements. This is nothing but a clear indication that the traditional system of Argentine Capitalism was supposedly not under threat, but Peron sympathised with it. However, what is also interesting is the increasing element of Socialism which was being implemented into the country. In 1943 the government took over the private grain elevators, and in 1945 it bought up the British owned Compania Primitiva de Gas. These too are just an example of the socialist element in his regime.
Peron s enemies accused him of opportunism. In their view, he was a demagogue, with no fixed ideas beyond some borrowings from the ideological grab bag of fascism. Even his supporters, while rejecting the comparison with fascism, admired him for his cleverness and pragmatism. For them, he was a master politician. However, when examining his travels he was extremely struck by Germany: An enormous machine that functioned with marvellous perfection, and where nothing not even a tiny screw was missing On entering Germany one realised that he had never seen in all of Europe anything so perfect and exact in its performance. He concluded to evaluate that Liberal Democracy and Communism were socially exploitative, with the plutocrats getting the upper hand under the former and the proletariat turning the tables under the latter. Fascism, with its corporative institutions, was superior because it brought all classes together to co-operate for the common good.
In evaluating Peron s doctrine mentioned at the beginning of the essay, one could suggest that the theory was more of a democratic and socialist air with the idea of nationalism, patriotism and aid for the people, as David Rock points out in his book Argentina 1516-1982 To Peron s numerous adherents, he was the architect of striking progress, especially in the area of social reform . However, he decided to implement this with the aid of communist and fascist methods such as coercion and censorship. Overall, it is a complete amalgamation of all these elements and ultimately, Peron has succeeded in putting them all together in a way not thought possible. The fact that he has done so and to the extent that it had succeeded means that it can be looked as a new doctrine because it is so diverse. However, one cannot fail to spot familiarities to other regimes. In answer to the question, I must add that after extensive reading I believe that Peronism could be the closest thing to German fascism in another state. This is a very bold statement but one I think is fair. The sheer military involvement which was synonymous of Argentinean politics can merely enhance this belief. He used it as a method of coercion and damage control and successfully. Justice, sovereignty, welfare, emancipation, harmony, progress such were the myths of Peronism and the keywords in its discourse. But for Peron s opponents the legacy of the New Argentina was a shattered and divided society, a bankrupt economy, and a nation vitiated by dictatorship. For many, social justice had meant imprisonment or exile, and some claimed torture. Peronism was denounced as a Pornocracy that governed by fraud, indoctrination, false propaganda and persecution not too distinct from that of the previous Nazi Fascist regime.
Scobie Argentina a city a nation (Oxford 1964)
Lewis The Crisis of Argentine Capitalism (1992)
Munck Argentina from Anarchism to Peronism (1987)
Rock Argentina in the 20th Century (London 1975)
Rock Argentina 1516-1982 (1986)
Vadney The World Since 1945 (1987)