An Analysis Of The Third Position Essay

, Research Paper Marko Djuranovic Professor Layton IB International History 28 November 1997 Juan Peron’s Argentina; an Analysis of the Third Position

, Research Paper

Marko Djuranovic

Professor Layton

IB International History

28 November 1997

Juan Peron’s Argentina; an Analysis of the Third Position

In April of 1949, University of Cuyo sponsored a Congress of Philosophy in Mendoza,

Argentina. The event had drawn over two hundred philosophers from nineteen nations and became

famous for the presence of one individual – Argentine President Juan Peron. Playing the role of a

philosopher, Peron presented a paper in which he revealed an intimate knowledge of 19th century

German philosophy. Peron criticized the ideas of Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx, labeling them as

too extreme. What was needed, according to Peron, was a middle ground between the two

philosophers which he called the Third Position (Blanksten 281). This label caught on at once, not

for the public’s interest in philosophy but for its immediate application in the Cold War. The

Argentines took the Third Position to be a restatement of traditional Argentine neutrality; a foreign

policy that did not require a commitment to either the Soviet Union or the United States. Realizing

that this ideology was an Argentine “political bonanza,” Juan Peron quickly transformed the Third

Position from a complicated dialectic into a simplified national doctrine (Whitaker, Argentina 133).

He argued that the underdeveloped countries had little interest in the Cold War because neither of

the two extremes, capitalism nor communism, could solve their problems. The only way to truly

improve the economic conditions of Argentina, Peron proposed, was by balancing the two

extremes and finding the middle ground – the Third Position (Rossi 932). Thus, from 1949 to 1955,

the Third Position came to embody the foreign policy of Argentina. However, through a careful

analysis of the available sources, it becomes clear that Juan Peron’s Third Position was not the

middle way between Russia and the United States at all. On the contrary, the Third Position

primarily stood for capitalism, only created an illusion that Argentina was strong enough to defy the

United States, and failed to improve Argentina’s economic conditions.

Although Peron classified the Third Position as an intermediate to both capitalism and

communism, the doctrine itself stood partial to capitalism. Donald Hodges, in his book Argentina:

1943-1976, argues that the specific ideas contained in the Third Position were a lot closer to

capitalism and fascism than communism. A professor at the University of New Mexico, Donald

Hodges lived in Argentina for twelve years and communicated with many Argentine exiles in the

subsequent years. In writing his book, Professor Hodges accessed a multitude of primary source

documents, among them complete copies of Militancia and El Descamisado — journals banned by

the Peronist government. Such resources and experience render him an expert on the subject.

Professor Hodges states:

Since fascism has historically represented a last-ditch defense of capitalism through

a political transfer of power from the traditional parties of the bourgeoisie to a

professional bureaucracy ruling in its own interests, the Peronists share the political

objectives of fascism… in [their] opposition both to the political sovereignty of the

bourgeoisie and to a social revolution from below. (Hodges 128).

In verifying this association of Peronists with fascism it is important to look into Juan Peron’s past.

Peron spent two years in Rome, as a military attache in the late 1930s, where he had the

opportunity to study Italian fascism. Peron even went so far to exclaim, “Mussolini was the greatest

man of the twentieth century…” (Hodges 129). It is also important to notice that prior to the Allied

victory in World War II, the Group of United Officers (GOU) Peron created were pro-Axis. After

the war, the Peronist movement adapted itself to the ways of the victors by putting on the

appearance of a democracy; by electing Argentina’s leader in 1946 through electoral and civil

means, instead of military and violent means. However, Hodges extends the argument, Peron’s

Argentina retained a very authoritarian position held by the leader and a “transmission of authority

from the top down” (129). Peron’s Argentina was, in fact, a disguised fascist state. Consequently,

the Third Position, by supposing to forge a middle way between the capitalist and communist

doctrines, was nothing more than a careful ploy to further distance Peron from being labeled as a

fascist by the rest of the world. By claiming to follow a middle way, impartial to capitalism or

communism, Peron could easily defend himself from being called a fascist. Yet the facts show that

Peron’s “middle ground” contained no elements of communism and a great partiality to capitalist

and fascist ideology.

Still, the Third Position contained other hidden agendas as well. By claiming not to side

with either United States nor Russia, Juan Peron attempted to depict Argentina as a strong and

defiant nation. The people of Argentina made Juan Peron legal president in 1946 as a choice

between “Braden or Peron;” as a protest to United States Ambassador Spruille Braden’s

interference in Argentina’s internal politics (Deconde 718). If Peron intended to hold on to his

political power, he had to maintain the appearance of keeping Argentina defiant to the wishes of the

United States. The Third Position afforded Peron a perfect opportunity to do just that: give the

illusion of distancing Argentina from the United States, when, in fact, the Marshall Plan had done

the exact opposite.

In late 1948, Juan Peron stated that “the Marshall Plan was a real scourge for the Latin

American economy” (Paz 154). Professors of Argentine foreign policy in Salvador University,

Alberto Paz and Gustavo Ferrari elaborate on this statement in their book Argentina’s Foreign

Policy, 1930-1962. Citizens of Argentina themselves and having access to the Archives of the

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paz and Ferrari give a detailed account on how the Marshall Plan

affected Juan Peron’s regime. The Argentine government, according to Paz and Ferrari, tried to

capitalize on Europe’s poor economic status after World War II by selling wheat at outrageous

prices. In the United States, a bushel of wheat sold for $2.50, but Argentina offered a price of

$4.86 per bushel (Paz 152). This policy was bluntly explained by cabinet member Miguel Miranda:

“If people need to eat, as I believe they do, then they will have to obtain dollars and bring them here

to buy food from us” (Paz 154).

However, Miranda’s policy backfired when in early 1948 the United States government

decided that Marshall Plan dollars could not be used to purchase Argentine goods (Rock 292). This

decision dealt a severe blow to Argentina’s economy by blocking out Europe, her primary

consumer. In March of 1949, Argentine goods accounted for only .26% of purchases made under

the Marshall Plan and, consequently, Argentina’s dollar shortage worsened (Paz 162). Washington

thereby significantly reduced Argentina’s defiance in matters of continental solidarity. This became

evident in June of 1950 when the Argentine Congress finally ratified the Rio Treaty of 1947, which

outlined the “principles and procedures of Inter-American mutual security” (Paz 171, Atkins 329).

Yet, in this instance, Professors Paz and Ferrari fail to provide a clear picture of what Juan

Peron did in response to the Marshall Plan. One must, therefore, turn to University of California’s

professor David Rock and his book Argentina: 1516-1982. An expert on Latin American history

and having access to State Department documents, Rock states that in April of 1948 Juan Peron

immediately appealed to the American Ambassador to Argentina, James Bruce. Specifically, “he

[Peron] told Bruce that any of his apparently anti-American remarks were merely domestic rhetoric

[and] he abdicated on non-alignment, declaring himself a supporter of Pan Americanism and

Western Alliances” (Rock 292). Unfortunately for Peron, the United States did not change its

policies and, by 1949, Argentina’s dollar fund was completely exhausted. Forced to improvise and

find new markets Peron now made use of the Third Position and Franco.

The case of Spain and the Third Position provided Peron with an ideal opportunity to still

give the appearance of Argentina’s independence. Peron offered support for Franco and aid for

Spain because the Spanish case

was one of the few international issues in those years on which Washington

and Moscow appeared to agree, both of them supporting the boycott of the Franco

regime. Argentina wanted to show that it was not bound by their views, that it

would take its stand under neither the Red flag nor the Stars and Stripes but steer

the middle course between East and West (Rein 113).

In his detailed analysis of the Argentine-Spanish relations during Peron’s rule, Raanan Rein provides

evidence that the Third Position did not mean to find a middle way between capitalist and

communist ideologies but instead to mask the concessions Peron was forced to make. Rein offers

the example of the Rio de Janeiro conference and Evita. Just as Evita returned home from her

European tour, where Spain was the first and most important stop, Peron directed his foreign

minister to accept the United States’ policy at the conference. Satisfied, Juan Peron stated:

“…Argentina is again emphasizing that it plays its own cards, and that despite its very good

relations with Washington, it is not prepared to second the latter’s orders blindly” (Rein 115). The

Third Position, therefore, simply provided an official and catchy name for this already existing

diplomatic game of creating an illusion of a defiant Argentina. Yet, although the Argentine public

might not have thought so, it remained a fact that during Peron’s rule Argentina lacked the power

to defy the United States in the Inter-American System as it once did during both world wars.

However, an analysis of the Third Position must also include its overall economic aspects.

The Third Position did not create a more prosperous “New Argentina.” Instead,

Peron in 1955 left the Argentine economy substantially the same in structure as he

had found it; that is, a capitalist economy strongly linked to foreign countries by

their investments and trade and considerably modified by state intervention, which

he increased but did not initiate (Whitaker, The United States 222).

A Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania and a member of the Council on

Foreign Relations, Arthur P. Whitaker has traveled extensively throughout Latin America. He has

been labeled “Dean of Latin American history” for his masterful studies of Latin American

countries, especially the ones located in the southern cone – Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina.

Whitaker puts forth the idea that the Third Position fell short of significantly improving Argentine

economy. The industrialization Peron stimulated had actually been more rapid in the years prior to

1946 while the agricultural-pastoral sector remained the basis of the national economy (Whitaker,

The United States 222).

Yet, for the hard facts and numbers on Argentine economy one should again turn to David

Rock’s Argentina: 1516-1982. In his book, Professor Rock provides the following facts:

Per capita gross national product was only…16 percent higher in 1955 than in

1943. In the early 1950s Venezuela overtook Argentina as the Latin American

nation with the highest per capita income and Brazil surpassed Argentina in the

value of foreign trade. Under Peron had come the worst inflation in generations;

during 1952 the cost of living rose by almost 40 percent (265).

These facts are further upheld by James R. Scobie’s social and economic analysis of Argentina. A

Princeton and Harvard graduate and Assistant Professor of History at the University of California,

Berkeley, at the time of the book’s publishing, Scobie secured the material for his book Argentina:

A City and a Nation through research and observational trips in 1949 and 1952-4. Mr. Scobie’s

research points to a significant drop in Argentina’s prosperity after 1948, which he attributes to the

exhaustion of wartime credits. Once Europe got back on its feet after the war and stopped relying

on Argentine wheat, the bountiful years of Peron’s revolution came to an end. “The aspirations and

desires of the lower classes,” Scobie argues, “had been stimulated without simultaneous growth of

the country’s capacity to support such ambitions” (235). The end result expressed itself in hundreds

of thousands of villas miserias, or slums, that grew larger and larger around Buenos Aires.

Adequately educated and literate laborers found themselves living in “corrugated iron shacks,”

victims of a housing shortage which totaled at 1,500,000 units by 1962 (Scobie 235). Therefore, it

becomes evident that the Third Position did not create a “New Argentina” or improve the country’s

economic conditions.

However, there are those who disagree with this analysis of the Third Position. Aldo Cesar

Vacs, professor of political science at Skidmore College, in his analysis of the Ruso-Argentine

relations from 1917-1970, points out the significant increases in trade between Argentina and

USSR in 1953 and 1954 (See Table 1).

Table 1: Argentine trade with the Soviet Union in thousands of US dollars:

Source: Banco Central de la Republica Argentina; Estremadoyro, Relaciones economicas de Argentina, p. 76.

Vacs attributes this rapid change to a February 1953 meeting behind closed doors between

Argentine Ambassador to USSR Leonardo Bravo and Joseph Stalin. Shortly afterward, on August

5, 1953, the USSR and Argentina signed an agreement on trade and payments. The agreement

included Argentina’s sale of hides, wool, meat, and tannin to USSR and Argentina’s purchase of oil,

coal, steel, agricultural machinery, and industrial equipment from USSR. (Vacs 15).

Yet, the fact that the two countries even signed such a trade agreement is a rather curious

occurrence. In November of 1949 Peron closed the “Slav Union” – a pro-Soviet organization.

During the Korean war, Peron collaborated with the United States by shipping foodstuffs to the

region (14). These facts beg the question of what Ambassador Bravo told Stalin to convince the

USSR leader to open up trade relations with Argentina. One possibility lies in the Third Position.

In his writing, Vacs hints at the possibility that the Third Position could have been used by

Ambassador Bravo to justify Argentina’s apparent anti-communism. The Third Position justified

any anti-Communist actions not as automatically capitalist by the zero-sum game, but as an equally

anti-Communist and anti-capitalist middle way. While Peron did allow a US military mission to

Buenos Aires in 1948, Bravo may have argued, the Argentine delegation also fiercely opposed

Chile’s anti-Communist legislation at the Bogota conference of 1948 (Vacs 14-5).

On the other hand, Vacs’ analysis is sketchy at best. Since the meeting between Stalin and

Bravo took place behind closed doors there is no readily available evidence, which marks any

theories of what might have happened as pure speculation. Furthermore, it is just as probable that

Stalin may have signed the trade treaty for reasons other than the Third Position. For example,

Stalin may have counted on Argentina to become dependent on Soviet machinery through its

industrialization program, which would later on allow USSR’s exports to Argentina to surpass its

imports from Argentina. Argentina’s negative trade balance in 1955 offers greater credence to this

proposition than to the idea that the Third Position fooled Stalin into thinking Peron could be

counted on as a friend.

Still, there are those who believe that the Third Position brought benefits to Argentina. In

their book Argentina, a country study, a team of social scientists from the Foreign Area Studies of

The American University conducted an overview of Argentina as a country. Their brief analysis of

the Third Position classifies it as a “…policy [that] led to closer ties with Latin America [and] a

more distant, and at times hostile, attitude toward the United States…” (Rudolph, 61).

This first part of this statement is, in so many words, true; the Third Position did indeed

bring Argentina closer to the rest of Latin America through increased trade. However, it is

important to see exactly how the Third Position did this and thereby consider the whole picture.

Professor Rock again offers a useful account of the situation. When the Marshall Plan denied

Argentina access to her primary markets, she could only aim at secondary ones, such as Spain and

Brazil. Grain sales to Brazil grew sevenfold from 1950 to 1953, yet this was not nearly enough to

compensate for the loss caused by the Marshall plan. From 1948 to 1952, Argentina’s share of the

world wheat market fell from 23% to only 9% and the share for corn from 64% to only 23.5%

(Rock 293). Trading with countries like Brazil and Spain could not possibly compensate for such a

loss because neither Spain nor Brazil could pay for these goods in dollars that Argentina needed so

badly. Therefore, the Third Position did improve Argentina’s relations with the rest of Latin

America but it did not do enough to solve Argentina’s economic problems. This lack of detail in

Argentina, a country study is to be expected though, because the book primarily focused on

providing the reader with a mere overview of Argentina.

The second part of the above mentioned statement concerning Argentina’s more distant

attitude toward the United States is simply not true. After 1949, Argentina offered great support

and moved a lot closer to the United States. In 1950, with the outbreak of the Korean War, Peron,

took an openly pro-US. position by declaring that Argentine troops would be a part of the United

Nations contingent (Vacs 15). Although Peron reversed his decision in light of the public opinion,

Argentine foodstuffs still aided Americans in the Korean War. Furthermore, professor of political

science at University of Birmingham H.S. Ferns, having worked in Argentina’s Centro de

Investigaciones Economicas, offers first-hand accounts of Argentina’s closer ties with the United

States. In August of 1953, Peron opened negotiations with the Standard Oil Company of

California. Soon enough, Peron opened petroleum extraction and industrial development in

engineering to foreign enterprise. From 1953 onwards American industrial firms began to take over

major sectors of Argentine industry, aided by Peron’s help, given in the form of tariff protection

(Ferns 199). In light of these facts, the Third Position really did not lead to Argentina’s more

distant attitude toward the United States.

In closing, it is uncommon for an able president to involve himself in philosophy. However,

it is not uncommon for an able president to convert a complex philosophy into a massive

propaganda tool. This is what Juan Peron essentially did with the Third Position. He converted a

dialectic on class conflicts into a simple policy that stood for capitalism, created an illusion that

Argentina was strong enough to defy the United States, and failed to improve Argentina’s economic

conditions. The final analysis, therefore, marks the Third Position as a failed attempt by President

Peron to improve Argentina’s economic conditions and at the same time restate Argentina’s

determination to run its own affairs by not committing to either United States nor the Soviet Union

during the Cold War.


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