Revisionism in Argentine historiography has become more commonplace during the last decade. One reviewer (HAHR, February 1969, 177) attributes this to the disillusionment of the post-Perón years, which motivates patriotic Argentines to glorify those federalist-nationalist elements that have continually fought foreign domination. Accepting this dictum, one must conclude that the appearance of Las luchas nacionales contra la dependencia signals the further deterioration of Argentina’s sociopolitical conditions.
The sociologist and social historian Gonzalo H. Cárdenas takes a position best described as Peronism-Trotskyism (HAHR, August 1965, 521). In this work, the first of a projected two-volume social history, he contends that liberation from colonialism has been the chief historical process in Argentina—as well as in the Third World. Since, in his view, social evolution is guided by universal laws, the purpose of historical research is merely to study a nation’s past in order to frame “adequate policy.” Opening with a quotation from Goethe on the activist role of history, the author underscores the romantic quality of cultural nationalism. Like many young Argentine historians, Cárdenas employs a multidisciplinary approach. He is an intelligent student of the Argentine scene who has read abundantly, especially in Marxist and revisionist authors.
Unfortunately, Cárdenas’ ideological stance precludes objectivity. His book closely resembles Revolución y contrarrevolución en la Argentina, the two-volume ultranationalist history by José Ramos (reviewed in HAHR, August 1967, 443-445). Following Ramos, Cárdenas favors those leaders and movements that struggled against economic penetration by metropolis powers. Accordingly, Mayo was a true popular revolution; Rosas and the provincial caudillos were great patriots; and the Paraguayan War was an attempt by the Platine interior to prevent the destruction of its nascent industrialization program. Cárdenas has not supplied fresh data or interpretation—on Rosas, for example, he almost slavishly follows Ricardo Font and José M. Rosas. Still, his treatment of the pre-unification period is the most significant part of the book, for it contains an important review of current historiography dealing with the Independence period and an effective presentation supporting Rosas’ protectionist policy.
The uneven quality of Las luchas nacionales becomes evident in those chapters treating the 1860-1916 period, wherein Cárdenas unsuccessfully emulates the approach of the social scientist. He makes no pretense at defining key terms. His economic analysis of British investment fails to improve on the studies by Henry J. Ferns and Aldo Ferrer. Also Cárdenas’ lengthy discussion on stratification is not only too complex for a work of this type but methodologically unsound and empirically vacuous as well. His critique of structural-functional analysis and of models derived from the experiences of industrialized nations must be considered unfair, since it lacks even a casual reference to the respective theoretical-methodological contributions of Talcott Parsons and W. Lloyd Warner. Unlike Jose Imaz (Los que mandan), Cardenas does not develop theoretical models taken from Argentine experience, but cavalierly dismisses current sociological approaches as non-scientific because they are not “at the service of a transformation of reality” (p. 15). Except for a few enlightening pages on the activities of early leftist labor movements, the last chapters are extremely repetitive, jargon-dominated, and preeminently polemical.
Furthermore, historical craftsmanship should transcend ideological differences. Cardenas fails to footnote many quotations, and he omits page numbers and publication dates in the notes. Misleading statistics, contradictions, and unsupported generalizations add to the haphazard nature of the book. Also this reviewer must take exception to the derogatory practice of identifying cited authors by nationality.
This initial volume of Las luchas nacionales ends abruptly with the statement that federalism, Irigoyenism, and Peronism were the three great popular movements devoted to emancipating the nation. Assuredly this work was not intended for beginners. Argentine specialists may come to consider it a landmark, however, not because of its scholarly contribution, but because it indicates the current thinking of a growing number of intellectuals in Argentina who, owing to the increasingly difficult political situation, are turning to Marxist and ultranationalist models.