One of the most singular aspects of the Peronist movement has always been its lack of an effective political party. It is true that at election time the usual paraphernalia of party activity—local congresses, registration drives, discussion groups and the like—is in evidence, but despite pressure from militants within the movement, activity of this sort has always been ephemeral. One reason for this has been the unusually important role of the Peronist labor unions, who have arrogated to themselves many of the functions normally performed by political parties. However, as well as being in this sense syndicalist, the political organization of Peronism has always been thoroughly personalist, and it is especially in terms of the latter that its failures to evolve an effective party can best be understood.
This personalism was established between 1946 and 1955 and was achieved in two stages. The first consisted of the failure of the working class representatives in the initial coalition to withstand pressure from the Peronist loyalists and maintain intact their embryonic party structure. The second consisted of the failure of Perón himself to transcend the vulgar personalism achieved by his victory over the working class representatives and create an effective mass party. The first stage which ran from 1946 through 1948 was dominated by ideological conflict between the autonomously-inclined syndicalist wing of Peronism and a variety of nationalist and opportunist factions and ended in the ouster of the former from the coalition and in the subsequent elimination of all vestiges of opposition by the Peronist bureaucracy. The second stage which ran from 1949 through 1955 saw the organization of the Peronist Party on an authoritarian and etatiste basis and its destruction as a productive element within the Peronist movement. The failures involved in these stages are separately outlined below and are then discussed in terms of the political structure of Peronism as a whole.
In view of the schism that later grew up between them it might seem odd that the unionists, nationalists and opportunists should have found themselves in the same coalition in the first place. One of the reasons for their otherwise unlikely accommodation was the mutual frustration that they had experienced under the Concordancia regimes that had dominated Argentine politics between 1930 and 1943. Of more immediate importance, however, was the fact that they had derived considerable advantage from Perón’s de facto tenure of office between 1943 and 1945 and feared that were he not elected, then those of his policies which had expressly favored them would be reversed. This was a sensible assumption in view of the intense polarization which Argentine politics had undergone over the issue of Peronism by late 1945, and it became the cornerstone upon which the Peronist electoral coalition was built.
Under this imperative the coalition held together until the Presidential elections of February 24, 1946. Once in power, with the threat of a major policy reversal removed, it fell into disarray and remained conflict-ridden for a considerable time.1 The fundamental source of these conflicts lay in the ideological contradictions between the interests of the various elements within the coalition.
Working class interests were represented by the Partido Laborista which, although it attracted little support from the traditionally socialist or syndicalist craft unions, nonetheless received the backing of a majority of organized labor, including both well-established and recently organized unions. The party had been founded shortly after the October 17th demonstration so that the workers might have direct representation in the legislature. As their name indicates, the laboristas were strongly influenced by the recently successful British Labour Party and by the part organized labor played in it. They sought to create a decentralized and democratic party structure in which the parliamentary wing would be largely independent of the government; this was indeed the main issue around which conflict subsequently revolved. It was also evident that labor politicians were greatly embarrassed by the neo-fascistic overtones of Perón’s public personality, as they took pains to emphasize that they were neither fanatical nationalists nor anti-semites but trades unionists and democrats.2
The opportunist elements which Perón attracted had no such scruples. For the most part they consisted of a heterogeneous group of professional politicians—mostly ex-Radical—who constituted themselves under the ostensible leadership of Hortensio Quijano (Perón’s running mate in 1946 and 1951) into the Unión Cívica Radical-Junta Renovadora (UCR-JR). They fully endorsed Perón’s vision of a party that would be submissive towards a central bureaucracy which would, in its turn, be submissive towards him, and despite their claims to have inherited the popular traditions of Yrigoyenista Radicalism, they shared his lack of sympathy for any policy that would increase the influence of the working class over the government. Although they enjoyed only minor electoral support in themselves, they provided a source of pliant candidates for minor office since they had early perceived that the spoils of office were in the gift of Perón himself and, being uncommitted to any principles more specific than the mere rhetoric of intransigencia, were prepared to adjust their stance accordingly.
Although the nationalist supporters of Perón were more concerned with policy outcomes, they shared the indifference of the UCR-JR towards any illiberal bias in means. This group consisted firstly of those sections of the Army which had engineered and condoned the 1943 golpe and who saw in Perón an opportunity to upgrade their status and industrialize Argentina, thus assuring it of an influential if not hegemonic continental military position. Their support ensured that any laborista attempt at a coup would have no chance of success. Nationalist financial and moral backing also came from certain light industrial interests which stood to profit from Perón’s policy of subsidizing import-substitutive domestic industry and which shared his distaste for a politically powerful and independent labor movement. Unlike the laboristas, they enjoyed great influence in the formulation of national economic policy after 1946. Finally, Perón was supported by a variety of nationalist intellectual groups, of whom the most important were the forjistas. FORJA (Fuerza de Orientación de la Joven Argentina) had developed during the 1930s as an offshoot of the Radical Party (Unión Cívica Radical), and its moderately nationalist stance was shared by many who would have otherwise resolutely opposed Perón. Like other nationalist intellectuals they were prepared to swallow their distaste for Perón in order to further their policy goals and, like the industrialists, several of them were appointed to high office in the first Peronist government.
Of most importance, however, was the strength which Perón derived from the office of the Presidency itself. Despite the formal division of powers embodied in the Constitution, Argentina had long been characterized by a tradition of centralizing executive, legislative, and administrative functions in the person of the President. This endowed Perón with vast powers of patronage and coercion which were not available to any other interests, and his use of these powers was a decisive factor in his subsequent victory over dissident elements within the coalition.
This contest between the laboristas on the one hand and the opportunists, nationalists and Perón on the other was a wholly unequal one. Although the laboristas had been able to mount an intensive electoral proselytization through the political action committees that had sprung up in the unions after October 1945, they consistently overestimated their strength among the common people. In fact the political climate in which laborismo had developed was largely created by Perón’s activity as Secretary of Labor between 1943 and 1945, and as the unions fell increasingly under the control of the State after 1946, the movement’s institutional base was correspondingly eroded. Luis Gay, the then President of the Partido Laborista, has maintained that labor adopted Perón simply because he was a national figure upon whom a party label might be hung. But the fact that the laboristas found themselves in this position is evidence enough of their weakness.3
The struggle for influence within the coalition was related to fundamental differences of principle, but it was expressed in terms of competition for office, and by the end of April 1946 it had become open at the national level. When the Electoral College met to elect two senators for the Federal Capital, the laboristas proposed Gay while the UCR-JR proposed Admiral Teisaire, and it was significant that the UCR-JR succeeded in electing its candidate through the defection of some of the laborista votes.4 Comfortable in the knowledge that it had Perón’s backing in this running dispute, it took a lofty tone, but this did not prevent it from engaging on all fronts in the day-to-day struggle with the laboristas, and in almost every dispute displacing them.5 This was partly because of the laboristas’ lack of experience in political infighting, but much more the result of their own indecision and lack of unity. In almost every case they suffered from the defection of key members. For example, it is typical that the senatorial elector who betrayed the laboristas and helped elect Teisaire declared that had he realized that Gay would be nominated, he would never have allowed himself to be elected to the Electoral College.
The Partido Laborista had never been strategically united, and, in cases of severe conflict, central control quickly broke down. By May of 1946 the province of Buenos Aires, for example, was in total disarray as the result of separate laborista leaderships, each calling for unity and discipline. By the end of the month these splits had reached the point of impasse in almost all provinces, and it was at this juncture that Perón chose to intervene. The disunity between the UCR-JR and laboristas gave him a convenient rationale for centralizing the Party under his personal control, and on May 23rd he declared the electoral coalition dissolved and ordered the formation of a new Partido Único de la Revolución.
This call to unity fatally undermined the laborista cause, partly because it meant the end of a formally independent Partido Laborista, partly because the organization of the new Party was entrusted to a group dominated by the UCR-JR and by Perón, but above all because it ensured the defection of many prominent laboristas to the Peronist cause. In the first place—they argued—maintaining their autonomy simply meant a continuance for the present of the deadlock with the UCR-JR. Secondly, it was by then clear that the UCR-JR had the all important support of Perón himself and that the laborista cause was ultimately doomed. Finally, they argued that integration into the new Party was the best possible way of ensuring the maintenance of laborista influence and of continuing the common fight against the real enemy—the oligarchy. It is clear that many labor politicians, seeing the ultimate futility of supporting Reyes and Gay on an ever smaller basis of support, opted for this chance for a new start.6
Perón himself later put the matter into clearer perspective when he declared that he was unconcerned about the effect the internal schism amongst party leaders might have upon the attitudes of the common people since
with half a million descamisados and . . . with me at the front we make up a million . . . the mass is not accessible to rumor and newspaper calumnies. Some time ago I prepared the mass, immunizing it so it could defend itself from these campaigns. . .. Contrary to what used to happen, the political command can direct itself straight to the masses, bypassing intermediaries. This explains the surprise of [our] adversaries when I ordered the mass to go and vote and they voted.7
As usual Perón was exaggerating his own influence, but nonetheless he correctly perceived that the majority of the people had voted for him in recognition of the reforms he had promoted as Secretary of Labor and in expectation of further benefits were he elected President. The laborista unions claimed to have organized the working class vote, but it was apparent that their doctrines enjoyed no mass understanding or support, and that their overthrow would be unlikely to produce an adverse popular reaction.
Certainly the failure of laborismo was not the tragedy for Argentine democracy that has often been maintained. On the contrary, the unique circumstances in which it developed served to obscure its very real institutional weaknesses. No attempt ever made by the rank and file to save their leaders had any success, since the party entirely lacked the kind of local infrastructure that might have given it real powers of resistance. From the very beginning there was a serious disparity between the laborista ambition that the workers should manage their own affairs and their dependence upon the State for those benefits which alone could mobilize the working class as a whole. Laborismo was too young, too inexperienced, too weak and too divided to offer a real alternative to Peronism and those who defected from it—and this was the vast majority—felt that they were not betraying it but simply accepting its intrinsic limitations.8
With the elimination of the Partido Laborista, the task of organizing a single party could begin, and by January 1947, the title of Partido Único had given way to Partido Peronista. Perón himself declared that he had only sanctioned the use of his personal name upon the recommendation of the Party leaders,9 but doubts remained widespread and he was forced to retreat later in the month, declaring that
the party must not have a personalist spirit or character, and its definitive organization, its organic charter, platform, doctrine, and party theory, like the permanent name of the party, are decisions to be made by its affiliates through a national convention . . . [which will adopt] the system of majority and minority [representation].10
This initial emphasis upon democratic norms was dictated by the fact that although the laboristas had been ousted, the Party remained divided. These splits were of two kinds: the struggle for influence between various local interests who saw in the Party a means of personal and collective advancement and, more importantly, the struggle between the Peronists and the remnants within the coalition who advocated a measure of union autonomy. To a limited extent then the schism remained a struggle between the unions and the politicians, between the working class forces and the bureaucrats.
The struggle for personal position within the Party was strongly reflected amongst its elected representatives; by April 1947 several blocs had emerged over elections to the various positions within the Chamber. Similar conflicts occurred throughout the entire country, and in several provinces the Consejo Superior of the Party intervened in order to maintain a semblance of tranquility. These conflicts usually took the form of local interests attempting to “out-Peronize” each other in their struggle for the fruits of office; and it is clear that the interests involved were not those of the organized working class but of ex-politicians, both Radical and Conservative. It had become evident by 1947 that the electoral future of Peronism was bright and that advancement through the Party might be both rapid and profitable. This was the underlying factor in the struggle for power of
the heterogeneous group of ambitious people who continue to provide the whole country with the grotesque spectacle of their discords . . . [they] all want to gain posts, enrich themselves, and be as close as possible to the stars of the official firmament.11
Since none of these groups had any independent power base, conflict between them took the form of securing the favors of the Party leaders and, if possible, of Perón himself. This was a factor of some importance in the subsequent dominance of the Party by its central authorities, since it ensured that the Party attracted a large number of placemen and was not hampered by disputes between the leadership and the branches. The struggles of the various opportunist elements were always directed against each other and never against the Party authorities, and by late 1948 most of these had been resolved by the victory of one faction over another.12
At the same time, however, the Party remained divided over more substantive issues. Although the independent laboristas had been ousted, some traces of their influence remained amongst many labor unions which continued to assert their right to participate equally and directly in the management of Party affairs. It was apparent that this pretension was not regarded with any sympathy either by Perón or by his ex-Radical allies. In the Peronist scheme of Party organization there was no place for groups which had alternative—and possibly dangerous —sources of power outside the Party itself.
To begin with, however, the loyalists within the hierarchy were forced to accept that the unions had some political role. They could hardly be eliminated even before internal elections had been held. Nevertheless, the Consejo Superior was at pains to limit their freedom of action from the beginning, and in February of 1947 it declared that while union groupings would be recognized by profession and by each electoral district, there would be no political branches in the Federal Capital, and that before any union could set up a political branch it must be authorized by the respective Party juntas and must hand over all its membership lists to them. This limitation of the unions’ political rights provoked considerable opposition from the unions themselves, and led to a slight modification of the terms under which they could participate in the forthcoming internal elections, but they were unable to reverse the trend towards the exclusively political management of the Party.
The weakness of their position is illustrated by the Party elections which followed in December of 1947 and by the national elections of March and November of 1948. In the Federal Capital the internal elections were particularly hotly contested, with four groups competing, including a labor list led by Rumbo, Reynes, and Álvarez. However, although the list attracted the second greatest number of votes (3,591) it was thoroughly defeated by the official list led by Decker and Colom (14,591). It is true that there was a good deal of pressure from the regime in favor of the latter,13 and labor protests that the election had not been fair carry some weight, but the disparity between the support for the official and labor lists cannot be accounted for simply in terms of coercion. It was a reflection of the fact that the unionized masses were unenthusiastic about the issue of union autonomy within the Party, and that the patronage powers of the official list were far more extensive than those of the unionists.
By the end of the following year all vestiges of union autonomy had also been eliminated in the provinces. The only exception to this were the sugar workers of Tucumán, whose influence throughout 1948 remained such that they could nominate their own congressional candidates despite the opposition of the Consejo Superior. FOTIA (the Federación Obrera Tucumana de la Industria Azucarera) defined its position as one of autonomy within the Peronist movement:
FOTIA is not trying to form a separate party or disassociate itself from the Peronist mass, but [since] it is the authentic representative of Peronism in the Province of Tucumán, considers it its right to influence the orientation and direction of the Movement in this district.14
By 1949, however, the strikes in the sugar industry had given the regime the opportunity to intervene the union, replace its leaders, and strip it of all autonomy.
The adoption of official candidates in the national elections of March and November of 1948 also gave the central bureaucracy the opportunity to provoke political dissidents into open schism.15 Many local parties put up independent Peronist slates which they claimed represented the authentic tradition for which Peronism stood, but none were successful against the officially-backed candidates. With this failure the vestiges of independent opinion were eliminated from the Party. However, it is difficult to look upon this as surprising. In taking the radical aspects of Peronist doctrine seriously the independents had blinded themselves to the fact that the illegitimate practices of which they complained were an inevitable corollary of the rest of that doctrine.
As had occurred earlier with the more explicit opposition from the laboristas, the local independents were unable to communicate the importance of their stance to the rank-and-file. Their intransigence varied, but to some extent they all stood for the notion of an independent, labor-supported, parliamentary party that could consolidate the ideals in which the popular support for Peronism was rooted. Their failure to create such a party was a reflection firstly of the hostility of Perón himself and the vast powers of patronage which the office of the Presidency allowed him to use against them, secondly of their own ideological immaturity and disunity, and finally of the almost total indifference of the masses in whose name the struggle had been waged.
With the elimination of these remnants of opposition the reorganization of the Party on thoroughly Peronist lines could begin. At the first convention held in December of 1947 it became apparent that, unlike the liberal-bourgeois parties that had predominated in Argentine politics up to that point, it was intended to be a State party whose object was not sectional interest-aggregation within a pluralist system, but the entire transformation of the national political structure.
In the first place, the Party was designed to be thoroughly monolithic, with no differences of opinion. This much was made clear by the official party ideologist when he declared that
we become from today onwards soldiers in a civilian army. It is no longer moral and ideological duty that unites us in comradeship . . . it is the discipline of the civilian soldier . . . Factions or disuniting bands will not be admitted . . . let us understand this concept fully so that we might . . . divulge it and spread it throughout the mass of our co-religionaries.16
Like many military men before him, Perón had little respect for the complex and time-consuming process of consultation whereby the differences between sections of opinion were mediated in the traditional parties. In his view this was at best inefficient and at worst dangerously anarchic. In its place he envisaged a Party organized on paramilitary lines in which the centrifugal tendencies of the mass would be effectively checked by a unity of conception and action imposed from above.17
The Party was also intended to be thoroughly polyclassist. It was hardly surprising that this should have been the case, for the Peronist leadership was itself drawn almost exclusively from middle class strata and had never become in any way déclassé. Even the few ex-union leaders who were represented in it were more concerned with securing the status and rewards of office than with pursuing the class interests of their erstwhile followers. Moreover, although the fact has become obscured by the publicity accorded organized labor for their part in its rise to power, Peronism as a whole had been polyclassist from the very beginning. It had developed out of a right-wing nationalist golpe, and it exercised power only by virtue of the tacit acquiescence of important military, business, and ecclesiastical groups; it is therefore entirely natural that it should have taken care that these interests were not ignored.18
Finally, and most significantly, it was to be both personalist and authoritarian. Thus, just as the organic charter contained the provision that if the President of the Republic should happen to be a Party member, then he would be recognized as its Supreme Chief, so Article 31 of the Constitution empowered him to modify at will all decisions made by the Party, review all candidacies, renew its authorities by extraordinary elections and submit any issue to a Party congress or plebiscite as he thought fit. With these powers Perón was free to indulge his theories of political organization in the management of the Party, and its development thereafter can only be understood in terms of his personal vision of the part it was to play in the evolution of the Peronist State as a whole.
Despite the widespread popular support which he enjoyed, Perón was always profoundly mistrustful of the common people. This derived in part from the fear of the potential for violence of the masses in the specific form of mobs, but there was another, more general sense in which he feared them. He believed that they had no mechanism for social control and that masses mobilized by a charismatic leader who were not at the same time subject to strict doctrinal and institutional control were especially dangerous. He sought precedence for this belief in the collapse of Yrigoyenismo in 1930:
When the masses have no idea of leadership . . . and are deserted . . . they are incapable of carrying on, and [in this way] great social cataclysms are produced. The Revolution of September 6th was like this. The masses turned against their own leader and cast him down. It was an inorganic mass that was not prepared to be led. . . . It is useless to give an inorganic and anarchic mass a leader. They will string him up. First the mass has to be formed. On [this base] building [can begin] and finally at the tip of the pyramid will be the leader.19
Fear in both of these forms was always with him (for example, in 1955 he refused the request of the General Labor Confederation for weapons to be used in his defense), and was the origin of the rigid controls which he always exercised over the Party.
Conversely, he felt that a mass that was not subject to control was a neglected source of social and political power, and that organization was the only way in which personalist movements could solve the problem of institutionalization and survive the disappearance of their leader. Peronism would prove to be no exception:
We cannot escape this process. For this reason our movement has initially been a gregarious movement but my calvary (gólgota) is approaching, as creator of this doctrine, and I want to follow that example [of Christ] and leave millions of disciples who can spread Peronist doctrine.20
The theme of the organization of the masses was one to which he frequently turned in the lectures on leadership that he prepared for the Party cadres, asserting that the mass lacked social personality, and merely followed their own instincts. From this he deduced that it was not possible to lead unorganized masses in more than an ephemeral sense, that the Peronist masses must therefore be organized in order that they might be led and that any such organization must be preceded by the elimination of all disintegrative tendencies.21
At the same time however, he was prompted by higher considerations. One of these was his determination that the rank-and-file be organized in an entirely different way from previous personalist movements, and he was always at pains to stress the differences between himself and previous caudillos in Argentine politics:
The difference which exists between the caudillo and the conductor . . . [is that] the first does temporary things and the second does permanent things. The caudillo exploits disorganization and the conductor benefits from organization. The caudillo does not educate but perverts. The conductor educates, teaches and moulds.22
In particular the unidades básicas (local branches) were not to be used merely as electoral committees but, more importantly, for the recruitment of local leaders, the spread of propaganda, the inculcation of doctrine, and the elevation of the culture of the people. Thus, Perón was not only appealing to what he believed were suitably feminine and petit-bourgeois sentiments, but to an ideal which he felt had always eluded Argentina, when he declared to a group of delegates from the Women’s Peronist Party:
and I see . . . the creation of the new unidades básicas in which the women have been the true creators. A little house, pretty, well-ordered, sparkling clean, where [the women] chat and discuss problems of all kinds while they sew and knit and do the domestic tasks of mothers. These centers, these unidades básicas, created in this cleanliness, in this order, in this new civilization, are demonstrating morally, physically and materially the difference between the old politics and [the new politics] that we Peronists are introducing to the country.23
Of most importance was the fact that he intended the Party to play a major part in the evolution of the Justicialist State. According to the doctrina nacional Justicialism consisted essentially of the creation of a synthetic political position (La Tercera Posición) between individualism and collectivism. This synthesis was to be achieved by the mediation of the State between capitalism and socialism, which would create a socially just society, free from the anarchy of the one and the centralization of the other. Once a Justicialist structure had been established, then the process of changing attitudes could begin. This was the particular responsibility of the Party, which was to create these new attitudes by an indoctrination (adoctrinamiento) obviating the need for old-fashioned spoils or coercion; it would
slowly inculcate in the people this style of life and this Peronist mystique . . . and form good and virtuous men . . . [and] with the word of Perón repeated not once but millions of times . . . the number of preachers of the Doctrine will increase . . . [until] all Argentines are persuaded that the object of their life is virtue. . .24
In this way it would finally transform the basis of political life in Argentina.
From 1949 onwards the Party was organized in accordance with these principles, but only in respect to the first did it play the part assigned to it by Perón. Thus, discipline was consolidated and unity enforced, but the Party was never able to radically transform popular attitudes in the manner demanded by Justicialist theory. In particular, the ideal of an enthusiastic, indoctrinated but nevertheless obedient rank-and-file remained elusive. The popular indifference towards participation in the Party and towards Party doctrine was attested to by the constant complaints to this effect made at the time by the Consejo Superior; it is best illustrated by the fact that the Party as a whole was unable to offer even token resistance to its overthrow in 1955, and that since that time remarkably little of its formal structure or doctrine has survived intact.
It is true that the Party underwent considerable expansion after 1949, but this was never accompanied by any profound change in the political attitudes of its members. On the contrary, the expansion was physical and institutional, and served merely to further consolidate centralist tendencies. Physical expansion in the sense of opening new branches and recruiting new members was continuous, but significantly far more rapid in the case of the Partido Peronista Femenino. This had been founded by Eva Perón in order to organize the recently enfranchised female vote; its lack of history and the prestige of its leader combined to make it relatively free of dissension.
In the case of the Partido Peronista Masculino its recent past was too conflict-ridden, its sensibilities too raw, and its leadership too bureaucratic to allow of rapid physical expansion. Instead its growth was predominantly institutional, consisting of the establishment of central services such as the Escuela Superior Peronista, the installation of regional intervenciones, the elaboration of detailed administrative procedures and other innovations designed to strengthen the hand of the central authorities.25 At this administrative level it performed valuable functions (such as organizing free transport for voters resident outside of their area of registration), but its institutional growth could not compensate for its inability to organize the mass in accordance with Peronist theory. In part this reflected the fact that its nebulous doctrine and its political inexperience impeded the evolution of specific procedures by which general policy was to be implemented. For example, no clear policy on membership was ever established, and in addition to accepting opportunists from all sectors into its ranks, the Party membership was also swollen by overt and tacit coercion of public employees.26 Given so heterogeneous and shifting a base, its failure to transform popular attitudes and engender widespread popular commitment is understandable.
Its failures were also the result of the pressure of external circumstances. For example, in the period after its initial consolidation, the primary concern of the Party planners was the creation of a uniform organization in time for the 1951 presidential election; the 1954 election exercised a similar kind of pressure. In fact the lack of a nationwide organization would not have been a great disadvantage in the election for, as Perón himself had perceived, the vote was mobilized by the government rather than by the Party branches. However, the Peronist reluctance to gamble over the matter was understandable. Unlike the majority of Argentine parties whose cadres had been formed during long periods of opposition, the Peronists were in the odd position of having to organize in order to retain rather than achieve power, and it is not surprising that this contributed towards bureaucratic centralism. The pressure could have been relieved through the suspension of the elections, but Perón was reluctant to take such a step. Not only would it have increased the already manifest interventionist sentiment amongst the military, but it would also have run contrary to Perón’s all-important self-image and to the Peronist claims of a democratic mandate.
The rigidity of the Party also reflected the unwillingness of the central authorities to delegate any of their powers. Quite apart from doctrinal aspects, one reason for this was the illusion of effectiveness and great administrative precision which a central command and an absence of internal criticism allowed. Thus the Consejo Superior gave detailed instructions for the performance of Party activities that in the event were rarely carried out. Similarly, its position of near monopoly enabled it to withstand periodic electoral pressure and through procrastination avoid facing up to its shortcomings. The Peronists did not anticipate their overthrow prior to 1955, and were always able to argue that any failures were the result of the magnitude of the task and the lack of time available, problems that would be eventually overcome.
The real reason for the Party’s failure, however, lay in the contradictions inherent in the whole Peronist attitude towards the political organization of the masses and in the fact that Justicialist doctrine was itself designed to conceal these contradictions. For example, Perón always feared the common people but he recognized that only through their support could he retain and expand his power base in Argentine society. This ambiguous position was mirrored in the inconsistencies in the policy-making of the Party leadership. Thus they asserted that the Party needed the active cooperation of its members. But the leaders were unable to accept that cooperation involved mutual concession, and resorted to the intervention of precisely those branches where there existed a measure of interest that might have permitted such cooperation.
By the same token, Justicialist doctrine attributed any failure to under-rather than overorganization. Thus Perón justified the lack of progress made by 1953:
We have kept all of our movement in a certain state of disarray for the last seven years. Now we have begun to organize ourselves. . .. Until our arrival it was [only] possible to speak of organization of the State. We have just begun to organize the people. Our movement was formed from all sides: from the most exaggerated conservative to the most petrified anarchist, communist, and socialist.. . . When one organizes, the first thing one has to do is create a common doctrine, a common way of seeing things . . . and . . . of resolving them. . . . For that reason I did not bother with organization [previously] . . . almost nine years after we began we have [just been able] to say “This is the year of organization!”27
Throughout the Peronists assumed that rhetoric was an adequate substitute for effective material and psychological rewards.
It is possible to explain this ambiguity by assuming that official doctrine was never taken seriously anyway, and that it was designed merely to conceal a cynical and authoritarian attitude towards popular participation in national politics. However, the amount of effort invested in the attempts to change popular attitudes through adoctrinamiento in the latter years of the regime would argue the contrary. It would have been far easier to have ceased to bother with the Party and to have simply expanded the political functions of the unions. But the doctrina nacional was taken very seriously indeed; in Justicialist theory there was no contradiction in the Peronist attitude towards popular organization. Every intervention, every abrogation of the rights of Party members could be regarded as part of the necessary preparation of the masses, since the creation of a Justicialist party required the elimination of all ideological diversity.
The doctrina nacional was not a rationalization of the hypocrisy of the Peronist leaders but a reflection of the contradictory nature of the phenomenon of Peronism as a whole, and it is in these terms that the failures of the Party must be measured. Initially Peronism represented a coalition of frustrated nationalist and working-class interests which happened to find common ground in their opposition to the traditional system of liberal politics that had prevailed in Argentina. Beyond their concern for domestic industrialization, the creation of a high consumption economy, and the safeguarding of the national patrimony, they had little in common. The fact that their interests were fundamentally antagonistic was never accepted by the Peronists, whose retention of power depended upon the maintenance of the coalition, and most of whose efforts went into preserving its dynamic balance. Thus, benefits for the unions were accompanied by subsidies to manufacturers and concessions to the Church and the Army.
Until the economic recession of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Peronists had the moral and financial capital with which to reconcile these interests. Under the austerity that followed, the coalition was rapidly eroded, increasingly being held together by State coercion of golpistas, of union leaders who pressed inflationary wage claims, and of recalcitrant clerics. This was accompanied by attempts to create a Justicialist order that would replace the old interest-based free-for-all of national politics with a State-enforced harmonization of interests.
Justicialism was not designed to radically transform the national economic and social structure, but it is ironic that its conservative tendencies were lost upon the conservative critics of the regime, who saw only the illiberalism which accompanied it. The Peronists were overthrown by those who objected to their apparent radicalism and who did not understand how truly conservative their vision of society was. The novelty to which they objected lay in the fact that while Peronism required the support of the common people, the mediatory role normally performed on their behalf by the political parties was now to be performed by the State. Thus the Peronists sought a revolution in political culture without any serious changes in structure, and this contradiction accounts for their failure to transcend personalism and create an effective party.
Until the loss of military and ecclesiastical support, this failure could be explained by reference to the need to placate antagonistic interests. Since 1955 there has been no such need, but no party has emerged. This reflects both the availability of Perón as a unifying symbol and the repression to which the Peronists have been subjected, but it is also the result of the consolidation by the Peronist leadership of the long term political disorganization of the working class. They have refused to modify the syndicalist-personalist structure of the movement precisely because it allows for the pursuit of private interest by unrepresentative leaders and of short term economic interest by privileged unions. They have thus been able to ignore the interests of the oppressed majority of the working class and yet—by default—continue to claim to speak for them. If Peronist sentiment were ever politically united in defense of the interests of the working class as a whole, such behavior would be seriously inhibited.
However, there are signs that this situation is changing. Apart from the problem of Perón’s eventual demise, in recent years Peronism has attracted large numbers of radicals who would normally have aligned themselves somewhere in the socialist camp. They have recognized that the failure of parties on the left has been the result of their lack of mass support, and that only Peronism has such support. However, they have not lost their militancy, and it is clear that they have aligned themselves with Peronism in the hope of modifying its conservatism and gaining power through the manipulation of its popular base. The seeds are thus sown for a profound conflict between the personalists and union bureaucrats on the one hand and the intellectuals and union radicals on the other, from which a party capable of organizing a radical coalition might emerge.
Of course it could be argued that events point to an entirely different kind of solution to the political problems of the working class. In particular, the labor troubles amongst sugar workers in Tucumán and auto and metal workers in Córdoba have given rise to hopes that a worker-student alliance might be able to seize power. There are few grounds for such optimism. Despite some sympathy for moderate Peronist aspirations, the military have remained united in opposition to any radical redistribution of political power, and have proved themselves capable of crushing all attempts to bring it about. Until their middle class backers become déclassé and national politics become polarized, it seems that the representation of working class interests will have to proceed within the Argentine tradition of pluralist chaos.
The electoral coalition had also included explicit support from a variety of extremist nationalist organizations such as the Alianza Libertadora Nacionalista, and a certain amount of tacit support from the Church and from those groups within the public bureaucracy which had become identified with the de facto regime. However, none of these interests became directly involved in the disputes which followed the electoral victory.
For details see Cipriano Reyes, Que es el Laborismo? (Buenos Aires, 1946), passim, and El Laborista, 1:1 (January 8, 1946).
See taped interview with Luis Gay, “Formación del Partido Laborista,” deposited in the Centro Argentino por la Libertad de la Cultura, Buenos Aires.
This kind of competition for office went on at all levels and helped obscure the real ideological differences between the two groups. See, for example, Reconstruir, 1:1 (June 2, 1946).
For an account of the collapse of laborismo see Walter Beveraggi Allende, El fracaso de Perón y el problema argentino (Buenos Aires, 1956), passim. The success of the UCR-JR was also a reflection of the influence they had over Perón and the support they received from him. See Hechos y Ideas, 1943-1948, and Política, 1946, for more information about this alliance.
For example, see the statements of Leandro Reynes in La Razón, June 18, 1946.
Perón to the Junta Metropolitana of the Partido Único de la Revolución. Quoted in La Razón, August 14, 1946. All quotations given in this essay have been translated by the author.
A classic illustration of its dependence upon the Peronist regime was the fact that it did not even run its titular newspaper, El Laborista. Its editor was Ángel Borlenghi, ex-socialist labor leader, intimate of Perón, and later a notably illiberal Minister of the Interior.
Bustos Fierro maintains that Mercante was the first to propose the adoption of the title ‘Peronist’ and that this was widely supported as a convenient measure to avoid conflict. See Raúl Bustos Fierro, Desde Perón hasta Onganía (Buenos Aires, 1969), pp. 57-61.
Quoted in La Razón, January 25, 1947.
Reconstruir, 2:22 (November 1947). This was confirmed by the independent Peronists of Marcos Juárez department in the province of Córdoba, who declared in 1948 that “the official Peronist list is largely composed of the most notable, authentic and qualified local fascists. Ninety percent are ex-conservatives, genuine oligarchs . . . [who have] become Peronists in order to become candidates.” (La Voz de Marcos Juárez, 1:13, October 20, 1948).
The political leadership of the Peronist Party has always been markedly middle class in character. In part this reflects the attraction which integration into the Party machine offered to those who would normally have supported the more traditional parties. See R. R. Strout’s excellent monograph, The Recruitment of Candidates in Mendoza Province, Argentina, (Chapel Hill, 1968).
Shortly before the election the Red List had withdrawn from the contest on the grounds that “the winners were already imposed from above . . . and it is useless to go to the polls.” (“Historia del Peronismo,” Primera Plana, 20: 235 (June 27, 1967), 38.
La Razón, January 20, 1948.
This was a source of much bitterness, and the union wing of the Party in Marcos Juárez spoke for many when it declared
Your call to Party discipline is unacceptable. Discipline is maintained, above all, by respecting the affiliated members. The candidacies [recently] proclaimed in Córdoba came from Buenos Aires in a sealed envelope . . . We are not against the doctrine that our leader preaches, but we do oppose the practices and measures of the Consejo Superior, who try to force their candidate onto the Province. . .. They insult the members by considering them incapable of electing by themselves the men to run the Province. (La Vozde Marcos Juárez, 1:13, October 20, 1948).
El Movimiento Peronista Transformado en Partido Político,” speech given by Dr. Raúl Bustos Fierro, December 2, 1947, to the Convention.
See General Perón, Organización del Partido Peronista (Buenos Aires, 1948), pamphlet.
Thus Bustos Fierro served notice to all those who might have retained any hopes of some sort of working class domination of the Party:
To the concept of class struggle, to the inexorable concept of class war . . . Perón and his doctrine . . . [prefer] . . . the concept of harmonization. We, and in saying we I mean Perón because we are his echo, believe firmly that hate creates nothing lasting; that only love and understanding between men is constructive. We . . . understand that the class struggle must be overcome by class harmonization . . . It does not escape us that in this task of integrating the national life, the middle and upper classes have a great role and a great mission . . . Intellectuals and honored capitalists who put their will and their money to the service of the national interest, have a great part to fulfill within the Movement and the Peronist Party . . . (Bustos Fierro, speech as in note 16.)
Partido Peronista, Conducción Peronista (Buenos Aires, 1952), pp. 45 and 51.
Speech given before the Interventora of the Peronist Party, October 20, 1952, quoted in Partido Peronista, Escuela Superior Peronista, Organización Peronista (Buenos Aires, n.d.), p. 334.
The Peronist concern for organization of the masses became quite obsessive in later years. Thus the 1955 Political Plan of the Secretariat of Political Affairs divided the people into three activity categories of work, sport, and culture, and declared in respect of the associations in each that 74.5%, 67.0%, and 56.0% were Peronist in affiliation. It never bothered to inquire beyond this to the relationship between the formal allegiance of an organization and the real allegiance of its members. (See Secretaría de Asuntos Politicos, Plan de Acción Política [Buenos Aires, 1955], passim.)
Conducción Peronista, p. 177.
Ibid., p. 164.
Partido Peronista, Técnica de Adoctrinamiento (Buenos Aires, 1954), p. 46.
In particular, see the emergence after 1951 of the Comandos Estratégicos and Comandos Tácticos. These consisted of representatives of both Parties and the unions, who were entrusted with the “formation amongst employees and functionaries of the true concept of discipline and work, subordination to constituted authorities, support for the government, and unity with the armed forces and the forces of Justicialism.” See “Historia del Peronismo,” Primera Plana, loc cit., and E. F. Sánchez Zinny, El culto de la infamía. Historia documentada de la segunda tiranía, (Buenos Aires, 1958), pp. 173-177.
See Vice-Presidencia de La Nación, Comisión Nacional de Investigaciones, Documentaciones de autores y complices de las irregularidades cometidas durante la Segunda Tiranía, Comisión No. 15, Ramón A. Subiza, and Vol. IV, Comisión Investigadora Legislatura de la Provincia de Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires, 1958).
Speech given at his home town of Lobos, October 25, 1953. Quoted in La Razón, October 26, 1953.
The author is Lecturer in Latin American Politics at Liverpool University.