The “failure” of Argentine socialism prior to World War II has stirred the interest of historians and social scientists. Whereas the European working classes became strong supporters of democratic socialism, the Argentine working class, even in free elections, spurned and continues to spurn a Socialist option. What’s more, the working class of Argentina, and of Latin America as a whole (with the arguable exception of Chile), traditionally has thrown its support behind populist parties. The failure of socialism and the success of populism are connected: the weakness of socialism in Argentina, and in Latin America in general, opened the way for populist politicians to galvanize the unintegrated masses into a forceful political movement. In Argentina, this correlation is especially pronounced: the failure of democratic socialism before 1930 left vacant a political space that Colonel Juan Domingo Perón successfully exploited in the wake of the 1943 coup d’etat.1

But the correlation does not necessarily imply causality. Democratic socialism’s failure to generate significant enduring support is not an explanation for populism. Moreover, the concern to explain the success of populism by pointing to the failure of socialism presumes that socialism would have made inroads among the working classes if they had promoted a prototype of what later would emerge as a populist discourse. The assumption implies that the masses, whoever they were, were ready for mobilization and provided the natural political space for a progressive movement. The most popular account of the failure of Argentine socialism, for instance, blames its leadership for emulating European Socialists and failing to appreciate the real interests of Argentine workers.2

This article hopes to contribute to a reassessment of the Argentine Socialist experience. It looks at one aspect of the Socialist movement: the thinking and strategy behind electoral participation prior to the coup of 1930, and especially surrounding the complex and intense years of the transition to democracy, from 1910 to the election of Hipólito Yrigoyen in 1916.3 Democratic politics was important to Argentine Socialists because they championed a parliamentary road to socialism over others, such as revolutionary or syndical routes. Their choice hinged on a number of assumptions about democracy. These assumptions—discussed in the first section—and the strategy that flowed from the theory—discussed in the second section—set the context for the Socialist party’s involvement in Argentina’s brief experience with democracy before World War II.

This essay argues that Argentine Socialists bound themselves in a theoretical trap. They called for two transitions: a transition to “real” democracy and a transition to socialism. By demanding “real” democracy, they depreciated the system already in operation. At the same time, they argued that workers would be fully enlightened voters only when the march toward socialism had begun. The transition to socialism was a precondition for “real” democracy, but only in a “real” democracy would workers be enlightened or “conscious” enough to vote for Socialists. How could Socialists pursue a parliamentary road to socialism if the end result was a precondition for rational voting behavior? Argentine Socialists were never able to resolve this teleological problem, and it plagued their electoral strategy, which turned its back on the “unconscious” voter.

The Question of Democracy

Argentine Socialists were profoundly affected by the reigning political theories of the Second International. In Marx’s time, the prospects for a democratic route to socialism were bleak, and Marx himself believed that socialism would come about only with a violent and cataclysmic revolution. By the 1880s, however, after Marx’s death, matters began to change. In the wake of Bismark’s political opening, German Socialist politicians were able to organize effectively. In no time, the German Social Democratic party became the largest political party in Europe. Accordingly, the Erfurt Program of the Second International (1891) anchored Socialist politics to democracy: only through elected representative politics would socialism be achieved.4

At the same time, Socialist groups (often led by European and especially German exiles) began to form in Latin American cities, mainly Buenos Aires. These disparate groups were soon taken over by a generation of Argentine-born Socialists. A nucleus of Socialist centers with a new native leadership formed the core of the Argentine Socialist party in 1896.5 Their doctrine, however, was imported from Europe.

Socialists, European and Argentine, soon abandoned Marx’s preference for revolutionary politics, but they still subscribed to Marx’s theoretical subordination of politics to social and economic development. The laws of motion governing social formations were driven by the needs and level of sophistication of the economic “base.” Politics could meddle with the needs of technology, but often at the cost of misuse or misallocation of the means of production. In time, progress was marked by less interference by politics in the economic realm. Capitalism’s great superiority was its ability to shed noneconomic obstacles to self-sustained technological development. History was supposed to see politics increasingly mirror economics.6

Theoreticians of the Second International stretched the relative nature of politics to a logical conclusion: a Socialist political party could not push a society beyond what the economic base would allow. The founder of the Argentine Partido Socialista (PS), Juan B. Justo, took this credo seriously. From his reading of Marx and nineteenth-century positivists such as Herbert Spencer and Auguste Comte, he understood

the force of the phenomenon of production within the framework of history, the subordination of political and juridical institutions to technology and the economy, and the incessant social evolution which is history itself, and the weakness of all written laws which impede technical-economic forces.7

For Justo, Marx and Engels “were the first to understand thoroughly the historical role of the mode of production, to which are subordinated all other phases of social life.”8 The primacy of economics over politics in determining the course of history was a powerful theoretical tool against forces aspiring to take politics beyond the parliamentary realm.

A physician by training, Justo joined the youth wing of the Unión Cívica, then an opposition movement among the political forces of the late 1880s. In 1890, when a group from the Unión Cívica joined other forces in an abortive rebellion against President Juárez Celman, Justo lent his medical services to the cause. The failed uprising left a lasting mark: Justo defected from the Unión Cívica, charging his former cohorts with adventurism, with trying to push politics beyond the bounds of what conditions would allow. His Socialist inclinations grew along with his disgust at the voluntarism of the newborn Unión Cívica Radical (UCR), which led a revolt in 1893 and for which Justo held a lifetime abhorrence.9

In 1895, touring Europe and the United States after finishing his translation of the first volume of Das Kapital, Justo witnessed another version of political adventurism: William Jennings Bryan’s populism. Justo saw the “free silver” campaign in the United States as the last gasp of a dying middle class caught between a swelling proletariat and a voracious bourgeoisie. It was retrograde, mystical, and out of step with economic and technical developments.10 The experience contributed to Justo’s suspicion of and hostility toward anything resembling populism, and when he founded the Partido Socialista in June 1896 he made the basic principles clear: all political projects were to be kept within the realm of what could be modestly realized. No political proposal could violate what the economy could sustain. When dissent did emerge within the party, Justo preferred wholesale defections to preserve ideological purity rather than acceptance of internal differences. Justo’s firm hand over the party until his death in January 1928 ensured that democratic socialism in Argentina conformed to this elementary reduction of politics to economics.11

But how did the Socialists justify participating in a system better known for its widespread fraud and corruption, both before and after the electoral reform of 1912? International Socialists, Justo included, also had inherited a kind of positivist-naturalism that was increasingly in vogue after Marx’s death, when Engels’ influence on Socialist thought prevailed. This thinking held that the breakdown of capitalism was a precondition for socialism, and that such a breakdown was inevitable according to the overarching laws of motion of history.12 The belief in this inevitability, reinforced by an elaborate array of technical explanations for capitalism’s economic contradictions, enthused Socialists with the further belief that participation in electoral politics might coax the transition. Socialism—“the enlightened expression of historical inevitability,” to borrow Przeworski’s description—could play the democratic game without losing and could accelerate the transition to a classless or “real” democracy. For Justo, the natural laws of progress were as sharply defined as the solar system:

The world of history is a mass of men and things moved and shaped by forces as regular as those which move the solar system and mold the earth. Historical phenomena are also logical and necessary, the fatal consequences of combinations determined by circumstance.13

The natural and immutable laws of history made socialism the logical and fatal destiny of society. But what determined that socialism would be the natural outcome? Justo and his most devout followers were doctors, and as such were versed in Darwin’s evolutionary biology. For many of them, Spencer’s Social Darwinism was more formative than Marx’s dialectics.14 Socialism would win by natural selection: in economic terms, the collective practices of socialism were superior to the individualized practices of competitive capitalism. And since the fittest survive, socialism would simply elbow capitalism into the past. Understanding the biological basis of social development, in Justo’s view, dispelled idealist notions of the past and future and, at the same time, offered a simple explanation for the advent of socialism: socialism adapts better than capitalism to the exigencies of technology.15

Hence politics was subordinate to economics, and economics was bound by the laws of natural selection, which would make the transition to socialism inevitable. But if politics was only relative and socialism inevitable, why did Socialists engage in democratic politics at all? Socialist parties worldwide threw themselves into the melee of late nineteenth-century democratic politics believing that they could guide the progress of transition. As the enlightened bearers of the truth, they could “legislate the society into socialism (to borrow another of Przeworski’s phrases) and mitigate the violence and cost of the transition.16 Capitalism, by enlarging the ranks of the proletariat, would create more Socialist voters, and liberal governments would gradually give way to Socialist ones. “When this influence becomes preponderant,” wrote Justo in 1902, “the State will have lost its police function, and the government will be elected to develop, to the maximum of its ability, and for the good of society, its administrative function.”17

The intellectual arsenal to justify Socialist participation in electoral politics rested on one critical link: it assumed that workers would automatically and necessarily translate their objective interests as workers into subjective practices as Socialist voters. Workers were expected to vote Socialist because they were workers. Just as economics determined politics, the voter’s location in the production process determined electoral preference. For Justo, “experience is the source of all knowledge and the inexorable critique of illusion,” and since work was the most important and constant experience, it was only natural that the experience of being proletarian instructed the worker as to his lamentable condition.18 Experience, in Justo’s view, obviously determined consciousness, and “once exploitation is felt and understood, nothing can impede the worker from defending himself and maintaining his right to struggle for a better life.”19

In case the automatic connection between experience and consciousness, between objective location in the production process and the subjective interest in an alternative society was interrupted, Socialists assumed an educational role. Facing a society with a strong Catholic church and caudillista traditions, Justo became an avid exponent of literacy campaigns and public and secular education to erode archaic Catholic and personalist vestiges. In his writings he claimed to follow in the footsteps of Argentina’s mid-nineteenth-century liberal architect of public education, Domingo Sarmiento. And like Sarmiento, Justo was unkind to backward criollo elements from the interior, whose hostility to European mores blocked Argentines’ path to self-awareness.20

The Argentine case was twisted, however, by an additional problem: the system to which the Socialists committed themselves was not a freely operating democracy until 1912, at least for male voters. Unlike most of their European and North American colleagues, Argentine democratic Socialists decided to participate in elections riddled with fraud and corruption and in which only a small proportion of eligible voters participated. Whereas the UCR refused to legitimate such a regime and sustained a fervent and intransigent position in favor of electoral reform, the Socialists, though unhappy, played by the rules. Why? According to Justo, “new political relations correspond to new modes of production,” and the spread of capitalism eventually would create liberal political practices.21 The bourgeois revolution of the nineteenth century allowed capitalist relations to production and market forces to break down all vestiges of the old regime. Capitalism flourished in the wake of a series of reforms: independence from Spain broke the yoke of mercantilism; the abolition of slavery and the mita forced employers to rely increasingly on purely economic measures to recruit labor; and the railways allowed new colonists to establish specialized production units—farms and chacras—for the world market. Indeed, according to Mario Bravo, one of Justo’s followers, “the railway has democratized our country more than the representative and federal system enshrined in the constitution.”22

But this revolution was incomplete. A true capitalist bourgeoisie did not surface. Instead, as the value of land rose with the construction of the railways, the introduction of new breeds of livestock, and a liberal access to credit that fomented speculation, the Argentine dominant class intensified its investment patterns: it invested its fortunes not in intensive rural production but in extensive estancias. The estanciero class aimed its produce to the world market but used resources inefficiently. Moreover, by monopolizing the land, the estancieros blocked the creation of a dynamic class of petty bourgeois rural producers along the lines of North American farmers. If powerful landowners were the creation of international capitalism, the estanciero class nipped Argentine capitalism in the bud.23 This stultified bourgeois revolution thereby held back liberal democratic progress. Justo and his followers excoriated the South American plutocrats” and the “luxury civilization” they created, for it prevented politics from taking its natural course.

Due to the barbarism and corruption of the oligarchy, the electoral struggle presents some exceptional difficulties among the organized workers, only the select few, who by intelligence or character, can understand politics seriously.24

The irreversible pressure of the forces of production, however, would sweep away all precapitalist obstacles. The autonomous flourishing of the forces of production would thereby create the simultaneous conditions for both a liberal revolution—by entrenching liberal democracy—and a Socialist transformation—by opening the eyes of workers to their class position. Liberal reforms would simultaneously lead to socialism:

Thus when there is freedom to struggle—free traders and protectionists, landowners and tenants—when the working people cease to look with indifference at the task of fencing in their land or introducing sheep-shearing devices, they will demand all sorts of improvements in production to correspond with an improvement in their lifestyle, and in this manner collaborate to create an alternative path of development.25

In this fashion, Justo and his followers claimed to be the true heirs of Argentina’s great nineteenth-century liberals, Mariano Moreno, Bernardino Rivadavia, Domingo Sarmiento, and especially Juan Bautista Alberdi —liberals who, if they had been allowed to realize their projects, would have forged a society akin to those of the British Dominions.26 In the meantime, it was up to the Argentine Socialists to persevere in the cause of political liberalism against la política criolla—which galvanized relations between estancieros and unenlightened subaltern classes. But because the realm of politics was only relative and “real” democracy implied a certain level of consciousness, reforms could not be pushed too quickly. For these reasons, Socialists disliked the adventurism of the UCR (and eventually the voluntarism of anarchists and Communists, who espoused armed struggle).27

If Argentine Socialists saw the nineteenth-century liberals as heralds of progress, they also shared their distrust of the masses. Justo was wary of the premature introduction of universal suffrage: by forcing unenlightened citizens to vote, criollo barbarians could retain the reins of power and enjoy the illusion of being liberals. In Spain and Latin America, Justo cautioned, oligarchical governments “have given the right to vote to a people who for the most part never asked for it and do not know how to exercise that right.”28 On this point Justo was unbending: the working class had to be “conscious” first, and then it could earn and exercise its rights. For this reason Justo never agreed to a coalition with the UCR in support of electoral reform, and he denounced general strikes aimed at forcing the government of the day to implement changes.29

Herein lay one of the central political problems facing the Argentine Socialists. Consciousness was a prerequisite for proper electoral politics. But without a full bourgeois revolution or pervasive capitalism, proletarian consciousness was truncated. Thus the Socialists simultaneously had to push for gradual democratization in accordance with economic development and to infuse workers with a sozialistischer Geist through schools, libraries, cooperatives, and unions, so that they would recognize their class interests. The goal of this two-track strategy was that when universal suffrage was truly in place, the workers would be ready to exercise their rights consciously, by supporting socialism.30 In this fashion Justo and his followers whitewashed any apparent conflicts in playing by the rules while charging that the rules perpetuated the old regime.

The Partido Socialista at the Polls

Even before the PS was founded, Socialists ran for public office. In 1896, nine Socialist centers formed a local federation to field candidates in the Federal Capital for the March elections for national deputies. Out of 12,973 votes cast, the group received 138. For Enrique Dickmann, the Russian-born follower of Justo, the results were not surprising: from the start the campaign had been symbolic, designed to inject “reason” into the occasion.31 In June of that year the party was founded, though with principles reflecting the primacy placed on economics over politics. To be sure, as early as the 1895 elections, candidates did champion the cause of electoral reform. The party’s executive committee, drafting the electoral platform in October 1895, divided it into economic and political parts. At the top of the political list was a call for universal suffrage. Yet when the first six points in the party’s program were adopted in June 1896, they dealt with work conditions, followed by the struggle for monetary stability and the eventual abolition of paper money. At least in a formal sense, electoral reform was at the bottom of the list.32

The party’s range was limited to the Federal Capital district, and only later did it spread to other urban centers. The 1898 party congress included no representatives from beyond the capital. The national executive committee’s report urged militants to turn their eyes to new districts—though the same report assured members that socialism’s slow penetration of other regions was due to the economic and political backwardness outside the country’s main city.33

Part of the problem lay in the party’s structure. It was not a decentralized committee structure along the lines of the UCR and the main American political parties, but a tight centralization in the hands of the executive committee. Delegates dispatched from the capital set up regional branches whose credentials had to be approved by the executive committee. This left little room for spontaneous organization from below or regional programs that might differ according to local issues.

In 1898 the party fielded candidates again, winning a mere 105 votes amid conditions of fraud and corruption.34 It repeated the abysmal performance in the next few elections (Table 1), though the poor showing did not drive the party either to abstain or to call on trade union support to reinforce its campaign.

It was not until 1904 that the party tasted success. Alfredo Palacios became the first Socialist deputy, elected with 804 votes to represent the neighborhood of La Boca.35 Under the reformist wing of Joaquín V. González, President Roca’s interior minister, a brief and very modest electoral reform was initiated. But the 1905 UCR revolt and the retrenchment of the new president, Quintana, reversed the reforms in 1906. Palacios lost his seat in the next election.

While the Socialists participated symbolically in electoral politics and the UCR staged occasional uprisings, the country’s workers were engaged in an increasingly bitter confrontation in the streets of its large cities. After 1902, the wave of strikes and union organization intensified, peaking in the years 1909 and 1910.36 In spite of the violence on the shop floor and on the streets, the PS stayed aloof from conflicts. The party’s relations with trade unions were stormy. By rigidly distinguishing between political and economic praxis, the party segregated electoral from trade union organization. Thus, Socialists were averse to massive organization of workers on the shop floor, leaving such mobilization to professional trade unionists. Only among the railway workers (the rank and file of La Fraternidad) and the typographical workers did the Socialist trade union leadership emerge.37

According to the party’s statutes, trade unionists had to affiliate through local party offices. Only in 1910, at the party’s ninth congress, was the first article of the statutes amended to allow the representation of agrupaciones de ofıcio (trade union affiliates) to bridge union and party militancy. By then, however, union culture had taken a different, syndicalist tack. Only the typographical workers established affiliates to the party, though woodworkers, metalworkers, and smiths set up short-lived agrupaciones. In early 1912, at the party’s tenth congress, the typographical workers sponsored a resolution calling for a commission on union propaganda and a special committee to enlist the support of union affiliates. Although the clauses were approved, the executive committee insisted that new union affiliates should not be allowed to sway the civil and political operation of the party.38

This split between the political and the economic sometimes led Socialists to adopt hostile stances against strikes that called for anything more than merely economic concessions. Strike action was the independent terrain of unions, and aside from calling for solidarity with picketers, the party did next to nothing to support them. The rank and file who did bridge the gulf between the unions and the party chafed under the strain. Roque Masi, a meat packer from San Nicolás, struggled for years to enroll his compañeros in the party. After enlisting two, he wrote bitterly to a friend:

I think I have been successful, and I am proud, and hope to get many more. It is a real shame that we count only on the “conscious” votes, and that our ranks are filled with Socialists who think they are Socialists only because they read La Vanguardia.39

Protesting against state repression also raised the tricky issue of citizenship. Repression was directed especially at non-Argentines, who composed the bulk of the urban work force. The state’s open repression of foreign-born anarchist “insurgents” dissuaded those workers from open expressions of dissent. Nor did the state urge foreign-born workers to take up citizenship; indeed, it practically discouraged them. Moreover, conservative regimes did their utmost to foster immigration of temporary workers from Italy and Spain to work on the pampean harvest, only to return home at the end of the season. The famed golondrina (swallow) seasonal migration did nothing to root immigrant workers in Argentine society. Immigrants chose not to bother applying for citizenship to a country that, at least officially, did not want them.40

The position of the PS during this period may help to explain why workers did not support even minimal political reforms. While the state unleashed the police against strikers and stuffed ballot boxes in the country’s election, the party and its leaders called on non-Argentines to take up citizenship and together create a new Argentina.41 This was reasonable enough, for without becoming citizens they could not vote. But with low rates of naturalization in general and persistent ethnic solidarities that isolated immigrant workers from the formal political realm, the Socialists’ citizenship drives floundered.

Justo had unkind words for those who refused to change their nationality. “Foreigners have not made use of their rights, which cost so little to acquire,” he wrote, “for lack of value placed on the battle against the vices of la política criolla, or out of ignorance and lack of public education, or due to greed, or due to negative and sterile patriotic preoccupations with their homeland . . . ,”42 Socialists expounded on the charge of greed: workers came to Argentina only to make money and not to participate in civil life—an ironic accusation, given the Socialists’ own primacy on economic matters.43

The Socialists’ frustration sometimes led them to attack ethnic insularity. Justo’s open disdain for nationalism led him to condemn ethnic diversity; he dreamed of a “raza nacional.” By rejecting ethnic differences, however, the Socialists alienated those workers who wanted to retain their heritage. The anarchists, by contrast, were noticeably more sensitive to ethnic particularity—in part because it reinforced their generally anti-political views.44

The labor unrest peaked in 1909-10 with a series of general strikes, followed by another round of antilabor legislation. During President José Figueroa Alcorta’s term (1906-1910), five states of siege were declared, leading to the Law of Social Defense of 1910, which imposed draconian penalties against subversion. But if 1910 was the culmination of nearly a decade of capital-labor violence, it was also the beginning of a new era. The old regime was exhausted, and many members of the establishment recognized the necessity of staving off civil war. When Roque Sáenz Peña was elected in late 1910, he promised widespread changes. A project for free, compulsory, and secret balloting was sent to Congress in 1911 and passed in early 1912.

While the PS hitherto had emphasized citizenship and economic matters, it had said little about democracy. Its main organ, La Vanguardia, had scarcely mentioned the congressional debate on democratic reform. Sáenz Peña, with his interior minister, Indalecio Gómez, had drafted the broad outlines of democratic aperture in Europe even before returning to Argentina from Rome in mid-1910. Since the PS already abided by the old rules, appearing unconcerned about immediate democratization and avoiding the role of intransigent opposition, the Sáenz Peña government felt no pressure to strike a deal. Instead, the newly elected president turned to the UCR and Hipólito Yrigoyen for an agreement on the content of the bill.45 It was between the establishment and its most vociferous opponents (aside from the anarchists) that the new rules of the game were drawn up.

When the new law took effect, so did a new constellation of forces. Overnight, politics shifted from exclusionary to inclusionary. Those who until 1912 had played by the rules, thereby legitimating them, bore the political cost of the new arrangement, while those who refused to play and had criticized from the outside could now claim to be the rightful heirs of reform. The older establishment, despite its hopes of forming a vibrant conservative party, benefited least; the Radicals benefited most. The net gains for the Socialists were mixed, but they no longer enjoyed almost unchallenged dominion over the country’s working-class voters. Suddenly the Partido Socialista was forced to compete with the UCR for the same voting constituencies.

Having taken no position in the negotiations and having ignored the congressional debates, the Socialists were forced to accept what the new law offered. They were pleased with some of the clauses, including the same reforms that had helped Palacios win in 1904 (the secret ballot and single-member constituencies). But in a long editorial, La Vanguardia attacked the legislation, especially the clause making voting obligatory.

The obligatory vote, above all, which may not constitute the principal characteristic of the new law, is a leap into the unknown, which may leave us worse off. Will it cause, among the downtrodden and unconscious, more venality? Or will those now submerged in indifference become sane forces in civil life?46

While it accepted some points, the editorial denounced the legislation as another twist “by our aristocratic president” who “has made an electoral reform for the bourgeoisie, and not for the people.” Yet the PS agreed to abide by the rules, just as it had before, symbolically. On the surface, the Socialists sneered at the possible effects of the new law and at their principal rivals. Deeper down, they recognized that this was the party’s opportunity to make sweeping gains in the wake of the consciousness-raising events of 1909 and 1910. Abounding with optimism, they threw themselves into the electoral melee.

The law took effect immediately: congressional midterm elections were posted for April 7, 1912. From the outset, the PS decided to concentrate its efforts in the cities of Buenos Aires and Rosario, where the vast majority of party affiliates lived. Outside the cities, it would take time to generate support. The problem with elections, La Vanguardia noted, was the long tradition of ignorance and indifference among the masses: they did not appreciate the meaning of the vote, and it was up to the party to demonstrate that their vote mattered. Throughout February and March, party activists blasted the UCR and other “oligarchic” parties for their emptiness, averring that only serious parties (like the PS) had a “real,” “practical,” and “concrete” essence that did not fall into the melange “of abstraction and imprecision.”47 Socialists attacked the “unconscious” voters and the parties that attracted them. On the eve of the election, Justo declared that workers who failed to vote Socialist betrayed their interests.

With good reason it is said that collective misery can be explained by the incapacity of the people to sustain a collective struggle for life . . .. We represent the electoral organization of the working people, and aspire, through political power, to raise their standard of living and prepare them for their complete emancipation.48

A self-righteous tone laced a message that drummed home the meaninglessness of elections under the tutelage of política criolla while insisting that citizens participate. The dual message called on electors to legitimate a regime that could not meet their demands. Hope, as far as the voter was concerned, resided not in the subjective will of the citizenry but in the objective force of economic development. The long-term force of economic change would eventually mold politics, but in the meantime, Socialists had to prepare the citizenry by a modicum of legislation and symbolic participation in elections.

The election results, however, pleased the Socialists: voters from the capital sent Juan B. Justo and Alfredo Palacios to Congress. The vote was close. The UCR and the PS jousted for leadership within the capital (Table 2). Beyond the capital, the PS returns were threadbare (Table 3).

The results prompted some rethinking by PS leaders. Where it mattered (that is, among “conscious” voters), the PS clearly did not monopolize votes; it competed closely with the Radicals. Nevertheless, the results did exceed expectations, and the complete eclipse of the conservative candidates in the capital led some to conclude that the old oligarchy had been dethroned. The UCR’s triumph across the country and challenge to Socialists in the capital was due, noted La Vanguardia, to its “use of different methods from the old shenanigans of the oligarchs . . . which for us implies that we must watch them closely in Parliament and in government.” The PS recognized that it was no longer sufficient “to march in its normal pace with the pleasure of knowing that good citizens will recognize its value.” But such a germ of reappraisal was buried in the conviction that history was on the side of the Socialists; that the natural laws of motion unveiled the superior message of socialism and the intrinsic interest of the workers in joining the forces of progress.49 Strategically, the PS shifted its focus away from the older conservative forces and addressed its campaign to radicalism. But in substance its message had not changed.

The 1913 and 1914 congressional elections appeared to vindicate that strategy. In 1913, Nicolás Repetto and Mario Bravo went to the lower house and Enrique del Valle Iberlucea went to the Senate—all three representing the capital. Likewise in 1914 the capital favored the Socialists, sending seven new PS deputies, including Dickmann, to Congress compared to the UCR’s three, in spite of the net drop in Socialist votes from 46,377 in 1913 to 43,267 in 1914. Nevertheless, it seemed that the PS was on its way to becoming the majority force in the capital.

While the party celebrated the beginning of “the passive revolution” based on “a real democracy,” its reaction also reflected the concern to maintain its purity and appeal only to the conscious voter. In the wake of the 1913 results, La Vanguardia noted:

Our party now runs the risk of being invaded by a deluge of men whose merits do not lie, in any way, either in the depth of their ideas or in the firmness of their convictions. The party must defend itself against such a danger . . ..50

Socialism was supposed to be “a culminating role in the process of Argentine civilization,” while social democracy was to be “cemented on a broad and deep process of illumination; there must be no assimilation of citizens without having illuminated the spark of truth.”51 One Socialist, looking at the preferences of voters outside the capital, complained that “the people are not ready” and that only in Buenos Aires, and to a lesser extent Rosario, were workers “aware of the significance of citizenship.”52 Thus it was decided not to extend the appeal beyond the major urban centers but to “deepen” the process of consciousness raising among the advanced proletariat.53 Though symbolic, elections were “glorious occasions to illuminate the minds of the people and warm their hearts”; the PS should not be too concerned with vote chasing.54

The national election results in the rest of the country were poor (Table 3). In the county of Lobos in Buenos Aires province, where Socialists had had an active office for years, the March 1914 elections yielded 928 votes for the UCR, 675 for the Conservatives, and a mere 48 for the PS.55 One of the founders of the party, Esteban Giménez, noted that beyond the capital in the province of Buenos Aires the oligarchy (embodied in strongman Marcelino Ugarte) still held the reins of power. For Giménez this was “enemy country,” where socialism was “denied fire and water, bereft of support, and surrounded by political tribes incapable of assimilating anything new or sane, where we Socialists will have to suffer the fate of all invaders.”56 In Córdoba, some solace was found in the Federal Capital results: “Buenos Aires is a reflection of what Córdoba will be like in a few years.”57

For all intents and purposes the party dismissed the rest of the country as backward and unenlightened. Voters outside the capital responded in kind: except for Córdoba, which sent three Socialist deputies to Congress from 1924 to 1928 (due to the abstinence of one wing of the Radicals), the PS never earned a seat in Congress to represent the interior. In a speech to Congress, Justo assured the deputies that this was a source of the PS’s strength:

It would alarm us to find the popularity of our candidates as high in Jujuy or Catamarca as it is in the capital: we would have to conclude that our essence was lost. We are the party of conscious universal suffrage.58

In the wake of the 1913 and 1914 results in the capital, the PS also reassessed its principal opponent, the UCR. While in 1912 the PS had treated the UCR as a potentially progressive force representing a dynamic faction of the elite allied with the middle class, the Radicals’ success in the interior, along with their vague campaign promises, now prompted the Socialists to dismiss them as just a new visage of the old oligarchy. One militant observed that the UCR “is a simple faction of criollo politicians, who ignore or are ignorant of genuine radicalism.”59 This view fed the illusion that the UCR was doomed to be squeezed between the forces of reaction, represented by the conservative parties, and genuine forces of progress, embodied in the PS: “the Radical party will be ground between two stones—the conservatives who know what they want, and socialism, which is the synthesis of the aspirations and revolutionary force of the working class.”60 The only hope for the UCR was to become the genuine representative of the forces of reaction. Regardless, if the PS once had seen the Radicals as a modernizing force, it now dismissed the UCR as either doomed or just another version of política criolla.

In the context of the party’s official neglect of the unconverted outside the Federal Capital, party locals began to itch for more freedom. The most serious conflict erupted following the 1914 elections in La Plata and led to the splintering of the party in the province of Buenos Aires. The La Plata local had started making waves as early as 1904, when members called for a more decentralized party structure to give locals more flexibility. In 1913, Alfredo Palacios was threatened with suspension from the party for dueling, along with other minor infractions of party statutes; his behavior, although popular in the eyes of many, smacked of the loathsome política criolla. In February 1914, in response to the groundswell of support, the La Plata section sent a note defending Palacios to the PS provincial executive. (Palacios was finally expelled in 1915.)

La Plata activists were upset by the strict line party leaders took in general and their neglect of the provincial electorate—the rural sector in particular. Provincial and national executives upbraided the local for insubordination and, after an investigation, suspended the entire La Plata section in April 1914. The local’s leader, the recently elected provincial deputy Alfredo Torcelli, was popular among rank-and-file activists; the suspension sparked wholesale defections from the party. The refugees, led by Palacios, formed the Partido Socialista Argentino in 1915. One activist from the county of Tres Arroyos decried the “insulting conduct of the authoritarians of the party [who] will bring graver consequences than they realize.”61

Elections began to favor non-Socialist parties. In 1915, the UCR swept the provincial contests, taking the governorships of Santa Fe and Entre Ríos and registering impressive gains in other provinces. The only conservative holdout was the province of Buenos Aires, where the Socialists actually lost votes compared to the previous national congressional elections. The Socialist reaction to this upswing in Radical support was bitter. Only a year earlier, the party had predicted the Radicals’ eclipse. Now, “the secret to the success of Radicalism is that the average voter offers no resistance, even in the most backward provinces. Their customs and their education are those of the group from the old regime.”62 The oligarchy, according to the PS, let the UCR do its political dirty work, thereby “saving the era of caudillismo.” When the UCR swept Córdoba in November, La Vanguardia concluded, “we can say that we are barely on the road toward a real free vote.” To justify the lack of “real” democracy, the party organ maintained that “the few votes which our ticket obtained are the best proof of our suspicion.”63 Since the Socialist vote was a gauge of class consciousness, party leadership turned its back on an electorate supposedly not yet ready for the light.

In the presidential election of 1916, some conservative forces aligned themselves behind the Partido Demócrata Progresista while others (mainly the provincial conservatives of Buenos Aires, behind Ugarte) made an independent bid. The UCR and the PS avoided alliances. The Socialists presented a long list of campaign issues, ranging from the derogation of repressive labor legislation to a new land tax to cuts in arms expenditures. It was a coherent proposal next to the vague liberalism of the Radicals and the vague conservatism of the Right. But it was aimed mainly at voters in the capital, “the superior center of the social and political organism of the Republic.” The presidential ticket of Juan B. Justo and Nicolás Repetto attracted a crowd of nearly one hundred thousand on the eve of the election.64

The results were close. Yrigoyen did not win a majority of votes in the electoral college, and negotiations with the Right allowed him to take office. The Socialists did poorly. Beyond the capital, their support was almost insignificant, where “our party has yet to penetrate the dense weed of popular ignorance!” (Table 3). In the province of Buenos Aires, where the party had hoped to make some advances, especially in the industrial belt surrounding the capital, the PS vote rose marginally.65 In the country as a whole, the percentage of votes for the PS actually fell from 9.3 to 8.9, while the Radicals harvested 45.6 percent of the votes cast. If the atmosphere smelled of defeat, the party found solace in its stronghold, Buenos Aires: “the metropolis of Latin America . . . will never be the victim of reaction; it will always be, above all, the city light for the new continent, emancipated by democracy, impelled by liberty and guided by socialism to fulfill its great and manifest destiny.”66 But as the results came in, it became clear that the party had forfeited its leadership to the UCR, which earned almost half the votes cast. In the congressional vote, the top Socialist candidate, Justo, ended in ninth place behind a list of Radicals (Table 2).

Forced to relinquish its claim to majority status in the capital, the PS reassessed its optimism. In a long editorial on the significance of the election, La Vanguardia noted that the struggle for socialism would take much longer than expected. For the first time, it openly acknowledged that formal democracy would not lead to an automatic Socialist victory, in spite of the party’s advocacy of both the modernization (in liberal terms) and transformation (in Socialist terms) of the country. Before any advances could be made on the parliamentary road to socialism, other steps were necessary: the incorporation of non-Argentines into the body politic and the raising of workers’ consciousness. Workers’ refusal to throw their weight behind the Socialist cause spoiled the necessary relationship between experience and consciousness.

If the theory lay in shambles around them, Socialists still directed their critique at Argentine society. Their defeat they attributed to Argentina’s “inorganic” democracy, for while the vote was formally free, the elections were not. The resilience of política criolla meant that voters did not, in substance, vote freely, because they were not conscious. The party concluded that only its 8 percent of the vote was “good”; the rest, in effect, was not an exercise in democracy.67

The Waning Ideal

In the wake of the 1916 results, the Socialists sank into depression. If their expectations remained unfulfilled, it did not help that the world was tearing itself apart in a nationalistic war. The consent offered by European Socialist parties to the war effort in their respective countries destroyed the illusion of socialism’s internationalist credentials. Meanwhile, the Russian Revolution posed an alternative route to socialism. At first Justo supported the Bolshevik effort, but as it drove a wedge between members of the party disillusioned with Justo s strict determinism and parliamentarism, Justo and his closest followers grew increasingly critical of Lenin’s project. The new external influences from Europe, which had originally provided inspiration, now emaciated their ideals.68

It was internal forces, however, that did the most damage. Fernando Ghio, an Italian-born worker from Mataderos, expressed a widely held sentiment. Faced with an uncomfortable party line that blamed the electorate for the poor showing in 1916, Ghio bemoaned the

leaders of the Socialist party who try to justify to those inside and outside [the party] the defeat suffered at the hands of democracy on 2 April . . . [I]t is some consolation for those of us who suffered the insults and diatribes of our compañeros to have . . . put our finger on the wound and exposed to the conscious and Socialist people those who are really responsible for the defeat of today.

To Ghio, there was little doubt who was to blame: “Justo, Repetto, and the others, there is the fruit of our machinations: the second of April, 1916!” 69

The Socialist party never broke out of the capital. There, it occasionally increased its votes but never consolidated its gains.70 Firm support oscillated around 30 percent (Table 2). Outside the capital, the PS remained in the wilderness (Table 3). In 1917, Ghio and other dissidents from the capital’s urban belt met in Mataderos to establish the Partido Socialista Revolucionario. The following year, the International Socialists, led by the typographers’ union leader José Fernando Penelón, split from the PS to form the Communist party. That same year, amid the greatest labor unrest in the nation’s history, the Socialists fought a bitter midterm election in the capital. In spite of worker agitation and calls for revolution, the Socialist vote dropped markedly—not just in the country but in the capital. What was worse, as Richard Walter’s calculations show, Socialists were losing votes from their traditional blue-collar bulwark.71 Only District 4, La Boca, went for the PS. Yrigoyen’s inroads into Socialist terrain were checked, though more effectively by the deepening class struggle and the repression of the Semana Trágica of early 1919. In local elections that year, the PS recovered some of its constituency. The young congressman Federico Pinedo found bittersweet solace in the outcome:

Because we represent that tendency most consistent with cosmopolitan civilization, and above all with the European civilization in this country, we are the factor best selected to impede the predominance of those indigenous elements which today return to weigh in Argentine politics, unburied by the unconscious practice of universal suffrage.72

The Radicals’ ability to swing even the most diehard working-class districts showed once more when Yrigoyen regained control of his party in 1926 and began to reassemble a working-class constituency, drawing support away from the Socialists. If the PS could claim to be the official opposition at all, it was only because conservative forces could never form a lasting alliance.73 The Socialists never managed to win more than 1.5 percent of the national vote, and that peak (14.6 percent in 1924) was exceptional in light of the UCR’s rightward drift under Marcelo T. De Alvear. It made little difference whether universal male suffrage actually functioned; Socialist support did not rise significantly after the electoral reform of 1912.

The stumbling of the Socialist party reflected the crumbling of Second Internationalism around the world, as its European cousins splintered under the weight of state repression or internecine disputes. Yet Argentine Socialists clung to an electoral strategy that made its appeal to “conscious” voters. As it became clear that these voters constituted only a fraction of the electorate and as Yrigoyen’s grip on the UCR tightened, some Socialists feared that Argentine democracy was deteriorating toward demagoguery. The bright young lights of the party, Antonio De Tomaso and Federico Pinedo, began clandestine talks with the uprooted Alvear leadership as well as conservatives outside the UCR to sabotage Yrigoyen’s electoral bid. After his victory in 1928, a new alliance of forces began secretly conspiring to overthrow the government.

Meanwhile, Justo’s health deteriorated and his role in the party slowly diminished to occasional speeches in the Senate. Without a strong leader, the schismatic tendencies within the PS intensified. The largest dissenting group, led by De Tomaso and Pinedo, staged a dramatic split in July 1927. Taking the majority of the party’s parliamentary wing with them, they formed the Independent Socialist party (PSI) in 1928. The PSI’s program was identical to that of the PS, but this new generation of Socialist leaders were caustic critics of Yrigoyen’s “sham” democratic system. They openly damned a democracy in which voters were unconscious of their true interests. De Tomaso, Pinedo, and other Socialists collaborated in the coup that toppled Yrigoyen in September 1930, and they later became important members of the illegitimate governments of the 1930s.74

Many, if not most, Socialists stuck to their democratic beliefs and did not participate in the coup. The mainstream party did not abet the coup or collaborate in the 1930s governments. It rejected the voluntarism of the praetorian regime, and its leaders were sufficiently devout democrats to recognize the difference between General José Uriburu, the leader of the 1930 coup, and the traditional leaders of the ancien regime before 1916. But they did not defend Yrigoyen’s right to rule on the basis of universal suffrage. Instead, they applauded the end of a regime that had “criminally betrayed the hopes of the people.”75

It might be argued that growing authoritarianism reinforced the Socialists’ democratic credentials. Indeed, the belief that Yrigoyen’s populism was the malefactor of democratic failure, combined with the succession of illegitimate governments during the 1930s, made the Socialist party a champion of democratic restoration. Ironically, when the transition finally came in 1945, the Socialists found themselves cut off from the rank-and-file working-class vote. The issue of democracy divided the waters: Perón’s populism and military background reeked of fascism, even if it attracted workers’ support.76


From the 1890s to World War I, the heyday of Second Internationalism, Argentine Socialists conceived of social classes as the bearers of objectively constituted interests. Working-class voters were expected to vote as workers and the bourgeoisie as bourgeois. This meant that once workers became conscious of their class position, they would naturally vote Socialist. Political choices followed automatically from economic status: class formation was independent of politics.

This neat theory posed real problems in practice. Socialists were irked by the Radicals, who blurred class lines in vague appeals to liberal political rights. Preferring hardhitting policies full of constructive suggestions for economic reform, the Socialists were baffled by the Radicals’ success. It was up to political parties, in the Socialists’ view, to unveil the class interest to citizens in those classes born of economic transformation. The Radicals, on the other hand, clouded class interests.

In disclosing objective class interest, the Socialists encountered two problems. The first was the trap of reductionism. By treating class formation as a process occurring beyond politics in the realm of economics, Socialists discounted the possibility that working-class voters might vote according to criteria not reducible exclusively to their proletarian status. So by accusing the Radicals of engaging in política criolla while at the same time relegating formal democratization to second priority, the Socialists weakened any claim to being the defenders of political rights.

The second problem was logical. Since the cause of political rights was secondary to economic transformation, the call to vote Socialist was in itself meaningless. Voting was meaningful only when the right was exercised by conscious agents. Since the stultified bourgeois revolution prevented consciousness from percolating among the masses, their vote was bound to be “irrational.” Argentine voters’ preference was a self-fulfilling prophecy as long as underdevelopment, which impeded full capitalist social relations from prevailing, obscured “real” consciousness. This logical cul-de-sac prompted many Socialists to question the merit of formal democracy in Argentina. Thus it was not inconsistent for a small group of Socialists to collude with conservatives in the 1920s, help lead the coup of 1930 and form part of the governments of the década infame of the 1930s.

Argentine Socialists’ difficulty in coping with democracy bedeviled their party’s fortunes. Democracy only mattered if citizens knew what to do with their political rights. If any of the necessary links between work, consciousness, and proper voting behavior was severed, the efficacy of democracy had to be questioned. Argentine Socialists adhered to this “necessitarian” logic.77 In so doing they could not understand why the working-class electorate often favored bourgeois parties. Their only explanation was false consciousness,” based on the survival of an older, precapitalist, or criollo tradition that prevented citizens from seeing the light. The force of tradition, many Socialists believed, ultimately defeated the purpose of elections. The Partido Socialista clung to the rules in the conviction that eventually its message would be heard. But rather than reassess their attitude toward the voters, the Socialists invoked the circular logic of false consciousness. Disappointing performances at the polls thus became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The author is grateful to Paula Alonso, Emilio Kourí, Hilda Sábato, and Richard Walter for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.


The list of writers in this tradition is long. To name some classics: Gino Germani, Estructura social de la Argentina: análisis estadístico (Buenos Aires: Editorial Raigal, 1955); Samuel L. Baily, Labor, Nationalism, and Politics in Argentina (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1967); Richard J. Walter, The Socialist Party of Argentina, 1890-1930 (Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies, Univ. of Texas, 1977). While each of these offers a different focus on the politics of labor, all three coincide in describing the failure of mainstream democratic Socialists to earn the enduring support of Argentina’s masses, leaving them open to capture by other movements. For more recent works with the same angle, see Charles Bergquist, Labor in Latin America: Comparative Essays on Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1986), chap. 3, esp. 137-39; Ronaldo Munck, Argentina: From Anarchism to Peronism (London: Zed Books, 1987); Julio Godio, El movimiento obrero argentino, 4 vols. (Buenos Aires: Editorial Legasa, 1987-90); Isidoro Cheresky, “Sindicatos y fuerzas políticas en la Argentina pre-peronista,” in Historia del movimiento obrero en América Latina, ed. Pablo González Casanova, vol. 4 (Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno, 1984), 147-99.


This is especially true of the left-nationalist historiography. A classic rendition can be found in Jorge Abelardo Ramos, Revolución y contra-revolución en Argentina: el sexto dominio, 1922-1943, 5th ed. (Buenos Aires: Plus Ultra, 1973), and one more recently laundered in Godio’s multivolume Movimiento obrero argentino. For recent attempts to reassess the political behavior of the Argentine working class, see Jeremy Adelman, “The Political Economy of Labour in Argentina, 1870-1930,” and Ofelia Pianetto, “The Labour Movement and the Historical Conjuncture: Córdoba, 1917-1921,” in Essays in Argentine Labour History, 1870–1939, ed. Jeremy Adelman (London: Macmillan, 1992); Ricardo Falcón, “Izquierdas, régimen político, cuestión étnica y cuestión social en Argentina (1890-1912),” 12 Anuario. Segunda Epoca, Escuela de Historia, Universidad Nacional de Rosario (Rosario, 1986-87), 367-88. Torcuato S. Di Tella has tried to reconcile the nationalist revisionist literature and more recent studies of the working class by emphasizing the internal heterogeneity of the labor movement and the failure of working-class leaders to emulate the natural affinity for caudillismo among Argentine workers, especially of the interior. See his “Working-Class Organization and Politics in Argentina,” Latin American Research Review 16:2 (1981), 33-56.


This article builds on Richard Walter’s seminal work on pre-1930s party politics. See his “Municipal Politics and Government in Buenos Aires, 1918-1930,” Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs 16:2 (May 1974), and “Elections in the City of Buenos Aires during the First Yrigoyen Administration: Social Class and Political Preferences,” HAHR 58:4 (Nov. 1978), 595-624. A less informative piece is E. Spencer Wellhofer, “Political Party Development in Argentina: The Emergence of Socialist Party Parliamentarism,” Journal of Inter-American Studies and World Affairs 17:2 (May 1975), 153-74. Fine work on the early history of the party system can be found in Anne L. Potter, “The Failure of Democracy in Argentina, 1916-1930: An Institutional Perspective,” Journal of Latin American Studies 13:1 (May 1981), 83-109; Karen L. Remmer, Party Competition in Argentina and Chile: Political Recruitment and Public Policy, 1890-1930 (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1984), 93-104. While Potter and Remmer examine party competition, they pay scant attention to the Socialist party.


For a summary, see Carl E. Schorske, German Social Democracy, 1905-1917; The Development of the Great Schism (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1955), 4-6; James Joll, The Second International, 1889-1914 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1955), 7-36; Adam Przeworski and John Sprague, Paper Stones: A History of Electoral Socialism (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1986), esp. 29-60.


The Partido Socialista Obrero Internacional formed in April 1895; held its first executive meeting in October, when it changed its name to Partido Socialista Obrero Argentino; and held its first congress in June 1896. Walter, Socialist Party, 17-37; Michael F. Mullaney, “The Argentine Socialist Party, 1890-1930: Early Development and Internal Schisms” (Ph.D. diss., University of Essex, 1982), 13-48. For a selection of writings by the most important Marxist to come from Europe, see Leonardo Paso, ed., La clase obrera y el nacimiento del marxismo en la Argentina, selección de artículos de Germán Avé Lallemant (Buenos Aires: Editorial Anteo, 1974).


Noberto Bobbio, Which Socialism?: Marxism, Socialism and Democracy, trans. Roger Griffin, ed. Richard Bellamy (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1987), 37-39.


Juan B. Justo, Economía, valor, interés (Buenos Aires: Editorial La Vanguardia, 1928), 4; Teoría y practica de la historia (Buenos Aires: Lotito y Barberis, 1969), 6-10. The former was written in 1913, the latter in 1909.


Justo, Teoría y practica, 60-61; and “El Congreso Socialista Internacional de Copenhagen” (1910), in Internacionalismo y patria: obras completas, vol. 5 (Buenos Aires: Librería “La Vanguardia,” 1925), 14. Hereafter all references to Justo’s complete works are cited as OC.


The most detailed Justo biographies are both by Dardo Cuneo: Juan B. Justo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Americalee, 1945), and Juan B. Justo y las luchas sociales en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: ALPE, 1956), but they read more like hagiography. Biographical information is also scattered throughout José Arico, “La hipótesis de Justo: una propuesta latinoamericana de recreación del socialismo” (unpublished ms., Centro de Estudios Contemporáneos, Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, 1981). For Justo’s charge against the UCR see Cuneo, 73; and Justo, “El momento actual del socialismo: II” (1920), Revista Socialista 6 (June 1935), 403-4.


Justo, En los Estados Unidos. Apuntes escritos en 1895 para un periódico obrero (Buenos Aires: Editorial La Vanguardia, 1928), 65-78.


Justo’s influence over the party would be hard to underestimate. As a professor on the medical faculty of the University of Buenos Aires, he was seen as the modernizer of Argentine medicine; as Marx’s first Argentine translator, he was seen as the authority on Socialist theory. His voracious reading of English, French, and German Socialist tracts ensured his unchallenged intellectual leadership. Long after his death, Justo’s writings were printed in La Vanguardia, the party newspaper, and well into the 1940s he was still cited to back up party policies. Perhaps the only systematic challenge to Justo’s socialism came from the little-known Manuel Ugarte, who was ejected from the party in 1913. Justo’s view of internal dissent is the running theme in Mullaney’s “Argentine Socialist Party.” On Ugarte, see Benito Marianetti, Manuel Ugarte: un precursor en la lucha emancipadora de América Latina (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Silalba, 1976), 29-92.


Peter Gay, The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism: Eduard Bernstein’s Challenge to Marx (New York: Collier Books, 1962), 87-88, 298-99; and Adam Przeworski, Capitalism and Social Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985), 49-50.


Justo, Teoría y práctica, 9-10.


See, for instance, Nicolás Repetto’s confession that Spencer was more influential and that Marx was unintelligible, in Mi paso por la política, de Roca a Yrigoyen (Buenos Aires: S. Reuda, 1956), 35. See also Enrique Dickmann, Recuerdos de un militante socialista (Buenos Aires: Editorial La Vanguardia, 1949), 418.


Justo’s confidence in natural selection led him to argue that the laws of evolution were better explanatory tools than were dialectics. Justo, Teoría y practica, 19-27; and “El realismo ingenuo” (1903), in La realización del socialismo, OC vol. 6 (Buenos Aires: Editorial La Vanguardia, 1947), 255-63.


Palabra Socialista, Feb. 15, 1914; Adam Przeworski, “Social Democracy as a Historical Phenomenon,” New Left Review 122 (1980), 31; Przeworski, Capitalism and Social Democracy, 47-50; Przeworski and Sprague, Paper Stones, 29-31.


Justo, El socialismo (1902), in Realización del socialismo, 201.


Justo, Teoría y practica, 516.


Justo, “La acción obrera” (1896), in Realización del socialismo, 33.


See Justo, Educación pública, OC vol. 3 (Buenos Aires: La Vanguardia, 1930), which is entirely devoted to the theme of education. See also “Maestros y no maestros” (n.d.), in Revista Socialista 7 (Apr. 1937), 241; “El trabajo y el estudio,” in Revista Socialista 8 (May 1937), 323; Luis Caminos Ceballos to Alfredo Torcelli, Oct. 27, 1913, Archivo General de la Nación, Buenos Aires, Archivo Alfredo Torcelli, Sala 8-7-8-16 (hereafter cited as AGN, AAT).


Justo, Realización del socialismo, 200.


Mario Bravo, “El unitarismo en el programa del partido socialista,” Revista Argentina del Ciencias Políticas 5 (1912), 287. Socialists had their own reading of Argentine history, which mistakenly saw the thinkers of the Generation of 1837 as followers of Bernardo Rivadavia and beacons of an enlightened centralism against the backward federalism of the interior.


The most forceful rendition of this explanation of Argentina’s failed bourgeois revolution can be found in Justo’s books El socialismo argentino (Buenos Aires: La Vanguardia, 1910), 10-24, and La teoría científica de la historia y la política argentina (Buenos Aires: La Vanguardia, 1898), 18-49. This thesis has become the dominant explanation of why Argentina failed to go the route of Australia and Canada. For some recent explorations of the historiography, see Juan Carlos Korol and Hilda Sábato, Incomplete Industrialization: An Argentine Obsession,” Latin American Research Review 25:1 (1990), 7-30; Waldo Ansaldi, Reflexiones históricas sobre la debilidad de la democracia argentina (1880-1930),” 12 Anuario. Segunda Epoca, Escuela de Historia, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, 391-421; Jeremy Adelman, Frontier Development: Land, Labour and Capital on the Wheatlands of Argentina and Canada, 1890-1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming), esp. chaps. 1 and 8.


Justo, Realización del socialismo, 247; also in Teoría y practica, 225.


Justo, Teoría científica, 46; also in Realización del socialismo, 200.


La Vanguardia, Feb. 3, 1914; Justo, Teoría científica, 37-40; Dickmann, Recuerdos, 80-81; Repetto, Mi paso por la política, 113-14; Mario Bravo, “Organización, programa y desarrollo del Partido Socialista en la Argentina,” Revista Argentina de Ciencias Políticas 10:56 (May 1915), 119. It is interesting to note that when Jean Jaurés visited Buenos Aires in 1911, he gave a series of speeches, the most memorable of which vindicated the political thought of Juan Bautista Alberdi. See Jean Jaurés, Conferencias pronunciadas en Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires: La Vanguardia, 1922). For Justo’s full agreement with the French Socialist, see his prologue in the same booklet. On the nineteenth-century liberals, see Tulio Halperín-Donghi, Una nación para el desierto argentino (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1982), 19-55; and Leon Pomer, “El estado nacional argentino,” Revista de Historia de América no. 105 (Jan.-June 1988), 53-88.


Justo, “El congreso socialista internacional de Copenhagen,” 38.


Justo, Teoría y practica, 449-50.


On this issue the legacy of Eduard Bernstein and Rosa Luxembourg, who favored the use of strikes for the vote, had no influence on Justo. See, for instance, Justo, “La admisión de grupos gremiales en el Partido Socialista” (1910), in Realización del socialismo, 277.


Justo, “El socialismo,” in Realización del socialismo, 200.


Dickmann, Recuerdos, 101-4.


Mullaney, “Argentine Socialist Party,” 47-48; Jacinto Oddone, Historia del socialismo argentino, 1896-1911, vol. 1 (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1983), 46, 66. The call for suffrage included women, and the PS should go on record as the most consistent champion of women’s suffrage in Argentina. Ultimately, however, economic issues prevailed.


La Vanguardia, Feb. 19 and Apr. 23, 1898.


Some of the campaigners remembered the atmosphere well. See Dickmann, Recuerdos, 117; Repetto, Mi paso por la política, 84-85.


La Vanguardia, Mar. 19, 1904; Dickmann, Recuerdos, 119-21.


Departamento Nacional de Trabajo, Estadística de las Huelgas (Buenos Aires, 1940), 20. For a general survey of strike action, see Adelman, “Political Economy of Labour in Argentina”; and Ronaldo Munck, “Cycles of Class Struggle and the Making of the Working Class in Argentina, 1890-1920,” Journal of Latin American Studies 19 :1 (May 1987), 19-39. The best summary of state policies in response to worker agitation is Juan Suriano, Trabajadores, anarquismo y estado represor: de la Ley de Residencia a la Ley de Defensa Social (1902-1910) (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1988).


Ruth Thompson, The Limitations of Ideology in the Early Argentine Labour Movement: Anarchism in Trade Unions, 1890-1920, Journal of Latin American Studies 16:1 (May 1984) 81-89, and “Trade Union Structures: Some Neglected Issues,” in Essays in Argentine Labour History, ed. Adelman.


On the agrupaciones de oficio, see Partido Socialista, “Orden del día del IX Congreso Nacional del Partido Socialista, May 23-24, 1910, pp. 15-16. On the typographical workers resolution, see Adolfo Dickmann, Los congresos socialistas: 40 años de democracia (Buenos Aires: La Vanguardia, 1936), 19-20. The same split befell the leaders of the incipient agrarian movement after the Grito de Alcorta uprising in 1912. Early efforts to make the Federación Agraria Argentina address rural tenant disgruntlement with the party floundered. See Jeremy Adelman, “Una cosecha por levantar: el Partido Socialista y el campo antes de la Primera Guerra Mundial,” Anuario del IEHS 4 (1989).


Roque Masi to Alfredo Torcelli, July 24, 1914, AGN, AAT.


Suriano, Trabajadores, 3; Adelman, “Political Economy of Labour in Argentina”; Falcón, “Izquierdas,” 367-88. This does not mean that immigrants were bereft of political channels. At local and informal levels, activity was robust. See Hilda Sábato and Ema Cibotti, “Hacer política en Buenos Aires: los italianos en la escena pública porteña, 1860-1880,” Boletín del Instituto de Historia Argentina y Americana 2 (1990).


See La Vanguardia, Mar. 22, 1906; Justo, Internacionalismo y patria, 7, 93, 199.


Justo, “Nuevas practicas y no nuevas leyes,” El Diario del Pueblo (Buenos Aires), Oct. 22, 1899. Throughout 1899 Justo carried on a visceral campaign in this paper against immigrants who refused to take up citizenship.


See Virgilio Aures in La Vanguardia, Feb. 10, 1912.


See, for instance, Justo, “Por qué no me gusta escribir para una hoja que se dice israelita, Vida Nuestra (Nov. 1923). See also Enrique Diekmann’s own denial of his Judaism and Russian background in Recuerdos, 43, 88. The ethnic question and Socialist politics have been explored by Falcón in “Izquierdas,” 367-80, and Pianetto, “Labour Movement and Historical Conjuncture.”


For a detailed discussion of the legislation, see Dario Cantón, Elecciones y partidos políticos en la Argentina: historia, interpretation y balance: 1910-1966 (Buenos Aires: Siglo Veintiuno Argentina Editores, 1973), 21-22; Miguel Angel Cárcano, Sáenz Peña, la revolución por los comicios (Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1986), 146-64; Roberto García Pinto, Indalecio Gómez y la política de su tiempo,” Boletín del Instituto de San Felipe y Santiago de Estudios Históricos de Salta 6:26 (1952), 124.


La Vanguardia, Feb. 9, 1912. See also the executive committee report on electoral reform, Partido Socialista, “Orden del Día del X Congreso Nacional del Partido Socialista,” Jan. 13-14, 1912, pp. 9-10. While the record clearly shows that the PS did not take the new law seriously, this did not prevent Justo, Dickmann, or Repetto, in their subsequent writing and memoirs, from describing the Sáenz Peña law as a milestone.


La Vanguardia, Mar. 5, 1912.


Ibid., Mar. 9, 12, and 24, 1912; also El Ariete (Quilines), Feb. 20, 1912. Emphasis added.


La Vanguardia, May 11, Aug. 31, Oct. 8, and Nov. 23, 1912, respectively.


Ibid., Apr. 6, 1913; also Apr. 13, 1913.


Alejandro Calzado, “La acción socialista y la conciencia ciudadana,” Revista Argentina de Ciencias Políticas 8 (1914), 260-61. Emphasis added.




La Vanguardia, July 1 and Oct. 23, 1913; Espártaco (Pigue), Sept. 1, 1915; Vida Nueva (Córdoba), Jan. 16, 1915; El Ariete (Quilmes), Apr. 30, 1914.


La Vanguardia, Feb. 1, 1914.


The party’s bimonthly newspaper in Lobos waxed optimistic that these were at least 48 “conscious” voters. Vida Nueva (Lobos), Apr. 1, 1914. That peak of support remained unsurpassed for years. In 1916, with a very high turnout, the party earned only 46 votes. In the province of Buenos Aires, Quilmes and Avellaneda were the PS strongholds. Yet even in Quilmes, by now an emerging industrial zone, the vote was poor. See El Ariete (Quilmes), Apr. 10, 1914; La Vanguardia, Apr. 22, 1915.


Esteban Giménez, “La lucha en la provincia de Buenos Aires,” La Vanguardia, Nov. 20, 1913. See also Vida Nueva (Lobos), Aug. 15 and Dec. 15, 1913.


Adelante (Córdoba), Sept. 1 and Oct. 1, 1913. When he recounted his own involvement in Socialist politics, Repetto claimed that the PS victories’ being limited to the capital reflected the existence of “real democracy” when elsewhere it was a sham. See Repetto, Mi paso por la política, 149.


Justo, La obra parlamentaria, mayo 1912-abril 1913 (Buenos Aires: La Vanguardia, 1913), 145.


Guido Anatolio Cartey, “La necesidad de un partido radical,” Humanidad Nueva 5:58 (Sept. 1913).


La Vanguardia, Oct. 28, 1914; also Nov. 25 and Dec. 2, 1914.


Letters, Juan Pita to Alfredo Torcelli, July 13, 1915; Roberto Bordemay to Torcelli Aug. 28, 1914, AGN, AAT.


La Vanguardia, Apr. 27, 1915.


Ibid., Nov. 25, 1915; Espártaco (Pigue), Dec. 1, 1915; Vida Nueva (Córdoba), July 17, 1915.


For a recollection of the 1916 election see Dickmann, Recuerdos, 278. It is interesting to note that Nicolás Repetto does not even mention the event in his own memoir, which might indicate either a desire to forget the experience or a view that elections were unimportant in his own political career.


Though Table 3, taken from Cantón’s estimates, suggests an increase in votes, the local Socialist press published results that showed a fall in votes in the province, from 8,600 votes in 1914 to 7,600 in 1916. See El Ariete (Quilines), Apr. 20, 1916; Vida Nueva (Lobos), Apr. 15, 1916.


La Vanguardia, Apr. 9, 1916.


Ibid., Apr. 15, 1916; El Ariete (Quilmes), Apr. 10, 1916; Vida Nueva (Lobos), Apr. 15, 1916. For Dickmann, Yrigoyen’s election “was a symbolic expression of an inorganic democracy, chaotic, anarchic, though democratic.” Dickmann, Recuerdos, 279.


For the Socialist attitude toward communism, see Justo, “El momento actual del socialismo, I,” Revista Socialista 5 (May 1935), 326. For the split within the party, see Emilio J. Corbiere, Orígenes del comunismo argentino (Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América Latina, 1984), 13-43; and Mullaney, “Argentine Socialist Party,” 176-81.


Letter, Fernando Ghio to Alfredo Torcelli, Apr. 18, 1916, AGN, AAT.


For a survey of elections between 1916 and 1920 in the Federal Capital, see Walter, “Elections in the City of Buenos Aires,” 610-22.


Ibid., 614-18. At the municipal level the PS vote increased, but as Walter points out, Yrigoyen learned to take local elections seriously thereafter, and the Socialists slid back to second place. See Walter, “Municipal Politics and Government in Buenos Aires,” 178.


Cited in Dario Cantón, José Luis Moreno, and Alberto Ciria, Argentina: la democracia constitucional y su crisis (Buenos Aires: Editorial Paidos, 1972), 99.


On the conservatives’ weakness, see Ansaldi, “Reflexiones históricas,” 400-401; Ezequiel Gallo and Roberto Córtes Conde, Argentina: la república conservadora (Buenos Aires: Editorial Paidos, 1972), 229-33; Cantón et al., Argentina: la democracia constitucional 87.


For a catalogue of the PSI involvement in the 1930 coup, see Partido Socialista Independiente, La revolución del 6 de setiembre y los socialistas independientes (Buenos Aires: n.p., 1961).


For the PS position and role in the 1930 coup, see Partido Socialista, El Partido Socialista y el movimiento militar del 6 de setiembre: documentos civiles (Buenos Aires, n.p., 1931). See also Julio Godio, El movimiento obrero argentino, (1910-1930,), vol. 2 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Legasa, 1987), 394-408.


For a recent chronicle of the events of 1945, see Juan Carlos Torre, La vieja guardia sindical y Perón: sobre los orígenes del peronismo (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1990).


For an exploration of aspects of “necessitarian logic,” see Roberto Mangabeira Unger, False-Necessity: Anti-Necessitarian Social Theory in the Service of Radical Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987).