On the 30th anniversary of the military coup in Argentina, we remind you of Ted Grant's article on the Argentine Revolution first published in July 1973. As he predicted back then, “The capitalists having clutched the straw of Peronism, will turn to the stick of the generals once again.” This unfortunately is what happened a few years later with another military coup. Today’s activists must study the mistakes of the movement in the past in order not to repeat them today.
With the collapse of the military police dictatorship and the coming to power of Peron/Campora, Argentina has become a key country in Latin America, even the world.
In a certain sense it reflects a similar process to that in Spain when the dictatorship of Primo Rivera and the monarchy fell and there was the proclamation of the “democratic republic”. This opened the period of social revolution in Spain, which after a turbulent period ended in the Fascist insurrection of Franco and civil war.
Argentina has now entered a period of turmoil, whose issue will partly be determined by the understanding of the situation and the policy, strategy and tactics of Marxists in Argentina.
The Peronists gained almost 50% of the votes in an election, reluctantly conceded by the military police dictatorship. The overwhelming majority of the workers, especially the young workers, voted for Campora as President and for the Peronist slate.
How does it happen that the former Bonapartist dictator should have such magic to his name, (or in the vulgar vernacular, charisma) in contrast with the clique of armed service dictators? The secret is supplied by the history of Peronism and the history of Argentina. (Bonapartism is a state where the “strong man” while representing the ruling class does so by pretending to stand “above society” and balancing between the antagonistic classes of workers and capitalists. It is “rule by the sword” (Marx) or a military-police state of a special type).
Since the world slump of the Thirties, Argentina has, in the main, had a succession of military governments. Peron was a supporter of the coup of the extremely reactionary General Uriburi on September 4th 1930, who found inspiration in the example of Fascist Italy.
He was associated with the coup of the generals in 1943. He was appointed Minister of the Department of Labour and Social Welfare. He very cleverly utilised this to build up his personal power and following. The very next day after his appointment a batch of trade union and Labour leaders were arrested. He had his own supporters take over the leadership of the unions. He declared he was the friend of labour and promised higher wages, better working conditions and social security.
He energetically set into motion the organisation of the unorganised workers. From 200,000 workers organised into trade unions, under Peron’s patronage five million, or the overwhelming majority, became organized.
Strikes had been forcibly suppressed and the peasants and farm workers had no rights, not even the right to vote in elections. Struggle on the farms was met with machine guns. Peron gave them rights.
Peron was enabled to engage in this social demagogy, and partly carry it out, because Argentina was in a favourable position because of the 2nd World War and the enormous demand and market for meat, wheat and other farm products produced in Argentina. High prices during the war and especially in the post war period were obtained.
On this basis, for a temporary period, it was possible to grant important reforms. Leaning on the support of “labour and the army” Peron could “strike blows” against the hated foreign imperialists, especially the “Yankees”.
But he denounced “the false apostles who had gotten into the unions to trick the workers and betray the workers or to lead them into agitations in the field of international politics and ideologies”. He declared, “with the creation of the secretariat of Labour and Social Welfare (Prevision) we have initiated the era of Argentine Social Politics. The epoch of instability and disorder in which were submerged the relations between employers and workers is behind us forever... Private enterprises will be guaranteed that if they pay the wages and follow the healthy rules of human welfare, the state will recognise their efforts on behalf of the general economy...”
The policy of the Department was “the highest principles of social collaboration... Fomenting new private capital...”
Nevertheless, for a period, Peron instituted radical reforms: an overall wage increase, a month’s pay as a Christmas bonus, 8-hour day, minimum wage, holidays with pay and accident Insurance; the farm workers, too, received an 8-hour day, rest periods, minimum food requirements, minimum wage, holidays with pay, decent housing, schools, free medical care, the right to organise and all civil rights.
On May 1, 1944, labour’s traditional day of demonstrations and renewal of faith in Socialism, Peron, usurping the day, organised a huge rally. He declared again, demagogically “every day thousands of workers come to the Secretariat of Labour and Social Welfare, workers of every branch of productive activity, scores of delegations bring us their problems, their hopes and aspirations. On this classic labour Day I promise that this confidence will not be defrauded.”
He declared the enemy to be the oligarchy – the landowner and “estanciero” rancher interests and Yankee Imperialism. “Labour and the army” were the forces which were going to face up to these foes.
Later, he was removed by his co-officer dictators, but within a few days he was restored to power by massive demonstrations. Failure to face up to and explain Peronism as a Bonapartist phenomenon resulted in a split in the CP and Socialist Party. The Communist-controlled Labour Federation voluntarily dissolved and joined the Peronist Federation — the same thing happened in the unions controlled by the SP and youth members went over “in droves” into the Peron camp.
In 1949, Peron was re-elected, but the economic climate was changing and in 1953 Peron, abandoning his verbal stand against US Imperialism, declared that Argentina needed the “collaboration of capitalist Imperialists or development would have to be indefinitely postponed.” He announced oil concessions to the Standard Oil Company of California. A new law was passed giving favourable terms to foreign investors. There were strikes of protest by sections of the workers.
The army officers who hated Peron’s social demagogy which they considered was dangerous because of its effects on the workers, took advantage of the economic difficulties and the disillusionment with Peron to organize another coup and oust him from power in 1955.
Peron, despite all his demagogy had taken no action to deprive the landed oligarchy of its power by nationalizing the land. His structures against Imperialism were not followed by deeds. He over-compensated British capitalism when he bought the railways and other vested interests; according to the experts the compensation was “generous”, while Peron was shouting about “expropriation”.
Peron leaned on the developing native industrial capitalists and on the working class – but in reality – reflected the interests of the former. He assisted the development of industry at the expense of the landed oligarchy by establishing a state monopoly concern which bought the grain and meat and then sold it at a higher price on the world market. There was an enormous amount of graft and corruption. No agrarian revolution or real action against Imperialism was undertaken. These forces combined with the army caste to topple him from power.
But the economic crisis caused by the weakness of Argentine capitalism, as still an underdeveloped country under the heel of Imperialism and of landlordism and capitalism, undermined the power of his successors. The conditions of the masses worsened. Hundreds of thousands and millions were driven from the countryside and left for the towns. Here they lived in terrible hunger and poverty.
Buenos Aires, with a population of 7 million, has three million living in the “favelas” on the outskirts. These are “suburbs” with “houses” made out of sacking, tin cans and other crude materials and are without water, sewage, electric lights, street paving, schools or hospitals; symbolically they only have police stations.
The economic situation, despite the increase in industry has declined frightfully, 87% of exports are still agricultural products. In 1962 there was a fall in cultivation on the Argentine plains of 27%. Output per rural inhabitant declined by 40%. In 1940 wheat exports were 36% of world exports. In 1955 they were 15%.
Under Frondizi, the “Radical” president who followed Peron after elections were held subsequent to his fall, the consumption of eggs, meat, bread, milk and potatoes declined by a third; many hospitals and schools were closed. Public works were cut by 2000 million Pesos. Railroad charges increased 150%. 100,000 railroad workers were dismissed; electricity charges for consumers were increased by 50%. This resulted in many bitter strikes.
Inflation subsequently reduced real wages by 50% while nominal wages were not allowed to rise by more than 15%.
The industrial development of Argentina, which received a big impetus in the two world wars is expressed in the production of steel which reached one and a half million tons in 1970, with a projected production of 5.5 million in 1975. 220,817 cars were produced in 1970, 2000 train wagons and 300 electrical locos with 25% of the parts imported, subway coaches, chemicals, leather, 5 million tons of cement in 1970. The shipyards produce 40,000-ton ships.
According to some authorities there are now 3,7 million trade union members, who with their wives and families, constitute the big majority of the population of Argentina. 360,000 people are considered as unemployed, though the Favelas would indicate many more.
The cost of living with inflation has been going up by leaps and bounds. Inflation is officially 80% in the last year. Naturally this has resulted in the comparison with the early years of Peronist rule – and with the renewed social and anti-imperialist demagogy of Peron, the masses have looked to Peronist power to alleviate their distressed conditions.
One armed forces clique has replaced another in rapid succession, while the standards and conditions of the masses have deteriorated. From June 30, 1969 when there was an army coup there have been a succession of “states of siege” proclaimed. Throughout 1971 and 1972 there was a permanent state of siege. Despite states of siege and states of emergency, there have been a whole series of outbreaks in Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Tucuman and other towns and provinces. A whole series of general strikes have taken place. In some areas this resulted in virtual insurrection, with barricade fighting in the streets.
Despite action against the headquarters of the Peronist unions, this merely added to the anger of the workers. In the province of Mendoza on April 4th 1972, a state of emergency was declared, after a 24-hour general strike against increases in electricity charges. In the subsequent demonstration, one was killed and 69 injured in fighting with the police. 147 cars were burnt, 200 shop windows broken. All demonstrations were banned on April 8th, but there was a suspension of the increased electricity charges.
In June 1972 there was a 24-hour general strike in Tucuman. Troops and tanks were called out to remove students and demolish street barricades. On June 28th 1972 there were demonstrations in Buenos Aires, Bahia Blanca. Tucuman, La Plata and Mendoza, which were suppressed by troops and police combined.
Demonstrators seized the town hall and radio station at Malargue on July 3rd. The army was compelled to take over. On July 9th in the town of General Roca (Rio Negro province) the population forcibly prevented an army parade. On 18 July, the town was put under military control.
In one area there was fighting with “special formations” of the Peronist Youth on December 3rd 1972. The casualties were: 1 killed, 30 wounded, including 14 policemen.
These instances could be multiplied indefinitely. To describe them all would be to take up the entire issue of the paper. But the growing tide of revolution, which the generals’ regime could not dam up, was mounting higher and higher. In May 1971 in order to conserve foreign exchange, slaughter of cattle for 2 weeks in the month was forbidden except for export. This in a country where beef was a staple and the domestic consumption was formerly 100 kilos per head per annum. In August 1971 there was a complete ban on domestic beef consumption. Inflation was steadily eating away the standards of the people.
In 1959 it was 100%. In 1955 the rate of exchange was 18 pesos to the $, by1967 it was 350. The introduction of the new peso did not help. It went in a few months from 4 to 5 to the $ then 10 to the $ etc.
The Peronist trade union federation warned on July 5th 1972, under the dictatorship, that unless there was “respect for the will of the people, there would be violent revolution.”
Their bank account was blocked by the military rulers. On September 14 1972, Senor Jose Rucci, the General Secretary of the CGT (Trade Union Federation) in the name of the CGT announced an economic and social plan, proposing nationalisation of banks, insurance companies and foreign trade, land reform, limitation of foreign enterprises and workers’ participation in public and private undertakings.
This radical programme was followed by 24-hour general strikes in October 1972. The ferment in the country was indicated when 1/4 of the priests came out for a vaguely revolutionary programme. In the general hatred and frustration of the regime, without the influence of a strong Marxist organisation or tradition, and with the example of Cuba and China, 5 guerrilla groups were formed.
They added to the general confusion by their activities. Without any real perspectives, one even paraded as “Trotskyist”, though such activities have nothing in common with the Marxist idea that the “emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves.”
They showed great daring and achieved some spectacular exploits. But the kidnapping of foreign businessmen for ransom, made them rich groups, but did not, in reality, take the revolution one step forward. They acted as philanthropic do-gooders, Robin Hoods of the modern world, demanding food and blankets for distribution to the poor. They “acted for the workers”, demanding reinstatement of sacked workers and wage increases.
This in no way showed the workers their power, or helped them to organise or direct this mighty potential strength. Thus, far from developing the socialist consciousness of the workers, in so far as they had any effect, they lowered it.
Nevertheless with the pressure of the workers and the general discontent of the masses, the feeling of revolution in the air, the Junta split. General Lanusse came to power and announced elections to be held in March 1973. Still trying to cling to power, he announced that the armed forces would insist on being represented in any cabinet arising from the elections.
But in the aftermath of the elections, with the upsurge of the masses, the Generals and Admirals were unable to maintain this. They could not maintain either their prohibition of any general amnesty for political prisoners.
The jails were threatened with destruction by demonstrators after the elections. Political prisoners were hastily released by Campora, despite threats from the Generals, use of the police and troops had led to one demonstrator being killed and an angry mood was developing.
Campora legalised the Communist Party, who in a “Front” had received an estimated 3% of the vote in the election, and announced full freedom for all political tendencies. The programme of the Peronists in the Frejuli, the Peronist front which contested the election, indicates that they will be as helpless as the Generals in dealing with Argentina’s problems. It rejected “dogmatic international socialism” and put forward a “national and Christian people’s socialism” without any precise proposals on such questions as nationalisation.
It projected the re-establishment of the Argentine Trade Institute (IAPI) which under Peron had controlled all exports. It would take over “strategic industries”, not specified, and those which employ “monopolistic power”.
They promised a minimum wage linked to the cost of living. They attacked Imperialism and denounced the “Organisation of American States” as “a beach-head for Imperialist penetration.”
On August 8th 1972, Peron had declared that Argentina needed a “great leader” — i.e. himself — to “restore its historic role in the struggle for the second independence of Latin America”. He put forward a programme including “changes in economic and social policy including the appointment of an economic cabinet composed of representatives of both employers and employees; a clear definition of the role of the military...” he said “that Peru was the nearest model to be followed by Argentina, as Cuba and Chile were too far to the left and Brazil too far to the right.”
The Peronist “Justicialist Liberation Front” on December 7 1972 adopted a programme which called for “guarantees for property and private initiative as far as they fulfil a social function and an adequate monetary exchange policy imposing norms for the participation of foreign capital, credit and technology... Land... at the service of the man who works on it and makes it productive, while avoiding excessive concentration and fragmentation.”
Hardly programmes to frighten the capitalists, landowners, and their tools, the heads of the armed services. Programmes which will not bring the Argentine revolution even one step forward. They will not solve the problem of inflation, nor economic growth nor the struggle against imperialism.
The middle course between socialism and capitalism never existed and never will exist. Either a government reflects the interests of the workers in which case it must expropriate the capitalists, or it must reflect the interests of the capitalists and attack those of the workers. In a period of economic crisis and inflation such as effects Argentina, there is no room for fundamental changes on a capitalist basis.
True, in order to appease the workers, the Campora government has decreed “the nationalisation of various banks which have been acquired wholly or partly by foreign investors in the past few years.” But gestures such as these and the verbal attacks on imperialism, while reassuring them behind the scenes will not pacify the masses for long.
The Financial Times of June 29 reports, “Frightened bankers and foreign businessmen have been reassured by the Central Bank that the measures announced will not turn out to be as bad as they look. ‘We are not xenophobic nor dedicated to merely destroying the system’ Dr Alfred Gomez Morales, the president of the Central bank remarked to me this week... He put forward arguments why ‘Argentina should still be an attractive place for foreign investors’.”
Three million turned out to welcome Peron’s return to Argentina. But it turned into a fiasco, as right-wing Peronist gunmen, allegedly hired by union bureaucrats, attacked the left wing Peronist Youth and the representatives of the Peronist guerrillas. In this was indicated Peron’s method of balancing between class forces and the inevitable chasm which is opening up between the two wings.
The left wing, especially the youth, want Socialism and drastic reprisals against Imperialism, big business and the military leaders. The right wing represents Argentine capitalism.
Peron’s tightrope act of manoeuvring between these forces and giving sops, first to one side and then the other, cannot work. It is balancing over an uncontrollable fire. The rope will inevitably burn up. The myth of Peronism will evaporate in the cold light of reality.
The masses want their modest daily needs attended to. Instead there will be a continuing deterioration. After a period of months, perhaps weeks, there will be new demonstrations and strikes as the masses see they are being fed only with empty promises. Uncontrolled inflation continuing to worsen living standards will continue on the basis of capitalism.
Peron and Campora have no magic wand to abolish it. Their meaningless “Christian socialism” can give them no grip on the real levers of economic power. “Private ownership” means that the causes of inflation, now worldwide, in capitalist countries, will continue their course and result in further steep rises in Argentina.
Balancing right Peronists and left Peronists against each other could work when concessions could be given to both on the basis of riches created by the working class, and a favourable world market. Higher prices for meat and wheat will be cancelled out by the still higher prices of industrial capital and consumer goods imported by Argentina.
There will be the impatience of the 300 families of the landed aristocratic oligarchs and the irritation and pressure of the Argentine capitalists. At the same time the workers have the confidence that they were responsible for the surrender of the armed forces’ Junta. They are all looking to Peron, for the moment, to carry out miracles. He cannot satisfy any of them.
All classes will feel betrayed. It is in this atmosphere that support for Peron can melt away rapidly and the classes begin to polarise within and without the Peronist movement. The army caste will raise its head once again on the basis of the disillusionment of the masses.
New clashes and strikes will break out. This in turn will have its effect on the mass movement of Peronism — especially the trade unions and the youth. This is the key to the revolution, whose first scene has now been acted out.
Argentine Marxists should be active in the decisive section of Argentine society. The fate of the coming clashes in the next few years can be decided by which direction is taken by the revolutionary youth in Peron’s movement.
If, as happened in the Spanish revolution, they should be corrupted by the “Communist” Party, by in despair turning in that direction, that could be fatal for the revolution. That is why the Argentine Marxists should be part of the mass movement of the young workers in the Peronist movement. They will turn to Marxism if shown the way.
The Peronist trade unions and the Peronist youth are the revolution in embryo. The way to the trade union masses is through the Peronist youth.
The capitalists having clutched the straw of Peronism, will turn to the stick of the generals once again. Argentina is in for a period of heightened class struggle and social storms.
The class struggle will have periods of bitter strife and then periods of lull, to be followed by big strikes and demonstrations, over a period of months and years it will work out to a conclusion. It can end in civil war as in Spain.
Argentina is the key to events in Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, indeed all the countries of Latin America. It can have big repercussions in Spain and the rest of the world.
The new period of revolutions is beginning in Latin America as events in Uruguay, Chile and Argentina demonstrate. The fate of all Latin America can be decided by whether the Peronist youth adopt a Marxist programme.
The unfolding revolution deserves the most serious study by militant workers everywhere. Events in Argentina are important too in the lessons they will teach. A success for the Socialist revolution in Argentina – leading to workers’ democracy – would provoke the Socialist revolution in all Latin America. It would strike blows against capitalism and awaken the workers of the USA to consciousness as a class and to socialism.
But the struggle against Imperialism and capitalism can only be carried to a conclusion by the working class. The one cannot be fought successfully without overthrowing the other.
Only by taking power into their own hands and expropriating Imperialism, the oligarchy and the native Argentine capitalists can the Argentine workers prepare the way for decent conditions and standards – through workers’ power and socialism.
July 13, 1973