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Dictatorship Employs Courts, Terror, Bribery

Behind Peron’s Victory in Argentina

(12 August 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 32, 12 August 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

There sits in the Casa Rosada, the White House of Argentina, President Juan D. Peron. This military dictator, strongly influenced by the Nazis, using Nazi methods to down labor and all opposition, was actually elected president by popular vote in February 1946. Freda Kirschwey in her Report on Argentina, The Nation of March 30, wrote: “Peron is a fascist and a demagogue, but the poor people of Argentina have elected him President.” This is the consensus on the election.

Certainly these poor people of Argentina voted against their basic interests in supporting Peron. How did this come about? What lessons can be learned from this mistaken action of the Argentine masses so that the working people and the poor masses everywhere can be saved such expensive mistakes?

The career of Colonel Juan D. Peron to date must be considered in two parts. The first part, from the seizure of power by the colonels in June 1943 to October 1945 when Peron was forced to resign temporarily, was characterized by the wrath he aroused in every section of the population. The second part started within forty- four hours from his resignation with a decided improvement in his political position and culminating in his election. The reason for this change can be summed up thus:

The situation required a mass revolutionary party to lead the struggle of the workers and peasants against dictatorship and oppression. This was wanting, and the anti-Peron opposition was in the hands of those afraid of radical changes. This weakness gave Peron the springboard he needed to win the election.

Labor Only 5% to 10% with Him

Prior to his resignation the Nazi-inspired Peron had only a small minority of the people with him. This has been amply attested to. The CIO Latin Affairs Committee branded as a falsehood the claim that Peron had the support of labor. Jacob Potofsky, head of that committee and secretary-treasurer of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, pointed out:

“... that the few unions that Peron could really claim for himself were dominated by appointed henchmen and goons acting in connivance with the regime’s secret police ... So-called pro-Peron labor demonstrations are usually staged in strategic areas of Buenos Aires by imported hoodlums, and sympathetic police concentration provided theatrical effects that caused them to be noticed by the population.”

Ray Josephs wrote in American Mercury of November 1944 that most of the workers were not much impressed by Peron’s promises of low- cost housing, reduced food costs, better wages and conditions. Harry B. Kurkland, in October 1945 Current History, wrote: “But, to the eternal credit of Argentine labor, he [Peron] was able neither to bribe nor to frighten enough of it into his camp to give him the authentic character of ‘people’s choice’.” Dr. A.M. Berraondo, a Buenos Aires lawyer seeking aid for the democratic forces of Argentine in this country, estimated labor’s backing of Peron at from five to ten per cent.

While the estancieros (rich ranchers) and industrialists at first looked expectantly for benefits from the military dictatorship, by the fall of 1945 these classes were also openly hostile. A Bonapartist dictatorship, ruling by decree, without a congress to account to or be hampered by, the colonels increased military outlays until, in the fiscal year 1945, expenditures were five times the 1942 figure – the last pre-Peron year. While the estancieros and commercial and industrial owners were not unwilling to have the working people regimented into stooge unions and deprived of political rights, nor even to wink at anti-Semitism, they were not willing, at this stage at any rate, to support a spendthrift bureaucracy rapidly separating itself from their control. The ruling classes were being subjected to decrees, their businesses interfered with, and their taxes increased as never before. On the question of neutrality in the war, the estancieros and businessmen felt that while it was profitable to do business with both sides as long as possible, the break with the Axis was delayed too long after the outcome of the war was apparent, thus jeopardizing business interests.

So in June 1945 nearly every important business and financial organization subscribed to a widely-published attack on the Peron government. Three days later the large cattle interests expressed their “absolute solidarity with the manifesto and commerce.” Thus the anti-Peron revolt included all classes.

On the Verge of Civil War

The popular uprising against Peron verged on civil war. Workers demonstrated and struck. Teachers and students came out on the streets. Lawyers and professionals of all kinds participated. Women marched on the government palace. On September 29, 1945, in Buenos Aires, 500,000 turned out for the “March of Constitution and Freedom.” There were 100,000 more people at the demonstration than voted in the 1940 elections in that city, as alleged by more than one reporter from the scene.

Even the military was split wide open. When Peron emerged as the leader of the group of colonels who had taken power, he boasted the support of all but 300 of the 3,600 army officers, and told a Chilean newspaperman that “Their undated petitions asking for retirement are on file and can be enforced at a moment’s notice.” But two years later it was the army that offered up Peron as the sacrificial lamb to allay the wrath of the population and thus save itself from a people’s uprising. On October 9, 1945, the Minister of Interior announced: “Peron, deferring to Campo de Mayo [military headquarters in Buenos Aires], has resigned his offices, as Vice-President, War Minister and Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare.” During the previous night military planes and cars had swarmed into Campo de Mayo bringing officers from all over the country, a means of convincing Peron he had to resign.

At this point the anti-Peron forces revealed their weakness. The politically heterogeneous opposition was distinguished by its spontaneity and courage in demonstrations, but had no program for unified action, no unified leadership, no ability to form a government. There was a revolutionary situation, with nothing revolutionary transpiring. It was reported in The Nation that as soon as Peron was out; the street fighting was abandoned. The struggle was slackened in the crucial days, before anything was accomplished. “All parties wanted Peron out, but there was little agreement on who should be put in his place or how to do it,” is how Newsweek described the inadequacy of the anti-Peron forces. The mountain labored and brought forth a mouse in the form of a demand that the Supreme Court assume power until elections could be had. The anti-Peron masses had been let down.

The Campo group of course had no intention of relinquishing power. After arresting a group of army rebels who also wanted the Supreme Court to take over the government, it resumed power through the triumvirate of President Farrell, General Avalos heading the Campo group, and Admiral Luna. Nothing more revolutionary than this having transpired, Peron was back in Buenos Aires within forty-four hours. Without taking any government posts, he again put his hands on the controls of the military machine as the power behind the throne. Everybody knew this, from the most ignorant to the most politically conscious. After his momentary eclipse, Peron returned with the halo of leadership around his head – the only leader in a leader-loving country. His opponents had shown their weakness; Peron his strength.

Peronista Terror Sweeps Argentina

Few people realize what a reign of terror was let loose in Argentina after Peron’s come-back, and while it was not the only factor that swung the election in his favor – to which we will come later on – it was a factor of tremendous importance. After strengthening his position in the army by putting his men into strategic posts and increasing its numbers, as reported by Ray Josephs in PM; Peron went to work on the population.

Under date line October 17, several New York papers reported that Peron was bringing thugs into Buenos Aires from the suburb of Avellaneda. The police provided truck transportation, weapons and pesos for services rendered. Among the services they rendered was to force all passers-by to shout for Peron under threat of violence. With police help they attacked the Jewish quarters. They were wined and dined at public expense, housed in theatres and public buildings and given the free use of brothels.

Wide publicity was given in this country to the attack by Peronistas on the great mass meeting in Plaza del Congreso by the Democratic Union on December 8. There were many wounded and several dead. Cortesi reported that there was a many times greater crowd at this meeting than Peron “has ever been able to assemble.” It was broken up by Peron’s police who charged with armored cars and machine guns after the Peronista thugs had failed to break it up. A result of this meeting was that the police was ordered to search everyone for arms, which meant the anti-Peronistas. This was not the first police raid in search of arms. Cortesi reported a similar foray on October 26 when all arms were also removed from gunsmiths shops. In one form or another the Peronistas used terror throughout the election campaign up to a couple of days before election when the army took over to “assure free elections.”

The workers and country poor were not prepared to resist this terror. Neither the Socialist Party nor the Communist Party and certainly not the Radical Party, the bourgeois party to whose leadership the two former bowed, had organized the masses for self-defense.

While Peron employed violence to purge the population, the government proceeded to shift the scenery for a “democratic election.” It issued a series of “liberal” decrees. Elections were called for April 1946 and later advanced to February. The ban against political parties was lifted. Some political prisoners were freed. Newspaper suspensions were cancelled. Universities were reopened – where, by the way, bloody struggles broke out anew. All this was done to get Peron elected “democratically.”

(Another article on Argentina will appear next week)

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