Sunday, May 13, 2012

Peronism: Los tres peronismos

The Argentine political current of Peronism is difficult to define, much less understand. Embodied in the current ruling Partido Justicialista (PJ) of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in the last two decades it has been the party that led Argentina to radical privatization and deregulation and then back to a period of Keynesian stimulus and assertive government direction of the economy.

Ricardo Sidicaro in his book Los tres peronismos: Estado y poder económico 1946-55/1973-76/1989-99 (2002) breaks the history of Peronism up until that point into the three periods in the subtitle. More precisely, he discusses the three periods of Peronist government during those periods.

The first Peronist government in Sidicaro's scheme was the civilian government of 1946-55 headed by Juan Perón as President. It succeeded a military government that had taken power in 1942 and in which Perón had achieved a leading role. Perón's government of 1946-55 had definite authoritarian tendencies but was a democratically legitimated civilian government.

Argentina had been ruled by military governments from 1930 to 1938, then again in 1942-46. Perón's first government came to power in an election permitted by the military. But soon thereafter he suppressed activity by other parties than his own the PJ, to a significant extent. He was considered a "populist" because he made special appeals to workers in class-based terms, with effective public assistance from "Evita", who was especially popular among workers and unionists.

But he also ran his government on a corporatist basis, using large economic organizations both to direct the economy but they also functioned to give direction to the state. This first Peronist period was heavily influenced by Mussolini's corporate-state ideas and was regarded by the US at the time as a fascist regime. Which is probably largely correct, though Sidicaro doesn't go into the vexed questions of defining fascism and situating Perón's first government in relation to it.

Juan and Eva Perón.

In that first Peronist government, the main industrial representative group was the Unión Industrial Argentina (UIA), which was superceded by the Conferación Económica (CGE) in 1952. The Bolsa de Comercio de Buenos Aires was also a key group. The institution which the government used to regulate agricultural prices was the Instituto Argentino de Promoción del Intercambion (IAPI), whose formation preceded Perón's government.

The rural capitalists, i.e., the large landowners and the meat-processing industry, were the chief opponents of Peronism. Perón called them "the oligarchy". The opposition of the rural "oligarchy" is one of the strongest continuities in Peronism from 1946 until today. The landowners' brand of conservatism was expressed from the 1930s through the fiasco of El Proceso of 1976-83 in support for military governments.

During this period, the Confederación General de Trabajo (CGT) was the umbrella labor organization, which was indirectly run by the Peronist state along corporatist lines..

The second Peronist period was 1973-76, under Presidents Héctor José Cámpora (1973), Perón himself (1973-74) and Perón's widow, María Estela Martínez de Perón aka, Isabelita. It also replaced a military government, and was overthrow by the brutal military junta which ruled from 1976-83, the members of which are still being prosecuted for the crimes they committed while in office.

The third Peronist period which Sidicaro discusses is that of the Presidency of Carlos Menem. With a brief interlude, the Peronist party, the Partido Justicialista (PJ), returned to power in early 2002. Fortunately, none of those changes of government since 1983 have involved military rule either before or after a new administration takes power.

President Cristina Fernández stands before a photo of Eva Perón with children
The post-2001 period of Peronism is qualitatively different enough from Menem's administration that it could probably be considered a "fourth Peronism" in Sidicaro's terms. Cristina Fernández' late husband Néstor Kirchner Presidency together with Cristina's have created a new variety of Peronism, which is commonly referred to as "kirchnerismo". The nature of kirchnerismo is the topic of some interesting analyses by Argentine political thinkers. Qué es el kirchnerismo: Escritos desde un época de cambio (2011) by Nicolás Freiburn et al is one of several examples of this, which I plan to discuss in later posts.

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