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Pern and the People: Democracy and Authoritarianism in Juan

来源: 网络整理  发布时间:2019-10-08 23:41

Although the ‘Perónist Years’ amounted to a little less than a decade, Juan Perón’s presidency had long-lasting effects. As historians Matthew B. Karush and Oscar Carosa write, “Perón transformed Argentina’s economy, its social structure, and its political culture in ways that continue to shape Argentine reality.”1 Perón’s political actions and his legacy, however, cannot be easily characterized; Perón was a populist politician who provided for and was supported by the masses, yet his regime was in many ways authoritarian. In this paper, I analyze the tensions between democracy and authoritarianism in Juan Perón’s Argentina. Perón exploited the poor to get and to stay in power, and enacted progressive reforms, but he did so in ways that were calculated to maintain his control of the country. Perón’s political benefits were given through a system of patronage, not rights, and he restricted political expression if it was not in his favor. At the same time, by recognizing industrial workers as legitimate citizens and by uniting and then supporting them as a social and political class, Perón brought the urban masses into politics and paved the way for increased political participation.

A brief overview of the context in which Perón came to power is critical to any analysis of his regime. During the Década Infame (the Infamous Decade, which actually spanned a 13 year period, from 1930 to 1943), Argentina was hit especially hard by the global Great Depression. The government at the time, “a conservative and pro-aristocratic coalition known as the Concordancia,” protected the fortunes of the rich but did nothing to alleviate the poor people’s suffering.2 Technically, democratic institutions were in place, but in practice, the lower classes were excluded from politics.3 Labor laws were often unenforced and the labor movement was “divided and weak.”4

When a military junta took over in 1943, Perón made major changes. He was put in charge of the National Labor Department, which he soon after remade into the National Department of Labor and Supply.5 Perón saw that the needs of working class Argentineans were largely ignored by the government at the same time that the country’s industrial workforce was increasing rapidly.6 Other politicians were uninterested in the lower classes, but Perón recognized and capitalized upon this incredible political opportunity. By “using both the carrot and the stick,” he built a broad base of supporters who then fought for his release from jail and then voted him into the presidency.7

Both Argentines and outsiders have harshly critiqued Peron’s ‘populist’ rise to power; historians often analyze Perón’s relationship to the Argentine people “in terms of notions such as manipulation, passivity, cooptation, and not uncommonly, irrationality.”8 Sociologist Gino Germani saw Perón’s followers as “the passive, manipulated urban masses which result from an incomplete modernisation process,” while Marxist theorists have painted Peronists as naïve proletarians under the control of self-interested demagogues and strong-armed union bosses.9 “It is quite clear that Perón exploited the working class for the sake of his own ambitions,” Peter Smith writes, but then that begs the question, why did so many industrial workers support him?10 It certainly seems ironic that Perón was given the power to “install his undemocratic regime” in the February 1946 election, which Smith characterizes as the “most scrupulous and ‘democratic’ election in Argentine history.”11

Peron’s popularity can be explained at least in part by an assessment of the many benefits he gave to the people; Perón did not come to power through propaganda alone. As head of the military government’s labor department, Perón gained industrial workers’ support through unprecedented initiatives. For example, he changed labor laws to give all workers paid holidays and vacations, to limit work hours in some industries, and to mandate better working conditions.12 He also established a system of government-affiliated unions to fight for workers’ rights, and when the unions and industry management clashed, Perón intervened and insisted that the unions’ claims be met.13 In one instance, in late April of 1945, Perón mandated that packinghouse management rehire thousands of workers that they had recently suspended. For some factories, this was not economically possible, so Perón agreed that the state would pay these workers’ salaries instead. To keep just this one promise, the military government doled out nearly ten million pesos.14

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