Juan Perón and Social-Fascism in Argentina

History of the Terms “Social-Democracy” and “Social-Fascism”

The term “social-democracy” has been used by the left since the time of Marx and Engels. The term is a pejorative one today, since it has become almost synonymous with liberal reformism. About a century ago, “social-democrat” was a word to describe other appendages of the socialist movement. Everyone who was an adherent to either the First or Second Internationals before 1914-1919 would be called a “social-democrat,” regardless if they were supporters of the revolutionary Marxism of V.I. Lenin in Russia or the reformist Socialist Party of America.

The Second International under Karl Kautsky failed to rally the working class when it encouraged supporting “one’s own” governments during the inter-imperialist First World War. It encouraged this viewpoint among the international socialist movement, many of whom began supporting the war. This amounted to betrayal of the working class and conciliation towards the capitalist system. This caused a split in the social-democratic movement, eventually leading to the formation of the Third International, also called the Communist International or Comintern, in 1919. The Third International was primarily led by the revolutionary wing of Russian social-democracy, the Bolsheviks under V.I. Lenin, who had seized power and led the first successful socialist revolution in the world in October of 1917. They opposed the World War as an imperialist war between capitalist powers and called for “turning imperialist war into civil war,” meaning into revolution.

After the foundation of the Third International, revolutionary social-democrats the world over abandoned the term “social-democrat” and called themselves “communists.” The term “social-democracy” became the viewpoint of surviving adherents of the Second International, including many socialist parties who had adopted reformist lines. “Social-democracy,” then, changed from being a term meaning the ideology of the entire socialist movement to mean bourgeois reformism that was in opposition to the working class and the revolutionary science of Marxism-Leninism.

The term “social-fascism” came from a theory supported by the Comintern of the 1930’s that social-democracy was the “left-wing of fascism.” This perception became commonplace after the German Revolution of 1918–1919 and the crushing of the Spartacist Uprising, which resulted in the murder of the German socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht among many other revolutionaries by a social-democratic German government, assisted by right-wing paramilitaries called the Freikorps. While some historic applications of this theory were incorrect, there is a trend in modern social-democracy that gave support to fascism and tends toward fascism even while using left-wing or populist rhetoric.

While modern social-democrats have appealed to centrists and center-leftists, there are a few that make full-on attempts to sway the revolutionary left by appealing to social programs, economism and trade unionism as a way of disorganizing the left’s revolutionary determination. While raising wages and improving the populace’s immediate standing of living, the class nature of the state remains the same: in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Labor is still treated as a commodity and surplus value is still extracted from the workers for the sake of “incentive” and private profit. It’s common practice for bourgeois politicians to appeal to those who demand change and progress, only to surrender to the status quo and multinational corporations upon seizing power. Modern capitalist politicians are very skilled at making public appeals to the progressive sections of the populations, only to turn their backs on the same people who voted them into office.

Argentina’s government under Juan Perón is frequently portrayed by the bourgeois media by many misguided “leftists” as a socialist government where the working class had power. Others have described it as a social-democracy, as some alternative form of fascism less offensive than the Hitlerite variety, or even as some kind of “compromise between capitalism and communism.” Argentina’s Perónist period is perhaps the most fitting example of social-fascism in practice.

Juan Perón’s Early Life and Rise to Power

Born in Buenos Aires on October 8, 1895, Juan Domingo Perón had a staunch Catholic upbringing. In 1911, at the age of 16, he was sent to the Argentine National Military College. In 1938, he was sent overseas as a military advisor to the Axis powers and their allies, collaborators and colonies including Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Albania and Yugoslavia. It was there that he first came into contact with the fascist government of Benito Mussolini, whom Perón vigorously endorsed.

According to Robert J. Alexander in his book Juan Domingo Perón: A History, Perón’s advisory role to Italy “gave him a chance to study in some detail and at first hand the way in which the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini had reorganized, or tried to reorganize, Italian society” [1].

Even more damning are Perón’s own words:

“Italian Fascism led popular organizations to an effective participation in national life, which had always been denied to the people. Before Mussolini’s rise to power, the nation was on one hand and the worker on the other, and the latter had no involvement in the former. […] In Germany happened exactly the same phenomenon, meaning, an organized state for a perfectly ordered community, for a perfectly ordered population as well: a community where the state was the tool of the nation, whose representation was, under my view, effective. I thought that this should be the future political form, meaning, the true people’s democracy, the true social democracy.”[3]

Perón returned to Argentina in 1941 and became a colonel of Ramon Castillo’s Military. It was then that the “Group of United Officers” or “GUO” was formed in order to prevent the succession of Castillo’s rampantly corrupt regime. The GUO staged a coup prior to the year’s presidential election. This brought an end to Castillo’s conservative traditionalist regime and brought about the military government of Argentina.

Upon first coming to notoriety in 1943, Perón’s policies were embraced by a variety of tendencies all across the political spectrum, although the corporatist character of Perónism drew attacks from socialists who accused his administration of preserving capitalist exploitation and class division. This viewpoint shared by the leftists turned out to be prophetic, as capitalist production relations remained intact despite the raising of wages and the generally elevated status of the Department of Labor, including the department obtaining secretariat status under Perón’s leadership.

The main opposition to Perón came from the Socialist International-affiliated Radical Civic Union, the Socialist Party of Argentina and the Comintern-affiliated Communist Party of Argentina, although the conservative National Autonomist Party also showed opposition to Perón by relying on support of the financial sector of the economy, as well as the Argentine Chamber of Commerce.

Populist Tactics of Juan Perón: With the Workers and the Capitalists

The colonel served under three different military government administrations: those of Arturo Rawson, Pedro Pablo Ramirez, and Edelmiro Farrell. All throughout his political career, Perón maintained the reputation of a pro-labor military man, constantly bolstering up the labor unions, engaging in pushing through social programs such as greater unemployment and health care benefits, and urging the “leading role” that labor played in the economy of Argentina.

Upon ascending to the status of President of Argentina on June 4, 1946, his outspoken goals were comprised of very leftist and pro-labor sentiments, including the need for a five-year plan, increase in salaries, giving priority to pensions, economic independence and diversification and investment in public transportation.[2]

Perón even encouraged striking amongst laborers who employers did not grant labor benefits. With the abundant amount of vocal support from the General Conference of Labor, or “CGT,” they followed his word. Strike activity led to a loss of 500,000 work days in 1945, which leapt to 2 million days in 1946 following his election, and to over 3 million lost days in 1947. This stress put on the advancement of Labor’s status in the Argentine economy consequently led to a boom in the amount of members among the CGT. The ranks grew to 2 million active dues-paying members by 1950 [3]. It seemed at this point that Perón was truly a man of his word. However, we shall delve further into his career to show that he was not, by any means, a friend of international socialism or the working people.

Juan Perón as a Friend of Fascism

While urging “neutrality” in the face of the Second World War, Perón’s foreign and domestic policies were much closer to the fascist and military governments of Europe than anything resembling full-hearted socialism. Perón not only traveled to, but admired Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. He seems to have no objections to their invasion and colonization of countries such as Austria, Hungary, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia and Albania.

If this was not alarming enough, it was and still is common knowledge that escaped Nazi war criminals sought refuge and lived fairly comfortable lives in Argentina, turning the country into a sort of haven for Nazis perpetrators and collaborators. Among those whom Perón openly welcomed:

  • Emile Dewointine (who manufactured Luftwaffe aircraft, later seeking refuge under Franco before arriving in Argentina) [4]
  • Josef Mengele (the infamous Nazi doctor who performed notoriously sick-minded medical experiments on concentration camp inmates)
  • Adolph Eichmann (one of the chief bureaucrats of the Holocaust)
  • Franz Stangl (Austrian representative of Spitzy in Spain)
  • Charles Lescat (editor of Je Suis Partout in Vichy France)
  • SS functionary Ludwig Lienhart
  • German industrialist Ludwig Freude

Aside from Nazi war criminals, members of the genocidal Croatian Ustaša, a pro-Nazi puppet government responsible for the extermination of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma in Croatia and Bosnia, took refuge in Argentina, including their notorious leader, Ante Pavelić, and Milan Stojadinović. The latter was allowed to spend the rest of his life as presidential advisor on economic and and financial affairs to governments in Argentina, and was the founder of the financial newspaper, El Economista [5].

In “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Latin America,” authors Leandro Narloch and Duda Teixeira wrote:

“It is still suspected that among her [Eva Perón’s] possessions, there were pieces of Nazi treasure that came from rich Jewish families killed in concentration camps”.

They add that,

“Perón himself even spoke of goods of ‘German and Japanese origin’ that the Argentine government had appropriated”.

In 1947, the first lady of Argentina, Eva Perón, traveled across Europe in an attempt to boost her husband’s regime abroad. It was here that she is believed to have opened a Swiss bank account to deposit funds and other valuables she received from Nazi war criminals in exchange for Argentine passports to the aforementioned [6].

Juan Peron Makes Overtures to the Left

On June 15, 1955, Pope Pius XII excommunicated Perón after the fifty-nine year old military President described himself as “not superstitious”. The following day, Perón called for a rally of support on the Plaza de Mayo, a time-honored custom among Argentine presidents during a challenge. However, as he spoke before a crowd of thousands, Navy fighter jets flew overhead and dropped bombs into the crowded square below before seeking refuge in Uruguay. This effectively ended Juan Perón’s second term in office. First seeking refuge in Venezuela, and later Panama, he eventually settled in Francoist Spain. Desperate to reclaim his position in government, Perón began making appeals to the revolutionary left.

In his book, “La Hora de los Pueblos,” he made his appeal to internationalists:

“Mao is at the head of Asia, Nasser of Africa, De Gaulle of the old Europe and Castro of Latin America [7].”

Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, Perón started aligning himself with more militant unions and maintained close links with Montoneros, a “leftist” Perónist Catholic grouping who later kidnapped and assassinated anti-Perónist President Pedro Aramburu in retaliation for the June 1956 mass execution of a Perónist uprising against the ruling military junta.

However, while attempting to play both sides of the coin, Perón hailed the far-right as well. He supported the conservative leader of the UCR, as well as members of the Tacuara Nationalist Movement. Political tendencies did not play a role in the man’s mind when it came to power grabs and smooth talk.

Following Perón’s example, the Movimiento Nacionalista Tacuara, or the Tacuara Nationalist Movement, was a right-wing extremist guerilla group in Argentina formed in the 1960s. Although initially opposed to Perónism, it later adopted Juan Perón’s idea of “Special Formations (gathering right-wing radicals in the TNM as well as the Argentine Iron Guard),” and the movement was directly inspired by the anti-Semitic Catholic Julio Meinvielle’s writings (Meinvielle not only blamed Martin Luther, but also both the French and October revolutions for the decline of Catholicism).

As such, the TNM defended nationalist, Catholic, anti-communist, anti-democratic and anti-Semitic ideologues, such as Primo de Rivera (the founder of the fascist Falange in Spain). The guerilla group’s routes can be traced back to the “Nationalist Students Union Side” (UNESCO) as well as the “Alliance of Nationalist Youth,” both centrally based in the capital of Buenos Aires [8].

The group opposed the secularization of schools that occurred under Perón and admired both Hitler and Mussolini [9]. Entrenched in anti-Semitic hatred, the group gained notoriety for kidnapping and injuring a number of Jewish students including 15 year old Edgardo Trilnik, and 19 year old Graciela Sirota, who was subject to torture and was eventually scarred with Swastika insignias [10].

In 1963, a TNM commando group robbed the Polyclinic Bank, killing two employees, wounding fourteen and taking for themselves fourteen million pesos, the equivalent of one-hundred thousand U.S. dollars. The TNM’s objectives were to afford a boat to travel to the Falkland Islands so that they may establish a guerrilla base in Formosa. All were arrested after seven months after one of the perpetrators spend a portion of the spoils at a brothel in France. While the group was formally outlawed in 1963, most of those imprisoned for the robbery were released in May 1973 when the Perónists returned to power and President Hector Campora decreed a broad amnesty for political prisoners [11]. Most of the former group’s leaders dead, imprisoned, disillusioned with the right-wing, or seeking other professions (one of the TNM’s strongest supporters of anti-Semitism, Alberto Ezcurra Uriburu, became a Catholic priest in 1964 and later joined the “Argentine Anticommunist Alliance” death squad).

The Class Nature of Perónism

Perónism is an opportunist and Third-Positionist ideology geared at dismembering and demobilizing the revolutionary workers through attempts of reformism, economism and pacifism. A military government, no matter how “worker friendly” it may initially appear to be, only opens the way for further exploitation of the working class, more coup attempts and power grabs. While championing himself to be an ally of the working masses of Argentina, Juan Perón simultaneously aided in the protection of some of the most notorious war criminals of World War II.

While Juan Perón’s government did not completely match up with those of Hitler, Mussolini, or Franco, what they all have in common is militarism, nationalism, appeals to emotionalism and class collaborationism. A state based on these principles simply cannot offer working people anything other than defeat. The experience in Argentina is a shining example “social-fascism,” of the fusion between social-democracy and fascism, of failed reformism and corporatism.

Though the Argentine President boasted about giving the leading role in government to the working class of Argentina, put a strong emphasis on “social justice” and even nationalized key industries, this does not earn Perón’s government the title of socialist. The protection of the far-right, along with the numerous left groups that exposed Perón’s fascist leanings (including both the Argentine Socialist and the Communist parties) offers material and historical evidence as to why social-democracy and/or Third-Positionism can and most likely will lead to a fascist state.

Perón’s coming to power did not consist of a revolution, let alone the organization of the proletariat as the leading class in society to whom the means of production are to belong. Rather, a military coup was what brought this fascist-sympathizing military colonel to political standing. The “peaceful path” of social-democracy was not only a political slogan, but also a method of demobilization that is directed at the workers movement. Its aim is to deny the inevitability of armed struggle when the class struggle reaches a higher stage and the question of power comes to the forefront. It has historically been used as an anesthetic; a vice that claims to solve the contradictions of the rule of capital.

However, history is on the side of the revolutionary workers in this day and age. Millions of people all across the world have witnessed these instances of class collaboration over struggle, economism over theory, and idle reformism over revolutionary change. The next tide of revolution will not succumb to these illnesses.


[1] http://biography.jrank.org/pages/3418/Per-n-Juan-1895-1974-Former-Argentine-President-Began-Military-Training.html

[2] Rock, David. Argentina, 1516–1982. University of California Press, 1987

[3] Los mitos de la historia argentina 4. Buenos Aires: Editorial Planeta. Pg. 28

[4] American Jewish Yearbook, 2006. Pg. 266

[5] Mark Falcoff, Perón’s Nazi Ties, Time, November 9, 1998, vol 152

[6] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2033084/First-lady-Eva-Peron-allowed-Nazis-hide-Argentina-exchange-treasures-looted-rich-Jewish-families.html

[7] http://nuevomundo.revues.org/35983

[8] http://www.fabio.com.ar/verpost.php?id_noticia=1548

[9] Daniel Gutman, Tacuara. Historia de la primera guerrilla urbana argentina (Ediciones B Argentina, 2003, p.58)

[10] http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elpais/1-51068-2005-05-15.html

[11] http://edant.clarin.com/diario/2004/04/12/g-04001.htm

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