Photo via La Nación

Practice making that V-sign because Peronist Loyalty Day is here, celebrated annually on October 17, which commemorates the day when hundreds of thousands (some say millions) of workers took to the streets to call for the liberation of Colonel Juan Domingo Perón. This year, this celebration of unity has been considered somewhat ironic: it’s the first time in 15 years that the Peronist Loyalty Day is being celebrated with a non-Peronist government in power and the movement is undergoing a deep crisis after suffering electoral defeat last year.

“Remember, workers, unite and be more brotherly than ever. Upon the brotherhood of those who work will our beautiful nation rise,” said Perón on October 17, 1945.

Let’s take a look at what’s causing strains between Peronist siblings of late and what today means to them.

A divided loyalty

Photo via La Nación
Photo via La Nación

There will be several rallies held throughout the course of the day in commemoration of this important date in the Peronist calendar. Those different rallies reflect the current fault lines in the movement.

  • The Buenos Aires Justicialist Party (PJ) and the social movement Movimiento Evita — after Eva Perón — are organizing a rally in which former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will give a closing speech via video conference from Santa Cruz province — she is awaiting the birth of a grandchild. The rally is set to be held without the presence of Kirchnerite youth organization La Cámpora.
  • The former Victory Front (FpV) presidential candidate and former governor of Buenos Aires province, Daniel Scioli will also be holding his own rally in the city neighborhood of Berisso alongside the mayor of La Matanza, Verónica Magario.
  • The Peronist faction of President Mauricio Macri’s Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition is also throwing its own rally in La Plata, with union leader Gerónimo “Momo” Vanegas at the helm: “Perón isn’t here today, but one has to go back to him and to Peronism. Faith is the spinal chord of Peronism that leads to the heart.”
  • Former head of the National Social Security Administration (ANSeS) and head of the breakaway FpV caucus Diego Bossio, will also be leading a Peronist Loyalty Day rally alongside former lawmaker Julián Domínguez at the telecommunications union, FOETRA.
  • Peronist governors are holding their own celebrations instead of joining with others: Salta province governor Juan Manuel Urtubey, for example, will be leading one later this afternoon in Salta.
  • The CGT has already held its rally in the neighborhood of San Vicente (where Perón is buried). There, union leaders focused on the end-of-year bonus granted by the government last week, saying it “was not enough” and that they “do not rule out a strike.”
"Feet in the fountain." The protest on October 17, 1945. Photo via Wikiwand
“Feet in the fountain.” The protest on October 17, 1945. Photo via Wikiwand

After last year’s electoral defeat, three different political standpoints have come to the forefront in Peronism. First, there’s Kirchnerism, which is spearheaded by former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the head of the Victory Front (FpV) Senate caucus Miguel Ángel Pichetto and former Economy Minister Axel Kicillof. Second, there’s a new or “renewed” brand of Peronism led by Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa, which is not as combative against the government as Kirchnerism but does not necessarily share the government’s perspective. Third and last, there is “classic Peronism” which is the Justicialist Party and includes Gioja.

“It’s a very difficult panorama: Peronism is on the margins of [political] power. Today, we are doing worse than in 1983,” said Urtubey, a Peronist heavyweight who is often referred to as a potential presidential candidate for 2019.

What does the Peronist Loyalty Day commemorate?

Juan Domingo Perón and Eva Duarte de Perón. Photo via El Tribuno
Juan Domingo Perón and Eva Duarte de Perón. Photo via El Tribuno

Perón was part of a government run by military officers that had overthrown a democratic government in 1943, putting an end to an era known as “the infamous decade” of extremely corrupt administrations who often reached power due to fraudulent elections. By 1945, he was the Vice President, Secretary of War and Secretary of Labor and Welfare, having started out as the latter. He was known for talking directly to workers and unions, passing several laws regarding pensions, eight-hour workdays and bonuses that were beneficial for them.

In early October 1945, after continuously disagreeing with the military leadership, Perón was asked to resign from all of his posts. He did so on October 9, but obtained permission to give a speech on October 10: in that speech, he spoke about workers’ rights and detailed his policy plans that focused on them. The speech logically had great repercussions on the workforce and the military government decided to send Perón to jail on Martín García Island. Protests began to break out in different provinces as some of Perón’s policies were revoked.

In the early hours of the morning of October 17, workers from Buenos Aires (particularly from Southern neighborhoods like Avellaneda and Berisso) began to go on strike and march to Congress to demand Perón’s freedom. Although the military did not initially perceive the march as a threat, assuming that the crowd would eventually dissipate, the multitude only grew larger and larger until they eventually brought Perón to calm the masses.

“This is the people. This is the suffering people that represent the pain of Mother Earth that we must vindicate. This is the people of the Nation. This is the same people that asked Congress to respect their will and their rights. The same people that will be immortal, because there can be no human treachery or evil that can rock this people, great in sentiment and in number,” said Perón.

They got what they wanted: Perón was freed.

“This [is a] real celebration of democracy represented by a marching people, to now also ask their public officials to comply with their duty to become a real people,” Perón continued.

At the end of October, Perón married Eva and was elected president in February 1946.

Today

“We Peronists remember this day in order to reaffirm our commitment to Perón and the legacy that is the movement’s raison d’être: to fight for those issues that lead us towards becoming a great nation with social justice,” writes Antonio Arcuri today, who was Legal and Technical secretary of former president Eduardo Duhalde.

The issue is the interpretation of that commitment and legacy. Peronism as a movement has always been politically flexible, with many re-definitions over the years since its inception in the 1940s and many disagreements as to what Peronism actually means.

Despite the fractious nature of today’s celebrations, it should be clarified that the movement is still very powerful and enjoys a truly national scope. It is still the dominant political movement of Argentina and all the current political heavyweights all identify themselves as Peronists, even if they’re trying to rebuild the movement in their own image, which more than anything speaks to the movement’s flexibility and endurance.