As a new era dawned in 1945, Argentina was a side-snack ignored by most at the Yalta dinner party.
Two real winners emerged from the Second World War: the fresh United States and the “glorious” Soviet Union, represented by the soon-to-pass Franklin Roosevelt and the truly humanist host that was Joseph Stalin. Neither Roosevelt nor Stalin tried to console the third man, Winston Churchill, who smoked cigars and drank champagne but knew the British Empire was actually entering its decline. Its dominant place would now belong to the United States.
In the preceding conference of Tehran, November 1943, the three statesmen had already drawn their plans to carve Hitler’s Germany into pieces, agreeing to detailed scenarios on how they would exert their control. Churchill already perceived that there was no room left in the globe for middle-class superpowers such as his. From then onwards, Holland, France or Portugal, just like the British, would have to live with the fact that their colonies would start striving for independence. Stalin, meanwhile, would pick up quite a few unfortunate chips from Eastern Europe, and really-existing socialism would gain legitimacy.
Losing all legitimacy and respect, however, were all the countries who did not contribute lives to the grueling crusade against Nazism. And the historically neutral Argentina, which had taken advantage of that neutrality since 1939 to make good business, quietly exporting food to the British, was now politically among the losers.
The country had only Churchill — barely — defending it. Stalin didn’t want anything to do with it, and for Roosevelt (and Truman after him) Argentina was a small but bothersome competitor that thought too highly of itself.
Corder Hull would make sure that Argentina paid for its alignment. And he would also send an Ambassador in line with his Argentine policy: the infamous Spruille Braden, who unfairly placed Perón in the pro-nazi camp, in a move that would end up backfiring when Perón responded with the massively popular “Braden or Peron” slogan in the campaign trail.
The most elaborated product of Argentina’s military
A few weeks after Yalta, in Mexico’s Chapultepec Castle, Argentina pragmatically hopped on to the train of the winners when it was already leaving the station, declaring war on Germany when there were almost no soldiers left to kill in the Axis.
It was admirably opportunistic, enough to secure Argentina’s acceptance into the nascent United Nations. The Germanophile goals of the 1943 coup were being straightened up from within, and the most elaborated product of Argentina’s military was being born: Peronism.
The rising star of Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, an intelligence professional that had efficiently dealt with his missions abroad in Italy and Chile, was now establishing a series of “social principles” from the country’s Labor Secretariat.
The romantic socialists, who wanted to sue for copyright infringement, couldn’t be more disoriented. And the local communists were simply stunned, fighting Perón while believing they were still fighting the fascists.
Politics were shifting rapidly, and a lot of incautious people were being caught off guard. This included the most Germanophile sectors of the military, versatile in errors and miscalculations, who decided to put the charismatic colonel in jail. The last thing in their minds was that they were opening the door for the cultural birth of Peronism, with the massive workers’ march to Plaza de Mayo on October 17, 1945, demanding his liberation.
Peronism became a plebeian, insolent doctrine for working masses that were turning into a new middle class, with three pillars that worked more in theory than in practice: economic independence, political sovereignty and social justice.
But that October 17 of 1945 also gave birth to anti-Peronism. A defense mechanism that looks currently livelier and more intense than Peronism itself. It even manages to attribute the full guilt of Argentina’s failure to the Peronists.
Out of the 75 years since its foundation, Peronism governed during 36.
It had three bosses: Juan Domingo Perón, Carlos Menem and Néstor Kirchner. And two transitional leaders: Antonio Cafiero between Perón and Menem, and Eduardo Duhalde between Menem and Kirchner.
It was the victim of two violent military coups, in 1955 and 1976, which became crucial for the re-creation of an epic Resistance narrative.
And it lost three presidential elections: 1983, 1999 and 2015.
As its 75th anniversary strikes, the central seat of power in Peronism is currently empty. Like the six characters of Luigi Pirandello were in search for an author, the Peronists are currently looking for a leader.
It is anti-Peronism, mobilized by its rage, that decides who still is the real leader of Peronism: Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Despite the fact that the current VP is no longer interested in leading, the intensity of the hatred means that she is still inevitably forced into the heart of things.
Today’s Peronism can’t live up to one of its “20 truths”: that which said that only working men were real men.
The vertebral column of Peronism is no longer the working class, but the majority of unemployed and underemployed, for which there are very little answers on offer. It’s the “reserve army of labor” of which Marx or Lenin talked about, and socialists and communists like Simón Lázara or Fernando Nadra repeated in Argentina.
The ever-growing pockets of misery are now central to the Peronist aesthetic, occupying the place that production used to have.
So the 75th anniversary celebrations look artificial, melancholically inspired in what Peronism could have been. In October 2020, Peronism has nothing to celebrate. And neither does anti-Peronism.
But the almost extinguished vertebrate column of Peronism (unions), coupled with some governors and mayors, have used the anniversary to officially declare Alberto Fernández as the President of the Peronist Party. Fernández looks like an almost non-partisan leader, singing the Peronism anthem and flashing the Peronist “V” sign to keep up with the old rituals.
It’s an attempt to add some popular robustness to a president that looks like a delegate, leading a mediocre government that has understandable pretexts as its best assets.
The pandemic. The horrible economic inheritance. Yada yada.