Group Title: social origins of counterrevolution in Argentina, 1900-1932
Title: The social origins of counterrevolution in Argentina, 1900-1932
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Title: The social origins of counterrevolution in Argentina, 1900-1932
Physical Description: x, 368 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Deutsch, Sandra McGee, 1950-
Copyright Date: 1979
Subject: History -- Argentina -- 1860-1910   ( lcsh )
History -- Argentina -- 1910-1943   ( lcsh )
History thesis Ph. D   ( lcsh )
Dissertations, Academic -- History -- UF   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by Sandra F. McGee.
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 349-366.
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00098907
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000097521
oclc - 06578127
notis - AAL2961


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Copyright 1979
Sandra F. McGee

To My Parents

This work is an attempt to understand your sufferings, albeit in a
very different context.


I would like to reverse the usual order of acknowledgements

and first thank my husband, Jim, for his constant love, understanding,

and support. Next, I wish to thank Professor David Bushnell for his

guidance in the preparation of this study and in my graduate work. For

seven years, I have deeply appreciated and admired his thoughtfulness,

modesty, intellect, and perennial good humor. I am indebted to

Professor Max Kele, a fine teacher and scholar who aroused my interest

in the right wing. I am also very grateful to Professors Lyle

McAlister, George Pozzetta, Harry Paul, Cornelis Ch. Goslinga, and

Alfred Hower for their help, encouragement, and interest in my work.

I could not have carried out my research without the invaluable

assistance of Julio Irazusta. I greatly appreciate his friendliness,

his hospitality, and his generosity in letting me consult his papers.

For their kindness and their cooperation, I am indebted to the employees

of the Biblioteca Nacional, Archivo General de la Nacibn, Institute

Torcuato Di Tella, Archive de La Prensa, Colegio de Escribanos,

Biblioteca Tornquist, Jockey Club, Sociedad Rural Argentina, and the

Fulbright Commission, all in Buenos Aires. The librarians in the

Latin American collection of the University of Florida library have

also helped me a great deal. I wish to express my appreciation to the

following persons for their helpful suggestions and assistance:

Felix Fares, Nestor Tomis Auza, Jos& Luis de Imaz, Boleslao Lewin,

Mark Falcoff, Richard Waiter, Charles Bergquist, Carlos Floria,

Francis Korn, Arnaldo Musich (h.), Ezequiel Gallo, Maria Teresa

Piragina, Nicolas Rossi, Eduardo Saguier, Eduardo Baumeister,

Carlos Mayo, Leonardo Senkman, Clodomiro Araujo Salvadores,

Maria Constanza Huergo, Judith Sweeney, and George Heaps-Nelson.

A Fulbright-Hays dissertation grant from the U.S. Office of

Education enabled me to conduct the research necessary for this study.

At other times in my graduate school years, the Center for Latin

American Studies and the Department of History provided the necessary

financial support. Professor William Carter, former director of the

Center for Latin American Studies, was a constant source of encourage-

ment, as was Vivian Nolan, whose friendship I deeply appreciate.

Finally, I thank my typist, Vicki Turner, for reassuring a nervous


The many persons who helped me are not responsible for the

deficiencies of this work, nor do they necessarily agree with my




ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ...................................... .............. iv

ABSTRACT ................ ..............................................viii

INTRODUCTION................. ....................... .................. 1

Notes... ............................................................... 12

AND POLITICS BEFORE 1916........................................ 15

Notes ............ .................................................. 58

IDEOLOGY AND SOCIAL CONTROL ...................................... 64

Notes................................ ................................ 115


Notes....... ......................................................... 173

PATRIOTICA ARGENTINA ................ .......................... 180

Notes.. ................. ............................................ 232

THE NEW FORCES OF ORDER............................................ 238

Notes ................................................................. 286

SOCIAL THOUGHT OF THE NATIONALISTS ............................. 295

Notes.................................. ............................... 343




SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY .................................................. 349
I. Biographical Sources .................................... 349
II. Periodicals of Buenos Aires............................... 351
III. Publications and Papers of the
Liga Patri6tica Argentina................................. 352
IV. Other Works................................................ 354

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.................................................. 367

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Sandra F. McGee

December 1979

Chairman: David Bushnell
Major Department: History

Students of the Argentine right wing have generally focused on

its political ideas and roles in the years since 1930. In this study

I trace the origins of counterrevolutionary movements from 1900 to

1932 and explore the social conditions and motivations which led to

their formation. Counterrevolution is defined as antagonism to the

emancipatory process which found its philosophical expression first

in liberalism and then in Marxism; here it does not mean suppression

of or opposition to any particular revolution. The membership, views,

and activities of the Liga Patri6tica Argentina, Liga Republicana,

Legi6n de Mayo, Acci6n Republicana, and Legi6n Civica Argentina are

examined, along with La Nueva Repfblica and its writers. I classify

these groups according to their members' social status and ideas as

conservatives, reactionaries, or counterrevolutionaries.


The roots of counterrevolution lay in the tensions associated

with the rapid economic growth of the period 1880 to 1914. Development

of the export sector, immigration, urbanization, and industrialization

greatly altered the social structure, creating the conditions for

labor unrest and mass politics. Members of the political class

responded to a perceived radical threat by repressing the labor move-

ment, organizing yellow unions, restricting immigration, and wooing

labor away from leftism. The social Catholic movement encouraged class

conciliation by bringing workers and entrepreneurs together in the

same organizations and establishing confessional unions and social

projects. Social Catholics and other conservative reformers joined

Socialists in advocating social legislation and mutualism. A conserva-

tive ideology which encompassed economic nationalism, hostility toward

immigrants and workers, traditional anti-Semitism, and support for

social measures gained adherents before 1919.

These elements of counterrevolutionary thought and action

coalesced in the Liga Patri6tica Argentina, founded in 1919. Vigilante

squads and military officers who had repressed workers in the Semana

TrAgica formed the Liga's core. In 1922 the Liga boasted 1500 brigades

throughout Argentina and a cohesive organizational structure. Brigade

members were largely recruited from the middle sectors and national

leaders from the upper class. From 1919 to 1921 the Liga mainly

suppressed union activities; afterwards it established social welfare

programs, which female liguistas helped administer. With these programs

the Liga hoped to convince workers that class struggle was unnecessary.

Manuel Carlds, the Liga's longtime president, and other members also

discussed broader means of class conciliation.

The social backgrounds and views of liguistas characterize them

as conservatives, primarily concerned with maintaining the status quo.

In contrast, the right-wing groups active in the Revolution of 1930,

or nationalists, as they called themselves, exhibited both reactionary

and counterrevolutionary traits. Except for the Legi6n de Mayo and

Legion Civica Argentina, these groups were small and elitist.

Nationalists tended to be young members of interrelated landholding

families which had been prominent in the past and at least had retained

social prestige. Displaced from decisionmaking roles by the Radical

party, they constituted a defunctionalized segment of the political

class. Counterrevolutionaries have usually come from such groups

doomed by economic and political modernization. Like European counter-

revolutionaries, nationalists desired sweeping change and activism, and

some were ideological anti-Semites. By the early 1930's some national-

ist intellectuals demanded the end of foreign economic domination.

In their militant Catholicism, ties to the land, the unwillingness to

form a popular base, however, nationalists also resembled reactionaries.

Like reactionaries elsewhere, they hoped to re-establish a rigidly

hierarchical society buttressed by the Church, local communities,

landed estates, and corporatist groups.


One of the most distinctive features of twentieth-century

Argentina, viewed in its Latin American context, has been the pro-

minence of the right wing. The revolution of 1930 transformed its

government from that of a liberal republic to a corporatist-leaning

dictatorship. The conservative and antidemocratic regimes of the

1930's, military and Peronist rule in the 1940's, and the activities

of fervent nationalists from these decades to the present have

demonstrated the weakness of liberalism and leftism and the ascendancy

of the right. Right-wing extremism in Latin America is not peculiar

to Argentina; one may cite the Brazilian integralistas, the Mexican

cristeros and sinarquistas, and the National Socialist party of Chile,

among others. In general, however, such movements have enjoyed periods

of importance and then have faded from view, whereas the Argentine

right, although rarely large in number, has managed to exert influence

on leading intellectuals, politicians, military officers, and priests

for over sixty years. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Argentine

right has appropriated the term "nationalism" to refer to its ideas

and membership. Nationalism has been a significant factor in the

political evolution of many Latin American countries, and yeL it has

been predominantly leftist-oriented in some of these settings, in

contrast to its best-known manifestations in Argentina.1

A major element in contemporary Argentine history, the right wing

clearly merits extensive study. The literature dealing with this topic
has focused on the years since 1930, but the roots of the movement can

be traced back to the turn of the century. On the whole, scholars have

emphasized the political ideas and roles of the right wing, without

devoting much attention to the social conditions and motivations which

led to its formation.3 The following work represents an attempt to

fill these gaps. I will explore the origins of the right from a social

perspective, concentrating on the years 1900 to 1932. By examining

such important nuclei of right-wing activity as the Liga Patri6tica

Argentina, Liga Republicana, Legi6n de Mayo, Acci6n Republicana,

Legion Civica Argentina, and La Nueva RepGblica and its writers, as

well as individuals who had previously expressed similar concerns, I

hope to answer the following questions: What circumstances promoted

the rise of these groups? What were their members' views on social

problems? Who joined these groups, and for what reasons did they do

so? Finally, can one classify these groups in a precise and systematic

manner according to their members' social status and ideas?

My interest in classification has led me to attach some importance

to terminology. For a number of years, 1 believe that "right wing,"

"nationalism," and "fascism," although widely used, are not the best

terms that one can find to describe the phenomena under consideration.

All three are broad and vague, and they obscure the differences of

outlook and social background which existed between the groups being

studied. According to Jose Luis Romero, for example, the right wing

includes those persons united by resistance to change, although they

are not necessarily conservative. He notes that one can designate a

person or movement as right wing using either of two criteria: politi-

cal or socioeconomic views. The political right favors the establish-

ment of an authoritarian and hierarchical society and opposes the

conceptions of natural rights and liberties which revolutionaries have

advanced since the seventeenth century. The socioeconomic right

defends the status quo against possible revolutionary threats. In the

twentieth century, however, the political right has accepted the idea

of change, in the form of social justice and anti-imperialism, and

has incorporated it into the traditional system.4

Romero encountered difficulties when he attempted to explain this

synthesis, which was represented by populism. Noting that populism

defended the interests of the masses under elite auspices, he concluded

that it was "politically right" and socioeconomicallyy left."5 This

statement contradicted the earlier one on the political right's

cooptation of potentially radical ideas such as economic independence.

Furthermore, Romero did not demonstrate that populist paternalism

genuinely threatened the class hierarchy. Since it did not facilitate

the socalization of the means of production, populism cannot be

considered socioeconomicallyy left." Romero's problem in defining

populism demonstrates the vagueness of his view of the right.

The term "nationalism" is also deficient. As I have mentioned,

the persons under study called themselves by this title; their

definitions of nationalism are found throughout this text. A present-

day adherent to this doctrine, Enrique Zuleta Alvarez, defined it as

the defense of order, hierarchy, authority and
Catholic tradition united . to the affirma-
tion . .of the national personality.

The essential trait of nationalism, according to Zuleta Alvarez, is

that it seeks to preserve lo national in the economic, cultural, and

political spheres; it opposes all forms of internationalism, from

Marxism to foreign business interests. Zuleta Alvarez further qualified

his nationalism as being right wing, suggesting that this was the only

possible kind.6 One might ask, however, exactly how one defines the

"national personality." Are order and hierarchy typically national

traits? Have all self-styled nationalists resolutely opposed foreign

capitalism and foreign ties? As this work will show, the types of

Argentine nationalism were determined by social preoccupations. The

terms to be used in referring to the persons under study should be

more indicative of these preoccupations than "nationalism."

In this regard, Eugen Weber's terms are useful. He borrowed the

concepts of the "party of order" and the "party of movement" from

August Comte: the former opposing radical social change or class

conflict, and the latter advocating precisely such steps. The word

"order" pinpoints these persons' key concern, in contrast to the broader

"right wing" or "nationalism." The use of the word "party" is also apt;

it implies the existence of an alliance of different groups, rather

than an undifferentiated whole.

In my opinion, the term which best describes the movements under

study is counterrevolution, whose meaning is evident in the word

itself.8 The roots of counterrevolution can be traced back to the

aristocratic opposition to the French Revolution and its guiding

principles of rationalism, liberalism, and human equality, principles

which also inspired leading figures of the May Revolution of 1810 in

Buenos Aires. As liberalism shed its progressive character after the

mid-nineteenth century, counterrevolutionary activity became increasing-

ly directed against the danger of a proletarian revolution inspired

by Marxism, other forms of socialism, orby anarchism. The counter-

revolutionary ranks were strengthened by the addition of members of

the liberal bourgeoisie and landowning peasants, anxious to defend

their property and status against the threat from below. As time

passed members of the lower middle class and other groups which had not

experienced any benefits from industrialization also joined the forces

of counterrevolution.

Counterrevolution does not necessarily mean the suppression of a

specific revolution, nor must a counterrevolutionary movement be

immediately preceded by a revolution. National Socialism, the

quintessential counterrevolutionary party, came to power in Germany

not at the point of acute revolutionary crisis in 1919 but fourteen

years later. Similarly, Mussolini's March on Rome took place in 1922,

after the postwar revolutionary threat had been quelled. Instead of

saying that counterrevolution follows revolution, one might posit that

the same economic and social problems that cause revolutions can just

as easily cause counterrevolutions. The problems which gave rise to

counterrevolution in Argentina will receive much attention in the fol-

lowing pages.

Counterrevolution signifies antagonism to the emancipatory process

which found its philosophical expression first in liberalism and then

in Marxism. Here it is perhaps useful to recall Ernst Nolte's

characterization of fascism as "resistance to transcedence."10 The

meaning which he assigned to fascism is the same as the one I attach

to counterrevolution; he viewed fascism as a broad phenomenon, while

I see it as one of the components of counterrevolution, as T will

explain below. According to Nolte, the desire for freedom from the

confines of class, religion, ethnicity, locality, nation, and so on

has formed a major theme in the history of western civilization. The

triumph of the liberal bourgeoisie (and industrialization) resulted

in the elimination of many of these ties, a step toward what Nolte

called "practical transcendence." Some limitations on human freedom

still remained in bourgeois society, however, such as class exploitation

and division of labor; Marxists hoped to destroy these shackles.

Counterrevolutionaries fear the dissolution of traditional

allegiance and hierarchies the universality of modern life and

thus oppose practical transcendence. They also resist "theoretical

transcendence," which Nolte described as surpassing the bounds of

concrete reality through abstract and universalist thought. Theoretical

transcendence includes the belief that life should conform to certain

ideals and that it can be restructured to do so. In contrast, counter-

revolutionaries insist on "seeing the world as it is" and not judging

it by "outside" criteria. They consider both forms of transcendence

unnatural and foreign: unnatural, because particularist ties are, in

their view, essential for the maintenance of order; and foreign, because

the criteria do not emerge directly out of local experience. Their

vision of "reality," however, is just as much an abstraction as is

leftist utopia.

The movements that will be described here will be called counter-

revolutionary, although occasionally to avoid repetition I will employ

the terms right wing and party of order. Only the counterrevolutionary

groups of the late 1920's and early 1930's will be called nationalist,

in order to distinguish them from their predecessor, the Liga Patri6tica

Argentina. Significant differences existed between these groups despite

their shared orientation. Scholars have noted similar cleavages

within European counterrevolutionary movements. For example, George

Mosse called attention to the conservative and radical elements within

Nazism: on the one hand, its traditionalism, and on the other, its

antibourgeois attitudes and its dynamism. lie went on to cite the

differences between National Socialism and its reactionary allies.11

In an overview of the European right, Eugen Weber found that it had

three components: resistance to change, reaction, and radicalism.12

Similarly, Arno Mayer divided the counterrevolutionary forces into

conservatives, reactionaries, and counterrevolutionaries pure and

simple, each defined in terms of class and ideology.13 This is the

model that will be followed in this study.

In general, conservatives are those who benefit from the existing

order and hope to maintain it. Normally they are secure economically,

socially, and politically, and their self-confidence is reflected in

their political style subdued, reasonable, accommodating. Their

pessimistic view of human nature and of the need for hierarchy in

social relations remains implicit except in times of crisis, when their

beliefs harden and become ideological. Their usual spirit of compromise

vanishes, leaving a willingness to resort to violent means of defending
the status quo.4 Reactionaries are wedded to a pre-existing order -

and often to the land or the Church and are dedicated to reviving

it. They hope to take advantage of social crisis in order to restore

the institutions of the ancien regime and reinforce their own positions

in society, which have been undermined by modernization. Normally

they despise conservatives, who profit from and defend the status quo,

as well as counterrevolutionaries, who issue demagogic appeals to the

masses. Indeed, reactionaries would prefer to take the masses out of

the political arena. To secure their goals and prevent revolutionary

change, however, they will join the other two groups.5

Counterrevolutionaries the archetypical fascists usually draw

adherents from poor landholders, the lower and new middle classes, and

from "job-, income-, and status-seeking degree holders"; other groups,

however, also are sources of recruits. Even in normal times they are

insecure and fearful of change, and in crisis situations leaders can

easily manuiplate

their resentment of those above them, their fear of
those below them, and their estrangement from the
real world about them.16

As their name suggests, counterrevolutionaries provide the main

impetus toward counterrevolution. Without cooperation from conserva-

tives and reactionaries, however, counterrevolutionaries cannot achieve

their goals. Only certain conditions impel the three groups to unite

and foment counterrevolution.

Mayer's typology presents some ambiguities. He used the same

term to refer to both the movement as a whole and to one component

of this movement. At first glance this appears to be a weakness in

his model, but it is actually a strength. When social and economic

problems are sufficiently grave, and when revolution seems to threaten

the status quo, otherwise staid conservatives and reactionaries join

with counterrevolutionaries and assume the same extreme and violent

posture which normally characterizes only the latter. In other words,

in crisis situations the differences between the three groups disappear.

One might also ask whether one would expect to find all three groups

within a particular counterrevolutionary organization, or whether the

organization would represent one orientation and its outside allies

the others. For example, in the case of the Nazis, did the party

itself include conservatives, reactionaries, and counterrevolutionaries,

or did it exemplify counterrevolution, while its supporters in business,

politics, the rural sector, and the military stood for conservatism

and reaction? The answer is both. In the following pages I shall

mainly delineate the basic orientation of the groups under study,

although I shall also indicate the differences and similarities between

them, and between them and their outside allies (and antagonists).

I will show, for instance, that the Liga Patri6tica Argentina was

fundamentally a conservative organization and as such was tied to a

wider heritage of conservative opinion and action. The later groups

manifested reactionary and counterrevolutionary tendencies and can

be distinguished from the Liga and other conservative allies.

Students of European counterrevolutionary movements will note

the similarities between them and the groups which form the subject

of this work. Constraints of time and space prevent me from devoting

much attention to these resemblances, although at various points I

will explicitly compare Argentine organizations with European ones.

Also, the fact that I am using terms derived from the European context

is in itself an implicit comparison. In the future I hope to remedy

this deficiency.

Some readers may object to any comparison with Europe, claiming

that the economic and social conditions there which produced fascism

varied markedly from those in the dependent economies of Latin

America.17 This objection, in my opinion, is unwarranted. It has

frequently been observed that nineteenth-century Latin American

liberalism was false and artificial, since its standard bearers did

not fill the role of a true national bourgeoisie; its policies promoted

dependence rather than autonomous economic development, in contrast

to the European case. Even if the objective conditions which produced

liberalism in Latin America differed from those in Europe, no one

refuses to call Latin Americans of this political orientation liberals.

Why, then, the reluctance to compare Latin America counterrevolutionary

movements to European ones and to use the word fascism?

Furthermore, Europe is not an homogeneous area; parts of it are

as underdeveloped as much of Latin America. Romania, Hungary,

Slovakia, and Spain in the interwar period were poor agrarian

economies, and yet all of them had important fascist movements. The

Nazi party's birthplace was Bavaria, one of the least industrialized

areas of Germany. Even where the objective conditions differed

greatly from those in Latin America, the subjective conditions may

have been similar. Germans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth

centuries Nazis and their predecessors complained about the power

of British capitalism and how it held back native efforts, despite the

fact that Germany had by this time become a great industrial power.18

A thorough comparison of European and Latin American counterrevolu-

tionary movements and settings is needed. This work is one preliminary

attempt at such a study, focusing on one particular Latin American



Charles W. Bergquist contrasted leftist and rightist nationalism
in "Exports and Nationalism in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay: A
Research Proposal Submitted to the Social Science Research Council,"
n.p., n.d. (Photocopy.)

This is true of the following works on the right wing: Ronald
Dolkart, "Manuel A. Fresco, Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires,
1936-1940: A Study of the Argentine Right and Its Responses to
Economic and Social Change" (Ph.D. dissertation, U.C.L.A., 1969);
Mark Falcoff, "Argentine Nationalism on the Eve of Per6n: The Force
of Radical Orientation of Young Argentina and Its Rivals, 1935-1945"
(Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton Univ., 1970); Marvin Coldwert, "The
Argentine Revolution of 1930: The Rise of Modern Militarism and Ultra
Nationalism in Argentina" (Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Texas, 1962);
Juan Jos& Hern5ndez Arregui, La formaci6n de la conciencia national
(1930-1960) (2nd ed.; Buenos Aires, 1970); David Crichton Jordan,
"Argentina's Nationalist Movements and the Political Parties (1930-
1963): A Study of Conflict" (Ph.D. dissertation, Univ. of Pennsylvania,
1964); Marysa Navarro Gerassi, Los nacionalistas, trans. by Alberto
Ciria (Buenos Aires, 1968), although this author also deals with the
years before 1930. Exceptions to this generalization are Enrique Zuleta
Alvarez, El nacionalismo argentino, I (Buenos Aires, 1975); Carl
Solberg, Immigration and Nationalism: Argentina and Chile, 1890-1914
(Austin, 1970); David Rock, Politics in Argentina, 1890-1930: The Rise
and Fall of Radicalism (London, 1975), in his discussion of the Liga
Patri6tica Argentina.

The only exceptions are Dolkart, "Manuel A. Fresco," and Rock,
who pays some attention to the backgrounds of leading members of the
Liga Patri6tica Argentina in Politics in Argentina.

JoSm LuIs Romoro, El pImntsaiei nto p'ol i ico do I_ dxrechn
latinoamericana (Buenos Aires, 1970), pp. 16, 27, and 33.

Tbid, p. 146; also see pp. 145 and 177.


Zuleta Alvarez, El nacionalismo argentino, 1, p. 45.

Eugen Weber, Varieties of Fascism (Princeton, 1964), pp. 23-24.

This is the term used by Arno J. Mayer in Dynamics of Counter-
revolution in Europe, 1870-1956. An Analytic Framework (New York,

Ibid, p. 46.

Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism: Action Francaise, Italian
Fascism, National Socialism, trans. by Leila Vennewitz (New York, 1966),
especially pp. 537-567. A further discussion of this theme may be found
in Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution. Hegel and the Rise of Social
Theory (Rev. ed.; Boston, 1960), pp. 3-29.

George L. Mosse, "The Genesis of Fascism," Journal of Con-
temporary History, I (1966), pp. 14-26.

Eugen Weber, "The Right: An Introduction," in The European
Right: A Hiscorical Profile, ed. by Hans Rogger and Eugen Weber
(Berkeley, 1965), pp. 15-16.

Mayer introduced these terms in Dynamics of Counterrevolution,
p. 39.

Ibid, pp. 49-55.

Ibid, pp. 48-49.

Ibid, pp. 60-61.

For such an objection see Alistair Hennessy, "Fascism and
Populism in Latin America," in Fascism, A Reader's Guide. Analyses,
Interpretations, Bibliography, ed. by Walter Laqueur (Berkeley, 1976),
pp. 260-261.


The classic discussion of this point is found in Ilelmuth
Plessner, Die versphtete Nation. iber die politische Verfthrbarkeit
birgerlichen Geistes (Stuttgart, 1959).


In January 1919 a general strike broke out in Buenos Aires, fol-

lowed by a week of mass demonstrations, labor violence, and vigilante

action against workers. The impact of the Semana Tragica, as these

disturbances came to be known, was great; many Argentines believed

that a Bolshevik-style revolution had nearly taken place and that the

danger had not yet receded. To counter this threat, the first anti-

leftist and antilabor group to organize itself on a permanent basis

throughout Argentina arose the Liga Patri6tica Argentina. However,

this counterrevolutionary movement did not merely spring up overnight

in response to the events of January 1919. Although the economic

dislocations of the war precipitated its explosive appearance in

Argentine political life, the roots of counterrevolution lay in the

tensions associated with the rapid socioeconomic development of the

past forty years. In order to understand the origins of the twentieth-

century Argentine right wing, one must look first at the evolution of

that nation's economy, society, and polity before World War I and then

at various manifestations of dissatisfaction with the path of change.

From 1880 to 1914 Argentina experienced a period of growth unpre-

cedented in its history and, indeed, in the modern history of most other

nations as well. Presiding over this dynamic era of mass immigration,

development of the export sector, urbanization, and the initial stages

of industrialization was a group which historians have alternately

styled the unicato, the "elite," or the "oligarchy" and have character-

ized as liberal or liberal-conservative. It is not always clear from

the context what the terms elite, oligarchy, and unicato mean: whether

they denote all of the various groups which competed for political

leadership and effectively exerted influence on decision-makers, or

only those persons who actually occupied formal and informal leadership

positions at any given moment. Here the former will be referred to

as the political class and the latter as the political elite.1 Within

the political class, rival factions hoping to expel the political

elite from power and take its place might also exist. As in any con-

text, the political class and the political elite operated within a

political system defined by laws and customs.

Two factors in the Argentine case tend to confuse the distinctions

between these terms. The first is that up to 1912 the political class

was practically synonymous with the entire political system; that is,

members of the political class were almost the only participants in

the political process. The second is that the political elite attempted

to rid itself of potential rivals from within the political class

through cooptation as well as by repression. These factors will

receive more attention later on in this chapter.

Who belonged to the political class? The main political actors

in any geographical or historical context usually include individuals

from the highest strata of wealth and social status, and certainly the

Argentine political class was no exception. But the latter did not

coincide completely with the upper class (or, at least, a strictly

defined upper class), although it certainly recruited heavily from it.

Perhaps it is more useful to conceptualize the relation between the

upper class and the political class as that of two greatly overlapping

circles, with most but not all of their areas held in common. The

boundaries between the circles were fluid; members of the political

class often crossed over into the upper class and vice versa. For

example, many persons acquired land and, consequently, upper-class

status that had been wrested from the Indians during the Conquest

of the Desert (1879-80) through their ties to President Julio A. Roca

(1880-86, 1898-1904) and his political comrades. It was also possible

for the descendants of a politician who had become wealthy and socially

prominent to leave politics behind them, or for the offspring of an

upper-class, politically active family to lose their fortune yet remain

in public life.2

The political class included not only prestigious estancieros

of the littoral region but businessmen, financiers, professionals,

and military officers, many of whom may also have been estancieros;

younger sons of landowning families; and other persons, sometimes

recent immigrants, united to these families by bonds of marriage,

kinship, or friendship. Scions of families which possessed little

wealth but had resided in Argentina since the colonial or early

independence periods also were political actors, as were well-educated

men who did not fit in any of the categories mentioned above. Not

all of these belonged to the upper class, but their political con-

nections facilitated entry into it, as already described. In summary,

such terms as elite and oligarchy are inadequate because of their

static and exclusivist connotations; a larger, more varied group of

people constituted the Argentine political class than they seem to


It might appear that the political elite was synonymous with the

wealthiest and most prestigious estancieros, since it served as their

mouthpiece. But a simple glance at the list of Argentine presidents

and cabinet members in this period will reveal the names of many who

neither came from the littoral provinces nor originally numbered among

that area's most important landholders. Again, political prominence

often antedated landownership. A more accurate way of defining the

political elite than by narrow economic interest may be to list certain

criteria for membership and trace the connections between them. The

political elite included

the president and his associates, the provincial
governors and their supporters, the national repre-
sentatives who obeyed the behests of the executive,
whether national or local, and the economic in-
terests, mainly landowners, which allied themselves
with these men.

The general pattern of rule was that certain prominent families

controlled provincial governments and solidified ties with the leading

families of other provinces through friendship, coparentage, and

marriage. Members of these families represented their provinces in

Congress and used it as an arena to cultivate these connections. These

kinship networks thus extended upward to the national administration,

creating what one author has called gobiernos de familiar, in which the

selection of the president and vice-president and control of government

depended on relationships forged between the families of various


An important characteristic of the political elite and most of

the political class was their liberalism, or as some historians have

put it, their conservative liberalism.6 Within these groups there was

a broad consensus on the desirability of an export economy and of a

classical liberal program. Support of liberal principles, however,

ranged from mere lip service to unequivocal enthusiasm, and a signifi-

cant minority resisted the official creed namely, the Catholic

spokesmen. But even the latter considered themselves part of a world-

wide Catholic movement charged with providing moral leadership for

liberal democracies. The antiliberal stance of Catholic statesmen

such as Jose Manuel Estrada and Pedro Coyena was limited primarily to

their opposition to curtailing Church influence on education and the

family and to the "sensual," utilitarian, and materialistic view of

life which they believed that liberalism epitomized.7 Successful in

their campaign against divorce, the Catholics did not fare as well

against secular primary education, which became law in 1884, the civil

register (1884), and civil marriage (1888). They also manifested their

discontent in the Revolution of 1890, as will be seen below.

The materialistic conception of life which the Catholics deplored

also predominated. The aim of liberal idealogues, known as the

Generation of Eighty, was ruthlessly secular and rationalist: to

transform backward, disunited Argentina into a prosperous, centralized

modern nation. Their government program was summed up in President

Roca's motto of "Peace and Administration." Peace meant the repression

of civil strife, the elimination or cooptation of opposing political

factions, and the consolidation of the nation under a central authority.

Administration signified establishing a limited participatory democracy

and an economic development model inspired by classical liberal pre-

cepts. The term administration also implied a note of cautious

optimism, characteristic of the positivism which flavored Argentine

liberalism: the belief that problems faced by society were more or

less specific to Argentina and were susceptible to a pragmatic,

problem-solving approach. This anti-universalist viewpoint diverged

from that of the Catholics, who were more inclined to see problems

in terms of moral issues and had less faith in temporal solutions. It

also contrasted with that of the fledgling labor movement, whose

spokesmen refused to reduce the class struggle to the level of a mere

administrative dilemma peculiar to Argentina and emphasized their ties

with the international proletariat. The conflict between the workers'

outlook and that of the liberals assumed more significance in the early

twentieth century, although the political class's distrust of the lower

classes had manifested itself long before then.

Perhaps the attitude of the political class was best expressed

not by Roca's motto but by the positivist one of "Order and Progress":

order for the masses and progress for those fortunate individuals who

could successfully compete in a free-market economy. Although it was

skeptical of the masses' ability for self-government, the political

elite believed that its policies would lay the groundwork for true

democracy at some time in the future. (The exact date was never

specified.) Meanwhile, it concluded that rule by an enlightened

minority was necessary until the masses were sufficiently "prepared"

to enter the political system. In Argentina from 1880 to 1912, the

traditional liberal emphasis on liberty mainly translated into liberty

for the political class. In addition, the political elite became so

convinced of its social and cultural superiority and its right to rule

that it would not relinquish its power even to rival factions from

within the political class. The fact that the political elite tried

to perpetuate itself in power is the reason why some scholars

characterize its idealogy as liberal-conservative rather than simply
liberal; another (and better) reason is that with the passage of

time, its classical liberalism became outmoded.

The Argentine political elite was not necessarily hypocritical,

nor was it exclusively concerned with advancing and safeguarding its

power. The Generation of Eighty genuinely believed that its positivist

liberalism was the idealogy best suited for tackling national problems.

Whether its members were correct is debatable, but the fact that

similar strains of liberalism characterized other regimes throughout

Latin America and Europe at this time probably reinforced their
assessment. Outside the North American, the French after 1871, and

the English after 1884-85, most contemporary liberal governments were

no more democratic than the Argentine, at least in the sense of

permitting mass political participation.10 The economic model provided

by liberalism a free-market economy emphasizing agricultural

development, open to foreign trade and investment was widely con-

sidered the most suitable for developing nations. Therefore it is not

surprising that Argentines found it attractive. The results of liberal

economic policies seemed to justify this belief, for the benefits of

an open-door, agricultural export economy were many. It attracted

foreign investment, new technology, and workers; it enlarged the

internal market; it provided employment opportunities for the lower

classes and ample revenues for the upper. The disadvantages of an

export-oriented economy lack of diversification, dependence on world

market conditions beyond Argentine control, high foreign debts,

regional imbalances were present, but they were not yet apparent

to most Argentines.11

Many members of the political class found it financially rewarding

to support the liberal economic model. Whether or not that class

consisted exclusively of groups dependent on the export of agricultural

goods and related activities, it is unquestionable that government

policies from 1880 to 1914 and concurrent events benefitted such groups

enormously. One of these policies was that of stimulating immigration.

Argentine liberals from Rivadavia to the Generation of Eighty had

recognized that development of the agricultural and pastoral industries

and the establishment of a modern republic required a substantial

influx of laborers. According to many liberals, fulfillment of their

ideals depended not only upon a quantitative but a "qualitative"

change in the population; they deemed that its improvement through

"Europeanization" was essential in order to achieve stability and


Legislation designed to promote immigration, to set up agricultural

colonies, and to distribute land to newcomers, combined with the

economic prospects available in a rapidly developing area, attracted

millions of foreigners who were eager to share in the nation's growing

prosperity. From 1870 to 1910 about 2,200,000 immigrants settled

permanently. The foreign-born constituted about 26 percent of the

national populace in 1895, 30 percent in 1914, and 15 percent as late

as 1947. The figure recorded in 1914, during the peak period of

immigration, represented a higher proportion of immigrants to total

population than that of any other major country, including the United


From the late nineteenth century until well into the twentieth, the

great majority of the foreign-born was male and between the ages of

fifteen and sixty-four. Immigrants were found not only in the country-

side, where they served as farmers, agricultural laborers, ranch hands,

and builders of the railroad lines, but in the cities, where they were

employed in retail trades, service occupations, infant industries,

transportation, and construction. About 60 percent of the blue- and

white-collar workers in the federal capital in 1914 were foreign-born,

as were 86 percent of the unskilled manual laborers.1

The heaviest wave of immigration coincided with the great period

of urbanization; between 1895 and 1914 the city of Buenos Aires grew

from 663,200 to 1,575,800 inhabitants. In 1895 52 percent of the

population of the federal capital was foreign, declining to a still

considerable 33 percent in 1914. Immigrants accounted for at least

one-half of the littoral provinces' inhabitants during much of the

same period. Thus for many years a high proportion of the economically

active population in Argentina's industrial and political center was

foreign. These figures alone, which do not take into account the

children of immigrants, underline the impact of immigration upon the

national economy and society.1

Other factors besides immigration fueled Argentine development.

Included among these were the increased avaiilabilty of land for live-

stock raising and agriculture resulting from the conquest of the

Indians and the expansion of the railroad network, the decline in

transportation costs from Argentina to Europe and within Argentina,

heavy investment in infrastructure, improvements in the technology of

food production, processing, and shipping, and the establishment of

flexible exchange rates. Finally, rising external demand for food-

stuffs served as further impetus to economic growth.

In the half century before World War I, Argentina became one of

the wealthiest countries in the world, roughly on a par with the

United States, Western Europe, Canada, and Australia. It was the

greatest showcase of the liberal economic model in Latin America.

Population rose from 1,737,000 in 1869 to 7,885,200 in 1914. One

economist estimates that during this period real gross domestic product

grew at a rate of about 5 percent a year. Other indicators of economic

growth demonstrated impressive gains as well. The railroad network

expanded from 604 kilometers in 1869 to 34,534 in 1914, the area sown

with crops from 580,000 hectares in 1872 to 20,620,000 in 1914, and the

value of merchandise exports from 29,600,000 gold pesos in 1869 to

431,100,000 in 1914.16 Little data on personal income is available

for these years. Judging by the opulent consumption habits of the

porteno upper class around the turn of the century however, landowners

and other similarly privileged groups reaped enormous profits.

If economic development brought prosperity to much of the political

class, it also brought great and unanticipated alterations in the

social structure. The changes produced by immigration, urbanization,

and industrialization transcended the envisioned Europeanization of the

populace. The Generation of Eighty and other proponents of immigration

had assumed that foreigners would settle in the countryside and become

small farmers and rural laborers. However, due to the difficulty in

securing land on favorable terms and to the economic opportunities

available in the growing cities, immigrants tended to establish them-

selves in urban areas and came to dominate whole sectors of the urban

economy. In 1895 81 percent of all industrialists were foreign-born;

the percentage declined only to 66 by 1914. The corresponding figures

for owners of commercial establishments were 74 percent both in 1895

and 1914; for workers and employees in nonindustrial businesses,

57 percent in 1895 and 53 percent in 1914; for industrial workers and

employees, 60 percent and 50 percent, respectively; and for the liberal

professions, 53 percent and 45 percent. In general, a three-tiered

society replaced the traditional social configuration of a small

urban middle class sandwiched between upper class landowners, profes-

sionals, and bureaucrats and a large rural lower class. Foreign-born

white-collar workers, businessmen, craftsmen, and industrialists now

composed the majority of the middle class and foreign-born manual

laborers the majority of the urban lower.7

Members of the political class viewed these demographic and

social changes with anxiety. Before their eyes the old familiar

culture, language, and social structure were giving way to a new and

often bewildering mix of peoples, dialects, and customs. A quiet aldea

in 1869, Buenos Aires in 1914 was a bustling, cosmopolitan center of

industry, commerce, and bureaucracy. In it one could find all the

attendant evils of a large modern city: congestion, inadequate housing

and public services, noise, pollution, crime, extremes of wealth and

poverty, corrupt machine politics, and widespread discontent and

despair.18 These unfavorable conditions aroused concern among

individuals of all class backgrounds. Proponents of left-wing

ideologies blamed capitalism for these problems and saw the creation

of a classless society as the eventual solution. Members of the

political class formulated a different theory of causation. They

tended to identify the ills of twentieth-century urban civilization,

in all their complexity, with the presence of foreigners on Argentine

soil. They viewed immigrant economic strength, immigrant labor

radicalism, and potential immigrant electoral influence as challenges

to their socioeconomic and political supremacy. The political class

reacted to this perceived threat by repressing immigrants politically,

excluding them socially, and criticizing them for their alleged cultural

inferiority and separatism.

Political repression included a variety of activities, one of

which was clamping down on labor radicalism. The labor movement will

be discussed in some detail, as attempts to suppress it form a major

theme of counterrevolutionary action after 1919. Although wages in

the period before World War I often were relatively high in comparison

with Europe, the working and living conditions of laborers and their

families left great room for improvement. The high costs of shelter,

clothing, and food often cancelled out the wage differential between

Argentina and Europe. Currency depreciation in the late nineteenth

century benefitted the exporters and the speculators, but the workers

who received fixed wages suffered badly. The wage scale varied

markedly throughout the decades which preceded World War I, but even

in the best of times employment was often of a temporary nature,

particularly in construction and on the docks, and many workers
could only count on working 200 days a year.9

In order to ameliorate these conditions and to assert control

over their own lives, workers had participated in the labor movement

since the mid-nineteenth century.20 The first labor union, the

Sociedad Tipografica Bonaerense, was founded in 1857. As the urban

population of Argentina grew with the addition of immigrants, so too

did the proletariat and the labor movement. During the 1870's and

early 1880's, foreign laborers who had brought anarchist and socialist

ideas with them from Europe established affiliates of the First

Workers International in Buenos Aires and C6rdoba. A group of

Spanish-speaking workers founded the Centro Socialista Obrero in 1894,

which in the same year began to publish the important newspaper La

Vanguardia, under the editorship of Juan B. Justo. Justo became a

leader of the Partido Socialist Obrero Internacional, which was born

about this time and eventually was known simply as the Partido


The party held its first campaign for public office in 1896 in

the federal capital and by 1904 it managed to attract enough votes to

send its candidate, Alfredo L. Palacios, to the Chamber of Deputies.

Meanwhile Socialists tried to establish their own labor federations.

When this proved unsuccessful, they turned to a joint venture with the

anarchists in the Federaci6n Obrera Argentina (F.O.A.), founded in

1901. Squabbling erupted between the two groups, and the Socialists

walked out of F.O.A. to set up yet another federation, the Uni6n

General de Trabajadores (U.G.T.), in 1903. However, they gradually

lost support in the U.G.T. to the syndicalists and in the labor unions

in general to the latter and the anarchists. Still, the Socialists

continued to exert great influence over the working classes through

social projects such as consumers' cooperatives, workers' libraries

and schools, mutual aid societies, and the Hogar Obrero, which built

inexpensive housing for workers and gave them low mortgage rates;

through La Vanguardia, which was disseminated throughout the nation;

through aiding strikers; and through political activity. The passage

of the SAenz Pefa law in 1912, which guaranteed universal and secret

male suffrage, enabled the Socialists to elect party members to both

houses of Congress and to become a major social and political force in

the city of Buenos Aires and other littoral urban centers.

The Socialists did not accomplish these feats effortlessly. They

struggled against various obstacles, among them lack of funds, a low

naturalization rate (which kept their natural constituency small), and

official disfavor. From time to time the government prohibited the

sale of La Vanguardia and other party organs, disrupted Socialists

meetings, imprisoned and deported party leaders, passed punitive laws,

and perpetrated electoral fraud. The level of repression declined,

however, as the party became more reformist in nature.

Initially the party doctrine reflected some revolutionary

aspirations, such as nationalizing the means of production, including

land, and creating a direct democracy. Justo and other Socialist

leaders were familiar with the works of Karl Marx and other European

revolutionary thinkers; indeed, Justo translated Das Kapital for the

first time into Spanish. Other goals were also present from the

beginning: to improve living and working conditions through such

measures as the eight-hour work day for adults, regulation of female

and child labor, the minimum wage, income and inheritance taxes

instead of indirect taxes, and low food prices. The Socialists hoped

to democratize Argentine public life through universal suffrage, the

initiative, referendum, and recall, facilitating the naturalization of

foreigners, women's rights, and the representation of minorities in

parliament. They also aimed to carry out the full liberal program by

abolishing the death penalty and the standing army and by separating

Church and State. Finally, they hoped to attain these goals through

public campaigns and parliamentary activity. The tactic of struggling

within the system to fulfill an evolutionary program soon Look

precedence over long-term revolutionary means and ends. Furthermore,

Marxism never constituted the only ideological influence or even

the most important one -- on the Socialists; liberalism, positivism, and

the democratic socialism of the French socialist parliamentarian

Jean Jaures and the German Marxist revisionist Eduard Bernstein

exerted far more sway.

In examining the ideology and practice of the Socialist party,

it is necessary to keep in mind the social composition of its activists

and followers. Its leaders tended to be well-educated professionals

of nonproletarian background; Juan B. Justo and Enrique Dickmann were

doctors, Jose Ingenieros was a psychologist and sociologist,

Alfredo L. Palacios was a lawyer. Some of these, however, did come

from relatively impoverished homes, such as Dickmann, a Russian-Jewish

immigrant and former rural laborer in a Jewish agricultural colony in

Entre Rios. Some commentators have used these facts to account for

the Socialists' moderate stance. Still, the top Argentine Socialists

had markedly fewer aristocratic antecedents than their counterparts
in other political parties.2 The party attracted most of its support

from the "labor aristocracy" of skilled workers and artisans. Also,

the immigrant middle class found its consumerism, its advocacy of clean

democratic government, its image of rectitude, and its lack of

chauvinism appealing.

As the Socialists became more reformist, government repression

was more and more directed against other groups, particularly the

anarchists. The influence of anarchist ideas on the working class

dated back to at least the mid-1880's, when the famous Italian

anarchist, Errico Malatesta, came to Buenos Aires and founded several

groups and a newspaper during his four-year stay. Inspired by

Malatesta and other anarchist visitors from abroad, workers formed

unions, or sociedades de resistencia, and other social institutions.

The sociedades de resistencia joined together with Socialists in the

F.O.A., which, after the latter departed, changed its name to the

Federaci6n Obrera Regional Argentina (F.O.R.A.) in 1904. In its

fifth congress, in 1905, F.O.R.A. agreed to adopt the principles of

anarchist communism. La Protesta became its organ and, in addition,

the most important anarchist newspaper in South America.

Although all Argentine anarchists opposed the state, some of them

stressed individualism and other leaned toward collectivism. The

former strain of anarchism, influenced by Max Stirner, advocated the

complete autonomy of the individual and in its extreme version

approached existentialism. Drawing upon the ideas of Pierre-Joseph

Proudhon and Malatesta, among others, the collectivists favored the

liberty of the individual but within the context of a small independent

group. The society they envisioned would be based on a federation of

small communes, permitting the greatest scope possible for individual

action and self-realization. Since they believed that their goal was

not attainable under the capitalist system, workers would have to

strive together through thei sociolldades d( resistencia to destroy Lhis

system and attendant authoritarian institutions.

The collectivist tendency won out over the individualist, partly

because of Malatesta's influence and partly because the latter

tendency did not permit effective organization. As it was, collectivist

anarchism presented many organizational disadvantages: an inherent

lack of doctrine and cohesion, a rigid opposition to compromise, an

emphasis on violence. No political action was deemed legitimate, since

this would entail working within the system and thus perpetuating it.

(For this reason, among others, the anarchists saw the Socialists as

traitors to the working class.) According to the anarchists, workers

would enhance class consciousness and gain valuable experience through

direct action boycotts, sabotage, strikes and would eventually

bring about social revolution through a cataclysmic general strike.

With the revolution all fetters would disappear and the federation

of communes would spontaneously rise into being.

This vision of a future utopia attracted the majority of organized

workers in the period up to 1919. Anarchism gained most of its

adherents from the ranks of the Italian, Spanish, French, and Russian

day laborers and the unemployed. The provocative actions of the

anarchists, such as the attempt on President Manuel Quintana's life

in 1905 and the assassination of the police chief of Buenos Aires,

Colonel Ram6n L. Falc6n, in 1909, inevitably succeeded in provoking

government repression.

Government repression was also directed against another group of

workers the syndicalists. The syndicalists emerged at the beginning

of this century, when they took over some of the unions belonging to

the U.G.T. and by 1906 dominated the latter. Under the influence of

George Sorel, the syndicalists roughly followed a middle road between

the Socialists and the anarchists. Like the anarchists, the syndi-

calists hoped to overthrow the existing society through a general

strike, which at one blow would deliver the means of production

into the workers' hands. Their disdain for a coherent economic and

political philosophy and their glorification of action led them to

hold Socialists, intellectuals, and parliamentarians in low esteem.

They advocated no program beyond that of bringing down the state and

erecting in its place a society composed of syndicates workers

organizations which would control production and the distribution of

goods and services.

Although their long-term goals were revolutionary, in the short

run the syndicalists acted pragmatically within the given order,

like the Socialists. Despite their emphasis on direct action, they

admitted the possibility of electing candidates to public office and

negotiating with businessmen to win limited economic gains. Their

lack of ideological baggage and formal partisan ties permitted them to

make deals and alliances with political leaders, as they later did

with President Hipdlito Yrigoyen. As time passed and the percentage

of native-born members of the working class grew, the syndicalists

captured the allegiance of the majority of unionized lziborers. An

important feature of the syndicalists' strategy was their interest

in promoting worker unity. They aimed at bringing together all

workers organizations under one central authority, free of partisan

political ties, in order to guarantee harmony of working-class action

and purpose.

With this aim in mind, the U.G.T. began to negotiate with F.0.R.A.

After one failure, representatives from the two groups and from

unaffiliated unions held a congress in 1909, out of which arose a

new federation, the Confederaci6n Obrera Regional Argentina (C.O.R.A.).

The architects of the new labor federation designed it carefully, al-

lowing as much liberty of action as possible to the constituent unions.

However, this was not enough to satisfy the most intransigent

anarchists, causing a split within the ranks of F.O.R.A. between those

who joined C.O.R.A. and those who remained outside it. In that year,

C.O.R.A. members voted to disband their organization and recommended

that their affiliate unions join F.O.R.A., which in its ninth congress

agreed to welcome them. This unity proved to be transitory, as

F.O.R.A. split into two: F.O.R.A. V, which adhered to the anarchist

principles declared at the fifth congress, and F.O.R.A. IX, which was

named for the ninth congress and eventually became syndicalist.

Workers' attempts to promote class consciousness, wrest economic

gains from employers, and prepare for the revolution could not help

but alarm the political class, which fought back in a variety of ways.

Calling a state of siege and closing down meetings, offices, and news-

papers were some of the government's weapons. Since such a high

percentage of the urban proletariat and the labor movement was foreign-

born, immigration restriction and deportation were others. An immigra-

tion restriction bill was first introduced in the Senate in 1899 by

Miguel Cand, a leading intellectual of the Generation of Eighty. Such

legislation failed to pass until the outbreak of a large anarchist-led

general strike in 1902.22 According to the Residence Law, promulgated

that year, the executive branch could deport any foreigner convicted

of a crime by a foreign court, or one "whose conduct compromised

national security or disturbed public order." The language used was

suggestive of future counterrevolutionary rhetoric; labor radicalism

was seen as a threat against the nation itself. The law also enabled

the government to deny entrance to foreigners likely to fall into

these categories.23

The Residence Law did not prove sufficient to quell the activities

of the labor movement. Workers continued their efforts to organize

and strike, reaching a height of militancy in 1909 and 1910. It is

worthwhile to look at the government and civilian repression of these

actions, which formed a significant precedent to the counterrevolutionary

occurrences of 1919. On May Day 1909, police fired upon a commemorative

parade held by F.O.R.A. in downtown Buenos Aires, leaving over 100

casualties. In response, about 200,000 workers participated in a

general strike, supported by the Socialist party, U.G.T., and F.O.R.A.,

which paralyzed the capital city for nine days and had repercussions

throughout the country. The government fought back by closing down

worker meeting places, deporting labor leaders under the provisions

of the Residence Law, and sending troops into the capital. The so-

called Semana Roja ended when the government agreed to some of the

strikers' demands, such as reopening union and federal headquarters, but

rejected their main one: firing the hated Colonel Falcon, who had
ordered the bloody May Day repression.2

Working-class hostility over the May Day massacre persisted and

erupted on November 14, 1909, when a teen-aged Russian anarchist,

Sim6n Radowitzsky, hurled a bomb at Falc6n and his secretary, killing

them both. The government reacted swiftly by imposing a two-month

state of siege, detaining and deporting labor activists, and shutting

down union headquarters and the printing presses of leftist newspapers,

despite C.O.R.A. and F.O.R.A. insistence that Radowitzsky had acted

on his own. The youth branch of the ruling party, the Partido

Autonomista Nacional, declared that it would fight against the

influence of socially disruptive ideas spread by immigrant groups.

Various prominent figures spoke out against the foreign threat and

for Argentine unity at Falc6n's funeral, including Julio A. Rojas, for

the Juventud Autonomista, and the future president of the Liga

Patri6tica Argentina, Manuel Carl&s, for the Chamber of Deputies.

Meanwhile, a group of private citizens perhaps the same Juventud

Autonomista broke into the offices of the anarchist newspaper

La Protest, destroying machinery and closing down the printing press.

Periodic assaults by private individuals on union headquarters

and La Protesta continued through the beginning of the next year.

According to the newspaper, the participants in one of these forays

included eighteen policemen (among them, a security squadron commander),

several youths from prestigious families, Deputy Juan Balestra,

Emilio Lamarch, president of the Catholic labor organization, the

Circulos de Obreros (see Chapter II), and Juan Carlos Gallegos, a

politician and hacendado.26 The last two would later join the Liga

Patri6tica Argentina. Another precedent had been set: police agents,

leading citizens, political figures, and Catholic spokesmen acting

together unofficially to repress the left.

Events reached a climax in 1910 with the one-hundredth anniversary

of the May Revolution. The government invited officials from Europe

and the Americas to join Argentines in celebrating their nation's

prosperity and democracy. According to one ironic Spanish writer,

however, its efforts were not very successful; the centennial of the
birth of liberty was celebrated under a state of siege. This had

been the congressional response to huge worker demonstrations against

the Residence Law and the mass imprisonments and rumors of a general

strike during the festivities. Meanwhile police arrested the editorial

staffs of several leftist newspapers and other activists.

At the same time civilian groups were mobilizing against the

anarchists. Starting before and continuing throughout the celebrations,

students paraded through Buenos Aires carrying the national flag,

singing patriotic songs, and compelling passers-by to uncover their

heads in the presence of the flag. One observer claimed that several

people died in a clash between student demonstrators and the anarchist

"enemy.28 General Luis Dellepiane, who became the police chief of

Buenos Aires after Falc6n's death, organized the Policia Civil Auxiliar

to help the police during the celebration. Little is known about this
civilian militia a predecessor of the Liga Patri6tica Argentina.2

On the night of May 14, members of the prestigious Sociedad

Sportiva Argentina and other prominent citizens, politicians, police-

men, government employees, and servants destroyed the much-beleaguered

offices and printing presses of La Protesta, La Vanguardia, and

La Batalla, another labor organ. They also launched an attack against

a building which housed C.O.R.A. and several other workers organiza-

tions, but were beaten back. Among the vigilante leaders were

Baron Natonio Demarchi, Deputies Juan Balestra, Carlos CarlBs, and

Pedro Luro, and one Dr. Aubone, probably Carlos Aubone, engineer,

politician, and former assistant chief of the federal police, who

would join the Liga Patriotica Argentina. Founder and president of

the Sociedad Sportiva, Demarchi was an Italian nobleman, President

Roca's son-in-law, and future leader of an Argentine branch of an

Italian fascist organization. Carls was Manuel's brother, and Luro

was a great hacendado whose son would join the right-wing Legi6n de

Mayo in 1930 (see Chapter V).

The following evening the group returned to the same neighborhood,

the tenth precinct, assaulting the same building to Aubone's alleged

battlecry of ". . Long live the bourgeoisie! Death to the enemies of

the fatherland!" At the same time, other marauders entered the old

ninth precinct, or Barrio Once, an area heavily inhabited by

Russian-Jewish immigrants. There they looted and destroyed a grocery

store and raped several women. Another object of attack was the library

of a Jewish socialist organization.30 This was not the first

manifestation of anti-Semitism in Argentina (see Chapter II), but it

was perhaps the first incident marked by violence and by an identifi-

cation of Russian Jews with leftist politics, a consequence of

Radowitzsky's crime. Not only members of the political class but

humbler sectors of society made this identification. One visitor to

Buenos Aires during the centennial found three or four newsboys

beating a little Jewish boy. When he made them account for their

actions, their excuse was their victim was a ruso. He concluded:

Everything that in the remotest manner savored of
the anarchist was in those days in bad repute in
Buenos Aires, and the Russian Jews were not in good

This, too, was a precedent for later years, when all Jewish immigrants

would be seen as Bolshevik agents.

Vigilantes carried out other destructive activities in the capital,

La Plata, and Rosario, while policemen either joined with them or

watched in silence. Nothing happened to the perpetrators of violence

and property damage, although police rounded up about 500 labor

activists, imprisoning some and deporting others. But the period of

protest, anger, and repression had not yet ended. One month after

the centennial, on June 26, a bomb exploded in the Teatro Col6n and

injured several prople. The police accused a Russian anarchist named

Romanoff of the deed, although he was probably innocent; anarchists

insisted that the police had set off the bomb, so that the authorities

would pass harsh legislation against them. Sentiment against

anarchism was so high that the next day Congress did in fact pass the

Law of Social Defense. This measure prohibited anarchists, along with

other foreigners who favored using violence against national governments

or institutions, from entering the country. Those who had previously

managed to immigrate to Argentina were to be hunted down and expelled.

Anarchists were forbidden to hold meetings, issue propaganda, or form

groups. Several penalties were to be imposed for bombing or otherwise

damaging property and lives (Demarchi and the like, however, were

never prosecuted), for defending subversive threats against property and

lives by spoken or written word, and for trying to force others to

participate in strikes and boycotts (they evidently believed that

workers did not strike unless outsiders forced them to do so).32

This legislation produced swift and decisive consequences -

further arrests and deportations, the shutting down of labor head-

quarters, and, in general, a temporary weakening of the labor movement.

However, labor organizations continued to recruit new members and to

strike, albeit at a somewhat reduced level; there were 298 strikes In

1910, 102 in 1911, 99 in 1912, and 95 in 1913. The anarchists and

other groups never wholly ceased to print and disseminate propaganda,

and F.O.R.A. gradually reasserted itself. By 1913 the more overt phase

of police persecution had ended, and once more La Protesta was being

published and sold openly.33

The Socialists, anarchists, syndicalists, and members of unaf-

filiated unions were not the only ones to come out against the existing

socioeconomic order. Unlinked to any particular ideology or labor

organization, other significant protest movements arose: the strike
of the inquilinos in 1907, which will be described first, and that

of the tenant farmers in 1912. As its population grew with the great

wave of inmiigration after 1890, Buenos Aires experienced a severe

shortage of housing, particularly of inexpensive housing for workers.

The conventillo was one makeshift answer to this problem, although

an inadequate one. It was the Argentine version of a tenement house:

a large, old, one- or two-storied decrepit building, subdivided into

rooms rented by families or groups of workers and offering some shared

facilities such as water and toilets. Standards of hygiene and

ventilation were notoriously low, despite the existence of municipal

regulations. High rents often totalling one-half of a worker's

salary forced families of up to ten people to inhabit a single small

room. It is estimated that over 10 percent of the population of

Buenos Aires in 1907 lived in conventillos; undoubtedly, many others

also lived in congested and unhealthy surroundings.

Attempts to organize the tenants, or inquilinos, floundered until

1907, when the city government announced a hike in property taxes.

The owners and rent collectors raised rents to cover the additional

tax burden and add a little more to their pockets. The tenants

of one building organized and declared a rent strike; residents of

other conventillos quickly imitated their efforts. Within several

months the strike spread to include the dwellers of about 2000

conventillos in Buenos Aires, 300 in Rosario, and an undetermined

number in Bahia Blanca and other localities about 140,000 people

in all, of which 120,000 were from the capital. The strikers received

support from F.O.R.A., U.G.T., Socialists, some members of the political

class, and most of the establishment, and it made contact with similar

rent strike groups in Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, New York, and Rome.

The largest social movement in pre-World War I Argentina, the

strikers failed to win a lasting reprieve from rent hikes. Still, the

inquilino movement had two consequences; it alerted reform-minded

members of the political class to pressing urban problems, and it

demonstrated that the entire lower class not only the manual

workers could mobilize to protest these conditions.

The tenant farmer strike of 191235 was another great popular

movement of the prewar period which owed no allegiance to any leftist

ideology or labor group; indeed, in some ways it was profoundly

conservative. A glance at rural conditions will facilitate under-

standing this strike and similar ones after World War I. While

governments since the mid-nineteenth century had theoretically

supported foreign colonization, in practice they had made little

effort to survey, divide, and distribute the public domain to settlers

from abroad. To a great extent, this lack of policy initiative

reflected the hacendados' interest in retaining immigrants as laborers

and tenants and not as potential independent farmers. Governments

normally ceded or sold at nominal prices large stretches of land to

huge colonization companies or to favored individuals. The former

resold the land to individual colonists, realizing high profits on

the transactions, and when the small farmers were unable to keep up

the payments, as was often the case, they were forced off the land.

Meanwhile, official policies stimulated speculation, which, combined

with the growth of the livestock and grain export industries, caused

land prices to soar. Immigrants lacked the funds to buy sufficient

land to support themselves, considering the fact that extensive

agricultural techniques were practiced, or to develop the property

if they were lucky enough to be able to purchase it. Therefore

absentee landownership and tenant farming became the rule, particularly

in the cereal belt. By 1914 in Buenos Aires province, landowners

personally supervised production in 30 percent of all farms, tenants

in 54 percent, and employees in 12 percent. The corresponding per-

centages in other areas were as follows: Santa Fe, 26 percent owners,

69 percent tenants, 6 percent employees; C6rdoba, 40 percent, 51 per-

cent, 10 percent, respectively; the nation as a whole, 44 percent, 46

percent, 9 percent.

Immigrant farmers leased plots on a short-term basis during those

periods when cereal production was more profitable than livestock

raising. Landowners or their intermediaries, the large colonization

firms, contracted with tenants to raise several grain crops on virgin

or pasture land and then plant alfalfa for cattle feed. When the

lease expired, the land reverted to pasture. Since they expected

to remain only two or three years in each place, farmers were not

motivated to build good housing, improve the property, or develop

better techniques of production. They concentrated on cultivating

grain for export to the world market and thus were dependent upon

conditions beyond their control, among them, the vagaries of nature

anf fluctuations in world demand. Furthermore, tenants suffered

from harsh contractual terms; inadequate transportation, credit, and

storage facilities; huge debts to intermediaries (who were the only

sources of credit and supplies); and, in general, a low standard

of living. Around the turn of the century, tenant farmers accepted

such adversities because -- nature and the market permitting they

could earn a living. Then catastrophe hit; low prices in 1911 and 1912

left many tenants unable to pay their rent and other obligations.

Threats of bankruptcy and eviction forced farmers to organize

in protest, starting in June 1912, when 2000 of them met in the

southern santafesino town of Alcorta. Beleaguered tenant farmers

resolved to strike until landowners and intermediaries lowered rents

and lengthened the lease periods, and their counterparts throughout

the cereal zone southern and central Santa Fe, northern and western

Buenos Aires, southeastern Cord6ba,and northern La Pampa rapidly

followed their lead. The strike lasted about two months and achieved

some results, particularly in Santa Fe, whose Radical provincial

government was eager to reach a solution without the intervention of

national authorities and forced landowners to compromise with

tenants. In contrast, the federal government refused to help strikers,

although some government administrators and other members of the

political class urged such action.

Formed during the strike, the Federaci6n Agraria Argentina (F.A.A.)

pursued the goals of its tenant farmer constituents within the existing

order. Its leaders did not (at least at this time) propose radical

changes in the system of landownership, nor did they ask landless

rural laborers to join. Nevertheless, as was so often to be the case

in twentieth-century Argentina, most members of the political class

sought to preserve their wealth and power at all costs, overlooking

the fact that a small concession to the tenants could avert future

problems. Still, the strike left a legacy of a well-organized farmers

movement prepared to struggle against hardship and exploitation. The

economic depression brought on by World War I and its aftermath would

force it back into action.

A description of political movements and political repression

in prewar Argentina would not be complete without labor, tenant, and

farmer associations. Limits on suffrage, which prevented any meaningful

expansion of the political system, and the restricted circulation of

political elites within the political class were significant as well.

I have already noted that the political class had aimed at populating

the desert with foreign agriculturalists, but did not allow significant

amounts of land to pass from its ownership. Similarly, it had hoped

to integrate the immigrants into Argentine life while reserving

political power for itself.37 One of the ostensible purposes of

immigration had been to strengthen government stability, but for

a variety of reasons few immigrants or their lower- and middle-class

descendants actually participated in politics. First, the number of

foreigners who became Argentine citizens was small. In most cases,

the failure to obtain citizenship was attributable to either political

disinterest or political fatalism, as most immigrants came from areas

where political participation was restricted to the wealthy. Im-

poverished and uneducated newcomers were more often concerned with

economic advancement than with the unfamiliar activity of politics.

Other better-off immigrants manifested little desire to obtain

citizenship because it offered them few advantages. The Constitution

of 1853 guaranteed foreigners almost all the rights of Argentine

citizens; the only privilege it denied them was that of suffrage, yet

they were even allowed to vote in some local elections. Whether

because of loyalty to the old country, feelings of ethnic superiority

to Argentines, or the additional rights and protection which foreign

citizenship gave them, many preferred to remain aliens. Foreign

laborers saw little reason to change their nationality, since many

expected to return to their native lands and, at any rate, they did

not want to be eligible for the draft.38

For those who desired citizenship, despite the factors enumerated

above, the obstacles were many. On paper the requirement a mere

two-year residence was far from stringent, and the naturalization

procedure seemed relatively simple. In the hope of preventing potential

dissidents from becoming citizens, however, the government encumbered

the process. Applicants were forced to submit to police investigations,

long bureaucratic delays, and much paperwork, and few judges were

generally available. Official meddling aside, it was costly and incon-

venient for immigrant farmers to journey to the cities where federal

judges presided, or for urban laborers to take off time from work to

undergo the lengthy proceedings.39 Even if one secured citizenship

and hence voting privileges (if one were male), suffrage rights before

1912 meant little in practice. Electoral fraud was common, as was

police repression of political dissenters. Thus, Argentine citizens

as well as aliens were excluded from the political system.

Universal male suffrage for naturalized citizens in practice

as well as in theory became a reality largely through the efforts

of Hip6lita Yrigoyen and the Uni6n Civica Radical (U.C.R.), or the
Radical party.40 Initially the Radicals' struggle to attain power

reflected little more than the competition between opposing factions

within the political class. Later, however, this contest assumed

wider proportions, as U.C.R. leaders realized that their victory would

depend on mobilizing popular support.

The beginnings of the Radical party can be traced back to the

Revolution of 1890. This momentous political event was preceded by

a period of frenzied economic activity, characterized by unbridled

speculation, runaway inflation, a soaring foreign debt, and the

ostentatious display of wealth by some members of the political class.

Dissatisfaction mounted over these conditions, as well as over the

closed political system, and manifested itself in the formation of

the Uni6n Civica in 1889. Its adherents came from varied backgrounds,

although most were members of the political class. Austere,

nationalistic, and republican, they viewed the opulent, authoritarian,

and cosmopolitan political elite with distaste; the differences

between the two groups, however, were more of style than of substance.

Many also felt excluded from positions of influence, particularly

young aspiring students and politicians from Buenos Aires, as Roca

and his presidential successor Miguel Judrez Celman had tended to fill

posts with fellow provincials. Former president Bartolomd Mitre and

his followers fit both these characteristics, as did Catholic militants

such as Pedro Goyena and Jose Manuel Estrada, who in addition were

displeased with the reigning spirit of liberal anticlericalism. The

Uni6n Civica also included some individuals of lower social origins,

principally native-born shop owners and artisans severely hit by the

economic crisis. They were found mainly in the group of autonomistas

(a provincial party of Buenos Aires whose populist roots lay in

federalism and in rosismo) which congregated around the figure of

Leandro N. Alem. This group, however, was not exclusively composed of

the popular sectors; great landowners and distinguished provincial

politicians were also among its ranks.

Under Alem's leadership, the Uni6n Civica aimed at securing

guaranteed public liberties, particularly suffrage. When the economy

crashed in 1890, the civistas, with some military and popular support,

rose up against the Juarez Celman regime. Although the latter was

able to quell the uprising, the Uni6n Civica had proven its strength,

and the political elite was forced to make concessions: complete

amnesty for the rebels and the eviction of Juarez Celman from office.

After this partial victory, the Uni6n Civica divided into several

groups, of which the most significant were the Uni6n Civica Nacional

and the Uni6n Civica Radical. (Another group, under Juan B. Justo,

eventually emerged in the form of the Socialist party.) The former,

under Mitre, proclaimed itself satisfied with the results of the

revolution and allied with the political elite. Alem and the U.C.R.

continued to oppose Roca and the government and demanded universal

male suffrage. The Radicals refused to participate in the fraudulent

electoral system and hoped to reach power by erecting a strong national

party organization and carrying out a successful revolution. They

failed in the second objective but the first strategy ultimately

reaped benefits. Although Alem's successor, Hipdlito Yrigoyen, con-

tinued to dream of capturing office through a revolution, electoral

reform, an effective party machine, and divisions in the political

elite resulted in his victorious presidential campaign of 1916.

In order to understand the course of political developments and

the rise of the forces of counterrevolution, it is essential to know

something about one of the latter's main opponents, the Radical leader
Yrigoyen.41 Yrigoyen took over the leadership of the Radicals after

breaking with his uncle Alem and helping to bring about the latter's

downfall. The reasons for this split are not very clear, but the

antagonism probably grew out of personality differences: Alem, the

intellectual familiar with European culture, the flashy and spellbinding

orator; versus Yrigoyen, the diligent behind-the-scenes manipulator,

the man of few ideas and poorly articulated ones at that. Yrigoyen

believed that the Radicals' mission was to save Argentina from the

perfidious and decadent forces that ruled it, or what he called

el regimen, and that he was destined to lead this divinely ordained

struggle. Alem was a casualty of these powerful ambitions.

Who belonged to this sinister body, the regimen? Yrigoyen's

definition of membership excluded any conception of class; in this

way it presaged future right-wing definitions of the regimen. To

his style of thinking, selfish materialism, dishonesty, and utter

disregard for popular national sentiments characterized the regimen

and at the same time nullified its right to rule. He challenged its

political monopoly; he never questioned the monopoly on land ownership

and other economic privileges exercised by the political class to

which he and most Radical leaders belonged. Despite his father's

humble immigrant origins, Yrigoyen was linked to this exalted group

through his mother's family, his university and business connections,

and his interests as an hacendado. The main trait which distinguished

important Radical figures from their counterparts in government was

not differences in wealth but the fact that fewer of their ancestors

had occupied public office. Also, their ancestors had generally

arrived later than those of the political elite, and in this respect

they had less social prestige.42 The Radicals represented a rival

faction within the political class challenging the political elite

for power, although they also struggled to enlarge the political

system by incorporating into it the middle class.

The party's stance on suffrage rights and morality appealed to

disenchanted members of the political class and especially to the

middle class. Yrigoyen's nationalism attracted not only the criollos

among its ranks but also the descendants of immigrants, eager to

prove their argentinidad. The middle class also found other reasons

for supporting the U.C.R. In a country whose economy depended so

heavily on its export sector, the native-born middle class faced a

continual employment dilemma. Immigrants tended to create opportunities

for themselves in retail business and light industry, while members of

the political class dominated the government bureaucracy and, along

with foreigners, occupied the highest positions in the import-export

trade, the financial sector, and the foreign companies. Out of desire

for mobility and prestige and lack of sufficient other opportunities,

the descendants of immigrants assumed the same employment preferences

as the political class. They struggled to enter the universities, the

liberal professions, and the political patronage network, and Yrigoyen

hinted that he would support their aspirations. This native-born middle

class became staunchly yrigoyenista and obtained rewards for its

loyalty after 1916. The presence of second- and third-generation

middle-class Argentines among party leaders, however, did not become

noticeable until Yrigoyen's second presidency.

Radicalism represented no economic threat to the political

class, at least not initially. As stated above, Yrigoyen did not

object to the economic status quo; he only hoped to redistribute

income in favor of the middle class. He also firmly supported the

export economy. His intentions toward the lower class were paternal-

istic and far from revolutionary. Before 1916 his main response to

the existence of poverty was to donate his salary to charity, which

he continued to do throughout his career, and to direct the Radical

machine to distribute food and other favors to potential voters.

In view of the above, the political class did not fear the

Radicals. Nor did the Socialists constitute a threat. From the

national leaders' point of view, at least the Socialists were playing

the political game by the established rules; they wrote newspaper

articles, signed petitions, delivered public speeches, campaigned

for votes, and after peaceful protest abided by fraudulent election

results. Once elected to Congress, Socialists tried to pass

legislation helpful to workers and urban consumers. If they did

support unions and advance revolutionary theories, still the restrained

party intellectuals spoke a moderate language intelligible to the

political class and inspired the letters' grudging admiration.

Unlike the Socialists, however, the anarchists and syndicalists,

with their inflammatory direct action tactics, were much less amenable

to compromise. If these extremists captured the allegiance of the

masses, the future of the present political class would be cloudy

indeed. More far-sighted leaders like President Roque Saenz Peia

(1910-1914) recognized that curbing the leftist threat would require

bringing the masses into the established political order. This would

be accomplished by stealing the Radicals' thunder and guaranteeing

universal male suffrage and the secret ballot. They hoped that the

official parties would be able to stay in power, anyway, by attracting

voters with their new reformist stance. If not, the Radicals were

sure to win, but aside from suffrage rights and "morality," their

program was minimal and mild. A Radical victory now was better than

a leftist one in the future.43

Cognizant of Yrigoyen's popularity and influence, prominent

politicians in the ruling circles such as Presidents Saenz Pena,

Carlos Pellegrini (1892-94), and Jos6 Figueroa Alcorta (1906-10) had

carefully maintained ties with him. After the abortive Radical

revolution of 1905, these leaders recognized the necessity of promoting

cohesion within the political class and preventing these periodic

uprisings, particularly in view of the growing leftist danger. Con-

tacts between officialdom and Yrigoyen increased in frequency and

importance; out of meetings between Saenz Pefa and the Radical leader

emerged the draft version of the long-awaited electoral reform law

which passed Congress in 1912 and bore the former's name.44 Whether

the official parties would stay in office remained to be proven.

The 1916 presidential race was the testing ground for this

proposition.45 Against the oddly reluctant Yrigoyen were pitted the

Socialist Justo and Lisandro De la Torre, head of a new coalition of

provincial parties, mostly of the political elite, called the Partido

Dem6crata Progresista (P.D.P.). The old ruling party of Roca,

Jugrez Celman, and Pellegrini, the Partido Autonomista Nacional had

long since fragmented into personalist factions, but the inheritors

of its mantle, as well as other anti-yrigoyenistas, realized the need

to unite in order to prevent a Radical victory, and most of them backed

the P.D.P. Conspicuously absent from this alliance was the most

official of all official parties, the powerful Partido Conservador

of Buenos Aires province, founded in 1908 and led by Marcelino Ugarte.

A former governor of Buenos Aires whose favor was sought by would-be

presidents, this notoriously corrupt political boss epitomized the

most unsavory aspects of the regimen. Ugarte nursed ambitions of his

own, as did other figures, and together they withheld support from the

P.D.P. and split its ranks, thus delivering victory to Yrigoyen in a

close election. The fact that Ugarte and others ultimately preferred

Yrigoyen to De la Torre demonstrated that they did not fear the

Radicals. It also demonstrated their distrust for De la Torre and

the dem6cratas progresistas, who figure prominently in this study.

To some of its adherents the formation of the P.D.P. represented

nothing more than a negative act: to keep Yrigoyen out of the

presidency. If this was its sole purpose, however, party members

made a mistake in choosing De la Torre as their leader. True, he

possessed the requisite qualifications of high social status (he

owned land and belonged to the prestigious Jockey Club) and opposition

to Yrigoyen, but he never enjoyed a secure power base in the political

class. The iconoclastic santafesino had participated in the 1890

revolution and had followed his close friend Alem into the Radical

Party. A bitter quarrel with Yrigoyen, whom he viewed as overly

ambitious and dictatorial, led to his departure from the party.

De la Torre's hatred of yrigoyenismo was almost matched by his anti-

pathy toward the r~gien. In his veneration for civil liberties,

his anticlericalism, and his seeming lack of rapport with the masses,

De la Torre was a perfect nineteenth-century liberal. At the same

time, the provincial party he led before 1916, the immigrant farmer-

based Liga del Sur, consistently supported the protective tariff the

only contemporary party to take such a stand.4 De la Torre's firm

advocacy of federalism had some precedents in Argentine liberalism,

particularly the non-porteio variety, but was not likely to win him

friends from the regimen.

De la Torre seemed to have delighted in being different, for the

P.D.P. platform contained a number of novelties. It unequivocally

supported not only guaranteed universal suffrage and secret balloting,

the latter of which Ugarre and his colleagues opposed, but open party

conventions, to which the Radicals objected. Other planks included

protection for industry, creation of national merchant marine, govern-

ment funding for workers mutual aid societies, a light income tax,

and some state controls over exports. The platform manifested more

concern for economic nationalism, modernization, and social welfare

than did that of the Radicals. Was this the platform of a negative

and narrowly conservative party? One cannot assume that the P.D.P.'s

economic and social proposals were the main attraction for the fervent

anti-Radicals who joined it, nor that they represented much more than

election rhetoric, but they are interesting nonetheless. At least

they revealed the idealism of some party ideologues, who genuinely

hoped that the party would combine the best features of the old

political elite with a reformist and nationalist spirit.47 These

dem6cratas progresistas included Carlos Ibarguren, Jos4 Maria Rosa,

Francisco Uriburu, General Jos& F. Uriburu, Roberto and Alfonso

de Laferrere, all of whom later enrolled in the far right.


T. B. Bottomore, Elites and Society (New York, 1964), pp. 8-9.

In practice it is often difficult to distinguish between the
political class and the upper class. I have usually employed the
former term in such cases.

Roberto Etchepareborda raised similar questions on the nature
of the "elite" in "La estructura sociopolitica argentina y la
Generaci6n del Ochenta," Latin American Research Review, XIII (1978),
pp. 127-134.

Thomas F. McCann, Argentina, the United States and the Inter-
american System, 1880-1914 (Cambridge, Mass., 1957), pp. 32-33.

Natalio R. Botana, El orden conservador. La political argentina
entire 1880 y 1916 (Buenos Aires, 1977), pp. 156-161.

Jos& Luis Romero, A History of Argentine Political Thought,
trans. by Thomas F. McCann (2nd ed.; Stanford, 1968), p. 183. The
page cited marks the first time the author uses this term.

Carlos Ibarguren, La historic que he vivido (2nd ed.; Buenos
Aires, 1969), pp. 56-57.

McCann, Argentina, pp. 43-45; Romero, Political Thought, pp. 179-
181. On the influence of positivism in Latin America, see Leopoldo Zea,
El positivismo en M6xico (M6xico, 1943).

See, for example, Carleton Hayes' description of "sectarian
liberalism" in A Generation of Materialism, 1871-1900 (2nd ed.;
New York, 1963), pp. 49-50.

1871 marked the beginning of the French Third Republic and 1884
the passage of a suffrage law for rural workers in England, followed
by a redistricting law in 1885.

On the advantages and disadvantages of an export economy in
general, see Roberto Cortes Conde, The First Stages of Modernization
in Spanish America (New York, 1974) and Richard Graham, Britain and the
Onset of Modernization in Brazil, 1850-1914 (London, 1968). The
Argentine government's railroad and immigration policies were exceptions
to the rule of classical liberalism. Development models other than
the liberal export-oriented one existed such as that of Paraguay
under Francia but they were politically unattractive.

Gino Germani, Politica y sociedad en una &poca de transicion
(Buenos Aires, 1962), pp. 180-181.

Repdblica Argentina, Dirreci6n Nacional del Servicio Estadi-
stico, Cuarto censo general de la Naci6n, I (Buenos Aires, 1947),
p. LXII, tables 21 and 23; Solberg, Immigration and Nationalism, p. 36.

James R. Scobie, Buenos Aires: Plaza to Suburb, 1.870-1910
(New York, 1974), p. 273; Germani, Politica y sociedad, pp. 179 and

Republica Argentina, Cuarto censo, I, p. LXXI, table 31;
Republica Argentina, Comisi6n Directiva del Censo, Segundo censo de la
Repfblica Argentina, mayo 10 de 1895, II (Buenos Aires, 1898), p. 153,
table 3; Repdblica Argentina, Comisi6n Nacional del Censo, Tercer censo
national, levantado el primero de junior de 1914, I (Buenos Aires, 1916),
p. 262.

Carlos F. Diaz Alejandro, Essays on the Economic History of the
Argentine Republic (New Haven, 1970), pp. 2-3 and 5; Repiblica
Argentina, Tercer censo, IX (1919), pp. 405-406; RepGblica Argentina,
Cuarto censo, I, p. 1.

Germani, Politica y sociedad, pp. 195 and 200.

Repiblica Argentina, Cuarto censo, I, p. 47; for a description of
the city see Scobie, Buenos Aires.

Scobie, Buenos Aires, pp. 137-142; Jose Panettieri, Los
trabajadores en tiempos de la inmigracion masiva en Argentina, 1870-
1910 (La Plata, 1966), pp. 58 and 68.

In writing the following general account of labor history, I
have relied on these sources: Panettieri, Los trabajadores; Hobart
Spalding, La clase trabajadora argentina documentss para su historic -
1890/1912) (Buenos Aires, 1970), pp. 17-95; Samuel L. Baily, Labor,
Nationalism and Politics in Argentina (New Brunswick, N.J., 1967);
Sebastidn Marotta, El movimiento sindical argentino: su g-nesis y
desarrollo, I II (Buenos Aires, 1960-1961); Dardo Caneo, Juan B.
Justo y las luchas sociales enlaArgentina (Buenos Aires, 1956);
S. Fanny Simon, "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism in South America,"
Hispanic American Historical Review, XXVI (Feb. 1946), pp. 38-59. On
anarchism in general see James Joll, The Anarchists (Boston, 1964); on
George Sorel and syndicalism see, for example, Michael Curtis, Three
Against the Third Republic (Princeton, 1959), especially pp. 254-262.

Peter H. Smith, Argentina and the Failure of Democracy. Conflict
Among Political Elites, 1904-1955 (Madison, 1974), p. 31. Smith found
that only about 8 percent of the Socialists in the Chamber of Deputies
between 1916 and 1930 were of "aristocratic" background, in contrast
to 73 percent of the Conservatives, for example.

Solberg, Immigration and Nationalism, p. 109.

Jeronimo Remorino, ed., Anales de legislaci6n argentina, III
(Buenos Aires, 1954), p. 560.

Marotta, Movimiento sindical, II, pp. 25-35 and 41.

Ibid, p. 39; l.a Nacion, Nov. 17, 1909; Caras Caretas, Nov. 20,
1909; Solberg, Immigration and Nationalism, pp. 122-123.

La Protest, Jan. 19 and 26, 1910.

Santiago Rusinol, Esquella de la Torraxa (n.p., n.d.), no page
number given, quoted by Marotta, Movimiento sindical, II, p. 72, foot-
note 1.

Charles Warren Currier, Lands of the Southern Cross. A Visit to
South America (Washington, D.C., 1911), pp. 105-106.

Jose R. Romariz, La semana trigica. Relato de los hechos
sangrientos del afo 1919 (Buenos Aires, 1952), p. 170. On the civilian-
led repression of May 1910, see Marotta, Movimiento sindical, II,
pp. 69-79; Caras y Caretas, May 14, 1910; and Enrique Dickmann,
Recuerdos de un militant socialist (Buenos Aires, 1949), pp. 185-188.
The information on persons who participated in the repression comes
from the biographical sources listed separately in the bibliography.
Unless otherwise noted, all biographical information in the text
comes from these works.

Leonardo Senkman, "Primer hito: de 'La Bolsa' a la Semana
Trigica," Nueva Presencia, July 9, 1977.

Currier, Southern Cross, p. 129.

Marotta, Movimiento sindical, II, pp. 77 and 81; Solberg,
Immigration and Nationalism, p. 114; Remorino, Anales, III, pp. 787-
789; Simon, "Anarchism," p. 44; Dickmann, Recuerdos, pp. 188-189.

Simon, "Anarchism," p. 46; Spalding, Clase trabajadora, p. 88.

Spalding, Clase trabajadora, pp. 449-496 (containing a descrip-
tion of and documents related to the strike); Scobie, Buenos Aires,
pp. 156-158.

On rural conditions and the strike see Silvio Spangemberg, "El
conflict agrario del sud de Santa Fe," Boletin del Museo Social
Argentino, I (1912), pp. 522-531; Carl Solberg, "Rural Unrest and
Agrarian Policy in Argentina, 1912-1930," Journal of Interamerican
Studies and World Affairs, XIII (Jan. 1971), pp. 18-27. Also see
Pldcido Grela, El grito de Alcorta (Rosario, 1958).

Repiblica Argentina, Tercer censo, V (1919), pp. 837-838.

Germani, Politica y sociedad, p. 205.


James R. Scobie, Argentina, A City and a Nation (New York,
1964), p. 190.

Ibid; Solberg, Immigration and Nationalism, p. 125.

On the U.C.R. see Julio Godio, ed., La revoluci6n del 90
(Buenos Aires, 1974); Peter G. Snow, Argentine Radicalism: The History
and Doctrine of the Radical Civic Union (Iowa City, 1965); Rock,
Politics in Argentina.

On Yrigoyen see Manuel Galvez, Vida de Hip6lita Yrigoyen --
el hombre del misterio (2nd ed.; Buenos Aires, 1939); and Felix Luna,
Yrigoyen, el templario de la libertad (Buenos Aires, 1954).

Ezequiel Gallo (h.) and Silvia Sigal, "La formaci6n de los
partidos politicos contemporaneos: al U.C.R. (1890-1916)," in
Argentina, sociedad de mass, ed. by Torcuato S. Di Tella, Gino Germani,
Jorge Graciarena, and collaborators (2nd ed.; Buenos Aires, 1965),
pp. 162-169. The U.C.R. leaders had a high degree of acquired status
and a low degree of ascriptive status; they were not tied to the
political elite kinship network.

Jorge Abelardo Ramos, Revoluci6n y contrarrevoluci6n en la
Argentina, III (3rd ed.; Buenos Aires, 1970), pp. 117 and 168-169.

Romero, Political Thought, p. 218.

On the P.D.P. and the election of 1916 see Botana, Orden
conservador, pp. 315-336; Oscar Cornblit, "La opcidn conservadora en la
political argentina," Desarrollo Econ6mico, XIV (Jan.- kr. 1975),
pp. 624-628; Ibarguren, La historic, pp. 279-294. See also Lisandro
De la Torre, Campaas presidenciales, in Obras, ed. by Radl Larra, V
(Buenos Aires, 1952), pp. 89, 102-103, 107-109.

Oscar Cornblit described the Liga del Sur in "Inmigrantes y
empresarios en la political argentina," in Los fragments del powder:
de la oligarquia a la poliarquia argentina, ed. by Torcuato S. Di Tella
and Tulio Halperin Donghi (Buenos Aires, 1969), pp. 422-423, 430, 434.


La Nacion, Sept. 11, 1915; Ibarguren, La historic, pp. 286-
287; Ezequiel Gallo (h.) and Roberto Cortes Conde, Argentina, la
republica conservadora (Buenos Aires, 1972), p. 230.


Argentine citizens of the 1870's would have found it difficult to

recognize their country in 1914, particularly Buenos Aires and the

littoral region. Rapid economic development had changed the nation's

face, not only by galvanizing agricultural production but by stimulating

immigration, urbanization, and industrialization and thereby restruc-

turing society. Problems had accompanied these changes, primary

among them being the "social question": the desire of the masses to

improve their living and working conditions and to participate more

actively in the decision making which affected their lives. For the

middle class, this generally meant striving to enlarge the political

system so as to include its members, who then would be able to bargain

for increased access to the universities and the public employment

sector and for measures favoring urban consumers. But the main

component of the social question was the situation of the proletariat.

Like the middle class, many laborers also wanted to be included in a

broader political system, but their principal aim was to secure

economic concessions from their employers and eventually some control

over production. The latter's hostility to their demands convinced

many workers that the conflict between them and the capitalists formed

part of a historically determined class struggle taking place throughout

the world.

The political class found ways of dealing with the proletariat,

whose radicalism was partly a product of the former's obduracy. Under-

lying its measures of repression and cooptation was a belief in the

legitimacy of the class hierarchy and the need to maintain it. Indeed,

it was only natural for its members to venerate a social system which

had evolved over centuries, one with which they were familiar and one

from which they benefited. It was understandable for individuals with

a stake in the established order to accept that order as given and, if

unsatisfied with that order, to bring about changes within it rather

than tear it down completely. Normally most people remain unconscious

of making the decision to embrace the system or reject it. However,

in times of crisis, this belief in the status quo becomes explicit,

as when vigilantes attacked labor radicals in May 1910 to the cry of

"Long live the bourgeoisie!" Other groups would openly manifest this

view in 1919. Except during the centennial, in the prewar period this

belief generally remained implicit and often found expression in words

and deeds which at first glance may appear contradictory or unrelated

to the issue of class structure. In this chapter I will trace diverse

manifestations of this belief in the status quo, as well as different

opinions on the best ways of maintaining it. These elements were

merging into what may be called an ideology of order, or more speci-

fically, of social control.1 This ideology represented the extent to

which Argentine liberalism, challenged by social and political pres-

sures, had become defensive and conservative rather than progressive

and innovative.

One of the main strands of the ideology of social control was

the changing view of immigration.2 According to Argentine liberals

throughout much of the nineteenth century, the task of economic

development required an intelligent, hard-working labor force. In

addition, the stability of a republican government, even one which

largely eliminated popular involvement, demanded discipline on the

part of the masses and obedience to authority. Through its allegiance

to the caudillos, its gaucho mode of existence, and its displays of

violence, the dark-skinned Latin population had seemingly demonstrated

its inherent ignorance, laziness, and barbarism, characteristics
which scarcely qualified it to help modernize the country. To the

liberals, fulfillment of their economic and political ideals therefore

required europeanization.

Sarmiento, Alberdi, and others hoped for an influx from north-

western Europe (although northern Italians and northern Spaniards

were also acceptable to Alberdi), but only a minority of the immigrants

who arrived after 1860 were the preferred Englishmen, Frenchmen, Swiss,

Germans, and so on. The vast majority included Italians, Spaniards,

and even Russian Jews. As this situation became clear, critics of

immigration arose, even from within the ranks of its original

supporters. Another cause for dissatisfaction was the fact that as

time went by, the newcomers preferred to settle in the cities rather

than the countryside. One of the most important factors in their

decision was the difficulty in acquiring their own property under the

existing land tenure system. Rather than assume the unrewarding burdens

of rural laborers or tenant farmers, many immigrants chose to seek

employment in the urban areas. Agrentine commentators usually over-

looked the causes of this situation and instead blamed foreigners

for their lack of agricultural skills, their laziness, and their

parasitismm." This criticism became harsher as the urban middle and

lower classes became more immigrant in origin.

After the turn of the century another factor evolved which would

influence Argentine views of immigrants and class the growing

importance of foreign affairs and national defense issues. In 1898

and again in 1901, boundary disputes between Argentina and Chile

threatened to escalate into full-scale war. Eager to improve the state

of the nation's defenses and determined not to capitulate to Chile,

people throughout Argentina held public assemblies, practiced target-

shooting, and set up local volunteer militias. These diverse groups

joined together under the title of Liga Patri6tica Nacional and included

not only prominent citizens and their sons but also members of immigrant

communities. In an editorial entitled "The Nation of Immigrants,"

La Prensa praised foreigners for their contribution to Argentine life

and their loyalty to their new homeland, noting that they had been

indistinguishable from the native-born in the recent patriotic meetings.

The immigrant was a superior being "who in body and soul belongs to

the adopted fatherland, seat and origin of his fortune and fatherland

of his children." Out of immigrant families would come young Argentine

citizens, swelled with national pride, who would volunteer in droves

to fight their country's enemies. Blessed with these potential

recruits, the Argentine civilization was superior to the Chilean, for

unlike the latter, it did not have to depend on a German-trained

professional army for its protection.4

The Liga Patri6tica Nacional resolved to stimulate citizen

defense efforts and interest in foreign affairs, convince the govern-

ment to take steps to re-establish Argentine influence on the

continent, lobby for increasing the size of the navy and army, and

inspire respect and love among the population for the armed forces.

Considering the sizeable immigrant involvement in the Liga noted by

La Prensa, one of its other objectives was puzzling: to strengthen

the ties of immigrants to their adopted homeland and to stimulate

naturalization.5 Apparently the foreigners' displays of patriotic

sentiment had not convinced Liga leaders of their sincerity. Instead

they noted the low rate of naturalization, as had Sarmiento years

before, and concluded that a large body of unincorporated foreigners

might in the future constitute a danger to the nation, especially

in times of external crisis. However, the obstacles toward becoming

a citizen and the disadvantages it entailed were not removed; immi-

grants, by and large, retained their foreign citizenship.

The potential inner threat to national defense continued to pre-

occupy some Argentine intellectuals and leaders, particularly with the

rise of the labor movement. Class conflict in itself represented a

danger, for it would divide the nation and weaken its resistance to

attack. Moreover, many leftists opposed fighting for their country

against the workers of other countries, or simply were pacifists. The

Socialists' stand against militarism, obligatory military service, and

military expenditures roused nationalistic ire. On the eve of

World War I, one Argentine general wrote an article criticizing the

party's views. The Socialists, he noted, objected to what they

considered the Argentine army's imitation of the Prussian model and

yet, paradoxically, they applied a European theory of class struggle

to a country bereft of capital, industry, and inhabitants, so unlike

the continent. Like the Socialists, the author did not wish for war,

but he believed that only the threat of force, not "progress" or

universal benevolence, could prevent it. Moreover, despite Socialist

rhetoric, the army represented no danger to Argentine civil tradition;

if all male citizens served in it, it could not possibly threaten the

nation, for it was the nation. He maintained that the Socialists

did not want to weaken the military out of sheer irrationality, but

out of a desire to protect their interests. As the army was the only

organization which society could pit against the revolutionary masses,

it was natural that the Socialists did all they could to debilitate

it. For this reason they also lashed out against the military spirit

and all manifestations of vitality, order, discipline, and cohesion.6

Clearly, to the author the left was antinational. He demonstrated

this belief later on, when he led the Revolution of 1930 and became

provisional president. His name was Jos6 F. Uriburu.

Meanwhile, as the centennial approached, Brazil replaced Chile

as the principal foreign opponent. The rivalry between Brazil and

Argentina dated back to the colonial period, but at this time the

growing friendship between the former and the United States and the

naval armaments race between the two South American powers exacerbated

it. Many Argentines came to see Brazil as their natural enemy in-

deed, the natural enemy of all Spanish American nations not only

because of its strategic interests but because of differences in

culture, language, and racial composition. The racial contrast

between the Brazilian population, with its sizeable proportion of

blacks and mulattos, and the preponderance of whites in Argentina,

assumed great significance at a time when racial theories were in


Racism became popular among Argentine intellectuals, who were

familiar with the latest European currents of thought and were impressed

with the works of Chamberlain, De Gobineau, Le Bon, and others. They

combined racist, social Darwinist, and imperialist ideas to formulate

a doctrine of Argentine manifest destiny. In their opinion the

Argentine "race," by virtue of its whiteness, was biologically superior

to those which surrounded it, the Chilean mestizos, the Bolivian and

Paraguayan Indians, the Brazilian blacks and mulattos. Argentines

would have to fulfil their proper destiny as the supreme race in the

continent. The main organ for these beliefs was the Revista de

Derecho, Historia y Letras, and it is not surprising that its editor,

Estanislao S. Zeballos (also foreign minister under Roque Saenz Peia),

and one of its main contributors, Manuel Carlds, became prominent

members of the Liga Patridtica Argentina.

Accompanying this racist and social Darwinist trend was an attempt

to revindicate the Argentine cultural heritage and, in particular, its

Hispanic roots. It was around this time that some historians and

essayists began to react against the liberal historians' view of the

past, against Sarmiento's "Civilization versus Barbarism" dichotomy.

The city no longer seemed the image of progress; instead it presented

the spectacle of crime, disease, congestion, filth, and prostitution.

Some intellectuals blamed foreigners for these conditions (which,

ironically, hurt foreigners the most) and in addition for not having

uplifted Argentine political conduct. The contradiction between

the latter attitude and the fact that most of them, as members of the

political class, favored minority rule, did not evidently occur to

them. At any rate, viewed with hindsight the gauchos and caudillos

no longer seemed as worthy of condemnation as they had before.

Symptomatic of these new perspectives were the revisionist works

on Juan Manuel de Rosas, in which authors such as Ernesto Quesada

judged the Dictator more objectively than had previously been the


The gaucho and the Hispanic past found their greatest defenders

in the cultural nationalists. Lured by the cultural attractions of

the great metropolis, this new generation of writers had left their

native provinces after 1900 for Buenos Aires. The bella 6poca of the

capital the luxury, the cosmopolitanism, the urban blight, and

nascent lower-class radicalism repelled them and aroused their

nostalgia for the interior and for bygone days. Manual Galvez,

Ricardo Rojas, Leopoldo Lugones (after his initial Socialism and

anarchism had faded), and others rejected the previous generation's

arguments for immigration and stressed the native contribution to

national culture. But their reasoning proved to be as racist as

that of their predecessors, except that now the tables were turned;

they denounced foreigners in harsh terms once reserved for describing

criollos and saved all their praise for the latter.

Of the cultural nationalists, Gdlvez in particular deplored what

he saw as the inherent utilitarianism, materialism, and skepticism

of the immigrants, which the latter had supposedly injected into

Argentine life. To govern no longer meant to populate but to

Argentinize. Argentina could not and should not expel the immigrants

who had helped build the country, but it would have to absorb them

completely. Assimilation would only be one way; the national culture -

Hispanic, Catholic, idealistic would temper the character of the

immigrants, not the other way around. The soul of the "race" and

Argentine spirituality would be preserved and strengthened over the

opposition of fanatic Hispanophobes, who included anticlericals, normal

school teachers (still under Sarmiento's influence!), and mulattos,

whose hatred for Spain was "the hatred of the dark for the white."9

The cultural nationalists defined the Argentine character in terms

relevant to traditional society terms which did not threaten the

existing order. In an ironic about-face from Sarmiento's position,

the hitherto-reviled gaucho was now viewed as a model for the masses

to follow. Loyal and obedient to his employer, content with his

station in life and indifferent to self-advancement, opposed to thrift,

rational behavior, and planning, the cultural nationalists' idealized

version of the gaucho was the perfect antithesis of the successful
foreign-born entrepreneur and the labor activist alike.

The attempts of lower-class immigrants to assimilate met

relatively little resistance from their native counterparts. At the

same time, the former tended not to identify strongly with their

countries of origin. The wealthier immigrants, on the other hand,

tended to feel strong ethnic and national loyalties and sensed the

cultural differences between themselves and native Argentines,

particularly when these differences were reinforced by criollo upper-

class scorn and discrimination. Throughout the nineteenth and early

twentieth centuries, a significant number of prominent immigrants,

mostly of British, French, German, Belgian, and Swiss background,

succeeded in gaining admittance to the upper class. However, the

latter sought to exclude many prosperous foreign businessmen from

its ranks, particularly the more recent arrivals from southern and

eastern Europe and the Middle East. Leading intellectuals cited the

latter's assumed materialism, garishness, and cultural inferiority as

reasons for such discriminatory action, although as far as garishness

was concerned, it would have been difficult to outdo many native-born

estanciero families.11

Excluded from many prestigious circles, foreign entrepreneurs

turned back to their ethnic communities to occupy leadership positions

and help strengthen ethnic social institutions. However, cultural

nationalists also found these actions alarming. According to such

critics, foreign "cultural exclusivity" threatened to undermine the

national culture and loyalty to the national flag. They failed to

acknowledge the difficulties involved in becoming a citizen (and the

lack of incentives for doing so) or the fact that immigrants created

mutual aid societies, hospitals, libraries, and private schools partly

in order to fill needs the government did not satisfy. Although

ethnic groups often resided in certain barrios or conventillos, the

rural immigrant colonies were regarded as isolated pockets of alien

culture and thus as the greatest dangers to the homeland. The schools

within these immigrant colonies, and in particular the Jewish schools,

became a focus of controversy.

For many years education had been an important issue for the

political class. The liberal political elite had viewed it as a means

of national consolidation and enlightenment of the masses. This was

the reasoning behind the famous law of 1884 which established a public

network of obligatory, free, and secular primary schools. Catholic

religious instruction was eliminated from the obligatory program

because it was identified with backwardness and because it seemed to

interfere with the educational system's goal of instilling allegiance

to the nation and to the reigning ideal of progress. In addition

liberals claimed that it would not please the Protestant immigrants

who they hoped would flock to Argentine shores.

After the beginnings of mass immigration, public secular education

was intended to fuse the children of native Argentines and foreigners

into one nationality. By stressing Argentine history, geography,

literature, and customs, by offering these subjects only in Spanish,

by repeatedly drilling students on patriotism and teaching them national

songs, the schools would Frustrate the attempts of some ethnic groups

to preserve their languages and traditions and would furthermore combat

radicalism. Immigrants would adopt the "national values" and national

symbols (such as the gaucho) presented by the schools which signified

that they would accept the hierarchical class structure. According to

one foreign visitor in 1912, Argentine schools were dominated by

nationalist preoccupations.12

The schools in immigrant colonies seemed to remain outside the

community of national values which cultural nationalists were eager

to create. They charged that in these schools foreign-born teachers

taught in foreign languages and imparted no knowledge of the country

they inhabited. Sarmiento had already pointed out this problem in a

series of articles on the Italian schools in Argentina, written in

1881, where he noted that they "Italianized" their pupils and impeded

the formation of Argentine citizens and of a national culture.13 Fol-

lowing this line of thought was Ricardo Rojas, possibly the most

influential of the cultural nationalists. In his seminal work, La

restauracion nacionalista (1909), he charged that the private (ethnic)

schools in Argentina had served as agents of "national dissolution." He

described them as colonialist or imperialist institutions which attacked

the Argentine nationality, especially its essential elements of

language and national character, and which obscured the source of the

classic republican virtues. The Argentine government would have to

reclaim the schools on its soil so that they would serve the nation

under its control, but Rojas recognized that this would be a difficult


A half century of cosmopolitanism in the popu-
lation, of European capitalism in business enter-
prises, of abdications in political thought, of
Encyclopedism in the public school and interna-
tionalism in the private school, do not favor
.the diffusion of nationalist ideas.

And yet the reassertion of nationalism, beginning in the schools, was

urgently required, for Argentina faced constant humiliation. Jewish and

British capitalists considered Argentina their colony, and the Italians

were beginning to view it the same way, while other Europeans did not
even know where the nation was located.

Rojas insisted that the restoration of nationalism did not signify

liturgical patriotism, unequivocal hostility to anything foreign, the

reimplantation of gaucho customs or of old economic and social forms.

When he wrote this book he probably did not recognize its conservative

and chauvinistic implications, but other men seized upon his cultural

nationalism to justify the existing social structure. Years later,

Rojas fled from the consequences of his ideas, asserting that his aim

had been to incorporate the nationalism, freedom, and individual of the

gaucho into a new form of liberalism appropriate for Argentine circum-

stances, one which would protect Argentine economic interests and

insist that profits earned by foreign capital be kept within


Even a relatively progressive nationalist like Rojas, however,

saw the Jewish schools as the worst offenders against national unity.

Although Jews had lived in the area since the colonial period, their

number was small until the 1880's, when the great pogroms in Russia

forced that country's Jewish inhabitants to consider emigration. In

order to help relocate the victims of these persecutions and return

his co-religionists to the soil, the German financier and philanthro-

pist Baron Maurice Hirsch established the Jewish Colonization Associa-

tion (JCA). The JCA set up agricultural colonies in Entre Rios,

Santa Fe, western Buenos Aires, and eastern La Pampa. After 1891

thousands of Russian Jews settled in these colonies, while others

became artisans, workers, storeowners, and small industrialists in the

cities. Meanwhile, Jews from other areas also emigrated to Argentina,

but in 1909 most of the 35,950 Jews in the country were still of Russian

origin, and 19,360 of them lived in the JCA colonies.16

Charges of separatism and other sins were not new to Jewish ears;

such criticism had been disseminated throughout Argentina since before

the arrival of the Russian immigrants. In the 1880's a French newspaper

in Buenos Aires reproduced the anti-Semitic arguments of Edouard Drumont

for its porteno readers. La Naci6n praised Jewish accomplishments in

the arts, sciences, and business and did not oppose Jewish immigration

per se, but it criticized proposed plans for organized Jewish coloniza-

tion in the interior. The editors predicted that the Jews would not

adapt themselves to Argentine conditions and would form an isolated

enclave. Their opinions reflected those of the founder of La Naci6n,

Bartolomd Mitre, who had opposed agricultural colonies based on one

ethnic group as well as Jewish immigration.17

More significant was Julian Martel's widely-read novel, La Bolsa,

set during the boom years of the 1880's and the crash which followed.

Writing in 1890, when few Jews resided in the country, Martel nonethe-

less blamed the corruption and the financial disaster on Jewish avarice.

His villains were unsavory Jewish financiers and businessmen who, he

believed, formed part of international Jewish capitalism and the

unwitting non-Jewish Argentines who were their dupes. Martel completely

ignored the interests which had profited the most from the speculation

and rampant inflation before 1890 the native landowners and the

British investors. In this manner he found a scapegoat (the ubiquitous

Jew) and avoided criticizing the socioeconomic system which was at

fault. Indeed, he defended the landed class and distinguished "good"

capital from "evil": respectively, the constructive and benign British

influence, and the Jewish monopolizing instinct, which sought to

corrupt and control all of society. In other words, capitalism in

itself was not bad, only "Jewish captialism"; the Nazis later would

agree with him. La Bolsa contained all the contradictory tenets of

radical anti-Semitism. The Jews were capitalists, yet they also were

socialists; they formed separate enclaves, but they penetrated all

groups and sectors of society; they were bold and cowardly at the same

time; they were "rootless" and international in orientation and yet for

some obscure reason had chosen Argentina as a center of operations.

In general, Martel attributed all Argentine problems to Jews, immi-

grants, and the weakening of the Argentine "race" brought about by

cosmopolitanism, greed, and intermarriage with foreigners. In doing

so he foreshadowed later pronouncements of cultural nationalists.

Despite its irrationalism and virulent racism, or perhaps because of

it, La Bolsa was and remains immensely popular among Argentine


Rojas did not share Martel's violent attitudes toward the Jews

and did not attack them for their alleged venality or economic prowess.

Nevertheless, his viewpoint illustrated the fact that anti-Semitism

in twentieth-century Argentina may have owed as much to liberal thought

as it did to Catholic, if not more. His remarks on the Jews in

La restauraci6n nacionalista were inspired by a newspaper campaign in

1908 against the JCA schools in Entre Rios and the province of

Buenos Aires. La Prensa and La Naci6n, as well as Argentine educational

authorities, charged that the JCA schools emphasized Hebrew and Jewish

studies to the exclusion of Spanish and Argentine subjects. After his

investigation of the Entre Rios schools, Ernesto Bavio, an inspector

for the national board of education, declared that they were agents of

foreignization, as none of the JCA teachers knew Spanish. La Prensa

blamed the JCA rather than the Jewish immigrants, claiming that the

organization administered the schools and ruled the colonies as if the

latter belonged to it, rather than to Argentina.19

Rojas added to the controversy by stating that while in principle

the Jewish schools were no different from those of other immigrant

communities, in actuality they posed additional dangers to the nation.

If they did not owe allegiance to another nation, they did, however,

serve a "nomadic Church and a theocratic family," the latter of which

would be difficult to incorporate into Argentine life, as criollo

families were Catholic or nonreligious. By inculcating its students

with Jewish learning, the schools fostered a sense of separatism in

first-generation Argentines, who as a result chose to be Jews rather

than Argentines "in complete communion with the people and the soil"

of their birthplace. This separatism could inspire anti-Jewish feeling

among native Argentines, ending the spirit of religious and political

tolerance which until then, according to Rojas, had characterized the


One could criticize these remarks on a variety of grounds, the

first being that they did not coincide with the facts. One could not

fault Rojas, a patriotic citizen of a young country with a heterogeneous

population, for being concerned about national unity and identity. But

he missed the real heart of the education problem: not whether the

immigrant schools were antinational, but whether the public school

system was equipped to serve the masses of immigrants, some of whom

had settled in zones newly opened to settlement. In general, few

public schools existed in the countryside and even fewer in frontier

areas, and the provinces of Entre Rios and Santa Fe, where most of the

Jewish colonies were located, could not afford to build more. The

JCA schools were established in a void; for this reason, they often

received Christian pupils and the support of local governments.

Education officials in Entre Rios refuted Bavio's findings (and even

claimed that he never came to their province) and praised the efforts

of the JCA educational system to "Argentinize" its pupils, as did some

federal authorities. While the quality of Jewish education as far as

Spanish and Agentine culture was concerned -- was not the highest, it

usually met minimal standards. To have ignored these subjects and

encouraged separatism would have contradicted the JCA's assimilationist

goals. That the Jews were being absorbed into Argentine rural life was

the theme of Alberto Cerclunoff's popular Los gauchos judios (1910).

Still, the separatist stereotype persisted, and the JCA decided to

hand over its schools to local boards of education in 1914.2

Rojas' statements wcre also objectionable for reasons other than

purely factual. To him, Jews were essentially rootless beings who had

migrated from country to country without forming ties to any. They

reserved their allegiance for their religion and ethnicity, an

allegiance strengthened by their schools, endogamous marriage patterns,

and family life. Being a Jew meant holding this loyalty above all

other sentiments, including patriotism, which, at any rate, the

"wandering Jew" was not accustomed to feeling. Rojas believed that

one could not be a Jew and an Argentine at the same time; one had to

choose between them. He did not seem to recognize that his price for

assimilation was rejecting one's religion, or that pluralism could

coexist with national unity. Evidently only Catholics, Protestants,

or nonbelievers could be Argentine, because their religious identity

(or lack thereof) would not compete with their nationality.

Mien Rojas said that there had been no anti-Semitism in the past,

he was naive. In fact, a strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism pro-

bably unconscious lurked beneath his own words, as when he blamed

Jews for provoking anti-Jewish sentiments. Although economic considera-

tions did not form an important theme of his work, they were present,

and sometimes they were coupled with remarks on Jews, as when Rojas

referred to "Jewish and British capitalists," or when he noted that

"except for the Jewish banker, abroad . they do not even know where

the Argentine Republic is."22 These comments were only peripheral to

the main threads of the argument; nonetheless they suggest a viewpoint

not that distant from Martel's, one in which Jews and finance were

commonly linked. The author's concern for protecting Argentine economic

interests against foreign competition has already been cited. To

consider "Jewish finance" deleterious to the nation and to perceive

the struggle against it as one and the same as the struggle against

foreign capital required several additional leaps which Rojas never

made, but others later did. La restauracidn nacionalista illustrated

one of the principal shortcomings of Argentine liberalism, one which

would carry over into right-wing thought: the desire to forge a firm

national identity without tolerating any deviation from the norm. In

general, many of the ingredients of counterrevolution were already

present in his work.

Other liberals and even the Socialist leader Justo held views

similar to those of Rojas on Jewish separatism.23 However, not all

non-Jewish intellectuals or even all the cultural nationalists coincided

in these beliefs. A significant but temporary exception (he was rarely

content to remain in any position for too long) was Leopoldo Lugones.

As this contradictory poet and essayist played an important role in

future counterrevolutionary groups, it is worthwhile to linger on his

introduction. Lugones was born in 1874 in northwestern C6rdoba, of

an old upper middle-class family which lost its land and economic

security in the depression of 1890. Out of necessity young Lugones

went to work in the local government, thus initiating a long career

in the public bureaucracy. Somehow he reconciled his livelihood with

his lifelong distaste for the bourgeoisie and for government: first,

as a Socialist, he despised class rule; as an anarchist, any rule

whatsoever; as an aristocratic liberal, rule of the masses; finally,

as an admirer of fascist and military dictatorships, civilian rule.

Other constants were his anticlericalism, his aestheticism, his social

Darwinism, and his individualism. His faith in the individuals who

composed the masses evolved into exaltation of the superior man or

men who led them. Belief in the self-determination of all evolved into

a justification of the unhindered liberty of the few who merited it.24

In the Jewish newspaper Vida Nuestra, Lugones defended the Jewish

schools and insisted that the campaign against them, just as all other

anti-Semitic attacks, had originated in a set of falsehoods. The so-

called "Jewish question," he asserted, was not the creation of the

Jews per se but of fanatics of all religions and of tyrants who

despised the Jews' love of freedom and persecuted them for it. The

Jews never formed attachments to the countries where they knew only

oppression, but they cherished the lands where they knew liberty. For

this reason there was no Jewish question in the United States or


Lugones' enlightened attitudes toward Jews, however, did not

prevent him from delivering a series of lectures in 1913, during his

aristocratic liberal phase, on the gaucho and how lie exemplified

the national character. He also defended the old elitist society by

attacking the democratic system and praising the political class for

having generously allowed it to come into existence against its own

interests.26 The popularity of these lectures, later published under
interests. The popularity of these lectures, later published under

the title of El payador, reflected the extent to which cultural

nationalism and intertwined xenophobic and antimodernist sentiments

had permeated the political class.

At the same time hostility against the largely foreign proletariat

was also growing; La restauraci6n nacionalista appeared during the

period of Falcon's assassination, labor disruptions, and violence

which led up to the centennial. The question of maintaining order in

the face of lower-class discontent preoccupied the political class.

Officially inspired repression was one answer; another was vigilante

action against the working class. But these alone did not neutralize

the labor movement and leftist groups. Some businessmen, political

leaders, clergymen, and intellectuals were also formulating other

possible solutions to the social question, ones which entailed

organization (of workers, employers, or both), limited recognition of

workers' rights, universal suffrage, economic nationalism, adherence

to Catholicism, and social welfare. These various schemes differed

markedly but did share one trait: opposition to the main goals of

the radical left an autonomous labor movement, the workers'

appropriation of the means of production, and the creation of a

classless society.

One of these envisioned solutions was mobilizing businessmen

and factory owners in defense of their interests against workers. By

organizing, these groups responded not only to practical necessity

but to ideological imperative. Their world view, buttressed by their

economic positions, influenced them to visualize human beings as

individuals rather than classes, as in the case of the proletariat.

Of course they saw distinctions between men; some were more qualified

to assume high responsibilities than others. That was why workers

were at one end and owners at the other end of the scale. Until

recently, relations between employers and laborers had been harmonious,

according to the entrepreneurial viewpoint. The former were free to

hire and fire workers and to set working conditions. If laborers were

unsatisfied, or if they faced hardships, they sought aid from the

patron. But now things had changed. Under the influence of foreign

ideas, the workers believed that their interests were directly opposed

to those of the capitalists and could only be achieved through

struggling together against the latter. Perhaps this was true in

Europe, thought the entrepreneurs, but in Argentina it was not the

case. Here the industries were young and insecure, beleaguered by

high costs, low tariff protection, and foreign competition. Labor

demands and strikes added to these costs and made it difficult to stay

in business. If industires and businesses shut down, the workers

would starve. Thus their natural interest coincided with that of the

employers: to sustain or raise production. If workers would accept

this fact, management would do its part by insuring equitable salaries,

since reaching its goal depended heavily on the workers' wellbeing.27

Many workers refused to recognize "reality," however; so employers

resolved to follow their example and organize their own unions.

The employers associations used any means at their disposal to

destroy the labor movement and create a situation in which they could

deal with the workers on an individual basis. Some of their methods

included simple nonrecognition of unions, lockouts, blacklisting

of union members, hiring strikebreakers and organizing them into

"yellow" unions. One employers association which carried on these

kinds of activities was the Sociedad Uni6n Protectora de Trabajo Libre,

founded in 1905 by six railroad companies and a group of maritime

firms. Since anarchist activities focused on the port, so did those

of the Sociedad, which soon spread to the ports of Rosario, Bahia

Blanca, and other cities. The Sociedad issued formal regulations on

the hiring, firing, and working conditions of the laborers who

constituted its pool of strikebreakers, available for use by member

firms. The Sociedad also provided its own internal arbitration

commissions and mutual aid facilities for laborers. Its principal

concern, however, was not insuring the welfare of its labor pool but

breaking strikes or, as the Sociedad put it, protecting "free labor.28

The Sociedad was the ancestor of another employers association, the

Asociaci6n Nacional de Trabajo. As in the case of the Sociedad,

representatives from maritime houses and suppliers for ships were

instrumental in setting up the Asociaci6n. The huge waterfront and

railroad strikes of 1917 and 1918, as well as the Russian revolution,

impelled the organization of maritime firms to conceive of a new body

to replace the Sociedad. This organization would be broader in scope

than the latter; it would defend the "industrial and commercial rights"

of all businesses, not only those associated with transportation and

the ports. Pedro Christophersen, a Norwegian estanciero, owner of a

shipping firm, and head of the stock exchange, presided over a meeting

held in May 1918 to consider the proposal. The assembled businessmen

resolved to create the Asociaci6n Nacional de Trabajo, which would be

composed of a junta led by the president of the stock exchange and

delegates from the main groups of commercial and industrial enterprises.

One of the Asociaci6n's principal aims would be to secure good salaries,

old age pensions, insurance against illness and injury, and general

improvements in "moral" and material standards for workers. Second on

the list of goals, but surely first in terms of priorities, was the

Asociaci6n's intention of protecting the employers' right to freely
hire and dismiss laborers.9 Although not mentioned at this time,

another important goal would be to lobby for business interests with

government officials.

In July 1918 the Asociaci6n was born. Among the founding members

were the shipping firms; five railroad companies; wool and grain

exporters; coastal shipping, port-carting, and consignees associations,

the local tram company and electric utilities; various organizations of

import-export firms and food-processing companies; the Uni6n Industrial

Argentina, and the Sociedad Rural Argentina. The Asociaci6n represented

the union of landed and business interests, for the elaboration and

export of agricultural products depended upon a compliant labor force

in the factories, railroad yards, and docks. After it issued formal

statutes, the Asociacion received juridical recognition from the

Yrigoyen government in December 1918.30

Before the formation of the employers associations, a social

movement with a somewhat related orientation had come into existence -

the Catholic. With the anticlerical measures of the 1880's, clerics

and laymen organized a movement in defense of Catholic rights and

principles which affected the social sphere as well. In 1882 a group

of Catholic intellectuals and statesmen founded the newspaper La

Uni6n to carry its campaign against laicism to portefo readers, while

several new Catholic papers took the same message to the provinces.

Catholic opposition to the restriction of Church privileges in

education and marriage crystallized in the press, in Congress, in a

newly-organized Catholic party the Uni6n Catolica, and in the

Asociaci6n Cat61ica de Buenos Aires. The latter had been in existence

since 1877, but the recent spurt of Catholic activism and its new

president, Jos6 Manuel Estrada, revitalized it. Some of its other

prominent members included Emilio Lamarca, Pedro Goyena, Tristan Achival

Rodriguez, and Santiago O'Farrell.31 Estrada, Goyena, and Lamarca have

already been introduced; Achival was a national deputy from C6rdoba,

and O'Farrell was the scion of an old, landed Irish-Argentine family

from Buenos Aires province. A lawyer, financier, and railroad execu-

tive, O'Farrell participated for many years in Irish, religious, and

political circles and became a national deputy and a member of the

Liga Paritica Argen a.32
Liga Patri6tica Argentina.


These and other activists gathered at the First National Congress

of Argentine Catholics in 1884 to decide on a variety of political

matters, including the formation of the Union Catolica. They did not,

however, neglect social issues. Even before the Congress the idea of

forming Catholic mutual aid societies for workers had been conceived,

but during the meetings it received additional support. Delegates

resolved to establish, among other things, local employment services

and "workers social circles" at the district or parochial level.33

The organization of these circles, however, did not really get under

way until the 1890's, when Father Federico Grote assumed charge of

this task.

Before discussing Grote's work, it would be useful to ask why the

Catholics manifested interest in the social question at this juncture,

before the major political parties did. Religious organizations are

devoted to the welfare of their flocks, but this devotion often has

been restricted to spiritual and not material welfare, although the

Church has always been involved in charitable activities. Social

Catholicism, or the worldwide movement concerned with the wellbeing

of the masses, was the Church's response to the challenges posed by

modernization, liberalism, the labor movement, and new leftist doc-

trines. Rationalization of agriculture, industrialization, and

urbanization had changed the landscape and social structure of much of

Europe and had created a glaring eyesore: a proletariat which lived

and worked in conditions akin to slavery. Meanwhile liberal governments

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