The Overstretched Superpower
Does America Have More Rivals Than It Can Handle?
THE political régime which now rules Argentina cannot accurately be called Communist, Nazi or Fascist. It is not an exclusively military dictatorship, nor is it one of the tyrannical civilian variety which has frequently occurred in American countries. What is important, however, is not the label given to a government by itself or its opponents, but an understanding of its essential characteristics. Let us look, then, behind the labels.
The government headed by Perón has characteristics which coincide in certain respects with those of Fascism, and in others with those of Communism and Nazism, as is natural enough since those three forms themselves have much in common. Like them, the Peronista régime is of course dictatorial and totalitarian, arbitrary and all-embracing, and it seeks and gains support by constantly exacerbating morbid nationalism and by creating xenophobia. Its most salient characteristic, however, the one that really distinguishes it from more or less similar governments, is the fiction that it is democratic. Perón counts heavily on this camouflage in his campaign of deception; he draws from it a large part of his capacity for survival; and in it, as we shall see, resides the principal danger which his régime creates. Sometimes this régime calls itself Peronismo, sometimes justicialismo, and originally laborismo. Within the terms of the unceasing camouflage, change of name is a tactical detail. Each is a phase of the "democratic fiction."
Nazism and Fascism shared a hatred for everything Anglo-Saxon and especially, of course, for the democratic institutions exemplified in Great Britain and the United States. That hatred provided the slogans of Mussolini and Hitler, and their wrathful voices found responsive echoes in distant communities which felt that they had accounts pending with the two Powers in question, or which harbored grudges against them. Among the areas or nations thus affected were the Asian and African colonies, Japan, Spain and parts of Latin America. The sympathetic responses there did not represent true adherences in principle to totalitarian dictatorship as a formula of government. Rather they were a shared resentment. The drawing power of the dictatorial banner was not that of a political concept, new or old, but of a common hatred for anything contributing to sustain the norms of democracy. Hatred is never in itself constructive, but it often serves as a motive for coalition.
After the collapse and defeat of Fascism and Nazism, the banner of hatred passed into the hands of Stalin. Stalinism is not simply and exclusively Communism or Marxism; it is, besides, basically chauvinistic. Little by little many of those in both hemispheres who years ago chorused the furies of Hitler and Mussolini are now accepting and supporting the preachments of Moscow. They dissimulate in varying degrees. But all follow the banner of hatred. Stalinism attracts them not because it is Marxist but because it is anti-Anglo-Saxon. On the Latin American scene the transmutation is very marked, for it is at this point that Peronismo most clearly conjoins with Nazism, Stalinism and Fascism. Hitler and Mussolini, however, like the Communists today, named names in their attacks. Peronismo does not. Its strategy is to disparage imperialism and capitalism as such; but those who know the language of the farce can recognize the countries referred to just as clearly as when the boss of Peronismo or one of his adherents says "Braden" or "Wall Street."
Fascism, Nazism and Stalinism attacked parliamentary democracy openly. They denied its virtues. Perón does something different: he affirms the virtues and asserts that his government is parliamentary and democratic. In 1949 he modified and deformed the democratic Constitution of 1853, but he did not dare disown it completely. He prefers simply not to observe it (even as "reformed"), all the time boasting of faithful compliance. He affects idolatry of the law and covers everything with the mantle of legality. To maintain the fiction of legality he relies upon submissive parliamentary majorities. In lieu of outright fraud at elections he obstructs the propaganda of his adversaries, persecutes them, and alters the electoral laws to regroup the voters in electoral districts to suit his convenience. Then, confident of the result, a few hours before the election he delegates his executive power to the chief of the Peronista Party and hands over custody of the electoral urns to the Army. In short, the anti-democratic procedures culminate in a fiction of meticulous legality.
Peronismo has, properly speaking, no political ideology. Peronismo is Perón, and he is not a man of principles, of ideas, but of ambition and resources. The resources are infinite, being unbounded by scruples or inhibitions. He confessed this in public, last January 5, to Argentina's recently promoted generals. In his speech on that occasion he described himself as conductor (leader) and asserted: "The leader leads; and if, in order to lead, he needs to make use of reliable measures, he should do so. What he must do is to lead his troops to victory." Hitler also preferred Führer to all other titles, and he concurred in the idea that the leader should not refrain from "reliable measures." However, unlike Hitler, Perón does not support any social doctrine. He seeks simply to maintain and prolong his power, and to that subordinates everything.
Only in this light can one understand the contradictions of the Peronista régime. Perón himself was never in the opposition. Before General Ramirez, President Castillo's Minister of War, helped carry out the coup d'état of June 4, 1943, and was placed at the head of the revolutionary government, Perón had been active only in the ministerial bureaucracy and in the barracks. Seeing, however, that the movement had no real chief, he set out with determination and astuteness to direct it from behind the scenes. He proved to possess not only more ambition but more capacity than any of his companions in arms and adventure, and soon was able to assume effective control. Generals Ramirez and Farrell, the heads of the provisional revolutionary government, were his puppets and he utilized them to the full in preparing for his election. He was wise enough not to wish to be President of the de facto government, a title in itself precarious and at the margin of the law. Already we see appearing, closely joined with the ambition for power, the attachment to the legal fiction as a means to power.
Instead of becoming President, Perón took over the Ministry of War and the Secretariat for Labor, which meant that he could not only keep an eye on the Army and the labor unions but would be in a position to pay court to them. With them in his hands, he was able to silence public opinion whenever it exerted pressure on the Government or cow the Government whenever it showed signs of acting independently. Of course he operated his marionettes secretly, and repeatedly denied that he was preparing his own presidential candidacy. On April 23, 1945, through the Under Secretariat for Information and the Press, he issued this emphatic public declaration: "I do not aspire to be President of the Republic, and I shall energetically oppose any efforts which may be made to present me as a candidate." In those same days, nevertheless, he was organizing a political fusion based on his candidacy.
To bolster the fiction, he withdrew from the Government toward the end of 1945, but needless to say without letting go of the wires that controlled the puppets. Then he petitioned the Government--rather, ordered it--to decree the payment of a month's wages at the end of 1945 as a bonus to all of the employees and workers in the country. That bounty, coming less than 60 days before the election, naturally proved a most influential and effective stratagem. Meanwhile, the entire electoral proceedings took place in a state of siege. This was lifted for 24 hours on February 24, 1946, the very day of the election. The same thing occurred on November 11, 1951. Fiction again--the last-minute fiction of normality.
Stalinism, Nazism and Fascism never allow any party but the official one. Under those totalitarian régimes, state, government and party merge in a single entity and come under a unified all-embracing command. Peronismo cannot openly go to that extreme. To decree and legalize the single party system would be publicly to confess totalitarianism, to disown democracy; and that is not yet possible in the Americas. Perón has always said that he is realistic, and in that he is right. The "democratic fiction" is indeed vital for his régime. By mimicking democracy he has succeeded in deceiving many, both within the country and abroad. Some cheerfully allow themselves to be deceived; many more are genuinely deceived or at least bewildered.
Even without proclaiming the single party, however, Perón's dictatorship finds ruses which in practice preclude the existence of any competitor to his own Justicialista Party. No other party, for example, can lease or otherwise procure a place for holding a political rally. How is this possible, when in the last election the opposition parties obtained 2,500,000 votes? The effective agent is fear. The owner of a place loaned or rented for such a purpose knows that he would be persecuted and the premises permanently closed.
Similarly, in the past six years no political party except the Peronista has managed to secure the use of the radio for any of its members during the campaign. The radio is exclusively for the Government and its cohorts. There are no exceptions. Similarly, no partisan press exists--save, of course, the Peronista press. The extremely few independent newspapers struggle along under arbitrary restrictions of all sorts, in daily fear of the mortal blow. The tiny remnant of a free press is permitted to continue because the fact of its existence suits the prevailing fiction.
There is no practical difference, then, between the situation in Argentina and that in countries where only the single government party is legal. The only difference is in theory; and this is important only because it helps Perón maintain the current "democratic fiction." Even when an opposition political party succeeds in electing legislators, as did the Radical Party, they are obstructed in their routine duties, brought to trial for anything they may say and can be divested of their parliamentary titles. Quite ingenuously, the vice-president of the Peronista bloc of national deputies offered last September a draft resolution forbidding Radical deputies from making any speeches at all.
So long as it can be given the semblance of legality no act is considered arbitrary, regardless of the methods by which the "law" came into being or is given effect. As an instance take the confiscation of the Buenos Aires newspaper La Prensa. This independent newspaper was delivered over to coreligionaries of the President of the Republic who in his name and under his instructions boss the General Confederation of Labor. Because this arbitrary act was authorized by a law of Congress, President Perón alleged that it was not in fact a coup de main. As he said repeatedly, "a law was complied with." What the Constitution does not permit is done in the name of a law adopted ad hoc.
Argentina has a national Congress and provincial legislatures; but there is no parliamentary immunity. It has elections; but it does not have freedom for campaigning. It has newspapers; but it does not have freedom of the press. It has judges; but there is no justice. The free expression of public opinion, democracy's cardinal virtue, indeed its raison d'être, has vanished. Adulation of the Government is free, and can--and must be--listened to. Analysis or criticism of the Government is not free, and cannot--and must not--be listened to. The hulk of democratic institutions exists, but not democracy. The automaton is not a man. What exists is deceit.
Not long ago, on November 15, 1951, President Perón gave a speech before some workers from South American countries who had been invited to Buenos Aires by the General Confederation of Labor and by the Government to witness the general elections of November 11. Perón told them: "We are proceeding toward the syndicalist state, the old dream of the human community. . . . I still maintain political forms because we are in the throes of evolution." Involuntarily, the fiction is admitted--"I still maintain" the forms! With greater truth he might have said "democratic" instead of "political" forms--but that would have let the cat out of the bag.
Even the reference to syndicalism is not valid; it is another fiction for the unionist audience. There can be no syndicalism without syndical autonomy, and in Argentina the syndicates are merely bureaucratic dependencies. At present they neither govern nor influence those who govern. The Government controls, through pseudo-syndicates. A triumvirate of ex-workers is at the head of the General Confederation of Labor, just as Generals Ramirez and Farrell were at the head of the Government from June 1943 to June 1946. The wires of the General Confederation of Labor (the C.G.T.) pass through the hands of the President's wife, but are manipulated directly and personally by the President.
The C.G.T. is the most important mechanism of the Government. It is the Government's real party. It is the executive arm for carrying out sanctions and persecutions. Not merely does it clench nearly the whole of the proletariat within its single fist. The variety of its functions is indicated by the fact that when generals, colonels and civilians were accused in the abortive revolution of September 28, 1951, it was the heads of the C.G.T. who carried out the arrests. In Argentina if the C.G.T. decides to punish a laborer he will thenceforth find no work. The police obey the C.G.T. The power of that organization is plenary.
In these circumstances, to call the C.G.T. a syndicalist body is as wrong as to class the Peronista Party as a political entity. Both are stage settings of the Argentine puppet-theater. But this is not to deny the C.G.T.'s effective social and political strength. Its orders are carried out in the farthest corner of the country--automatically, but whether eagerly or reluctantly is another matter. Over the radio it controls the thought of millions of men. No real syndicalist organization exists, but there does exist the power of the C.G.T., in the same fashion that though a government may not have public opinion in its favor its orders nonetheless are carried out. The psychological effect of the voice of command is extraordinary; governments make themselves obeyed even when they are discredited and ready to fall.
The universities of our continent and students of the political sciences should investigate and analyze the Argentine case, not in order to remedy it but to avoid its repetition in other American countries. The cure rests in the hands of the Argentine people themselves. But the possibility that the phenomenon may recur is of continental interest.
Political pathology is very similar in methods and aims to human pathology. In either case, the study of diseases requires that the origin, symptoms and possibility of extension or contagion of the illness be determined. From a distance, or in the absence of careful observation, it would certainly appear strange if not impossible that a régime so abnormal and violent as Peronismo should last in Argentina for more than five years. Before us, however, is the stark fact. From the seat of the Argentine Government, taken by assault, a type of totalitarian rule has been cumulatively strengthened--a rule which is new in our hemisphere--new, as has been pointed out above, for its painstaking hypocrisy rather than for its progressive violence.
The democratic fiction, the mimicry of democratic institutions, is the defensive cloak of the Peronista régime. Its modes of combat are bribery, lies and fear. It corrupts, deceives and intimidates. These three means have been used on the internal and external fronts; on the former they were effective, on the latter they were not.
Experience shows that lies, bribery and terrorism generally miscarry in international politics. Perón declared, and the statement is documented, that Mussolini made many smart moves and a few errors and that he, Perón, would not repeat the errors. In spite of studying the Duce firsthand in Italy, however, he forgot or failed to notice that the use of lies, bribery and terrorism on the international front failed Mussolini, and even Hitler.
To prevail even temporarily, the lie demands an environment in which there is no freedom of speech and press. Such an environment can be created in a national sphere, but it never becomes world-wide. The lie loses efficacy and disappears if faced with free information and subjected to free discussion and comparison with the truth.
There is not enough money available for bribery to gain full sway internationally; and in any case today's bribe-taker becomes tomorrow's enemy if instalments are not kept up. The money lavishly squandered by the Peronista régime in the Americas and Europe has given very meager results. Outside the borders of Argentina there are not ten newspapers of importance that sing Perón's praises or seek to justify his régime. As soon as he took office, General Perón hastily sent the Argentine Senator, Diego Luis Molinari, aboard the battleship Rivadavia on a propaganda mission around the American continent--to spread the good news of the Peronista apostolate and of its alleged democratic and Americanist faith. The ship's storerooms bulged with gifts ranging from tens of thousands of refrigerated turkeys to gold bracelets and packages of dollars. The hubbub caused by the mission ended along with the money and the presents. At one point billions of dollars were offered for establishing an international import-export bank in the Caribbean area under the aegis of Peronismo. The collapse of this ridiculous attempt at continental bribery wrote finis to the political career of the battleship's fantastic navigator.
And how can a government sow fear throughout the whole world? Hitler and Mussolini devoted themselves to frightening the two hemispheres, and their fate is well known. Perón is not apt to succeed where two such redoubtable protagonists have failed.
Unhappily, however, bribery, lies and fear implanted and implemented by a strong and determined government can be highly effective within a country where there is no freedom of opinion or the press, where the parliamentary function of enlightenment and control is nullified, and where justice has lost its independence and finds itself subservient to the government. In such an environment the big lie leads the way, bribery bears abundant fruit, and fear dissipates and annuls all individual efforts of will. A mere human being feels himself blind, deaf, abandoned.
In Argentina today every increase in salary or wages is obtained by an employee or laborer through the agency and grace of Perón. There is no other way of obtaining it. And the over-all increase, from 1946 to the present, represents many times the initial bonus of 1945. Periodic petitions are presented through the syndical officials, sometimes at weekly intervals, as if for a gift; and the Minister of Labor, the President or his wife makes the final decision. Out of each increase a sum proportionate to one month goes as a forced "donation" into the treasury of the Eva Perón Social Foundation--in addition to the several days' pay which also winds up in the same bank account every year. The Government, i.e. Perón, therefore emerges as a kind of Santa Claus disbursing funds among employees and workers.
Under the basic system of compensating salary increases with price increases, and vice versa, the Government keeps capital and workers in line and also plays up to them. In this sort of race both believe themselves victors. Only when one lives under a régime that forbids expression of public opinion does one realize how long the crudest frauds can go unrecognized.
In view of the continuous increase in prices, the employee and laborer still have a certain margin of advantage as a result of the freezing of rents since 1943. Of course Perón makes the most of this, besides emphasizing that he gives the working masses pay increases while allegedly combatting the rise in prices. Employees and laborers receive much more pay, in terms of pesos, than they did six years ago; and when they discover that their monthly earnings are losing their purchasing power they place the blame on the industrialists and merchants who raise prices. Then they run to Perón and get a pay increase. Thus there is a substantial reason why the masses play along with the régime. Other aspects of the vast problem they perceive with much difficulty and only very slowly. Meanwhile the cost of living reached 394.4 in May 1951, from an index of 100 in 1943, according to official statistics based on official prices--prices which in reality are largely exceeded despite the rent-freezing which was mentioned above.
The rise in the cost of living is indeed making alarming progress. Between August 1950 and the same month in 1951 it went from 299.9 to 448.6, or a rate of increase of 50 percent a year. The most recent indices have not been officially published, but it is known that they reveal a still more accelerated tempo. The inflation can be gauged by the following figures. Six months after the inauguration of Perón's Government (December 1946) the media of payment totaled 11 billion pesos in round numbers; in December 1951 the figure was 40 billion pesos. Between 1946 and 1951 the circulating medium rose from 2.7 to 14.5 billion. Bank credits, which in December 1945 came to 3.7 billion, exceeded 23.7 billion by the end of 1950.
If an Argentinian is able to stifle his moral and juridical principles he undoubtedly finds that to be a Peronista brings him great benefits, while to be an oppositionist carries major risks. In an exhortation to the Central Committee and regional delegates of the C.G.T. on August 9, 1950, in the Presidential residence at Olivos, General Perón summed the situation up crudely: "Let us be well aware of who are our friends and who are our enemies. Let us give all to the friend--and to the enemy nothing, not even justice." It was the President of a Republic with democratic institutions who spoke those words. And the worst of it is that his words precisely indicate what has taken place in the Republic since he became its leader.
"To the enemy nothing, not even justice." Consequently the jails are full of prisoners who have for years awaited the end of their trials, and the number of Argentine citizens in voluntary exile continues to mount. In connection with the attempted military uprising on September 28 of last year, many civilians and retired Army officers were arrested, confined in the penitentiary of Buenos Aires, and subjected to much harsher treatment than that undergone in the same prison by persons convicted of serious common crimes. Some were questioned by judges, others were not. All were locked up for at least two weeks incommunicado in cramped cells. They saw no one except a guard who was under orders not to talk; they were not allowed to have books, paper, pencil or spectacles. Under Argentine laws, and even in current practice, such complete and prolonged incarceration is quite new. After a further three months of somewhat relaxed imprisonment the prisoners were released, without any judicial condemnation ever having been handed down; they were released, as they had been arrested, without explanation.
To justify such excesses it was argued that the country finds itself "in an internal state of war according to legal stipulation." No such thing as "internal state of war," however, exists in the text of the Constitution. A law violating the Constitution is all that substantiates the fiction. Incarceration under such a provision also flagrantly violates the Declaration of Human Rights, signed by Argentina. In this regard the Declaration states: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." "Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law." "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile." "Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty." Nevertheless, political prisoners in Argentina have been treated worse than convicts and subsequently set free as innocent persons. Among them were ex-generals, university professors, writers, lawyers, doctors and journalists, all with distinguished careers in their country and many of them with international reputations.
Ever since just before the general elections of November--and no one knows for how much longer--the Argentine Government has taken over Calle Florida, in the city of Buenos Aires, for propagandizing its activities, all under the party label justicialista. This narrow, lively, commercial street of the port city, so full of tradition, has been converted into virtually a tunnel. Huge scaffoldings, bearing Peronista photographs, statistics, slogans and emblems, cover both sides of the street. The fronts of the tall buildings have disappeared behind the posters, and the whole length of the artery is draped with Argentine flags. The hundreds of shops lining the street have been obliged to offer their show-windows for displaying propaganda drawings and pictures of Perón and his wife.
This hideous and inflammatory propaganda tunnel, through which thousands constantly circulate, boxed in by eulogies of their oppressors and their official works, is a symbol of how the Argentine people live today. On all sides they can see only what the Government chooses to display to them. And at every hour of the day and night blaring loudspeakers repeat Peronista jingles, party songs and phrases from speeches by Juan and Eva Perón. It is the symbol of a régime which regulates what the people may see and hear, which makes them live in near darkness, a captive audience submerged in propaganda. The tunnel of the Calle Florida exemplifies what is happening in Argentina.