Argentine President Juan Domingo Perón with Chilean President Gabriel González Videla, 1947
Library of the Chilean National Congress

DURING World War II revolutions in Latin America resulted in the overthrow of governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama. Compared with earlier periods the number of revolutions was relatively small. Since the close of the war, however, the revolutionary tendency has reappeared with such vigor as to suggest that it may no longer be following the usual Latin American pattern. Recent events have excited apprehension in some quarters as to possible revolutionary developments in the entire area. Let us try to determine, then, what the Latin American pattern of revolution is; whether recent outbreaks do in fact conform to or deviate from it; and what the prospects are of continued revolutionary activity in the future.

Factors making for a violent change in the status quo exist in many parts of Latin America. Almost everywhere opulent minorities flaunt their riches before a "melancholy sea of illiterates." The wealthy few, who maintain estates of thousands of hectares, derive lucrative fees and commissions from foreign business firms and drive about in expensive American limousines, have little in common with the miserably underprivileged masses of the people, whose rôle throughout life is to serve as beasts of burden, shine the shoes of the upper class in the town plaza, or sell lottery tickets. It is difficult to name other areas of the world in which so few have so much and so many have so little. With the possible exception of Argentina, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay, the Latin American countries contain only an infinitesimally small middle class. The social ladder has only two rungs—the lowest and the highest. The low is very low, and the high is very high. The gap is so wide that those on the lowest rung can almost never reach the one above. However passionately Lazarus may desire to become Dives his chances of doing so by orderly processes are, except in rare cases, nil.

This basic class cleavage can be illustrated by a few figures. Approximately 90 percent of the national wealth of Colombia is controlled by 3 percent of the population. In Argentina, 15 families own one-tenth of the entire land area of Buenos Aires province, the wealthiest area in the country; and the same families have land holdings throughout the nation amounting to 7,000,000 acres. In Chile .3 percent of the total number of landed proprietors own more than 52 percent of all the farm land of the nation. In Venezuela, fewer than 3 percent of the landed proprietors own more than 70 percent of the land. In Mexico a similar concentration of land ownership, under which in 1910 only 1 percent of the Mexican people owned 70 percent of the country's arable land, was a powerful factor in causing the epochal revolution which broke out in that year.

The overwhelming majority of agricultural laborers in the 20 countries of Latin America, all of them agricultural, live under oppressive conditions of peonage, sharecropping, and in some cases even unconditional slavery. As the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States, Dr. Alberto Lleras Camargo, said recently: "There are millions of inhabitants without a home or an organized family life, without schools, without land, without even personal belongings. Their only risk in joining a revolutionary movement is the loss of the following day's wages." The people live constantly on the verge of starvation and in the shadow of death from disease. It was calculated in 1942 that whereas wage earners in the United States had to spend less than 38 percent of their income for food those in Brazil had to spend 48 percent, in Mexico 56 percent, in Argentina 60 percent, in Colombia almost 66 percent, and in Chile as high as 80 percent. Today these percentages are higher. As a result it is estimated that two-thirds of Latin America's approximately 145,000,000 people are physically undernourished and one-half of them suffer from either deficiency or infectious disease. Life expectancy ranges from a high of 47 years in a few areas to a low of less than 32 in Peru, compared with almost 63 years in the United States.

Since the end of World War II the basic social and economic maladjustments in Latin America have been seriously aggravated by cost-of-living developments. Of 13 Latin American countries for which even fairly reliable statistics are available, only one—Uruguay—showed in June 1948 a cost-of-living index figure—175— which was comparable to that of the United States—169—both calculated upon a 1937 base. In the other 12, living costs ranged upward to almost four and one-half times the prewar level, reaching 334 in Peru, 364 in Mexico and 437 in Chile. To meet these rising costs the normally marginal and submarginal groups who in most cases derived no benefits from wartime prosperity have received either no wage increases or increases which have not been commensurate with rising prices. At the time of the revolution against President Elie Lescot of Haiti, in January 1946, groups of workingmen were striking for an increase in their basic wage of six cents an hour. Many similar groups throughout Latin America, remembering the wartime promises of a more abundant life, and struggling with their present difficult living conditions, are resolving to live no longer in the shadows on the husks.

The complete rationale of revolution in Latin America is not simple. Unsatisfying, for example, is the explanation of F. García-Calderón that "both the Indian and the Spanish races which settled America were warriors, and their spirit explains the disorders in these republics." Equally unsatisfying is the jaundiced view expressed 30 years ago by the Argentine scholar, Carlos Octavio Bunge, that revolutions in Latin America "result from the habitual inactivity of the people, who do nothing but accumulate bile." Bunge compared their periodic uprisings to epileptic fits. To him it seemed that throughout the nineteenth century Argentina had to experience an internal upheaval every ten years. In Bolivia between 1825 and the end of the century more than 60 revolts occurred and six presidents were assassinated. Venezuela had 52 important revolutions in a century. Revolutionary movements may thus be said to have become part and parcel of the Latin American way of life, and must be explained in terms of the entire Latin American ambiente.

What are the reasons for this frequent resort to revolution in Latin America? Certain secondary factors such as historical tradition, official defalcation and malfeasance, personal ambition, and inflexible constitutional and political practices contribute to it. In general, revolutions may be said to result primarily from social pressures which have been building up for generations and which finally find an outlet in violent change. A popular leader in Colombia, the late Senator Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, has been quoted as saying, "When pain becomes despair it breaks all the dikes." The Latin Americans have often found that they could attain the basic "goods" in life only by direct and forcible resistance to the status quo. That the methods which they employ are illegal tends to impeach the law rather than their methods.

II

Maldistribution of wealth and income has been a characteristic of Latin American economy and society ever since the days of Spanish and Portuguese rule. Revolt has therefore been latent there at all times. The vast majority of Latin Americans, resentful of lifelong exploitation and frustration and despairing of any improvement in their levels of living by orderly methods, are chronically ripe for revolution. From this situation of underlying and widespread dissatisfaction with the social and economic status quo a dashing leader has often emerged to start a revolutionary movement. A century ago a vigorous and picturesque Argentine caudillo, Facundo Quiroga, his eyes flashing, was reported to have said to a companion: "Look you, if I should go into the street, and say to the first man I met, 'Follow me,' he would follow me!" This magnetic influence over men's minds and actions has impelled many a caudillo, whether lured on by unabashed greed for power or by zeal for the common good, to attempt a coup d'état which would overthrow his country's administration and install him in the presidency. Once established in office, he may try, either for personal or group ends, to enlist popular support by redressing social grievances and effecting constitutional reforms. As long as he can gratify the public demand for reform in this way he can gain and retain a popular following. Very often, however, because his leadership is intensely personal, his commendable social impulses are frustrated and his reform program defeated by the greed of the palace clique who surround him and who feel no comparable obligation to the masses of the people. So it is that attempts to redress social grievances usually result only in exploitation of the people by a new group of officeholders, and attempts at constitutional reform usually take the form of amendments confirming the caudillo in power. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Such a revolution produces a change only in the chief of the government and the bureaucracy surrounding him; the perplexing problems of the basic political and social system continue. Such were the revolutions that made Getulio Vargas president of Brazil in 1930 and that brought the army, led by its own caudillos, to power in Argentina in 1943.

The experience of caudillo governments, whether or not they are of revolutionary origin, demonstrates that the problem of social stresses and strains in Latin America cannot be solved effectively by personalist and paternalistic methods. For if revolution is latent in Latin America, so also is democracy. Revolution is very often the price which a Latin American country is forced to pay in order to realize the democracy which would otherwise remain dormant or suppressed. It has been the common purpose of such revolutions to accomplish, in the words of a perspicacious Colombian publicist, Gregorio Sánchez Gómez, "the overthrow of systems which were considered outworn or anachronistic or contrary to the common interests and wishes in order to put in their place institutions better suited to the fulfilment of a people's destiny." New groups have arisen clamoring for a revision of basic economic, social and political processes and agitating for radical constitutional reform. In many of the revolutionary movements above the level of the palace coup d'état the primary motivation has often been an urge for a more democratic type of government, to be achieved mainly through the rewriting of constitutions.

The constitutions of the Latin American countries, usually drafted either by dictators or by conventions representing the privileged classes, and modeled along nominally republican and oligarchical lines, have been numerous and ephemeral. They have been changed so often largely because they were unsuited to the needs of their peoples. They did not satisfy the often inarticulate requirements of politically unsophisticated communities. Simon Bolivar's first constitution for Bolivia, for example, set up a grotesquely complicated machinery of government including a president with life tenure and a tricameral congress made up of censors, senators and a house of tribunes. Furthermore, the absence of a firm heritage of judicial review of legislative acts—a heritage which can be regarded as peculiarly Anglo-Saxon and North American—has rendered it difficult for national courts in the Latin American countries to interpret constitutions in such a way as to keep them in harmony with changed conditions. Small wonder that these organic documents are usually soon set aside by popular action or by the fiat of a dictator and come to serve only as curious historical exhibits!

Revolutionary reforms of constitutions have been frequent occurrences in all the Latin American countries. They have called attention to the difficulty if not the impossibility of revising basic constitutional forms by legal procedures and have represented in many cases a violent protest against the continued imposition or maintenance of a rigid political strait jacket on a society which was beginning to generate new dynamic elements. The constitutions of both El Salvador and Guatemala recognize "the right of insurrection" under certain circumstances. This type of revolutionary outburst was exemplified in the successful revolt against the Argentine dictator Juan Manuel Rosas by Justo José de Urquiza in 1852. This resulted in the Argentine constitution of 1853. Other examples were the overthrow of the Brazilian monarchy of Pedro II in 1889, which culminated in the Brazilian constitution of 1891, and the successful movement against President José Manuel Balmaceda of Chile in 1891. Today, 15 of the 20 Latin American countries are governed by constitutions adopted since 1933, and nine of these by constitutions adopted since 1945. This rapid supersession of constitutions obviously has not tended to create a veneration for existing constitutional forms, although it has not derogated from the generally recognized importance of constitutional arrangements.

More specifically, many revolutions have sought to broaden the basis of government when the existing governmental machinery was cumbersome, inflexible and unresponsive to the political desires of the people. The presidential system, taken over from the United States constitution and providing for a fixed tenure of office for the chief magistrate, forces the opposition to wait for scheduled elections. But in these countries the mercurial temper of opposition parties, of those who mold public opinion in newspaper, press and radio, of exploited and underprivileged groups often changes too rapidly to make delay practicable. An administration which at the time of its election may admirably accord with the general will may in the course of a few months, or sometime before the expiration of its constitutional term of office, commit such egregious errors or fail so completely to fulfil popular expectations that the people rise in fury against it. If a president who symbolizes the shortcomings of such an administration insists upon serving out his legal term of office he can generally be ousted only by revolutionary means. It may be suggested that the long experience of the presidential system during the last century and a quarter has conditioned Latin Americans to the necessity of revolution, which provides them with a substitute for a needed but unscheduled election. Often it represents an effort by the nation's loyal opposition to make its influence felt upon the governing group. If their effort fails they are almost never denounced as traitors by the triumphant administration but, under the noblesse oblige of the system, are allowed to retire quietly into exile.

III

Several recent revolutions have demonstrated not only the seriousness of the social maladjustments which exist in Latin America but also the unsuitability of existing political systems to meet the problems which those maladjustments create. The revolutionary movement which resulted in the election of Juan Domingo Perón as President of Argentina in February 1946 was originally launched for the expressed purpose (among others) of overthrowing oligarchic control and effecting social and economic reforms. As suggested above, it followed the normal twentieth-century pattern of caudillo revolution, of which perhaps the best recent example was that of Getulio Vargas in Brazil. Just as Vargas, after seizing power by force in 1930, proceeded to introduce reforms by fiat and thus to build up powerful labor support for his régime, so Perón has sought to carry out a program of social and economic justice and has thus consolidated his position of leadership with the laboring and other underprivileged classes in Argentina. In executing this program he has been criticized for employing paternalistic and dictatorial methods which have denied political democracy and deprived even his followers of the means of complaint. Many Argentines fear that in the long run this policy will not create conditions of permanent political stability but rather will build up a revolutionary potential.

The revolution which overthrew President Isaías Medina Angarita of Venezuela in October 1945 came as the culmination of a movement for wider popular participation in government which had been growing ever since Juan Vicente Gómez's death in 1935. If the electoral base in Venezuela had been broader and a parliamentary system had been a part of the country's political pattern Medina's government probably would have been retired from office peacefully some time before it was finally ousted by violence. Presidential elections were scheduled for April 1946. As they approached, the construction work on Medina's new palatial home in a Caracas suburb gave rise to rumors of personal graft. At the same time the hope for political reform and the amelioration of obviously worsening social and economic conditions evaporated. The president's popularity therefore declined to a low point. The constitution enabled only some 250,000 in a total population of more than 4,000,000 to vote even for municipal officials, and it contained no provision for direct popular voting for president. Medina had done little to broaden the voting base and nothing to prevent members of the National Congress, which would elect the new president, from serving in his bureaucracy. Indeed, early in October 1945 he singled out an unusually large number of senators and deputies for appointment to lucrative posts in his administration. According to the leftist opposition, the result was a "patriarchal autocracy" of a personalist character constituting a "palpably fictitious democracy."

Inasmuch as the Venezuelan constitution prohibited the immediate reëlection of a president, Medina selected as his successor his relatively little-known Minister of Agriculture, Angel Biaggini. This was interpreted as evidence of Medina's policy of continuismo, which violated the spirit of the constitution and was unpalatable to the opposition. The rightists immediately responded by nominating ex-President Eleázar López Contreras, who in the popular mind was identified closely with the remnants of the hated old dictatorial régime of Juan Vicente Gómez. Certain leftist opposition leaders, confronted by what they regarded as only a choice of evils and possessing no means of influencing the outcome of the election in the National Congress, readied themselves for revolutionary change.

The revolution was spearheaded by a tightly organized group of disaffected young army, navy and air force officers, but its political base rested in the small, efficient, Socialistic, non-Communist opposition party, Acción Democrática. These two groups concerted their plans for the overthrow of the administration. After the revolution started, the young officers' group invaded the presidential palace, seized Medina and López Contreras, formed a revolutionary governing junta with a civilian, Rómulo Betan-court, as chairman, and eventually forced the two ex-presidents into exile. During the revolution, riots broke out in Caracas, many shops were looted, and the homes of Medina's cabinet members and of other leaders of his party were singled out for ransacking by the mob. Similar uprisings occurred in other Venezuelan cities, where, although Acción Democrática was notoriously weak, dissatisfaction with the Medina administration was sufficiently strong to incite them. By October 22 order was restored and the new régime was receiving testimonials of support. It then proceeded immediately to make arrangements for a new constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage and to inaugurate certain popularly supported economic and social reforms. These reforms were incorporated in the new progressive constitution which was adopted in 1947. By these means the new forces which have been dominant in Venezuelan political life since 1945 expect to enable Venezuela to become politically stabilized.

Other postwar revolutions in Latin America have resulted either in the adoption of new constitutions embodying similar democratic reforms or in the return to constitutional practices of a democratic nature which had been violated or ignored by the overthrown government. In Brazil, the 15-year-old dictatorship of President Vargas tried to recoup its declining prestige early in 1945 by announcing plans to democratize the country. Among his avowed aims were a free press, freedom of political organization, amnesty for political prisoners and the promulgation of election laws. But then in October 1945 Vargas appointed as chief of police his brother, who was the leader of the forces urging the continuation of the dictatorship. The Brazilian army and people thereupon rose against him and brought the régime to an end. A provisional government headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court took control and held free elections on December 2, which resulted in the inauguration of a constitutional administration with General Eurico Gaspar Dutra as president. Soon afterward a new constitution was adopted.

Another example occurred in Haiti in January 1946 when student demonstrations broke out against the government of President Lescot. The demonstrators demanded abolition of the state of siege, liberation of political prisoners, granting of freedom of speech and press, and holding of normal elections. Lescot was taken prisoner and the homes of members of his administration were looted. A military cabinet of three officers then assumed charge of the government and proceeded to hold free elections. These brought to power a civilian, Dumersais Estimé, as constitutional president in August 1946 and resulted in the promulgation of a new constitution.

A revolution in Bolivia in July 1946 caused the overthrow and murder of President Gualberto Villarroel. It was provoked by a succession of unpopular acts by the administration, including fraudulent elections on the previous May 5, the subsequent declaration of a state of siege throughout Bolivia, the assumption of absolute control over the Bolivian press, and a bloody assault upon students demonstrating against the government. The provisional régime which supplanted Villarroel announced that it would govern the country in accordance with existing constitutional laws pending a free election, which was subsequently held.

Constitutions alone cannot solve the social problems which beset the Latin American governments. It nevertheless is noteworthy that the new constitutions contain whole chapters dealing with public health, education, the rights of labor and social security. Even if they are regarded only as piously hypocritical pronouncements which are not intended to be carried into effect, they at least show that deference must be paid to the new social forces in the politics of these countries.

It also is noteworthy that a few Latin American governments are tending to follow the example of Cuba, which since 1940 has had a cabinet responsible to Congress. The presidents of these countries are constrained by political exigencies, even if not by constitutional mandate, to govern through cabinets whose members are in effect responsible to a congressional majority. This de facto parliamentary system does not guarantee that administrations will be free from oligarchic control, or that political corruption will be eliminated; but it broadens the base of government representation, exerts a democratizing influence and is undoubtedly a deterrent to revolutions of the political type.

IV

Some of the above revolutions, though primarily political in character, showed overtones of the second general revolutionary type, the social. In this latter type, according to the Colombian publicist quoted above, "the very structure of human society . . . finds itself menaced by the presence of new and dark elements of dissolution and at times even of death. . . . Age-long injustices or tremendous tensions in human living conditions motivate and justify them." Such inversions of the social order have occurred in Latin America, but they have been rare. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, describing one phase of Argentina's revolutionary war against Spain, wrote that "in less than 24 hours a fiddler had become a general, a lame cobbler was making laws, and a clown deciding the fate of a country." A better example is furnished by the successful War of the Reform in Mexico, fought to vindicate the socially revolutionary constitution of 1857 and led by Benito Júarez, a full-blooded Indian. Another is the Mexican revolution which began in 1910 and which was associated with the names of Francisco Madero, Emiliano Zapata, Venustiano Carranza, Alvaro Obregón and Lazáro Cárdenas. Of the revolutions which occurred in the depression year 1930 in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Brazil, however, Professor Clarence H. Haring observed: "In no case were elements of a social revolution involved, although . . . the word 'Communist' was frequently bandied about by the vested interests to disparage the violence of their adversaries." [i]

No event since World War II has so dramatically highlighted the factors making for revolution in this hemisphere or so vividly revealed the revolutionary potential that exists among our neighbors to the south as the abortive revolution in Colombia on April 9 last. Analysis of this incident will bring to a focus the generalizations made above, for, like a microcosm, it disclosed all the elements of Latin American revolution.

The movement within the Colombian Liberal Party headed by Jorge Eliécer Gaitán represented a protest against the record and program of both the right wing of the Liberal Party and the entire Conservative Party. To the Gaitanistas neither the old-line Liberals nor the Conservatives seemed to offer any hope of redressing grievances or improving living standards. The reforms accomplished by the Liberal Party while it controlled the presidency from 1930 to 1946 were considered the mildest of palliatives for the social sickness afflicting the mass of Colombians. The protest became articulate and importunate in Gaitán's unsuccessful campaign for the presidency in 1946. But though that campaign demonstrated the almost idolatrous fervor and surprisingly large strength of his popular following, it split the Liberal Party and made possible the election of the Conservative candidate, Mariano Ospina Pérez.

The new president adopted a policy of national union against the determined opposition of the right wing of his own party. Recognizing the weakness of his own political position and the consequent necessity of deferring to the Liberal Congress, he appointed and maintained a cabinet equally divided between members of the Liberal and of his own Conservative Party. In the administration of the national government he thus in effect tempered the presidential system of Colombia with the parliamentary system by attempting to rule with a political coalition. The result, however, was neither the one system nor the other. The responsibility for government was not definitely fixed upon either the Conservative or the Liberal Party. The cabinet did not truly reflect the congressional majority, since Ospina Pérez assigned the key positions in it to members of his own party and gave only the less important posts to the Liberals. On January 28, 1948, Senator Gaitán, Chief of the Liberal Party, was joined by members of the Advisory Board of the Party in presenting a memorandum to Ospina Pérez charging that the president's policy of national union, with which they were in accord, was being violated by some of the president's closest collaborators. These, said the Liberals, were taking advantage of their positions to impose a reactionary pro-clerical educational system, to persecute organized labor, to perpetrate electoral frauds, and to instigate violence against Liberal Party members.

Meanwhile the worsening economic plight of the masses of the Colombian people, aggravated by war and postwar dislocations, was exacerbating already serious social tensions and increasing popular dissatisfaction with the national administration. During 1947 the cost-of-living index in the capital, Bogotá, rose more than 30 points to a new high of 254.2 (calculated on a base of February 1937). These rises continued in 1948. During the single month of March 1948 the cost-of-living index for an average Colombian workingman's family rose by 17.3 points to a new high of 283.8 (calculated on the same base). In the capital, where preparations for the forthcoming Ninth International Conference of American States had an inflationary effect, the cost of living rose 20.6 points for the same period, reflected principally in sharp increases in the prices of bread, butter, milk, potatoes, fresh vegetables and meat. Prices for shirts rose 25 percent. It became obvious that the Colombian Office of Price Control was powerless to curb speculation and prevent price inflation. Moreover, efforts of organized workers to secure wage increases commensurate with these increases in the cost of living appeared in several cases to be thwarted by government action.

As long as the government of national union continued, the Liberal Party had to share the blame for these acts of omission and commission by the administration. On February 29, therefore, the party decided to withdraw its members from all positions in the national administration and thus to terminate the hybrid arrangement on the grounds that it no longer was satisfactory to the party or consonant with the Colombian constitutional system. "Our position is based on two postulates," explained Liberal leader Darío Echandía in a letter to the editor of El Tiempo, "that this is a democratic country and that it is a country with a presidential régime. As a democratic country, its government must adapt itself to the laws, that is, to the administrative norms or directives dictated by Congress; as a country with a presidential régime, the political composition of its government is independent of its Congress." He thus stated succinctly the fundamental dilemma between the concept of "a democratic country" on the one hand and the constitutional requirement "of a presidential régime" on the other.

Thenceforth Ospina Pérez, a minority president, exercised power only because the opposition respected his constitutional position under the presidential system. He was to find this a weak reed on which to lean. He was at once confronted with the alternatives of appointing either a cabinet dominated by Liberals—a decision which all factions of the Liberal Party would undoubtedly have applauded—or an all-Conservative cabinet, which would obviously represent a stark return to the presidential system and which would consolidate control of the minority Conservative Party over the executive branch of the government. He chose the latter course, and in constituting his all-Conservative cabinet brought into it as Minister of Foreign Affairs the titular chief of the party, Laureano Gómez, who through a long political career had fought the Liberal Party, in season and out, as the party of radicalism, Communism and anti-Christ. To the Liberals of every faction, therefore, Gómez was a hateful figure symbolizing aristocracy, reaction and clericalism.

The assassination of Gaitán by an obscure taxi-driver ignited this combustible situation. The grief of rank-and-file Colombians over the death of their political champion soon gave way to rage, and rage to violent action against the Government. The building housing El Siglo, Laureano Gómez's newspaper, was burned to the ground; with one or two exceptions every building used by the Government was either gutted or burned; and even churches, closely interlocked in the public mind with the Conservative oligarchy, were sacked and in some cases burned. In other parts of Colombia, mobs which formed soon after the news of Gaitán's assassination was received descended upon Conservative newspapers and the homes and offices of Conservative officials. A general strike of all workers throughout Colombia was proclaimed by the Confederation of Colombian Workers, representing approximately 109,000 of the 165,000 organized workingmen in Colombia.

In the face of this appalling demonstration of mass opposition, as clearly revolutionary in spirit as in deed, Ospina Pérez declared a state of siege and later martial law, imposed strict censorship, and issued a statement charging that "professional agitators with express orders from Moscow" were responsible for the revolt. Finally on April 10 he announced the formation of a new cabinet which included six Liberal ministers. His solution to the problem of revolution in Colombia, therefore, was to return to the quasi-parliamentary system represented by his policy of national union. It remains to be seen whether the old formula of equal representation of Liberals and Conservatives in the cabinet will provide the democratic government and social justice which the Colombian masses obviously desire and which seem needed if the national tensions are to be relaxed.

V

Latin America is demanding democratic government and social justice. New leaders both of the Right and of the Left are making strong appeals to aggrieved individuals and frustrated social classes. In Argentina, President Perón, one of the first beneficiaries of the ferment of the descamisados, offers them material benefits which though satisfying to some seem to others to be purchased at the high cost of democracy. In Venezuela, Acción Democrática, and in Peru, Apra, or the People's Party, offer programs of social reform within the framework of capitalism. Further to the Left, in Colombia, Gaitán's program contains many elements of state Socialism, such as communal ownership of property by indigenous groups, obligatory use of land near towns for the production of prime necessities, the establishment of state coöperatives, national and municipal ownership of public services, worker participation in company profits in certain fields, and close government control over the professions to insure equitable geographical distribution. To Gaitán's followers, liberty has come to mean the right of each man to the opportunity to work, equality has become economic and social democracy, and fraternity means the coöperation of men in production. The Communists, too, with a still more radical program, are making strong bids for leadership in many parts of Latin America and, while generally disdaining the "social scum" or Lumpenproletariat of Marx, are consolidating their position in leftist labor organizations. But, as the Liberal Party leadership in Colombia declared in a recent statement rejecting the overtures of the Conservative Party for the formation of an anti-Communist front, "No responsible individual can accept the infantile opinion that the Communist hand is at work in every demand for social justice."

Political leaders in Latin America often resort to revolution as a desperate means—sometimes, indeed, the only means—to achieve democratic government and social justice. The demand for these "goods" may be expected to grow in scope and intensity as the governmental machinery through which they should be achieved falters, as political leaders show ineptitude or apathy in promoting them, and as controlling minorities refuse to relax their stranglehold on the prevailing political and economic system. Just as protests against an oligarchic political system often result in a revolutionary overturn of government, so protests against an oligarchic social and economic system by the increasingly self-conscious and restive masses in Latin America may, under the influence of appropriate leaders, take the form of a struggle between classes and social overturn.

It is the tragedy of Latin America that, in the existing socio-political milieu, the process of transferring power from one caudillo to another, from one ruling clique to another, or from the few to the many (this last-named operation being essentially a democratic one) has so frequently been accomplished by revolutionary means because, in the judgment of the political opposition, it could not be accomplished otherwise. It is an equal tragedy that once revolutions fall into the hands of totalitarians they may develop in a direction inimical to the interests of the masses and in this way may defeat the basic objectives for which they were organized. To the extent that this occurs, in Latin America or elsewhere, such revolutions may be considered to run counter to the interests of the democratic peoples of the world.

[i] "Revolution in South America," by Clarence H. Haring. FOREIGN AFFAIRS, January 1931.

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  • DONALD MARQUAND DOZER, a specialist in Latin American affairs who formerly taught at Boston University and the University of Maryland
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