Peronism historically has both fascistic and left-wing elements. But it’s also highly contradictory and inconsistent. Kirchnerists – left-wing Peronists – are back in power. What does this entail?
In this post, I will give a brief history of the Argentinian political ideology peronism. I will make several points in favor, and against peronism. Ultimately, I’m glad the left-wing peronists are back in power, but I have reservations. If my post seems wishy-washy, I don’t think peronism can be properly understood without nuance.
One more addendum: this post is to give basic information to a non-Argentinian audience. If you’re a leftist in Argentina, and you oppose peronism, I support you. If you’re a leftist in Argentina and support the Kirchners, I support you. You’re intimately involved in your politics in a way I will never be, and I trust your judgment and reasoning.
Starting off, New York Times writes:
“Argentines on Sunday entrusted leftists to steer the nation as it reels from a deep recession, electing as president Alberto Fernández, a longtime political operative who toiled behind the scenes most of his career.”
The article talks heavily about how President-Elect Fernandez and his well-known vice-president (and former president) Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner are both peronists, and New York Times treats peronism as synonymous with leftism.
This isn’t the case, peronism is not synonymous with leftism in Argentina. Juan Peron started the movement as a populist with some leftist tendencies. Peron declared Argentina neutral in the Cold War and exported food to the Soviet Union. He advocated for several economic policies that helped workers. He also strongly emphasized infrastructure projects. Essentially, Peron was in favor of centralizing and planning the economy more than somewhere like the US, but still wanted to preserve capitalism.
But, he did have fascistic tendencies. Academics were some of the biggest opposition to Peron, which resulted in mass-firing of professors. The working class opposed some of Peron’s policy, which caused him to throw his base of support under the bus. Peronism was fascistic in the sense that, by opposing both the right and left-wing, and representing more of a political “movement” than a traditional political party, he was primarily seeking the consolidation of power.
Perhaps most damning to Juan Peron was his admiration for Mussolini, and to lesser extents, other fascist leaders like Hitler. Under Peron, Argentina welcomed nazi war criminals. And then to make things even more baffling, Che Guevara and Peron had a mutual respect for each other.
Another example is Peron was a supporter of Allende in Chile, and highly critical of Pinochet and his coup. If there’s any through-line between different manifestations of peronism, it’s opposition to the neoliberalism exemplified by Pinochet.
When Peron died, his wife became president. She was, in many ways, in over her head. She was more blatantly right-wing than Peron, influenced by the Rasputin-like Jose Rega – El Brujo (the warlock). Rega was just full-blown, ideologically fascist. Both ran the country for a couple years before being expelled to Spain.
Fast forward to 2003, Nestor Kirchner, left-wing peronist, became president. He left office in 2007, and his wife (and now Vice-President elect) Cristina Kirchner was president from 2007 to 2015.
Both the Kirchners, while retaining some questionable elements of peronism, such as minor corruption scandals (which I don’t put much stock in, because the South American right always cries wolf about corruption), and antagonizing the press, which I do object to on principle, but it has been the right-wing press Cristina targeted, which reinforces the idea the Kirchners are indeed understood to be left-wing.
Under Cristina Kirchner, the middle class doubled. She de-privatized pensions. She cracked down on capitalist tax evasion. She expanded social security programs. She also led aggressive prosecutions against the fascistic peronist death squads from the Dirty War, a remarkable rebuke of past crimes of the state.
Another thing that emphasizes the idea that the Kirchners and the kirchnerist peronists are left-wing is the fact that there are also right-wing peronists who are opposed to the Kirchners. They ran against Macri, the neoliberal conservative party. There are rihgt-wingers, both inside and outside the peronist movement, that oppose the Kirchners.
Finally, the most crucial aspect of the kirchnerist victory is the fact that, they’re the most left-wing faction in Argentinian politics that realistically have a chance of winning an election.
Now, having said all that, The Nation published an article about this election. They write:
Why is this strain of populism so persistent in Argentina? To begin to understand, it’s important to clarify some misconceptions about Peronismo and how it’s portrayed in most English-language media.
Peronismo is a unique political ideology that differs from other common Latin American forms of leftism. In fact, calling Peronismo a leftist ideology isn’t quite right at all.
In the same way I criticized New York Times for reducing the peronist movement to “left-wing”, I think it’s just as reductive to say peronism isn’t a leftist ideology at all.
As I said earlier, peronism is more of a political movement, a political orientation, than it is a political party with an ideology. So, I completely agree that peronism isn’t a left-wing ideology. But that also doesn’t mean peronists can’t be left-wing—many are.
And still, having said all that, neither The Nation nor New York Times are wrong per see. It’s just hard to grasp the contradictions of peronism without lots of nuance and qualifications, and I don’t believe either articles provide necessary nuance. And yet, I’ve still only scratched the surface. If you’re an Argentinian reading this, I welcome further insight and education.