Research over the past decade has unearthed new issues in the political history of Peronism. The internal conflicts within the nationalist-populist movement have emerged as a key topic for analysis. A plethora of archival material and theoretical discussions have contributed to creating an image of Peronism that overwrites prior simplistic depictions of Juan Domingo Perón in office. Current studies reveal two broad research areas: regional variations in the Peronist movement and the roles of political actors. Research on the origins and consolidation of Peronist leadership in the provinces has already mapped out the entire Argentine territory.
Aelo’s work reconstructs the organizational plot of Peronism in a province that has long been central to research on Argentine political history. He analyzes in depth the leadership teams that operated through party and state agencies from 1946 to 1955 in Buenos Aires province, focusing especially on the events during the early part of this period. At that time, political supporters of Domingo Mercante, known as “Perón’s heart” and deemed to be one of his natural leadership successors, belonged to a team of allies in high offices at provincial and national levels. This book constructs a narrative of the political voyage undertaken by this Peronist faction. By revisiting these experiences, the author explores political practices and organizational schemes that have not until now been acknowledged as Peronist in academic historiography.
Aelo introduces the origins of “Mercantism,” as it arose around the figure of future state governor Domingo Mercante during the elections of February 1946. The book’s exhaustive mapping of the career paths of the political staff makes plausible the author’s suggested hypothesis regarding the origins of provincial Peronism. Most of these men were inexperienced; however, their inexperience did not translate into an irrational or servile attitude during the events of February 1946.
The following three chapters provide an account of the consolidation of Mercantism at three levels of political action: the party, the legislature, and the government. The hypothesis—that at all three levels the Peronist Buenos Aires provincial elite adopted democratic and deliberative practices—establishes a connection among these three spheres. The methodology employed to prove this hypothesis consists of broad-based prosopography—an unusual practice in new histories of provincial Peronism—and extensive surveying of the movement’s internal conflicts. These chapters depict Peronism as a highly organized movement in the province of Buenos Aires, characterized [End Page 585] by leaders elected by party members; a proactive parliamentary elite; a state elite that attempted to clarify party and state relations; technical expertise and political knowledge within the scope of state policies; and an exceptional bureaucratic rationality compared to contemporary developmental processes taking place elsewhere in Argentina.
Aelo’s concluding chapters reconstruct the fall of Mercante as governor and provide a somewhat less detailed description of party and state elites during Carlos Aloé’s administration of the provincial government from mid-1952 to the 1955 coup d’état. The fall of Mercantism is conceived of as the result of the clashes between factions. Although such interpretation is not in direct conflict with traditional ones that blame the dispute with Eva Perón for Domingo Mercante’s fall from grace, Aelo sets out the differences between Mercantist political practices and the subsequent attempts to create a Peronism based on practices associated with verticalism (“peronismo vertical”).
In his concluding paragraphs, the author offers pointers for future research and examines some wider implications of his research, without parting from the premise that the Peronist leadership was able to adopt deliberative practices. This work highlights the importance of current studies of the first era of Peronism. Despite the book’s lack of formal methods, Aelo’s compelling hypotheses and remarkable writing skills provide a fresh outlook on this ever-resurgent topic.
Buenos Aires, Argentina