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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 190-191

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Book Review

La estrategia de la clase obrera, 1936

La estrategia de la clase obrera, 1936. By NICOLAS IÑIGO CARRERA. Buenos Aires: La Rosa Blindada; Programa de Investigación sobre el Movimiento de la Sociedad Argentina (PIMSA), 2000 . Photographs. Maps. Tables. Figures. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. 318 pp. Paper.

In a book that is both intriguing and frustrating, Nicolás Iñigo Carrera has attempted to make a large historiographical/ideological argument by examining in great detail a general strike in Buenos Aires in January 1936 . While I am not convinced by his larger arguments, he has done a masterful job of recreating the general strike.

Underlying the book is the author's vociferous rejection of the idea that a self-conscious working class did not exist in Argentina before the late 1930 s or early 1940 s, which he (without naming names) argues is the dominant trend in the historiography. He wants to show that such a class did exist and that it participated in politics through alliances with parties of the Left. He attempts to demonstrate this by investigating the general strike of January 7 and 8 , 1936 . Iñigo Carrera argues that past commentators have paid insufficient attention to this strike, either ignoring it or making it just part of the construction workers' strike that it was called to support. In many ways he is correct; it was the largest such movement in years, with violence breaking out in many of the outlying areas of the city. Violence focused on means of transportation, mostly foreign owned, and on the police. The neighborhoods that most strongly supported the strike were not the traditional working-class barrios, which complicates the author's arguments. However, he convincingly shows that the outlying barrios were complex, containing many factories, shops, and homes that served as workplaces. What Iñigo Carrera fails to demonstrate is that the participants were workers in a Marxist sense. His information is gleaned largely from the general press and political/union sources, all of whom had a stake in saying that they were workers, but they might have been members of other segments of the popular classes.

The heart of the book begins with a discussion of the construction strike--probably the most important strike of the neo-conservative era. Although the [End Page 190] author does an excellent job, he fails to emphasize that the dominant communist militants used tactics very similar to those practiced in other industries. In this, their greatest period of florescence, the communists skillfully used strikes as organizing tools and to achieve immediate gains. This lacunae is undoubtedly due to the author's understandable difficulty in locating communist sources (otherwise his use of primary sources is extremely impressive). The general strike is then discussed, followed by the reactions of union confederations, leftist organizations and parties.

At the end we know more about the general strike than this reviewer thought possible. We do see that the popular classes of Buenos Aires could be mobilized for widespread protest. What we do not learn is why this general strike received so much support and other general strikes did not. It is not that this reviewer disagrees with the author on the existence of a working class and its tendency to ally itself with the Left--although many of its votes went to the Radical Party--but what does it mean? Does it matter that a crucial element of the union movement were retail clerks and that they shared similar anxieties and desires with factory workers? Leaving aside Iñigo Carrera's ideologies and perhaps imposing my own, I believe that he shows a current of anger in the popular classes in the newer sections of Buenos Aires and that it was possible to mobilize those feelings. What is also intriguing is the failure by those who wanted to change society to consistently tap those feelings.

Iñigo Carrera has given us an important look at a specific event and by doing so has told us a great...


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pp. 190-191
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Archived 2004
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