The Americas 62.4 (2006) 591-622
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Between Institutional Survival and Intellectual Commitment:
The Case Of The Argentine Society Of Writers During Perón's Rule (1945-1955)
An analysis of Peronism constitutes an obligatory point of departure of any study of Argentina's history since 1945. The advancement of the popular masses toward the Plaza de Mayo on 17 October 1945, clamoring for their new leader (the Colonel Juan Domingo Perón) inaugurated a new era for this nation. For some, especially for those who marched on that day, it represented the beginning of a period of hope. For others, those who looked with stupor at the crowds "invading" the city, this was the start of a decade of undemocratic practices and populist pseudo-fascist reforms. Perón's rise to the presidency in 1946 would find the majority of the Argentine intelligentsia in the ranks of the opposition. The intellectuals were particularly worried by the emergence of this political movement which, in their eyes, was a combination of a local incarnation of European fascism and the 'barbaric' regime of the caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas. In 1956, the writer Ezequiel Martínez Estrada summarized the horror that this march signified for the "decent people." He declared it the threat of a "San Bartolomé del Barrio Norte" (an affluent neighborhood in Buenos Aires) and characterized the Peronists as "those sinister demons of the plains which Sarmiento described in El Facundo."1 In his description Perón was depicted as a local Franco, a Mussolini or a Hitler. Only those intellectuals who defended different versions of local nationalism joined the enterprise of the colonel-turned-popular-politician and put their hopes in him. [End Page 591]
The mainstream reading by the patria letrada of the inauguration of Peronism (the march of 17 October 1945) was no more than the start of a relationship—that of intellectuals and Peronism—marked by misunderstanding. Perón's reaction to the intellectual opposition oscillated between disdain—he was constructing a working class identity and for this he did not need intellectuals—and repression; especially as he entered his second presidency in 1952. Argentine men of letters, with the exception of a small number of cases, continued to interpret Peronism as fascism throughout Perón's decade in power (1946-1955). Such is the case that even today the divorce between Peronism and the intelligentsia is commonplace in the debates about this phenomenon. Still, little is known about the chronicle of this schism; about what happened in the intellectual world during these days. In the extensive bibliography on Peronism, the history of the relationship between the intellectuals and Perón during the period 1945-1955 has been the subject of only a few isolated studies; the debate has been dominated by the extraordinary radicalization and Peronization of Argentine intelligentsia in the decade of the sixties.2 This is linked to another vacuum in the historiography of this political phenomenon: the little and partial attention that the topic of anti-Peronism has received.
This article explores the particular experience of the Argentine Society of Writers (SADE) during the decade of Perón's rule. Analysis of SADE permits us to understand the way intellectuals reacted to and behaved under a political regime we know they despised.3 This indirectly provides us with interesting insights into Perón's attitudes toward the intellectual-opposition. Clearly, a detailed appraisal of the world of intellectuals during this period is essential for a better understanding of this political phenomenon. Intellectuals played an important role in the way Peronism was read and re-read in Argentine history. The subsequent views of this political movement had an important influence on its development to the extent that the history of Peronism is also "the history of its changing interpretations"4 The study of this particular literary institution is consequently justified. SADE—although almost ignored by historiography—was the cultural institution that sheltered the greatest...