The Americas 58.3 (2002) 502-503
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The Peronist or Justicialist Party has certainly made the transition to a modern political movement and, over the years, has a vast literature, both scholarly and polemical. The eight chapters in Brennan's important contribution were originally presented at a conference on Peronism at Harvard University. Most were brought up-to-date for inclusion in the present volume. They focus on the various interpretations of Peronism by intellectuals and how the party has influenced Argentine civil and political society over the last half century (p. xiii). The essays are in fact debates among authors of widely divergent opinions about Peronism and its impact on Argentina. They cover the intellectual perceptions about the movement; Peronism and Argentina; the party influence on society; and the metamorphosis of Peronism.
Perón's genius was that he was the first Argentine political leader to recognize and harness the power of labor. Thus, with a firm base in labor under the first Peronist regime, the party was able to establish a network of control as a dispenser of patronage and as an electoral machine. Cristián Buchrucker's essay surveys old and new interpretations of Peronism and traces the movement to the 1990s. He sheds light on "this historical identity of Peronism and contemporary trends" (p. 21) when grave economic problems overshadow ideological debates. [End Page 502]
Mariano Plotkin's insightful chapter reviews "Changing Perceptions of Peronism." He points out that after the early negative or pathological assessments of the movement by Guillermo de Torre and others who likened it to European fascism, Abelardo Ramos spearheaded a new view which saw Peronism as a "liberating movement." This perception gained acceptance in the 1960s and 1970s. Influential scholars like Gino Germani and Torcuato di Tella also discerned positive features and held that Peronism was an outgrowth of Argentina's modernization process (p. 53). Plotkin notes the important analysis provided by Murmis and Portantiero who define Peronism as a polyclass alliance of workers, sectors of the army, and industrialists. Plotkin also calls attention to two topics about which much has been written: the figures of Juan and Eva Perón. Two novels by Tomás Eloy Martínez provide compelling interpretations of these personalities.
The polyclass alliance is a topic also emphasized by Brennan, who analyzes in his chapter on "Industrialists and Bolicheros" Peronism's success in molding itself to the political and cultural temper of the country. The movement absorbed different classes and interest groups, such as large parts of the bourgeoisie, ever since the creation of the Confederación General Económica. José Gelbard, the CGE's first president, became the ideologue of the nationalist bourgeoisie. In fact, the CGE survived the overthrow of Perón and became the most dynamic business organization until it was finally disbanded by the military government in 1976 (p. 101). There is no doubt that several business sectors also benefited from Peronismo.
Juan Carlos Torre traces the Peronist labor movement in his chapter on "The Ambivalent Giant." He sees a labor movement that failed to emerge "as a coherent force of change" and more as a conservative influence. Of course, at this time the movement is at an especially difficult crossroads due to the country current economic crisis. Vicente Palermo, María Celia Cangiano, and Torcuato di Tella deal with the changing facets of Peronismo. The latter states that Peronism's pragmatic reformism and its roots in populism have made the movement durable and thus it might perhaps remain the country's largest single party.
Brennan's book provides the best synthesis about the changing perceptions of Peronism to appear in recent years. The well chosen chapters, which contain a plethora of references, to the most important theories about the movement, will be of interest to all who study twentieth century politics in Latin America and what Tulio Halperín Donghi calls "the long agony of Peronist Argentina."
Georgette Magassy Dorn
Library of Congress