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4 State: Reformist Challenge to Oligarchic Domination IN RESPONSE to the growing strength of labor organization and the dramatic scope of worker protest in the first decades of the 20th century, political lead­ ers became increasingly concerned about the "social question." They debated the appropriate role of the newly emerging working classes within the eco­ nomic and political system and the problem of mitigating the exploitative conditions of work that appeared to encourage this new social protest. The debate on the social question was intertwined with a broader debate on social and political reform, and by the 1930s an important period of reform had emerged in all eight countries. In conjunction with these reforms, the state ultimately initiated what we refer to as the initial incorporation of the labor movement. The evolution of this period of reform occurred at a different rhythm and in a different way in each country. Important contrasts include the nature of the reform project itself, the scope of opposition to reform from elements of the established political order, the timing of the incorporation period, the degree to which reformers were able to carry out their programs, and the degree to which they cultivated the support of the labor movement in con­ junction with their challenge to the oligarchy. This chapter first introduces the historical setting of this period of reform. The eight cases are then analyzed, with a focus on ( 1 ) the political system prior to the reforms, (2) the emergence of the reform alliances, (3) the imme­ diate political transition and change of government that brought the reform­ ers to power, and (4) the role of the labor movement in this transition. In five of the countries-Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, and Vene­ zuela-the incorporation period, which is analyzed in the next chapter, began with this change in government. However, in Mexico, Peru, and Argentina, a substantial delay occurred between this change of government and the on­ set of incorporation. For these three countries, the present chapter explores the causes of this delay and brings the analysis up to the eve of the incorpo­ ration period, thereby covering the period from 1910 to 1 9 1 7 in Mexico, from 1 9 1 9 to 1 939 in Peru, and from 1 9 1 6 to 1 943 in Argentina. Historical Setting The national political framework within which labor movements initially emerged in these countries is commonly referred to in Latin American polit- R E F O R M I S T C H A L L E N G E 101 ical analysis as the period of the "oligarchic state" or of "oligarchic domina­ tion."1 With the rapid economic expansion that began in most of these coun­ tries in the later 1 9th century (Venezuela lagged far behind), new elites whose economic power was based in the dynamic export sectors came to share po­ litical power with landed elites based in more traditional, nonexport sectors of the economy. These new elites came to achieve substantial sway in the political arena, contributing to the construction of states that provided polit­ ical stability and encouraged the creation of basic infrastructure, often with a substantial role of foreign private capital, that helped promote this eco­ nomic expansion. At the same time, the state remained laissez-faire in most areas of economic and social policy. These different sectors of the economic and political elite, frequently re­ ferred to as the oligarchy, dominated politics, most commonly through the vehicle of restricted democracies often based on widespread electoral fraud or through dictatorial rule. Hence, the expression oligarchic usefully de­ scribes both the character of the state and the national political regime. Beginning at the end of the 19th century, important reform movements began to emerge in opposition to these oligarchic states. Demands for reform came in part from sectors of the traditional elite left behind by the new pros­ perity, but even more importantly from new sectors created by the dramatic economic and demographic expansion of this period. This expansion in­ cluded rapid urban growth and the development within the urban sector of a broad range of new economic activity in commerce and increasingly in man­ ufacturing, as well as the growth of export enclaves. The emergence of the new middle sectors and working class, and the political movements and new forms of social protest in which they engaged, raised basic issues about the scope of the political system and the role of these groups within it...


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