Excerpt from a 2002 article:
Peronism: main obstacle for workers
Politics in Argentina today cannot be understood without looking at the unfolding of the historic currents in the workers movement over the years, Koppel pointed out. Today, he said, the main obstacle to working people in Argentina building a revolutionary leadership remains Peronism, a bourgeois current that has dominated politics there since World War II.
"This obstacle was not inevitable, however," he added. The main current in the working-class movement prior to World War II was the Argentine Communist Party. This Stalinist party betrayed the working class leading up to and during World War II. Faithfully carrying out the foreign policy dictates of the ruling bureaucratic caste in Moscow, it backed the war efforts of Argentina's main imperialist oppressor--the United Kingdom--and its ally in Washington. The Communist Party opposed strikes by packinghouse and other workers in order to "aid the war effort." Such treachery discredited the CP among militant workers.
The Stalinists thus handed the banner of national liberation to the bourgeois nationalist current around Juan Domingo Perón, which was able to divert the potential revolutionary struggles of workers and farmers into pro-capitalist channels.
Argentine capitalists had been able to take advantage of the war between imperialist rivals, selling them meat and raking in high profits. This allowed them to make substantial concessions to the working class. Under Perón, appointed minister of labor by a military junta and then elected president in 1946, workers organized massively into unions and won significant increases in wages and social benefits. During the postwar boom, working people attributed the fruits of their struggles to Perón and his wife Eva, who posed as a champion of the dispossessed and defender of "the Argentine nation." The leadership of the powerful industrial unions, affiliated to the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), became subordinated and completely tied to Perón and his Justicialist Party.
Since that time, the Argentine labor movement has been marked by the contradiction between the militancy of the rank and file and the class-collaborationist union bureaucracy that has tied the unions to the Peronist party and the capitalist state.
With the end of the postwar boom, Perón was overthrown in a military coup. Workers and their organizations suffered blows but were not defeated.
In 1969, a working-class uprising against the military regime took place in Córdoba, the country's center of auto and aerospace production. Similar revolts took place in the industrial center of Rosario, and then in a number of other cities--except the country's capital, Buenos Aires.
The Cordobazo, as it became known, opened up a prerevolutionary situation in Argentina, at a time when working-class upsurges swept through several South American countries. "With proper leadership, a struggle for power by workers and farmers throughout the country could have been posed," Koppel pointed out.
To defuse the mass upsurge, the military announced elections that took place in 1973, and the Peronists won decisively.
During this period, class-struggle-minded currents began to grow in the union movement, seeking to challenge the pro-employer course of the Peronist bureaucracy. Various organizations identifying themselves as socialist or communist were active in the labor movement. Among them was a small Marxist current that received a hearing from many vanguard workers.
In face of the obstacle of Peronism and the treachery of Stalinism, however, "thousands of revolutionary-minded youth and workers turned toward an ultraleft course," Koppel said. "They were inspired by the Cuban Revolution but misapplied its lessons. Rejecting the perspective of building a revolutionary party of workers rooted in its struggles and mass organizations, they elevated the method of guerrilla warfare to a political strategy, believing it possible for a small group to spark the masses into action through bold but isolated deeds." Prominent among these groups were the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP) and the Montoneros, a group arising out of Peronism that used socialist language.
"This ultraleft sectarian course led to disastrous results," Koppel emphasized. "Workers and farmers were increasingly relegated to the sidelines by this strategy. And as the ruling class unleashed a brutal repression, thousands of courageous revolutionaries were slaughtered."
He pointed out that the lessons of that experience are drawn in the Pathfinder book The Leninist Strategy of Party Building: The Debate on Guerrilla Warfare in Latin America by U.S. Socialist Workers Party leader Joseph Hansen. It was one of a number of books on sale during the socialist educational weekend.
The Argentine rulers responded with a bloody military coup in 1976. Under the U.S.-backed dictatorship, some 30,000 workers, students, and others were "disappeared." Thousands more were imprisoned or forced into exile. It took years for the working class to recover from these blows.