On Argentine populism

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By ANTONINO INFRANCA*

Comments on the newly released book by Pasquale Serra

Perché studiare il populismo argentine is the title of Pasquale Serra's book, dedicated to the incarnation of Argentine populism, Peronism, which, in turn, is a variant, the most famous, of Latin American populism. The myth of Evita Duarte de Perón, the young and beautiful wife of Juan Domingo Perón, contributed decisively to making Peronism famous; a woman who, with her beauty, her elegance and her passionate rhetoric, was able to enthuse the masses of shirtless Argentines much more than her own husband.

That was the time for rallies in crowded squares, like the Plaza de Mayo or Congress Plaza in Buenos Aires or Piazza Venezia in Rome, as far as Mussolini is concerned. But Pasquale Serra is keen to clarify: Peronism was not fascism. I completely agree with him, although other serious scholars such as Organski argue that Peronism was the most successful form of fascism.

Serra argues that European political thought and Peronism lived a mismatch, a good word from Argentinean Spanish that indicates a “missed meeting”. Regarding the citation of this Argentinian word, so central in the words of tangos, I make a friendly criticism of Pasquale Serra: it would have been better to have translated the quotations from Spanish contained in the book.

I believe, on the contrary, that knowing whether Peronism was a form of fascism actually reveals more a Eurocentric conception of politics than a “missed date”. Europeans or intellectuals from the Center (Europe, United States and Japan) interpret each political, social, economic or cultural phenomenon with their Eurocentric categories and cannot escape this way of thinking, demonstrating their inability to interpret the globalized world.

Every phenomenon in the extra-European world, or rather, the peripheral world, must be brought back to Eurocentric categories, and fascism is the closest thing to Peronism. But there is an enormous difference between the two political phenomena; Pasquale Serra indicates it by deducing it from the analysis of Gino Germani, an important Argentinean sociologist of Italian origin. Pasquale Serra writes: “Peronism, for Germani, was really capable of giving real answers to the working class, which, for the first time, gained rights and dignity, and a certain degree of concrete freedom”.

Gino Germani considered Peronism a dictatorship, but in fact it was an atypical dictatorship in relation to typical European dictatorships: Perón was always elected with regular elections, he gave a welfare state to Argentine workers with a lot of right to strike, he introduced divorce, five-year economic plans. Gino Germani also reasoned with Eurocentric categories. Serra notes that “for Gino Germani, populism is […] a problem of democracy, for Ernesto Laclau, on the contrary, populism […] fully coincides with democracy itself, with a radical form of democracy”. Ernesto Laclau was a philosopher, born in Argentina, but lived in several countries.

Today, populism is a geographical issue: in Argentina, Peronism is more like what Ernesto Laclau thought. While at the Center it tends to be a conservative, if not effectively authoritarian, political phenomenon, see Donald Trump or Victor Orbán. The people themselves must be defined, and here Antonio Gramsci comes to our aid: “historical bloc of the oppressed”. So, there is no doubt that the oppressed are not the beneficiaries of Centro populism, whereas they were of Peronism. It is difficult to identify a “people”. If we use the term “people”, we run the risk of falling into racism, as Orbán does.

There are popular movements like the youth of the Fridays for Future, but they are movements from below, based on free participation, not based on an identity that comes from the other, as political theology thinks, typical of Argentine culture, and as Serra observes along with the ability of that culture to regenerate itself; capacity for regeneration, in my view, caused by the very origin of Argentina: a complex of individuals from various European nations, who assimilated the few indigenous survivors of the Conquest.

*Antonino Infranca He holds a doctorate in philosophy from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Author, among other books, of  Work, individual, history – the concept of work in Lukács (Boitempo).

Translation: Juliana Hass.

 

Reference


Pasquale Serra. Perché studiare il populismo argentine. Rome, Rogas Edizioni, 2022, 921 pages.

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