What is Peronism?
Peronism is a movement founded by the late Juan Domingo Perón (1895-1974), an Argentine military man who was elected president in 1946, overthrown in 1955 and returned to power in 1973, then died in office. The singularity of Perón is that, although he was a military man and an admirer of Mussolini's capacity to mobilize people (he was military attache in Rome as Mussolini rose to power), he attracted the undying loyalty of industrial workers and the poor of his country to this day. Peronism is the amorphous populist movement that up through 2010 won every election in which it was allowed to field a candidate unfettered.
Peronism is not an ideology and indeed defies classic left-right classification. Peronists have included military men, labor union leaders, some enlightened business executives, middle class left-leaning youth, but mostly the toiling classes. Indeed, every ideological movement from left to right has attempted to call itself Peronist in order to eviscerate the movement, so far without success.
Peronism has no systematic set of doctrines or ideas, largely because, whatever Perón actually believed, he was a pragmatist above all. Perón himself was partly authoritarian, partly a supporter of state intervention in the economy, partly a populist, partly anti-Communist. In brief, an ideological hodge-podge. He liked to say that he was most comfortable running things when they were as messy "as a bordello." He certainly pitted his followers against each other so that he could always be the deciding arbiter.
His policies included modernizing Argentine labor laws by introducing, among other rules, the 8-hour, 5-day work week. He enfranchised women with the vote. He also built up a vast economic state-owned sector of key infrastructural industries, including utilities, railroads and telecommunications, which also served as repositories of employment through political patronage. Thus, when overthrown in 1955 and used as a battering ram by the unions, Perón's legacy was a mixture of military corporativism, laborism, social democracy and civil rights that mixed uneasily.
Indeed, Peronist presidents aside from the man himself, have varied widely. Carlos Menem, president from 1989 to 1999, privatized almost all of the state enterprises in order to sustain the fiction of parity of the national currency with the dollar; Menem could easily be classed as a followed of free market apologist Milton Friedman, whom Ronald Reagan was said to admire. On the other hand, the late Nestor Kirchner (president 2003-2007) and his wife Cristina (president from 2007 to October 2015), who have been maliciously and erroneously called former guerrillas and socialists by their adversaries, have put forth policies definably similar to the government interventionism of John Maynard Keynes, closely identified with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.
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