To which social class do anarchists belong?
The middle class in Argentina's history
The emergence of the Argentine middle class
The leadership elite that created the Argentine state in the mid-19th century sought to integrate the country as a supplier of raw materials into international markets. The implementation of this project led to rapid capitalist development: the market increasingly intervened more deeply in people's daily lives, while at the same time a state emerged that was powerful enough to shape and regulate social relationships. The new branches of the economy and state functions multiplied the opportunities for work. Traders, self-employed, farmers, employees, overseers, freelancers, technicians and teachers gained much greater weight than they had before and made the social structure more complex.
At the same time, the economic and political development destroyed previously existing self-employed activities and occupations. The proportion of those who had to work for others on wages increased at an unprecedented rate; the social, economic and political development changed the relations between the inhabitants considerably. The efforts of the elite to present their project as a "civilization project" underpinned the social and racial discrimination that has prevailed since colonial times. Dark skinned persons and those as Criollos Described descendants of the first Spanish immigrants with their "un-European" habits were held in low regard and they were accused of being an obstacle to progress through their "barbarism". This enabled the whites (including many European immigrants) from the more "civilized" regions of the country, especially the pampas, to take advantage of the opportunities offered by capitalism.
The changes were quick and traditional culture was unable to "organize" the new hierarchies. It was no longer clear who belonged to the "respectable" part of society and who did not. Schools, intellectuals, advertising, and also the prevailing culture endeavored to enforce new "decent" norms of behavior or to reinforce the old ones. In order to stand out from the "lower" social classes and to show one's achieved or aspired social status, in addition to the profession and acquired level of education, "urban" manners, a "good appearance", an appropriate place of residence and "befitting" behavior of women in the family were required with a corresponding set of clothes and accessories is essential.
In this messy urban world of Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was essential for many to make it clear that they deserved respect. In this fertile soil of a complex and changing society, the identity of the "middle class" slowly took root from the 1920s onwards. The idea of belonging to the "middle class" made it possible for many to demand the respect they longed for: even if one was not part of the elite, one left no doubt that one did not belong to the mob or the lower class.
The political exploitation of the middle class
The new identity of the middle class was neither accidental nor spontaneous. The term "middle class" was first used by some intellectuals from 1920 with clear political goals.
In January 1920, Joaquín V. González sparked violent polemics with a speech in the Senate. He urged his colleagues to look after the "middle class", "the broadest stratum in the republic that neither initiates strikes nor can get their way." In his speech, González contrasted this useful "middle class" with a working class composed for the most part of "undesirable foreigners" who expressed their "dissatisfaction" and their "extreme theories".1 brought to Argentina. González was one of the most influential politicians and probably one of the most witty intellectuals of the elite that led the country before it opened up to democracy. He has held various posts since the 1880s. He was governor, member of parliament, senator and several times a minister. González combined his public activity with intensive political reflection. His work is shaped by his concern about the problem of revolutions and the "unrestrained passions of the masses." However, it was not until 1919 that he began to pay attention to the middle class towards the end of his life. He was concerned about the rise of the labor movement and the sympathies enjoyed by the Russian Revolution in Argentina. It was also in 1919 when a workers' uprising in Buenos Aires during what was later called the Semana Trágica (the tragic week) rocked the country until it was violently crushed with several hundred deaths. What followed was an unprecedented wave of strikes by white-collar clerks (bank and clerks, etc.) and even students, which aroused deep concern in "decent" society. González carefully followed the incoming news from Europe and took up an idea for Argentina that his European colleagues had already implemented with some success. He wanted to spark a pride of the "middle class" in order to separate the demands of one and the other. He managed to convince part of the people, especially the employees, that they belonged to a different, "more respectable" class than that of the workers and that they should not mix with them on the street. González's speech probably turned into first publicly spoken of by a middle class. So far, this term was little known. The image of a binary social structure prevailed in Argentine society. On the one hand there were people of the "upper" class and on the other hand the mob. That there was any middle class between these two groups was not recognized at the time. Much of the office workers, teachers, telephone operators and smallholders who took part in the strikes that year felt they were part of the working people. There was no middle class identity back then.
Indeed, the workers' press received González ’speech with a mixture of disapproval and alienation. What was probably the first public discussion about the Argentine middle class broke out. The socialist newspaper La Vanguardia accused the "old oligarch" of worrying about the suffering of the "middle class" merely for "campaign reasons". She also denied "the wrong distinctions made by certain sociologists" such as González, who tried to turn workers and employees against one another "who live in perfect solidarity and share a common fate."2. The anarchists of La Protesta went further with their condemnation of the senator's sociology. For them there were actually only two social classes: "The class he is defending does not exist, and if it existed it would have no right to exist."3as it would be an unproductive group of parasites.
For the anarchists and socialists of the time, the political-cultural maneuver that González was aiming for was very clear. González wanted the social view that prevailed in Argentina; H. change the way Argentines saw themselves. He wanted to break the increasing solidarity between workers and employees by convincing the latter that they did not belong to the working class but were part of a "more respectable" middle class. He tried to change the image of a two-class society, as this image confirmed the theories propagated by the anarchists and socialists: that the nation was divided into two and that the lower class could no longer be suppressed by the upper class. González wanted to drive a wedge between the two. In what we now call the middle class, he looked for political allies against the advance of the workers and the opponents of capitalism.
Other right-wing politicians and intellectuals supported González's political and cultural move. Probably the most famous and persistent was Manuel Carlés, the founder of Argentina's first ultra-right parapolice group, the Liga Patriótica Argentina. Carlés tried to organize the middle segments and in the early 1920s called on the "middle class" several times to take action.
The "Operation Middle Class" was only partially successful. Despite the efforts of politicians and intellectuals, no real middle-class identity could develop. The idea that there was a middle class differentiated from the common people could not gain acceptance among broad sections of the population. During the 20s and 30s, other politicians - Liberal, Conservative, Catholic, Nationalist, and some out of the country - started out Universityón Cívica Radical - to refer publicly to the "middle class" and to be interested in them with similar intentions. From then on, a middle-class identity slowly began to emerge among ordinary people, and the concept previously used only by intellectuals began to take shape.
The middle class and Peronism
The identity of the middle class did not spread to large sections of the population until years later with the appearance of the Peronist movement. The stronger presence of the lowest class in Argentine society from 1945 onwards and their protagonism triggered rejection both within the upper class and among those who we now count among the middle classes. It was not so much the soon-to-be-followed wage increases that bothered various circles, but the fact that traditional social hierarchies were profoundly revolutionized. Employers in industry, commerce and agriculture did not like the lack of discipline of the workers and the constant interference of their delegates and the trade unions in all matters.
Not only the hierarchies in the world of work have changed; Peronism also shook several of the pillars on which the position of the individual in society rested. Suddenly everyone who had hitherto been invisible, dumb and oppressed in the ruling culture was omnipresent, and they even dared to intervene in politics. The poor men and women from the outskirts of posh Buenos Aires streamed into the city: on October 17, 1945, the workers marched through the center and demanded the return of Perón, who was then still the incumbent labor minister, but from the military government - to which he himself belonged - was held in custody. This was the first great milestone of Peronism. On that day the workers had conquered this white fortress of "good appearance" from which they had hitherto been excluded in a thousand ways. Over and above all rules of decency, they penetrated the city with their poor clothes and their coarse behavior, populated the squares with their sweaty, bared torsos and refreshed their feet in the water of the fountains. And because they had won that day, they never asked for permission from then on. Just the fact that they are a poor and despised mass of the people Plaza de Mayo and occupied other downtown areas was one for them political Gesture, a ritual that they celebrated again and again in the years that followed.
The common people behaved just as challengingly towards every single norm of respect and "decency" imposed by the ruling culture for years, and every questioning was understood as a political gesture. For years cleanliness and proper dress codes were preached to the poor, and suddenly it was a positive value to be a Descamisado (a shirtless, as Eva Perón called her followers) and a Grasa to be (vulgar).
For years an ideal of cultivated and "educated" behavior had been cultivated and now the Congress had suddenly filled with uneducated "fools". The ideals of decency and family hierarchy were also questioned to a certain extent by the masses. The young Peronists filled the movement with that impetuous, irreverent and vulgar spirit that has been so typical of them ever since. The Peronist women shamelessly sang: "Sin corpiño y sin calzón / Somos todas de Perón«(Without a bra and without panties / We all stand by Perón). Evita, an illegitimate child, became the president's wife. With their gestures, the common people also politicized the question of ethnic origin and skin color, thereby challenging the myth of a white and European Argentina. Suddenly they were there, showing their dark skin or even daring to speak Quechua or Guarani in Buenos Aires, like the daily newspaper Clarín reported amazed. Or they came in an unprecedented caravan from Kollas, a tribe from the northeast, and hoped for it Malon de la Paz called the march to help Perón to return their expropriated land. The common people had finally found their way into high politics without first asking for permission.
It was Perón's disapproval of this policy, but above all the new protagonism of these "decent" people, alluding to their skin color »Cabecitas negras«(Black heads), which connected a broad segment of society and ultimately led to an identity of the» middle class «. In fact, it wasn't until the 1940s that there were signs that a large social group saw itself as a middle class. Never before has there been such a broad coalition and agreement on the demands of the various sectors that have since been referred to as the middle class. Only the horror of Perón's politics and the social indiscipline had been able to connect them. This identity was forever shaped by the conditions of her birth.
Since its inception, the middle class has been anti-peronist. Much of their identity was based on the myth of white and European Argentina, the Argentina of immigrant grandparents, as opposed to the world of Criollos and lower class mestizos. In an unexpected way, just as unexpected as the appearance of Peronism, the identity of the middle class finally fulfilled the task that Joaquín V. González had dreamed of many years earlier: to divide two sectors of society and bring them against one another and to convince one of its place and its political interest was closer to that of the ruling class than of the workers.
The 1960s in a democracy
The social break promoted by the emergence of middle-class identity influenced national politics in a variety of ways from then on. The tremendous social support that the Revolución Libertadora accompanied in the fall of Perón in 1955 (even when she had numerous people shot in 1956) was unthinkable without the support of this section of society.
The standing of the middle class and their place in the nation have been questioned from then on. In the 1960s, the slide to the left brought about by the Peronists and various Marxist groups had an increasing effect on all areas of national coexistence and also on identities. The ideas that emerged stronger from this slide to the left brought the worker back to the center of Argentine development and the aspired socialist nation. Although this left movement was largely made up of middle-class activists, the middle class was attacked for its lack of understanding of national problems, its disregard for the poorest, and, among other allegations, its ideological affinity with the powerful.
Of course, this did not mean that the middle class identity was disappearing. Despite the attacks, she remained deeply rooted. Indeed, their political impact reappeared as broad sections of the population Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (Process of National Reorganization), with which the dictatorship of 1976 put an end to the third Peronist government. The Proceso Not only did tens of thousands of activists die and their organizations destroyed; with its economic policy, the dictatorship also weakened the social influence of the workers. The suppression and stigmatization of all ideas and projects aimed at social change paved the way for the ultimate triumph of the "middle class" as the unequivocal embodiment of the Argentine identity.
The Proceso not only displaced the popular organizations from the center of national events, but also the "people" as the central subject of national history. Its replacement by the middle class was revealed in the results of the 1983 elections, which the dictatorship saw, seeing its central goals fulfilled, called for its withdrawal.Peronism, until then the political expression of the common people, lost its majority nationwide for the first time without electoral fraud or bans. The election of Raúl Alfonsín of the UCR as president was seen as a triumph for the middle class. "Alfonsinism" underpinned the pride of the "middle class", which claimed the role of guarantor of the regained democracy.
Neoliberalism and Crisis
However, the drastic social reform promoted by the most powerful economic sectors was already underway at that time. Neoliberalism ushered in a dramatic change in many aspects of life, from economy to culture. State regulation of the economy was lifted and workers were deprived of many of the social rights and guarantees won over decades of struggle. From 1975, and even more so after Carlos Menem took office in 1989, wealth was increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy people, while the population became impoverished. The middle-class identity served this process a great deal in the early years. To introduce the neoliberal measures, it was necessary to smash the broad social solidarity that had developed in the 1970s. The pride of the middle class with its traditional aversion to the common people could be used to divide and confront the social classes. And that's exactly what some of the new model's propagandists did.
The victory of neoliberal politics, however, provoked a deep break in the thinking and cohesion of the middle classes. The 1990s saw winners and losers. While, on the one hand, part of the middle class happily welcomed the changes (be it because they benefited from them or because they believed in an improvement in their situation), on the other hand, an increasingly broad section of the population became impoverished. In an attempt to resist and oppose menemist politics, sections of the middle class resumed solidarity relations with the lowest stratum (although, of course, many retained their dislike).
During these years the identity of the middle class changed and was even weakened, as many saw themselves increasingly as part of a new "impoverished middle class" or even accepted to be part of the "new poor" who made the lower class bigger. When the economic model of convertibility collapsed in 2001, the effects of the crisis were so devastating that the middle and poorest classes showed even greater solidarity with one another and moved closer together. Very hesitantly one could even observe the beginning of the "dissolution of the classes" for a while.
Of course, the differences between the classes did not disappear. However, some of the dividing walls between the layers were gnawed at by decay. Eduardo Duhalde, who was elected interim president by Congress after the outbreak of the crisis, tried to end the crisis, restore the legitimacy of the state and get Argentine capitalism back on track. It was no accident that he was one of the first to publicly and explicitly woo the middle class. In this way he tried to strengthen an identity in crisis and to prevent the dividing lines to the lower class from becoming even further blurred. For his successor Néstor Kirchner, too, the restoration of the pride of the middle class and the return of the nation to a so-called "normal country" were central issues.
Middle class and after ...
In the course of Argentine history, attempts have been made several times to strengthen the identity of the middle class for the purpose of "fighting insurgents." The aim was to split and weaken strong social movements that wanted to unite the lowest strata with the slightly better-off strata. Of course, this was a threat to the interests of those in power and / or the authorities. In at least three events - the fall of Perón in 1955, the approval of the neoliberal model of the 1990s, and after the 2001 crisis - the middle class played a key role. In these three cases it served to divide and confront the social classes and created a sympathetic public opinion towards the projects of the elite, while it weakened possible resistance to it. It is not by chance that the identities that have shaped us are increasingly critical in the current political environment in Argentina considered. This is particularly true of the myths of the "white, European middle-class country" and the "normal country", in which the poor people are always seen as an obstacle to progress that has to be somehow removed. Such criticism can only be healthy.
However, there is now a paralyzing view of the political role of the middle class. The progressives or left tend to stereotypes about this social class, which corresponds to the thinking spread by liberal and right-wing politicians and intellectuals, but with the opposite sign. In some respects, we are sometimes too ready, as ex-Vice President Carlos Chacho Alvarez once put it, "to pull out the little book by Jauretche". In the 1950s and 1960s, the national and popular intellectual Arturo Jauretche criticized the middle class's negative attitude towards Peronism. Many progressive sectors keep accusing the middle class of never understanding the national problems, of eagerly imitating the customs of the bourgeoisie, of commuting back and forth between the upper and lower classes but always supporting the upper class, always looking to Europe, despising the poor, being racist, discriminating and so on. These clichés date from the years of Revolución Libertadora and the Peronist resistance. Picked up by Jauretche and the great essayists of the 50s and 60s, such as Juan José Sebreli, Jorge Abelardo Ramos, Jorge Enea Spilimbergo and others, they found their way into popular opinion and they still severely limit our understanding of the political role of the middle class.
Even if these clichés contain a great deal of truth, they obscure the rapprochement and strong ties of solidarity between the working class and large parts of the middle class that have taken place at many moments in national history. This gang existed in 1919, in the 30s and of course with the radicalization of the middle class, especially the youth, in the 60s and 70s. In recent history they have been indicative of the remarkable solidarity during the 2001 crisis and, as Maristella Svampa put it, the "exceptional year" that followed. The middle class is not necessarily and inevitably a social conglomerate with the characteristics that were attributed to it by the essayists of the 1950s and 1960s. Jauretche is certainly stimulating, but having his little book in hand tends to hinder free thinking today. The current political challenge is to return, free of prejudice and clichés, to the solidarity ties between all non-ruling classes. Without strengthening these bonds every more or less profound change and every policy is unthinkable that would be able to restrict the criminal advance of capital on our lives.
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