Sandra McGee Deutsch.

Social origins of counterrevolution in Argentina, 1900-1932 online

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as well as the economic was unsettling. Facing the specter of economic

catastrophe, the executive seemed to be mired in administrative duties

and the Congress in partisan political battles. It was widely believed

that the President, well into his seventies, was senile. Whether this

was true or not, Yrigoyen was notoriously poor at delegating authority

and at taking quick action, hardly the decisive leader needed in a

crisis. Moreover, many of his associates were corrupt and inefficient.

Meanwhile, Congressmen were engaging in bitter interparty warfare over

provincial election outcomes, seemingly indulging in mere

politiq ueria at the expense of vital concerns. It was not surprising

that the right-wing critique of liberal democracy found an audience,

particularly among disaffected sectors of the former political elite

and the military. The growth of nationalism in the armed forces has

been well documented elsewhere; suffice it to say here that

Yrigoyen' s interference in its affairs, as well as a sense of impending

political and economic chaos, convinced many officers of the need for

a coup, and some officers of the need for revamping the system of

government itself.

Public opinion, the press, and the universities turned against

the Radical administration, and protest meetings began to fill plazas

in the federal capital. In response, young yrigoyenistas — whom their


opponents called the "Klan Radical" — took their cause into the
streets, and nationalist enthusiasts resolved to do the same. As an
Independence Day protest, on July 9, 1929 the Irazustas, LNR writer
Mario Lassaga, and Roberto de Laferrere stood in the Plaza de t-layo and
cried "Down with bad government!" More embarassed and surprised than
angered, the police arrested Rodolfo Irazusta and Lassaga but released
them early the next day. Not long thereafter, Laferrere called a
meeting of students and journalists from LNR and La Fronda in the
latter's offices. Some were attracted by Italian fascism, others by
Primo de Rivera, but all were opposed to Yrigoyen. They decided to
form a voluntary youth militia — the Liga Republicana — to combat
political corruption and those whom they regarded as the internal
enemies of the nation. One member, Carlos Ibarguren (Jr.), dated the
militia's origins back to early 1929, to a conversation between the
elder Irazusta, Laferrere, and Uriburu, in which the first two told
the General about their plans for a revolutionary movement. Uriburu
reminded them that he was on active duty and said that he would not
participate at this stage; that task corresponded to the youth, as it
had corresponded to him and like-minded young men in 1890. As for
later on, he Vv'ould w.iit and sec. '

The Liga Republicana quickly took to tlie streets, engaging in
antigovemment demonstrations and in battles with the police, the
Klan Radical, and leftist university students. Its purpose was to
stimulate and unite popular opposition to the Yrigoyen administration,


and in pursuit of this goal the republicanos appeared at virtually every
opposition rally, organized public meetings, disseminated posters, and
sent delegations to the provinces to rouse support. According to one
participant, by the end of 1929 the militia had attracted about 2800
adherents. Although the Liga Republicana 's public functions drew

crowds of this size, the organization's hard core numbered only several

hundred .

The republicanos claimed that their actions were governed by a

nationalist orientation which placed Argentine interests above those

of party, ideology, class, or group. Roberto de Laferrere, the main

organizer of the militia, went further and declared his opposition

to those who "put humanity before the fatherland." In the group's

declaration of aims, Laferrfere wrote that the Liga resisted not only

the government in power but the actual system of government. It would

struggle against demagoguery, whose manifestations and consequences

were the lack of a governmental program, subordination of government

officials to party leaders, executive complicity in labor conflicts,

mass "adulation," and the government's assumption that it had a

popular mandate to do as it wished. It would combat specific

administrative abuses and would defend the Constitution and laws

against Yrigoyen's usurpations of provincial autonomy, Congressional

power, rights of public assembly, and public funds.

The Liga Republicana coordinated its actions with other opposition

groups — conservative parties, the P.D.P., the Independent Socialists,


and other militias. At times the republicanos ' ideals and methods
antagonized their allies, particularly after the Videla Dorna incident.
A leading republicano and a Conservative, Daniel Videla Dorna had
been elected deputy from Buenos Aires province in March 1930, but
the Personalist Radicals in the Chamber refused to admit him and other
newly elected deputies of the opposition. His fellow militiamen
declared a "gaucho war" against Yrigoyen and engaged in more street
battles than ever. On the eve of the revolution, a P.D.P. speaker
criticized militia violence. In response, LNR noted that the "moribund"
P.D.P. was trying to revive the corpse of democracy, while, the young

republicanos supported a vigorous government of order. Once led by

brilliant leaders, the P.D.P. had decayed and turned leftist.

Although the ideals which inspired the Liga Republicana and LNR
were virtually the same, differences arose between the two. Despite the
militia's stance on political parties, Carulla and Laferrere wanted it
to support the Independent Socialists in the 1930 congressional
elections, while Rodolfo Irazusta wanted it and other groups to form a
coalition that would offer its own list of candidates, headed by
Manuel Carles of the Liga Patriotica Argentina. The first plan pre-
vailed and Irazusta resigned from the Liga Republicana; this was not
the first time he despaired over what he regarded as the repub licanos '
incapabilities. The split notwitlistanding, LNR writers reported
approvingly on the militia's activities.

The closest allies of the Liga Republicana were the Legion de
Mayo, formed in August 1930, and the Liga Patriotica Argentina. Carles


was perhaps the first person of importance to call for Yirgoyen's
overthrow, in a speech delivered in July 1929. He complained that
the government had failed to act on pressing national issues or to
observe the Constitution. The moment was approaching, he warned, when
Argentines would have to rebel to protect their country's institu-
tions. The Liga had another reason to support a revolution. In
doing so, it was merely continuing its policy of defending Argentina
against "dissolvent parties." According to Carles, the Liga had
discovered the existence of a pact between the Personalists and

anarchism, in which the latter would give the former votes in exchange

for demagogic measures. (Carles did not seem to know that

anarchists did not participate in elections.) The Liga also complained

to the press that Yrigoyen was not combatting bolshevism with enough


Although there was little indication of renewed labor militancy,

liguistas and many other Argentines assumed that given the precarious

economic and political situation, leftists would find fertile ground

for activity. In December 1929, Uriburu claimed to have heard of a

communist-inspired plot of firemen and policemen. After the September 6

coup, the General insisted that if events had continued in the same

path, there would have been a social revolution. "Anarchism was the

specter which appeared to us at the end of the road." To LNR writers

and republicanos , a leftist upheaval seemed the logical consequence of

what they considered Yrigoyenist demagoguery and democratic excesses.


At any rate, brigades in the capital met to express their solidarity

with Carles and discuss means of defending their neighborhoods against


communists and anarchists.

An official campaign against Carlos began in October 1929, when
police tore down Liga posters which proclaimed that the "hour of
vindication" had arrived, that Argentines had to choose between a
government which disobeyed the law and the Fatherland, In public
meetings often disrupted by police. Carles and other liguistas
continued to speak against the administration and in favor of anti-
Yrigoyenist youths killed or wounded by government forces. The Liga
seemed to be approaching the viewpoint of the new forces of order.
Carlos welcomed LNR 's return to print in June 1930, and after the
revolution the Junta Central delcared its support for a republic, as
against a government of the "horde." In its view, governments in the
future would have to be for the people, but not of the people. Carlds
did not agree on all matters with the nationalists, however, as will
be seen.

Overlapping the Liga Republicana in ideology and personnel, the
Legion de Mayo was founded in late August 1930. Aside from Carulla,
Laferr&re, Videla Dorna, and other re publicano s , the Legion's nucleus
consisted of members of old interrelated families from the littoral
region whose ancestors had fought against Rosas. Influenced, perhaps,
by this heritage, the group's initial statement of aims praised
Argentine democracy and the figure of Rivadavia. At great cost, a


representative federal republic had been erected between May 1810 and
1912, but events since the passage of the Saenz Peiia law had placed
this system in jeopardy. Named in honor of the revolution of 1810, the

Legion de Mayo invited Argentine youths to defend the national

patrimony and arrest the slide into anarchy. La Nueva Republica

announced approvingly the formation of the Legidn, but reproved its

leaders for thinking that the heroes of May were democrats. (La

Nueva Republica constantly reminded its readers that a democracy and

a republic were not the same and that the Constitution said nothing

about the former.) From its manifesto, however, it was clear that

the Legidn 's version of democracy bore little resemblance to that of

Rousseau or Yrigoyen.

The Liga Republicana, Legidn de Mayo, and Liga Patridtica

Argentina were the civilian nonpartisan groups which stirred up public

sentiment against Yrigoyen, and the first two played a role in the

September 6 coup, albeit a limited one. Under the command of

Alberto Vinas , a Conservative deputy, the combined forces of the Liga

Republicana and the Legidn de Mayo numbered over a thousand. On the

eve of the revolution, armed republicanos were assigned to guard

Uriburu as he movetl from one house to another, hunted by tlie police.

The morning of September 6, small groups of republicanos and legionarios

headed toward the plaza of Flores, a middle-class neighborhood, where

they expected to join the soldiers in revolt. Instead they encountered

the police, who dispersed and jailed some of the civilian


revolutionaries. Others managed to escape, to find the troops on
their way from the barracks of the Campo de Mayo, and to accompany them
to the center of Buenos Aires,


The Revolution of 1930 enjoyed widespread popular support. The

nationalists — and Uriburu — interpreted this to mean that the
people agreed with them on the need for a government above politics
and classes which would restore discipline, hierarchy, and unity. They
proved to be wrong, for most Argentines wanted a solution to critical
economic problems and a speedy return to constitutional rule, not
Uriburu' s cherished "functional democracy." At any rate, initially
nationalists had reason to be satisfied with the provisional govern-
ment, a satisfaction reflected in the issues of LNR and Criterio
which immediately followed the revolution.

Nationalists such as Carulla, Lugones, Juan P. Ramos and
Jose Maria Rosa, Sr. (the last two were active in later groups), and
sympathizers such as Carlos Ibarguren, Sr. were Uriburu's close ad-
visers. To staff the cabinet and intervene in the provinces, Uriburu
appointed men of whom the nationalists generally approved: persons
mostly tied to the regimen but also to the land, the Church, and the
Argentine past. Furthermore, a few of them, such as the Conservatives
Matias Sanchez Sorondo, Minister of the Interior, and Carlos Meyer
Pellegrini, Interventor of Buenos Aires province, publicly criticized
the old political system. Ibarguren, as Interventor of Cordoba pro-
vince, tried to lay the ground work for a functional democracy and to


carry the mission of the provisional government to the interior.

Uriburu also appointed many nationalists and Catholic spokesmen to

positions in the federal government and interventions, or he facilitated

their access to lower-level posts. At least twenty-six LNR staff

members, republi canos, and legionarios were given sinecures.

Alejandro Bunge took part in the intervention of Santa Fe province and

Dell'Oro Maini in the one on Corrientes.

The Legi5n de Mayo was formally dissolved at a banquet celebrated

in the Sociedad Rural 's headquarters on September 27; one of the

speakers was Mariano Villar Saenz Pena, past president of the Coraite

de la Juventud and a legionario . In mid-February of the following

year, however, its former leaders asked their old comrades to regroup

in order to assure the success of the revolution and prevent Radical

subversion. Still headed by a civilian, Rafael A. Campos, descendant

of an antirosista general, the Legion now also recruited from the armed

forces. Its "technical director" was Lieutenant Colonel Emilio

Kinkelin, Uriburu 's secretary. The reconstituted organization began

to establish brigades, principally in the federal capital and Buenos

Aires province. The members of these new brigades often carried

Italian names and came from industrial neighborhoods, indicating the

increasing popularity of nationalism. In another attempt to win

support for Uriburu, Carulla and other nationalists formed the Partido

Nacional in 1931, but shortly thereafter it merged with the Conservative



After the coup the Liga Republicana found a reason for continuing
its existence; it would study the problems Argentina now faced after
the "necessary" revolution. Grateful for their services, Uriburu
gave the republicanos a banquet in the Jockey Club on October 31. Like
the Legion de Mayo, the Liga Republicana also went on to form brigades,
each under the leadership of a military officer. The brigades of
both of these groups, however, were coordinated by a new semiofficial
body — the Legi6n Civica Argentina (henceforth, LCA) .

Early in 1931 this new group was formed under the leadership of
Dr. Floro Lavalle, a prominent physician, landowner, and founding member
of the Liga Patridtica Argentina. Lavalle and 300 fellov>7 members met
with Uriburu in mid-February, and three months later the government
extended official recognition to the LCA as its partner in the task
of "institutional reconstruction." Each member was given an official'
medallion, which gave the holder special provileges in his defense of
public order. The aims of the LCA, as stated in its declaration of
principles, were to help the authorities maintain order, promote
argentinidad and the social and moral unity of the people, and provide
citizens with military training. The LCA supported the government's
program of constitutional reform and functional democracy. It believed
that only native-born Argentines should occupy official positions and
that immigration should be strictly regulated. Concern for the masses
was not absent from its considerations; it believed in establishing a
court to settle labor-management disputes, helping all workers to


acquire property, and improving the laborers' health and technical
ability. As La Vanguard ia noted, there were many similarities between
the LCA and the Liga of 1919, the main difference being that the
former explicitly viewed both leftism and liberalism as threats.

Like its predecessor, the LCA was a paramilitary organization. On
military bases officers trained its members to use arms and to march,
and frequently they commanded brigades. Ideological training was
limited to the repetition of slogans emphasizing the defense of order,
God, family, and country. The LCA' s first public appearance was in
late April 1931 — a parade in military formation through the wealthy
neighborhood of Palermo in Uriburu's honor. A squadron of twenty- four
planes, piloted by civilian members, escorted the parade. La Fronda
estimated the number of nonuniformed marchers at 15,000, La Vanguardia

at half that figure. Uriburu congratulated the militia for having

established a link between the people and the military. According

to La Fronda , a sympathetic source, the LCA marshalled about 27,000 and

35,000 members for its parades of May 25 and July 6, respectively;

La Vanguardia counted fewer marchers. After these occasions, members

wore gray uniforms and carried rifles in public.

At the May 25th parade, Uriburu again praised the LCA for its

"civic force which condenses and expresses witli fervor the genuine

spirit of the Revolution of September." He defined the organization

as an enthusiastic arm of the people, representing order, discipline,

and self-abnegation and defending the fatherland threatened by anarchy


and demagoguery . In another speech he added that the LCA, an apolitical
force instructed and disciplined by officers, constituted a reserve

army. The reason for its sendof f icial status was that the state could

not afford a large military draft.

Many observers questioned whether the LCA was indeed disinterested

and apolitical and whether a large paramilitary force was needed to

defend the state, despite several Radical uprisings. They were

alarmed by the size of the organization; its male and female members

were estimated at anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 and its brigades were

located throughout Argentina. The members' main "defense activities"

were to hold parades, spy on civilians, repress the political

activities of students, workers, and Radicals, and instruct school

children to march in military formation. The editors of La Van guard ia

pointed out that the LCA was an instrument of hatred against the U.C.R.

and thus was dividing the nation, in contradiction with its aims. Its

recruitment of women and children and its activities in the schools

disturbed La Prensa . According to a police precinct captain, the LCA

included common criminals who abused their privileges: for example,

by ordering the police to free their friends from jail. Reports

abounded of LCA activities in government offices, forcing public

employees to join the militia or at least attend the parades, although

LCA commanders denied these allegations. Furthermore, high-level

bureaucrats used their positions to publicize the LCA. Finally,

despite the militia's supposed nonpartisanship, ties existed between


it and the Conservatives, at least within the province of Buenos
Aires .

Many persons feared that Uriburu planned to use the LCA to
perpetuate his rule, despite the General's denials. Perhaps more
significantly, some military officers thought the militia was usurping
the authority of the armed forces. These officers saw their role
in the revolution as one of returning Argentina to constitutional rule,


and they disapproved of Uriburu's corporatist designs. Uriburu
had made no secret of his distaste for political parties and liis desire
to eliminate them. A majority of military officers, led by
General Agustin P. Justo, successfully opposed this plan.

Meanwhile, because of poor health, disillusionment, and an apparent
susceptibility to the influence of friends, Uriburu increasingly
allowed Sanchez Sorondo to run the government and try to bring the
Conservatives to power. Over nationalist protest, elections in
Buenos Aires province were held in April 1931, which the Radicals
won unexpectedly. Clearly the government had counted upon a Conserva-
tive victory; sliocked, it voided the returns. After a pro-Radical
military uprising in July, severe measures were imposed against the
U.C.R. Leading Radicals were persecuted and deported, and the party
was proscribed from the upcoming presidential election in November,
a state of siege already being in existence since the coup. To no
one's surprise, the ticket of General Justo and Julio Roca (Jr.), sup-
ported by the Concordancia, an alliance of the Conservatives of


Buenos Aires, provincial conservative factions. Independent Socialists,
and Antipersonalists, won an obviously fraudulent election.

Long before late 1931 many nationalists had become dissatisfied
with the LCA and with the Urlburu administration in general,
Roberto de Laferrere opposed the incorporation of the Liga Republicana
into the LCA, which he saw as opportunistic, oversized, and un-
disciplined, in contrast to the former's selectivity and disinterested

spirit. Laferrfere s opinions manifested the resistance of elitist

nationalists to broadening their movement. Other nationalists who

had joined the LCA soon thereafter left it, repelled by its ties to

, ^ 85

the Conservative party.

As early as the beginning of October 1930, Rodolfo Irazusta noted

the regime's faults. In a letter to his brother, he criticized its

ties to the regimen and the Jockey Club. A few weeks later in LNR

he decried the lack of genuine change and concluded that "things are

not going very well." Observing events from Europe, Julio Irazusta

wrote that if the political system were not revised, the revolution

would have been futile, but he declared that he had not yet abandoned

hope. With the reversion to electoralism, however, the Irazustas

did lose hope. Disillusioned by the return of the regimen and

increasingly preoccupied with the issue of economic imperialism (a

concern which had never been absent from their thought), the brothers

and some of their collaborators eventually came to recognize Yrigoyen's

nationalist accomplishments. Julio Irazusta joined the Radical party


as a way of demonstrating his opposition to the political status quo.
Since in his opinion the U.C.R. had no doctrine, membership in that
party signified nothing other than a commitment to honest government

and representation, a stand which involved no ideological compromises

on his part. Other nationalists remained loyal to Uriburu, even

after his death in 1932, and continued to seek corporatist or Catholic

solutions to Argentine problems.

The path of the Liga Patriotica Argentina diverged from that of

its former allies. Bitterly opposed to the persecution of Radicals

and their exclusion from politics. Carles publicly demanded that

Uriburu change his policies. When the latter responded by forbidding

Carlos to speak in churches, which he had been doing since 1919, Carles

resigned his position as professor of "Civic Morality" in the Colegio

Nacional. He declared that he would not teach constitutional law

under a government which disregarded it. Even longtime leftist

opponents of the Liga applauded his actions, which demonstrated the

gulf between his liberal-conservatism and the opinions of the

nationalists; these differences will be examined in the next chapter.

In the waning months of the Uriburu government, the civilian forces

which had supported the September 6 coup splintered, and they have never

been able to reunite since then.


This phrase was found in an article written by Ernesto Palacio
in La Nueva Republica (henceforth LNR ) , 1 (Dec. 1, 192 7). I am very
grateful to Julio Irazusta for allowing me to read this collection of
this periodical and his private papers.

Congreso Nacionalista de Economia Rural (1935), p. 41.

Marysa Navarro Gerassi gave Lugones this name in Los nacional-
istas , p. 43. Onega, La inmigracion , pp. 216-219, and Irazusta,
Lugones , pp. 14 and 98-100, contain discussions of these lectures.

Irazusta, L ugo nes, p. 101. Lugones began his career in public
service at the age of nineteen, almost certainly with the help of
family connections.


On the economy in the 1920 's see Di Telia and Zymelman, Los
ciclos , pp. 186-242, and Vasquez-Presedo, Estadisticas , II, pp. 189,
194-195, 203, 210-213.

Vasquez-Presedo, Estadis ticas, II, p. 189.

Vernon L. Phelps, The International Economic Position o f

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Online LibrarySandra McGee DeutschSocial origins of counterrevolution in Argentina, 1900-1932 → online text (page 18 of 23)