Department of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies
The University of British Columbia
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This is a draft: please do not cite without author's permission
a version of this review was published in the Times Literary Supplement (November 10, 2000): 37.
A Review of Paula Alonso, Between Revolution and the Ballot Box: The Origins of the Argentine Radical Party. 242pp. Cambridge University Press. 0 521 77185 4
This book can be read in two ways. First, it is a meticulous history of late nineteenth-century Argentine party politics, described, its author admits, "with a detail that the reader could at times find tedious." The core here is an examination of Buenos Aires voting records, which Alonso uses to rewrite the early history of the Radical Party (the Unión Cívica Radical or UCR), "one of two parties that have dominated Argentine politics during the twentieth century."
Alonso demonstrates that the Radicals were not so much the inchoate and violent expression of emergent and hitherto excluded sections of society as in fact the builders of a relatively organised electoral machine whose discourse of revolution was essentially conservative, attracting predominantly the middle and upper classes. Initially a loose federation of interests united only by opposition to the status quo, the Radicals pioneered the introduction of a US-style party system in a bid to overcome the personalist faction-fighting that always threatened to tear their federation apart. By 1898, the end of the period studied here, the disbanding of the party marked its failure to effect this transition from personalismo; the UCR, or rather a certain style and imagery associated with the party, was only resurrected in the subsequent decade by Hip&ooacute;lito Yrigoyen, veteran of the 1890s factionalism, who would win the Argentine presidency in 1916.
The 1890s, then, provide something of a dress rehearsal for twentieth-century Argentine politics. Alonso argues that this period was neither particularly corrupt nor particularly open: there was real political competition, but it had yet to mobilise the mass of a population that was by 1895 already transformed by large-scale immigration.
Thus, second, this is also a book about Peronism that dare not speak its name. Alonso never names the other of the two parties that have dominated twentieth-century Argentina, except indirectly in her very last words (a footnote). But she suggests that the Radicals' rhetoric of violence, ideology of conservative revolution, and intransigent refusal to negotiate would subsequently create the political climate that allowed Peronism to thrive and, ironically, to keep the UCR out of the limelight for much of the twentieth century. Whether or not this implicit argument is fair, it would have been good to see it developed, in that it would also give more reason to study the 1890s in such detail, as a vision of an Argentine road not taken.
University of British Columbia
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last updated October 22, 2004