Argentina's Radical Party and Popular Mobilization, 19161930

By (author) Joel Horowitz

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 February 2011

Length of book:

256 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271034058

Democracy has always been an especially volatile form of government, and efforts to create it in places like Iraq need to take into account the historical conditions for its success and sustainability. In this book, Joel Horowitz examines its first appearance in a country that appeared to satisfy all the criteria that political development theorists of the 1950s and 1960s identified as crucial. This experiment lasted in Argentina from 1916 to 1930, when it ended in a military coup that left a troubled political legacy for decades to come. What explains the initial success but ultimate failure of democracy during this period?

Horowitz challenges previous interpretations that emphasize the role of clientelism and patronage. He argues that they fail to account fully for the Radical Party government’s ability to mobilize widespread popular support. Instead, by comparing the administrations of Hipólito Yrigoyen and Marcelo T. de Alvear, he shows how much depended on the image that Yrigoyen managed to create for himself: a secular savior who cared deeply about the less fortunate, and the embodiment of the nation. But the story is even more complex because, while failing to instill personalistic loyalty, Alvear did succeed in constructing strong ties with unions, which played a key role in undergirding the strength of both leaders’ regimes.

Later successes and failures of Argentine democracy, from Juan Perón through the present, cannot be fully understood without knowing the story of the Radical Party in this earlier period.

“At a time when historical scholarship on Latin America is awash in postmodern cultural and gender studies, often dealing with subjects of trivial consequence, Joel Horowitz’s book tackles an enormously important subject. Argentina’s Unión Cívica Radical was Latin America’s first mass-based political party, arguably the first to emerge in the former colonial world. The UCR’s history ranks with that of the Congress Party in India and a handful of other examples of attempts to institutionalize and democratize politics on the remnants of colonial structures and practices. The UCR thus occupies a prominent place not only in Argentina’s history but also in the history of twentieth-century democracy. This is a story ripe for a reassessment. Horowitz provides the most detailed study of labor politics in the decade that exists in any language; no historian, even from Argentina, has his command and understanding of the politics of labor in this decade. He covers all the major ideological tendencies, labor confederations, and key unions with absolute mastery. His research is extraordinarily deep here, and the chapters are brimming with insights. The publication of Joel Horowitz’s book confirms Penn State University Press’s status as the leading English-language publisher of Argentine history.”

—James P. Brennan, University of California, Riverside