27 October 2005
On Peronism and Labourism
During the mid to late 1940s union membership reached record levels. A health service was opened to all and a massive campaign of council house building began. Many industries such as the railways and the tram services were nationalised and the private sector was put on notice that it had to obey the government's edicts.
This country was not the Britain of Clement Attlee, rather it was the Argentina of Juan Peron. What Peron did after 1946 was essentially the same as what Labour had started the year before. Now it is true that the rhetoric was very different on both sides of the Atlantic. Peron said that In Argentina there should not be more than one single class of men: men who work together for the welfare of the nation, without any discrimination whatever.
By way of contrast, in Britain, the great Nye Bevan was thundering That . . . no amount of cajolery can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. . . So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation.
Rhetoric aside, Labour did not herald the dawn of a socialist Britain, and Peron did not turn into another Mussolini. What did happen was that both parties came to believe in a corporate state where big unions, big business and big government would sort things out. Probably the only difference between them by the 1950s was that Peron had lost what little middle class support he had to begin with, thus the Peronist rhetoric became more class based.
So why is Peron still regarded, at least outside Argentina, as a nasty right-winger, when his policies were broadly the same as those of Labour during the same period?