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date: 30 April 2017

Argentine Intellectual Circles and the European Crisis of the 1930s

Summary and Keywords

Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, Argentina became closely linked to the North Atlantic world, as the founding fathers of the modern state established a political order modeled on liberal principles, developed a dynamic export economy, and presided over a large immigration—mainly from Spain and Italy. These processes provided the historical framework for the impact of the European crisis of the interwar years in Argentine cultural groups and debates in the 1930s. The cosmopolitan features of Argentine society and intellectual groups, the country’s political crisis in the 1930s, and the particularly heavy influence of the Spanish Civil War explain how the European situation and ideologies such as Fascism and anti-Fascism were processed in a variety of cultural publications and institutions.

Keywords: Argentina, Europe, 1930s, politics, culture, intellectuals, Catholicism, nationalism, Fascism, anti-Fascism, Spanish Civil War

The International Dimension of Argentina’s Intellectual Circles

A peculiar feature of Argentine cultural debates in the 1930s is that intellectuals—particularly those located in Buenos Aires—were very aware of and influenced by the major developments that were affecting the North Atlantic world, from the rise of Fascism to the impact of the Great Depression. This openness to international trends manifested in different manners. Argentine intellectuals opened their institutions and publications to their European colleagues, establishing avenues for international ideological cross-fertilization. References to global developments informed their debates and appeared profusely in cultural publications of the period. Furthermore, since many of them were linked to different political parties, those references and ideas found their way into charged political debates.

The profound ways in which “the storm of the world,” to use Tulio Halperín Donghi’s apt term,1 impacted Argentine cultural debates in the 1930s are rooted in the country’s peculiar relationship to the world since the late 19th century. After the defeat in 1852 of the powerful caudillo Juan Manuel de Rosas, who had de facto ruled Argentina since 1829 from his position as governor of Buenos Aires, the new Argentine elites struggled to build a new country politically, economically, and socially opened to the world. The reception of political liberal ideas from the North Atlantic world, exemplified by liberal founding father Juan Bautista Alberdi, mixed with pragmatic concerns about order to establish the foundations of the modern Argentine state in the conservative liberal period from 1853 to 1916. The political project was complemented by the growth of an export-oriented economy based on beef and grains that developed the country and effectively linked it to the world economy. Economic development was accompanied by massive immigration, which not only peopled the country and provided the required labor to the booming economy but also, and more importantly, established lasting and solid demographic, social, and cultural links to countries such as Spain and Italy. Therefore, the international orientation of the conservative liberal project provides a broad historical framework for the impact of international processes on domestic cultural debates in the 1930s. From the arrival of liberalism, anarchism, socialism, and, later, communism to the Rio la Plata to the debates generated by crises of the international economy in the 1870s, 1890s, and 1910s, intellectuals, politicians, labor activists, and the public in general were deeply aware of and receptive to developments occurring in other parts of the world.

Within this broader framework, in the interwar years some specific international processes had profound political, economic and ideological influences on Argentine society, leading to the politicization of cultural spaces in the middle of debates and divisions. The Great Depression not only severely affected the bases of the export-led economy but also eventually led to new mechanisms of state intervention and regulation in changing local and international economic frameworks. The rise of European Fascism and the overall crisis of liberal democracy in the Western world were echoed by the rise and growth of antiliberal and nationalist groups as well as the rise in power and influence of the Catholic Church in Argentine politics. In particular, given the importance of Spanish immigration since the 19th century, the Argentine population followed the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 with passion and attention. More to the point, the war led to a sizable migration to Argentina of Spanish intellectuals escaping defeat and persecution, who energized the overall cultural field and contributed to hardened political and ideological lines in the second half of the 1930s.

Finally, the impact of international factors on Argentine cultural circles is additionally explained by the fact that they could be related to particular domestic developments in the 1930s. In politics and ideology, Argentina experienced a deep crisis of the democratic regime in the 1920s that ended with the September 6, 1930, military coup led by General José Uriburu. The first military coup in 20th-century Argentine history, it was followed by a military regime from 1930 to 1932 and then by the conservative governments of the so-called Concordancia in 1932–1943, which throughout the decade resorted increasingly to electoral fraud and violence to remain in power and which would end with another military coup in June 1943. The international framework could be, and was, used to help interpret those political developments, along with the impact of the Great Depression and the rise of antiliberal movements, as Argentine intellectuals linked the global and domestic arenas in their search for answers in a world riddled by uncertainties.

Fascism, Antiliberalism, and Nationalism in Politics and Culture

The world crisis of the interwar years had a particular influence on the rise of Argentina’s antiliberal and nationalist groups in politics and culture. This development began in the 1920s and consolidated in the 1930s and resulted from two combined processes: the rise of Fascism and the crisis of European liberal democracies, on the one hand, and on the other, the problems of Argentine democracy. Promising to end the corruption and electoral abuses that had dominated the conservative liberal period from 1853 to 1916, the Radical Party administrations of Hipólito Yrigoyen (1916–1922, 1928–1930) and Marcelo T. de Alvear (1922–1928) did not consolidate a democratic system based on mandatory universal male suffrage. Instead, the country experienced increasing intra- and interparty divisions and conflicts that led to congressional stalemate and the politicization of the army.2 In this context, conservative political groups stepped up opposition to the Radical governments, in a campaign that explicitly opposed liberal democracy and universal suffrage and that was laced with racist and classist attacks against the popular sectors that had brought Yrigoyen to power. This campaign, intensified during Yrigoyen’s second administration, involved several intellectuals who moved to more antiliberal, antidemocratic positions under the influence of international and local factors.

Some conservative nationalist intellectuals, like the writers Leopoldo Lugones and Carlos Ibarguren, expressed their disillusionment with mass electoral democracy. Others were more receptive to international antiliberal ideas, as was the case of the nationalist writers gathered in the magazine La Nueva República (LNR, 1927–1931), founded by the brothers Julio and Rodolfo Irazusta.3 The magazine’s intellectuals were clearly influenced by a varied group of sources, including Charles Maurras and L’action française, Joseph de Maistre, Edmund Burke, Thomas Aquinas, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as local nationalist writers such as Lugones and Ibarguren. The common ground for these writers was their antiliberalism, expressed through a deep criticism of liberal democracy and universal suffrage based on traditionalist views mixed with conservative Catholicism. While they did not have a massive influence, LNR’s writers did have an impact on the campaign against Yrigoyen and on the military coup’s leader, General Uriburu. They supported Uriburu in the hope, eventually dashed, that he would preside over the installation of a corporatist regime in the country founded upon the principles they desired.

LNR was not the only place in which European antiliberal ideas found a voice in Argentina. In the 1920s, the Argentine Catholic Church began a process of ideological and political mobilization influenced by a traditional version of Catholicism that also questioned liberalism and democracy.4 As part of this mobilization, in 1922 the Cursos de Cultura Católica opened in Buenos Aires, a series of courses and seminars that counted on the support of the church’s hierarchy and marked the appearance of a dynamic Catholic intellectual sector. The intellectuals that participated in Cursos not only were devoted to the study of philosophy and theology but also, and rapidly, became involved in the political fight of those years. In 1928, the program of Cursos gained a broader audience with the foundation of the magazine Criterio, with the approval of the church’s hierarchy. Both Cursos and Criterio became outspoken critics of Yrigoyen and, by extension, of liberal democracy based on universal suffrage. The influence of European antiliberal Catholic thought was strong in both circles and played a role in the rise of a more militant and politically involved Catholic Church in the next decades.

European influences were certainly mediated by the national context. For example, Maurras’s more extreme ideas were not adopted by LNR and Catholic intellectuals because of his condemnation by the church. There were also differences among various nationalist groups, and they never consolidated into a unified front. On the other hand, people affiliated with LNR, Criterio, Cursos, and other nationalist groups founded in the late 1920s had personal, institutional, and ideological connections, and they all set the precedent for the development of a strong antiliberal nationalist stream in the 1930s. General Uriburu’s military regime did not last long and failed to produce the abrogation of liberal democracy desired by right-wing nationalists. In fact, it ended in the restoration of a democratic regime in 1932 with the election of General Agustín P. Justo (1932–1938), although one tainted by the electoral exclusion of the Radical Party in 1932–1935 and, later, by the increasing use of electoral fraud to maintain in power the political coalition supporting Justo, known as the Concordancia.5 In this environment, and as the European situation deteriorated, there was a flourishing in the 1930s of new cultural and political nationalist groups deeply influenced by international and national antiliberal ideas, such as the Legión Civica Argentina (1931), the Acción Nacionalista Argentina (1932), Afirmación de Una Nueva Argentina (ADUNA, 1933), and the Partido Fascista Argentino (1932). They were joined by new nationalist publications, such as Bandera Argentina and Crisol in the early 1930s.

Building upon previous developments and the international context, these groups shared a strong opposition to liberal democracy and were receptive to local and international traditions of authoritarian regimes. European counterrevolutionary thinkers like Maurras and Ramiro de Maeztu and Italian Fascism were clear influences in the first half of the 1930s for the various nationalist groups, which were also characterized by their rejection of the traditional ruling elites, their anti-imperialism, and their belief in the existence and virtues of an “Argentine race,” among other ideas. Similar antiliberal ideas can be perceived in Criterio and other official Catholic publications, as the Catholic Church consolidated and expanded its political influence during Uriburu’s and Justo’s administrations. An additional element that can be detected in the antiliberal nationalist movement of those years is its remarkably visceral anti-Semitism.6 Although anti-Semitism had local roots in the fears of conservative groups regarding Socialism, Communism, and labor activism, the local and international context of the 1930s strengthened it. This anti-Semitism was far from marginal, as it appeared prominently in nationalist and Catholic publications and was openly circulated by influential figures such as the priest Julio Meinvielle and the writer Gustavo Martínez Zuviría, who authored under the pen name Hugo Wast several anti-Semitic novels that became bestsellers. Indeed, Fascism and anti-Semitism were openly defended in the National Congress by Conservative senator Matías Sánchez Sorondo in his speech supporting the bill of repression of Communism in 1936.

Following these developments, the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) exerted a powerful influence on Argentine ideological, political, and cultural debates. Its outbreak coincided with the deterioration of the political situation in the country. The return of the Radical Party to national elections in 1935 led the Justo administration to allow larger and more brazen acts of electoral fraud in provincial and national elections in 1935–1937, give more weight to the most rightist, conservative, and antiliberal elements of the ruling coalition, and sponsor several pieces of restrictive legislation in 1936, such as those outlawing and repressing Communism and eliminating minority representation in the electoral college. In this rarefied context, then, the Spanish Civil War hardened political and ideological divisions.7

For rightist antiliberal groups, Franco, more than Mussolini and Hitler, became the model of a strong leader emerging from the collapse of democracy and leading the charge against Communism and liberalism. The Catholic Church, through its intellectuals and publications such as Criterio and the newspaper El Pueblo, rallied to the defense of the Spanish insurgents, which was also taken up by right-wing nationalist publications like Crisol, Clarinada, and Sol y Luna. The Spanish Civil War was presented as a heroic crusade for restoring the alliance between the state and the church and building a society modeled after traditional Catholicism. Renowned conservative and nationalist intellectuals including Manuel Gálvez, Lugones, and Ibarguren expressed their support for Franco, and soon after the war’s outbreak, many of them signed a manifesto supporting Franco and denouncing crimes attributed to Spanish Republicans.

Leftists, Anti-Fascists, and the Politicization of Argentine Intellectual Circles

If European Fascism and the Spanish Civil War mobilized and influenced groups on the right, European developments also affected those groups on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Such was the case of several intellectual circles and publications, many of them linked to political parties opposed to Uriburu, Justo, and the Concordancia in the 1930s, such as the Socialist, Communist, Progressive Democrat, and Radical parties. These groups became part of a broad anti-Fascist front that denounced Uriburu, Justo, and the Concordancia as linked to European antidemocratic movements and ideas, since all of them were influenced by the Catholic Church and antiliberal nationalist groups.8

The literary magazine Sur is one of the clearest examples of the impact of the world crisis on Argentine cultural circles and their process of politicization.9 Founded in 1931, directed and financially supported by Victoria Ocampo, Sur gathered a group of prominent writers, including Jorge Luis Borges, Eduardo Mallea, Silvina Ocampo, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Ezequiel Martínez Estrada. Based on Ocampo’s extensive intellectual, personal, and social networks, the magazine was very cosmopolitan from its beginnings. Foreign writers like Waldo Frank and José Ortega y Gasset were influential in Ocampo’s decision to launch it. Sur also constantly published foreign writers such as Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, and Jacques Maritain, and it had a “foreign council” of writers that included the Mexican Alfonso Reyes, Ortega y Gasset, and the Italians Leo and Gluglielmo Ferrero. Sur played a major role in introducing new foreign authors to Argentine literary audiences, and until 1936 it was concerned with literary matters and did not engage openly in political and ideological debates.

However, after 1935 and with the governmental turn to the right and the impact of the Spanish Civil War, Sur aligned itself firmly against antiliberal nationalism and Franco and in defense of the Spanish Republic, a process of ideological definition in which European contributors played a role. In 1936, the publication of several articles by the French Catholic intellectual Jacques Maritain criticizing Franco and the idea of the Spanish Civil War as a legitimate Catholic crusade sparked a furious debate with the Catholic hierarchy and prominent Catholic antiliberal intellectuals such as Monsignor Gustavo Franceschi and Julio Meinvielle. In the same line, Sur also actively published contributions by the group of writers connected to the French magazine Esprit—Denis de Rougemont, Emmanuel Mounier, and Nikolay Berdyaev—and other writers including George Bernanos and François Mauriac, all of them aligned with Personalism, a Christian, mainly Catholic, line that emphasized the spiritual dimension of the individual against Fascist and Communist extremes. Through these and other contributions, Sur developed a peculiar form of liberal anti-Fascism that was attentive to international developments, in which the denunciation of Franco and support for the Spanish Republic played a critical role. Ocampo opened her house to the Spanish Republic’s ambassador to Chile, Ricardo Baeza, and Sur’s writers participated in the Argentine Committee to Aid Spanish Intellectuals, created in 1939 to help those who were escaping Franco’s victory. In addition to its stance regarding the Spanish Civil War, Sur’s writers explicitly condemned Italian Fascism and German Nazism, and when the Second World War broke out in September 1939, the October special issue on the war unequivocally declared neutrality in the war to be politically and morally impossible and sided with Western democracies against Hitler.

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Spanish Civil War and exiled Spanish Republicans in the cultural landscape of Argentina in the 1930s. With the help of solidarity networks provided by Sur as well as leftist parties and unions, many relevant intellectuals were incorporated into the academic world, as was the case of historian Claudio Sánchez Albornoz at the University of Buenos Aires. Moreover, the Iberian conflict led to the foundation of prominent publishing houses in Argentina in 1938–1939, among them Espasa-Calpe, Losada, Sudamericana, and Emecé, which contributed to the literary boom of the next decades.10 The ideological and political affiliation of the exiled Spanish community caused concerns in the Concordancia administrations of Justo and his successor, Roberto M. Ortiz (1938–1940), both of whom dragged their feet or opposed Spanish immigration, as well as in Catholic and nationalist circles.

Another cultural group that became increasingly politicized along anti-Fascist lines in the 1930s and provided a network for European refugees was the Colegio Libre de Estudios Superiores (Free College of Advanced Studies, CLES), founded in 1930 in Buenos Aires by six intellectuals of different ideological orientations, from Communism to conservative nationalism.11 Modeled as an institution of higher studies parallel to the public university system, CLES was more politically ambiguous in the early years. However, the 1932 resignation of one of the founders, the nationalist Carlos Ibarguren, was a step in moving CLES to the left, a process additionally reinforced by the leftist sympathies of the remaining founders—Aníbal Ponce, Roberto Giusti, Alejandro Korn, and Narciso Laclau—and their commitment to the progressive ideals of the 1918 University Reform. After 1935, CLES defined a more critical position toward the national government and antiliberal nationalism, fueled by the fact that many of the members of its board of directors were also leaders and members of parties that opposed the Concordancia: the Radical, Socialist, Progressive Democratic, and Communist parties.

The impact of the world crisis on CLES can be perceived in several ways. Its magazine, Cursos y Conferencias, denounced repression in public universities unleashed after the September 1930 military coup, arguing that it was inspired by Nazism and similar antidemocratic doctrines that informed “creole fascism.” Second, much like Sur, CLES was unequivocal in its position regarding the Spanish Civil War. In 1938, its magazine published the lectures given by one of its members, the renowned Progressive Democratic senator Lisandro de la Torre, in which he denounced Fascism, Nazism, and Communism and attacked the Catholic Church with concrete references to the Spanish conflict—a point that generated a heated exchange with Criterio’s director, Monsignor Franceschi. Moreover, again like Sur, Cursos y Conferencias in May 1939 published the declaration on the creation of the Argentine Committee to Aid Spanish Intellectuals. The names of several members of CLES’s board of directors and regular contributors to the magazine, such Francisco and José Luis Romero and Roberto Giusti, appeared in the committee’s list of supporters, along with the signatures of several writers linked to Sur and members of the 1938–1940 board of directors of the Argentine Association of Writers (SADE), an institution that, as explained later in this section, also experienced a process of ideological polarization against antiliberal groups after 1935. The presence of all these names and groups in the committee, along with those of political leaders who were members of parties opposed to the conservative national administration, demonstrates the existence of a maturing network of cultural groups and institutions that were mobilized by both national and international developments in the name of anti-Fascism.

A third and more concrete manner in which CLES showed the impact of the European situation was by acting as a network of anti-Fascist solidarity that, while mobilized primarily by local intellectuals, opened its doors to European exiled intellectuals, especially Italians. Although international migrants to Argentina declined by more than 50 percent from the 1920s to the 1930s, Italians still represented, along with Spaniards, the main group of migrants, including many important anti-Fascist intellectuals. CLES and its magazine provided a professional space for Italian anti-Fascists such as Gino Germani (founder of modern Argentine sociology), Mariano Mariani, Renato Treves, and Rodolfo Mondolfo. Strengthening the ties between local and foreign intellectuals in the anti-Fascist struggle, CLES members had connections to and participation in the publishing houses set up by exiled Spanish Republicans like Losada, which published not only works by Spanish writer but also texts by Mondolfo and other exiled Italian anti-Fascists.12

In some cases, strict political and ideological affiliations explained in large part the impact of international developments in Argentine cultural circles. Such was the case of the Communist Party, whose membership and influence expanded greatly in the labor movement and intellectual circles in the wake of the Great Depression and against the rise of national and international Fascism. In fact, it can be argued that the 1930s, and especially the second half of the decade, marked the high-water mark of the Argentine Communist Party in all of its history. This prominence, on the other hand, resulted in harsh repression from Uriburu’s and Justo’s administrations between 1930 and 1938. In 1935, following guidelines from Moscow, Argentine Communists embraced the strategy of the popular front in order to create an alliance with other non-Communist and democratic forces against the common threat of Fascism. As part of this strategy, Communists launched cultural initiatives that could support those projects. The most important organization along those lines was the Association of Intellectuals, Artists, Journalists, and Writers (AIAPE), founded in 1935 and led until one year later, when he left the country, by Anibal Ponce; Ponce was one of CLES’s founders, and such other prominent Communist intellectuals as Emilio Troise, Héctor Agosti, Jorge Thénon, and Ricardo Ortiz had active presences.13 Because of the popular front strategy, AIAPE included Communists and non-Communist politicians and intellectuals with links to CLES and the political parties that were opposed to Fascism, like Radicals, Progressive Democrats, and Socialists, with whom Communists shared criticisms of electoral violence, repression, Fascism, and conservative sectors.

Besides owing its inception to the popular front strategy, AIAPE was clearly influenced by and very attentive to global political and ideological developments. Ponce founded the organization upon his return from France, where he witnessed the formation of the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes, and AIAPE would recognize and see itself in the line of the pioneering work of French intellectuals such as Henri Barbusse and Romain Rolland. During the Spanish Civil War, AIAPE’s members and its publication, Unidad, joined the defense of the Spanish Republic, and two of its most prominent members, Cayetano Córdova Iturburu and Raúl González Tuñón, traveled to Spain to participate in the Second International Congress for the Defense of Culture in Valencia in 1937. The Spanish and the French political processes of the 1930s, as well as the Soviet Union and themes related to the international anti-Fascist struggle, occupied significant places in the pages of Unidad. AIAPE’s history extends beyond the 1930s, and until its closure by the military regime in 1943, it was affected by many tensions, especially by rivalries and disputes between Communist and non-Communist intellectuals that reached a climax after the Nazi-Soviet Pact at the outbreak of the Second World War. Like Sur and CLES, AIAPE is an example of the impact of international developments on Argentine intellectuals and the emergence of a varied and multifaceted anti-Fascist movement, which also found expression in other organizations from this period. Such was the case of the Committee Against Racism and Anti-Semitism in Argentina, founded in 1937, which gathered intellectuals, politicians, labor leaders, and supporters from the organizations involved in the anti-Fascist struggle.14

The anti-Fascist mobilization has to be understood against the background of two other developments. First, it was connected to the polarization and mobilization of sectors of Argentine society who saw themselves directly affected by struggles at the international level. The Spanish community was divided by the war in Europe, although most community organizations aligned themselves with the Spanish Republic. Similar tensions surfaced in the Italian and German communities, as the embassies’ efforts to mobilize support for the European Fascist regimes divided them and, in response, gave rise to strong anti-Fascist organizations. In the case of Germans, for example, anti-Nazi groups included media such as the newspaper Argentinisches Tagebblat, schools, and explicit committees and associations like Das Andre Deutschland (The other Germany).15 The anti-Fascist mobilization was particularly intense among the Argentine Jewish community, fueled by the rise of European Fascism and the strong Jewish presence in cultural, political, and labor organizations. More to the point, people of Jewish background were very active in leftist parties such as the Socialist and Communist and mobilized against domestic and foreign expressions of racism and anti-Semitism.16

The second important development is that Argentine cultural groups had a fluid relationship with political parties. Intellectuals were very active in political parties, and, conversely, members and leaders of parties had active presences in cultural organizations. AIAPE is an extreme case because of its association with Communism, but it was far from unique, as the case of CLES demonstrates. This close relationship means that cultural groups amplified the wide coverage that publications linked to political parties were giving to international developments. For example, Argentine Socialist groups and publications were particularly attentive to the crisis of European democracy, the rise of Fascism, and international debates around the popular front. The official newspaper, La Vanguardia, and other party publications provided ample spaces to those debates, defining a political and ideological framework that linked the Socialist struggle for democracy and against Fascism at the domestic and international levels—against the Concordancia, nationalist groups, and antiliberal ideologices and against European totalitarianism. The same can be said of the Radical magazine Hechos e Ideas (1935–1941), which included articles by European contributors and party leaders and intellectuals, with the latter trying to root the party’s history and ideology in the struggle between democracy and totalitarianism at home and abroad.17

It should be noted, though, that all those links and relationship did not lead to the consolidation of a politically unified anti-Fascist front. First, anti-Fascism was a general label that beyond some general ideas—defense of electoral democracy, opposition to antiliberal ideologies and groups, and so on—could and did have different meanings for different groups in relation to more or less radical projects of social and economic reform. Also, the main political forces that were expressing their commitment to anti-Fascism in the 1930s, such as Radicalism and Socialism, were not unified but marked by internal divisions with competing ideological influences and streams. Intraparty divisions were further complicated by interparty rivalries that resulted from contending interests and goals. In particular, distrust of if not overt opposition to Communists by other anti-Fascist groups, especially Socialists, played a role in eroding the possibility of a unified front, despite the specific collaboration in the period 1935–1939 that would be shattered by the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939. In this sense, the anti-Fascist popular front remained more of a general mood, a desired goal that, in spite of a great deal of cooperation on the left and some collaboration in public events, was never fully achieved.

Keeping in mind that outcome, the impact of international processes in the deepening of ideological and political divisions in Argentina’s cultural groups can be seen in two events that gathered Argentine writers in the critical year 1936. In September, the international Congress of the Pen Clubs was held in Argentina. The Argentine delegation included nationalist writers such as Manuel Gálvez and Carlos Ibarguren and Sur’s Victoria Ocampo. The Argentine writers witnessed at first hand the profound divisions among their European colleagues, as shown by the disputes between Italian Fascist writers like Giuseppe Ungaretti and Filippo Marinetti and anti-Fascist writers such as Emil Ludwig, Jacques Maritain, Stefan Zweig, and Jules Romains. Two months later, similar conflicts erupted at the First Congress of Writers organized by the Argentine Association of Writers (SADE) in Buenos Aires. Like Sur and CLES, SADE, founded in 1928, had been until then focused on professional issues; divisions among writers had not appeared.18 Now, the first hints of political conflict emerged when the congress honored the late Spanish writer Federico García Lorca—murdered by Franco’s partisans in the war—and elected as its vice president the Communist Aníbal Ponce, the founder of CLES and AIAPE, who had recently been fired by the national government from his teaching positions. The conflict escalated when the nationalist writer Manuel Gálvez led an attempt to seize control of the association in 1938 by enrolling as new members several prominent nationalist and Catholic writers, such as the Irazusta brothers, Ernesto Palacio, and Julio Meinvielle. When the attempt failed, Gálvez claimed that the incident and the overall divisions had been fueled by the Spanish Civil War. Open conflict finally broke out in 1939 in SADE’s Second Congress of Argentine Writers in Córdoba, when the congress approved declarations defining freedom as an essential condition for spiritual life; defending freedoms of expression, thought, and suffrage; and rejecting dictatorships and oligarchies at the service of foreign capital. When nationalist writers demanded, on the basis of those principles, that SADE defend an antiliberal nationalist professor at the University of Córdoba who had been fired for his political opinions against liberal democracy and in support of Fascism, the demand was voted down. The congress then ended in a shouting match among writers, and in the following years nationalist and Catholic writers resigned from SADE, which now would be firmly allied with the anti-Fascist front.


The European crisis of the 1930s had a profound impact on Argentine cultural circles and debates. In a society with strong historical, cultural, and demographic connections to the world, developments such as the rise of European Fascist regimes and the Spanish Civil War helped define positions and influenced debates in several politico-cultural spaces. Those international processes were interpreted within the specific Argentine context. For cultural groups associated with nationalism, antiliberalism, and the Catholic Church, the crisis of Argentine democracy in the 1920s and 1930s highlighted the validity of foreign and local models that questioned the basis of universal suffrage and liberal democracy. For the groups that gathered in the anti-Fascist front, their struggles against the fraudulent governments of the Concordancia and antiliberal and nationalist groups could not be dissociated from the international fight against Fascism. This process of ideological definition and differentiation did not evolve in a linear fashion but gradually, as the local and international crises worsened over the 1930s. In particular, the coincidence of the political crisis of 1935 and the beginning of the Spanish Civil War highlight the years 1935–1936 as a critical turning point in that process. At the same time, the hardened ideological lines and the heated rhetoric should not obscure that there were fractures in both sides. Beyond some shared elements, antiliberal nationalists never became a single force and anti-Fascist groups remained divided within and among themselves owing to their multiple interests and agendas.

It should be noted that there was another international development that affected local debates in Argentina: the Great Depression.19 The impact of the Great Depression on both the Argentine economy and political debates in the country exceeds the scope of this discussion and, in any case, had more to do with economics than with cultural groups. However, economic discussions and arguments also surfaced in the ideological struggles in which both antiliberal nationalist and anti-Fascist groups engaged, for two reasons. First, the Great Depression severely affected Argentina’s export economy and led to a marked process of state economic intervention in the 1930s, including the creation of the Central Bank and new mechanisms for regulating production and currency exchanges. Second, the fact that those measures were implemented by General Uriburu’s repressive government and Justo’s increasingly fraudulent administration in 1930–1938 politicized those debates. For these reasons, anti-Fascist groups, for example, could denounce the national government’s policies as linked to European authoritarian and Fascist models of state economic intervention. At the same time, the whole political spectrum, from right to left, was divided around the need, shape, and limits of state economic interventionism.20

The 1930s set the background for important developments in the next decade. The impact of the Second World War coincided with the final crisis of the Concordancia in the early 1940s that ended with the military coup of June 4, 1943, the military regime of 1943–1946, and the rise from the latter of Juan Perón and his movement. The ideological lines drawn in the 1930s hardened, once again mixing local and international developments. That mixture is captured by the term “Nazi-Peronism” that old and new anti-Fascists, reorganized as anti-Peronist groups in 1945–1946, used to criticize the emerging movement. In this sense, the storm of the world did not cease but continued agitating Argentine cultural and political debates, revealing the country’s significant cosmopolitan features.

Discussion of the Literature

Overviews of Argentine history in the 1920s and 1930s are available in Joel Horowitz, Argentina’s Radical Party and Popular Mobilization, 1916–1930; Ricardo Falcón, ed., Democracia, conflicto social y renovación de ideas, 1910–1930; Luis A. Romero, A Brief History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century; and Alejandro Cattaruzza, ed., Crisis económica, avance del estado e incertidumbre política, 1930–1943.21 The impact of the Spanish Civil War in the country is addressed by Mónica Quijada, Aires de república, aires de cruzada: La Guerra Civil Española en Argentina; Silvina Montenegro, “La guerra civil española y la política argentina”; and Victor Trifone and Gustavo Svarzman, La repercusión de la Guerra Civil Española en la Argentina, 1936–1939.22

For the intellectual history of the period, including compilation and analysis of primary sources, see Tulio Halperín Donghi’s Vida y muerte de la república verdadera, 1910–1930, La república imposible, 1930–1945, and La Argentina y la tormenta del mundo.23 Among the extensive literature on cultural and political groups linked to the right, Fascism, antiliberalism, and the Catholic Church, see Sandra McGee Deutsch, Las Derechas: The Extreme Right in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, 1890–1939; Daniel Lvovich, Nacionalismo y antisemitismo en la Argentina; Alberto Spektorowski, The Origins of Argentina’s Revolution of the Right; Federico Finchelstein, La Argentina fascista: Los orígenes ideológicos de la dictadura; and Loris Zanatta, Del estado liberal a la nación católica: Iglesia y ejército en los orígenes del peronismo, 1930–1943.24

For the development of anti-Fascism, see Jorge Nállim, Transformations and Crisis of Liberalism in Argentina, 1930–1955; Andrés Bisso, comp., El antifascismo argentino; and Ricardo Pasolini, “‘La internacional del espíritu’: La cultura antifascista y las redes de solidaridad intelectual en la Argentina de los años treinta.” The relationship between anti-Fascism and gender in the 1920s and 1930s has received considerably more attention in recent years; see Sandra McGee Deutsch, Crossing Borders, Claiming a Nation: A History of Argentine Jewish Women, 1880–1955; “Antifascismo, género e historia de las mujeres en la Argentina”; and Jorge Nállim and Adriana Valobra, coord., “Mujeres y antifascismos en Argentina.”25 On the particular case of anti-Fascist Catholic groups, see José Zanca, Cristianos antifascistas: Conflictos en la cultura política argentina; and “Orden Cristiano. El catolicismo democrático argentino y sus contextos.” 26 On Fascism and anti-Fascism within European communities in Argentina, see Germán Friedmann, Alemanes antinazis in Argentina; Ronald Newton, The Nazi Menace in Argentina, 1931–1947; Federica Bertagna, La inmigración fascista en la Argentina; and Dora Schwartztein, Entre Franco y Perón. Memoria e identidad del exilio republicano español en Argentina.27

A developed scholarship has also focused on the impact of the world crisis on political and intellectual groups related to specific political parties, especially Socialists and Communists, linked to the anti-Fascist front. For Socialists, see Osvaldo Graciano, Entre la torre de marfil y el compromiso político: Intelectuales de izquierda en la Argentina, 1918–1955; Juan Carlos Portantiero, “El debate en la socialdemocracia europea y el Partido Socialista en la década de 1930”; and Mariana Luzzi, “‘El viraje de la ola’: Las primeras discusiones sobre la intervención del estado en el socialismo argentino.”28 On Communists, see James Cane, “‘Unity for the Defense of Culture’: The AIAPE and the Cultural Politics of Argentine Antifascism, 1935–1943”; Ricardo Pasolini, Los marxistas liberales. Antifascismo y cultura comunista en la Argentina del siglo XX; Nerina Visacovsky, Argentinos, judíos y camaradas tras la utopía socialista; and Alexia Massholder, El Partido Comunista y sus intelectuales. Pensamiento y acción de Héctor P. Agosti.29

Primary Sources

Probably the best archive for research on Argentine cultural and intellectual groups in Argentina is the Centro de Documentación e Investigación de la Cultura de Izquierdas en Argentina (CeDInCI) in Buenos Aires. Affiliated to the National University of San Martín, CeDinCI houses one of the most complete collections of journals, magazines, pamphlets, newspapers, letters, and other archival material, covering not only the left but also the whole political spectrum from the 19th century to the present. For the topic under discussion, it is particularly strong regarding leftists and anti-Fascist publications, although it also has key publications from nationalist, Fascist, conservative, and Catholic streams. Argentina’s Biblioteca Nacional also has relevant material, although periodical publications are unevenly cataloged and organized and not always accessible. The library’s section Archivos y Colecciones Particulares also has private collections from intellectuals such as Luis Emilio Soto, who played a major role in political and intellectual debates of the period. Likewise, the library of the Academia Argentina de Letras has, in addition to relevant journals, books, and magazines, private correspondence from prominent intellectuals like Victoria Ocampo, Manuel Gálvez, and Roberto Giusti. Books and publications on the topic are also available in libraries of American universities with large Latin American and Argentine collections, such as the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University, and the University of California, Berkeley. For example, the Manuscripts Division of Princeton University’s library has collections of correspondence of many relevant Argentine intellectuals, including such members of the Sur group as Victoria and Silvina Ocampo, María Rosa Oliver, and José Bianco.

In addition to books written by intellectuals and politicians from this period, there are numerous magazines, journals, and periodical publications related to different ideological streams that explicitly engage with ideological debates related to local and international contexts. For publications related to antiliberalism, nationalism, and the Catholic Church, see Bandera Argentina, Clarinada, Crisol, Criterio, El Pueblo, La Nueva República, and Sol y Luna. For those related to literary and cultural institutions enrolled in anti-Fascism, see ¡Alerta! Contra el Fascismo y el Antisemitismo, Boletín de la Sociedad Argentina de Escritores (SADE), Contra-Fascismo: Órgano del Comité de Ayuda Anti-Fascista, Cursos y Conferencias, Nosotros, and Sur. Periodical publications linked to specific political parties are also important sources for the impact of the European crisis in Argentina, for example the Radical magazine Hechos e Ideas, the Socialist La Vanguardia and Anuario Socialista, and AIAPE’s Unidad. Finally, the major newspapers of the 1930s—La Nación, La Prensa, Crítica—devoted space to intellectuals and cultural debates.

Further Reading

Béjar, María Dolores. El régimen fraudulento: La política en la provincia de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aries, Siglo XXI, 2005.Find this resource:

Bisso, Andrés, and Adrián Calentano. “La lucha antifascista de la Agrupación de Intelectuales, Artistas, Periodistas y Escritores (AIAPE), 1935–1943.” In Obrerismo, vanguardia, justicia social, 1930–1960, 235–265. Vol. 2 of El pensamiento alternativo en la Argentina del siglo XX. Edited by Hugo Biagini and Arturo Roig. Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2006.Find this resource:

Camarero, Hernán, and Carlos Herrera, eds. El Partido Socialista en Argentina: Sociedad, política, e ideas a través de un siglo. Buenos Aires: Prometeo, 2005.Find this resource:

Cane, James. The Fourth Enemy. Journalism and Power in the Making of Peronist Argentina. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Devoto, Fernando J. Historia de los italianos en la Argentina. 2d ed. Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2008.Find this resource:

Dolkart, Ronald, and Sandra McGee Deutsch, eds. The Argentine Right: Its History and Intellectual Origins. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1993.Find this resource:

Falcoff, Mark. “Argentina.” In The Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939: American Hemispheric Perspectives. Edited by Mark Falcoff and Frederic Pike, 291–348. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Finchelstein, Federico. Transatlantic Fascism: Ideology, Violence, and the Sacred in Argentina and Italy, 1919–1945. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

García Sebastiani, Marcela, ed. Fascismo y antifascismo: Peronismo y antiperonismo; Conflictos políticos e ideológicos en la Argentina (1930–1955). Madrid: Iberoamericana Editorial Vervuert, 2006.Find this resource:

Girbal-Blacha, Noemí, and Diana Quatrocchi-Woisson, eds. Cuando opinar es actuar: Revistas argentinas del siglo XX. Buenos Aires: Academia Nacional de la Historia, 1999.Find this resource:

Goebel, Michael. Argentina’s Partisan Past: Nationalism and the Politics of History. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Halperín Donghi, Tulio. La Argentina y la tormenta del mundo. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2003.Find this resource:

Ivereigh, Austen. Catholicism and Politics in Argentina. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995.Find this resource:

Nállim, Jorge. “Between Free Trade and Economic Dictatorship: Radicals, Socialists, and the Politics of Economic Liberalism in Argentina, 1930–1946.” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 33.65 (2008): 137–172.Find this resource:

Pasolini, Ricardo. “El nacimiento de una sensibilidad política: Cultura antifascista, comunismo y nación en la Argentina; Entre la AIAPE y el Congreso Argentino de la Cultura, 1935–1955.” Desarrollo Económico 45.179 (2005): 405–433.Find this resource:

Pasternac, Nora. Sur: Una revista en la tormenta. Buenos Aires: Paradiso, 2002.Find this resource:

Persello, Ana V. El partido radical: Gobierno y oposición. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2004.Find this resource:

Romero, Luis Alberto. “La Guerra Civil Española y la polarización ideológica y política: La Argentina 1936–1946.” Anuario Colombiano de Historia Social y de la Cultura 38.2 (2011): 17–37.Find this resource:

Schenkolewski-Kroll, Silvia. “El Partido Comunista en la Argentina ante Moscú: Deberes y realidades, 1930–1941.” Estudios Interdisciplinarios de América Latina y el Caribe 10.2 (1999): 91–107.Find this resource:

Tarcus, Horacio, dir. Diccionario biográfico de la izquierda argentina: De los anarquistas a la “nueva izquierda” (1870–1916). Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2007.Find this resource:


(1.) Tulio Halperín Donghi, La Argentina y la tormenta del mundo (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2003).

(2.) On the political crisis of Argentina during the Radical administrations of the 1920s, see Joel Horowitz, Argentina’s Radical Party and Popular Mobilization, 1916–1930 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008); and Ricardo Falcón, ed., Democracia, conflicto social y renovación de ideas, 1910–1930, vol. 6 of Nueva Historia Argentina (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2000).

(3.) Fernando Devoto, Nacionalismo, fascismo y tradicionalismo en la Argentina moderna: Una historia (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2002), 159–205; and Sandra McGee Deutsch, Las Derecha: The Extreme Right in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, 1890–1939 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 78–106.

(4.) Loris Zanatta, Del estado liberal a la nación católica: Iglesia y ejército en los orígenes del peronismo, 1930–1943 (Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 1996).

(5.) Luis A. Romero, A Brief History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), 59–90.

(6.) Federico Finchelstein, La Argentina fascista: Los orígenes ideológicos de la dictadura (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2008), 76–97; and Daniel Lvovich, Nacionalismo y antisemitismo en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Javier Vergara Editor, 2003), 293–519.

(7.) Mónica Quijada, Aires de república, aires de cruzada: La Guerra Civil Española en Argentina (Barcelona: Sendai, 1991).

(8.) Jorge Nállim, Transformations and Crisis of Liberalism in Argentina, 1930–1955 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012), 67–85.

(9.) John King, Sur: A Study of the Argentine Literary Journal and Its Role in the Development of a Culture (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

(10.) José Luis de Diego, “1938–1955: La ‘época de oro’ de la industria editorial,” in Editores y políticas editoriales en Argentina, 1880–2000, ed. José Luis de Diego (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2006), 91–123.

(11.) Federico Neiburg, Los intelectuales y la invención del peronismo (Buenos Aires: Alianza, 1998), 137–182.

(12.) Fernando Devoto, “La inmigración,” in La Argentina del siglo XX c. 1914–1983, vol. 7 of Nueva Historia de la Nación Argentina, ed. Academia Nacional de la Historia (Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2001), 83–85; and Ricardo Pasolini, “‘La internacional del espíritu’: La cultura antifascista y las redes de solidaridad intelectual en la Argentina de los años treinta,” in Fascismo y antifascismo, peronismo y antiperonismo: Conflictos políticos e ideológicos en la Argentina, 1930–1955, ed. Marcela García Sebastiani (Madrid: Iberoamericana Editorial Vervuert, 2006), 43–76.

(13.) James Cane, “‘Unity for the Defense of Culture”: The AIAPE and the Cultural Politics of Argentine Antifascism, 1935–1943,” Hispanic American Historical Review 77.3 (1997): 444–482; and Ricardo Pasolini, Los marxistas liberales: Antifascismo y cultural comunista en la Argentina del siglo XX (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2013), 29–76.

(14.) Andrés Bisso, comp., El antifascismo argentino (Buenos Aires: CeDinCi, Buenos Libros, 2007), 126–127.

(15.) Germán Friedmann, Alemanes antinazis in Argentina (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2010), 26–54.

(16.) Nerina Visacovsky, Argentinos, judíos y camaradas tras la utopía socialista (Buenos Aires: Biblos, 2015); and Sandra McGee Deutsch, Crossing Borders, Claiming a Nation: A History of Argentine Jewish Women, 1880–1955 (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2010).

(17.) Nállim, Transformations, 35–66.

(18.) Jorge Nállim, “De los intereses gremiales a la lucha política: La Sociedad Argentina de Escritores (SADE), 1928–1946,” Prismas: Revista de Historia Intelectual 7 (2003): 117–138.

(19.) Roy Hora, “The Impact of the Great Depression in Argentine Society,” in The Great Depression in Latin America, ed. Paulo Drinot and Alan Knight (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2014), 22–50; and Roberto Cortés Conde, A Political Economy of Argentina in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 78–121.

(20.) Nállim, Transformations, 86–104.

(21.) Alejandro Cattaruzza, ed., Crisis económica, avance del estado e incertidumbre política, 1930–1943, vol. 7 of Nueva Historia Argentina (Buenos Aires: Sudamericana, 2001).

(22.) Silvina Montenegro, “La guerra civil española y la política argentina” (PhD Diss., Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 2002); and Victor Trifone and Gustavo Svarzman, La repercusión de la Guerra Civil Española en la Argentina, 1936–1939 (Buenos Aires: CEAL, 1995).

(23.) Tulio Halperín Donghi, Vida y muerte de la república verdadera, 1910–1930 (Buenos Aries: Ariel, 2000); and Tulio Halperín Donghi, La república imposible, 1930–1945 (Buenos Aires: Ariel, 2004).

(24.) Alberto Spektorowski, The Origins of Argentina’s Revolution of the Right (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003); and Loris Zanatta, Del estado liberal a la nación católica: Iglesia y ejército en los orígenes del peronismo, 1930–1943 (Buenos Aires: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 1996).

(25.) “Antifascismo, género e historia de las mujeres en la Argentina,” Cuadernos del Sur 41 (2012): 127–252; and Jorge Nállim and Adriana Valobra, coord., “Mujeres y antifascismos en Argentina,” Arenal: Revista de Histori de las Mujeres 22.1 (2015): 3–87.

(26.) José Zanca, Cristianos antifascistas: Conflictos en la cultura política argentina (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2013); and “Orden Cristiano: El catolicismo democrático argentino y sus contextos,” Anuario del IEHS 29–30 (2014–2015): 199–325.

(27.) Germán Friedmann, Alemanes antinazis in Argentina (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2010); Ronald Newton, The Nazi Menace in Argentina, 1931–1947 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992); Federica Bertagna, La inmigración fascista en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2007); and Dora Schwartztein, Entre Franco y Perón: Memoria e identidad del exilio republicano español en Argentina (Barcelona: Crítica, 2001).

(28.) Osvaldo Graciano, Entre la torre de marfil y el compromiso político: Intelectuales de izquierda en la Argentina, 1918–1955 (Bernal, Argentina: Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 2008); Juan Carlos Portantiero, “El debate en la socialdemocracia europea y el Partido Socialista en la década de 1930,” in El Partido socialista en Argentina: nudos históricos y perspectivas historiográficas, ed. Hernán Camarero and Carlos M. Herrera (Buenos Aires: Prometeo, 2005), 299–320; and Mariana Luzzi, “‘El viraje de la ola’: Las primeras discusiones sobre la intervención del estado en el socialismo argentino,” in I Jornada de Historia de las Izquierdas (CEDINCI: Buenos Aires, 2000), 21–32.

(29.) Alexia Massholder, El Partido Comunista y sus intelectuales: Pensamiento y acción de Héctor P. Agosti (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Luxemburg, 2014).