The UCR, orphan of its soul

Sketching a definition of the soul of a people often seems to be more of a literary fiction than an anthropological study. Addressing a representation of a historical movement refers, instead, to an identity of origins, to values. A “soul”, which implies a quasi-moral commitment, destined for a community conceived as a community of destiny. A commitment that bears a social, cultural and political dynamic.

Yrigoyen and Alem. What was, for the UCR, this commitment? This is founded, abundantly, on two historical strata.

The first stratum is incarnated, in the 1890s, by two mythical figures: Leandro Alem and Hipólito Yrigoyen, who managed, with their “co-religionists”, to carry out their ideology. That was a commitment of pure principle, an “ethics”, that of a “national reparation”, in reaction against the “false and disbelieving” regime of the “aristocratic Republic” in force since the first presidency of General Roca, in 1880. A time when the growth of the economy was supported by waves of immigration (3.2 million immigrants between 1880 and 1913) and had its source in the considerable flow of European capital, especially British.

The goal was to manage prosperity, which meant the depoliticization of public affairs. Universal suffrage, considered a threat, was conceived as “the triumph of universal ignorance,” according to the famous formula of Eduardo Wilde, President Juárez Celman’s Minister of the Interior. The Manifesto of April 14, 1891, written by Alem, was the founding act: “That the election of public dignitaries once again be, among us, a private attribute of the people, as determined by law.” In relation to the Roca-Mitre pact, the Civic Union had fractured into two opposing lines. Opposite the National Civic Union, the Radical Civic Union led by Alem emerged. The combat was fought in the name of the Argentine soul (the “Argentinity”). The stage of 1912 was decisive, with its three electoral laws that allowed the “universal suffrage revolution”, thus guiding a future mass movement towards a civic ideal, and coupling, at the same time, radicalism with legality.

The question of the quality of the future candidates for the future elections was soon raised. Yrigoyen use: “The need to succeed certainly requires numbers, and we cannot choose men as we have done up to now; We can no longer rest our thoughts in the lap of common dreams, because in the meetings that will be held from now on, we will find men moved by practical purposes, by hidden personal ambitions, and we will have to march through the streets leading the man of purest intention, and from the other perhaps to some simulating and despicable rascal. This is imposed, required by the electoral struggle, in which they are going to mix. But do not let the passionate struggles of interests completely consummate the ideality that has kept us together until today: compromise as little as possible with reality.

Yrigoyen’s accession to the presidency in 1916 (45.5% of the votes) would produce a reaction within radicalism: in 1922, the new president, Marcelo T. de Alvear, co-founder of the UCR, broke In order to counteract the Yrigoyenism that he judged “plebeian”, he created a conservative dissident current, the UCRA, which he described as “anti-personalist”, in 1924. His first government was made up of three radical ministers and five ministers from the oligarchic line. Yrigoyen will return to power in 1928, and will be deposed in 1930 by General Uriburu.

The UCR carries with it the achievement of having given the first fight to obtain rights in Argentine political life. As Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo wrote (in La Argentina por dentro), founding radicalism had this essential merit, that of allowing it to welcome “immigrant elements, the children of immigrants, descendants of the jus solis, in pursuit of a true Argentine citizenship. … elements that are added, at the dawn of the centenary of the country, to the founding homeland, the Latin napas overlapping the Creole-type lineage from the Spanish foundation, which exhibited an indigenous mixture in the interior provinces and in some riverside ones”.

Mysticism was born from this struggle of origins. The images that emerge confusedly in the collective memory are those of the towns, of the triumphal turn, in the north and the provinces of Cuyo, of the patriarch Alem stigmatized as an outlaw, of the Parque Revolution of July 26, 1890 that led to the the resignation of President Celman and his replacement by Vice President Carlos Pellegrini, the exile of the radical leaders to Uruguay, the legend of Temperley (1893) where the armed people, aided by the army and led by Commander Yrigoyen, embarked by train to seize La Plata. The feat is American and revolutionary. He associates these events with episodes of the historical Independence of 1810. The outstanding features of the two charismatic Moseses are, de facto, idealism and messianism. They embody a fundamental idea, what they will call the “civil religion of the Argentines”.

Frondizi and Illia. We are not going to trace the history of radicalism that followed the heroic age. It is only worth remembering that new ruptures are taking place within it, linked to opportunities for access to power. In 1957, the Intransigent Radical Civic Union (UCRI) of Arturo Frondizi, who refused to agree with General Aramburu, prevailed over the Radical Union of the People (UCRP) of Ricardo Balbín, who did not hesitate to collaborate with the “gorilla” dictatorship. ”. Frondizi triumphed in the 1958 presidential election through an agreement with Perón, who was in exile in Caracas. The challenge is to vote for a law on Professional Associations, the official recognition of “neoperonism”, and the convening of a Constituent Assembly. Peronist support ended at the end of 1958, opening the way for the actions of the Peronist resistance commandos and the sector of the “62 organizations.”

In 1963, in the middle of the debate on the two outlawed political forces –Peronism and Frondizismo–, Arturo Illia acceded to the presidency with the structure of the UCRP, in elections controlled by the armed forces, while former president Frondizi was detained in Bariloche.

Alfonsin. The second historical stratum, which announces “democracy for 100 years”, is that of 1983, with an exceptional character, Raúl Alfonsín. Alfonsín is going to resume with the origins, trying to start at the same time the construction, cut at the root, of a “third historical movement”. What were the outstanding features of Alfonsín’s contribution? Essentially the strength of three principles: that of the rule of law, that of human rights, that of an ethical (rather than ideological) definition essay of a governance oriented towards “social democracy”. Alfonsín specified: “We are not dogmatic, perhaps more than an ideology we mobilize from an ethic.” From his editorials in the Inédito magazine (period 1966-72), and then with the creation of his Renewal and Change movement (1972), there is a constant in him: facing the advance of “neoconservatism”, the return to the sources of radicalism , or sea to its popular origins. For him, the Alvearista trend, hegemonic within the UCR since 1930, had usurped the legitimacy of radicalism.

Regarding “social democracy”, and the idea of ​​promoting a recomposition of the political offer, the confluence with Peronism did not seem aberrational to him, to the extent that the aggiornamento of Peronism itself made it detach from its “autocratic” dimension. When he gave me an interview during the Constituent Assembly in Santa Fe (August 1994), I asked him if he defined himself as a “social-democrat”: “I define myself as a “social-democrat”, he replied. What difference there are? He clarified: “The criterion of the social content of democracy does not come only from the socialist camp, it can also come from the social-Christian camp, and it can also come from liberalism itself, social-liberalism. With a great importance of ethics, that is what we radicals are.

The figure of Alfonsín, today, is essential. It is valued by certain Peronists, such as Alberto Fernández. The Olivos Pact of 1993, concluded between the two charismatic leaders who were, at the beginning of their mandate, Raúl Alfonsín and Carlos Menem, and which culminated in the reform of the Constitution in 1994, participated in this spirit. Alfonsín conceived it as an improvement of democracy. In his opinion, it was necessary to avoid that this reform was imposed by a single party and, on the subject, “it was the first time that there was a consensus.” But the essential Alfonsinista political project was devastated by the serious economic crisis that degenerated, in 1989, into hyperinflation (4,900%).

Today, the general context leads to prosaism. The epic and the charismatic resource were exhausted. It’s not every day you can go to Temperley wearing the white berets of the insurrectionists. However, in contemporary radicals, everything happens as if the barrier of an anachronism prevented an enlightening look at the sources.

failures. The two experiences that followed did nothing but lead the UCR to a dead end. First, the tragic failure of the experience of Fernando de la Rúa, elected in 1998 thanks to the Alliance. It was a leadership agreement formalized in 1997 between the UCR and Frepaso. Perhaps it would be convenient to ask ourselves once again about the consequences, until today, of the deep crisis of these years on the global electorate of the UCR.

The Alliance was constituted with the excessive weight of the Buenos Aires electorate, outside of any political-partisan approach. The disintegration process, with the economic measures to defend the convertibility of Ricardo López Murphy and Domingo Cavallo, left “the end of a party with sustenance in the middle classes”, as Gabriel Obradovich startled him in The conversion of the faithful.

The last experience was with the Cambiemos coalition led by Mauricio Macri in 2015, until the final failure, with Together for Change, in 2019. Apart from the fact that the UCR sank with the resurgence of its traditional tropism, are the current behaviors those who raise new questions about the future of the party. It happens that the proximity of the electoral fight, with the lack of programmatic debate seems to hide the fines. Don’t you see notorious representatives of the UCR, within Juntos por el Cambio, who considering that Horacio Larreta’s electoral modalities for CABA constitute a “betrayal” of the PRO voters? The “Vendimia Group” that, anticipating hidden negotiations, approaches Patricia Bullrich? Others, who caress the idea of ​​a conjunctural agreement with Javier Milei in the Buenos Aires area, or who declare that they prefer him to a Peronist candidate? Peripheral trends are accelerating, in a political landscape that has completely changed, with the withdrawal of the two antithetical symbols of the rift, Mauricio Macri and Cristina Kirchner, and that of President Alberto Fernández, struck between the Christian hammer and the anvil of the surveys.

Orphanhood. The UCR is an orphan of its soul. It’s time to trust yourself again. In the interesting and long interview given to Jorge Fontevecchia by the pre-candidate Martín Lousteau, given his sphere of competence, he naturally focused on issues such as deficit control, the macroeconomic order. But he did not speak anything, nothing of the values ​​that found political action and he only limited himself to indicating his preference for a presidential candidacy of Gerardo Morales. Probably in his eagerness for modernity, he had pointed out, on another occasion and not without humor, that the UCR lacked “sex-appeal.” One of the few candidates, Facundo Manes, highlighted the “historical duty” of radicalism to include the popular sectors, as well as the fundamental role, first for young people, of education conceived as a policy of a modern and efficient State.

It is rare, in today’s society, for a political party to dream. But could the banners of the radical party be embodied without carrying out the urgent task of redefining a political line of national union?

*Doctor in Political Science (Institut des Hautes Etudes d’Amérique latine, Iheal) and professor.

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