If we want to talk of the Third Position, there is no way we can avoid talking about Eva Duarte Peron (1919-1952). In fact, she was probably the first person, together with her husband, Juan Domingo Peron, to speak about the Third Position. This was at the time of the rise to power of Juan Peron in Argentina, and there are many people who see in Peronism (that is the true Peronism - not the phoney Menem version of the '90's), and especially in Evita Peron, a beacon to show a way through the ideological impasse that had been present in Europe for the previous 20-30 years.
Obviously, in 1945, fascism was militarily defeated and with that there were many national fascist or national revolutionary movements that went down with them. The Vichy Government in France, the Iron Guard in Romania and, indeed all the movements that had created
problems for international finance went into eclipse with only two exceptions. Those were Salazar's in Portugal and Franco's in Spain. How those two nations survived needs another conference to itself. They went through the war and managed to preserve a national
'conservative', or better, a national revolutionary system in their countries. On the other hand, it is remarkable that at a time of total defeat, or near total defeat, in Europe there was something resurging in the other hemisphere of the earth. What had happened was that a group of army officers had not gone along with the choice of the then government of Argentina to enter World War II in favour of Great Britain and the United States. And at that time, remember, the economic interests of Britain and the USA were extremely strong in Argentina (and indeed still are today). However, there was this group of officers in the Argentinean army (among whom Juan Peron was prominent) who did not like the situation and so created a group, let us say, a conspiratorial group, on a national fascist platform.
Juan Peron had been in Italy when Mussolini was still in power (1933) and had been attracted mainly by two factors: The first was the way Mussolini had managed to create an amicable relationship with his people. We could call it a charismatic relationship between mass and leader which so impressed Peron that then and in later years he always saw Mussolini as his example to follow. The second factor was the "labour legislation". In Europe there had been a massive change favouring the worker brought about by fascist legislation in Italy. For example: in the conflict between worker and capitalist there was a tribunal decided in favour of the worker and not the capitalist. The amount of working hours were decreased and the amount of assistance to workers increased. This kind of legislation was then completely unknown in "anglo-saxon" counties and in most of the democratic countries. Fascism had made the change; Peron saw that, and decided it was something that should be brought to Argentina.
Parallel to his is the life of another person: Evita Peron, nee Evita Duarte. She came from an extremely humble background; it was very, very poor, so she knew from personal experience in her own childhood a kind of social injustice that was unknown in Europe but was
seemingly endemic in South America where the rich are extremely rich and the poor so very, very poor with a poverty unknown in Europe. When Eva was not long in her teens, she left her village to go to Buenos Aires to further her ambition to be an actress. In Buenos Aires she again finds herself living in the most humble and unstable conditions. There was no support at all for people who came from the countryside in the hope of improving their state in life. This was a situation that Evita never forgot and to the alleviation of which she paid particular attention when she had the power to do so.
The world of cinema and theatre was (and still is) quite ruthless and very often the people who succeeded were the people who would "sell" themselves in the worst sense of the word. At one stage Evita got a job with a radio station where she was given the responsibility of talking about the careers of important women in history. This probably was the programme that brought into Evita's mind the idea that women can be extremely important for the county in which they live, and even though their role is much tied to the family, or its first base is the family, it is also true that women of special and particular strength can actually change a society. This was also the time when Juan Peron and Evita Duarte met. It was a time in which Peron, from his own experiences in Italy and also in Argentina began to implement very radical changes, so who better than Evita Duarte to be on the side of Peron than she who actually came from one of the humblest areas of Argentina, from one of the humblest families? From this time onwards the duo of Evita and Peron began and continued to make an impact in society, particularly in trade unions.
In the '30's, the trade unions had two choices: (l). To go Marxist and basically advocate armed struggle and fight on an internationalist base. (2). To do what Jose Antonio called national syndicalism which meant the interests of the workers could be settled within the state, with the national interest in the minds of the trade unions, not trade unions against nation but trade unions within and for the nation.
It was also the time in which the military government shaken by this new forceful presence decided to put Juan Peron out of the government which, in practice, meant immediate imprisonment. When Juan Peron heard that the government intended to put him under arrest, he and Evita organised a massive meeting; a meeting that was attended by more than a quarter of a million people.
Peron told them that his first act as Minister of Employment would be "to give you a Day of the Worker", which would be in total opposition to the 1st of May, which had been taken by the marxists, "...and having told you this, I must announce that I will now have to leave the Government". He was then put under house arrest; but here the Government made a mistake. It did not arrest Evita. What Evita did in the following days became vitally important in Argentinean history. She went to every trade union; to anyone who had supported Peron;
to any person who had been favoured by the policies of Peron; and she told them all: "Look, this is not just our chance, it is your chance to create a new social order, or we can all go back to the old social order." The people hesitated over this and were reluctant to go into action. However, the WILL of Evita was so strong that in the next few days there was a continuous flow of people into the Plaza de Mayo, the main square of Buenos Aires, until one million people packed the centre of the city. The Government then realised that it was powerless in the situation because it was then that a great many of the military began to see that in Peron and Evita they had their two, true leaders. Peron was then released from his imprisonment. This was victory for Peron but perhaps even more so for Evita.
A few months later elections were organised and the results opened a period when Peron was restored to his position of Minister and recognised as the leader of the country. By the acclamation of the people he was already proclaimed the leader of the country, if not yet the president and the presidential elections were due to take place in the following four or five months.
It was a situation in which the United States would almost inevitably interfere in Argentinean politics, especially by branding Peronism as an anti-semitic movement. In fact, one of the statements that Braden, the US ambassador to Argentina said was "If you have Peron
as president you will have anti-semitism." We have to remember that in Argentina Jews make up 10% of the population, so the Jewish lobby there has always been extremely powerful. So what happened? Peron, in fact, was very capable and able to turn these attacks against his enemies, so that it became no longer a campaign between Peron and Tamborini, his presidential opponent, but a contest between Peron and Braden. So Peron is the candidate of the Argentineans and Braden, an American, his opposing candidate! Braden, remember was the US ambassador, and so, of course, was not actually in the contest. Peron, however, made it crystal clear who his real
opponent was. Peron won an extraordinary victory, in that he gained only 55% of the vote's cast, but in terms of the numbers of members in Parliament the Peronist victory was massive.
CHILD OF THE PEOPLE
Now, it is time to focus on the personality of Evita. First and foremost, Evita always recognised and acknowledged her husband, Juan Peron as the leader, but this lecturer having as he said studied the history of the whole period considered that Evita's level of understanding was higher than that of her husband's. The real leader was Evita. By the end she was called "Capo spirituale della nazione" - Spiritual chief of the nation - which puts her on a higher level than Peron who was the political leader.
In the last few months of her life, Evita wrote a book about herself, ("La Razon de mi Vida'), her life and thoughts. It reminds the reader of Mao's Little Red Book: it is so very simple and clear. It was intended to be understood by the humble people, and it was so understood. Her book had a print run of some 50 million copies and was given to any Argentinean who wanted one. It was given free in all the schools for children to read; she was a child of the people and the children were heirs to the good and simple guidance of her thoughts.
It was also given, above all to the most important group of people: the descamisados. Descamisados means "shirtless ones" or more accurately, "people with a shirt not really right". This comes from the fact that in Argentina before Peronism, there was an extremely strong "bourgeois" feeling (we should call it snobbish) that made it imperative to be dressed correctly even to walk in certain areas; without the right tie, jacket and hat etc. one would be seen as a stranger, an outsider, "not one of us" someone who really should not be there. Remember again that the population of Argentina then was divided very clearly between the "haves" and the "have nots". The "haves" were immensely rich and the "have nots" extremely poor; there was almost nothing in the way of a "middle class" as we understand it. So it follows that the people fighting for Peron were the descamisados. The name began as it implies, as a term of abuse but Evita picked it up as the name for the avante-guarde of the street commandos; "Descamisados?" "YES!" "We are proud to be descamisados". They will be the best, the Peronist elite, the people who are always ready to come to the streets for Peron and for social justice.
"When I chose to be Evita, I chose the path of my people; now, four years after that choice, it is easy for me to prove that this is certainly so. Only the people call me Evita, only the descamisados learned to call me so. Men of government, political leaders, ambassadors, men of business, professional men, intellectuals, call me 'signora', or some address me publicly as 'most excellent signora', or 'most worthy signora', and even, at times, as 'signora presidenta'. They see in me only Eva Peron. The descamisados on the other hand, know me only as Evita, the wife of their President. If that Evita could help to alleviate some grief or dry a tear...".
"Do not think that Evita's work comes easily to me, rather it always turns out to be difficult, and I have never felt quite satisfied in that role, on the other hand, the part of Eva Peron seems easy and is not changed, for is it not after all, easier to act a stage part than that of a living person? and in my case it is certainly as Eva Peron that I interpret an ancient role which other women in all ages have already lived. But as Evita, I live a reality which perhaps no other woman has lived in the history of humanity. I have said that I am guided by no personal ambition, and perhaps this is not quite true. Yes, I confess that I have an ambition, one single, great, personal ambition. I would like the name Evita to figure somewhat in the history of my country. I would like it to be said of her, even if only in a small footnote to the marvellous chapter which history will certainly devote to Peron, something more or less like this: 'She was at Peron's side, a woman who dedicated herself to conveying to the President the hope of the people which later Peron converted into reality'. And I would feel duly compensated and more if the note ended like this: "All we know about this woman is that the people called her 'Evita'.
It is very enlightening to see that Argentina was still a very Catholic country and Evita was profoundly religious. Today, if people have seen the musical Evita, which is a very clear attack on Eva Peron, and if they have followed the pattern of criticism that has come from the English and American press, there are two points on which she is always attacked: First, that she was a woman of "easy virtue" when she was young, and second, that she used to receive a great many jewels and presents which "proved" that she was not really interested in the lives of the poor. The Case for the Defence is that: On the first point there is no evidence at all of Evita having, as she has been
accused of, "gone" with a lot of men in Buenos Aires at the beginning of her life in the metropolis. The malevolence is shown by the very vagueness of the accusation, but even if it were true, it is totally unimportant in the context because it is evident that she was a person who was changing because of the events occurring around her, and also if it was a case of youthful sins that were continued unrepented, the story of her public life would never even have begun, a tale of an otherwise commonplace adulterer does not make headlines, attract millions of devoted readers or become a theme to attract full houses in the world's theatres. To be vilified by the liberal press is to be elevated to the ranks of the McCarthys, the Father Coughlins and all who campaign for social justice. The Argentinian people, much wiser than the media, never believed a word of it.
Many years ago I (the lecturer) met people from the extreme "left" of the Peronist movement and from the extreme "right" of the Peronists, because at one stage these two elements came into conflict. They hated each other, the "Ieft" and the "right", but once you mentioned
Evita they would both respond in the same way, they saw her as a real point of reference and as the person who changed Argentina.
As to her religious outlook, she speaks for herself in her 1950 Christmas message: "Today is Christmas, Christmas 1950. Last night in 5 million Argentine homes, toasts were drunk, in the cider, and the spiced loaf from Peron and Evita was eaten" (because these were typical of the food sent to the people by the Peron government) " This, our adversaries have severely criticised; they have told us that we throw crumbs on to the tables of the Argentinean people, so as to buy the good will of the people. We will go on doing the same thing in the same way every year. Do they think? (our enemies) it is a sign that we are on the move! They are not crumbs, I know that instead of one bottle of cider, a dozen bottles of champagne would be better, and instead of one spiced loaf, a hamper full of gifts, but the average person does not realise that our cider and our spiced loaves are nothing more not less than a symbol of our union with the people. It is our hearts, mine and Peron's that wish to be united on Christmas with all the heart's of the country's descamisados in an immense
fraternal affectionate embrace. In some way or another we want to be with them at the table in their homes. We have chosen this way because it seems to us the most friendly and most appropriate. A present, no matter how costly, sometimes offends, but the more simple a token of remembrance, the more love it carries with it. This is what we wish to send to each Argentinian home with our cider and spiced loaves. Last night, as I do every year on Christmas Eve I addressed the descamisados in a radio broadcast. Christmas Eve belongs to the poor, the humble, to the "shirtless ones". Since Christ despised by the rich, who shut all doors against him, was born in a stable, and did not the Angels appear to the shepherds, the poorest, most humble men of that land, and to them only tell the good things of him who had come to bring happiness to the world? Only to the shepherds, to the humble, to the poor was the message of 'peace on earth to men of good will'. What was unusual in the Perons' fighting only for the happiness of the descamisados? The others, the oligarchs, already possess the happiness they have been able to build up for themselves. I am to speak mainly about God and the poor. Often when I think of my destiny and the mission I have to carry out and the struggle which that mission demands of me, I feel weak. The struggle is so great and my strength so little. In those moments I feel I need the help of God. I do not invoke the help of God at each moment. I remember that one day someone begged me to be more Christian and to call more frequently on God in my speeches and my public activities. I want to state here in these notes, the reply that I gave, because I promised to be sincere in everything. What you say is right, I do not call on God very often. The thing is I do not want to mix God up with the muddles of my life. Also I hardly ever worry God by
asking Him to remember me and never ask anything for myself. But my love of Christ is much greater than you would think. I love Him and the descamisados. For did He not say that He would be in the poor, the sick, in those who hungered and those who thirsted. I do not
think God requires us always to have His name on our lips. Peron has taught me that it is better to have Him in the heart. I am a Christian and a Catholic and I practise my religion as best I can. I firmly believe that the first commandment is that of love. Christ Himself said,
'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends'. If I ever trouble God with any petition of mine it is for that. For Him to help me give my life for my descamisados'"
Soon, it became obvious that the new message of hope for Argentina was becoming dangerous for the would-be masters of the world. After three years of Peronist government Argentina had become the fourth industrial power in the world. She was exporting massive amounts of grain and beef to Europe, and was seen as an example of what other countries in South America or indeed, countries
anywhere in the world, might copy. So, a trip to Europe was planned for Evita since she had been invited by the Heads of State of Spain, Italy and France to visit their countries. There was even talk of an invitation to Great Britain from the Royal Family but "constitutional"
pressure brought that to nought. In June, 1957, Evita took in her stride the cheering farewells of 500,000 Argentineans at home and the
welcome of 300,000 Spaniards in Madrid. Franco, obviously saw Evita and Peronism as his best friends in the world. Evita was awarded the "Cross of Isabella the Catholic" (La Croce di Diamant di Isabella la Catholica) and at the same time she promised a ship load of wheat to Spain. She spoke at a huge open air meeting in Madrid. This was at a time when, yes, the Falangists had won the civil war, but there was pressure from others to make the Franco Government less radical; so the Falangists went in their thousands to this big meeting to urge the continuation of the Falangist ideal. At one stage of the rally they greeted Evita with the Falangist (Roman) salute and Evita responded to them with the same salute. So it was a time when not just the descamisados of Argentina but also the nationalists in Europe began to see Evita as the point of reference. The next stop was ltaly: there the communist trade unions organised big demonstrations against her visit which were inevitably speedily turned into organised riots, with the communists attacking the police. However the visit to ltaly was also at the first time since the end of the war that the new, reborn fascist groups were able to stage a demonstration in favour of Evita. On the 27th June, Pope Pius XII received the First lady of Argentina in audience. On her departure from Italy, Evita pleaded for all the communists who had been arrested in riots against her to be released. This gesture could be seen as a mistake or naive, but it was that she could not understand how 'workers' could possibly really be against her. After all she had done for her workers in Argentina. How could workers in Italy who did not know her be against her? She did not realise the intensity of the marxist brainwashing in ltaly at that time. From Italy the next stop was in Salazar's Portugal, where her reception was cordial in the extreme, from
there; on to France. In Paris, Evita was welcomed by the Minister of Foreign Relations, Georges Bedault. She had luncheon with the President of France, Vincent Auriol, and signed a treaty that granted France an Argentinean loan for the purchase of wheat and meat.
After a short visit to Switzerland, Evita went back to Lisbon to embark on the journey home. It was to be made by sea, on her doctor's orders in an attempt to force his patient to rest! It is seen from the report of this tour that Argentina was forging vitally important economic and political links in Europe (it goes without saying that this did not go down at all well in some circles!).