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Insurgents and Workers: The Historiography of Argentina`s Revolutionary left and

Its Relationship with the Working class. From the Two Demons` Myth to Mass Support

1ames H. Shrader, University of California, San Diego

From 1959-1976, nearly thirty revolutionary organizations appeared in Argentina, most
notably the Peronist Montoneros and the Trotskyist-Guevarist People`s Revolutionary Army
(PRT-ERP). A reaction to the overthrow oI Juan Domingo Peron, the violent proscription oI his
movement, military dictatorships, the Cuban Revolution, the Vietnam War and Third World anti-
colonialism, these organizations embraced armed struggles as the means to eliminate inequalities
and construct a patria socialista. By 1973, when Peron returned to power, the Montoneros and
PRT-ERP had transIormed themselves into two the most potent organizations oI their kind in
Argentina, and enjoyed widespread support. Yet, three years later they were isolated and unable
to withstand the onslaught oI a new military dictatorship in 1976 that committed itselI to the
disappearance and murder oI thousands oI students, workers, and all those deemed to be 'Ioreign
subversives. Thirty seven years aIter this deIeat, questions remain concerning the revolutionary
leIt`s level oI popular support, its connection with the working class, and its own class
composition. Inevitably, any attempts to answer these questions reIlected contemporary
concerns and the weight oI collective memory, which has both shaped these research questions
as well their responses. From the transition to democracy in October 1983 ushered by the
Radical government oI Raul AlIonsin, until the economic crisis oI 2001, a hegemonic discourse
oI the two demons` myth widely circulated in the public sphere. It accused the guerrillas oI
being an extremist element that lacked popular support, and whose actions provoked the
military`s 'Dirty War that leIt 30,000 disappeared. As such, it placed the revolutionary leIt and
the reactionary right on nearly equal moral Iooting. Trapped between these two elements was
the innocent populace itselI, a victim oI political violence.

Since 2001, a gradual shiIt has occurred in how academia and Argentine society in general
view the revolutionary leIt. Since the historic collapse oI the Washington-backed neo-liberal
model, the election oI a center-leIt government two years later, and historic human rights trials
Iollowing the revocation oI amnesty laws dating to the AlIonsin period, both collective memory
and a new wave oI historiography have repositioned the guerrillas Irom terrorists to combatants
engaged in a popular struggle alongside the working class. This turn is a result oI both political
motivationsthe urge to vindicate the militancy oI the so-called sentistasand academic ones
as well: the desire to question the notion that armed groups were composed entirely oI
disaIIected university youths whose militarism isolated them Irom the labor unions. While much
oI this scholarship has provided valuable and needed results, it has also raised problematic
conclusions as well, Irom the monolithic militancy oI the working class to the idea that
Argentina was engaged in a civil war.

This essay will examine the scholarship oI the last three decades concerning the armed leIt`s
relationship with workers. Rather than providing an exhaustive survey, it will instead Iamiliarize
the reader with the evolution oI these concepts and debates by Iocusing upon the key works that
have inIluenced the perception oI isolation versus popular support. Rather than an aspiring to be
an exhaustive survey, it will instead give the reader a portrait oI key works on the relationship
between the revolutionary leIt and the working class, avoiding polemical arguments concerning

the leIt`s origins and its culpability Ior the Dirty War. These works under examination include
both Argentine and Anglophone monographs which have been Iormative in the evolution oI this
debate Irom the early 1980s to the present. The paper will begin with an analysis oI the 1984
Nunca Mas human rights report, whose investigation into the crimes oI the Dirty War, though
important, was Ioundational in the discursive construction and proliIeration oI the two demons
myth. The essay will then discuss the central theses oI monographs Irom the early eighties to the
late nineties, and how they used class composition and 'militarism as explanations Ior the
revolutionary leIt`s lack oI working class support. From there, it will look at the most recent
historiographical trends that have surIaced in the post-2001 era, which argue that the
revolutionary leIt enjoyed Iar more support Irom the working class than previously known.
Finally, this essay will look at a new subgenre that seeks to expand our understanding oI smaller,
lesser known groups.

The Two Demons and Nunca Mas

On September 20, 1984, nearly one year aIter Argentina`s return to democracy, the National
Commission on the Disappearance oI Persons (CONADEP) delivered its report to President Raul
AlIonsin. Chaired by author Ernesto Sabato and comprising a diverse panel oI civilians, its
mission was the documentation and investigation oI human rights abuses committed during the
1976-1983 military dictatorship, including Iorced disappearances, torture, and executions. The
investigation was key in the proceeding trials oI the junta leaders, and in the 29 years since its
publication, it has been instrumental in learning about the so-called 'Dirty War in both popular \
and academic settings. Equally important, it served as a model Ior neighboring countries such as
Uruguay and Brazil, who, transitioning to democracy shortly aIter Argentina, attempted to come
to terms with their own authoritarian past. As vital as the Nunca Mas was in Iraming the extent
oI human rights abuses in Argentina, its conceptualization oI the revolutionary leIt was
problematic. In the opening page oI its prologue, CONADEP`s report propagated the hegemonic
'two demons thesis which, as previously mentioned, argued that revolutionary leIt was both
terroristic and an instigator oI the military`s 'Dirty War. Sabato, as the chair oI the
commission, wrote:

During the 1970s, Argentina was torn by terror Irom both the extreme right and the Iar
leIt. This phenomenon was not unique to our country. Italy, Ior example, has suIIered
Ior many years Irom the heartless attacks oI Fascist groups, the Red Brigades, and other
similar organizations. Never at any time, however, did that country abandon the
principles oI law in its Iight against these terrorists, and it managed to resolve the
problem through the normal courts oI law, guaranteeing the accused all their rights oI a
Iair hearing. The same cannot be said oI our country. The armed Iorces responded to the
terrorists` crimes with a terrorism Iar worse than the one they were combating, and aIter
24 March 1976 they could count on the power and impunity oI an absolute state, which
they misused to abduct, torture, and kill thousands oI human beings.

In the Iinal page oI its prologue, the report again singles out the guerrillas Ior condemnation, this
time through a deIensive posture concerning its own investigation oI the military`s crimes:

CONADEP. Nunca Mas. The Report of the Argentine National Commission of the Disappeared (New York: Farrar
Straus Giroux, 1986), p. 1

We have been accused, Iinally oI partiality in denouncing only one side oI the bloody
events which have shaken our nation in recent years, and oI remaining silent about the
terrorism which occurred prior to March 1976, or even, in a tortuous way, oI presenting
an apology Ior it. On the contrary, our Commission has always repudiated that terror,
and we are glad to take this opportunity to do so again here.

As Argentine sociologist Emilio Crenzel has noted, these statements are important Ior two
crucial reasons. First, they place both the guerrillas and the military on a nearly equal moral
Iooting, and thus reduce the events themselves as the result oI two 'extreme ideologies that
plunged Argentina into violence. In doing so, they removed any historical context Ior the rise oI
revolutionary violence.
In Nunca Mas`s narrative, it is the military that responds to the
guerrillas, rather than the reverse, which would have been more historically accurate. Indeed, by
comparing Argentina`s experience with that oI Italy, the report Iaults the state Ior using illegal
means to combat 'terrorism, unlike that which its Italian counterpart had done in regards to the
Red Brigades. In other words, the guerrilla organizations are the instigators oI the state terror.
Second, and equally important, the report paints the populace (a purposeIully ambiguous concept
that levels class and cultural distinctions) as an innocent victim, distant Irom the political conIlict
yet somehow caught in the middle.
This point is key, because it de-legitimizes the armed
organizations in the country by isolating them Irom the population Ior whom they Iought. The
logic oI labeling its adherents as 'terrorists not only reaIIirmed the very unethical nature oI their
struggle, but also othered them as 'Ioreign, and subversive. It was a discursive strategy that
eIIectively silenced the rationale Ior their genesis and, moreover, their political program (the
disappeared themselves are ahistoricized, rendered as victims with partial identities).

CONADEP did not originate the theory oI the two demons. Rather, it originated in the
immediate aItermath oI the democratic transition, with the ascension oI Raul AlIonsin as
president, according to Crenzel. The president had originally conceived oI two separation
commissions and subsequent trials, one Ior seven Iormer guerrilla leaders, and the other Ior the
military junta, though this plan was later scrapped.
CONADEP`s own ideological prejudices
can also be traced to Sabato`s sympathies during the preceding decade, when, as Omar Bessabi
writes, he decried the militants as terrorists and openly supported the 24 March 1976 coup d`etat
that brought General RaIael Videla to power (much like Borges).
This discursive violence also
aligns with both the military and civil society`s attempts to Irame the guerrillas as 'anti-
Argentine subversives who threatened the national well-being.
In this sense, CONADEP

Emilio Crenzel. La historia politica del Nunca mas. La memoria de las desapariciones en la Argentina. Buenos
Aires: Siglo Veintiuno, 2008, p. 105.
Ibid, pp. 105-7.
Ibid, p. 58.
Omar Bessabi. 'Estrategias discursivas de la historia oIicial (1988-2003) Omar Besadbi and Marisa Sadi, editors.
La significacion omitida. Militancia v lucha armada en la Argentina reciente (Buenos Aires: Catalogos, 2008), pp.
Daniel Feierstein has documented the discursive and institutional othering oI those considered subversive,
Ioreignizing, anti-Argentine communist. In other words, anyone who presented a perceived threat to the nation`s
Western, Christian Ioundations. See El genocidio como practica social. Entre el na:ismo v la experiencia
argentina (Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2007).

supported a narrative that had become increasingly hegemonic in a society still deeply divided
over its recent past.

The Historiographv. Who were the insurgents and who supported them?

Beyond Nunca Mas, journalist and historiographical works were also Iundamental in the
representation oI the revolutionary leIt as a Iorce separated Irom the people both due to its class
composition (many, though not all, came Irom the middle and upper classes) and its emphasis on
the supremacy oI armed struggle as political strategy. As early as 1964, in the wake oI the
Ejercito Guerrillero del Pueblo`s Iailed bid to replicate the Cuban experience in Northwestern
Salta, this notion had already become hegemonic in the public sphere. An example oI this is
Carlos Velazco`s coverage oI the trials oI ex-EGP members. Writing Ior Panorama, the reporter
worried that disillusioned, middle-class university youths would continue to resort to
revolutionary violence as a means to change the system, though he also noted that they lacked
popular support.
In his 1974 Argentina, de Peron a Lanusse, Felix Luna described the
revolutionary leIt as a band oI well-educated, middle to upper-class university students, with
little to no support Irom the workers or union activists. Nevertheless, he wrote, 'their recourse to
individual acts oI violencemany times indiscriminate and irresponsible, and always
condemnable and hateIulappears to be one the residual margins oI contemporary society.

Ten years later, journalist Pablo Giussani`s book Montoneros. La soberbia armada would repeat
many oI the similar tropes, describing the Montoneros as addicted to a 'cult oI violence that
isolated them Irom the masses.

Yet less polemical academic works came to similar conclusions: the revolutionary leIt`s class
composition and its embrace oI revolutionary violence cost it support Irom the working class.
The history oI the Montoneros appeared to especially conIirm this thesis. One oI the key
historiographical studies concerning the Montoneros was Richard Gillespie`s 1982 Soldiers of
Peron. Written during the dictatorship and published in 1982, Gillespie`s work is still widely
read over thirty years later in both English and Spanish. It provides the reader with an accessible
and inIormative history oI the organization, beginning with the overthrow oI Peron in 1955, and
the near immediate resistance Irom workers to the Lonardi-Aramburu military dictatorship, and
ending with the breakup oI the organization itselI. In comparison with Giussani`s polemical
Soberbia armada, Gillespie`s book is also Iar more measured in its assessment and its style.
While Giussani sees the Montoneros as a Iascistic and terrorist movement, Gillespie does well in
explaining the leItwing ideological origins oI the Montoneros, including their links with both
Peronism and Thirdwordist Catholicism, as well as the historical reasons Ior their Iormation,
including their nave interpretation oI Peron and his toppled government, the indignation
resulting Irom the Ongania dictatorship`s repressive policies at home, and the appeal oI anti-
colonial liberation movements abroad. Rather than painting the Montoneros as 'Iascist (and by
extension Peronism itselI), Gillespie sees the group as a blend oI leItwing socialist and
nationalist traditions.

'Nuestros guerrilleros: revolucion o muerte. Panorama, 8 August 1965.
Felix Luna. Argentina, de Peron a Lanusse, 1943-1974 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Planeta Argentina, 1974), pp.

Gillespie did, however, concur with the broader assumptions oI the Montoneros as verticalist,
authoritarian, and removed Irom the working class. While he acknowledges that its middle and
upper class youths Iought Ior social justice, the return oI Peron, and the construction oI a patria
socialista, he also sees its commitment to armed struggle through the kidnapping and execution
oI ex-dictator General Eugenio Pedro Aramburu as well as the seizure oI the town La Calera,
Cordoba, as evidence oI what he considers to be an elitist streak. It was, he writes, 'an initiative
Irom above,` the decision oI small groups oI militants rather than a response to widespread
popular demand.
Continuing this judgment, the author writes: 'to say that what ensued
became a civil war between two Iactions oI the middle classes, with the working class merely
spectating, would be to exaggerate, yet such a sociological caricature is distinctly closer to the
reality than was the scenario oI popular war aspired to by the Montoneros.

In the chapter, 'The Return oI Peron, Gillespie expands his thesis on the incompatibility oI
armed struggle and syndicalism. First, he notes that their conception oI a 'popular struggle
subordinated class struggle, alienating union activists in the process. This meant that they
ignored the very real economic issues that motivated many oI the labor struggles in the late
sixties and seventies, most notably the Cordobazo. Second, he also notes that a militarist
organization like the Montoneros placed Iar too many demands upon the working class,
demanding that they Iorm a popular army and thereIore abandon their previous strategies and
organizational structures:

While oIIering them no greater material beneIits than did orthodox Peronism Ior the
duration oI their 'national liberation stage, the Montoneros were calling on the workers
totally to subordinate their own traditional, tested means oI struggle to a new, unproven
politico-military strategy. Rather than just collaborate with guerrilla units, the masses
were urged by the Montoneros to adopt the organizational Iorms and methods oI
struggle typical oI an armed organization`, as a Iirst step toward the gradual and
organized incorporation oI the people into the armed organizations` and their
transIormation into a popular army.

Gillespie`s thesis is compelling, but his evidence Ior such divisions is scant. Writing during a
time oI repression and authoritarianism, he did not have access to oral sources to corroborate his
sources. Rather, much oI his evidence relies upon Montonero publications and secondary
literature. ThereIore, in looking at the apparent divide between the guerrillas and the union
leadership, he instead extrapolates his conclusions by examining the composition oI the
Montoneros themselves. Throughout his work, he repeatedly stresses their middle-class
composition as well as the Iact that they were university students. Taken together, it would be an
easy conclusion that their background prohibited the rapid construction oI alliances with the
working class. Furthermore, the rebuke oI national leadership by the provincial wing in the
industrial city Cordoba, and their conIlicts with the union burocratosculminating in the
assassination oI Jose Rucci among other actsoIIered enough evidence to conclude that the
Montoneros lacked working class support despite donning the mantle oI Peronism and waging a
popular war oI liberation.

Ibid, pp. 59-60.
Ibid, p. 60.
Ibid, p. 103

In the Iollowing two decades, Gillespie`s thesis concerning the Montoneros became widely
accepted. Pablo Giussani repeated similar conclusions concerning the Montoneros` militarism.
He saw their commitment to armed struggle as precluding any mass politics, which, through his
reductionist analysis, led the organization to continue armed struggle Iollowing the Peronist
In the seminal 1992 Resistance and Integration, English historian Daniel James
oIIered a similar thesis to that oI Gillespie`s work. Like Gillespie, he saw them as an
organization oI middle-class, university youths who had become both disillusioned by the
political system and a deteriorating economy, and inspired by Thirdworldist politics, particularly
the Cuban Revolution. Adopting armed struggle as their course oI action, they placed
themselves outside oI the traditional labor politics, isolating themselves Irom the working class,
though James does not support the two demons myth.
On the other hand, in Guerrillas and
Generals, Paul H. Lewis echoes the conclusions oI these works, but does so in a manner that
supports the two demons thesis and reduces the revolutionary leIt to a mere caricature. For
Lewis, the Montoneros were terrorists who saw 'violence as an end to itselI, the product oI
elitist Catholic secondary schools and a desire to identity with international protest movements.
According to the American author, 'the Montoneros were much more middle class in their social
composition. Not many proletarians were to be Iound either in their rank-and-Iile membership
or among their leaders, although there were a Iew important Montonero Iigures Irom the working

Regarding the PRT-ERP, the historiography was sparse until the turn oI the century. This
was perhaps due to the diIIiculty in conducting oral history, the heavy repression that the
organization suIIered even prior to the 1976 coup d`etat, and a hegemonic discourse in the public
sphere that painted the Marxist guerrillas as 'Ioreign, in contrast to the Catholic-Peronist
Montoneros, who had simply strayed. Until the turn oI the century, the scholarship oI the ERP
was an exercise carried out by its Iormer members. These were Luis Mattini`s Hombres v
muferes del PRT-ERP, Julio Santucho`s Los ultimos guevaristas, and Iormer militant and now
journalist Maria Seoane`s political and personal biography oI Mario Roberto Santucho, Todo o
nada. In addition, Daniel De Santis published three edited compilations oI documents Irom the
party, beginning with its Iormation in 1965 until its dissolution in 1978. Mattini`s work was the
Iirst history oI the PRT-ERP to be published. As a Iormer metallurgical worker and high-
ranking member in the party`s political bureau, Mattini oIIered a valuable insider`s insight
regarding the evolution oI the organization and its crucial decisions. Regarding the working
class aIIiliation, he asserts that workers did join the party, but did not generally support the turn
toward armed struggle in 1970 and 1973.
Like historians oI the Montoneros, he also believes
that the PRT-ERP`s emphasis on armed struggleand particularly the construction oI a
revolutionary army in Tucumanisolated it Irom the working class. Julio Santucho, the bother
oI the PRT-ERP`s late leader, Mario Roberto, estimates that the class composition oI the party
generally amounted to 30 percent workers. But an important pillar oI his work is his criticism oI
the party`s decision to continue armed struggle Iollowing Peron`s return in 1973, which alienated

Pablo Giussani. Montoneros. La soberbia armada (Buenos Aires, Editorial Sudamericana, 1984), pp. 72-77.
Daniel James. Resistance and Integration. Peronism and the Argentina Working Class, 1946-1976 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press), p. 238.
Paul H. Lewis. Guerrillas and Generals. The 'Dirtv War` in Argentina (Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2002), p. 46
Luis Mattini. Hombres v muferes del PRT-ERP. La pasion militante (Buenos Aires: La Campana, 2003) p. 256

it Irom the broader working class and Argentine society in general. He points to the party`s
militarization, its Iear that Peron`s return would 'extinguish revolutionary conditions, and its
misinterpretation oI Peronism`s staying power among the working class, in what he labels a
'mechanistic Iocus that impeded it Irom recognizing |the working class`s| level oI ideological
and cultural autonomy.
ThereIore, while portraying the Montoneros as a middle-class
organization, Paul H. Lewis does draw upon Mattini and Santucho to diIIerentiate the PRT-ERP
in terms oI its class composition (but not its 'terrorism). Moreover, Lewis also notes that the
party was actively concerned with the proletarianization oI its ranks, inserting them in Iactories
to both alter their consciousness and Iorm links with the working class. Later historians oI the
PRT-ERP, such as Pablo Pozzi (Por las sendas argentinas), Gustavo Plis-Sterenberg (Monte
Chingolo), and Vera Carnovale (Los combatientes) al point to the group`s militarism in the post-
1973 Peronist Restoration as both isolating it Irom the working class and costing it valuable
resources, particularly in Tucuman. Pozzi sees the party`s increasing militarism in the post-1968
era, when leader Mario Roberto Santucho`s call Ior a revolutionary army won out over Nahuel
Moreno and the Trotskyists, who argued Ior revolutionary syndicalism (Carnovale explores this
dispute in depth in her own work). For Pozzi, its militarism would ultimately distract it Irom
mass mobilization oI the working-class. Plis-Sterenberg concludes the PRT-ERP`s insurgency in
Tucuman led to its own destruction, as its mounting casualties in the province Iorced the Political
Bureau to remove its key cadres Irom their political work in Iactories in Buenos Aires, Rosario,
and Cordoba.
The title oI his book reIers to a Iailed December 1975 bid to seize arms Irom a
military arsenal in Buenos Aires province, which resulted in over 100 casualtiesa heavy loss
that both diminished the groups power, prestige, and presence throughout the country. Finally,
Carnovale oIIers an ideological and cultural history oI the PRT-ERP`s militarism. The
concluding paragraph oI her book best represents her argument: 'The militants oI the PRT-ERP
did not err nor deviate nor were they capriciously obstinate. They were, in all cases, terribly
loyal to an ideology and a set oI imperatives Ior which they liIted themselves, in pursuit oI a
revolution in which they believed unwaveringly.

Other works spoke oI the Montoneros and the PRT-ERP in equal terms regarding their
isolation. In Argentinas Lost Patrol, Maria Jose Moyano asserts that while the revolutionary
leIt enjoyed popular support Irom 1969-1973, its increased militarization, insistence on
hierarchy, and disregard Ior public opinion'when they close themselves to outside inIluences
but claim to be interpreting the popular willalienated many sectors within Argentina that had
previously supported it.
Moyano`s work is compelling in its extensive data (including reliable
estimations concerning the numbers oI insurgents during the decade under study), her Iocus on
smaller, lesser-known organizations, and her diligent avoidance oI the two demons mythology,
which was noteable even in 1995. Yet, at times, she does not clearly deIine which social sectors
she speaks oI, nor does she take into account that a clandestine existence did not necessarily
mean an isolation Irom the working class, as both organizations by 1974 had stressed political
mobilization and alliances with the working class. She is correct that the revolutionary leIt lost

Julio Santucho, Los ultimos guevaristas. La guerrilla marxista en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Vergara, 2004),
pp. 174-5.
Gustavo Pils-Sterenberg. Monte Chingolo. la mavor batalla de la guerrilla argentina (Buenos Aires: Planeta,
Vera Carnovale. Los combatientes: historia del PRT-ERP (Buenos Aires: Sigloveintiuno, 2011), p. 288.
Maria Jose Moyano. Argentinas Lost Patrol. Armed Strugge, 1969-1979 (New Haven and London: Yale
University Press, 1995), p. 7

support with the middle and upper classes Iollowing the Peronist Restoration, oI which 48
percent had once supported to armed struggle during the polarizing 1966-1973 dictatorship.

Pilar Calveiro, a Iormer member oI the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FAR) and later the
Montoneros, agrees with what can thus be termed the militarization thesis` that authors Irom
Gillespie to Santucho used to explain the decline oI the revolutionary leIt. She writes in Politica
v/o violencia that, 'as military practice intensiIied, the eIIective value oI revolutionary violence
deceptively multiplied its real political weight: armed struggle became the maximum expression
oI politics Iirst and Ioremost.
In Calveiro`s estimation, the revolutionary leIt`s ever-growing
reliance upon violence was a response to society`s own hypocritical acceptance oI it as a political
tool. Yet, she also sees it as a path that distanced it Irom the Peronist working class, despite the
Montoneros own creation oI mass Iront organizations like the Juventud Trabajadora Peronista

One oI the concerns in this early historiography is working class culture. In the earliest
studiesmainly Gillespie`s Soldiers of Peronthe two principal actors are the middle-class
Montoneros and the union bureaucrats, personiIied in the Iigure oI the assassinated Jose Rucci.
Another concern is chronology. The rise oI armed struggle in 1969-1973 occurred during a
polarizing military dictatorship whose economic, social, and political policies had negatively
aIIected both the working and middle-classes, as seen by broad participation in the 1969
Cordoba:o, one oI the largest urban revolts in Latin American history. During this period, the
military and its supporters Iound themselves increasingly isolated to the point that General
Alejandro Augustin Lanusee committed the unthinkable: allowing the return oI the Peronists to
power in May 1973. In this period, it is possible to discuss widespread sympathy Ior the
guerrillas, particularly the Montoneros, who had become heroes due to their kidnapping and
killing oI Iormer dictator General Pedro Eugenio Aramburu, responsible Ior the overthrow oI
Peron in 1955 and the spiriting away oI Evita`s corpse to a cemetery in Rome. The years 1973-
1976, however, marked a distancing between the revolutionary leIt and the larger public, and
exposed contradictions within the working class over questions oI Peronism versus Marxism.
Denouncing the Peronist Restoration government`s rightward turn and its increasingly repressive
tactics, Iirst the PRT-ERP and then the Montoneros (Iollowing Peron`s death in July 1, 1974)
took up arms against the state and business. Meanwhile, this era also marked clashes between
clasista labor leaders such Augustin Tosco and Rene Salamanca, and the ortodoxos oI Buenos
Aires, who stressed loyalty to Peron and a verticalist union structure.

Daniel James`s aIorementioned Resistance and Integration is widely credited as being the
Iirst academic monograph to examine working class culture beyond the conIines oI union
leadership and politics. Examining why workers embraced and re-shaped Peronism during
1946-1976, he shows their own agency and autonomy Irom union leaders. During the period
under examination, he argues that the majority oI workers in Argentina were not revolutionary,
but rather motivated by economic demands. In Cordoba, the site oI revolutionary syndicalism,
he states that clasistas Tosco and Salamanca conIronted the reality that workers wanted, 'union
combativity and honest leadership` which translated into meaningIul changes in their working
lives, rather than socialist revolution. He quotes a Iormer classista who declared that workers

Ibid, p. 27.
Pilar Calveiro. Politica v/o violencia. Una aproximacion a la guerrilla de los aos 70 (Buenos Aires: Grupo
Editorial Noma, 2005), p, 90.

desired an honest leadership and an improvement in conditions and wages. Finally, and
importantly, he classiIies clasismo as a regional phenomenon, lacking support in the industrial
belt oI Buenos Aires.
In regards to the Montoneros and other organizations, the important
point is that these organizations could not hope to recruit broad support Irom a working class that
was essentially trade-unionist.

Monica Gordillo`s Cordoba en los 60 and American historian James P. Brennan`s Labor
Wars in Cordoba, as well as their 2008 collaborative eIIort, Cordoba rebelde, challenged
James`s over-arching conclusions by oIIering a regional contrast.
Based on extensive archival
research as well as interviews with Iormer labor activists, their Iindings illustrate that in
Cordoba, the working class developed a stridently leItwing, anti-capitalist culture known as
clasismo, which placed great emphasis not only on economic issues, but also the democratization
oI the unions themselves: Luz y Fuerza, headed by Augustin Tosco, and the Renault SMATA
union, headed by Rene Salamanca. In Cordoba, the unions` eIIorts were both economic and
political: the securing oI equal wages with workers in Buenos Aires, the recovery oI lost rights
such as the sabado ingles, autonomy Irom the union hierarchies in Buenos Aires, namely the
CGT and UOM, and calls Ior social justice and class solidarity/struggle.
For Gordillo and
Brennan, Cordoba`s late industrialization, beginning in the Iinal year oI Peron`s rule, had
shielded the unions Irom the bureaucratic, verticalist reach oI the CGT, headquartered in Buenos
Aires. Moreover, as Brennan emphasizes in his separate essay, 'Clasismo and the Workers,
collective bargaining agreements were decentralized in Cordoba, which meant that each
individual union and the employer negotiated contracts: 'this practice put the union leadership
and the rank and Iile in closer contact and undermined the tendency in modern industrial
unionism Ior a distant and removed labor bureaucracy to cut deals and hammer out agreements
that may have served more the interests oI the union leadership than those oI the workers.

The workers` increasingly militant strategies gave leaders such as Tosco and Salamanca the
ability to press an anti-capitalist political platIorm, though Brennan notes, both leaders
particularly Toscowere ultimately pragmatists rather than being ideologically dogmatic, and
clasismo never dominated the labor scene in Cordoba, contrary to popular perception.

Brennan also drew important conclusions about the revolutionary leIt and the working class.
He sees the two lesser-known, Maoist groups Vanguardia Comunista (VC) and the Partido
Comunista Revolucionaria (PCR) as having oIIered cogent, practical approaches that stressed the
embrace oI labor demands as a means to radicalize workers` sense oI class consciousness.
the other hand, Brennan sees the armed strategies oI the Montoneros (whom he also identities as
being composed oI middle-class, university students) and the PRT as being counter-productive to

James, pp. 232-3.
Monica Gordillo. Cordoba en los 60. La experiencia del sindicalismo combativo (Cordoba: Universidad
Nacional de Cordoba, 1996); and James P. Brennan. The Labor Wars in Cordoba, 1955-1976. Ideologv, Work, and
Labor Politics in an Argentine Industrial Citv (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996); and James P.
Brennan and Monica Gordillo. Cordoba rebelde. el cordoba:o, clasismo, v la movili:acion social (La Plata: De la
Compana, 2008).
Gordillo, pp. 218-28.
James P. Brennan. 'Clasismo and the Workers. The Ideological-Cultural Context oI Sindicalismo de
Liberacion` in the Cordoban Automobile Industry, 1970-1975. Journal for the Societv of Latin American Studies,
Vol. 3, Issue 13 (September 1995).
Brennan, The Labor Wars in Cordoba, p. 215.

labors demands, which only undermined any attempts to construct alliances. To support this
contention, he analyzes the PRT-ERP`s kidnapping and ultimate killing oI Fiat manager Oberdan
Sallustro in 1971. He argues that this event only served to justiIy the dictatorship`s continued
prohibition oI the union`s activities, angering workers and activists alike. Moreover, according
to the author, clasistas such as Tosco, sought autonomous political projects oI their own, separate
Irom the vanguardism oI the revolutionary leIt.

One valid concern oI these works are their sources and methodology. All three authors
conducted their research in the immediate aItermath oI state terror and an incomplete democratic
transition that witnessed a military rebellion and a successIul call Ior immunity (the Due
Obedience Law) Ior junior oIIicers as well as a premature closure oI investigations into crimes
committed during the dictatorship (the Punto Final Law). One must question, thereIore, the
ability oI scholars to carry out an ethnography to shine light upon the relationship between the
revolutionary leIt and the working class amid such an environment. Would a worker admit to
sympathies Ior the 'terrorist PRT-ERP? Was it possible Ior scholars to discover active worker
support Ior armed struggle? Maria Cecilia Cangiano`s study oI labor politics and the collective
memory oI steel workers in Villa Constitucion during the menemato suggested that scholars
could not due to contemporary politics. She Iound that in the midst oI their protracted struggle
against their company`s plan to lay oII workers and increase responsibilities Ior those who
remained, labor activists oI the Propuesta Politica de los Trabajadores (PPT) had disavowed both
socialism and the clasista labor struggles oI twenty years prior. Survivors oI the Dirty War as
well as newcomers alike, Iacing a neoliberal economic reality that maniIested itselI in recession
and the 'destruction oI the welIare state, disavowed the revolutionary leIt as overly dogmatic
and vanguardist, according to the author.

2001 and Bevond. A New Turn in the Historiographv

The new millennium presented a dramatic turning point not only Ior Argentine politics, but
also historiography. In 2001, the country suIIered a shocking economic collapse and one oI the
largest debt deIaults in history. Protests, police repression, and dramatic poverty that resulted in
the deaths oI children throughout the country served to delegitimize neo-liberal policies that
Washington, DC had trumpeted as a model Ior the region. The election oI a center-leIt
government headed by Nestor Kirchner was equally important. Kirchner, a Iormer member oI
the Juventud Peronista and critic oI Carlos Menem`s policies, committed his government to a
new human rights course that sought re-trials oI senior oIIicers as well as trials oI those junior
oIIicers (the 'material authors) and their civilian accomplices that participated in and abetted
disappearances. The Supreme Court`s subsequent repeal oI amnesties and the new government`s
commitment to trials encouraged once silenced victims to speak out against their perpetrators.
The trials and the aItermath oI 2001 also inspired a movement to vindicate the revolutionary leIt
by challenging the notion that its members were terrorists who lacked popular support. In the
subsequent years, a leItwing renaissance Ilourished in Argentina in the Iorm oI new histories that
can rightly be termed a counter-hegemonic movement. Memoirs such Daniel De Santis`s La
historia del PRT-ERP segun sus protagonistas, magazines such as Lucha armada, and
documentaries Ca:adores de la utopia (the Montoneros) and the three-part Gaviotas Blindadas

Maria Cecilia Cangiano. 'Reviewing the Past and Inventing the Present: The Steel Workers oI Villa Constitucion,
1989-1992. James P. Brennan, editor. Peronism and Argentina (Wilmington, Delaware: SR Books, 1998), p. 187.

(PRT-ERP) not only challenged the two demons mythology, but also, as Hugo Vazetti has noted,
Iramed the disappeared as popular combatants in addition to victims oI state terror.
For its part,
the post-2001 scholarship has done much to change perceptions oI the relationship between the
revolutionary leIt and the working class by the challenging notions oI the Iormer`s class-
composition and the latter`s mere trade unionist ideology.

While the academic scholarship concerning the PRT-ERP remained largely neglected during
the eighties and nineties, it received a boost during the new millennium. The discrediting oI the
neo-liberal movement, street protests, the rise oI leItwing social movements, the election oI a
center-leIt government, and the desire oI Iormer 'perros to claim a voice in the collective
memory generated intense interest in Argentina`s Iirst truly national Marxist organization. The
work that best represents this turn in the historiography is Pablo Pozzi`s history-Irom-below, Por
las sendas argentinas. Trained in the United States, where he received his Ph.D. in history, the
Argentine scholar was the Iirst to carry out an ethnographic study involving multiple interviews
with over a hundred militants. Part cultural, part social history, one oI the major thrusts oI the
work is its challenge to what the author sees as arbitrary notions oI the group`s class composition
and popular support. Seeking to challenge the presumption oI leIt`s middle-class roots, he re-
Irames the organization as a mass movement with notable worker participation. Criticizing
notions oI a rigid Peronist identity that prevented workers Irom embracing Marxism, Pozzi
wrote, 'the quanity oI Peronist workers that joined the PRT revealed that they, despite their
supposed idology, were not too McCarthyist. Moreover, I recognized that their process oI
politicization had more to do with the human qualities and practices oI the militant than the
political line itselI. As such, the suspicion arose that Ior the working class, clasimo was not an
ideological posture but rather a social praxis.
Pozzi also criticizes the historiographical
conception oI student identity, which he rightly argues has become shorthand Ior middle class.
He notes that, in reality, many students by the sixties were also simultaneously workers.
1975, according to the author, the PRT-ERP had cells in more than Iour hundred Iactories
throughout the country, Irom the sugar mills in Tucuman and Jujuy to the oilIields in Patagonia
and the heavy industries in Cordoba, Rosario, and Greater Buenos Aires.
Beyond his thesis
concerning class composition, Pozzi`s work is also valuable as a chronological and thematic
history oI the organization, beginning with its roots in the FRIP and Palabra Obrera in Tucuman
during the early sixties, to the deIense oI 'popular democracy Iollowing the return oI Peron. As
a cultural history, it covers diverse topics, Irom the symbolic weight oI Che Guevara to gender
and relations between male and Iemale militants.

Monographs concerning the Montoneros lagged until 2005, with the publication oI Lucas
Lanusse`s Montoneros. El mito de sus 12 fundadores and the 2011 publication oI Javier
Salcedo`s Los Montoneros del barrio. The purpose oI Lanusse`s work was twoIold: to critique
the notion that the Iounders oI the Montoneros were a mere twelve activists, and to examine the
diverse roots oI group in the national universities oI Iour provinces, particularly in the
Argentina`s interior: Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Chaco, and Cordoba. Lanusse (the grandnephew

Hugo Vazetti. Sobre la violencia revolucionaria. memorias v olvidos (Buenos Aires: Siglo Veinteuno, 2009).
Pablo Pozzi. Por las sendas argentinas. El PRT-ERP. La guerrilla marxista (Buenos Aires: Imago Mundi,
2009). p. 11.
Ibid, p. 36.
Ibid. p. 27

oI ex-dictator Alejandro Lanusse) placed the number oI original members at 71 Irom leItwing
Catholic organizations such as Integralismo (Cordoba), Movimiento de Estudiantes de la
Universidad Catolica (MEUC, Santa Fe), and Grupo Reconquista (Chaco). Historians like
Gillespie had previously seen the organization`s appearance through the twelve participants`
kidnapping and execution oI Aramburu, and the seizure oI the Cordoban town La Calera, in
1970. Lanusse, on the other hand, emphasizes the autonomous growth oI loosely-linked
movements that had been gaining strength in the late sixties Iollowing General Ongania`s
polarizing coup. The regionally autonomous yet national, 'geometric growth oI the
organization whose Iounders had placed an early emphasis on 'mass insertion through the
unidades basicas due to their progressive Catholic Iormation counters Gillespie`s thesis that the
Montoneros roots can be Iound in the ultra-rightwing Tacuara movement oI the sixties.

Lanusse`s work, though valuable, does not address class composition in the lower ranks oI the
organization, especially its presence in working class neighborhoods. This would be the task oI
Salcedo`s Los Montoneros del Barrio, the Iirst ethnographic study oI a working class
neighborhood through its relationship with the Montoneros. Salcedo Iound that in Moreno, a
suburb in the Buenos Aires industrial belt, the Montoneros experienced a high degree oI working
class adhesion as early as 1971, when workers entered the organization`s rank despite the costly
repression a year earlier. In this context, the author speaks oI a poly-class demographic that
deIies stereotypes. Workers could and did join the organization through their previous
participation in the political Iront Juventud Peronista. Salcedo asserts that this was in part a
response to the afusticiamiento oI Aramburu, but also a continuation oI worker resistance that
dates to the original Resistencia Peronista oI the post-1955 period. With the return oI democracy
and the legalization oI the Montoneros, their presence in Moreno rapidly grew. Yet Salcedo
asserts a key caveat: despite this poly-classism, the Montoneros very much remained a middle to
upper class movement in their highest echelons. Only the Cordoban worker Jose Sabino Navarro
ever attained a prominent leadership position.

A corollary oI this new revision is a re-examination oI working class culture, particularly in
Gran Buenos Aires. The Iirst work to do so was Alejandro Schneider, a student oI Pablo Pozzi
and author oI Los compaeros. Trabafadores, i:quierda v peronismo, 1955-1973.
sought to write a history Irom below that would reIute oI Daniel James`s thesis that the working
class in Buenos Aires had become strictly trade unionist by the late sixties, rendering clasismo a
regional movement. Using oral histories, press accounts, and government documentsincluding
Iigures on lesser-known strikes and labor organizinghe argues that the working class had
developed an anti-capitalist culture by the late sixties, culminating in challenges to the union
bureaucracy through 1969-71. By the Peronist Restoration in 1973, a local Iorm oI clasismo had
emerged in the Iactories and working class neighborhoods, where ties oI community solidarity
Iorged a new class consciousness. Schneider does not devote his analysis to the relationship
between the clasistas and the revolutionary leIt, nor does he examine the contradictions that
Peron`s return generated. But his work is valuable as a response to the dominant theory that the

Lucas Lanusse. Montoneros. El mito de sus 12 fundadores (Buenos Aires: Vergara, 2005), pp. 275-7.
Javier Salcedo. Los Montoneros del barrio (Buenos Aires: Editorial de la Universidad Nacional de Tres de
Febrero, 2011), pp. 284-5.
Alejandro Schneider. Los compaeros. Trabafadores, i:quierda v peronismo, 1955-1973 (Buenos Aires: Imago
Mundi, 2005).

working class in Buenos Aires did not support organizations such as the Montoneros and the
PRT-ERP because it was trade unionist. A second work, Insurgencia obrera en la Argentina,
1969-1976, co-authored by Ruth Werner and Facundo Aguirre, is broader in its analysis. Like
Schneider, Werner and Aguirre posit that by 1969, the Argentine working class in Buenos Aires
and the industrial park Villa Constitucion (south oI Rosario, Santa Fe province) had attained a
high-level oI anti-capitalist class consciousness that maniIested itselI in strikes, anti-
bureaucratism, workplace democracy, and the seizure and administration oI Iactories (however
brieI). The authors assert that the PRT (and other Marxist organizations, though not the
Montoneros) did attain sympathy or adhesion among the working class, but quickly isolated
themselves by 1974-5 due to paramilitary and state terror, and also due to their militarism and
their IateIul decision to launch a rural insurgency in Tucuman in 1974, which required the
relocation oI activists in the Litorial as losses mounted. By March 1976, according to Werner
and Aguirre, the working class was isolated in its struggle.

A pertinent question Ior these studies, like those that preceded them, is the role oI collective
memory and contemporary political discourse. II the dominant two demons hegemony, lingering
Iears oI personal saIety, and the rise oI neo-liberalism inIluenced collective memories during the
eighties and nineties, it is Iair to ask iI attempts to vindicate the revolutionary leIt in the new
millennium also inIluenced oral history, Iiltering witnesses` memories through contemporary
politics and narratives. Whereas previous works spoke oI an isolation oI the armed groups and
their alienation oI the working class, newer works instead portray a monolithic, popular
strugglean alliance between both sectors against the bourgeoisie and military. This has not
only produced a scholarship that in many ways Iunctions as militancia, but also uses problematic
conceptualizations. Ines Izaguirre`s edited volume Lucha de clases, guerra civil v genocidio en
la Argentina, 1973-1983, which contains a collection oI very strong essays covering a range oI
topics Irom working class struggle to state terror, is indicative oI this trend. First. the idea that
Argentina experienced a civil war` in the 1970s reduces that era to an armed conIlict between
two opposing sides, when in reality the revolutionary leIt was one among may actors that
challenged the state and capital. Second, such a conceptualization inadvertently justiIies the
military repression, whose perpetrators and apologists have deIended by claiming that Argentina
was 'in a state oI war.

Augustin Santella`s 'Las guerras obreras en la Argentina: Villa Constitucion, 1973-1975,
deIends both notions. The author advances two theses: that workers and the revolutionary leIt
Iormed an alliance in the city, and the conIrontations between the state and social movements
could be classiIied as a civil war: 'although not expressed in great battles nor the conIrontation
between regular armies, he writes, 'growing acts oI violence revealed a civil war. It was not a
war oI class against class.` However, violence was an instrument oI distinct social Iactions
struggling against one another.
The idea that Argentines engaged in a civil war, even in
theoretical terms, is diIIicult to deIend. Neither the scope oI the violence and the resultant
casualties nor the extent oI the mobilization compare to other civil wars oI the twentieth-century,

Ruth Werner and Facudo Aguirre. Insurgencia obrera en la Argentina 1969-1976. Clasismo, coordinadoras
interfabriles v estategias de la i:quierda (Buenos Aires: Ediciones IPS, 2007), pp. 95-6; 335-40.
Augustin Santella. ''Las guerras obreras en la Argentina. Villa Constitucion, 1973-1975 in Ines Izaguirre,
editor. Lucha de clases, guerra civil v genocidio en la Argentina, 1973-1983 (Buenos Aires: Eudeba, 2009), pp. 283;

such as those oI Mexico (1910-1929), Russia (1917-1922), China (1927-1950), Spain (1936-
1939), or Colombia (1948-1958; 1964-Present), whose conIlicts resulted in mass mobilization,
large scale conIrontations, and the deaths oI hundreds oI thousands. Moreover, the vast majority
oI victims oI Argentina`s 'Dirty War were not combatants, but rather civilians whom the state`s
apparatus targeted Ior their political, social, and cultural identities. Second, while the author
speaks oI an alliance between the working class and the PRT oI Villa Constitucion, the workers`
own sporadic deIense reveals that the coordination between party militants, clasista activists, and
the steal workers was not Iully developed, and that the working class itselI, despite the rise oI
Iactory coordinating committees, could not withstand the onslaught oI state and paramilitary
violence in 1975.

The risk oI this new historiography, thereIore, is the conceptualization oI the working class as
a revolutionary mass without its own internal contradictions. While a convincing argument has
been made that many workers had developed an anti-capitalist leItwing consciousness by 1973-
1975, and that Peronist identity did not inhibit alliances and even adhesion to Marxist
organizations such as the PRT, the scholarship encounters diIIiculties when it attempts to analyze
the relationship between the revolutionary leIt and the classista syndicalists. LeItwing actors
during this period had diIIerent and oIten conIlicting aims concerning the strategies Ior seizing
power, ranging Irom the role oI revolutionary violence to their stances on Peronism and the
return oI Peron. These strategiessuch as the PRT`s launching oI a rural armed Ioco in
Tucuman in 1974oIten made such alliances more diIIicult. Even the PRT`s broad political
Iront, the Frente Antimperialista por el Socialismo (FAS), which drew over 20,000 attendees at
its rally in Rosario, July 1974, Iailed to oIIer a viable alternative to Peron`s return. Moreover,
when discussing the malleability oI Peronist identity, one must ask how representative acts oI
adhesion were in regards to demonstrations oI sympathy, which would have been more
numerous but also more superIicial vis-a-vis identiIication with the Marxist leIt. I am in
agreement with Pozzi and others that Peronist identity neither prevented acts oI membership nor
alliances with the Marxist PRT. However, the tempting notion oI a monolithic popular struggle
hides very real tensions and contradictions within the LeIt, missing an important story
concerning the tensions between Peronist and non-Peronist social movements, as well as the
strategy oI syndicalism versus armed struggle.

Another concern oI this historiography is methodological in nature. Much oI the new wave
relies on oral history, whose interviews range Irom Iormer Montoneros and Perritistas to labor
activists; many oI whom are survivors oI clandestine centers oI detention such as the inIamous
ESMA (Buenos Aires) and La Perla (Cordoba). The testimonies have allowed historians and
sociologists to Iill in crucial gaps and gain a much clearer portrait oI the period. Yet the reliance
on oral history also has its risks. II memory during the eighties and nineties privileged the two
demons myth in its recollection, then the post-2001 era has demonstrated the opposite: a popular
struggle between the 'people and the 'oligarchy and its US-backed praetorian guard, the
military. Moreover, how representative can testimonies be? How does the scholar treat the
testimony oI a Iormer militant who declares that the Montoneros or the PRT enjoyed support
Irom the working class? II several workers declare that they supported the guerrilla, does the
historian or sociologist treat it as an isolated event or representative oI a larger trend? In his
essay on clasismo, Brennan states his belieI that any truly accurate assessment oI the guerrillas`
insertion in the working class is impossible to know, given the shiIting nature oI oral history and

the lack oI any reliable archival data.
Ultimately, any account will reveal its own partiality and
contemporary inIluences. This is true, and a conclusion that all historians conducting oral
history should remember. Yet it should not deter the scholar Irom his or her attempts to achieve
the closest approximation possible. II critically engaged, testimonies can still provide the scholar
with valuable data not easily Iound in other types oI sources, especially iI the subject oI the study
are urban or rural subalterns, who oIten leave little in the way oI documentation, as is the case
with Tucuman, which I shall discuss.

One oI the more recent developments that has strengthened this historiography is the
appearance oI more localized studies. Rather than writing broad, national histories oI the
Montoneros or PRT-ERP, a new generation oI historians and sociologists are Iocusing their
eIIorts upon provincial and urban histories, either searching Ior distinctions or microcosms that
would illuminate our understanding oI the two organizations. The work that best illustrates this
trend is Javier Salcedo`s aIorementioned Montoneros del barrio. By Iocusing exclusively upon
the neighborhood oI Moreno, the author was able to uncover a history that may not have been
otherwise possible had he attempted a larger survey. Thus, while Pozzi`s national history Por
las sendas argentinas is important Ior inIluencing this new generation oI scholars, it nevertheless
suIIered Irom a sense oI incompleteness or persistent questions that Iollow even the best oI
monographs, despite having obtained well over a hundred testimonies with Iormer PRTistas,
labor activists, and military oIIicers. This is evident in his coverage oI the province oI Tucuman,
the cradle and grave oI the PRT-ERP. The author`s estimation oI the guerrilla`s strength and its
level oI popular support relies upon several testimonies Irom participants in the Iailed venture,
the writings oI military oIIicers, and a declassiIied US Air Force document, all oI which
demonstrated a power and 'lethality oI the Compaia del Monte Ramon Rosa Jimenez, despite
what the author also notes was a lack oI preparation and clear political objectives.
Notable in
this assessment was a lack oI numerous testimonies Irom non-PRT sugar workers, who could
have aIIirmed (or denied) statements concerning sympathy Ior the insurgency.

This, however, is not an indictment oI Pozzi`s work. The author, aIter all, attained
important testimonies Irom working class Prtistas that do demonstrate the existence oI poly-
classism. Rather, it is reIlective oI the diIIiculties oI conducting research in a province that
continued to experience multiple Iorms oI violence against the lower classes that rendered any
proIound ethnography nearly impossible. Tucuman, which had become an epicenter Ior social
struggle in the sixties and seventies, had suIIered a dearth oI serious investigation due to
lingering Iear and the dominance oI the right. The 1975-1983 state terror campaign, which began
one year prior to the military`s coup d`etat, leIt its victimsmany oI them marginalized, semi-
literate sugar cane cutters and peasants traumatized and IearIul oI denouncing their
victimizers. Compounding this was the election oI Iormer General Antonio Domingo Bussi as
governor oI Tucuman in 1995. The victory oI the man responsible Ior the Iorced disappearance
oI thousands in the province had a chilling eIIect, and set the province on a course akin to Chile
and Spain in terms oI the repression oI historical memory and the reduced ability oI social
movements to press Ior justice. It meant that the oIIicial discourseone that positioned Bussi as

Brennan, 'Clasismo and the Workers, p. 301.
Pozzi, p. 280.

saving the province Irom communist 'subversionwas hegemonic until his trial in 2008.
majority oI participants in my own research conIessed that Bussi`s return to oIIice in 1995 made
them too aIraid to speak Ior Iear that he would 'disappear them again.

The historiography oI the PRT-ERP and the Montoneros in Tucuman remained sparse, and
even mysterious. For those studying the revolutionary leIt in Tucuman, the major sources tended
to be accounts oI Iormer PRTistas such as Luis Mattini (1984) and Eduardo Anguitia`s historical
novel La compania del monte (2005), and publications oI the time, such El Combatiente and
Estrella Rofa. Testimonies Irom sugar workers and syndicalists were Iew and Iar between, save
Ior the 1984 Bicameral Report. which concerned human rights abuses during Operation
Independence or, 21 years later, Lucia Mercado`s La base, a collection oI Iirsthand accounts
Irom residents oI Santa Lucia, published in 2005. Studies oI the Montoneros wereand are
non-existent. Save Ior a brieI mention oI its August 28, 1975 detonation oI a Hercules transport
plane carrying Gendarmes to Tucuman, neither memoirs nor academic studies have appeared
concerning their history in the province; even Lanusse`s monograph omitted any history oI the
Montoneros in Tucuman. Until the new millennium, analyses oI the PRT-ERP`s insurgency
dominated the discussion to the exclusion oI its earlier history, as well as the activities oI the
Montoneros and other organizations.

The historiography oI the PRT-ERP in Tucuman can be placed within two categories. The
Iirst strictly looks at its insurgency in the province, Irom its origins and class composition to the
violent repression that Iollowed. Primary among these works was Mattini`s Hombres v muferes
del PRT-ERP. Mattini asserts that the Compania del Monte was the result oI a desire to avoid a
protracted urban warIare and instead construct a revolutionary army by Iollowing the example oI
the Vietnamese. Yet he criticizes both the insurgency`s lack oI popular support and the origin oI
its Iighters, whom he states where blond-haired porteos with little in the way oI training or
connection with the populace.
Maria Jose Moyano repeats this thesis in Argentina`s Lost
Patrol, when she states: 'Urban combatants were sent to Iight in a terrain with which they were
unIamiliar, in a province whose economic importance was marginal and where trade union
activity had petered out aIter Ongania closed the sugar mills in 1967 |sic|. The opening oI a
rural Iront was thereIore indeIensible in military as well as political terms, and reIlected a
doctrinaire wish to emulate the Vietnamese experience.
Both Mattini and Moyano use the
Compaia as the most extreme example oI the revolutionary leIt`s isolation Irom the working
class and its selI-destructive militarism. Interestingly, Paul H. Lewis credits the PRT-ERP with
developing a strong support base oI native Tucumanos who supported the party Iollowing the
Ongania regime`s disastrous closure oI the mills. Like Pozzi, he claims that the Compaia
controlled one-third oI the province until the commencement oI Operation Independence, which
uprooted the support base through Iorced disappearances and a strict control oI the populace.
Only then, Lewis notes, did the Santucho order replacements Irom Buenos Aires and Cordoba.

Finally, Clarin journalist Daniel Gutman`s 2010 Sangre en el monte was the Iirst non-military
work to Iocus exclusively upon the history oI the Compaia del monte. While Gutman provides

See Emilio Crenzal. Memorias enfrentadas. El voto a Bussi en Tucuman (San Miguel de Tucuman: Universidad
Nacional de Tucuman, 2001).
Mattini, pp. 286-9.
Moyano, p. 51.
Lewis, pp. 97-110.

the reader with interesting anecdotes oI liIe in the guerrilla as well as horriIying accounts oI
military repression in the province, sparse testimonies, historical inaccuracies, and an unIortunate
resurrection oI the two demons myth mar this publication.

The second category attempted to locate the PRT-ERP`s relationship to the working class
prior to the 1966-1970 dictatorship and the 1974-76 insurgency by examining the organization`s
Iormative years in the early sixties, when the local Frente Revolucionario Indoamericanista
Popular (FRIP) and Palabra Obrera both operated in the province until their Iusion in 1965.
Graciela del Valle Romano`s Benito Romano, a:ucar v sangre. FOTIA v la huegla de 1959
Iocuses on the activities oI Peronist and syndicalist oI the Esperanza sugar mill, Benito Romano,
and the attempts oI labor activists to reclaim the union Iollowing the coup against Peron. During
her research, she uncovered evidence oI support and sympathy Ior the nascent PRT in several
mill towns. Indeed, Pozzi argues that the PRT`s origins as a mass movement partially reside in
Tucuman, where many oI its original members were workers (particularly in the mill town San
Jose). Originally Trotskyist in its ideology and practice, the PRT gained a notable Iollowing
among workers in Tucuman`s campo which contradict popular conceptions oI a middle-class
composition, at least in that province. Sergio M. NicanoII and Axel Castellano`s 2006 Las
primeras experiencias guerrilleras en la Argentina, which details Angel 'Vasco Bengochea`s
Iailed attempt to launch an insurgency in Tucuman in 1964, also Iound evidence oI widespread
sympathy in San Jose and the seeds oI activism in Santa Lucia and Santa Ana.

2008 marked a watershed in the history and historiography oI Tucuman. For the Iirst time
since the end oI military rule in the province, those responsible Ior acts oI state terror and
genocideGenerals Antonio Domingo Bussi and Luciano MenendezIaced trial Ior the 1976
disappearance oI Guillermo Vargas Aignasse, a leIt-wing Peronist provincial senator. Five
subsequent trialsand the death oI BussiproIoundly transIormed the politics oI the province.
Associations oI ex-political prisoners and relatives oI the disappeared grew in strength and
number, eIIectively challenging a hegemonic discourse in a province where the words
'subversive and 'terrorist regularly circulate in the public sphere. For academics, this rupture
presented the Iirst signiIicant opportunity to conduct ethnographic research with survivors who
were too aIraid to speak beIore hand. As early as 2007, sociologists operating under the moniker
Grupo de Investigacion sobre el Genocidio en Tucuman (GIGET) began collecting testimonies in
the locality oI Famailla, a city south oI Tucuman that hosted the Iirst clandestine center oI
detention, La Escuelita de Diego Rojas. Its eIIorts resulted in more than thirty interviews with
Iormer sugar workers became available Ior public consultation and a documentary, Famailla,
historia de surcos v luchas. Two principle members oI GIGET (and doctoral students oI Pozzi)
Alejandra Pisani and Ana SoIia Jemio, have engaged in their own research oI the PRT and
working class culture in the province. Combining oral history with archival research, each has
published an article through GIGET, and both are currently writing their dissertation.
Jemio, in

Daniel Gutman. Sangre en el monte. La aventura increible del ERP en los cerros tucumanos (Buenos Aires:
Sudamericana, 2010).
Sergio M. NicanoII and Axel Castellano. Las primeras experiencias guerrilleras en la Argentina. La historia del
Jasco` Bengochea v las Fuer:as Armadas de la Revolucion Nacional (Buenos Aires: Ediciones del CCC, 2006).
Ana Pisarelli. 'El Frente Revolucionario Indoamericanista Popular: del nacionalismo a la izqueirda marxista,
and Ana SoIia Jemio. 'FOTIA, sus sindicatos y aIiliados. Una aproximacion a los marcos discursivos y propuestas
programaticas de la clase obrera azucarera tucumana en 1963. Both essays can be Iound at http://giget- 3

particular, has challenged Daniel James`s conceptions oI working class culture in Tucuman by
asserting that the labor movement in Tucuman radically diverged Irom the trade unionism oI
Buenos Aires as early as 1963. Using a discursive analysis oI a key document oI the sugar
workers` conIederation FOTIA, as well worker militancy in Santa Lucia and Santa Ana, Jemio
argues Ior a particular class consciousness in Tucuman driven by the crisis oI the sugar industry
and the mobilization oI labor activists and leIt-wing social movements.

Since 2008, I have conducted my own ethnographic research on Tucuman, interviewing more
than one hundred witnesses throughout Argentina and compiling hundreds oI documents.

Granted access to the Iirst trial oI Bussi and Menendez in 2008, I Iormed valuable contacts with
ex-political prisoners, and, in the subsequent Iour years oI research, conducted interviews in all
the major sugar towns in the province, including Famailla, Santa Lucia, and the cradle oI the
PRT-ERP, San Jose. Like Jemio, I argue that many in Tucuman`s working class became
radicalized in the early sixties. I also argue that Iollowing the Ongania`s regime`s 1966 mill
closures (11 out oI 26 mills in the province), the PRT-ERP and Montoneros Iound widespread
sympathy in the province, with many workers either joining the organization or sympathizing
with it. Yet I also argue Ior caution, as well. My interviews with Peronist sugar workers reveal
that while there was broad sympathy Ior the guerrillas, it overwhelmingly maniIested itselI in the
realm oI opposition rather than resistance, meaning such people passively supported the PRT
through what James C. Scott termed the 'weapons oI the weak: logistical aid (Iood, medical
supplies, and tips), sabotage, and declarations oI support in the cane Iields, a space Iree oI
surveillance. Instances oI active supportjoining the insurgency itselIwere restricted to only
a Iew towns out oI three dozen. Moreover, this support masks the tensions and contradictions
within working class communities that the conIrontation engendered. Many Tucumanos were
simultaneously Peronist and strongly anti-communist due to political and religious values, as
well as petty intra-community conIlicts. My interviews reveal that the anti-Peronist guerrilla
inspired residents to collaborate with the military and turn in their 'terrorist neighbors even
though it meant death Ior those denounced.

My research has also uncovered connections between the Montoneros and sugar workers in
Tucuman, as well. These connections began in the late sixties, when leItwing Catholic youths
throughout the country saw the province as a school Ior revolutionary praxis. Like Valeria
I have uncovered episodes oI university students traveling to the Northwest to
'discover a Third World Argentina and engage in militancy during pre-Cordobazo period when
Tucuman seemingly presented the greatest challenge to the Ongania dictatorship. My research

James Shrader. The Garden of Miserv. Revolution and Genocide in Tucuman, Argentina, 1955-1978 (Ph.D.
Dissertation in Progress: University oI CaliIornia, San Diego, 2014).
Valeria Manzano. 'Making Third World Argentina: Place, Emotions, and Revolutionary Politics, 1967. Paper
presented at the American Historical Association ConIerence, Boston, 2011. Manzano argues that middle and upper
class university students in the late sixties sought to 'discover the Argentina`s impoverished, mestizo Northwest
and Northeast in a bid to Iorm connections with Thirdworldist struggles. The encounters with rural poverty not only
provoked Ieelings oI indignation, but were also political Iormative Ior youths would later join armed organizations.
She believes that these encounters, and the idea oI a Third World` Argentina, help to explain the PRT-ERP`s
decision to launch its rural Ioco in Tucuman. She writes this was 'an over-simpliIied representation oI the social
and political landscape oI the country, which also led towards to an over-estimation oI some strategieslike armed
actionvis-a-vis others. The impossibility oI moving apart Irom the Third Worldliest paradigm, in this respect,
may help explain why one oI the major guerrilla groups, the ERP, in 1973-74 embarked upon what now looks like a
suicide: the opening oI a Ioco in Tucuman, which ended up consuming most oI its resources.

has also uncovered an active collaboration between non-Tucuman and Tucumano activists in the
late sixties, who Iorm the provincial branch oI the Montoneros in 1970-71. This collaboration
not only occurred between like-minded students, but also between students and workers,
beginning as early as 1967. Though always a predominately urban-based organization, its
members also came Irom working class rural towns hit hardest by the Ongania regime`s sugar
mill closures. The Montoneros, while valorizing armed struggle, engaged in grassroots work
with cane cutters through its political wing, the Juventud Peronista. By 1974, when the
Montoneros returned to armed struggle Iollowing Peron`s death, their members had already
actively engaged the rural working class, and would do so until Operation Independence
rendered any such political work impossible. ThereIore, whether or not the province oI
Tucuman is a microcosm oI greater national trends, or merely a divergence, it nevertheless calls
attention to the need Ior local studies oI the revolutionary leIt, whether in Cordoba, Salta, Jujuy,
or the Chaco. There are still many histories that remain unknown, and questions unanswered.
Even iI historians will never gain a complete picture the relationship between these organizations
and the working class, they can still shine light on a subject that remains provocative to this day.

Neglected Struggles. The historiographv of the lesser-known groups

This essay has exclusively Iocused on the historiography oI the Montoneros and the PRT-
ERP Ior two reasons: they were the largest, most powerIul in the country, and the most
historically decisive among all revolutionary leItwing organizations. As such, the historiography
itselI privileged their histories above all others. Yet this essay would not be complete without a
concluding discussion oI smaller groups whose histories are now appearing alongside their more
well-known counterparts. Thanks to the eIIorts oI the editorial Topo Blindado (which is also
responsible Ior the digitalization oI more than 2000 documents and publications oI the
revolutionary leIt, which are now Ireely available online) as well as dedicated historians, we now
possess a much broader understanding beyond the traditional Montoneros vs. PRT-ERP
paradigm. These new studies can be divided into two time periods: the post-1970 era, during
which splinter-organizations oI the PRT-ERP and Montoneros operated, and the pre-1970 era,
which stretches back to the immediate aItermath oI the Cuban Revolution.

The post-1970 historiography seeks to document the history oI those groups which oIIered
alternate, and even opposing visions concerning the role oI armed struggle and the relationship
with workers, such as Eudald Cortina Orero`s Grupo Obrero Revolucionario. autodefensa
obrera guerrilla (GOR) and Federico Cormick`s ERP Fraccion Rofa. Debate v ruptura en el
The GOR presents a provocative history. Founded by ex-PRTistas in late 1970
Iollowing internal disputes within in the organization over the construction oI a revolutionary
army, it posited that armed struggle`s role was to be propagandistic, and that equaliI not
greaterimportance should be given to the mobilization oI the working class. By 1976, it had
even established an autonomous syndicalist wing: La Corriente Clasista. The Fraccion Roja,
also composed oI ex-Prtistas in Southern Buenos Aires was equally pertinent. Like the GOR,
Cormick shows how dissidents within the party broke over questions oI militarism and its
isolation Irom the working class. The Fraccion Roja instead adopted a more Trotskyist line, re-

Eudald Cortina Orero. Grupo Obrero Revolucionario. autodefensa obrera v guerrilla (Buenos Aires: El Topo
Blindado, 2011), and Federico Cormick. Fraccion Rofa. Debare v ruptura en el PRT-ERP (Buenos Aires: El Topo
Blindado, 2012).

positioning itselI toward the Fourth International (Which the PRT had abandoned), revolutionary
syndicalism, and the use oI armed struggle Ior worker selI-deIense, which the PRT had
advocated prior the split between Mario Roberto Santucho and Nahuel Moreno in 1968. The
Fraccion Roja would rechristen itselI the Liga Comunista Revolucionaria, beIore succumbing to
state repression by 1975. Though neither group was ever numerically signiIicant, both gained
student and worker support, and both demonstrate the ideological and practical plurality that is
not readily apparent Irom a more narrow Iocus upon the Montoneros and PRT-ERP. They also
call attention to the need Ior studies oI other overlooked organizations, including the ERP 22 de
Agosto, the FAR, the Columna Sabino Navarro, and Vanguardia Comunista.

The pre-1970 scholarship Iocuses upon those organizations Iormed in the immediacy oI the
Cuban Revolution. Its authors argue that questions regarding armed struggle and the role oI the
working class that repeatedly appeared Irom 1970-76 originated in the Iirst attempts to replicate
the Cuban experience. Ernesto Salas`s Los Uturuncos documents the very Iirst rural guerrilla in
Argentina, when Peronist students and workers in Tucuman and Santiargo del Estero, inspired by
Castro`s victory, sought their own Sierra Maestra.
Salas traces the Uturuncos` origins to the
post-1955 Resistance in Tucuman and FOTIA`s struggle against attempts to roll back the social
gains oI the Peronato. The Uturuncos` deIeat was ironic, and demonstrated the pitIalls oI Che
Guevara`s Ioco strategy, which lauded the ability oI insurgents to create the subjective conditions
through rural guerrilla warIare. Though the group was poly-classist and drew Irom a strong rural
and urban opposition to the proscription oI Peron, its decision to take to the mountains only
isolated it Irom its base, dooming the group to oblivion. Likewise, Gabriel Rot`s Los origenes
perdidas de la guerrilla en la Argentina interprets Jorge Ricardo Massetti and the Ejercito
Guerrillero del Pueblo`s (EGP) 1964 disastrous Ioco in Salta as Iurther evidence that the strategy
only resulted in the isolation oI the revolutionary leIt Irom its base oI support.
Rot sees the
Ioco`s emphasis on military organization structure over mass politics as engendering
authoritarianism and isolation. In contrast, NicanoII`s and Castellano`s aIorementioned study oI
Bengochea`s thwarted guerrillawhich ended prematurely in 1964 aIter a bomb exploded in the
leader`s apartment in Buenos Aires, killing the core oI the Fuerzas Armadas de la Revolucion
Nacional (FARN)was not a dogmatic adherence to foquismo but rather an autonomous attempt
that enjoyed popular support in Tucuman. My own interpretation suggests that it was
somewhere in the middlethe FARN would have been able to draw upon worker support in San
Jose (the cradle oI the PRT), but its base oI support in other sugar towns was meager. Moreover,
there is no mention oI any prior political work with the peasantry, which would have
distinguished the FARN Irom the EGP. Finally, Airel Hendler presents the urban counterpart:
the Iirst monograph oI the Fuerzas Argentinas de Liberacion (FAL). Hendler begins with the
organization`s early Ioray into armed struggle in the early sixties to its kidnapping oI the
Paraguayan consul in 1970 and its divisions thereaIter. Hendler rightly points out that the FAL
had not received the scholarly attention that it deserved, but in the context oI this essay, his work
is important Ior illustrating cases oI worker adhesion, particularly in the rail yards oI TaIi Viejo,

Ernesto Salas. Uturuncos. el origen de la guerrilla peronista (Buenos Aires: Editorial Biblios, 2002).
Gabriel Rot. Los origenes perdidos de la guerrilla en la Argentina (Buenos Aires: Walduther Editorial, 2010)
Ariel Hendler. La guerrilla invisible. Historia de las Fuer:as Armadas de Liberacion (FAL) (Buenos Aires:
Vergara, 2010).


The early historiography oI the revolutionary leIt and its relationship with the working class
concluded that the Montoneros and the PRT-ERP Iailed to garner either sympathy or adhesion
Irom a trade unionist working class due to their prioritization oI armed struggle. The revisionism
in the last decade has countered that these organizations did elicit sympathy and even adhesion,
arguing that both groups were more poly-classist than previously thought. Additional works
have showed that both smaller and earlier groups achieved mixed results in gaining support Irom
the working class, but did succeed in oIIering a plurality oI visions that historians ignored. What
is next? More regional and local studies will appear in the next several years that will either
validate the revisionism, or argue that its claims have been overstated. It is more than likely that
no deIinitive answer will ever exist, but these debates have enriched our knowledge oI both the
movements and the period itselI. As witnesses pass away due to poor health or advanced age, it
is imperative that scholars act with haste. Many questions remain, and while oral history can
never reveal the complete, unvarnished truth, it nevertheless can provide readers with an
alternative history that those who held power did their best to suppress and erase.

One can rightly object that the theme oI armed struggle has monopolized much (though not
all) oI the discussion since the CONADEP report. This is true. Scholars would do well to turn
their attention to other struggles, such as the activities oI these organizations in the realm oI
revolutionary cultural projects, neighborhood activism, and syndicalism. Moreover, subjects oI
gender, women`s history, sexuality, ethnicity, and race as they related to the revolutionary leIt
and the working class would beneIit Irom increased attention, though this subIield has improved
within the last several years.
Ultimately, a combination oI the right questions and a critical
engagement with sources can and will produce strong works that add to the debate. This
scholarship, though, will be Iirmly rooted in the last thirty years oI conversation, and, more
proIoundly, the popular struggle oI those whose history we have dedicated ourselves to preserve.

Such works include Manzano`s aIorementioned paper on race, 'Making Third World Argentina (which shall
appear in a 2014 edited compilation on race in Argentina; on gender and women`s history within these
organizations, see Marta Diana. Mujeres guerrilleras: sus testimonios en la militancia de los setenta (Buenos Aires:
Planeta, 2006); Paola Martinez. Genero, politica, y revolucion en los aos setenta. Las mujeres del PRT-ERP
(Buenos Aires: Imagi Mundo, 2009). In his essay on 'Clasismo and the Workers, Brennan Iound that even in
revolutionary Cordoba, traditional gender roles remained Iixed. At most, women perIormed auxiliary roles, which
conIormed to the workers` original rural backgrounds. Brennan also notes that the revolutionary leIt Iailed to
articulate any message that incorporated women`s concerns (pp. 302-3).