Thinking History Globally
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Thinking History Globally

Diego Olstein

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eBook - ePub

Thinking History Globally

Diego Olstein

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About This Book

The book brings together many recent trends in writing history under a common framework: thinking history globally. By thinking history globally, the book explains, applies, and exemplifies the four basic strategies of analysis, the big C's: comparing, connecting, conceptualizing, and contextualizing, using twelve different branches of history.

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Thinking History Globally: Theory in Practice. Argentina under Perón (1946–1955), Thinking Globally a National History
Globalization is all about transcending boundaries that are economic, political, linguistic, cultural, and regional, and in order to think globally about history, we need to move beyond these boundaries too. Contemporary historiography offers 12 distinct branches defined precisely by their particular transcendence of boundaries. The list of 12 branches can be collapsed into four main categories, each standing for the four main strategies for global thinking applied by these branches. By way of a concrete case study, this chapter defines and exemplifies each of these four main strategies for global thinking and the 12 branches subsumed by them. Argentina under Juan Domingo Perón (1946–1955) is a case study typically framed within the boundaries of national history; however, in the following thought experiment, this case provides a platform for exemplifying the strategies and branches for thinking history globally. Moreover, readers will see firsthand how global thinking brings history out of the national box.
On the eve of October 17, 1945, thousands of workers made their way, rather spontaneously, to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. They came to demand the liberation of Colonel Juan Domingo Perón. For the last two years, in his capacity as the secretary of labor in a military government, Perón sanctioned a series of decrees on compensations, retirement, and working conditions that were favorable to the working class. Anxious due to the mutual empowerment of Perón and the labor organizations, the members of the military junta pressed Perón into resignation, which was then followed by his imprisonment. But this series of events was of no avail for the junta. In a week, the broad mobilization of the workers in the capital city and nearby locations resulted in the liberation of Perón and his overwhelming return to the political scene.
On February 24, 1946, Juan Domingo Perón obtained 56 percent of the popular vote and won the national elections in 22 of the 23 provinces. His presidential mandate, prolonged by winning the subsequent election in 1952 and thereafter interrupted by a military coup in September 1955, profoundly transformed the history of Argentina. As such, Perón’s regime captured great attention resulting in a wide historiography mostly framed within the Argentinean borders.
Argentina under Perón (1946–1955): Nation-state-based histories
Political historians wrote careful accounts of Perón’s political party, regime, decision-making, constitutional reform, political struggles from within and without, and fluctuations in power. Similarly, they paid close attention to his “Third Position” (neither capitalist nor communist) in foreign policy and his relations with Cold War-age superpowers as well as neighboring states. Economic historians have studied the nationalization of foreign companies, his import substitution policies, the five-year programs envisioned to develop the national economy, and the shifting balance of power between capital and labor, favoring the latter.
Social and labor historians have addressed the emergence of a new working class resulting from the large migration from the provinces to the capital, the labor unions and federations, and Perón’s social reforms. Gender-centered historiography has paid close attention to the figure of Evita, Perón’s second wife, and an additional branch of the party called “The Feminine Section” in Perón’s political party, and to women’s changing status during these two consecutive mandates in which women gained legal and political equality, including the right to vote and be elected.
All of these transformations were also approached by intellectual historians who have searched for the ideological roots and underpinnings guiding and justifying all the above-mentioned transformations. Similarly, educational policies, the conflict with the Catholic Church, the emergence of a new popular culture, and the impact of Perón’s regime on Argentinean literature, cinema, and architecture attracted the interest of cultural historians.
All of these historiographies were contested and enriched by decentralized views that preferred local perspectives and those from below. In this vein, later publications have described daily life, family life, private life, and urban life during the years of Perón’s regime. Moreover, many studies have addressed how Perón’s rise to power and his regime coalesced in the specific settings of individualized localities, including the rural domain, within particular Argentinean provinces. Some 20 years ago an international bibliography on the subject amounted to 3392 publications,1 and several thousand more have accumulated since.2 This entire range of nation-state-based historical research shed light on many dimensions of Perón’s regime, a crucial period in the history of Argentina.
Thinking Argentina under Perón globally: Four strategies, 12 branches
And yet what would Perón’s regime look like while thinking about it globally? Are there historical arguments to be made beyond the Argentinean borders in relation to Perón’s regime? The following chapter addresses these two questions by drafting 12 cross-boundary sketches of alternative narratives. Each of these sketches is inspired by one of the 12 cross-boundary historical branches and their particular ways of applying the four major strategies to global thinking. Simultaneously, these 12 sketches also serve to define and provide examples of each of these branches’ conceptual and methodological singularities. In short, by tackling a crucial development within a nation-state, which normally is framed as a national history, from a global perspective, the four strategies for thinking globally about history, the 12 branches that apply them, and their innovative contributions will be made clear and concrete.
Thinking history globally: Comparing and connecting
Comparing and connecting are two major strategies for thinking globally about history. Comparisons bring two or more units side by side in order to describe or analyze their similarities and differences. Connections bring two or more units together to assess their interdependence. Comparative history and relational histories are two historical branches based on these two strategies, respectively.
Comparative history
Comparative history seeks similarities and differences between two or more units for analytical or descriptive purposes.
Comparative history seeks similarities and differences between two or more units for analytical or descriptive purposes, and Perón’s regime could act as the subject. For example, Perón’s regime can be contrasted with Getulio Vargas’s regime in Brazil. In 1945, while holding power during the days of his Estado Novo (New State, 1937–1945), Getulio Vargas created the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro. This political party was bound to urban workers and was intended to provide Vargas with a broad basis of social support to transition out of his authoritarian regime. As Vargas got ready to test his party in democratic elections, the army overthrew him. It was only in 1950 that this electoral goal and the subsequent victory of the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro were accomplished.
The resulting government was supported by a broad social coalition that included the working class as well as some sectors of the urban middle class. This regime combined an economic developmentalist policy that checked the elite’s wealth accumulation and favored rights and social programs for the working class with a protectionist and nationalist stance. These twofold policies are expressed in the state management of natural resources, economic planning, and wealth distribution. Petroleum development and refining were nationalized in 1953. The nationalization of electric power utilities was also pursued, although without success. A national development bank was created in order to provide public loans to basic industry. Labor laws, social security, and welfare services were fostered. In 1954, under the threat of an imminent military coup, Vargas committed suicide.
A series of similarities stand out between the Perón and Vargas regimes. Both figures amassed political power in the framework of an authoritarian regime. Subsequently, both aimed to establish a broad social basis of support and gained legitimacy through democratic elections. In pursuing that, both were held back by military intervention. However, sooner or later both leaders achieved those goals. Once in power, both regimes attempted industrialization through the nationalization of resources and infrastructure as well as import substitution that aimed to transform the agro-exporting economies of their countries. This transformation occurred while protecting the interests of the working class by shifting the balance of power between capital and labor, favoring the latter. Finally, both the Perón and Vargas regimes were overthrown by the military or by military threat, resulting in military dictatorships for decades afterwards that brought these transformations to a halt and opened a political cycle of military dictatorship alternating with a low-efficiency democratic regime.
Comparative history can also take a different direction by matching Perón’s Argentina with an almost unrelated state both geographically and, most crucially, chronologically. For instance, a comparison can be designed to contrast Perón’s regime in Argentina and Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime in Egypt (1956–1970). In 1952 Nasser was also brought to power by a military coup. By 1956 his rule gained legitimacy by a public referendum that reflected his broad popular support. Even though social mobilization was not carried out by a very dynamic political party—as the Partido Justicialista had for Perón—national rallies fulfilled this function: First the Liberation Rally, then the National Unity, and finally the Arab Socialist Union. Moreover, social support was also achieved by a tightly controlled trade union, the Confederation of Egyptian Workers, and other professional associations under state control— similar to the role played by the labor federation, the Confederación General de los Trabajadores, in Argentina. Yet the concentration of power was mainly achieved by an impressive enlargement of the state apparatuses such as bureaucracy and security forces, which was reflected in the government’s increased expenditures on the army and paramilitary police from 18.3 percent of the budget in 1954–1955 to 55.7 percent in 1970.
This combination of an enlarged state machinery backed by the mobilized social sectors was in charge of implementing a series of measures aimed at achieving economic development: a land reform (already started by 1952) that by 1961 expropriated a seventh of all cultivated land from large landowners and distributed it among small proprietors and landless peasants; the decision to build the Aswan High Dam in order to bring the large area between Cairo and Alexandria into cultivation; and the formation of the Helwan Iron and Steel Complex (1954). At the same time, the evacuation of British troops from the Suez Canal (1954) ended in the nationalization of the canal, while the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion (1956) resulted in the nationalization of foreign property. These initial steps developed by 1960 into a fully-fledged five-year plan (1960–1965), which included the nationalization of private banks, foreign investments, and factories.
A series of similarities and differences are easily recognizable in making the contrast between Perón’s and Nasser’s regimes. Both leaders gained power as colonels participating in a military coup. Both managed to become the most acclaimed figures of the regimes installed by these coups. Both gained legitimacy by popular suffrage. Once in power, they both launched similar economic and social policies—for example, nationalization, property reforms, and five-year programs—aiming to transform their countries by catching up with the industrialized world. On the other hand, Nasser relied first and foremost on the army that backed his regime all the way through to the Arab Spring in 2011. Perón, instead, based his support on a political party and was ousted from power by the army. The armies that challenged Nasser’s regime were foreign— British, French, and Israeli—reflecting the difference between a country like Argentina, which experienced decolonization at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and a country like Egypt, where decolonization was still a work in progress by the 1950s. And yet amid these differences, it is very telling that Perón’s Third Position (neither capitalist nor communist) foreign policy became a full-fledged political stance vis-à-vis the Cold War powers as Nasser and others established the Non-Aligned Movement by 1961.
Relational histories
Relational histories—including histoire croissé or entangled history, connected histories, and shared histories—focus on the ways in which two or more units of research are entwined in such significant ways that only by addressing those entanglements or connections is it possible to make sense of the historical path of one or both units involved.
Relational histories share the scale of comparative history but pursue an entirely different goal and perform an entirely different task. A relational history does not move between two surgically detached states and societies in the search for similarities and differences in the way that comparative history did for Perón’s Argentina and Vargas’s Brazil and Nasser’s Egypt. Instead, relational histories are looking precisely for entwinements between societies, focusing on how they contributed to the mutual development of one or both societies. In this regard a histoire croissé or entangled history of Perón’s Argentina with Nasser’s Egypt is impracticable.
We could, though, envision an entangled history of Perón’s Argentina with Vargas’s Brazil that looks at how these two regimes, states, and societies shaped one another. However, whereas the necessity of comparative history is to find comparable units in order to avoid comparing oranges and apples, as the old proverb goes, that is not the case for entangled history. What really matters for entangled history is the deep involvement of one society with the other. The main consideration, then, is the degree of entwinement not of similarity. Therefore, although an entangled history of Perón’s Argentina with Vargas’s Brazil is feasible, it would probably profit more from pairing Argentina with Great Britain rather than with Brazil. For entangled history, the choice of a pairing is about the search for the most relevant other.
An entangled history of Perón’s Argentina and Great Britain would then focus on the ways in which the decline of the British Empire represented a blow for the Argentinean economic elite and how agro-business declined in tandem. Conversely, this dual decline abroad and at home in Argentina paved the way for new social and political forces to gain power and create an alternative political economy based on the nationalization of the economic infrastructure (transportation and communication), the development of the industrial sector and its protection, and the stimulation of the domestic market. That is in a nutshell what Perón’s regime meant to Argentina. Moreover, as the nationalized infrastructure was British, the import substitution industry was protected from the British industry, and the domestic market was meant as an alternative to the British one, an entangled history of Argentina and Great Britain should also address the British receiving end of the Perón regime’s policies as well despite the asymmetry of the magnitude of impact on these states.
Thinking history globally: Varieties of connections
Two or more units can be connected with one another by sharing the same space (for example, a region, an ocean basin, or a hemisphere) and/or by links that bring them together (for example, diplomatic relations, student exchange programs, trade). Moreover, connections can create units of their own (for example, the economic relations between the United States and China can be referred to as an economic unit, namely, “Chimerica”). Conversely, some units are established purposefully to create connections beyond existing frontiers, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). Others outgrow national boundaries and become likewise transnational organizations (for example, McDonalds or Walmart). These varieties of connections are reflected in their singularities by the next three branches of history: international history, transnational history, and oceanic histories.
New international history
New international history deals with the history of multilayered relations between nation-states and stresses the bidirectional interactions between inner-state developments and their imprint on foreign relations and/or the input that foreign relations have upon domestic developments.
New international history can be portrayed as a particular type of entanglement between two societies specifically conducted at the state level, using either diplomatic or violent means. Being a specific type of entanglement confined to the diplomatic domain, we can think of a diplomatic history that specifically addresses the interstate negotiations between Great Britain and Argentina, as the entanglements between these two entered a new phase under Perón’s regime. Documentation coming from the embassies, the British Foreign Office and Argentinean Ministry of the Exterior, diaries of diplomats, and other diplomatic sources would enable this type of research, which far from being new is at the very core of history professions from their very beginnings.
However, by combining these diplomatic concerns with culture, ideology, race, class, and gender, new international history opened wide venues for researching interactions between states that are not necessarily official and are even informal, but yet help create bridges or enmities between states. These venues would allow for the review of, for example, the cultural affinity that evolved by the transmission of sports. Amid the bilateral relations at the state level, sports developed in England or adopted by the British made deep inroads in Argentina’s culture and society and became fundamental components of it. Polo, a sport of Persian and Afghan origins adapted by the British in India, was warmly embraced by the Argentinean landed aristocracy. Tennis was adopted by the urban upper class, and, most prominently, soccer became the most popular sport following the encounters between British and Argentinean workers. The names of the first soccer clubs—Racing, River Plate, Boca Juniors, Old Boys—attest to their English legacy.
Under Perón’s regime, the original Argentine Association Football League adopted its current name, the “Asociación del Fútbol Argentino” Perón entrusted this asociación with the arrangement of an official match against the English national team. Argentina was the first national team to play against England in London at Wembley Stadium in 1951. The Argentinean team led 1–0 up to the last seven minutes of the game. The final result, though, was 1–2 to England. Nevertheless, back home the Argentinean players were strongly acclaimed by the public upon their return. In 1953 a second game between these two national teams was played, this time in Buenos Aires at the River Plate stadium. The visitors scored first, but the locals won 3–1. That day, 14 May, has since become the day of the soccer player, “día del futbolista.” The following day the defeat of the English team was equated to the rejection of the English invasions in 1806 and 1807 in a newspaper article. Another analogy entered the political discourse, stating that soccer has been nationalized now as the railways were nationalized shortly before.
All of the sudden, the long-lasting history of domination typical of the British-Argentinean foreign relations and their challenge by Perón’s regime was channeled into a series of three games (the third was suspended due to bad weather). Moreover, the shape of these international relations and their transformation became far more visible to Argentinean society at large through these games than all previous diplomatic exchanges combined. Moving into these social and cultural dimensions of foreign relations is what makes new international history new. In fact, by pushing the boundaries of diplomacy into the domains of culture and society, new international history moves closer to transnational history, sharing interests in processes of transfer, appropriation, and hybridization and creating some overlaps between these two branches.
Transnational history
Transnational history focuses on either phenomena (for example, processes of cultural transfer) or entities (for example, transnational organizations) that transcend national states, that is, their boundaries and their institutions. The state as both the basic unit of analysis and the main agent is replaced by intergovernmental institutions (for example, the United Nations (UN) or World Trade Organization (WTO)), nongovernmental organizations (for example, t...

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