The Justicialist Party (formerly the Peronist Party) grew out of the electoral coalition that brought Juan D. Perón to power in 1946: the labor-based Laborista Party, the young nationalists of the Union of Radical Civic Renewal (Unión Cívica Radical Renovadora), and the right-wing Independent Centers (Centros Independientes). After the election Perón decreed their merger into the Sole Revolutionary Party (Partido Único de la Revolución), but that sounded too totalitarian, so the name was changed to Peronist Party (Partido Peronista). After Perón was overthrown in 1955, the party was outlawed; it eventually reappeared under the name Unión Popular, since no reference to Perón was permitted.
When neo-Peronists, who sought legalization by repudiating Perón, gained control of the Unión Popular in 1966, Peronist loyalists challenged them under the banner of the Justicialist Party, which is still mainline Peronism's official title. Justicialism, a term coined by Perón himself, refers to his official ideology. In theory it seeks a middle way between democracy and authoritarianism, capitalism and socialism, individualism and collectivism. In practice it aims at what he called "the organized society," which essentially is a corporate state with representation based on government-controlled associations of employers, workers, and professionals.
Under the first Peronist regime (1946–1955) the party acted as an electoral machine, patronage vehicle, and control network. It had a hierarchical structure, with a supreme leader (Perón) at the top, a handpicked Superior Council just beneath him, and a spreading network of provincial (state), departmental (county), and neighborhood, and workplace organizations. Officers were appointed from above, and great emphasis was placed on obedience and discipline. The party also embraced a special trade union wing based on the General Confederation of Labor (Confederación General de Trabajadores; CGT) and the Feminist Peronist Party, which Evita Perón formed in 1949. There was also a leadership school to train future party elites. Though formidable on paper, the party actually had little real vitality, since Perón permitted his subordinates almost no initiative. While Perón was in exile, union leaders like Augusto Vandor led the party. Vandor in particular tried to form an institutionalized party structure, but opposition from Peron and rival labor leaders impeded him.
After Perón's fall the outlawed party was torn between neo- and orthodox Peronists until his return in 1973. Perón's return initially united the party, but Perón this time favored conservatives, causing dissatisfaction among the left and more radical party members. After his death the following year, open warfare broke out between its right and left wings, with the latter eventually forming the Authentic Peronist Party (Partido Peronista Auténtico). When the military took power in 1976, it outlawed all parties.
The restoration of democracy in 1983 found the Justicialist Party weakened, divided, and somewhat discredited by its past, since many people blamed the Peronist government's mismanagement from 1973 to 1976 for bringing on military rule. Consequently, it lost the presidential elections to its main rival, the Radical Civic Union, although it still won control of the Senate and a majority of provincial governorships. During the next six years a reformist faction took control of the Justicialist Party and gave it a more democratic image. As a result, Justicialists won a majority of the gubernatorial and congressional elections in 1989 and saw their candidate, Carlos Saúl Menem, elected president. In September 1991 the party increased its congressional majority by trouncing the Radicals in midterm elections. Menem departed from many of the standard Justicialist policies. Instead of enacting pro-labor legislation, the Menem government followed neoliberal economics and sold off state-run industries.
Although the economy grew during Menem's presidency, the divisions in the party contributed to its electoral defeat in 1999. The Radicals won the presidency and governed from 1999 until an economic crisis in 2001 caused the collapse of the government. Congress then chose Eduardo Duhalde, a Justicialist politician, to be president until the 2003 elections. The 2003 campaign reflected the intense conflict within the party. Nestor Kirchner, representing the left wing of the party, defeated Menem and won the presidency. This victory did not end the internal fighting. The ideological factions continued to compete in the 2005 races for congress but the Kirchner camp remained dominant.
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Paul H. Lewis