Justo, Juan B. (1865–1928)

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Justo, Juan B. (1865–1928)

Juan B. Justo (b. 28 June 1865; d. 8 January 1928), Argentine Socialist congressman, senator, and party founder. Born in the city of Buenos Aires, Justo graduated from the medical school of the local university in 1888. After travel to Europe, he returned to Argentina in the early 1890s to serve as a surgical specialist at the head of a local clinic and as a professor at the school from which he had recently graduated. In these positions, he introduced modern sanitary and scientific techniques into Argentina's operating rooms.

In the 1890s, Justo's interests began to shift from medicine to politics. His concern with the many environmentally induced illnesses he was called on to treat made him determined to attack the social conditions producing them. In 1893 he began to meet with like-minded professionals and skilled workers to found a socialist newspaper. The result was the appearance in 1894 of La Vanguardia, destined to be the most influential socialist publication in Argentina. Soon thereafter, Justo helped found the Socialist Party of Argentina, which in 1896 began to participate in local and national elections on a regular basis.

As the Socialist Party evolved and expanded, Justo emerged as its principal leader and guiding force. A man of great intellectual ability, he molded the party in his own image and directed it along the path—mostly a moderate one—he believed best suited to Argentine conditions. One of the few Argentine Socialists well versed in Marxist theory (he produced the first Spanish translation of Das Kapital), he closely followed various European models of socialist theory, organization, and practice, adjusting them whenever necessary to local circumstances and conditions. Among his several publications, Teoría y práctica de la historia (1909) best describes and explains Justo's particular brand of socialism.

Under Justo's direction, the Socialist Party of Argentina grew in size, strength, and support. Justo himself was elected three times to the national Chamber of Deputies (1912–1916, 1916–1920, and 1920–1924) and once to the national Senate (1924–1928) from the federal capital. As a legislator, Justo was a forceful advocate for his party's programmatic agenda and an acerbic critic of the governments in power. His speeches were characterized by careful and often compelling reasoning, extensive documentation, frequent references to foreign examples, and sardonic wit. The acknowledged leader of his party, he also served as the head of its congressional delegation.

Justo's brilliance and leadership attracted many like-minded and able young men to the party. He developed a coterie of protegés, notably Nicolás Repetto and Enrique Dickmann, who were closely tied to him not only by philosophy but also by marriage. Throughout the first three decades of the twentieth century, Justo and his allies dominated the editorial board of La Vanguardia as well as the main directive positions and candidate lists of the Socialist Party.

Although the party flourished under Justo's direction, there were many who chafed and occasionally rebelled against his tight discipline and the control he exercised from the top. Dissident reaction against the "family elite," a constant and repeated complaint, resulted in several serious schisms within the party in these years. Rarely, however, was open criticism directed against Justo himself, who remained the most widely respected, and by some revered, socialist in Argentina. The impact of Justo's ideas continued to have a substantial influence on the direction of Argentina's Socialist Party well after his death in 1928.

See alsoArgentina, Political Parties: Socialist Party; Medicine: The Modern Era.


Dardo Cúneo, Juan B. Justo y las luchas sociales en la Argentina (1956).

Additional Bibliography

Camarero, Hernán, and Carlos-Miguel Herrera, eds. El Partido Socialista en Argentina: Sociedad, política e ideas a tráves de un siglo. Buenos Aires: Prometeo, 2005.

Portantiero, Juan Carlos. Juan B. Justo: Un fundator de la Argentina moderna. Buenos Aires: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1999.

Rocca, Carlos J. Juan B. Justo y su entorno. La Plata, Argentina: Editorial Universitaria de La Plata, 1998.

                                  Richard J. Walter