Radical Party (UCR)
Radical Party (UCR)
The Radical Civic Union (Unión Cívica Radical, or UCR), the first modern party in Argentine history, was founded in 1891. Its modernity was due to four central attributes that differentiated it from other independent factions of nineteenth-century Latin American politics, many of which were mere agreements between caudillos or notables. First, the UCR was an organization of national dimensions: The party leadership (that is, the national committee) was composed of four delegates for each province and four for the federal capital. Second, it had a notable level of internal institutionalization, which meant that decision-making processes were channeled through set standards and procedures. The party congresses were conceived as the highest authority within the party. Third, it had a type of territorial construction backed by committees that fulfilled political-electoral functions and other functions of social integration relating to daily needs, from training courses to cheaper food products. These committees also got involved in political affairs, operating as citizenship schools and as mechanisms for political patronage during periods in which the UCR headed the government. Fourth, the UCR was built on an ideology shared by its members—demo-cratic, republican, and federalist—that operated as the foundation for a collective identity with which heterogeneous social sectors could identify.
Both in forming its electoral base and in selecting its leaders, Argentina's Radical Party pulled together a wide range of social actors, including people from the midlevel urban and rural sectors, some rural landowners in the province of Buenos Aires, the merchant bourgeoisie of the city of Rosario, the colonist farmers of east central Santa Fe and southern Córdoba, and the traditional elite of Salta and Córdoba. Their common denominator was their marginal situation with respect to political power (which rested with the conservatives until 1916) and their search for a change in the institutional rules of play. From the perspective of those interests, the establishment of universal, secret, and mandatory suffrage in 1912 was a decisive turning point.
Following the suicide of Leandro Alem in 1896, his nephew Hipólito Irigoyen (1852–1933) became the main party leader. After the death of Leandro Alem—who in 1891 had founded the Unión Cívica Radical in the name of an intransigent rejection to establishing compromise solutions with the conservative regime—his nephew Hipólito Irigoyen became the principle leader of the party. Accused by his rivals of orienting the party around his own personality, he left his mark on radical ideology during the first half of the twentieth century. He took a nationalistic stance with regard to economics and foreign policy—the UCR was in favor of Argentine neutrality during the two world wars—and he was moderately reformist in social matters and laical in the cultural sphere. A professor of philosophy, and strongly influenced by the German Krausism (Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, 1781–1832), transmitted by his Spanish disciples, Irigoyen tended to perceive politics as a branch of Morals. Radicalism had to be a moral force identified with the nation and preach a scrupulous ethical rigor. From his view, the UCR was an expression of nationality and, at the same time, it had the mission of creating it.
The UCR produced six presidencies of Argentina: Irigoyen (1916–1922 and 1928–1930), Marcelo T. de Alvear (1922–1928), Arturo Illia (1963–1966), Raúl Alfonsín (1983–1989), and Fernando de la Rúa (1999–2001). Two of these presidencies were overthrown by military coups (Irigoyen in 1930 and Illia in 1966), and strong social convulsions brought early ends to two other Presidential mandate (Alfonsin in 1989 and de la Rúa in 2001). Radicalism played a central role in the process of transition and consolidation of the democracy that was initiated in Argentina at the start of 1983. As in other periods of Argentine history, the stability of the UCR as a governing party was threatened at some points by the weight of corporate powers and at other times by the ravages of Peronism. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, it presents a profile of a party that is lax in its internal discipline and with a strong emphasis on provincial leaders who impose themselves on its national structure and weaken its institutionalization.
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