The Peronist in the White House

“Obama is a Marxist,” Mark Levin, my favorite talk-show host, proclaims. Levin is probably the smartest guy on radio. But when it comes to Obama, even this smart guy doesn’t quite get it.

Obama is not a Marxist. He is a fascist of the left, a Peronist. And that is not an academic hair split. To understand this distinction is to understand what Obama is and why he is so dangerous.

Since the seating of the Estates General on the eve of the French Revolution, the terms right and left have been synonymous with the social basis of politics, the idea that generally there is a relationship between one’s place in the class system and one’s allegiance to a political party.

But what if the extremes of politics could be further partitioned according to their social base? The distinguished political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset took fascism and divided into right, left, and center, depending on from which social elements a fascist party drew its support.

The Peronists became the fascists of the left, and the Nazis became the fascists of the middle class.

Lipset’s insight was marred in one regard. He ignored the role of the political periphery, the non-participants, in Hitler’s surge to power. Hitler’s fascism was more of the left than the center, more of the dispossessed than of those who belonged. Hitler organized “masses not classes,” in the sense that the masses occupied Germany’s social periphery.

As Obama learned, when the “masses” enter the political system, they want to hear a different, more radical, message. Obama’s base is not only the far left; it is also those on the margins of the economy.

Juan Peron had been the Argentine representative to Italy during the period of Mussolini’s fascist regime. Mussolini’s fascism, like Hitler’s, was based on the left, but with in one particular difference. Mussolini pursued a concept of syndicalism, the mobilization of trade unions that were given power in exchange for allegiance to a strong state. Where the Nazis totally took over all competing organizations, Mussolini yielded independence to the unions in exchange for their support, as he had done in his infamous concordat with the Vatican.

Peron was impressed by Italian fascism. After his ascendance to the presidency of Argentina in 1946, he implemented a social revolution based on support from the trade unions and working classes, a form of government modeled after Mussolini’s regime. His popular second wife, Eva (Evita), was an advocate for his reforms. Eva often walked through the streets of Argentina dispensing cash handouts to the poor.

Early in his first term, Peron nationalized the banks and passed out huge Christmas bonuses. He pursued legislation favorable to the unions and when the legislation was resisted, the unions, with Peron’s support, went out on massive and violent strikes, not totally unlike the recent scenes from Wisconsin. The General Conference of Labor (CGT) in the first four years of Peron’s regime went from a membership of 500,000 to two million. Peron’s support for the CGT made Argentina the most highly unionized economy in the world.

Predictably, Peron’s reforms led to a bloated government bureaucracy that drained resources from the private sector. Universal health care and high social security benefits further increased the bureaucracy and monetary liquidity. Pumping money artificially into both social programs and wages caused an inflation rate of 52%, by 1951, coupled with a massive trade deficit -- as money chased foreign goods.

As workers’ purchasing power declined because of inflation, the CGT turned on Peron. And Peron retaliated, transforming Argentina into a dictatorship with repression and torture and promulgating intense class warfare. Life reached such a boiling point that when Eva contracted cancer, the political opposition wrote graffiti that praised the disease.

Peron’s nationalization of industry was limited. He was more than willing to incorporate into his regime industrialists who shared his view of “social justice” and were willing to contribute to Eva’s charity, which had a fund equivalent to 1% of GDP. So, too, Obama has had no problem with crony capitalism and the maintenance of corporate welfare.