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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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Between Revolution and the Ballot Box: The Origins of the Argentine Radical Party
Paula Alonso

Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000
264pp. Biblio.Index. 264 pp. HB 32.50. ISBN 0-521-77185-4



This book is based on Paula Alonso's doctoral dissertation submitted to Oxford University in l992. Using sources including official documents, contemporary accounts and interpretations, the author gives a comprehensive account of the foundation and activities of the Union Civica Radical (UCR, Radical Party) in Argentinean politics from its inception in l89l to its dissolution in l898, and gives the background of the resurgence of the UCR in l9l6, when Hipolito Yrigoyen, nephew of the founder Leandro Alem, captured the presidency.

In the wake of the revolution of l890 and the resignation of President Celman, the opposition party Union Civica (UC) entered into a coalition with the leading party PAN (Partido Autonomista Nacional) for the presidential election of l892. Dissent split it in two, one faction becoming the UCR, led by Alem. Its first convention in August l89l, nominated Bernardo de Irigoyen as its presidential candidate. The UCR promoted armed uprisings to fight the federal centralization policy of the PAN. Despite the efforts and organizational skills of Alem, who is called "the first professional politician in Argentina" (p.97), his attempts to legitimize revolution as a way of returning to the previous confederate institutional arrangements failed (pages ll0-lll). Before the l892 election, the president declared a "state of siege" and had UCR leaders including Alem arrested. In l893, several uprisings and revolutions occurred in various provinces. When a serious revolution broke out in Santa Fe in September, led by Alem, military units loyal to UCR were overcome by federalist troops. Alem was imprisoned till January l895. Meanwhile, a bitter rivalry developed between Alem and his nephew Yrigoyen over strategy, the latter supporting the move to "electoral competition" and political activity over insurrection. The author inserts a long analytical and statistical section showing the electoral performance of the UCR in the l890's, concluding that the UCR's electoral performance was "good" (p.162). The UCR, however, failed to win much support from the lower sectors of society and relied heavily on professionals and salaried workers. The UCR suffered from factionalism, lack of internal discipline, lack of funds and publicity outlets; most of the party's inherent vitality seems to have been spent (or squandered) in the revolutions of l893. By l896 the party was in decline; the same year, Alem committed suicide.

Overall, the book is a carefully detailed well-documented analysis, which should add considerably to our understanding of l9th century Argentinean politics.


Dr. Gabriel Pellathy



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