The story of President Juan Peron and his secret meeting with Oswald Mosley.
General Juan Peron was once described as the only 20th century dictator who never had anybody shot. He was the colourful post-war President of Argentina who stood up to big landowners, big business, military juntas, global multinationals and the U.S. government in order to redistribute the country’s wealth more justly among Argentinean working people.
During his period in office free medical care was introduced, social security was made universal, education became free, workers (and working students) received paid holidays for the first time and special resorts were built that offered all-inclusive two week holidays for 15 cents a day.
Even when forced out of the Presidency and into exile in 1955, Peron maintained his influence on government policy through his descamisados (shirtless ones) in the powerful CGT trade union and successors sympathetic to him who ruled in his enforced absence before his triumphant return to Buenos Aires in 1973.
Peron’s social reforms earned him the enduring loyalty and affection of a huge swathe of the Argentinean people on a scale inconceivable today. Even in 2013, nearly 40 years after his death, four out of five of the country’s largest political parties describe themselves as Peronista.
Juan Peron’s “doctrina justicialista” was inspired by the syndical socialism of Mussolini’s Corporate State during a pre-War visit to Italy and Germany. But although in the 1960s he referred to his economic creed as ‘national socialism’, Peron always kept his distance from the failure of pre-War European fascism. His greatest personal skill was the extraordinary ability to control and manipulate rival factions within the Peronista Movement – and use them to advance his agenda for the welfare of the Argentinean nation.
However, mention ‘Peron’ outside of South America today and people instinctively think of Eva Peron – the former actress who became Juan Peron’s second wife. Known universally as Evita, she was South America’s foremost champion of legal rights for women and children and worked tirelessly on their behalf until her premature death in 1952. This icon of Argentinean womanhood, who gave women the vote and maternity benefit for the first time, and her Eva Peron Foundation, were revered without precedent in homes from Patagonia to the River Plate.
Strangely, this partial eclipse of Juan Peron in modern perception by his beautiful and eloquent wife is partly due to a well-known former West London Organiser of Union Movement. One afternoon he heard two young would-be playwrights, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice, discussing an idea for a musical about Eva Braun, the wife of Adolf Hitler. On hearing this, the West London Organiser leaned across the cafe table and assured them that if they wrote a musical about Hitler’s wife nobody would back it and their musical careers would be short lived. Had they considered writing a musical about Eva Peron instead, he asked? The rest, as they say, is history.
The King over the Water. During the course of Peron’s term of office as Secretary of Labour and Welfare (1943-1946) and his first two Presidencies (1946-1955), he embarked on a radical package of economic reforms based on the ‘Third Position’ of syndical socialism. Fiercely anti-communist, his doctrina justicialista was equally opposed to capitalism. Justicialism gave the working people of Argentina a huge say in the running of the companies they worked for – and as stakeholders were awarded a greater share of the wealth they helped to create. At the same time, a new construction initiative ensured that modern schools and health clinics were accessible to all – and Argentina’s vast low-income housing projects re-housed more people each year than any other country in the world.
The ambitious reforms of General Juan Peron and his wife Evita did not meet with universal approval. Argentinean land and factory owners (and their officer sons in the nation’s armed forces) entered into an open alliance with the U.S. Government designed to bring about the downfall of the elected Peronist administration. The American Ambassador to Argentina, Spruille Braden, maintained a campaign of unrelenting hostility towards the regime in keeping with U.S. State Department policy.
Opportunity smiled on the anti-Peronistas in 1955 after the Argentinean Government passed laws giving illegitimate children the same rights as legitimate offspring and insisted that the Roman Catholic Church should pay taxes. The Vatican responded by immediately excommunicating Peron. This angered many descamisados and in the riots that followed Buenos Aires Cathedral and twelve other churches were put to the torch. Peron was horrified by this over-reaction.
The hour of the sword came in late September 1955. The Army at Cordoba broke into revolt and the Navy bombed the capital resulting in the death of 350 innocent civilians. The CGT called for an armed workers’ militia to protect Peron and the syndicalist revolution: the nation was on the brink of civil war. On the 20th September Peron, who despite his aggressive political style disliked violence and the use of force, decided to spare the nation untold bloodshed. He went home to the Casa Rosada, packed his toothbrush and razor into an overnight bag and went off into exile, mainly in Spain, for the next 18 years.
During that time Peron may have been out of office but he certainly wasn’t out of the political arena. He continued to be regarded as the spiritual leader of the Justicialist Party and retained the total loyalty of the CGT. A large part of each day in exile was spent in receiving Party officials, discussing political strategy and controlling the conflicting factions within the Peronist Movement. Peron’s well-known tactic was always to agree whole-heartedly with each person’s point of view – and then go ahead and do what he originally intended.
Argentina without Peron eventually became virtually ungovernable: military and political leaders came and went as regularly as the seasons. Concessions won by working people were increasingly eroded and dissatisfaction was widespread.
In 1973 an election was held in Argentina in which all parties were free to take part (though Peron was not allowed to be present). Despite his 18 year absence, Peron’s Justicialist Party emerged as the clear winner and its Presidential candidate, Hector Campora, was inaugurated on the 25th of May.
Campora’s first act was to pass laws raising all wages. Then he caught a plane to Madrid to escort Peron back to Argentina and his third Presidency.
The Return of the People’s General.
In June 1973, Generalissimo Franco met Peron for the first and only time to see him off at Madrid Airport. Aboard the plane with Peron and Campora was an entourage of 150 people. These included veteran Peronists from early days, leading party officials from the present, two non-Peronist politicians, a boxer, a tango singer, a model, a film director, a historian, a poet, Peron’s third wife Isabella and his Croatian Chief Bodyguard. Evita’s embalmed body was also aboard.
In Buenos Aires, a crowd of one-and-a-half million people gathered at Ezeiza Airport, its approach roads and every high vantage point to welcome the return of their champion – it was the world’s largest outdoor political gathering in recorded history. The crowd was in festive mood: the sun came out, bands played, there was singing and dancing, a 30-metre high portrait of Peron was hoisted aloft and vendors sold hot sausages and cold lemonade. Then things started to go badly wrong.
Within the Justicialist Party there were two youth movements: the left-wing ‘JP Peronist Youth’ and the right-wing ‘Peronist Syndical Youth’ between whom no love was lost. They began taunting each other – one side chanted ‘Peron, Evita, the Socialist Fatherland’, the other countered with ‘Peron, Evita, the Peronist Fatherland’. The slight difference in wording was too much to bear and fighting started between young Peronist fanatics most of whom hadn’t even been born when Peron last ruled.
Then the guns came out on both sides and shooting began. Suddenly snipers from other Peronist factions joined the battle intent on eliminating their own hated rivals. Armed police tried to restore order, bodies fell from trees and in the middle of the ‘Ezeiza Massacre’ hundreds of white doves reserved for the welcoming ceremony were accidentally released. Supporters holding banners declaring ‘Peron or Death!’ dropped their placards and ran for their lives. To this day, nobody knows exactly how many died but it was certainly in the hundreds.
Peron’s plane had to be diverted to a military airport. Suppressing his anger, he drove straight to the Casa Rosada from whose balcony he appeared hourly to acknowledge the adulation of the huge crowds. In his first broadcast to the nation he denounced the ‘purveyors of violence and alien doctrines’ who had tried to infiltrate the Justicialist Party. Then he spelled out his ‘Golden Vision’ for the nation which was supported by the Radical Party, Argentina’s second largest. Three months later he was inaugurated for his third term as President with his wife Isabella, a former Tango dancer, as Vice-President.
Peron’s Third Term.
For the remainder of 1973 and the first half of 1974 Peron set about re-establishing his doctrina justicialista. But his time was increasingly taken up in restructuring the party to free it from sectional warfare between the muchachas of the left and the right. A huge trade agreement with Cuba and self-government for the rebellious universities were signs that Peron had lost none of his ability to surprise Argentineans with new initiatives. However, his biggest surprise took place on 1 July 1974 when he suddenly died of a massive heart attack at the age of 78.
Isabella Peron took over as President but she was heavily under the influence of the Rasputin-like Lopez Rega. Even supported by his mystical powers, Isabella could not compare to Evita or Juan Peron. In March 1976 she was deposed by a military junta which immediately launched a savage campaign of blood-letting that ignored all judicial formalities. No distinction was made between terrorists and Peronists and more than 9000 Argentineans were murdered or disappeared.
But Peronism survived even this. Once again the Justicialist Party began to regain momentum until in 1989 its candidate Carlos Menem was elected President: a post he retained for nearly twenty years.
How will history remember Juan Peron? His definitive biographer, Joseph Page*, gives his answer: “He legitimised the aspirations of millions of Argentines previously excluded from civil life. He gave the working-class an enduring self-awareness…brought social welfare to the poor, and permitted women to see in the roles he assigned to his second and third wives new possibilities of self-fulfilment. In this latter respect he departed from the deep-rooted machisimo of his fellow countrymen.
“He was also a pacifist at heart…a curious contradiction at the essence of his nature. He steadfastly rejected violence as an instrument of policy…it is undeniable that the man once reviled as a South American Hitler would never have plunged or blundered his country into war”.
‘Harry Morley’ flies to Argentina.
On the 31 October 1950, BOAC flight BA351 took off from London Airport and arrived in Buenos Aires at 19.40 hours the next day. According to the passenger list there was a ‘Harry Morley’ on board the aircraft.
However, this name didn’t fool MI5**. As early as 9 October they had picked up from a phone tap on Union Movement Head Quarters that Alf Flockhart, one of Oswald Mosley’s political secretaries, was booking an open ended airline ticket to Argentina for him – and that ‘Harry Morley’ was to appear on the passenger list.
MI5 immediately sent a list naming eight of Mosley’s most active supporters in Argentina, and elsewhere in South America, to SIS and on 26 October informed the Foreign Office.
On arrival in Buenos Aires, Mosley was interviewed and said that his visit was connected solely with the sale of books in Argentina and Chile and that he was staying with friends. A message sent by the British Embassy to London on 4 November by diplomatic bag commented that Mosley’s visit had been reported fully in the Argentinean press who claimed that it was instigated by members of the Argentine government. However the Embassy believed that this did not appear to be the case, there was no indication of any Argentinean government interest and later the press went out of its way to say he was an unwelcome visitor.
On 17 November Senor Pombo of the Argentinean Embassy in London was taken to lunch by someone in the Foreign Office and he ‘confirmed’ that Mosley was only getting in touch with certain Germans there. Later MI5 reported that Mosley arrived back in the UK at Hurn Airport on 26 November having broken his journey in Spain for two days.
Mosley’s month long visit to Argentina was mentioned in many U.K. and U.S. newspapers, including Union Movement’s weekly newspaper ‘Union’. None of them indicated that Mosley was going there to meet President Juan Peron.
But for all their phone taps and mail intercepts, MI5 and the Foreign Office had been fooled. Mosley did indeed meet Peron which, if known at the time, might have seriously jeopardised Argentina’s negotiations for higher beef prices with the British Labour Government who considered Mosley their mortal enemy. Suddenly, Senor Pombo’s ‘reassurance’ and the hasty change in tune of the Argentinean press can be seen as part of an orchestrated plan of misinformation by the Peron Government.
But how do we know that Mosley and Peron did meet? And for what purpose?
The Mosley-Peron Accord.
The first indication of the meeting came three months after Peron’s deposal in 1955. ‘European Stars and Stripes’***, the daily newspaper of the U.S. army of occupation in Europe, reported that investigators of the new Argentine Junta had raided the Lake Sanroque home of Hans Ulrich Rudel who had just fled to Paraguay.
Rudel was the former German Luftwaffe fighter ace who single-handedly knocked out 532 Soviet tanks, two cruisers and a battleship. After the War he had settled in Argentina working as a test pilot at the Cordoba Military Airplane Factory alongside former Luftwaffe Commander Adolph Galland.
Among Rudel’s papers left behind were letters related to meetings held in Argentina a few years previously between Rudel and Peron (indicating complete agreement on political matters), Rudel and Oswald Mosley – and Oswald Mosley and Peron. However, as ‘European Stars and Stripes’ was not widely read by the British the revelation went unnoticed.
Mosley made no mention of meeting Peron in his 1966 autobiography ‘My Life’. But in Robert Skidelsky’s biography ‘Mosley’ published in 1975, the year of Peron’s death, there is a brief mention confirming that they met. The President’s passing had released Mosley from the vow of secrecy which he had strictly observed even though the reason for it had long since passed.
But what did Mosley and Peron discuss at their 1950 meeting at the Casa Rosada unobserved by MI5 and the British Foreign Office?
Hans Ulrich Rudel told the story of his amazing wartime experiences in ‘Stuka Pilot’, a best-selling biography distributed by Mosley’s Euphorian publishing house. The Junta Government investigators, as reported in ‘European Stars and Stripes’, noted that at their meeting Mosley had asked Peron for his permission for Rudel to visit Europe to promote the book and this had been agreed. But in Mosley’s mind there was a far more important issue on the agenda.
Since the War he had advocated a self-sufficient United Europe containing all the manufacturing capacity, raw materials, foodstuffs and energy sources it would need to protect its high-wage economy from undercutting by Third World cheap labour. For complete autarky this would also include ‘Europe Overseas’ to encompass Canada, Australasia and part of southern Africa. But these were not all – Mosley envisaged the inclusion of the European-oriented countries of Latin America in ‘Europe One Nation’. To begin with these would comprise Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.
I remember his words on the subject spoken 50 years ago to an audience of the British people in Kensington Town Hall: “And it is there in South America too that only two things really matter. One is Communism – and the other is our great European idea!” The applause that followed must have carried all the way to the Royal Albert Hall.
Peron’s quest for political union with other South American countries began in earnest in the first year of his second Presidency when he publicly advocated the economic union of Argentina, Chile and Brazil. He considered a confederation of Latin states as the only way to achieve development free from domination by Capitalist or Communist imperialism. On a visit to Chile in 1953 he went further: “I believe that Chilean-Argentine unity, a complete unity and not a half-way one, should be made total and immediate. Simple economic unity will not be sufficiently strong.”
As a first step towards a United South America, agreements to the principle of union were signed by Peron with Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Paraguay – the last even made him an honorary citizen. President Vargas of Brazil, an admirer of Peron, also declared for continental unity. As we know, in the event political union was to remain a dream: coups and internal crisis soon pre-occupied their leaders’ energies. But as Peron’s biographer, Joseph Page* surmised: “Peron was the only Latin leader willingly to promote union vigorously and he did so until the day he died.”
Peron was trying to do for South America what Mosley was trying to do for Europe. That surely would have been the major topic for discussion at the secret meeting of Peron and Mosley: one on which they would have been in complete accord.
The two men continued to keep in touch for years to come though it has not been confirmed if they ever met again. But even as I write these words a letter signed by Peron in exile addressed to Mosley’s office has appeared for sale on the Internet which reads: “I see now we have friends in common whom I greatly value, something which makes me reciprocate even more strongly your expressions of solidarity…I offer my best wishes and a warm embrace.” -signed Juan Peron, Hotel Pinar, Malaga, Spain, 20 February 1960.
Oswald Mosley and Juan Peron came from entirely different backgrounds but they shared many core beliefs. They both advocated the ‘Third Position’ in economics. They both wanted to unite their continents and envisaged that European civilisation, values and culture would undergo a historic renaissance. And although when cornered they would fight like Lions, they would both go to any lengths consistent with honour to avoid bloodshed and war.
More than ever are such men needed in an age where political pygmies vie with each other to plumb new depths of corruption, cowardice and mediocrity.
*’Peron – a biography’, Joseph A. Page, 1983, Random House. **MI5 open file KV2/897, the National Archives, Kew. *** ‘European Stars and Stripes’, page 3, 18 Dec. 1955.