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Scots in Argentina
Social Unrest and systems of Government, with special reference to the Argentine


(Lecture to St. Andrew’s Scots Church Literary and Debating Society (44th year) on September 18th, 1933.)

Social unrest dates from the arrival of Eve on this sublunary abode. That statement contains no specific indictment against Eve. It merely carries our thoughts back to the social unit — viz, two or more — man and woman — father and mother — the family.

Now there is perhaps no bit of advice which clergymen receive, both openly and by implication, more often that this — to speak on practical matters and modern subjects. Yet how little new there is under the sun. A few thousand years ago "the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses". And there are modern murmurers at Moses, who, like the Israelites, place all the blame for the present world upheaval on the shoulders of their leaders and their government. The promised land seems still a long way off. The multitude to-day is not very unlike the wanderers in the Egyptian wilderness. They hurled their taunts at Moses, but Moses was innocent. Modern leaders of the people have certainly not always led aright. But leaders could never lead anywhere, were there no followers who vote and follow! And so, nations do often get the Government and the leader they deserve. To find where the root of much of the trouble lies, it is necessary to look in, as well as to look around. That however, would translate me to the pulpit, and I am on the platform.

During the last three years (1930-33), Argentina has felt the pinch of things probably less than any of the major nations of the world. Argentines themselves admit this. A country whose most populated parts enjoy a sub-tropical climate with about 300 days of sun and blue skies out of the 365, a country with less than three times the population of Scotland but 30 times its area, a country. producing meat, wool, grain and fruit in such abundance that it can export 9/10ths of its products and still live in plenteous luxury, such a country should be less liable than most to suffer from the clash of parties seeking to make capital out of distress. Men here need seldom to tighten their belts in place of a meal, and they can sleep out for about 8 months of the year in the central and northern provinces, and come to little harm.

But the shores of Argentina have welcomed (at least up till quite recently) all men of white skin. Italy, Spain, Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, Checko-Slovakia, have poured their thousands across the water. In Buenos Aires alone with its 2 1/4 million population, there are said to be some 350,000 Italians. On Argentina’s thousands of immigrants, not a few have known what it is to be continuously hungry in their own country; they have known the depression of long unemployment, and in some cases of oppression. Yet despite immigration which, till recently, was practically unrestricted, the unemployment question is comparatively insignificant (about 3/4 per cent of the total Population). And while nations the world over are bewailing the loss of exports, Argentina’s exports during the past black year1932, although diminished, still exceeded her imports by almost two hundred million gold dollars in a total Foreign Trade (Imports and Exports) of nine hundred and thirty million. I recall President Justo’s words "En horas dificiles como las actuales, se necesita el concurso de todos". Given that, Argentina will be able to count yet further material blessings.

Immigrants, especially of the illiterate type, nearly always include a proportion of undesirables. Illiteracy unfortunately does not imply any inability to talk. Socialism and communism are easy words on many a tongue. Oratory is a real national Argentine achievement, and as it proves infectious, we are blessed here with a larger proportion of tub-thumpers than we deserve. Those I have heard do not certainly speak for the Argentine nation, whose growing solidity, and sense of nationhood, and pride of place amongst the countries of the world have been strikingly apparent lately. But the recent 50th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx has been widely advertised, and gives some point to our survey tonight.

Let us recognise at the outset that social unrest is not confined to one class of society, but pervades wellnigh every class. Its symptoms are manifest in a general discontent with the conditions of life: while its most emphatic expression is in the protest of the masses against the terms of their labour and the reward thereof. No isolated evil is supremely assailed, although the landowner in this country of vast areas probably receives an undue meed of opprobrium. The murmurs of Moses’ time, and the conditions which necessitated the Roca Mission to London some months ago, both originated in social unrest. There is a vast stretch of time between the wanderings of Moses and the voyagings of Dr. Roca. You will agree therefore, that the problem persists. Its solution has been delayed for two main reasons.

(1) In earlier and less cultured, though not less sincere times, social unrest expressed itself in rebellions of violence. It does so occasionally still, even in South America. If History is to be our teacher, then we ought to know by now that such unrest may be suppressed but never will be healed by violence. Our local Revolution here of 1930 was a comparative success just because it was of short duration and has been succeeded by a period of quiet constructive de jure government. Violence does not build up, and the pages of History witness to the fact that they who take the sword, and rely on it alone, shall perish by the same instrument. Violence destroys just those very materials out of which a stable society can be built. A division of property by force makes for no permanent settlement.

(2) The other main factor in allaying social unrest has been the almost literal expansion of the world since the middle of the 19th century. White men’s graves have become if not white men’s paradises at least habitable for them. The crowded cities of the old world have been able to disgorge their surplus population upon virgin soil. Even our own much discussed Victoria Colony up the river has taken its share of adventurous spirits, and they are still there so far as I know. This expansion of the world must certainly have lessened industrial pressure in the older world, and prevented the possibility of blood-spilling schemes of revolutionary division.

Nor must we forget the growing sense of brotherhood the world over, and the many organizations for protection and assistance—Benevolent Societies Savings Banks Unemployment Relief Compulsary Insurance Pensions for the Aged Soup Kitchens Night Shelters. All these have tended to allay, if not cure, the social sickness.

As two broad reasons have been adduced for the persistence of Social Unrest, let us consider two like reasons for the intensification of the problems in the recent history of the Argentine.

(1) First, I would place the really wonderful advance which Education has made in this comparatively new Country. The implication of the statement that St. Andrew’s Scots School (1838)—a "foreigners’ school"—is the oldest existing school in the Argentine Republic is deeply, almost astoundingly, significant. Fifty years ago, only parents living in or near towns of some size had a reasonable chance of giving their children an education that would fit them for any post higher than that of a peon or, at most, a skilled workman. Even to-day in such vast and thinly populated and un-railwayed parts as much of the territories of Santa Cruz, (Patagonia), Neuquen, Los Andes, the Chaco, Formosa, the problem of education is most difficult except for those of means. The return Boat or train fare to Buenos Aires, with extras, would represent in some cases the total Government cost of a child’s ten years’ education in Scotland. Yet there has been vast advance, even though the school accomodation in this City is still so limited that there have to be two sessions per day—a.m. for one lot of children and p.m. for the next. The University of Buenos Aires (one of five national universities) has 10,000 students and 8 faculties.

The Argentine youth is eating more and more of the tree of knowledge, and if he is occasionally having indigestion when he becomes a young man, we cannot blame him overmuch. It is impossible to educate young folks here and develop their tastes for what is beautiful, and then ask them to return home happily to a biscuit-tin hut amongst the mud and mosquitoes on the banks of the Riachuelo. The transition is not conducive to contentment. Education creates new knowledge and new tastes, and prompts your fluent street orator to speak of discontent as divine, without qualifying his statement thus—that the moral quality of discontent is wholly dependent on what we are discontented with. It may be a very low and selfish outlook that makes you discontented with your monthly salary. It is a very honourable outlook that makes you discontented with the quality and quantity of the work you are giving in return for that monthly wage.

(2) The other big contributing reason for the intensification of social unrest is the particularly unequal distribution of wealth in Argentina. Here, the percentage of millionaires to the total population is generally accepted as greater than in any other country in the world. This does not matter nearly so much as many think. Yet unfortunately to thousands, the inequalities of life are the only things that matter, and it is to the extremes at either end of the social scale that attention is chiefly paid. Certainly he who can spend his summers at Mar del Plata and his winters at Rosario de la Frontera is in different case from the permanent dweller in the Boca or water-logged Gerli, who is becoming increasingly convinced that the wealth, of the upper classes is the product solely of his labours. His labour, when employed by the capitalist, produces a value greater than his wage. This is Karl Marx’s "surplus value". The history of modern society is the record of antagonism between the class which absorbs surplus value (the capitalist) and the class which produces it (the worker). The worker today is not only talking; he is often thinking. Conditions of life are not now merely accepted they are questioned. Life must be a thing of comfort, security, interest and ease, else it isn’t worth living. This is the worker’s ideal.

Which brings us to politics and parties which give expression to the ideals of the people. The Argentine political firmament has many constellations of greater or lesser magnitude. The Cámara de Diputados is represented just now as follows: Demócratas Nacionales 56 members; Socialistas 43 ; Unión Civica Radical Antipersonalistas 17; Unión Civica Radical (Entre Rios) 6; Demócratas Progresistas 14; Socialistas Independientes 10; Liberales (Corrientes) 5; Defensa Provincial (Tucumán) 3; Partido Popular (Jujuy) 2. Total 156, and 2 vacancies. There are many other parties springing up, which have not as yet obtained a seat: Comunistas, Georgistas, Feministas, and so on. Which of these parties shade easily into each other it is difficult for an "extranjero" to say. If I be permitted a football metaphor, the parties include outside left and outside right, inside left and inside right, and centre forward. Argentine politics and elections seem to be influenced by personality and personalities more than British. This is not to be wondered at in a young country where oratory is a national endowment, and the Latin blood runs strong. Parties here will always be many, for the country includes tropical and sub-arctic regions with such different interests and problems and outlooks. But for all their number, these parties fall into some niche under three broad categories, taken in their historical as well as logical sequence Controlled Individualism, Communism and Socialism.

1. Pure individualism is outwith reasonable conception, for the individual cannot be the unit of society. A world of hermits would soon be a world of mis-shapen men. If there is one lesson that the world should be learning just now, it is that no man liveth unto himself. If the arrival of Eve meant social unrest, so also did it doom pure individualism.

But a controlled individualism means that each man can live his life, independently of his fellow but not forgetful of him, combining with him for the protection which both need, and for their mutual outward wellbeing. Here we have society’s first form. Members of a family, a clan, a tribe, found very soon that they had obligations to each other which, when fulfilled, were mutually beneficial.

As units grew and contact with outsiders became easier and more frequent, the obligations became more numerous, and so, too, did the laws. An interesting if tragic study on this point in the Argentine is the history of the white man versus the Indian. Now, every common law means really a limiting of individualism. In Argentina we have some 12,000 laws 12,000 limits to our freedom, say some. These "some" are those who forget that no man liveth unto himself. With the increase in laws and in the number of officials to see that the laws are obeyed, the modern state has evolved a tremendously controlled individualism, yet socially we are not at rest. The unemployment figures of Great Britain or the U. S. A. are sufficient warrant for believing this. Or a walk in some parts of Avellaneda, followed by the contrast of a saunter along Florida, or a drive in the Avenida Alvear, will be equally convincing.

2. Of Communism the best known example is probably in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. It can hardly be cited as a sample of what modern Communism means, for every man could do as he liked with his own property. He could keep it or give it up of his own free will. It was an attempt to find a means of escape from a selfish individualism, and theoretically, has a persistent charm. But Ananias and Sapphira have walked continuously across the stage of its long history, and its triumph would seem to be as far off as ever. The biggest attempt (only preliminary so far) it has made is the Russian Experiment, and it can hardly be said to have secured social rest for that multitudinous people. Russia has also sent communistic missionaries into China, and it is a curious commentary on the state of affairs there that Japan, where life centres round the Throne, the Home, and Religion, is claimed by competent observers to be fighting the white man’s battle in the East in her recent unofficial war with China.

Communism is a system of Society where property is held in common. For such a Society it will be obvious that the citizens should be industrious, thrifty and law-abiding. Our local Communists would hardly appear to satisfy the requirements a considerable proportion of them are living temporarily where they cannot break the law. Until a general state of the human mind and heart has been secured which will ensure sacrificial and complete loyalty to its principles, Communism will be likely to fail.

3. Socialism is the third broad solution. It differs from Communism in that:—

1) The individual’s personal liberty is not infringed. A certain margin of personal possession would be allowed.

2) The State, and not any exclusive fellowship or community, should be governor and (up to a point) owner of all. Especially must this ownership and government be exercised over the means of production and distribution. Socialists point you to the collective supply of water and electricity. They want the same method applied to the public milk, bread and beef supply and, in time, to much more. Successful minor experiments in such distribution have been made, under the guidance of capable men specially picked for those public services. The door of entrance to this public service such as administration, finance, customs, law, sanitation etc. is open (if all things are above board) only to the physically fit and the mentally sound. And the general criticism can be made that our social problems are concerned not with such men, but with the physically unfit and the mentally incompetent i.e. with just the folk that Socialists would not and could not employ.

It cannot, however, be said that Socialism has failed as Communism has, for it has not been extensively tried out. But the problem of Social unrest is still with us here. The parties in power change as they do elsewhere and we seem no nearer a solution.

Let me here interpose a word on nationalism and internationalism before I close. If it be a controversial word, all the better for the discussion. Internationalism is such an easy word on many lips to-day that I confess to hesitancy in expressing my difficulties and doubts. The whole world be.lieves that charity begins at home. Mercifully the whole world does not believe that it ends there. A brilliant economist has recently attributed the failure of the World Economic Conference in London (July 1933) to Internationalism pushed too far. Beyond a point it will not serve. In agriculture, nationalism is often a necessary condition. In France, for instance, the great majority of peasants would not tolerate a Government that did not give first consideration to their interests. In the economic sphere, a Canadian Cabinet which accentuated the existing divorce between the dollar of Canada and that of the U . S . A., would destroy the basis of national prosperity and let loose a discontent that might end in Bolshevism. From the point of view of world unrest and the possibility of war, it will be more practical to remember that peace is a balance, not a fixed condition; and for many and many a year peace, I believe, will have to be maintained on the basis of nationalism. So at least says, Yeats Brown, in "Golden Horn". When we look around, and also know (as just one example) the national and patriotic teaching that Argentine children daily receive, we shall know too that most probably we have need of flags and frontiers for centuries to come. We are within the bounds of practicality when we seek to teach that Patriotism is love of one’s own country, not hatred of another, that War is frankly a mug’s game, and that battles are very ugly things when the Captains and the Kings depart.

Has Democracy then failed? I would hope that you do not finally think so, despite its frequent futility, and much dishonesty practised in its name. What do you mean by failure when you use the word with reference to an institution or an idea? If it be failure not to realise to the full the dreams of its founder or its prophets, then the Christian Church has failed. So long as human nature is imperfect, its creations and its methods will be imperfect too. So it is fairer to ask Is Democracy advancing towards the light? The very travail of its soul is, I believe, assurance that it is.

Democracy has been described as "Everyone a subject and everyone a sovereign." This means the sharing of power, the sharing of opportunity and not least the sharing of responsibility. If we believe ultimately in the good intent of the heart of the average man, if we believe that human nature in general has hitched its wagon to a star, then we believe in Democracy. Democracy amongst self-seeking men of ill intent, is like to be anarchical, and in the end, suicidal. Many of all nationalities here seem to me to be Democrats in theory but Dictators in practice. Their gentle method of persuasion is the revolver. One bright spirit, who perhaps mistook my nationality, chalked recently on the walls of my home this dictatorial tit-bit "Se patriota; mata un Ruso". (Be a patriot; kill a Russian.)

There are today, who shout for the strong arm of a Mussolini, an Ujriburu, a Masaryk or a Hitler. There are, too, at the other end of the political pole, who unceasingly proclaim the sovereignty of the people, and find the maximum of virtue near the bottom of the social scale. But we need be neither cynics nor doctrinaires. Man is a teachable animal and the centuries are bearing their legacies of wisdom for his instruction. Through fire he has built up the glittering fabric of civilisation and his soul is still marching on. Democracy has assumed many forms and will, doubtless, assume more. Government by Parliament is the prevailing type Presidential Government is an option. But all changes must be within a frame-work of self-determination. Our alternatives are responsible or irresponsible government.

Today a first need is, that individually we cultivate a clear conscience and grow a thick skin. Then, nationally, let us win wisdom and ensue it from the mistakes of the past, and hold fast to principles which have stood the test of time and of experience. The Ten Commandments are not out of date yet.

That way lies the fairest hope of peace and progress, and it is a path that will shine more and more unto the still far-off perfect day.


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