The university reform of the Peronist left: between refoundation and oblivion

“The seventies past was submerged under the shadow of political violence, as if there was nothing to recover”, emphasizes the doctor in Social Sciences, Sergio Friedeman. In his book, “The National and Popular University of Buenos Aires: The university reform of the Peronist left”, the Conicet researcher analyzes the comprehensive university reform project promoted at the University of Buenos Aires that was conceived in 1973 under the presidency of Héctor Cámpora by a sector linked to the Peronist left and that ended up being interrupted in the government of Isabel Martínez de Perón. In dialogue with Page 12, reconstructs the most important contributions and projects of this reform that also reached other national universities and that involved the sanction of a National Universities Law approved in March 1974, known as the “Taiana Law”. In addition, the author highlights that the reform project, having failed to achieve lasting institutionality remained invisible in the history of the public university.

— How does this historical event that you narrate fit into the framework of the 200 years of the UBA?

— It was a university reform that began to take its first steps in 1973 under the presidency of Cámpora, but was interrupted during the government of Isabel Perón. Despite this transience, it is worth rescuing from oblivion any refoundation attempt, because it allows us to visualize alternative projects to those that were imposed. In addition, the history of the UBA is linked to the history of the country, so through the book you can access the conflict of the 60s and 70s, the political radicalization, the transformations of Peronism. For example, I work with unpublished correspondence from Perón, which allows us to visualize issues that especially affected the relationship between Peronism and the middle sectors.

— Why is it that the university reform of 1973 has been made invisible or little known?

— First, because it did not achieve a lasting institutional framework, it was defeated. But it was also defeated in disputes over memory. With the return to democracy there was a kind of clean slate. The seventies past was submerged under the shadow of political violence, as if there was nothing to recover. At the university level, it is expressed that the Alfonsín government decided to return to the statutes prior to the coup of 1966, instead of returning to those more salvageable aspects of the last democratic university law, the Taiana Law, approved in March 1974 with an active role of radicalism.

— What were the main ideals of this model of university?

— There was a very critical diagnosis of the previous university, which was described as elitist, because it was for a few, but also scientific, and at the service of imperialism. In contrast, the new university was proposed in terms of “university of the people” and “at the service of national liberation.” A university that all social classes could access (remember that at that time there was no unrestricted admission) and a university that would solve problems to get out of dependency. Then agreements were broken with international foundations that financed research and teaching became incompatible with performance in multinational companies. The contents and teaching methods had to be modified, but also the goals. It is difficult to summarize in a few words what was done based on these great postulates, but I would summarize that the university, for the reformers, was not an end in itself. He was at the service of a greater cause: liberation, the socialist homeland.

— Who were the central actors of the “Peronist left”?

— Montoneros, in the first place, which in the university sphere expressed itself with the creation of the Peronist University Youth. But there were other spaces and it would be simplifying to speak of a “montonera university”. The authorities of the faculties were chosen from different professional or disciplinary groups that had been postulating the idea of ​​a new university from a perspective that combined the Peronist identity with the leftist tradition. I call the Peronist left this heterogeneous group, which precedes and exceeds Montoneros, and which has developed strongly since the 1960s, with the approval of Perón.

— Why was Rodolfo Puiggrós elected and not another as rector of the University of Buenos Aires?

— Puiggrós was a Marxist historian expelled from the PC in 1946, because he did not share the party’s reading of Peronism. He was a theoretical referent of the Peronist left, a pioneer, and at the same time he had a very good relationship with Perón. He visited him in Madrid, they exchanged letters and Perón wrote the prologue to one of his books. I found different versions of his appointment as rector: that it was requested by Perón, that it was a proposal from Montoneros… In fact, Montoneros proposed him as a possible Minister of Education. The truth is that, if the decision was that the left of Peronism accede to the government of the universities, Puiggrós was a very good candidate. It was for Perón and also for the JUP.

— In the book, you highlight some “configuring experiences” that preceded the 1973 reform. Which were the most relevant?

— The best known are the National Chairs, which emerged in the Sociology degree in 1967 and were left out in 1971. And in 1973 they returned, occupying relevant positions in the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. But I also identified other spaces, such as a network of defense attorneys for political prisoners who later govern the Faculty of Law. Or a group of scientists centered around the figure of Rolando García, who was in charge of the Peronist Technological Council and who places several deans. I stopped at those three, but if one goes to look closely at each discipline, each profession in the 1960s, one will find groups, networks, disruptive experiences or alternative proposals that will then feed university policies. I identified some in architecture, in health, among others, but they should be studied more carefully.

— How do you get to the Taiana Law? What did it imply?

— The university law contained many elements of this reform and indicated the ways in which universities should be normalized, with the tripartite government that included non-teachers and excluded graduates. But in the Senate, the famous article 5 was incorporated, which was not in the original project and which prohibited “partisan political proselytism.” In my view, the law can be understood as a configuration of forces rather than as the linear result of what this or that sector of the ruling party and its allies wanted. In fact, some opposed the law because it was too reactionary and others because it was leftist or Marxist. But it was approved unanimously in the Chamber of Senators and by a large majority in Deputies.

— Finally, in the government of Isabel Martínez de Perón the transformation is annulled. Under what circumstances did that happen?

— The conflict of the Peronist left with Perón was evident, as it manifested itself in the famous square of May 1st. But there is a break after his death. The triple A begins to operate openly and enters the corridors of the faculties. Isabel replaces Minister Taiana with Oscar Ivanissevich, and for a month there is an escalation of conflict between UBA authorities and the new minister. The then rector Raúl Laguzzi loses his baby in a triple A attack. The university is intervened and Alberto Ottalagano, a confessed fascist, takes over. Previous transformations are annulled, but a repressive escalation also begins. It could be said that it is a counter-reform, but also a transition to dictatorship.

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