That May Revolution of 1810

That May Revolution of 1810
That May Revolution of 1810

I share with José Luis Romero and Tulio Halperín Donghi that, indeed, it was a revolution. As you can see, I’m not in bad company. Permanent revolution, unfinished revolution, betrayed revolution, but revolution nonetheless. A certain revisionist right affirms that it was nothing more than a Buenos Aires, liberal and pro-British coup d’état. For them, surely, “we would have been better with the Spanish.”

From the left it is admitted that something happened, but it was not radical enough. The most brilliant of them, Milcíades Peña, admits that it was a political revolution that fell short of being social and economic because it was incapable of promoting a new mode of production. With all due respect: what does “promote a new mode of production” mean? Capitalist, socialist… intermediate?

On this topic there is a lot of fabric to cut and it is good that it is so. The past deserves to be reviewed, but beyond the more or less subtle, more or less complex interpretations, the basic question remains present: was it a revolution or not? And if it was, what type of revolution are we talking about: national, anti-colonialist, bourgeois…? Unfinished, some historians respond. Chocolate for the news. I don’t know of any revolution that is not unfinished or is accused of being unfinished. From the English to the French, from the Russian to the Chinese, from the Korean to the Cuban.

It seems that for those who start from the principle that every revolution has as its inexorable destiny a society endowed with the attributes of perfection, it is foreseeable that it will be unfinished, because that perfect society never arrived and, judging by what is envisioned for the future, It’s not going to be easy to get there.

In this regard, I get the impression that for many leftists, consciously or unconsciously, the myth or prejudice survives that history has an argument that only they know, an argument that unfolds in a series of revolutions, whose maximum level of realization would be the socialist revolution. Standing from that place, they contemplate the past and judge whether the course of events conforms to that argument that defines with crystal clarity the passage from one society to another and the role that corresponds to the actors, who are not only previously defined, but they are also assigned the role they must fulfill to be loyal or not to the mandate of history. From that severe and demanding court the inevitable betrayals and desertions are judged. Why inevitable? For the simple reason that life or the future of life is always much richer, more interesting and, if you will, contradictory than the rigid and severe schemes that dominate the imagination of leftists.

Let’s go back to the days of May. It may be worth debating whether the Argentine Nation was born on those days, whether it pre-existed, but what is clear, what is obvious, is that from that date what is known as the old regime ceased to exist. Whether or not the protagonists were aware of the step they were taking is a topic to be discussed, but rather than judging the intentions, what deserves to be evaluated in this case are the consequences. And the consequences are visible.

It is said that there were no fundamental changes. I don’t know exactly what is meant by fundamental changes, but it is certain that the changes existed. Halperín Donghi expresses it in a few words: we move from commercial hegemony to landowner hegemony; from the import of luxury goods to the import of consumer goods; from the export of precious metals to the export of livestock items.

Does it seem little to you? Not me. It is true, if we adjust to the catechism that dictates the tasks that correspond to bourgeois revolutions, there was much left to do. But it happens that the men who were the protagonists of those events did not have that catechism at hand and, therefore, they did what they were allowed to do, or what they could, with the limited material and intellectual resources they had to face far-reaching historical challenges.

It is not necessary to make too many ideological concessions to admit that on that distant May 25, 1810, something important happened, that in some way there was a before and after, that the protagonists of those days soon became convinced that they were experiencing a revolution. Myth? I don’t know, but the following year, the Mayan festivals were incorporated into the calendar and the national armies that marched to Paraguay, Córdoba, Alto Perú and the Banda Oriental were supposed to be bearers of a revolutionary message.

It is said that the revolution was reduced to Buenos Aires. It started in Buenos Aires, you always start somewhere: Paris, Saint Petersburg, Sierra Maestra. By the way: the first to challenge the changes because they were exclusively Buenos Aires were the Spanish colonial officials in the open town hall on May 22. I once read that a Creole revisionist is nothing more than an old Spanish subject who monologues his nostalgia for the times of monarchical domination of the Austrians and the Bourbons. He is a joke, but from Freud onwards we already know very well what happens to jokes.

Those who affirm that a new society can only be born through violence, the supposed midwife of history, would remind them that although the days of May 25 were relatively peaceful, among other things because the colonial officials had nothing to resist; Within a few weeks, the horizon that opened up to the revolution was war: war in the Banda Oriental, war in Paraguay, war in Córdoba and Upper Peru. Revolutionary wars and, if that were not enough, civil wars.

On another historical scale, we could think more than just a revolutionary date in a historical period marked by revolutionary changes. Let us think, for example, of the revolution as a process, a creative process that opens in the Río de la Plata in 1806 with the English invasions and closes around 1820. The revolution as a process or as a problem. A revolution that demands to be studied in its singularity and universality. Enlightenment, enlightened, liberal? I dont think is bad. Or do you perhaps prefer that it had been inquisitorial, monarchical, restorationist?

Resorting to a common metaphor, we can say that starting in 1806, the winds of history shake the Río de la Plata and the prolonged colonial siesta shakes with the accelerated and – for some – merciless pace of change. In three or four years, things happen that didn’t happen in two hundred. The English arrive, the Spanish monarchy collapses.

What seemed consistent and firm is revealed in all its fragility. Everything that was known, what was habitual and routine is altered, transformed. The acceleration of times. “All that is solid melts into air”. And in this context, men are forced to make decisions with incomplete knowledge and more dominated by uncertainties than by certainties.

“It was a revolution,” says José Luis Romero and he is not wrong. Tulio Halperín Donghi affirms the same. A revolution with its scope that is visible and its limits that were not few. A revolution with popular militias, with national armies, with intellectuals and men of action, political leaders and military leaders, heroes and villains, martyrs and executioners.

A revolution as a process that opened a historical course, in 1810, and a sinuous and contradictory path – as it could not be otherwise – that declared independence “from Spain and all foreign domination” and, at some point, announced that the The revolution has come to an end and the demands of order are imposed, an order that will be neither comfortable nor easy to forge, but that in all circumstances will be marked by the convulsions, the tremors, the pain and the hopes opened in those years when The storm unleashed by history required men to rise to the occasion.

“It was a revolution,” says José Luis Romero and he is not wrong. Tulio Halperín Donghi affirms the same. A revolution with its scope that is visible and its limits that were not few. A revolution with popular militias, with national armies, with intellectuals and men of action, political leaders and military leaders, heroes and villains, martyrs and executioners.

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