Ambassadors of the Working Class

Argentina's International Labor Activists and Cold War Democracy in the Americas

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 12 illustrations Published: August 2017

Author: Ernesto Semán

History > U.S. History, World History, Latin American Studies > Southern Cone

In 1946 Juan Perón launched a populist challenge to the United States, recruiting an army of labor activists to serve as worker attachés at every Argentine embassy. By 1955, over five hundred would serve, representing the largest presence of blue-collar workers in the foreign service of any country in history. A meatpacking union leader taught striking workers in Chicago about rising salaries under Perón. A railroad motorist joined the revolution in Bolivia. A baker showed Soviet workers the daily caloric intake of their Argentine counterparts. As Ambassadors of the Working Class shows, the attachés' struggle against US diplomats in Latin America turned the region into a Cold War battlefield for the hearts of the working classes. In this context, Ernesto Semán reveals, for example, how the attachés' brand of transnational populism offered Fidel Castro and Che Guevara their last chance at mass politics before their embrace of revolutionary violence. Fiercely opposed by Washington, the attachés’ project foundered, but not before US policymakers used their opposition to Peronism to rehearse arguments against the New Deal's legacies.


"In this insightful volume, the author provides a multilevel analysis of the workings and lasting impact of Argentine labor
attachés in the post–World War II era. . . .  Among the many unique contributions of this book is the analysis of how nationalist Perónism became a symbol for domestic and transnational competing visions of liberal democracy and how it was a lens through which US policy makers and elites viewed the legacy of the New Deal. Highly recommended." — L. M. Barnett, Choice

"Ambassadors of the Working Class is one of those rare hidden histories that come to light out of the blue to capture the imagination." — Gavin O'Toole, Latin American Review of Books

"This book will be essential reading for scholars interested in international labor relationships, Peronism, and the ways in which democracy was being debated and redefined in post-World War II Latin America." — Amie Campos, H-Latam, H-Net Reviews

“An outstanding piece of scholarship.” — Stephen G. Rabe, Canadian Journal of History

Ambassadors of the Working Class is an example of the possibilities offered by a truly transnational historical approach, informed by careful research and relevant theoretical frameworks. It opens interesting comparative perspectives with other movements and countries in Latin America, and it should be of interest to scholars and students of Peronism and the Cold World in Latin America.” — Jorge A. Nállim, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Beautifully written, full of vivid details . . . . The book powerfully shows the tensions between an increasingly conservative leader and the actions of worker attachés." — Gabriela Scodeller, International Review of Social History

"Ambassadors of the Working Class is a terrific story, absorbingly told." — David M. K. Sheinin, Journal of American History

"The book is full of fascinating episodes. . . .This is a provocative book that is worth reading and discussing. It clearly illustrates the heterogeneity of Peronism, the competing tendencies within that movement, Perón’s difficulties in disciplining his labor base, and the charismatic leader’s gradual shift towards a conservative anti-Communism."  — Emmanuel Taub, EIAL

"Ambassadors of the Working Class presents a contradictory and multifaceted Peronism. . . . The timeliness of Semán’s analysis is extraordinary. . . . A powerful antidote to conceptions that do not see anything more in Latin American popular governments than 'totalitarian populism.'" — Fernando Teixeira da Silva, American Historical Review

"Artfully written and accessible, Ernesto Semán’s examination of Argentine worker attachés during the opening and closing of a democratic spring in the early Cold War Americas is an important addition to the study of Peronism and the history of inter-American relations. This sophisticated and multilayered transnational study examines the unusual role of working-class men and women in Argentina’s diplomatic corps. . . . Semán’s perceptive and fine study should be taught and debated in graduate seminars and undergraduate courses well into the future." — Steven Hyland, The Americas

"Engagingly written, and impressively researched, [Ambassadors of the Working Class] is a major contribution to the history of Peronism, of labour in Latin America, of inter-American relations, and of the Cold War." — Paulo Drinot, Journal of the Social History Society

"Excellent multinational archival research. . . . Written in accessible and even entertaining style, and solidly grounded in previously untapped primary sources, the book therefore sheds new light not only on Peronism, but more broadly on the international history of the years immediately following the Second World War." — Michael Goebel, Social History

"Semán not only tells a fascinating story but also, by taking seriously the challenge of doing transnational history, should inspire reflection on how global history, when produced from below, can shed light on previously ignored issues. . . . Ambassadors of the Working Class is obligatory reading for anyone interested in global history, the Cold War in Latin America, and, of course, Peronism and populism." — Larrisa Rosa Correa, HAHR

"Using the history of Peronist worker attachés, Ernesto Semán takes readers on a journey through the political, economic, and social history not only of Argentina but of the Americas as a whole. This is political, economic, intellectual, and transnational history at its best. This splendid book reveals how the attachés and their intense activism shaped the dynamics of early Cold War politics in the Americas, and Semán provides novel perspectives on Argentinian populism, its historical tributaries, and the way it enables us to rethink the legacy of FDR's New Deal." — Barry Carr, coeditor of The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics

“Wonderfully written and argued, combining transnational history, political analysis, and cultural studies, this account of Argentina’s worker attachés is transformative—not only because it tells the little-known story of union activists in the Argentine diplomatic service but also, and most importantly, because it sheds valuable new light on our understanding of Peronism.” — Javier Auyero, author of Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina


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Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Historian Ernesto Semán is Assistant Professor at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond and the author of five previous books, which include novels and political essays.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction. From the Fringes of the Nation to the World  1
1. In Search of Social Reform  23
2. "The Argentine Problem"  44
3. Apostles of Social Revolution  68
4. From the Belly of the Beasts  102
5. At the Turn of the Tide  132
6. Political Declension  166
7. A Bitter Pill 193
Conclusion. Branding Mass Politics in the Americas  219
Notes  233
Bibliography  287
Index  311
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6905-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6385-9
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