In response to:
The Corpse at the Iron Gate from the August 10, 1972 issue
To the Editors:
I have not read Mr. Naipaul’s books but I gather he is mainly a fiction writer. Indeed, if his article on Argentina in The New York Review of Books of August 10—and the almost equal one in the Sunday Times of London of August 6—is at all representative of his work I would reckon him as a fairy tale writer, admittedly of not inconsiderable merit.
The classification of Mr. Naipaul’s writings would be of only frivolous interest, however, if it were not for the fact that many people in this country, starved by the British press of reliable information on Latin America, are taking that article at least as fiction in the realistic tradition. And because—as any sophisticated intellectual is supposed to realize these days—fairy tales are a powerful and, as it were, subliminal vehicle for ideas people prefer not to discuss in the open.
What Mr. Naipaul would rather not discuss openly is, to my mind, his assumption—running all the way through his piece—that a nation has no right to rise against their internal—I myself refuse to call them national—and foreign masters unless they can produce an Oxford prize essay explaining the reasons why they are doing it.
For Mr. Naipaul the Argentine people are doomed, as everything is a messy confusion on the side of the masses and their leaders. Their allegiance to Peron, and Evita, rather than the result of the simple fact—only vaguely acknowledged by him—that the proportion of national income going to labor was at least 10 percent higher during his period in office than before or after—to mention just one indisputable benefit accruing to the workers in those days—is due to their urge somehow to satisfy their religious leanings (now a larger faith is needed, pronounces Mr. Naipaul).
Mass struggles—actually more related to straightforward demands for economic and social improvement as well as for civil liberties than to pressure to bring back Peron—go unexplained and, as a matter of fact, almost unmentioned (only a passing reference to riots in Mendoza earlier this year but no mention, for instance, of the Cordobazos in 1969 and 1970).
Activists are castigated for having initiated the violence (if we were to believe Mr. Naipaul, which of course nobody just casually acquainted with the facts will do, police forces only replied to terror with terror). They are also criticized for holding views which are inconsistent (I find it difficult, however, to understand why he thinks that it is inconsistent to be against both unemployment and the consumer society) and, worse, imitative (for Mr. Naipaul they have copied Northern Hemisphere “revolutionaries,” a patently absurd allegation as in Argentina Peronism and the Left were already in the struggle at the time when most of those revolutionaries had hardly been weaned). More important, these militants got it all wrong for they have mistaken the police for their enemy (what about the list of enemies—even if not completely satisfactory from my own point of view—provided by his hearty eating lawyer, i.e. American imperialism and their allies?).
In fact for Mr. Naipaul, it seems, there is no point in looking for an enemy. For him only Evita’s infantile mind could concoct such an obviously ridiculous idea as the one that maybe workers were being impoverished because somebody else was accumulating more riches at an even faster pace. Because in Mr. Naipaul’s fireman’s theory of inflation (a nightmare for everyone else but the fire insurance business as he says) the erosion in the standard of living of workers brought about by prices rising faster than wages does not benefit any significant social group. Increased, and indeed substantial, social production—because with its ups and downs there has been moderate economic growth and the country is not too far away from a respectable income level of 1000 dollars per year per head—just elopes into thin air. The only source of all troubles is the “unregenerated colonial economy,” an anonymous extra-human entity of which even poor intellectuals changing into pesos their hard earned dollars are victims.
The British Empire, in Mr. Naipaul’s opinion, has retired in order—actually not before selling very dearly every single piece of junk accumulated at Argentina’s cost in the hands of British railways, tramways and other lesser concerns and nothing has replaced it. Nobody is behind the action of the vividly depicted repressive apparatus (law and order have become an end in themselves, says Mr. Naipaul). Nobody is in command; a true mystery. No wonder, then, the free press—one of the more daring creations of Mr. Naipaul’s fertile imagination—and the Argentines Mr. Naipaul became acquainted with—including Borges—cannot make the situation out. And that the intellectuals he met think that their creative years are wasted by a revolution in which they have no stake.
Mr. Naipaul and his mystified friends, however, could do much better were they to spend those cherished creative years in a revolution in which they inevitably, even if only by passively accepting the status quo, have a stake. Because contrary to Mr. Naipaul’s assertion there is movement forward. And the repressive apparatus—in spite of all the victims it unfortunately claims—does not work so effectively as to paralyze political change.
Two retrograde military dictatorships—the first had banned all political organizations and activity while promising not less than a ten year rule—have been toppled in the last two years by the actions of the Argentine masses, the militants and their political leaders. They certainly seem to know much better than what Mr. Naipaul would let us believe even if, maybe, they $$$ first class honours $$$ what they are up to.
As Mr. Naipaul himself admits, $$$ exploded the myth of an aristocratic colonial society. The Argentine people, now, are exploding the myths, which only Mr. Naipaul and his friends are confused about, of the autocratic post-colonial one.
November 30, 1972