Peter Camejo, 1971

Allende’s Chile: Is it going socialist?

Source: From Tragedy in Chile, by Peter Camejo and Gerry Foley. Camejo’s article was first published in December 1971
Mark-up: Steve Painter

Was the September 4, 1970, victory of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity coalition in the Chilean elections a victory for socialism? Did it at least set into motion an evolution towards socialism? Does the Popular Unity government represent the interests of the workers and peasants of Chile?

Many radicals would answer these questions with an unhesitating yes. Foremost among them is the US Communist Party, whose mouthpiece, The Daily World, has given enthusiastic coverage to events in Chile. “Class struggle sharpens as Chile moves to socialism”, reads a Daily World headline on May 11, 1971, for example.

This sentiment is shared by many others, and not all of them on the left. From some accounts in the major daily press, one might wonder if a socialist revolution had not already taken place in Chile.

What are the facts?

Since his election, Allende has implemented a number of reforms, some of them significant. Probably the most important was the general pay increase, averaging approximately 35 per cent. Some very poorly paid workers received even more.

Soon after his election, Allende announced and sent to Congress his plans for nationalisation of the copper mines and a few other corporations. By February 1971, the Senate had endorsed his project with only moderate alterations, and the mines are expected to be completely nationalised by 1972.

The land reform initiated by the previous government prior to Allende’s election has been speeded up.

The income of families with children has been supplemented with free milk for each child.

A special riot police unit of 2000 was disbanded and its men sent into other units of the Chilean national police, which is called the Carabinero Corps.[1]

Political prisoners were set free. Most of these were young revolutionaries who had engaged in expropriation of banks and other armed actions; in return for their freedom, they called for a moratorium on such actions.

The reforms the Allende government has implemented are a direct product of mass pressure generated by the struggles of the workers and peasants of Chile. The reforms brought him increased popularity, which was reflected in the municipal elections last April in which the Popular Unity coalition received more votes than all of its opponents combined.

Can these and other proposed reforms be taken as a sign that Chile is moving towards socialism? To answer this question, we should look at how Allende became president of Chile, what the Popular Unity is, exactly what his reforms are, and how they are being implemented.

“The program of the Popular Unity is not a Communist program,” declared Allende in the October 4, 1970, New York Times, “nor is it a Socialist program, nor a Radical program, nor the program of the MAPU, or the API. It is the convergence of opinion.” In other words it is a program that is acceptable to all the parties involved. The Popular Unity coalition is a familiar combination of bourgeois and working-class political parties. The MAPU is a left split-off from the Christian Democratic Party with some support among the peasantry. The API has its historical roots in the movement of ex-dictator Carlos lbanez del Campo in the 1950s.

But foremost among the bourgeois parties participating in the Popular Unity coalition in is the Radical Party. Back in 1964, Allende ran for president because of what he called “betrayal” of the people by the Radical Party. He declared that the people had “no possibility whatever with the Radicals”. Before the year was out, however, he had made an impassioned plea for the Radical Party to join his coalition. It refused.

Yet, as time went by the Radical Party came to realise that a radicalisation was occurring that was more intense than the one in the mid-1930s, and was considerably broadening the electoral base of the Socialist and Communist parties as well. An indication of this process was that by March 1969 the Socialist Party had 14.4 per cent of the vote and the Communist Party had 15.7 per cent. Thus, if the 12.9 per cent of the Radical Party were added, the combined total would indicate that the chances in 1970 were excellent for an electoral victory of a popular front coalition among these groups. Such a popular front combination would be similar to one that came to power in 1938.

Unlike 1938, however, this time there was a new problem: the radicalisation was so deep that powerful left-wing pressures within the Socialist Party could have blocked the formation of a popular front. The nomination of SP leader Salvador Allende as the coalition candidate was necessary to placate the left wing and ensure the SP’s participation.

So the Radical Party “betrayers” of yesterday, who only six years earlier had been in political alliance with the extreme right wing, joined in the formation of a popular front coalition. They received a warm welcome. “We hope that the new situation will allow the [Radical Party] to win back some of the strength that made them the top Chilean formation for a long time,” purred the leading Communist Party senator, Volodia Teitelboim, following the election.[2]

An Allende victory in September 1970 was made possible by several factors. Among them were the decline in the influence of the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) in the six years since it won the 1964 election, and the split in the bourgeois forces reflected by the candidacies of Radomiro Tomic of the PDC and Jorge Alessandri of the National Party. (The traditional Liberal and Conservative parties had united to form the National Party.)

Alessandri concentrated his campaign on the danger of a Communist takeover. He combined nationalist demagogy with a hard line on alleged “disruptions” of the economy by labour and peasant strikes.

Tomic put forward a left reform program designed to attract radicalising social layers, especially peasants. At times, Tomic appeared to be to the left of Allende. It was not always easy to distinguish between them.

Because no candidate received more than 50 per cent of the vote, the outcome of the election was referred to a joint session of Chile’s House of Representatives and Senate for a decision on October 24.

The Tomic-led PDC agreed to make Allende president if he, along with the rest of Popular Unity, would accept constitutional amendments to strengthen capitalist institutions (referred to by the PDC as “reinforcing democracy”). These amendments would limit the authority of the president while increasing the independence of certain bourgeois institutions from Congress and the executive; they constituted a kind of blackmail.

The constitutional changes provided that no military officers would be appointed who had not attended the academies; no changes in the size of the army, navy, air force, or Carabineros could be made by the president; “private” militias would be unconstitutional;. Allende had to “guarantee” not to tamper with the press, radio, schools, unions, judiciary, and so forth.

When discussions about these proposals began between the Unidad Popular and the Christian Democrats, the Communist Party reacted with indignation. “We understand, from this dialogue, that there is not and could not be on the part of this party [the Christian Democrats] any question about the prerogative of the next president of the Republic or any conditions imposed on the Unidad Popular or any concessions to the blackmail of ‘Alessandrism’,” declared Orlando Millas in his report from the CP’s Political Committee to its Central Committee on September 14, 1970.[3]

On September 30, Allende released a seven-page statement in which he indignantly refused to accept the proposal of the Christian Democratic Party.

The PDC’s purpose was not to extract a promise from Allende that he would attempt to maintain capitalism; of that they had no fear. “The new Chilean chief of state has at least as many friends in the Christian Democratic ranks as in those of the left,” wrote Marcel Niedergang in the Paris daily Le Monde, on October 23. “While Allende’s daughters, who are also his collaborators, are considered to have leftist sympathies, he himself is not loath to frequent Santiago high society. Throughout his long career he has always strictly respected the rules of the democratic game, and this ‘detail’ has certainly helped temper the fears of some right and centre leaders.”

No, the PDC had another purpose in mind: to take advantage of the situation created by the closeness of the election to improve its own position in coming battles between the ruling class and the masses by altering some of the rules of the game. The PDC stuck to its demands in spite of declarations by the CP and Allende that they would not capitulate.

In less than two weeks Allende capitulated. The agreement was signed and Allende’s election to the presidency was assured with the support not only of the PDC but even of Alessandri, who said: “My best wishes for success go to the next president of Chile, whose long and proven democratic convictions, reflected in attitudes of constant respect for the constitution and the laws, are well-known.”[4]

The majority of the Chilean ruling class would have preferred Alessandri or Tomic as president. The masses, however, could not be persuaded to go along with the ruling class’s first choice, so an alternative had to be accepted, one that would be able to co-opt the electorate’s desire for change by granting reforms without exceeding the bounds of capitalist property relations. This alternative was Allende.

Nevertheless, Allende and his government constitute a reformist regime driven considerably to the left by the general radicalisation among the masses and the economic instability that plagues Latin America. To be sure, the ruling classes in Chile and the United States do fear that under Allende the rnasses may become uncontrollable; they are afraid that the masses, believing Allende represents them, may grow more daring in both their demands and their actions. At the same time, however, Allende warns the ruling class that unless it accepts him, the masses will certainly revolt. It is precisely this misguided faith of the masses in Allende that makes him so useful to the ruling class in its efforts to contain the radicalisation.

In return for the bourgeoisie’s endorsement, Allende set up a cabinet in which the majority (eight out of 15) of the members came from the bourgeois parties in the Popular Unity coalition, in spite of the fact that these parties accounted for only a small fraction of the Popular Unity vote. Of the remaining seven cabinet ministers, three are Communists and four are Socialists.

Allende’s inaugural speech opened with a call for “work and sacrifice” from the masses.[5] He pledged before Congress to “keep and obey the constitution”.[6] Once installed in the presidential palace, he made a speech rendering homage to the armed forces and the national police: “Permit me, on this solemn occasion to voice our people’s thanks to the armed forces and to the Carabinero Corps, which abide by the constitution and the rule of law.”[7] Although he paid homage to army Commander in Chief Rene Schneider, assassinated by the right wing, he had not one word for the martyrs among the miners, the landless, the homeless and the Mapuche Indians, murdered in cold blood by this same police and army.

Of Chile's youth, Allende said: “A rebellious student in the past, I will not criticise their impatience, but it is my duty to ask them to think calmly!”[8]

The inauguration ceremonies included a visit to church, where Allende was greeted by Cardinal Raul Silva Henriques as the choir sang hallelujahs. The reactionary Catholic church, which is attempting to adapt to the rhetoric of revolution only to better swindle the masses of Chile, was defended by Allende last October in these words: “Before, for centuries, the Catholic Church defended the interests of the powerful. Today, the church, after John XXIII, has become oriented towards making the Gospel of Christ a reality … I have read the declaration of the Bishops of Medellin, and the language they used is the same that we have used since we were born into political life 30 years ago. I believe the church will not be against the Popular Unity government. On the contrary, it is going to be a factor in our favour.“[9]

With the blessings of outgoing President Frei, the army, and the church, Allende took office and promised to lead Chile to socialism by obeying the constitution based on capitalist property relations and upholding the primary defenders of capitalist private property, the army and police.

Thus, in order to remain in power, Allende must constantly demonstrate to the ruling class that he can contain the masses. Most crucial in this respect is keeping the mass organisations disarmed. On the other hand, if he lost his mass support, the ruling class would no longer need to tolerate him. Therefore, Allende must bend sufficiently to mass pressure to maintain his mass support.

The politics of the Allende regime are by nature forced into a balancing act between the oppressed and oppressor classes. While his regime began with the enthusiastic support of the masses and the grudging support of the ruling class, it is bound to end, after a period of vacillation, by satisfying neither the rulers nor the ruled.

How has Allende’s law-and-order road to socialism been working out? Let us look at the program of the Popular Unity coalition (Programa de la Unidad Popular, Libreria PLA, 1970) and see how it is being applied in reality.

Despite the leftist tone of its introduction and its vague references to socialism, this program in no way challenges the continued existence of capitalism. It challenges neither the armed defenders of capitalism, the army and police, nor the sacred bourgeois right of private property. It aims to improve the infrastructure of Chile’s capitalist economy by helping private business while not eliminating foreign investment.

The nationalisation of the mines — copper in particular — is an important part of the Popular Unity program; and it will represent a victory for the Chilean masses. Still, nationalisation in and of itself does not mean that the working class is power or that capitalism is being eliminated. (Bolivia nationalised its mines almost 20 years ago, yet capitalism remains in power and the masses are as exploited as ever.)

Fidel Castro told a delegation from Chile in 1966 that the nature of the Chilean revolution could not be judged by whether the copper industry were nationalised, but that “what really defined a revolution was the will to change the social structure for the benefit of the exploited classes” and that “the nature of the revolution had to be judged by all its acts, by all its policies towards each social class.”[10]

Allende’s plan for nationalisation was to buy the mines from the United States. This policy was actually begun under the previous Christian Democratic regime of Eduardo Frei, which had already bought 51 per cent of the major mines by the time Allende was voted into office.

The law authorising nationalisation was passed unanimously in July by the predominantly conservative Congress of Chile. This was first of all a reflection of mass pressure for the nationalisation of the copper mines. Second, in order to improve its position within the context of imperialist domination, the national bourgeoisie is willing to take advantage of the present circumstances of the US … its unpopular war in Vietnam and unfavorable trade situation with other imperialist countries. The Chilean national bourgeoisie, however, fearing both the reaction of the masses and imperialist reprisals, has preferred to postpone or at least modify the nationalisation. This was reflected in Frei’s earlier hesitant “Chileanisation” of the mines. A third and important factor precipitating the nationalisation of the copper mines was the government bureaucracy’s support for the measure. The Chilean government’s funds come from taxes on copper exports. And the government bureaucracy seeks to increase its negotiating power within the economy as a whole in order to guarantee its privileged jobs, many of which are not essential to the Chilean economy.

Allende’s earlier promise to pay about $US500 million for the remaining 19 per cent of the mines still in North American hands was a huge concession to US imperialism. After all, it was only a year earlier that the Peruvian military dictatorship, much further to the right than the Allende government, nationalised an important US oil corporation without compensation.

From an original investment of $US3.5 million, North American corporations have built up their holdings in Chile to the value of close to $US1 billion, all of it at the expense of Chile’s working people. In addition, the imperialists have drained billions of dollars from Chile since the 1930s, Thus, Chile has already paid for the total US investment many times over.[11]

The way this works is that the American companies first mine the copper in Chile and then sell it to themselves at artificially low prices to avoid both paying taxes and paying Chilean workers a decent wage. In 1966, for instance, the price of copper was set at 3.6 US cents per pound, while the price on the world market was 60 US cents per pound.[12]

These facts are common knowledge in Chile. Even the president of Allende’s own party was forced to declare against paying for the copper mines. The law approved by the entire Congress permitted a re-evaluation based upon the opening of the companies’ books. On September 29, 1971, Allende announced that his study had indicated that the US corporations had, in the last 16 years alone, made $US770 million in superprofits, that is, above the 10 per cent profit rate considered sufficient. This in effect means that the mines will now be nationalised without additional compensation

Allende’s statement, however, refers only to the 49 per cent of the mines still formally in the hands of the North American copper companies. The extent of the profit to the American imperialists from Chile’s purchase of the original 51 per cent of the mines is still undetermined. It is not ruled out, however, that for decades to come Chile will continue to pay interest on the bonds used to pay for that same 51 per cent of the copper mines. Furthermore, the money involved could well exceed the cash value of the mines.

On the other hand, Allende may be forced to stop payments on the debt arising from Chile’s purchase of the original 51 per cent. Two factors push Allende in this direction. First, the Chilean masses want to end the US capitalists’ extortion of the wealth created by Chilean labour. And second, Allende may simply run out of money and be compelled to seek at least a temporary suspension of payments.

Allende would prefer, as all reformists do, to satisfy the imperialists and the local ruling class and, in addition, grant reforms to the masses. But already his program of promises to make everyone happy — boss and worker, landlord and tenant, oppressor and oppressed — is falling apart. And, unlike the masses, imperialists are not very understanding when it comes to the personal tragedy of a reformist. Allende, despite his efforts to help imperialism (which, until October 1971 had brought a favourable response in ruling circles), may find himself confronted with ever-growing attacks from the United States.

It is important to note, however, that Allende is not threatening to nationalise the growing US holdings in the industrial sector. The November 4, 1970, Washington Post, for example, estimated 1968 US investments in Chile to include $US586 million in mining and $US377 million in non-mining industries. The 1969 Rockefeller Report on the Americas confirms this trend.

In addition, the Popular Unity program guarantees that most businesses in Chile will remain in private hands and be aided by the government. Of the 30,500 businesses in the country, fewer than 1 percent (150) fall into the category for possible purchase, or “nationalisation”. In banking and other categories the government has given full compensation for any state intervention. Allende has agreed, in addition to continue payment on the more than $2 billion Chilean debt owed almost entirely to US imperialism. The interest payments on this debt alone drain hundreds of millions of desperately needed dollars from Chile.

Allende is also promising to pay with interest for the land reform. The law under which Allende is operating is the same one passed by the previous, openly pro-imperialist Frei government.

Because of foot-dragging by both Frei and Allende, peasants throughout the country — including the 250,000 Mapuche Indians in the south — are simply taking over the land. If Allende were to attempt to prevent the takeovers by force, his popularity would plummet and his government might face peasant uprisings or a revolutionary situation. Instead, his government is quick to assure the landowners that they will be paid for their land.

This may not be so easy, however. “The government is financially able only to expropriate about one-eighth of the large farms and estates this year,” Rick Nagin wrote in the Daily World in May 1971 following a trip to Chile. Meanwhile, the peasants are supposed to wait around until Allende can find money to pay the rich landowners, because implementing the land reform without paying compensation to the landowners would be “ultraleft”. “Unfortunately, certain ultraleft groups have also encouraged illegal land seizures,” Nagin complained. (If one went by Nagin’s criteria, the Russian Revolution would represent the epitome of ultraleftism.) “Illegal” or not, however, the Chilean peasants are continuing to carry out the land reform on their own.

The “pressure for a faster pace” towards socialism, says the December 6, 1970, New York Times, is the “keenest difficulty” Allende faces. It is this pressure that is most dramatically reflected in the occupations of land and unfinished buildings.

In the past, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party associated themselves with similar efforts by the masses to alleviate their oppression. Now that they are part of the bourgeois government, however, they are singing a different tune. CP senator Volodia Teitelboim, for instance, is quoted in the December 3, 1970, Washington Post as saying: “We have stopped urging people to go out and take sites for themselves … These invasions must now cease.”

On February 13, 1970, Allende announced special legislation to punish land invasion instigators. According to the February 14 New York Times, Jose Toha, Allende’s minister of the interior, warned that “the government of President Senor Allende would act vigorously against any armed group operating in rural areas”. These announcements were made following a meeting between Allende and representatives of the National Farm Owners Organisation.

A few days later, all the component groups of the Popular Unity front issued a declaration opposing the land seizures. Toha was sent to different parts of the country in an effort to talk the peasants out of seizing the land.

In March, Daniel Vergara, undersecretary of the interior, began to warn that force might be used to prevent the land seizures. Juan Rubiliar, the president of the Federacion Campesina de la Provincia Llanqhihuel (Llanquihue Province Peasant Federation) was actually imprisoned, although he was quickly released.[13] However, the government has recently begun to use force to remove peasants from occupied land.

The Popular Unity program contains a section entitled National Defence. It not only calls for providing the latest “modern military science” for the armed forces,[14] but it declares: “It

The Popular Unity program contains a section entitled National Defence. It not only calls for providing the latest “modern military science” for the armed forces, but it declares: “It is necessary to assure the armed forced the material and technical means for a just and democratic system of remuneration, promotions and retirement that guarantees to officers, non-commissioned officers and troops economic security during their tour of duty in the ranks and under their conditions of retirement.”[15]

In relation to its population, Chile has the largest armed forces of any South American country. Only the military in Brazil has received more aid from the United States. Between 1960 and 1965 alone, Chile sent 2064 of its men to the US for military training, a figure surpassed only by Brazil and Peru.16

This army and this special police, formed to protect and maintain the privilege of the capitalist ruling class, are not only to remain intact, but workers and peasants who correctly suspect that these forces may soon be used against them again will be forbidden to arm themselves.

“I have absolute confidence in the loyalty of the armed forces,” Allende stated in an interview in the New York Times, March 28, 1971. “Our forces are professional forces at the service of the state, of the people.”

“With each day my conviction becomes deeper that the armed forces of Chile are an expression of its people, and therefore are irrevocably and essentially professionals and democratic,” Allende said in an interview published in the February 14, 1971, issue of the Buenos Aires daily, Clarin.

“The Chilean armed forces, which assure the sovereignty, independence and dignity of Chile, are the guarantee of our political process,” Allende said at a news conference for representatives of the foreign press, May, 25, 1971.

Hand in hand with this confidence in the armed forces goes a fear of the masses being armed. Minister of the Interior Toha made clear in the same issue of Clarin that “the government reaffirms its decision not to accept the existence of armed groups of any kind; the functions relating to, order and security are exclusively the armed forces’ and Carabineros’ jurisdiction.”

Luis Corvalan, general secretary of the Communist Party, stated months before the electoral victory of the Popular Unity coalition that the CP opposed proposals to arm the masses as being “equivalent to showing distrust in the army”, which he explained, “is not invulnerable to the new winds blowing in Latin America and penetrating everywhere”[17].

Yet it does not take much thought or knowledge of history to understand that the army were on the side of the oppressed workers and peasants there would be no fear of arming them. These fears are themselves proof that the oppressed do not run Chile. Allende, by refusing to arm the masses and by supporting the army and police, assures the capitalist ruling that as long as he is president, the workers and peasants will not run Chile. Revolution is not part of his program.

Allende has declared his intention to maintain relations with all countries. This represents a victory for the Chilean masses because it means the establishment of relations with countries like Cuba and China.

The mere recognition of China and Cuba, however, in no way changes the capitalist nature of Chile. One of the campaign promises of the right-wing candidate in last year’s election, Jorge Alessandri, was that he would recognise Cuba. And the Frei government had not only considered recognition of Cuba, but had actually reopened trade with Cuba before it was voted out of office.

A closer look at Allende’s foreign policy will indicate that rather than being anti-imperialist, it is actually a sophisticated cover-up for imperialism.

“Our international policy is based, as it was yesterday, on respect for international commitments freely assumed, self-determination and non-intervention,” Allende is quoted as saying in the winter 1971 issue of New World Review. In a feature interview with Prensa Latina, September 5, 1970, Allende claimed that Chile has never been a puppet of the United States, and that he only intends to continue a great tradition of Chilean independence. “We have always stressed our respect for the self-determination and full sovereignty of the peoples,” he states. “That has also been the policy of the Christian Democratic government of Sr Frei, in keeping with a Chilean tradition. Therefore, relations and ties are above and beyond regimes, and I think Chile has done well to maintain a position in line with that criterion.”

What is the truth behind all this piety?

The “international commitments” Allende referred to include the $US2 billion debt, owed mainly to the United States, “freely assumed” by Chile’s rich, but to be paid by Chile’s poor.

Neither the present nor the previous Chilean regimes have a very good record on the question of self-determination. Allende knows well that Chile, used as a tool by British imperialism in the 19th century, took over through war the southern parts of Bolivia and Peru that contained the richest mines. If Allende were a revolutionary, he would support Bolivia’s request, but the Chilean bourgeoisie has created a national climate of chauvinism and racism (unlike Chile, Bolivia is predominantly non-white) which makes such support unpopular. Allende takes advantage of this to deny Bolivia’s just demand.

Allende talks about a policy of opposing imperialist intervention into the affairs of other nations, and the Popular Unity program even contains a sentence calling for “active solidarity” with Vietnam. As president, however, Allende has neither condemned US aggression in Indochina nor done anything to aid the Vietnamese.

Not only does he remain silent in the face of imperialist aggression in Vietnam, he even tries to play down its interventionist role in Latin America. He was asked in the interview in the New York Times, March 28, 1971, if he thought the United States would conspire with business interests against Chile. “Obviously, I do not think the United States government would lend itself to such efforts,”, he replied. “I simply cannot imagine that the United States government would make common cause with private enterprise on an issue like this and frame policy accordingly. Unfortunately, history does teach that on occasion in the past this has been the case.”

In 1966, Castro insisted that “a government can ask the workers to make sacrifices when a revolution has been made for the workers, when there is a change in the social structure to the benefit of the workers, but no government can tell the workers to make sacrifices for the benefit of the bourgeoisie, for the benefit of the rich. No government can tell the workers not to demand salary increases in order to develop an industry as the private property of the capitalists.”[18]

The Allende government has chosen not to follow this admonition. By the end of February 1971, Allende was already making speeches against absenteeism and “exorbitant” wage demands. In the March 16, 1971, issue of the magazine Punto Final, Allende criticised the present wages of copper workers as “too high” and he proudly referred to a speech he made to coal workers in which he told them: “You have to work more, produce more, sacrifice more.”[19]

By early April, Allende was even calling on workers to work without pay. “Dr Allende asked for harder work and even called for several hours of voluntary labour each week by the copper workers,” reports Juan de Onis in the April 12, 1971, New York Times.

The attitude of the Chilean ruling class is to bide its time, looking forward to better days when it will be in a position to launch an offensive against the working class. The result is that the bourgeoisie is disrupting the economic situation in the country.

Businesses are firing workers or refusing to hire new ones. Unemployment is estimated at about 9 per cent of the total work force.[20] (In Santiago alone, 21 per cent are unemployed.)[21] Many landowners are refusing to make the necessary expenditures for the next crop, fearing an extension of the land reform. Others are selling even their pregnant cows for slaughter in order to get quick cash. Corporations are slowing production and allowing their stocks to be depleted.

“There are economic problems,” Juan de Onis reported in the February 7, 1971, New York Times. “Unemployment has risen since October, private investment is at a standstill and the government’s public works program has bogged down. Some manufacturing concerns are near bankruptcy because of little business.” In March he reported that Chile was falling behind by about 20 per cent in meeting its contracts for copper — a difficulty that was at least partly due to the removal of technical personnel by the imperialist corporations.

With its endless financial obligations to imperialism and the local rich, and in the face of the anarchy of capitalist production and he resistance of the bourgeoisie, the popular front in Chile will find itself compelled to call upon the masses to make further sacrifices to keep the economy above water. Imposing continued hardship on the masses can only lead to disillusionment and demoralisation once it becomes clear that their situation remains the same or even becomes more difficult while the millionaires continue to drive luxury cars and find their wealth and privilege untouched.

The capitalist ruling class can, of course, be expected to take advantage of the failures of its own system to campaign against the alleged failures of socialism. This will intertwine with the demagogy of the government and the reformist parties as they call upon the masses to make even greater sacrifices for “socialist” Chile.

The Popular Unity program also provides for a structural change in the parliamentary system. This proposal boils down to replacing the present bicameral system with a unicameral system. Whatever the value of such a reform, Allende has made it clear that this provision is not designed to eliminate the bourgeois parliament. “We shall never make parliament disappear,” he said in the April 11, 1970, New York Times. “About this there should not be the slightest_doubt. It is the essential form of Chilean democracy.”

Rather than contenting itself with reform of the bourgeois parliamentary system, the Allende government should have initiated popular forms of dual power in opposition to the bourgeois structure. It could have begun this process with the Popular Unity committees that were organised among the workers, the peasants and the poor in general during the campaign for the September 1970 election. These committees functioned in neighbourhoods, factories and on the land throughout the entire country. Unfortunately, however, following Congress’s ratification of the electoral victory on October 24, 1970, the Communist and Socialist parties allowed the Popular Unity committees to be demobilised.

Since Allende took office, the government, as we have already seen, has not had a policy of supporting the militant struggles of the peasants and the homeless. Things have not gone well for the revolutionary left either, as one incident last December will illustrate particularly well. This was the killing of a revolutionary student and the wounding of another in Concepcion by a Communist Party commando. The incident occurred when a group of students belonging to the MIR (Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria — Movement of the Revolutionary Left) tried to prevent a CP commando group, the Ramona Parra Brigade, from tearing down its posters. It is a telling fact that the CP, which urges the workers not to arm themselves, nevertheless sent an armed commando to tear down revolutionary posters.

Allende immediately intervened to get the MIR and the CP to put out a joint statement declaring it all a misunderstanding. The CP, in its paper El Siglo (which finances itself by publishing “girlie” magazines), condoned the action of the commando.

While the peasants, the homeless and the MIR were running into difficulties with the government, bourgeois forces were becoming increasingly co-operative. Senator Victor Garcia of the right-wing National Party, for instance, a “public finance expert”, has been pitching in to help out the Communist minister of finance, America Zorrilla Rojas.[22] Even the executive director of the right-wing Santiago daily El Mercurio declared in January 1971, “the newspaper is willing to support change in Chile’:s property structure and social relations such as Dr Allende proposes.”[23]

But Allende’s sources of help are not only in Chile. In October 1970, the Washington Post reported “that Sir Maurice Parson, chairman of the Bank of London, noted “new signs of hopefulness for private investment, particularly international banking, in Chile”.[24]

More significant, however, is the sympathy that has been expressed in Washington, DC, itself — despite tension over the terms of nationalisation of US mining interests. As far back as January 29, 1971, the Washington Post reported that the United States would give Chile new loans and that the tone of the Nixon administration was changing. “Allende’s own political history of playing the game within the system,” the Post reported, “appears to have convinced the doubters that the Chilean brand of Marxism may not be the menace it was first believed to be … Chile may just find its own road to political and economic development that presents no threat to the hemisphere.”[25]

Allende’s minister of economy, Pedro Vuskovic Bravo, traveled to Washington, DC, in February to work things out. Reporting on his discussions in Washington, Vuskovic indicated that the US government, having reviewed the plans of the government of Chile, had received them “with respect, comprehension and promises of help”.

Some of that help came on June 29 in the form of an announcement by the Nixon administration that it would grant Chile $US5 million in credits for purchases of military equipment. Administration officials said that this first such gesture by the Nixon administration was a reflection of Washington’s “pragmatic policy” towards the Allende regime.

On July 2, CL Sulzberger of the New York Times expressed in that paper his admiration for Allende’s “virtuoso performance” and called the Allende regime “a model of the new kind of ballot-box revolution to which Washington cannot object and which rapidly maturing Moscow seems to recognise as helpful in the long run, if only patience is applied”.

The popular front represented by the Allende government and the Popular Unity coalition is nothing new. It has been tried before, with disastrous results.

The concept of a popular front (or people’s front) was developed to its current polished form by the Communist Parties during the 1930s. Their claim at that time was that the popular front was a continuation under new conditions of the original policy of the united front advocated by Lenin and the Communist International in the early 1920s. In reality, however, it was the exact opposite.

The purpose of a united front is to bring together working-class organisations and other organisations representing oppressed social layers on the basis of common agreement on specific issues and above all to engage in united actions against the ruling class. The united front tactic is an effective tool for bringing to bear the maximum strength of the oppressed against the ruling class. It is founded on uncompromising independence from, and opposition to, the ruling class. Its main purpose is to prevent sectarianism or isolation of the politically advanced workers from the more conservative workers who could be won over in struggle.

The popular front is the exact opposite. It seeks to contain whatever actions the working class undertakes in order to ensure coalition with a section of the ruling class. The most famous popular fronts were built in France and Spain in the 1930s. Both were miserable and costly failures in defending the interests of the working class and preventing the rise of fascism.

In Chile, such a government was formed in 1938, with Allende as minister of health. That popular front, known as the Antifascist Popular Front, was so broad its presidential candidate was endorsed by the Chilean Nazi Party. Popular front governments continued on and off in Chile until the 1950s.

Others developed in other countries in Latin America, including Cuba, where former dictator Fulgencio Batista came to power with the support of the Communist Party and even included some Communists in his government.

Today, similar popular fronts are taking shape in Latin America. The most important so far, in Uruguay, is called the Broad Front (Frente Amp1io).

Popular fronts are by their very nature incapable of responding to the needs of the masses. The solution to pressing problems of poverty lies in the abolition of capitalism.

A socialist revolution in Chile would begin, like the Cuban Revolution, by disarming the army and police and creating armed units of the working class and peasantry to defend their interests. Foreign as well as national corporations would be nationalised without compensation. Democratic control over Chilean political, economic and social life would develop through worker and peasant committees.

A popular front government will be unable to ensure that such anticapitalist transformations take place. The reason is that the essential limitation of a popular front is that it cannot exceed the bounds of bourgeois legality and respect for private property.

A popular front_is characterised by the fact that it prevents the working class from struggling for a government of workers and peasants that could abolish capitalism and carry through a socialist transformation of society by going beyond bourgeois property relations. The essence of a popular front is determined not by the relative weight of the various parties involved or the size of the bourgeois component of the coalition, but by the fact that its program ensures that the working class is kept corralled within limits acceptable to the bourgeoisie or a section of the bourgeoisie.

In this way, it is possible for a popular front to exist even without any bourgeois parties within it.

In Chile, although the most important bourgeois party, the Christian Democratic Party, does not belong to the Popular Unity coalition, it is in fact functioning as a silent partner. Popular Unity and the Christian Democrats together constitute the necessary working majority in Congress.

If the Christian Democrats are not part of the Popular Unity, it is not because the Communist Party has tried to keep them out. CP leader Orlando Millas, referring to these favorites of US imperialism in Latin America in his report to the Central Committee of the Chilean Communist Party, said on September 14, 1970: “The enemy would like to isolate the forces of the left, create splits between the working class, the farmers, the students and the general public and place us in opposition to the Christian Democrats. But they will not succeed.”[26]

Unity at any price could well sum up the attitude of the Communist Parties to popular fronts. The price has often been great, even for the Communists themselves. Still, in Chile, as elsewhere, the CPs continue to advocate them.

The government of Ceylon is a current example of a popular front and one, moreover, in which the Communist Party is participating. Its success at the polls was hailed by Communist Parties throughout the world as a victory for the masses. Yet, in 1971 the Ceylonese “people’s” government is receiving US helicopters and military aid from other imperialist powers in its ferocious campaign to suppress its own people.

Perhaps the best-known “people’s” government in recent history was the Sukarno regime in Indonesia. There, as in Chile today, the Communist Party called for a worker-peasant-national bourgeois alliance. The Indonesian CP even went along with the concept that the Sukarno regime represented a peculiar but necessary blend of nationalism, Islam, and socialism. (This has a familiar ring today in the Chilean CP’s assertion that “the three great ideological currents will work together: the Marxists, the Christians and the Masonic laity”.)[27]

Even Communist Parties no longer speak about the peaceful road to socialism that was followed by the “people’s” government in Indonesia. When the bourgeoisie turned on its working-class and peasant “allies”, the massacre that ensued left up to a million worker and peasant militants dead and the third-largest Communist Party in the world (with 3 million members and 20 million in CP-led mass organisations) devastated. None of this would have happened had it not been for the fact that the Communist Party assured the masses that they could trust the armed forces and that to arm themselves would be a provocation.

Similarly, the Guatemalan CP assured the people in 1954 that the army could be trusted and that the masses should not arm themselves. Then, when the CIA-led invasion occurred, the army switched sides, the CP-supported reformist regime fell, and a military dictatorship took over.

Today, something very similar is happening in Chile, as the CP campaigns against arming the peasants and workers. Neither its policy nor the arguments used to justify it have changed. Some people never learn.

No ruling class in history has ever relinquished its rule without putting up a fight. The revolutionary forces have had to physically disarm the state apparatus and repressive forces of the ruling class they intended to replace. In light of the lessons of history, to advocate a peaceful road to socialism is the same as not advocating revolution.

Nevertheless, the Chilean Communist Party (not to mention the American and Soviet parties) deliberately promotes the illusion that a peaceful road to revolution is possible and that one is now being traveled in Chile.

Yet the Chilean capitalist state (its army, its police, its courts and its governmental bureaucracies) remains intact. To spread illusions that the ruling class can be removed without resorting to force to prevent such a removal is not only absurd but dangerous. The Chilean bourgeoisie did not create its army and its police in order to allow pieces of paper in a ballot box to abolish its wealth, privilege, and power.

That, however,does not prevent Chile from being held up by Communist Parties in other countries as a shining example. On April 28, 1971, the New York Times reported that the USSR Communist Party’s specialist on developing countries, Rostislav A Ulyanovsky, called on colonial and semi-colonial countries to follow Chile’s example

This has been the approach of the American Communist Party, too. In November 1970, CPUSA General Secretary Gus Hall called the Allende victory “a new revolutionary experience”.

An editorial in the December 1970 issue of the CP’s theoretical journal, Political Affairs terms the election of Allende a “transfer of power from the old ruling-class groups to the workers, to the peasantry and to the progressive sections of the middle class of the city and country”. It concludes that we should look forward to similar coalitions in the United States as well.

The notion that a ruling class can be defeated by placing enough pieces of paper into a ballot box is rejection of the Marxist view of the state and bourgeois society. Marxism holds that every state apparatus reflects the interests of the ruling class and that the state apparatus of the ruling class cannot be used to serve the needs of an oppressed class. In Chile and other capitalist societies, the working class must replace that apparatus with one of its own.


1. At the time this article was written the government had announced it was disbanding the Grupo Movil, but this was never done.

2. Le Monde, October 23, 1970

3. Political Affairs, December 1970, p70

4. New York Times, October 20, 1970

5. Ibid, November 4, I970

6. Ibid

7. New World Review, vol 39, no 1, p31

8. Ibid, p33

9. New York Times, October 4, 1970

10. The Militant, May 2, 1966

11. Luis Vitale, "Which Road for Chile?" International Socialist Review, Summer 1964, p67

12. New York Times, January 25, 1971

13. La Nacion (Buenos Aires), March 7, 1971

14. Programa de la Unidad Popular (Santiago: Liberia PLA, 1970, p22

15. Ibid, p23

16. Monthly Review, January 1971, pp10-11

17. Drapeau Rouge, (organ of the Belgian Communist Party), January 1, 1970

18. The Militant, May 2, 1966

19. Punto Final, March 16, 1971, p54

20. New York Times, March 12, 1971

21. Ibid, January 25, 1971

22. Ibid, February 7, 1971

23. Ibid, January 31, 1971

24. Ibid, October 28, 1970

25. Clarin (Buenos Aires), February 7, 1971

26. Political Affairs, December 1970, p 23

27. Ibid, p 30