A Lesson from Chile to Socialists

by Albert Weisbord

(From the magazine “La Parola del Popolo” November/December 1973)

IN CHILE everyone said their democracy was one of the most stable in the world. In Chile military takeovers had not occurred as in the neighboring countries of Peru, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Bolivia. In Chile there was no widespread fascist ideology such as had pervaded Argentine under Peron, or Brazil under Verga. In Chile there was no preponderance of Indian former slaves to bring to a frenzy the “conquistador” spirit of the Spanish rulers, but, on the contrary, Chile’s demographic composition was thoroughly European.

In recent times the chief political parties in Chile, as in Italy, have been the Christian-Democratic, the Socialist, and the stalinist, with some fringes of anarchists and guerillistas of the Jacobin Castro type.

The Christian-Democrats posed as democrats with principles of catholic love, charity, grace, humanity, and what not. They said they would never oppose the will of the majority expressed at the ballot box. They pretended to represent all the people, especially the middle class. They were modeled after the Italian Christian-Democrats.

The socialists, under Allende, stated they were Marxists and represented the working class. They wanted the end of capitalism and the introduction of socialism. Such a result could best be obtained by the peaceful use of the ballot box. The old “oligarchy” of large landed proprietors would have to be removed and the poor agricultural toilers given the land to have and to use in cooperative fashion. The international (U.S.) corporations in the extraction and other industries would be nationalized, but carefully, not violently, and with due compensation where necessary. On the other hand, native Chilean capitalists would be spared and no harassment of the petty-bourgeoise would take place.

In a “left” Socialist Party certain questions had inevitably to arise:

1. Would the ruling classes of Chile give up power without a violent struggle, or would they prevent democracy triumphing at the ballot box?

2. What would the Army do?

3. Are we going to wait before carrying out our program?

4. What will we do if a counter-revolutionary “putsch” is mounted to overthrow our socialist government?

5. What about the United States, would they allow a “left” regime, similar to that in Cuba, to attack U.S. property and then consolidate its power?

To this the “Marxist” Socialist Party of Chile had the following answers:

1. The political constitution of Chile is an exceptional one and allows us to take over peacefully. The ruling class does not have enough popular support to stage any revolution before the democratic elections can take place, and in these elections we will make sure that we have the support of wide layers of the population by forming a People’s Front with the Christian Democrats and with the stalinist communists who have shown they are really to the right of us from whom we have nothing to fear.

2. The Army has a thoroughly democratic tradition. The military, despite the fact that it was inspired by Prussian Junkers, surrounded by Franco friends, and technically trained in U. S. academics for counter-revolutionary struggles, etc., will not form a junta to overthrow us before the elections, and after that we will do our best to form our own counter-military and paramilitary forces. Besides, a good part of the army is with us and supports our democratic traditions.

3. We will not wait with our program but will immediately proceed as far and as fast as possible. We will make sure that the poor have received the benefit of the reforms we initiate so that they will support us to the death.

4. If a counter-revolution occurs, the democratic government will crush it with all the force it possesses. We are not for violence, but if the other side tries it, we’ll show them (echo of Willie Pieck in Germany, “Let the Nazis take power, we’ll show them!”). We are Marxists, not petty reformers; we are socialists, not liberals or right-wing social democrats. And is this not also the program of the Nenni Socialists in Italy?

5. As for the United States, it is much farther away from Chile than from Cuba. The U. S. did not officially attack Cuba and it will not dare to attack Chile.

Thus it was done. The People’s Front was organized. It won the democratic elections with the Socialist Party and Allende at the head. The economic and social reforms were begun, the U. S. international trusts were ousted and much property nationalized. The socialists were on the way to socialism with the blessing of Castro, who visited Chile in support.

And now all is smashed. The parties of the People’s Front are declared illegal and being hunted down like dogs. Thousands of socialists and popular front activists have been rounded up and murdered in the public stadium and elsewhere, a la Franco.

Allende, himself, has been murdered in cold blood. A brutal military “putsch,” carried out by a military junta in classic Latin American style and supported by all right wing capitalists and petty-bourgeois elements, many of them formerly in the Christian-Democratic Party, has been eminently successful. The counter-revolution has won.

Where did things go wrong? What was the basic error in socialist thinking?

Here we can not make the extended analysis that is necessary to explain the end of the socialist dreams in Chile. What is most important is that the following conclusions are verifiable enough:

1. If the workers take office peacefully they take over only symbols of power, not the real power itself. If the workers try to take power peacefully, they can not hold that power peacefully. If the workers take power through the ballot box, they are not prepared for the inevitable violent counter-revolution.

2. Only if the workers take power through revolution do they have a chance of beating and defeating the counter-revolution. Only if the workers take power through revolution do they purge themselves of their capitalist democratic illusions and become capable of holding power. Only if the workers take power through revolution can they hope to defeat the armed military forces representing the established capitalist state.

The events in Chile are casting their shadows above all in Italy. We say to those in the “centre-sinistra” front, those who have followed Saragat, Nenni, and Togliatti: attenzione! Chile shows you are only playing with words!

Albert Weisbord is a Marxist, the author of “The Conquest of Power.”