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International Socialism, Autumn 1971


Juan McIver

Revolution Without the Revolution


From International Socialism, No.49, Autumn 1971, pp.31-32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Conversation with Allende
Regis Debray
NLB, £1.05

With this little book of trivialities, Regis Debray has tried to make a come-back as a revolutionary expert on Latin America. This time, however, his success has been and will remain far less than with his article The Long March in Latin America and his book Revolution in the Revolution.

The interviews with Allende date from the beginning of 1971, and thus are already considerably out of date. They nevertheless serve as an interesting guide to Allende’s mentality and Debray’s mendacity as a theoretician. Throughout the interview, Debray covers up for Allende and never asks the fundamental question of present-day Chile – what about the army?

Debray’s political past hinged on the concept of armed struggle by nuclei of declassed intellectuals in the jungles of Latin America; a concept which at least called explicitly for confrontation with the armies of the native ruling classes. According to Debray (and to the Cuban leadership which printed thousands of copies of Revolution in the Revolution?), armed struggle, and the final smashing of the army and the rest of the bourgeois state machine, were preconditions for socialism. All that has been thrown overboard by these two affable conversationalists. Here is one example of how Debray asks ‘leading’ questions, and then allows Allende to come out with flying colours:

Debray: Let us now discuss the current situation in Chile. With Frei, reformism ended, it failed. With you in government, the Chilean people has chosen the road of revolution, but what is revolution? It is the transfer of power from one class to another. Revolution is the destruction of the machinery of the bourgeois state and the replacement of it by another, and none of this has happened here. What is happening then?

Allende: Excuse me comrade, let’s deal with the question in stages. Indeed the people of Chile chose the road of revolution, and we have not forgotten a fundamental principle of Marxism: the class struggle. During the electoral campaign we said that the purpose of the struggle was to change the regime, the system. That we sought to form a government in order to obtain the power to carry out the revolutionary transformation which Chile needs, to break the nation’s economic, political, and Trade Union dependency. And you say nothing has happened here? What country do you think you’re in? But wait, look Regis. During the few months we’ve been in power we’ve ...

Debray: Done a lot of things.

Allende: Yes, we’ve done quite a lot ...

Debray continues the game a few pages later on (p.101):

Allende: Confrontation is already an everyday fact of life, Regis ... on all sides, in many different forms.

Debray: I was referring to a head-on decisive confrontation, a violent end to the current state of co-existence. A military uprising for example.

Allende: That will depend on them. If they start it, it will happen but in any case we will wait for them to start it. We are vigilant. But we. are not mechanistic ...

The truth about such ‘vigilance’ is that none of the near-20,000 electoral committees of Allende’s campaign are armed. The Chilean armed forces and police amount to 70,000 armed men. Besides, Allende’s own judicial functionaries and political police (in the Department of the Interior) are learning fast to cooperate and coordinate with the army intelligence in the hunting of opponents (not only bourgeois agents but also dissident urban guerrillas ideologically connected to the Movement of the Revolutionary Left – MIR – and to Maoism). Thus a formal and informal liaison has been established between the ‘left’ in government and the highly disciplined and murderous Chilean army. The army supports Allende because he has not reduced their budget and may favour increases for officers and ranks plus new purchases of weapons and replacement of old equipment. He has not armed and will not arm his popular following. Anything like armed factory committees or workers’ militia would enrage the army. Already guerilla training camps have been dissolved by the MIR because of pressure from Allende’s Popular Unity coalition. Allende has proved, up to now, to be the real candidate of law and order. He even boasts that his regime has successfully ‘incorporated’ the armed forces in the economic process (road building, etc.). A better strike-breaking force would be hard to imagine.

Besides throwing some unwittingly disgusting sidelights on Allende’s psychology (the man is a mason – who presumably agitates for his ‘socialism’ inside the masons’ lodges), the book clearly shows what Allende and Debray mean by socialism. Again let us allow the affable gentlemen to speak for themselves:

Debray: For me, since you are a socialist, and since I am aware of the long-standing if remote relations between the Socialist Party and Jugoslavia, this brings workers’ control to mind.

Allende: No, no. We have insisted on the participation of manual and white collar workers and technical personnel in the management of our enterprises, but this does not mean that these enterprises are going to enjoy independence as regards their production. We are and always shall be in favour of a centralised economy, and companies will have to conform to the Government’s production planning. To achieve this we shall maintain a continuous dialogue with the workers. But we are not going to hand over a company to workers just so that they can produce what they want, or let them turn the fact that they control a company which is of vital importance to their country, to their own personal advantage in order to demand higher earnings than other people. We are against any policy of such a nature.

Debray: So you are aiming at democratic planning along the lines of controlled planning (sic!) but with workers having a share in decisions.

Allende: Of course, otherwise it would be impossible to achieve the development we need. (p.111.)

When thousands of copper workers at the Chuquicamata mines struck for higher wages a few months ago, Allende defused the strike, aided by the CP-controlled Single Workers Union. In July, 10,000 coal-miners at the state-owned Lota-Schwager mine struck also, and Allende had to settle with them in the same manner, i.e. allowing some wage increases, and viciously slandering the striking workers at the same time.

The bock also serves to underline the obvious fact that in many under-developed countries the nationalist ideology of the petty bourgeoisie and technocracy cuts across the class struggle and the aspirations of the workers and peasants. It is by no means a transitional stage in the struggle of the masses, but rather a deliberate attempt by an alien strata to defuse the self-activity of the masses, who are caught between passivity and immensely militant outbursts. Of course, Debray would be the first to fire at the workers from the other side of the barricades, because he and all the architects of state capitalism can only rise to power at the expense of the self-activity of the masses. To speak under these conditions of ‘national liberation’ is in my view ludicrous because the only liberation we see is that of a nascent bureaucratic stratum which attempts to fuse civil society with the state machine.

Besides the natural limitations of a book like this, there is a very illuminating appendix (a MIR document written just after Allende’s election in September 1970) and informative explanatory notes.

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