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International Socialism, October-December 1972


J. Rios

Chile: The Time for Decision


From Survey, International Socialism (1st series), No.53, October-December 1972, pp.5-8.
Translated by Vic Richards.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


This article, written by a member of the Spanish Accion Communista organisation, was completed in July. Events since then including the dismissal of the left wing economics minister Vuskovic, have confirmed the right word trend of the Allende government and especially of it’s most right wing element, the Chilean Communist Party. The inevitable defeat of this latest ‘Popular Front’ is clearly at hand. The Chilean experience is of particular importance in view of the current policies of the French, Italian and British Communist Parties. The article was translated by Vic Richards.

Reform or revolution: these are the alternatives facing the left and the people. We know, after the experience of a year and a half, that in the political conditions of Chile today, reformism inevitably leads to fascism. The bourgeoisie has already chosen its road: the defeat of the Popular Unity government, repression against workers and the complete restoration of state power in the hands of the bosses and of imperialism.

It is up to the left, then, to decide. It is the workers who have to make their voice heard. Only they can put an end to fascism in Chile, as long as they have consciously taken up the Revolutionary Programme. Only this programme can stop Chile sliding backwards and save us from repression, to tap the enormous energy of the people, which is as yet idle, and to start the task of the seizure of power by the workers.

... the programme put forward by the Revolutionary Workers’ Front is not only the best programme, it is the only one which can guarantee to workers that their progress for the seizure of power will not stop, but on the contrary, that it will continue until final victory.
(from a speech by Miguel Enriquez, the MIR’s General Secretary, to the Schwager Industries branch of the miner’s union, 22 April 1972).

Events over the last year show that the class struggle in Chile has gone way beyond the limits of bourgeois legality. This confronts Allende’s Popular Unity Government with two irreconcilable alternatives. The first is to encourage and help in the mobilisation of workers and peasants, which leads inexorably to the overthrow of capitalism. The second alternative is to halt the struggle in order to ‘consolidate what has already been conquered.’ In order to do this, it is necessary to try to arrive at an understanding with the ‘patriotic’ opposition parties (meaning the Christian Democrats) in order ‘to avoid a bloodbath in this country, as responsible men.’

The victory of the Popular Unity coalition seemed to show that the cherished dreams of the reformist left could come true; it seemed that it was possible to start to built socialism by the "Parliamentary Road". In the year that has gone by since Allendes electoral victory, however, it has been amply demonstrated that it was only the Presidency of Chile that was obtained through the ballot box. In other words, a minute part of the bourgeois state and no more. On the other hand, the Chilean bourgeoisie controls all the essential levers of power. Amongst others, Parliament, the Judiciary, with its tribunals and prisons; a major part of the civil service and public service, manned and administered by Christian Democrats; the police and the armed forces, whose officers are still undergoing training in anti-guerrilla camps in Panama and the US. On top of this, the bourgeoisie still retains much of its economic power. And even though the government has nationalised many firms in banking, industry, mining and agriculture, changes such as these become irreversible only when the working class actually controls and exercises political power. Finally, the bourgeoisie is in control of almost all the press, radio and television, which constitutes a powerful machine for propaganda and for penetrating the masses ideologically.

Nevertheless, courageous and far-sighted use. of that fraction of state power which the Popular Unity parties did control could have brought into being extremely favourable conditions, in which to mobilize the working masses, in a fight to implement the government’s basic programme (nationalizations, Agrarian Reform, the Popular Assembly, etc.). This would have set a process into motion which, without a shadow of doubt, could have taken on a revolutionary character and led to a fight for state power by the working class and peasantry.

In its first few months, the Popular Unity government was surrounded by just such an atmosphere of enthusiasm and self-activity by the masses. The textile workers were demanding the immediate nationalization of their industry under workers’ control, as the answer to their bosses’ sabotage. Poor peasants and small Mapuche farmers were themselves expropriating the big landowners. They went on to demand that the maximum amount of land allowed for individual holdings be reduced from 200 to 100 acres, as the landowners were keeping the best land of their former properties, with all stock and equipment. Slum-dwellers went on the offensive against the private monopoly in housebuilding, demanding that it be nationalised under workers’ control. In short, for months on end Chile was in the grip of a revolutionary ferment, strong enough to force the bourgeoisie and imperialism to tread with great care.

The Popular Unity government did not respond. The government enveloped all its measures in a falsely ‘patriotic’ and populist propaganda, and so obscured the class interests of workers, when they should have been made clear. This was shown in the nationalization of the copper mining industry, a measure demanded and praised by reformists of all hues and colours. The expropriation was presented to the country as Chile’s coming of age; the actual cliché was: ‘Chile puts on its first pair of long trousers’. In the same way, the expropriation of industrial concerns was approached as a ‘technical’ problem. In this way the whole issue was removed from the control of workers’ assemblies and left in the hands of ‘specialists’. In agriculture the government adhered to the framework laid down in the Agrarian Reform Act, which was put on the statue book by the Christian Democrats during Frei’s government. No attention was paid to the demands raised by peasants in their actions.

In all cases where the class struggle has reached a stage that takes it beyond the sphere of the reformists lawful ‘good manners’, the government has intervened, not in order to strengthen the hand of workers in struggle, but to "arbitrate", to search for a compromise. This has inevitably involved concessions to the exploiters. What lies behind these interventions is the reactionary reasoning of the Social Democrats and Stalinists: to go beyond what is laid out in the government’s programme is, ‘objectively, to play into the hands of the counter-revolution’. In other words, when in Chile workers go on the offensive against private ownership of the means of production, they are acting, not in their own interests, but in those of the reactionaries. The worst is that there are still many who fall for such absurdities. An atmosphere has been created, where major sections of the working class and peasantry are becoming demoralized. Their revolutionary enthusiasm is being strangled, bit by bit, by bureaucratic malpractices and by Parliamentary cretinism. In this climate, the reactionaries have taken advantage of Popular Unity vacillations in order to strengthen their own position. They are going into the class war with a strategy and tactics well suited to this crucial moment in Chile’s political life. In the course of 1971, the opposition parties came together into a solid block, around the Christian Democrats. Under the leadership of ex-President Frei they have been harassing the government continuously, on all fronts. They score one victory after another in three extraordinary elections to Parliament, they won the election for the Rectorship of the University of Santiago. Together with the frequent street demonstrations – which enables the fascist group ‘Fatherland and Liberty’ to deploy its squads with great effectiveness – this indicates the power and ruthlessness with which the opposition intends to torpedo the ‘Chilean experience’. On the Parliamentary front, the reactionaries are in complete control, leaving room for the Popular Unity parties to manoeuvre only on minor issues. This control will become complete when the Constitutional amendment sponsored by the Christian Democrats is passed, forbidding the President to nationalize any firm without previous Parliamentary assent. This is the only really major power that Chilean Presidents could wield independently. US imperialism in turn is playing its part, tightening the economic noose around the Popular Unity government’s neck. It is forcing Chile to take harsh measures to repay its foreign debt, of about £1,750 million. While the doors of reform are being closed one by one, the Popular Unity parties continue nevertheless to proclaim their obedience to the law.

The first half of 1972 witnessed an unequivocal and abrupt change of direction in Chilean politics. Major advances by the right wing, described above, caused grave disquiet amongst Popular Unity supporters. This led Allende to call the population of Santiago to a mass rally, intended as the answer to reaction. 500,000 people congregated at the end of April, to express their support for the government and their wish to counter the reactionaries, blow for blow. For a fleeting moment, it seemed as though the Popular Unity government had acquired a degree of lucidity. Faced with workers’ unanimous determination to avoid a disaster like those in Brazil and Bolivia, it seemed as if the Popular Unity’s ritual acts of self-criticism might lead to some changes. But the political blindness of Social Democracy and Stalinism was shown to be incurable; as incurable as its suspicion and fear of independent action by the masses. Only three weeks after the rally, a left-wing demonstration was called in the town of Concepcion, a major agricultural and industrial centre in Southern Chile. The demonstration was intended to counter another demonstration called by the Christian Democrats for the same day, to take place in the city centre. Such events have been used by the fascists as a convenient front to obtain authorization to organize demonstrations legally. Although the anti-fascist demonstration had been called by the revolutionary MIR, together with all local Popular Unity parties – with the exception of the Communist Party and the API (Independent Popular Alliance) & it alone was banned. Thereupon the left decided to hold a rally in the University of Concepcion. Vladimir Chavez, the city mayor and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, withdrew his authorization for the fascists’ march at the last minute, but they took to the streets in small squads. When news of this reached the ten thousand workers and students assembled in the University, they immediately decided to march into the streets to defend the town. As soon as the antifascists reached the town centre, they were set upon by the Mobile Group of the Carabineros, with extreme brutality. This riot police was created by Frei, to break up street demonstrations (its disbanding was measure no.37 of the 40 First Measures of the Popular Government). The thugs of the established order killed a student and injured another 80 demonstrators; they did not touch the fascists. The future orientation of government policy were sketched in a document published in the CP’s daily paper, drawn up by a member of the Party’s Political Commission. It shows the ascendancy of the CP’s political line, of ‘winning over the middle classes’. In order to achieve this, it was thought necessary to come to an agreement with the Christian Democrats on government policy. The Christian Democrats would give their support in Parliament, and in return the Popular Unity government was to make a number of concessions. These included the sacking of the Economics Minister, Pedro Vuskovic, who had pledged himself to carry out the full Popular Unity programme of expropriating agricultural enterprises; and the freezing of the Agrarian Reform. ‘Law and Order’ was to be re-established, and an end to be put to the ‘armed groups of the ultra-left’, which task the Christian Democrats want to hand over to the army. Once the Christian Democrats had agreed to all this, it would no longer be necessary to replace Parliament by a Popular Assembly – the most important single measure contained in the Popular Unity programme was thus abandoned. In short, this sharp turn to the right means that the Popular Unity government has now abandoned the goals it set itself in its programme of ‘laying the foundations of workers’ power’. The proclaimed aim of ‘building socialism in Chile’ has been abandoned in practice, even if not in theory. The economic concessions were just as great. The number of enterprises to be nationalized was cut from 290 to 90, and may be cut further. All dispossessed capitalists were to receive compensation; it was even discussed whether the US mining companies whose subsidiaries had been taken over should receive money as well. The wage increases that had been promised were no longer to be granted, ‘to avoid inflation’. A new sector of the economy was to be created, to the satisfaction of the Christian Democrats, besides the mixed, private and (ever-decreasing) state sectors: ‘workers enterprises’, where the profits would be shared amongst the workers in each firm.

The stupor created by these events was increased when mayor Chavez, in his assessment of the responsibility for the events, justified the police atrocities, claiming that they had been necessary in order to stop groups of ‘provocateurs’ of the ‘ultra-left’. In turn, the government supported mayor Chavez. It censured and over-ruled the regional organizations of those Popular Unity parties (Socialists, Radicals, MAPU and Left Christians) who had supported the demonstration and then risen in indignation against the local authorities’ lies. A week later, events similar to those in Concepcion took place in Lautaro, in the province of Cautin. The governor of Cautin, a leading CP member, ordered the Carabineros to use ‘maximum force’ to break up a demonstration of peasants and Indian women which was marching to the local hospital to demand better medical attention, alleging that it was a MIR group which wanted to occupy the hospital in order to create yet another problem for the government. The result: six peasants were seriously wounded. Again, the government accepted – and itself repeated – the governor’s explanations, against protests by local Popular Unity organizations and provincial mass bodies. The use of repression and lies to cover up for the rightward trend of the government, and in particular of the Communist Party, has demoralized some sections of workers, leaving the field open to the reactionaries. Thus, the Christian Democrats made large gains in the elections to the CUT (the Chilean TUC); as a large part of the organized working class is affiliated to the CUT, this shows a narrowing of the social base upholding the Popular Unity coalition.

Allende called a three-week conference in June, to try and heal the internal rifts within the coalition, and to set the general outline of the policy to be followed by the government. The CP and the API were firmly on the right, the left being the majority of Allende’s Socialist Party, MAPU and the Left Christians.

Despite all this, the sharpening of the class struggle in Chile has enabled large sections of workers to see the difference between reformist and revolutionary politics in practice. This comparison has been to the advantage of the MIR, whose political line is finding an echo in ever-deeper layers of urban and rural workers. To a large extent, this is the reason for the venomous attacks on the ‘ultra-left’ by the Communists and the Social Democrats. In the last few months, the MIR has made considerable inroads into what were thought as reformist strongholds, closed to revolutionaries: the coalminers, the textile workers, etc. Together with other revolutionary tendencies, the MIR has a task ahead of it, which will require a major organizational, theoretical and practical effort. The time lost by the Popular Unity government will have to be regained, now that it has put the brakes on process of mobilization and growing class consciousness – set in motion in the heat of the expropriations of the government’s first few months in office. The MIR will have to fight to raise workers’ independent organization to ever-higher levels, in view of the task of seizure of power.

Big steps have been taken in this direction in the countryside, where Peasant Assemblies have been set up in the localities. A third of these were created from the bottom upwards; the MIR played a major role in setting them up, through the Revolutionary Peasants’ Movement. In industry, progress is more difficult and slower, because of the strength of reformism. Nevertheless, the total support which the MIR has given to workers in struggle has made it possible to win over important sections in those factories where the fight to dispossess the capitalists has gone furthest. The setting up of the Revolutionary Workers’ Front, uniting several revolutionary tendencies, shows that considerable gains have been made amongst the industrial working class. Events in Chile show today, in 1972, the correctness of the Marxist analysis, which shows that there is an irreconcilable conflict between the interests of the working class and those of the bourgeoisie. Whenever the class interests of the proletariat are subordinated to ‘patriotic’ or ‘democratic’ considerations, in order to ‘win over the middle classes’, or simply ‘to avoid a bloodbath in this country’, it is always the proletariat that loses, and the property owners the ones who win. The result is, invariably, to save the bourgeoisie from defeat at the hands of the working class. And once the bourgeoisie has won, it will not stop for ‘humanitarian’ considerations in reasserting its rule and avenging itself for the fear it felt. The failure of the Chilean reformist experience shows that the words of Marx were as relevant as ever:

‘But they (the workers) themselves must contribute more than anyone else to their final victory ... not letting themselves be misled ... “The permanent revolution!” that must be their war-cry.’

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