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International Socialist Review, Summer 1964


Luis Vitale

Which Road for Chile?


From International Socialist Review, Vol.24 No.3, Summer 1964, pp.67-73.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


LUIS VITALE, a leader of the Partido Obrero Revolutionario (Trotskyist), wrote this article under difficult circumstances. He was ordered confined for 541 days to Curepto, a town of 2,000 inhabitants in the south of Chile, after conviction by a bourgeois court for his role in leading militant actions in defense of the Cuban revolution. Vitale played an active role, as a national leader of the Central Unica de Trabajadores (Workers General Union), in these struggles. He writes, that due to the precarious conditions under which he lives in this small town, he was unable to make use of sources of information which he would have liked to make available to the reader.

* * *

IN RECENT months the world press and particularly the United States press has paid special attention to the political situation in Chile. This unusual interest stems from the fact that Chile, hitherto considered of little importance in world affairs, may possibly be transformed into Latin America’s second Cuba, right here in the “backyard of Yankee imperialism.” On March 15 of this year, Oscar Naranjo, a Socialist Party candidate, was elected to a seat in the national assembly in a special election held in the small rural province of Curico. Since that time an acute interest has been evident in the probable “Castroite” future of this long, thin strip of land on the shores of the South Pacific Ocean.

Naranjo received 9,529 votes against 7,889 for Ramirez (Right Wing) and 6,600 for Fuenzalida (Christian Democrat). More significant, however, was the shift in percentages since 1963. The Frente de Accion Popular (FRAP, Popular Action Front, a coalition of the Communist Party, Socialist Party and Democratic Party, whose candidate in the presidential election this November is Salvador Allende), which in 1963 obtained 29 percent of the vote, went up to 40 percent. The Democratic Front (Conservative Party, Liberal Party and Radical Party), went down from 48 percent to 32 percent, and the Christian Democrats’ share went up from 22 percent to 28 percent.

Should the FRAP, this September, face the same political alignment it met at Curico, its victory in the national elections would be assured. A sweeping FRAP victory at the polls would in turn imply that, for the first time, Communists and Socialists may come to power through “the peaceful electoral road” advocated by the Khrushchevites. Therefore the Naranjo election has caused a political crisis which has tended to unite and regroup the bourgeois forces.

Before drawing any conclusions about the future course of Chile’s political evolution we must investigate the matter more thoroughly. First of all we shall take note of the overall situation in Chile and analyze the socio-economic forces underlying the present political crisis which has been such a headache for the Yankee State Department and its junior partner, the Chilean bourgeoisie.

What Is Chile?

Chile, with 8 million inhabitants, is a semi-colonial country – not “underdeveloped” as it is hypocritically characterized by modern bourgeois economists. It is semi-colonial because:

  1. The main wealth, copper, which represents 70 percent of exports and accounts for 60 percent of the income from exports, is in imperialist hands. Three North American companies control copper production: Braden Copper Company, Anaconda Copper Mining and Kennecott Copper Corporation. These companies made an initial investment of $3.5 million and have taken more than $3 billion out of Chile since they came to the country. On the other hand, other sectors of the Chilean economy, such as steel, nitrate, iron, the Electric Company, the Telephone Company, etc., are controlled by North American finance capital which displaced English imperialist investments during the 1930’s. Chile, an English semi-colony until the world crisis of 1929, has been converted into a Yankee semicolony.
  2. Chile must pay the imperialists, on interest and amortization for capital loans, an annual amount larger than their investments. From 1944 to 1956, Chile received $800 million in investments and had to pay back to the USA $1 billion in interest on loans and remittances from utilities.
  3. The price of copper depends on the fluctuations of a world market controlled by imperialism. The Yankee companies which operate in Chile have no interest in obtaining higher prices for copper since they are subsidiaries of other enterprises which use this product in the manufacture of various commodities. They are the kind of combined industries analyzed by Lenin in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism. These combined enterprises establish low prices for raw materials which are extracted by their own subsidiaries; at the same time, with this low price they avoid paying higher taxes to the Chilean Government for the right to export. For the last decade, the price of copper has remained stationary while that of imported articles has risen more than 500 percent. This unfavorable change in the relationship of prices has meant a $9 billion loss to Chile in the last 30 years, an amount equal to that promised by the Alliance for Progress to all of Latin America for 5 years.
  4. This economic colonial relation is reflected in the political sphere by a military pact with the USA and membership in the OAS (Organization of American States), both of which impose conditions on Chile which infringe upon its sovereignty. All this has created strong anti-imperialist sentiment among broad layers of the population.

Retarded Development

Chile is a country of retarded capitalist development, subject to the laws of combined and uneven development which Leon Trotsky applied in characterizing colonial countries. Since independence from Spain in 1818, the ruling classes have been incapable of realizing the democratic-bourgeois revolution which the advanced capitalist nations accomplished during the nineteenth century.

One percent of the landowners hold over 2,000 hectares, or 70 percent of the entire area under cultivation. Meanwhile, 75 percent of the small proprietors have no more than 5 hectares. Along with latifundia, Chile has the grave problem of mini-fundia, small parcels that cannot provide the necessities for a family. On the other hand, twelve big industrial, financial, and commercial corporations monopolize the majority of the national enterprises. During the last few years the workers’ share of national income has fallen while that of the employers has risen to more than 62 percent. Runaway inflation cut deeply into the purchasing power of wages under the governments of Ibanez and Alessandri.

The median daily wage of a Chilean worker is 75 cents and the daily earnings of a farmer, 30 cents. Poverty and malnutrition is widespread. According to statistics of the National Health Service, the daily Chilean diet falls short of normal requirements by the following amounts: milk, 32 percent; meat, 35 percent; eggs, 62 percent, and green vegetables, 46 percent. That is why Chile has such a shockingly high infant mortality rate and low life expectancy figure.


Infant Mortality
(per 1,000)

Average Life




United States






Dr. Mardonas, a Catholic doctor from the Manuel Arriaran Children’s Hospital, said that in 1960 “of 30,000 newborn infants, 20,000 had died of hunger before reaching one year of age.” “Died of hunger” – take note.

Government of Alessandri

The situation has been aggravated under the present pro-imperialist oligarchic government of Alessandri. His regime is supported by the Conservative, Liberal and Radical parties and fundamentally, by the industrial bourgeoisie (the so-called “national and progressive bourgeoisie,” about which we hear so much from the “official” communists). From the subjective outlook of the Chilean bourgeoisie, Alessandri was their best man and the failure of his government significes the bankruptcy of the capitalist system in the eyes of the masses. Prices were inflated by 45 percent in 1963 and by almost 25 percent in the first months of 1964, according to the conservative official figures. The government’s much vaunted “social welfare” program, its Housing Plan, is paralyzed with the resulting dismissal of many employes. Industrial and agricultural production is stagnating.

It must be pointed out that this crisis of the bourgeoisie takes place after two years of full cooperation with the “Alliance for Progress.” And note must be taken of the fact that Chile ranks as one of the countries which received the most benefits from the “Alliance” dollars. Agrarian reform, recommended by the “Alliance” and approved by the Chilean Parliament more than a year ago, is still snarled in red tape; and if it is carried out, it will benefit most the landowners who want to sell their uncultivated land. The Chilean ten-year plan, approved by the “alliance against socialism,” proposes a tiny increase in production, an annual growth which was not even accomplished in the first two years. The several million dollars earmarked for these approved plans have been used by the government mainly to help finance its budgetary deficit.

Role of Christian Democracy

The parties of the Right – Conservative (224,000 votes) and Liberal (260,000 votes) – along with the Radical Party (430,000 votes), a name that might fool the North American public, have formed a bloc called Frente Democratica (Democratic Front). The bloc decided in mid-1963 to run Julio Duran (Radical) as candidate for President of the Republic. But after the electoral defeat in Curico, mentioned above, they abandoned their front, thereby ushering in one of the most serious crises of bourgeois leadership in Chilean history. Duran resigned in order to bring about a regroupment of the bourgeois tendencies; but when he failed in his attempt he was again nominated by the Radicals in order to prevent the middle-class militants of his party from voting for Allende. The Conservative and Liberal parties, which have resisted naming Duran again, are seeking an agreement with the Christian Democratic candidate, Frei, with the object of overcoming the crisis of bourgeois leadership and preventing the victory of “Castroism.”

The Christian Democracy (CD) thus emerges as the party for the bourgeoisie to fall back upon. The CD, as with other similar parties in Latin America, has grown tremendously in the last ten years and has become the leading political party in Chile, with 455,000 votes, or 23 percent of the total, in the municipal elections of April 1963. It controls the student movement and the cooperative movement. It has influence, though not the predominant influence, in the unions. Its penetration is marked among salaried employes, professionals and technicians.

With the old bourgeois parties’ inability to cope with present-day social struggles, important industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors see the CD as the only possible political vehicle to save the capitalist structure. Since the Cuban revolution, large sectors of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie have understood that, in order to forestall the next proletarian revolution, certain social reforms must be undertaken; and they believe that the only party capable of carrying these out is the CD. These factors have determined the growth of the CD. To them must be added the erroneous policy of the Community Party (CP) and Socialist Party (SP), for in previous attempts to arrive at a popular front type of political agreement with the CD, they facilitated its penetration into the unions and mass organizations.

As I pointed out in Essence and Appearance of Christian Democracy [1] – a book which I think has served to clarify for workers the demagogy of the CD:

“The CD is a petty-bourgeois party which in action follows a bourgeois and pro-imperialist policy. It proposes a lukewarm agrarian reform which touches only public and uncultivated lands. Its program does not call for the nationalization of copper, the key question for Chile’s development, but on the contrary the CD has voted in favor of the ‘New Copper Treaty’ (1955) and the ‘Nitrate Referendum’ (1956) which meant a greater giveaway of the country’s riches to the imperialists.

“The CD also does not propose the abolition of the Military Pact and other agreements which bind Chile to the United States. The CD is not a complete lackey of imperialism, that is an over-simplification; but it reflects the interests of the bourgeoisie of a semi-colonial country, at the present stage of capitalism incapable of freeing itself from foreign monopolies, able to play only the role of junior partner. In this sense, the CD only proposes better prices for raw materials, a steady market, and ample foreign credits and investments. That is why in a party congress the CD joyfully greeted the ‘Alliance for Progress’ in the following terms: ‘The Chilean CD receives with pleasure and inspired spirit the so-called Kennedy Plan, which in substance accepts the points of view which we have constantly expressed for the last fifteen years.’

“The CD, aided by the Vatican, which is tied to imperialism in a worldwide anti-communist alliance, is a new card that can be played by the capitalist ruling circles. It is a party that is not formally tarnished by the ruinous past of the traditional bourgeois parties; it offers ‘essentially’ all kinds of guarantees to foreign investors and to the local capitalists; and, at the same time, encourages illusions about ‘social peace.’ Due to its demagogic program, ‘apparently’ leftist, it has penetrated certain sectors of the working and middle class.”

Composition of Classes

THE GROWING state of misery, the experiences of the traditional parties, the growing world pressure of the masses and especially, the triumph of the Cuban revolution, have begun to increase the class consciousnesses of the Chilean workers. This is reflected in the aggressiveness of general and local strikes and political awakening in a leftward direction.

The proletariat, composed of almost a million workers, whose most important sectors are miners, textile workers, construction workers, metallurgical workers, railroad workers and food workers, is the key social grouping in the nation. Chile differs from other Latin American countries like Cuba, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru in which the campesinos (working farmers) are the most important social force – in some countries numbering over 60 percent of the population. In Chile, as in Argentina, the sector with the most specific weight is the proletariat, because the working population of the Chilean countryside does not exceed 27 percent. If the Chilean revolutionary process begins in the countryside, it must count upon the joint action and resolute participation of the proletariat in the mines and cities. This proletariat, which lives in poblaciones Callampos (mushroom settlements), is unionized and has joined together in a national labor confederation, the (CUT) Central Unica de Trabajadores (National Workers Center).

A process of relative industrialization which began in the 1940’s has brought a new influx of workers from the countryside who merged with the older generations that voted for the CP and SP twenty-five years ago. The new workers remained apolitical and without class struggle experience for a number of years. They voted for bourgeois candidates such as Carlos Ibanez in 1952. As a result of political apathy and difficult voter registration procedures, only 1.8 million persons were registered in 1958, among them only 25 percent of the proletariat. But this apolitical attitude and apparent indifference began to disappear in 1958 with the rise of the Allendist movement which gained wide support from workers of both the old and the new generations.

By 1964, the electoral relationship of forces has changed greatly. There are now 3 million voters registered and the newly registered are mainly workers and campesinos. That is the reason the bourgeoisie is fearful of the forthcoming elections.

On the other hand, the Chilean proletariat has had a wealth of experience in the class struggle from the beginning of the century, when Recabbaren founded the first union and political organizations, up to Clotario Blest’s founding of the CUT in 1953. General strikes, sit-ins, street battles, miners’ marches on the cities, during which workers’ blood flowed in more than one heroic action, mark the history of the Chilean working class. Along with that, the bitter experience of the Popular Front in 1938, in which workers’ parties practiced class collaboration with the bourgeois Radical Party, opened the eyes of the proletarian vanguard and makes open betrayal by the CP and SP more difficult.

The campesinos are composed of 200,000 small proprietors, 230,000 renters (working farmers who are caretakers of large estates and receive housing and a small plot of soil in return.) The rural proletariat (180,000) does not have the same specific weight as it does on the plantations of Central America, their concentration is low and unionization is slight.

Finally, there is the large native Indian population, mapuche, (250,000) which, because of racial solidarity and a traditional struggle to recover its ancient lands, is a force which plays an especially important role in the revolution of the countryside.

These rural forces began to stir after the Cuban revolution. They lost their political apathy and fear of the landlord when they voted for Allende in 1958. Since 1960 they have occupied estates and engaged in strikes, culminating in 1961 with the organization of the Congresso National Campesino (National Farmers Congress) which adopted the slogan “Land or Death.” These same campesinos gave Naranjo his victory in the recent Curico elections.

The salaried employees of commerce, industry, banks, etc. (150,000) and state employees (250,000) have begun a left turn and sharp struggles. Traditionally, the salaried employees have constituted the electoral clientele of the bourgeois parties, particularly the Radical Party. But now they are beginning to lean toward the CD and Allendismo.

The small artisans and shopkeepers, both in established shops and on the streets, which constitutes in semi-colonial countries a numerous group, are augmented daily by unemployed (who try petty commerce as a last resort). They are beginning to understand that the big commercial monopolies are exploiting them more and more. Five years ago they started to organize unions and conduct mass strikes.

Communist and Socialist Parties

The strongest working-class parties which have come out for the candidacy of Allende are the Communist Party (260,000 votes, 12 percent of the national electorate), with 4 Senators and 14 Deputies, and the Socialist Party (225,000 votes, 11 percent), with 5 Senators and eleven Deputies. Both have equal forces in the CUT and the unions. Press reports that the CP is much stronger than the SP are not based on fact.

The CP, founded by Recabarren in 1920, is proportionately the strongest CP in Latin America. It publishes a daily, El Siglo, and several magazines. It has important financial resources and a large number of professional activists. After having been the third party of Chile during the 1940s, with ministers in the government of Gonzalez Videla, its active membership fell because a measure enacted by the very president they had supported, put them “outside the law” in 1947. The party began to recover in 1955 and is today the third most important party.

The Chilean CP had a revolutionary orientation in the decade of the 1920s, but since that time it has pursued the same Stalinist line of class collaboration as the rest of the CPs. With the pretext of supporting the national “progressive” bourgeoisie, it has betrayed the revolutionary struggle of the workers, especially during the Popular Front which lasted from 1938 to 1947, during which the CP helped elect three bourgeois presidents of the Radical Party. Due to the attitude of the Radical Party and others, such as the Christian Democrats, rejecting collaboration with the CP in a new version of the Popular Front, the CP set out in 1956 to form FRAP with the Socialist Party and the National Democratic Party (the party of the middle bourgeoisie with about 100,000 votes).

The CP supports the Khrushchev line, especially the thesis that the transition from capitalism to socialism can be made through the “peaceful, electoral and parliamentary road.” This reformist orientation has caused a number of internal crises (1950, 1957, 1963) which, although minor, have caused militants to break with them, some joining the Trotskyists and others forming pro-Peking groups. The line of the CP toward the next election poses great risks for the working class since it puts confidence in the army and bourgeoisie, expecting them to peacefully relinquish power in case of Allende’s victory. It does not prepare the ranks for a defense of the victory, apparently ignoring the military coups which Yankee imperialism has promoted in Latin America in similar circumstances (Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, etc.) and refusing to take into account the historical reality that the bourgeoisie has never peacefully given up power, a reality which Fidel Castro pointed out to a delegation of CP leaders in 1962.

The Socialist Party, founded in 1934, actually has a “more leftist” position than other socialist parties of Latin America. It is not as well organized as the CP and has fewer publications. It has only one weekly paper, Izquierda, and one monthly magazine, Arauco. After having led one revolution in the decade of the 1930s which led to a “Socialist Republic” lasting only twelve days, it became more and more reformist; it even collaborated by providing ministers in various bourgeois governments, a capitulationist position which caused various splits within it.

Left-Wing Split

In 1957, the socialist groups united and a relatively strong party emerged which worked out a sharper anti-imperialist and anti-colonial position than the line of the CP. In that way, a left-wing current began to develop, influenced on some points by Trotskyists, pro-Cuban and pro-Peking elements. This still unorganized tendency demanded more aggressiveness in Allende’s campaign and conducted a fight at the last Socialist Party congress in February 1964; but it was defeated by the bureaucratic petty-bourgeois leadership. A crisis resulted which caused a substantial number of militants to leave the SP, the majority of whom joined with the Trotskyists of the Partido Obrera Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Workers Party), the pro-Peking Movimiento Revolucionario Comunista (Revolutionary Communist Movement), the group of Clotario Blest, and others, in founding a new revolutionary Marxist party. Within the SP, a strong group of left-wingers continues to fight, reflecting the revolutionary aspirations of the ranks.

The FRAP is an anti-imperialist movement. This front has the peculiarity of being composed mainly of two workers’ parties, which is different from what happened in other Latin American countries where the “nationalist” movements are in the hands of a section of the bourgeoisie. In 1955, two years after its founding, the FRAP was on the verge of taking power, but Allende lost the presidential election by only 40,000 votes.

A distinction must be made between the FRAP itself and Allendismo. The mass of the politically independent workers supporting Allende is much more militant and influential than the parties that compose the FRAP. Nevertheless, leadership remains in the hands of the FRAP. Thousands of independent Al-lendist committees have been formed in which the workers can express their revolutionary views. For the workers and campesinos, voting for Allende means voting against the imperialists and the national bourgeoisie; it means voting for socialism, for Cuba, for a new social system. Despite the fact that the CP and SP leadership maintain they do not intend to form a socialist government, the workers have taken seriously the anti-imperialist and anti-oligarchy promises of the Allendist program, which briefly are:

  1. nationalization of copper, nitrates, and iron;
  2. agrarian reform; expropriation of the large estates, turning the land over to the campesinos in conjunction with the collectivization of estates with a high capitalist investment;
  3. nationalization of credit, banks, foreign commerce, insurance companies, public utilities, telephones, electricity, food monopolies;
  4. planned economy;
  5. wage increases; an end to unemployment; eradiction of illiteracy; schools, hospitals, and housing construction for the people, through an urban reform program; the right to strike;
  6. trade relations with all the countries of the world, especially Cuba; disavowal of the Military Pact with the USA and other treaties that tie Chile to imperialism.

The workers seek to ensure the carrying out of this program through written “agreements” between their committees and Allende. These Allendist committees are not merely electoral units as in the past. The questions of domestic program, national and international policy, etc., are discussed in the committees. Even more important, measures are being undertaken to defend the victory if the vote for Allende at the ballot box is not recognized. Some campesino committees have resolved immediately to take over the large estates in the event of Allende’s election without waiting for bureaucratic procedures.

The bureaucratic leadership of the FRAP, the CP, SP and DP, has attempted to conduct the campaign along exclusively electoral lines. It does not mobilize the workers against the present rise in prices nor for urgently needed wage increases. With the object of attracting the middle bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy of the FRAP has minimized pro-Cuba propaganda. It talks of expropriating copper alone, instead of all foreign enterprises and adds that this nationalization will be gradual, that the constitution will be respected, as well as juridical procedures, etc., etc.

Revolutionary Marxist Strategy

THE revolutionary Marxist groups, the Trotskyists, the Revolutionary Marxist Vanguard, the pro-Peking groups and the groups that left the SP, have fused with the rank-and-file of the mass Allende Committees without seeking factional advantage; they bolster and encourage the radicalization now taking place among the Allendist workers and help prepare them for the necessary transition of the electoral process into a direct revolutionary mass struggle. The Trotskyists have distinguished themselves as the first to unmask the Christian Democrats as the main enemy. The revolutionary Marxists differentiate themselves from the FRAP bureaucracy by posing three main tasks:

  1. to convert the Allendist Committees into revolutionary committees of action for carrying out the promised program;
  2. to transform the rank and file Allendist Committees into a vanguard to conduct the struggle for immediate demands: against inflation, for increased wages, occupation of lands, and a campaign in support of socialist Cuba;
  3. to prepare politically and practically to counter the anticipated refusal of the bourgeoisie and the imperialists to relinquish power in the event of Allende’s victory.

This program of action which elicits a great response from the workers, enables the Marxists to root themselves in the mass movement. It prepares the groundwork for the creation of a strong revolutionary party through the fusion of the revolutionary Marxists with the dissident elements coming out of the CP-SP crisis and the politically unaffiliated militants in the Allendist Committees.

The Electoral Alternatives

The two candidates with real possibilities for winning on September 4, 1964, are Allende (FRAP) and Frei (CD), although at the time this article is written there are two other candidates: Duran (Radical) and Jorge Prat (pro-fascist). The right wing forces (Conservative and Liberal) will finally support Frei. Possible results of the elections are:

  1. In case of the victory of Allende by a plurality: The bourgeoisie and the imperialists may refuse to accede and will select the second candidate, Frei, in a “Plenary Congress.” (The constitution of Chile states that if the first candidate does not get 50.01 per cent of the votes, that is, an absolute majority, the “Plenary Congress” – a meeting of the senators and deputies – may select a president from those who received the most votes.) In that event, the Allendist masses will take to the streets to defend their electoral victory.
  2. If Allende obtains an absolute majority: The pro-imperialist forces may attempt a coup d’état which will be openly resisted by the workers. In the event a coup should fail, Allende could assume the presidency, probably on the basis of some deal with the bourgeois sections of the Radical Party, which will try to modify the anti-imperialist and anti-oligarchy program – a sellout that the masses will react against.
  3. The imperialists may try to organize a military coup against Allende if he is allowed to take office and begins to carry out his promised nationalizations; in which case, the workers will demand arms in order to combat the attempted coup.
  4. Finally, if Allende is defeated at the polls: The peaceful electoral road in Chile will be closed. The militants and rank-and-file workers of the CP and SP who feel that this election is the last bourgeois election will, along with the revolutionary Marxists, take the road to power “à la Cuba.”

In short, from whatever angle the electoral alternatives are analyzed, it leads to one conclusion: the existence of a pre-revolutionary situation. If the combination of electoral activity and organization and preparation of the struggle for workers’ power continues to march ahead, Chile can become the second Cuba of Latin America.

Curepto, Chile
April 23, 1964

* * *

The following two articles, from World Outlook, are published to provide supplementary information on the political crisis in Chile. Vitale’s contention that a pre-revolutionary situation exists is confirmed by the ferment affecting all political formations.

Chilean Marxists Form New Party

Political Crisis Splits Chilean CP


1. Available in Spanish only: Esencia y Apariencia de la Democracia Cristiana, Arancibia Hnos., Calle Coronel Alvarado 2602, Santiago, Chile.

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