The Chilean Road to Socialism


CHAPTER 11

The Working Class: Principal Social Basis of Marxist Politics

For forty years the Communist and Socialist parties have championed the rights of the working people of Chile. Their constantly increasing strength over the decades has been tied to strong unionization and a growing class consciousness among workers in the mines and larger industries, and recently among farm workers and other strata of the working class. The force of organized and class-conscious workers with political parties to represent their interests has historically led to significant social reform, given substance to Chile's nearly unique democratic political culture, and finally resulted in a clear opening for the world's first socialist transformation through the ballot box.

James Petras demonstrates that Allende's 1970 election was due primarily to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Chilean workers support Allende and the Marxist parties behind him. Petras also counters theories that posit that well-paid, presumbly "bourgeoisified" workers will not support revolutionary politics. This issue will be taken up in greater depth in the last section of the book.

THE WORKING CLASS AND CHILEAN SOCIALISM

Reprinted with permission from New Politics VIII, Nº. 4, 1971, pp. 72-76. James Petras is Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Binghamton, a frequent visitor to Chile, and author of Politics and Social Forces in Chilean Development (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), as well as several articles on Chile.

JAMES PETRAS

For many years U.S. and Latin American sociologists circulated the notion that support for Marxist socialism was largely a product of the economic backwardness and "traditionalism" of Third World countries; that modern urban industrial cities served to "moderate" the outlook and behavior of the working class—especially the better paid industrial workers. Some sociologists who accepted this view began to speak of "integrated" sectors or classes (including urban industrial workers) and "marginal" classes. The notion of a "bourgeoisified" industrial proletarist even shaped the outlook of leftwing intellectuals who began to speak of a "labor aristocracy" and to look to the peasantry as the sole basis of hope for a revolutionary transformation. The idea that the working class could combine and act as a class in favor of a socialist society against capitalist exploitation and inequality seems to have eluded scores of U.S. investigators who claim to study the lower classes in Latin America. A careful analysis of the political behavior of the Chilean working class refutes the "integration" thesis.

From its formation in 1956, the Marxist Popular Action Front (FRAP) directed its political activity toward gaining the support of the working class. In 1958, the FRAP candidate, Salvador Allende, lost by a margin of 35,000 votes out of a total of 1.3 million. In the 1964 elections, in a virtual two way race, Allende gathered 39% of the vote (about 45% of the male vote). In 1970, Allende, the candidate of the Marxist-led Popular Unity, won the election with 36.2% of the vote. The major base of support for this was the industrial proletariat located in the modern urban-industrial centers.

As Table I indicates, in 1964 FRAP obtained the support of the municipalities (comunas) which had the highest concentration of industrial workers. The higher the proportion of industrial workers, the higher the ratio of votes in favor of Allende. Obviously, the experience with a Christian Democratic government did not change the workers' political loyalty; on the contrary, the voting ratio of Allende to Alessandri, and Allende to Tomic, seems to have increased. The Presidential voting results suggest that the Christian Democratic "reform" government completely failed to win over the working class, as many of its supporters both in Chile and in the U.S. had hoped. The industrial workers chose to maintain their loyalty to the Marxist candidate and to reject the Christian Democratic alternative.

The Christian Democrats, proponents of a "third way" between socialism and capitalism, found little support among the class conscious Chilean working class for their program. No doubt the links between the Christian Democrats and U.S. and Chilean businessmen weakened their ability to pass social legislation and economic reforms which would have redistributed income and increased the participation of the working class in the industrial system. This suggests that the ability of the Unidad Popular to maintain itself in political power will depend on its capacity to meet the demands of the industrial working class for radical anti-capitalist changes in the urban industrial centers.

TABLE I
Relative Indices of Votes between Allende and Frei (1964), Allende and Alessandri (1970),
Allende and Tomic (1970). Masculine votes in nine of the most important cities and towns of Chile.

(Percentages)

% of the Labor Force in manufacturing, mining& construction

 

City or Town

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Frei (1964)

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Aless. (1970)

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Tomic (1970)

Under 30

20

Temuco

51

80+

78

129

108

154

25

Chillán

113

175

225

28

Valparaíso

75

135

129

30-35

30

Viña del Mar

71

100

100

151

130

182

30

Talca

112

193

194

30

Antofagasta

116

159

222

36-40

36

Valdivia

122

117

173

208

247

204

39

Concepción

95

153

170

30

Talcahuano

134

299

196

The non-working class municipalities continued to give their support to the Right (Alessandri) and to the Christian Democrats (see Table II). This suggests that the political support of the non-Marxist parties (Radicals, APT, Social Democrats and MAPU) were largely irrelevant in determining the size of the vote for Allende in the urban centers. Nota a pie The size of Allende's vote in the urban industrial centers was largely the result of the traditional voting behavior of the industrial proletariat. Thus the non-Marxist parties are probably over-represented in the seats of government, in relationship to their contribution to the victory of Allende. Political agreements with the non-Marxist parties, while they may serve to bolster the image of a "multi-party government," could work against a coherent and profound reform program that could sustain the popular support of the Government. The imbalance between the homogeneous social base of the Allende victory (largely industrial working class socialists and communists) and the politically heterogeneous character of the party leadership could cause serious problems— depending on the constituency which Allende chooses to serve.

TABLE II
Relative Indices of Votes between Allende and Frei (1964), Allende and Alessandri (1970), Allende and Tomic (1970). Masculine Votes in the Comunas (Municipalities) of Gran Santiago Classified by the Relative Size of its Working Class.
(Percentages)

% of the Labor Force in manufacturing, mining& construction

 

Comuna or Municipality

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Frei (1964)

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Aless. (1970)

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Tomic (1970)

Less than 20

9

Calera de Tango

68

71

100

80

70

105

 

9

Lampa

89

112

117

 

13

Providencia

29

31

82

 

16

Quilicura

72

108

152

 

19

Las Condes

42

47

103

20-29

27

Ñuñoa

59

59

86

86

142

142

30-39

31

Santiago

67

80

94

134

143

162

 

32

San Bernardo

92

146

155

 

35

La Florida

65

108

161

 

36

Maipú

85

153

171

 

39

Conchalí

92

168

180

40-49

43

Puente Alto

104

103

166

188

252

203

 

45

La Cisterna

90

164

188

 

46

Quinta Normal

96

168

191

 

46

Renca

104

193

179

 

46

Barrancas

122

250

205

50 or more

51

San Miguel

114

121.5

208

235

238

258

 

52

La Granja

129

261

277

The second major basis of support for the Left was the mining sector, consistent supporters of Marxist political parties for several decades. Even among the highest paid sectors of the industrial proletariat (copper workers), Allende received over 2½ times the vote of Alessandri. And in the ultra-modern, technologically advanced Chuquicamata mine, Allende received 106 votes for every 100 votes for Alessandri. The notion of a "workers' aristocracy" hardly serves to explain the behavior of this highly paid sector of the labor force—which may have voted for the nationalization of the mines knowing full well that it might not improve its standard of living but serve Chilean economic development.

As Table III suggests, the mining workers, expressing a high degree of class solidarity, rejected the non-socialist alternatives and voted in overwhelming numbers for the socialist Allende. The political implications are clear: a social basis for an extensive program of nationalization of mines clearly exists in the sectors of the labor force most intimately involved. If Allende fails to carry out his program of nationalization, it cannot be blamed on the lack of political support.

The third major support for Allende's victory was urban working class women. Most observers have mistakenly generalized about the conservative voting behavior of Chilean women without taking account of the class differences among women. If we take all the municipalities in Greater Santiago which contain 40% or more industrial workers (see Table IV), we find that Allende received 119 women's votes for every 100 for Alessandri and 147 for every 100 for Tomic.

TABLE III
Relative Indices of Vote between Allende and Alessandri and Allende and Tomic (1970).
Masculine Votes in the Mining Centers.
(Percentages)

Copper Mining Zones

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Alessandri

Average

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Tomic

Average

Chuquicamata

106

265

301

303

Potrerillos

232

225

Sewell

406

307

El Salvador

319

381

Nitrate Mining Zones

Iquique

194

325

258

337

Pozo Almonte

300

289

Lagunas

130

173

Toco

412

541

Pedro de Valdivia

591

426

Coal Mining Zone

Coronel

640

794

448

571

Lota

916

658

Curanilahue

827

608

If we consider the only two municipalities in the capital city of Santiago with an absolute majority of industrial workers (San Miguel and Granja), Allende received 130 women's votes for every 100 for Alessandri and 203 for every 100 for Tomic.

It appears that when modern industrial capitalist economic and social relations penetrate the Chilean household and when strong working class organizations emerge, they have the effect of breaking down the traditionalist beliefs of women, making them receptive to radical political movements. The social concentration of class conscious workers, in particular neighborhoods, appears to create a radical political culture which destroys the traditional paternalistic values that have customarily influenced women voters. In other social contexts, the lower proportion of women voting for the left is probably due to the fact that the women's vote is disproportionately influenced by such non-class factors as the mass media.

TABLE IV
Relative Indices of Votes between Allende and Alessandri and Allende and Tomic (1970).
Female Votes in Seven Working Class Municipalities (Comunas) in Greater Santiago.
(Percentages)

% of Labor Force in Manufacturing, Mining & Construction

Municipalities (Comunas)

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Alessandri

Nr. of Allende votes for each 100 votes for Tomic

40 or more

Puente Alto

119

147

LaCisterna

Quinta Normal

Renca

Barranca

San Miguel

La Granja

50 or more

San Miguel

130

203

La Granja

From a theoretical viewpoint, the social situation of work in a dependent capitalist society, the experiences that the workers acquire there, the conflicts engendered and the manner of resolving them are the central determinants of the working class vote.

The massive support of the Socialist and Communist Parties resides in the working class and this provides, above all when they are politically allied, a cohesive and strategically situated social base that can be mobilized for social and political struggles and change. The Christian Democrats were not able to overcome the immobilism of the social situation in large part because its base was (and is) constituted by a heterogeneous mass of individuals with contradictory values and interests.

The radicalization of the industrial working class in Chile is largely the result of the failure of Chilean and U.S. capital to generate dynamic development. At the same time the radicalized workers, through their social struggles and political power, have provided the Marxist parties with an opportunity to develop Chilean society through socialist policies and institutions. The next few months or years will reveal whether the political leadership of the Chilean left is up to meeting its historical responsibility.


Notes:

1. In rural Chile, MAPU played a very important role in mobilizing peasant support for Allende.


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