The Chilean Road to Socialism


New Social Forces: Peasants and Marginals

Two new types of political forces have emerged in Chile at the grass-roots level in recent years. One is a widespread movement in the countryside for unionization among farm workers and organized land seizures among peasants and Mapuche Indians. The other is a growing agitation among the poorest classes (or "marginal classes" in the sense of large numbers of people who are excluded from participating in the mainstream of society) and slum-settlement dwellers (not all of whom are poor) for housing and more control over the conditions of life that they are subjected to by Chile's underdeveloped capitalist structures. Neither the Allende government nor the parties of the Popular Unity have yet evolved a coherent strategy of how to relate the struggles and aspirations of campesinos and settlement dwellers to the building of a socialist Chile.

This chapter contains materials on peasant actions and on "marginal" peoples and settlements in urban areas. The leaflet reprinted was issued by a group of peasants in the South of Chile who seized a large, badly exploited farm from their landlord; the other article on rural actions is a description by a right-wing journalist of a land seizure by Mapuche Indians. These are included to try to portray the sense of rapid and dramatic movement that has characterized the countryside, especially in the South, in recent years. In contrast, "Political Significance of Neighborhood Committees in the Settlements of Santiago" is a highly sophisticated sociological and political analysis of social marginality, the stratification of settlement populations, and the implications of different styles of political penetration in relating to urban settlement populations. This article is included as a contribution toward the analysis of a problem of world-wide scope, as well as to provide an understanding of one of Chile's major problems of underdevelopment.


In February 1971, peasants at the fundo "Rucalán" seized the property and issued this leaflet,
reprinted in Punto Final Nº. 124, February 16, 1971.

The Workers of "Rucalán" to Public Opinion: The farm workers of the Arnoldo Ríos Camp at the Rucalán Farm, in view of the declarations made by Juan Landeretche and Manuel Valdés, inform:

1. That Landeretche did not acquire the farm with "his own sweat," as he declares, but by marrying the daughter of Manuel Maffiel, who, in addition to Rucalan, owns three other farms.

2. We took over the farm because it was abandoned and unworked while we starved on half a hectare for one family. We took over the farm at night with only a few sticks and a shotgun with no cartridges. It is not surprising that Sr. Landeretche in his fright mistook the sticks for machine guns, but it is odd, because he has a great knowledge of weapons and their makes. In the poverty that we suffer, we don't have enough to eat; where are we going to get money to buy the weapons that Landeretche imagined he saw?

3. We arrived at the farm and spoke to Landeretche and his sons. This was about 3:00 a.m. We told them they could leave in the morning and take with them whatever they wanted. He left at about 7:00 A.M. carrying all he could, saying he would come back later for the rest, but he didn't. At no time did we enter the boss's house, nor did we cause the damage of which we are accused. To this fact we have as witnesses the authorities that visited us during the take-over of the farm. Anybody can come and see for himself that the house has not been occupied since December 20. Since the arrival of the intervenor, Sr. Moritz Milies, we have been sleeping in the barns and warehouses despite the cold and dampness.

4. Landeretche says that his farm was well exploited. There were only two hundred cows here, belonging to the Esperanza farm, which he owns, in Puerto Saavedra. These are part of his breeding stock. Of these, only three have been milked since the beginning of December. The milk parlor of which he talks so much consists of six 30-liter tins, which are thrown in a shed somewhere. All the crops sown consist of forty hectares of wheat, twenty-five of rape, and three of grassland. The rest of the farm, 737 hectares, is very well planted with thorn and blackberry tangles, weeds, and thistle.

5. We, as workers, are clean people. Now we have had to work to get rid of the garbage accumulated in the warehouses, barns, yards, and other parts of the buildings. We have never seen so much filth, and we are ashamed to admit it.

6. The other "gentlemen" farmers say that Landeretche had no social conflicts with his workers. The truth is that the three workers whom he had on a permanent basis plus the tractor driver and the supervisor have joined us. The tractor driver is with us because, even after twenty-five years work, he still lives in a flea pit that cannot be called a house, together with his wife and eight children. He had to work thirteen to fourteen hours a day and was never given a vacation. His Social Security was not up to date, and Landeretche never paid him the legal benefits to which he was entitled. He received a wage of Eº 300.-per month. Landeretche had given him a cow for his insurance, but when he left he took the cow with him. He also took an ax from another worker. After retaking the farm with guns and the help of other mummies, he fired the tractor driver.

7. This gentleman says that he had no problems with his neighbors. He forgets that the Mapuche compañeros of the Huentemil Reservation had their land stolen from them. We are going to give it back as soon as the farm is expropriated.

8. Let the mummy Landeretche know, and all his friends, too, that we are going to show him how to work the land, together with intervenor Milies. We are going to make the farm produce, because it has always been the workers who, through the sweat of our brows, have made them rich. This exploitation is finished. We do not want any more injustice and we do not want to go on being treated like beasts. We are going to construct socialism even if everybody is against us. We will back up the government fully, as long as it defends us and is with the poor.

The Revolutionary Peasants' Movement.

 From the conservative magazine Portada, February 18, 1971.

From the hilltop with war cries, raising their spears toward the skies while the sound of sinister musical instruments rends the air, half a hundred angry Mapuches appear and descend in a threatening manner. Their faces and actions resurrect centuries as they prepare themselves again to open new pages in the hard history of their race.

We arrived at a modest 160-hectare farm near Quepe, occupied by the Mapuches a few days previously. We were accompanied by the owner of this land, a young widow with four children under ten years old. Naturally, neither the Intendant of the province nor the police, thirty kilometers away, had lifted a finger to help her.

Crossing the trenches dug in the road as obstacles, we stopped before a stockade behind which were waiting, with tlneatening faces and weapons, the present occupiers of the farm. After lengthy conversation, and with a spear held a few centimeters from the stomach, we were allowed to enter the premises. The Mapuches were eager to explain their attitude.

"I was born under those trees over there, because that's where my mother had her hut," an old woman said. "That is why this land is mine," she argued, laying claim to a piece of land lost more than sixty years ago. (The owner of the farm showed us the titles and deeds to the farm bought in a public auction by her father-in-law in 1905.)

This small farm, carefully worked and producing sugar beets, rape, wheat, and milk was taken over on December 30, 1970. "Why didn't you obey President Allende, who asked you to stop this land grabbing" I asked them. Another old woman—matriarchy is evident among the Mapuches—ignoring the vociferousness of the men, replied, "They are in agreement with the take-over, because approval was granted."

While we were talking outside the property, workers of the farm and friends of the owner stood by armed with cudgels and pruning hooks, waiting for a chance to move in and retake the property.


There were a total of fifty-two land occupations before December 20, a solemn date on which the President of the Republic visited Temuco and attended a meeting of the Congress of Mapuches. While guaranteeing that the occupiers would not be expelled by public forces, he asked the Mapuches not to continue taking over farms. The word of the day is "No more land grabs."

From December 20 to January 3, there were eighteen land occupations and boundary incidents, all carried out under the guarantees and protected against the eventual reaction of the dispossessed.

There is impunity for those involved, even when thefts, kidnappings, fistfights, threats, and shootings are involved. All these crimes go unpunished, and the guilty are immune even from the courts, whose enforcement arm, the police, has strict orders not to interfere in any way and not to carry out judicial orders of arrest or the return of the property to the legal owner.

On the other hand, the government has rigorously enforced the Law of Internal Security against those owners, now classified as seditious, who, deprived of their land by force and denied the help of the authorities, also recover by force their land and homes.

Cautín is a frontier zone populated by men of drive and effort, accustomed to difficult situations, hostile environments, loneliness, and isolation. They are sons and grandsons of the original pioneers who opened the land, crushed the Mapuche uprisings, and incorporated a vast territory into the national life and economy. Cautín and its men now live the tension of an encampment before battle, an encampment awaiting an unwanted war that cannot be avoided if their homes and lands are to be taken away from them and their families exposed to danger.

No one intervenes. The police limit themselves to taking note of an aggression and reporting the fact to the Intendant. The Intendant, in turn, reports to the Minister of the Interior. And the latter, while assuring everybody that nothing serious is happening in Cautín, does nothing to stop the newspaper he managed for many years from printing the allegations that it is the right wing that is agitating and stirring up sedition in Cautín as it resists the Mapuche rebellion, which is recovering lands "stolen" by the landowners, who have generally bought them at public auctions during the past sixty or seventy years.


In the majority of farms that have been occupied, especially in Lautaro and Carahue, the attitude of the Mapuche is belligerent and aggressive; they do not even claim hereditary rights over the land they have grabbed; they simply impose the fact of their occupation. "Land or Death" is the extremist slogan displayed on large placards implicitly demonstrating their Marxist affiliation.

In this area quasi-military camps exist. Armed guards, mounted groups, intensive indoctrination, and a bellicose exacerbation are driving forces not known until now among the Mapuche.

Not even the parliamentary commission was allowed to enter these occupied farms. They were forced to remain in one spot and were prohibited from seeing the damage to the houses and the open trenches dug for the sole purpose of resisting any type of intervention.

The Revolutionary Peasants' Movement, brainchild of the MAPU and MIR, [1] does not cease its agitation and preparation for the revolt of all the Mapuches. They have the backing of the INDAP [2] and university students and the passive connivance of the authorities.

"Last year they came to teach us to read and write," said one Mapuche. "They spoke to us about Cuba, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara." Of course the leaders deny that there are outsiders involved in land grabs.


At this moment the province of Cautín is the object of a pilot plan of the Popular Unity. From this has sprung the Mapuche uprising, the installation of Chonchol [3] as Minister of Agriculture, and the penal persecution of the landowners.

In no other province was the voting in favor of Allende so low or the sentiment against the intervention of Marxism so strong. Perhaps because of this, the strategists of the Marxist revolution have given the green light to the guerrilla and to the revolutionary way in this province.

Chonchol will expropriate, in conformity with the law, any farm larger than eighty hectares of basic irrigated area. MAPU-MIRista elements will take over the medium and small farms by inciting ancient resentments among the Mapuche. The peasants, caught between these two forces, will have to take the initiative and defend their properties, naturally at the margin of the law.

In a month's time, Cautín may be on fire with chaos, anarchy, and open fighting. And the government will impute it all to "rightist sedition."



Franz Vanderschueren is a political scientist at the Center for Urban and Regional Development (CIDU)
of the Catholic University. The article is from Revista Latinoamericana de Estudios Urbanos y Regionales I, Nº. 2, June 1971.

The great majority of Chilean political parties or groups concerned with community organization, particularly among the popular sectors, [4] claim that their organizational efforts aim at social and structural changes. At the rhetorical level, there is a certain agreement among some representatives of "popular promotion" [5] and left-wing movements and parties.

However, organizational attempts appear in some cases as efforts to control or neutralize popular pressure, whereas in others they are attempts at real liberation that lead to popular mobilization.

We are interested in analyzing one type of community organization: grass-roots organizations in marginal settlements, especially neighborhood committees. Because of their aims and success during recent years in Chile, grass-roots organizations are more important than other functional organizations.

We do not intend here to draw general conclusions about neighborhood committees, but to focus upon some aspects that we consider important for understanding the effects of the creation—or legalization—of grass-roots organizations in Chilean settlement areas. The study is based upon public-opinion polls carried out by the Center for Urban and Regional Development (CIDU) in 1969 in the Santiago area, and in Portes.

We are particularly interested in the political aspect of these effects. We go beyond the problems of the sociology of organization, because we think that it is more relevant to analyze settlements and their organizations in terms of class theory. There are fundamental questions raised by those who think seriously about structural changes: What is the real pressure that can arise from organized settlements? What are the obstacles, resulting from the impact of dominant culture through the political system, that hinder popular mobilization?

Popular mobilization implies fundamentally the cohesion of the dominated—in this case the settlers—around their true class interests, such that they see, through adequate praxis, the socioeconomic system as a source of exploitation. It is essentially a task of political education, the purpose of which is to make popular forces aware of their own power and to make them the basis of support for a power alternative in which the dominated of yesterday become the dominant.

To analyze concretely the effects of political penetration and to emphasize its mobilizing or demobilizing character, it is necessary to take two variables into account: first, the political intentions and manner of proceeding of the penetration agent. In our case the agents are the political system represented by the state (Christian Democratic government) and by left-wing political parties. The second variable to be considered is the subject of penetration: the settlers. The main factors that hinder cohesion must be pointed out. These factors, products of domination, generate the stratification that occupation and income standards reflect.

From these two central issues, the subjects of our work arise:

1. Analysis of the political meaning given by the state (Christian Democratic government) to the creation of the neighborhood committee. 2. Analysis of the policies of left-wing political parties, giving special emphasis to the position of the Communist Party, the only party of the official Left that has a defined policy and praxis. 3. Analysis of internal stratification in the settlements resulting from a system of domination and accentuated by marginality. 4. Analysis of the future possibilities offered by grass-roots organizations with respect to legislation, the relation among these organizations and trade unions, and the pattern suggested by the praxis of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR).


In order to understand the political significance given by Christian Democracy to neighborhood committees, it is necessary to understand the meaning the government and Christian Democratic congressmen gave to the creation—or legalization—of neighborhood committees and other functional government organizations.

The Neighborhood Committees Act was unanimously passed by the Congress; all parties were in mutual agreement to legislate on grass-roots organizations. [6] There was nevertheless clear disagreement over the ways in which these organizations were to be used. On one hand, the government wanted these organizations to be under the tutelage of a state organization, the National Council for Popular Promotion. On the other hand, the parties of the opposition, both right and left, conclusively rejected the creation of "popular promotion" and proposed that the grass-roots organizations be included within the municipal structure. In the end, the Act resulted in a compromise in which the National Council for Popular Promotion disappeared, leaving the state bureaucracy with the possibility of intervening in these organizations. In practice, the model of popular promotion was not completely abandoned by the Christian Democrats.

A. The Doctrine of Popular Promotion

Behind this disagreement on popular promotion there are ideological differences. On the government's side, the grass-roots-organization legislation corresponded to a certain theory of "marginality" propounded by DESAL. [7]

DESAL's concept of marginality leads directly to the creation of popular promotion "as overcoming marginality with the end of incorporation." Explaining the meaning of marginality, DESAL's director, Roger Vekemans, notes, "the term 'popular' refers exclusively to the 'marginal' sector of society, to that part of the population which is out of the mainstream, that does not belong—in the proper meaning of the word—to the global society." [8] Marginality implies only a formal belonging that "lacks its own content, which is the actualization of participation."

This lack of participation has two features. One is passive, that is, "Considering society as a source of resources and social benefits, participation becomes passive and receptive." There is lack of employment, education, social security, etc. This lack of participation is perfectly measurable in statistical terms. If it were only this, we would have a statistical continuum, without break. But there exists a qualitative rupture due to the lack of active participation and active contribution to decision making. The latter is the cause of the former. "When we talk of resources or benefits, we are relating them in one way or another to the human being who chooses to act in relation to them. The privileged moment of action is decision." [9]

The cause of non-active participation for DESAL lies in the lack of cohesion and solidarity and the predominance of the principle of "multiplicity over that of unification" in "marginal" sectors.

Radicality, globality, and emergence are the features of marginality.

Radicality means that people are affected by marginality to such degree that "on their own, abandoned to themselves, they are unable to accomplish anything." There may be an analogy, but not an identity, between the Latin American marginal person and the European proletarian whose function was limited to the production of his "progeny." The marginal person is a "settler." In his human existence, as in his social action, he is reduced to only one significance: "to settle, in the existential sense Heidegger gave the word 'Dasein.' " [10]

To overcome radicality there is "the necessity of a moving force that is not contained within the marginal group, but outside it." [11] The non-perception of this fact explains the failure of Latin American revolutions. It is Utopian to believe, according to Vekemans, that marginal people will follow the movement of the working class, even though this movement may be organized. Therefore the only entity that can organize these marginal people is the state, "rector of the General Welfare." The party, in the Marxist sense of the word, could not play this part, because it is not an external agency of the working class, but intrinsic to it.

The second feature of marginality is globality. Marginality is not circumscribed to only one of the aspects of human life and social behavior. It is more than questions of economic, political, or cultural aspects. It comprises all aspects in their whole. Thus, "globality of the problem demands globality in its treatment." Therefore, at the level of Executive power, this globality demands intersectoriality. Globality leads to the determination of two characteristics of popular promotion. First, it demands a total engagement on the part of the nation, up to its state summit, formed by the Executive. Second, the engagement must be global, and therefore intersectorial or interministerial. Hence the initial project of the government was to create popular promotion as a body covering all ministerial sectors, directly dependent upon the President of the Republic.

The feature of emergence has two main characteristics: "the deepness of the problem, which actually summarizes the features analyzed before, and its scope." [12] The deepness is essentially due to the genesis of marginality, that is, to the superimposition of two cultures: the Spanish/ Portuguese, and the native. Emergence demands priority treatment.

Functions of popular promotion important to this analysis are, internal integration by the organization of marginal people; participation in the form of collaboration between society and marginal people at a programmatic level (distribution of resources) and at an institutional level (creation of organisms that allow participation in decisions by marginals); and integration into the global society, which implies the reform of the various subsystems of society—judicial, educational, etc.

B. Political Function of the Doctrine

Without wishing now to criticize in detail DESAL's work, it is nevertheless worthwhile to emphasize some hypotheses that, in our opinion, invalidate this "theory."

The very concept of "marginality," whose essential feature is, according to DESAL, non-active participation, does not explain anything. In fact, the absence of decision-making power and powerlessness in the generation of values and norms in the global society is also a characteristic of the working class as a whole—and not only in Latin America—and of a certain sector of the lower-middle class. This lack of participation leads to the impossibility of operationalizing the concept of marginality, except when it is reduced—which DESAL does in practice—to ecological "marginalization" (absence of participation in the prevailing standards in housing).

In the second place, supposing that the concept of "marginality" were somewhat precise, it seems to us to be a hypothesis distorting reality by the fact that it divides society into two distinct entities: the "marginal" universe on one hand and the "integrated" society on the other, without "osmosis" between them.

Marginality is nothing more than a form of domination, even though it has different features from the classic bourgeois exploitation of the proletariat. Therefore, it is a product of the "integration" of society. This domination is the result of the predominant mode of production that has effects in the different levels: social, cultural, ecological. It is also unrealistic to assume the existence of a unified entity in relation to a marginal universe. Antagonism, exploitation, and domination are also features of the global society, and raise questions about its integration.

In this sense the cause of "marginality," rooted in the economic level, cannot be looked for in the characteristics of marginal people, or in the supposed empirical foundations emphasized by DESAL: incapacity to organize, and cultural superimposition.

These two empiric foundations—never verified—seem to us rather the product of an ideology peculiar to the liberal philosophy that sees in society's division into classes the inevitable product of natural law.

The comparatively poor organization of the marginals or of the proletariat as a whole is the result of the dominant culture's repression, through its psychological impact, of a perception of society as modifiable, and its consequent suppression of all attempts at cohesion or organization. "Domination on the part of one class over another is not only exercised through political and economic power, but by perception of the possible and the impossible, of the future and the past, of the useful and the useless, of the rational and the irrational, of good and evil. ... in other words, the possibilities, aspirations, and necessities that social relations exclude in the facts, are censured and repressed (in the Freudian, not the police, sense) at the specific level of its consciousness, by the deep conditioning it exercises on people, ideology, and the prevailing way of life." [13]

DESAL's doctrine consequently leads to ideologically clear political solutions, which we analyze now.

First, there is the concept of the state as a directing agency of the common welfare that organizes the marginal mass. In addition to legitimatizing the paternalist or populist state in practice, this concept does not reflect the reality of the state as an instrument of cohesion within a capitalist mode of production. An analysis of the state has meaning in relation to the existing class structure of a nation. It is Utopian to suppose that the state, having all the contradictory characteristics of the capitalistic state, can promote the cohesion of the dominated. The only thing that can be done is to channel the demands and aspirations of marginal peoples or of the working class in their favor, thus creating political palliatives by means of preventive measures in the face of the "emergence" of large sectors of the population that can constitute a threat in the long run to the established system.

What the DESAL theory provided was the ideological foundation (rationalization of interests of the established system) so that a non-Marxist party could efficiently penetrate the dominated classes and skillfully channel some of their demands without touching the essential problem of basic interests of the settlers, such as employment. In this sense, it hardly achieved a mediocre redistribution of income.

We touch here the second important point of DESAL's doctrine: the clear intention to remove the basic foundation of Marxist theory, starting from a "diagnosis" of marginality. That is, the doctrine denied the possibility that it has to be a party—in the Marxist sense—that penetrates the dominated classes in order to awaken their consciousness. . . .

Christian Democracy used DESAL's doctrine as an ideological foundation to implant popular promotion and to justify the neighborhood committees and the so-called "functional" organizations. For the government, it was a matter of creating a social structure parallel to the administrative and political structure. . . .


A. Criticism of the Government

Two fundamental critiques were made of this ideological vision of marginality. On one hand, the idea of social structure established by law avoids the problem of the origin of this structure, which is essentially the consequence of existing productive relations. On the other hand, there was an implicit criticism of the notion of marginality: the people do not need a government to organize themselves, as the existence of neighborhood committees and other organizations previous to the existence of this law indicated. . . .

The second criticism was directed at Popular Promotion. The opposition parties saw a "fascist-directed" expression (Radical Party) or a product of ideological considerations of ecclesiastic origin—DESAL—(Socialist Party). All parties saw essentially an effort on the part of Christian Democracy to penetrate the settlements and to channel to their benefit the support and votes from the urban popular sector. Nevertheless, the Left did not clarify its concept of "marginality," being content to reject implicitly the theory that settlers are incapable of organizing themselves, and giving as evidence the existence —although in a lesser degree than at present—of organizations promoted by left-wing political parties, Christian Democrats, or the settlers themselves.

From these two critiques arises the position of the Left: the main effort of struggle for structural change will be manifested through the trade unions, while the territorial or functional organizations restrict themselves to solving problems of housing and to the improvement or the elemental organization of the settlement's collective services. In practice, there are no differences with the government's position—except in regard to the issue of popular promotion.

B. Left-Wing Penetration in the Settlements

. . . There are several possible explanations for the shallow penetration of the Left in the urban masses. The argument of the DESAL type, that marginal people are unaware of their condition and unable to organize themselves with political objectives, is very weak. Besides, it does not correspond to reality, since the marginal people, or "lumpen," of different countries in the world have been the bases of revolutionary actions. [14] It also does not seem realistic to underline the incapacity of left-wing leaders who seem, on the contrary, quite qualified in Chile.

Party leaders, however, have not developed political alternatives to government activities in relation to the masses of the urban periphery. The official Left parties seek support from the modern sector of economy, that is, the non-marginal group of settlers. Anibal Pinto [15] relates this fact to the inflationary process. He emphasizes that the process is an agent of "disunion of the popular universe in the measure that it drives a wedge between groups that can follow the inflationary merry-go-round and those who, in the periphery, cannot even participate in the ring. . . ." These circumstances imply that in fact, and not by design, left-wing parties concentrate their action in a relatively restricted arena—the inflationary struggle—that is less an essential problem than a diversionist mechanism of political and economic strategy. This deviation provokes the electoralist deviation, since the problems of readjustments or solutions to strikes take place at a political level in Congress.

This situation also conditions the mode of penetration at the level of the Left's ideological thrust among the popular masses. The ideas developed by these parties are of two kinds. The economistic ideas are absorbed by readjustment problems and by bargaining concerns of trade unions. Secondly, the Left develops propaganda at an ideological level that focuses only upon international problems such as anti-imperialism and the struggle against the war in Vietnam or Cambodia.

It is obvious that these international concerns—as legitimate as they may be—are beyond the concern and understanding of the popular masses, who have little political education. This creates the popular image of these parties: the people see them as defenders of wage readjustments, as opposed to monopoly profits, and as against the United States. But they do not know what long- or short-run national goals are represented by the left-wing parties. The valuable effort of a popular unity program is not enough, since it is perceived as an electoral instrument, except in so far as it becomes an instrument of permanent political education. . . .

C. The Communist Party's Present Position

However, it is worthwhile to consider the Chilean Communist Party's position. This has been expounded in a "National Housing Seminar" organized in 1969 by the Party. An analysis of the meetings and conclusions reveals some positive elements that show that the problem of organizing settlers for change has been at least partially perceived.

In fact, this party has a consciousness-raising praxis through support for the struggle of "los sin casa," [16] though not accepting coexistence with the "homeless" group headed by the (very militant) leader of the "26 January" Settlement. The Communist Party organizes land occupations and sometimes ploys against the police forces. But the impact of these land occupations is diminished by the fact that some sectors of the Christian Democratic Party promote them as well. Nevertheless, the positive side lies in the attempt to achieve an internal unity and union with all the "homeless" groups. The seminar assessed the high degree of organization and the homeless settlers' struggle, their heroism, and their confidence in their own strength to achieve their deepest longing: homes. . . .

It is true that the Communist Party sponsors participation in "tasks and in the generation of the policy lines of all neighborhood committees, mothers' associations, etc. . . ." The Party also states that "Communists must work within these bodies to convert them into bastions of popular struggle" and to stop them "from being transformed into bodies of reformist indoctrination under the leadership of the bourgeoisie." At the level of base operations, however, this has no further meaning than verbal propaganda and action limited to settlers' unity. . . .

It is likely that we will have to wait some time longer to see the effects of the Communist Party's penetration in political terms. But there is a consciousness, perhaps still in an obscure state, that has its expression in the perception of the necessity for cells in settlements. The Communist Party has gone further than the traditional Communist parties in the world, which have constituted cells at the work place; the inherent difficulty has been the impossibility of entering circles that are not the industrial proletariat. The success of this penetration is conditioned by the capacity to make the "marginal" sectors aware of their political possibilities and by breaking the stratification caused by the policy of the state in periphery settlements.


In addition to these limitations of the official Left, the absence of an analysis of marginality and the social formation of settlements needs to be emphasized. This analysis leads to a focus upon the stratification of the dominated classes living in "settlements" as conditioned by housing and organizational policy mechanisms. It is hardly realistic to analyze neighborhood committees as popular mobilization instruments without taking into account the relations between strata that exist in settlements.

We divide the settlement population into four groups:

The first group, the "lumpen proletariat," is formed by low-income workers on their own account. These can be lumpen who have never been incorporated into the working class, or former workers who have lost their jobs and work on their own for a low income.

The second group is composed of low-income laborers and the unemployed.

The third group, workers receiving comparatively high incomes, resembles what has been called "the worker aristocracy."

The fourth group, the "residual of the petty bourgeoisie," is formed by specialized or semi-specialized ex-workers who have become small entrepreneurs with personnel at their service, or white-collar employees in business or administration. All members of this group enjoy a comparatively high income, as do those belonging to the third group.

Thus stratification involves two main variables: income and occupation. Empirically this division is necessarily approximate, since it is difficult to define the limit that separates, for instance, the income of a "low"-income laborer from that of a "high"-income worker. However, they constitute "models" that allow one to see the internal divisions within the settlements.

A. The "Lumpen Proletariat" and the "Residual of the Petty Bourgeoisie"

The first of the four groups has traditionally been called the "lumpen proletariat." (We do not attach the derogatory sense the term sometimes has.) It is formed by workers not belonging to the working class—street sellers, cargo men, etc.—and receiving a very low income. To this group can be added ex-workers who fall back into the lumpen after sporadic incorporation into the productive force.

The features of the lumpen have been described in different ways. [17] Marx and Engels made an ethical judgment rather than a Marxist analysis of its role within society and ascribed to the lumpen a negative role in change—even though Marx recognized that "the lumpen is perfectly malleable, capable both of the most heroic feats and the most exalted sacrifices, as well as of the vilest brigandage, and dirtiest venality." [18] Lenin, Mao, and Fidel Castro have analyzed with greater insight from their own political experience the conduct of the lumpen. "These people lack constructive qualities and are given to destruction rather than construction; after joining the revolution, they become a source of roving-rebel and anarchist ideology in the revolutionary ranks. Therefore, we should know how to remold them and guard against their destructiveness." [19]

Analyzing this group's predisposition for actions of "spontaneous and disorganized armed struggle," Lenin draws the following conclusion: "It is not actions which disorganize the movement, but the weakness of a party which is incapable of taking such actions under its control." [20]

Frantz Fanon summed up the experience of Marxism and projected it to the Third World, arguing that revolutionary movements cannot be successful without these people. Three reasons can be distilled from Fanon's work: "1) they are the most ready to fight; 2) they therefore provide the way by which revolutionary forces of the countryside enter the city; 3) if they are not fighting on the side of the revolution, they will be fighting against it." [21]

Thus the "lumpen proletariat" cannot be ignored. On the contrary, the real danger consists in depending upon their spontaneity.

The essential characteristics of this group can be summed up as follows:

1. They do not participate in productive work and therefore are not exploited by industry.

2. They do not retain any type of loyalty for their class of origin, whether working class or peasant. Therefore, different types of consciousness can be expected as conditioned by their class of origin and their present mode of living that put them in contact with various other classes. This makes it necessary to organize them into a movement that channels these tendencies, since the spontaneous behavior of this mass is unpredictable.

3. The lumpen class is found at the lowest level of stratification in periphery settlements. Relations of this group with other classes do not occur as much at the "occupational" level as at the "territorial" level. Consciousness of stratification plays a more important role in settlements than work relations, since occupations within this sector do not force people into a direct relation with the predominant sector, the working class. . . [22]

Group four has a certain resemblance to group one. It is composed of heterogeneous subgroups: small entrepreneurs (owning a shop or having employees at their service), small employees in administration or commerce, and specialized workers who work on their own account. They all have two things in common, which allows us to place them in one category: they are not incorporated into productive forces and they have a comparatively high income.

One of these subgroups comes directly from a sector of the working class (group three) of highest prestige, income, and perhaps skill, whereas the former worker who has fallen into the lumpen comes from the working-class sector of lowest prestige and income (group two).

Group four is distinguished from the lumpen by its income and status, which bring it closer to the middle class. In the analysis of this major group it is important to emphasize the type of relations it has with other class sectors, in particular the working class.

In terms of the level of occupation, this group can enter into relations with another group either in its work, as in the case of the small merchant or entrepreneur, or through its occupational history, as with ex-workers who may maintain a certain working-class consciousness. At this level, given the heterogeneity of the group, considerable diversity may be expected.

At the territorial level, the prestige of this group, derived from its income—or in the case of employees in administration, from occupational status—makes it like the highest group of workers. In heterogeneous settlements its participation in the control of neighborhood organizations is highly probable. In fact, it comprises 20 per cent of the leaders within settlements studied, and in two of the six setdements shares the main posts of the neighborhood organizations with the worker group of highest prestige.

B. The Two Worker Sectors

Groups two and three comprise the whole of the wage-earning workers. We have divided this sphere into two groups, because we consider that a non-marginal worker sector exists which is employed in the most modern productive sector, with advanced technology and high productivity. This group is incorporated into the hegemonic productive sector, whereas the other worker group is incorporated into previous productive forms. In our judgment, "marginality" is precisely the concept that permits distinguishing one sector from the other.

The coexistence of the two productive forms characterizes the mode of capitalist production: archaic industry on the one hand and industry tied to the modern system and to the international centers of capitalist domination on the other. In relation to the modern sector, the surplus population plays the role not of "industrial reserve army," as at the beginning of European industrialization, but of a marginal mass. This mass in turn is only partially absorbed by an archaic sector that has maintained itself and constitutes a reserve of sources of employment. The role of workers incorporated into this latter sector is "marginal," since it forms a surplus population without a positive function with respect to the hegemonic industrial sector. It performs none of the functions of the "industrial reserve army." It does not intervene in the setting of wages. The weight of trade unions in Chile representing workers in the modern sector and the phenomenon of politically determined readjustments in Congress annul the effect that this available labor mass could have. Neither does it constitute available labor for periods of industrial boom, since these high-technology industries can grow without absorbing a new labor force, and even with diminishing labor utilization. We then term "marginal" all employed, underemployed, or unemployed workers not incorporated into the hegemonic productive form...

The assumption of this classification is that the group-three workers (incorporated into the hegemonic productive form) constitute a higher income stratum in the labor world. They also have greater stability of employment....

Another factor, the degree of unionization, could be important, since trade unions in Chile do in fact defend the interests of the non-marginal worker group, sometimes called the worker aristocracy. Two facts void this possibility, however. First, the degree of trade unionism is practically identical at each level: marginal, non-marginal, and unemployed. Secondly, unions intervene in the setting of wages at two levels: politically, where the Central Única de Trabajadores (Workers Central) defends the real interests of the labor aristocracy, and sectorially, where unions exist at the level of firms, for the defense of the workers' interests, be they marginal or not. Nevertheless, at this latter level, given the weakness of trade unionism and the political negotiation of wage readjustment, negotiation is very limited, especially in the marginal sector....

An important variable, the type of political penetration, nevertheless intervenes. In fact, the tendency of left-wing parties, in particular the Communist Party, to recruit their leaders from the "labor aristocracy" is notorious. This occurs not by prejudice, but through the organization of this Party, which is based upon the cell within firms. The existence of cells within firms and their impact upon workers is directly dependent upon the degree of stability of the labor force. In fact, to establish stable political relations supposes an almost impossible permanent action in sectors such as construction, where relations are sporadic.

Christian Democracy's penetration in ecologically "marginal" settlements is based not upon occupation but upon territorial unity or the organization of the "homeless." This has naturally directed the efforts of this Party toward the higher strata of the working class, given its greater prestige.

We thus have a tendency to emphasize through political organization the stratification of the working class both by the left-wing parties and by Christian Democracy.

This politicization and the prestige correlating to stratification explain the higher participation in leadership of the working sector of greater stability and income.

Although it is true that group three forms the proletariat in the Marxist sense and, therefore, the agent of change, the existence of stratification and the tendency of the productive system to accentuate marginality leave the open questions: Is the present proletariat the basic force of all revolution? Could not the marginal group with its distinct characteristics form a new proletariat, a new motor force for structural change? The answers depend upon the real possibility of uniting marginals around a common objective.

Two important factors make this unification difficult:

1) The short-term social interests of the marginals, given their "non-participation" in the hegemonic mode of production and in the prevailing standards of consumption, are limited to survival in terms of nourishment, housing, and health. This mass is condemned to concentrate its efforts on the day-to-day struggle, making it more vulnerable to all "paternalistic" action on the part of governments. 2) There is an absence of a clearly perceived relation of domination. The traditional proletariat could clearly see its enemy in the industrial bourgeoisie, whereas the marginal mass, because of its heterogeneous nature, has various enemies. Perhaps the state as the political organ of the dominant classes could play this role. Nevertheless, the populist penetration of the state as a distributor of goods, such as housing, and as the agent of apparent cohesion (creation of neighborhood committees) makes this perception more difficult.

Hence, the only alternative, in our opinion, is the creation of a new class consciousness that unifies both the proletariat and the marginals around a common objective, structural change, while breaking the negative effects that originate in stratification and, above all, its manifestations on a territorial level. In the long run, it is evident that the logic of present development and its increasing tendency toward marginalization create a situation in which the essential objectives or class interests of the marginals and non-marginals are the same.

Fundamentally, it is a matter of assuring marginals stable work and adequate pay, interests fully shared by the proletariat. Therefore, these long-term interests can form the basis of common action which tends to unite them around a central objective: the destruction of the system of domination....

The consequences of this brief analysis of "marginality" and stratification of periphery settlements of Santiago at a political level are clear:

Parties working for change will have to take into account the diversity of the dominated classes and direct their action toward unification.

"Marginality" makes marginal groups vulnerable to "welfare" action on the part of the state because of their short-term interests. This makes permanent and unifying action around political objectives by whole settlements difficult.

Grass-roots organizations can nevertheless constitute centers of consciousness, providing that they surmount mere electoral party action. The constitution of cells by the Communist Party is a positive sign in this sense.

As we shall see further on, the work of the neighborhood committees must be co-ordinated with the tasks of other organizations such as trade unions, since these have an impact in the neighborhood committees.

Homogeneity in social composition of a settlement allows more profound action, given the internal cohesion of the group.


A. Purpose and Use of the Neighborhood Committees Act

The purpose of neighborhood committees and other grass-roots organizations has been well defined by law. It is a question of providing organization to obtain housing and urban services. At the same time, it provides a degree of control over the sale of products of prime necessity. The creation of consumer co-operatives has also been suggested. Other objectives are related to the creation of functional organizations to promote the solidarity and human development of settlers. Contrary to the initial purpose formulated in some Christian Democratic publications, there is no allusion to structural change. . . .

One possibility lies in the progressive evolution of the functions of neighborhood conrmittees. When the debate was started in the Senate, there was clear disagreement within the government party itself. An interpretation, in our opinion, in favor of the status quo was formulated by Senator P. Aylwin:

"Neighborhood committees cannot have any other objective than those indicated in Article 22, since they are organisms of public law. And we all know that in public law nothing can be done except what is expressly indicated by law. Consequently, these neighborhood organizations cannot make statements on general policies or on national or international problems, without in some way transgressing the area of functions which are those that are related to the community and territorial jurisdiction in which the neighborhood committees reside." [23]

This interpretation is that of the present government (Frei's), which wanted to determine a precise sentence in the law that would force the committees to stipulate definite objectives without any possibility of going further than the law's contents. This juridical conservatism has not been shared by some Christian Democrats nor, of course, by the Left opposition. . . .

The Left opened the way for eventual evolution without specifying in which direction.

In spite of a practical agreement between Christian Democrats and left-wing-party members. . . . actions that tended to change the neighborhood committees into instruments of political education (understood in the sense of a greater cohesion and a genuine class consciousness) surged from the contact with "extremist" movements. These initiatives arose in the "26 January" Settlement, today transferred to the grounds of "La Bandera" Settlement, in the "Lenin Camp" of Conception, and in other settlements of the same type.

Our interest here is not to develop the conditions permitting a political attitude of that type, but to show that it constitutes in fact a praxis different from that suggested by the government and applied by the traditional Left. In fact, it seems important to us for actions that involve structural change to use the neighborhood committees—or any grass-roots organizations—or they will become another piece of the integrated bureaucracy that characterizes the Chilean system. In addition to accentuating the paternalistic vision of the state, this would tend to orient the settlers toward a "consensual" attitude and not give them the conviction that the modification of society is above all the result of pressures by those interested in change. . . . [24]

Alejandro Fortes suggests that "evidence goes directly against the theories of 'potential violence' by settlers. The data do not provide enough evidence to reject this theory. . . ."

This conclusion is correct to the degree that it is only the present consciousness of the settlers that is considered. This has been directly influenced by the actions of the state and, we add, in good part by parties of the traditional Left. In our opinion such conclusions do not make sense, because they assume that this is an immutable feature of settlers' mentality, when in fact it is the product of the dominant culture of the present political conjuncture.

It would, then, be a case of maximum possible class consciousness. This implies that the situation of settlers, when transformed, loses its essential social characteristics. We do not think that this is the case, but what should really be investigated is under what conditions and which conjuncture this attitudinal change can be made.

What is lacking, then, among neighborhood committees is a political praxis that modifies fundamentally the settlers' perception and their confidence in their own strength as a pressure group capable of generating change. At this moment, only an intensive incorporating action by the government takes place along with verbal propaganda by parties of the traditional Left that in praxis goes no further than the proposed objectives of the government. At best, they compel the latter to greater agility.

In effect, the real problem is not to know what a group thinks today—this is useful information for future work—but to know which changes can take place in consciousness without any modification in the essential nature of the group. Considering the settlement inhabitants' social composition, we think that the only group that would see its prestige harmed by action for common change, that is, class struggle, would be workers incorporated within the modern system of production. But this sector of the proletariat is most strongly incorporated into trade unions or, more precisely, sees its interests better defended by trade unions. Therefore there is a necessary parallel between political action at the level of trade unions and at the level of local organizations. Only action that unifies the various organizations of the dominated classes and channels action in political terms toward radical change can be efficient. In this sense, political work in neighborhood organizations is essentially work among leaders. The fact that leaders arise mainly from the incorporated workers in the modern sector of production accentuates even more the need for co-ordinated work between neighborhood committees and trade unions.

B. Trade Unions and Neighborhood Committees

The composition of the leadership group in marginal settlements emphasizes the importance of group three, the incorporated workers.

The proportion of trade-union members, considering all occupational categories, is 30 per cent of the participants in neighborhood comittees.

A more political trade-union policy related to territorial organizations would have an impact on about one third of the committee's membership and therefore would impose itself upon these organizations.

A position identical to ours was developed in the Communist Party's seminar that we previously cited. However, the contents of the analysis were not considered in the conclusions and directives of that seminar.

In our opinion, the link between the various popular organizations, especially between trade unions and neighborhood committees, is fundamental, given the high participation of trade-union members in the comittee and the greater importance that workers have within the leadership group.

C. Another Alternative: Campamentos

Another possible and very positive orientation has evolved through the activities of the MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) in its settlement front based upon the experience of campamentos [25] such as "26 de Enero," "Ranquil," "26 de Julio," and "Elmo Catalán," in Santiago, and "Campamento Lenin" in Concepción. The contribution of these experiences has been to give an adequate ideological content through a corresponding praxis to all types of demands by the settlers. The occupation of lands is thus transformed into political education that goes much further than demands for housing. The settler has the opportunity to become conscious of his class interests through an experience of forming political cohesion.

It is useful briefly to consider here the lines of action developed by these settlers. The Congress of the "Homeless" (“sin casa”), which synthesized its praxis, emphasized the diverse aspects of the misery to which the low-income sectors are subjected and gave it an adequate ideological content: "A clear definition of the objectives that must direct the workers' struggle is urgent and un-deferrable. This must not end merely with obtaining land, but with the definitive destruction of the causes that produce, among others, the housing problem." [26]

The Congress pointed out the necessity of political education among the settlers: "Inside the campamentos, organization must be directed not only at the defense of settlers, but also at their consciousness and education."

They propose organizing the unity of all settlers, and in practice they act in solidarity with other settlements that find themselves in the same situation: "Today we have the opportunity to create a strong unity around the most urgent and concrete things that concern us all."

In fact, they use various methods of pressure, including the extensive use of mass media: "Mechanisms must be created that assure a rapid and effective access to mass media so that propaganda and diffusion of our demands can be secured, including the formation of popular militias."

We believe that, although it may be difficult to create identical situations, the unity of the different sectors of workers together with an adequate political education and the use of all means of available pressure will lead to popular mobilization that imposes change.


In the development of this work, we have emphasized some main points that we can restate as a conclusion.

Grass-roots organizations, specifically neighborhood committees widely diffused in settlements, constitute an instrument of penetration for the state which in itself is ambiguous.

Penetration was used by Christian Democracy as a neutralizing element emphasizing the welfare image of the state and thus diminishing the possibility of centering the settlers' struggle against the state, center of power of the dominating classes.

The action by parties of the official left, through its weak ideological penetration and lack of appropriate language, organization, and consciousness, tends to fortify this image, making neighborhood committees objects of electoral competition. Nevertheless, new styles of organization and new alternatives formulated by parties, leftist movements, or the settlers themselves indicate some predictable changes.

All popular mobilization efforts suppose an awareness of the diversity of strata fortified by increasing marginality and patterns of settlement. Thus a new consciousness is necessary to unify the different subgroups of settlers. The neighborhood committee can be an excellent instrument to clarify the central objective of changes and their real possibility. It seems fundamental to us that this action must be accompanied by parallel work at the trade-union level, since these organizations have an impact on the central core of settlement organizations, the worker groups, in particular the non-marginal workers, whose weight is greater within the leadership.

Moreover, the possibility offered by the law should permit the promotion of some initiatives, such as unions of the unemployed and pilot experiences in urban industrial settlements, whose function would be a unifying one and would concentrate the settlers' problem in one of their basic interests, employment. The latter would also create an image of feasible alternatives for the settlers through an experience of self-management.


1. MAPU is Christian Left and MIR revolutionary Marxist Left

2. INDAP is a government agency concerned with agrarian reform and development.

3. Jacques Chonchol was the principal architect of the agrarian reform under Frei and is hated by landowners and conservatives.

4. "Popular sectors," or "popular classes" refers to the poor and working class.

5. "Popular promotion" refers to community organization efforts under the Christian Democratic government

6. Act 16.880, passed by Congress on November 4, 1968.

7. DESAL, Center for the Economic and Social Development of Latin America, is an applied-research institute supported hy Church funds and directed by Father Roger Vekemans.

8. Roger Vekemans, "La marginalidad en America Latina. Un ensayo de conceptualization" (DESAL, 1969).

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. André Gorz, Le Socialisme difficile, (Paris: Seuil, 1967). p. 100.

14. The use of the "lumpen proletariat" sector in revolutionary actions was widespread in China, and it was also used in Santo Domingo (Colonel Caamano).

15. Anibal Pinto, "Estructura social e implicaciones politicas," FLASCO-ELACP, Nº. 18, p. 19.

16. "Los sin casa," the "homeless," who are organized to seize land and build shelter, are thousands and thousands who live in the makeshift housing at the periphery of Santiago and other cities.

17. See Bruce Franklin, "Lumpen Proletariat and Revolutionary Youth Movement," Monthly Review, Nº. 72 (March 1970), pp. 10-25.

18. Marx, "Class Struggle in France," cited in Franklin, supra.

19. Mao Tse-tung, "Revolution in China and Chinese Communist Party," cited in Franklin.

20. Lenin, "Guerrilla Warfare," cited in Franklin.

21. Franklin, p. 16.

22. Omitted from translation here are interesting data on consciousness and participation among lumpen sectors within Santiago settlements, from the author\'s empirical study. [Ed]

23. Senator P. Aylwin, June 12, 1968, 3rd session, Senate Diary, p. 208

24. Not translated here are several paragraphs citing survey data that show that most settlers believe they "can change decisions of the government," and that many more believe they can do so by "peaceful" means than by "means of conflict." [Ed.]

25. "Campamentos" (literally, "camps") are often the result of land seizures by marginals in peripheral urban areas, where makeshift housing is constructed by the settlers themselves.

26. Declaration of the Congress of the Homeless organized by the Población "26 de Enero."

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