The Chilean Road to Socialism


The Military

There is very little public information on the military in Chile. To my knowledge, there are only three studies of the Armed Forces that address themselves to the basic question of the role of the institution in the process of development and sociopolitical change of the country. Two of them are by non-Chileans: Alain Jaxe, Las Fuerzas Armadas en el sistema político de Chile (Santiago: Editorial Universitaria, 1970), and a Ph.D. dissertation by Roy Hansen (University of California, Berkeley, 1966). The third, reprinted here, is by Robinson Rojas, a Chilean socialist. It is a penetrating analysis, which raises extremely uncomfortable questions and was not well received by sectors of the Popular Unity. In a preface to the article the author states that Prensa Latino-americana (Socialist Party press), which normally prints the magazine Causa ML, refused to take this issue, giving as a reason that "the Causa ML articles damage the left image of Compañero Allende." Robinson Rojas replies, ". . . we want to make clear that our principal enemies continue to be Yankee imperialism and the oligarchy of the city and countryside. Our differences with the government are precisely its political actions with respect to the basic enemies that we consider conciliatory and of grave consequence."


From Causa ML, Nº. 21, July-August 1971. This is the first of a three-part article. Part two, not included here, is an analysis of military thinking on key questions. The third part, also omitted here, is based upon a study by Roy Allen Hansen, "Military Culture and Organizational Decline: A Study of the Chilean Army" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1966).


Since September 4, the night of Salvador Allende's victory, one question has been foremost in all minds: what will the Armed Forces do?

During the month of October (including the moment of General Schneider's assassination) and afterward, there have been two kinds of simplistic answers to this question. These answers have been marginal to class struggle and its specific characteristics in Chile.

One simplistic and subjective answer has been given by oligarchic and imperialist sectors. They believe that the Armed Forces are a barrier against "Marxism" and will defend them and help them to effect a coup d'etat.

Another simplistic and subjective reply has been given by wide sectors of the Popular Unity (I think that Allende should not be included among those who think this way). These have said that the Armed Forces will support us and are supporting us, because they are "democratic" and "professional" and "we have legitimately won the presidential elections."

Neither of these answers takes into account the class character of the Armed Forces. The first answer is based on a false assumption that the Popular Unity is a Marxist government; it is also based on a feudal concept of the Chilean military, seeing them as mere servants, "until the last consequences," of the financial, landowning, and capitalist Chilean oligarchy and of the more archaic sectors of Yankee imperialism.

The second answer is also founded on false assumptions. It is false that "legality" is beyond classes. One legality serves the bourgeoisie and another legality serves the large majority of the people. The Armed Forces of the bourgeoisie constitute the main support of "formal democracy" and will always act in its defense. They are, therefore, "bourgeois professionals" and "democratic bourgeoisie." If a "popular legality" were implanted in Chile at this moment, the present Armed Forces would have to depart from "the Constitution and law" in order to make a coup d'etat and re-establish a formal democracy. Therefore, when the Chilean Armed Forces support the government, as is now happening, it is because they believe that that government has not and will not abandon bourgeois channels. What this government is in fact doing is introducing decisive reforms (against some oligarchic and imperialist sectors) to reorganize and consolidate the system, adapting itself as well to imperialism's new strategy in Latin America.

Oligarchic Miscalculations

During the month of October (1970), Chile witnessed a wild race in pursuit of the "support" of the Armed Forces. On the one hand, Christian Democracy tried from the beginning to become the "political spokesman" for them, trying to get formal (constitutional) guarantees on the part of Allende. On the other hand, landowning sectors, the financial oligarchy, and Yankee Anaconda formed a conspiratorial structure, trying to attract the Armed Forces by raising the hollow specter of "communism" in the electoral victory. Finally, Salvador Allende personally began to explain to the Armed Forces the real scope of the program of the Popular Unity.

In this race, Allende bettered the Christian Democrats as "mediators." He left them behind and started a direct dialogue with the high command.

On October 1, 1970, in Allende's public reply to Christian Democracy's challenge of the "constitutional guarantees," the essential points of the conversation between the President-elect and the Armed Forces came to light.

Point one: agreement that the Armed Forces are the "spinal column" of the system, with Allende stating, "I have repeatedly pointed out the pure patriotic tradition, democratic and professional, of our Armed Forces and have stated my purpose of fulfilling the national obligation by facilitating their technical improvement and by respecting their specific function, so that their mission of guarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country should be more effective."

Point two: agreement that the Armed Forces have to integrate themselves into the direction of key aspects of the national economy. This goes against classic oligarchic thought that they are organs of repression without a voice or vote. Allende promised them a voice and vote. His words were as follows: "I believe that a more modern concept of national security and of Chile's needs makes the integration and contribution of the Armed Forces advisable in some basic aspects of our development, without implying deviation from their professional function or distraction from their essential role in the defense of the sovereignty."

Point three: agreement that no politician, except for Allende, could interfere in the appointment of the high command. Allende put it this way: "I must express that I am an uncompromising defender of the prerogatives of the head of state. As Commander-in-Chief, I state that not even the Popular Unity will have the right of intervening in the appointment of the high command, because this is an exclusive attribute of the President of the Republic, and I will be a zealous guardian of my constitutional powers."

While Allende expressed ideas closely related to those of the majority within the Armed Forces, the oligarchs continued conspiring. They took advantage, of course, of one fact: within the military, as a reflection of class struggle, there was no unitary and tranquil attitude. There were minority sectors, frankly gorillas [1] (and there still are), a large undecided majority, and a majority of the high command in favor of the "modern line" of the armies in Latin America, where sparks of restricted nationalism (Peru) are blended with support for "structural" reforms in order to consolidate a Western regime or, in the military's own words, "to consolidate formal democracy and the solidarity of the Western bloc." This idea has much to do with the new global policy of Yankee imperialism with regard to the forms of domination in Latin America. The similarity to Chilean military thought is not strange. Since the 1950s the Chilean Armed Forces have depended in part upon Yankee material and have been totally dependent for training on adviser teams from the United States (military missions, special schools in Panama and the United States, and economic, social and military study materials).

During October 1970 contradictions and indecision were strong within the Armed Forces. Oligarchs and imperialist sectors counted on ex-General Viaux to form "a united front within the Army" against the Popular Unity. But they miscalculated. For reasons that someday will become known, they assassinated General Schneider. [2] This provoked unity of all the Armed Forces around the military "reformists." Even the Navy, traditionally gorilla mainly because of its British structure, closed ranks around the reformist leaders of the Army (Pablo Schaffhauser, Augusto Pinochet and Orlando Urbina). Thus, on the day of Schneider's assassination, Allende, for the first time since September 4, could be sure that he would become the President of Chile.

Entering the Government

The presence of the Armed Forces in the present government, no longer as "support" but as principal actors, is not an accident. It has a very clear historical development. Of course, within the framework of these articles, this historical development cannot be analyzed extensively, but a schema can be made.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Chile was governed by an oligarchy based on mining, trade, and large landed estates (latifundia) closely linked with British imperialism. In 1891, when British imperialism wanted to seize all Chilean saltpeter [3] against (then President) Balmaceda, the Navy assumed the pro-British leadership and overthrew Balmaceda. Thus, the domination of these sectors of the oligarchy was consolidated.

But at the beginning of the First World War, the crisis of saltpeter occurred. Forced by economic realities, the country started a stage of industrialization in order to manufacture substitutes for some previously imported products. Together with industrialization, the large, struggling proletarian masses appeared, to stagger the dominant class. The industrial bourgeoisie also appeared. The military coup of 1924 took place, followed by other coups until 1932.

What was then the position of the Armed Forces? In the face of a stubborn oligarchy that no longer corresponded to the class reality in the country and that clung to its former privileges, the Armed Forces welcomed "social reforms" and "repression." They believed it was necessary to reform so that nothing should change, to save the ship, and to repress the working classes in order to prevent their organization.

The industrial bourgeoisie joined the dominant sectors of decadent landowners and the mining and trade oligarchy then supported by the Yankee imperialism that was beginning to take control of the economic structure (mining and commercial).

During the time of the Popular Front, in 1938, the Armed Forces preserved their class origin, located more and more in small-, middle-, and lower-bourgeois professionals, and did not oppose reformism or the consolidation of the state as the main industrializing agent. The oligarchy, of course, went on conspiring but did not find any support among the military's majority. The definitive decline of the class of large landowners began (a decline that will culminate this year, 1971), the industrial bourgeoisie grew, and the strength of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie was born under the shadow of the development of the state. They governed in collusion with oligarchic financial and commercial sectors, while imperialism's control, aided by the Second World War, became more general and solid. At the same time, contradictions between industrial bourgeois sectors and imperialist consortiums acting in Chile began to increase.

The state served these dominant classes and Yankee imperialism.

During this period, the state felt capable of repressing struggles of the urban and rural proletariat, cornering the Armed Forces in a useless role of internal decoration and consolidating the Carabineer Corps[4] as the real armed force of repression against the people. The Armed Forces, as an institution, felt themselves disintegrating and believed that they could recover their real role of upholding the bourgeois state only if they could get parity treatment with the politicians, who were seen as ineffective in controlling the surge of popular mobilization. . . .

In 1964, Frei's reformism appeared as the hope of saving the system for the dominant sectors. Frei transformed his government so that it was more of a lackey of the Americans than any other in our history. He opened the doors of Chilean industry to imperialism, he was unable to do away with the large-landed-estate system, and he continued the same policy of contempt toward the Armed Forces as his predecessors.

The crisis became violent in October 1969 with the "tacnazo" (General Viaux's abortive revolt). With the apparent purpose of demanding better arms and higher wages, the Armed Forces were claiming their true role within the bourgeoisie as coleaders of the reform process Chile required in order to continue as a bourgeois state: liquidation of the latifundia, corralling the financial oligarchy and part of the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie, and "rationalization" of imperialist domination by taking foreign capital out of conflictive areas such as copper, iron, and saltpeter and giving foreigners access to the dynamic sector of industry by means of mixed companies. All this occurred with greater "planning" on the part of the state ruled by a sector of the bourgeoisie.

The presidential election crisis came and, once more, the Armed Forces saved the system, although this time without resorting to overt repression. The Armed Forces took over the leadership of the disconcerted bourgeoisie, which was disorganized in its historical incapacity in colonized countries to respond to the pressures of its own development and contradictions with imperialism. They confronted sectors of the oligarchy that had to be injured in order to settle with populist reformism, and they supported Allende, generally submitting to his programs on the one hand and establishing very definite limits of compliance with him on the other.

The institutional crisis was resolved for them (internal contradictions continuing, of course). They became the center of national political stability and retained the task of "supervising" reformism and the presence of imperialism in Chile, now somewhat distorted but still dominant in the total picture. This authority remains unchallenged, since the other world force of domination, Russian social imperialism, is in no position to dispute the supremacy of the United States in Latin America.

Allende's Steps

In the seven months of the present government, involvement of the Armed Forces in the economic and social life of our country has accelerated considerably. High-command members in active service have been appointed within the Development Corporation, the Steel Company of the Pacific, and the El Salvador and El Teniente mines. There have been agreements with the universities for postgraduate courses only for military personnel in such subjects as engineering, sociology, technology, and economics. Moreover, there are special scholarships in the Universidad Tecnica del Estado for the sons of military men.

Allende has confessed in speeches that he holds meetings with the high command to deal with "the future of national institutions." He has met with them at least fourteen times during the seven months of his government, always to discuss highly important matters about the mass struggle.

The meeting with the generals that took place on February 10, 1971, is widely known. Two days later, the Minister of the Interior spoke on nationwide radio and television to make two important statements. The first was that "the only" bodies in charge of internal order were "the Armed Forces and the Carabineer Corps." This clearly indicated the realization of an old aspiration of the military: that the Carabineers remain in a secondary place, as an integrated part of the state system in which only the Armed Forces are the "spinal column." The second statement was that a bill would be sent to Congress to declare illegal the occupation of farms, precisely at a moment when the peasant struggle in Chile, centered in Malleco, Cautín, and Valdivia, was becoming stronger, employing its best fighting weapon, the occupation of lands.

On February 23, the Supreme Council for National Security held a meeting to give the General Staff for National Defense and the Carabineer Corps control of a projected plan for economic and social development in the frontier zones in the provinces of Malleco, Cautín, and Valdivia.

Finally, on the night of February 25, departing from Valparaiso, President Allende dined not with the regional heads of the Popular Unity parties, but with the regional heads of the three branches of the Armed Forces and the Carabineers.

The question is: where does this "integration" of the Armed Forces into the Popular Unity program lead, especially if the Armed Forces continue to have close ties to Yankee imperialism?

When I say "close ties" to Yankee imperialism, I do not refer" only to the training, warfare technology, and war material for which the Chilean military depends upon the United States. I refer to something more than this: to the fact that our Armed Forces, in the confrontation between the socialist and capitalist worlds, are on the side of the capitalists; to the fact that, between the dictatorship of the proletariat and that of the bourgeoisie, they are on the side of the latter; to the fact that their reformist and nationalist character is framed within the frontiers of the capitalist world. In essence, no matter how many reforms they may support and no matter how many contradictions they may have with imperialism, their reformism is bourgeois and their relations with imperialism will be of a bourgeois nature, as is the case today in Peru.

In short, at the present moment in Chile, the Armed Forces are the referee (gun in hand) that imposes the rules of the reformist game embodied by the Popular Unity. When that referee judges that the rules of the game have been infringed, he will act so that they will be "respected."

In the face of this armed bourgeois referee, the proletariat has no other alternative than to oppose its own armed force, in order to be able to impose the rules of the proletarian game. This alternative, of course, is contemplated by bourgeois reformism, which tries by all means to curb proletarian organization. Allende says repeatedly, "The workers will achieve the revolution producing, . . . and the only armed organizations in our country will be the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Carabineers."

In a word: work for the exploited, guns for the guardians of the bourgeoisie and the interests of imperialism.

This is the essence of the pact made between the civil government and the Chilean Armed Forces after September 4, 1970.

All this sometimes becomes dramatically evident when emotion pervades President Allende's words. For instance, on April 14, 1971, when decorating the new generals of the Chilean Armed Forces, Allende finished his brief address by saying, "You who attain the high command have, then, rights and duties and responsibilities, and I surrender to your responsibility, to your rights and your duties, the reiterated conviction of the people of Chile that the Armed Forces will continue being the root of Chile's history, ennobled in war and peace, and that you will continue to be those who, knowing the value of material force, are aware of spiritual force when it is expressed in the ballot boxes and written down in the Constitution of the homeland."

These words constitute a dramatic call to the bourgeois Armed Forces to allow Allende to govern "within the framework of the Constitution" and let him prove, at the same time, that he is a "new Marxist," capable of preventing the struggle of the people from definitively destroying imperialism, the financial oligarchy and monopolists and all their lackeys, thus smashing the bureaucratic-military apparatus of the bourgeois state.

It should not be forgotten that, from January 14 until May 25, 1971, the high command of the Army, Navy, and Air Force have been visited by an admiral and a vice-admiral from the U.S. Navy, a general from the Army, and another from the Air Force of the United States, all selected from the General Staff of the imperialist army responsible for the "Southern Command" (Latin America).

Neither should it be forgotten that all agreements on Chilean military training in American bases or American territory still function . . . and will continue to function. Finally, one must bear in mind as well that Yankee military supplies for the Chilean Air Force and Navy continue as before. . . .

This situation has pushed President Allende to state, each time with greater clarity, what role the Armed Forces must play in his government.

On March 19, Allende stated, "What I have said is that the professional Armed Forces, who have had technical capacity and moral reliability throughout our history, must play an important role in all processes of economic development in Chile. They must be linked to the country's progress."

On May 1, before the workers at Plaza Bulnes in Santiago, Allende advanced one step further and said, "Only a disciplined, organized, and conscious people, together with the loyalty of the Armed Forces and the Carabineers, will be the best defense of the government of the Popular Unity and the future of the homeland."

Three weeks later, Allende's concept of the Armed Forces had undergone a remarkable process of refinement. On May 25, before foreign correspondents, he said, ". . . the Chilean Armed Forces are the guarantee of this process, . . . and what we also need is that these Armed Forces have, within reasonable limitations, the technical elements that guarantee their efficiency. . . ." He continued, "And if there is something that shows this government's attitude, it is precisely to incorporate the Armed Forces more and more into the process of economic development, with which we accord to them a wider perspective while strengthening them. The Armed Forces must know what should or should not happen in copper, iron, and saltpeter. ... I have said, in the end, what are the Armed Forces? They are the people in uniform. . . ."

Speaking to the peasants of the town of Linares on May 28, the President said, "I have pointed out that this process of change is possible, because the Armed Forces and the Carabineers have a professional conscience. They respect the laws and the Constitution, which is not the case in the majority of Latin American countries, and this constitutes an exception in this and even in other continents."

In sum, and in the words of the leading sectors of the government coalition, the arbiter of the situation is the Armed Forces.


1. "Gorilla" is the term applied in Latin America to military officers predisposed to establish military dictatorships of a right-wing nature.

2. General Schneider, a constitutionalist, was then Commander of the Armed Forces.

3. Saltpeter was mined from Chile's vast natural nitrate deposits and was then much more important as an export than copper.

4. The Carabineros are a national police force organized in a military fashion.

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