The Chilean Road to Socialism


The Coincidence of Internal and External Counterrevolutionary Forces


An original article for this volume.


The internal and international opposition to Chilean socialism pursues two options. One is to box in Allende and the Popular Unity so that little can be accomplished, while the economic and political difficulties of the regime increase to the point where accommodation is the government's only viable course. The practical end of this would be that the process of socialist transformation would end, the Chilean business community would consolidate and strengthen itself, and U.S. corporate interests would reassert their presence in Chile. In 1976 ex-President Eduardo Frei, now undisputed leader of the combined opposition forces, would then step back in to further consolidate and rationalize a state capitalist regime closely linked to U.S. "multinational" investors. The other option is to instigate a counterrevolution which would bring the Popular Unity government down by force.

These are not mutually exclusive options. In fact, both are simultaneously pursued by opposition forces within the country and by U.S. corporations and government agencies. Moderate Christian Democrats, the more "enlightened" U.S. corporate interests, perhaps the State Department, would prefer the option of boxing in and forcing accommodation. Reactionary sectors within Chile, the CIA, ITT, and other hard-line multinationals, and perhaps Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, would rather bring about a counterrevolution. Regardless of the strategic objectives of the different forces, the opposition as a whole coalesces around tactical considerations. These tactics are: 1) to undermine the economy and make political capital of any economic problems created, 2) progressively to restrict the political means of effecting further socialist changes, and 3) to bring the middle strata of society all the way over to the right and to mobilize politically this substantial sector.

Undermining the Economy

The attempt to undermine the economy occurs at both the internal and the international levels. Landowners slaughter animals and fail to plant and cultivate crops, strategic consumption items (shoes or school uniforms, for example) mysteriously disappear from the market, women of the barrio alto buy up meat and other scarce consumer items for their freezers and then march banging their empty pots in protest of shortages, investments in the private sector are withheld, capital is transferred out of the country, etc. Meanwhile U.S. corporations and Government tighten the economic screws: private and U. S. Government credits are cut off, economic aid is suspended, Chilean assets here are frozen unless Chile pays off the copper corporations, Chile's U.S. and international creditors push hard on debt renegotiations, copper prices are kept down and the country's foreign exchange reserves dwindle, and the interests that control the major copper corporations maneuver to make Chile "a residual supplier of copper."

These policies have not as yet been notably successful, however. Chilean economic policy in 1971, under the skilled direction of Pedro Vuskovic, has been very successful in redistributing income to salaried and wage workers and thereby increasing effective demand on the part of consumers, in holding back inflation, in decreasing unemployment, and in creating a minor economic boom. While the 1972 economic scene does not appear as bright as 1971, socialization of basic industries in a number of key sectors has brought more of the economic life of the country under control of the state, thereby giving the Popular Unity a considerable basis of economic power and ability to plan production. The economic sanctions employed against Chile by the United States have as yet not been sufficient to undermine the economic viability of the regime. The net political effect of the aggressive and hostile policies pursued by the United States which encourage and feed the internal opposition, has probably been to strengthen sentiments of nationalism by self-respecting Chilean citizens of different political tendencies and thereby the nationalist policies of the Allende government.

Political Opposition

The general situation in Chile is one of increasing polarization. Polarization of political forces developed within the first year of the Allende government. Eduardo Frei moved rapidly to the right, taking the main body of the Christian Democratic Party with him. This means that the Christian Democrats and the right-wing National Party work in close alliance. This caused the split of the genuine reform elements from the Christian Democratic Party to join forces with the now organized and significant Christian Left movement, which supports the government. At the social level, polarization means that the dominant class interests, previously divided between intransigent conservatives and reformists, have come together to undertake an aggressive fight to hold back the Left and to recuperate their lost power. At the same time, the astute politics of President Allende and the Communist and Socialist parties have gained the Left greater organizational and popular support. Meanwhile the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR, a well-organized and militant revolutionary party on the PU's left) serves as the revolutionary conscience of the traditional Marxist parties and mobilizes grass-roots revolutionary pressures.

Strategically, however, the Popular Unity is not in the best of situations to achieve fully its democratic socialist program. In having the presidency, there is an opening—no more. The opposition is firmly entrenched in all institutions, although the Left has made significant inroads in the economic sphere, the church, the media, and education. The Left controls only part of the apparatus of the state—the Executive branch of government. The Congress and the courts serve the opposition. The Armed Forces and the national police, nominally under control of the government, nevertheless remain institutions created and manned by previous regimes to protect the bourgeois state and capitalist institutions. The armed organs of state power are not necessarily dependable in situations that may well arise. The Chilean Left puts it this way: "The Popular Unity is in the government, but not in power."

The principal ends of the opposition in the sphere of day-to-day politics are to impede the advance toward socialism through the constitutional means that the Allende regime is careful to follow and to force the government into the role of suppressing the very revolutionary process that brought it to power. Opposition control of Congress has placed great obstacles in the way of accomplishing the PU program wherever Allende could not move legally through executive action. The only significant exception to this was the nationalization of copper, which enjoyed such wide popular support that no party could politically afford not to support it. At the same time, the opposition parties and the media controlled by the Right exert enormous pressure upon the government to repress forcefully the pressures from peasants, slum dwellers, and Left forces operating at the grass-roots level.

An illustration of this tactic is the censure and constitutional removal from office of Jose Toha, Allende's Minister of Interior, in January 1972. This had its origin in the opposition's attempt to divide the PU from the MIR and other sectors of the revolutionary Left. The demand is that the government repress the MIR and use force against "illegal" land invasions and other militant grass-roots pressures (see Chapter 18). The opposition also attempted to remove Pedro Vuskovic, the Minister of Economy, from office toward the end of 1971. Vuskovic is the principal architect of the PU's economic policy, which has been remarkably successful. Nevertheless, the opposition charged Vuskovic with creating "shortages" and economic chaos. There are in fact shortages, though not economic chaos. As noted previously, their origin is in the success of the economic policy in stimulating demand, and not in its failure (see Chapters 22 and 25).

By March 1972 the Congressional opposition was trying to push through legislation to make it legally impossible to move on with socialization of the economy.

In general, opposition at the political level has been much more successful than the policy of trying to undermine the economy.

The Popular Unity has nevertheless achieved a tactical offensive by moving emphatically against the economic oligarchy, which was caught off balance by the election and subsequent events, by adroit moves in the sphere of promoting economic nationalism and national sovereignty, by capitalizing on the errors of the Right, and by involving the Armed Forces in the process of change (for a critical view of the last tactic see Chapter 15). For the rest, political tactics are dictated by the maneuvers of the opposition. The PU is forced to try to neutralize the middle strata through economic and social policies that do not overly restrict their privileges and through strict adherence to the democratic rules of the game institutionalized within Chile's political culture. The rules of the game, of course, have been devised to guide and limit change within an existing social order; they do not lend themselves to facilitating revolution, or even basic changes not necessarily revolutionary. These are probably the only viable tactics open to the PU for the time being.

The Struggle for the Middle Strata

It is precisely in the Right's attempt to win over and politically mobilize the rather substantial medium and petty-bourgeois sectors and white-collar strata that the threat of violent counterrevolution and fascism emerges.

In his Farewell Speech to Chileans, at the National Stadium, Fidel Castro analyzed the danger and potential of fascist reaction with brilliance and passion (see Chapter 17). At one point Fidel stated:


You're going through a period that is very special, albeit not a new one, in the matter of class struggle. . . . You're going through that period in the process in which the fascists—to call them by their right name —are trying to beat you to the streets, are trying to beat you out of the middle strata of the population.

The fascists . . . stop at nothing. . . . They'll try to sow terror and unrest among the middle strata, by telling the most terrible lies. . . . They'll appeal to the basest sensibilities. . . . They will try to arouse feelings of chauvinism, arouse the lowest passions, arouse the most groundless terror.

The fascist potential is built into the social structure of Chile just as in other Latin American countries, such as Brazil and Guatemala, which are already well advanced on this most barbarous stage of capitalist development. It is the last defense of the dominant classes, and they play upon the petty privileges, status insecurities, and social pathologies of the social strata that class societies generate.

Countries such as Brazil and Guatemala (perhaps the Dominican Republic and Bolivia could also qualify) are not fascist in the classic Italian or German sense. They are in fact "colonial-fascist," to mention just one salient difference from European models. The dominant bourgeoisie of these countries, including Chile, are not aggressive imperialist classes, but comprador bourgeoisies, locked into dependent subservient relationships with foreign capital. Even the lesser bourgeoisie and sectors of the salaried middle strata are situated in structural patterns of dependence. They owe their jobs and social privilege directly or indirectly to the operations of multinational corporations and the cultural apparatus of world capitalism. They are thoroughly acculturated to the imported values of consumerism. The women of these strata in Chile were the ones who took to the streets of Santiago in December 1971 banging their empty pots, accompanied by fascist goon squads who went on a violent rampage against government supporters and offices of leftist organizations.

Having failed in their attempt to provoke a military coup in October 1970, rightist elements within Chile, the CIA, and corporate interests such as ITT may very well be working covertly to create a fascist reaction to the socialism of the Popular Unity. Moreover, the open political opposition of the parties within Chile and the official policy of the "big stick" on the part of the Nixon administration have objective implications similar to the behind-the-scenes operations of conspiratorial groups: the creation of a strong vested-interest reaction on the part of the middle strata, which are then mobilized to bring the threat of socialism to an end.

Fidel said in his Farewell Speech to the Chilean people:


What do the exploiters do when their own institutions no longer guarantee their domination? . . . They simply go ahead and destroy them. . . .

And we have been able to verify the manifestations of that law of history in which the reactionaries and the exploiters, in their desperation—and mainly supported from the outside—generate that political phenomenon, that reactionary current, fascism.

But Chile of 1972 is not Brazil of 1964 or Bolivia of 1971, and the violently repressive counterrevolutions of these countries cannot so easily be brought down in Chile. The Chilean Left and the Chilean people have great strength and resources. They have in fact some advantages in this struggle, because the Right and the United States often overplay their hands. While the opposition constantly raises the specter of the Popular Unity threat to cherished democratic traditions, the opposition itself uses its freedom to promote violence and sedition. The Right murders generals and conspires with foreign interests to provoke a military coup. The Right engages in sabotage and organizes private armies. The Left respects the best of Chile's political tradition and disavows violence. The United States swings its big stick again and again, and with each blow ten thousand more Chileans stand up to support their government, which shoulders each blow with firmness and dignity.

The strategy of Chilean reactionaries and their U.S. allies may very well fail, as it has up to now; even if they are successful in mobilizing a fascist groundswell and even if more and stronger pressures from U.S. business and Government are applied, the resultant civil war could very well create the conditions for America's second socialist revolution.

No one in his right mind wants socialism to emerge from fratricidal war and imperialist aggression. Only men like David Rockefeller, John McCone of the CIA-ITT complex, Richard Nixon, and their counterparts among the Chilean oligarchy shrug their shoulders when blood must run in the streets. Unfortunately the terms of the struggle are always dictated by the counterrevolutionary forces. That is an objective fact that we have to deal with. And it is the obligation of those of us situated here, within the world's center of imperialism, to work with total commitment and all the energy we can muster to constrain the capabilities of United States aggression, and finally, like other Chilean brothers and sisters, move onward toward the creation of a society free from the threat of fascism and the evils of militarism, a society of justice, equality, and social well-being, a nation that respects and lives in peace with other nations.

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