The Chilean Road to Socialism


Populist Reform or Mass Revolutionary Mobilization?

The Communist and the Socialist parties of Chile have long been extremely energetic in defending and promoting the interests of the organized workers of the mines and large industry. Their roots among the unorganized workers and peasants, however, are extremely tenuous even today. The Christian Left and the MIR have seized the initiative from the traditional Marxist parties in recent years and succeeded in mobilizing large numbers of agricultural workers and Mapuche Indians into farm workers' unions and land invasions. MIR, followed by the CP, has also been active in community organizing in urban settlements. For the most part, however, unorganized workers in medium and small industry and commerce and the impoverished inhabitants of urban callampa (mushroom) settlements lack organization and political consciousness (see Chapter 10).

It is clear that many orthodox Marxists of both the Socialist and the Communist parties, as well as certain non-Marxist theoreticians of the PU such as Jacques Chonchol (see Chapter 28), write off the great mass of unorganized workers as a potentially organizable force to construct Chilean socialism. Moreover, the government becomes extremely nervous when peasants and settlement dwellers engage, with increasing militance, in agitation and direct action. In part, this is due to the political vulnerability of the government owing to the potential alienation of non-proletarian sectors the PU is trying to win over or neutralize and to the strong right-wing reaction to such action on the part of the masses. Mass mobilization could lose the PU support among equivocal sectors or even precipitate a counterrevolution or sufficient chaos to force a military intervention. It is also the case that the PU conceives of socialist construction as a controlled process. Most farm workers, poor settlers, and unorganized workers are not under control of one of the main PU parties—and their situation is so desperate that political mobilization can generate demands the PU cannot satisfy. Julio Arredondo, however, argues that only mass mobilization can transform populist reform into revolutionary socialism.

Translated in somewhat abridged form from Punto Final Nº. 134, June 7, 1971.


The accession to power of the Popular Unity government has sharpened the ideological differences between PU partisans and the revolutionary Left. Class unrest is growing throughout the country, while the Right has taken over the political offensive. Recent polemics have not always helped to clarify our ideological differences or generate a common revolutionary strategy. We must unite, and to do so we must speak our mind clearly.

Let us start by taking a close look at the Popular Unity's program. Large farmholdings, national and international monopolies, and the imperialist penetration of our economic structure presently hinder the adequate development of our productive forces. The labor and commodity markets cannot adequately supply the needs of our population. We must therefore immediately initiate the process of transition to socialism, which alone can resolve the present crisis of Chilean dependent capitalism.

The Popular Unity's program recommends as first steps toward this goal the expropriation of latifundios, the nationalization of private banks and external commerce, and the state take-over of our raw-materials resources and commercial and industrial monopolies.

The expropriation of large rural estates will free the economic surplus presently appropriated from the peasantry in the form of land rent. The nationalization of industrial and commercial monopolies will then turn over to the state the economic surpluses that are presently either exported abroad by the imperialists or else consumed internally by the capitalist class. Through centralized planning, this generated surplus would then be reinvested in the manner most appropriate for an enlarged reproduction of our economy. Furthermore, full utilization of our productive resources coupled with an increase in our labor productivity would solve our unemployment problem while creating the base of a real income redistribution in favor of the popular sectors.

Within the class struggle, the Popular Unity defines "imperialists, landed oligarchs, and the monopolistic bourgeoisie" as the enemies of the revolution, while the working class and the peasantry are seen as the major supportive sectors of an alliance that includes the middle and small bourgeoisie as well as radicalized intellectuals. The mission of this alliance is to insure the implementation of the above-described "democratic-national" program, as it has been called by some members of the Popular Unity coalition.

The revolutionary Left actively supports the goals of the program; it is its duty to join forces with the class coalition seeking to strengthen the nationalized sector of the economy in order to destroy imperialism and the agrarian oligarchy. However, the revolutionary Left must also ask if the class strategy of the Popular Unity coalition is adequate to the tasks it has set itself to perform.

To bluntly affirm that the process of nationalization and expropriation will automatically lead to a consolidation of state capitalism at the expense of socialism seems too rigid a position to take. Indeed, the maintenance of a private and mixed economic sector within an expanding state-controlled sector could well be a step forward in the construction of socialism, provided that the working class gains control of the state power in order to direct the capitalist relations of production and process of circulation in its own interest. Moreover, to focus on this problem at this stage is completely unwarranted. The state economic sector must first be built and consolidated, a process that can result only in sharpened class conflicts. Will the class strategy proposed by the Popular Unity permit facing adequately this deepening contradiction? Will it insure the consolidation of proletarian hegemony within a strengthened state?

To answer these questions we must first analyze the contradictions that will be generated by the Popular Unity's strategy. Control of the economic surplus is the real bone of contention—a state control that must be achieved within the framework of a peaceful bourgeois democratic alliance with the small and middle bourgeoisie politically neutralized and economically strengthened.

How is this likely to affect the Popular Unity's program? First, there is the copper problem. The nationalization question has now been transformed into a struggle between the Chilean and the American governments. If Chile nationalizes the copper interests without indemnization, we will face temporary difficulties in the international market structure, thus reducing our economic surplus. If, on the other hand, we agree to pay indemnizations, then we will again see our economic surplus significantly reduced.

As for the internal economic surplus, it is clearly generated from the economic exploitation of the peasantry and the proletariat. The surplus value appropriated by the monopolists is a direct function of real wages. A redistribution of income will clearly, in the short range, diminish the economic surplus. Furthermore, the present legal parliamentary maneuvers of the monopolists successfully delay the time when the state will finally take control of the surplus. Delays which already result in the sabotage of production further diminish the surplus.

Through fiscal measures, credit favors, and price controls, the alliance with the small and middle bourgeoisie not only maintains but actually in many cases strengthens the bourgeoisie's control over the economy.

It is obvious that to augment simultaneously the income of the working and propertied classes at a time of diminishing governmentally controlled surplus can lead only to a rupture of economic equilibrium. The working class will rightly feel entitled to a rise in income, while the bourgeoisie will insist that its participation in the coalition be rewarded with cheap credit, guaranteed demand, low costs of raw materials, etc. . . .

The alliance of the peasantry and the rural and urban proletariat must be strengthened economically and politically if it is to succeed in neutralizing the bourgeoisie. The nationalization process must be accelerated in order to avoid production sabotage and reduction of the economic surplus. This should be done now or not at all.

The Popular Unity's Position on the Worker/Peasant Coalition

An acceleration of the nationalization and expropriation process will result in a sharpened class struggle requiring the strengthening of the rural and urban mass coalition. The peasantry and the urban proletariat must become the hegemonic class within the revolutionary alliance. This can result only from the inclusion within the struggle of the non-organized masses. For while the Popular Unity's program theoretically recognizes that the proletariat and the peasantry are the main wings of the revolutionary forces, let us see which peasantry and which proletariat are actually included within its ranks. As we know, the peasantry is not a homogeneous class within our social formation, nor is the urban proletariat. Recognizing this situation, the Popular Unity has chosen to include only certain sectors of the rural and urban proletariat within its class strategy. Compañero Jacques Chonchol, for instance, in his analysis of the Chilean road to socialism defines the organized rural and urban proletariat as the support of the revolution. The unorganized workers, he tells us, are in no position to join in the struggle. Chonchol's conception of the revolutionary process is peculiar indeed. He defines the rural and urban proletariat's participation as supportive of the revolution, but it is not clear just what they support. Is it other classes? Or maybe a revolutionary project that is not of their own making? In either case, the revolutionary process is defined as escaping their direction. Chonchol excludes the non-organized peasants and urban workers. Since only 30 per cent of the rural population is organized and since close to 50 per cent of the urban working class is presently employed in shops of fewer than five workers, we have a clear idea of whom he means to include in the revolutionary struggle.

Compañero Jorge Insunza's argument, couched in more clearly Leninist language, is even less persuasive. He tells us that "certain deformations are emerging that threaten our struggle for power." What deformations? From what direction? Insunza adds, "The rise to power of the present government has provided a great impulse to the organization of non-organized workers. This is an extraordinarily auspicious sign. The popular government must respond positively to such a tendency and support those nuclei in their attempts to join the class struggle. It is only natural that anarchistic tendencies would manifest themselves in these new sectors inexperienced in the class struggle. This, however, should not prevent the leaders of the labor movement from giving them active support. On the contrary, they should devote special care to the political education of these workers who until now have been the most oppressed of the working class."

From this we may conclude that the Popular Unity has no intention of denying to the unorganized rural and urban proletariat their role in the revolutionary struggle. However, the Popular Unity leaders' attitude is politically ambivalent. On the one hand the active integration of the unorganized workers into the political process is deemed auspicious, while on the other hand integration is simultaneously defined in ways implying contradictory strategies. Should these new forces spontaneously emerging from below be guided into the revolutionary struggle? Or should they rather be contained and controlled from above? The same phenomenon is seen as both auspicious and threatening. The allusion to "anarchistic tendencies" and the paragraph title "social discipline" clearly reveal this fear. Behind the Popular Unity's rhetoric, it is obvious that the poorest sectors of the rural and urban proletariat, defined as "anarchistic," are excluded from the hegemonic control of the class alliance. It is also clear that the Marxist parties participating in the Popular Unity's coalition have no clear strategy for the integration of the unorganized sectors within the peasant/worker alliance.

The Revolutionary Left and the Peasant/Worker Alliance

The revolutionary Left affirms the urgent necessity to incorporate these most impoverished sectors within the revolutionary struggle, and demands that these spontaneously emerging nuclei be encouraged and guided within the process. This is absolutely essential if the successful socialization of the economy is to be accomplished. The organized proletariat presently employed within the nationalized or the soon-to-be-nationalized sectors does not suffice. The immediate incorporation of the non-organized masses into the collective struggle is essential if workers' control and an end to production sabotage are to be achieved. Clearly this strategy would sharpen the class struggle and could lead to a face-to-face confrontation with the small and middle bourgeoisie. Such an incorporation would also increase the pressure on the economy because of the demands that such new sectors would make. But it is also quite clear that inclusion of these disfavored groups within the class struggle would serve to curb the demands of the bourgeoisie on the state economy.

It is impossible at this point to measure the economic impact of such a strategy. It is clear, however, that it would strengthen the peasant/worker coalition. This is what really matters at this point in our struggle for power.

The immediate objective is not to take over the property of the small, the middle, or even the grand bourgeoisie, but rather to augment the social, economic, and political control of the revolutionary masses so as to prevent the propertied classes from strengthening their political base.

Let us speak clearly: the inclusion of the small and middle bourgeoisie within the ranks of the Popular Unity coalition is not what should worry us at this point. We should instead turn our energy to strengthening the peasant/worker alliance with the inclusion of the non-organized sectors. Such an integration would serve to neutralize the strength of the propertied classes within the coalition in preparation for the moment when the class contradictions will reach an antagonistic level.

Tactical Implications of the Revolutionary Lefts Strategy

This neutralization is economically and politically essential because of our attempt to strengthen the state sector within a capitalist structure of production and distribution, which can only increase the struggle between the state and the private sector of the economy as they compete for the appropriation and distribution of the economic surplus.

At what level should the growth of the private sector be curbed? What proportion of the economic surplus should it be allowed to appropriate? These are the fundamental questions, which can only be answered, of course, at the "actual moment" of the conjuncture, when the power struggle for control of the state apparatus becomes acute.

What then of state capitalism? The Popular Unity program clearly envisages state capitalism as a stage leading to socialism, in its distinction between the three economic sectors, public, mixed, and private. Private ownership of the means of production and capitalist relations of production would persist in the mixed and private sectors, while all three sectors would be included within the capitalist process of circulation. The socialization of the entire economy would be inconceivable without this transitional mixed-economy stage for lack of adequate means of technical and administrative centralized control.

Thus, state capitalism is itself a necessary transitional stage. What is at issue, however, is the class struggle itself, that is, the question of who shall benefit from and control the over-all economic process. There are two possibilities. Either the state wins in the struggle with the private and mixed sectors and becomes the chief instrument of economic accumulation, thus ensuring the progressive socialization of the total economy; or the state loses the struggle and transforms itself into the tool of the private economic sectors, thus ensuring the transition to a new stage in the development of national capitalism. In the first case, the proletariat would utilize the state as an economic and political instrument to promote in its favor the process of economic accumulation and the development of the productive forces within a capitalist structure of relations of production and circulation in order to ensure the progressive elimination of the mixed and private sectors and the socialization of the entire economy.

On the other hand, state capitalism could strengthen the hold of the bourgeoisie over the economic process in the private and mixed sectors, thus allowing it to gain a new and absolute control over the state and creating the conditions for a new growth of Chilean capitalism. For this reason, the neutralization of the small and middle bourgeoisie within the Popular Unity coalition is essential if the state is truly to become the political and economic base of socialism. To achieve such an end, it is essential to allow the peasant/proletariat alliance to become the hegemonic power within the revolutionary class coalition.

The small and middle bourgeoisie form the spearhead of the social, political, and military domination of the grand bourgeoisie and imperialism. It must be neutralized if the state is successfully to oppose the bourgeoisie/imperialist cohort. However, to prevent this political neutralization from adversely affecting the economic growth of the nationalized sector and impeding the rise to power of the peasant and urban proletariat, the entire urban and rural masses must be incorporated into the struggle.

The state itself must actively favor the mobilization of the masses, support their economic demands, and find ways to strengthen their participation in this struggle for power.

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