Chile's Road to Socialism



General Editor: Richard Gott

Salvador Allende was born in Valparaiso in 1908, the son of a lawyer. In 1926 he entered the School of Medicine in the University of Chile. While a student he became involved in politics and in 1931 took part in the street rioting which led to the fall of President Carlos Ibañez. When Colonel Marmaduke Grove set up the short-lived Socialist Republic in Chile, Allende was a house doctor in a hospital in Valparaiso. After the fall of the Republic he was arrested and prosecuted, but after five trails was released, absolved of all charges. He was a founder of the Chilean Socialist Party in 1933 and in 1937 was elected as deputy for Quillota and Valparaiso. In 1938 he became the chief organizer in Valparaiso of the campaign to elect Aguirre Cerda, the Popular Front candidate, to the Presidency. In 1939 he became, for a brief time, Minister of Health in Cerda's government. He sat in the Senate from 194; to 1970 and was Vice-President of the Senate for five years and President for two. He became Secretary-General of the Socialist Party in 1943 and stood unsuccessfully for President in 1932, 1958 and 1964. In 1970 he was elected President at the head of a broadly based Popular Front Coalition.

He died in the Presidential Palace in Santiago in September 1973 when the Chilean armed forces overthrew his government and the constitution.

Chile's Road to Socialism
Salvador Allende

Edited by Joan E. Garces
Translated by J. Darling
Introduction by Richard Gott


Editorial Note

Introduction by Richard Gott

1. The Programme of Unidad Popular -17 December 1969
2. The Purpose of Our Victory -5 November 1970
3. Relations with Cuba -11 November 1970
4. Internal Order and Discipline -26 November 1970
5. Honesty in Administration -15 December 1970
6. The Occupation of Rural Estates -12 December 1970
7. The Nationalization of Copper - 21 December 1970
8. The Nationalization of Banks - 30 December 1970
9. Participation and Mobilization -13 January 1971
10. President of Unidad Popular - 21 February 1971
11. The Unites States of America - 27 February 1971
12. Social Order and Legal Order -6 March 1971
13. The Unions' and Workers’s Aristocracy -15 March 1971
14. Organization and Production -16 March 1971
15. Statements Made Abroad -17 March 1971
16. Sedition -30 March 1971
17. Latin America Emerges from Underdevelopment - 27 April 1971
18. Violence -1 May 1971
19. The Armed Forces and the Carabineros - 5 May 1971
20. The Chilean Road to Socialism - 21 May 1971
21. International Policy - 21 May 1971
22. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat - 25 May 1971
23. Chile and the World -14 April 1972

Editorial Note

During the first six months of his presidency Salvador Allende set out in his public speeches the principles which have guided the government of Unidad Popular in its efforts to overcome the capitalist system and in making possible Chile's advance on the road to socialism.

What follows here is a selection of plans and ideas taken from his programme, expressed primarily in his Inaugural Address, 5 November 1970; in his speech to the fourteenth annual session of the Economic Commission for Latin America, 27 April 1971; and in his first Annual Message to Congress, 21 May 1971.

In order to give a more complete picture of the policies of Unidad Popular, extracts from unprepared statements made to widely differing groups of listeners have been included, in which President Allende discusses some of the problems of internal organization and of foreign policy. The collection begins with the programme formulated in 1969 by the co-ordinating committee of Unidad Popular.

Santiago, May 1971


In most of the world, where exploitation and dependence are the rule, the illiteracy of the population gives a significance to political speeches that they have all but lost in the industrialized, privileged part of the globe. More than anyone else, the politician in the developing world has to think on his feet. He may have to convince a hostile crowd, or give voice to the hopes of a sympathetic one. He will be cabled upon to assuage the fears of powerful minorities, to cajole, explain and teach. The task of a president or prime minister is not confined to settling disputes within his cabinet; he must be out talking to the strikers if he wants a settlement; he must offer peasant farmers personal assurances that their hopes of credit are not in vain; and, while remaining in touch with the peasants and workers, he must also be able to communicate with the students and intellectuals and to voice their aspirations. And wherever he goes, talking to mass demonstrations or to tiny groups, the microphone will pursue him. His words, designed for the many or the few, will relentlessly be repeated in peasant hut or urban slum.

In the demagogic atmosphere of Latin American politics, much political oratory has degenerated into the mere reiteration of classical formulae. Form is everything, the content stands for little. Fidel Castro alone has the power to stand at the rostrum, hour after hour, and hold his audience spell bound. His words are the cement that holds revolutionary Cuba together.

Salvador Allende is no Fidel. He is a conscientious and competent performer, but no one could claim that he has captured the magic and sparkle of the Cuban leader. Nevertheless, like Fidel he is a socialist and an authentic nationalist. His sober way of expressing himself accords well with his country's needs and desires. His voice is the voice of the Unidad Popular - the Popular Unity coalition that chose him as their presidential candidate - and without him that unity would fast evaporate. As Fidel personifies the Cuban Revolution, so, in his very different way, Salvador Allende personifies Chile's road to socialism.

And what an amazing road it is! Allende's election as President of Chile in 1970 was certainly the most positive event in the continent since the victory of the Cuban guerrillas a decade earlier. For the first time in more than ten years Latin America was faced with a real challenge to the increasingly intolerable status quo. Five years before it would have been almost inconceivable for Allende to have taken power. In 1965 President Johnson sent the Marines to Santo Domingo to rescue the island from the hands of half a hundred Communists. What would he not have done in Chile, where Communist Party members are numbered in tens of thousands and where the political spectrum continues far to the left of the Communists?

In 1964, when Allende was the presidential candidate of a more narrowly based alliance of Communists and Socialists, the United States - through both government and private enterprise - raised very large sums of money to support the campaign of his opponent, the Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei. Allende lost then, as he had lost before, in 1958 and 1952. But in 1970, with a broadly based coalition of Socialists, Communists, Radicals and left-wing Christians, he was finally triumphant, narrowly defeating the right-wing candidate, ex-President Jorge Alessandri, and soundly trouncing the Christian Democrat candidate, Radomiro Tomic.

Allende was born into Chile's professional middle classes on 26 July 1908 in the then prosperous port of Valparaiso. He was the nephew of Ramon Allende, the organizer of the Chilean army's medical services during the War of the Pacific, and there never seemed much question but that Salvador would follow in his uncle's footsteps. At the age of eighteen he entered the school of medicine at the university. There he soon became a student leader. "The medical students were traditionally the most advanced,' Allende told Regis Debray during the long discussions which they held early in 1971. 'We lived in a very humble district, we practically lived with the people, most of us were from the provinces and those of us living in the same hostel used to meet at night for readings of Das Kapital, and Lenin, and also Trotsky.'

Allende's political activities were a considerable hindrance to his early medical career, but by June 1932 - the moment when Colonel Marmaduke Grove set up a Socialist Republic in Chile which lasted a hundred days - he was established as a house doctor in a hospital in Valparaiso. Chile, like most countries in the colonial or dependent world, suffered severely during the Great Depression, and the economic collapse had major repercussions in the political sphere. Chile oscillated violently between constitutional rule, dictatorship and socialist revolution. The revolution of 1932 was short-lived, but Allende - who was related by marriage to its chief instigator, Marmaduke Grove - was its firm supporter and he found himself briefly in prison when the Socialist Republic came to an end.

The following year, when four or five small socialist groups decided to amalgamate to form the Chilean Socialist Party, Allende was of their number. From the very beginning the Party was characterized by its emphasis on nationalism. 'When we founded the Socialist Party,' Allende told Debray, 'the Communist Party already existed, but we analyzed the situation in Chile, and we believed that there was a place for a party which, while holding similar views in terms of philosophy and doctrine - a Marxist approach to the interpretation of history - would be a party free of ties of an international nature.' In its forty-year life the Chilean Socialist Party has undergone many changes and countless scissions, but it has always kept its distance from the Communist Party. In its international relations it has always felt most close to the odd man out in the Communist world - supporting at appropriate moments the right of Yugoslavia, China, Cuba or Romania to take its own chosen path.

The Socialist Party, together with the Communists and the Radicals, was a supporter in the 1930's of the concept of the Popular Front, and Allende became the chief organizer in Valparaiso in 1938 of the campaign to secure the presidency for the Popular Front candidate, the Radical leader Pedro Aguirre Cerda. The previous year Allende had made his first appearance in the Congress, as the deputy for Valparaiso. Aguirre Cerda became President of Chile in 1938, and, although he died after only three years in office, his presidency was a major landmark in Chile's economic and political history. Marxists took part in government and the state was accorded an important role in economic development. Allende himself was appointed Minister of Health in 1939, though his period in office was brief.

For the next thirty years Allende was out of government, but he was never for a moment uninvolved in the development of Chilean politics. He sat in the Senate from 1945 to 1970, representing at different times the most diverse areas of the country, from Antofagasta in the north to Magallanes in the south. He was Vice-President of the Senate for five years, and President for two. He became Secretary-General of the Socialist Party in 1943 after one of its periodic splits, and the party's presidential candidate after another in 1952. He lost to Carlos Ibañez in 1952, to Jorge Alessandri in 1958 and to Eduardo Frei in 1964. Many people thought that his defeat in 1964 would mark his political eclipse, but Allende came (bounding back into the limelight in 1969-70, the only national figure capable of uniting the argumentative and opinionated Chilean left.

Allende's political strength lies in his considerable personal popularity throughout the country and in the exceptional clarity of his political thought. He is not an intellectual in the way that Castro is, who dreams up Utopian ideas and rehearses them openly before half a million people. By contrast, Allende's political views are relatively simple and unsophisticated. But his transparent honesty and dedication throughout the years in reiterating the socialist message have had their reward in the growing sense of solidarity that Chileans from all parts of the country have with their compañero presidente.

Few of the ideas in these speeches originated with Allende himself. He makes no claim to be an original thinker. What makes him interesting is his ability to absorb ideas and to retail them convincingly. He is no simple seeker after power for its own sake. He has not sought power at all cost, but unity - unity of all people in Chile who want to see progressive changes in the country. 'I have always said that I am not a caudillo,' he tells trade unionists, 'nor a messianic figure, nor a man sent by providence. I am a militant socialist who realized that only in unity lay a hope of victory for the people.'

Allende's pursuit of unity has taken him at times into strange places - into discussions with the Christian Democrat opposition and into the barracks to discover generals suited for political office. But his search for unity, rooted principally in the often uneasy alliance between the Communists and the Socialists, is guided by an overwhelming desire to bring socialism to Chile without the disaster of a civil war. In his very first speech as President he reiterates that he will not be another Balmaceda, and it is a theme to which he often returns.

There is a popular but false notion that Chile has a tradition of unbroken 'democracy'. In fact its history has been charted by constitutional upheavals, wars of aggression and extermination, and coups d'etat, just like other Latin American countries - if perhaps to a lesser extent. In 1891 there was a civil war. Jose Manuel Balmaceda, a liberal president representing newly enfranchised progressive elements in the population favourable to state intervention, came into conflict with the Congress dominated by the old laisser-faire free-trading agrarian oligarchy, and war broke out. The army supported Balmaceda, and most of the navy backed the rebellious Congress. After nearly seven months, Balmaceda had to admit defeat. He asked for asylum in the Argentine embassy and committed suicide there on 19 September 1891.

Allende has no desire to emulate the fate of Balmaceda, and yet, though it would be foolish to overestimate the similarities between the two presidents, eighty years apart, it is not difficult to find parallels. Allende, like Balmaceda, has tried to introduce reforms in the face of interests that are numerically weak but economically powerful, and in the teeth of Congressional opposition. If civil war were to break out today, as in 1891, the armed forces would again be divided, and Allende, too, would probably lose. The extreme left and the extreme right in today's Chile are shaping up for battle; the latter feel they will soon have nothing to lose, the former that they have everything to win.

Allende has set himself a Herculean task, persuading the right not to try and the left to stay its hand awhile. There is no doubt that a substantial percentage of Allende's own Socialist Party is sympathetic to the aims of the Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria - the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) - that exists to the left and beyond the framework of the Unidad Popular. But these socialists are reluctant to embrace the doctrine of the armed struggle which has become so pervasive in other countries of the continent, notably in neighbouring Argentina and in Uruguay, for the simple reason that they believe that - given the forces that exist at present - they would lose. In these circumstances the Chilean Communist Party, which like other such parties in the continent has resolutely opposed the concept of revolutionary violence at least since the mid 1960's, has proved to be an important moderating - some would say conservative -influence within the Unidad Popular coalition.

The policy of Allende's government is set out here in the programme of the Unidad Popular that was drawn up in the year before the election of 1970. It is certainly a radical document, but in the late twentieth century it can hardly be described as revolutionary. It proposes the drawing-up of a new constitution that will permit the replacement of Congress by a People's Assembly, and the reform of the judiciary. In the economic sector it calls for a new emphasis on planning and an end to 'the power of monopoly capitalism'. This is to involve bringing into the hands of the state such key areas as mining, banking, communications, distribution and foreign trade. In addition, the programme promised an accelerated land reform.

Yet even this reformist, if far-reaching, programme provoked not just opposition, but subversion and sabotage. The Army Commander-in-Chief, General Rene Schneider, an open-minded man of progressive views, was assassinated in an attempt to prevent Allende's election by the people being endorsed by Congress.

Large American corporations, like the now infamous International Telegraph and Telephones, sought desperately to find Chileans willing to assist them in their nefarious plans. And some of the principal institutions of Chile, notably the Congress and the judiciary, stood firmly on the side of the existing power holders, with the landlords against the peasants, with the industrialists against the workers. The vast bulk of press and radio also stood in opposition to Allende's government and its plans. Only when expropriating the American-owned copper mines was Allende able to secure the unity of the entire nation. Yet that simple and essential act, backed unreservedly by the Chilean people, brought him into untold trouble with the United States.

Although the 1970 election gave Allende the considerable powers of leverage, patronage and control that the office of President bestows on the incumbent under the Chilean Constitution, the parties of the Unidad Popular had no majority either in the Senate or the Chamber of Deputies, and therefore no possibility of legislating for its reforms. Allende himself was elected by Congress with the votes of the Christian Democrats, and to these were added, in the case of the nationalization of copper, the votes of the right-wing National Party. But on every other occasion, the Unidad Popular has lacked a majority to pass laws to implement its programme. No other revolution has been forced to accommodate itself to the pre-revolutionary concept of legality in such a way. Of course ingenious methods of bypassing Congress were soon found. Using old legislation it was possible to accelerate the progress of expropriating the latifundia, and many industries were taken over by resurrecting archaic or forgotten decrees. The principal banks were simply bought out. But without a majority in Congress Allende has suffered from a lack of flexibility in operation which has gradually threatened to bring the whole journey along the road to socialism to an abrupt halt.

Nevertheless pessimism about the future should not blind one to what has already been achieved - and at a cost in human terms well below that normally associated with revolutionary change.

The latifundista, for example, has escaped comparatively lightly. He has survived not just with his life, but often with a sizable chunk of his property as well. But his political power has been eroded, and his psychological grip on the peasantry through his position as lord of the manor has been loosened for all time. Barely ten years ago he reigned supreme, his right to control the fortunes of his serfs unquestioned since the days of Pedro de Valdivia. Both master and servant knew their place, and, on the rare occasions when the latter rebelled, the power of the state was at the disposal of the former to be used without restraint.

While the farm labourer lived in penury unaware of horizons beyond the farm, the landowner sent his children to Europe on the excess profits. According to a survey in 1960, the top 10,000 landowners in Chile earned more than £6,000 a year. Yet as Allende explained to the UNCTAD conference, there are still '600,000 children who, for want of proteins in the first eight months of their life, will never attain their full mental vigour'. With a cheap and unorganized labour force, a sympathetic climate and large copper revenues enabling the state to buy food from abroad, the Chilean landowner was never under any pressure to farm efficiently. For many, the farm became a country retreat away from urban cares rather than a necessary source of income.

Yet in ten years the Chilean landowner has seen his power and prestige slowly whittled away. It is now safe to say that, whatever the nature of an eventual counter-revolution, the old landed class will hot benefit from it. That has gone for ever, and the stubborn resistance to change that one meets on occasion is what one would expect in the circumstances, rather than the prelude to a right-wing armed struggle against the regime. There is now a process of accelerated class struggle in the rural areas. The vast majority of the thousands of farm incidents recorded by the police since Allende came to power have been the result of labour disputes, reflecting the gradual awakening of the peasantry through the legalization of peasants' unions some years ago. The balance of power has certainly swung against the landlord, though it cannot yet be said to have moved clearly in favour of the peasant.

A successful land reform demands a state that looks benevolently on the aspirations of the peasants. The Chilean state is at present only neutral. The government is composed of many groups, each with its separate peasant faction - by no means disposed to co-operate with the others. The bureaucracy in the agrarian sector has been inherited from the old Christian Democratic regime and is often hostile to the present government's plans, while the legal system is geared to benefit the landlord and not the peasant.

Allende has passed no new agrarian legislation. His lack of a majority in Congress would prevent him from doing so even if he wanted to, but his advisers have felt that they could get by on the old land-reform law bequeathed by President Frei. The principal significant innovation in the rural sector has been the formation of peasant councils. Since the first one was set up in the province of Cautin in January 1971, more than 200 have been formed, and potentially they should be a useful instrument for giving the peasant a voice in framing policy. In practice, though, their role has never been properly defined. The political parties in Chile, either through the unions or through the state bureaucracy, have already got their instruments of control in the countryside, and are understandably reluctant to allow the peasants any real participation in politics through new and untested machinery. There is some danger in fact that the new councils may muzzle rather than encourage the peasants' enthusiasm for change that has unquestionably been aroused.

But much has been done. Using the old land-reform law, Chile has now abolished the latifundia - all farms of more than 170 acres have now been taken over. For the moment, though, these changes will not be reflected in increased production for the market. The process of expropriation has meant inevitable disruption in sowing schedules, and bank credit - switched from the latifundistas to the peasants - shows every sign of being an irrecoverable loan. But Chile's dramatic increase in food imports - some $400 million in 1972 - is due to the redistribution of income and the consequent increase in consumption rather than to a decline in production.

The limitation imposed by using the old law can be seen by the fact that by the end of the reform process, when 50 per cent of the country's productive land will be in the hands of the state, only about 12 per cent of the rural labour force will be located there. Most of the country's peasants are not directly affected by the reform. Indeed, more than 30 per cent are small holders with insufficient land to meet their needs -let alone to produce a surplus for the market. Eventually it seems clear that Chile - like Cuba, North Vietnam and other socialist countries - will have to pass a second agrarian reform that will affect the people rather than the land. But that will mean far-reaching changes in Chile's political structure which are not yet in sight.

In any case the rural influence on politics is now in decline. Today the Chilean huaso or cowboy, the rodeo and the national dance - the peasant cueca - continue to survive as part of the folk myth necessary to bolster up the idea the Chileans have of themselves as a sturdy peasant nation, but the statistics have for long revealed the underlying trend toward urbanization. The bulk of Chile's population now fives in the towns, and significant though the present experiments in land reform are as a potential aid to the liberation of a suppressed class, the success or failure of the Chilean revolution will not be decided in the countryside.

It is in the towns that the Unidad Popular government faces its toughest challenge, and it is there that the Christian Democrat opposition is most powerfully entrenched. The Christian Democrats represent the middle class, both the upstart immigrant entrepreneurs and the vast bulk of those who have done well for the past century out of surprise bonanzas rather than hard work - the more traditional characteristic of a classic middle class. Nitrates, copper and more recently huge injections of foreign aid have given Chile a middle class legendary for its parasitism, lethargy - and political skill.

For the past decade this class has assembled its legions -some 30 per cent of the country - behind the banner of the Christian Democrats, who have established themselves as the single most powerful national party. Like the left-wing parties, it has a strong revolutionary rhetoric, but its grass roots are a constant brake on any left-wing rhetoric being made reality.

The principal achievement of the Christian Democrat Party has been its success in identifying the progress and development of Chile as a whole, in the eyes of most Chileans, with the needs and desires of the middle class. Thus the way forward which Chile embarked on in 1964 when the Christian Democrats came to power with their slogan of 'the non-capitalist road to development' has not been significantly changed with the new slogan of the Unidad Popular in 1970 of 'the road to socialism'.

The definition of development under both President Frei and President Allende has remained fundamentally the same: to extend the material and cultural values of the middle class to ever larger sectors of the population.

Many people within Allende's coalition would like to see a more revolutionary definition, but the fact is that six years of Christian Democracy, with its booming foreign-aided consumer society, have created a sizable antibody within Chile that has made more than half the country resistant to revolutionary socialism. If Allende had supreme power, he could forge a new revolutionary definition of development. As it is, forced to play politics within the old inherited structure, he has to prove to the electorate that he can deliver the goods better than the last man. Not new or different goods, but more of the same. Theoretically, if he can do this well enough, the electorate will reward him with a majority in Congress - and then he would be able to pass the necessary legislation that would put Chile well and truly on the road to socialism. In practice, simple arithmetic shows that Allende and his coalition are never likely to scrape together much more than 40 per cent of the vote - creditable enough, but insufficient. Allende is something of a tactical wizard, and he rides rings round his opponents in all Congressional dealings, but he cannot escape from the fact that most of the cards are stacked against him. Nevertheless he is probably now the one man in Chile who can save the country from civil war.

October 1972

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