My childhood memories of Allende’s Chile, sharpened by the words, tears and suffering of the adults around me, reflect now more vividly and perhaps more bitterly than ever the tragedy of a revolution half-made.
It is difficult not to remember Allende as a tragic figure, at once both a symbol of hope and a harbinger of defeat. The Allende government provided our family the first and only home of our own: a little mediagua we put up by ourselves on a bit of land.
Like all the reforms of the Allende administration, the political significance of handing out prefabricated homes to the working poor played out not in parliament but in the streets: families organising land takeovers and organisations like the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) and sections of the Socialist Party organising defence groups to secure the land and establishing structures of local power that substituted for those of government.
Governments of genuine social reform are a thing of the past, so it’s difficult to imagine an elected government implementing policies not drawn up in the offices of right wing think tanks and capitalist corporations. At the end of 1969 in Chile, six organisations signed the Unidad Popular Pact: the Communist Party, Socialist Party, Radical Party, Social Democratic Party, Popular Unitary Action Movement (MAPU) and Independent Popular Action.
The pact vowed to have “nothing to do with the privileged”; a Unidad Popular government would instead be a “guarantee for the overwhelming majority of the population, for the 90 percent or more”. The Unidad Popular (UP) transformed public life. Party affiliations ceased to be something hollow and became positions in the class struggle.
The UP rode the tide of a rising workers movement. More than 15,000 grassroots election committees formed and helped mobilise an increasingly hopeful and class conscious movement, which on 4 September 1970 elected Allende to the presidency with a vote of 36.63 percent.
Yet in government the UP coalition was united by a view of socialism and strategy that put economic policy, rather than political mobilisation and organisation, at centre stage.
The Socialist minister of the economy, Pedro Vuskovic, was the architect of a plan to revive the economy by stimulating demand. This involved a massive redistribution of revenues, raising salaries and increasing public expenditure. The wages of lower paid workers increased by two-thirds, unemployment was halved and a wide range of social measures implemented, such as introducing a free litre of milk a day for more than 4 million children.
The plan assumed that increased consumption would stimulate under-utilised capacity in manufacturing and that, together with a growing Area of Social Production (nationalised industries), land reform and prices controls, these policies would generate a level of growth and prosperity that would set the foundations for moving forward with the “transition to socialism”.
For the Stalinist Communist Party, this transition had a classically economistic interpretation – envisaged as a gradual, stagist, statisation of the economy and integration of the trade union movement and government. The CP thought you could advance from the “socialisation of production to the socialisation of power”. The Socialist Party and most of the other UP parties, influenced by theoretical traditions ranging from Austro-Marxism to Guevara’s foquismo, assumed that the UP’s economic policy would provide the growing social support needed to advance the revolutionary agenda.
While the economy enjoyed a short period of economic growth, the main impact of the UP’s policies was to force a rapid political polarisation: the policies were too radical for the capitalist class, often devastating for small business and middle class sectors and insufficient to satisfy the growing political consciousness and combativity of the working class in the cities and the countryside. A government that tried to please everybody couldn’t satisfy anybody. The class character of politics became transparent.
On 9 February 1972, the Christian Democratic and National Party majority in parliament approved a constitutional amendment to “fix norms for the Area of Social Property”. The captains of industry took the political initiative.
The several hundred thousand small retail and industrial businesses, together with the 150,000 property-owning farmers – whose profits, unlike those of big business, could barely survive the increasing costs – provided the social base for reaction.
The conservatism and vacillation of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT – national union federation) also helped Christian Democracy maintain an important loyalty among organised workers.
At the end of Allende’s first year, the UP government was increasingly impotent, facing a class struggle it refused to lead and could barely continue to muffle.
By 1972, inflation was a runaway 140 percent and by year’s end would reach over 400 percent; small business increasingly engaged in hoarding, and the black market was growing. Product shortages affected large numbers of workers and their families, especially those least organised and outside the direct supply lines provided by unions and neighbourhood organisations.
In an effort to abate a consumer panic and regain some semblance of control, Allende created the Juntas de Abastecimiento y Control de Precios (JAPS – Committees of Supplies and Price Control) by government order. These neighbourhood committees made use of consumer rights laws to take over powers of distribution and denounce hoarding and black marketeering on a neighbourhood level.
As with all its policies, the Allende government fell back on popular support to effect changes but simultaneously feared and denounced any development of workers’ organisation autonomous from the structures of government and the law. The JAPs mobilised tens of thousands of workers on a neighbourhood level and provided them with valuable experiences of organisation, administration and workers power.
As Vuskovic recognised, the economy was a battlefield that could not itself resolve the political struggle: “The essence of the difficulties lies in everything meant by the class character of the bourgeois state, into whose still-prevailing boundaries the new achievements have been channelled. Its whole structure, including the judicial framework and even the administrative apparatus, has been shaped to attend to the interests of capitalism. New demands conflict with this, and a large part of the workers’ efforts fall on barren ground, sharpening a contradiction that will be resolved only when this bourgeois state has been replaced by a state with a different character, a people’s state.”
The only way to avoid defeat was to “initiate a huge mobilisation of the masses with concrete objectives to control the production apparatus and to prepare themselves for a military confrontation between the classes”. Instead of advancing, Allende, with the Communist Party providing the government’s troops in the labour movement, launched a campaign of conciliation. Vuskovic was replaced as minister of economy on 17 June 1972 by the Communist Party’s Orlando Millas. Against Vuskovic’s urging to launch a “gigantic offensive of the masses”, the CP argued: “We cannot do that. Our task right now is to prevent our enemies from being provoked.” The government was now increasingly guided by the Communist Party’s policy of “national coexistence”: “To move toward socialism, and later to build socialism, what must come first is the development of production in all areas of the national economy. Without this, there is nothing.”
Workers on the march
But ever larger numbers of Chilean workers and important sections of the left, inside and outside the UP, increasingly looked toward those words in the UP program that the CP ignored: “The revolutionary transformations that the country needs can only be realised if the Chilean people take power into their own hands and exercise it truly and effectively … [this is not about a change of government] but about effecting the fundamental changes our national situation demands, transferring power from the old ruling elites to the workers, farmers and progressive middle classes.”
The working class was growing in confidence and organisational capacity. In the first year of the Allende government, farm workers had taken over almost 1,000 farms and industry takeovers extended to 531 businesses.
By 1972, workers had begun to develop organisations that brought into question the normal organs of government administration and begun to challenge the private capitalist organisation of industry and agriculture. Sensing the need to organise against the sabotage of the bosses, workers in the dense industrial centres of Santiago formed cordones industriales (coordinating factory workers across different industries and unions in distinct geographical areas).
The union bureaucracy – in which the Communist Party and Christian Democrats remained entrenched – argued for the cordones to come under the direction of the CUT. The Socialist Party, which had about a quarter of the CUT national council delegates, provided the bulk of the militants and leaders of the cordones.
For a growing majority of the Socialist Party, the cordones were an “embryo of the socialist state” and, together with the comandos comunales de trabajadores (locally based councils), the “vanguard of the working class”.
On 9 May 1972, a meeting of the UP in the important southern city of Concepcion resolved to organise a mobilisation to counter a Christian Democratic and National Party rally against the government. The local UP leadership, including the CP, the CUT and most mass organisations, agreed to involve the Movement of the Revolutionary Left and to organise to stop the right wing demonstration from occupying the streets.
At 3pm on 12 May, at the university, 15,000 workers, students and poor gathered in an open forum and prepared to take on the right. Despite severe police repression and the violence of the fascist shock troops Patria y Libertad, the people marched and swept the streets of the right wing demonstrators.
Despite the CP leadership urging the members of the UP to abandon the MIR and return to the fold, on 27 July the Concepcion Asamblea del Pueblo met to “denounce the counter-revolutionary character of the parliament”. The assembly was supported by the PS, MAPU, MIR, Christian Left Party and the Radical Party and involved participants from some 61 unions, six peasant organisations, 17 student organisations, 32 neighbourhood organisations, 27 mothers’ centres and five political parties.
From mid-1972 onwards, the MIR gained in strength and influence, joining an increasingly radicalised majority of the Socialist Party, MAPU and Christian Left in expressing the sentiments of the most advanced workers. Concepcion’s Asamblea Popular resolved to: “prepare the local conditions for a national strike and protest against the manoeuvres of the reactionary majority of parliament; and to create assemblies and councils of workers in each locality”.
Understanding the growing power of the organised workers, the Chilean capitalist class sought to regain the initiative. In the second half of 1972, fascist groups stepped up their sabotage. On 10 October, after the Allende government projected forming a state trucking company in the south of Chile, the Chilean Truck Owners Association called a stoppage; they were joined by the Confederation of Retail Merchants, the private owners of microbuses and collective taxis, the Society for Industrial Development, the National Agriculture Society, the National Confederation of Production and Commerce, the College of Lawyers, the College of Engineers and some employees from the private banks.
What the capitalists did not expect was that the workers would respond, not in accordance with the timidity and capitulationist politics of the UP leadership, but rather with the combativity and creativity of a class that was ready to rule. Hundreds of thousands of workers began to march to work, walking the streets, organising the recommissioning of company trucks to provide makeshift public transport; farm workers continued to work, office workers likewise; university and high school students all joined the struggle against the bosses’ lockout. Workers began to organise their own distribution chains for consumer articles, taking over the role of private supermarkets. In the factories, workers took on the administrative and technical operations and kept companies working and producing.
Enter the generals
The capitalist class and politicians pulled back. Realising they could not win on the streets, they sought a deal and further compromises from the UP politicians. Allende spoke out against the growing combativity of the workers, attacking what the UP leadership called “indiscriminate takeovers” and “extremism”. On 2 November, Allende announced the addition of three generals to the cabinet: General Carlos Prats Gonzalez as minister of the interior; Admiral Ismael Huerta as minister of public works; and Air Force General Claudio Sepulveda as minister of mines. The army now had what the capitalist class required: the opportunity to observe and study up close the growing power and organisation of the workers. The expectation was that a victory for the right wing parties in the March 1973 congressional elections would secure the possibility of moving into a final phase of sacking the government and dismantling the new organisational structures of the workers.
The March elections proved instead the growing strength of the working class movement, leaving the ruling class only one option. Throughout Santiago black paint graffiti appeared on city walls: “Jakarta is coming!”
Using its position in government and the existing Law of Control of Arms, the army mobilised to sweep for weapons in the occupied factories, worker-controlled neighbourhoods, union and left offices and even hospitals – beginning the terrorisation and securing the information it needed to prepare for the coup. Importantly, the army also intensified its campaign to clean up its own house, arresting and torturing anti-coup navy personnel in the Valparaíso and Talcahuano naval bases. On 6 August, more than 100 navy personnel were arrested and accused of organising left cells inside the armed forces and preparing a mutiny.
On 29 June, the tanquetazo (“tank putsch”), led by Army Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Souper, provided a rehearsal of what was to come.
The MIR warned: “Only the mobilisation and independent organisation of the workers and immediate and decisive combat” against the reactionaries could defeat an imminent coup: “We call on all workers to maintain the occupation of factories, farms and all places of work.” The tactical importance of the cordones and the comandos comunales de trabajadores now provided a basis of agreement for the MIR, MAPU, Christian Left and the majority of the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party general secretary of the CUT declared that the comandos comunales could begin to “translate power from the bourgeois institutionality to a workers’ institutionality”.
After June 1973, the capitalists knew they had to seize their chance while they had it. On 11 September they did so.
The reformist Communist Party was belligerent to the end, refusing to organise against the coup until a meeting of parliament. Meanwhile its own militants were being herded into the National Stadium, where, among others, one of its famous members, the great Chilean musician Victor Jara, would be tortured and killed.
The MIR organised frantically, arranging a meeting of left party leaders on the morning of the coup, only to be broken up by the military.
In an underground press conference a month later, the general secretary of the MIR, Miguel Enriquez, summed up the Chilean tragedy: “The crisis of the system of [capitalist] domination … [was] crystallised in the rise of the UP government. This generated conditions that would have permitted, if the government had been utilised as an instrument of the working class struggle, the conquering of power by the workers and a proletarian revolution.
“But the reformist project assumed by the UP imprisoned itself in the bourgeois order … With the hope of achieving an alliance with a section of the bourgeoisie, it didn’t base itself on the revolutionary organisation of the workers, on their own organs of power. It refused an alliance with the soldiers and junior officers; it preferred trying to fortify itself within the capitalist state apparatus and the officer corps of the armed forces.
“The reformist illusion allowed the dominant classes to fortify themselves in the state and from there initiate its reactionary counter-offensive. The reformist illusion was paid and is being paid for cruelly by the workers, their leaders and parties … dramatically confirming the words of the French revolutionary of the 18th century, Saint Just: ‘Those who make revolutions in halves only dig their own graves.’”
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‛Forward with all the force of history!’
The following is a speech by Miguel Enriquez, secretary general of the Chilean Movement of the Revolutionary Left, delivered at the Caupolican Theatre, Santiago, on 17 July 1973. It was given in the days that followed the first coup attempt (before Pinochet’s successful coup in September 1973), El Tanquetazo or El Tancazo (“tank putsch”) of 29 June 1973, led by army Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Souper. Abridged and edited by Jorge Jorquera.
In recent weeks the country has been rocked by severe and acute conflict. The class struggle has sharpened, laying bare the contradictions of society. In a rapid succession of shocks and events, workers have now taken up their protagonist role on the stage of political struggle. The working class and the masses, entrenched in the factories and farms, now confront their class enemy.
We are here not just to analyse but to prepare for the next confrontations. This is an act of combat. It’s a call to the working class and the masses to reaffirm their combative position and resume the fight, harder than ever, relentlessly pursuing the struggle against the bosses.
We need to point out our policy and our tactics in this context and for the looming battles. The employer class will cry to high heaven: let them squeak; there are class interests, power and wealth they want to maintain and that workers must usurp.
The attempted coup by the armed forces has been crushed: by the resistance of some honest officers, non-commissioned officers and police, and by the siege of workers from the suburbs of Santiago. The working class, aware that the problem was not resolved, continued and deepened its counteroffensive. The workers occupied hundreds of factories and farms, took control of the neighbourhoods; the students joined in, the comandos comunales [worker-neighbourhood committees dealing with everything from food supplies to self-defence] were multiplied and strengthened, the self-defence organisations of the workers gained momentum, and popular power developed and grew. The working class and the masses understood that this was the time to increase rapidly their strength, taking more positions.
Some on the left are wavering.
Despite everything, throughout the length and breadth of the country, only one cry resounds in the factories, farms, neighbourhoods and schools, in the barracks of the people: the call to create, strengthen and multiply popular power, the power of the comandos comunales, the power of the workers and peasants, the power of the revolution.
We live in a time when the social and political confrontation has intensified in the extreme. Two huge social blocs have been constituted.
On one hand, the working class and the masses, widely active and mobilised, who have taken an enormous leap in organisation and consciousness, who have increasingly developed their own capacity for defence, who have taken the initiative and assumed new positions in the factories and farms, raising a mighty dam against conspiracy and blackmail, together with the anti-coup NCOs, soldiers and police officers.
On the other hand, the boss class – now uncovered, disarmed politically and without a popular base – have dug in, reliant on the institutions of power, and from there using their influence and mounting their push for the armed forces to act openly in defence of their class interests.
The forces of the right target the vacillators on the left, seeding illusions in possible accords. They aim to tempt the left to continue this game, to come to agreements that would paralyse and separate the struggle of the masses and the left.
The reactionaries raise the defence of democracy and legality, the same people who roll out tanks.
They defend not the liberty of workers but the democracy and order of the bourgeoisie. They defend the democracy in whose name workers have been massacred, assassinated and tortured.
They defend the democracy that kills with hunger and misery millions the world over. They defend the democracy which in fact is not democracy but the dictatorship of the bosses and bourgeoisie.
That’s not workers’ democracy. Proletarian democracy is direct democracy and does not need parliament, justice departments or treasuries like those we now have that usurp the representation of the masses.
The workers are building their own class institutions – the comandos comunales, organs of popular power, which day by day are strengthened – and they will continue to do so whether the vacillators accept it or not and whatever the reactionaries claim.
The working class and the masses have already decided which industries will stay in the socialised arena and which will be subject to workers’ control.
The working class in its struggle occupied the factories, and no politicians wearing their flags of democracy and foreign dollars can come and impose their conditions on the workers.
Reactionaries will say that this is violating the law. Yes it is. Constitutions express class interests and the correlation of forces. Here in Chile, the working class is raising in practice its own laws, and the constitution will have to change in favour of the masses.
People have the right to make their own laws. The working class and the masses in Chile are building, in an accelerated manner, their own laws and laying the foundations for a new constitution, a new legality, a legality built in combat and in struggle.
The reactionaries demand the return of the occupied factories. In this way, they aim to divide the working class and divide the people. The working class in the factories, in the comandos and the cordones [workers councils], demands and will see to it that all large firms are socialised, that workers control is assumed in the small and medium industries and that workers have a directing say in the socialised industries.
It is useless to dialogue with the Christian Democrats; this is a bourgeois party in which reactionary tactics predominate. If there are any anti-coup elements among them, they will not be won to the workers by means of concessions, which can only strengthen the reactionaries.
Revolutionaries must try to win over the workers who support the Christian Democrats, but by denouncing the reactionary character of their party, driving forward the revolutionary program and through mass action.
The task is not to save time at the expense of concessions that weaken us. The task is to call the working class to strengthen its own ranks, from there to resist and to conquer new positions.
The working class does not want a government or a cabinet of dialogue but demands that the cabinet and the government be instruments of struggle and combat.
This is not the time to question the takeovers or limit the development of popular power. This is a critical historical moment in which the great tasks are countering the coup attempts, neutralising the vacillators and pushing and deepening a vigorous and resolute revolutionary counteroffensive.
There is no alternative for revolutionaries. There may be for the most recalcitrant reformists, but history will judge these people according to their conduct.
The situation offers only two choices: reformist capitulation or a revolutionary counteroffensive.
Any form of capitulation in the end will lead, sooner rather than later, to the crushing of the workers, through a reactionary and repressive dictatorship.
Two tactics are on offer to the working class and the masses.
One says that it is not possible to deepen the popular offensive because it will spark an immediate confrontation, that it is necessary to gain time. This view remains within bourgeois institutionality, which it continues to criticise but without providing an alternative, instead remaining open to a dialogue with opposing forces, which can occur only by returning factories and making concessions.
This tactic is inevitably doomed to failure; seeking allies in the opposition, it only loses them from its own camp.
The other tactic is revolutionary. It is the tactic that the working class has been implementing in recent weeks.
The revolutionary tactic consists in reinforcing and expanding the takeovers of factories, farms and distributors. Not returning the large companies taken over, but incorporating them into the socialised sector and putting them under workers control. Developing the strength of the workers outside bourgeois institutionality; establishing popular power in the comandos comunales and the defence committees; multiplying and extending the popular offensive, incorporating the urban poor, the peasants and students, extending mobilisation throughout the country; developing the alliance of workers with soldiers, NCOs and honest officers.
If the counter-revolution is unleashed, the revolutionaries and workers must immediately extend the factory takeovers and land occupations, multiplying defence tasks and developing popular power as government autonomous of the state power.
NCOs, soldiers and police should disobey the orders of the pro-coup officers; and in this case all forms of struggle will be legitimate.
In this way it will be true to say that the workers together with soldiers, sailors, air force personnel and police, anti-coup NCOs and officers, will have the legitimate right to build their own army, the People’s Army.
Comrade workers, we are living through defining moments; the victories and the future of the working class are under threat.
The class struggle is always a covert war. The bourgeois counter-revolution proposes, today in Chile, to explode it.
The people will not tie their own hands. The working class and the masses are ready to fight, determined to defend their conquests and more determined now than ever to conquer their future.
The masses must prepare to resist; they must prepare to fight; they must prepare to win!
Workers of Chile:
Forward with all your strength! Forward with all the force of history!
[Published in The Rebel, July 1973.]