50 Years ago, Reformism Led the Chilean Proletariat to the Slaughterhouse

(«Proletarian»; Nr. 20; Autumn-Winter 2023)

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The election in Chile in 1970 of a «Marxist» president (Salvador Allende) and the arrival in government of a left-wing coalition based around the Socialist Party and the Communist Party the UP, («Unidad Popular» Popular Unity) had an impact far beyond the country’s borders.

For left-wing parties in Europe and elsewhere, the «Chilean experience» demonstrated that it was possible to achieve «socialism» by a peaceful and democratic route, thanks to reforms carried out using state institutions.

In reality, the «socialism» touted by the UP and its anything-but-Marxist president was nothing more than a slightly reformed and «improved» capitalism: there was no question of touching the capitalist mode of production and setting itself the objective of a radically new society, without exploitation, without markets or money, without social classes or State -genuine socialism.

 Genuine socialism can only be achieved at international level, and only after the bourgeois state and the resistance of the property-owning classes had been broken by the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The UP envisaged nothing of the sort; its programme was a set of economic reforms aimed at speeding up capitalist development by liquidating the archaic sectors (large landholdings), increasing the economic role of the state to push forward industrialisation, loosening the imperialist grip (nationalisation of the big American mining companies) and at the same time granting the social measures necessary to calm the discontent of the proletarians and the poor masses.

It is therefore not surprising that the main bourgeois party, Christian Democracy, voted for Allende’s nomination (as he did not have a sufficient majority to be elected directly, the nomination depended on a vote in parliament where the UP was in the minority). To be on the safe side, the DC made it a condition (in a text dated 24/9/1970) that the future president would undertake, among other things, to respect «the organic and hierarchical structures of the Armed Forces and the Carabinieri Corps»: «We want the Armed Forces and the Carabinieri Corps to continue to be a guarantee of our democratic system». What follows will show once again that the democratic system defended by the army and the police is nothing more than the domination of the bourgeoisie...

The UP government had more or less virulent opponents: starting with the large landowners (the «momios» the mummies) who feared land occupations, sectors of the petty and middle bourgeoisie worried about the government’s modernisation plans (the plan to create a national transport company led to a revolt by lorry owners) and American imperialism, obviously hostile to attempts to undermine its interests and forge closer ties with Cuba. The UP tried to appease these opponents by limiting agrarian «reform» (it had never thought of an agrarian revolution) and condemning the occupation of landless peasants, buying back nationalised American companies at full price (there was no question of expropriating them), etc.

This was not enough to appease the opponents, who on the contrary found ever greater energy in each step backwards for UP.

As economic hardship fuelled social tensions, driving proletarians to struggle on the one hand, and more and more petty-bourgeois and bourgeois sectors to revolt against a government incapable of maintaining social peace on the other, the latter turned increasingly to the military.

When the «industrial cordons» appeared and began to spread as territorial organs for the centralisation of workers’ resistance, they were violently denounced by the bourgeois media and openly opposed by the CP and the bureaucrats of the CUT union, while «comrade president» Allende, anxious to maintain the paralysing influence of the UP on the working class, adopted an apparently less hostile attitude towards them. At the same time, the government gave the army carte blanche against the cordons, paving the way for a military coup. In the end, the social fire-fighters proved increasingly incapable of calming the proletarians and the disinherited masses, and had exhausted their usefulness for the bourgeoisie. Christian Democracy broke off negotiations with the government: it was time to move on to brutal repression, sweeping away the reformist lackeys in the process, even if they had served the bourgeois order to the end by handing the proletarians over to their executioners with their hands tied. The victims of the coup d’état by the «democratic general» Pinochet numbered in the thousands, with thousands dead or missing, tens of thousands imprisoned, often savagely tortured, and hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country.

Unfortunately, there was no party in Chile which could warn the proletariat of the mortal danger of trusting the UP and lead it along independent class lines. The MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) had acquired a certain influence among the most combative layers;born of a fusion of various Trotskyist, Castroist and other currents, claiming to be Marxist, it declared itself opposed to the reformism and pacifism of the left-wing parties, to an alliance with the «national bourgeoisie» which was part of the CP’s programme, and it advocated armed struggle and insurrection.

The coming to power of UP showed the value of such rhetoric. Although the MIR went so far as to criticise certain actions or the «legalism» of the government, it immediately sided with it and stubbornly defended it to the point of opposing any struggles that risked weakening it. He adopted the UP’s famous slogan: El pueblo unido jamas sara vencido! (the united people will never be defeated), which is the formula for proletarian defeat, since in the name of this popular unity the proletariat was called upon to set aside the defence of its own interests. It played the disastrous role of a left wing of the UP bringing back into the fold of social democratic and neo-Stalinist governmental reformism those proletarians who tended to escape from it and take the path of class independence.

In 1922 the young Communist Party of Italy wrote in its Rome Theses:»One of the essential tasks of the Communist Party in preparing the proletariat ideologically and practically for the revolutionary seizure of power is to criticise without pity the programme of the bourgeois Left and any programme which would use bourgeois democratic and parliamentary institutions to solve social problems». (…) «The Communist Party has a duty to proclaim what it knows not only from Marxist criticism, but from bloody experience : such governments might well allow the proletariat freedom of movement as long as it considered and supported them as its own representatives, but they would respond with the fiercest reaction to the first assault of the masses against the institutions of the bourgeois democratic state. (...). It is obvious that the Communist Party will only be able to make effective use of this experience as long as it has denounced in advance the bankruptcy of these governments and preserved a solid independent organisation around which the proletariat can regroup when it is forced to abandon the groups and parties whose governmental experiment it had initially supported.»

(...) The situation we are considering may take the form of an attack by the bourgeois right against a democratic or socialist government. Even in this case, the Communist Party cannot proclaim the slightest solidarity with governments of this kind: if it welcomes them as an experiment to be followed in order to hasten the moment when the proletariat will become convinced of their counter-revolutionary aims, it obviously cannot present them to it as a conquest to be defended.»

No one was there to speak the Marxist language of classist intransigence to the Chilean proletarians who were led blindfolded to the slaughterhouse...


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At the end of the 1980s, after 17 years of imposing unbridled capitalist exploitation that was much admired by bourgeois economists, Pinochet’s dictatorship quietly gave way to democracy. The Concertación por la Democracia (Concertation for Democracy) parties, led by the old adversary-partners, the Socialist Party and Christian Democracy, promised to respect the Constitution promulgated by the dictatorship, continue the same economic policy and  guarantee impunity for the crimes committed: umpteenth confirmation that dictatorship and democracy are two political forms that are interchangeable according to the needs of preserving bourgeois domination...

The «thousand days» of  the Unidad Popular represent a dramatic experience from which the proletarians of the whole world must remember the lessons written in the blood of their class brothers!


August 2023



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