The lessons of Chile

Military jets bombed La Moneda presidential palace during the coup on Sept. 11, 1973, in Santiago, Chile.

Sept. 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the CIA-orchestrated coup against democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende of Chile. Tens of thousands of people were killed or “disappeared” in the aftermath. Even today, new evidence of U.S. involvement continues to be revealed.

Chile’s coup continues to offer invaluable lessons for revolutionaries worldwide. Struggle-La Lucha presents this piece by Sam Marcy, one of the leading Marxist thinkers and fighters of the second half of the twentieth century. Marcy gave these remarks in New York City on Sept. 12, 1973 – about 18 hours after the first news of the military coup in Chile.

First of all, we must express our solidarity with all who are fighting in Chile against the fascist military coup, which is financed and organized by the U.S. imperialists. In the struggle against the fascist military and U.S. imperialism we have consistently shown our support of the Allende government in demonstrations and propaganda.

Although at the present time there is no decisive victory for the counterrevolution, it is nevertheless possible to understand the broad outlines of the events and to clarify the tasks of our party.

While carrying out the struggle here with the deepest-felt sympathy for all victims of the coup, it is also the responsibility of the working class leaders to explain to the advanced elements the disastrous consequences of the policies of Allende and the parties in the Popular Unity (UP) coalition, particularly the Communist Party.

These policies can be summarized as follows.

Peaceful transition

After Allende took office through a bourgeois election, it was claimed by sections of the UP coalition that the working class had already, or could in the future, come to power peacefully, without revolutionary violence or civil war.

We are for a peaceful transition to socialism – if it can be proven that it is possible. We are not dogmatic adherents of violence. But in over 100 years of experience of the class struggle by the proletariat, beginning with the Paris Commune, there has not been one instance where the bourgeoisie relinquished power peacefully. And it should be remembered that the bourgeoisie itself nowhere came to power without an armed struggle. 

When Allende took office (not state power!), the reformist parties sowed illusions among the oppressed that it was possible to avoid the sacrifices necessary for revolution. But Marxism is not just a dream of socialism – it is the realistic appraisal of centuries of class struggle.

The bourgeois pacifist ideology of peaceful transition was exploded by the Russian Revolution. There it was proven that the road to workers’ power lay in being able to counter the organized violence of the bourgeoisie.

But after the defeat of the German working class by Hitler in 1933, the old discredited theory was revived by Stalin. Before the triumph of fascism, Stalin had pursued an ultra-left position, refusing to call for a united front of the working class parties against the fascists on the grounds that the “social fascists” (Social Democrats) were as bad as the Hitlerites. The triumph of fascism led to such panic in the communist parties that the line was completely reversed, and the so-called “popular front” was urged on the workers of France and Spain.

In the popular front, the workers’ parties entered into a coalition with the “democratic” section of the bourgeoisie – the first time such a tactic was ever adopted by the communist movement. This political alliance with one section of the bourgeoisie against the fascist wing was presented to the workers as their only hope – and as a means for the peaceful transition to socialism because of the “split” in the ruling class. However, the popular front subordinated the workers’ demands to the unity of the coalition, and in the end only paved the way for the workers’ defeat, as has now happened again in Chile.

An electoral majority

Another fatal assumption made in Chile by the UP was that the working class must win an absolute parliamentary majority in order to rule.

At best, an election is a barometer of the consciousness of the working class. It is utopian to assume that the legal and electoral machinery developed to facilitate capitalist rule will be the instrument for the working class to assume power. (In Chile, only 2.5 million people voted in the last presidential election out of a population of nearly 10 million.)

While Allende took office on plurality (36% of the vote), it became clear in subsequent struggles that the workers and peasants were solidly behind the socialist program of the workers’ parties. The Christian Democrats and the other bourgeois parties, on the contrary, represented only the interests of the biggest landowners and capitalists. They swung over large sections of the petty bourgeoisie after the workers’ parties failed to act in a revolutionary manner to resolve the crisis.

Coalition with bourgeoisie

The Allende government represented a coalition between representatives of the working class and of the bourgeoisie.

A coalition of parties representing the dispossessed classes is valid in the struggle for socialism – such as a coalition of workers’ and peasants’ organizations. Thus the alliance of the workers’ parties (the Communist Party, Socialist Party, and smaller groups) in the Popular Unity coalition could serve to advance their class interests.

But it is another thing when the workers’ representatives ally themselves with representatives of the bourgeoisie in the cabinet – regardless of whether they are appointed by a socialist president or a bourgeois president. The assumption made in such a coalition is that the bourgeoisie will aid in the transition to socialism and facilitate the course of the revolution.

Since Allende based himself on parliamentary relationships rather than class relationships he felt obligated to take the bourgeoisie (and eventually its military arm) into the cabinet. In such a situation, one class or the other must surrender its interests in order to maintain the coalition. In the wake of the coup, it is clear which class’s interests were surrendered. 

This is to be distinguished from the addition of a bourgeois representative to a workers’ government after it has seized state power, such as occurred in the early days of the People’s Republic of China. In that case, the capitalist representatives wielded no independent class power and symbolized the humane attitude taken by the government to individuals sympathetic to the revolution.

Sabotage of the economy

It was assumed that because the bourgeoisie was part of the government, it would not sabotage its own economic system. 

Yet this was one of the prime tactics of the Chilean capitalists, with much backing, we can be sure, from U.S. imperialism. They went so far as to sabotage the economy with the truck-owners strike, blow up power and communications lines, and spur on inflation, all in order to tire out the masses.

The only answer the workers have to such sabotage is the complete overthrow of the bourgeois state, the expropriation of the means of production (not only those directly in foreign hands), and the institution of the planned economy.

The ‘neutral’ military

Again and again it was argued by the reformists that the Chilean military would remain “neutral” in the class struggle because of its long adherence to the Constitution. 

As long as class relations are stable within a country, there is no need for the military to intervene. That is the reason for the 40-odd years of constitutional government in Chile (which is really not so long). But the military is trained and nurtured in the spirit of class war. What else does the military brass have to do – especially the retired officers? It should be the ABCs for Marxists and Leninists to understand the class character of the bourgeois state.

(Before Hitler took power in Germany, it had been argued that so many of the police were Social Democrats and Communists they could never be used to suppress the workers.)

Role of the middle class

The Popular Unity relied on the petty bourgeoisie to side with the workers and peasants.

History has shown that the petty bourgeoisie always vacillates in times of grave class struggle, and will side with the class that is strongest. The petty bourgeoisie has no separate destiny, but is in between the two great class camps. 

Whether the truck owners should even be considered petty bourgeois is questionable. In a poor country like Chile, to own a truck is to control a substantial amount of property. Certainly they were supported in every way during the strike by the bourgeoisie.

Role of the national bourgeoisie

The left miscalculated the role of the national bourgeoisie.

The national bourgeoisie in an underdeveloped country can play a progressive role in relation to imperialism – being for the nationalization of U.S. property, for instance. But it does so only in its own interests. As an exploiting class, it desires to free the national resources from foreign hands in order to exploit them itself. There has never been a bourgeoisie which can play a progressive role in relation to the demands of the working class. They will fight the workers and peasants to the death over the means of production.

The fact that the national bourgeoisie is poorer than the imperialists does not make it progressive at home. As Marx pointed out, often a small owner has to exploit the workers even more and the class antagonisms in a small sweatshop may be even more acute.

The USSR and China

The communist parties of China and the Soviet Union failed to give revolutionary guidance in the face of these disastrous policies.

There was no helpful criticism or guidance forthcoming from the fraternal parties of the Soviet Union or China, even though history had shown many times in the past the disastrous consequences of such policies. The Bolsheviks considered it their duty to explain again and again the revolutionary lessons of their experience for the benefit of the workers in other countries. Until a few years ago, the Chinese leadership also urged the revival of revolutionary tactics and exposed reformist, revisionist ideology.

With the détente, however, both these powerful socialist countries have promised Nixon not to interfere in the “internal affairs” of countries under the domination of imperialism. Real communists should reject this shibboleth, which permits the imperialists free rein in their economic and military subversion of the oppressed, while it binds the socialist countries to a narrow, national outlook.

To accept the doctrine of “noninterference in the internal affairs” of capitalist countries is to formally renounce proletarian internationalism and leave each working class on its own in the struggle against imperialism and capitalist domination.

The revolutionary cadres in Chile must rebuild, reconstitute themselves, and create a transition to socialism built on reality, on the armed working class. We look forward and pledge ourselves to building a movement in solidarity with the resistance movement in Chile. In the heartland of the imperialist culprits, that is our duty.

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