This Bulletin editorial originally appeared in the September 16, 1988 issue.
Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 1973, the armed forces of Chile launched a bloody military coup, overthrowing the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. The coup began with an assault on La Moneda Palace by a few hundred troops, resulting in Allende’s murder and the disbanding of his regime.
But the high command concentrated its 100,000-strong strike force of troops, police and fascist “irregulars” in a massive siege of the proletarian centers throughout the country. In Santiago, the working class suburbs of Vicuna Mackenna and Los Cerrillos fiercely resisted the entry of the junta’s shock troops, holding them at bay with a handful of weapons until their meager supply of ammunition ran out.
The lack of arms and bullets was only the final consequence of the Chilean working class being politically disarmed beforehand. The road to the military coup was paved by the betrayals of the social democratic and Stalinist leaderships of the Chilean labor movement, with the decisive assistance of the centrists and Pabloite revisionists.
The price for this betrayal was paid, and continues to be paid, in blood. At least 3,000 workers, youth and peasants were murdered the first day of the coup. Thousands more were rounded up in Santiago’s National Stadium and other makeshift concentration camps throughout the country, where they were subjected to the most hideous forms of torture and executed.
Civil war against the working class did not halt with the coup. The junta has continued its killings up to this day. It is estimated that at least 50,000 out of a population of only 10 million have been put to death by the fascist-military regime. Tens of thousands more have been imprisoned and tortured.
In the coup’s aftermath, the military dictatorship immediately returned property legally nationalized under Allende to the foreign multinationals. The right to strike and the right to union representation were abolished. Wage levels were cut in half in barely one year, while millions of jobs were destroyed.
Today, the minimum monthly wage stands at $40. Hunger marches by residents of Santiago’s destitute shantytowns have been broken up with water cannon and baton charges.
US imperialism’s often-stated admiration for the so-called Chilean economic miracle is only an indication of what it is prepared to do to defend its interests against the working class internationally and in the US itself.
The conscious assimilation of the lessons of the defeat in Chile remains a vital task in the preparation of the working class internationally for a renewed upsurge of revolutionary struggles. This task is part of the struggle to build the International Committee of the Fourth International, the world Trotskyist movement.
Class-conscious workers must reject with contempt the myth peddled by all the Stalinist, revisionist and petty-bourgeois radical forces who said that the Popular Unity regime was a noble experiment in socialism, but inevitably doomed because of the unassailable might of the Chilean military and the CIA.
The Chilean workers repeatedly proved they had the capacity, courage and determination to overthrow capitalism. Even as late as June 1973, in response to an abortive coup attempt, the workers seized the factories and shook all of Chile with their power. It was the Stalinists who intervened to get the workers to retreat from their actions, insisting that they place their faith not in their own strength, but in the mythical traditions of “Chilean democracy.”
Salvador Allende, a petty-bourgeois doctor and member of the Socialist Party, was swept into office in 1970 on an unprecedented wave of strikes, factory occupations and mass unionization of both urban and agricultural workers—the response of the Chilean working class to the intensification of the world capitalist crisis.
The Allende regime was a popular front coalition, including his own Socialist Party, which enjoyed a mass base in the working class, the Stalinist CP, also a mass party, and the bourgeois Radical Party which, despite its numerical and political impotence, was awarded an equal number of cabinet posts.
The Stalinists provided the main ideological justification for a bloc with the Chilean bourgeoisie and for accommodating the interests of imperialism, no matter what the cost. They insisted on the sanctity of the Chilean constitution and were the main proponents of the theory of a unique “Chilean road” to socialism based on the bourgeois parliament.
This bankrupt concept of the “Chilean road” was at the very heart of the betrayal carried out by Stalinism and social democracy. It served both to separate the Chilean workers from the international working class and to deny the most fundamental lessons of Marxism on the absolute necessity for the working class to overthrow the bourgeoisie, smash the old state apparatus and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Allende and the Stalinists claimed that Chile’s alleged democratic traditions—which never dissuaded the bourgeoisie from massacring miners by the hundreds or other acts of class war—required the acceptance of the straitjacket of bourgeois legality.
The bourgeoisie itself had no such illusions in a “peaceful road.” Even before the Allende victory, the CIA-trained military, the national bourgeoisie, the American Embassy, the Pentagon and multinationals like ITT had hatched their plots for a military coup. They waited three years, only because of their fear of the mobilized strength of the working class.
In the face of US economic warfare and a CIA destabilization campaign, Allende refused to carry out systematic nationalizations, thereby leaving key levers of the economy in the hands of the bourgeoisie. He also rejected calls for the repudiation of the foreign debt, which was consuming hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments alone.
Despite the treachery of the Stalinists and social democrats, the workers repeatedly drove back the counterrevolutionary attacks of imperialism and the bourgeoisie. In late 1972,
when a CIA-subsidized truck owners strike and an employers’ lockout threatened to paralyze the country, the working class broke the back of this movement by seizing factories and transport. For its part, Allende’s Popular Unity regime remained paralyzed, dependent on a military which was part of the CIA conspiracy.
In the June 29, 1973 attempted coup, workers occupied several hundred factories. They were only turned back to their capitalist owners over the resistance of the workers and at the insistence of the Stalinists, who demanded the “normalization of production.”
As the preparations for a military coup became increasingly open, the Stalinist and social democratic leaderships within Popular Unity worked might and main to convince the Chilean workers that they had nothing to fear from the fascist officers.
The Chilean Stalinist Banchero, writing in the World Marxist Review only months before the coup, declared, “The armed forces, observing their status of a professional institution, take no part in political debate and submit to the lawfully constituted civilian power. Bonds of cooperation and mutual respect have evolved between the army and the working class.”
Similarly, Allende told the parliament in May 1973, just four months before the bloodbath was to begin: “the government has placed special emphasis on the armed forces’ participation in socioeconomic programs.... The government will continue to promote this participation, which allows Chile to rely on human resources of high moral and intellectual preparation.”
To the end, the CP’s policy was to seek an alliance with the Christian Democracy, the main bourgeois party, which itself supported the coup. While rank-and-file socialists set about to defend the factories against the military assault on September 11, the Stalinist leadership told its own supporters that such actions were unnecessary as the coup would fail for lack of Christian Democratic support!
A revolutionary party could have grown rapidly in 1972 and 1973 in Chile, basing itself on this independent proletarian movement and by advancing revolutionary socialist policies against the class collaborationist program of Popular Unity. Such a party could have rallied the working class around the demand for the creation of independent organs of workers’ rule, or soviets, to prepare the insurrection to smash the capitalist state. Having achieved a victorious socialist revolution in Chile, it would have been in a powerful position to rally the brutally oppressed masses throughout the hemisphere and, indeed, internationally, for a decisive battle against US and world imperialism.
But no such party existed in Chile. A decade prior to the 1973 blood bath, those who had set out to build such a party as a section of the Fourth International had abandoned the struggle for Trotskyism, i.e., the genuine revolutionary Marxism of today, under the influence of Pabloite revisionism.
Pabloism rejected Trotsky’s scientific evaluation of Stalinism as an irrevocably counterrevolutionary tendency within the workers’ movement, claiming instead that it was capable of “self-reform” and could be pushed to the left to play a revolutionary role. The Pabloite revisionists repudiated the strategy for world revolution and sought to replace it by a series of national tactics aimed at subordinating the working class to the bourgeoisie and liquidating the Trotskyist cadre into existing Stalinist, social democratic, bourgeois nationalist and petty-bourgeois radical organizations.
The International Committee was founded in 1953 to combat this trend, which threatened the wholesale destruction of the Fourth International. But 10 years later, the American SWP, which had played a decisive role in founding the IC, led the campaign for an unprincipled reunification with the Pabloites based on the revisionist theory that Castroism and petty-bourgeois guerrillaism were a worthy substitute for Trotskyism. The SWP campaigned aggressively for this line throughout Latin America, thereby strengthening the already powerful petty-bourgeois nationalist pressures on the Trotskyist movement there.
Among those who joined the SWP in this unprincipled maneuver was the Chilean POR, led by Luis Vitale. He himself summed up the bankrupt line of this reunification, writing on its eve: “The unquestionable fact is that the revolutions of the postwar period have put on the order of the day mobile and guerrilla warfare, whose epicenter is the countryside.”
But far from leading a successful guerrilla war against the Chilean bourgeoisie, Vitale went on to liquidate his organization into a centrist movement of Maoists and Castroites known as the MIR, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left. With its theories of peasant and petty-bourgeois revolution, the MIR refused to challenge the Stalinists for the leadership of the working class. And, while verbally rejecting the “peaceful road,” in March 1973, at the crucial moment when Allende was bringing the generals directly into his cabinet, thereby paving the way for the coup, the MIR gave Popular Unity electoral support. It thereby provided a badly needed left cover for this betrayal and helped politically disarm the workers.
Pabloism played the same role in one country after another, with particularly bloody consequences in Latin America. The conditions throughout Latin America today, the massive indebtedness, hunger and grinding poverty for millions, are the direct product of the defeats of the 1970s. The workers and oppressed masses of the continent are being forced to pay the price for the betrayals of Stalinism, social democracy and Pabloite revisionism.
And it is not only the Latin American workers. A socialist revolution in Chile would have sent military dictatorships and corrupt bourgeois regimes toppling like a house of cards throughout the continent and would have provided a beacon for the workers of Portugal, Greece and Spain, who were coming into massive struggles against right-wing dictatorships, as well as in Britain, where the miners’ strike toppled the Tory government of Heath in 1974.
World capitalism staggered through the crisis of the late 1960s and early 1970s to carry out the international assaults on the labor movement over the last decade only thanks to the betrayals carried out by those who falsely claimed to represent socialism, communism and even Trotskyism.
The lessons of the Chilean defeat will never be learned by the Stalinists, centrists and revisionists. Today, with the Pinochet regime staging its fraudulent plebiscite on the future of the dictatorship, exiled leaders of these parties have been returning to participate in the referendum and give this sham some political credibility, by campaigning for a no vote. Among those joining hands with Christian Democracy in this campaign are prominent Chilean Stalinists, as well as leaders of the MIR. The rivers of blood shed by the Chilean workers have done nothing to shift these forces from the popular front policies which paved the way to the coup.
Only the International Committee of the Fourth International can train a new generation of workers and youth on these bitter lessons as a decisive part of building the World Party of Socialist Revolution, which is required to ensure the victory of the international proletariat.