Half a Century of Chile’s Road to Socialism

Salvador Allende

“The legacy of the revolution obtained by peaceful means” and “radical reformism in democracy” is more alive now than ever.

By Rafael Rojas  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Fifty years ago, Salvador Allende told his followers from the balcony at the Federation of Chilean Students: “I ask you to understand that I am only a man, with every shortcoming and weakness that any man has; and if I was able to endure yesterday’s defeat, today I accept this victory, which is not personal, and without arrogance and any spirit of revenge.”

Allende’s humility as a political leader is one of the virtues that makes him stand out in the history of the Latin American Left. It was the fourth time that the physician, born in Santiago in 1908, was running in the hopes of becoming president. He had been defeated three times before – in 1952, 1958 and 1964 -, although he won 38% of the vote in his third campaign, which was more than the percentage of votes he needed to win the election in 1970, as the candidate for the Popular Unity alliance, against former president Jorge Alessandri and Christian democrat Radomiro Tomic.

His lack of arrogance made him say that he came from defeat. However, the reality is that he had won key victories for the Left within Chilean democracy. Founder of the Socialist Party in 1933 (not the Communist Party which was created by Luis Emilio Recabarren in 1922), Allende was the Minister of Health under the Popular Front Government led by Pedro Aguirre Cerda between 1938 and 1941. After leading his party, the doctor went to the Chilean Senate in 1945 and, in the 1960s, was president of the upper chamber, until he launched his election campaign in 1970.

In Conversacion con Allende (1971), Regis Debray gave the floor to the president, who insisted that the Popular Unity victory, where Socialists formed an alliance with the Communists, Social Democrats, Radicals and progressive Christianity, wouldn’t have been possible without this tradition of a democratic Left, that dates back to the early decades of the 20th century. Allende’s faith in democracy and pluralism was so powerful that he was able to run in four election campaigns and not threaten freedom of speech and association during the three years of his Government.

The key to “Chile’s road to socialism” was the implementation of a program of profound social reforms – nationalizing the copper, coal, iron, saltpeter and steel industries; radicalizing agrarian reform that began under the Jorge Alessandri and Eduardo Frei’s governments; 90% control of banks – without abandoning the 1925 Constitution, or disrupting the representative Government or party system.

In his conversation with Debray, Allende always said that his differences with the Cuban Revolution, with Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, were tactical, but that he noted down his many disagreements with Communists many times. His idea of socialism didn’t come into conflict with keeping good relations with the international community, with reading Trotsky, or with the rejection of assuming Leninism as a “political catechism” or with critique of the one-party system.

He never gave up on calling what he tried to push forward in Chile a “Revolution”, but he referred to the Popular Unity project as an alternative to building socialism with democracy, moving away from the great Communist experiences in the 20th centuty: in the Soviet Union, China or Cuba. The coup d’etat that overthrew Allende in September 1973 and which led to his immolation, led to the dissemination of the theory that democratic socialisms are condemned to fail.

In his Conversacion interrumpida con Allende (1998), Chilean sociologist Tomas Moulian said that up until 1989, that theory of the moderate’s failure was certainly true. However, the world after the Berlin War fell and the real socialisms, did nothing but prove Allende was right, Moulian said. The “legacy of the revolution obtained by peaceful means” and “radical reformism in democracy” is more alive now than ever.

This article was originally published in La Razón.

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3 thoughts on “Half a Century of Chile’s Road to Socialism

  • Callum, I agree.
    Those that make half a revolution dig their own graves
    ( and those of others that are innocent )

  • The 1973 Chilean Coup is proof that Socialism cannot be achieved without building a dictatorship of the proletariat. Allende’s biggest mistake was to allow liberal democracy to continue. It was liberal democracy that made chile vulnerable to American imperialism. This mistake led to the mass murder of the Chilean people and the return to total U.S hegemony wich Chile struggles to free itself from to this day.

  • And yet, Allende’s commitment to pluralism and free speech, didn’t protect him from Tio Caiman, did it ? No, the United States, paragon of Democracy, spared nothing to rid Chile of true Democracy, and it gave the World its first 9-11 (1973). From Kissinger’s order to “make the Chilean economy scream” to Victor Jara’s brutal torture and murder in the National Stadium, to the introduction of the Chicago Boys and Operation Condor, the Capitalist “Freedom ” lovers have lots to be proud of.

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