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Carla Rivadeneira

The conflicts within the “Chilean road to the socialism”: definition and viability of “a revolutionary” project

The limits that the social order in the construction of “a revolutionary project” and the consideration or not of the violence like valid means imposes were the substantial elements of the discussions which confronted the Communist and Socialist parties, core of the Unidad Popular (UP) alliance, which governed Chile between 1970 and 1973 with the President Salvador Allende. Although the debate was centered in precise theoretical and practical questions about the revolutionary road - as the peaceful way and the composition of the support base, at heart the discussion touched the social and political project of each party. The communist road, with its own contradictions and debates, was well-known like the “Chilean road to the socialism”, that it tried to clear the way to arrive at the socialism by the democratic way and relying on the effective institutions.

1.The “peaceful way” in Chile: A long Communist practice

Officially, the general principles of the “peaceful way” are framed in the strategy defined by Moscow through the Front of National liberation (FLN) during the decade of 1950. They propose, mainly, to define each revolutionary way according to the conditions and characteristics of each society. Nevertheless, the peaceful way was the strategy used by the Chilean Communist Party (PCCh) from its beginnings. Although the armed struggle remained in the doctrine, for the PCCh was only understood like inevitable phase after a great ascent of masses. Because this stage was never obtained, the armed struggle did not generate greater debate. In the few occasions which groups of the party postulated the armed attack against the bourgeois apparatus, the PC expelled them. Nevertheless, from the point of view of the doctrine, the peaceful way did not become official until the PCCh adopted the directives of Moscow through documents of XX Congress of the PCUS, in 1956 and of the Conference of Communist and Working Parties, in 1957, 1960 and 1969. This allowed him to assume the practices made during decades in a theoretical point of view: “(…) the possibility of democratic transformations by the peaceful way (…) it has been raised from the high tribune of XX Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But, in truth, already it had been raised by the life. (…) In Chile these possibility had been demonstrated of using the parliamentary road for the ascent to the power of the popular forces. But this question was not sufficiently clear for us.” (González, 1956)

The main axes of the peaceful way confronted per decades Communists and Socialists: the armed struggle, the institutions role, the electoral processes and the bourgeoisie role, which finally exploded during the government. These questions are not well defined. In our opinion, these problems caused a contradictory direction of the bases who was addressed the speech. Mainly in which it concerns their relation with the State and the famous slogan of the “popular power”. First we will analyze these axes to understand the differences between both parties and then we will see how these different positions confront among them during the UP.

2. The role of the middle-class for the PC and the PS

The PCCh assumed the democratic-bourgeois revolution like an essential stage in the road to the socialism, where the bourgeoisie could make deep democratic changes, clearing the way for the socialist revolution. For it, an alliance of classes between the bourgeoisie and the working class was fundamental, because -according to the PCCh- of the characteristics of the society and the deep anchorage of the institutions in the society. On the opposite side, the PS was submerged in the Front of Workers, strategy of “class” type that considered to the Chilean bourgeoisie like reactionary and incapable to assume a democratic role. Therefore, it would be the working class that would make the revolutionary changes. The center forces would be necessary, neither the democratic-bourgeois stage. These one would be replaced by the direct action of the workers: “we denied that our little and anemic bourgeoisie have independence and capacity to conquer them [the revolutionary changes of a democratic-bourgeois revolution]. (…) only the working classes, the manual and intellectual workers, can assume that mission in terms to conform a new society (…) the task of our generation does not consist of making the last stage of the “demoburgeois” transformations, but of taking the first step in the socialist revolution” (Daire: 170) Actually, against the opinion of the PC, the PS rejects to incorporate “bourgeois” sectors of “progressive” type in the alliance with witch both parties faced the presidential elections of 1958 and 1964, like the Christian Democracy and the Radicals.

3. The use of the violence and the armed struggle:

Although the PC practiced the peaceful way from early, it is just in 1960 when it deepens the subject, rejecting the thesis of the “two legs”, from the Chinese PC: to be prepared for the “peaceful way” and, at the same time, for the “armed way”. According to the Chilean PC, this strategy disperses the revolutionary forces and favors the “adventurerism”: “(…) there are some people who think that it is necessary to prepare itself at the same time for the violent way. (…) But the preparation for the violent way does not exist where the peaceful way its possible (…) in practice, that will mean to have a double line (…) with the consequent dispersion of forces, and it could expose to the popular movement, or a part of it, to the adventure, to the partisan provocation, to a deformation on the left and sectarian line” (Corvalán, 1961a). On the other hand, the PS adopts the Chinese thesis and –a part of it- is influenced by the Cuban revolution and the thesis of the guerrilla center, from Ernesto “Che” Guevara. These theses were contradictory compared to the traditional Leninist model of revolution (a model for the PCCh). First, according to Che, it is not necessary to wait for the precise conditions to make the revolution, because they can be created. For Lenin, it is the opposite. Second, according to the “Che”, the Cuban experience showed that the PC of Latin America was not enabled to take ahead a fight by the socialism, reason why the revolutionary force in the continent did not exist and had to be created around the guerrilla center. Although the PC of Chile recognized some positive aspects, it does not consider the road Cuban as valid for Chile and it insists on the peaceful way (Corvalán, 1961b): “Our Party will as much continue fighting for the development of the revolutionary fight by the peaceful way as, the conditions allow it. We will fight against the opportunist tendencies and adventurous tendencies of desperate elements (…) To show the masses an extremist way is easy (…) Irresponsible elements that distrust in the masses, they like much to speak of armed struggle and guerrillas and always they try to take the Cuban experiment and mechanically to apply it to Chile, where the conditions were very different. (…) In our country the experience of the labor and popular movement confirms the possibility of the Peaceful development of the revolution.” (González, 1960)

4. The Parliament and the electoral processes

In the perspective of the “peaceful way”, the Parliament was always a place which had to be gained through the elections and to be used like instrument to make the changes according to the interests of the working class: “Although this Parliament has precarious attributions, the possibility exists of using it to obtain certain aims which interest the people, by combining the parliamentary action with the extra-parliamentary action. (…) In that sense, the Communists let us not give up the hope that (…) next Parliament, with greater people representation, will be able to legislate (…) in order to extend the political and electoral rights of the people, i.e., to democratize the Republic and to open the field to the peaceful way”. But the PCCh never defines the “extra-parliamentary” actions: “the important thing is to understand that in the field of the peaceful way there is different situations which can occur, and different forms of masses fight, even acute forms of the classes fight, as general strike, only excluding the use of the violence in a civil war or an armed rebellion with all the people” (Corvalán, 1961b) The PS, then, blames the Communists to concentrate the “peaceful way” in the electoral act; to consider the “peaceful way” like obligatory, closing any other road; and to make believe to the masses in the

transparency, normality and impartiality of the formal democracy: “(…) the Peaceful character of the methods which you recommend, it seems to go beyond the simple decision to participate in an electoral fight: (…) it tends to give to the masses a false confidence in which we can call “normality” of the democratic institutions (…) If the basic rules of the democratic fight are deliberately changed to prevent the inevitable victory of the people, then we can only preach: not peace, but resistance.” (Halperin: 151)

5. The confrontation within the Popular Unit

The divergences and the theoretical contradictions will explode during the government of the UP. The coalition that gained the presidency in 1970 fulfilled the criteria proposed by the PC, because it included a part of the middle-class sectors, politically represented by the Radical Party and the MAPU, whose support was crucial for the election. In addition, the peaceful way was assumed as fight form. In fact, the program of the UP almost completely integrated the “Brezhnev model” for the regimes of the front of national liberation: peaceful way, program of nationalizations, great State apparatus and State property; but with the particularity to have a program of changes which remained in the legality imposed by the Constitution. This is the “Chilean road to socialism”. The PC will be faithful to this political line throughout the period. “No stumbling will separate to us from the way to assure a democratic development and the accomplishment by legal means” (Millas: 105), say the PC in 1971. Even, already in the heat of crisis of the UP, reaffirms: “the thesis about the possibility of going by a not armed way, always exists. Its materialization is feasible because only one meager minority, a part of the opposition, the sectors of clear fascist tendency, want to remove the events from the constitutional channel” (Daire: 223) In spite of approving the “Chilean road to socialism”, the PS radicalizes its position and it chooses, since 1967, the “armed way”. In addition it lodges groups of military-political type. This political and ideological radicalization becomes against the position of Allende, who proposed a policy of alliance close to that of the PC. In fact, although the PS accepts to the PR like part of the UP, it always refused an understanding with the DC. The position of the PS will be made radical still more when Carlos Altamirano becomes secretary general in 1971. He proposed a fast and total occupation capacity of the State, in order to better prepare his forces before imminent confrontation with the forces of the opposition. In order to do it, the PS organizes a complex military policy intended for the “defense of the Popular Government in crisis situations”.

The radicalization of the PS will bring a new confrontation with the PC, this time related directly to the exercise of the government. On the one hand, the PC stays faithful to the original program accepting negotiations with other forces to obtain it (DC, Catholic Church). In this frame, the participation of the masses always had to be gradual and according to the decisions of the parties. The emergency of organisms of “popular power” was only accepted if they defended the government and the program in the apparatus of the State: never like alternatives to this one (PCCh, 1972) It does not accept the spontaneous occupations of grounds and industries out of the program established by the UP: “Naturally the Communists we are in favor of the fortification of all the forms to the “popular power”, and of the creation of new forms of that power which is born from initiative from the masses, with the condition that, obviously, they tend to make stronger the government of the Popular Unit and not to debilitate it, as long as they do not consider like alternative him.” (Corvalán, 1973) However, the PS wants to go beyond the program, supported, mainly, in the spontaneous action of the masses. For that reason they impel the creation of the “popular power” with alternative character to the government, which, according to PS, would make it possible to surmount the middle-class institutional framework. They support the occupations and the creation of the “industrial cords” (organizations that grouped the workers of a determined geographic zone whose objective was to defend the zone by the arms in case of confrontation with the opposition). “The demobilization of the people and the dismantling of “industrial cords” implied to be left absolutely defenseless vis-à-vis a putsch”, explained Altamirano 25 years (Arrate & Rojas later: 128)

Finally two logics were confronted: On a side, Allende and the PC, that it tries to consolidate what had been gained and to avoid a armed confrontation; and in the other hand, the PS, that it postulates “to advance without compromising” beyond the program, in order to have an extensive and prepared social base for the confrontation armed with the “reaction”. While the PC is accused of “reformist”, the PS is described like “ultraleftist”. In fact, when the communist minister of Property, tries to give back the taken companies that were not contemplated in the original plan of the UP, the PS criticizes it and presses the government to radicalize their position in order to guarantee the support of the workers in the occupations. Altamirano: “the organized masses will not be with us if we conciliated with the enemy! They will not be with us if we remained with reformist measures.” (Arrate & Rojas: 109)

Like said the socialist leader and minister during the Popular Unit, Clodomiro Almeyda, “the Popular Unit led to a single conduction during the government of Allende, neither to homogenize her strategy nor its political tactic” (Arrate & Rojas: 109)


The differences in the ways proposed by the parties show for us, at heart, different projects in which the only point in common was the displacement of the oligarchy from the positions of being able. In any case, the theoretical inaccuracies and the lacks do not allow determining exactly the projects which they wanted to set up in the future. In fact, at the time which one sees the project and what finally was made or became, it is not clear which the precise project was.

Although the opposition of both parties occurs in the theoretical scope, this one is reflected in the practices applied in the social and political field. Instead of solving the differences through theoretical discussions about the revolutionary way, they do it in the same interaction with the popular bases, which produced contradictory practices in the public policies, an administrative crisis within the government and the disagreement in the support base.

In addition, each party was crossed by diverse logics. In the PS there is a more moderated current and different and complex logics are crossed; the “institutional channel” of the PC begins to show its limits to make the changes, because, it is obvious that a cannot be maintained intact if we wants to transform. Finally the degree of adhesion of the PC to the institutional framework will be more or less strong according to makes possible or prevents the change.

At the same time, although the program postulates the deep transformations within the institutional frame, the reality is that since the beginning the Socialists proclaimed the armed struggle to face any reaction. At what point the final crisis wasn't fed by the violence of the speech while entering a vicious circle without exit?


Ampuero, R. 1969. La izquierda en punto muerto, Santiago, Orbe
Arrate, J. and Rojas, E. 2003. Memoria de la izquierda chilena. T. I-II, Santiago, Ediciones B
Corvalán, L. 1961a, “Acerca de la vía pacífica”, Principios, 77
Corvalán, L. 1961b, “La vía pacífica y la alternativa de la vía violenta”, Principios, 86
Corvalán, L. 1973 “Más poder a la clase obrera”, carta a Carlos Altamirano, Puro Chile, feb.3:2
Daire, A. 1988, “La política del Partido Comunista desde la post-guerra a la Unidad Popular”, in Varas (comp.) El Partido Comunista en Chile, Santiago, Flacso, 1988
González, G. 1956, “La discusión interna en el Partido Comunista de Chile”, Principios, 37:3-4
González, J. 1965, “Informe delegación chilena a la Conferencia de los 81”, nov. 1960, in Halperin 1965:69 Halperin, E. 1965, Nationalism and Communism in Chile, Mass., Cambridge, MIT Press
Millas, O. 1971,“Con las masas y a la ofensiva. Conferencia Nacional del PC de Chile”, Santiago, sept.30-oct.3, in El Partido Comunista de Chile en la Unidad Popular, Bélgica-Caracas, INDAL, 1974: 120-121
PCCh. 1972, “Editorial”, Principios jul-aug. 146: 5-15