The Guardian • Issue #2073


‘1000 Days of Revolution’

Lessons learnt by the Communist Party of Chile

'1000 Days of Revolution,' book cover.

Following the violent coup d’état in Chile on 11th September 1973, members of the Communist Party of Chile (CPC) escaped and later wrote on the part played by the CPC, the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) Party, and the successes and failures of the Chilean revolution. Their essays appeared in World Marxist Review and were published as “CP Chile Leaders on Lessons of the Events in Chile.” This was republished in 2018 as 1000 Days of Revolution: Chilean Communists on the League of Popular Unity 1970-73. The Popular Unity alliance consisted of the Socialist Party, Communist Party, Radical Party, Social Democrat Party, Independent Popular Action, MAPU (Movimiento de Acción Popular Unitario), and the Christian Left. The coup led to the arrest, torture and murder of over 4000 workers and comrades. The search for hundreds of bodies is ongoing.

The CPC cadres’ insights are valuable for all communist parties. Kenny Coyle finds two fundamental insights. “First, that the left cannot simply take over the existing machinery of government and the state inherited from and shaped by the existing ruling class. Second that no successful revolutionary movement can hope to succeed unless it can consolidate and maintain a definite political majority among the population at large.”

Luis Corvalan was on the Central Committee of the CPC. He argues that “the working class is capable of carrying out a revolution along any path provided it promotes the development of the class struggle.” It must concentrate its attacks on the class enemies and rally the majority of the people, creating a balance of forces that can defeat those class enemies.

Popular Unity won the position of Chilean president and 36.3 per cent of the vote, but failed to win complete power in its unarmed struggle against its class enemies. Hopes were pinned on government control rather than the “control of all power.” This allowed US imperialists, the Chilean military and big corporations to maintain influence over the middle classes. The CPC was influential in universities and cultural fields, but not with the middle classes.

The CPC had 195,000 members, out of a population of 10 million, with 87,000 members in the Communist Youth, a great achievement at the time. The August 1977 plenary meeting of the CC concluded that because the CPC had failed to win “complete power” it failed to reach the next stage of the Revolution. The major problem was that there was no policy on how to engage the military, in which the class enemy was very active.

Rene Castillo, member of the National Leadership of the CPC, argues: “A revolutionary situation can be brought about only by a mass movement that takes account of the concrete problems facing the people.” The level of political maturity of the working class cannot be ignored, but must be built up, as power comes from the masses’ participation in the class struggle. Not enough was done at the local branch level to achieve this.

Nor did the Party pay enough attention to the corporate monopolies and the agrarian bourgeoisie which dominated Chilean society. Together these class enemies militated against “Socialist-Communist unity and the revolutionary process as a whole,” confirming the Marxist position that class enemies do not relinquish power voluntarily. The Chilean revolution meant rallying around the working class whose alliance with the peasants was decisive in the class struggle. Sectarianism inhibited working class alliances. Popular Unity was unable to win over the majority of the population, mainly because US imperialists and the bourgeoisie undermined the achievements made by the government. It was the working class that suffered the most under military rule.

Volodia Teitelboim, member of the Political Commission, maintains that “unless the masses are constantly schooled in political action and in assessing the political situation, they cannot by merely following their instinct rise to the level of social awareness needed to defeat the enemy and participate consciously in making history.” The CPC was responsible for developing the revolutionary process and had to solve the dialectical equation of the quality of unity with other forces and its independent role within the movement.

The CPC’s first statement after the coup was “that its advocacy of unqualified defence of the Popular Unity government, its steps to reach understanding with other democratic forces, above all at grass roots, its effort to inspire the middle class with confidence and direct the blow against the principal enemies – imperialism and domestic reaction – its perseverance in strengthening the Socialist-Communist alliance and working class unity and in promoting understanding among the Popular Unity parties, its efforts to achieve greater output and higher productivity, proper financing of the enterprises in the public sector and strict labour discipline constituted an entirely correct general policy.” While the policy was correct, mistakes were made.

Orlando Millas, the former government minister for agriculture, saw that the CPC failed to encourage discussion at the grass roots, thereby failing to prevent the spread of petty-bourgeois revolutionism, injuring the revolutionary process. The dialectical connection between democratic tasks and socialism and the dialectics of revolutionary paths necessitates changing from the first to the second path at the right time.

Pedro Roriguez, a member of the National Leadership of the CPC, argues that the events in Chile reflect the problem of Marxist-Leninist theory of revolution: how to capture and retain power. Here lies the “dialectics of using the material power of government and democracy.” The government created economic reforms, increased democracy, broadened the popular alliance and fostered a revolutionary consciousness of the people. The problem was that retention of power and the defence of the revolution required a continuation of the revolutionary process along specific steps. This was not followed. After the working class and its allies won partial power and set up government, it was followed by democratic transformations. The next phase was conflict between the organs of state power and the bourgeoisie. Popular Unity failed to deal with the final step, which depended on the effective work of revolutionaries.

The Programme of the CPC scientifically defines revolution: “as a movement of the working class and organised population which, by means of the mass struggle, removes the present ruling classes from power, liquidates the old state apparatus and production relations obstructing development of the productive forces, and carries out profound transformations in the country’s economic, social and political structure, opening the way to socialism.”

Much can be learnt from the CPC’s analysis of the revolution in Chile. The winning over of the majority of the people was paramount for revolutionary change. There was a need to smash the resistance of reactionary forces, which was not done. It was necessary to promote the class struggle of the workers and middle class against the power of the capitalist class and this was not fully considered. There should have been a readiness to switch from a peaceful struggle to one of withstanding the violence of the military, for which they were ill prepared. These are important findings for any revolutionary movement and the class struggle.

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