The Chileans Have Elected a Revolution
By Norman Gall
This Wednesday Dr Salvador Allende will become President of Chile in circumstances that promise one of the most tense periods in Latin America since the early years of the Cuban Revolution. In the Sept 4 election. His Unidad Popular — an uneasy, minority coalition of Communists, Socialists, middle-class Radicals and a clutch of miniparties — squeezed out a 1.4 per cent plurality — fewer than 40.000 votes — over conservative ex-President Jorge Alessandri in a bitter three-way race. (The third candidate, the Christian Democrats’ Radomiro Tomic, trailed badly.)
The Chilean Constitution requires that Congress choose the new President from the two leading candidates if neither wins an absolute majority; theoretically, Congress can choose freely, but a powerful tradition has always dictated selection of the front-runner, and the Congressional vote on Oct. 24 was no exception, making Dr. Allende the first freely elected Marxist-Leninist President of any nation in the world.
Allende won because the votes against him were divided between two candidates instead of being massed in support of one—as they had been behind the Christian Democrats’ President Eduardo Frei in the previous election six years ago.
“The people had been lied to and deceived and this time they would not let themselves be lied to and deceived again. It seems that many people awoke this time, and the people were more demanding of Frei because Frei had promised them a revolution.”
Allende has promised to use his mandate from 36 per cent of the Chilean electorate merely to “lay the foundations for socialism” by constitutional means rather than to convert his country by swift strokes into Latin America’s second Marxist-Leninist state. But these assurances have gone virtually unnoticed by those deeply worried by his victory.
The events of the weeks following the election may have set the tone of politics in Chile for years to come.
On the day after the long election night, the 62-year old President-elect appeared, weary and heavy-jowled, in a leather yachtling jacket before 200 reporters jamming the Socialist party headquarters in the old and sooted commercial district of downtown Santiago. At that press conference, Allende repeated his campaign pledge to nationalize completely Chile’s big copper mines and private banking system, and announced that he would try to renegotiate Chile’s debt to the United States (roughly $700-million) for longer terms at lower interest. “Unidad Popular was born of a very clear fact,” he said.
“That is the failure of the capitalist system. Only 10 minutes from La Moneda [the Presidential palace] you can see Chileans living in tents in the mud.”
On Monday, Sept. 7, the next regular business day, a financial panic spread through the downtown banks and office buildings. Prices collapsed on the local stock exchange, and thousands of depositor stampeded into the banks to empty their accounts. The banks ran out of currency to meet the demand, and so did the Central Bank, so the Government printing presses went to work at double the normal rate, leading to a huge increase of banknotes in circulation within a month of the election in a country that has been racked by chronic inflation for the past century. (This year’s cost-of-living increase is expected to be around 40 per cent, the world’s worst rate of inflation outside South Vietnam.)Right after the election most New York banks suspended all routine commercial credit to Chilean importers. The highly paid workers at the great Anaconda copper mine of Chuquicamata, who normally elect Communist and Socialist union leaders, but who this time voted heavily for Alessandri because he was the only candidate who promised no to nationalize the copper mines, began along and costly strike to obtain a 70 per cent wage increase before nationalization. Cattle ranchers and electrical-appliance dealers here began to sell their stock at panic prices as dollars started leaving the country at triple the normal rate. After the outgoing Government slapped a 50 per cent tax on official dollar transactions, airline offices were swamped by people futilely seeking to fly to neighboring Argentina to exchange their Chilean escudos for dollars on the Buenos Aires black market. Hundred of German Jews who found refuge in Chile during the Hitler era flocked to the West German Embassy here to seek restoration of their German nationality. Many well-to-do Chileans simply abandoned their homes and businesses in their rush to leave the country;
Just two days before the Chilean Congress certified Allende’s election, Gen. René Schneider, the army commander in chief, was machine gunned in his car and fatally wounded by terrorists who blocked his customary route to work on a street near his home. The Schneider shooting—the first assassination attempt, successful or otherwise, against a high Chilean official in 140 years—climaxed a series of rightist bombings in the Santiago area that had led Allende to charge publicly that an assassination attempt was being prepared against him and that an unusual number of Cuban exiles were entering the country.
In the midst of this post-election panic, Allende told The New York Times: “You must understand that a Government must weigh what obstacles it will encounter. Perhaps, if obstacles are artificially created, if there is a conspiracy by ultra reactionary sectors, if the current attempt to provoke economic chaos is accentuated, well, we’ll be forced to take our steps more quickly and decisively—that is, the process could be radicalized not because we want it to be but because we have no other choice.”
As Allende assumes office, however, he seems caught between two wretched alternatives: presiding over a weak and quarrelling coalition, like whose of postwar France, or attempting to consolidate this power by a series of drastic emergency measures—though not necessarily unconstitutional ones—under existing laws giving Chilean Presidents sweeping powers of arrest and economic controls that could be justified by the ugly climate that has been building.
For many years now, Allende has been leading a double life as a parliamentarian and a revolutionary. For example, while serving as president of the Chilean Senate (1965-69), he also was a founder of and leading participant in the Havana-based Castroite guerrilla front, O.L.A.S. (Organization of Latin-American Solidarity), and escorted the fugitive survivors of Che Guevara’s guerrilla band after their escape across the Bolivian border until they were turned over to French and Cuban authorities in Tahiti. In an interview a few weeks after the election, Allende—a man of great candor and consistency in his political positions over the years—made this duality seem somewhat more coherent.
“Chile is one of the most highly evolved political communities in Latin America,” he told me, “a country where bourgeois democracy has reached a very high level. Our Congress is 120 years old. We have political parties, like the Radicals, that have existed for 110 years. The Communist party is 47 years old, and the Socialists were founded 34 years ago. Although bourgeois democracy gas reached a high level here, no Government has solved the problems of housing, employment and education.
For example, in 1940, when I was Minister of Public Health, I organized the first housing exposition in Chile, at a time when there was a deficit of 320,000 housing units. In the 30 years since then, six Governments have come and gone, and today there is a deficit of 440000 houses. In other words, not enough houses were built to equal the increase in population. Moreover, 43 per cent of all Chileans are ill-fed to the degree that half of all children under 15 years old suffer from malnutrition, and there are 600000 children who are mentally retarded because of an insufficient protein supply.
“Our Presidents have been humane men who want their countrymen to have jobs, education, housing and food. But why haven’t they been able to solve these problems? It’s because the system is exhausted and does not allow for more. And why doesn’t it allow for more? Because we are a country that produces raw materials and imports manufactured goods, because we sell cheap and buy dear, because we are a dependent colonial nation. Dependent on whom? On the great industrial nations, and especially on imperialist capital. For this reason, to be a revolutionary means to break this economic, cultural and political dependence.”
Allende’s brand of Marxism is much less that of a doctrinaire intellectual than of a working politician, a compelling campaign orator whose standard equipment is the old slogans of the left that have great power to whip up popular emotions but less and less relations to the complexities of economic development. Although his intimates say he has read very few of the standard works of Marxism, Allende is a crafty and tenacious political maneuverer who has become an eloquent accuser of the injustices of economic dependence and neo-colonialism.
“Chile cannot continue as a country that must import each year $160 million worth of meat, wheat, lard, butter and vegetable oils, when there is enough good land to feed twice our population,” he told me. “Chile has marvelous offshore fisheries, and nearly 3000 miles of coastline. But we have no fishing ports, no network of refrigerating equipment and no refrigerated trucks to carry fish from the coast to the inland cities.
“We are a rich country, but our riches are not in Chilean hands. We must make use of the profits yielded by the Chilean economy and invest them so as to yield new benefits. For this reason we must recover the riches that are in the hands of foreign capital, and at the same time terminate the Chilean monopolies, carry out an authentic agrarian reform, and control both foreign trade and bank credit.”
After wrongly predicting a conservative election victory by a comfortable margin, the American Embassy in Santiago has been reporting to Washington that formation of a Communist People’s Republic in Chile is now virtually inevitable. This could be a self-fulfilling prophecy in view of the panic and the suspension of routine commercial credit that has already crippled the Chilean economy.
On Sept. 18, at an off-the-record White House regional press briefing in Chicago, Henry Kissinger warned that Allende’s election threatens the neighboring republics - Peru, Bolivia and Argentina - with the spread of Communism. A few days later, the Inter-American Press Society, composed mainly of the larger and more conservative newspapers in Latin America, charged that Communist party cadres were threatening Chilean editor and menacing press freedom, and a Communist spokesman admitted that there had been pressure on radio stations to hire party members, though he said he deplored such tactics.
The Christian Democrats - the largest party in Congress - nearly split in half over whether or not to support Allende. To reassure them, Allende agreed to a series of constitutional amendments strengthening guarantees of freedom of the press, the rights of assembly and travel, the existence of nonprofit private and parochial schools, the right to join labor unions and to strike. ]
At a stormy Christian Democratic party caucus, Party Secretary Benjamin Prado warned: “To deny Allende the possibility of assuming the Presidency would be the same as telling 36% of the electorate: ‘You have the right to participate in elections, but not to win them. You can come in second or third, but neer first.’ This would be saying that those on the left who argued for armed insurrection were right.” But probably the most persuasive argument was the fact that in the 1958 election Allende - backed them as now by the Communists and Socialists - lost to Alessandri by an even slimmer margin than the one by which Allende beat Alessandri this year, and on that occasion Allende recognized Alessandri’s victory on election night.
At Allende’s small, elegante townhouse in the fashionable Procidencia district near downtown Santiago, there has been almost incessant traffic of politicians and journalists in recent weeks. They nose about the tiny living room and study, inspecting the President-elect’s fine collection of pre-Columbian ceramics, the ivory and rosewood Orientalia, the soft proto-impressionist oil paintings and the lively pastel-colored modern ones, and the photographic mementos from his widely publicized journeys to China, North Vietnam and Cuba, especially the big one of Allende lounging with his old friend Fidel Castro at a picnic table in a bucolic Cuban setting. One of the few books in the study is an autographed copy of the original Cuban edition of Che Guevara’s “Guerrilla Warfare” with the following inscription: “To my friend Salvador Allende, who is trying to do the same thing by different means.”
On election night, Castro phoned Unidad Popular headquarters from Havana to congratulate the victorious candidate, only to learn that Allende at that moment was on a balcony of the Chilean Students Federation addressing a huge victory rally. A few days later, Castro sent a Chilean courier to Allende with the following message: (1) Keep Chilean copper in the dollar market as long as possible (i.e., don’t depend too heavily on the Russians); (2) keep your technicians in Chile at all costs; (3) I know you’re a revolutionary, and you on’t have to prove it; (4) it’s not necessary that I come to your inauguration; I can come when it suits you politically.
Allende is one of those extroverted Chilean Socialists who are a constant foil to the Chilean Communist leadership. The Socialists are an unruly mixed bag of Social Democrats, Maoists, Castroites and Trotskyites who often take positions far to the left of the Communists; earlier this year, Allende was nearly denied the Socialists’ Presidential nomination because he was thought insufficiently revolutionary. In contrast to most Communist union leaders and parliamentarians, with their austere manners, drab speeches and dark business suits, Allende is something of a clotheshorse and philanderer - “I have been accused of everything except being a thief or a homosexual,” he repeatedly tells inteviewers - as well as a lifelong Mason with friends in all shades of the political spectrum and very few personal enemies. Just how well he has functioned in Chilean politics and society is shown by the kind of posts he has held during his long public career. At 30, he was a brilliant Minister of Health in the popular Front cabinet of President Pedro Aguierre Certa (1938-41). Since then he has served for three decades in Congress, and also as secretary general of the Socialist party and President of the Chilean Medical Association and of the Chilean Senate.
“My grandfather was Most Serene Master of the Masonic Order in Chile, which was something very advanced for its time,” Allende told me one evening at his house. “He founded the first lay school in Chile and was a Senator of the Radical party, which meant that he took a strong position against the old clerical conservatism.
“At the time I came to Santiago from the provinces to study medicine, the medical students were in the vanguard of the student movement. This was because he lived in the poor neighborhoods near the school, and we learned very quickly that good health is something you buy, and many people cannot pay the price. In the university I always stood with the left. I was a student leader. I was jailed, later expelled from the university, then readmitted, and in spite of everything I always got good marks.
“When I graduated, however, I had great trouble finding work because I was known as a student leader and founder of the Socialist party. Under these conditions, I could find work only after submitting myself four times to the same post, which was declared unfilled, even though I was the only applicant, which meant that they didn’t want me to work, even on dead people. I had to use political influence to get a job performing autopsies in the morgue of a hospital, which I did for 18 months, and which gave me a lesson for the rest of my life. Because in the public hospitals, when one must perform autopsies one becomes aware of the physiological misery of some people, of what hunger does to people and of the extraordinary difference between those who can pay for a private clinic and those who live poorly, get sick and die in a public hospital.”
Probably the most momentous decision of Allende’s political career came in 1951, when he made his first electoral pact with the Communists at the height of the cold war, a time when the Chilean Communist party was outlawed and most of its leaders in hiding. Allende’s alliance with the Communists - which provoked his expulsion from the Socialist party - also came at a time when many of his friends of the so-called democratic left in Latin America - like ex-President Rómulo Betancourt of Venezuela, President José Figueres of Costa Rica and Victor Raúl Haya de la Torre, leader of Peru’s APRA party - were moving toward closer identification with U.S. foreign policy and the business community in their own countries. “Let me say that we were friends because they came to Chile as political exiles from dictatorial regimes,” Allende told me.
“But none of these men was a socialist nor a Socialist party militant nor a bearer of Marxist ideas. Rómulo Betancourt [in exile] was separated from the Communist party, and the fact of his expulsion or separation perhaps explains why he has been an anti-Communist ever since. On the other hand, I have never changed because I have always been a Socialist and I have always embraced Marxist doctrine, which is a scientific theory to interpret economic and social realities. This well-defined position has enabled me to maintain the same line, and this has been my political and moral capital.
“Now, you ask me why in 1951 I entered in an understanding with The Communists. I didn’t do this because of the cold war or the lukewarm war or the hot war, but because of Chile’s needs. As I saw it at that time, Chile should have begun a political course much clearer than the route chosen by my Socialist party companions in supporting the candidacy of Gen. Carlos Ibañez [who headed a military dictatorship with Fascist support in the nineteen-twenties]. Aside from personal considerations, Ibañez could not have signified a revolutionary process. Also, I think that the anti-imperialist and anti-oligarchic revolution must essentially base itself on the unity of the working class, and the working class in Chile is represented basically by Communists and Socialists. If there were no Communist-Socialist agreement, there would be a fratricidal struggle between Socialists and Communists, as in earlier times, that would weaken the revolutionary movement and benefit the bourgeoisie and imperialism. I was expelled from my own party for not supporting Ibañez and the Communist-Socialist pact of 1951 served no electoral purpose because the Communist party was still outlawed. But I was motivated by something much more important: the creation of an authentic instrument for the liberation of the working class and the liberation of Chile.”
The great question today, of course, is how heavily Allende will have to lean on the devoutly pro-Soviet Chilean Communist party - the third most powerful in the West after the French and Italian parties - to maintain himself in power. Unlike his other coalition allies, the Communists are a cohesive and disciplined political instrument with 60,000 members that controls the Chilean Workers Confederation and for years has served as latin America’s leading advocate of ``the peaceful road to socialism.” They are expected to gold two or three minor Cabinet posts, but are attempting to fill many key secondary positions from which the day-to-day affairs of most ministries are controlled.
Their organization extends into most of the working-class neighborhoods of Santiago, plus the callampa (mushroom) squatter slums at the fringes of the city, and is deeply infiltrated among the working journalists in most of the country’s newspapers , radio and television stations. It is the only political organization in Chile that can supply Allende with a large number of trained and reliable cadres in a political emergency.
The Communists twice before have participated in Chilean Governments. In the late nineteen-thirties they were denied administrative jobs in a Popular Front regime that they had joined. On orders from Moscow, they declined to serve in the Cabinet, and though their nominees for secondary posts were enthusiastically approved by President Pedro Aguirre Cerda, they were never appointed. In the late nineteen-forties they were outlawed and forced into hiding by another President they had helped to elect. For most of the past two decades they have been trying hard to develop an image of moderation and respectability in Chilean society, while seeking to maintain their revolutionary credentials, to avoid the disasters that befell them in previous ruling coalitions.
Late one afternoon in the dim and musty Victorian office building that houses the Chilean Senate - a relic of Chile’s turn-of-the-century nitrate prosperity - I chatted with the Communists’ leading ideologue, Senator Volodia Teitelboim. He is a bald, puffy-faced man of letters with small, quick, compassionate eyes - the son of a Ukrainian Jew who migrated to a small Chilean town in the eighteen-nineties - whose extraordinary powers of persuasion and maneuver have made him the architect of Allende’s Unidad Popular alliance.
I asked Teitelboim why the Chilean Communists have been able to attain power peacefully while the much more powerful Italian Communists have been blocked.
“Chile, you know, has a great deal in common with Italy,” he said. “The Roman Catholic Church has been a very strong common denominator. Both Countries went through 19th-century struggles between an anti-clerical liberalism and a conservatism that spoke for the church - struggles that liberalism won. In both Chile and Italy there have been dramatic confrontations in recent decades between the Communists and a Christian Democratic Party backed by the church. We are not as strong as the Italian Communists. If we have gone further in Chile at this moment it is because in Italy the Communists have not been able to overcome the opposition of the Vatican and the Socialists, and because in Italy there is no unified trade-union movement like the one we have here. We are, like all other Leninist Communists, of the understanding that Leninism is not a dogma but a guide for action. Therefore we are against dogmas, and we believe that this guide for action obliges us to live within our own context, that is, within our own country.”
The Communists appear to be the most cautious and responsible members of the Unidad Popular coalition. They may remain the most stalwart defenders of bourgeois democracy until late in the game, just as in the Spanish Civil War, and if a close Chilean-Soviet relationship develops it may be more along the lines of Russia’s ties with Egypt than of those with Cuba. It is unlikely that the Communists will push Allende into extreme positions, but they probably would take advantage of a chaotic and polarizing situation, just as they did in the early years of the Cuban revolution. Within the Unidad Popular coalition the Communists deal from a position of strength, and will become stronger if Chile begins to depend on Soviet aid. Allende will have to lean on them because no other party is equally equipped to help him govern.
The Unidad Popular program is specific on what kind of foreign and Chilean business will be nationalized, but is very vague on how it will achieve its other objectives. It promises state ownership of Chile’s bigger copper, nitrate, iron and coal mines, banks and insurance companies, the “monopolies of distribution” and the “strategic industrial monopolies.” It promises full employment and a shift in industrial production “from luxury goods to basic necessities,” and stresses that “the struggle against inflation will be decided essentially with the structural changes we announce.” The program pledges that “the guarantee of fulfillment of these objectives rests in the control by the organized people of the political and economic power, expressed in the state sector of the economy and its general planning.
In the two months between Allende’s election and inauguration, Communist parliamentarians and trade-union leaders have taken the initiative in meeting with merchants and factory owners to specify which businesses will be nationalized, which will become mixed public-private enterprises and which will remain in private hands. “What we want is that all strategic areas of the economy be in Chilean hands,” the Communist deputy and Politburo member Orlando Millas told a meeting of drug manufacturer and union leaders that I attended. “The scandalous profit margins on items like cosmetics will be cut. But this does not mean we are against all foreign investment, or that the manufactures won’t be allowed a reasonable profit. But for the first time in Chile we will have industry wide collective bargaining, and the unions will be allowed autonomy in seeking wage increases. We will control inflation by expanded employment and expanding production volume to meet the increased demand. We will control inflation by expanded employment and expanding production volume to meet the increased demand. We will do all we can to help keep afloat any factory having production of marketing troubles. However, existing law forbids any plant to close without Government permission, and allows the Government to take over any factory that is artificially paralyzed.”
Nobody knows just what the Unidad Popular Government would mean by “artificially paralyzed,” but Allende in a speech a few days later told his followers to “denounce all those factory owners who don’t replenish their stocks or stop buying raw materials.” The Allende forces have promised - in the new constitutional amendments - to permit strikes, but there is no indication as to how far they will allow labor disputes to create economic chaos.
Even in normal circumstances, such policies might well be inflationary. In Chile’s present financial crisis, with huge Government deficits and the financial panic that followed Allende’s election victory, and the alarming drop in both farm and factory production, these policies could cause such an explosive inflation as to drive Unidad Popular’s enemies both out of business and out of the country. It is doubtful that Allende’s mediocre economic advisers possess the diabolical imagination or the technical skill to use inflation as a political weapon. But Lenin’s dictum about debauching the currency, even if applied inadvertently, would be the easiest way to carry out swift changes in Chile’s power structure without breaking any existing law.
A leading Christian Democratic industrialist sums up the outlook this way: “There is a great possibility of a gradual development of Socialism. Chile will move toward the left in the coming years - and we will have to fight hard, with a 20 or 30 per cent chance of success, to maintain a leftist social democracy and not get a Marxist dictatorship. Much of Chile’s future depends on the valor and intelligence of the opposition.”
One of Allende’s immediate problems upon assuming office will be to neutralize real or potential opposition from the Chilean armed forces. A thorough overhauling of the high commands is expected, just as at any other time the Presidency changes hands. (The one Christian Democratic demand for constitutional amendments that Allende refused to concede was virtual elimination of the President’s powers of military appointment.) Allende could gain great popularity among the military and the carabineros (Chile’s 30000 man national police force) by satisfying their long-standing grievances over low pay, which last year caused the only Chilean barracks uprising in the past four decades. Now would it hurt to begin equipping the Chilean armed forces with Soviet tanks and MIG jets, which could be justified in terms of self-defense against the hostility of Argentina’s rightist military regime.
At a well-attended Unidad Popular meeting one sunday in a lovely park in a new middle-class neighborhood of Santiago, I joined a circle in which a police lieutenant was chatting with a Communist and a Socialist. “Many of us in the police have great sympathy with Unidad Popular,” the carabinero said. “You should not dissolve the Fuerza mobil [the crack police riot-control squad] as you promised to do, because it has saved Governments in the past and it could save yours too. You should recognize that the carabinero is low-paid and often works 16 hours a day, and he doesn’t even have the right to vote. If you do something about these problems, he will be on your side. This moment is the great opportunity for Socialism in Chile. Six years ago, the Christian Democrats had their great opportunity and they threw it away. It would be a pity for Socialism to do the same.”
One of the most striking things about Chile today is how far it already has gone on the road to Socialism. It has a giant (but impoverished) National Health Service nearly as old as Britain’s, and it has been accustomed for decades to massive state intervention and control of the economy. Allende’s pledges to bring the copper industry - producing one-fourth of the world’s supply - and the private banks under state ownership and of accelerating and expanding Chile’s land-reform effort were also part of the Christian Democratic program this year, Both copper nationalization and land reform were begun peacefully but modestly over the past six years by the Christian Democrats under the paternal and charismatic guidance of President Frei, whose proposal of a “revolution in liberty” did much to leaven and expand Chilean democracy but, at the same time, raised the tension and the unsatisfied hopes that led to Allende’s victory.
The core of the Chilean electorate that gave Allende his triumph is the threadbase, proletarianized middle class of Santiago. The country became heavily urbanized far earlier than most Latin-American republics, during the nitrate boom that ended a half-century ago. The end of the nitrate boom left great numbers of peasant migrants and European imigrants stranded in the towns and cities of Chile and the only way to avoid social upheaval was to create low-paid, unproductive jobs in the Government bureaucracy, where pauperized white-collar workers still earn salaries as low as $30 or $40 per month.
Recently I visited a group of white collar employes of the National Health Service - whose bureaucracy has swollen from 32000 to 56000 workers during Frei’s six year of rule - who had just taken the desperate but timely step of joining the wave of urban land invasions that has spread throughout the Santiago area. They broke the locks on a settlement of 200 Government-built one-family houses that, because of bureaucratic negligence, had been left unoccupied for three years after they were finished.
“Before we grabbed this house I was living in one room with my pregnant wife and our little boy,” a tall, bespectacled laboratory worker told me. “We were cooking with a kerosene stove in the same room. All of us here work nearby in a National health Service laboratory and knew that three years ago these houses were rejected by the private employes fund that financed them.
“The government gives a wage adjustment every January, but it is always less than the real rise in prices. When I buy a suit or a pair of shows I have to buy on credit on six-month installments. But the merchants charge double the cash-and-carry price because they gave to defend themselves against inflation, too.
Our middle class has always identified with those socially and economically above them, but now they are becoming convinced that they are part of the proletariat like all the rest.”
Most land invasions are carried out by slum dwellers whose families live in single rooms rented at $4 or $5 a month, and are a common practice throughout Latin America at the time of elections and other changes of government. In Chile, these invasions - usually occupying vacant lots or Government land reserved for parks and housing projects - are planned and executed far more skillfully than anywhere else. The Communists, for example, for the past 12 years have employed a full-time paid party worker to organize land seizures to keep the Government off balance, especially around election time. Although the Christian Democrats have provided new homes and building sites for roughly one fifth of Chile’s urban population over the past six years, the pressure for new housing remains overwhelming. In the 1970 election the invasions became a free-for-all, organized not only by Communists and Socialists but also by right-wing Alessandri followers, the Castroide M.I.R. (Movement of the Revolutionary Left) and even the ruling Christian Democrats themselves.
There have been roughly 50 such invasions during and since the election campaign. Some 85000 persons are living in “invasion camps” made of flimsy plastic sheeting, discarded wooden crates, old mattresses, rusted tin roofing and bedsprings. Most of the camps are surrounded by barbed wire, decorated with gaily decorated gypsy tent canvas.
Comings and goings are strictly controlled. Loudspeakers call people to meetings and play records of revolutionary songs. At the camps of the M.I.R. university students armed with pistols and machine guns and wearing Che Guevara black berets summon their charges to militia meetings. Juan Araya, the wiry, gray-haired Communist veteran who has been the pioneer of the “Sin Casa” (“Homeless”) land-invasion movement, accused the M.I.R. after the election of running “concentration camps” whose inhabitants live terrorized” if they don’t follow orders. Araya himself went on to hint that land invasions may not be tolerated by the Unidad Popular Government, telling an audience of squatters that “the santiago area is running out of vacant land and we will have to start building vertically.”
According to a high-ranking Christian Democrat in the Housing Ministry, “The invasions occur because they fill a need. Poor people want land, not houses, because when you earn less than a dollar a day you can’t even conceive of paying for a house, and you just want a plot of land big enough to build a shack. The Communist party and the M.I.R. play politics with this need, and the Government should have done the same. Why couldn’t we have expropriated more land for people to build on?
The trouble with the Frei Government is that it carried out a revolutionary program and raised great hopes while maintaining an old-fashioned bourgeois image. What was needed was revolutionary language and gestures to make this meaningful to the masses.”
These revolutionary words and gestures are very much in evidence today. In the decade between the rise of Fidel Castro and the election of Salvador Allende, the revolutionary forces in Latin America have suffered many defeats: the failure of guerrilla insurrections in Venezuela, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina; the suppression of the 1965 popular uprising in Santo Domingo by U.S. military intervention; the establishment of neo-Fascist military regimes in Brazil and Argentina, and the disaster of Che Guevara’s Bolivian expedition. However, the tide has begun to turn with the appearance of leftist nationalist military governments in Peru and Bolivia, the extraordinary success of the Tupamaro urban guerrillas in Uruguay and the revolutionary activism of large sectors of the Catholic Church. Now, with Allende’s installation in the Chilean Presidency, these revolutionary forces will have great opportunity for innovation - though under extremely difficult political and economic conditions - that would go beyond the gestures and slogans they have been using for years.
There is an enormous void in the literature of Marxism on how to deal with Latin America’s greatest problem: the enormous and growling sub-proletariat or unemployed and underemployed peasant migrants to the cities. The survival of Fidel Castro in Cuba is due in a large measure to his ability to deliver to the poorest Cubans two dramatic and immediate benefits - employment and education - very early in the Cuban Revolution. Whether President Allende will be able to deliver these benefits to the poorest Chileans without plunging his country into greater economic chaos and poverty will greatly affect the future of the revolutionary left in Latin America. As Allende himself said in a rousing post election speech to campaign workers: “Now people are speaking what we are doing is authentically Chilean, whis will have repercussions throughout Latin America. After Nov. 4, Chile will be shaken like a football kicked by Pelé.”