Half a Century of Chile’s Road to Socialism

Salvador Allende

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

By Rafael Rojas (confidential)

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

Allende’s humility as a political leader is one of the virtues that sets him apart in the history of the Latin American left. It was the fourth time that the doctor, born in Santiago in 1908, had presented himself in the hope of becoming president. He had already been beaten three times – in 1952, 1958 and 1964 – although he got 38% of the vote in his third campaign, more than the percentage of votes he needed to win the 1970 election. , as a candidate for the Alliance of Popular Unity, against former President Jorge Alessandri and Christian Democrat Radomiro Tomic.

His lack of arrogance made him say he came from defeat. However, the reality is that he had won key victories for the left in Chilean democracy. Founder of the Socialist Party in 1933 (and not of the Communist Party created by Luis Emilio Recabarren in 1922), Allende was 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 house, until he launched his electoral campaign in 1970.

In Conversation with Allende (1971), Régis Debray gives the floor to the president who insists on the fact that the victory of Popular Unity, in which the socialists ally with the Communists, the Social Democrats, the Radicals and progressive Christianity, would not have not been possible without this tradition of a Left, it goes back to the first decades of the 20th century. Allende’s faith in democracy and pluralism was so strong that he was able to run in four election campaigns and not threaten freedom of expression and association during the three years of his rule.

The key to Chile’s “road to socialism” was the implementation of a program of far-reaching social reforms – the nationalization of the copper, coal, iron, saltpetre and steel industries; radicalize the agrarian reform initiated under the governments of Jorge Alessandri and Eduardo Frei; 90% control of the banks – without abandoning the 1925 Constitution, nor disrupting representative government or the 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 repeatedly noted his numerous disagreements with the Communists. His idea of ​​socialism did not conflict with maintaining good relations with the international community, with reading Trotsky, or with refusing to assume Leninism as a “political catechism” or with criticism of the party system. unique.

He never gave up calling what he tried to advance in Chile a “Revolution”, but he spoke of the Popular Unity project as an alternative to building socialism with democracy, moving away from the great communist experiences of the 20th century: in the Soviet Union, China or Cuba. The coup d’état which toppled Allende in September 1973 and which led to his immolation led to the spread of the theory that democratic socialisms are doomed to failure.

In his Interrumpida conversation with Allende (1998), the Chilean sociologist Tomas Moulian said that until 1989, this theory of the failure of the moderates was certainly true. However, the world after the fall of the Berlin War and real socialisms only proved that Allende was right, Moulian said. The “peaceful legacy of revolution” and “radical reformism in democracy” is more alive than ever.

This article originally appeared in La Razón.

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