Chilean Popular Front

Spartacist, No. 19, November-December 1970

The electoral victory of Dr. Salvador Allende’s Popular Front coalition in Chile poses in sharpest form the issue of revolution or counter-revolution. The Chilean crisis is a fully classic expression of reformism’s attempt to derail the felt needs of the working people for their own government to rule society in their own interests. The revolutionary duty of Marxists in Chile and internationally should be utterly unambiguous. Above all, the experience of the Russian Revolution and of Trotsky’s critiques of the Spanish and French Popular Front governments of 1936 illuminate the objective of revolutionists in such a situation.

Dr. Allende’s candidacy, which gained a plurality on 4 Sept., was based on a coalition of reformist-labor and liberal-bourgeois parties, including the pro-Moscow Communist Party, Allende’s own somewhat more radical Socialist Party, the very right-wing Social Democrats, the rump of the liberal Radical Party, fragments of the Christian Democrats, etc. To gain confirmation by the Congress, Allende agreed to a series of constitutional amendments at the insistence of the dominant Christian Democrats. Most crucial among these were the prohibition of private militias and the stipulation that no police or military officers will be appointed who were not trained in the established academies.

With the maintenance of the foundations of the capitalist order thus assured, Congress elected Allende president on 24 October. He has now announced the division of spoils in his 15-man cabinet: the CP gets economic ministries, Allende’s SP the key posts of internal security and foreign affairs, and a bourgeois Radical the ministry of national defense. This is reformism’s answer to the Chilean masses’ years of struggle and their desperate hopes that Allende’s election would open up for them a new way of life, but they will not be held for long inside the Popular Front’s bourgeois straight jacket.

It is the most elementary duty for revolutionary Marxists to irreconcilably oppose the Popular Front in the election and to place absolutely no confidence in it in power. Any "critical support" to the Allende coalition is class treason, paving the way for a bloody defeat for the Chilean working people when domestic reaction, abetted by international imperialism, is ready. The U.S. imperialists have been able to temporize for the moment--and not immediately try to mobilize a counter-revolutionary coup on the usual Latin American model--because they have softened the anticipated nationalization losses through massive profit-taking over several years.

Within reformist workers’ parties there is a profound contradiction between their proletarian base and formal ideology and the class-collaborationist aims and personal appetites of their leaderships. This is why Marxists, when they are not themselves embodied in a mass working-class party, give reformist parties such "critical support"--against overt agents of capital--as will tend to regroup the proletarian base around a revolutionary program. But when these parties enter a coalition government with the parties of capitalism, any such "critical support" would be a betrayal because the coalition has suppressed the class contradiction in the bourgeoisie’s favor. It is our job then to re-create the basis for struggle within such parties by demanding they break with the coalition. This break must be the elementary precondition for even the most critical support.

The Left Views Chile

Chile’s most extreme known formation, the Movimiento Izquierdista Revolutionario, comprising Guevarists, semi-Trotskyists, etc., demonstrated conciliationism toward Allende as his campaign wore on and on 4 Sept. issued a call for the workers, students and peasants to support his victory, thus throwing their weight behind the popular illusions.

While the "revolutionary" Chinese Maoists have been very diplomatically noncommittal, for Gus Hall of the U.S. CP, "the elections in Chile are a revolutionary, democratic mandate of the people." He goes on, "Does this experience deny the theses of Debray [i.e. Guevara and Castro] and Mao? Yes it does." (Daily World, 17 Oct.) Not to be outdone in enthusiasm, Castro’s Granma of 13 Sept. headlined Allende’s election as "The Victory of People’s Unity," thus willy-nilly sharing the same bed with Gus Hall and once again exposing as political charlatans those who preach confidence in the Cuban leadership.

Tragically, most of those formations claiming the heritage of Trotsky’s Fourth International have taken the same road, in disorientation or conciliation to Popular Frontism. At its April 1969 World Congress the United Secretariat majority around Livio Maitan affirmed that the strategy for Latin America was "rural guerrilla warfare" with a peasant base and a petty-bourgeois (student) derived cadre, thus rendering themselves irrelevant in the face of urban-based upheavals in Latin America. How about the United Secretariat minority, grouped around the American Socialist Workers Party? Their spokesman, Joe Hansen, stood on apparent Trotskyist orthodoxy, seemingly rediscovering the need to build revolutionary workers’ parties as the key to the Latin American revolution, but this was just a fig leaf to cover the SWP’s descent into legalistic reformism. The first response of Hansen’s Intercontinental Press (14 Sept.) was agnostic, concluding, "Undoubtedly Allende’s program is more radical, on paper, than the program of the Popular Front of 1938. But it remains to be seen what his bourgeois allies, present and prospective, will allow him to put into practice."

Behind the SWP's bland know-nothingism was its operational position: critical support: "It would be a crime to whitewash the UP [Unidad Popular]. But failing to recognize the positive elements in it, condemning it in toto out of some sectarian dogmatism, would mean suicidal isolation." (IP, 5 Oct.) To be sure, the SWP "knows better." But after all the Allende candidacy was enormously popular among the Chilean masses, so these revisionists chose to feed the illusions which block the path to socialist revolution and expose the workers, in this situation of great social polarization, to the danger of victorious reaction and right-wing terror.

Healy’s Pabloism

The alleged anti-revisionists of Gerry Healy’s "Fourth International" stand only quantitatively to the left of the SWP; they are just more critical within the same framework. Healy’s Workers Press of 12 Sept. concludes, "There must be a preparation for class action to defend Allende’s victory and his election programs to meet this danger." And the U.S. Workers League states:

"There is only one road and that is the revolutionary road of the October Revolution…. As a step in this understanding the workers must hold Allende to his promises…"
(Bulletin, 21 Sept.)--invoking the October Revolution, they demand the masses should compel an essentially bourgeois government to achieve socialism!

Not surprisingly, during the 1917 February Revolution in Russia the vacillating resident Bolsheviks, including Stalin, came up with the very formula the WL has rediscovered: to support the provisional government "insofar as it struggles against reaction or counterrevolution." Lenin telegraphed his protest from abroad: "Our tactic; absolute lack of confidence; no support to the new government; suspect Kerensky especially; arming of the proletariat the sole guarantee;… no rapprochement with other parties." All we could add today is to repeat Trotsky’s fundamental conclusion about our epoch that the time has never been more urgent for the building of the international party imbued with Leninist aims and Lenin’s determination.

Posted: 04 May 2005