Socialists welcome the left split from Syriza and the possibility of a united front of all forces opposed to austerity but within this movement we must debate the question of the left and capitalist State power. Miguel Silva, a comrade from Chile, sent us this report.
The 25 Syriza MPs who split this week have choseon the name of ‘Popular Unity’- this name references the Popular Unity government of Chile (1970-73) which was overthrown by Pinochet’s military coup.
I think that those of us that know something of the thousand days of the Chilean Popular Unity, owe it to everyone to talk about the ups and downs of the movement and its government.
The Popular Unity (UP) program included the nationalisation of companies, central pillars of the economy and their integration into a ‘Social Area’ of the economy. The program also included many ways to reduce levels of inequality and incease democratic participation.
The government fulfilled many of its promises. Within a few months, the banking system, copper mining, textile prodution and other important industrial sectors were nationalised into the Social Area.
The Agrarian Reform, already begun in the previous government, was radicalised. And as the market soon stopped functioning as an “invisible hand” that connects production to distribution, the government was forced to create a new distribution system.
The ruling class, inside and outside the country, reacted to these changes. The lorry owners organized a stoppage and pulled behind them other sections of the economy and much of the middle class.
This action itself provoked a reaction among workers who could not keep on working because their employers had shut down their workplaces. They had two choices- stay at home, or work as usual, but without their bosses.
What happened to these occupied workplaces? The government took some into the Social Area, but left others to their own devices.
New alternatives to parliamentary democracy flourished in the battle between the government and the capitalists. In the working class estates, a new distribution system grew roots and in industry coordinated strike committees – “Cordones industriales” – grew and took on new roles.
In the March 1973 elections, the UP won more votes than in the general election itself, and this marked the end of negotiations for the ruling class. The armed forces started to plan a coup, the legal system opposed many of the changes that the government proposed, and the parliamentary opposition stopped negotiating.
What was the solution?
Some sectors of workers started to dedicate themselves to building the new organizations of “popular power”. Others concentrated their time on winning the “battle for production” that the government proposed.
In June 1973, an attempted coup by a section of the army finished in failure. But workers where the popular power of the “industrial belts” already existed, took control of parts of Santiago and some other cities.
Massive marches rocked Chile, and the government was under heavy pressure to lay the “heavy hand” on rebel sections of the army, on Chilean and foreign capitalists, and on the justice and parliamentary opposition.
However, and this is the most important for us today I think, the government and Salvador Allende himself, still thought that they could handle the situation using normal parliamentary tactics like the incorporation of more of the military into the government, negotiation, persuasion of one sort or another.
Our common sense tells us that the popular power, the “cordones industriales” and estate organizations, should have grown as an alternative to the government’s tactics after the failed coup of June. But that is not what happened.
In general, the popular power organizations did not know how to react. Some did not want to be labelled as traitors to the government and so watched how things would develop. Others were more independent, and felt that the time of parliamentary action had passed, but asked, demanded, that Salvador Allende himself should take the measures.
Popular Power was disorganized as a result. And the consequence was that when Pinochet and the military struck with deadly ruthlessness on the 11th of September 1973 (the first 9/11) they met with relatively little resistance.
Recognizing this fact is one of the great and useful lessons that the Chilean UP can teach us.
On one hand, popular power is possible. Hundreds of thousands of workers can learn that they themselves have the capacity to change the country.
On the other hand, faith in a government that rules in name of popular power, must not be blind faith. When the government fulfills its promises, all well and good if this serves to give ímpetus to real democracy, to popular power.
But when the government cannot, or will not, keep its promises, the movement must have its own independent and revolutionary politics.
I believe that the Chilean UP can teach us a lot. The new UP in Greece is called that, I imagine, precisely because it hits a nerve. But we must learn that ‘Unity’ can serve, sometimes, as a tool to build people power.
At other times, ‘Unity’ can be an obstacle if it has been built on the basis of subservience to parliament and reformist tactics.
Miguel Silva, Santiago Chile