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Nathaniel Whittemore Latin American Revolutions Paper 1 May 03, 2005 Prompt 2 Intro The Chilean socialist experiment

was an exciting moment of confluence between different political and economic actors. It was also a tragic lesson in the force that powerful minority interests can bring to bear upon the rights of the collective. The relationship between the so-called revolution from above and the revolution from below was never as simple as shared or divergent goals and means. Salvador Allendes Popular Front provided a national context and revolutionary lexicon for the ongoing localized frustrations of workers. The workers movements, such as that of the Yarur mill, animated the movement at large and provided Allendes government with the resonant constituent base and demonstrable saliency it needed to formally confront the existing order. To some degree, the interplay between the two was based on imagined relationships. The anxious workers appropriated the idea of Allende as their own, projecting their struggled onto both the man and his ideology. His real ideology imagined a relationship with the working class that in some ways combined the patron system with socialism. Yet even in the Yarur takeover crisis these two colliding imagined relationships were able to inform real discourse and find political compromise and maneuverability. This paper explores the particular circumstances of those imagined relationships and their brutal snuffing just a few years after they had formed. The Chilean socialist experiment is the story of these relationships and their extinction. Left to its own devices, it seems as though Allendes popular front socialism might have been buckled under its own political and economic divisions and inefficiencies. Yet the truth of the situation remains that the end of the movement came with the mobilization of incredibly powerful minority and international actors. The moment of new socialism

Allendes Popular Front vision and the surging Chilean workers revolution of the early 1970s were born into a set of circumstances that reflected not only the economic, political, and industrial conditions of the moment, but were predicated on a long history of worker activism and changing demographics. Allendes triumph at the polls and the Yarur workers reclamation of their union were manifestations of a particular moment in which local labor discontent finally found context in national political momentum. The revolution from above and revolution from below would, over the course of the coming months, shape, inform and give strength to one another. At the same time, their sometimes-divergent techniques, emphases and timing would threaten the socialist unity that was the lifeblood of the movement for the overthrow of the old system of exploitation. The interplay between the two was often rooted in the way in which workers imagined Allendes government and indeed, Allende himself, in relation to themselves. Allendes 1970 campaign saw a very different electoral composition than eighteen years earlier when he had first run for president. There had been a doubling of eligible voters and increased power concentrations within the lower class1. The composition of laborers at the Yarur mill reflected these demographics and a particular combination of experiences that went along with them. The Old Timers were a group whose experience was that of conditioned pessimism. Almost all had witnessed or been part of the suppressed strike of 1962 and some had been there even earlier. For most, the only politics that mattered were those of survival. The youngsters, on the other hand, reflected a move in the Chilean industrial base from rural to urban youth. These new circumstances of upbringing had implications for the anxiousness of the young workers to improve conditions that went beyond the fact of their youth itself. For young Chileans, a move from countryside to city meant increased contact with peers. The family ceased to be the singularly dominant social unit as new communities, in the forms of class mates, neighborhood friends, sports teams and other clubs came to occupy a significant place in the lives

Winn, Weavers of Revolution, 58

of young people. This was a world in which loyalty was increasingly the most important characteristic of relationships and peoples friends came to exert a stronger and stronger influence over decisions and actions. At the same time as these new sorts of relationships were forming, the Yarur factory was becoming increasingly de-personalized and de-humanized. The patron system which relied so heavily on the personality of the leader had not been successfully transmitted between generations of the Yarur clan. Moreover, the system was predicated on a tangible sense that real gains could (only) come from the individual relationship with the boss. It was doomed to wither in the face of decades passed with work conditions the same or worse as before. As Winn writes, the gifts of the patron system were double-edged, instruments of social control as well as expressions of benevolence. Their intent was to bind workers to their boss by ties of gratitudeand fears of losing those [benefits] already granted.2 The last vestiges of the system employed by Don Amador failed to resonate with a younger group of workers not weaned with the same sense of filial piety as the older generation. More than that, the mechanization of the working process increased the physical and social isolation of workers from one another. Indeed, this mechanization was the final blow to any sustaining power of the old familial patron system. The replacing Taylor System was an American innovation designed to increase the productivity of the workers. While in purely economical terms, it had the desired outcome; it also created an impersonal situation in which labor was separated from the laborers. Indeed, the workers became extensions of the perpetual motion machines they tended.3 On page 46, Winn writes that companerismo was another casualty of the Taylor System and paternalism perished with it as well. There was no longer time to talk with other workers.4 This was completely at odds with the senses of community that had become increasingly important in the social fabric of the young workers.

2 3

Ibid, 80 Ibid, 80 4 Winn, Weavers of Revolution, 46.

This was the situation that into which Allende came as he began to campaign for his fourth presidential bid. For the Old Timers, he represented the indefatigable spirit of past uprisings. He had been a part of the struggle for so long that his perseverance gave a sense of continuity to the toil of those who had languished in Yarur for decades. Like them he had risen up time after time, only to be struck down by more powerful opponents. Allende had run for president in 1952, 1958, and 1964, each time adding to his electoral gains.5 In that way, Allende became the embodiment of the history of Chilean labor struggle. As one man put it, Salvador is a man formed in this long struggle.

For the older group of Yarur workers, his past campaign

defeats were not symbols of failure but rather of perseverance and a sustained struggling against the tide. Moreover, while the youngsters may not have been interested in the patron system, its roots still ran deep for a large part of the Yarur body. Allende represented the best that a strong leader could be. His candidacy was not even a question; there was no other who could represent the Chilean people. For the youngsters, too, the Allende Popular Front campaign of 1970 represented a very distinct ethos, as well. They had grown up in a new urban situation in which peers were the dominant influence of adolescence.7 Indeed, loyalty to companeros became the fundamental currency of relationships. Urban class consciousness combined with new community units such as sports clubs and social centers created new levels of community. Popular Fronts appeals gave a cohesive rhetorical voice to this sense of community. Its calls for popular participation and democratic socialism gave voice to the need for a unity and communalism in the face of an isolating industry. In the language of the movement, friends became comrades and loyalty became solidarity. Mirroring the social infrastructures of their formative years, the Popular Front ideology envisioned the creation of organizations in workplaces and residential neighborhoods [to] ensure that the {new power structurebuilt up from the grassroots} would be exercised directly by the people themselves.8 At the same time, Allende as a man
5 6

Ibid, 56 Ibid, 55 7 Ibid, 85 8 Ibid, 64

situated the role of the individual within the context of the new emphasis on group rights. Most of all, the new democratic socialism and the man who carried its banner provided a national ideological, political, and economic context for the visceral, immediate and localized pains experienced by the Yarur obreros. His campaign reaffirmed for both groups, young and old, that their frustrations and hopes for salvation were justified and not limited to solely to their local community. Moreover, he helped inspire a massive shift in self-perception, a dramatic change in the workers view of themselves [and] their capacity and power, that was a precondition for the revolution from below.9 Imagining relationships Allendes own vision of his movement relied on the same sorts of imagined relationships that workers used to put context to their struggles. For Allende, socialist politics was all about unifying the forces that could bring about long-term sustainable change. This meant binding together the destinies of the working class, middle class, and political elite. Allende saw himself as the man to do this and as such, came to have a sense of the place that each group would play in his coalition. The workers were largely expected to cast their lot in and look to Allende for direction; indeed this was the prerequisite for the tacit middle classes acceptance of socialist rule.
In this delicately balanced strategy of economic and political change, the role of the masses workers, peasants, and pobladores was to provide political and social support when called on, but otherwise to await patiently the advances and benefits of the revolution from above.10

Yet the truth was that throughout the country, Allendes campaign was driven by the lower toiling classes who had seized Allende as their own. His rhetoric was generalized enough that it could connect with most of the disaffected, and his movement broad enough that it could encompass a spectrum of radicalism. While this delivered a popular victory, the unity behind Allende was actually an obfuscation of reality. The truth was that many Allendes had been elected, each customized to the particular intensity, composition and discontent of his supporters. The aims of the laborers who made up the masses tended to be concrete objectives that responded to


Ibid, 136 Ibid, 140

problems in their daily lives, but that they equated with advacing the revolution.11 The conflict between these imaginations would become clear over the course of the first year and a half of his presidency. They were particularly on display in the crisis surrounding the Yarur mill takeover. As the parallel campaigns proceeded, the Yarur workers increasingly relied on Allendes surging campaign to demonstrate that there was hope in popular action to the reticent members of the factory community, most often the Old Timers. Winn writes that the message of the obreros increasingly joined their campaign for an independent union to Allendes campaign for the presidency.12 They came to imagine Allende not simply as a politician who would support them when he came to be elected, but as an extension of themselves and their movement. Allende had incredible currency both as a real figure and as a myth. This imagination was affirmed when, during his campaign, he was permitted to speak to a crowd at the factory. With Amador present, Allende promised that were he to be elected, he would wrest control from his old acquaintance. The stunned crowd could hardly believe their ears. There was no longer room for doubt; the moment had to be seized.
Right in front of his workers, right there in his own factory, Allende had told El Chico that he was going to take his industry away from him. The word soon spread through the mill to workers who had been afraid or unable to attend, shattering Amador Yarurs image of omnipotence and triggering worker dreams.13

From that point onwards, the would-be union leaders employed the mythology of Allende to convince the fearful that their best hope lay in collective action and that for once, there would be a government that would not intervene on the side of the owners. The closer union elections came, the stronger the imagined personal relationship between the Yarur workers and their companero president grew. When he was finally elected president, it seemed to portent victory for the Yarurs own battle at the union polls set for a few months later. Indeed, as Winn writes on page 104 when Allendes election was confirmed by the Chilean Congress, they celebrated his triumph as their own.14

11 12

Ibid, 141 Ibid, 97 13 Ibid, 99 14 Ibid, 104

Imaginations collide

I was still celebratingthe following morning, recalled Alma Galegos, aformer Yarur worker: When Companero Allende was electedit was like a carnival. It was something we had never expectedit was ajoy that couldnt fit inside one.15

As Allende set about consolidating his political base and allaying the middle class fears of radical upheaval, the Yarur workers prepared for their battle for the union. At the time, Allendes slow moving leadership presented no problems for the workers. His words of warning to Don Amador a few months earlier still echoed throughout the halls of the factory. Moreover, his election victory in and of itself was evidence enough of a changing tide. Likewise, in this period of silent surging, the workers movement didnt appear to threaten the gradualism or hierarchy of the Allende ruling coalition. It was not long before the apparently benign differences between the techniques and emphasis of the parallel revolutions would be cast into stark difference. The imagined solidarity between the Yarur leftist leaders and the Popular Front government began to be put to the test as the workers revolution, which rightly felt itself the natural base of Allende, became caught in its own momentum. The overwhelming success of the leaders in regaining control of the union inspired the rank-and-file to desire more. There were certain gains and changes, such as retirement annuities, that would never be realized with Don Amador remaining at the helm. The groundswell towards socializing the mill became rapidly more uncontrollable, both for union leaders and government officials. Moreover, the government found itself in the awkward position of being in total ideological support of the workers but fearful of the rapidity with which change was taking place and the degree to which it was orchestrated from below, without confirmation of governing bodies. These factors caused major ruptures within the Popular Front coalition. Still, the gradualist position of the president was more or less totally untenable with workers who were responding not to political analysis but the immediacy of their own frustration. For Yarur, the levy had broken, and the new union leaders recognized that to try to slow the momentum of the movement would be like

Ibid, 70

asking the water to file orderly through the flood gates. As Winn writes on page 141, The deprived of Chile had taken Allendes victory as their own and were acting out its meaning in their own direct action.16 The situation in which Allende found himself in April 1971 was one which he was loath to deal with. Confronted with the takeover of the Yarur mill, he had either to give up his gradualist position and risk setting a precedent for unrestricted socialization of industry or support the ownership classes in a clear case of monopolization and exploitation of workers. For a week, the Yarurs imagined relationship came crashing to reality with the president. For most of the time it appeared as though he was going to renege on his campaign promise to seize the mill. His initial veto of the plant seizure was to the union officersa bewildering betrayal, an unanticipated stab in the back.17 It was, in the starkest terms, a competition between imaginations. Each party felt betrayed by the other as they recognized that the relationships they had believed in could not be counted on. Allende couldnt fathom that the Yarur workers group had maneuvered outside of his own authority to make the situation that now confronted them come to pass. At the same time, the Yarur leaders believed that Allendes democratic socialism was predicated on listening to the masses and translating their energies into political and economic realities. To some extent, they felt themselves to be conveyers of a message from their companero presidents constituent body, and were shocked to discover just how divergent his sentiments were. Indeed, they believed that they were fulfilling the Popular Unity program and redeeming Allendes campaign pledge.18 As Winn recalls, the particular constitution of the Yarur movement had been informed by Allende himself.
Allendes campaign speech at the mill planted the seed of socialism in [the workers] consciousnessand the events [that followed] brought about a dramatic transformation of consciousness and an inflation of expectations.19

Both parties tried passionately to convince the other of the expediency and saliency of their own imagination. Allende reprimanded that there
16 17

Ibid, 141 Ibid, 168 18 Ibid, 139 19 Ibid, 135

needed to be a controlled pace of change orchestrated by state and local actors simultaneously, while the union leaders argued that for the Yarur workers, there were no politics but rather life on the line. The strands of patronismo came through in the most intense moments of the debate. There was no room in Allendes mind for a revolution orchestrated without his consent: I am the president, and it is I who give the orders here!20 In the end, the workers prevailed, and Allende ceded some political control for ideological unity. The workers had been aided by the solidarity of a number of Allendes top ministers who threatened to resign if he handed the Yarur mill back to its despicable owner. Allendes final decision reflected not only the strength of the workers arguments, but the very real fact that he owed his presidency largely to their informal efforts. He had stated earlier that It was the people who chose me. My own party was against me, the leaders of the Popular Unity were against me. But the people made me their candidate. It seemed that the power from below had exerted itself again. Dnouement The months following the socialization of the Yarur mill provide evidence for a number of scenarios that could have befallen the Chilean socialist revolution. The delicate political alliance that Allende had build began to see trouble. Workers around the country had become politicized, and as such, individual parties within the Popular Front began to take alternate courses. Whereas Allende had stressed unity as the technique of revolution, groups within the alliance increasingly suggested more radical methodologies, fracturing the coalition. Moreover, this radicalization led to turmoil in the middle classes, who were being furiously courted by the right nationalist parties and whose support Allendes power hinged upon. The more real the imagined relationship between the workers revolution from below became with the bureaucrats revolution from above, the more accelerated the pace of upheaval became and the more nervous became groups outside the proletariat. The Christian Democrat party benefited from this tension, as more and more middle class Chileans were worried about loosing their own property or status. The right and center parties allied and became an increasingly forceful political unit. Allendes presidency was getting shaky.

Ibid, 186

At the same time, there was evidence that all was not lost. In the Yarur mill, most agreed that despite the failings and tensions, the balance of that first year of comanagement was positive.21 During the first year and a half of worker management of the mill, production had actually been turned around. The workers were able to reverse the decline in output [for the first time] since 1968.22 Moreover, there was a sense that Ex-Yarur demonstrated some advance towards egalitarianism and fraternity. Winn says that the factory became a community. This was in spite of the sort of political splintering occurring at the same time. Indeed, while an increased number of political parties jeopardized the short term efficacy of Allendes Popular Front coalition, the greater participation in democracy had positive long-term ramifications.
The workers of Ex-Yarur demonstrated that they were now prepared to vote, to speak their mind in public, to sign petitions, to join demonstrations, and to organize23

It seems largely polemic, however, to speculate on would-haves. There is plenty of evidence that Chilean socialism would have collapsed under the weight of its economic and political problems. At the same time, there were some indications that it might have been able to continually adapt itself. What is undeniable is that the end of the experiment came from the confluence of extremely powerful minority interests in the form of brutal violent repression. In a few short months, Pinochets regime unmade all the progress that Chilean socialism had achieved. Indeed, it can hardly be characterized as restoring an older order; the force of methods of repression created a controlled state unlike any Chile had seen. The actors most notable in this drama were not the workers. To lay blame at their feet for their destruction denies the incredible force that the owner class was able to bring to bear in co-opting the military apparatus. Moreover, it denies the very significant involvement of wealthy international actors. Conclusion The death of the Chilean socialist dream was characterized, like the movement itself, by the combination of imagination and reality. Real desires for power as well as economic and military might colluded with the secretive
21 22

Ibid, 212 Ibid, 212 23 Ibid 223

elements of an American foreign policy willing to imagine that anything was better than even a democratic socialism. It was a modern tragedy which demonstrated with painful authority that no amount of confluence of political and economic dreaming is immune to the force of military might. Yet it remains vital in understanding the Chilean and other revolutions to examine the give and take of the masses and their leaders. In the Chilean situation, the relationship was both real and imagined. While the real Allende provided the spark of confidence needed to ignite the seething passions of the working class, it was increasingly the emphases of that cohort that came to define the man and his movement. It is, in some ways fitting, that the final convergence of the revolutions from above and below came in the simultaneous symbolic and physical martyrdom of their leaders. In a hail of gunfire, the Pinochet regime erased the distinctions between imagination and reality and created an entirely new mythology that would have to sustain the Chilean workers until the next moment which found the doors of possible change thrust open.