Salvador Allende is not the first president of Chile to proclaim himself a revolutionary. When Allende’s predecessor, the Christian Democrat Frei, was elected in 1964 he pledged himself to a ‘revolution in liberty’. Two years later found him sending in the army to break a strike in the copper mines; eight people were killed. As Fidel Castro rather neatly put it: ‘He promised revolution without blood and has given blood without revolution.’
Like Allende, Frei was elected on the strength of his promises to solve two basic problems. Firstly the concentration of land in the hands of a few vastly wealthy families while 350,000 peasants have no land at all. And secondly the domination of Chile’s economy by foreign (mainly American) capital, which is held to be responsible for the chronic unemployment in the country (currently running at about 7 percent) and the destitution of a large section of the population (one half of all families live on less than thirty dollars a month).
Allende’s Chile, just like any other country operating within the world capitalist economy, will have to compete on the international markets to sell its products. The prices of its commodities can be made competitive only by Chile keeping abreast of world developments in industrial innovation, by constantly reinvesting in new plant — by constantly accumulating capital. And this can be done only by Chile’s industries — whether nationalised or not — pumping surplus value out of the working class. That these ‘external coercive laws’ are continuing to operate was made quite clear in a radio speech by the new President when he announced that daily production of coal is to be stepped up from 3,800 tons to 4,700 tons — and then called on the miners to make sacrifices so that Chile’s coal can be sold at competitive prices on the world market.
Because the popular front government is responsible for Chile’s capitalist economy, inevitably it is being brought into conflict with the workers and peasants. Already there have been several strikes, some involving the occupation of factories, both in the capital Santiago and in the provinces. In December 1970 telephone workers in Santiago took over the central telephone building and held some hostages, calling for the immediate introduction of new salary scales which the government said it would introduce in time. In the same month three thousand municipal workers stopped work for 48 hours after demanding pay rises which the ‘Communist’ Minister of Finance refused, while fifteen thousand administrative workers were on strike too.
(Socialist Standard, March 1971)