Volume 1

Political Mobilization and Breakdown of Democracy in Chile

Van R. Whiting, Jr.

Whiting, Van R., Jr., Latin American Issues [On-line], 1.
Available: http://sites.allegheny.edu/latinamericanstudies/latin-american-issues/volume-1/


Van R. Whiting, Jr. lived in Chile during 1972 while working on a study of land reform under Allende (“Agrarian Reform and the Transition to Socialism in Chile,” Senior Honors Thesis, Yale University, 1973). He has written on the food processing industry, technology transfer, and on foreign capital and development in Mexico. After completing a Ph.D. in Government at Harvard, he taught at the University of California, Berkeley, before taking his current position as Assistant Professor of Political Science at Brown University. During 1984-85 he was a Visiting Scholar at the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.


This monograph develops the argument that extensive political mobilization before as well as during the Allende years was a prime factor leading to the end of democracy in Chile. It is a subject about which I have long been concerned. During 1972, the second year Allende was in power, I lived in southern Chile, conducting a study of agrarian reform there. Though not yet in breakdown, elements of crisis were already evident. After the coup, I began the research and reading which led to this essay.

Thanks for comments and encouragement at various stages are due to Guillermo O’Donnell, Atilio Boron, Alfred Stepan, Jorge Dominguez, and David Collier; and finally to Giles Wayland-Smith, who gave continued encouragement as editor. Jaime Lluch provided able research assistance.


On September 11, 1973, the Chilean military replaced the elected government of Salvador Allende Gossens and with it the entire democratic procedure. How can we understand this dramatic regime change? Some analysts look for causes of the overthrow in the attitudes and actions of individual participants in the tragedy, debating the relative influence of domestic and international actors. Others look for underlying determinants, suggesting that the conscious choices of men and women were chimeras. The differences between the voluntarists and the determinists are at least as severe as between the political positions of right and left. In this study, I will enter the debate in the middle ground, and argue that a long-term process of political mobilization created the conditions both for the election of Allende and for his overthrow.1

Prior to the democratic breakdown of 1973 in Chile, that country had often been cited as an outstanding example of political stability and democratic institutions. Various starting points could be cited: the 1833 Constitution of Diego Portales; the 1925 Constitution of Arturo Alessandri; or the last previous intervention of the military in politics in 1932. This view of past stability led to many optimistic appraisals of the chances for survival and success of the “Chilean Road to Socialism, an analysis–or perhaps a hope–that persisted well into the Allende years.2

Allende was elected in 1970 with 36.6 percent of the vote. The long-term stability of his social base of support was both the strength by which he won the presidency on the fourth try and the weakness which prevented him from consolidating that victory by attracting a permanent majority to the coalition. The Popular Unity ( Unidad Popular, or U.P.) did win almost half (49.7 percent) of the vote in the municipal elections of 1971. Such increase was a probable phenomenon in Chile where the winning party in the presidential elections often amplified its electoral margin the following year. Perhaps more surprisingly, the U.P. won 44 percent of the vote in the congressional elections of 1973, showing an increase over their presidential percentage more than two years after the election and during times of extreme economic hardship. But despite these gains, the U.P. was unable to win an electoral majority that would surely have been a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for the success of the massive economic changes involved in a peaceful transition to socialism.3

As internal conflict and external opposition became more evident, outcomes other than a continuation of a democratic regime came to be seen as possible,4 but few indeed were those who saw in advance the final outcome of the Chilean Road.5

Given the levels of support that the Popular Unity actually had, four outcomes were possible: the government could have been allowed to pursue its program until the next presidential elections, scheduled for 1976; the government could have abandoned its program and formed a coalition with the Center, with Allende staying on as caretaker until 1976; there could have been a relatively non-violent, temporary military intervention, a so-called “white coup,” resulting in new elections and a probable victory for the former Christian Democratic president Eduardo Frei. The fourth possibility came to pass: a violent repressive military coup ending the democratic process and instigating long-term military rule under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.

That few foresaw this outcome suggests the hazards of prediction in situations of complex causation. The Chilean case has raised serious questions about the predictive capacity of social science research on the stability of democracy. Chile still presents a challenge for theories of the breakdown of democracy, ranking with Germany, Italy, and Spain as a major failure of democratic politics.

In this essay, I will argue that the roots of the breakdown of democracy in Chile can be found primarily in the patterns of political mobilization prior to the election of Allende and in the interaction of political mobilization with external influences, class-based politics, and political leadership during the Popular Unity triennium. First, let me present the concept of political mobilization and examine some of the available alternative theories in order to then relate it to the Chilean case.


Chile seemed to unite many of the prerequisites of democratic stability. Democracy had a long and fairly continuous history there. The party system was competitive, covering the ideological range. Parties were authentic in that their policies reflected their constituents’ positions to a large degree, and there was an alteration in power that in recent years included Left, Right and Center. And the system was inclusive, with a high percentage of eligible and actual voters. What is more, Chile had followed the supposedly ideal pattern, with the establishment of a competitive party system being followed by liberalization and then inclusion.6 Yet democracy did not survive. What do we mean by political mobilization and how can political mobilization contribute to breakdown?



Political mobilization entails the introduction of previously passive citizens into political activity. The process involves groups of citizens as much as individual political actors. Frequently the concept of political mobilization is defined as a phenomenon by which individuals use their personal resources for political ends. Verba, Nie, and Kim (1978:64) state their central hypothesis as an individual process mediated by group relationships.7 The “group-based processes” they consider are the activities of parties and organizations. While these “groups” are the key initiators of mobilization, they are not necessarily the most relevant units for considering the citizens that are mobilized.

Mobilization often involves increases in the political activities of specific kinds of citizens, defined as a group on the basis of common social or economic characteristics. Thus we will be concerned with the political mobilization of peasants, workers, shopkeepers, or other groups of citizens. The actual mobilization is likely to take place through the efforts (often competitive) of parties and organizations, but prior conditions may be necessary for groups of citizens to have the necessary access to political channels of activity. Those preconditions may be general societal changes such as the extension of transportation and communications to previously isolated groups,8 or they may be legal changes such as the enfranchisement of women or the elimination of restrictions on peasant organizations. The exclusive emphasis on individuals as the relevant actors tends to neglect the group character of newly-mobilized actors. Charles Tilly ((1975:503-4) is more sensitive to these aspects:

When a group increases its collective control over (normative, coercive, and utilitarian) resources, we say the group is mobilizing… The group in question may range from a family to a tribe to a state to an international federation of states; the important thing is that the group as a whole acquires or loses collective control of resources.

In relatively stable democracies, political mobilization usually fits into existing institutional outlets.9 When mobilization is effectively controlled and channeled, it may be consistent with democratic procedures. But the fact that political mobilization includes a wide variety of political activities, ranging from voting to marching and demonstrating, from joining unions to striking, from petitioning to land seizures, suggests that under certain circumstances mobilization may place strains on democracy.10 Some forms of political activity may be incompatible with others. In particular, high levels of group activity aimed at the achievement of economic goals may be incompatible with political procedures designed to moderate and mediate conflicting interests. Indeed, political mobilization is central to revolutionary efforts, as Tilly (1975:504) indicates. Huntington (1968:355) recognizes the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary dangers of reforms based on political mobilization:

Revolution is itself the process of the mobilization of previously excluded groups into politics against the existing political institutions and social-economic structure. Clearly, under some circumstances the limited mobilization which is necessary for reform could lead to the runaway mobilization which is the essence of revolution. At the same time, however, mobilization could threaten the reformer from the conservative side.

Huntington (1968:402) sees political parties as the institutional safeguard against revolutionary mobilization: “Parties are the instruments of mobilization.. .Elections with parties.. .provide a mechanism for political mobilization within an institutional framework. The political parties direct political participation out of anomic paths and into electoral channels.” But the existence of parties as instruments of mobilization does not in itself assure the moderation of mobilization around economic issues. Under certain conditions, the mobilization of groups for primarily economic ends may be in contradiction with mobilization to electoral activity.

Let us, therefore, offer the main hypothesis that will be explored in the remainder of this paper:

H1: The rapid mobilization of large groups of people into forms of active political participation (including but not limited to voting) may be destabilizing.

In various sub-hypotheses I will elaborate the argument on the conditions necessary for political mobilization to result in breakdown.

H 1.1: External forces encouraging the politicization of political forces (e.g., the army) and creating economic hardship exacerbate the destabilizing potential of a mobilized polity.

H 1.2: The politicization of political institutions expressed in terms of class interests rather than party and system interest, tends to stimulate radicalization and instability under conditions of high political mobilization.

H1.3: Political party leaders exacerbate instability when they legitimate forms of political participation that go outside existing political institutions. Endorsement of violence is most destabilizing, but so are economic actions (strikes, takeovers, lockouts, etc.).

How do alternative hypotheses available in the political literature about democratic stability fare in explaining the breakdown of the democratic regime in Chile?



Hypothesis A-I: Regimes with parties that are socially cohesive on religious or ethnic grounds, or with mutually reit1ffrcing cleavages, such as class and religion, are most likely to be unstable.11

This hypothesis can be clearly rejected in the case of Chile. By a strict definition of cohesion (such as Rose and Urwin’s definition by which two-thirds of party members share a given characteristic), the Left in Chile can hardly be said to be cohesive even on occupational grounds, let alone religious or ethnic ones. Ecological analysis (based on voting results by district) indicates that Allende received large pluralities in predominately working class districts.12 Industrial workers were clearly the largest and most solid single base of support for the U.P. However, many workers did vote for other parties. So many voters for the U.P. were non-industrial workers, peasants, and members of the middle class that the Left cannot be called occupationally cohesive. Although some analysts suggest from the ecological data that a majority of workers voted for the Left, survey data indicate to the contrary that workers were only marginally more likely to vote for the U.P. than others. One survey indicated that about 42 percent of urban blue-collar workers voted for Allende in 1970, the rest dividing their vote between Tomic and Alessandri. Similar results (about 40 percent) were obtained for the “popular class” (non-industrial or marginal workers).13 For peasant voters, we must rely on ecological data, lacking good survey data. Such analysis shows that in 14 rural provinces in 1970 Allende received 38.5 percent of the vote (Petras and LaPorte 1971:247). These results, showing diverse bases of Popular Unity support, can be explained by the fragmented nature of Chile’s occupational structure. In Chile, industry’s share of all urban employment fell from 33 percent in 1925 to 23 percent in 1960; this compares to over 40 percent in Western Europe.14 The urban lower class in Chile is fragmented both occupationally and politically, whereas in Europe the working class is more cohesive; two-thirds of industrial workers in France and Italy vote Socialist or Communist.

In both France and Italy, the Communist and Socialist parties are relatively cohesive, even by a strict standard, on both class (working class occupation) and religion (anti-clerical or non-practicing Catholics). In those countries, religion is a reinforcing cleavage: over two-thirds of workers who are active Catholics vote for the Center or the Right. In Chile, by contrast, religion is not a major cleavage; there is no recent tradition of anti-clericalism in Chile, and survey data indicate that in the 1970 election, while receiving a plurality among all workers, including practicing Catholics, Allende did not win an absolute majority even among non-religious workers.15

Regional differences did not represent political cleavages in Chile, for these differences cut across class lines and are represented in all the major parties. Finally, Chile has no significant ethnic minority that influenced party behavior, with the exception of the Mapuche Indians in the rural south of the county, representing only five to six percent of the national population, who tended to be more radical and provided a disproportionate base of support to the ultra-Left MIR (Movement of the Revolutionary Left).16

Allende and the Popular Unity firmly supported a program of nationalist and structural economic change which would benefit the working class, the urban poor, and the peasantry. But while the coalition of Leftist parties received a plurality of votes among all those groups, the Popular Unity was a heterogeneous coalition which was not socially cohesive on any line of cleavage.


Hypothesis A-II: Frustration and relative deprivation produce instability.17

Theories of relative deprivation and frustration as the source of Leftist radicalism seem to have been clearly refuted as major explanations for breakdown in Chile. Measuring radicalism among the Chilean lower class and using a sophisticated measure of frustration, Fortes found that the major concentration of leftist radicalism was not among groups with the lowest occupational status or highest subjective frustration, but among industrial blue-collar workers, thus lending support to theories of long-term political socialization of workers in jobs with high levels of social interaction.18 Within this group, frustration did play a role as an intervening variable to the extent that inflation and cyclical unemployment affected the working class. But “the fruits of political socialization were more lasting than those due to emotional frustration”, as demonstrated by continued and even increased support for Allende under the difficult economic conditions of 1973, a result not predicted by frustration theories (Fortes 1976:233). It should be noted that the Leftist radicalism was not manifested primarily in violence, but in support for a program of radical economic transformation, and in acceptance of structural interpretations for economic problems.

Frustration may be more useful in understanding the opposition to Allende and the regime that brought him to power. A complete explanation of political instability in Chile would undoubtedly take into account the frustrated expectations encountered by middle and upper classes, which contributed to the overthrow of Allende. But these groups did not in general actively participate in extreme or violent activity, but rather encouraged a military coup by their unwillingness to oppose it. This more complex form of anti-regime extremism is not readily explained by standard theories of frustration or relative deprivation.


Hypothesis A-III: Party systems of “multipolar polarized pluralism” tend to give rise to a centrifugal process disrupting the basic democratic consensus (Sartori 1966; cf. Przeworski 1975).

At first glance the Chilean case would seem to fit this model developed by Sartori for Italy. There are many parties, with three main poles, and with an ideologically divided polity. But many of the conditions for his model are not met in Chile:

  • Proportional representation (1925) and near-universal suffrage (1958-64) were not injected simultaneously into the system.
  • In Chile there was no “religious-confessional criterion superimposed on the Left-Right distribution of the party alignment.”
  • Although major parties of both Left and Right may be classified as semi-loyal to the system, only small political movements (MIR, Patria y Libertad), not major parties could rightfully have been called disloyal or anti-system parties.19
  • The system did not result in immobilism with the Center always in power; in Chile there was alteration, with governments of the Right, Center, and Left in power.

Besides the condition of religious cleavage reinforcing economic cleavages, a key element to Sartori’s model is his assumption that any Communist Party is necessarily an anti-system party. Tarrow’s (1967a:40-1) refutation of that argument for the Italian Communist Party held a fortiori for the Chilean Communist party, which was more conservative and more inclined to evolution and dialogue than the Socialists or than Allende himself.20 Sartori’s suggestion of outlawing the Communist Party, a questionable move for the purpose of preserving democracy, was tried in Chile and later abandoned. In 1962, the Communist Party secretary Luis Corvalan indicated the adherence of the Communists to the electoral route to power.21 For all these reasons, the “mulipolar pluralism” of the party system in itself cannot account for the breakdown of democracy in Chile.



Hypothesis A-IV: Rapid social mobilization results in political instability.22

Without considering this theory in detail, let me say that Chile seemed to have survived the process of rapid social mobilization before arriving at the current crisis. By the 1960’s Chile was already predominantly urban and literate, with a low percentage of agriculture in total GNP; and with relative political stability.23

However, a refinement of this hypothesis deserves special mention. In a provocative article in 1963, Phillips Cutright used an index of communication, as well as other social indicators, to predict levels of democratic government.24 He then predicted that countries which significantly deviated from the expected level would undergo political changes that would bring them back to a level consistent with their communications score. In retrospect the results are impressive. On the basis of their scores, the two countries most likely to democratize were Spain and Portugal. The three countries with “too much democracy for their communications levels were Chile, the Philippines, and Ireland.25 The democratization of the former two cases and the violation of democratic norms in the latter three provide unusually strong supporting evidence for the theory. Certainly Cutright’s scale has limitations: for one, correlation is not causation; secondly, the use of cross-sectional survey data to predict historical change is only valid if a single evolutionary continuum of political development is assumed (as Cutright does); this assumption is highly doubtful. Finally, the communication index is highly intercorrelated (.95) with economic development. So while communications levels may be a good indicator of democratic political development and possibly indicate potential stress situations, the causation must more likely be sought in the complex relationship of economic structure to the political system.



Hypothesis A-V: Increases in participation lead to instability rather than being incorporated into a civic political system when increased participation precedes institutionalization (Huntington 1968: 78-80).

In Chile, institutionalization of the political process was high and had preceded the increase in popular political participation; this would seem to favor a civic society and decrease the likelihood of military intervention in politics.26

But this relationship was not confirmed by Putnam’s (1967:107) study of military intervention in Latin America and the present case also seems to contradict it.27 Despite institutionalized politics, Chile had significant inequality in areas such as land tenure, infant mortality, etc. This would seem to direct attention to the economic relationships lying behind political participation. The “Green Uprising” of peasants into political life was primarily within the system (Huntington 1968:72-7), expressed through voting and unionization rather than revolutionary violence. But the demands which they expressed were unacceptable, even when presented legally, to an agrarian aristocracy which was threatened with extinction. By itself the “Green Uprising” could have been contained, as it had been in the thirties. But accompanied as it was by political mobilization of workers as well, the agrarian reaction was able to gain the support urban elites and middle classes for a reactionary intervention by the military. This would indicate that political mobilization and economic modernization cannot be considered as separate phenomena but must be studied in their structural interrelation. We begin by fleshing out this relationship in its historical dimension.


In understanding the role of political mobilization in the rise and demise of Chilean democracy, a review of the pattern of historical developments in that country offers necessary perspective.28



After a relatively peaceful liberation from three centuries of Spanish rule, the Chilean republic moved into the 19th century with many of the colonial economic institutions and political attitudes still intact. The first fifty years after political consolidation saw the emergence of a strong central government, with the political participation of the landed aristocracy under a powerful president. But liberal elements within the elite, drawing ideological inspiration from Britain and the United States rather than from Spain and based more in the expanding provinces than in the Central Valley, pressed successfully for secular, anticlerical reforms and modest electoral liberalization. Liberalism triumphed in the Revolution of 1891, and the succeeding period saw the dominance of the still-aristocratic Parliament over the president.

As the economy continued to expand and the state took over functions formerly exercised by the Church, the middle classes grew in size and importance and a nascent industrial working class began attempts at organization. The “emergence of the middle sectors”, in John Johnson’s phrase, led to a new crisis of the state in the 1920s, and after a series of military interventions, ushered in a competitive, multi-party democracy. The working class continued to grow in strength, and largely on this base Socialist and Communist parties formed and joined in shifting alliances. At the same time the middle sectors found their principal political representation first in the Radical Party and then in the Christian Democratic, while the old Conservative and Liberal rivals joined on the Right.

Pressure from below again resulted in electoral liberalizations in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing in greater numbers of workers and urban “lumpen” as well as, for the first time, the peasantry. The parties on the Left joined together in a Left coalition and in 1970, on their third try in twelve years, won the presidency. Again the entrance of new sectors into political power (this time the workers and the peasants) caused domestic turmoil, compounded by foreign as well as domestic opposition to the new regime. Again the military intervened, now not as temporary defenders of middle class liberalization but as the political representatives of an uneasy alliance of big business with the middle class. There has been a definitive break with the political tradition within which the role of the state in economy and society was a matter of constitutional competition and open debate.

With this overview in mind the historical factors will now be examined in some more detail.



Formal democracy had deep roots in Chile, roots which go back nearly 150 years. After the independence of Chile was achieved under the leadership of Bernardo O’Higgins, a period of civil strife between liberals favoring federalism and conservatives favoring centralism was resolved in favor of the conservatives by Diego Portales. He is credited with the institution of the Constitution of 1833, giving extensive powers to the president and drawing on the monarchical and clerical traditions of Chile’s colonial past.

Although the various constitutions (including the Constitution of 1833) drafted after independence reflected an anti-Spanish reaction and drew on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the U.S. separation of powers,29 the President was able to dominate because of the homogeneity of Chilean society at that time. According to McBride (1936:12), in the early nineteenth century there were two classes of Chile: “. . . a landholding aristocracy, well-educated, far-traveled, highly cultured, in full control of national life; and quite apart from them, a lower class. . .constituting the fixed tenantry of the rural estates.”

The Roman Catholic Church was an extremely powerful and conservative force in the Latin American colonies and continued to be so after independence. The Church not only had controlled all religious practice but had been the largest and richest single landholder, and had controlled public health, welfare and charity, education, and the importation of books into the colonies. “Since Catholicism was indissolubly linked with royal authority, the Church was quite as effective an instrument in the conquest and domination of the Indies as was the army.”30 Upon independence the new governments assumed a similar relationship to the Church as had the Crown. There were already strains, however, since many in the Church hierarchy had opposed independence. The Liberals were especially anxious to modernize education and distribute philosophical and political texts from Europe and America, as they strove to form a nation and to write a Constitution on the European model. But no one questioned the predominance of the Church itself, since “all were Catholics.” When the conservatives triumphed in Chile in 1830 at the Battle of Lircay, the position of the Church was assured; in the Constitution of 1833 the Catholic Church was named the official religion of the country (Mecham 1966:203-8).

As the Chilean economy grew and the country expanded to the north and south, the Liberals developed a social base in provincial mining and commercial interests, and continued to pressure the centralized authority of the landholders of the Central Valley. The nineteenth century saw a relatively peaceful evolution towards an aristocratic parliamentary republic.31 The Liberal Party was founded in 1849, and in 1862 the “middle sectors” that began to grow with the economic expansion joined reform-minded liberals to found the Radical Party. After 1870 at least three parties were regularly represented in Congress (Johnson 1958:72).

By the second half of the century the Liberal coalitions of the period enacted religious as well as electoral reforms. These changes did not come without intense political struggles, but the state gradually extended its domain, and the power of the Church to intervene directly was progressively reduced. As Chile entered more dramatically into the world economy at mid-century, with expanded mineral and agrarian exports, two factors accelerated the reform movement: the open imitation of political freedoms in Britain and the U.S., and the arrival of European protestant immigrants who wanted equal rights for marriages, burial, and private religious practice. By 1890 the “religious question” had been largely settled in favor of civil education, civil cemeteries, courts, and marriages. Reforms in 1874 and 1884 extended suffrage to literate adult males (without the former income and property requirements). A free press had existed since 1861. Literacy requirements still restricted the political participation of the popular sectors,32 but the liberalization of the regime favored increased participation of new mining and commercial elites.

The conquest of the southern frontier (resulting in the defeat and isolation of the Araucanian Indians and speeded by colonization by German immigrants) and the incorporation of territory to the north won from Peru and Bolivia in the War of the Pacific (1879-1881) greatly enriched the country, adding exports of nitrates, coal and other minerals to the agricultural exports of the Central Valley. In particular, the nitrate exports, increasingly controlled by British interests rather than by Chileans, were taxed by the state and financed the expansion of the state bureaucracy: state revenues doubled after the war (Burr 1965:167).

The economic power of the mining regions accelerated the pressure on presidential power. Since the aristocracy now was larger and had diverse interests (mining and commercial as well as landholding, regional as well as central), a parliamentary system would represent their interests better than continued presidential dominance, particularly when the dominance had often meant interference in elections and abuse of power. The Revolution of 1891, the first violent disruption of politics since the consolidation of the Chilean state, is particularly interesting for the divergent interpretations it has produced as well as for certain similarities with the more recent overthrow.33

In the case of Balmaceda, the president had proposed some policies on banking and nitrates which engendered political opposition on economic grounds. (His opposition to British nitrate interests was reflected in his support from the United States, which was attempting to displace Britain as the dominant power in the region. Of course, this furthered hostility to the U.S. among the bulk of the ruling elite, who were already resentful of U.S. opposition to Chile’s territorial expansion in the War of the Pacific.) But Balmaceda did not attempt to enforce a consistent policy; and more importantly, he did not have a social base of support. As one author put it, “Balmaceda fell because the 10 percent or less of the population that constituted an effective body politic would not accept dictatorial imposition of basically distasteful (economic) policies” (Pike 1963:46). His opposition had political and personal (as well as economic) motivations for wanting to strengthen parliament against a strong president (Blakemore 1965).

There is general agreement that Revolution of 1891 was a struggle which took place within the aristocracy.34 But it is not as though this political division of the elite had no social or economic basis; for although nearly all the aristocracy were landowners, the move towards parliamentary control reflected regional and economic diversification within the elite.

Some figures will show the shift in economic power that was taking place.35 An agricultural economy at independence, by 1889 mining had come to dominate foreign trade: agricultural exports from Chile were 7.5 million pesos while mining exports were 55 million. By 1912, total agricultural production for export valued 47.6 million pesos and mineral exports had grown to 336 million. A shift of population accompanied these changes: the rural population, 73 percent of the total in 1875, dropped to 57 percent in 1907, and only half of the total by 1920. At the same time the rural structure was changing from the haciendas carred over from colonial times to the latifundia-minifundia complex produced as small farms were subdivided into tiny plots (Bauer n.d:1081-3). This familiar pattern persisted down to recent times. The owners of the large farms, which still dominated in total area and in production, more often became absentee owners; and the newly rich in the urban areas purchased farms in order to share the status and prestige of the agrarian aristocracy.



The economic and political power of the landowning and mining elites of the Parliamentary Republic which followed the Revolution of 1891 led to abuses and instability. Huge fortunes were made, but workers and state employees whose ranks had grown with the economic expansion suffered from inflation. Political parties proliferated, but vote-buying and fraud were rampant. The working class had begun to organize under Luis Emilio Recabarren (founder of the Chilean Communist Party – then the Socialist Workers’ Party – in 1912). But political unrest centered in the middle sectors under the Radical Party. The “Liberal Alliance” of 1918 brought together middle class and working class opposition to the oligarchic parliamentary regime, and elected Arturo Alessandri to the presidency in 1920. This was made possible by the fact that, despite the corruption of the Parliamentary regime, the party system established in the previous century was preserved and strengthened. Thus the party leaders were responsive to their constituencies, the predominance of which was the middle class. Although Alessandri was a popular and charismatic figure, his policies reflected this social basis of his support. He was an advocate of social reforms but with the idea of preempting lower class unrest: The social problem had to be solved, he said, “not only for reasons of humanity, but for considerations of economic expediency and for conserving the social order.”36

Alessandri’s reform program had the support of urban workers and the miners, as well as state employees and the intellectual middle classes, in the aftermath of World War I with the ensuing economic slump and the climate of intellectual disillusionment with European tradition. While “there can be no doubt that the mainspring of his victory was middle class,” the organized working class and especially the northern nitrate miners that Alessandri had won over provided the “political muscle,” threatening a general strike when his confirmation as president was questioned (Stevenson 1942:33-4).

But his program was limited by the shortage of state funds occasioned by the post-War economic crisis, especially the decline of the nitrate industries when synthetic substitutes were developed and the wartime demand for nitrate-based explosives dropped abruptly. Alessandri did manage to institute some social and economic reforms, including a graduated income tax. but the aristocratic Senate continued to oppose Alessandri’s reforms until 1924. When in that year a new congress failed again to act on government proposals (voting itself a pay raise instead), the military, led by middle-class officers, stepped in to dissolve congress and run the country.37 This decision was sparked by the unconstitutional act of the congress but was supported by the sympathy of the military with Alessandri’s political program and middle class base. The president abdicated when the military intervened, but was recalled by them in 1925 to draft a new constitution, one which lasted from 1925 to 1973.

The Constitution of 1925 introduced major changes into the Chilean political system, accomplishing some of the political liberalization that working and middle classes had been demanding.38 The new regime was once again presidential rather than parliamentary, with the president as well as both houses of congress elected directly. The president was given control over finances; his ministers could be impeached but not censured. Election was by proportional representation, a modification of the D’Hondt system (which aided larger parties and generally resulted in under-representation of splinter parties and of the Left, but which also allowed more party splits than a majority system).39 The president was elected for six years, with no consecutive second term allowed. Senate seats were for eight years; all Deputies and half of the senators were elected every four years, but in years which never coincided with presidential elections, thus ensuring that a president seldom if ever took office with a parliamentary majority. Finally, when presidential candidates received a plurality instead of a majority (a common occurrence), the congress was to choose the president. While the candidate with the most votes had always been chosen, the rule often forced the formation of parliamentary coalitions.

Already in 1925 there could be seen the political configuration which would characterize Chile for the next 48 years: a Left, a Center, and a Right. Social divisions rather than race, region, religion, or urbanism constituted the major political cleavage.40 The major political divisions reflected the interests and ideologies of distinct social groups and classes, even though the parties attracted electoral support across class lines. The Liberals (representing the urban and mining industrialists) and the Conservatives (representing the landholding aristocracy) approached each other on the Right, for the urban interests had posed no threat to the landholders, while the “emerging middle sectors” and the organized working class were a threat to them both. The middle classes found their representation predominantly in the Radical Party, and later in the Christian Democrats. The urban workers and especially the miners supported the Communists, a variety of small Marxist parties and, after the failure of Colonel Marmaduke Grove’s brief Socialist Republic of 1931-32, the Socialist Party (which Salvador Allende helped found in 1933). The rural workers resident on haciendas, the inquilinos, were still largely delivering their votes to the Right at the order or inducement of their patron when they voted at all.

Chileans favoring socialism can trace their roots to the beginning of the century. The strength of the Left at this early date can be seen in several ways. The Workers’ Federation of Chile was founded in 1909 and by 1918 was estimated at a membership of 204,000. (Angell 1972:37). Working class activity prior to Alessandri’s victory included vigorous strike activity as well as union organization, despite active repression such as the massacre of some 3,000 striking miners and their families in Iquique in 1907. In the nine years from 1911 to 1920 there were 293 strikes involving more than 155,000 workers (Stevenson 1942:29). This participation in economic activity paralleled an increasing electoral importance: in 1924 the Communist Party elected two senators and seven deputies (Angell 1972:39), who participated in the drafting of the 1925 Constitution (Gil 1966:60).

In 1920 the workers had largely joined the middle classes in support of Alessandri, but his policies left them disillusioned. Despite his popularity, Alessandri had not remained in power after his recall in 1925. Faced with the ambitions of then-Colonel Carlos Ibañez, Alessandri resigned and new elections were held. The major parties of the Right and Center all supported Figueroa Larrain in that election. But a last minute moderate reform candidate, Jose Santos Salas, with the support of the Communists in a precursor of the Popular Front, collected 80,000 votes to the 180,000 of the victorious candidate (Angell 1972:38). The winner, Emiliano Figueroa Larrain, was in turn forced out in 1927, and Ibañez ruled as a military dictator until 1931. He encouraged state intervention in the economy and carried out many of Alessandri’s reforms, but political opposition was suppressed.

The years of political disorganization and dictatorship of Ibañez were hard on the Leftist movement. Recabarren’s suicide in 1924 was a serious setback, and the combination of repression under Ibañez and the economic crisis resulted in declines in organizational activity of both unions and parties. Many leaders of the Left were imprisoned or exiled. The onslaught of the Depression and substantial popular protest led to the downfall of Ibañez in 1931, followed by a series of shortlived military governments. The only notable one of these was Grove’s 100-day “Socialist Republic,” which reflected the existence of a strong socialist tendency in the country and managed to get some laws on the books that endured until the Allende years. The Grove government was replaced by still other military groups, but parties became active again, elections were finally scheduled, and Arturo Alessandri, now more concerned with constitutional government (after seven years of near-anarchy) than with social reform, won his second term (1932-38) from a field of five.

Yet even after these years of disorganization and repression, the Left was able to gain nearly 20 percent of the vote against the popular Alessandri. The Socialist candidate Col. Marmaduke Grove, imprisoned for most of the campaign, garnered almost 18 percent of the total; the Communist Lafferte picked up a few thousand more. The results of the 1932 presidential contest are shown in Table 1.

Candidate Party Support Votes %
Alessandri Democratic, Radical 183,744 54.6
Rodriguez Conservative 42,267 13.5
Zañartu Agrarian Liberal 42,273 12.6
Grove Socialist 60,261 17.9
Lafferte Communist    4,621   1.4
336,166 100.0
Source: Stevenson 1942:57


Despite political fragmentation, working class union organization as well as political organization and party programs indicated that the Left constituted a coherent political tendency, with an ideology committed to far-reaching changes in the socio-economic order. It is impressive that in 1932 the Leftist parties were already approaching the electoral strength of the combined Liberal and Conservative Right. The Right, both urban and agrarian, also had a coherent ideology based on traditional privilege and the defense of economic interests. The Center under the Radicals lacked such an ideology, and for the next twenty years followed a pragmatic and winning strategy of swinging Left before elections and Right during their period of government. There was, however, a nascent Center ideology of Christian corporatism, which began as a youth movement in the 30s, later the Falange Nacional. By the late 1950s the Christian Democrats had replaced the Radicals as the dominant Center force.41

Alessandri’s policies during his second term (1932-38) came more and more to favor the Right, as he encouraged commerce and industry, and often invoked exceptional powers to repress the Left, which he saw as threatening the stability of the social order. He “censored, imprisoned, and banished so freely that the revolutionary Left must have thought it was once again back in the Ibañez era.”42 In reaction to the repression of Alessandri and in opposition to the growth of fascism, a coalition of the Left and Center formed a Popular Front in 1936, calling as precedent the formation of similar fronts in Spain, France, China, and other countries.43 In 1938 this Popular Front elected a moderate Radical, Pedro Aguirre Cerda, to the presidency after a narrow victory over Alessandri’s ultra-conservative Minister of Finance, Gustavo Ross: Aguirre garnered 220,700 votes (50.5 percent) to Ross’s 218,609 votes (49.5 percent)44

Stevenson notes that although Ross indulged in extensive vote-buying, when he lost by such a narrow margin he charged unfairness until both the commander-in-chief of the army and the director of the carabineros (national police) refused publically to support his claim.

The Popular Front suffered from severe inter-party competition, between the Centrist Radicals and the Left and between Socialists and Communists, as well as from determined opposition from the Right. After extensive governmental instability, the Socialists and the Chilean Confederation of Labor withdrew from the Front in early 1941. When President Aguirre Cerda died later that year it was only Hitler’s invasion of Russia which enabled the various parties to unite behind another moderate Radical, the anti-Communist Juan Antonio Rios, in order to defeat the fascist-Right candidate Carlos Ibañez. In this contest Rios took 257,980 votes (56 percent), while Ibañez received 202,035 (44 percent). But the Popular Front was effectively dead, and Rios, like Alessandri before him, ruled as a conservative in the name of order. When Rios died in office in 1946, the election produced the results shown in Table 2.

Candidate Party Support Votes %
Gabriel Gonzalez Videla Radical, Communist 192,207 40.23
Eduardo Cruz Coke Social Christian Conservatives, Falange, Grove Socialists 142,441 29.81
Fernando Alessandri Conservative, Liberal 131,023 27.42
Bernardo Ibañez (no relation to Carlos Ibañez Socialist   12,114   2.54
447,785 100.0
Source: Gil 1966:72


The election was thrown into Congress, where the swing vote of the Liberals went to the Radical Gonzalez Videla. Typical of Radical presidents, he then disavowed his Left support and in 1948 outlawed the Communist Party. With the disorganization that followed the Popular Front, the 1940s saw a proliferation of parties of the Left and Center. By the congressional elections of 1949, fourteen parties (not including the Communists) elected deputies.

The reaction of the voters to the disorganization in the party system resulted in the 1952 election of Carlos Ibañez, who downplayed his fascist past and ran as an independent populist (see Table 3 below). Several factors contributed to his sizeable margin (46.8 percent in a field of four). The Radical Party, vacillating since the days of the Popular Front, was declining, but the Christian Democrats had not yet emerged as a powerful national force. The Communists, who had won 16.5 percent of the vote in the municipal elections of 1947, had been outlawed since 1948 under the so-called Law for the Permanent Defense of Democracy (Boron 1975:78). They threw their support to Ibañez when he promised to legalize the party again, a promise he finally kept in 1958. The Socialists, still divided after their various splits in the 1940s gave Salvador Allende only 5.5 percent of the vote in his first shot at the Presidency. Finally, it is important to note that women voted for the first time in this election, after they were extended suffrage in 1949 (Boron 1971:409). Also for the first time, rural voters were not so closely controlled by their patrons and voted for Ibañez rather than the Rightist Matte (Gil 1966:77).

Table 3

Despite his last-minute fulfillment of his promise to the Communists, the generally conservative policies of Ibañez failed to satisfy his broad constituency. After party fragmentation reached extreme levels (with 20 parties in 1953 and 18 in 1957), “after the ibanista fiasco the voters were willing to put their faith again in the long-established political organizations (Gil 1966:80).

The elections between 1958 and 1970 have been analyzed in many places.45 The three main ideological trends, whose roots we have seen in the 1920s and 1930s, emerged clearly in the 1958 elections, which the Conservative Jorge Alessandri (son of Arturo) won by a narrow margin (see Table 3). The Christian Democrats showed strength for the first time, taking over some of the middle class support from the declining Radical Party, and through its Christian “communitarian” ideology and organization, some support from the working class and the urban and rural poor. The Radicals, joining neither the Left as they had in previous coalitions nor the Christian Democrats, ran their own candidate, who came in fourth. Allende, the candidate of the new Left coalition, the Popular Action Front (FRAP), would have won without the Radicals had it not been for a last-minute Left splinter candidate, Antonio Zamorano, a de-frocked priest from an urban slum whose 3.3 percent would have given Allende a plurality (Gil 1966:984).

In 1964 the Conservatives and Liberals, representing the traditional and agrarian elites were, again going to run a separate candidate even though their strongest man, Alessandri, could not run to succeed himself. But in a local by-election in a conservative district held early in the campaign, the expected winner lost to the candidate of the Left. This brought home what should have been the lesson of 1958, that the Left could consistently draw about a third of the vote, and could thus win in a three-way race. The Right thus threw its support behind the Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, who in addition to middle class professionals represented the “modernizing bourgeoisie”: and it was thought that he would not threaten conservative interests. In any case he was preferred to Allende, and with the support of Conservatives and Liberals, won easily in what was basically a two-way race (the Radical Duran receiving only five percent of the vote).

It should be noted that electoral reforms in 1958 and 1962 considerably expanded the size of the electorate. (See Table 4 and Figure 1 below.) The simplification of registration procedures and the introduction of a standardized single ballot in 1958, the institution of obligatory and permanent electoral registration in 1962, together with the female suffrage law in 1948, meant that both actual and eligible voters were more than three times as large a percentage of the population in 1970 as in 1946. The particularly large jump between 1958 and 1964 showed that the changes in registration procedures brought in many new voters, particularly from the lower classes (Boron 1971 and 1975).


These changes in electoral mobilization as well as the 1970 reform lowering the voting age to 18 and allowing illiterates to vote (not affecting the 1970 presidential election) had serious political consequences. But these were not primarily electoral, as a careful comparison of Tables 3 and 4 will show. Undoubtedly the new lower class voters swelled the ranks of both the Left and the Center after 1958 (see Table 5). But what is the most impressive about the elections between 1958 and 1970 is the relative stability of the three major divisions of Left, Right and Center, as the provocative article by Prothro and Chaparro (1976) points out. Indeed one point of the present essay has been to show that popular support for the major ideologies goes back much further than the 1950s.

The participation of women voters actually hurt Allende in 1958, when he won a plurality of the male voters. The largest single jump in number of voters took place between 1958 and 1964, actual voters moving from about 17 percent of the population to 29 percent. But the largest gains for both Frei and Allende came between 1952 and 1958. If Zamorano’s 1958 vote is added to Allende’s (as it almost certainly would have been had he not run), the vote for the Left increased from 32.2 percent in 1958, to 38.9 percent in 1964, and back to 36.6 percent in 1970. Similarly Alessandri received 31.6 percent in 1958 and 35.2 percent in 1970; in congressional elections the Right had received 31.4 percent in 1961, 12.8 percent in 1965, and 20.8 percent in 1969. Giving somewhat more weight to the presidential elections, it is possible to estimate that the Right contributed between 25 and 30 percent to Frei’s victory in 1964. This would leave the Christian Democrats with 20.7 percent in 1958; between 26 percent and 31 percent in 1964 (without the Right); and with 28.1 percent in 1970. Allende’s increases in 1964 could be attributed either to the effect of new lower class voters in the elections, or to a partial erosion of the Center-Radical vote, which dropped from 15.6 percent in 1958 to 5 percent in 1964.

The massive entrance of new voters into the electoral system undoubtedly helped Allende, but does not in itself explain either his long-term support or his eventual electoral victory. The major effect of the rapid incorporation of previously unmobilized sectors into the political arena lies, in my opinion, in changes in political awareness and in non-electoral mobilization. This may be defined as political mobilization, as contrasted to electoral mobilization.46 Its indicators in this case may be seen in union activity and strike data, which, much more than the percentage of votes for the Left, increased dramatically after the major increase in the number of voters participating in elections.

Political mobilization of social classes as new political actors does not imply inevitable class struggle. In the sense used by the Italian Communist theorist Antonio Gramsci. political mobilization is the mobilization of a class or other group for the first time, and their entrance into politics implies a crisis of the state, a rupture of the hegemony that the dominant classes had theretofore exercised. Boron (1975:83) makes this Gramscian analysis: “Just as in 1920, we are seeing a crisis of the state. But before it was a consequence of the middle sectors: now it is by the rebellion of the proletariat.” But it was not simply proletariat against capitalist: the peasantry played a key role in the recent crisis. Just as the upheavals of the 1920s were the result of the mobilization of the middle class with the critical (and disruptive) support of the newly-organized working class, so the upheavals of the 1970s are the result of the political mobilization of workers, with the critical and disruptive support of the newly-organized peasantry.47

Moreover, the working class, the peasantry, and the poor were not united in a single party – Gramsci’s neo-Machiavellian “new prince” – nor even in a single coalition, the Popular Unity. The TJ.P. did indeed have stronger support among miners and other organized workers than among the population at large; but even among the working class, and more especially among the peasantry and urban “marginals” – the lumpen employed in the tertiary sector – support was divided between the Left and the Christian Democrats.48 It is this social base of the Christian Democrats, as well as their policies of economic modernization, that explains the decision of the National Party (formed from the old Conservative and Liberal Parties) to present their own candidate, Alessandri, in the 1970 presidential race. It was not just that they had forgotten the lesson of 1958, as Prothro and Chapparro (1976:93-7) argue; rather they could not support the reform program of the D.C. candidate Tomic, which in many respects coincided with proposed U.P. reforms, especially with regard to agrarian reform. It was likewise the danger of alienating significant portions of the electoral base, rather than respect for democratic traditions, which prevented the Christian Democrats from either uniting behind Alessandri or from denying Allende his victory when his 1970 election was sent to the Congress for confirmation. Nevertheless, their opposition and distrust of Allende was shown by their imposition on Allende of the “Statute of Democratic Guarantees.”49

That urban and rural lower classes supported the Center as well as the Left (and in some cases even the Right) can be explained by a variety of factors. It is not just that many found the communitarian ideology and reformist program of the Christian Democrats attractive, though this was true. The reasons may be found in the structure of the Chilean economy, with a relatively small industrial working class concentrated in mining and industry (only about one-quarter of the population); a fragmented manufacturing sector with many small (and hence legally non-unionizable) shops; and a large tertiary sector. A large proportion of the population thus lacked the occupational experience that could lead to radical political consciousness, and supported the Center reform party.50 The Christian Democrats had also made concerted organizing efforts to attract these voters, through unions and neighborhood organizations. There were still a significant number of marginal and rural workers who, having no experience of politicization, voted for the traditional personalism of Alessandri, or voted as they were instructed or paid to vote.

The fact that workers and lower class voters supported the Center as well as the Left does not negate the concept of political mobilization of new sectors, resulting in a crisis of the state. On the contrary, it illustrates the fact that political mobilization goes beyond the electoral mobilization of new voters. In particular, under the Christian Democratic presidency of Frei (1964-70), working class organization and activity reached new highs, and the passage of agrarian reform legislation (1967) permitted for the first time the organization of rural workers.

The growth of overall legal union membership and strike activity can be seen in Table 6 above. These figures may be seen as conservative estimates of union strength, for they include only legal unions, not counting the organizations of workers in shops of less than 25 employees; neither is participation in non-union organizations such as neighborhood groups reflected. The Christian Democrats shared with the Left in the growth of unions, but the growth of strikes and takeovers (increasing geometrically during the 60s), as well as the even more rapid expansion of all forms of activity after the election of Allende, indicated a political radicalization of these sectors. In the same article from which these figures are taken, Atilio Boron pointed out three stages in the recent history of unionization: unification and consolidation from the post-war to 1955; retrocession and repression from 1956 to 1965; and a sustained rise in active participation after 1966 that he labels “class struggle.” These stages can be seen clearly from the data in Table 7 below, which also show the relative as well as absolute levels of unionization. (Again, only legal unions are included; both blue and white-collar workers – obreros and empleados – are counted.) However, while joining unions and participating in strikes may be taken as clear indicators of political mobilization within a class, union members were divided among unions affiliated with both the Popular Unity and Christian Democrats. Thus, if this was “class struggle,” it was at most the political struggles of members of a common occupational stratum (a class “in itself” in Marxist terms), not workers acting as a class (a class “for itself”) through a class-based party.

The organization in the countryside, almost completely illegal until 1967, was even more rapid, and shows dramatically the politicization (union membership) and the radicalization (strikes and takeovers) among the peasantry as Table 8 shows.51

Arturo Valenzuela (1978:27-34) has posed the most direct challenge to mobilization as a cause of breakdown. His central thesis is that it was changes in the nature of politics rather than the mobilization of new actors that posed the “unsolvable problem” for Chilean democracy.52 Valenzuela argues: “What changed were the traditional rules of the game and accommodatioflist politics, revolving around the legislature, that had made it possible for strong political actors and institutions to compromise and to structure a working consensus.” He challenges the fact of rapid mobilization by suggesting that mobilization fluctuated, but did not increase substantially, from 1950 to 1970. The growth of industrial union membership did in fact parallel the growth of industrial employment in the economy. These new workers were a base for political organizing by established parties. But their activities were on an unprecedented scale. Valenzuela (1978:32) asserts that “for the census years 1952, 1960, and 1970, the proportion of strikers to total active population varied little–from 10 percent to 6 percent to 12 percent, respectively.” But a better measure of political mobilization would be the share of union members who engaged in strikes. This proportion was just over half (53 percent) in 1952, falling in the late 1950s to between 25 and 38 percent, and then rising dramatically to 60 percent in 1965 and to almost two-thirds (65 percent) in 1969.53 These new actors were much more likely to engage in economically-oriented political activity.

Valenzuela’s major criticism of the mobilization hypothesis is that it was not spontaneous but grew from government initiatives and political party activity. He argues that “worker unionization, particularly rural unionization. ..was a response to a deliberate policy on the part of the government to include people who had been left behind (1978:33). Moreover, he indicates that organized rural workers were a small proportion of the economically active population. Finally, he emphasizes that mobilization came not during an economic crisis but at a time of increased government capacity. Although accurate, these points do not refute the hypothesis. Government initiation of the preconditions of mobilization does not imply government control over the process: strikes and land seizures are clear examples. Furthermore, political activity need not be extensive to be destabilizing: intense political activity by relatively small numbers of actors who challenge the status quo may provoke a stronger reaction than widespread activity of a more traditional type. The mobilization hypothesis is not based on an assumption of relative deprivation: indeed, increased capacity may act as a stimulus to political activity for economic goals, as workers seek greater shares of an expanding pie. Government and party initiatives provided the access of new groups to political activity, but the important point is not the fact of initiation but the unintended consequences of those initiatives. The newly-mobilized actors engaged in types of political activity that were based on economic goals and that challenged the established interests of other powerful actors in the political system.

So far it has been argued that the crisis in Chile after 1970 was the result of a crisis occasioned by the political mobilization of large numbers of urban and rural workers.54 The Chilean Left had shown a long and relatively stable (if heterogeneous) base of support, chiefly among the mining and industrial working class. This support continued despite the instability and fragmentation of the parties of the Left, and increased slowly from about 20 percent of the electorate in the 1920s and 1930s to over one-third in the 1960s. Between 1958 and 1964 there was a massive entrance of new voters into the electoral system; yet this did not result in dramatic shifts in the electoral proportions of Left, Right and Center. However, following this electoral mobilization came a rapid and powerful movement of political mobilization among urban and rural workers, politically affiliated with both Left and Center. These workers no longer submitted to the rules of the owners of factories and farms, and organized to defend and improve their condition through unionization, strikes, and take-overs. The Right, greatly alarmed at such militancy, could not support a Center party which had permitted and even aided this uprising, and in 1970 backed their own man Alessandri. Upon his defeat by Allende, they began to organize, first to prevent him from taking office, and then to remove him from office. Political mobilization had resulted in radicalization and polarization.

This historical analysis has attempted to demonstrate the structural basis of the crisis marked by Allende’s victory. But although I have demonstrated the weaknesses of the parties of the Left, the division of popular support between Left and Center, and the basis of the opposition of the Right, so far as we have not seen why the crisis was resolved by the violent coup which in fact occurred.

Three factors contributed to the polarization and breakdown: external influence, economic conflict, and the actions and attitudes of the party leaders and government officials. The military, as an institution apart, was the instrument of the overthrow. The model of breakdown, abstracted and formalized, is illustrated in Figure 2 below. Political mobilization can help explain the failure of the Allende government to successfully install socialism in Chile. But we have to look at the interaction of these other factors, within a mobilized polity, in order to explain the democratic breakdown. The next three sections consider these factors in turn.


According to some authors, the major blame for the breakdown of democracy rests with international actors, particularly the role of government and firms from the United States.55 Without asserting so much, we can say with certainty that Chile’s position in the international system constituted a major constraint on the possibilities for radical change. External opposition to Allende made it more likely that mobilization would produce polarization, and polarization was the key to the violence of the victory of Pinochet’s coup.

It is clear that the sectoral and occupational structure of the Chilean economy cannot be understood without reference to the international economy. After independence Chile continued the external trade which had been established under the colony. The growth and structure of the economy, and consequently the class structure, were conditioned by the development of an export-oriented mining economy, first under the tutelage of British capital, then later American. By the 1960s, major industries (especially mining and utilities) were controlled by U.S. corporations. Of all foreign direct investment in Chile, 87 percent was held by American firms. Of the 182 largest non-financial corporations in Chile in 1966, 48 percent of total assets were foreign owned; of the top 25, this percentage was 62.6 (Zeitlin and Ratcliff 1976:304-5).

The combination of a strategy of import substitution for manufactures, requiring the importation of capital goods, and the stagnation of agriculture, requiring ever-increasing food imports after 1950, meant that Chile came to depend more and more heavily on U.S. aid and loans; for the period 1958-65, Chile was the recipient of more economic and military aid per capita than any country in Latin America, ranking eighth in the world just behind South Viet Nam. In trade, Chilean exports were more concentrated in one commodity (copper) than any Latin American country except Cuba: about 80 percent of Chile’s foreign exchange earnings came from copper.56 These facts indicate the extreme external dependence of the Chilean economy on one commodity and on one country, a dependence which implied vulnerability to external economic pressure.

Since the days of the Monroe Doctrine, Chile and the rest of Latin America have been considered by the U.S. to be in its sphere of influence, both for economic and strategic reasons. The Cuban missile crisis and the progress of detente made this plain to the Soviet Union, as it had been made plain to Europe at the turn of the century. This circumstance had two consequences. First, the Chilean military was supplied and trained by the U.S. Between 1950 and 1970 Chile received more military aid ($175.8 million) than any other Latin American country except Brazil,57 and was the largest per capita recipient; this aid continued and even increased after 1970, when economic aid was cut. Large numbers of Chilean officers were trained in the U.S. and Panama (this was true for most Latin American militaries). After the Cuban Revolution this U.S. aid included counter-insurgency training and a “role expansion” which implied acceptance of responsibility by the military for domestic stability as well as external defense.58 Second, and related to the first, the road of armed confrontation was closed to the Chilean Left, both because of the overwhelming superiority of the U.S.-backed armed forces, and because of the unavailability of support from other quarters, especially from the Soviet Union.59 Allende knew this, and for pragmatic as well as ideological reasons he was unalterably opposed to a strategy of armed struggle.

Because of the peaceful electoral route by which Allende came to power, the United States could not openly encourage armed opposition, much less engage in direct intervention. Instead, taking advantage of Chile’s economic vulnerability, the U.S. government acted to sharply curtail economic aid and loans from government and international agencies; corporations and banks practically eliminated short-term lines of credit, as well as obstructing copper exports and slowing the shipment of goods destined for Chile; and the CIA aided the Chilean Right in internal economic disruption.60

Chile was able to secure some long-term credit commitments from socialist countries, including the Soviet Union. But these long-term credits could not replace the short-term credit which Chile had lost and which was needed for debt servicing and critical imports. Most of the long-term credits from socialist sources were never disbursed.61 The low level of support by the Soviets is of some interest. Extensive military aid was not possible due to Chile’s position in the U.S. sphere of influence (a further confirmation of the non-viability of an armed strategy). Furthermore, the USSR could not afford to assume major financial responsibility for Chile, given its already heavy commitments in Cuba and Egypt at the time. But the Soviets also considered that Chilean socialism had little chance of success, and thus did not warrant extensive short-term aid. In a statement on the peaceful transition to socialism as early as the 1962 Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) it was stated,

The working class and its vanguard – the Marxist-Leninist parties – seek to accomplish the socialist revolution by peaceful means….The working class, supported by a majority of the people and. . .with a solid majority in parliament… (can) provide the necessary conditions for a peaceful socialist revolution.62

Thus, according to the Soviet position at that time (and in contrast to the position of the Chilean CP already quoted), the peaceful transition is premised not on the assumption of presidential power, but on the forging of a parliamentary and electoral majority. Chile’s position in the international system, and especially its highly dependent economy, made it extremely vulnerable to economic pressure by the U.S. government, corporations, and financial institutions, and rendered it unable to compensate for the lost resources from socialist sources. These international factors were thus a major obstacle to the success of Allende’s program of economic transformation.


Given the international context within which the Allende government had to operate, it next is necessary to examine the state institutions that were politicized by mobilization around class issues during the Allende government. Although the election of Allende depended electoral competition and the strategies of the various parties, neither the opposition to Allende nor his supporters relied solely on electoral competition, but rather on the strength of their respective economic power. Here we can distinguish among two types of opposition. The first involved opposition to the president and his party, but with loyalty to the democratic regime. The second was opposition intense enough to accept the overthrow of the regime in order to achieve the removal of the government. Legal removal of the government required a plurality of votes in regular presidential elections, but required a two-thirds majority for early removal (impeachment). The overthrow of the regime, however, does not require a majority. Electoral contests measure opposition to the government; if we take the results of the March 1973 congressional elections as guides, we can place this opposition at 56 percent of the electorate at that time. But this does not indicate that those voters were in favor of military intervention. An evaluation of the intensity of opposition, and the point at which it becomes disloyal to the regime must necessarily be less exact than electoral measurements; it must rely on an estimation of social forces and economic interests. In Chile it was the opposition small owners and professional middle classes that was crucial; and it was the military that was estimating the strength of that opposition. When opposition to Allende passed to opposition to the regime among the middle class, both in society in general and within the military itself, the military was then able to intervene in a violent and permanent way, taking over control of the state.63


As background for this analysis, it is useful to estimate the relative size of occupational classes64 in Chile; this can be seen in Table 9 below. These figures must be taken as estimates, especially in the rural area, where contradictory estimates abound. Nevertheless, with these estimates we can proceed to discuss the relation of class issues to state institutions after Allende took power. Because of his policies of state control of industry and expropriation of large farms, both urban and rural business owners were vehemently opposed to the government. Urban workers, fractionalized by the industrial structure, were politically divided, but in general had benefitted from Allende’s policies of income redistribution, and in any case had nothing to gain by a military coup. Although large numbers of workers may have voted against Allende, there is no evidence to suggest that there was opposition to the democratic regime or support for a coup among them. The rural work force was even more fractionalized, but there is no evidence to suggest that rural laborers or subsistence farmers favored a military solution to political conflict. The opposition of big business was evident when Allende was elected, but this opposition was insufficient by itself to prevent his assumption of power. In order for the breakdown of democratic norms, others had to shift from electoral opposition to the more intense opposition required to permit military intervention. It was among the urban middle classes and rural owners of medium sized properties that uncertainty about Allende’s policies prevailed and it was here that opposition to Allende became disloyalty to the democratic regime between 1970 and 1973.

When Allende was elected, his program constituted a certain threat to the Chilean urban businessmen and large landowners, as well as to foreign investors. The United States was faced with the prospect of a legally-elected socialist government, with implications not only for Latin America but, as Henry Kissinger promptly remarked, for Italy and France as well.65 A plan to prevent Allende’s confirmation by the congress, supported by elements of the Chilean economic elite, the U.S. multinational ITT, the CIA, and some military officers, failed; and the middle classes, represented in the Christian Democratic Party, refused to deny Allende his victory.

The assumption of the presidency by Allende constituted a “crisis of hegemony” for the Chilean Right, as well as for U.S. interests, both of which were threatened by Allende’s economic policies. Both joined an “indirect” campaign of economic and political destabilization aimed at either removing Allende from office politically (a strategy which failed when the opposition did not get a two-thirds majority in the congressional elections of 1973); or by provoking intervention by the military. The details of this campaign are well-known: a severe curtailment of economic aid and loans; an attempted attachment of Chilean government copper sales by the copper companies; two paralyzing strikes by independent truckers; and similar disruptive tactics. The goal of this campaign was the undermining of electoral support for the Allende government on the one hand, and the alienation of the middle classes from the democratic regime on the other. The first goal was not achieved. The second eventually succeeded.

The alienation of both the middle class and the military can be separated into three parts. First, the lifestyle and expectations of middle class in general were disturbed by the progress of events under Allende. His policies of income redistribution, combined with the effects of the economic blockade, resulted in shortages of consumer goods which disrupted and inconvenienced middle class consumers. In addition, the “climate of violence” which developed out of actions by the ultra-Left (tolerated by the government) and the ultra-Right (encouraged by the Right opposition) created uncertainty about the ability of the government to maintain social order until the next elections.

Second, the interests of the “petite bourgeoisie” composed of small proprietors and medium-sized landowners (as distinguished from middle class white-collar workers and professionals) were directly affected under Allende. Debates within the U.P. coalition about whether to lower the limits of expropriation to include smaller factories and farms created extreme uncertainty among those owners, who because of that uncertainty supported preemptive action. Small entrepreneurs and producers were also hurt by the shortage of imported materials they needed (such as truck parts, for example). Finally, government-run programs created competition for some merchants. A government distribution agency that controlled about 40 percent of food distribution by-passed some private distributors, and price controls which favored the lower class caught some shopkeepers in the familiar squeeze of high costs and fixed prices. There was also a strong element of fear and ideological and anti-Marxism fostered by right-wing propaganda.

Third, many of these small business owners were represented in business and professional corporate interest groups called gremios, or guilds. These corporate organizations, some of which were politically allied with the neo-fascist Patria y Libertad movement (which expanded rapidly after 1970), played a major role in the overthrow of Allende; via the gremios these small and medium businessmen could expect to have political input even in a non-democratic government.66

The military officer corps shared the attitudes of the middle class towards economic stability and social order. But unlike the rest of the middle class, they were in a position to do something about it. Since the coup, information has surfaced to dispel the myth of an apolitical military establishment in Chile.67 First, the military had long been responsible for the suppression of strikes and other civil disorders, making the institution attuned to domestic political affairs. Second, since the last military government in 1932, every government with the exception of Alessandri’s (1958-64) faced plotted coups among military officers, often with neo-fascist overtones. President Ibañez, himself a pro-fascist in the 1940s, resisted two attempts by military groups to end civilian rule and invest him with dictatorial power.68 President Frei had several serious conflicts with the military, resulting in the inclusion of officers in the cabinet in 1967, and the dismissal and arrest of officers calling for the overthrow of the government in 1969.

After Allende’s election in 1970, General Viaux headed an abortive coup to prevent his confirmation. But when this coup failed, resulting in the assassination of General Rena Schneider (a loyalist Commander-in-Chief of the Army intended as a kidnap victim); and when the Congress then confirmed Allende, the military followed the lead of the middle class, and allowed Allende to assume office. The military were increasingly brought into the political arena, as the Right called for military intervention, and as Allende brought loyal officers into the cabinet to help stabilize his government. The traditional military disdain for civilian incompetence was exacerbated by the refusal of the government to use repression against the far-Left MIR, which the military interpreted as an inability to maintain order. This was also their interpretation of the creation of autonomous working class organizations such as the “Industrial Belts” and worker and peasant councils. As the middle classes as well as the wealthy became alienated and began to call on the military, the pro-coup elements won over more officers, and managed to isolate and remove those constitutionalists such as General Carlos Prats who remained. Thus the military took power to defend the interests of the middle class (though the result of its intervention would benefit big business more than the middle class itself). As Jose Nun has said of the armed forces in Latin America and their relation to the middle class,

It was with their support that the middle class achieved, at the beginning of the century, political recognition from the oligarchy; it was with their protection that it later consolidated itself in power; and now it is with their intervention that it seeks to ward off the threat posed by the popular sectors that it is incapable of leading (Nun 1967:103).

The political mobilization of the working class and the peasantry during the 1960s signaled a crisis of the hegemonic elites. When the Popular Unity government, in a hostile international environment, enacted policies to favor those previously unmobilized groups, this precipitated a crisis of middle class professionals and especially small shopkeepers and businessmen, who moved from opposition to Allende to opposition to the regime, and joined big business (and foreigners) in calling on the military to intervene. Military distrust of civilian government, the existence of corporatist ideologies in both the military and the petite bourgeoisie, and the strength of organizations of the workers and peasants, all resulted in the dominance of hard-liners in the military leading to a repressive, long-term corporatist military regime.


When Allende won the presidency in 1970, the Popular Unity embarked on a program of structural economic transformation, having control of the executive branch of government, but lacking control of the rest of the apparatus of the state. The opposition was in a majority in the Congress, and controlled the judiciary and the controlaria, an independent government agency with authority to supervise public spending and to rule on the legality of presidential decrees and legislation. What is more, control of the executive branch implied only gradual administrative control of the bureaucracy, a complex array of semi-autonomous and often overlapping agencies.69 And finally, the military, although autonomous from any party or political group, was also relatively free from control by the government, often more responsive to corporate elements from the bourgeoisie and the middle classes than to the executive.

The successful implementation of Allende’s economic program faced numerous obstacles. The effect of the international context and of class relations have already been considered. We can now turn to a brief look at the relationship of the Chilean political parties to policies of economic change. The political spectrum in Chile can be schematized as having included five ideological positions on the relationship between economic change and political action.70 These positions by no means attracted equal numbers of partisans, and the list differs from the major electoral divisions of Left, Right, and Center by including non-electoral groups on the ultra-Left and ultra-Right. But each of the five offered a distinct solution to the crisis in Chile. These positions may be seen to include the following: 1) a revolutionary Left position, criticizing reformism and calling for an armed resistance against the Right and for a worker and peasant revolution; 2) a Democratic-Left position, which believed in the possibility of democratic socialism, and sought a Left majority coalition; 3) a Center position criticizing polarization and ideological rigidity and showing desire for a Popular Unity-Christian Democrat compromise and for military participation in the government; 4) a Right position opposed to the Left and calling for parliamentary blockage of Allende, and failing that, a temporary military intervention; and 5) an extreme Right position opposed to Marxism and to a democracy which permits it, and calling for military rule.

These ideological positions reflect three kinds of political action regarding the economic changes which formed the core of Allende’s socialism and the Popular Unity platform. These views of the relation between political action and economic transformation were manifested not only across the political spectrum but also within the Left coalition itself. They reflect different positions on the relative primacy of economic change and political stability; hence, with regard to the democratic regime, they can be labeled loyal, semi-loyal, and disloyal.71 These three positions are given below:72

1) The primacy of economic class interests: a strict class position of both Left and Right; hence, in a crisis, disloyal to democracy. This position is characterized by the willingness of political leaders to legitimize the use of violence to achieve economic transformations or to defend economic privilege, by the use of political organizations outside the party system. On the Left this position reflected the policies of the MIR (Revolutionary Left Movement) and the Left of Allende’s Socialist Party, as well as fractions that had (significantly) split from the Christian Democrats to join the U.P. coalition, such as MAPU and Izquierda Chris tiana. On the Right would be found the organization Patria y Libertad (Fatherland and Liberty) as well as elements of the National Party. It should be noted that disloyalty to democracy is indicated not only by bearing arms ( MIR and Patria y Libertad), but also by advocating the use of arms by arming the workers or by urging repression by the military. Similarly, both groups fostered popular (Left) or corporatist (Right) political groups which could function as alternatives to political parties. Both shared an organic view of society as a whole; the Left a politicized socialist society under the control of the workers (capitalists excluded); the Right a demobilized and depoliticized neo-fascist capitalism controlled by the military, as leaders of the entire nation (Jews and Marxists excluded).

2) Economic interests advanced or defended through legal political means. The position is characterized by commitments both to economic class interest and to the political system, and in particular by the attempt to achieve both numerical and parliamentary majorities to achieve economic goals. The politics became semi-loyal due to the willingness to stretch legality to its limit in either direction, and by a willingness to engage in dialogue with (and thus to legitimize) disloyal elements to the Right or Left. On the Left this represented the strategy of most of the U.P. during the first two and a half years of U.P. government, and represented Allende’s own vision of the “Chilean Road.” Policies included using the powers of the presidency and technically legal means to implement economic policy, in the hopes of winning majority support in congressional elections, or a plebescite which would enable a further advance of economic interests. The Right, represented by conservative Christian Democrats and some members of the National Party, similarly used every possible legal maneuver to hamper Allende’s policies and to try to force him out of office. Semi-loyalty, and so mutual distrust, was particularly engendered by acceptance of advice and dialogue with the radical factions, and the lack of repression against their realized or planned violence.73 Both sides were committed to democratic norms, but even more strongly committed to defense of the economic interests they represented.

3) The conciliatory center, willing to abandon or severely modify economic program in order to preserve democratic politics. Never a large group, this included the Christian Democratic moderates (those who did not split off to join the U.P.), and especially after the first years, a few elements within the U.P. For the center-Right, this would imply acceptance of major economic changes; for the center-Left, the consolidation of changes already accomplished, but the abandonment of further economic change. This Center would have accepted repression of the extreme Right and Left to defend democracy. To some extent the Communist Party moved towards this position; Allende himself was unwilling to abandon his supporters on the Left and the platform on which he was elected.

The political struggle over economic policies was fought out among the different political groups within the arena of Chile’s political institutions: the presidency, the Congress, the courts, the controlaria, the bureaucracy, the military.74 However, the ultimate outcome of those struggles, the fate of the regime, was not in my view primarily determined by the strength or weakness of the political parties pursuing one strategy or the other. These struggles were of a conjunctural nature; they determined the character of the result rather than its direction. Put another way, they determined how Allende would be overthrown, not whether he would be overthrown.


In this essay, I have argued that rapid political mobilization of workers and peasants and the counter-mobilization of middle class professionals and businessmen, all struggling to advance or defend their economic interests rather than the electoral interests of their parties, produced the necessary condition for the breakdown of democracy. I have taken the quite conventional position that political struggle based primarily on class or economic interest is potentially incompatible with democracy. In such a situation of mobilization, external influences, state policies and political demands threatening powerful established interests, and political leadership committed to ideology more than to democracy, produced the sufficient conditions for breakdown.

In the first part of this century Chile underwent a crisis of the state as the emerging middle class and the working class challenged the power of the oligarchy. With the support and intervention of the military, the middle classes achieved for themselves a share in state power, although they did not succeed in destroying the power of the landed aristocracy. In the 1960s, the political and electoral mobilization of the workers and the peasantry produced a hegemonic crisis for the dominant elite, bourgeoisie. But while the ideology of proletarian socialism, with its historical project of socialist transformation, reached a part of the society, it neither became the dominant ideology in the society, nor did it successfully penetrate the state. A Socialist acting in the name of the popular classes won the presidency, but the apparatus of the state remained under the control of the opposition. In particular, the armed forces remained loyal to the ideology of the middle class. The reasons for this failure of the socialist project under the democratic regime were 1) a dependent economy in an antagonistic hostile international system; 2) a fragmented class structure; and therefore, 3) a movement of insufficient strength to assume control of the apparatus of the state. The conclusion we may draw for structural economic transformation under a democratic regime is that it may be possible in other cases (1) if the economy is less dependent and vulnerable, and the international system less hostile; (2) if the class structure is less fractionalized; and in particular if there is a larger and more cohesive working class, and (3) if these conditions produce a movement which is capable of gaining control of the state, by winning a majority in parliament and by dividing and neutralizing the military.

At present, it seems that socialist or communist regimes are most likely to be installed by the violent overthrow of repressive oligarchical regimes, as in Cuba and again in Nicaragua. Where socialists are elected and democratic procedures preserved, as in Michael Manley’s Jamaica, the combination of external pressure, domestic economic conflict, and opposition leadership are likely to reverse the movement toward socialism. The preservation of democratic institutions requires that mobilization around economic issues be limited and controlled by moderate policies and politicians, or counter-mobilization, polarization, and breakdown are likely to result.


  1. Arguments against determinism have been elaborated in Valenzuela 1978 on the political side and, with more attention to economic affairs, in Bitar 1979, among others. return to text
  2. See, for example, Feinberg 1972. An article signed by Louis Wolf Goodman and others in the New York Times (November 30, 1972) argued that the economic changes of Allende’s platform were indeed possible to implement under Chile’s democratic political system. The article was in reply to an editorial in the same newspaper urging Allende to abandon his platform or risk military intervention. Perhaps the most optimistic analyst of all was Allende himself. See his First Message to Congress (May 21, 1971), reproduced as Part II of Debray 1971.  return to text
  3. It is possible that the government would have been overthrown by the opposition even as a majority government, but the situation would have been much different, and the probability of breakdown much less. The other hypothetical possibility for successful implantation of socialism, urged by the ultra-Left, would have been the preparation for armed confrontation, a strategy always rejected by Allende, both because of his loyalty to democracy and because of the overwhelming likelihood of defeat.  return to text
  4. By mid-1973 Dale Johnson (1973: xiii) would write: “The Popular Unity could be simply boxed in and voted out in the next election. But a civil war, a bloody counterrevolution assisted by outside powers, or a total revolution brought about by armed workers and peasants must be included among the possibilities.”  return to text
  5. Perhaps this lack of foresight was due to the failure to study the organization and strength of the conservative forces in Chile. One who did so was able to point after Allende’s first year in office to the strong possibility of an authoritarian, proto-fascist regime; see Parker 1972, passim. See also Nun 1967.  return to text
  6.  Dahl 1971; Huntington 1968; Boron 1973.  return to text
  7. They state: “Our hypothesis is that an individual-based process of political mobilization in which citizens convert individual resources based on income and education into political activity would lead to a uniformly strong relationship between our socioeconomic resources scale and political activity across nations were it not for the differential intervening effect of group-based processes (1978:64).  return to text
  8. Such changes are referred to collectively as “social mobilization”: see Deutsch 1961.  return to text
  9. Verba, Nie and Kim (1978:84-7) include in their typology of institutional systems a “mobilizing institutional system,” defined as one in which the level of political activity of institutionally unaffiliated actors rises as socioeconomic resources rise, while the activity of affiliated actors is high and constant; in this view only those unaffiliated actors with high personal resources will participate at high levels. This static typology misses the dynamic effect of mobilization, which is to bring a much greater proportion of the total population into the “affiliated” category. It is precisely those with fewer personal resources who are likely to be more active after the process of mobilization.  return to text
  10. For a discussion of the variety of activities that may be classed as political participation, see Huntington and Dominguez 1975.  return to text
  11. See Rose and Urwin 1969:38-43.  return to text
  12. Petras and Zeitlin 1970; Cavarozzi and Petras 1976:547-552.  return to text
  13. Unpublished survey data from Smith and Rodriguez 1973:6-8. In the industrial workers sub-sample in Greater Santiago, Allende received 42.1 percent (n=233); in the “popular class” sub-sample, he received 40.5 percent (n=525).  return to text
  14. Smith and Rodriguez 1973:10. See also the article by Smith and Rodriguez 1974.  return to text
  15. Smith and Rodriguez 1973:6. Langton and Rapoport (1976) found that “atheists” were much more likely to support the Left than Catholics, and conclude that religious culture had a powerfully limiting effect on the attempts of the political left to mobilize popular support. But such non-believers were few. Brian Smith (1982:214.24) uses public opinion data to challenge their conclusion. He confirms that, compared to Western Europeans, Chilean political preferences (for policies and for parties) were divided across both religious and class lines, showing no consistent reinforcing cleavages.  return to text
  16. Zeitlin 1968:231. Figures for the Mapuche population, about 600-700,000 total, are from Barraclough and Fernandez 1974:32.  return to text
  17. See, for example, Gurr 1971; Huntington 1968:45; articles in Feierabend, Feierabend, and Gurr 1972.  return to text
  18. Cf. Inkeles and Smith 1974, chapter 11, who argue that the factory is a “school for modernity.”  return to text
  19. These classifications will be elaborated in the final section of this essay.  return to text
  20. For various discussions of the strategy and platform of the Chilean Communist Party, see Burnett 1970:190; Halperin 1965; Petras 1969.  return to text
  21. He stated, “A victory for the people in the presidential elections would (be) the normal and most likely line of development. The revolutionary process is developed on peaceful lines, the lines indicated by our own party, (relying on) the popular movement…, the growing worker-peasant alliance, and by close links between the working class, the urban petty bourgeoisie, and part of the bourgeoisie.” Quoted in Petras 1969: 182-3.  return to text
  22. Huntington 1968:45,53; Deutsch 1961.  return to text
  23. Data may be found in the second edition of the World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators. Earlier data are in Deutsch 1961. See also the data in Remmer 1980. return to text
  24. Cutright 1963. The communications index included newspaper readers, newsprint, domestic and telephones, all per capita.  return to text
  25. The importance of communication for national integration has been emphasized by Karl Deutsch (1962).  return to text
  26. Huntington (1968:3 98) cites Chile as a case of probable stability, along with India, Uruguay, England, the United States, and Japan.  return to text
  27. Stepan’s (1973) study of the “new professionalism” in Brazil provides an alternate theory of the effect of professionalization, more consistent with military intervention. return to text
  28. Historical background can be found in the following works: Collier 1967 on independence; McBride 1936 on the rural-dominated economy of the 19th and early 20th centuries; Edwards 1928 and Donoso 1946 on politics from independence to the early 20th century; Burr 1965 and Pike 1963 on diplomatic history and foreign policy; Gil 1966 for a general political history; Jobet 1955 on the interaction of politics and economics; and Johnson 1958 on the role of the middle classes.  return to text
  29. Fruhling 1975:14. On this point and Chilean constitutions in general, see Fruhling 1975 passim. On the conditions for electoral competition in the Chilean constitutions, see Boron 1971. For general background to the Constitution of 1833, see Collier 1967.  return to text
  30. Mecham 1966:36. On religious issues in general, see the extensive treatments in Donoso 1946 and Mecham 1966, as well as Smith 1982 on the recent period.  return to text
  31. For descriptions of the conservative aristocratic forces, see Edwards 1928; for the Liberal reformers, see Donoso 1946.  return to text
  32. The use of the phrase “popular sectors” reflects Spanish usage, referring to the common people or the average man as el pueblo. The phrase has long been in common and academic usage, though Guillermo O’Donnell elaborated on the significance of lo popular return to text
  33. Both Allende and Balmaceda were economic nationalists; both attempted to use presidential power to achieve economic goals; and both chose death upon defeat, Balmaceda by his own hand, and Allende in a hopeless shootout. Analysts of the opposition to them have in both cases offered economic interests, foreign and domestic, on the one hand; and constitutional and legal arguments on the other.  return to text
  34. McBride 1936:204-5; Blakemore 1965; Pike 1963; Gil 1966:46.  return to text
  35. The following figures are from Pike 1963: 118-12 1.  return to text
  36. Quoted in Pike 1963:171; emphasis added by Pike. See also Johnson 1958:71.  return to text
  37. Gil 1966:58. See also Johnson 1958:69-70; Stevenson 1942:37-39, among other sources.  return to text
  38. Descriptions of these political changes are from Gil 1966 and Boron 1971. See Valenzuela 1978 for discussion of the legal elements of the system as it affected Allende. return to text
  39. For 1925-69 in the Chamber of Deputies, the Center and Right parties were overrepresented by 10.1 percent; the Left underrepresented by 2.8 percent and transitory and splinter parties underrepresented by 8.2 percent. See Parrish, et al., 1970-7 1, passim.  return to text
  40. The cleavages discussed here reflect the divisions suggested by Lipset and Rokkan, cited in Rose and Urwin 1969:9.  return to text
  41. For histories of the three major ideologies, see Gil 1966; Petras 1970; Burnett 1970; Cavarozzi and Petras 1974; Halperin 1965, and Alexander 1957. For Fascist and Christian corporatist roots of the Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei’s ideology, see Halperin 1965:183; cf. Sigmund 1978.  return to text
  42. Stevenson 1942:58. For this period and for the Popular Front, see also Gil 1966 and Alexander 1957.  return to text
  43. Stevenson 1942:59; Stevenson reprints the founding declaration at pp. 65-8.  return to text
  44. These figures are from Stevenson 1942:88. Gil 1965:69 gives different figures: Aguirre, 212,000 (51.5 percent); Ross, 199,000 (48.5 percent).  return to text
  45. Boron 1975; Prothro and Chaparro 1976; Valenzuelo 1978, among many others.  return to text
  46. Boron 1975: 77-99: also Boron 1976, Chapter 1. Cf. Przeworski (1975). whose discussion of mobilization and decay concentrates on electoral participation in developed democracies, and shows how mobilization may weaken institutionalized patterns of participation.  return to text
  47. For the critical role of the peasantry in other revolutionary situations, see Barrington Moore 1966.  return to text
  48. This has been shown in nearly every study of occupation and voting behavior in Chile. For some of the most recent examples, see various articles in Valenzuela and Valenzuela, eds., 1976.  return to text
  49. For an excellent expansion of the contradictions between the Christian Democrats and the Right, see Boron 1975: 118-120.  return to text
  50. This argument on the employment structure and political socialization is convincingly made by Portes 1976. The U.P. was itself a multi-class coalition, and it never succeeded in overcoming the splits among its worker, peasant, and middle class supporters. Pedraza-Bailey (1982) argues that the U.P. “could not organize and maintain sufficient support from the ‘middle sectors,’ while at the same time the popular support that it did harness became disassociated from its representativeness at the level of the party.” She goes on to add, “part of the problem lies in the instinctive assumption that there is an invariable and determinate tie between social class and political socialization” (1982:54). Concretely in the Chilean case, this took the form of workers and others, mobilized to political action for the first time, channeling their participation into different political parties.  return to text
  51. Figures are from government data. A more complete study of the agrarian reform is Loveman 1976. An earlier discussion of rural unionization and agrarian reform is found in Whiting 1973. In that study, I reported the results of interviews with peasants on two agrarian reform cooperatives, one affiliated with the Christian Democrats and the other with the Communist Party. In both cases, peasants were politicized, engaging in electoral and union activities and favoring land expropriation under the agrarian reform. But in neither case did the peasants support the radical plans for collectivization proposed by the Allende government.  return to text
  52. Juan Linz (1978:50) defined the “unsolvable problem”: “In the last analysis, breakdown is a result of processes initiated by the government’s incapacity to solve problems for which disloyal oppositions offer themselves as a solution.” I am arguing that uncontrolled mobilization was the problem that a disloyal military proposed to solve. return to text
  53. Based on data in Tables 7 and 9 in Valenzuela 1978. Valenzuela gives strike data for 1965 and 1969, but union membership for 1964, 1966, 1968, and 1970. The proportions for 1965 and 1969 are based on an average of 1964/66 and 1968/70 union membership figures respectively. The variation in union membership was relatively small, and steadily increasing, so the average is a reasonable approximation for the midpoint year.  return to text
  54. To recapitulate, this was mobilization to political participation in general, not to participation in support of a particular party. As Landsberger and McDaniel (1976) point out, the Chilean working class was not “united behind any ideological position and… was not… very revolutionary.” They go on to point to the incoherent radicalization that resulted from the failure of the U.P. government to control what they label “hypermobilization.” But as Valenzuela (1978) correctly indicates, it is not completely accurate to suggest that mobilization was out of control, since most of the political activity was instigated by political parties and by government agencies. Remmer (1980) briefly reviews the process of political mobilization in Chile before moving on to Pinochet’s efforts at demobilization.  return to text
  55. See for example, NACLA 1972; Latin American Perspectives 1974; Birns 1974; Magdoff and Sweezy 1975; Garces 1974.  return to text
  56. World Handbook of Political and Social Indicators (second edition) 1972:360-1,366-7; Farnsworth, Feinberg, and Leenson 1976:349.  return to text
  57. Farnsworth et al., 1976:352. Without assuming “causation from correlation”, it is interesting to note that the largest per capita recipients of U.S. military aid from 1960 to 1970 were Chile, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Bolivia; Brazil was the largest recipient in absolute terms. In 1960, all had democratic or popular governments; four of the five came to have military governments. One is led to wonder if the low correlation between foreign military aid and military coups shown in Putnam 1967 would be different if run with a longer time series.  return to text
  58. See Stepan 1973 for discussion of the role expansion and the “new professionalism” of Latin American militaries.  return to text
  59. This point and several which follow are drawn from an excellent article on Chile and the international system: Garces 1974.  return to text
  60. Data and a more complete description of the “invisible blockade” may be found in Farnsworth, Feinberg, and Leenson 1976. Kerbo 1978 presents a denunciation of U.S. intervention.  return to text
  61. Farnsworth et al. 1976:366. Nogee and Sloan discuss the Chile-USSR relationship, and argue that “Moscow never regarded the Allende government as a ‘Socialist’ regime requiring an economic or military guarantee of survival” (1979:353).  return to text
  62. Quoted in Medhurst 1972: 186.  return to text
  63. For a detailed discussion of the relationship between the military coup and the middle classes, see the article by Nun 1967, an excellent piece quite relevant to Chile. At a time when most still believed the myth of the Chilean military’s “professionalism” (in the sense of non-politicization), Nun predicted that a military coup in Chile could occur as a reaction to the demands of the urban and rural proletariat. See also Poulantzas 1974 on the relation of the “petite bourgeoisie” to fascism.  return to text
  64. The concept of class is commonly used in two quite different senses: as a category of people based on production, and as a category based on consumption. In the former sense, we may speak of workers, peasants, landowners, and businessmen as occupational classes defined by their role in production. In the latter sense, we may speak of upper, middle, and lower classes, defined by their relative levels of consumption. Economic conflict during the Allende period was engendered both by changes in productive relations and by changes in consumption patterns.  return to text
  65. Cited in Uribe 1974:93.  return to text
  66. On the gremios, see Nef 1974:75.  return to text
  67. Unless otherwise noted, the discussion of the military follows Nef 1974.  return to text
  68. Nef 1974:60; Halperin 1965:132.  return to text
  69. An excellent discussion of Chilean institutions may be found in Valenzuela 1978.  return to text
  70. This is a modification of a classificatory scheme used by Valenzuela and Valenzuela 1975 to review the ideological positions or “visions of Chile” of literature on the coup. The classification used here differs from that of the Valenzuelas, which posits two Left positions (revolution and compromise); a Center position favoring a temporary military solution; and a Right position favoring military government. I feel that compromise was a Center position, and that the moderate Left strategy was to seek an electoral majority without compromise with other parties.  return to text
  71. See the discussion of these categories by Juan Linz (1978) in the introduction to his volume on “Crisis and Breakdown of Democracy”; and Arturo Valenzuela’s (1978) contribution on Chile in that series. Also, see for comparison DahI’s (1975:168-9) six strategies of opposition in polyarchies, especially strategies 4, 5, and 6.  return to text
  72. This summary of positions was suggested by Arturo Valenzuela’s (1978) discussion of “commitment to the socio-economic order and commitment to the democratic rules of the game.” While my placement of the parties, as indicated in the text, differs somewhat from the original figure by Valenzuela, his is nevertheless an extremely useful conceptualization for understanding the political and economic positions of Chilean parties.  return to text
  73. For emphasis on relations with the extremes as a characteristics of semi-loyalty, see Linz 1978.  return to text
  74. For a thorough exposition of those political struggles from 1970 to 1973, see Valenzuela 1978; also Smith 1982.  return to text


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