Chile: A mass farewell to Gladys Marin, President of the Chilean Communist Party

More than 200 000 people marched through the streets of Santiago on Tuesday 8 March to say farewell to Gladys Marin, who died of cancer on Sunday night.

The article below describes one of the biggest demonstrations to be held in Chile in decades. Any demonstration of this size would be worthy of comment. But given the experience of the Pinochet dictatorship and tens of thousands of activists assassinated by the military and the many more forced into exile, a demonstration of such a size shows an important and extremely significant recovery for class consciousness in general. While Gladys Marin was seen as a brave fighter who made many sacrifices in the struggle against the military, she along with other leaders of the Communist Pary made serious political, tactical and strategic mistakes in the battles of the Chilean workers movement.

A mass farewell to Gladys Marin, President of the Chilean Communist Party

The leaders of the Communist Party estimated that almost one million people visited the former Congress buildings in Santiago where the body lay in state and attended the march to the cemetry. More than half of those attending were young people, almost all holding red flags with Che Guevara and Gladys Marin on them. For these youth, the red flags represented the symbol of revolution and opposition to the capitalist system – the mood was incredible, not one of mourning but of struggle and raising the banner of revolution. All this represents a fundamental change in the political situation in Chile.

Everyone was affected by the death of the President of the Communist Party of Chile. For many workers and people from working class neighbourhoods, this was a very genuine feeling but for some right-wing politicians who supported the dictatorship, this demonstrated a cynicism which knows no limits given that they were the ones who supressed her, the party she belonged to, and all those on the left in Chile (under the Pinochet dictatorship – ed).

Gladys Marin was forced into exile under the dictatorship which also made her husband, one of the members of the first clandestine Central Committees of the Communist Party, disappear and subsequently killed him. Gladys Marin could only return to Chile secretly – which meant she could not even see her children – to continue the struggle against the dictatorship, a regime which was clearly defended by many of those right-wingers who today say they are fervent "democrats".

It is also necessary to mention the cynical attitude of the leaders of the parties of the Concertacion (the coalition of so-called Socialist Party – which has implemented vicious neo-liberal policies -, the Christian Democracy, Partido por la Demogracia – PPD, Partido Radical – PR, ed) who even were seen on television singing the International and paying tribute to Gladys Marin. This is despite the fact that they attacked her constantly during the time of the Concertacion governments, saying moreover that her ideas were old-fashioned only to be used to demand better wages for workers, justice for the worse off and punishment for those violations of human rights. They said the same of Marin´s defence of a more just society for the working class.

What is the best way to remember and pay tribute to an activist like Gladys Marin. Firstly it is clear that it is not enough just to cry or to hold photos and put them on walls, instead for a fighter like her one can only remember her through struggle and raising the banners and demands which she fought for.

An analysis of what this event represented when 200 000 people, of whom at least half were youth, attended the march and went with Marin´s body to the main cemetry in Santiago, is very important.

Everyone agrees that this was the most well attended demonstration which has been seen in recent years. It was very impressive to see hundreds of thousands of workers, youth, and people from the poor neighbourhoods marching through the centre of Santiago to give a last farewell to someone they considered defended their interests and despite the fact that many of them were not active members of left organisations or the Communist Party, the majority carried red flags as symbols of their choice of left and revolutionary politics. What is the explanation of this development? Why were most people willing to march or wait for hours to pay tribute to a leader who supposedly defended ideas that were old-fashioned?

The majority of those who went on the march to commemorate Gladys Marin associated her with a more just society and with a vague form of a defence of socialism but supposedly were in agreement with the official declarations that socialism was an idea of the past which had supposedly been defeated by the capitalist society which exists currently. Socialism, according to these declarations is an ideology which has died including some foolish people who spoke about the end of history.

But the massive march for Gladys Marin, the vote for PODEMOS (an electoral front of left groups and the Communist Party) in the last municipal elections, and the enormous march against the APEC summit demonstrates the exact opposite – that at each stage more sections understand that the fall of capitalism is the only solution and that the ideas of socialism are growing once again amongst layers of the working class, young people and those who live in the poor neighbourhoods.

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March 2005