A Warning – What Militant said Before the Coup

Cartoon by Alan Hardman

The article below appeared in Militant, issue no. 169, published on 17 August 1973, one month before Pinochet’s coup. Militant was the newspaper of the Militant Tendency, forerunner of the Socialist Party, the CWI in England & Wales, and Socialist Party Scotland, the CWI in Scotland.

Its analyses the balance of class forces, including the growing boldness of the right-wing in its campaign of sabotage, the sharpening repression and manoeuvres of the Generals and the forces loyal to them, and, tragically, the hesitations and mistakes of President Allende in particular. This allowed us, correctly, to anticipate that a coup was imminent and to put forward the arming of the workers as the immediate and urgent task in the unfolding Chilean revolution. Tragically, this did not happen, for reasons we explain in other material published today.



Chile – Army Re-Enter Cabinet

Catastrophe Threatens Unless Workers Are Armed

“Chile’s most serious social crisis since the Civil war of 1891” – this was the analysis of the situation in Chile put forward by President Allende himself in a speech broadcast to the nation from the CUT, the Chilean TUC, on July 25th.

As if to underline the point, the following day the 45,000  members of the lorry-owners’ association, which virtually controls Chile’s internal trade and transport in “normal times”, came out on a national stoppage and lockout.

This action immediately assumed crucial importance. Last October, the lorry-owners staged their first anti-UP (Popular Unity) stoppage lasting 26 days.

The dispute which attracted active support from a wide layer of small owners and professional people was “resolved” by bringing three military commanders into the UP government. The UP government ended up granting all the lorry-owners’ main demands.


Lorry Owners

Following the March elections which were a considerable setback for the opposition and clearly showed the continuing mass support for the UP. The Generals left the government to await a more favourable opportunity.

But now the lorry-owners, spearhead of the disgruntled middle class, and acting through their leaders as the tools of big business. have used their grip over distribution to launch a new “strike” blow against the government.

Once more three military men, Army general Prats, Air Force general Ruiz Danyau and Admiral Montero Cornejo have been brought into the Cabinet. This time their arm is further strengthened by a fourth new minister, the commander of the Federal Police!

Last October, it was Allende, the Radicals and Communist Party Ministers who readily agreed to the military entering the cabinet, against the sure instincts of the Socialist Party membership.



Before and since, Allende’s whole slant has been towards a vain attempt at “conciliation” with the Christian Democratic opposition. At every turn, this policy has threatened catastrophe. Only the strength and amazing resourcefulness of the Chilean workers has kept the reactionary hounds at bay.

Typically, in the new crisis provoked by the lorry-owners, Allende has turned to the Christian Democrats (CDs) for assistance in forming a “common front to defend the constitution”. He has appealed for a “dialogue”.



A week of talks began with the CD leader, Aylwin, on July 30th. What were Aylwin’s terms for CD cooperation? First, he demanded the formation of a civilian/military cabinet. This he has got. Second, he demanded that the military and police take over a number of junior ministerial posts and numerous executive jobs in the Ministry of the Interior.

In Aylwin’s cunning approach we see the significance of bringing the military into the government. The top strategists of Chilean capital, aided and abetted by the CIA, have watched and guided these developments closely.

Although they have a more sober and cautious approach than the jumped-up leaders of the small-time road hauliers they fully support the entry of the Generals, in force, into the heart of the UP government. They know that this position can be used to confuse and demoralise the unorganised workers

By his fawning praise of the “democratic, loyal and patriotic” generals, Allende only assists big business in their attempts to portray the armed forces as “neutral arbiters” in the eyes of many workers.

Aylwin, in his demand for army men in executive posts in the Interior Ministry is really calling for a fully coordinated witch-hunt of workers’ organisations carried out by the state apparatus – the official “armed bodies of men” – with Allende’s blessing.

In other words this move is needed by the capitalist class as a preparation for dealing a final blow to the organised workers and poor peasants by unleashing the armed forces on them.

The Chilean bosses and their blood-brothers in the army general staff understand fully that premature attempts at a Greek-style coup would, without a shadow of a doubt, provoke a mass uprising which would endanger the whole system. That is an indication of how finely the balance of class forces is poised in Chile.

Writing in the Guardian on July 30th, Laurence Whitehead put this clearly in words full of meaning and warning for workers everywhere. — “If so far the Chilean army has held back, the explanation is to be sought not in any peculiar national tradition, but in the formidable strength now acquired by the labour movement”. (our emphasis)

This is the explanation for the abject failure of the coup attempt of the 2nd Tank Regiment on June 29. It was suppressed by “loyal units” of the army within two and a half hours – just in time. For as news of the coup spread, thousands of workers struck, occupied their factories and, leaving armed pickets on the gates, marched on the Presidential Palace.

Here was a movement which could have put an end once and for all to the threat of reactionary tyranny.



But Allende appealed for a return to work and riot police were sent in to break up the milling crowds. Only this cowardice, this treachery, this total lack of perspective, enabled the bosses to gasp for breath once more. Only the blocking of the movement of the masses as a result of this betrayal emboldened the road hauliers enough to raise their heads in defiance of the UP!

Even then, the magnificent Chilean workers called a 24-hour general strike on August 9th to declare their intention to support the UP against the “road hauliers’ blackmail”. There is no shortage of courage or willingness to fight. What is lacking is leadership.

What lead does Allende give to meet the “most serious social crisis since 1891”? In the very same meeting where he made that pronouncement, at the CUT, he laid down four conditions on which to reach agreement with the CDs.

It is on the basis of these conditions that the military have agreed to enter the Cabinet.

1) “Elimination of politics in the armed forces”. While the officer caste openly enter the political arena as Cabinet Ministers this is clearly intended to stamp out discontent in the ranks, to ban the sale of socialist papers in the barracks, to weed out junior officers and NCOs who are sympathetic to the UP and replace them with “iron men”.


Workers’ Militia

It is significant that, according to reports even in the capitalist press in Britain, the armed forces have disarmed workers and conducted vicious and rigorous searches for arms in factories and workers’ districts, while they have made only the most perfunctory gestures of searching for arms of the Fascists, who have provoked many incidents and even assassinated two army officers including the commander-in-chief and the military aide of Allende.

The naval officers have taken harsh action against the sailors who have been affected by revolutionary propaganda, conducting searches among them.

The only way reaction could be combatted among the armed forces is by establishing committees among the soldiers, sailors and airmen to supervise vigilantly the movement and actions of the officer caste.

To rely on the commanding staff would be like relying on company directors to supervise changes in society. It is to rely on the staff of the enemy.

At the same time as a certain means of ensuring a “peaceful transition” to workers’ power would be the formation of an armed workers’ militia, with a friendly connection with the rank and file of the armed forces.


Army and Police

This would render entirely powerless the provocateurs of the Fascist “Fatherland and Freedom” organisation who are feverishly storing arms and bombs who could be rendered harmless and disarmed by the mass movement of the working class.

2) “Delimitation of the State sector of the economy”. In the self-same speech, Allende made it clear that this meant a halt to the nationalisation programme and even an attempt to break up elements of workers’ control in the factories when he strongly criticised workers and peasants who had been involved in factory and farm occupations.

3) “Monopoly of arms in the hands of the army and police”. For months, the police and army have been searching for illegally held arms. This policy is to be stepped up. The aim is to disarm the workers and peasants. The Fascists will go scot free.

The workers’ organisations need to be armed in defence against the Fascists, whose activities are reaching a new crescendo. As the Observer pointed out on July 29 — “Chile has been shaken by an upsurge in Rightist violence this week, including the killing of a trade unionist, the dynamiting of socialist radio and TV stations … and an attack with automatic weapons on the house of Senator Carlos Aitamirano, leader of President Allende’s Socialist Party”.

Is this the fate that Allende would expose his supporters to, unarmed?

4) “An end to the Congressional veto on legislation”. This is a thoroughly Utopian and pathetic plea to the CDs, who control Congress, to “play cricket”. Allende, in effect, says, “I will disarm the workers and put them in a straightjacket if you will let me carry through my revolution in Parliament”. The capitalists have given their reply: “Thanks for your assistance, but no deal !” They spit in Allende’s face contemptuously.

These four conditions are a recipe for counter-revolution. They form the programme which the generals will seek to implement in the immediate period. They will encourage the Fascist bands like “Patria y Libertad” whose General Secretary, Roberto Thieme, has brazenly declared: “We have finished with action within the law”.

Heightened provocations by the Fascists could provide the pretext for slapping the whole of Chile under martial law. This has already happened twice since October 1972.


Civil War

In such a situation and with the connivance of the CD majority in Congress, is it not all too easy to envisage the “suspension” of Congress and rule by junta? Where will Allende’s parliamentary road take him?

This scenario assumes the air of reality more with each passing hour. The capitalist class is preparing for civil war. The Fascists are already stirring hard to provoke it. Who will defend the gains of the UP? Who will defend democratic rights when the capitalists and their army chiefs try to stamp them out?

Only the workers and poor peasants organised in the unions, factory committees and “cordones industriales” can defend the gains. Only a workers’ government, based on those organisations, can defend democratic rights – in a workers’ democracy.

Within the ranks of the left-wing of the SP above all, the workers crave for a revolutionary leadership. This is where Marxist ideas can gain the greatest response among the politically active workers. The ideas of Lenin and Trotsky must form the basis of the policies of the left-wing, especially the Young Socialists.



Latin America is tinder-dry. One spark would light a conflagration. Chile, Argentina and Uruguay are poised on the brink. A bold lead and a struggle for workers’ power in any one of those countries under the banner of internationalism would meet a huge response from the labour movement of the whole world.

  • Reject Allende’s 4 conditions!
  • No deal with the Christian Democratic leaders! The left-wing, especially the Socialist Youth, must fight for Committees of Action for the defence of the rights of the workers and the defence of the revolution to be set up in every factory, workers’ district, armed forces, to be linked locally, in the districts and nationally together with all workers’ organisations to provide the necessary invincible framework for pushing forward the revolution and defeating the counter-revolutionary plots of reaction.
  • Expel the capitalist ministers civilian and military, from the UP cabinet!
  • For a Socialist Chile!

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September 2023