Salvador Allende, hardened by his long fight for the unity of the left, would probably feel deceived—but in no way surprised—if he saw today’s debilitating fragmentation of the people’s forces. Indeed, “the people” is not even used anymore, replaced by “the public,” “civil society” and other euphemisms that seek to dilute the potent political phrase and the very democratic system from which it is derived.
What would Salvador Allende do in this circumstance? Without a doubt, he would reinitiate the long march to unite “the people.”
However, now it’s not only about uniting the left, which barely exists in Chile—and what does exist lacks a viable alternative project. What I propose is far more ambitious and difficult. It is about uniting “the people” and reinventing the left—whose old dogmas and models have reaped crisis—and articulating a new system of emancipating ideas.
If for Allende uniting the left—an objective, in the end, never fully realized—was a tiring, prolonged and often misunderstood task, then much harder and complex is the creation of a liberating alternative without a popular left to serve as the framework for a project of social change. The different ideologies and politics of Allende’s time had few protagonists. Today the ideological archipelago consists of hundreds, perhaps thousands of islands. Each group, no matter how small, considers itself the possessor of the absolute and irrefutable truth.
The parties of the left in the 1960s and 1970s were “barely” half a dozen (imagine what it took to get them to agree!). The political centrifuge centered around two major parties: Communists and Socialists. Even with their disputes—which sometimes reached more than words—the parties maintained contact, open lines of communication, and above all, common experiences in their fight for the rights of the people. They effectively represented the organized masses of the union, student and popular movements, and included the proletariat, middle sectors, intellectuals, professionals, small and medium business owners and even large businesses that defended state-protected national industry. The parties reinforced those ties with appointments in parliament and within their enclaves in the public administration. Other parties of the left were asteroids orbiting around those two large planets, except the Leftist Revolutionary Movement (MIR), which tried belatedly and without success, to break from the solar system of the Chilean left.
The situation today is very different. Of the old Chilean left, the Communist Party, whose illustrious history no one can deny, is barely standing. But no party can live solely on its past—glorious though it may be—much less a revolutionary one.
The Socialist Party abandoned the left long ago; its base has either emigrated or remains inactive. Even its name, “Socialist,” has become a contradiction, since the party fiercely defends capitalism in its most extreme form. Regarding the Party for Democracy (PPD) and the Radical Party (PR), better that I save words.
In the so-called extra-parliamentary left—doomed to never participate in parliamentary debate—there is a diversity of parties and groups. Some of them show creativity and a bright future like the political organization, The Left, whose motto is “by our generation for our generation.” Others, older parties, survive by representing ethical values in political action like the Christian Left.
In general terms, trying to unite the parties and movements of the extra-parliamentary left is akin to the torment of Sisyphus. But pushing the heavy rock to the top of the hill does not mean a significant achievement in terms of uniting the people. A true unifying process does not begin with political parties, but neither does it exclude them.
An initiative consistent with unity that provides an alternative project for society has to come from social organizations. Under the current crisis of representation among political parties, these organizations must engage in the political activities necessary to achieve their common objectives. On the other hand, these organizations are also constrained by the crushing jaws of the neoliberal model and strangled by the anti-democratic constitution. More than 82,000 social organizations—many with an anti-neoliberal stance—involved in various social justice issues, understand that the people may be fragmented but they are organized.
Favorable conditions finally exist for the process of regrouping and uniting the people and for the construction of an alternative to savage capitalism and the gradual annexation of Chile to the North American empire. With the exhaustion of the mercantilist export model and the fall of the Concertación, which is crumbling amid embarrassing acts of corruption after betraying its program of democratization and “growth with equity,” new spaces are being created. But these spaces are dominated by skepticism and eroded with deceit. Many of the disillusioned Concertación members are en route to be captured by the populism of the right-wing Independent Democratic Union (UDI). Many others will join the vast sector now on the political sidelines that abandoned political and electoral life to avert the periodic humiliation of popular sovereignty. The situation requires bold and agile action to regain political honesty and win over the vast abstentionist sector in order to counteract the unscrupulous opportunism of the right.
Organizations that have most developed the idea of mobilizing politics around social issues are responsible for putting forth an alternative project to be refined during the very process of construction. The Chilean left of the 21st century must be forged with democratic discussion, pluralism and respect for freedom and human rights; its task is the construction of a society that can guarantee universal education, health care and a just distribution of the fruits of the economy.
This year marks 30 years since the military coup that delivered Chile to the rapacious dictatorship of an arrogant oligarchy, whose sad and tasteless imitators are found in today’s government. The best way to pay homage to our heroes and martyrs this year—beginning with Salvador Allende—is to create a new alternative, superior to that of the 1970s, stronger and more lucid, and inserted into the realities of this century.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Manuel Cabieses Donoso is a journalist and editor of the magazine, Punto Final, a national advisor to the Chilean School of Journalism and member of the executive committee for the Social Democratic Force party (FSD). Reprinted with permission from Punto Final. Translated from Spanish by NACLA.