By Jeanne DiNovis
International Institute, December 2, 2013 — As soon as Salvador Allende was elected president in 1970, the “pent-up injustice in Chile unleashed a revolution from below” supported by the Unidad Popular (Popular Unity) coalition, said Marc Cooper at a panel discussion at UCLA on November 8, 2013.
Associate professor of professional practice at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism of the University of Southern California, where he is director of Annenberg Digital News, Cooper served as a translator in Allende’s press office until the 1973 military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.
Cooper chaired a panel dedicated to the Unidad Popular as part of the conference, “The Other September 11th: Chile, 1973 — Memory, Resistance, and Democratization,” held at UCLA campus on November 8–9, 2013.
Cosponsored by UCLA’s Latin American Institute and Department of Spanish and Portuguese and a host of other organizations (see below), the collaborative event featured two days of lectures, panel discussions and film screenings in remembrance of the struggle for democracy in Chile throughout the twentieth century.
Reforms instituted by Unidad Popular remain pertinent today
As Heidi Tinsman, professor of history at UC Irvince, noted, the panel on Unidad Popular was “[r]emembering Popular Unity not out of nostalgia, but because it mattered politically and it matters now.”
Together with Thomas Klubock, associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, and Peter Winn, professor of history at Tufts University, Tinsman examined the development of social reform and the restructuring of Chilean society under Allende and the Popular Unity coalition.
Winn presented a micro-narrative of the Chilean Revolution: the worker takeover of a single cotton factory. Describing the “socialization” of the Yarur factory as the “democratic road to socialism,” he recounted his first-hand experience of that takeover (he then lived in Chile).
After Allende’s election, the workers at the Yarur factory effectively seized control and changed the way in which the factory was managed. Workers, commented Winn, “believed they were taking charge of their history” and “lived the revolution as the most important experience of their lives.”
The changes they effected were significant. Workers gained the right to participate in factory management and were able — without fear —to present suggestions for improving working conditions and create coordinating committees in which they had direct worker representation.
The socialization of the Yarur factory changed the way the workers felt about their jobs, said Winn. Even though the type of work they did not change, the workers began to take pride in their work, as they felt that “they were working for Chile.”
Agrarian reform in the forestry zones
Agrarian reforms under Allende addressed very different issues than did the industrial reforms, noted Klubock. Although Allende’s strongest supporters were in the industrial sector, he pointed out that agrarian reform was an intensely important part of the Popular Unity agenda. Within weeks after Allende’s election, for example, forestry workers went on strike, demanding rights to frontier land and an end to unsustainable logging practices.
The agrarian reforms of both the Frei (1964–70) and Allende (1970–1973) governments in the frontier zones of Southern Chile, argued Klubock, were “an extension of decades of colonization policy, which sought to restore state sovereignty over public frontier land” similar to the process that accompanied the settlement of the (North) American West.
Caption: From left to right: Marc Cooper (USC), Peter Winn (Tufts), Thomas Klubock (University of Virginia) and Heidi Tinsman (UC Irvine).
Allende, he explained, based his reform policies on those of Frei in the 1960s, but the former’s main concerns were national security and national sovereignty. Mapuche indigenous peoples claimed the right to frontier lands and disputed the logging of trees on which they relied for subsistence. Moreover, they protested the redistribution of these lands and their colonization by “real” Chileans under Allende.
Intense racial antagonism arose between indigenous communities and the colonists who were settling in the region to work as loggers, explained Klubock. Allende’s administration refused to support the Mapuche’s claims to the land and instead suggested the eradication of the militant Mapuche group in the region in order to maintain social harmony.
Agrarian reform and gender politics
Tinsman analyzed the gender differences in how men and women viewed and were affected bu agrarian reform policies. Agrarian reform under Frei and Allende substantially reshaped the campesino (peasant) culture in Chile by eliminating the latifundia system (landed estates originally established by the Spanish crown) and organizing men into labor unions. Increased wages for men subsequently reestablished them as proud breadwinners of the families and redefined family dynamics.
“Women were not left out of the agrarian reform,” she said, but they were included in a very different manner. Government propaganda of the time imagined that “women [would be] emancipated from poverty through men’s increased wages.” And although women had new opportunities for jobs and education, they were “lauded as civic homemakers.”
Tinsman pointed out that agrarian reform policies encouraged husband and wives to respect one another and urged men to involve their wives in political activities. In practice; however, this partnership dynamic was not generally achieved. Women largely viewed the reform era as a time of isolation, explained Tinsman; specifically, they recall that men were constantly outside of the home on picket lines and often engaged in extramarital affairs or other destructive behaviors.
In contrast, pointed out Tinsman, men recalled the period of agrarian reforms as a time when they became empowered as real breadwinners, whether or not they belonged to unions that supported Allende. Thus unintentionally, Allende’s agrarian reforms created significant conflicts between the sexes.
Allende government presided over a push from below
The panelists painted a picture of industrial and agrarian reforms under Allende that were instigated by a tremendous push from below in the early 1970s. This revolution from below resulted in an intense period of social reform in which the working class truly lived the transformation of their country. In Cooper’s words, these social democratic years of the Allende era left a “legacy of true structural reform” in Chile.
“The Other September 11th: Chile, 1973 — Memory, Resistance, and Democratization” was cosponsored by UCLA’s Latin American Institute and Department of Spanish and Portuguese; the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies; the Radical History Review; the College of Natural and Social Sciences, California State University, Los Angeles; the College of Liberal Arts and Latin American Studies, California State University, Long Beach; the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity, University of Southern California; the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, UC Davis; the Departments of History and International Studies, UC Irvine; and the UCLA Dean of Humanities.