Chile and the “Peaceful Road to Socialism”

Jim Rosenbaum

This article was written as an introduction to the English translation of the pamphlet, “Chile and the Road to Socialism,” by the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD), available at: We publish it here as a further exposure of revisionism during the Brezhnev period. The MLPD bears no responsibility for this introduction.

The fascist coup in Chile on September 11, 1973, came after three years of progressive, anti-imperialist reforms under the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, which had taken office through bourgeois- democratic elections. Allende was the leader of the Socialist Party, the main base of the Popular Unity coalition, which also included the Communist Party of Chile, a pro-Moscow revisionist party and other smaller groups.

The coup, led by General Augusto Pinochet, shocked the progressive forces throughout the world, particularly by its unbridled brutality. Allende himself died during the coup, which was followed by the round-up of members and supporters of Popular Unity, and the massacre of tens of thousands of workers, peasants and progressive intellectuals (including singer and songwriter Victor Jara), and the imprisonment, torture and deportation of many others. The coup was directly supported by U.S. imperialism, which was affected by the nationalization of the copper mines owned by Kennecott and Anaconda, and of International Telephone and Telegraph. U.S. President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger both praised Pinochet. A few days after the coup, Kissinger sent a secret note to the U.S. Ambassador to Chile to convey to Pinochet “our strongest desires to cooperate closely and establish firm basis for cordial and most constructive relationship.” When Kissinger met Pinochet in June of 1976, he said: “In the United States, as you know, we are sympathetic with what you are trying to do here. We want to help, not undermine you. You did a great service to the West in overthrowing Allende.”

This article, by Willi Dickhut, first appeared just two months after the coup, in November 1973, as a supplement to the newspaper Rote Fahne (Red Flag), the organ of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD), a revolutionary party in that country. It was republished as a pamphlet, together with a first-time Spanish translation, in May of 2013. It is an exposure of the revisionist thesis of the “peaceful road to socialism” as put forth by Khrushchev in 1956 and advocated by many revisionist parties throughout the world, including the Communist Party of Chile. It is still relevant today, particularly for many who think that revisionism only began with Gorbachev in the mid-1980s, or that Brezhnev was “less revisionist” than Khrushchev.

The MLPD correctly centred their criticism not only on the revisionist leadership of the Communist Party of Chile, but also on their “own” revisionists, the leadership of the German Communist Party (DKP).

In translating this article into English, it was necessary to take up the revisionist views of the leadership of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), and particularly its General Secretary at that time, Gus Hall. It was also necessary to criticize the revisionist views of the Soviet leadership at that time, and to note that they did learn “lessons” and make important tactical changes in their foreign policy, while in no way changing their basic positions.

One of the principal questions for Marxist-Leninists is to have a correct understanding of the class nature of the state. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin all made clear that the modern state, even in the most democratic republic, is an organ of the rule of the capitalist class. Therefore, to establish socialism, “the proletariat could not just make use of the old state machine but had to smash it” (Lenin, The State and Revolution). This was a lesson that the leadership of the CPUSA has tried to evade for decades.

On September 25, 1970, shortly after Allende’s Popular Unity coalition received a plurality in the elections, Gus Hall made a major speech in solidarity with the Communist Party of Chile. This speech was reprinted in full on October 17, 1970, in the Daily World, newspaper of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) at that time, with the title “The Meaning of Chile.” Hall’s speech is a cleverly disguised defence of the “peaceful road to socialism.” Hall states: “The ruling circles in America are thinking about military rule – counter-revolution from the barrel of the gun. To overthrow what was democratically, electorally arrived at in Chile. The ruling circles don’t mind political changes, as long as capitalist class rule remains.. But in Chile there is a difference. That is the mandate is to change that class rule. That is the mandate that won the Chilean election. That is new. The world revolutionary movement has not before experienced this road to power.”

But there is a great difference between the road to office and the road to power. Allende had won the presidency, but state power, and particularly the army, was still in the hands of the pro-imperialist bourgeoisie. Hall acknowledges this on the one hand, but refuses to draw the necessary conclusions on the other hand. He states that U.S. imperialism may try to get the Chilean military to take over. He even stated: “If the victory has to be defended by armed struggle – and that may very well be the case, would that make the tactics leading to this victory wrong? Absolutely not! Armed struggle would now have the support of the Chilean masses in defence of the electoral victory. Armed struggle without the mass movement would fail.”

But this is the line that Hall put forward for decades, for the U.S. as well. First, we would elect a government of an “anti-monopoly coalition,” which would begin to undermine the economic base of U.S. imperialism, and if the bourgeoisie would use arms to try to overthrow this government, the workers would be justified in using arms to defend it.

Even after the coup, Hall refused to draw the lessons of the need to prepare the masses against a counter-revolution. And there were forces in Chile, such as the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) and the Revolutionary Communist Party of Chile, who had called for arming the workers. Instead of recognizing that these revolutionary organizations had called for arming the masses before the coup, he said: “These petty- bourgeois Monday-morning ideological buzzards hover over the bodies of heroic revolutionary fighters trying to find some political bone to pick on” (Daily World, October 16, 1973).

But how could the workers defend the Popular Unity government if they were not already armed, trained and organized to do so. The bourgeoisie already has its armed forces, which are powerful and well- trained, and not just through military exercises. The U.S. armed forces have been used not just against workers and oppressed peoples in this country (and there have been countless examples of this throughout U.S. history), but throughout the world. They have tried to suppress liberation movements (for example in Vietnam, where the U.S. lost), and to overthrow governments that were defending their sovereignty (such as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Gaddhafi’s Libya, where the U.S. has won for now). To wait until a counter­revolutionary coup takes place to begin to arm the workers and other progressive forces is to wait until it is too late, as the tragic events in Chile proved once again.

In later years, Hall stepped up his revisionist positions on the sta­te. He put forward the line of “Bill of Rights Socialism.” This meant far more than a declaration of the need to preserve freedom of speech, of the press, etc. under socialism. It amounted to a pledge to the ruling class that the CPUSA would not overthrow the capitalist system, and would not repress the bourgeoisie under “socialism.” This went together with the CPUSA giving up any independent line, tailing the Democratic Party in the political sphere and the trade union bureaucrats in the economic sphere.


But it was not only the CP of Chile and relatively small revisionist parties, such as the CPUSA and DKP, that called for peaceful transition to socialism.” The CPSU under Leonid Brezhnev also put forth this line. And of course the CPSU was a party in power, at the head of a strong state.

Brezhnev himself, in his Report to the 24th Congress of the CPSU in March of 1971, stated: “The victory of the Popular Unity forces in Chile was a most important event. There, for the first time in the history of the continent, the people have secured, by constitutional means, the installation of a government they want and trust.”

But even after the coup, there was an authoritative article in the well-known Soviet journal New Times, 1974 no. 1, by Vladimir Tolstikov entitled: “Mighty Political Force of Our Time,” which appraised the work of the revisionist parties worldwide. The article stated: “Taking full account of the situation that had developed in the country, the Communist Party of

Chile opted for the peaceful path of development of the revolution, and subsequent experience confirmed the correctness of that choice.. ..A number of Communist and Workers parties have declared that the Chilean experience, notwithstanding the difficulties encountered and the temporary defeat of the revolution in that country, does not detract from the importance and value of the peaceful transition to socialism. The fraternal parties maintain that in our time the prospects for such peaceful transitions have improved, and they are taking due account of the lessons of Chile in working out their tactics” (pp. 5-6).

The statement that “in our time the prospects for such peaceful transitions have improved” is a clear reference to the policies of “detente,” which the CPSU proclaimed would make the prospects of peaceful transition easier. This was especially emphasized after Brezhnev’s visit to the U.S. in June of 1973. For example, there was an article in New Times #36, September 1973 (written before the coup) by D. Volsky, entitled “Soviet-American Relations and the Third World.” He claims that after Brezhnev’s trip to the U.S., detente “is benefiting all countries and peoples, the Third World nations included.”

New Tactics of Revisionism after the Coup in Chile

It would not be correct to say that the Soviet revisionists and other parties and forces influenced by them did not learn any lessons from the setback to the policy of “peaceful transition” in Chile. However, these lessons were not of a Marxist-Leninist character. Rather than supporting the workers and peasants in their struggle for power, they relied on another section of the ruling class, high-ranking pro-Soviet officers, who could take over the reins of the state and bring about increased Soviet influence. We will take three examples: Ethiopia, Portugal and Afghanistan.

In 1974 in Ethiopia, the decades-long rule of the feudal emperor Haile Selassie came to an end. His rule had been weakened by the long- running liberation movement in Eritrea1, and further weakened by mass demonstrations in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Selassie was forced to resign by a council of medium- to high-ranking military officers called the Derg. Although the military at first continued Ethiopia’s long-standing friendly relations with the U.S., a series of executions within the military brought Col. Haile Mengistu Mariam to power by 1977. Proclaiming Ethiopia “socialist,” Mengistu developed close relations with the Soviet Union, while bloodily suppressing the democratic civilian organizations involved in the overthrow of Haile Selassie. Unable to defeat the Eritrean liberation movement and the Ethiopian popular forces on its own, the Derg called for the Soviet Union to provide thousands of military “advisors” and billions of dollars worth of planes, tanks and other heavy weapons to help. Despite this “aid,” by May of 1991 Mengistu’s government collapsed. The armed coalition that had been fighting the regime came to power, but despite its socialist pretensions it quickly reverted to dependence on U.S. imperialism. Eritrea won its independence and continues to build itself up as a sovereign, anti-imperialist state.

The decades-old fascist regime in Portugal (first under Antonio Salazar and then under Marcelo Caetano) was waging a losing war to hold on to its African colonies of Guinea (Bissau) and Cape Verde, Angola and Mozambique. In April of 1974, Caetano was overthrown in a popularly- supported coup (called the Carnation Revolution) by left-wing military officers (mainly majors and captains) in the Armed Forces Movement (FMA). The pro-Soviet revisionist Portuguese Communist Party tried to push forward a “left-wing” government under Brigadier, later General, Vasco Goncalves, but this failed when bourgeois-democratic elections were won by the pro-U.S. “Socialist” Mario Soares in 1976.

In Afghanistan in 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew President Daoud. The PDPA, which had close ties with high military officers, brought Afghanistan close to the Soviet Union. Despite many factional battles within the PDPA, Afghanistan was proclaimed an “atheist state.” This gave the U.S. an excuse to spend billions of dollars to finance the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist “mujahedin” to fight the pro-Soviet regime. This led the Soviet Union to send over 100,000 troops to shore up the Afghani military regime. In this fighting the Soviet troops bombed villages and killed civilians, leading to the demoralization of many Soviet soldiers. This was an important factor leading to the downfall of the Soviet Union.2

It should be noted that the Soviet Union’s policy in these countries had nothing to do with Lenin’s policy of calling on Russian soldiers to help undermine the tsarist regime. The soldiers were “workers in uniform,” while in the above countries the pro-Soviet forces were high military officers who were trained under the previous reactionary regimes. Thus, the Soviet Union relied not on the workers and peasants, but on another section of the bourgeois state power to bring about, not socialism, but bourgeois regimes under its influence.

Positions of Revisionist China and of Socialist Albania towards the Coup

While the pro-Soviet revisionists in Chile refused to arm the masses in order to prepare for the military coup that everyone knew was in the making, the Chinese revisionist followers of the counter-revolutionary “Theory of the Three Worlds” took a different reactionary course. After the coup, the Communist Party of China made no statement of condemnation and Peking Review carried only a few short articles describing the coup and the resistance to it. China sought to maintain relations with Pinochet as the leader of a “Third World” country and even continued to provide credits to the Pinochet regime. This led the Revolutionary Communist Party of Chile to make a public break with the Chinese revisionists. In their Open Letter to the Communist Party of China (, they said: “the representatives of China at the United Nations and in other international bodies left the sessions without voting when the resolutions condemning Pinochet and his henchmen were presented.... you have granted credits to the Junta; none other than the Chinese ambassador had himself photographed in the process of handing over gifts to the dictator Pinochet in August of this year.” <> Unlike the Soviet and Chinese revisionists, socialist Albania took a principled, correct position, denouncing the coup and its U.S. imperialist backers, while pointing out that the revisionist “peaceful road” opened the way to it. Albania pointed out: “In Chile the counter-revolutionary storm continues to rage against the working masses, the patriots and fighters of that country. The rightist forces which seized power as a result of the September 11 coup d’état have established a reign of terror which even the Hitlerites would have envied.... The most fanatical, ultra-reactionary forces of darkness, the agents of American imperialism are strutting on the political stage.... For the Chilean people this is a grave, although temporary, misfortune, but for the modern revisionists it constitutes an all-round defeat, a complete overturning of their opportunist theories. All the revisionists, from those of Moscow to those of Italy, France and elsewhere, presented the ‘Chilean experience’ as a concrete example which proved their ‘new theories’ about the ‘peaceful road of the revolution’, the transition to socialism under the leadership of many parties, the moderation of the nature of imperialism, the dying out of the class struggle in the conditions of peaceful coexistence, etc. The revisionist press made great play with the ‘Chilean road’ in order to advertise the opportunist theses of the 20th Congress of the CPSU and the reformist and utopian programs of the Togliattist type.” (See “The Tragic Events in Chile: A Lessons for the Revolutionaries of the Whole World,” published in Zeri i Popullit on October 2, 1973, available at:

The experience of the Popular Unity government and its overthrow by the pro-U.S. imperialist fascist coup led by Pinochet still has many lessons for us today. The first lesson is that it is possible to organize the masses of working people into a broad united front against imperialism and for socialism, and that it in certain circumstances it is possible for such a united front to form a government. But the main lesson is that, without the overthrow of the bourgeois state apparatus, and without a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party to lead this, it is impossible to defeat imperialism and build socialism. The experience of Chile shows, today as well as over 50 years ago, that the “peaceful road to socialism” is a myth.


1. Eritrea borders Ethiopia on the North-East. It was an Italian colony until Italy’s defeat during World War 2, when it was placed under British military administration. After the war, the UN placed it under a federation with Ethiopia, which annexed it in 1962.

2. This is not the place to go into detail about the class nature of these regimes, which is a much more complicated topic.

Click here to return to the September 2015 index.