Chile and the Revolution from Below
Though the liberation of the Yarur Mill occurred on April 28, 1971 in what would be described as a “spontaneous” seizure by the union leaders of the mill, it was decades of oppression, manipulation, and exploitation that forced the hands of the workers to either live free, or die trying to gain that freedom. The necessity for the Chilean revolution was not only seen from the bottom up perspective of the workers, it also was recognized from the top down, by the Salvador Allende government, and the people of Chile who voted his Populist Party into power.
Faced with the majority of its wealth in the hands of the elite class and foreign investors, the workers, peasants, urban lower class, and the indigenous population were understandably receptive to Marxist and Communist politics which changed their fundamental beliefs about the distribution of a nations’ wealth. Factors such as these, combined with the presidential victory of Allende in 1970, increased the workers confidence at the Yarur Mill to seize the factory, igniting the social revolution of Chile from the bottom up.
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Simultaneously, with the same goal of the socialization in mind, Allende would be forced to quicken his political platform, which would in turn create a well foreseen backlash that would lead to his demise and the ultimate sacrifice, his life. Chilean society at the time leading up to the toma, was monopolized by a small elite economically, politically, and socially. For example, the textile industry monopoly “… was facilitated by ethnic ties and social links” and was controlled “… y three families… “
Though the textile industry was its own sector within the Chilean economy, it could be a prime example of how wealth concentrated itself within the hands of a tiny population at the top of a capitalistic society. To make matters increasingly dire for the poor workers and peasants at the bottom of society, the “clans” that dominated Chile economically had no intention at spreading the wealth nationally, or as in the case of the Yarur’s, compensating the workers a fair rate of pay.
If the workers of the Yarur Mill were to receive fair treatment, they were going flip the socioeconomic pyramid on its point and put the workers on the top by force. Allende’s Popular Unity’s party’s belief that “… the revolution changes required by Chile can only be carried out if the people of Chile take power into their own hands and exercise it in a true and effective manner. ” is exactly what the workers of the Yarur Mill began to do after repeatedly being suppressed by Amador Yarur in their quest for fair treatment.
After the brutal suppression they faced, their was no other choice but to rise, organize, and attempt to socialize their workplace from a grassroots effort, not from the top of the organization down, but from the bottom up. With a tyrant like Amador Yarur at the top, they could only start one person at a time, slowly creating trusted alliances and preparing to take action as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Prior to the unionization of the Yarur Mill at its eventual seizure, the obreros, who eventually evolved into companeros, unsuccessfully attempted to organize on two separate occasions. In response, the Yarurs, both Juan and Amador responded, flexing their hegemonic muscles, reinforcing tactics of fear, suppression and terminating those who dare buck the system. The companeros, in order to be successful had to use covert tactics and operate with stealth precision or risk exposure and face a guaranteed firing and being blacklisted by those in Chile with the power to hire.
In Chile, the elites wanted no part of the democratic road to socialism which Allende promised during the election and they were going to do whatever it took to hold on to the socio-economic superior position in society. Raul Oliva, one of the companeros who helped to establish the first successful union at the mill, recalled that “We only had a small group of people here, but they were all young people, all fighters… It was ten against Yarur”. This was another aspect of revolution from below. Not only was it a revolution from workers up to the elite, it was also from the Youngsters in the mill up to the Old-Timers.
After the failure of Eduardo Frei’s mild reforms, and the Chile in an economic slump, Allende’s campaign platform of populism, socialism, and nationalism was not only influenced the companeros at the Yarur Mill to take action, it also gave hope to an entire nation. “La Via Chilena” would require Allende’s government to acquire foreign companies who were monopolizing key sectors of the economy and nationalize them, using profits to fund programs of agrarian reform, housing development, and medical care for the people of Chile.
These promises of a “peaceful revolution with empanadas y vino tinto”, energized his base of workers, peasants, and pobladores whose votes won the presedential election of 1970 for Allende. Allende knew that the elite in Chile would oppose his reforms and the nationalization of key sectors in the economy. Though he promised “popular benefits and visions of socialist transformation”, his intentions were to bring about these reforms from the top down, through a gradual and legal democratic path, not the radical and potentially violent direction that decades of oppression could evoke.
This was the main reason the Companero Presidente’s “… initial aims were both modest… ” and his long term goal was to “prepare the way for the democratic constriction of socialism… ” He was preceding with caution, knowing that a dramatic and radical transition would elicit a counterrevolution from both at home and abroad. Allende’s point of view could not have been more apparent after the liberation of the Yarur Mill by the obreros.
He believed that “Controlled change, with a disciplined mass base and a clear hierarchy of command… ” was the only way to defeat his opposition. His immediate refusal to aid the workers in the seizure of the mill was not because he did not believe in socialism or that he flip-flopped, it was because he knew the political ramifications for radical reform in Chilean society. However, “… Allende would choose to maintain the unity of the Left… at the risk of increasing conflict with his economic, social, and political opponents.
This fateful decision would not only fuel the counterrevolution, it would bring about a coup which would completely destroy everything that Allende and the workers sought to change. By the time military leader Augusto Pinochet and his troops stormed the presidential palace on September 11, 1973, there were a series of bourgeois strikes, an invisible economic blockade by U. S. and paramilitary attacks attempting to destabilize the Allende government and retake power for elite.
Exactly what Salvador Allende feared would happened from the radical revolution from below came to fruition, and his prophesy of political doom was the end result. The resistance from the opposition to spread their wealth among the poor working class in Chile was sincere and powerful. The followers of Allende would pay severely for their fight against greed and corruption which would keep the Chileans under a brutal dictatorship for the next 17 years, and their passionate leader would take his own life rather than conform to his opposers will.