Reply to John Riddell’s Review of My Book, Part One, By Barry Sheppard

By Barry Sheppard

Part One of Three.

Obviously there is much agreement between John and myself. I will discuss those aspects of John’s position where we have differences, as well as explore some points that flow from what he raises, that I think merit further discussion.

Here I will take up John’s position on the Unidad Popular (UP) Chilean government headed by Allende in the early 1970s. John writes: “A lengthy 1972 article by Peter Camejo and Les Evans analyzed statements by Fidel Castro during his 1971 visit to Chile. Castro was correct to point out ‘the progressive nature of the UP’s reforms,’ Camejo and Evans said. They also considered the Cuban leader correct in affirming that Allende’s election did not bring working people to power and that a revolutionary confrontation still lay ahead. The Cuban leader was wrong, they continued, to suggest that the masses had a stake in supporting the UP government. ‘Castro urges support to precisely those who prevent the mobilization of the masses,’ the authors said; revolutionists should support the government’s progressive measures but not the government itself….

“Inevitably, the SWP’s opposition to the UP government hindered efforts to defend it against the impending U.S.-sponsored coup. The Cuban government’s approach of critical support, by contrast, enabled its government to take energetic measures to defend Chile, while making suggestions on how Chilean workers should prepare for the coming confrontation.”

This comparison is not useful. Of course the SWP didn’t have the resources of the Cuban government to defend Chile against the impending coup. Moreover, the efforts made by the Cuban government failed to stop the coup, obviously. The Cuban government was in no position to seriously affect the outcome.

More important, the SWP’s position of not giving political support to the UP government in no way hindered its opposition to the coup, and was in no way inferior to other groups in the U.S. who did politically support the UP government. Can John give an example of where the Communist Party or Workers World did better than the SWP in opposing the coup? In fact, while the SWP and FI hammered away week after week in the months leading up to the coup, warning of its danger, and proposing concrete steps to thwart it, including arming the workers, the groups who supported the UP government blithely went along with the UP’s assurances that there was no danger of a coup, that the armed forces were on the side of democracy, and that attempts by the workers to arm themselves was sowing division with the armed forces. Allende even appointed Pinochet to head the armed forces shortly before the coup.

Contrary to John, we were the main group in the U.S. to oppose the impending coup before it happened.

John’s assertion lacks any concrete suggestion of something the SWP should have done that it didn’t do because it didn’t give political support to the Allende government.

The question of whether or not to politically support to the UP government is a different question from whether or not to oppose the coup against it.

It would be useful to look at the Iranian revolution in its first years. The SWP in the U.S. and our cothinkers in Iran did not politically support the Khomeini government that emerged from the revolution with mass support. But this did not prevent us from opposing imperialist-sponsored right wing coup attempts against this government. It did not prevent us from opposing the terrorist campaign of bombings launched by the formerly leftist Muhajadeen to bring down the government. It did not prevent us from defending Iran against the U.S.-inspired war against the revolution waged by the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein, which the Muhajadeen had gone over to.

More important, the analysis the SWP and the Forth International made of the Allende government and of the mass mobilizations of workers and their allies concretely explained how the coup could have been avoided, and how the class-collaborationist policies of the UP government which capitulated to the bourgeoisie at every critical juncture led to the coup. We did this week in and week out, concretely, not based on deductions from our policy of opposing class collaboration, but informed by that policy which was based on much concrete history of the class struggle.

John also writes: “From a Marxist point of view, there was no principled barrier to the Cuban approach. Chile was not an imperialist country like the U.S., Britain, and France, but rather one oppressed by imperialism, and its sovereignty was under attack by CIA subversion. In such conditions, the program of Trotskyism envisages the possibility of an anti-imperialist united front that could include bourgeois forces.”

Fair enough. One example was that the Chinese Trotskyists supported China against the imperialist assault by Japan in the Second World War, in spite of their opposition to the counter-revolutionary Chinese government of Chiang Kai-Shek. An anti-imperialist united front including bourgeois forces is not tied to — or is only possible by — politically supporting those bourgeois forces.

Let’s leave aside conjectures where in a country oppressed by imperialism it might be possible to politically support a government that includes bourgeois forces. Let’s look at the actual UP government. It was composed of three parties — the Socialist and Communist parties were the strongest, and were joined by the small Radical party which had a long history as an open bourgeois party.

The UP came into office promising to obey the bourgeois constitution. It is true that Allende, from the left wing of the SP, said he hoped the UP government would eventually lead to socialism. The CP openly said it would not, following the Stalinist policy of subordinating the interests of the workers and peasants to the bourgeoisie in oppressed nations. The new government also placed absolute faith in the armed forces of the capitalist state.

The main parties in the UP were the SP and CP. The CP was the best organized and dominant force in the UP, and consistently fought for its counter-revolutionary program of the imperative to keep the national bourgeoisie dominant and to keep the country within the bounds of capitalism. This fact alone precluded giving the UP government political support, even if the Radicals were not part of it.

So at its beginning, the UP government sought to serve two masters, the workers and other exploited on one side and bourgeois law and property rights on the other. We warned that this was untenable. One side or the other would win out. The UP government was unlikely to break with the bourgeoisie, as the Chinese CP did finally in 1953 after three years of blocking with the “national bourgeoisie.” The initial UP government could not be given political support on the basis of such a remote possibility.

As the events unfolded, the UP government came down on the side of the bourgeoisie in every single decisive battle, even as it made some far-reaching reforms in the mass’s interests. A key policy of the UP government was its adamant refusal to arm the working people, and insisted on subordination to the armed forces. It opposed doing political work in the armed forces to win the ordinary soldiers and sailors over to the masses.

It was these class collaborationist policies favoring the bourgeoisie that enabled the capitalists to gather strength against the mass upsurge, until it was strong enough to stage its coup and usher in an extremely reactionary regime which smashed all workers organizations, a jack boot on the country for many years. It is difficult to see how giving political support to the UP government and its pro-capitalist policies and course would have been a positive tactic to counter that same disastrous course which paved the way for the coup.

John should show where our analysis of the ongoing events went wrong – concretely. And he should present his own reasons for the defeat if he thinks our explanation was wrong.

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2 Responses to Reply to John Riddell’s Review of My Book, Part One, By Barry Sheppard

  1. David Walters says:

    One small correction. Allende was not form the “left wing of the SP”. He was, politically, congruent with that of the CP, holding an independent stake in the SP. The actual left wing opposed many of Allende’s policies and pushed for more radical measures.

  2. Pingback: Salvador Allende, Cuba and internationalism, 1970–73 | Ezymagazines

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