Reformism and counterrevolution: studies on Chile

Image: Marco Francesco Buti


Commentary on the book by Ruy Mauro Marini

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of Salvador Allende to the Chilean government, which took place between the months of September and October 1970, numerous reflections were observed on the content and historical significance of the political rise of the Popular Unity in a context of deep crises, characterized , above all, due to the intensification of class struggles and new forms of imperialist interference in Latin America. Despite the copious material and the different approaches to these intricate events, one perspective was notably left out of the records: the positions of the MIR (Movement of Revolutionary Izquierda) according to the vision of one of its directors, the Brazilian Ruy Mauro Marini.

Marini's work is finally being treated with more rigor and seriousness in his own country, with very late translations gradually reaching the Brazilian publishing market,[I] as is the case with Reformism and counterrevolution: studies on Chile, published by Expressão Popular.[ii] In this collection of writings, Marini starts from a peculiar “global vision of the process”, apprehended from the point of view of the strategies of the Chilean left, which demarcates the common platform, so to speak, of the other texts.

Next, he turns to the specific, through analyzes of Chile's dependent development, the composition of social classes and the problem of power, to reach, in another step, the texts prepared in the heat of events, with a realism of take the reader's breath away, as it dwells on normally ignored details, in order to integrate them dialectically. Finally, it ends with several notes on the effects of the military coup in a context of structural change in the productive apparatus in favor of big capital, and the prospects for overcoming this counterrevolutionary period.

In general, Marini's analysis proves to be very consistent with the concepts he uses, in which there is no room for eclecticism or for compromising with class domination, indicating the need to overcome the scenario of intensification of economic contradictions and of the time, which would have given rise, in his opinion, to the possibility of a revolutionary crisis. What is clear in the text, however, is the split that occurred within the political alliance of the Chilean left on the question of the revolution and the tactics and strategies to achieve it.

Marini thus points out all the limits and impasses of the Salvador Allende government at this time of generalized crisis in the bourgeois system of domination, and how it was impossible to avoid its tragic outcome without a radicalization of political positions, which was already present in the extra-left. parliamentary (the movements of the settlers and the shortage crisis, due to the truckers' strike from October 1972; workers in copper mines; the peasant movement and the siege races for the recovery of Mapuche lands, among others). In this sense, the defeat before a ruthless counterrevolution already showed its signs from the beginning of this political process.

However, the polemics observed within the left were not gratuitous or devoid of sense, but were part of Chile's economic and social formation and the problem of conquering political power in the face of a given correlation of forces, which develops as a result of the escalation of class struggles. This is probably the text in which the political developments of Marini's theoretical formulations are most observed, given that controversial issues are condensed there, such as alliances with the petty bourgeoisie, the role of political parties, the importance of the mass movement, the struggle for weapons and disputes within the armed forces, etc. Thus, if in many cases we observe an effort to conceal the relationship between theory and praxis, here it is exposed without any veil, not least because Marini and the MIR frontally opposed the hegemonic perspectives within the Popular Unity defended by the Chilean Communist Party, opening irreconcilably what he called the Chilean “two lines on the left”.

Even if the MIR was present at the beginning of the government, the divergences would be accentuated, which was verified in the different diagnoses of the political and economic crisis. Such understandings implied, in turn, also different tactics and strategies: the Chilean PC defending the reform of the system through the formula "advanced democracy", the MIR proposing the overthrow of the system, given the revolutionary gap created by the extreme elevation of the struggle of classes.

On the one hand, the result would be the “policy of alliances” and the approximation of the petty bourgeoisie, also harmed by the structural transformations of the Chilean economy in favor of the high bourgeoisie and big international capital (the Popular Unity agreement with Christian Democracy was the institutional face of this policy); on the other, the rejection of alliances that would harm most of the working class, influencing relations with the mass movement. Marini's caveat is that the CP was not simply “a mere instrument of the bourgeoisie”, but sought social transformation within the rigid pillars of the revolution in stages, of history as progress, which had always guided its action in Chile and around the world, and whose The logical consequence was the defense of the consolidation of the bourgeois revolution and the expansion of the state over the private sector.

The position of the MIR was the opposite of this: they identified in the crisis of the bourgeois system of domination a “prefiguration” of a revolutionary situation that should be taken to the last consequences, otherwise the entire “Chilean process” would be confronted by a brutal counterrevolution, as already indicated. This did not mean, however, the proclamation of a revolutionary situation. Therefore, it was not a question of promptly “destroying the bourgeois state”, but of seeing in this crisis of domination the possibility of converting it into a revolutionary crisis (as was presupposed in Lenin’s teachings and as observed in the Cuban Revolution), under the condition of the growth of the alternative mass movement to the bourgeois institutional normality that could engender workers' control of production, which in fact was glimpsed with the industrial cordons and communal commands.

In this sense, there was no room for collaboration between social classes, it was a relationship of strength. However, both the CP and the MIR understood these institutional limitations of the UP government and sought to adapt to them. Therefore, the position of the MIR, according to Marini, was to influence Allende to “(…) transform the government into a workers’ government, supported by the mass movement and by the aggregation of sectors of the armed forces around itself, and which would accelerate the decomposition of the bourgeois system of domination and its crisis”.[iii]

But the essential separation between these two lines concerned the conquest of power by the workers, making no sense, for Marini, the “construction of socialism” proposed by the Popular Unit, and what is worse, without it being possible to define a realistic perspective for this plan, much less ensure its future sustainability. With the predominance of reformism in the Popular Unit, the signs of defeat increased, with emphasis on the replacement, in the Ministry of Defense, of the loyalist general Carlos Prats by his friend, General Augusto Pinochet, following the military uprising known as “tankotazo”, at the end of June 1973. Let us remember, however, that Prats would be murdered along with his wife on September 30, 1974, in an attack carried out by DINA in Buenos Aires, where they were exiled.

As can be seen, the main problem for Marini, who still offers elements to guide thought and action today, was to confuse the arrival in government with the conquest of political power, based on the proposal of the “Chilean road to socialism”. , which, by assuming the transformation of “Chilean society without abruptly breaking the institutional framework in which it develops”,[iv] he ignored precisely this question of power. There were decades of condemnation and ostracism of Marini by the reformist lefts and Latin American liberal democrats in the face of this reasonably obvious nomination, especially at the time of the “democratic transitions”. However, many years would pass before his notes regained their original meaning in the events of October 2019, when the Chilean masses began a social eruption that would bury Pinochet's constitution a year later, in a broad, complex, violent and still incomplete.

In any case, we know that the minimal agenda presented by the MIR (workers' control of production, new agrarian law, delimitation of the state sphere and formation of communal workers' councils) was not accepted by the Popular Unit, contrary to the proposals of the communists, who became predominant. Furthermore, the need to prioritize popular mobilization in the face of the deepening political and economic crisis was replaced by bureaucratic measures. The rupture between PC and MIR was, therefore, inevitable when the government reached the halfway point. In the meantime, the bourgeois reaction already activated all the resources at its disposal: financial boycott, manipulation of copper prices, shortages, speculation, non-reinvestment of profits, information war, sabotage, attacks and fascist tactics.

This set of elements logically arranged, in the form of a general social totality supported by empirical and everyday elements observed in a specific context of extreme social conflicts, contributed to the ideas and conceptions launched by Marini and by the MIR at that moment not being erased from history, or that remained blocked by the selectivity of collective memory. And it is precisely for this reason that Marini's thesis on the “Chilean process”, pointed out in the presentation of the work, continues to demonstrate all its strength: “the reader will not extract all the teachings from here, or at least not all those of greater relevance , of the most radical class confrontation – and, for that very reason, the most pedagogical one – observed in Latin America. It will, however, have elements to reflect with greater security and better understand how and why reformism, by the very fact of shaking bourgeois society to its foundations without daring to destroy it, ends up becoming the antechamber of the counterrevolution”.[v]

*Fernando Lima das Neves he holds a PhD in sociology from USP.


Ruy Mauro Marini. Reformism and counterrevolution: studies on Chile. Translation: Diogenes Moura Breda. São Paulo, Popular Expression, 2019 (


[I] After decades of relative contempt, we already have works of great editorial refinement such as Underdevelopment and revolution. Trans. Fernando Correa Prado and Marina Machado Gouvea. Florianópolis, Insular, 2012 [1969]; Ruy Mauro Marini: life and work. Organized by Roberta Traspadini and João Pedro Stedile. São Paulo: Popular Expression, 2005 and Dialectics of dependency, an anthology of the work of Ruy Mauro Marini. Organized by Emir Sader. Petropolis, Voices, 2000.

[ii] Marini, Ruy Mauro. Reformism and counterrevolution: studies on Chile. Trans. Diogenes Moura Breda. São Paulo: Popular Expression, 2019 [1976].

[iii] Ibid, P. 43.

[iv] Ibid, P. 93.

[v] Ibid, P. 23.

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