Battle of Chile in context

by Angry Arts Collective

from Jump Cut, no. 21, Nov. 1979, pp. 9-10
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1979, 2005

Angry Arts is a collective of three men and three women who have organized monthly film showings as Cambridge's Red Book store since 1974. We are committed to the use of film in an effort to educate and organize toward a popular movement for socialism in the U. S. We research and study around each film and present an informational leaflet and short talk before the showings and have discussions afterwards. We have also facilitated the use of films in other community settings in the Boston area. What follows is the leaflet we did for THE BATTLE OF CHILE.

What did the filmmakers of BATTLE OF CHILE hope to do?

According to director Patricio Guzman, the film had the following goals:

"The film is an attempt to convey in as much detail as possible the nature and consequences of political events in Chile during the last year of the Allende government. What was happening was of great interest outside as well as inside of Chile, not just for other Latin Americans, but for the workers' movement on an international scale … We realized that it would be a mistake to analyze events from a single perspective, because the interesting thing was to represent all points of view on the left. The same ideological battle then going on in Chile could occur in France or in Italy, for example, in a very similar way. And it will also occur in Mexico or in Venezuela when things enter a more critical phase. The far-reaching relevance of the political model then being tried in Chile was one of the factors that motivated us to make the film…"

"Part I, THE INSURRECTION OF THE BOURGEOISIE, tries to shed light on a fundamental aspect of the problem in Chile: the mass uprising of the middle and upper sectors of the population, in collaboration with foreign interests, and the actions taken by the government and by the left as a whole to curb this insurrectionary escalation among the right-wing …"

"Part II, THE COUP D'ETAT, centers around the same contradiction. It continues to show the mass agitation of the bourgeoisie in opposition to the democratic popular forces, but it adds a third dimension: the diverse and competing strategies which existed within the various groups on the left. This is why the second film is much more difficult than the first … The bulk of the analysis is given directly by those who participated in the events which the film records — the viewer has to grasp for her/himself this triple contradiction."

What are the contending forces in Chile?

There is some uncertainty about Chilean population statistics and the divisions given here should only be considered approximate. The total population is 10,230,000:

  • Bourgeoisie and big landowners — 6%,
  • "Middle Class" (see below) — 32%,
  • Workers (mining, manufacturing, some service) — 38%.
  • Peasants, both salaried and landowning — 24%.

The term "middle class" includes the owners of small businesses and shops, the military, professionals and technicians, managers in both the state and private sectors, and many of the employees within the bureaucratic state apparatus. We have no figures on the occupational roles of women in the Chilean economy.

With over 70% of its population living in cities and with its large working and "middle" classes, Chile resembles the countries of Western Europe or North America. But it shares with Latin America, Asia and Africa a history of imperial conquest and domination that extends to this day.

What were the important political parties and organizations that were active in 1973? 


Pro military coup

  • "Fatherland and Liberty"
  • National Party

Pro "legal" coup (but moving toward support of the National Party)

  • Christian Democratic Party (PDC), the sector of Senator Frei
  • Independent Radical Party (PRI)


Legal opposition

  • PDC Senator Fuentealba sector

Qualified support to Popular Unity

  • PDC, Senator Tomic sector



  • Radical Party (PR)
  • Communist Party (PC)
  • Socialist Party (PS)
  • United Popular Action Movement (MAPU), Senator Gazmuri sector

Internal Opposition

  • MAPU, Senator Garreton sector
  • Christian Left
  • PS, Senator Altamirano sector

Left Opposition

  • Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR)

What were some of the key areas of
disagreement within the left?

At the end of 1971, after one year in office, the Popular Unity had nationalized the copper industry, other key industries and most of the banks. It had advanced agrarian reform and raised real wages. But from that point, it met with increasing difficulties. There were not enough votes in Congress to proceed with nationalization, land reform, or alterations in the tax structure. Popular Unity lacked control over the armed forces and police, so it could not enforce its own legislation. In essence, it enjoyed popular support but held only a fraction of state power — the bulk was held firmly by the bourgeoisie. The question was: By what means could the revolutionary process continue toward socialism? This question was to be answered in relation to Parliament, the mass organizations, and the armed forces.

  • Parliament and the electoral process.

The Communist Party (PC) had a membership of roughly 100,000. Its base was in the unionized sections of the manufacturing and rural working class. The Socialist Party (PS), more loosely constructed than the PC, had about 80,000 members mainly among the urban workers and lower middle classes. MIR had about 2000 members, mainly students and the very poor.

The PC and the PS had for almost 40 years been following an electoral strategy based on the belief that socialism could come to power by electoral means. It was a measure of success of this strategy that it had brought Allende and the PU to this point. The PC and the majority of the PS (including Allende) felt that they could avoid a confrontation with the bourgeoisie. They wanted to better the economic situation of the workers, peasants and middle classes, while at the same time showing that they were directing their blows against imperialist enterprises. Their goal was to increase their electoral base, gaining strength amongst the middle class. They saw the revolution as proceeding in two stages: The immediate task was to broaden the class base of the Popular Unity while retaining capitalism. Socialism would be achieved at a later period.

For MIR, and increasingly for the internal opposition, the question of socialism was central. They believed that the electoral victory of Allende had accelerated the workers' and peasants' move toward socialism and that the bourgeoisie, understanding the threat, would tighten its hold on state power. Therefore, for MIR and the left opposition, the principal task was the seizure of power.

  • Popular Organizations

In the rural areas — which are not mentioned in the film — these differences showed themselves in relation to expropriation of land and peasant councils. The UP, and especially the PC, emphasized the maintenance of production. They advocated the redistribution of the least valuable land of the largest landowners. This was to be given to small and middle peasants as well as tenant farmers. They would, in the main, farm individual plots. Peasant councils were to be established as a means of communication between the state and the individual farmers. This strategy left intact the basic class structure of the countryside and minimized open conflict and disruption.

MIR wanted total expropriation of the large holdings. They organized seizures of the land without regard to legality, with conflict a frequent consequence. They organized peasant councils of the poorest sections. These councils introduced the idea of collective production without state control or intervention. Thus the peasant organizations were to become part of the base for a new state apparatus and would be the basis for rural armed resistance to a coup.

  • The Military

The central problem was that all the military force was in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The UP recognized this fact and adopted a strategy of trying to avoid antagonizing the officers. The UP did not have a strategy for developing a pro-socialist military force nor a strategy for disarming the right. The MIR and the left opposition advocated Arms for the People and proposed to organize within the armed forces so as to weaken the strength of the rightist officers.