THE CHILEAN ARMED FORCES: THE ROLE OF THE MILITARY
IN THE POPULAR UNITY GOVERNMENT
by Róbinson Rojas
(Text originally published in CAUSA ML, No. 21, July-August 1971)
Since September 4, the night of Salvador Allende's victory,
one question has been foremost in all minds: what will the Armed
During the month of October (including the moment of General
Schneider's assassination) and afterward, there have been two kinds of
simplistic answers to this question. These answers have been marginal
to class struggle and its specific characteristics in Chile.
One simplistic and subjective answer has been given by
oligarchic and imperialist sectors. They believe that the Armed Forces
are a barrier against "Marxism" and will defend them and help them to
effect a coup d'etat.
Another simplistic and subjective reply has been given by wide
sectors of the Popular Unity ( I think that Allende should not be
included among those who think this way ). These have said that the
Armed Forces will support us and are supporting us, because they are
"democratic" and "professional" and "we have legitimately won the
Neither of these answers takes into account the class
character of the Armed Forces. The first answer is based on a false
assumption that the Popular Unity is a Marxist government; it is also
based on a feudal concept of the Chilean military, seeing them as
mere servants, "until the last consequences," of the financial,
landowning, and capitalist Chilean oligarchy and of the more archaic
sectors of Yankee imperialism.
The second answer is also founded on false assumptions.
It is false that "legality" is beyond classes. One legality serves
the bourgeoisie and another legality serves the large majority of the
people. The Armed Forces of the bourgeoisie constitute the main
support of "formal democracy" and will always act in its defense.
They are, therefore, "bourgeois professionals" and "democratic
bourgeoisie". If a "popular legality" were implanted in Chile at
this moment, the present Armed Forces would have to depart from the
"Constitution and law" in order to make a coup d'etat and re-establish
a formal democracy. Therefore, when the Chilean Armed Forces support
the government, as is now happening, it is because they believe that
that government has not and will not abandon bourgeois channels. What
this government is in fact doing is introducing decisive reforms
( against some oligarchic and imperialist sectors ) to reorganize and
consolidate the system, adapting itself as well to imperialism's new
strategy in Latin America.
During the month of October (1970), Chile witnessed a wild
race in pursuit of the "support" of the Armed Forces. On the one hand,
Christian Democracy tried from the beginning to become the "political
spokesman" of them, trying to get formal ( constitutional ) guarantees
on the part of Allende. On the other hand, landowning sectors, the
financial oligarchy, and Yankee Anaconda formed a conspiratorial
structure, trying to attract the Armed Forces by raising the hollow
specter of "communism" in the electoral victory. Finally, Salvador
Allende personally began to explain to the Armed Forces the real scope
of the program of the Popular Unity.
In this race, Allende bettered the Christian Democrats as
"mediators". He left them behind and started a direct dialogue with
the high command.
On October 1, 1970, in Allende's public reply to Christian
Democracy's challenge of the "constitutional guarantees", the essential
points of the conversation between the President-elect and the Armed
Forces came to light.
Point one: agreement that the Armed Forces are the "spinal
column" of the system, with Allende stating, "I have repeatedly pointed
out the pure patriotic tradition, democratic and professional, of our
Armed Forces and have stated my purpose of fulfilling the national
obligation of facilitating their technical improvement and by respecting
their specific function, so that their mission of guarding the
sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country should be more
Point two: agreement that the Armed Forces have to integrate
themselves into the 'direction' of key aspects of the national economy.
This goes against classic oligarchic thought that they are organs of
repression without a voice or vote. Allende promised them a voice and
vote. His words were as follows: "I believe that a more modern concept
of national security and of Chile's needs makes the integration and
contribution of the Armed Forces advisable in some basic aspects of
our development, without implying deviation from their professional
function or distraction from their essential role in the defense of
Point three: agreement that no politician, except for Allende,
could interfere in the appointment of the high command. Allende put
it this way: "I must express that I am an uncompromising defender of
the prerogatives of the head of the state. As Commander-in-Chief, I
state that not even the Popular Unity will have the right of intervening
in the appointment of the high command, because this is an exclusive
attribute of the President of the Republic, and I will be a zealous
guardian of my constitutional powers".
While Allende expressed ideas closely related to those of
the majority within the Armed Forces, the oligarchs continued
conspiring. They took advantage, of course, of one fact: within the
military, as a reflection of class struggle, there was no unitary and
tranquil attitude. There were minority sectors, frankly gorillas (1)
( and there still are ), a large undecided majority, and a majority
of the high command in favor of the "modern line" of the armies in
Latin America, where sparks of restricted nationalism ( Peru ) are
blended with support for "structural" reforms in order to consolidate
a Western regime or, in the military's own words, "to consolidate
formal democracy and the solidarity of the Western bloc". This idea
has much to do with the new global policy of Yankee imperialism with
regard to the forms of domination in Latin America. The similarity
to Chilean military thought is not strange. Since the 1950s the Chilean
Armed Forces have depended in part upon Yankee material and have been
totally dependent for training on adviser teams from the United
States ( military missions, special schools in Panama and the United
States, and economic, social and military study materials).
During October 1970 contradictions and indecision were
strong within the Armed Forces.Oligarchs and imperialist sectors
counted on ex-General Viaux to form "a united front within the Army"
against the Popular Unity. But they miscalculated. For reasons that
someday will become known, they assassinated General Schneider (2).
This provoked unity of all the Armed Forces around the military
"reformists". Even the Navy, traditionally gorilla mainly because
of its British structure, closed ranks around the reformist leaders
of the Army (Pablo Schaffhauser, Augusto Pinochet and Orlando
Urbina). Thus, on the day of Schneider's assassination, Allende, for
the first time since September 4, could be sure that he would become
the President of Chile.
ENTERING THE GOVERNMENT
The presence of the Armed Forces in the present government,
no longer a "support" but as principal actors, is not an accident. It
has a very clear historical development. Of course, within the
framework of these articles, this historical development cannot be
analyzed extensively, but a schema can be made.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Chile was governed by
an oligarchy based on mining, trade, and large landed estates
( latifundia ) closely linked with British imperialism. In 1891, when
British imperialism wanted to seize all Chilean saltpeter (3) against
(then President) Balmaceda, the Navy assumed the pro-British leadership
and overthrew Balmaceda. Thus, the domination of these sectors of the
oligarchy was consolidated.
But at the beginning of the First World War, the crisis of
saltpeter occurred. Forced by economic realities, the country started
a stage of industrialization in order to manufacture substitutes for
some previously imported products. Together with industrialization, the
large, struggling proletarian masses appeared, to stagger the dominant
class. The industrial bourgeoisie also appeared. The military coup of
1924 took place, followed by other coups until 1932.
What was then the position of the Armed Forces? In the face
of a stubborn oligarchy that no longer corresponded to the class
reality in the country and that clung to its former privileges, the
Armed Forces welcomed "social reforms" and "repression". They believed
it was necessary to reform so that nothing should change, to save
the ship, and to repress the working classes in order to prevent their
The industrial bourgeoisie joined the dominant sectors of
decadent landowners and the mining and trade oligarchy then supported
by the Yankee imperialism that was beginning to take control of the
economic structure ( mining and commercial ).
During the time of the Popular Front, in 1938, the Armed Forces
preserved their class origin, located more and more in small-, middle-,
and lower-bourgeois professionals, and did not oppose reformism or the
consolidation of the state as the main industrializing agent. The
oligarchy, of course, went on conspiring but did not find any support
among the military's majority. The definitive decline of the class of
large landowners began ( a decline that will culminate this year, 1971,
with Popular Unity's land reform ), the industrial bourgeoisie grew,
and the strength of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie was born under the
shadow of the development of the state. They governed in collusion with
oligarchic financial and commercial sectors, while imperialism's
control, aided by the Second World War, became more general and solid.
At the same time, contradictions between industrial bourgeois sectors
and imperialist consortiums acting in Chile began to increase.
The state served these dominant classes and Yankee imperialism.
During this period, the state felt capable of repressing
struggles of the urban and rural proletariat, cornering the Armed
Forces in a useless role of internal decoration and consolidating the
Carabineer Corps (4) as the real armed force of repression against the
people. The Armed Forces, as an institution, felt themselves
disintegrating and believed that they could recover their real role of
upholding the bourgeois state only if they could get parity treatment
with the politicians, who were seen as ineffective in controlling the
surge of popular mobilization...
In 1964, Frei's reformism appeared as the hope of saving
the system for the dominant sectors. Frei transformed his government
so that it was more of a lackey of the Americans than any other in
our history. He opened the doors of Chilean industry to imperialism,
he was unable to do away with the large-landed-estate system,and he
continued the same policy of contempt toward the Armed Forces as his
The crisis became violent in October 1969 with the "tacnazo"
( General Viaux's abortive revolt ). With the apparent purpose of
demanding better arms and higher wages, the Armed Forces were claiming
their true role within the bourgeoisie as coleaders of the reform
process Chile required in order to continue as a bourgeois state:
liquidation of the LATIFUNDIA, corralling the financial oligarchy
and part of the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie, and
"rationalization" of imperialist domination by taking foreign capital
out of conflictive areas such as copper, iron and saltpeter and
giving foreigners access to the dynamic sector of industry by means
of mixed companies. All this occurred with greater "planning" on the
part of the state ruled by a sector of the bourgeoisie.
The presidential election crisis came and, once more, the
Armed Forces saved the system, although this time without resorting
to overt repression. The Armed Forces took over the leadership of the
disconcerted bourgeoisie, which was disorganized in its historical
incapacity in colonized countries to respond to the pressures of its
own development and contradictions with imperialism. They confronted
sectors of the oligarchy that had to be injured in order to settle
with populist reformism, and they supported Allende, generally
submitting to his programs on the one hand and establishing very
definite limits of compliance with him on the other.
The institutional crisis was resolved for them ( internal
contradictions continuing, of course ). They became the center of
national political stability and retained the task of "supervising"
reformism and the presence of imperialism in Chile, now somehow
distorted but still dominant in the total picture. This authority
remains unchallenged, since the other world force of domination,
Russian social imperialism, is in no position to dispute the
supremacy of the United States in Latin America.
In the seven months of the present government, involvement
of the Armed Forces in the economic and social life of our country has
accelerated considerably. High-command members in active service have
been appointed within the Development Corporation, the Steel Company
of the Pacific, and the El Salvador and El Teniente mines. There
have been agreements with the universities for postgraduate courses
only for military personnel in such subjects as engineering, sociology,
technology, and economics. Moreover, there are special scholarships
in the Universidad Tecnica del Estado for the sons of military men.
Allende has confessed in speeches that he holds meetings with
the high command to deal with "the future of national institutions".
He has met with them at least fourteen times during the seven months
of his government, always to discuss highly important matters about
the mass struggle.
The meeting with the generals that took place on February 10,
1971, is widely known. Two days later, the Minister of the Interior
spoke on nationwide radio and television to make two important
statements. The first was that "the only" bodies in charge of internal
order were "the Armed Forces and the Carabineer Corps." This clearly
indicated the realization of an old aspiration of the military: that
the Carabineers remain in a secondary place, as an integrated part
of the state system in which only the Armed Forces are the "spinal
column". The second statement was that a bill would be sent to
Congress to declare illegal the occupation of farms, precisely at a
moment when the peasant struggle in Chile, centered in Malleco,
Cautin, and Valdivia, was becoming stronger, employing its best
fighting weapon, the occupation of lands.
On February 23, the Supreme Council for National Security
held a meeting to give the General Staff for National Defense and
the Carabineer Corps control of a projected plan for economic and
social development in the frontier zones in the provinces of Malleco,
Cautin, and Valdivia.
Finally, on the night of February 25, departing from
Valparaiso, President Allende dined not with the regional heads of
the Popular Unity parties, but with the regional heads of the three
branches of the Armed Forces and the Carabineers.
The question is: where does this "integration" of the Armed
Forces into the Popular Unity program lead, especially if the Armed
Forces continue to have close ties to Yankee imperialism?
When I say "close ties" to Yankee imperialism, I do not
refer only to the training, warfare technology, and war material for
which the Chilean military depends upon the United States. I refer
to something more than this: to the fact that our Armed Forces, in
the confrontation between the socialist and capitalist worlds, are
on the side of the capitalists; to the fact that, between the
dictatorship of the proletariat and that of the bourgeoisie, they
are on the side of the latter; to the fact that their reformist and
nationalist character is framed within the frontiers of the capitalist
world. In essence, no matter how many reforms they may support and no
matter how many contradictions they may have with imperialism, their
reformism is bourgeois and their relations with imperialism will be
of a bourgeois nature, as is the case today in Peru.
In short, at the present moment in Chile, the Armed Forces
are the referee (gun in hand) that imposes the rules of the reformist
game embodied by the Popular Unity. When that referee judges that the
rules of the game have been infringed, he will act so that they will
In the face of this armed bourgeois referee, the proletariat
has no other alternative than to oppose its own armed force, in order
to be able to impose the rules of the proletarian game. This
alternative, of course, is contemplated by bourgeois reformism, which
tries by all means to curb proletarian organization. Allende says
repeatedly, "The workers will achieve the revolution producing,...and
the only armed organizations in our country will be the Army, the Navy,
the Air Force, and the Carabineers."
In a word: work for the exploited, guns for the guardians of
the bourgeoisie and the interests of imperialism.
This is the essence of the pact made between the civil
government and the Chilean Armed Forces after September 4, 1970.
All this sometimes becomes dramatically evident when emotion
pervades President Allende's words. For instance, on April 4, 1971,
when decorating the new generals of the Chilean Armed Forces, Allende
finished his brief address by saying, "You who attain the high command
have, then, rights and duties and responsibilities, and I surrender to
your responsibility, to your rights and your duties, the reiterated
conviction of the people of Chile that the Armed Forces will continue
being the root of Chile's history, ennobled in war and peace, and that
you will continue to be those who, knowing the value of material
force, are aware of spiritual force when it is expressed in the ballot
boxes and written down in the Constitution of the homeland."
These words constitute a dramatic call to the bourgeois
Armed Forces to allow Allende to govern "within the framework of the
Constitution" and let him prove, at the same time, that he is a "new
Marxist", capable of preventing the struggle of the people from
definitively destroying imperialism, the financial oligarchy and
monopolists and all their lackeys, thus smashing the bureaucratic-
military apparatus of the bourgeois state.
It should not be forgotten that, from January 14 until
May 25, 1971, the high command of the Army, Navy, and Air Force
have been visited by an admiral and a vice-admiral from the U. S.
Navy, a general from the Army, and another from the Air Force of
the United States, all selected from the General Staff of the
imperialist army responsible for the "Southern Command" (Latin
Neither should it be forgotten that ALL agreements on
Chilean military training in American bases or American territory
still function... and will continue to function. Finally, one must
bear in mind as well that Yankee military supplies for the Chilean
Air Force and Navy continue as before....
This situation has pushed President Allende to state, each
time with greater clarity, what role the Armed Forces must play in
On March 19, Allende stated, "What I have said is that the
professional Armed Forces, who have had technical capacity and moral
reliability throughout our history, must play an important role in all
processes of economic development in Chile. They must be linked to
the country's progress."
On May 1, before the workers at Plaza Bulnes in Santiago,
Allende advanced one step further and said, "Only a disciplined,
organized, and conscious people, together with the loyalty of the
Armed Forces and the Carabineers, will be the best defense of the
government of the Popular Unity and the future of the homeland."
Three weeks later, Allende's concept of the Armed Forces
had undergone a remarkable process of refinement. On May 25, before
foreign correspondents, he said, "...the Chilean Armed Forces are
the guarantee of this process,... and what we also need is that these
Armed Forces have, within reasonable limitations, the technical
elements that guarantee their efficiency...." He continued, "And if
there is something that shows this government's attitude, it is
precisely to incorporate the Armed Forces more and more into the
process of economic development, with which we accord to them a wider
perspective while strengthening them. The Armed Forces must know what
should or should not happen in copper, iron, and saltpeter.... I have
said, in the end, what are the Armed Forces? They are the people in
Speaking to the peasants of the town of Linares on May 28,
the President said, "I have pointed out that this process of change
is possible, because the Armed Forces and the Carabineers have a
professional conscience. They respect the laws and the Constitution,
which is not the case in the majority of Latin American countries,
and this constitutes an exception in this and even in other
In sum, and in the words of the leading sectors of the
government coalition, the arbiter of the situation is the Armed
(1) "Gorilla" is the term applied in Latin America to military officers
predisposed to establish military dictatorships of a right-wing nature.
(2) General Schneider, a constitutionalist, was then Commander of the
(3) Saltpeter was mined from Chile's vast natural nitrate deposits and
was then much more important as an export than copper.
(4) The CARABINEROS are a national police force organized in a military
The above translation was published in "The Chilean Road to
Socialism", edited by Dale L. Johnson, Anchor Books, 1973. It is
important to notice that 25 month after this article was published,
the Chilean Armed Forces assassinated President Allende, murdered
tens of thousand and established the most brutal dictatorship in
Latin America's history.
Dale L. Johnson wrote the following introduction to the above
"From CAUSA ML, No. 21, July-August 1971. This is the first of
a three-part article. Part two, not included here, is an analysis
of military thinking on key questions. The third part, also omitted
here, is based upon a study by Roy Allen Hansen, "Military culture
and Organizational Decline: A Study of the Chilean Army" (Ph.D.
dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1966).
"There is very little public information on the military in
Chile. To my knowledge, there are only three studies of the Armed
Forces that address themselves to the basic question of the role
of the institution in the process of development and socio-
political change of the country. Two of them are by non-Chileans:
Alain Joxe, "Las Fuerzas Armadas en el sistema politico de Chile"
(Santiago: Editorial Universitaria, 1970), and a Ph.D. dissertation
by Roy Hansen (University of California, Berkeley, 1966). The
third, reprinted here, is by Robinson Rojas, a Chilean socialist.
It is a penetrating analysis, which raises extremely uncomfortable
questions and was not well received by sectors of the Popular Unity.
In a preface to the article the author states that Prensa
Latinoamericana (Socialist Party press), which normally prints the
magazine CAUSA ML, refused to take this issue, giving as a reason
that "the CAUSA ML articles damage the left image of 'Companero'
Allende." Robinson Rojas replies, "... we want to make clear that
our principal enemies continue to be Yankee imperialism and the
oligarchy of the city and countryside. Our differences with the
government are precisely its political actions with respect to the
basic enemies that we consider conciliatory and of grave
-------------------------------------end rrojas the military------