Tracing the political role of Chile’s two major Marxist parties from 1932 to 1973, this book provides an overview of Socialist and Communist party participation. The author seeks to provide “a complete summary of events and the basic political and economic data” so that readers can “reach their own conclusions on the materials analysed and interpreted in the text” (p. 4). Most of the text synthesizes the relevant secondary literature in Spanish and English, and demonstrates a good working bibliographical knowledge. Major issues in the historiography are addressed and “political highlights” duly noted. Essentially, the book offers the nonspecialist a generally accurate descriptive survey of Chilean politics.
Relatively conventional periodization (1932-52; 1952-70; and the 1970-73 Popular Unity period) and political history provide the backdrop for more detailed discussion of the Marxist parties and their relationships within the broader political system—although almost 40 percent of the book is dedicated to the Popular Unity years. In particular, the book considers evolution of Communist and Socialist doctrine on a series of ideological questions, political tactics, and the actual political behavior of these Marxist parties. Overall, the study provides little that is new for specialists: indeed, the work on 1932-70 perhaps oversimplifies the findings of the most recent research, failing to capture the complexity of internal Socialist party divisions and the significance of early cleavages within, and defections from, the Communist party. This is even more so with regard to the labor movement, admittedly not susceptible to detailed analysis in a study of the sort proposed, but nevertheless highly important for all sectors of the Chilean left from the late nineteenth century to the present.
Likewise, the limited attention given to the pre-1964 period gives short shrift to topics of great potential interest: for example, the circumstances making possible the Popular Front victory in 1938. Thus, we are left with the intriguing, but unsupported, assertion that because Alessandri “did not restrict political freedoms, despite his intentions, the process of political radicalisation of the electorate continued unabated throughout his term of office” (p. 37). Oversimplification seems even more evident for the Popular Unity years. Repeatedly, the author provides “the” Socialist party position on issues of concern to the coalition, or “the” party’s reaction to political events—when the most important reality of Chilean socialism from 1970 to 1973 was the severe internal division and fragmentation that deprived Allende of coherent support from his own party.
The author concludes that “[t]he Popular Unity’s policy towards its opponents and supporters alike reveals the absence of a well-thought-out strategy” (p. 282). In reality, the government had many well-thought-out policies—and members of the government coalition attempted to implement most of them, self-contradictory as they might have been, all at once. In this sense, members of the Socialist and Communist parties, as well as other Popular Unity coalition members and more “revolutionary” leftists outside the coalition, all contributed to the ultimate confrontation with external and internal opponents—and the tragedy that ensued after September n, 1973.