years of struggle for Chilean Communists
Joaquín Rivery Tur
The Communist Party of Chile (PCCh),
over the course of its 100 years of existence has
found ways to translate into action its desire for
liberty and social justice in this South American
Its significant prestige was evident
during the massive student demonstrations last year
which challenged President Sebastián Piñera’s right-wing
government. In the vanguard of the movement were
Karol Cariola, Secretary General of the Young
Communists and Camila Vallejo, a member of its
executive and currently Vice President of the nation’s
Student Federation. Thousands of students demanded a
free, quality education and did not retreat despite
brutal repression. Communists also supported the
demands of workers and the massive protests against
the government’s neoliberal policies, as well as
calls to reform the Constitution.
The PCCh finds itself in a good
position, as it nears the 100th anniversary of its
founding as the Partido Obrero Socialista, (Socialist
Workers’ Party) on June 12, 1912 by typographer Luis
Emilio Recabarren, along with 30 miners and workers
in the northern Chilean city of Iquique, within the
offices of the newspaper El Despertar de los
Trabajadores (The Workers’ Awakening).
The name was changed at the party’s
2nd Congress, January 2, 1922, when members voted to
join the Communist International.
Given the crisis facing Chile at
that time, early in the 20th century, the recently
created party called for the proletariat to take
power and make a revolution, initiating a struggle
which was immediately answered with ferocious
repression by the ruling bourgeois class.
Over decades of struggle, Chilean
Communists have faced periods of intense persecution
and were obliged to function underground on a number
of occasions, reconstituting them selves again and
again. Members were attacked, imprisoned and
murdered, as was the renowned singer-songwriter and
Marxist Víctor Jara whose torture and death was one
of the worst crimes of the 17-year Augusto Pinochet
dictatorship, which could not eliminate Communist
ideas in Chile, despite its brutality.
In 1933, the PCCh was part of the
Popular Front in an alliance with the Socialist
Party, the Radical Democratic Party and the Workers’
Federation, giving it more weight in Chilean
politics and participated in international efforts
to provide material, moral and political support to
the Soviet Union during WWII.
While forced to work underground,
the PCCh supported Salvador Allende Gossens for the
first time in the presidential elections of 1952.
Toward this end they established, with the Socialist
Party, the National Liberation Front or People’s
Front, although it was as yet too early to obtain a
victory given the relentless propaganda attacks of
the United States and the Chilean oligarchy.
The Communists returned to the
struggle with their anti-imperialist, anti-oligarchial
platform for social and economic changes and when
they were again legalized in 1958 supported
Allende’s candidacy with the Popular Action Front
(FRAP). Support for the left’s
candidate increased significantly but Allende was
again defeated with a massive propaganda campaign by
The Party did gain ground and allies.
In 1964, prospects in the election battle appeared
promising with Allende garnering more support than
ever before. However, in a calculating move, the
right withdrew its candidate to support the
Christian Democracy’s Eduardo Frei Montalva, who
with demagogic speeches and reformist promises took
votes from Allende. The class struggle continued to
intensify until, in 1969, another coalition was
formed, again including the PCCh, to enter the 1970
elections as the Popular Unity alliance with a
program which attracted the masses, fed up with the
broken promises of the bourgeois parties.
Allende won, but the nationalization
of the copper industry and other measures meant to
benefit the poorest sectors of the population were
unacceptable to the United States, the oligarchy and
the fascist military, led by Pinochet, who on
September 11, 1973 unleashed a bloody coup organized
by the CIA, which left in its wake thousands of
people dead, missing or tortured.
The Party’s Secretary General Luis
Corvalán, (an untiring leader and loyal friend of
Cuba) was taken prisoner and most of the Central
Committee members were forced into exile, leaving a
vacuum and a level of disorganization which required
the creation of an new body, led by underground and
largely unknown individuals, to regroup the members.
In 1974 the Internal Leadership Team was able to
At the beginning of the 1990’s, with
Pinochet gone, the Party’s leadership decided to
take on the challenge of the struggle despite the
legal obstacles which remained in Pinochet-era laws
and the Constitution meant to limit their political
influence and prevent their participation in
Under these conditions, the PCCh
decided to participate in elections at all levels
and in 1999 Gladys Marín, then the combatitive
Secretary General of the party and recipient of
Cuba's José Martí Order awarded by the Council of
State, won 3.19% of the vote. Upon her death in
2005, Guillermo Teillier, another outstanding
revolutionary took on the leadership of the Party.
During the parliamentary elections
of that year, the PCCh reached an agreement with the
Democratic Coalition which allowed for the lection
of three deputies - Hugo Gutiérrez, Lautaro Carmona
The Communist Party also used its
prestige as a participant in struggles against
neoliberal laws enacted by Pinochet to protect the
local oligarchy and the transnational corporations
plundering the country's natural resources, now with
a small Parliamentary delegation.
One of the party’s current tasks is
the elimination of so-called binominal elections, a
legal trick implemented by the dictatorship to
prevent the left from gaining representation in the
The indigenous Mapuche have had the
unconditional support of the party, which opposes
repression of students and supports strikes by
workers seeking to improve their standard of living.
All of its activity has been devoted to the
liberation of the dispossessed and greater social
justice in Chile.
The PCCh will continue along this
path, confident of victory.