Many of the 50th anniversary retrospectives on the Popular Unity government in Chile (1970 – September 11, 1973) in recent weeks argue that if President Allende and his supporters had only done this or that the coup would have been averted and a rapid advance to socialism would have been possible. The problem with this sort of analysis is that it lacks any sense of the real constraints on and resistance to the Allende government as well as the real difficulties of any revolutionary process.

To assume, as many do, that Allende and Popular Unity were captives of illusions about the nature of the state, the neutrality of the military, the non intervention intentions of neighboring countries and the US government, the imperative of sustained mobilization of popular forces, the necessity of broader, cross class alliances, and the urgency of retaining the political initiative, I find problematic. They may have had illusions to one degree or another as well as mistaken policies. Few of us are free of illusions. I know that from my own experience. But before arriving at such a conclusion, one has to study the experience concretely and bear in mind that the revolutionary process is complex in any circumstances. And, in the case of Chile novel too insofar as it was an attempt to move towards socialism along an electoral path free of civil war for the first time.

Moreover, its failure to do so, to achieve its objectives isn’t proof positive that such a path is foreclosed going forward. Such a conclusion, history suggests, would be premature to say the least. In fact, the Chilean experience, understood in all of complexity, is more than suggestive that such a path to socialist transformation is necessary and viable.