Research article

La contrarrevolución chilena. Raíces, dinámicas y legados de la movilización de masas contra la Unidad Popular

  • Marcelo Casals orcid logo (Radical Americas)


La elección de Salvador Allende y la Unidad Popular en 1970 desató un radical y original proceso revolucionario, cuestión apreciable no sólo en la profundidad de las medidas redistributivas y las expectativas generadas, sino también en la ferocidad con que ese proyecto fue respondido por quienes se identificaron con un ideal contrarrevolucionario. Esa contrarrevolución inicialmente reducida a sectores conservadores y reaccionarios se transformó en cuestión de meses en una inmensa movilización de masas, que terminaría por pavimentar el camino hacia el golpe militar. Este ensayo analiza ese proceso contrarrevolucionario, explorando sus raíces históricas, los principales actores involucrados y la innovaciones en las prácticas políticas desarrolladas entonces. El “bloque contrarrevolucionario” formado por una diversidad de actores políticos y sociales -algunos de los cuales no tenían experiencia de movilización política previa- fundamentó su accionar en la adopción y socialización de un “guión” anticomunista de larga data, con el cual pudieron hacer sentido a la cambiante realidad de entonces. Ese “guión”, basado en décadas de recepciones de eventos de otras latitudes, elaboraciones y acusaciones contra todos aquellos identificados como comunistas, aspiró a reducir la originalidad del proyecto político de la Unidad Popular a una reedición en territorio chileno de las experiencias socialistas clásicas procesadas en clave distópica. La potencia de la contrarrevolución se proyectaría en la dictadura militariniciada en 1973 al convertirse en una suerte de ideología oficial de Estado, y se convertiría en una experiencia fundante de los sectores conservadores chilenos, con reverberaciones incluso en nuestros días.

Keywords: Contrarrevolución, Chile, Unidad Popular, Golpe de Estado, Derechas, Anticomunismo

How to Cite: Casals, M. (2021). La contrarrevolución chilena. Raíces, dinámicas y legados de la movilización de masas contra la Unidad Popular. Radical Americas, 6(1).

Rights: © 2021, Marcelo Casals.



Published on
31 May 2021
Peer Reviewed


This article received support from Chile’s National Agency of Research and Development (ANID) through the FONDECYT Project number 11180155.

Declarations and conflict of interests

The author declares no conflicts of interest with this work.


  1. The dissertation that resulted from his stay was entitled ‘The roots and dynamics of revolution and counterrevolution in Chile’. The two episodes are related in Bello, Counterrevolution, 39–41.
  2. See Valdivia Ortiz de Zárate, Nacionales y gremialistas; Amorós, Entre la araña y la flecha; and Díaz Nieva, Patria y Libertad.
  3. A significant part of this section is based on my previous work on anti-Communism in Chile. For a synthetic view of this phenomenon, see Casals, ‘Anticommunism in 20th-century Chile’.
  4. Patto Sá Motta, Em guarda contra o perigo vermelho, 15–46.
  5. There is a voluminous literature that gives an account of the Chilean Left’s political integration from the 1930s onwards and its role as an intermediary between the state and popular demands. See, among many others, Pavilack, Mining for the Nation; Drake, Socialism and Populism in Chile, 1932–1952; Klubock, Contested Communities; Rosemblatt, Gendered Compromises; and Arrate and Rojas, Memoria de la izquierda chilena.
  6. To contrast the Chilean case with the Argentine and Brazilian cases, see Finchelstein, The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War; Cowan, Securing Sex; Correa, Con las riendas del poder; and, in comparative perspective, Deutsch, Las Derechas. Chilean nationalist groups have been studied in detail by Valdivia Ortiz de Zárate in El nacionalismo chileno, among other works.
  7. The literature on these aspects is extensive. See, among others, Cid and Fernández, ‘De “ridículo sainete filosófico” a “doctrina santa y elevada”’, 45–72; and Grez Toso, De la ‘regeneración del pueblo’ a la huelga general.
  8. On this subject, see González Miranda, El dios cautivo; and Deutsch, Las Derechas.
  9. Weld, ‘The Spanish Civil War’, 77–115.
  10. Bethell and Roxborough, ‘Latin America between the Second World War and the Cold War’, 167–89.
  11. The episode is described in Huneeus, La guerra fría chilena.
  12. I have studied the point in Casals, ‘Chilean! Is this how you want to see your daughter?’ See also Power, ‘The engendering of anticommunism and fear’.
  13. On those processes, see Valdivia Ortiz de Zárate, Nacionales y gremialistas.
  14. This approach to counter-revolution is based on the works of Mayer, Furies; Mayer, Dynamics of Counterrevolution; Bello, Counterrevolution; Grandin, ‘Living in revolutionary times’; and Robin, The Reactionary Mind, among others.
  15. Pinto Vallejos, ‘Hacer la revolución en Chile’. For a critical view of these particular characteristics of the Chilean Left’s political project, see Fermandois, La revolución inconclusa, 239 and following pages.
  16. Carter, ‘Violence, ideology and counterrevolution’, 109–35. For a long-term perspective on the social, political and racial conflicts in Araucanía, see Mallon, Courage Tastes of Blood.
  17. Corrêa De Oliveira, Revolución y contra-revolución.
  18. On Guzmán and the gremialistas, see Cristi, El pensamiento político de Jaime Guzmán, chapter 3.
  19. At the founding ceremony of the Frente Nacionalista Patria y Libertad on 1 April 1971, its leader Pablo Rodríguez made clear the organisation’s level of attachment to a radical and reductionist version of the anti-Communist script: ‘We are anti-Marxists because it is an indisputable fact that at this moment the Unidad Popular is entirely dominated by the Communist Party, which is gradually leading us to tyranny, to the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is a matter of destroying social classes, the men who have been able to create wealth, progressive industry, commerce; in the end, it is a matter of imposing that phenomenon that is foreign to us, which is the dictatorship of the proletariat without the proletariat.’ Cited in Díaz Nieva, Patria y Libertad, 77.
  20. On the economic assumptions of the Unidad Popular programme, see Bitar, Transición, socialismo y democracia.
  21. Bello, ‘The roots and dynamics of revolution and counterrevolution in Chile’, 412.
  22. Varas, La dinámica política de la oposición, 57 and following pages; and Valdivia Ortiz de Zárate, Nacionales y gremialistas, 287–98.
  23. At the time, the leftist press floated the idea that the VOP was really an organisation created by the political Right and United States intelligence agencies. Even today there are researchers who do not rule out that possibility. See Winn, ‘The furies of the Andes’, 254.
  24. Palieraki, ‘Las manifestaciones callejeras’, 10–12.
  25. The march and conservative women’s anti-Allende participation have been studied in detail by Power, Right-Wing Women in Chile.
  26. Campero, Los gremios, 59.
  27. However, as Tanya Harmer has shown, Washington was aware of the popularity of Allende’s Third Worldist demands, so its policy was much more hesitant than commonly believed, at least while it could not convincingly justify its onslaught against the Chilean experiment. Harmer, Allende’s Chile, chapter 4.
  28. Winn formulated these categories in his classic study of the Yarur textile-industry workers, Weavers of Revolution; and years later, he would refine them in La revolución chilena, recognising the multiple interactions between the two dimensions.
  29. Consumption was a key battle ground in the political conflict under the Unidad Popular, however, a detailed treatment of it is beyond the scope of this article. On this point, see recent research such as Frens-String, ‘Communists, commissars, and consumers; and Espinosa Muñoz, ‘La batalla de la merluza’, 31–54.
  30. Amorós, Entre la araña y la flecha, 183.
  31. Díaz Nieva, Patria y Libertad, chapter 3.
  32. Alan Angell, ‘Social class and popular mobilisation’, 22 and following pages.
  33. On the press (including the left-wing press) as a polarising factor in political conflict, see Dooner, Periodismo y política.
  34. The nature and scope of ‘popular power’ was one of the great debates on the Left. A general approach to this topic can be found in Gaudichaud, Chile, 1970–1973. On the radical changes in the use of public space during the October strike: Trumper, Ephemeral Histories, chapter 3.
  35. Jaime Guzmán, the leader of Universidad Católica’s gremialista movement, was the one who elaborated this line of interpretation most systematically. In line with his anti-Marxist and anti-liberal corporatism, he saw the mobilisation of gremios as the emergence of a new mode of state organisation, now based on ‘intermediate bodies’ where true social participation would be located, displacing politics with issues of state administration. Thus, it avoided what he understood to be political parties’ disruptive activity, which had opened the doors of state power to ‘Marxism’, among other things. On this point, see Valdivia Ortiz de Zárate, Nacionales y gremialistas, 348–52.
  36. Harmer, Allende’s Chile, 182–3.
  37. According to Tanya Harmer’s research, there is evidence that the Brazilian regime supported Allende’s most radical opposition – among them, Patria y Libertad – with money and weapons, while keeping in permanent contact with Chilean military officers in preparation for a coup d’état. For counter-revolutionary Chileans, the ‘Brazilian solution’ grew increasingly attractive, and at the end of 1972 and even more forcefully in 1973 calls for military intervention started to be made directly, based on the understanding that Chile was in imminent danger of becoming a Communist dictatorship. Harmer, ‘Brazil’s Cold War in the Southern Cone’.
  38. Bevins, The Jakarta Method, chapter 9.
  39. Rojas Flores, ‘Los estudiantes secundarios’.
  40. Winn, La revolución chilena, 117–18.
  41. Roxborough, Roddick and O’Brien, Chile: The State and Revolution, 210.
  42. Campero, Los gremios, 77.
  43. Stern, Remembering Pinochet’s Chile, chapters 1 and 4.
  44. For a critical perspective on the transition, see Huneeus, La democracia semisoberana.


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