Introduced by Sydney socialist Clara de Costa.
Reform versus revolution is a perennial debate on the Left. Those in the former camp believe we can use the state to implement socialism from above, while those in the latter argue that the state must be smashed in order to build a new society from the bottom up. Reformists believe we can capture the state and wield it for our own purposes, gradually chipping away at the foundations of capitalism to create a socialist society. The most important experiment in reformism was the Allende government in Chile from 1970-73, the first democratically elected socialist government in the world. Salvador Allende, and his Popular Unity government, were thrust into power on a wave of mass worker and peasant mobilisations against the traditional ruling elite, and represented the hope of socialism for many on the international Left. Yet merely 3 years later, these hopes were brutally crushed when the Popular Unity government was overthrown in a bloody military coup, led by General Augusto Pinochet, which tortured and killed tens of thousands of people, utterly decimating the hopes and dreams of an entire generation. How did one of the most impressive reformist experiments in history end in such a horrific disaster? This talk will explore the limitations of the reformist approach to achieving socialism, in particular discussing the role of the state in maintaining the capitalist system. It will argue that socialists must look to a force outside the parliament, the organised working class, to overthrow the capitalist system and build socialism from below.
M, Gonzalez. (2002). Chile 1972-73: The Workers United. In C. Barker (ed), Revolutionary Rehearsals (pp. 41-82). Chicago: Haymarket Books.