For most of the 20th century, the two dominant parties of the Chilean left were the Communist and Socialist parties. Although both shared a Marxist perspective and declared the establishment of socialism to be their goal, they had distinct origins, membership, and programs.
For most of its history, the Chilean left used elections and the democratic process to achieve its aims. The 1970 election of socialist Salvador Allende to the presidency appeared to confirm this decision, but the 1973 military coup that overthrew him and ushered in 17 years of military dictatorship under the command of General Augusto Pinochet challenged it.
The development of the Communist Party (CP) reflected the increased militancy and organization of workers, especially in the northern nitrate mines. Like other CPs around the world, the Chilean CP affiliated with the Third International, thus allying itself with the Soviet Union. In 1932 socialists, led by Air Force Commander Marmaduque Grove, established the Socialist Republic. Following their defeat, they created the Socialist Party (SP) of Chile in 1933. Unlike the CP, the SP's roots were more middle class than working class and it favored independence from the USSR.
Both parties worked in the Popular Front governments (1936 to 1952) and members were elected to parliament, held ministerial positions, and worked in government institutions. However, as the Cold War intensified in the late 1940s, the U.S. government urged President Videla of Chile to break with the CP, which he did. The CP was forced underground and many of its members were sent to prison camps.
The military dictatorship (1973 to 1990) attempted to exterminate the left. It imprisoned, tortured, murdered, “disappeared,” and exiled over a hundred thousand Chileans and other nationalities. Weakened by the repression, many Chilean leftists sought refuge abroad, while others remained in Chile and resisted the dictatorship. The left worked to reconstitute itself within Chile and abroad; it also attempted to help Chileans survive the fear and economic losses that resulted from the dictatorship's terror reign and implementation of a neoliberal economic model. Breaking with its reliance on elections, the CP formed the Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front, a guerrilla organization, to fight the dictatorship; among other actions, it unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Pinochet in 1986.
In the 1980s, much of the left joined with the centrist Christian Democratic Party to form the Concertación, which defeated Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite he called on his rule and then won the 1989 presidential elections. In 2000, Ricardo Lagos, a Socialist and member of the Concertación, was elected president. The years of dictatorship and repression, much of the left leadership's exile in Europe and exposure to social democracy, and the collapse of the socialist model internationally transformed much of the Chilean left. Instead of calling for the construction of socialism in Chile, Lagos has continued the neoliberal economic policies initiated by Pinochet; at the same time his government has taken steps to end the poverty in which a high percentage of Chileans still ...