Salvador Allende Gossens, born in 1908, was a physician and politician who would become the first Marxist to become president of a Latin American country through open elections. He was involved in politics for nearly forty years, running for the presidency three times before finally winning in 1970. In that year, he won in a close three-way race, on a platform of nationalisation and collectivisation.
In power, his government gave subsidies and scholarships to poor children, soon reducing the levels of illiteracy in Chile. Universities became tuition-free, and all types of educational enrolment increased between 1970 and 1973, reaching record levels.
Funding for culture was also increased. Millions of affordable books were produced, often selling out within a day. Libraries were established in community organisations and trade unions.
New hospitals, clinics, and neighbourhood health centres were built, and doctors were encouraged to start out in rural and low-income urban areas. Free milk was given to children, bread prices were fixed, and free food was distributed to the neediest citizens. Rents were reduced, and sanitation was improved in low-income neighbourhoods. Day-care centres were built and women’s healthcare was improved.
3,479 large estates were expropriated, bringing 40% of the total agricultural land area in the country under national ownership. 55,000 volunteers went to the neglected south to teach writing and reading skills and provide medical attention.
Large-scale industries were nationalised, and Allende aimed to provide sufficient employment for all, either in the new nationalised enterprises or in expanded public works program – such as the construction of 76,000 houses, started in 1971. Social security payments increased, and wages rose by 22.3% during 1971. Pensions increased, reaching the level of the minimum wage. The minimum taxable income level was raised, equivalent to twice the minimum wage. Inflation fell from 36.1 % in 1970 to 22.1 % in 1971.
In summary, living standards improved, unemployment fell, and wages rose (on average) in real terms during the 1971-73 period, in spite of economic problems in 1972. Traditional hierarchical structures were challenged. Culture belonged to the masses. People could also feed and clothe themselves better than ever before.