The University Reform Movement in Concepción and the Rise of the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR) in Chile, 1967–70

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:40 AM
Old Town Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Marian E. Schlotterbeck, Yale University
Chile’s iconic New Left group, the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), has long been associated with the southern industrial city of Concepción and its university.  Although formed in the capital Santiago in 1965, the MIR’s most prominent young leaders hailed from the University of Concepción and the party amassed a broad coalition of support in the region. This paper seeks to understand the influence of the MIR on the University Reform Movement in Concepción, 1968-69, and how participation in the debates and mobilization around the reform shaped the formation of the MIR both regionally and nationally.

The University Reform Movement in Chile represented, as Alan and Patricio Meller contend, a transformative experience for students who became “protagonists of history.” In Concepción, the students’ activism during the University Reform process generated new networks and spaces of exchange favorable to the development of the MIR.  At the time, the University of Concepción stood out in Chile with its self-contained campus, residential halls and cabins for students, and common first-year core curriculum. Students from across central and southern Chile brought to this place their diverse range of social and class experiences. Rather than attribute the MIR’s popularity to an after-the-fact ideological coherence to their political project, I posit that the MIR’s origins and rapid expansion are best understood through the lens of the shared physical and intellectual space of the university and the kind of community the students created.   Drawing on university archives, local press, published memoirs and extensive oral histories, I reconstruct the evolution of a university community determined to democratize both their institution and their daily lives.