The Radical Party (Partido Radical) began in the early 1850s, influenced by European ideas as well as those of the radical Francisco Bilbao, when various members of the Liberal Party objected to cooperating with the Conservative Party. In 1857 these men, many of whom were identified with the newly emerging mining elites, split from the Liberals to form the Radical Party. Their commitment to a secular state and, more significantly, their opposition to an authoritarian central government attracted the attention of the Manuel Montt government, which exiled many of the new party's leaders. Within ten years, the Radicals had elected members to the Congress. After 1875 they served in the cabinets of Federico Errázuriz Zañartu, Aníbal Pinto, and Domingo Santa María González. The Radicals joined the anti-Balmaceda forces during the 1891 Revolution.
The party did not hold its first convention until 1888, when it called for municipal autonomy; the separation of church and state; an expansion of individual liberties; state support for a free, obligatory secular education; and improved conditions for workers and women. In 1906, at its third convention, the Radical Party confronted the issue of growing social and economic inequality. Valentín Letelier Madariaga advocated that the party adopt a program calling for state-sponsored social reforms to end the nation's endemic poverty. His main opposition came from Enrique MacIver Rodríguez, who argued that a lack of moral fiber, not economic deprivation, was what was causing Chile's social problems. Letelier carried the day, and, henceforth, the Radical Party sponsored various pieces of social legislation.
From 1912 to 1921 the Radicals doubled their number of seats in the legislative branch, but electoral fraud prevented them from winning the presidency. Over the years, the party's composition changed as the urban middle class, professionals, and the bureaucracy joined its ranks. Rhetorically, it seemed to become more left wing as it competed with the Democratic Party for votes. In fact, this political change was more cosmetic than real.
In 1931, either in response to the economic dislocations of the Great Depression or to undercut the increasing popularity of the leftist parties, the Radical Party denounced capitalism, advocating instead a collectivization of the means of pro-duction. Despite this switch, the Radicals did not get a chance to direct the nation until the Popular Front's 1938 triumph brought Pedro Aguirre Cerda to power. Aguirre Cerda did institute certain social programs and create basic industries, but, fearing political retaliation, he refused to deal with the more vexing issue of agrarian reform. His Radical successors, Juan Antonio Ríos Morales and Gabriel González Videla, seemed incapable of successfully instituting political and economic reforms or ending a crippling inflation. By 1958, when it had become clear that the Radicals were more interested in preserving their political position than in instituting significant change, the public became disenchanted with the party, and by 1963 the Christian Democrats were outpolling them. Anxious to retain some share of power, the Radicals became the handmaiden of the Unidad Popular (UP). This opportunistic policy proved disastrous. The party began to suffer defections, with many people bolting to join the anti-UP forces. By 1971, many of the party's most senior leaders had quit to form a new party, the Radical Left Party. In the 1973 congressional elections the Radicals won a paltry 3.7 percent of the popular vote. The Radical Party had become a shadow of its once-powerful self.
See alsoAguirre Cerda, Pedro; Bilbao Barquín, Francisco; Errázuriz Zañartu, Federico; Letelier Madariaga, Valentín; Mac-Iver Rodríguez, Enrique; Pinto Garmendia, Aníbal; Santa María González, Domingo.
Peter G. Snow, The Radical Parties of Chile and Argentina (1963).
Sergio Guilisasti, Partidos políticos chilenos (1964), pp. 129-197.
Federico G. Gil, The Political System of Chile (1966), pp. 42-43, 67-69, 231-243, 257-266, 308-309.
Luis Palma, Historia del Partido Radical (1967).
Karen L. Remmer, Party Competition in Argentina and Chile: Political Recruitment and Public Policy, 1890–1930 (1984), pp. 14-17, 63-67, 85-86, 118-120.
Moulian, Tomás. Fracturas: De Pedro Aguirre Cerda a Salvador Allende (1938–1973). Santiago: LOM Ediciones, 2006.
Sepúlveda Rondanelli, Julio. Los radicales ante la historia. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Andrés Bello, 1993.
William F. Sater