On Friday, October 19, the screening of the first and second parts of the legendary documentary film"The battle of Chile", organised by Hands off Venezuela, drew a very large audience at the Bolivar Hall in London.
The event served a double purpose; to remember the victims of Pinochet's dictatorship and learn the lessons that the Chilean experience has to offer to the new revolutionary processes developing in Latin America and, in particular, in Venezuela, where the continental revolution that is shaking the foundations of American imperialism has reached its most advanced stage so far.
The screening of the first part, "The insurrection of the bourgeoisie", started at around 5:45pm, after Pablo Roldán, from the Hands off Venezuela campaign, offered a brief introduction to the film, putting it into its social and cinematographic context.
"The battle of Chile", a landmark in the history of cinema, was produced with the help of the Cuban Institute of Cinematography (ICAIC) in the 1970's. After the coup on September 11, 1973, the rolls shot by Guzman and his team had to be clandestinely taken out of Chile. Guzmán himself was arrested in the autumn of 1973 and spent 15 days in the National Stadium. Fearing for his life, he later fled the country and went into exile. Jorge Muller, the film's cameraman, was made a "desaparecido" (disappeared at the hands of the police) by the military dictatorship in 1974.
After a short interval, Sara de Witt, chair person for Chilean ex-political prisoners in the UK, an organization that puts pressure on the Chilean government to recognise international human rights legislation and punish those who committed human rights abuses in Chile during Pinochet's regime, was introduced to the audience.
Sara recalled that, at the time of the coup, she was a social worker student and politically active. She commented on her experiences on the day, when after hearing about the coup she went to a working class neighbourhood in Santiago, where she stayed for three days waiting for weapons that never arrived to defend her government, "the people's government". Sara was arrested and spent two years in jail, arriving in the UK as a refugee in 1977.
Sara stressed the relevance of the Chilean experience and how American imperialism is now intervening in the same way as it intervened in Chile to crush the revolution. She ended her intervention by urging everybody to defend the Venezuelan revolution and thanked the Hands off Venezuela campaign for its work.
The parallels between the two revolutionary processes were well appreciated by the audience, especially by the Venezuelans, who were shocked by the surgical precision with which Patricio Guzman, the filmmaker, analyses a process which, having taken place 30 years ago, is, as one of them put it after the film, "essentially the same as the one we are experiencing now".
34 years ago, on September 11, 1973, the Chilean army overthrew the democratic government of Salvador Allende.
The bombing of the Presidential Palace ended the Chilean experiment with socialism, where "for first time in the history of the revolutionary processes, the path towards social change had been opened via elections, through a pacific via. An event unique in history, the first of its type", as Fidel Castro remarked in his speech at the National Stadium in Santiago in 1971.
However, this final coup was only a last resort for smashing a mass revolutionary movement that was threatening the foundations of capitalism and bourgeois society in Chile and beyond.
In 1964 the CIA had already massively intervened in Chile to prevent Allende's victory in the presidential elections by hugely funding the Christian Democratic Party candidate, Eduadro Frei, and extensively using the media in an unprecedented anti-communist "scare" campaign that warned about the "dire" consequences of Allende's victory.
The propaganda operation was fundamentally developed through "assets" in the media, who would "write articles or editorials favourable to U.S, interests in the world, suppressed news items harmful to the United States and authored articles critical of Chilean leftists", as the Church report on the CIA covert operations in Chile concluded.
The CIA effort was successful. Frei won a clear majority, and the campaign continued at a low level during "normal" times and, then cranked up to meet particular aims, as in the congressional elections of 1969 or the presidential campaign of 1970, although this time unsuccessfully.
In 1970, Allende won by a small margin over Alessandri; as no candidate had received a majority of the popular vote, a joint session of Congress would have to decide between the first- and second-place finishers on October 24, 1970.
On September 15, President Nixon informed CIA Director Richard Helms that an Allende regime in Chile was not acceptable and instructed the CIA to organise a military coup in Chile to prevent Allende's accession to the Presidency.
The reactionary character of the Chilean military officers was no secret to anyone. Already on July 19, 1964, the Chilean Defense Council met Alessandri, back then President of the Republic, to propose a coup in case Allende won the elections scheduled later in that year.
In October 22, René Schneider, the Chilean Army Chief of Staff was killed in a kidnapping attempt, which was supposed to be the first step of a coup to prevent Allende's becoming president.
Schneider was the leader of the constitutionalist officers within the army, who advocated the non-intervention of the army in political matters as long as "the president did not step beyond his constitutional powers". Seeing the coup fail and with the country shocked by Schneider's death, Allende finally received the vote of the majority of the Congress and became president of Chile.
The Popular Unity programme proposed the nationalisation of Chile's natural resources, agrarian reform, income redistribution and social expenditure; and Allende did not waste time implementing it; on December 21, 1970, he proposed a constitutional amendment establishing state control over the large mining industries and authorised the expropriation of foreign companies working them.
The Chilean bourgeoisie had lost control over the head of the State. The president of the Republic, as would happen with Chávez one generation later, did not respond to the interests of its national oligarchy and American imperialism.
However, the Chilean bourgeoisie, as is the case today in Venezuela, wielded considerable institutional power, for example in the judiciary, and above all, they still had the economic power in their hands.
"Make the economy scream", Nixon instructed.
The United States immediately cut off all credit lines with Chile and used their position of strength in multinational financial organisations to stifle the Chilean economy.
U.S. bilateral aid, $35 million in 1969, was $1.5 million in 1971. U.S. Export-Import Bank credits, which had totalled $234 million in 1967 and $29 million in 1969, dropped to zero in 1971. Loans from the multilateral Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), in which the U.S. held what amounted to a veto, had totalled $46 million in 1970; they fell to $2 million in 1972. Similarly, the World Bank made no new loans to Chile between 1970 and 1973[i].
Internally, Allende faced strikes in some important copper mines, the main source of revenue and hard currency for the State, encouraged and funded by the US government. Bosses' lockouts, walkouts by the professional middle and upper classes, affluent student strikes and acts of terrorism were a means of creating instability and chaos in order to provoke military intervention, similar to what happened in Venezuela 30 years later.
"To provoke military action", said a US embassy cable in Caracas on April 6, 2002, "the plotters may try to exploit unrest stemming from opposition demonstrations slated for later this month or on-going strikes at the state-owned oil company PDVSA"[ii]; or more graphically, as the Spanish ambassador wrote to Aznar's government, "The opposition strategy aimed at overthrowing Chavez through Army pressure is working out. The CTV (union confederation) and bosses federation used the strikes at PDVSA to mobilise the people from Caracas, who used the necessary deaths to provoke a military intervention, the only force in this country, given the weakness of the opposition political parties, capable of ending the government of president Chávez"[iii].
If Allende faced the opposition of the Chilean bourgeoisie and American imperialism, as Chavez does now, his support amongst the workers, peasants and progressive elements of the middle class grew ever stronger, as did the workers' and ordinary people's capacity to organise and defend their interests; neighbourhoods organised committees to secure food distribution and fight speculation; workers occupied factories to secure production and fight economic sabotage; public transport and supply transport was improvised and organised by workers and neighbourhood organisations in order to defeat bosses' strikes in those sectors, etc.
On the March 4, 1973, in congressional elections, Allende's Popular Unity coalition received the greatest victory ever, getting 43.7% of the vote. For the ruling class it become clear that by playing by their own rules, those of a bourgeois republic, they could never regain control of the State and plans were sped up for a military coup.
On July 26, truck owners throughout Chile went on "strike". On August 2, owners of taxis and buses also go on "strike". On August 20, the US government approved the use of $1 million dollars to support opposition political parties and private sector organizations. On August 24, General Pinochet Ugarte is named Army Commander, after General Carlos Prats' resignation.
On August 27, Chile's shop owners call another anti-government strike. On September 4, hundred of thousands of workers and ordinary people marched in Santiago to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of Allende's victory, some demanding arms to defend the revolution from the impending coup. That same day, The Confederation of Professional Employees began an indefinite works stoppage.
Allende, caught up in his dual character as president of a bourgeois republic and leader of a revolutionary mass movement facing the tasks of a socialist revolution, was unable to prevent the final blow on September 11, 1973.
The Chilean bourgeoisie was happy to make away with the "liberty" that the "Marxist" Allende was "threatening" and, rejoicing in the knowledge that their narrow economic interests and privileges were to be secured through the generals' guns, welcomed a military dictatorship that killed, tortured and caused the disappearance of thousands of leftwing workers, peasants, students, teachers, artists and professionals.
There should not be any illusions about what the fate of the Venezuelan people would be if the old oligarchy is brought back to power; there should not be any doubt that the only way they can seize power is through violent and unconstitutional means.
The Chilean experience offers invaluable lessons. Maybe, the most important one is that a socialist revolution needs a socialist state and that the anti-imperialist and bourgeois democratic revolutions are not separated in time and space from the socialist revolution. That is the path that Venezuela is transiting; that is the reason for the present process of constitutional reform in Venezuela.
[i] Date taken from the Church Report “Covert Action in Chile 1963-1973”. Accessible online at the US State Department website. http://foia.state.gov/