Chile: Thirty years since the Pinochet coup

Today is the 30th anniversary of the coup staged by Pinochet against the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. This anniversary has been overshadowed in the last couple of years by the dramatic events that took place at the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. The same date falls on a tragic day for the Chilean proletariat, full of lessons to be learnt.

The two articles that we are bringing to the attention of our readers today give an accurate and in-depth analysis of the Unidad Popular government between 1970-73. We don’t need to add anything to that analysis in this brief introductory note.

As we commemorate this anniversary, several bourgeois publications have also remembered those events, but they analyse them from another class point of view and they draw completely different conclusions from ourselves.

The latest edition of The Economist (September 6, 2003) is of particular interest. It condemns the coup formally, but then it states that, "Thirty years on, Chile is a far happier country. It has become Latin America’s most successful economy – in part because of the free-market reforms imposed, by trial and error and with unnecessary cost, by General Pinochet’s dictatorship."

So for The Economist thousands of left-wing and trade union activists killed and tens of thousands imprisoned or exiled are merely "unnecessary costs". This way of thinking does not surprise us. It reveals the same ruthlessness that the bourgeoisie throughout world expressed in 1973, when they greeted the Pinochet coup which had thwarted the "danger of communism". It is common knowledge that the US government and the CIA directly financed and supported the coup organisers.

The Economist article continues: "His (Allende’s) supporters tried to use his narrow electoral mandate to launch a socialist revolution. It was almost bound to end in disaster". In another article in the same edition we read, "Allende’s main political mistake was to try to force change more quickly than many Chileans could stomach".

This is the typical interpretation of the bourgeois, which is also reflected in the thinking of the leaders of the Communist and Socialist Parties around the world. In fact the Chilean experience did not teach these "leaders" anything. Instead of drawing the correct conclusions, they used the Pinochet coup as an excuse to moderate even further their policies (see Italy 1976 and many other examples).

The truth of the matter was not that Allende went too far. The real problem was that he stopped halfway in carrying out a socialist programme. He nationalised the key copper industry and other sectors, but he left a large part of the economy in private hands. But most importantly, the nationalised industries were left to be run according to the needs of capitalism and were not envisaged as a step towards a nationalised planned economy under workers’ control. Thus the capitalist relations and mode of production still ruled Chile.

All this was happening when the working class was clearly moving beyond the reformist limitations of the Allende government. Embryos of soviets were being formed, the Cordones. This, however, was a spontaneous initiative of the vanguard of the working class from below and was not organised and led by the Communist and Socialist leaders as alternative organs of working class power.

The real tragedy of the Allende government was that it stuck to the idea that the State could remain neutral in the conflict between the proletariat and the ruling class. The Chilean state remained a bourgeois one and the bulk of the army officers remained loyal to their class. In the end, when the conditions permitted, they chose to defend the interest of the capitalist class.

Today The Economist seems to be content with the fact that "much of the left has abandoned revolution for democracy and social reform". This is unfortunately true. Most of the Socialist and Communist leaders in Latin America have moved to the right over the last 25 years, and have drawn totally wrong conclusions from the defeat of the revolutionary opportunities thrown up by the events of the 1970s.

Unfortunately for The Economist Editorial Board, no sooner have they declared dead the revolutionary aspirations of the workers and youth, and a new movement has erupted all over the world. A force has just appeared once again on the scene that can ruin all the plans of the bourgeoisie.

This is particularly the case in Latin America. A new generation of workers and youth have taken the road of struggle against capitalism in the last few years in several countries on the subcontinent. The workers from Venezuela to Argentina, from Bolivia to Peru, are seeking for a revolutionary way out of the impasse that this rotten reactionary capitalist system has landed them in. Chile has also been infected by this mood with the first general strike taking place last month since the fall of the Pinochet dictatorship.

It will be the task of this new generation to build what was lacking in Chile 30 years ago, a mass Marxist tendency inside the labour movement. In order to achieve this it is necessary to learn from the experiences of the past, both the victories and the defeats. The Chilean experience of 1970-73 is full of lessons for today’s generation of youth and labour movement activists. We hope that a reading of the two article we are presenting here will lead to a questioning inside the labour movement as to which road it is necessary to take.