“Yesterday’s election brings home Allende’s promise. The hope which this brings can best be fulfilled by the Chilean people working to build a country based once more on the social justice which Allende had been working on.”
By Jon Trickett MP
The election of a socialist President in Chile yesterday is an important event historically. It was amazing last night to see the spontaneous eruption of joy of hundreds of thousands of Chileans celebrating the victory. It begins to put right an historic wrong committed by a fascist military junta in 1973, supported by the US but also by the Australian government.
We watched from a distance the government of President Allende carefully building a new economic model. His government was elected in a country with a long tradition of democracy without the military interventions which had been seen elsewhere in Latin America. Allende moved with care but was inspired by social justice.
The Nixon administration was never going to tolerate social democracy in their own backyard. The last days of Allende were like witnessing an excruciating slow motion car crash as the military coup proceeded. The President refused to concede ground, took up arms and died fighting for his country, for the working class and the poor. Mixed evidence has been made available as to whether he committed suicide. Whichever way it is seen, his death and those of thousands of others reveals that the golden circles of wealth and privilege have repeatedly shown that they are quite prepared to abandon democracy if they feel that their wealth comes to be threatened.
In Leeds where I lived, many Chileans arrived to escape the imprisonments and executions as the bloody imposition of fascism carried out its gruesome task. Those Chilean exiles made a huge impression on me and everyone who met them. Proud, principled and unbowed by the loss of comrades, neighbours, family members they represented to me the idea of socialism weakened but still standing tall. I will never forget them.
But the true meaning of the coup in Chile was not immediately clear. The military Junta now teamed up with a group of economists called the ‘Chicago Boys’ named after the University Economics department which had developed neo-liberal economics. An influx of foreign investment induced by restrictions on labour rights, minimal government intervention, poor public services, low or non-existent taxation etc.
Milton Friedman – one of the godfathers of this new economic school, along with others – saw Chile after the coup as an opportunity to try out his extremist economic views. He went on to hold positions as advisor to US President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; further entrench his ideas in their respective economic platforms. In 1976, three years after the Chilean dictatorship was founded, he was shamefully awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences. In later years, Thatcher herself having embraced Chicago School economics, made no secret of her admiration for Pinochet whose hands were covered in the blood of murdered, and tortured trades unionists and socialists.
And so the situation after the coup began to be described as the ‘Chilean Miracle’, though it was nothing of the sort, and was gradually rolled out almost everywhere. It is no exaggeration to say that without the coup in Chile, the economic and social structures, brought about by Thatcher’s so-called big bang, here in Britain may not have been developed in the way they were. The newly elected Chilean President has now said that ‘neoliberalism started in Chile’ but he vowed that yesterday’s election was the moment when we could see that it can be brought to an end.
“Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society.”
Yesterday’s election brings home Allende’s promise. The hope which this brings can best be fulfilled by the Chilean people working to build a country based once more on the social justice which Allende had been working on. The question now is whether Lula can widen and deepen the fightback in Latin America with an election victory of his own in Brazil. In the meantime, the task of the Left here in Britain is to offer solidarity to all progressive forces. But above all we need to build a popular movement here to roll back the neoliberal tide, confident that if it can be done in Chile then we can do it too.