Salvador Allende - picture credit: Public domain

Honour Allende with Solidarity, Struggle & Socialism Today – Matt Willgress


“As we mark 50 years since the coup in Chile, we must stand firm in our conviction that another world is possible – & that a better, socialist future is the way forward for people & planet.”

Matt Willgress

By Matt Willgress

September 11 2023 marks 50 years since the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende (Chile’s democratically elected Socialist Party President since 1970) and the bloody overthrow of his Government, which installed General Pinochet’s murderous dictatorship in power until 1990.

The coup was openly a US coup, with the Empire desperate to restate the ‘Monroe Doctrine’ and its domination of Latin America and the Caribbean, and still shook by the Cuban revolution of 1959 plus the sympathy it arose amongst millions across the region.

Indeed, three years before the coup, in September 1970, US President Nixon had given direct orders to CIA Director Richard Helms to “save Chile” by instigating a military coup to block Allende’s inauguration. “Make the economy scream,” he then famously ordered, according to Helms’ notes from the meeting.

After Allende was inaugurated, Nixon then convened his National Security Council to order massive U.S. government efforts to destabilize the elected Government. “If there [is] any way to unseat A[llende],” Nixon said to his national security team, according to more notes from Helms at a November 1970 meeting, “better do it.”

It was also – as many coups in Latin America before and since have been – very much a coup of the economic ruling-class, who had responded with sabotage against every step to economic reforms (however radical or moderate) that undermined, or could undermine, their power from the Allende-led Government, such as nationalising copper.

Showing how these two factors interlinked, whilst all Credit was being denied to Chile by the capitalists and their governments internationally, a few weeks before the coup d’etat President Nixon granted a $10 million loan to the Chilean armed forces!

As Fidel Castro said after Allende’s death, the forces that were to overthrow Allende, “undertook the task, in complicity with imperialism, the reactionary classes and the reactionary press, of blocking President Allende’s work by all possible means. They virtually prevented him from ruling; they virtually tied the hands of the government to stop its work.”

He added that, “And along with this, some armed forces.. called themselves apolitical and institutional. There were 3 years of plot upon plot, of conspiracy after conspiracy. The dominant classes reacted as was expected. They and their parties, the unions of owners, merchants and even unions of professionals made up of that type of professional that we know here mostly at the service of the dominant classes, sabotaged the tasks of the government; they called stoppages and strikes of an indefinite nature and more than once paralyzed the nation… And not only that, they constantly called upon the armed forces to defeat the UP government.”

The ruling-class, the US Empire and their allies were not just against Allende’s reforms, but also wary of the mass anti-capitalist movements that mushroomed amongst communities across the country – such as land occupations and moves for workers to take control of factories – and of course “the threat of a good example” in Latin America and beyond.

Following the coup, under Pinochet’s regime, 40,175 people were recorded as victims of executions, torture or political imprisonment, or were “disappeared.”

Political parties, trade unions, peasants’ organisations and social movements representing millions were banned and faced severe repression.

Under Pinochet, Chile also became a “laboratory” for neo-liberal economic ideas and policies which would then be implemented against the working-classes of countries such as the US under Reagan and UK under Thatcher in the years and decades that have followed.

British readers may not be surprised to know that throughout his dictatorship and beyond, Thatcher was a well-known admirer of the murdering Pinochet, and this continued until her death. To give just one example, in 1999, after he had been arrested in London in 1998, she said that “Chile had achieved three remarkable successes, all of them in large measure due to former President Pinochet,” naming the defeat of communism, a “thriving free-enterprise economy,” and perhaps most astonishingly “a return to democracy”… 17 years after his coup!

Why then is it important that socialists mark and reflect on the 50th anniversary of the coup against Allende?

Firstly, we must never forget or stop telling the real history of the struggles of the past, including the crimes carried about by US and UK Governments – and their anti-democratic allies around the globe such as Pinochet – in trying to stop their domination being challenged.

Telling the truth about the past – and engaging in debate on it – can also help us win the ‘battle of ideas’ which goes on every day.

Secondly, socialists can learn lessons from the past to help with the struggles of today and the future.

In Chile itself and across Latin America throughout this month socialists and radicals of different hues are holding discussions around the 50th anniversary, reflecting on the lessons of Chile’s revolution and its overthrow for the struggles against US domination and neo-liberalism in the region today.

As well as the achievements of the Allende-years, and personal reflections of those who were involved in the heroic struggles in Chile both before and after the coup, themes such as how we wrestle economic power from the ruling-class; the role of self-organisation, movements and political leadership in securing socialist change; and the nature of how even seemingly ‘democratic’ state machines can act to stop such change will be discussed by thousands of activists.

Socialists here in Britain and around the world will also benefit greatly from taking part in and learning from these discussions. As the saying goes, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Finally, it is important to remember the 50th anniversary of Pinochet’s coup in order to aid in building international solidarity with struggles in Latin America today, and against the inevitable moves of ruling oligarchies and the US to stop them.

Since the turn of this century alone, there has been the temporarily successful coup against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela in 2001, the coup that overthrew the elected Government of Zelaya in Honduras in 2009 and the coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia in 2019.

There have also been what have been termed lawfare ‘coups’ in Paraguay in 2012, Brazil in 2016 and in Peru at the end of last year.

But there is real hope. Mass movements have resisted – and in the cases of Venezuela (incredibly within days), Honduras (after a decade of heroic struggle), Brazil and Bolivia overturned these coups – aided by international support and leftwards developments in the region.

As we mark 50 years since the coup in Chile – and in honour of Salvador Allende and all those who lost their lives struggling for a better world in Chile – we must internationally campaign in solidarity with social progress in Latin America and for “No More Pinochets.” And we must stand firm in our conviction that another world is possible – and that a better, socialist future is the way forward for people and planet.

Salvador Allende - picture credit: Public domain
Featured image: Salvador Allende. Image credit: Public domain

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