Today marks the 50th anniversary of “another” 9-11. That is, the anniversary of the coup in Chile that overthrew the socialist president Salvador Allende. That coup was led by General Augusto Pinochet, and the resulting dictatorship killed tens of thousands of workers, youths and socialists of different sorts. We should learn the lessons of that disaster.
Allende became president of Chile in November of 1970 at the head of the Chilean Socialist Party. That party was aligned with several different other left parties, including the Communist Party. Allende promised a road towards a socialist Chile. This was the first time that such a government had come to power in Latin America and it set off a revolutionary wave within the Chilean working class.
Naturally, this alarmed both the Chilean capitalists and their leaders, the U.S. capitalists, who were on the lookout for how to bring the Allende government down. A weak point for Allende was that, although he was popularly elected, he only had a minority. He agreed to a deal with the capitalist parties, agreeing to work strictly through parliament and the Chilean constitution. Instead of that, he should have appealed to the Chilean working class and its allies.
Nevertheless, there were huge steps forward. Within a year of Allende’s taking office, there were over 2,000 land occupations by rural workers and small farmers. By executive order, Allende nationalized the all-important copper mines. He enacted other reforms around universal education, lunch programs for students of the poor, and rent freezes.
However, all of this was done with one eye on the capitalist class and their representatives, the military tops. Therefore, although these reforms were significant, they didn’t come close to satisfying the demands of the Chilean working class, which moved increasingly into struggle. A crucially important part of their organizing was the formation of “coordinadores” or coordinating committees. These were the equivalent of workers councils, which always develop in any heightened period of working class struggle.
Meanwhile, the Chilean capitalist class was organizing along with their bosses – the US capitalist class. The main force through which they moved was the army generals. However, having been bound by his pledge to remain within the bounds of parliamentary change, Allende refused to throw his weight behind the coordinadores.
Throughout 1973, the US capitalists helped organize a coup to bring down Allende. In large part they operated through ITT, which had a major presence in Chile. The leading light behind this was Henry Kissinger (who had been a key architect of the US war against Vietnam.)
The importance of US support for the Pinochet coup can be seen through a coup that didn’t happen. That was the attempted coup by Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil this year. There, Bolsonaro was defeated for reelection by Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro got a wing of the military and the police to try to overthrow the election. It was something similar to January 6. Brazilian socialist Fabio Bosco explains that the reason the Brazilian majority of the military brass did not support this coup was that the US government let it be known that they opposed it.
To return to Chile: On September 11, 1973, Chilean general Augusto Pinochet overthrew the Allende regime. No coward, Allende refused to flee. He paid for his mistaken appeasement with his life. So did tens of thousands of others.
There are several lessons to be learned from this history:
- The first is that the working class can only take power through its own organizations of struggle.
- The second is that this cannot be done gradually.
- The third is: Don’t trust the generals!
This last might seem so obvious as to make it ridiculous to say. But let us remember that it was the generals who prevented Trump from taking sole and unchallenged power, from becoming a one-man dictator. They did it at that time because the main bulk of the US capitalist class decisively opposed it. They didn’t see it as being necessary. But if and when a major uprising from below sweeps this country, then they will play an entirely different role.
On this, the 50th anniversary of the coup in Chile, we should remember it and honor all those who fell during and after that coup. The best way to honor them is to learn the lessons.