Chile during and after Salvador Allende
September 11 marks 50 years since the violent death of the elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, in 1973, and the overthrowing of his government by a military coup backed by the CIA, establishing a brutal dictatorship presided over by General Augusto Pinochet. This caused the death of thousands of Chilean workers, students, union leaders, political activists, and many were incarcerated, ‘disappeared’, and tortured via electric shock, sexual abuse, beating and waterboarding.
The election and death of President Allende took place in the middle of the Cold War and the struggles for world hegemony between the USA and the Soviet Union and the influence of Cuba in Latin America. Chile was hemmed in by several conservative and military dictatorships in the region backed by the USA government who also protected the economic interest of the US capitalist class, along with the internal ruling class. There was also a huge economic crisis facing Chilean capitalism.
The objective of the US government was to avoid another enclave like Cuba on its own backyard since Cuba had a heavy political influence in Latin America, and the Cuban government had diplomatic, commercial, and military relations with the Soviet Union, and was backing guerrillas in several Latin American countries.
The government of Chile called itself socialist in the same way that the Cuban government called itself socialist or Marxist-Leninist, and Fidel Castro was a close ally of the Chilean government. Moreover, Castro himself visited Chile in 1970 in the middle of the social upheaval caused by miners’ strikes.
The government of Chile proclaimed the so-called ‘Chilean path to socialism’, as Cuba also had proclaimed the Cuban road to socialism. The reality is that neither one of them were establishing a socialist society, but state capitalism as in the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea. The basic principles of a capitalist society were retained, including wage slavery, production for profits and the domination of a state apparatus over the working class.
Allende was elected in 1970 with the support of a coalition of leftist political parties known as the Popular Unity, obtaining one third of the votes with a narrow margin of 36.2 percent over Jorge Alessandri, the former president of Chile who obtained 34.9 percent, and the Christian Social Democrats who got 27.8 percent. As such, Allende was not elected by a majority of votes but, according to the Chilean constitution of the time, if no presidential candidate obtained a majority of the popular vote, Congress would choose one of the two candidates with the highest number of votes as the winner, and the decision was effectively made by the Christian Social Democrats which approved his nomination as president of Chile.
The government of Allende, immediately after his nomination as President, initiated various social-democratic reforms for the Chilean working class, and the nationalization of large industries such as copper, iron, coal, cement and large extensions of land, the creation of a health and medical program, a food program, and education for the poor. All those reforms were described as the Chilean path to socialism, but in reality, they were reforms made for and within the context of a capitalist society, and they would not have turned Chile into a socialist society run in the name of the workers. Instead, the economic reforms would have established a state-capitalist system of production administered by the state, the same process that took place in Cuba in 1960.
They established diplomatic and commercial relations with countries on which the US had placed embargos and commercial blockades, such as Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea, and several African and Asian countries, and they also became a member of the Non-Aligned countries movement (Third World). They developed a relationship with the Soviet Union but their relations with the US were not of the same order as the previous conservative government who had openly aligned with the US capitalist class. The nationalization of several US corporations created further friction with them.
From the very beginning of the Allende government, thousands of mine workers in different parts of the country went on strike for high wages and better working conditions, as their real wages had gone down due to high levels of inflation. The response of the Allende government was to send in the military and police to reprimand them and tell them to make sacrifices to produce for the so-called homeland. Fidel Castro regarded the workers as reactionaries and counter revolutionaries, demagogues, agitators and agents of US imperialism. The Left, instead of supporting the workers, supported the so-called socialist government; the Communist Party which was part of the Popular Unity also supported the actions taken by the military and the police against the workers, and the strikes continued spreading to others sectors of the working class including the transport workers.
The Popular Unity government was obliged to incorporate the military as part of the state administrative apparatus, under the name Popular Army. But the Popular Unity government was no longer able to run an economy based on state control of the means of production, and had weak support. The military duly took the opportunity to execute a bloody coup d’état, and Allende either shot himself or was assassinated.
The Pinochet dictatorship
The subsequent conservative government of Augusto Pinochet (which the leftists often call fascist) lasted for a period of 16 years, and all reforms implemented during the government of Allende were reversed and most sectors of the economy were privatized including workers’ pensions. This is what the leftists wrongly call neo-liberalism, though the reality is probably in some ways more in line with monetarism. The reversal of all those Allende reforms is a clear indication that reforms implemented by leaders can also be reversed, they are not permanent, and sometimes those reforms are implemented in order to try to pacify the working class. There is certainly no guarantee they will succeed, as Allende’s didn’t.
Chile since Pinochet
In 1988 a plebiscite was held and the majority of the Chileans workers voted for the removal of the presidency and dictatorship of Pinochet, and a new election subsequently took place. A Christian Democrat president was elected, and several legal actions brought against Pinochet and the military. He was indicted and placed under house arrest where he died, but the military kept the power of the state and its agencies, despite the fact that various presidents, governments and Congresses from different political tendencies were elected including social democrats and leftists. None of them were able to resolve the underlying problems of the people.
The present government of Boric was elected with a coalition of ‘Communists’ and ‘Socialists’ offering many promises for workers and for women. A new constitution was put to the vote and rejected by the electorate, including the indigenous Mapuches. The government of Boric knew in advance that the new proposal was most likely going to be rejected and they arguably wanted it to be rejected because they knew that most of the constitutional clauses were not going to be implemented due to the fact that the right-wing faction controls the Congress and was not going to allow any drastic economic and political changes.
The case of Chile is a clear indication that the problems facing the working class cannot be resolved by left-wing or right-wing governments and that the problems are not the leaders, political parties, fascism, neoliberalism, or other political tendencies, or the exact implementation of reforms – the real underlying problem, whatever the regime, is capitalism.