Today, September 11th, marks the 42nd anniversary of the US-backed military coup that removed Salvador Allende, the democratically-elected president of Chile, and his Unidad Popular government from power. Unidad Popular or Popular Unity was a coalition of parties of the Center-Left and the Left (the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the Radical Party) that won the September 4, 1970 elections by a very small margin (1,070,334 votes against the right-wing National Party’s 1,031,159). The Christian Democratic Party won 821,801 votes and initially supported Unidad Popular, but in 1973 just prior to the coup went over to the National Party. The Christian Democrats shift from the Centre to the Right, resulted in a split in its Left-wing, which resulted in the foundation of the Christian Left Party and the Popular Unity Action Movement, which joined Unidad Popular in 1971 and 1972 respectively. The example and influence of Allende and Unidad Popular can be seen even today; for example, the Left Eurosceptic coalition that split from SYRIZA in Greece recently and was joined by ARAN and ARAS (who split from ANTARSYA), is named Popular Unity. I admit that I have yet to read Jorge Palacios’, the leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party (Chile), book Chile: An Attempt at “Historic Compromise.” Given the fact that both Santiago Carrillo and Fernando Claudin also use the Popular Unidad government as an example in their respective books, I think I will likely try to sneak some time to read Palacios’ book.
This electoral victory of the Left deeply angered the US government, which had spent over $400,000 through the CIA to influence the elections in favour of the National Party but still failed to win the elections (the USSR similarly tried to influence the elections through monies donated to the Communist Party). The American government feared both the spread of Marxism and loss of its investments in Latin America. During the the three short years of the Unidad Popular government price freezes, wage increases, and tax reforms were implemented, which had the effect of redistributing income. Furthermore, the government injected capital into the economy through Keynesian joint public-private public works projects, which also reduced unemployment. Large sections of the the banking sector was nationalized and mining and steel industries were expropriated or nationalized or subjected to greater state regulation. These economic policies and US interventions, like the implementation of economic sanctions and funding of the right-wing opposition, resulted in capital flight and the destabilising of the economy.
The destabilisation of the economy, in turn, resulted in greater polarisation of Chilean society, which saw increasing clashes between pro- and anti-Allende activists, and the Christian Democratic Party transferring its support to the National Party. On September 11th, the Chilean military, led by General Augusto Pinochet, and cheered on by the National Party and the Christian Democratic Party, conducted a military coup and deposed the democratically elected government. From 1973 – 1990, the Pinochet military regime ruled over Chile, with the support of the US and the other imperialist powers, with an iron-fist. Thousands were killed and ten’s of thousands thrown into prisons and tortured. Indeed, the experience of Allende and Popular Unidad cannot but put a major question mark next to the possibility of a democratic road to socialism, but also make one think seriously about the internal structures necessary for any kind of Left/Far Left government to survive under constant attack from imperialism. I have posted Allende’s last speech below because one cannot but be touched by his words.
Salvador Allende’s Last Speech
Surely this will be the last opportunity for me to address you. The Air Force has bombed the antennas of Radio Portales and Radio Corporación.
My words do not have bitterness but disappointment. May they be a moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath: soldiers of Chile, titular commanders in chief, Admiral Merino, who has designated himself Commander of the Navy, and Mr. Mendoza, the despicable general who only yesterday pledged his fidelity and loyalty to the Government, and who also has appointed himself Chief of the Carabineros [paramilitary police].
Given these facts, the only thing left for me is to say to workers: I’m not going to resign! Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for the loyalty of the people with my life. And I say to them that I am certain that the seeds which we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be shriveled forever.
They have force and will be able to dominate us, but social processes can be arrested by neither crime nor force. History is ours, and people make history.
Workers of my country: I want to thank you for the loyalty that you always had, the confidence that you deposited in a man who was only an interpreter of great yearnings for justice, who gave his word that he would respect the Constitution and the law and did just that. At this definitive moment, the last moment when I can address you, I wish you to take advantage of the lesson: foreign capital, imperialism, together with the reaction, created the climate in which the Armed Forces broke their tradition, the tradition taught by General Schneider and reaffirmed by Commander Araya, victims of the same social sector who today are hoping, with foreign assistance, to re-conquer the power to continue defending their profits and their privileges.
I address you, above all, the modest woman of our land, the countrywoman who believed in us, the mother who knew our concern for children. I address professionals of Chile, patriotic professionals who continued working against the sedition that was supported by professional associations, classist associations that also defended the advantages of capitalist society. I address the youth, those who sang and gave us their joy and their spirit of struggle. I address the man of Chile, the worker, the farmer, the intellectual, those who will be persecuted, because in our country fascism has been already present for many hours — in terrorist attacks, blowing up the bridges, cutting the railroad tracks, destroying the oil and gas pipelines, in the face of the silence of those who had the obligation to act. They were committed. History will judge them.
Surely Radio Magallanes will be silenced, and the calm metal of my voice will no longer reach you. It does not matter. You will continue hearing it. I will always be next to you. At least my memory will be that of a man of dignity who was loyal to his country.
The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.
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. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again and free men will walk through them to construct a better society.
Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!
These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason.
Santiago de Chile,
11 September 1973