Chile: 50th anniversary of military coup of Pinochet and death of Salvador Allende

BY Harsh Thakor

September 11th, 1973, marks the 50th anniversary of the coup ‘D’état sparked by army led by Pinochet and the execution of Salvador Allende. One of the highest turning points or defining moments in history of Latin America or the world, in paving breeding ground for neo-fascism or military rule. No more perfect illustration of how the USA government through the Central Intelligence Agency patronised or nurtured military dictatorships to perpetrate their hegemony of neo-colonialism, and penetrate the social base of third world countries.

The coup in Chile marked or defined the pouring of a political bloodbath that made tens of thousands of trade unionists, students, peasants and socialist intellectuals perish throughout Latin America’s southern cone. Pinochet abolished democratic freedoms, banned all parties and workers’ and peasants’ organizations, and jailed and tortured their leaders and tens of thousands of rank-and-file militants, executing more than 3,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of Chileans were forced to vacte into exile.

Clouds of smoke billowed from La Moneda, the presidential palace in the heart of Santiago, as Hawker Hunter jets of the Chilean air spouted fire rockets at it on the morning of September 11th 1973. Tanks patrolled l the surrounding streets as soldiers dragoon hundreds of civilian prisoners, hands on their heads. Salvador Allende, the elected Socialist president, in tweed jacket and tin helmet, kill himself with a pistol in La Moneda.Thousands of workers and youth were pounded upon in Santiago’s soccer stadium and other makeshift concentration camps where they were tortured and executed.

Tragically all Allende’s progressive transformation was toppled or subverted from September,1973 .Allende was unable to foresee the igniting of right –wing turbulence or threat of a military junta, over reposing faith in his government. He was oblivious of the currents prevailing.

For the next 17 years, the military junta headed by Pinochet launched merciless terror against its opponents, and introduced the most extreme neoliberal counter-reforms.–-A-coup-in-Chile.jpg

Background to rise of Allende

Chile had a fairly large urban population, largely concentrated around Santiago, the capital, and the industrial port cities of Valparaíso and Concepción. While industrial workers had won significant political rights in the 1930s, rural workers had been systematically debarred from those same rights to unionize and organize.

The 1964 election of Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, propagated a “Revolution in Liberty,” a sort of middle-class revolution that was in large part sponsored by the US government’s Alliance for Progress. It was [John F.] Kennedy’s vision to ward off the threat of communist revolution by improving standards of living across the continent. The US government realized it could no longer keep backing the same oligarchs who had been in power since the nineteenth century. The Christian Democratic Party was the last resort of USA to preserve it’s stranglehold.

Eduardo Frei started undertaking a path of progressive but still relatively moderate reforms. ,s like land distribution, which really had not been touched in Chile since independence in the early nineteenth century.

For a lot of the traditional landed elites in Chile, that agrarian reform in the ’60s was the beginning of the end. Allende’s election was just one more step.

The Frei government ‘s objective was to carry out a very moderate transformation of Chilean society, but they weren’t able to meet those rising expectations, both from rural peasants as well as from the urban homeless poor, who were engaged in a series of shantytown land occupations.

Allende was a well known figure in Chile long before the 1970 election. He had run for president in the three previous election cycles. His campaign — based on an explicit platform of class struggle and expropriation of private capital in favor of social ownership and democratic control — inspired thousands with its rhetoric of freedom, democracy, dignity, and economic security. The working class and peasant majority, many of whom were desperately poor, rallied around not only Allende but around the possible future he represented.

The Chilean events crystallized as part of a worldwide working class upsurge in the late 1960s and early 1970s that witnessed the wave of the French general strike of May-June 1968, strike waves in 1969 in Italy and Germany, as well as mass antiwar protests, urban riots and militant industrial struggles in the United States that ultimately led to the Nixon administration’s downfall in 1974. During that same year, the fascist-military regimes in Portugal and Greece were toppled, while in Britain the miners’ strike toppled the Heath government. The blossoming of conditions prevailing in 1973, and a successful revolution in Chile sowed the seeds of transforming the world situation.

Allende and Popular Unity in Power

For 3 years Salvador Allende had made sweeping changes in the political economy of Chile, in every sphere, giving a slap in the face to the multinationals and the rich landlords, through nationalization .With deep jurisdiction land reforms were undertaken ,workers wage demands addressed ,cheap shelter and medical services offered, etc. Allende’s ideas were deeply shaped b Che Guevara and Cuba.

Allende had innovated a socialist path breaking experiment of a kind, establishing a Socialist regime without any formal revolution, without dismantling the parliamentary democratic framework. Allende did not tread on the Chinese path of Peoples war or Cuban focoist model. Rarely had any Socialist party created as much public impact n the third world. With surgical skill he forged an alliance with other democratic parties.

Allende led the Popular Unity coalition, which comprised of the two largest parties, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, as well as smaller leftist parties. Allende’s election represented a victory for workers and for the working class — the non-elite, popular sectors of Chile.

Chilean party politics, throughout the twentieth century, was based on forming coalitions. In the 1930s and 1940s, Chile had a number of successful Popular Front coalition governments, and in some ways, Allende’s Popular Unity was just a remoulded version or continuation of what the path the Chilean left had been trodding on all along.( interview with Marian Schlotterbeck )

It wasn’t a single party, there were, of course, differences between the Socialists and the Communists and between those inside and outside Allende’s governing coalition. ( interview with Marian Schlotterbeck )

Chile under Allende illustrated the tensions in these unanswered questions about what scope really lay for citizens to effectively participate in a liberal capitalist democracy. The problem confronting the Chilean experience is, how to function with an opposition that’s not abiding by the norms of the democratic framework. It also addressed the tensions fermented the relationship between social movements and political parties.( interview with Marian Schlotterbeck )

Popular Unity — a coalition including Allende’s own Socialist Party as well as the Communist and smaller leftist parties — portrayed Allende’s presidency as a preparatory stage. They would avoid direct confrontation with small- and medium-sized capitalists in order to first capture the “commanding heights” of the economy. Then they would use the wealth generated by newly state-controlled basic industries — primarily copper mining — to enforce redistribution that would create a legislative majority for a more aggressive push towards socialism by 1976.Nationalistaion of the copper mines, carved a new horizon in the Chilean economy.

Upon assuming office, Allende and Popular Unity immediately embarked on path for strong protections for worker organizing, improved schools and child nutrition, the beginning of a national health service, a dramatic increase in social housing construction, a policy to never use force against public demonstrations, the beginnings of worker co-management of some workplaces, and the nationalization of basic industry — again, primarily copper, the country’s most significant export.. In some firms, workers began to run their workplaces, though this process was uneven. Many people, including many children, could see a doctor for the first time in their lives. Real wages rose an average of 30% in a single year.

From the establishment of Allende’s Popular Unity government in 1970 through to the 1973 coup, the Chilean workers were spurred by revolutionary spirit organizing the industrial cordones, or workers assemblies, giving a fitting blow the lockouts and provocations of the employers by taking over and running the factories, transportation and the supply of goods and services.

Rightist capitulation and reasons for overthrow

Pro-capitalist and right-wing parties attacked Allende in the legislature. Some parties in the Popular Unity coalition, especially the large and well-organized Communist Party, argued the government was moving at a hare pace; other coalition partners argued it was moving too slowly. Capital strikes and increased consumer demand from workers elevated incomes led to shortages. American copper companies dumped cheap product into the world market in order to bring down prices and make an example of Chile by undermining its economy. The United States even led an unofficial but effective trade blockade against the country.

As support for the Left intensified, the Right resorted to increasingly disruptionist , and illegal tactics. Allende’s strict adhered to path of to legality and procedure, even as his opponents tried to undermine him by illegal means. Arguably, Allende did not even utilise legal channels to prosecute opponents who worked to illegally confront the elected government. He resented many of the processes of worker self-organization — the “revolution from below” that his election inspired — and thus commanded the working class to nullify its demands.

Chile, logistically lying so close to USA, was a trump card for it. Allende had not sufficiently isolated the fascist forces or nullified it’s threat.

Much of the accent that was projected internationally on the occasion of the coup’s anniversary was on the tragic fate of Chile’s Socialist Party President Salvador Allende, who took his own life as the military was bombing the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago.

What is obliterated is that the Chilean working class, which had embarked o a course of revolutionary struggle, was misguided by Allende’s Popular Unity government, a coalition dominated by his own social democratic party and the Stalinists of the Chilean Communist Party.

The Socialist-Communist party government compromised with the US-backed counterrevolution with the slogan “No to civil war by 1973. It started taking back the factories by force, brought Pinochet and other generals into the cabinet and moved to suppress the most militant workers, objectively helping to prepare the coming coup.

Its defeat, and the mortal blows suffered by the Chilean workers, pave a further a capitalist offensive that caused sweeping declines in the incomes, social conditions and basic rights of workers throughout Latin America and beyond.

In Chile both Congress and the Senate were dominated by the right-wing Christian Democratic and Nationalist parties, both of which were oriented to the overthrow of Allende.

The Christian Democrats—led by the CIA nominee, Eduardo Frei—capitalised on the situation to nullify and obstruct the reformist legislation, while at the same time preparing a concrete plan of attack. Allende’s refused to build a workers’ militia. He made especially clear his determination to wipe out extreme left-wing opposition to his Fabian reforms and vehemently rejected the idea of a people’s militia.

“There will be no armed forces here other than those stipulated in the constitution. That is to say, the army, the navy and the air force. I shall eliminate any others if they appear.”

On balance the minor reforms of Allende, which garnered great hopes in the workers and peasants and middle class, was far less impactful than the betrayal of these goals through

Utilising their constitutional majority in the two houses and manipulating the growing disillusionment in the country with Allende’s failure to check inflation, the opposition enforced the first stage of its plan: to force the resignation of radical ministers and install the officers. After the January 1972 by-elections Allende was forced to sack his socialist Minister of the Interior, while his plans for the reform of the two-chamber system were shelled by the opposition.

In June 1972 more pressure and secret talks between government and opposition produced another cabinet crisis when Allende fired his left-wing economics minister, Pedro Vuskovi,c and scrapped his nationalization plans.


Even with their flaws, Allende and the movement that propelled him to office are a source of deep inspiration for The Call. They show that a democratic road to socialism can gain the mass support of the working class and begin a process of transformation, even if Allende’s government ultimately ended in tragedy.

The fundamental lesson of the Popular Unity years is that, despite everything, it is absolutely imperative trying to transform Chilean society. Even if, in the end, that experience failed, it raised the aspect of the underlying structure of Chilean society. It lay a model of how, through the participation of the majorities and the involvement of workers, path breaking transformations can be made.

Whatever flaws, Allende illustrated that a democratic road to socialism can gain the mass support of the working class and begin a process of transition. The Popular Unity coalition testifies that once the nascent power of the working class is tapped it begins to seriously organize itself as a class, with workers often more radical than their elected officials. The most potent lesson from the Allende government is that winning elections is an imperative measure on the road to socialism, but has to coordinate with working-class movements that can sharpen the program of a socialist government from below while diluting the power of capital through their own initiative as well.

Salvador Allende carves a permanent niche in the memory of the workers as a great leader and democratic fighter, an anti-imperialist, an honest socialist, the president who shimmered hopes for justice and social change at a superlative height among the workers and people of Chile. He was an outstanding fighter for the sovereignty of the peoples, for national independence and social justice.

50 years since the fascist coup of the September 11, 1973, that overthrew Salvador Allende, we must project that was one of the most honest Socialists to have stepped on the earth.. He had paid tribute to one of the greatest revolutionaries of the planet.

Allende paid his tribute to the builder of Soviet socialism, Joseph Stalin a short time after his death, in a speech at the Baquedano Theatre in 1953. ‘Stalin was an example of creativity, humanism and an edifying example of peace and heroism!

’Everything that he did, he did at the service of the people. Our father Stalin is dead, but when remembering his example, our affection towards him will make our arms grow strong for the building of a great tomorrow, to assure a future in memory of his magnificent example’.

Salvador Allende: ‘Tribute to Stalin,’ Baquedano Theatre, Santiago Chile, 1953.

Although Salvador Allende was not a communist, we must cherish his relentless spirit to construct , a just, democratic and popular Chile, as we should always admire and defend the what he gave to his people and the workers

Relevance Today

In the global or digital age the world people can imbibe vital lessons from Chile, 50 years ago. We learn about the conditions that propel socialist endeavours and military dictatorships or neo-fascism., and how no coherent strategy was formulated for a genuine socialist revolution in Latin America.

It is ample proof of how parliamentary democracy paves way for bourgeois dictatorship, as it does not cut it’s alliance with foreign capital or forbid it’s penetration, which further permeates the system.

Still it is an example of how contradictions can be utilised between different political parties.

In 2020 the celebrations took place in a country struck by the largest insurrectionary revolts since the return to democracy, which began in  October. The main demand behind these massive protests was to eradicate the whole legacy of Pinochet’s regime.

(Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. Thanks information from interview with Marian Schlotterbeck ,Word Socialist Website .In Defence of Marxism by Diego Catalan ,Revolutionary Democracy and by Alan Woods.)

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