Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Other 9/11 - Forty years after Pinochet's coup in Chile

Allende can no longer hope to satisfy the owners of industry and the working class. He will have to choose to side with one or the other.
But one side is armed, the other not. And Allende shows no inclination at all to break his pledges to the middle class of a year ago not to “interfere” with the state machine.
Instead he will probably use his influence, and that of the bureaucrats within Chile’s working-class based parties and trade unions, to persuade workers to put up with harsh conditions and an erosion of last year’s reforms.
Such a course will tend to create confusion and a lack of direction among many workers. But it is not likely to lead to any great loss in the spontaneous militancy in the factories and mines. Because of that it will not satisfy those who continue to hold real power in Chile. In the past we have seen a number of examples of regimes in some ways similar to Allende’s.
After a period their mass support became demoralised and the government themselves were easily overthrown by right-wing military coups.
Socialist Worker, 20 November 1971

Tragically, that analysis of 'the Chilean road to socialism' as led by Salvador Allende was proved correct and forty years ago today - as the current issue of Socialist Worker reminds us - on 11 September 1973, the Chilean military led by General Pinochet organised a bloody military coup and killed some 30,000 people as it overthrew Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity (UP) government - killing Allende himself.  Like the Egyptian military takeover recently, this had the blessing of the United States.  As Henry Kissinger had famously put it in June 1970,
I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.
 The lessons of Chile remain important - if contested ones  - for the coup is a classic demonstration of the classical Marxist analysis of the state machine as fundamentally an instrument of class oppression and domination designed to defend the rich - and a reminder of the fallacies behind the notion of a 'parliamentary road to socialism'.  As Ian Birchall and Chris Harman noted in September 1973 just after Pinochet's coup,

The lessons of the Chilean experience, are not particularly original ones. They were first drawn by Marx, at the time of the Paris Commune more than 100 years ago, and they were reiterated by Lenin writing ‘State and Revolution’ on the eve of October: there is no way of carrying through a socialist transformation of society without first destroying the old state apparatus, with its standing army, its police, its judiciary, its bureaucratic hierarchy. In its place has to be established the rule of directly elected and recallable workers’ delegates, backed up by a workers’ militia.
Many would-be marxists have claimed that under modern conditions the bourgeois state can be reformed peacefully, at least in countries with strong parliamentary traditions.
These were the arguments used by Allende and the Communist Party in Chile. They are also the arguments of the labour left and the Communist Party in Britain. The Chilean coup has proved their fallacy. The ruling class will not just sit back and accept in-roads into its privileges, however ‘constitutionally’ reforms are carried through or however deep-rooted parliamentary traditions. The state machine in even the most democratic bourgeois states is built on strictly hierarchic principles, with control over the activities of the army, the police and the civil service concentrated in the hands of the relatives and friends of those who hold economic power. And the ruling class will use this state machine to re-establish its own, untrammelled domination the moment it feels the balance of forces are favourable to it.

That said, as the Chilean socialist Mario Nain notes today, if Pinochet's Chile was subsequently the laboratory for testing the ideas of 'neoliberalism' in practice, then in recent years anti-capitalist resistance and revolt have swept the country, led by new generations of workers.  If there is hope today in Chile after the memories and legacy of Pinochet's tyranny, it lies with them.

Edited to add: See the Chile 40 Years On website for some anniversary events etc in the UK around this.

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