Lessons from Chile, 1973

September 11, 2023

Fifty years ago, on Sept. 11, 1973, the generals and admirals in the Chilean armed forces led a coup against the elected Popular Unity government. They murdered President Salvador Allende and the world-famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and songwriter Victor Jara. In the following months, the coup makers massacred 3,000 organizers and supporters of the Allende government.

Workers World first published this analysis one month after the 1973 coup. You can read a copy of “Chile 1970-1973” online at tinyurl.com/chile7073.

Workers World first published this analysis one month after the 1973 coup. You can read a copy of “Chile 1970-1973” online at tinyurl.com/chile7073.

In the 17 years the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet lasted, it imprisoned and often tortured tens of thousands of other people, while driving thousands more into exile. Pinochet’s regime opened Chile to neoliberal exploitation.

As has been admitted in many of the histories of that period, including those published on this 50th anniversary, the U.S. government, transnational corporations, CIA and Armed Forces helped plan and gave full support to the Chilean coup makers. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger coordinated U.S. economic and political sabotage directed at the Allende government throughout its existence. (workers.org/2023/05/71210/)

The working-class movement worldwide has through the years expressed their solidarity and sympathy with the Chilean workers, farmers, Indigenous peoples and organizers who have suffered the consequences of crimes of U.S. imperialism and its Chilean military and capitalist agents.

Revolutionaries have paid close attention to the political lessons of the Popular Unity government’s attempt to bring socialism to Chile through electoral means. It is important to review these lessons, which, despite the enormous changes in the world since that time, are as relevant today as they were in 1973.

One key lesson involves the difference between a pro-socialist president being in office in a capitalist society, and a pro-socialist party or coalition being in power.

Workers must take power

Where the capitalists are the ruling class of a society, they control the banks, the big corporations, the corporate media — and they control the state apparatus: police, courts and army, through a bureaucracy that has existed for centuries connecting officials to the rich.

Allende had enough popular electoral support to form a government in 1970 and again in the spring of 1973. The state power, however, especially the army and police, remained in the hands of the capitalists. In addition, U.S. imperialism could nurture the most reactionary elements in the Chilean military for future use.

Only by dissolving the old capitalist state and replacing it with a workers or a people’s armed force, can a pro-socialist government safely carry out its program. Karl Marx drew that lesson from the 1871 Paris Commune; the revolutionary V. I. Lenin underlined that point before and during the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Another essential lesson for revolutionaries in the United States is that the U.S. government is the board of directors of worldwide state-organized crime. It defends and expands imperialist theft. Washington will commit any crime necessary to protect the property of the imperialist monopolies operating in a country like Chile.

Once Allende nationalized the U.S. copper companies that plundered Chile’s mines and the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation monopoly in 1970, the U.S. government targeted him for elimination.

Washington sabotaged Chile’s economy then to make the Chilean workers suffer and to goad privileged Chilean strata toward counterrevolution. U.S. Navy ships patrolled the sea near Chile to stiffen the will of the reactionary Chilean admirals.

A Sept. 10 article on NPR admitted the U.S. role behind the 1973 Chile massacre. But in a strange turn, its author somehow concluded that revulsion against the murderous coup then softened U.S. foreign policy. Did they forget that the Washington soon carried out variations of the Chile murders in Argentina, waged contra wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, armed the genocide of Indigenous Guatemalans in the 1980s and managed a coup in Honduras in 2009? And that’s just in the Western Hemisphere.

Today the U.S. punishes its “enemies” with sanctions, whether the country is socialist like Cuba or simply defending its sovereignty like Russia, while the Pentagon surrounds them with warships and military bases.

To defend even the most modest moves toward socialism, the workers and farmers need their own state, their own armed defense. That was true in 1973 Chile and it is true today.