30 years after the fall of the Allende regime in Chile-- democracy and dictatorship: two faces of capitalist barbarism

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Dictatorship and Democracy: Two Faces of Capitalist Barbarism

On 11th September 1973, a bloody military coup led by General Pinochet overthrew Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government. A terrible period of repression of the working class followed: thousands of people,1 mostly workers, were systematically massacred, tens of thousands imprisoned and tortured. This appalling barbarity was accompanied by hundreds of thousands of redundancies (10% of the workforce during the first year of military dictatorship).

The order that reigned in Santiago (set up with the support of the CIA2) was nothing other than the order of capitalist terror in its most caricatural form.

With the 30th anniversary of the overthrow of Allende’s “socialist” government, the whole “democratic” bourgeoisie has made full use of the occasion to try to derail workers from their own class interests. It has been trying to sell the idea that the only struggle workers should support is the defence of the democratic state against dictatorship and evil tyrants. This is the meaning of the campaign orchestrated by the media, when they draw the parallel between Pinochet’s coup d’Etat of 11th September 1973, and the attack on the Twin Towers in New York (see for example, the headline in Le Monde of 12th September: “Chile 1973, the other 11th September).

In the forefront of this campaign by all the forces of bourgeois democracy are the left wing parties, and the leftists who supported the Chilean MIR3 to the hilt by enrolling the workers behind the Allende clique and thus delivering them over to Pinochet’s butchers.4 Against this gigantic mystification that consists in presenting Allende as a pioneer of “socialism” in Latin America, revolutionaries have the responsibility to re-establish the truth about the reality of Chilean democracy. For the workers should never forget that Pinochet’s military junta only finished off the job of putting down workers’ struggles that had already been begun by the “popular” army of Allende’s “socialist” government.

We are reprinting below two leaflets produced by two of the groups that were later to form the ICC’s sections in Britain and France: the first was distributed by World Revolution at the big protest demonstrations that followed the coup. The second was distributed by Révolution Internationale shortly after the coup itself.

In Chile, as in the Middle East, capitalism shows once more that its crises are paid for in working class blood. As the junta butchers workers and anyone who opposes the naked rule of capital, the “left” of the whole world joins in a chorus of hysteria and mystification. Parliamentary resolutions, Cassandra-like squealings of Labour MPs, irate “I told you so” shrieks of the Trotskyists, mass demos – all these are carefully planned rehearsals of the official and not-so-official “left”. Their cohorts in Chile, the deposed Popular Unity government of Allende, prepared the massacre after physically and ideologically disarming the Chilean workers for three years. By considering the Allende coalition as “working class” or “socialist”, the whole “left” tries to hide or minimise Allende’s real role, and helps to perpetuate the myths created by state capitalism in Chile.

What was the Allende regime? Let the myth-makers of the “left” answer this question: Was it a “working class government”? But how can the working class “govern” the capitalist state, parliament, the army and the police? Is working class parliamentary or trade union support the criterion? But that is to say that almost all the bourgeois democracies are “working class” today. Was it a “socialist” regime? Only if you understand by that the policies of state capitalism. Was Allende’s coalition an expression of the organised might of the Chilean workers at the point of production, an expression of the self-activity of workers’ councils, factory and neighbourhood committees? Was Allende’s coalition a result of a huge wave of revolutionary working class activity not only in Chile but also in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, the US and the world? Was his coalition the class response of the workers to the deepening crisis of world capitalism in decadence? Was the whole thrust of his policies to abolish capitalist production, ie to abolish wage labour, commodity production and extend the revolutionary impetus towards the world arena? No? Of course not! A million times NO!

The whole policy of the Popular Unity was to strengthen capitalism in Chile. This large, state capitalist faction, based on the trade unions (which are everywhere capitalist organs today) and sectors of the petty bourgeoisie and technocracy was welded together 15 years ago by the Communist and Socialist Parties. Under the names of Workers’ Front, FRAP or Popular Unity, this faction wanted to make a backward Chilean economy competitive on the world market. Such a policy, envisaging a strong state sector, was capitalist pure and simple. To have oozed over it a bit of “nationalisation under workers’ control” would not have changed the basic capitalist relations of production, which remained untouched under Allende, and were reinforced to the hilt. At the point of production, in the public and private sectors, the workers still had to sweat for a boss, still had to sell their labour power. The vampire-lust of capitalist accumulation, exacerbated by the chronic underdevelopment of the Chilean economy and an intolerable foreign debt, had to be satisfied, especially in the mining sector (copper) from which the Chilean state apparatus obtained 83% of its foreign revenue. It is not an accident that the “left” began to call the copper workers “well-paid”, “highly-paid”, “a privileged group”, “an aristocracy of labour”, “an economist layer” etc, because it is this sector of the class which refused to go along with Allende’s mystifications. It is here that the “Battle for Production” of the PU foremen was utterly lost.

Once nationalised, the copper mines had to become profitable. From the beginning, the resistance of the miners helped destroy this capitalist plan. Instead of giving credence to the reactionary PU catch-phrase “voluntary work is revolutionary duty”, the Chilean industrial working class, especially the miners, kept on struggling for higher wages, and resisted speed-ups by absenteeism and walk-outs. It was the only way they could begin to catch up with the inflation of the previous years and the growing inflation under the new regime, which was up to 300% per annum on the eve of the coup.

Working class resistance to Allende began in 1970. In December 1970, 4,000 Chuquicamata miners struck, demanding higher wages. In July 1971, 10,000 coal miners struck at the Lota Schwager mine. New strikes at the mines of El Salvador, El Teniente, Chuquicamata, La Exotica and Rio Blanco spread at around the same time, demanding higher wages.

Early in 1971, the Chilean state copper corporation, Codelo, had predicted an output of copper of 840,000 metric tons for 1971. By May, because of many technical problems caused by nationalisation and the falling price of copper following the end of the Vietnam inter-imperialist war, the target was reduced to 625,000 metric tons. It is then that the strikes really deepened the crisis of Chilean capital.

Allende’s reaction was a typically capitalist one: to alternatively slander and cajole the workers. In November 1971 Castro came to Chile to reinforce Allende’s anti-working class policies. Castro thundered at the miners, and spoke against trouble-making “demagogues”; at the Chuquicamata mine he said that “a hundred tons less per day means a loss of $36 million a year”.

While copper is the main source of Chile’s foreign revenue, mining represents only 11% of the country’s GNP, and employs only 4% of the labour force, that is, around 60,000 copper miners. However, the numerical size of this sector of the class is quite out of proportion to the weight the miners have in the national economy. Small in numbers, but highly powerful and conscious of it, the miners forced the escalator clause for wages onto the state and inspired the wages offensive which spread through the Chilean working class in 1971. Journalists like Richard Gott side directly with state capital when they write: “The prolonged strike at El Teniente earlier this year was a contributory factor to the atmosphere that permitted Allende’s downfall”. And adds: “Any government that really wanted to do something for the poorest section of Chilean society would inevitably have looked unfavourably on the wage demands of such a privileged group as the copper miners” (The Guardian, 1.10.73). This same scribbler thinks that Allende the freemason was a “marxist”, while the rest of the capitalist press assents and tries to prove that the “Chilean road to socialism” was a variety of “socialism” which failed. The Stalinists and Trotskyists of course agree, with their Talmudic differences. To the latter, Allende’s capitalism deserved “critical support”. Anarchists weren’t left behind: “…the only way out for Allende would have been to appeal to the working class to seize power for themselves to forestall the inevitable coup” claims Libertarian Struggle (October 1973). Thus Allende was not only a “marxist” – he was also a failed Bakunin. But what is really laughable is to imagine that a capitalist government could ever “appeal” to the workers to destroy capitalism!

In May-June 1973, the miners began to move again. 10,000 struck at the El Teniente and Chuquicamata mines. The El Teniente miners asked for a 40% wage rise. Allende put the O’Higgins and Santiago provinces under military rule, because the paralysis at El Teniente “seriously threatened the economy”. “Marxist” managers, PU members, sacked workers and brought in strikebreakers and replacements. 500 carabineros attacked the workers with tear gas and water cannon. When 4,000 miners marched to Santiago to demonstrate on 14 June, the riot police savagely charged them. The government branded the workers as “agents of fascism”. The CP organised parades in Santiago against the miners, calling on the government to use a “firm hand”. The MIR group, an extra-parliamentary “loyal opposition” of Allende, criticised the use of force and advocated the use of persuasion. Allende appointed a new Minister of Mines in August 1973: General Ronaldo Gonzalez, the munitions director of the army. In the same month, Allende alerted army units in all of Chile’s 25 provinces. It was a move against the lorry owners’ strike, but also against some sectors of the workers who were striking, in public works and urban transport. Throughout the last months of Allende’s regime, generalised attacks and killings against workers and slum dwellers by the police, army and fascists became the order of the day. From within, the class had already been attacked, vilified and demoralised by the Trojan Horse of the capitalists, the PU. Organisationally, the PU had attempted to strait-jacket its whole electoral support into all kinds of hierarchical “popular committees”, such as the 20,000 or so which existed in 1970, People’s Supply Committees (JAPS) and finally, the much vaunted “cordones” which Trotskyists and anarchists are presenting now as types of “soviets” or “factory committees”. It is true that the cordones were in many cases the spontaneous creation of the workers, as were many factory occupations, but they ended up integrated within the ideology and organisational apparatus of the PU. As a Trotskyist paper itself admits, “by September 1973 such cordones had been formed in all the industrial suburbs of Santiago, and the political parties of the left were pushing for the creation of similar cordones throughout the country” (Red Weekly, 5.10.73). The cordones weren’t armed and had no independence from the whole network of PU trade unions, local committees, secret police, etc. Their independence would have been posed only if the workers had begun to organise themselves separately and against the Allende apparatus. That would have meant to open up the class struggle against the PU, the army and the rest of the bourgeoisie.

Allende’s government didn’t just attack the workers and peasants. As all capitalist governments, it also had in-fights with its own supporters. In 1970 a MIR member was killed by an armed commando group of the CP, the “Ramona Parra Brigade” in Concepcion. A terrorist guerrilla group, the VOP, was pulverised in 1971. Throughout 1972, the MIR itself was attacked as “provocateurs” by the CP. In April 1972, even a Trotskyist “leader”, Luis Vitale, was badly beaten by the police in Concepcion at a demo which was crushed with batons and tear gas. The governor, a CP Central Committee member called Vladimir Chavez, ordered such attacks. Police officers were also CP members, which is quite usual wherever there is a large CP machine. Searches for arms and fugitive guerrillas always led to scores of injured and sometimes deaths. The population was terrified into submission. In December 1971, Pinochet, one of Chile’s new dictators, was let loose on the streets of Santiago by Allende. The army imposed curfews, press censorship and arrests without warrants. In October 1972, the army – Allende’s dear “Popular Army” – was called into the cabinet. Allende knew by then that this coalition had proven useless to beat the working class into the ground. He had tried hard but failed. The job had to be continued by the army, without parliamentary niceties. But at least the PU had helped disarm the workers ideologically. That facilitated the tasks of the bloodhounds when 11 September came.

The working class stood on the sidelines during the coup. True, many militants fought back, but to defend their lives, not to bring back the wretched PU caretaker government. Those who fought back, heroically, were in the main PU supporters from the slum tenements, a sort of lumpen-proletariat – Gott’s “poorest” section of Chilean society. These militants, their dreams shattered, are suffering terribly. They were Allende’s cannon fodder, they were the support of the MIR, a support which succumbed to the populist and nationalist demagogy of the Chilean “left”. On the whole, the electoral basis of Allende was dwindling at the time of the coup. The workers in the mines and the large manufacturing concerns didn’t move. The battle wasn’t theirs. No general strike was called, and even if the statified Chilean TUC, the CUT, had called for one, probably nobody would have followed the suicidal appeal. Allende was right when he said that “our companeros were not prepared”.

The truth is that Allende came to power in 1970 to save bourgeois democracy in a crisis-ridden Chile. Having reinforced the state sector in a manner befitting the whole of the distorted Chilean economy, and having mystified parts of the working class with “socialist” phraseology (an impossibility for the two other bourgeois parties), his role came to an end. Exit the King. The logical end of his position, a fully state controlled capitalism, wasn’t possible because Chile remained in the sphere of influence of US imperialism, and had to trade with a hostile world market in which that imperialism was predominant.

The “left” here, and wherever there are liberals, humanists, quacks and technocrats, are all lamenting Allende’s downfall. They must encourage the lie of Allende’s “socialism” in an attempt to mystify the working class. Already in September, in Helsinki, social democrats of all stripes representing 50 nations got together in order to “oust” the Chilean junta. The obscene slogan of “anti-fascism” is again being raised to obscure the class struggle, to obscure the fact that the workers have nothing to gain by fighting and dying for any bourgeois or “democratic” (read imperialist, east or west) cause. The Judith Harts are already mouthing their “unity of the left” cries against the junta. Mitterand and the “Programme Commun de la Gauche” in France, and every bourgeois scoundrel and progressive parson has jumped on the “anti-fascist” bandwagon. Under the cover of “anti-fascism” and support for the PU, sections of the world ruling class are trying to mobilise workers for parliamentary carve-ups. Against this new “International Brigade” of the bourgeoisie, the working class can only show contempt and hostility.

The opportunists of the state capitalist “extreme left” are (most naturally) on this bandwagon just as the MIR was on Allende’s. But, oh this delicious “but” – they are “critically” on it. The real questions aren’t even posed in such quarters. It is not a question of “parliament versus armed struggle”, it is a question of capitalism versus communism, the bourgeoisie the world over against the workers the world over. We workers have only one programme: the abolition of frontiers, the abolition of the state and parliament, the elimination of wage labour and commodity production by the producers themselves, the liberation of world humanity initiated by the victory of the revolutionary workers’ councils. Any other programme is the programme of barbarism, the barbarism and dupery of the “Chilean way”

World Revolution 4th November 1973

The military scum are slaughtering the Chilean workers by the thousands. They are being hunted down, humiliated, and murdered, house by house, factory by factory. Order reigns. And the order of capital is BARBARISM.

Still more vile and disgusting is the fact that the workers have their backs to the wall, and that they are forced to fight, whether they want to or not, in a struggle where they are beaten in advance and without any perspective, without any possibility of believing that they are dying in the defence of their own interests.

The “left” is protesting at the massacre. But it is the Popular Unity government that called this criminal army to power. The “left” is carefully keeping quiet about the fact that only ten days ago they were in government hand in hand with these assassins described as the “People’s Army”. They were still saluting these criminals and torturers when they had ALREADY begun to arrest workers and carry out searches in the factories.

Let one thing be clear. In three years of left government the workers have ALWAYS been deceived, exploited, and suppressed. The “left” organised the exploitation. The “left” put down the strikes of the miners, the farm workers, and the hunger-stricken homeless in the slums. The “left” denounced the workers in struggle as “provocateurs” and called the military into the government.

The Popular Unity government has never been anything but a particular means of maintaining order by deceiving the workers. Faced with a world wide crisis, Chilean capital found itself in difficulty and had to settle things in its own way, first of all putting down the proletariat and crushing its ability to resist. To do so, it proceeded in two stages. First it mystified the workers, then it dragged them before the firing squad behind the banners of bourgeois “democracy”.

The left and the leftists are not satisfied with dragging the workers to the slaughter. Here in France, they even have the gall to use the corpses of Chilean workers to undertake a large scale DECEPTION: the blood is barely dry in Santiago, and already they are calling on the workers to demonstrate and to strike to defend “democracy” against the military. And in doing so, Marchais, Mitterand, Krivine & Co are preparing to play the SAME role here as Allende, the CP, and the leftist MIR in Chile. For in France, and throughout the world, as the crisis deepends the same problem will be posed for the bourgeoisie: how to break the proletariat.

By organising the “democratic” deception over Chile, the left today is preparing to take in hand the operation which will mean enrolling the workers under the banner of “nationalisations”, the “republic”, and similar swindles, in order to pin them down on a terrain which is not their own and deliver them up to repression. And by refusing to denounce the left for what it really is, the leftists also take their stand on the side of capital.

The crisis has hit sooner and harder in Chile than elsewhere. And even before the proletariat could engage ITS OWN struggle, all the forces of the left, the bourgeoisie’s Trojan horse amidst the working class, have undertaken to muzzle it, to prevent it appearing as an independent force on its own terrain, with its own programme, which is not some “democratic” or state capitalist reform, but the social revolution.

And all those, like the Trotskyists, who have given the slightest support to this castration of the working class, by supporting however critically the forces of the “left”, also bear responsibility for the massacre. The Trotskyists in France prove that they are on the same side of the barricades as the left wing of capital, since they debate with the latter as to the “tactical” and military means of taking power and reproach Allende for not having done a better job of enrolling the workers under his banner!

From France 1936 to Chile 1973, by way of the Spanish Civil War, Bolivia, and Argentina, the same lesson has been meted out to us over and over again.

The proletariat can make no alliance, enter no front with capital, even draped in the banner of “socialism” or “freedom”. Any force that contributes, however slightly, to tie the workers to a fraction of capital, is on the other side. Any force that encourages the slightest illusion in the left wing of capital is nothing but a link in the chain that leads to the slaughter of the workers.

There is only one “unity”: the unity of the workers of the world. There is only one guiding line: the total autonomy of the workers’ forces. There is only one banner: the destruction of the bourgeois state and the international extension of the revolution. There is only one programme: the abolition of wage slavery.

As for those who are tempted to let themselves be deceived by fine talk, the hollow speeches about the “republic”, the disgusting old songs of “Popular Unity” - then let them look the horror of Chile in the face.

As the crisis deepens, there is only one alternative: the resurgence of the revolution or the crushing of the proletariat!

Révolution Internationale,

18th September 1973


1 The official figures are 3,000 dead. According to the associations for aid to the victims, there were at least 10,000 dead or missing.

2 We should note that the United States were not alone in supporting the “gorillas” of Latin America. The junta which seized power in Argentina shortly afterwards, and which was itself responsible for 30,000 deaths, cooperated actively with the Chilean government in the assassination of political opponents during “Operation Condor” , and received “technical” help from the French military who passed on their “expertise” in the struggle against “subversion” learned during the war in Algeria.

3 MIR: “Movement of the Revolutionary Left”

4 See our article in Révolution Internationale new series, n°5: “Le Chili révèle la nature profonde de la gauche et des gauchistes”.