Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Chile: The lesson of the overthrow of Salvador Allende

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 17, September 12-25, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Every September 11, the thoughts of progressive and revolutionary people focus on that infamous day in 1973 when Chilean President Salvador Allende Gossens was overthrown and* murdered by a U.S.-backed military coup. The coup provoked profound outrage around the world. At least 30,000 Chileans were massacred. Thousands were forced into exile and thousands more imprisoned. Almost three years of progress in freeing Chile from the shackles of U.S. political and economic domination was swept away.

To the Chilean people, the election of Allende and his Popular Unity coalition in November 1970 represented hopes for a better life, for a truly free and independent Chile. For the people of Latin America, Allende’s presidency was an important blow at U.S. imperialism’s hold over the continent, which has damned generations of Latin Americans to grinding poverty, violent repression and early death.

Under Allende’s Popular Unity government, Chile moved quickly to free itself from a situation in which the U.S. owned and controlled 60% of the economy and held the other 40% in dependency. U.S.-owned copper mines, other foreign-owned companies and banks were nation alized. Large landholdings were seized and given to the peasants. Political prisoners were freed. Production began to increase rapidly; wages went up 60% and most prices were frozen.

Internationally, Allende wholeheartedly supported anti-imperialist struggles and established relations with China, which the U.S. then shunned.

Alarmed by Allende’s policies the US intensified its covert activities in Chile. They were organized and funded through the executive level “40 Committee” headed by then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. From 1970 to 1973 the US created economic chaos in Chile through the denial of loans and credit and the withdrawal of technical aid, and incited anti-government strikes and riots.

Right-wing paramilitary groups, such as Patriay Libertad, were used by the CIA to carry out assassinations, terrorism and sabotage. The idea of a coup was promoted in the military, with the promise of U.S. support.

Kissinger and his gang, of course, carried out their treacherous program to the bloody end. Herein lies the main lesson of the Allende years: that the U.S. ruling class and their puppets – whether it be in Latin America or here at home will not stop at murder to keep their power and privilege.

The Chilean experience lays bankruptcy of the line of “peaceful transition to socialism” then pushed by the revisionist Chilean Communist Party in the Popular Unity coalition. Yet this line is still promoted today by the Soviet Union which contributed to the unpreparedness of the Chilean people to deal with the coup. The Soviets have tried to cover the failure of “peaceful transition” with incredible slanders that China “supported” the coup. In fact China had supported Allende and helped Chileans wanting to flee the country, rather than harbor them in their embassy which they knew was not safe from armed attack. China’s state relations with the current Chilean government, like its relations with all countries, is based on the correct principle of noninterference in Chile’s internal affairs.

Allende was committed to the welfare of the Chilean people. He tried to change Chile through a series of legal reforms, but these could not be secure without more fundamental changes. At one point, the Popular Unity government agreed to disarm the workers and peasants. But the military was still there, at the service of the Chilean upper classes and their masters in Washington. Thus in the end, Allende was not able to repulse the coup and the massacre which followed.

But Allende will always be remembered as an anti-imperialist leader who died heroically with an automatic rifle in his hands, vowing “to defend with my life the authority given to me by the people.”