Chile: 48 years since the coup. Analysis and lessons for the present

By Maura Fajardo and Camilo Parada, Movimiento Anticapitalista

It is 48 years since the coup d’état that ended up sweeping away at gunpoint the project of the “peaceful road to socialism” promoted by thegovernment of Unidad Popular . A genocide that fractured the lives of millions of people who lived directly the onslaught of state terrorism which cemented the foundations of the country model we live today, the neoliberal capitalist Chile of the 30 years. Our analysis of a process that still has stories to tell.

Allende’s project

The decade of the 60’s in Latin America was marked by the tone of the Cuban revolution, generating sympathy and radicalization in wide sectors of the population, then the influence in 1968 with the French May gave impetus to the radical strength of the student movement and the unity with the workers’ sectors, thus we experienced the Cordobazo in Argentina and waves of demonstrations throughout the region. That in our country was outlining the need for structural changes and the ideas of socialism were gaining strength in broad sectors of a society that accumulated decades of experience in the heat of the workers’ organization. In 1967 there were important processes of student mobilization for the university reform, in the countryside the rise of the peasant organization was gaining strength to the clamor of the slogan “land for those who work it”, while the organization of the workers was the driving force behind hundreds of strikes. The political project of the DC began to decline due to the accelerated experience of its government and the Unidad Popular (a project that from its bases formed nationally the committees of the UP, which were dissolved after the election) began to gain strength. Thus, after running in 4 consecutive elections in 1970, Allende came to power with the aim of building “the peaceful road to socialism”.

The UP was a conglomerate where parties such as the Radical, MAPU ( Rupture on the left of the DC), API of Rafael Tarud, (petty bourgeois reformist parties) coexisted, while the PC and PS, which at that time had an important social base in the working class, the peasantry and the student movement, were the most influential parties within the conglomerate. The program of the UP emphasized that “the only truly popular alternative and, therefore, the fundamental task that the Government of the People has before it, is to put an end to the domination of the imperialists, the monopolies, the landed oligarchy and to initiate the construction of socialism in Chile.” [i]

You may be interested in Chile: interview with Tomás Pizarro Meniconi, president of the Recoleta Industrial Cordon in 1973

The real anchoring of the program in the popular sectors of the working class and how they tried to carry it through were expressed against the interests of the political leadership that diverted the importance of these sectors and the protagonism of their forms of organization to support the bourgeois institutionality, thus, the project of the UP and the limits of the peaceful way were put to the test.

In Allende’s words: “we are regarded with fraternal and combative affection by millions of men, women and young people in the world, who see in our experience the conscious attempt of a people that opens a powerful channel of transformations through the electoral path. Within bourgeois democracy we are going to find the levers that will allow us to carry out the fundamental changes that will profoundly modify the political, economic and social life of our people. We have won through legal channels. We have won through the path established by the game of the laws of bourgeois democracy, and within these channels we are going to make the great and profound transformations that Chile demands and needs. Within the Constitution itself we will modify that Constitution, to give way to the Popular Constitution, which authentically expresses the presence of the people in the conquest and exercise of power”. [ii]

But confidence in that institutionality was bottoming out and the need to put an end to them and set up new ones, on a completely different basis, was becoming more and more evident.

What does not move forward moves backward The days leading up to the coup were very intense, the blatant intervention of the U.S., the shortages promoted by the business sector, the bosses’ truck stoppages, the tanquetazo as a more than evident foretaste of what was to come, ran against the backdrop of the enormous mobilizations of broad sectors of the population defending the “compañero president” from interventionism. The response of the workers’ organization in the industrial cordons to counteract the bosses’ lockout, safeguard the UP government and maintain production was undoubtedly the most remarkable experience. We began to see the seeds of a new institutionality supported by the democratic organs of workers’ self-organization, decisive instances not only to confront reaction, but also to be the springs of a new society. All this had constituted a true social cauldron that would define the historical course of our country. The UP passed the complex test of defining whether it would continue to trust in the institutionality of bourgeois democracy or advance once and for all in fundamental measures, on this point Latin American Trotkyism expressed during the 70’s: “unfortunately in Chile there is no revolutionary party or organization, which has made a correct analysis of the situation and, therefore, has developed a strategy and a consistent and coherent tactic”. [iii] The decision was the first on the part of the government, ratifying to the end the character of the political project and thus began an unprecedented fracture in the history of our country.

Six days before the coup, the Cordones Industriales, which brought together nearly 700,000 workers in the RM alone (in a country where the total population was 10 million inhabitants), sent a categorical letter to President Allende. “The time has come when the working class organized in the Provincial Coordination of Industrial Cordons, the Provincial Direct Supply Command and the United Front of Workers in conflict has considered it urgent to address you, alarmed by the unleashing of a series of events that we believe will lead us not only to the liquidation of the Chilean revolutionary process, but, in the short term, to a fascist regime of the most implacable and criminal kind … First of all, comrade, we demand that the Popular Unity program be fulfilled. In 1970, we did not vote for a man, we voted for a Program … We workers feel a deep frustration and discouragement when our president, our government, our parties, our organizations, time and again give us the order to withdraw instead of calling on us to advance. We demand that we not only be informed, but also that we be consulted on the decisions, which after all are defining for our destiny … but we know, we have absolute certainty, that in the last three years we could have won not only partial battles, but the total struggle.[iv] The political depth of this document demonstrates the level of clarity of the working class regarding the situation, its role and the destiny of our country. The call of the industrial cordons, who defended and kept production running against the attacks of the bourgeoisie, were not heard. Thus began the chapter of bloody butchery, closing the chapter of the failed peaceful path to socialism, showing that it is impossible to advance in structural changes within the framework of bourgeois institutions.

Recapitulating this debate has a historical validity that is linked to the process experienced on October 18, 2019, where the strength of the masses burst in a huge way. In the absence of a revolutionary organization capable of carrying the popular demands in depth, the logic of the regime and its parties opened the way for the peace pact. Without making copies and looking at the past to find points of contact, if the most advanced, democratic and creative organization in Latin America in the 70’s, the industrial cordons, had been organized in a revolutionary party, the history of our country and our continent would probably have been diametrically different. Today the absence of a revolutionary leadership is expressed in the capacity of the parties of the regime to have saved Piñera and diverted to institutional channels the street force, although there are still chapters to be told in this history we are living.

The coup installs in our country the bloody civil-military dictatorship. A policy focused on the disappearance, execution, torture, mutilation, political and sexual violence against militants of leftist political parties, a plan orchestrated from the school of the Americas for Latin America. But the Chilean dictatorship would not only be the horror of an unprecedented massacre of a whole generation of political cadres to erase the revolutionary experience that shaped the substantive creativity of the working class, it went much further and, together with genocide and impunity, laid the foundations of neoliberal capitalism, a model based on the privatization of all social rights and the plundering of common goods, but for all that, a constitution was also needed.

A brief review of the horror

1973-1978 Political parties are banned and the genocide directed by the DINA begins, focusing on militants of the MIR, PC and PS and other leftist parties. Extermination camps are opened throughout the country.

1978 Law No. 2191 is decreed, which granted amnesty to all persons implicated in criminal acts as perpetrators, accomplices or accessories since September 11, 1973 to 1978.  The bloody DINA is dissolved to create the bloody CNI.

1979 the labor plan is carried out to atomize workers’ organizations and curtail the right to strike.

1980 the Constitution of 1980 is promulgated after a plebiscite process known as the “fraud of history”.

1983 General strike called by the Confederation of Copper Workers, first national day of protest against the dictatorship. Between 1983 and 1986 more than 20 mobilizations against the regime take place.

1985 in the midst of the days of protest against the crimes of the dictatorship, on August 15 the national agreement for the transition to full democracy was signed by the Socialist Party, the Christian Democracy, the Radical Party, the Christian Left, the Liberal Party, the National Unity Movement, the National Party, the Republican Party, among others. That is to say, 3 of the parties that formed the UP now agreed with the parties that assassinated them.

1986 The FPMR carries out the failed attempt against Pinochet.

1987 Pope John Paul II visits Chile

1988 Yes and No plebiscite, triumph of the NO, the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (Concertation of Parties for Democracy) is created.

1989 November the Berlin Wall falls, December presidential elections are won by the DC defender of the coup d’état Patricio Aylwin Azócar.

Chronology of blood and plunder to pave the way for the Chile of the 30 years.

The time of the post horror, the deepening of the model

“Pinochet has been defeated in the October 5 plebiscite. The joy for this electoral triumph of the Chilean masses is justified. The special envoy of international mail to Chile underlines at the same time in his report, that in spite of the triumph of the NO, the institutional organisms that close the way to a deep democracy are still in place: The Armed Forces continue and will continue to occupy a preponderant position in the political life of the country. And the economic plan of submission to imperialism, dictated in agreement with the IMF, with the same results of hunger and misery endured by all the peoples of Latin America, will remain in force with the full support of all the parties that led the NO campaign”. [v]

Synthesis of a dictatorship that did not fall by means of the mobilization of the masses, but of a pact of parties that forged an institutionality to guarantee the economic, social and labor plan organized by the dictatorship. Chile was no longer the only country in the world that constituted the “peaceful way to socialism”, now it also had the “peaceful way” out of a dictatorship that was going to “respect” the popular vote for Pinochet to assume the same position he had before the coup, commander in chief of the army and then by constitutional right senator for life of the republic.

The 30 years that followed are the expression of a model of dispossession, plunder, misery, precariousness, privatization, impunity, violence and state terrorism, administered by the Concertación, the New Majority and the right wing.

Impunity for the material and intellectual authors of the genocide was the fundamental basis for deepening the economic plan of the dictatorship, special prisons for torturers made by the PS government, constitutional reforms to guarantee privatization, “privatize everything that can be privatized” promoted by the socialist Ricardo Lagos. Meanwhile, about 1200 CNI agents were assimilated into the army, the Valech commission guaranteed the right to silence and state terrorism made its way into ancestral territories to facilitate transnational plundering.

The mobilizations from 2006 onwards changed the order of the chessboard and during the years that followed, massiveness began to become the norm in the demands of students, feminists, against the pension system, for the right to nature, housing. All of them questioned the basis of reproduction of the model, none of them was resolved.

The historical revenge

On Friday, October 18, 30 pesos did not explode, the people said that it was 30 years (for us many more) that made us take to the streets in search of our historical revenge, the neoliberal capitalist oasis was collapsing before the eyes of the world and while the streets became a tide of people, torture, death, prison, mutilation, sexual political violence made their way again, because they always had a free path.

The strength of our people showed that the old verse of “no se puede”, “there are no conditions” were just that, empty words that broke in the cement, to become “out Piñera” and the demand for a new constitution to discuss the country we wanted, slogans of rebellion, expressing that social force is central to any transformation at the service of the majorities, but it is also essential to develop democratic mobilization in the streets and social self-organization as decisive factors.

It is necessary to set up an anti-capitalist and revolutionary alternative, not for mere pleasure, but because the times we live in of capitalist decadence and rebellions show us that a political tool of the peoples and the working class is deeply necessary so that in the defining moments we can go for everything and put an end once and for all to the politics of the least bad. A task that is pending and the historical balances should serve us to advance on that road, today after the rebellion of October 18 we are in better conditions to face that road in a horizon to transform everything, to build what was needed yesterday and what is needed now and to be able to take the sky by storm.

For this reason, this September 11 we repeat once again that we do not forgive, we do not forget and that we will NEVER reconcile, demanding the trial and punishment of the human rights violators of yesterday and today, out with Piñera and for the freedom of the political prisoners. Against the impunity of yesterday and today we march proposing an anti-capitalist and revolutionary alternative in unity from the Anticapitalist Movement and TP, because our legacy will be to erase all the legacy of pinochetism. With all that strength and taking the red thread of our history we invite you to march with us this Saturday at 10 AM from the Los Heroes monument. Join us.

[i] Unidad Popular Program.

[ii] Speech at the XXIII Ordinary General Congress of the Socialist Party of Chile, La Serena, January 28, 1971.

[iii] Revista de América number 10. March-April 1973 edition.

[iv] Letter from the industrial cordons to Salvador Allende September 6, 1973.

[v] Correo internacional year V No. 37 November 1988.