For those who know little of Chile’s 1973 September 11, this is a good starter. President Allende, a brave and decent man, a socialist and a democrat died defending his elected government against a vicious coup that replaced his regime with a Junta of generals who conducted a reign of terror and torture, primarily against the working class of Chile. US President Nixon, Kissinger, the CIA, US mining corporations, and Chile’s own oligarchic landowning elites were all complicit in this massive crime against humanity.
While the first world was still in the long boom, workers and peasants in Chile fought against desperate poverty and violent repression, especially in the mineral mining industries which were Chile’s main sources of income, most of which was siphoned off by the US owners of these basic resources, enjoying their own long boom.
Out of these struggles Allende played a prominent part in building a socialist movement.
Clark shows how his main emphasis on achieving its aims was to build popular fronts, in order to win a parliamentary majority through which to pass laws to implement his programme. All methods of peaceful campaigning were used and he wanted his own Socialist Party to reflect and represent their involvement.
To the extent that it enabled him to win the Presidency with the socialists as the largest party behind him it was a success.
In power, the right acted against him with terror and destabilisation, financed by the CIA to overthrow him.
Emphasising his constitutional approach, he tried to make deals with the Christian Democrat party and even with the upper sections of the armed forces, to gain backing for his parliamentary road.
Clark describes this elite as a weak ruling class that had to rely on the US to be able to mount its coup. Yet this was the elite with which Allende attempted to do deals, even taking a general into his government. He believed this would build the struggle for independence from the US. Yet it was this elite that murdered him.
Clark portrays his “unwavering commitment to a policy of alliances with the centre. The problem was that his own party was not fully behind him on this.” This repeats in a different form the oft quoted idea from right wing social democrats that the left betrayed him and thus helped to bring on the coup.
He concludes that Chileans will need to build upon the legacy left for them by Salvador Allende. There is an awkward truth in this that socialists will have to learn to avoid repeating the mistakes he made.
Salvador Allende, Victor Figueroa Clark, Pluto Press, £12.99 pounds (GB).
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