Thirty five years ago on 11th September 1973 a coup eliminated the democratic Popular Unity government in Chile and killed the elected President Salvador Allende in the presidential palace. In the days, weeks and months that followed tens of thousands of activists were murdered and dumped in unmarked graves by the military. Tens of thousands more were imprisoned and tortured – many in Santiago football stadium. This was a catastrophe for the Chilean and international working class.
The remarkable document we reprint was a warning against precisely this fate. Alan Woods wrote in 1971 explaining how the mistakes of the Popular Unity government were strengthening reaction and paving the way for a coup. Alan proposed a clear course of action to mobilise the masses of in Chile to implement socialist revolution and strangle the counter-revolution.
The death of ‘Marxist’ President Allende and the extermination of the finest flower of the Chilean working class was a horrible crime perpetuated by General Pinochet and the Chilean military. Pinochet followed this up by subjecting the economy to a terrible trial of monetarist austerity, all the while feathering his own nest and stuffing his Swiss bank accounts with the people’s money. Yet less than a month before the coup Allende had attempted to conciliate reaction by appointing Pinochet as his chief of staff.
Even a few months before the coup, the ‘rising of the tanks’ was defeated by a mass mobilisation of the common people. "The backward layers of the poor suburbs, peasants, many housewives and the most poverty-stricken sectors of society were not formally members, but they were part of the social force of the Popular Unity. On the 29th June, they responded to the attempted coup by a formidable demonstration of strength. The President of the Republic stood for more than five minutes on the balcony of the Moneda Palace before he could begin to speak amidst the deafening roar of the masses as they demanded the closing down of parliament. On the 4th September, seven days before the coup, in every town and village in Chile massive concentrations took place in support of the government. In Santiago 800,000 people, in feverish enthusiasm, demonstrated demanding: "Strike hard, strike hard, we want tough measures!" "Build people's power!" "Allende, Allende, the people will defend you!" ('Socialism Chileno', pp36-37 by A Sepulveda)
The working class was prepared to fight to defend the gains of the Popular Unity government. But on September 11th they were not summoned to arms. The result was probably the most serious defeat the revolutionary movement has suffered since the Second World War. The tragic course of the Chilean revolution of 1970-73 is stuffed with lessons for today’s activists. Let us make sure we learn them.
Chile: The Threatening Catastrophe By Alan Woods Tuesday, 21 September 1971