SEPT. 11, 1973
Lessons of the Chile coup
By Teresa Gutierrez
The date of Sept. 11 will be forever etched in
the minds of the Chilean people. Revolutionaries and
progressives active here in the 1960s and 1970s will also never
forget that date.
On that day in 1973, a fascist coup was carried out. Tens of
thousands of Chileans were massacred and the progressive
government of President Salvador Allende, a socialist, was
overturned. Within a few days, a pro-U.S. dictatorship was
installed, headed by the butcher Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
The U.S. government, under the presidency of Richard M.
Nixon, carried out this bloody "regime change" with the
complicity of the Chilean ruling class. And it was major U.S.
capitalist transnational corporations--like International Tele
phone and Telegraph Co. and Kennecott Copper Co.--that worked
with the CIA in plotting the counter-revolution and giving the
This year is the 30th anniversary of that fateful day.
Today's new generation of militants and progressives need to
know what happened on Sept. 11, 1973. It's important because
Sept. 11 should not just be remembered as the day the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked.
The date should also be a reminder that the U.S. government
massacred tens of thousands of people in Chile in 1973.
The workers wanted change
In September 1970, Dr. Salvador Allende Gossens had been
elected president of Chile. Allende had been a student activist
who helped found Chile's Socialist Party in 1933. Later a
representative in Chile's Congress, Allende was often called a
"champion of the poor."
Allende unsuccessfully ran for president three times before
finally winning the election in 1970 as the candidate of Unidad
Popular (Popular Unity)--a coalition of socialists, communists
and others calling for social change.
The victory was a reflection of the mood of the Chilean
working class and the revolutionary fervor sweeping the world.
Students, workers and oppressed people were carrying out
pitched battles on many fronts. Hundreds of thousands were
marching against the U.S. war in Vietnam or for worker and
Throughout the Third World--as super-exploited countries
were referred to then--oppressed people were carrying out
heroic struggles for national liberation. Their heroes were Che
Guevara and Patrice Lumumba.
The Chilean masses were no exception.
Allende's election showed that the Chilean workers wanted
more. They wanted fundamental social change--to do away with
grinding poverty and exploitation. Chileans wanted a country
free of foreign corporate and imperialist domination.
They wanted socialism. In fact, Allende won the election on
a platform that declared the wealth of the country to be the
property of the Chilean people.
From Allende's election in 1970 to Sept. 11, 1973, the whole
world watched with baited breath as developments played out. In
those three short years, an intense battle was waged between
two social forces in Chile.
Who would prevail? The side of the workers and oppressed who
were desperately fighting for their class interests? Or the
reactionary, militaristic Chilean bourgeoisie doing the bidding
of U.S. imperialism?
Would Allende be able to implement his promises to the
workers using the state that had served capitalist interests
for generations? Or would the workers seize power altogether,
as in Cuba, and begin to build a socialist revolution?
Those were the questions of the day.
Population was mobilizing
In September 1970, a New York Times editorial warned that if
Allende's administration carried out certain measures, a
military takeover of his government would be necessary. Even
changing members of the judiciary would put the new government
in jeopardy, the Times threatened.
In October 1970, Allende had to cancel attendance at his
formal election by Congress because martial law had been
imposed. The commander-in-chief of the Chilean Armed Forces,
Gen. Schneider Cherau, had been assassinated in an open death
warning to Allende just a month after the election.
Despite these warnings, for the next three years the Allende
government carried out measures that reflected the desires of
the masses. Large estates were broken up and land was given to
poor farmers. Allende nationalized many industries, including
steel, coal and the crucial copper industry.
Three U.S. copper giants of the time--Kennecott, Anaconda
and the Cerro Corp.--were nationalized. These companies had
controlled 80 percent of the total Chilean copper production
and had been taking profits out of the country in the sum of
$80 million a year. (Workers World, October 1971)
The government raised wages, froze prices, subsidized milk,
and made medical care and education accessible to more people.
It sought favorable relations with the Cuban revolutionary
The masses were mobilizing and organizing. Workers in
textile and auto plants took over factories to prevent layoffs.
They fought to defend their gains by any means necessary. In
the communities, people built new neighborhoods, often naming
them New Havana.
A militant squatters' movement continued to play a
significant role. Much of this movement had been organized by
the MIR--the Revolutionary Left Movement of Chile.
The MIR supported the Allende government but warned that
pitfalls lay ahead. The MIR was one of a handful of
organizations in Chile at the time that understood there was a
real difference between taking office and taking power. In
March 1972 it warned, not organize, to not mobilize, to not
fight is to open the door to fascism."
Blood ran in the streets
U.S. imperialism, unable to reconcile itself to the new
Chile, worked night and day to overturn the Allende
The government of Salvador Allende limited its actions to
the constitution and bourgeois law. Despite the fact that the
people were demanding arms, the government failed to provide
them. The workers ultimately could not defend themselves from
the terror unleashed by the military.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the growing strength and
boldness of the pro-U.S. reactionary forces in Chile, the
Allende government wavered. A nationwide "strike" was organized
by the Nat ional Truck Owners' Confederation, paralyzing 70,000
trucks. As in Venezuela today, this strike was really a bosses'
lockout aimed at sabotaging the economy.
Gunmen assassinated Allende's chief military aide. Still,
the Allende government attempted to conciliate with the
capitalist parties instead of calling for a revolutionary
response from the people.
On Sept. 11, 1973, Allende was overthrown in a violent
military coup. The fascist generals rounded up Allende
supporters and others, executing them on the spot.
Tens of thousands were taken to a huge stadium. Many were
tortured, raped, maimed and killed. For days, blood ran through
the streets. Many a heroic story of resistance emerged as
artists, unionists, students, women and others fought back.
Victor Jara, a beloved revolutionary protest singer of that
generation, was killed in the stadium. Today his music lives on
and continues to inspire a new generation of revolutionaries.
Stories of Jara's death told of his heroism, how he tried to
keep up the spirits of his comrades who were tortured. One
account said that when the fascist generals cut his tongue out
to keep him from singing, he clapped his hands and stomped his
feet for rhythm. Then they mutilated his hands before killing
It may never be known how many Chileans were killed that
day. Official accounts place it around the same number as those
lost on Sept. 11, 2001. Many Chileans say that the number is
actually in the tens of thousands.
Bodies were taken by military planes and dropped in the
ocean, leaving their families in torment about what had
happened to them on that fateful day.
The death of Salvador Allende on Sept. 11 is still
controversial. Many say he killed himself; others say he was
executed. A famous photo shows him, arms in hand, defending the
Presidential Palace. Before he died, he issued words of
inspiration to the Chilean people: "Workers of my homeland, I
have faith in Chile and its future. Long live Chile, long the
people, long live the workers!"
The release of classified documents in recent years has
revealed what many in the political leftwing said at the time:
that U.S. imperialism and the Nixon administration in
particular carried out the Sept. 11 coup.
On the 25th anniversary of the coup, Tim Weiner wrote in the
Sept. 12, 1998, New York Times: "From 1970 to 1973, the United
States sought to overthrow the government of Chile and Dr.
Salvador Allende, whom it deemed a Marxist threat to U.S.
interests. Under orders from President Richard M. Nixon, the
CIA mounted a full-tilt covert operation to keep Allende from
taking office and, when that failed, undertook subtler efforts
to undermine him."
The National Security Archive, a nonprofit group in
Washington that uncovers secret records, published documents
that prove the U.S. role. Records reveal how Nixon ordered the
CIA to "make the economy scream" to "prevent Allende from
coming to power or to unseat him."
At a March 1973 Senate hearing, an ITT vice president
testified that there were at least 25 meetings betweem the CIA
and the ITT. He personally met with the then-Secretary of State
Henry Kissinger several times to plan the overthrow of Allende.
Kissinger became the hated symbol of U.S. terrorism. Even
today, he is not able to appear in public without protests.
Lessons for today
While in Chile in December 1971, Cuban President Fidel
Castro said: "Every social system thinks itself eternal until
history sets it straight. Throughout history, every social
system that has been attacked has defended itself and has
defended itself with violence. No social system has dissolved
itself of its own free will. No social system has resigned in
favor of the revolutionaries."
Imperialism can never reconcile itself to the interests of
workers and oppressed. Whether it is Chile in 1973 or Venezuela
today, revolutionaries should be vigilant about the predatory
nature of imperialism.
And more than vigilant: They must be prepared to organize
In 1973, U.S. imperialism was determined to turn back the
clock in the Americas. It wanted to stop the revolutionary
fires inspired by the Cuban Revolution from spreading to other
parts of the region. It failed on that score.
And even though the liberation struggle in Chile was dealt a
setback, the struggle cannot be vanquished.
In 2002, Chilean protesters battled the police on the 29th
anniversary of the coup.
In August 2003, workers demanding better working conditions
and benefits staged Chile's first nationwide strike in 20
Today, as the ruling class tries to co-opt the hearts and
minds of the people in this country by rerunning the tragic
events at the World Trade Center, we must remember the other
Sept. 11. That Sept. 11 demo nstrates that if humanity is to go
forward, imperialism must be defeated once and for all.
Reprinted from the Sept. 11, 2003, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
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