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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 orders.

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 civil rights.

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 government.

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 government.

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 him.

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!"

Imperialist terrorism

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 and fight.

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 years.

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 Commons License.
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