Salvador Allende - The Herald of Pinochet

For a long time, science and technology have made it possible to assure that everybody enjoys those basic necessities which today are enjoyed only by a minority. The difficulties are not technical, and - in our case at least - they are not due to a lack of national resources. What prevents the realisation of our ideals is the organisation of society, the nature of the interests which have so far dominated, the obstacles which dependent nations face. We must concentrate our attention on these structures and on these institutional requirements.

Speaking frankly, our task is to define and put into practice, as the Chilean road to socialism, a new model of the State, of the economy and of society which revolves around man's needs and aspirations. For this we need the determination of those who have dared to reconsider the world in terms of a project designed for the service of man. There are no previous experiments that we can use as models - we shall have to develop the theory and practice of new forms of social, political and economic organisation, both in order to break with under-development and create socialism.

We can achieve this only on condition that we do not overshoot or depart from our objective. If we should forget that our mission is to establish a social plan for man, the whole struggle of our people for socialism will become simply one more reformist experiment. If we should forget the concrete conditions from which we start in order to try and create immediately something which surpasses our possibilities, then we shall also fail.

-- Salvador Allende Gossens,
First Address to Parliament after election, 21 May 1971

"We consciously entered into a coalition in order to be the left wing of the system – the capitalist system, that is. By contrast, today, as our program shows, we are struggling to change the system … Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism".

-- Allende as told to Regis Debray (Conversations p118)

Institutions are the foundation of a functioning civil society. Chilean civil society pre-Allende was marked by its stable democratic traditions, respect for the rule of law, and its relative prosperity compared to its neighboring countries. The country was not without problems, however- its economy was wracked with chronic inflation and a dependence upon mineral exports (exacerbated by a policy of import substitution industrialization in place since 1950). Still, at the time the press was free, private property was respected, and the country was free of political violence.

Enter Salvador Allende Gossens. By 1970 a three time loser in presidential elections, he represented the Socialist Party, an explicitly Marxist party dedicated to radical reform of Chilean society, though through electoral means instead of outright war. He was a personal friend of Fidel Castro and openly admired Castro’s Cuba & explicitly communist totalitarian states around the world (such as the USSR, China, North Korea, etc). Between the company he kept and his rhetoric, the impression left on the center and right of Chilean politics was that despite protestations to the contrary, Allende’s vision of the end of “the Chilean Way to Socialism” was more akin to East Germany than West, more Soviet than Swedish.

After a split between the center and right coalition that had thwarted Allende in prior elections, Allende’s coalition (the Unidad Popular, or Popular Unity party, a coalition of most parties of the left, including the Socialist and Communist parties) finally won a plurality of the vote in 1970 with 36% to Jorge Alessandri’s 35%. Absent an electoral majority, it was up to Congress to vote for President. Tradition had it that the candidate with the plurality would be elected by Congress as a matter of course; but given the suspicions surrounding Allende’s true motives (and those of the Unidad Popular and the broader Chilean left), the Christian Democrats forced Allende to agree to a Statute of Democratic Guarantees- in effect making Allende explicitly agree to work within the constitution (and Congress) to maintain democratic institutions, and to maintain the apolitical nature of the military (keeping the military option off the table).

Allende signed the document, and gave the impression to all that he would indeed work within the institutions of Chilean society to introduce reforms- committing himself in theory to gradualism, albeit a faster form than that of his center-left predecessor Eduardo Frei.

Shattering Institutions, One by One

Revolutionary Vogue Instead, Allende’s government embarked on an immediate radical program, exploiting loopholes in Chilean law to radically increase the rate of nationalization of the economy. Factories shut down due to directed agitation by UP workers could be 'requisitioned' to government service, as could factories in ‘key industries’ that didn’t produce enough vital commodities (suffering also from ‘convenient’ work stoppages or slowdowns by UP members). Instead of maintaining the institution of property and the respect for the spirit of the law, Allende’s government brushed it aside in the name of ‘reform’.

In the meantime the government blew through millions of dollars in foreign exchange reserves disbursing money to workers and peasants, mandating large wage increases while instituting price controls and hiking taxes on profits. Initially this caused a spike in production and consumption, masking the truth that the government was printing money hand over fist and spending the hard currency it had left to maintain an illusion of immediate prosperity. Instead of maintaining the admittedly weak and fractured institutions of sound money and market pricing, Allende’s government brushed them aside in the name of ‘the people’.

Allende’s government also targeted US owned interests for expropriation, seizing the copper mines and other assets and deferring compensation until an audit could be done. Instead of maintaining the accepted practice of giving fair market value to the companies (the standard policy by the US government dealing with nationalist takeovers of US corporate assets), Allende’s government went with an innovative accounting practice that, coincidentally, said that Chile didn’t owe anything for the seized assets and thus they weren’t going to pay. With it went Chile’s reputation as a good credit risk, and private sources of funding began to dry up.

When Congress tried to reign in Allende’s nationalization policies, he vetoed the legislation and from that point on vetoed everything Congress proposed. Instead of reaching out to various parties to woo them into going along with his programs (and necessarily moderating them as a consequence), he chose to essentially rule by decree, leaving Congress voiceless and shut out. From that point on, there was open conflict as Congress would impeach executive officials (to be ignored by Allende), would rule in favor of landowners against illegal seizures (decrees also ignored by Allende)

Reaping the Whirlwind

UP Thugs Allende set in motion both an expectation amongst the left and radical workers and peasants that ‘revolution was nigh’ and that the old rules didn’t apply. Since the rule of law and property rights were no longer respected, owners of capital fled, hid their wealth, or sent it out of the country as acts of self-defense. Since money was rapidly becoming worthless as months went by, and prices for goods could not rise in response, production plummeted; for with these twin occurrences neither could producers trust that they would receive real recompense for their work, nor could the state know the true need for goods or services produced by its national factories. As predicted by orthodox economic theory, the result of planning and price controls was chaotic production and chronic shortages. Street violence between radicalized members of the left and right increased and became commonplace, along with workers strikes and protests by the middle classes (and increasingly working class & peasants, too). Armed UP militants seized factories (forming the Cordones) and refused entry to anyone but fellow travelers, further increasing de facto nationalizations under the abused requisitions laws.

In response to these increasing crises, Allende brought in members of the military to end strikes before congressional elections. Once order was restored and the elections were done, Allende’s party had but 43% of the vote, and he inexplicably saw it as a mandate to go full press with his agenda, further attacking Chile's cultural institutions. He announced the formation of a single, national education system, threatening the Catholic Church’s traditional role as an alternative education provider. Thus the church, previously neutral or somewhat sympathetic to the UP, was radicalized and pushed into active opposition.

After an abortive coup attempt in June and widespread strikes, again Allende turned to the military, but this time it was for nought- pro-UP forces tear gassed a protest by officers’ wives over the sackings of high ranking personnel, and on September 9th, a senior leader of the Socialist party proudly admitted orchestrating a failed mutiny in the Navy by pro-UP sailors. Instead of keeping his promise to maintain the nature of the military as apolitical defenders of the constitution, he first used them routinely to intervene against domestic enemies, and then openly began undermining their independence.

Two days later, Pinochet launched the coup that resulted in the death of Allende and of Chilean democracy for 17 years.

The Moral of the Story

Institutions matter. Prior to Allende, Chile had an underlying culture that was peaceful, orderly, and relatively prosperous. Allende’s regime systematically knocked out every underpinning of that evolved order, from destroying the respect for the rule of law amongst the people, to encouraging the expression of political frustration with street level violence, to popularizing the idea of the imperial president who rules by decree, to politicizing the military, and finally to ingraining the notion in the people that the state could and should become the first and final arbiter of social order, and that no intermediary bodies should be allowed to get in the way of the state’s goals.

Almost everything that Allende and the UP did set the stage for Pinochet’s regime. When you eliminate the institutions that maintain a civil society it should come as no surprise that civil society fails and gives way to dictatorship, terror, and oppression. If only Allende had really believed what he told the Congress in 1971 in his first address, maybe the pain of Pinochet might have been averted.

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Why completely leave out our

Why completely leave out our part in putting Pinochet in power? Aren't you opening yourself up to obvious criticism and weakening your argument? Also, do you know anything about worker conditions in the mines and in the other interests that were controlled by US companies? In short, what of the herald to Allende? Maybe (and I want to stress the maybe b/c my ignorance of Chilean history is great) abuse within the "capitalist" system (a system controlled by an ethnic minority that wanted to exclude the majority of the population from being full participants in the economy) had a part to play as well? Accepting the claims you've made above, Allende's program was an abomination, but your argument seems much too simplistic.

Brian: Your theory lacks any

Brian: Your theory lacks any real indepth study of the topic you chose. Your facts seems to be random pics from the web. Your conclusion sounds so simplistic and ignorant.
Maybe you should consider taking a poll on Chilean exiles and ask them what they think of your theory. That what Allende did was wrong in trying to give power back to the people of Chile. Ask them what they think of your paper.
I am Chilean Brian. My family was kicked out of Chile back in 1974. My father was in the concentration camps because he beleived in Allende's vision of giving back to the people. What you should consider doing Brian is maybe going to Chile or better yet go to Venezuela.
You want to know what a social struggle is, go to Venezuela. The poor want to have a share of the wealth that mainly foreigners own. Go check out Venezuela. There you will see the vision of Allende in motion. What Chavez is doing now is no different than what Allende wanted for his people.
Your lack of knowledge in the matter is pathetic. As a Chilean, I am digusted by people like you who don't know the suffering that our people went through because you chose not to learn more about what happened. If you are American Brian, consider writing about your country first and judging its actions first before you try to analyze another country. Especially Chile.
Never ever forget that Allende was elected democratically by the people. If it wasn't for US intervention Allende would have remained in power. What your story lacks is the part about what America did to oust a democratically elected president from power. You forgot to mention why America/Nixon despised Allende for his Socialist/Marxists views. You forgot to mention the $10 Million dollars the CIA put into Chile to get rid of Allende.
Why did you do that Brian? How could you forget such important facts??

Go back to school Brian. Get educated about the facts. Don't pretend to have knowledge on a subject that you obviously have so little knowledge on.

Ingrid, Is it really that

Is it really that important to ask the exiled Chileans? Isn't it more important to ask the Chileans who remained? Isn't it also true that you as a child of a UP supporter have a slight problem with objectivity.

When you are talking about Chavez, remember that since Chavez gained power there are 2 million more people below the poverty line. How can this be when oil prices are at an all time high? Obviously because of the abject ineptitude of the kleptocratic leaders like Chavez now and Allende before him.

I know many exile Chileans here in Denmark, who are never going back. Those who have visited Chile are horrified by the commercialization of Chile and the preoccupation with material goods of the Chilean population. However all of these are symptoms of a healthy economy, that would never have happened under Allende. The history of Allende is very similar on almost all counts to that of Mugabe in Zimbabwe. I bet the majority of the Zimbabweans would have been pleased if someone had "taken him out" years ago, like Pinochet did in Chile.

Obviously your Dad will remember his idealism, but what he really was was a anti humanist and an anti democrat. I have heard many stories from victims of him and his type and they are not pretty.

I urge you to open your mind and learn about the history from people who experienced it and not from people who couldn't see the forest for all the trees.