Chile, 48 years later

Image: Elyeser Szturm


 “Learn the lesson (because) much sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again, through which the free man will pass, to build a better society. I am sure that my sacrifice will not be in vain.”
(Salvador Allende, at 9:30 am on September 11, 1973).

The military coup, the death of Salvador Allende and the end of the Popular Unity government, on the cloudy, cold and melancholy morning of September 11, 1973 in Santiago de Chile, was a tragic moment in the political history of the Latin American left, and it was also a moment of irreversible change in critical and progressive thinking on the continent.

In the 60's and until the beginning of the 70's of the last century, Latin America lived a moment of intense intellectual and political creativity. It was the golden period of the Cuban revolution and its influence on the armed struggle movements on the continent, in particular, in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, and a little later, in Central America. It was the time of the military reformism of Velasco Alvarado, in Peru, and of Juan Jose Torres, in Bolivia; the return of Peronism and the victory of Juan Domingos Peron in Argentina; of the first Christian-democratic reformist experience, in Venezuela, and above all, of the “ECLAC reformism”, of Eduardo Frei, and of the “democratic socialism”, of Salvador Allende, in Chile. Against the background, as a political and intellectual challenge, the “economic miracle” of the Brazilian military regime.

During this period, Santiago became the meeting point for intellectuals from all over the world, and became the epicenter of what was perhaps the most creative period in Latin American political and intellectual history of the XNUMXth century. Revolutionaries and reformists, Christian Democrats, socialists, communists and radicals, technocrats and intellectuals, union leaders, priests, artists and students discussed – at all hours and in all corners of the city – about revolution and socialism, but also, on development and underdevelopment, industrialization and agrarian reform, imperialism and dependency, democracy and social reforms, and on the historical specificity of Latin American capitalism.

Why Santiago? Because Chile was the only country on the continent where there was an attempt – in fact – to combine democracy with socialism, nationalizations with private capitalism, and developmentalism with agrarian reform, during the Popular Front period, between 1938 and 1947, and during the Unidad government. Popular, between 1970 and 1973, but also, to a certain extent, during the Christian Democratic government of Eduardo Frei, between 1964 and 1970. In the 1930s, Chilean socialists and communists formed a Popular Front with the Radical Party, won the 1938 presidential elections, and then were re-elected three more times before being torn apart by US intervention at the start of the Cold War in 1947. The Chilean Popular Front governments, under the leadership of the Radical Party, placed their emphasis on in programs for the universalization of education and public health, but also in infrastructure, planning and protection of the domestic market and industry.

But it was only in 1970 that the Popular Unity government explicitly proposed a project of “democratic transition to socialism”, as a development strategy without destroying the capitalist economy. Before Allende, the Christian Democrats “Chileanized” copper, and began agrarian reform, but the UP government accelerated agrarian reform and radicalized the nationalization of foreign copper-producing companies, and went beyond this by proposing to create a “ strategic industrial core”, state-owned, which should be the leader of the capitalist economy and the embryo of the future socialist economy. This was, in fact, the bone of contention that divided the left throughout the Popular Unity government, reaching the point of rupture, between those who wanted to limit industrial nationalization to strategic sectors of the economy, and those who wanted to extend it, until it originated a new “mode of production”, under state hegemony. Well, this absolutely original project of the “democratic transition to socialism” of the Popular Unity government was interrupted by General Pinochet's military coup, with decisive support from the US and the Brazilian military government.

But as Salvador Allende predicted, in his last speech, “much sooner than later”, the Socialist Party returned to the government of Chile, in 1989, allied with the Christian Democrats. But at that moment, the Chilean communists had been decimated, and the socialists had already adhered to the neoliberal consensus, hegemonic during the 1990s, and had put aside their socialist dreams. A decade later, however, at the beginning of the 1960st century, the left advanced much further and won the government of almost every country in South America. And at this time, a large number of young people from the 1970s and XNUMXs, who heard Allende's last words, in the Coin Palace, were called to govern.

Everywhere, in various parts of South America, the left returned to discuss socialism, developmentalism, equality and new strategies for social transformation for the XNUMXst century. But after a decade, the Latin American left realized that the word “socialism” today has absolutely different connotations in the Andes Mountains, in the Great Metropolises, in the small towns, or in the vast fields occupied by the export success of the agribusiness; that “developmentalism” has become an anodyne and technocratic project, devoid of any utopian horizon; that defending “industry” or “re-industrialization” has become a commonplace in the press, which can mean anything according to the economist on the move; and “social reformism” was dissolved into a set of disconnected policies and programs originating from the World Bank, more concerned with their “cost-effectiveness” than with the struggle for social equality.

Adding and subtracting today, exactly forty-eight years after Salvador Allende's death, the balance is very clear and challenging: the left-wing generation of the 1960s and 1970s came to power in many countries, but no longer had them on their side. the power of the dream and utopia that led Salvador Allende to resistance, silence and death, on that violent and unforgettable morning of September 11, 1973, in the cloudy, cold and melancholy city of Santiago de Chile.

Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

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