Not being in Chile today

Thousands of women in the "Never Again Act" in front of La Moneda
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By VLADIMIR SAFATLE*

What we had, in 1973, was the first consistent attempt at what would deserve the name “unarmed revolution”.

Today, September 11, 2023, marks 50 years since the Chilean military coup and the death of Salvador Allende. Several official celebrations take place in Chile today. Politicians and authorities from left-wing governments in Latin America were invited to the festivities. Even the president of France, the neoliberal Emmanuel Macron, sent a message to his professional colleague Gabriel Boric.

People who, like me, were born in Chile in the year of the coup or Brazilians who were there to, in some way, participate in the experience of the Allende government, decided to cross the Andes once again and follow the celebrations. I decided to stay.

Last year, together with the Ubu Editora team, we decided to publish for the first time a translation of Salvador Allende's speeches in Portuguese (The unarmed revolution), we wanted to contribute to a reflection on the possible paths of the Latin American left in the present. It was about questioning the dominant reading that the Chilean third way was a sector of reformism or left-wing populism among us. Nothing more fake. What we had was the first consistent attempt at what would deserve the name “unarmed revolution”.

Today, there is a lot of talk, among officialdom, about Salvador Allende as a Democrat struck by a violent military coup orchestrated directly from the White House. Because Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon knew very well the danger that the success of the Chilean route represented. Salvador Allende, in two years, had achieved true Marxism in stages. More than sixty industrial cordons have proliferated in the country, that is, factories and production complexes self-managed by the working class. The banking system was simply nationalized, as was the main sector of the national economy, namely the copper mines. There is no news of any “reformist” government that has taken actions of this nature.

But innovation was not just in the notion of a continuous and fast process. It also consisted of the refusal to militarize the country's political dynamics. A direct daughter of the reflections of the sixties, the Chilean third way was the first consistent attempt by the global left to take power to carry out a structural transformation of the production model and not seek to impose a single-party dynamic or the atrophy of party pluralism and its parliamentary bodies. This disarmed character was the result of an important awareness, namely, the militarization of revolutionary processes takes the military logic into the revolutionary State, stifling the revolution itself.

This experience was not just affected by a coup d'état. It was bombarded by those who made Chile the first global laboratory of neoliberalism. This same authoritarian neoliberalism that is like a ghost haunting us and that seeks to be imposed on us to this day, through the most violent means or even through redemptive elections.

After the destruction of the Chilean experience, the Latin American left bought into the argument that the problem was not having been able to expand the range of alliances, integrating the “democratic center”, in this case, Christian Democracy.

Among those who are looking for the lost alliance is the current Chilean government of Gabriel Boric, who managed to transform September 11th into a celebration of a democrat against authoritarianism and disrespect for human rights. The result, even so, was that not even the “consensus” text proposed by the government, a kind of generic letter of commitment to democracy to be signed by all political currents in the country, was accepted by the right.

However, if I may say so, the right is right. The Chilean left in power may no longer know, but the right knows very well who Salvador Allende was and what he represents. An honest and consistent Marxist who had no illusions about the brutality of the class struggle that marks our countries. He knew that trying to make deals with “democratic centers” meant making the left the manager of continuous betrayals of its own voters.

Something we have become accustomed to seeing in recent years. At no point did Salvador Allende retreat from his program. His death was not a desperate act, it was a conscious bet on preserving a future. As Freud reminds us, we do not die in the same way. There are deaths that are ways of preserving the open possibilities of the future.

This actually occurred. When the streets burned in Santiago in 2019, Salvador Allende's photos came back, his songs came back. In other words, the fight for an unarmed revolution had returned. And the only celebration worthy of the name would be to show loyalty to this project, to remember the most radical character of the Chilean path, to fight for the self-management of the working class and the overthrow of neoliberalism as a mode of social management. If you could nationalize some banks, the population would be grateful too.

Of course there will be those who will say: but look what happened to the rejected “progressive” constitutional project. Yes it is true. This was a painful and brutal defeat. It raises real questions regarding our speeches, the lack of guarantees we have been able to give regarding the effectiveness of our egalitarianism, the lack of guarantees for those who believe that the left today is only seeking to manage the end of the line of capitalism by proposing a little more diversity for large companies.

But these are all moments of a difficult journey full of challenges. Very different from this is the capitulation of those who talk abstractly about “human rights”, “democracy” and forget the need to preserve horizons of structural transformation and redemptive force for the future, forget what the first hundred days of the Allende government were like.

I say all this to explain that I understood that the most consistent thing with where I came from was to refuse this type of celebration. The best celebration is fidelity to the radicality of real struggles. The best thing the Chilean government could do to honor Salvador Allende was to take advantage of this day and create 60 industrial cordons again, instead of managing rubble.

*Vladimir Safatle He is a professor of philosophy at USP. Author, among other books, of Ways of transforming worlds: Lacan, politics and emancipation (Authentic).
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