Salvador Allende was the central figure in another tragic “September 11” that shocked the world.
On September 11th, 1973, Allende was assassinated in the presidential palace, during the Augustus Pinochet coup, in Santiago, Chile. This coup marked the onset of a brutal crackdown on leftist and communist movements, not only in Chile but also throughout Latin America, as part of the CIA-backed Operation Condor involving the intelligence services of six Latin American nations.
Allende, the Marxist physician, had been democratically elected by the people of Chile and served as their president for three years. His vision of a peaceful transition to socialism was shattered by the collaboration between the United States and the Chilean bourgeoisie. Together, they orchestrated the economic destabilization of Chile, paving the way for a 17-year-long military junta that perpetrated torture, executions, and forced disappearances of thousands of individuals. Over three thousand people were either discovered dead or remained missing, with approximately 100 thousand subjected to torture and half a million becoming political prisoners or exiles.
Born on June 26, 1908, Salvador Allende entered politics at a young age when he joined the Chilean Socialist Party. He ardently advocated for cooperation with the communists. This broader collaboration between communists, socialists, and other progressive forces gave rise to the “People’s Unity” coalition, which he led to victory in the elections on September 4, 1970. In his campaign program, which was remarkably progressive for its time, Allende promised an “anti-imperialist, anti-oligarch government,” with plans to replace the House and Senate with a “People’s National Assembly.” He committed to, and to some extent achieved, extensive agrarian reforms while simultaneously nationalizing all foreign businesses and banks and progressing with the nationalization of copper mines.
The fundamental flaw of “Popular Unity” lay in its excessive reliance on bourgeois institutions just when it possessed popular support. The government failed to sever the military’s ties with the United States and implement democratic reforms in its ranks and structure. Additionally, the leadership of the Armed Forces remained with Pinochet which proved to be a grave mistake. At the same time, the reactionary army leadership, several months prior to the coup, had initiated a campaign of persecution against democrats and progressive officers and soldiers, without any response from the government.
Conversely, the establishment of the Workers’ Militia had been initiated upon the request of the Workers’ Confederation and under the guidance of the Communist and Socialist Parties. Unfortunately, its progress was agonizingly slow. Consequently, the tragic coup became an inevitability. Overreliance on parliamentary means and the failure to organize and equip the people, especially the working class, proved fatal for the pro-popular movement that had taken root in Chile. The movement endured a severe setback, marked by persecution, torture, disappearances, and the enduring shadow of Pinochet’s dictatorship that lingers to this day.
The Chilean experience vividly illustrates that a democratically elected government, if it does not swiftly adopt radical policies to challenge the bourgeoisie and empower the people, is susceptible to overthrow.