The Allende Myth, by Vladimir Dorta

My friend Val Dorta originally published this outstanding historical essay on his blog in 2003. With the death of Augusto Pinochet, much attention is again being given to the Allende period, the military coup and the dictatorship that followed. I wanted to link again to Val’s essay but, unfortunately, his blog is no longer online. However, Val has graciously allowed me to republish his essay here, and I am honored to do so. – Jonathan

UPDATE: Google’s cached version of Val’s original post, with comments. (Thanks to the commenter who provided this link.)

UPDATE 2 (12/28/2014): The Google-cached version has disappeared from the Web, but Val’s original post is available via here.


The Allende Myth

Vladimir Dorta


The failed and tragic attempt by Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity at creating socialism in Chile in 1970-1973 has become a myth for the world left, presented as the possibility of a peaceful and democratic transition to socialism that was destroyed only because the almighty CIA acted as master puppeteer of the Chilean reaction. The myth reinforces itself; while the Cold War context is never mentioned, neither is the fact that the CIA’s workings are well documented whereas the Cuban and Soviet interventions are still mostly unknown. The Allende myth may be good for keeping the socialist faith alive, but it evidently contradicts the historical facts.

While Augusto Pinochet’s brutal post-coup repression and terrorism cannot be justified, it is essential to explain what led him and the Chilean armed forces to the fateful coup d’état, outside of the fantasy that had him bursting onto the democratic Chilean political scene on September 11, 1973 with readymade CIA orders to stop a beautiful, pacific and liberating socialist dream. For I have no doubts that if the Chilean Marxist experiment had ended in civil war, as it appeared to most observers at the time, it would have been an even greater tragedy or, had it ended as the totalitarian society it pointed to, it would have lasted much longer and would have brought Chileans much more suffering than Pinochet’s ugly but temporary dictatorship.

There occurred many important episodes leading to the coup, but I have chosen those that most clearly present the myth in all its falseness. To support the post I have selected four diverse books, one by a right-wing author (Moss), another by a trio of Marxists (Roxborough) and two by recognized scholars (Sigmund and Alexander); all of them knew Chile well and had first-hand experience of the Allende period.

It is clear, I believe, that Allende and the Popular Unity were deposed by reasons of a powerful internal combination of economic, political and social factors, mostly of their own creation, and for most of which Salvador Allende himself bears the main responsibility —either as conscious agent or as fellow traveler, despite that important part of the myth that makes him appear as a convinced democrat and a father figure:

  1. A minority Marxist coalition government (in reality only its executive power) with disparate ideas on how and how fast to carry out the transition to socialism, whose political strategy hinged on a plebiscite to implement the fundamental political changes presented in their programme but that never got the requisite electoral majority, and that in the interim was being bypassed from the left by its own extremist faction and their allies outside the Popular Unity;
  1. An economic chaos of liberal money printing, wage increases and price controls, decreasing production and increasing food imports, runaway world-record inflation, work stoppages and lockouts, state industry mismanagement, workers’ demands and politicization and, finally, shortages and rationing, that paralyzed the country;
  1. An increasing polarization of political forces that led to institutional deadlock between the executive, represented by Allende and the Popular Unity parties, and the other two branches of government, represented by the united opposition who, in the end, practically called for the military to act;
  1. A deep and growing social commotion that eventually resulted in the subversion and breakdown of democratic institutions and a “dual power” situation that threatened civil war and that the high command of the Chilean armed and police forces, who saw themselves as —and in fact were— final arbiters, could not allow to continue.

From Frei to Allende

Chile had a history similar to other Latin American countries, one of increasing statism and populism that mired the country in backwardness, with a frail economy based on latifundio and the export of minerals and that was also ravaged by chronic inflation. However, Chile’s political institutions were strong and the armed forces were mostly apolitical, having intervened in civil affairs only once early in the twentieth century. Chile even had a short-lived socialist government in 1932 and several failed Popular Front-type electoral coalitions, and Allende himself had come fairly close to winning the presidency in 1964, getting 38.6% of the vote when the center-left Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei was elected president.

“Although different in their ideological inspiration, Frei’s policies were similar to those of most governments in recent Chilean history in their populist orientation, based as they were on an appeal to an alliance of the middle and lower classes to secure national independence, popular participation, and social justice.” (Sigmund, p. 126)

Since Frei’s reforms didn’t seem to go far enough, the country was apparently ready for even deeper and more radical ones, and that was what the Popular Unity promised. For a country where statism had already advanced due to the deep reform that Frei called chileanization and that squeezed the wealthy as much as the fragile economic system allowed, the Popular Unity’s basic tenet that dependencia, imperialist monopolies and the bourgeoisie were the problem, and Stalinist-like, centralized state control of the economy was the solution proved to be, in hindsight, an absurd assumption that did not need much time to explode in all its falsehood, with sad results for all Chileans.

In the presidential elections of 1970, Allende got 36.2% of the vote, Alessandri (National Party) 34.9% and Tomic (Christian Democratic Party) 27.8%. According to the constitution, the Chilean congress had to choose the president between the first and second finishers. The only way the Christian Democrats could vote for Allende was to assure themselves of the continuity of democracy, and in this regard they negotiated a political document, the Statute of Democratic Guarantees, that became one of the keys to understand how the drama ended. This document drew two lines that Allende could not cross and still remain in power. The first was the continuation of democratic institutions, basically meaning that any deep change had to be approved by Congress. The second was to ensure that the military was untouchable and that it remained the final guarantor of the democratic institutions of the country. (Sigmund, p. 120)

“[Frei’s] successor, Salvador Allende, came into office with the same economic and political constraints upon his actions, but he was much less willing to take them into account. When it became evident that the economic transition [to socialism] was not to be so easy, the maintenance of political legitimacy became central. It appeared that at some point Allende would be forced to choose between a policy of populist nationalist legalism … or a Marxist-inspired policy of class polarization which [would] sooner or later lead to a violent confrontation. As it turned out, he tried to pursue both policies at once —with tragic consequences for himself and for Chile.” (Sigmund, p. 127)

Political Dilemma

“The [official] political strategy of the Popular Unity stemmed from a central assumption, that the transition to socialism proceeded by a series of stages, the first of which was winning an electoral majority.” The second stage in the transition was to repeat that majority in a plebiscite that was key to the transformation because it would destroy the fundamental balance of the three government powers: it would have approved a single-chamber Congress and Supreme Court based on the East German model, who would be a rubber-stamp for the executive, plus neighborhood popular tribunals modeled after Cuba’s. The plebiscite, however, was never called by Allende because he knew the Popular Unity could not win it.

The Popular Unity was caught in a dilemma of its own making:

On the one hand, it could not postpone the socialist transition to an indeterminate future because that would alienate their own supporters, but the constitutional and peaceful transition to socialism pushed by its gradualist wing (represented by the Communist and Radical parties and Allende’s faction of the Socialist Party) wasn’t possible due to the minority status of the Popular Unity.

On the other hand, the extreme, revolutionary left inside (the Altamirano faction of the Socialist Party) and outside the Popular Unity (the MIR and the Christian Left), itself a minority within a minority, could not impose a rapid transition to socialism but anyhow began creating a “dual power” situation similar to the early Russian Revolution, in which the cordones industriales (industrial parks), campamentos (squatter neighborhoods) and poblaciones (slum-dwellers) of the main cities would form Soviets and become the basis of a worker-peasant army that “co-coordinated with a more protracted guerrilla campaign in the southern provinces” would eventually be capable of engaging and beating the Chilean armed forces. (Roxborough, pp. 71-73; Moss, pp. 101-103, 107)

The Popular Unity was therefore in the middle of a storm of increasing tempo and of their own creation: A minority that acted as a majority; that talked legality but overstepped the laws; that negotiated with the Christian Democrats while trying to split them; that attracted the middle classes and scared them; that talked reformism when extremism was all around it. This whirlwind of political forces at odds with one another, central to the Popular Unity action and to Allende’s personal and political behavior, only grew during the three years of the Popular Unity government, as its two wings pulled both state and society in different directions while triggering a violent reaction on the extreme right (Movimiento Patria y Libertad) and forcing the democratic right (Partido Nacional) and center and moderate left (Partido Demócrata Cristiano and others) to unite decisively against them.

Regarding congressional and municipal elections, the Christian Democrats and Nacionales began coming together by the mid-1971 elections in Valparaíso (CDP 50%, UP 48.5%) and the municipal by-elections in April 1971 (opposition 49.9%, PU 48.2%) and July 1971 (opposition 50.14%, PU 48.5%). Chile was under a total political deadlock and the government was losing electoral ground, as shown by almost every election. The January 1972 by-elections in the provinces of O’Higgins/Colchagua and Linares again saw a united opposition gaining on the government. The CDP candidate won O’Higgins/Colchagua by 52.7% against the government’s 46.4%; in Linares a National Party candidate won 58% of the vote against the government’s (a woman) 40.9%, with women voting almost two-to-one for the opposition. The Communist Party’s political commission reported that “the elections have confirmed a deterioration in the position of the government.” “Thus while the elections had united the right-wing parties in their struggle against Popular Unity, they had simply deepened the divisions within the Left between reformists and revolutionaries.” (Roxborough, p. 206). Lastly, in the congressional elections of March 1973 that Allende hoped would give him the required majority, the division was maintained at about 55% opposition, 44% government. Though propagandized as a victory for the government because the Popular Unity slightly increased its representatives, the numbers were similar to previous legislative elections listed above and clearly showed a political deadlock.

Once the Popular Unity’s policies that were specifically designed to woo the middle class away from the Christian Democrats failed, it is naïve to suppose that those Chileans caught in the middle would accept radical change without resistance when their living standards were going down rapidly, or that institutions such as the Catholic Church, the armed forces, congress and the judiciary would remain neutral as the democratic state was being destroyed. Especially when it was only a temporary tactic forced by the political circumstances. After all, Allende himself had confided to Regis Debray “that his differences with apostles of violence like Guevara were only ‘tactical,’ plus his admission that he was observing legality ‘for the time being,’ and his assertion that he had agreed to the Statute of Democratic Guarantees as a ‘tactical necessity’.” (Sigmund, p. 140). And his own Socialist Party, at its Congress in January 1971, had stated that “the special conditions under which Popular Unity came to power oblige it to observe the limits of a bourgeois state for now” and had warned its members to prepare for “the decisive confrontation with the bourgeoisie and imperialism.” (Sigmund, footnote 7/12)

Economic Debacle

Since Congress was dominated by the opposition majority, the Popular Unity unearthed old legislation from the short-lived Socialist Republic of 1932 —legislation which had never been repealed but that allowed only temporary requisition of firms that had gone bankrupt. Using this legislation in a not-that-legal way during his first year in power, Allende “gained almost complete control of the production of nitrates, iodine, copper, coal, iron, steel; about 90% of the financial and banking sector; about 90% of the financial and banking sector; almost 80% of exports and 55% of imports; as well as a substantial part of the textile, cement, metal, fishing, soft drink, electronics, and part of the distribution industries.” (Roxborough, pp. 89-90). In 1969 the Chilean state already owned 33 big companies; by 1972, Allende had nationalized a total of 264, much more than the 91 the Popular Unity programme had promised and, finally, The Central Workers Confederation (CUT), controlled by the Communist Party, took advantage of the failed June 29, 1973 military coup to illegally take over most private companies. “In a single day, the number of companies taken over by the government nearly doubled, rising from 282 to 526. Allende not only does nothing to stop it, he calls for the workers to create el poder popular.” (Sigmund, p. 215)

Companies were seized by whatever means available: nationalization, intervention, forced bankruptcy, requisitioning, stock purchase and workers’ seizure after a strike. A typical form of securing state control of a company started by declaring that it was important for future government plans, then buying shares of the company from private stockholders and trying to bankrupt it by decreeing price increases for the raw materials used by the particular industry (on top of previously decreed higher wages), while denying price increases for the products the company sold. Private banks had been nationalized by “driving the price of the stock down by threats of nationalization and then offering to buy it at a price well above that offered by the market.” (Sigmund, p. 157)

A policy of wage increases and price controls hit small and medium businesses hard, supplies began to grow scarce, the black market expanded and government-supported People’s Supply Committees began replacing shopkeepers as a solution for the shortages. Their policy towards the middle classes having failed, the result was that at the end of their second year in power, the Popular Unity and Allende were isolated and a relatively small but clear majority of Chileans strongly opposed them.

“The Allende government’s economic policies were an almost unmitigated disaster. With the exception of an interesting and positive experiment made during the first year of the administration, these policies were negative and generated Chile’s worst economic crisis in its entire history as an independent country. The economic disaster was multidimensional. Before the end of the regime, production was declining precipitously, investments were severely curtailed, savings were all but nonexistent, levels of living of the masses were as low or lower than they had been when Allende took office, shortages were all but universal. Most striking of all, inflation had become completely uncontrollable, running at more than 300 percent a year, with the prices increasing more and more each day.” (Alexander, p. 173)

“The Marxists promised in 1970 to end inflation. But the rate of inflation in 1972 was more than 163 per cent, a world record. Over the twelve months up to August 1973 the rate of inflation was 323 per cent. Those figures are comparable only, perhaps, with what happened in Weimar Germany, or with the state of things in Brazil on the eve of the generals’coup … Inflation under Allende was the result both of declining production —due to the reckless and disorderly process of state takeover of private firms— and of the government’s clumsy attempts to cover its whopping budgetary deficit by printing paper money.” (Moss, p. 54). “The deficit for 1973 … reached 53 percent of the government budget. (Central Bank figures indicate that the money supply rose by 3,400 percent by the end of 1973). (Sigmund, p. 234)”

“Agriculture suffered an even greater decline in output than did manufacturing. In 1972, the fall was about 6.7 percent, and it is estimated that the further decline in 1973 was 16.8 percent. The falloff in output of specific crops was especially striking. For instance, the output of wheat fell almost 50 percent, that of barley by more than 25 percent, oats by 12.4 percent, and rice by almost 30 percent. Similar declines were to be noted in almost all of the other product areas … Agricultural output undoubtedly declined because of diminution in the amount of land under cultivation. In the three years of the Allende regime, this total fell by about 22.4 percent. A ‘secret’ report of the Socialist party in 1972 admitted that almost half of the land the Allende government had taken over in the agrarian reform was not being cultivated.” (Alexander, p. 179)

“A survey made by one chain of cooperative stores operating mainly in the poorer neighborhoods reported that at the end of 1972, about 2,500 of some 3,000 products for the home which were normally kept in stock could no longer be obtained. In the face of these shortages, President Allende was very reticent about establishing an open and formal system of rationing. Over and over, he insisted that he would never impose rationing on the citizenry. To the end he denied that there was a system or rationing. In fact, during at least the last year of the government a de facto rationing system did exist. It operated on at least two levels, that of the working-class areas and that of the middle- and upper-class parts of the cities.” (Alexander, p. 185)

“This crisis was not the result of deliberate administration policy. Rather, it was the result of the chaotic and often illegal way in which private enterprises were being shifted to the social area; the total discouragement of investment in, and even maintenance of, the property still held by private firms and individuals; the conflicting government objectives to redistribute income and expand the economy in which the economy was largely sacrificed to income redistribution; the decline in output caused by social conflict and mismanagement; and the increasingly convulsed political situation resulting from the government’s unwillingness to compromise with the still majority opposition. Whatever the causes of the economic crisis, its political effects proved catastrophic. The economic situation, particularly the shortages and the uncontrolled inflation, helped create the ‘prerevolutionary’ atmosphere of the last weeks and months of the Unidad Popular government.” (Alexander, p. 193)

Chile, Armed Camp

In March 1972, thirteen large wooden crates that came from Cuba contained more than a ton of armaments for the Popular Unity (that were stored even in Allende’s own presidential residence), and the arm searches enforced by the military in 1973 revealed stockpiling of arms by both the government and the opposition. This was one of the main factors in the military decision to organize a coup later in the year. On May 23, 1973, eight air force generals protested to Allende his inaction against the MIR. The armed forces began thinking about intervention as far back as April 1972, when Pinochet himself acknowledged “that a peaceful solution to the political impasse was impossible.” (Sigmund, p. 226)

In July, the Christian Democratic Party issues “a statement accusing the government of attempting to set up an armed militia by distributing arms in the seized factories and the cordones industriales.” “The establishment of this de facto ‘people’s power’ with the evident participation of state authorities is incompatible with the survival of the ‘institutional power’ of law established by the constitution.” The author adds: “(visiting Chile at this time, I was astounded at the widespread acquisition of arms by both pro- and antigovernment Chileans.)” (Sigmund, p. 218)

US Intervention

The US adopted a tough line against the Chilean government at the end of 1971, when Fidel Castro visits Chile and stays for a month, clearly intervening in Chilean politics by speaking in support of Allende, calling the opposition “fascists” and calling democratic bastions such as a free press, elections and representative institutions “condemned by history as decadent and anachronistic.” Also at that time, the terms of compensation for the expropriated US companies appeared as virtually confiscatory. But the intervention, if real and continuous, was also ill-timed and clumsy and did not have the importance the left-wing world opinion attributed to it. Prior to Allende’s accession to power, the CIA did not have contacts within the active military and had to conspire through the US Military Attaché in Chile. The plot included both active and retired officers but all the efforts failed, and it not only did not stop Allende acceding to power but was totally counterproductive. During Allende’s government, the CIA continued its efforts but mainly in the form of a general and limited monetary help to right-wing groups that was inconsequential. The much vaunted CIA help to the two truckers’ strikes wasn’t that important, as the truckers’ needs were very small and easily solved by their internal supporters. “Belief that the CIA money was responsible for the success of the truckers’ shutdowns requires an act of faith. The facts are that the needs of the truck drivers were relatively modest and that the strikers received widespread help within Chile to meet these needs.” (Alexander, p. 229)

This is what the three Marxist authors had to say about the supposed US “informal blockade” of suspended credits and no new loans: “That blockade did, as indicated, cause some damage to the Chilean economy, but the effects of the blockade were somewhat mitigated by the UP finding alternative sources of supplies, aid and credit. Thus, although the ‘informal blockade’ played a part in the economic crisis, the main cause of that crisis must be sought elsewhere. In any case, something like the ‘informal blockade’ must have been expected, and one assumes, taken into account when making policies … there is nothing in the history of US relations with Latin America to suggest that it would continue to supply aid and credits to a Latin American government which expropriates US property and attacks US policies.” (Roxborough, pp. 155, 156). It must also be emphasized that Allende declared a moratorium on Chile’s debt in 1971.

Regarding the Pinochet coup, there is absolutely no evidence the US had anything to do with it. As a former military officer with knowledge about the Chilean military situation at the time, I am sure the Chilean armed forces needed neither orders from outside nor external help to take the Popular Unity government down. “The CIA activities, whatever they were, were of little or no importance in determining the ultimate fate of the Allende regime. They failed to prevent the election of Allende as president, they at most made only marginal contributions to the campaigns against the Unidad Popular government, and they had nothing to do with the final decision of the military leaders to oust Allende.” (Alexander, p. 231)

This is what the Marxist authors said about the issue:

“United States imperialism acted consistently to defend its interests, just as it has done and will continue to do in other parts of the world. But it must be stressed that while the US played an important role in creating the conditions for a military coup and even directly aided the Chilean bourgeoisie in its efforts to overthrow Allende, it did not by any means act alone. The Popular Unity government was overthrown by its own bourgeoisie (and its political agent, the armed forces) when it became clear that there was a real threat to bourgeois society. In view of the prevalence of conspiratorial views of imperialism intervention in underdeveloped countries, it should be stressed that the principal reason why the Allende government was overthrown by the Chilean bourgeoisie was because there existed the threat that the working class would make a socialist revolution, despite the reformists of the Popular Unity.” (Roxborough, p. 114)

Paul Sigmund:

“That a committed Marxist could come to the presidency of what was basically a very ‘bourgeois’ society, and that he would only be overthrown after the breakdown of the economy and the widespread belief that his government was systematically violating the constitution, are all explicable in terms of the strength of Chilean political institutions which until September 1973 endured strains that no other democratic system in the world could have supported for such a period of time … I take account of the role of the CIA and U.S. policy, but I do not believe it made a decisive difference. I am now convinced —with the benefit of hindsight— that even if the CIA had not been giving substantial financial support to the opposition, Allende would not have lasted a full six-year term unless he had drastically altered his policies, so long as the armed forces retained the autonomy and independence which they were guaranteed from the outset of his administration.” (Sigmund, p. xii)

and Robert Alexander:

“It has been frequently maintained that during the Allende years the U.S. government imposed a ‘blockade,’ which effectively prevented the UP government from receiving economic and financial aid from abroad. This, it is said, gravely undermined the economic and financial situation of the Allende administration and was largely responsible for its balance-of-payments problems … The facts do not support such allegations. The international lending agencies did not completely refuse to provide aid to Chile during the Allende administration. To be sure, the U.S. government’s Export-Import Bank made no loans to Chile during the Allende regime —but it had made virtually none during the last two years of the Frei administration either. The private U.S. banks sharply reduced their short-term lines of credit to Chile during the period —but for business reasons having nothing to do with an organized and deliberate ‘blockade.’ Finally, whatever efforts it may have made in that direction, the United States was utterly ineffective in preventing aid from being offered by other governments; in fact, the Allende regime received more economic help and promises of help than any previous Chilean government had ever gotten in a three-year period.” (Alexander, p. 219)

The Final Struggle

This is how Robert Alexander saw the last year of the Allende government:

“In retrospect, the events of October 1972 to September 1973 seem almost to have been preordained. Each move Allende made, seemed destined to weaken his position and to seal his fate. Every effort made by those who sought to avoid the final catastrophe seemed doomed to failure before it started. Allende’s ‘friends’ were in fact his worst enemies, but he was unable or unwilling to reach out to those who might have been able to save the situation.” (Alexander, p. 301)

The final battleground between the Popular Unity and the opposition was Congress. The Christian Democrats introduced an amendment to the nationalization law, the amendment was approved and Allende vetoed it. The fight then translated to whether congress needed a simple majority or two-thirds to overrule the presidential veto. The “constitutional confrontation [was] likened by many to the one in 1891 between President Balmaceda and the Congress which had led to a bloody civil war.” (Sigmund, p. 168). The impasse reached a point of crisis, the Supreme Court and the Controller General ruling that “[the veto] does not conform to the norms of the Constitution…” (Alexander, p. 317). In June 1973, the Ministry of the Interior ordered the Carabineros (police) not to carry out court orders, and the Supreme Court wrote two “open letters to President Allende protesting the press campaign and asserting that nonfulfillment of court orders and the abuse of legal loopholes were leading to ‘the imminent breakdown of the judicial order.’ However, the campaign against the judiciary continued, and now it was broadened to include the controller general as well.” (Sigmund, p. 210). The impasse would last until the end of the Popular Unity government “and thus set the seal of doom upon an administration which was already inextricably caught in a gathering crisis.”

By the end of July, dialogue wasn’t possible anymore after an agreement between Allende and the Christian Democratic Party fails. Allende’s advisor Joan Garcés quotes Allende on not accepting the CDP demands: “Never! That would result in the division of Popular Unity and therefore the end of the revolutionary movement.” (Sigmund, footnote 10/31)

“Allende’s government was becoming increasingly isolated. The last bridges between it and the opposition were broken; it entered into open constitutional conflict with other branches of government; its relations with the military rapidly deteriorated.” (Alexander, p. 316)

On August 6, Allende for the first time retires two senior air force generals to open the way for the promotion of a general sympathetic to the government. (Sigmund, p. 225). This was another clear breach of the Statute of Democratic Guarantees. The following day, the Navy discovers a left-wing plot of enlisted men. Forty-three sailors are arrested and the Navy accuses Socialist Senator Carlos Altamirano, MAPU Deputy Oscar Garretón and MIR leader Miguel Enriquez of being “intellectual authors.” Carlos Altamirano (who was also Secretary General of Allende’s Socialist Party) proudly admits the accusation. Already in July 1973, Congress had rejected Allende’s request for state-of-siege powers by a vote of 82 to 51, and the presidents of the two houses of Congress had issued “a joint statement denouncing the establishment of ‘popular power’, which they said amounted to the de facto creation of a ‘parallel army in which numerous foreigners are involved’.” (Sigmund, p. 216). “The threat to the military’s monopoly of the instruments of coercion, now combined with attempts to subvert the hierarchy of command from below (the infiltration of the navy) and above (the replacement of the top military commanders) provided the classic scenario for a coup d’état.” (Sigmund, p. 227)

The Christian Democrats hardened their attitude and declared that “in Chile there exist armed groups, and the laws and the Constitution are broken. From then on, it was only a matter of time as the denunciations piled up. By 22 August, the Chamber of Deputies had openly called on the armed forces to leave the cabinet and to take action to ensure the essential bases for democratic harmony among the Chilean people.” (Roxborough, p. 120);

The Chamber of Deputies, by a vote of 81 to 45, had resolved

“to present to the President of the Republic and to the Ministers of State, members of the Armed Forces and of the Corps of Carabineros, the grave breakdown of constitutional and legal order in the Republic … and to indicate to them, furthermore, that in view of their functions, of their oath of loyalty to the Constitution and the laws, and in the case of the Ministers, of the nature of the institutions of which they are high members, and the name of which they invoked upon becoming Ministers, it behooves them to put an immediate end to all of the de facto situations which infringe the Constitution and the laws, so as to conduct government action in legal channels and assure the constitutional order of our fatherland and the essential bases of democratic coexistence among Chileans.” (Alexander, p. 318)

“It was later debated whether in any sense it provided a legal basis for military intervention. It did not have the force of law… The important thing about the 22 August resolution was that it could be interpreted as a moral basis for military intervention, so long as it was intended to ‘re-establish the rule of the constitution and the law.’ This marked a major turning-point in the relationship between Congress and the armed forces.” (Moss, pp. 197-198)

Allende spent Sunday, August 19 with Regis Debray:

“They discussed Allende’s maneuvers with the military, and Debray had the impression that Allende enjoyed the chess game he was playing with them. Yet, Debray noted, ‘everyone knew that it was only to secure time or organize, to arm, to coordinate the military apparatus of the Popular Unity parties —a race against the clock which had to go on week after week.’ Allende was guided in this game, writes Debray, by two principles. On the one hand, he felt a visceral rejection of civil war which, given the balance of forces, would be lost. He was not taken in by the phrase ‘people’s power.’ When those on the left declared that ‘only the direct action of the masses will stop the coup d’état,’ he would reply, ‘How many of the masses are needed to stop a tank?’ On the other hand, he was determined not to tarnish the image which he wanted to leave to history by giving in to the military on the essentials of his program. But between these two conflicting principles, Allende refused to choose, since he thought or pretended that his two fundamental aims were not contradictory. His refusal to recognize that these two principles were mutually exclusive contributed to his overthrow three weeks later.” (Sigmund, pp. 229-230)

Democracy and Free Market

Few critics are interested in the prosperous Chile of today. Its democracy is again flourishing despite a history of divisions that long preceded Allende’s term, and it is so because of the only happy outcome of the entire tragedy: Chile has finally taken the self-sustaining path of capitalist development, like its feline Asian counterparts did in other — and in one case just as tragic— circumstances. Its export diversification that no longer makes it reliant on copper, its 2% to 4% inflation rate, its lowering of poverty to only 20% of the population (an impossible dream for any other Latin American country and for most of the Third World) or its free trade agreements with the US and the EU are not interesting topics to write about, as opposed to the cruel fantasy of making the revolution and creating socialism. Chile’s prosperity is too boring to make the news.

In a cunning twist of history, the hated Pinochets of this world are the final saviors of the democratic status quo. There is one simple reason why Ricardo Lagos, the current socialist president of Chile, has continued the dictator’s free-market economics. It works, while all the alternatives tried in Chile during the entire twentieth century didn’t. When questioned about Pinochet’s economic change, this is what Alejandro Foxley, Chile’s first finance minister after the dictatorship, said (pdf file):

“I was in charge of the economy at the time. I was minister of finance from 1990 to ‘94. We always said that the main thing we had to do was to make sure that there was an equilibrium between change and continuity. The mature countries are countries that don’t always start from scratch. We had to recognize that in the previous government, the foundations had been established for a more modern market economy, and we would start from there, restoring a balance between economic development and social development. And that’s what we did. After the first four years of economic transition in Chile, everybody was saying, ‘These guys who are coming to power with democracy, they will mess it up.’ After four years the economy had grown an average of 8.2 percent a year, and the poverty was reduced by half. So I have a lot of confidence in democracy because of these results. In terms of the deeper transformation of the economy, they certainly were able to anticipate what became a global trend afterwards. They were able to start a process of deregulating the markets, opening up the economy, and allowing everybody to have a share in world markets, to be able to compete, and the need to increase productivity. All of those things later became a global trend. That was their contribution. They were able to anticipate a global trend, and Chile has benefited from them.”


Ian Roxborough, Phil O’Brien & Jackie Roddick, Chile: The State and Revolution, Holmes & Meier, New York, 1977.

Robert Moss, Chile’s Marxist Experiment, David & Charles Newton Abbot, London, 1973.

Robert J. Alexander, The Tragedy of Chile, Geenwood, Westport, 1978.

Paul E. Sigmund, The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1964-1976, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1977.

Discuss this post at the Chicago Boyz Forum.

11 thoughts on “The Allende Myth, by Vladimir Dorta”

  1. Pingback: University Update
  2. Great essay, an history that should be critical reading for anyone who wants to know anything about Chile or even Latin America as a whole. Allende received far more financial support from the Soviet Union and Cuba than the opposition could have dreamed of from the USA. Fact is, the Christian Democrats have always been the sway factor in Chilean politics. When they swung against Allende, they hit him square in the nose. By the time of the coup, almost all of society was against him and his complete and utter destruction of any semblance of quality of life in the country. I would have supported the coup as well if I had been alive, and I have many friends who, along with their parents, certainly supported it.

    And so, it must also be recognized, that once Pinochet had outlived his welcome within less than a decade, the Christian Democrats swung at him too. And by 1989 they had put together a grassroots campaign that won democracy to go along with that great economy.

  3. This would be a great deal more readable if the formatting weren’t completely hosed. As viewed in Internet Explorer 6, that is.

  4. I would be interested in a similar analysis of the CIA’s role in another leftist myth, the ouster of Mossadegh in Iran. Unfortunately, some chest-thumpers at the CIA went on the record claiming greater credit than they deserved in that coup and muddied the waters. But, the notion that a handful of CIA operatives single-handedly brought down the Iranian government without significant inside support has always struck me as fanciful and, in fact, it has been documented that the military and business classes rebelled against the assumption of dictatorial powers by Mossadegh.

    I know that Mossadegh’s crucial support came from the undeground Tudeh (Communist) party but, I have not found information on what direct hand the Soviets had in his ascension to power. Does anyone know of a good, objective reference?

  5. About a year ago, a report surfaced that Allende didn’t commit suicide, but was killed by members of his Cuban security detail. The Cubans judged him much more useful as a martyr than a failure, call it the “Che precedent.” No solid confirmation AFAIK.

  6. This isn’t only a great blog post, but a great resource. Awesome, Awesome, Awesome.

    One question I have is how bad was Pinochet’s rule, really? Maybe anything less than the strong actions he took would have plunged the country into outright civil war or violent communist takeover?

    So you torture and kill people who are notoriously secretive, funded by foreign communist entities and who are planning the violent overthrow of your government and possibly the murder of a very large number of citizens. So what? Ask the Cambodians or Ukranians if they would have preferred a few thousand leftists get tortured or killed to the millions that were slaughtered when those leftists took power. Ask the Afghans if they would have preferred that to 10 years of war.

    Pinochet’s coup and rule shouldn’t be remembered for it’s “tyranny”, but for it’s peacefulness. Where else was a KGB funded revolution thwarted with so little bloodshed?

  7. Well written but based on anti-Allende and anti-left literature. It is well known that Robert Moss was a very, very conservative “writer” for the Economist (which DESPISED Allende). I believe the book referenced here was even partially paid for by the CIA.

    So, yeah. This essay is just re-hashing conservative critiques, which is all fine and well, but there needs to be a more balanced analysis.

  8. Well written but based on anti-Allende and anti-left literature. It is well known that Robert Moss was a very, very conservative “writer” for the Economist (which DESPISED Allende). I believe the book referenced here was even partially paid for by the CIA.

    So, yeah. This essay is just re-hashing conservative critiques, which is all fine and well, but there needs to be a more balanced analysis.

    [forgot to put in my blog address]

Comments are closed.