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A Coup and a Catastrophe: the Politics of the Battle of Chile 50 Years on

Chris Bambery

11 September 1973, saw a military coup which did not just overthrow the elected Chilean government but unleashed savage repression, which left 30,000 workers dead and countless others tortured, maimed, without work and hungry. One of the aims of the coup [was] to fragment and dismember one of the most insurgent working classes on the continent. Popular Unity entered the elections of 1970 on a programme promising economic growth, based on raising the level of consumption, through increasing wages; land reform; and a programme of nationalisation. The primary target was the US-controlled copper mines, which produced Chile’s key export.  Just 150 out of 3,500 firms were to be taken into state ownership.  Popular Unity polled the largest number of votes in the elections of September 1970 (36.2%), but it did not receive an absolute majority.  What scared the Chilean elite was the fact that the election of a left-wing government had given confidence to the working class, who now began striking, occupying and forming cordónes: coordinating committees linking together workers in different workplaces.  In 1970, the Nixon administration was not ready to back a coup. The White House’s attention was on Vietnam.  Sections of the working class began to arm.  Allende responded by stating:‘There will be no armed forces here other than those stipulated by the constitution.’ Yet this was the moment to break from Popular Unity and to operate independently, arguing for unifying and centralising the cordónes, arming the working class, and repudiating Allende’s compromises with the bourgeoisie.