World in View: Chileans commemorate Allende’s socialist government

September 22, 2023

by Eugene Walker

Salvador Allende, CC BY-SA 3.0

On Sept. 11, 50 years ago in 1973, the Chilean army, led by Augusto Pinochet, took to the streets of the capital, Santiago, and brutally overthrew the elected government headed by Socialist President Salvador Allende. They murdered him, rounded up thousands, executed many, imprisoning and torturing tens of thousands more, disappearing still others including kidnapping the children of those they murdered. A million Chileans fled into exile. The U.S., under Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, through the CIA, aided the Chilean military after actively working to weaken the elected Allende government.


This was no simple coup, a regime change. It was a turning point in Chile’s, indeed, in Latin America’s history. In 1970, the democratic election of the Allende government signaled a new beginning for Chile, and a bright beacon for much of Latin America. Chile’s copper industry was nationalized. Agricultural reform was started. It was the most important Latin American social process since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Besides its vicious brutality, the military dictatorship that lasted 17 deadly years launched an economic counterrevolution—neoliberalism, whose impact was felt far beyond Chile, and even beyond Latin America. Though the army was the blunt murderous instrument of the coup, it is often referred to as a civil-military coup because of the strong support from the elite business class.

Commemorations of that tragic event were held both Sept. 10 and 11, though the right wing refused to participate in honoring Allende, showing that Chile is still a deeply divided country. Many reactionaries continue to honor Pinochet’s deadly dictatorship.

An October 2019 revolt, centered in Santiago and sparked by youth, led to progressive Gabriel Boric’s current Presidency, which began in March 2022. However, all the work done by activists—Indigenous, women, and youth—to finally write a new progressive Constitution that would fully break with the Pinochet era, went down the drain, when a massive right-wing campaign of disinformation led to its defeat in a plebiscite. Now Chile’s future direction remains unclear.

The 1973 coup should have destroyed, but evidently did not fully destroy, the illusion that bourgeois (that is, capitalist) democracy will allow any authentic socialist transformation process to proceed peacefully. Any such transformation needs to protect itself by whatever means necessary.

See the analysis from News & Letters in 1973:

  • Letter by Raya Dunayevskaya two days after the coup (reprinted in Oct. 2003 N&L, p. 4)
  • October 1973 editorial, “Counter-Revolution in Chile: The End of Illusion” (p. 4 in this pdf)

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