11 September 2023 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the violent overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and its publishing imprint – Spokesman Books – responded vigorously to these events through a series of initiatives and publications. The following items record some of these efforts and activities.
What does this history and these historical publications have to teach us today? Writing in his introduction to The Lessons of Chile (Spokesman, 1975 – see below), John Gittings explains that:
The lessons of another people’s revolutionary experience cannot be learnt mechanically. But … what happened in Chile does raise a set of basic questions which can hardly be avoided by any people trying to make the transition towards socialism. How, if the “parliamentary road” is taken, can one neutralise those institutions which will obstruct it or set up alternatives to them? Can a left wing government improve the standard of living of the deprived, and yet cope with the economic sabotage of hostile elements? And how can a legal government anticipate the likelihood that it will be threatened with an illegal overthrow perhaps by the same armed forces on which it presently relies? What counter-forces can be established, and should they be armed? Finally, can one anticipate the forms, whether subtle or obvious, that foreign intervention will take, and identify the allies of imperialism at home? Conversely, where can allies of socialism be found abroad, and how can there be effective liaison with them?
If some of the questions posed here seem relevant to recent political experiences – be they in the British context, in Greece or elsewhere – is it the case that we have still to learn and apply the ‘lessons of Chile’? We hope that these archival materials serve as a reminder of an important historical event and as a provocation to seek answers to some very important questions.
The London Bulletin
This edition of The London Bulletin documents the activities in the days and weeks following the coup. It includes both Edith Russell’s letter to the trade union leaders and E. P. Thompson’s poem, Homage to Salvador Allende. Edith Russell wrote:
The coup in Chile against the popularly elected constitutional government of President Allende, which was committed to peaceful transition to Socialism, surely cannot be tolerated by British Trade Unionists and the world Trade Union movement. It is imperative to hold open the possibility of constitutional Socialism. Will the TUC immediately call for a world boycott of the new Junta until constitutional rule is restored?
Signed Edith Russell12th September 1973
This edition of The London Bulletin includes updates on protests in Britain and action by Hull Dockers to boycott Chile.
Before the Coup
Chile: No More Dependence! records Salvador Allende’s Appeal to the World’s Conscience at the General Assembly of the United Nations, delivered on December 4th 1972. Ken Coate’s wrote in his introduction to this pamphlet (Spokesman Pamphlet No. 31):
The great transnational companies are not only at war with Chile. They are ranged against all trade unionists everywhere, who need to answer the appeal of Chile, not merely as a brotherly act, but in simple self-defence.Ken Coates, January 1973
After the Chilean Coup
The Bertrand Russell Tribunal on Repression in Latin America was already underway when the 11 September coup took place. The Introduction to this pamphlet (Spokesman Pamphlet No. 35, October 1973) notes:
This pamphlet is based upon a document prepared by U.S. supporters of the Brazil Tribunal immediately after the Rome preparatory meeting in mid-July 1973. It therefore pre-dates the coup d’etat in Chile of September 1973. Although this coup makes it less likely that the Tribunal will be able to hold public sessions anywhere inside Latin America, it also makes the Tribunal even more necessary, especially the extension of its work on the interrelationship of repression throughout Latin America. This work is going forward.October 1973
The Chilean Coup d’Ètat
Ken Coates writes in his introduction to this pamphlet (Spokesman Pamphlet No. 38, October 1973) that:
[T]he socialist movement has a manifest duty to examine and explain what happened in Chile, and to elaborate programmes which can both reverse the present trend in Chile itself, and prevent its re-emergence in other countries. This pamphlet by James and Betty Petras is offered as a contribution to this end.October 1973
Workers’ Control in Allende’s Chile
This pamphlet – IWC Pamphlet No. 47 (Summer, 1975) – concludes:
The defeat of the Chilean workers’ movement and the establishment of the dictatorship should be be interpreted as a signal to retreat toward traditional forms of capitalist exploitation. Rather, the Chilean experience with workers’ self-management shows the way for the future: the possibilities that exist within the working class and the trade unions for a new classless industrial society free of exploitation. The conclusion is obvious: for workers to take control successfully of their factories, they must also take control over the government and its armed forces.Andrew Zimbalist and James Petras
Repression in Latin America
A Report of the Russell Tribunal Session in Rome
The Spokesman – journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation – devoted its 30th issue to coverage of the Rome Session of the Russell Tribunal on Repression in Latin America. The session covered events in Chile and here we re-produce the relevant sections from the report.
Chile: Economic ‘Freedom’ and Political Repression
The author of this pamphlet, Orlando Letelier, was assassinated in Washington D.C., on September 21, 1976, when his car was blown up. Ronni Moffitt was also killed in the explosion. During the last two years of his life, Orlando Letelier remained tireless in his work for the restoration of democracy in Chile. The text of this pamphlet was written only a few days before his death.
The Lessons of Chile
This volume (published 1975) contains a selection of papers and discussion from the proceedings of a conference held in Amsterdam on 22-24 February, 1974. It was organised by Susan George and John Gittings for the Transnational Institute, and those taking part included Chileans who had been forced to leave their country. We re-produce the editors introduction to the book. LINK
Looking back today, John Gittings makes the following comment:
It is a long time since the transition to socialism was central to any discourse: the double-edged triumph of neo-capitalism has banished it to the far margin. In the short space allowed in Chile, the first tentative steps of “transition” by Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity Government came up against a host of difficulties, political, economic and external, which may have been inescapable. The Chilean Road to Socialism is set out at length in the book of that name, edited by J Ann Zammit with contributions from key participants in the project (Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, 1973). This book illustrates both the hope and the complexity of the new course, and remains an important source for its wide-ranging scope — including macro-economic and agrarian policies, how to raise social consciousness, and the crucial issue of nationalising the copper industry. In the opening chapter, Allende describes himself as a believer in “Marxist humanism”, and describes his basic concern as being that humanity “should have the right to authentic liberty” – something which was always denied in a system based on exploitation. Chile in Allende’s words now claimed the right to raise “a new banner of dignity and independence, and the right to transform our own existence, while respecting the individual and collective rights of others.” Might the obstacles to this path, principally those imposed from outside but complicated by internal division, have been resolved over time? It is a question still worth exploring but in any event, time was tragically denied.September 2023
Subversion in Chile
The documents reproduced in this book are the internal memoranda of ITT – International Telegraph and Telephone Corporation. They deal with the attempt by ITT to subvert the democratic process in Chile, to thwart the election of Salvador Allende in the autumn of 1970.
The existence of these documents was first revealed on 21st March 1972 by columnist Jack Anderson in the Washington Post. This was shortly after he had revealed ITT documents giving details of how the Nixon administation was persuaded to drop a series of anti-trust suits against ITT, which were concerned with the takeover by ITT of Hartford Fire Insurance Corporation – one of the largest takeovers ever – in return for $400,00 donation by ITT towards the cost of the 1972 Republican Party Convention. These papers on Chile, unlike the anti-trust cases, have not been denounced by ITT as forgeries. In fact the corporation has been strangely silent about the whole affair. The documents are most photo-reproductions. A few however have been transcribed for the purpose of legibility. Buy the book.
In his introduction to CIA The Pike Report (Spokesman, 1977), Philip Agee – former CIA case officer – hints at events in Chile. His introduction and the book as a whole demonstrates the wide-ranging nature of CIA operations. Buy the book.
Refugees from Chile figure centrally in Helen Jackson’s book about politics in Sheffield and the wider South Yorkshire region during the 1980s.
She recounts what was achieved, despite Mrs Thatcher. Helen Jackson was elected to Sheffield City Council where, as Chair of Public Works and
then Employment, she helped to bring about groundbreaking opportunities for women, unemployed people and poorer communities. LINK