Chile & Pinochet: Revolutionary Parallels to Trumpism
In trying to understand the forces that have led us to this awful, ugly and destructive blind alley in American politics, I’m constantly casting about to try to find historical parallels.
Obviously, there was no such thing as social media, no 24-hour cable news channels, in 1973 in Chile. But there were a shocking number of similar forces that led to the 17-year military dictatorship, torture, murder, disappearances and all-pervasive fear.
Basically, you have an oligarchical right that is so bent on maintaining its power to the exclusion of all others, of making sure that they get every single scrap of privilege and power in society, that they are willing to cynically manipulate the system, cheat, like and then resort to widespread violence to get their way.
It was a national tantrum by spoiled brats.
The problem posed by the Chilean experience is, how do you work with an opposition that’s not willing to play by the rules of the democratic game? Of all the criticisms that people could make of Allende, he was really the true democrat.
Looking at Chile under Allende highlights the tensions in these unresolved questions about what avenues really exist for citizens to participate in a liberal capitalist democracy. Beyond voting in elections every four years, what platforms exist for their voices to be heard?
It also speaks to the tensions between the relationship between social movements and political parties. To what extent are political parties coopting and controlling social movements?
Sound familiar? The Allende government was just trying to extend the benefits of a modern capitalist society to the people who did the actual work, rather than reserving them for the very few. Even today, in what is probably the most First World country in all of South America, something like 90% of the stock market is in the hands of only 11 families.
Chile is doing well. But it is at best, a benevolent oligarchy.
In our times, of course, we have Putin and the KGB standing in for the CIA in overthrowing the democratic government.
I can only hope that we don’t take the next fateful steps down the path that Chile followed.
There were mass-scale arrests and detentions in the days and weeks following the coup, and those then pivoted, with the creation of the secret police force, to targeted execution and the detention and disappearance of leftist political militants. The MIR, the Socialists, and the Communists, other leftist groups — there was a targeted effort to eliminate them.
Part of what makes Chile’s experience with dictatorship and repression a bit different from other Latin American countries is the number of Chileans who actually survived the clandestine torture centers. Official truth commission reports acknowledge 3,200 Chilean citizens were executed or murdered by the regime, but 38,000 were political prisoners who survived detention and torture, and another estimated 100,000 experienced shorter detention periods and mass raids on their working-class communities.