What Salvador Allende Feared

Source: Jacobin Magazine

Almost five decades since his election, Salvador Allende remains an icon of democratic socialism. Narrowly winning the 1970 presidential election as leader of the Popular Unity coalition, he launched an ambitious program of nationalizations in order to put working people in charge of the economy. The reaction was fierce, from capital flight to outright sabotage. Targeting Allende as a bitter enemy, US President Richard Nixon said in a meeting with National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger he aimed to “make the economy scream.”

Nixon and Kissinger had their way on September 11, 1973, as the democratically elected Allende was overthrown in a CIA-backed military coup. After Allende’s death, thousands of socialists, communists, and labor activists were murdered by General Augusto Pinochet’s regime, which soon became a testing ground for neoliberal shock therapy. Yet before it became a grim example of elites’ willingness to trash democracy, Allende’s experiment was itself a beacon for the international left.

A year into Allende’s presidency, in October 1971 Rossana Rossanda interviewed him for Italian communist daily il manifesto. Her interview, translated by David Broder and published in English here for the first time, reflects the international left’s hope in the Chilean experiment, but also the realization of how fragile it was in the face of army opposition. As a grimly foreboding subtitle in il manifesto read at the time: “If the officers win, it won’t be a changing of the palace guard, but a bloodbath.”



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