How will we defend democracy when we have won it?
Prior to the capture of La Moneda Presidential Palace, with gunfire and explosions in the background, Allende gave his famous farewell speech on live radio, speaking of himself in the past tense, of his love for Chile and of his deep faith in its future. Shortly afterwards, an official announcement was sent out that he had committed suicide. To this day, his supporters believe that he was killed by the generals staging the coup. This photo shows Allende wearing a metal combat helmet during the coup and carrying an AK-47 given to him by Fidel Castro. | Luis Orlando Lagos / La Moneda official photographer

A friend commented recently that voters in Latin America have chosen progressive, left-wing governments 14 times in the past half century but only four of them endured. Some were destroyed by bloody coups, like Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government in Chile.

But others were destabilized by non-stop obstructionism from entrenched reactionary forces and then voted out of office. Allende was elected with a plurality. The highest popular vote he received was 43%. Popular Unity was a coalition of all the leftwing forces in Chile, including Socialists and Communists. But Popular Unity held only the executive branch, not the parliament. That was dominated by the Christian Democrats, a centrist party, and the National Party, a right-wing party that included open fascist elements.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro flew to Chile and spent a month there meeting with Allende and touring the country. He had advice for Allende on the need to take strong measures to defend Popular Unity’s democratic, progressive agenda. It was not enough. In the end, a military junta seized power and murdered Allende. Alone, he defended La Moneda for six hours armed with the AK-47 automatic rifle given to him by Fidel.

Reading the account of Allende’s last stand written by the great Colombian novelist, Gabriel García Márquez, I asked myself: “Why was Allende alone? Why wasn’t there an armed militia of the people there with him to defend all the huge gains the people had won?”

Yet, a lack of AK-47s was not the main weakness. There were those center forces who needed to be won, many of them in the Christian Democrats’ orbit.

For us, living in the “belly of the beast,” there is an even more important question: “WHO KILLED ALLENDE?” The main culprit was not coup leader General Augusto Pinochet and his fascist henchmen. The real power at work was that of U.S. imperialism. It was Nixon, Kissinger, the ITT corporation, the CIA, and the Pentagon that clamped a total embargo on Chile and then armed and advised the junta. U.S. interventionism has been the force that destroyed revolutionary change for over a century in Latin America and the rest of the world.

While U.S.-initiated coups and wars destroyed democratic revolutions—some of them elected by the people—democracy was undermined here at home, too, with attacks on unions and the assassination of popular leaders. So while we work to defend democracy from a Trump oligarchy, we must also be one long stride ahead of our enemies in planning the next step.

This is no idle question. President Barack Obama and his administration were targeted for non-stop obstruction aimed at undermining his majority coalition. Even today, amid the growing menace of Donald Trump, there are hose who blame Obama for the shortcomings of Obamacare without looking at the well-organized “Tea Party” that was determined to block any health care reform, period.

And if Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders win, even if the Democrats also win control of the Senate, the Trumpite GOP will resort to the same tactics of obstruction and work to build their “base” of neo-fascism. My answer is that the key will be strengthening the mass base in support of progressive change. Build that majority coalition that Obama built, and arm it with an understanding of the ruthless, racist, anti-democratic opposition that we must defeat.

A part of that understanding is the necessity to end U.S. global military and economic domination, including covert and overt interventionism, a policy that, alas, has up to this point always been bipartisan. Isn’t it ironic that we in the United States are justly outraged at the meddling in our elections by Russia? Yet the U.S. resorts to meddling in Venezuela and countless other nations, destabilizing or overthrowing governments deemed unacceptable to Wall Street.

We need radical reforms that deepen the democracy in our elections by sharply increasing voter participation. It is beyond ridiculous that voter turnout is often below 50%. It is outrageous that the white, racist GOP candidate for Georgia Governor was also Secretary of State and disqualified 53,000 mostly Black voters who were the margin for his defeat. The election was stolen from the African-American woman, Stacy Abrams.

Allende was right to bring socialism to Chile using the ballot rather than the bullet. Fidel Castro loved Allende as a brother, a revolutionary hero. People seeking socialism here in the U.S. strongly favor the peaceful path. But we must also heed the lesson of Allende’s death. What means are we prepared to use to preserve what we have won?


Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.