WeeklyWorker

03.12.1998
Pinochet and Allende: before the 1973 coup

Jail Pinochet

Straw agonises - workers must act

These days, life is just not the same for your average geriatric dictator. Once upon a time you were guaranteed a comfortable and luxurious retirement, normally bankrolled by western imperialism. Now it is harassment, abuse and downright disrespect. What is the world coming to? Thus, we see the sorry sight of a sick, 83-year-old man kicked out of his hospital bed and forced to take accommodation elsewhere.

Well, not quite. General Augusto Pinochet had to leave - quickly - his £300-a-day private clinic on Tuesday night after David Cole, director of the Grovelands Priory Hospital, threatened to sue Pinochet for trespass on the grounds that he had “outstayed his welcome”. Apparently, the general was a bit of a malingerer and a troublesome patient to boot. Indeed, doctors at the clinic said there was absolutely nothing wrong with him. The ex-dictator is now languishing in Virginia Waters mansion, which is located on the exclusive Wentworth estate in Surrey. Neighbours include Bruce Forsyth and Russ Abbot. Anyone for a Sunday barbecue?

All this follows the dramatic decision of the law lords last week - by three votes to two - which stated that Pinochet can be extradited to Spain. Previously, Lord Thomas Bingham, England’s lord chief justice, ruled that the general enjoyed legal immunity as he was only giving orders, not obeying them. Jack Straw, the home secretary, now has until December 10 to agonise over a fundamentally political decision. It is an insult to our intelligence to pretend that Straw is confronted only by a legal decision. To extradite or not? In a sense, Straw is damned if he does and damned if he does not. However, Straw would surely be more damned if he decided not to extradite Pinochet to Spain and let him return to Chile. By taking a ‘pro-Pinochet’ stance Straw would run the very big risk of earning the odium of a vast chunk of his party and progressive opinion in general.

In recent days there has been talk of a possible ‘compromise’ - which is to send Pinochet back to Chile for trial. The socialist Chilean foreign minister, José Miguel Insulza, rushed to Britain in order to lobby for Pinochet’s return. Insulza’s dangled carrot is 11 outstanding law suits against Pinochet. Give us back our dictator and we will sort him out - maybe.

Of course, as things stand, there is no chance whatsoever of Pinochet facing any sort of trial in Chile. In 1978 he granted himself immunity from all and any legal retribution. Since coming to power in 1990 with the good grace of the military, the centre-left coalition government of Eduardo Frei - which includes members of the Socialist Party - has respected the authority of general Pinochet. All in the name of ‘national reconciliation’. And by no stretch of the imagination is Pinochet some fading ex-dictator going into his dotage. He appointed himself senator for life and remains a powerful political figure.

Chile is a democracy - so long as the USA likes it that way. In some ways Chile provided the model for South Africa and its the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Oppressors and oppressed, left and right, united in national harmony. All bitterness laid aside for the common good. If you get your information from the bourgeois media there is a chance you would actually believe this nonsense, which august organs like the BBC have assiduously promoted. Inside the real Chile society is deeply divided, to put it mildly, over Pinochet and the bloody events of 1973. The demonstrations and clashes in Santiago when the English law lords’ decree was announced show how one spark could easily combust Chilean society. Indeed there is a bewing constitutional crisis.

This is something that Eric Hobsbawm - former ‘official communist’, and now social democratic guru and supposed expert on all things Marxist - is acutely aware of. In a letter to The Guardian he loftily informs us that “the regretful view among leaders of the Chilean left, including survivors who were in office in 1970-73, is that the return of an inevitably discredited and humiliated Pinochet would do the least harm to the chances of democratic progress in their country” (December 2). In other words, Hobsbawm favours what will do the “least harm” to official Chilean society and thus limit the chances of the working class - in Chile and throughout the world. Just like in 1973, when he and his ‘official communist’ allies sided with those who sought to placate the counterrevolution. Such a policy demobilises the masses - and thus strengthens the right. Hobsbawm is still preaching the popular frontist class collaboration he imbibed during his youth and has hung on to like grim death ever since.

One of the more revolting aspects of the whole Pinochet affair has been the reaction of the conservative right in Britain, which is dripping in mealy-mouthed hypocrisy. Of course, they are against human rights abuses, terror, the ‘illegal’ seizure of power, etc. Not very civilised. Not very British, old chap.

But when pushed and prodded the likes of The Daily Telegraph and The Times - not to mention Baroness Thatcher and her supporters - always manage to conjure up the most wretched apologias for Pinochet and his regime. A classic example was provided by Bruce Anderson of The Spectator on Radio Four earlier this week. It is all very well for liberal do-gooders to bleat on about human rights abuses, blustered Anderson, but you have to remember that in 1973 Chile was “facing a communist dictatorship”. At the end of the day Pinochet may be a bit of a monster, but at least he is our monster.

Unlike in 1973, we are now in the imperialist New World Order. There is only one superpower - the United States. Therefore, time for an image change. Imperialism is now very keen to disassociate itself from dictatorships - ie, from its former clients and supplicants. Particularly so if they are associated with small or weak countries. Look at the way United States imperialism in Congo switched its support away from the autocrat Mobutu to the ex-‘Marxist’ Laurent Kabila, the former comrade-in-arms of Che Guevara.

The New World Order finds general Pinochet a bit of an embarrassment. One problem for the US is that there are many CIA skeletons rattling away in the Chilean cupboard. Nevertheless, the US government is doing nothing to stop Pinochet facing interrogation. There are divisions at the top within the US political establishment. The Clinton administration is about to release intelligence details of atrocities under Pinochet - no matter what embarrassment it will cause to the likes of Henry Kissinger.

Another regrettable - though almost inevitable - consequence of the Pinochet controversy has been another bout of near hero-worshipping of Salvador Allende, the socialist president from 1970 until his death at the hands of the Pinochet coup in 1973. He is viewed by all bourgeois liberal-left opinion as a democratic icon - if not a saintly mixture of Jesus Christ, Gandhi and Karl Marx (with possibly a dash of VI Lenin). This myth has to be punctured. The ‘Marxist’ Allende and his Popular Unity government - particularly his Socialist Party and Communist Party of Chile backers - are primarily to blame for the bloody debacle of 1973. While the forces of counterrevolution plotted away, Allende pursued his suicidal policy of reform, which involved courting the patriotic ‘anti-Yankee’ bourgeois ... including one Augusto Pinochet. As the generals and the CIA fine-tuned their murderous plans, Salvador Allende, unbelievably, wrote that the “great characteristic of the armed forces of Chile has been the obedience to the civil authority, their unquestioned regard for the public will as expressed in the ballots, for the laws of Chile and for the Chilean constitution” (S Allende Chile’s road to socialism Harmondsworth 1973, p135).

 Far worse - and criminally - the Bonapartist Popular Unity government did everything it could to disarm the worker class and poor peasantry physically and politically. It opposed land seizures. It allowed military goons to terrorise and torture workers and peasants who attempted to defend themselves. In other words it attacked the masses and paved the way for Pinochet’s violent counterrevolution. The CPC, and the ‘official’ world communist movement, backed Allende to the hilt. If anything, the CPC was more rabid than Allende and his SP in attacking what it termed ‘ultra-leftism’ - ie, any manifestations of workers’ power. The CPC leadership opposed strikes, illegal occupations, the buying of guns, agitation inside the armed forces, and so on. Nothing that could unbalance the Allende regime and upset the right was to be permitted.

We must treat with contempt the weasel words of those fake friends of democracy in the liberal press. For all its supposed love of human rights and the ‘rule of law’, The Guardian can climb into the McCarthyite gutter with the best of them. An editorial called upon Jack Straw to “forget his earlier student activist self”, and damned the “blood lust on the part of former leftwingers whose gods failed but whose appetite for Jacobin procedure is unabated” (November 30).

Yes, we are fully in favour of “Jacobin procedure” when it comes to Pinochet and all those like him. We have no faith in bourgeois legality. But we do have faith in the impact the masses can have on bourgeois legality. Communists call for mass demonstrations in Britain, Spain and Chile. The masses can make a difference - Pinochet must be extradited to Spain, tried and found guilty.

Eddie Ford