“United States” or “America”?

I wrote this article in Spanish for a Venezuelan magazine eighteen years ago. As the current culture war has rekindled all kinds of arguments against American nationalism, I wanted to post this updated, free translation of the original article.

Si (como afirma el griego en el Cratilo)
el nombre es arquetipo de la cosa,
en las letras de “rosa” está la rosa
y todo el Nilo en la palabra “Nilo.”
Jorge Luis Borges, El Golem

If (as the Greek affirms in the Cratylus)
the name is archetype of the thing,
in the letters of “rose” the rose is,
and all the Nile in the word “Nile.”
(my unfaithful translation)

It is normal to hear American citizens call our country “America.” However, there is also a different and generalized opinion among Latin Americans to call the country situated to the north of the continent as “United States,” while at the same time adding the prefix “North” to the name of its “American” citizens.

What is the correct name of this particular country? As often happens with sentiments, passions and beliefs, the opinion that the name of the country is “United States” is unsustainable when facing reasoned argument.

It is natural for Latin Americans to think that their membership in a continent baptized for Amerigo Vespucci would be diminished and even denied if they would call the particular country “America.” It would consider North Americans as the only inhabitants of the New World, something evidently absurd. Nevertheless and risking the shame of Latin nationalists, xenophobes and anti-imperialists, I would like to clarify the misunderstanding that lays at the bottom of this laudable but mistaken sentiment.

By the way, I have also heard this misunderstanding from American citizens who wanted to be up to date on political correctness and help erase the image of the Ugly American.

The French, protectors only of their own nationalism, conscientiously assume the misunderstanding and refer to the particular country as États Unis. However, when an Italian who wanted to emigrate in 1900 talked about “America” while remembering his older relative who emigrated from Sicily, he wasn’t thinking about a whole continent; he was thinking about a particular country and a particular city, New York.

Simply, there is a confusion between the geographic sense and the political sense of the word “America.” When we refer to the inhabitants of the continent represented in a geographical map as Americans, we are right in unifying all of them whatever the country they belong to. But we are in error if we believe that this is the only meaning of the word “America.” Because there is an equally valid political sense of the word, the one in which the name of countries are represented in a political map of the world, the same sense that everybody uses in daily speech. And there is only one country called “United States of America” among all the countries in the world. One could claim this fact to be unjust, but it is a fact.

But there is yet another, even more powerful argument to determine the correct name. The term United States has nothing to do with the country’s name. It has everything to do with the type of state the country has. The term means that all the governmental institutions of the nation are united in a decentralized federation, a voluntary union of all the states that conform the nation, just like the Confederation of Swiss Cantons, in opposition to the type of state assumed in the modern meaning of the word republic, which originally meant a system of government based in popular sovereignty but that currently means a centralized state.

There are examples of this difference everywhere: The current Republic of Venezuela was called Estados Unidos de Venezuela from 1864 to 1953; France, by a decision of the National Convention in 1792 during the French Revolution, is called République Française. Was Venezuela’s name Estados Unidos, or is France’s name République? Of course not in both cases. The former was and is Venezuela, and the later was and is France. Therefore, whether one likes it or not, the name of the country is “America.” Or, if you prefer not to ruffle feathers in polite company and inconvenient times, the name of the country is “United States of America.”

Vladimir Dorta, 06/22/2018

Replacing the American People

After the Uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in Stalin Street
Stating that the People
Had lost the trust of the Government
And only through redoubled efforts
Could they win it back. Wouldn’t it
Be simpler for the Government
To dissolve the People
And elect another?
Bertolt Brecht, The Solution, 1953

One of the many novelties President Trump has brought to American politics is an easy ability to unmask his opponents. In this case because his pet project, immigration, is a key —if previously hidden— factor in our politics. The Democrat Party openly chooses illegal aliens, including the very nasty MS-13 criminal gangsters, over American citizens. It calls them “dreamers” and creates city and state sanctuaries for them. Wicked but logical, since the future of the party hinges on having masses of poor, ignorant, pliable Third World migrants as future voters. The Republican Party also wants to import masses of Third World migrants, with a twist: it plays political economy in tune with Big Business, which requires cheap laborers in all industries. But all of a sudden, a new and strong reinforcement appears out of nowhere: Big Business is not exclusively Republican anymore, as all the high-tech billionaires are Democrats and openly act as such. As if by magic, the Democrat Party is no longer the party of the worker and the little guy, and the Republican party doesn’t conserve anything worth conserving.

Thus the UniParty

Both parties cover their evil goals with cheap propaganda disguised as political wisdom. Democrats fling at us assertions like “multiculturalism is good” and “diversity is our strength,” they call illegals “undocumented” as if they lost their papers somewhere, or just “immigrants,” to dissolve the meaning of words. Republicans hide their goals under misleading assertions like “immigration is good for the economy” or lies like “most immigrants are conservatives,” while Big Business replaces American workers with lower-paid foreigners at both ends of the spectrum by inventing all kinds of visas and even an immigration lottery! Both parties block real solutions like mandatory E-Verify or the Trump Wall, and look the other way on the half-million-a-year visa overstayers. It doesn’t matter that terrorists and drugs also come through the open borders, and the only excuse and justification is to lull the expendable natives with a big lie: “demography is destiny.” There is no destiny regarding demographics, it’s a choice made by the unholy alliance of Democrats and Republicans.

As I have argued in other posts, this is just the postmodern variety of liberalism taking over and unfolding its own destructive logic. Open borders and lack of sovereignty are instruments of the push toward global government and global citizenship that have been there from the beginning in both parties: Democrats long for socialist centralization and thus see the United Nations as a budding global government; Republicans, Smithian liberals at heart, long for freedom of economic constraints, thus their love for open borders and the free movement of people. The Wall Street Journal has been pushing both for decades. On top of all that and according to both parties, American citizens have no say on who comes to the country, how many can come, or in what way.

The truth is that our two parties have to change the people of America in order for their feudal system to finally triumph. The globalism supported by both parties points to a new system of small groups of modern seigneurs surrounded by masses of poor and uneducated serfs, a system in which both the middle class and the working class gradually disappear. That’s why both parties are blocking President Trump’s most important electoral promises. Open borders and limited sovereignty are the hills both parties want to die on.

Seen this way, all those political intricacies are just different facets of the same thing. And as Allan Bloom said that tolerance is indifference, the left-wing and right-wing cultural, political, and economic synonymia convinces the victims that they deserve their fate and that, anyway, they can’t do anything about it.

This would be unprecedented in history without a previous military defeat.

The insistence on hating your own culture is a central part of the “convincing,” including the shaming of little kids and forcing their parents to accept it. They can’t see the many failures in front of their noses; I don’t think they want something like Zimbabwe, they just can’t see that something like Zimbabwe would be the result of their efforts. Part of the reason is that they can’t accept that most of the good things about former colonies are the institutions left by Old England, as I have personally witnessed in many years of business travels in the Caribbean and the near Atlantic. Everything is lost in their efforts to atone, to do penitence for all our supposed historical crimes. The superiority of Western civilization, something easily seen when you simply look around, check the news, or study history, is not accepted by these new fanatical, ignorant converts. But it’s evident that the change will be for the worse as we are seeing in Europe and, progressively, here in America too. Are we looking to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire via an apocalyptic Camp of the Saints all over the West?

Since the stakes are so high, some hard questions need to be asked:

1. What right do “leaders” have to replace a population of Americans of European descent, African Americans, and Native Americans that comprise more than 75% of the country?

2. Why should the native majority accept such a huge change for the worse? Especially, why should the 61% white American majority accept to become a minority in its own country, perhaps even a persecuted minority like in South Africa and Zimbabwe?

3. What right do 23% of Hispanics and Asians have to overwhelm the native majority?

4. Will the American people reproduce and counter the modern Mephistopheles?

5. Is this just another case of the boiling frog story?

6. Why is nobody close to power in America asking these questions?

An undeclared war has already started: Americans of European descent are being forced to become a minority, something they supposedly deserve for their ancestors’ wickedness. For some reason, nobody asks South Korea or Japan to change, become more diverse and accept their cultures to be completely changed. But that question is normal in the USA and in Europe. Not only the huge successes of Western civilization are now presented as proofs of oppression and evildoing, but Rousseau is back in force as poor, low-IQ peasant foreigners are the new noble savages. Multiculturalism and diversity, the tips of the anti-Western spears, are the latest weapons wielded by postmodernism to lead us forward to a dystopian future. Now, when our leaders hate their own culture, we’re told that all cultures are equal —except ours, which is the worst. And they tell us that “diversity is our strength” when it is really a weakness, as political scientist Robert D. Putnam has shown. Surreal.

A second firing on Fort Sumter is being prepared by Democrats. California is the best but not the only example. The unthinkable is already happening: State and city authorities openly oppose the federal laws they swore to enforce. Democrats, who normally love centralized federal power, have turned 180 degrees and now promote States’ Rights and seem to accept John C. Calhoun’s Nullification doctrine.


Vladimir Dorta, 04/26/2018



On Tariffs and Trade Wars

Economics is one of the most ideological and least scientific (in the dual sense of objectivity and precision) of the social sciences. Not for nothing Karl Marx, both using and criticizing David Ricardo’s economic theory, emphasized its original name, Political Economy. Just to have an idea of the ideological fog that surrounds the current debate on President Trump’s trade and tariff proposals to force others to deal with him, let’s go back to what Ricardo wrote in 1817 about free trade and the comparative advantage of cheap labor of Portugal over England:

“It would undoubtedly be advantageous to the capitalists of England, and to the consumers in both countries, that under such circumstances, the wine and the cloth should both be made in Portugal, and therefore that the capital and labour of England employed in making cloth, should be removed to Portugal for that purpose.” (Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Chapter 7, Paragraph 7-18).

Since this offshoring of production would result in job loss and economic decline in England, Ricardo argued that 1) Capital is immobile, and 2) English capitalists are altruists who love their compatriots:

“Experience, however, shews, that the fancied or real insecurity of capital, when not under the immediate control of its owner, together with the natural disinclination which every man has to quit the country of his birth and connexions, and intrust himself with all his habits fixed, to a strange government and new laws, check the emigration of capital. These feelings, which I should be sorry to see weakened, induce most men of property to be satisfied with a low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment for their wealth in foreign nations.” (Op. cit., Chapter 7, Paragraph 7-19).

Therefore, when an expert with a PhD in Economics wants to explain how free trade is good for everybody, you should ask him about his politics. Those are the same experts who told the USA decades ago, back in the beginnings of globalization, that manufacturing was obsolete and therefore our country would be a “service economy” in the future. The only problem is that they forgot to tell the same thing to Germany, Japan, and South Korea, as we watched them become manufacturing and exporting powers, and as we watched our industries leave the USA one after the other.

Or when the expert says — we see this every day on TV — that when a country imposes tariffs it is creating a tax on the country’s own citizens, he is leaving out the rest of the explanation: if both countries produce, say, similarly priced cars, the high-tariff country can keep exporting its cars to the non-tariff country to compete over there, and also keep selling them to its own citizens, while pushing out the other country’s cars because of their artificially higher price created by the tariffs. A win-win situation.

The British historian Paul Johnson wrote a very revealing book about the English people, The Offshore Islanders. The book’s final  chapter (Part 6) is entirely dedicated to the decadence of England from being at the top of the world in 1870, in the then newly interlocked world economy, to its lowly state one hundred years later. Why did it happen? The partial answer reads very much like the America our experts have been pushing for decades:

“In 1870 England was universally regarded as the strongest and richest nation on earth, indeed in human history … God was the Great Book-keeper, the Ultimate Accountant, the Chairman of the world liberal economy, and His instruments were free trade and the Royal Navy … [But] by 1880, free trade as a world system was dead. The industrialists [In Continental Europe], alarmed by the end of cheap food for their workers, and seeing governments bend to the pressure of the farming interests, sent up their own yelps of fear, and they, in turn, got tariffs on imported manufactures. This, of course, angered the Americans: they had never really abandoned tariffs, and their system of government was peculiarly susceptible to protectionist demands from powerful lobbies. In 1890 they erected the McKinley tariff structure, and this provoked further Continental retaliation. The rapid retreat from free trade left Britain isolated on a lonely sandbank. The immense conservatism of the English, their unwillingness to contemplate radical change without decades of investigation, the huge built-in barriers to reform which existed at every level of the political system, united to inhibit any sharp response. It had taken more than half a century for Adam Smith’s doctrines to win acceptance and implementation. By 1875, however, they were the supreme orthodoxy. Free trade was traditional, had existed … since time immemorial, was almost a supernumerary article in Magna Carta. It was what England was all about. Abandon free trade, merely because some frightened foreign governments had lost faith in it? One might as well propose to abolish the monarchy … The depression of the 1870s exposed the English public mind at its worst: drugged by a dogma which had once enshrined empirical truth.” (The Offshore Islanders, Part 6, pp. 317 – 330)

Because it is all about ideology: the experts’ globalist big business and technology bosses wanted the USA to become a landing ground for cheap foreign products and cheap foreign labor, while they controlled everything with their highly mobile capital secured elsewhere. For exactly the same reasons, national security isn’t important to them and that’s why they see President Trump as an enemy, because he is a patriot, a rare thing nowadays.

In order for those countries to become manufacturing and exporting powerhouses, they had to wage a trade war against the USA, a war that has been going on for decades. They became mercantilist countries, pushing their exports and blocking imports via tariffs, while our “experts” told us to believe in “free” trade. But it’s Trump’s fault if we fight back. When a country levels a 35% tariff on imported American goods, to give just the example of Brazil, there is a trade war going on, and a lopsided one at that. And as our trade deficits show, it is difficult to win a war started many years ago by the other side when our side does nothing.

UPDATED on 06/08/2018

America the Innocent

Innocence is a kind of insanity
Graham Greene

It is behind us but it almost happened, and nobody knows what comes next because we still haven’t seen the most incriminating evidence. In November 2016 America dodged a .50 caliber bullet aimed at its heart. But America neither sees nor understands it, although the clues are everywhere if one looks for them: Politicization and corruption at the highest levels of the national intelligence agencies; Barack Obama’s NSA, FBI, CIA, and DOJ spying on the media and on their political opponents in order to push a crude coup d’état against a duly elected government —for the first time in history; Chavista-like preparations for a permanent regime cloaked behind democratic rules and procedures; Mafiosi-like behavior of the defeated candidate and her subordinates. Those are some of the echoes and reverberations of the bullet’s explosion. But America still sees with innocent eyes.

On the one hand, conservative longing and naiveté. Conservatives believe we can still go back to the America of the founding, the innocent America of the first wave of modernity. They see what is happening as a bad dream, at most an aberration. They don’t want to recognize the wicked evolution of modernity, they just want to watch reruns of good-guys-vs-bad-guys movies with happy endings. According to them, all politicians should play by the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules, duly adapted to politics. That’s nice but also naïve, ignorant, and dangerous when a coup d’ état and possibly a political murder appear like bolts out of the blue. Their motto is the childish phrase of the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, “that’s not who we are.” The political right today is the same as always, there is nothing to the right of American conservatism; the extreme right —the Alt-Right— is as insignificant and marginal today as it has ever been, notwithstanding the effort of the media to highlight them and for leftists to call “fascism” anything they don’t like. If Charlottesville is the one and only example of right-wing extremism, then I confidently rest my case.

On the other hand, there is the American left. Ever since the Jacobin Reign of Terror in 1793-94, through the French Commune of 1871 to the 1917 Russian Revolution and its 1918 echoes in Germany, Hungary and Italy, to the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the 1978-79 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, and the 1992 Chavista Revolution in Venezuela —just to name a few— it has been clear that the ideas of the revolutionary left aren’t good for elections, they are only good for revolutions and coups d’état unless they pretend not to be revolutionary. Nobody would vote for political violence, property confiscation, secret police, neighborhood spy committees, or firing squads. Hence the need for concealment.

The traditional Democrat Party, the one we still think we know, was a mix of center and center-left politicians, with a few, insignificant crazies on the extreme left. Since the 1970s this has progressively changed to the point that today the Democrat Party is completely on the left and there aren’t practically any centrists or “liberals” to maintain the civil political game and the electoral alternation of parties in a democracy. The leaders of today’s Democrat Party aren’t Chuck Schumer or Nancy Pelosi; they are the curtains behind which the real leaders, the radical leftists Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Keith Ellison, hide.

The history of the American left is very different to the left in the rest of the world. Save for about 6 percent of the total votes for the Marxist Eugene Debs and his Socialist Party of America in the 1912 elections, or the peak of 85,000 members of the Communist Party USA in 1942, revolutionary socialism never set foot in America, an unlikely exception in the Western world. Today, a mix of second-wave Marxism and third-wave postmodernism dominates American culture, media, education, and technology, and also fights for political power. They are now in full weirdness mode, the more dangerous the more distanced from reality. What we have today in America as the Democrat Party is an extreme left organization that includes Black Lives Matter and ANTIFA, the nucleus of a violent revolutionary arm. BLM combines black grievances with anti-police criminality, and ANTIFA (Anti-Fascist Action) was inspired by Antifaschistische Aktion, a violent group formed in 1932 by the Communist Party of Germany to further revolution and to combat fascism in the streets. Those of us who have studied socialism and lived under socialism know this is called a “pre-revolutionary situation” in Marxist terminology.

Nothing surprising here, as this is what revolutionaries worth their salt ought to do. Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, and David Axelrod grew around Frank Marshall Davis, activist member of the Communist Party USA. Barack Obama’s favorite writer was Frantz FanonSaul Alinsky was Hillary Clinton’s tutor, she wrote her thesis about him, and Barack Obama used Alinsky’s book, Rules for Radicals, as a text for teaching community organizing. John Brennan, Obama’s CIA Director and possible perjurer in the ongoing coup, declared having voted for Gus Hall and the Communist Party and was probably a member of the party. Anita Dunn, Obama’s Communications Director, said she was “inspired” by Mao Tse Tung. Van Jones, Obama’s “green jobs czar” is a self-confessed Communist. Ron Bloom, Obama’s manufacturing czar, said he agreed with Mao Tse Tung that “power comes out the barrel of a gun.” Obama got to power by lying, charming, and pretending to be a moderate; that’s why those of us who knew how revolutionary socialism works called Barack Obama “the Chávez of the North.”

But this American political reality is being blurred with the theory of the “Deep State Conspiracy” about a kind of above-the-fray, technocratic group of patriotic bureaucrats who see the Truth and try to subvert democratic rules in order to save democracy. That is the naïve way of explaining the real thing. The real thing is the coup’état by the left in its quest for absolute power and control. The whole thing was planned and directed by Obama the socialist boss and supported by the socialist media, to continue and deepen his “fundamental change” of the United States of America by making sure Hillary was elected or, when that proved impossible, to destroy the duly elected president and undo the election. The coup even copies the Soviet Union’s favorite ploy against dissidents: the accused is crazy, so let’s send him to a mental hospital and work on his illness. This is Marxism all along: the revolution is inevitable, but you have to help it come about. The “Deep State” is just a group of high-level government employees who work as Democrats for the Democrat Party, which also happens to be the vanguard of the revolutionary left in America at this point in time.

From this point of view, politicizing the government agencies against their political opponents becomes a hall of mirrors: One big myth of democracy is that administrations shouldn’t go after their predecessors, but it assumes a common, democratic idea of politics and law. Conservatives and the political establishment keep playing to the left’s strength because the revolutionary left doesn’t believe in any of that. Therefore maintaining the myth equals helping the left in its quest.

The country dodged a bullet because a man named Donald J. Trump suddenly appeared to save the country and to save conservatives from themselves, much to their chagrin. President Trump doesn’t have a special gift of knowledge about America or about the left; he is just the latest of the American “go-getter” giants we have known throughout her rough and beautiful history. Trump is the unexpected response of traditionalist, religious, free, capitalist America to Europe’s ugly revolutionary socialism.

Vladimir Dorta, 01/23/2018

P.S. I forgot to include Samantha Power, Obamas Ambassador to the United Nations, in the Marxist list. Friend and admirer of Noam Chomsky and Tom Hayden, she is perhaps the most ideological of all.

P.S. Nellie Ohr, one of the central characters in the coup, is a communist of a special kind. She studied in the USSR, speaks fluent Russian, and take a look at this: her Ph.D. thesis, titled Collective Farms and Russian Peasant Society, 1933-1937” and her book reviews until 2004, are part of revisionist” history that practically justifies and minimizes Joseph Stalin’s terror against the Russian people. See Diana West here, here, and especially her conclusion here.

Shiny Objects

We are not entitled to say that the classical view has been refuted.
Their implicit prophecy that the emancipation of technology, of the arts,
from moral and political control would lead to disaster or
to the dehumanization of man has not been refuted.
Leo Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy?


In 1958 Hannah Arendt wrote an odd book, The Human Condition. Penetrating but unorganized, it was perhaps intended as the nucleus of a political philosophy book she never wrote. One of Arendt’s most acute insights in the book is the distinction between labor and work which, she said, has been ignored in the face of abundant historical testimony. In every European language there are two etymologically unrelated words for two different activities we moderns wrongly believe to be the same, “the labor of our body” and “the work of our hands”:

Poneinergazesthai (Ancient Greek), laborarefacere (Latin), travaillerouvrer (French), arbeitenwerken (German), etc. There is a fundamental difference between the two activities. For example, ponein in Ancient Greek is to toil, to till the ground, to draw from the source, while ergazesthai means to work, to create, to perform, to commit, to do business, and also the opposite of inactivity or idleness.

Labor is punishment: “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat your bread until you return to the ground, from which you were taken.” Labor connotes the human toil, pain and futility required to maintain and reproduce life. Labor is despised because it is almost completely related to consumption, a constant effort that leaves no trace and has no perdurability, an effort worthy only of slaves and peasants. It is not surprising then that humanity has always wanted to eliminate labor, to replace it with machines. The classics imagined it:

“We can imagine a situation in which each instrument could do its own work, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation, like the statues of Daedalus or the tripods made by Hephaestus, of which the poet relates that of their own they entered the conclave of Gods on Olympus. A shuttle would then weave of itself, and a plectrum would do its own harp-playing. In this situation managers would not need subordinates and masters would not need slaves.” (Aristotle, Politics, 1253b23)

Work, on the other hand, implies attainment, creation and permanence, as in “oeuvre” and “work of art,” and was exalted in all previous epochs as the vehicle of human achievement.

But there is a tendency in modernity with Smith, Ricardo, and especially with Marx, to reduce both activities to labor in its most basic form, only taking into account its productivity and its quantifiability. Marx even goes to the extreme of saying that man creates himself through labor, and defines man as animal laborans instead of animal rationale. Since we are far from the concept of homo faber —having forgotten the original dual meaning— we understand the modern ease in thinking about work as an ancient burden that shouldn’t exist anymore, a problem whose logical solution is abolishing it through technology, not only for reasons of cost and productivity but also for ethical reasons. It would liberate man from its historical oppression, it would be the last act required for the fulfillment of the Enlightenment promise, and it could only be a good thing. However, would it be as good as it appears? I guess that asking this question to the leader of any of our tech companies would only result in a dazed look.

To take work away from man would be like chopping off all branches from a tree, leaving only the trunk. We moderns think that leisure —otium— is the perfect human state. This is a consequence of the constriction of the political horizon by Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke, a constriction that has been presented to us as a widening. We have been told that science opens all possibilities but the reality is that we don’t ask the fundamental questions any more because we believe there aren’t any fundamental questions to ask.


Closely related to this view of leisure is the dispute between the moderns and the classics about democracy. The classics saw the advantages of democracy: “since the principle of democracy is freedom, all human types can develop freely in a democracy, and hence in particular the best human type” Strauss commented, in the same work above, on Plato’s Republic: “The classics rejected democracy because they thought that the aim of human life, and hence of social life, is not freedom but virtue. Freedom as a goal is ambiguous, because it is freedom for evil as well as for good.” They also viewed human nature as something given and permanent, and that only “the few” could elevate themselves to virtue by effort, habit and the formation of character —real education— while “the many” would always be poor and uneducated. And there is a world of difference in wisdom and responsibility between the two visions, as Paul Rahe writes:

“At the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics, he [Aristotle] writes, ‘People have nobly declared that the good is that at which all things aim.’ At the beginning of the Politics, he writes, ‘Every community gets established with some good in view (for everyone does everything for the sake of what they think good).’ This seems self-evident to me, and it puts a premium on right opinion —for we can easily err in what we think good.”

We moderns see democracy in a very different way: Since the beginnings of modernity in the late 1600s, democracy as the ideal regime was the logical consequence of a revolutionary offer we couldn’t refuse from the early modern political philosophers: freedom as the highest good, something that flows by itself from our deepest desires and does not need to be slowly hammered into the soul by habit and learning like virtue was. All those freed passions needed was to be checked by obstacles and directed by boundaries in the form of institutions, and for progress in the form of science, technology, and universal education to be applied on man’s infinitely malleable self in order to move humanity ever closer to the perfect society where everybody would be equal, virtuous, educated, and interchangeable.

But liberalism has failed miserably in both its social form on the political left and in its economic form on the political right. The growth of government control, abuse, and inefficiency, and the separation between “the few” and “the many” have reached levels never seen in previous epochs. We believe in a behavioristic democracy where technology severs the last links between man and nature and makes a world government, a perfect good-intentioned tyranny, finally possible. But it could be too late for 1984. Europe is becoming Muslim and America a multicultural pastiche, and neither one brings enough children to the world anymore. Maybe this is the curse of modernity: at the height of his power, liberal man imagines a dystopian future he may never reach.

The truth is that the idea of progress and the image of “bending the arc of history” are myths. There is no universal enlightenment; education is little more than instruction and indoctrination; we use our increasing leisure for ever more trivial, stupefying and dangerous entertainment, hedonism, and drugs; the War on Poverty didn’t work even after spending “three times the amount of money that the government has spent on all military wars in its history, from the Revolutionary War to the present.”

Technology is the key aspect of modernity. As technology has advanced, not only nature but man himself is now material to be manipulated. As Patrick J. Deneen writes:

“It ought to come as no surprise, then, that these ideas might be carried further, so that human beings, as merely part of nature, could also be regarded as natural objects for manipulation. Man, too, could become no longer just subject but object. Many of the great horrors of the last century —from economic failures of all sorts to eugenics and worse— arose from this understanding. But a new movement today, calling itself transhumanism, carries these notions to their logical conclusion: human beings are not only manipulable objects, but raw, manipulable material; man himself, his very form, might be tinkered with, enhanced, and ‘reengineered,’ like a species of crop or livestock. What becomes of the political animal when politics seeks not to meet his ends but to unravel them — not to serve him but to remake him?”

Facebook, Google, YouTube, PayPal, Google Play Store, Apple Store, and Apple iTunes are ejecting anybody they see as political opponents from their social services. And they are monopolies or oligopolies. Hosting sites like GoDaddy, Cloudfare, Mailchimp, and Eventbrite are following the same pattern. Most of them are in fact public utilities and should be regulated as such. Most of their owners are billionaires totally drunk with modernity and modern philosophy, much worse and more dangerous than the original robber barons of the late 19th century. We haven’t yet seen the worst face of capitalism and individualism.

BBC’s Secrets of Silicon Valley:

“A tiny class will own all of the capital and all of the data and everybody else will add no economic value.”

Sean Parker, ex-president of Facebook:

“The disparity of wealth in the United States will create a class of immortal overlords;” “new advances in the life sciences are allowing humans to “live much longer, more productive lives [and] because I’m a billionaire, I’m going to have access to better healthcare so … I’m going to be like 160 and I’m going to be part of this, like, a class of immortal overlords.”

The extreme cost of transforming a human being into a cyborg means that there will be few “enhanced” ones —I guess Zuckerberg, Bezos, and other oligarchs— on top of the rest of us “naturals,” literally a feudal world from which there would be no escape.

This is what the classics warned about liberating technology and the arts from moral and political control. We moderns see ourselves instrumentally, humans can also be things, objects to be manipulated and some of them even “enhanced.” The fast-made tycoons mentioned above have a narrow and shallow education, they are extremely ideological, and they have no wisdom. They see technology as the power of artificial intelligence leading to our transhuman future —something they don’t understand themselves, but keep happily playing with a thermonuclear bomb without any consent from us, outside of our control as citizens, and in complete secrecy.


John Adams Was Right

John Adams was the most conservative, prudent and skeptical founder, the prime mover of independence in the Continental Congress, and our second president. In his message of October 1798 to the Massachusetts Militia he wrote the most succinct explanation I have seen of the central problem at the origin of liberalism:

“Because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion, avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest chords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

No matter how much some try to hide it, this is liberalism’s central problem, its original sin, something that would weigh heavily on its development but that only now can be seen in its full effect. Liberalism as originally conceived replaced religion and virtue with passions and rights. Those are fragile supports on which to found a society, never mind a virtuous one. Machiavelli was wrong, the high cannot be defined by the low.

In 1689, John Locke, the philosopher of liberalism, wrote in A Letter Concerning Toleration:

“I esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other … The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests. Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like. It is the duty of the civil magistrate, by the impartial execution of equal laws, to secure unto all the people in general and to every one of his subjects in particular the just possession of these things belonging to this life.”

There you have it: liberal government is based exclusively on interests and rights. The rest of the letter deals with the need to tolerate all religions. In other words, the government should only concern itself with satisfying the desires and protecting the rights of the collection of individuals who would form the liberal republic. Machiavelli thought that Fortuna had finally been conquered but, ironically, only by chance could a society founded on such low bases avoid degeneration: that its citizens continue to be religious and virtuous persons in the private realm, and that those virtues would translate, again by chance, to the public realm.

Christianity and traditional morality were embedded as second nature in the American Colonies, but John Adams, who understood human nature, admonished us of the dangers ahead. As Patrick J. Deneen writes, even American liberalism, by far the best system modernity could create based on its low expectations, lives off its pre-modern inheritance:

“The most thoughtful liberals —perhaps above all, Tocqueville— recognized that liberalism contained an internal logic that threatened its own self-destruction. The anthropological individualism at the heart of its theory could be given institutional credence so long as those assumptions did not colonize every aspect of human life. Liberalism rested fundamentally on pre-modern and pre-liberal institutions and practices, ranging from family to community, from church to civil society. In spite of the official rejection of the pre-modern tradition, liberalism assumed and benefitted from a kind of ‘unofficial’ continuity of the pre-modern, Aristotelian-inflected inheritance. Thus, Tocqueville observed, though Americans justified their actions in terms of self-interest, they continued to act altruistically. He wrote that ‘they would rather do honor to their philosophy than to themselves’.”

And there is another irony in liberalism, as Phillip Blond notes in his superb review of the book The Politics of Virtue: Post-Liberalism and the Human Future by John Milbank and Adrian Pabst:

“The triumph of liberalism today more and more brings about the ‘war of all against all.’ Liberalism brings about the very thing, a universal civil war, from which it initially promised deliverance. It also brings about what has never existed before, but what it claims was there in the beginning: an isolated individual abstracted from all social ties and duties. Thus what liberalism claims to base itself upon, and escape from, is what it both constructs and ensures.”

As I have written before, the founders couldn’t foresee the radicalization of liberalism: the transfiguration of Rousseau’s romanticism and Nietzsche’s nihilism into postmodernism, a metamorphosis that has made our time unlike any other before it, when subjectivism rules and when truth and belief are one and the same. But the seeds were there from the beginning. Now a majority of modern Americans say it’s not necessary to believe in God to be moral, and the unaffiliated proportion of the population is growing. Absorbed by this new morality, we talk about “values” without noticing that they are subjective preferences, moral choices without any objective basis. And we talk about “community” when there are very few real ones left.

Frustrated but hopeful, I end this essay with another quote from Phillip Blond’s review:

“So it is fitting that Milbank and Pabst issue an implicit call to realism and an explicit call to Christianity. A just politics requires ‘the weight of objectivity and the glimpsed seriousness of the Good.’ We cannot have this without a ‘new irruption of a communicable ethical and probably religious vision, genuinely able to move people.’ Unfortunately, the institutions that could advance this are in disarray. Christian shepherds are distracted by their own liberal dreams; their flocks are scattered.”

The Allende Myth

I wrote this essay in 2003. Due to the current Venezuelan problems and our very own Democrat Party blindly following Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s magic pipes, I decided to post it again.

The failed and tragic attempt by Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity at creating socialism in Chile in 1970-1973 has become a myth for the world left, presented as the possibility of a peaceful and democratic transition to socialism that was destroyed only because the almighty CIA acted as master puppeteer of the Chilean reaction. The myth reinforces itself; while the Cold War context is never mentioned, neither is the fact that the CIA’s workings are well documented whereas the Cuban and Soviet interventions are still mostly unknown. The Allende myth may be good for keeping the socialist faith alive, but it evidently contradicts the historical facts.

While Augusto Pinochet’s brutal post-coup repression and terrorism cannot be justified, it is essential to explain what led him and the Chilean armed forces to the fateful coup d’état, outside of the fantasy that had him bursting onto the democratic Chilean political scene on September 11, 1973 with readymade CIA orders to stop a beautiful, pacific and liberating socialist dream. For I have no doubts that if the Chilean Marxist experiment had ended in civil war, as it appeared to most observers at the time, it would have been an even greater tragedy or, had it ended as the totalitarian society it pointed to, it would have lasted much longer and would have brought Chileans much more suffering than Pinochet’s ugly but temporary dictatorship.

There occurred many important episodes leading to the coup, but I have chosen those that most clearly present the myth in all its falseness. To support the post I have selected four diverse books, one by a right-wing author (Moss), another by a trio of Marxists (Roxborough) and two by recognized scholars (Sigmund and Alexander); all of them knew Chile well and had first-hand experience of the Allende period.

It is clear, I believe, that Allende and the Popular Unity were deposed by reasons of a powerful internal combination of economic, political and social factors, mostly of their own creation, and for most of which Salvador Allende himself bears the main responsibility —either as conscious agent or as fellow traveler, despite that important part of the myth that makes him appear as a convinced democrat and a father figure:

  1. A minority Marxist coalition government (in reality only its executive branch) with disparate ideas on how and how fast to carry out the transition to socialism, whose political strategy hinged on a plebiscite to implement the fundamental political changes presented in their programme but that never got the requisite electoral majority, and that in the interim was being bypassed from the left by its own extremist faction and their allies outside the Popular Unity;
  1. An economic chaos of liberal money printing, wage increases and price controls, decreasing production and increasing food imports, runaway world-record inflation, work stoppages and lockouts, state industry mismanagement, workers’ demands and politicization and, finally, shortages and rationing, that paralyzed the country;
  1. An increasing polarization of political forces that led to institutional deadlock between the executive, represented by Allende and the Popular Unity parties, and the other two branches of government, represented by the united opposition who, in the end, practically called for the military to act;
  1. A deep and growing social commotion that eventually resulted in the subversion and breakdown of democratic institutions and a “dual power” situation that threatened civil war and that the high command of the Chilean armed and police forces, who saw themselves as —and in fact were— final arbiters, could not allow to continue.

From Frei to Allende

Chile had a history similar to other Latin American countries, one of increasing statism and populism that mired the country in backwardness, with a frail economy based on latifundio and the export of minerals and that was also ravaged by chronic inflation. However, Chile’s political institutions were strong and the armed forces were mostly apolitical, having intervened in civil affairs only once early in the twentieth century. Chile even had a short-lived socialist government in 1932 and several failed Popular Front-type electoral coalitions, and Allende himself had come fairly close to winning the presidency in 1964, getting 38.6% of the vote when the center-left Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei was elected president.

“Although different in their ideological inspiration, Frei’s policies were similar to those of most governments in recent Chilean history in their populist orientation, based as they were on an appeal to an alliance of the middle and lower classes to secure national independence, popular participation, and social justice.” (Sigmund, p. 126)

Since Frei’s reforms didn’t seem to go far enough, the country was apparently ready for even deeper and more radical ones, and that was what the Popular Unity promised.  For a country where statism had already advanced due to the deep reform that Frei called chileanization and that squeezed the wealthy as much as the fragile economic system allowed, the Popular Unity’s basic tenet that dependencia, imperialist monopolies and the bourgeoisie were the problem, and Stalinist-like, centralized state control of the economy was the solution proved to be, in hindsight, an absurd assumption that did not need much time to explode in all its falsehood, with sad results for all Chileans.

In the presidential elections of 1970, Allende got 36.2% of the vote, Alessandri (National Party) 34.9% and Tomic (Christian Democratic Party) 27.8%. According to the constitution, the Chilean congress had to choose the president between the first and second finishers. The only way the Christian Democrats could vote for Allende was to assure themselves of the continuity of democracy, and in this regard they negotiated a political document, the Statute of Democratic Guarantees, that became one of the keys to understand how the drama ended. This document drew two lines that Allende could not cross and still remain in power. The first was the continuation of democratic institutions, basically meaning that any deep change had to be approved by Congress. The second was to ensure that the military was untouchable and that it remained the final guarantor of the democratic institutions of the country.

“[Frei’s] successor, Salvador Allende, came into office with the same economic and political constraints upon his actions, but he was much less willing to take them into account. When it became evident that the economic transition [to socialism] was not to be so easy, the maintenance of political legitimacy became central.  It appeared that at some point Allende would be forced to choose between a policy of populist nationalist legalism … or a Marxist-inspired policy of class polarization which [would] sooner or later lead to a violent confrontation. As it turned out, he tried to pursue both policies at once —with tragic consequences for himself and for Chile.” (Sigmund, p. 120, p. 127)

Political Dilemma

“The [official] political strategy of the Popular Unity stemmed from a central assumption, that the transition to socialism proceeded by a series of stages, the first of which was winning an electoral majority.” The second stage in the transition was to repeat that majority in a plebiscite that was key to the transformation because it would destroy the fundamental balance of the three branches of government: it would have approved a single-chamber Congress and Supreme Court based on the East German model, which would be a rubber-stamp for the executive, plus neighborhood popular tribunals modeled after Cuba’s. The plebiscite, however, was never called by Allende because he knew the Popular Unity could not win it.

The Popular Unity was caught in a dilemma of its own making:

On the one hand, it could not postpone the socialist transition to an indeterminate future because that would alienate their own supporters, but the constitutional and peaceful transition to socialism pushed by its gradualist wing (represented by the Communist and Radical parties and Allende’s faction of the Socialist Party) wasn’t possible due to the minority status of the Popular Unity.

On the other hand, the extreme, revolutionary left inside (the Altamirano faction of the Socialist Party) and outside the Popular Unity (the MIR and the Christian Left), itself a minority within a minority, could not impose a rapid transition to socialism but anyhow began creating a “dual power” situation similar to the early Russian Revolution, in which the cordones industriales (industrial parks), campamentos (squatter neighborhoods) and poblaciones (slum-dwellers) of the main cities would form Soviets and become the basis of a worker-peasant army that “coordinated with a more protracted guerrilla campaign in the southern provinces” would eventually be capable of engaging and beating the Chilean armed forces. (Roxborough, pp. 71-73; Moss, pp. 101-103, 107)

The Popular Unity was therefore in the middle of a storm of increasing tempo and of their own creation: A minority that acted as a majority; that talked legality but overstepped the laws; that negotiated with the Christian Democrats while trying to split them; that attracted the middle classes and scared them; that talked reformism when extremism was all around it. This whirlwind of political forces at odds with one another, central to the Popular Unity action and to Allende’s personal and political behavior, only grew during the three years of the Popular Unity government, as its two wings pulled both state and society in different directions while triggering a violent reaction on the extreme right (Movimiento Patria y Libertad) and forcing the democratic right (Partido Nacional) and center and moderate left (Partido Demócrata Cristiano and others) to unite decisively against them.

Regarding congressional and municipal elections, the Christian Democrats and Nacionales began coming together by the mid-1971 elections in Valparaíso (CDP 50%, PU 48.5%) and the municipal by-elections in April 1971 (opposition 49.9%, PU 48.2%) and July 1971 (opposition 50.14%, PU 48.5%). Chile was under a total political deadlock and the government was losing electoral ground, as shown by almost every election. The January 1972 by-elections in the provinces of O’Higgins/Colchagua and Linares again saw a united opposition gaining on the government. The CDP candidate won O’Higgins/Colchagua by 52.7% against the government’s 46.4%; in Linares a National Party candidate won 58% of the vote against the government’s (a woman) 40.9%, with women voting almost two-to-one for the opposition. The Communist Party’s political commission reported that “the elections have confirmed a deterioration in the position of the government.” “Thus while the elections had united the right-wing parties in their struggle against Popular Unity, they had simply deepened the divisions within the Left between reformists and revolutionaries.” (Roxborough, p. 206). Lastly, in the congressional elections of March 1973 that Allende hoped would give him the required majority, the division was maintained at about 55% opposition, 44% government. Though propagandized as a victory for the government because the Popular Unity slightly increased its representatives, the numbers were similar to previous legislative elections listed above and clearly showed a political deadlock.

Once the Popular Unity’s policies that were specifically designed to woo the middle class away from the Christian Democrats failed, it is naive to suppose that those Chileans caught in the middle would accept radical change without resistance when their living standards were going down rapidly, or that institutions such as the Catholic Church, the armed forces, congress and the judiciary would remain neutral as the democratic state was being destroyed. Especially when it was only a temporary tactic forced by the political circumstances. After all, Allende himself had confided to Régis Debray “that his differences with apostles of violence like Guevara were only ‘tactical,’ plus his admission that he was observing legality ‘for the time being,’ and his assertion that he had agreed to the Statute of Democratic Guarantees as a ‘tactical necessity’.” (Sigmund, p. 140). And his own Socialist Party, at its Congress in January 1971, had stated that “the special conditions under which Popular Unity came to power oblige it to observe the limits of a bourgeois state for now” and had warned its members to prepare for “the decisive confrontation with the bourgeoisie and imperialism.” (Sigmund, footnote 7/12)

Economic Debacle

Since Congress was dominated by the opposition majority, the Popular Unity unearthed old legislation from the short-lived Socialist Republic of 1932 —legislation which had never been repealed but that allowed only temporary requisition of firms that had gone bankrupt. Using this legislation in a not-that-legal way during his first year in power, Allende “gained almost complete control of the production of nitrates, iodine, copper, coal, iron, steel; about 90% of the financial and banking sector; almost 80% of exports and 55% of imports; as well as a substantial part of the textile, cement, metal, fishing, soft drink, electronics, and part of the distribution industries.” (Roxborough, pp. 89-90). In 1969 the Chilean state already owned 33 big companies; by 1972, Allende had nationalized a total of 264, much more than the 91 the Popular Unity programme had promised and, finally, The Central Workers Confederation (CUT), controlled by the Communist Party, took advantage of the failed military coup of June 29, 1973 to illegally take over most private companies. “In a single day, the number of companies taken over by the government nearly doubled, rising from 282 to 526. Allende not only does nothing to stop it, he calls for the workers to create el poder popular.” (Sigmund, p. 215)

Companies were seized by whatever means available: nationalization, intervention, forced bankruptcy, requisitioning, stock purchase and workers’ seizure after a strike.  A typical form of securing state control of a company started by declaring that it was important for future government plans, then buying shares of the company from private stockholders and trying to bankrupt it by decreeing price increases for the raw materials used by the particular industry (on top of previously decreed higher wages), while denying price increases for the products the company sold. Private banks had been nationalized by “driving the price of the stock down by threats of nationalization and then offering to buy it at a price well above that offered by the market.” (Sigmund, p. 157)

A policy of wage increases and price controls hit small and medium businesses hard, supplies began to grow scarce, the black market expanded and government-supported People’s Supply Committees began replacing shopkeepers as a solution for the shortages. Their policy towards the middle classes having failed, the result was that at the end of their second year in power, the Popular Unity and Allende were isolated and a relatively small but clear majority of Chileans strongly opposed them.

“The Allende government’s economic policies were an almost unmitigated disaster.  With the exception of an interesting and positive experiment made during the first year of the administration, these policies were negative and generated Chile’s worst economic crisis in its entire history as an independent country. The economic disaster was multidimensional. Before the end of the regime, production was declining precipitously, investments were severely curtailed, savings were all but nonexistent, levels of living of the masses were as low or lower than they had been when Allende took office, shortages were all but universal. Most striking of all, inflation had become completely uncontrollable, running at more than 300 percent a year, with the prices increasing more and more each day.” (Alexander, p. 173)

“The Marxists promised in 1970 to end inflation. But the rate of inflation in 1972 was more than 163 per cent, a world record. Over the twelve months up to August 1973 the rate of inflation was 323 per cent. Those figures are comparable only, perhaps, with what happened in Weimar Germany, or with the state of things in Brazil on the eve of the generals’coup … Inflation under Allende was the result both of declining production —due to the reckless and disorderly process of state takeover of private firms— and of the government’s clumsy attempts to cover its whopping budgetary deficit by printing paper money.” (Moss, p. 54). “The deficit for 1973 … reached 53 percent of the government budget. (Central Bank figures indicate that the money supply rose by 3,400 percent by the end of 1973).” (Sigmund, p. 234)

“Agriculture suffered an even greater decline in output than did manufacturing. In 1972, the fall was about 6.7 percent, and it is estimated that the further decline in 1973 was 16.8 percent. The falloff in output of specific crops was especially striking. For instance, the output of wheat fell almost 50 percent, that of barley by more than 25 percent, oats by 12.4 percent, and rice by almost 30 percent. Similar declines were to be noted in almost all of the other product areas … Agricultural output undoubtedly declined because of diminution in the amount of land under cultivation. In the three years of the Allende regime, this total fell by about 22.4 percent. A ‘secret’ report of the Socialist party in 1972 admitted that almost half of the land the Allende government had taken over in the agrarian reform was not being cultivated.” (Alexander, p. 179)

“A survey made by one chain of cooperative stores operating mainly in the poorer neighborhoods reported that at the end of 1972, about 2,500 of some 3,000 products for the home which were normally kept in stock could no longer be obtained. In the face of these shortages, President Allende was very reticent about establishing an open and formal system of rationing.  Over and over, he insisted that he would never impose rationing on the citizenry. To the end he denied that there was a system or rationing. In fact, during at least the last year of the government a de facto rationing system did exist. It operated on at least two levels, that of the working-class areas and that of the middle- and upper-class parts of the cities.” (Alexander, p. 185)

“This crisis was not the result of deliberate administration policy. Rather, it was the result of the chaotic and often illegal way in which private enterprises were being shifted to the social area; the total discouragement of investment in, and even maintenance of, the property still held by private firms and individuals; the conflicting government objectives to redistribute income and expand the economy in which the economy was largely sacrificed to income redistribution; the decline in output caused by social conflict and mismanagement; and the increasingly convulsed political situation resulting from the government’s unwillingness to compromise with the still majority opposition. Whatever the causes of the economic crisis, its political effects proved catastrophic. The economic situation, particularly the shortages and the uncontrolled inflation, helped create the ‘prerevolutionary’ atmosphere of the last weeks and months of the Unidad Popular government.” (Alexander, p. 193)

Chile, Armed Camp

In March 1972, thirteen large wooden crates that came from Cuba contained more than a ton of armaments for the Popular Unity and were stored in Allende’s own presidential residence; the arm searches enforced by the military in 1973 revealed stockpiling of arms by both the government and the opposition. This was one of the main factors in the military decision to organize a coup later in the year. On May 23, 1973, eight air force generals protested to Allende his inaction against the MIR. The armed forces began thinking about intervention as far back as April 1972, when Pinochet himself acknowledged “that a peaceful solution to the political impasse was impossible.” (Sigmund, p. 226)

In July, the Christian Democratic Party issues “a statement accusing the government of attempting to set up an armed militia by distributing arms in the seized factories and the cordones industriales.” “The establishment of this de facto ‘people’s power’ with the evident participation of state authorities is incompatible with the survival of the ‘institutional power’ of law established by the constitution.” The author adds: “(visiting Chile at this time, I was astounded at the widespread acquisition of arms by both pro- and anti-government Chileans).” (Sigmund, p. 218)

US Intervention

The US adopted a tough line against the Chilean government at the end of 1971, when Fidel Castro visits Chile and stays for a month, clearly intervening in Chilean politics by speaking in support of Allende, calling the opposition “fascists” and calling democratic bastions such as a free press, elections and representative institutions “condemned by history as decadent and anachronistic.” Also at that time, the terms of compensation for the expropriated US companies appeared as virtually confiscatory. But the US intervention, if real and continuous, was also ill-timed and clumsy and did not have the importance the left-wing world opinion attributed to it. Prior to Allende’s accession to power, the CIA did not have contacts within the active military and had to conspire through the US Military Attaché in Chile. The plot included both active and retired officers but all the efforts failed, and it not only did not stop Allende acceding to power but was totally counterproductive. During Allende’s government, the CIA continued its efforts but mainly in the form of a general and limited monetary help to right-wing groups that was inconsequential. The much vaunted CIA help to the two truckers’ strikes wasn’t that important, as the truckers’ needs were very small and easily solved by their internal supporters. “Belief that the CIA money was responsible for the success of the truckers’ shutdowns requires an act of faith. The facts are that the needs of the truck drivers were relatively modest and that the strikers received widespread help within Chile to meet these needs.” (Alexander, p. 229)

This is what the three Marxist authors had to say about the supposed US “informal blockade” of suspended credits and no new loans: “That blockade did, as indicated, cause some damage to the Chilean economy, but the effects of the blockade were somewhat mitigated by the UP finding alternative sources of supplies, aid and credit. Thus, although the ‘informal blockade’ played a part in the economic crisis, the main cause of that crisis must be sought elsewhere. In any case, something like the ‘informal blockade’ must have been expected, and one assumes, taken into account when making policies … there is nothing in the history of US relations with Latin America to suggest that it would continue to supply aid and credits to a Latin American government which expropriates US property and attacks US policies.” (Roxborough, pp. 155, 156)

It must also be emphasized that Allende declared a moratorium on Chile’s debt in 1971.

Regarding the Pinochet coup, there is absolutely no evidence the US had anything to do with it. As a former military officer with knowledge about the Chilean military situation at the time, I am sure the Chilean armed forces needed neither orders from outside nor external help to take the Popular Unity government down. “The CIA activities, whatever they were, were of little or no importance in determining the ultimate fate of the Allende regime. They failed to prevent the election of Allende as president, they at most made only marginal contributions to the campaigns against the Unidad Popular government, and they had nothing to do with the final decision of the military leaders to oust Allende.” (Alexander, p. 231)

This is what the Marxist authors said about the issue:

“United States imperialism acted consistently to defend its interests, just as it has done and will continue to do in other parts of the world.  But it must be stressed that while the US played an important role in creating the conditions for a military coup and even directly aided the Chilean bourgeoisie in its efforts to overthrow Allende, it did not by any means act alone. The Popular Unity government was overthrown by its own bourgeoisie (and its political agent, the armed forces) when it became clear that there was a real threat to bourgeois society. In view of the prevalence of conspiratorial views of imperialism intervention in underdeveloped countries, it should be stressed that the principal reason why the Allende government was overthrown by the Chilean bourgeoisie was because there existed the threat that the working class would make a socialist revolution, despite the reformists of the Popular Unity.” (Roxborough, p. 114)

Paul Sigmund:

“That a committed Marxist could come to the presidency of what was basically a very ‘bourgeois’ society, and that he would only be overthrown after the breakdown of the economy and the widespread belief that his government was systematically violating the constitution, are all explicable in terms of the strength of Chilean political institutions which until September 1973 endured strains that no other democratic system in the world could have supported for such a period of time … I take account of the role of the CIA and U.S. policy, but I do not believe it made a decisive difference. I am now convinced —with the benefit of hindsight— that even if the CIA had not been giving substantial financial support to the opposition, Allende would not have lasted a full six-year term unless he had drastically altered his policies, so long as the armed forces retained the autonomy and independence which they were guaranteed from the outset of his administration.” (Sigmund, p. xii)

and Robert Alexander:

“It has been frequently maintained that during the Allende years the U.S. government imposed a ‘blockade,’ which effectively prevented the UP government from receiving economic and financial aid from abroad. This, it is said, gravely undermined the economic and financial situation of the Allende administration and was largely responsible for its balance-of-payments problems … The facts do not support such allegations. The international lending agencies did not completely refuse to provide aid to Chile during the Allende administration. To be sure, the U.S. government’s Export-Import Bank made no loans to Chile during the Allende regime —but it had made virtually none during the last two years of the Frei administration either. The private U.S. banks sharply reduced their short-term lines of credit to Chile during the period —but for business reasons having nothing to do with an organized and deliberate ‘blockade.’ Finally, whatever efforts it may have made in that direction, the United States was utterly ineffective in preventing aid from being offered by other governments; in fact, the Allende regime received more economic help and promises of help than any previous Chilean government had ever gotten in a three-year period.” (Alexander, p. 219)

The Final Struggle

This is how Robert Alexander saw the last year of the Allende government:

“In retrospect, the events of October 1972 to September 1973 seem almost to have been preordained. Each move Allende made, seemed destined to weaken his position and to seal his fate. Every effort made by those who sought to avoid the final catastrophe seemed doomed to failure before it started. Allende’s ‘friends’ were in fact his worst enemies, but he was unable or unwilling to reach out to those who might have been able to save the situation.” (Alexander, p. 301)

The final battleground between the Popular Unity and the opposition was Congress. The Christian Democrats introduced an amendment to the nationalization law, the amendment was approved and Allende vetoed it. The fight then translated to whether congress needed a simple majority or two-thirds to overrule the presidential veto. The “constitutional confrontation [was] likened by many to the one in 1891 between President Balmaceda and the Congress which had led to a bloody civil war.” (Sigmund, p. 168). The impasse reached a point of crisis, the Supreme Court and the Controller General ruling that “[the veto] does not conform to the norms of the Constitution…” (Alexander, p. 317). In June 1973, the Ministry of the Interior ordered the Carabineros (police) not to carry out court orders, and the Supreme Court wrote two “open letters to President Allende protesting the press campaign and asserting that nonfulfillment of court orders and the abuse of legal loopholes were leading to ‘the imminent breakdown of the judicial order.’ However, the campaign against the judiciary continued, and now it was broadened to include the controller general as well.” (Sigmund, p. 210). The impasse would last until the end of the Popular Unity government “and thus set the seal of doom upon an administration which was already inextricably caught in a gathering crisis.”

By the end of July, dialogue wasn’t possible anymore after an agreement between Allende and the Christian Democratic Party fails. Allende’s advisor Joan Garcés quotes Allende on not accepting the CDP demands: “Never! That would result in the division of Popular Unity and therefore the end of the revolutionary movement.” (Sigmund, footnote 10/31)

“Allende’s government was becoming increasingly isolated. The last bridges between it and the opposition were broken; it entered into open constitutional conflict with other branches of government; its relations with the military rapidly deteriorated.” (Alexander, p. 316)

On August 6, Allende for the first time retires two senior air force generals to open the way for the promotion of a general sympathetic to the government. (Sigmund, p. 225).  This was another clear breach of the Statute of Democratic Guarantees. The following day, the Navy discovers a left-wing plot of enlisted men. Forty-three sailors are arrested and the Navy accuses Socialist Senator Carlos Altamirano, MAPU Deputy Oscar Garretón and MIR leader Miguel Enriquez of being “intellectual authors.” Carlos Altamirano (who was also Secretary General of Allende’s Socialist Party) proudly admits the accusation. Already in July 1973, Congress had rejected Allende’s request for state-of-siege powers by a vote of 82 to 51, and the presidents of the two houses of Congress had issued “a joint statement denouncing the establishment of ‘popular power’, which they said amounted to the de facto creation of a ‘parallel army in which numerous foreigners are involved’.” (Sigmund, p. 216). “The threat to the military’s monopoly of the instruments of coercion, now combined with attempts to subvert the hierarchy of command from below (the infiltration of the navy) and above (the replacement of the top military commanders) provided the classic scenario for a coup d’état.” (Sigmund, p. 227)

The Christian Democrats hardened their attitude and declared that “in Chile there exist armed groups, and the laws and the Constitution are broken. From then on, it was only a matter of time as the denunciations piled up. By 22 August, the Chamber of Deputies had openly called on the armed forces to leave the cabinet and to take action to ensure the essential bases for democratic harmony among the Chilean people.” (Roxborough, p. 120)

The Chamber of Deputies, by a vote of 81 to 45, had resolved

“to present to the President of the Republic and to the Ministers of State, members of the Armed Forces and of the Corps of Carabineros, the grave breakdown of constitutional and legal order in the Republic … and to indicate to them, furthermore, that in view of their functions, of their oath of loyalty to the Constitution and the laws, and in the case of the Ministers, of the nature of the institutions of which they are high members, and the name of which they invoked upon becoming Ministers, it behooves them to put an immediate end to all of the de facto situations which infringe the Constitution and the laws, so as to conduct government action in legal channels and assure the constitutional order of our fatherland and the essential bases of democratic coexistence among Chileans.” (Alexander, p. 318)

“It was later debated whether in any sense it provided a legal basis for military intervention. It did not have the force of law… The important thing about the 22 August resolution was that it could be interpreted as a moral basis for military intervention, so long as it was intended to ‘re-establish the rule of the constitution and the law.’ This marked a major turning-point in the relationship between Congress and the armed forces.” (Moss, pp. 197-198)

Allende spent Sunday, August 19 with Régis Debray:

“They discussed Allende’s maneuvers with the military, and Debray had the impression that Allende enjoyed the chess game he was playing with them. Yet, Debray noted, ‘everyone knew that it was only to secure time or organize, to arm, to coordinate the military apparatus of the Popular Unity parties —a race against the clock which had to go on week after week.’  Allende was guided in this game, writes Debray, by two principles. On the one hand, he felt a visceral rejection of civil war which, given the balance of forces, would be lost. He was not taken in by the phrase ‘people’s power.’  When those on the left declared that ‘only the direct action of the masses will stop the coup d’état,’ he would reply, ‘How many of the masses are needed to stop a tank?’ On the other hand, he was determined not to tarnish the image which he wanted to leave to history by giving in to the military on the essentials of his program. But between these two conflicting principles, Allende refused to choose, since he thought or pretended that his two fundamental aims were not contradictory. His refusal to recognize that these two principles were mutually exclusive contributed to his overthrow three weeks later.” (Sigmund, pp. 229-230)

Democracy and Free Market

Few critics are interested in the prosperous Chile of today. Its democracy is again flourishing despite a history of divisions that long preceded Allende’s term, and it is so because of the only happy outcome of the entire tragedy: Chile has finally taken the self-sustaining path of capitalist development, like its feline Asian counterparts did in other — and in one case just as tragic— circumstances.  Its export diversification that no longer makes it reliant on copper, its 2% to 4% inflation rate, its lowering of poverty to only 20% of the population (an impossible dream for any other Latin American country and for most of the Third World) or its free trade agreements with the US and the EU are not interesting topics to write about, as opposed to the cruel fantasy of making the revolution and creating socialism. Chile’s prosperity is too boring to make the news.

In a cunning twist of history, the hated Pinochets of this world are the final saviors of the democratic status quo. There is one simple reason why Ricardo Lagos, the current socialist president of Chile, has continued the dictator’s free-market economics. It works, while all the alternatives tried in Chile during the entire twentieth century didn’t.  When questioned about Pinochet’s economic change, this is what Alejandro Foxley, Chile’s first finance minister after the dictatorship, said:

“I was in charge of the economy at the time. I was minister of finance from 1990 to ‘94. We always said that the main thing we had to do was to make sure that there was an equilibrium between change and continuity. The mature countries are countries that don’t always start from scratch. We had to recognize that in the previous government, the foundations had been established for a more modern market economy, and we would start from there, restoring a balance between economic development and social development. And that’s what we did. After the first four years of economic transition in Chile, everybody was saying, ‘These guys who are coming to power with democracy, they will mess it up.’  After four years the economy had grown an average of 8.2 percent a year, and the poverty was reduced by half. So I have a lot of confidence in democracy because of these results. In terms of the deeper transformation of the economy, they certainly were able to anticipate what became a global trend afterwards. They were able to start a process of deregulating the markets, opening up the economy, and allowing everybody to have a share in world markets, to be able to compete, and the need to increase productivity. All of those things later became a global trend. That was their contribution. They were able to anticipate a global trend, and Chile has benefited from them.”


Ian Roxborough, Phil O’Brien & Jackie Roddick, Chile, The State & Revolution, Holmes & Meier, New York, 1977.

Robert Moss, Chile’s Marxist Experiment, David & Charles Newton Abbot, London, 1973.

Robert J. Alexander, The Tragedy of Chile, Geenwood, Westport, 1978.

Paul E. Sigmund, The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile, 1964-1976, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1977.