Thursday, 7 September 2017

Netflix and Chile- Allende



Film Chat

Allende is a 90 minute biopic of the last day of Salvador Allende's Presidency and life. Its a depiction of the military coup of September Eleventh 1973 that overthrew him from his point of view, besieged inside the Presidential Palace increasingly abandoned and vulnerable.

Its pretty interesting, its more like a play that's been filmed on a closed set then a "proper" film. Its not quite a one man performance but the only really developed character is Daniel Muñoz as Allende, the rest of the cast are minor parts in his orbit. Though to their credit they do a lot with what little the script gives and Muñoz carries the film very well. 

It handles the building sense of loneliness and dread as more and more of Allende's supposed allies desert and the rebelling troops get closer to the palace. Its hard not sympathise with Allende, he's like a kindhearted left wing granddad being punished for his belief the inherent goodness of his rebellious children. The film also splices in audio recordings from the time, including Allende's last speech broadcast just before the final assault on the palace.

"Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!"

And an intercepted recording of several mutinying obvious bragging about how they plan to murder Allende and his family by sabotaging his plane if he agreed to surrender. So it does its job well, the only complaint I had was that I started to find the hero worship of Allende by the other characters. Though it does make narrative sense, by this point everyone apart from a handful of loyal followers and his own family have written him off as a dead man and made their escape.

I recommend watching Allende, its emotional and informative, and the anniversary is coming up. I mean its either this or live coverage of the Norwegian elections. Tough competition I know.


Political Commentary

Anyway I'd like to seamlessly segue into some thoughts on the films accuracy and the political legacy of Allende. Allende is an interesting curiosity, by winning an election and increasing his majority Allende is used as propaganda to show that Socialism can be popular. As a man committed to a peaceful revolution and social democratic policy reforms mean he's also used as a warning that nothing less than hardline militaristic authoritarianism can bring about a social revolution. Then there's his friendship with Castro and his mentorship by Italian immigrant and Anarchist shoe maker Juan de Marchi and the composition of his ruling Popular Unity coalition, an alliance of several parties Communist, Socialist, Social Democratic, Radical, Christian Left etc, Allendes on comments either downplaying or playing up=depending on the audience- the politically radical nature of his polices and you have even more reason to embrace or reject the man depending on your personal persuasion.

For example of the muddled legacy of Allende I think this 1971 essay by the then Trotskyist (specifically Socialist Workers Party USA, SWP) Peter Camejo is a good example. https://www.marxists.org/archive/camejo/1971/19711201.htm

Its not hard to see where Camejo stands on Allende's first months and his predictions turned out to be pretty accurate but he does also demonstrate reasons why others were more enthusiastic. And the article by the Situationist publication Point Blank, The Strange Defeat of the Chilean Revolution
(https://reddebreksbowl.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/strange-defeat-chilean-revolution-1973.html)

To the film's credit it doesn't let its positive attitude to Allende blind it to some of the criticisms. Indeed quite a bit of the conversations and growing tensions are acknowledged as the result of some of his conciliation policies. For example the whole coup process, Allende wasn't as some of his detractors have claimed naïve, he did anticipate the possibility that even limited reforms would provoke a violent reaction from the local right wing and the United States, so he and his supporters did come up with some countermeasures.

Unfortunately most of those plans relied on some variation on using loyal military units to defeat and disarm rebellious military units. This plan did work in June 1973 when a Tank brigade besieged the Presidential palace in a coup attempt backed by the Fascistic Patria y Libertad  (Fatherland and Liberty) paramilitary. However that seems to have been a revolt confined to the Second Armoured Battalion with the support of the fringe extremist Patria y Libertad. It was the actions of right wing adventurers not a general reaction.

General Pinochet's quick actions in defence of the government impressed Allende, as such he came to be in charge of Allende's defence plans. During the September coup he had become Commander in Chief of the army shortly before in August. This meant that the leader of the Junta knew all of Allende's plans and how strong his movement was. In the film Allende's only practical options as the revolt spreads from Valparaíso to Santiago is to keep trying to get a hold of Generals (Grady, Pinochet, Baeza etc.) he assumes are loyal and to prepare a speech for a broadcast. By the time he learns the full extent of the betrayal he's left clutching at the hope that the workers of Chile will rise up to resist this coup. Which brings us to the next problem.

As far back as the sixties the Chilean political left and the workers and peasants had been arming themselves and engaging in violent confrontations with the right, the police, the army, the landlords, the corporations and so on. Indeed one of the main criticisms of Allende's presidency was that his government lagged conspicuously behind the political radicalisation of ordinary Chilean workers. His land reforms were a reaction to the waves of occupations by the landless peasants, and his government had to keep intervening in strikes because they feared strike waves would collapse the economy.

The struggle was very violent, weapons were stockpiled and defence units and terrorist cells were established and it looked like a civil war might develop. Stuck in the middle Allende had decided the best way to prevent this was to win the support of the armed forces and use his governments influence to disarm and disband these militia like organisations. We all know how that turned out in the end, but at the time this meant that even the workers did think Allende's government of the Constitution of Chile was worth fighting for, they didn't have any means of doing so. Not only did they not have weapons they had no organisations or plans, they were completely vulnerable.

At the end of the day the only militarised opposition left was Allende's bodyguard unit in the palace and the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). MIR were one of the leftwing terrorist groups founded in the sixties and they had pulled off some impressive raids, they even had the capability to build their own mortars. By 1973 they were estimated to be 10,000 strong and were working for Allende, they helped form his bodyguard unit.  Ten thousand committed and armed fighters aren't to be dismissed but they simply couldn't putdown a revolt of the armed forces. And since most of the plans for the defence of Allende relied on the armed forces, they weren't mobilised until after the coup had succeeded. They were active in the anti-Junta underground but of course that didn't really help Allende.

This is brought up in the film, when Allende starts to put his faith in a sort of popular uprising against the Coup he's reminded that he disarmed the workers and did his best to get them to trust and support the military and police, who are now on the streets and pointing their guns at the Presidential palace. I think this is the root of the tragedy of Allende, he did everything in his power to make an accommodation with the capitalists, and in the end they still get rid of you if your in the way, and at the end of the day it isn't a good idea to disarm your own side if you want socialism.

Also national governments will have to act against working class organisation even if a bunch of ultralefts are in the cabinet since that is the only way a nation state and continue to function.

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