Chile 1973: Heroism was not enough

The international workers’ movement celebrated the election of Allende’s socialist government in Chile in 1970. Three years later, a CIA-backed military coup swept the dictator Pinochet into power. In an article first published in the September 1998 edition of Socialism Today, issue No.31, TONY SAUNOIS, secretary of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), explains how this tragedy unfolded and the lessons that persist today.

On 4 September 1970 Salvador Allende, Unidad Popular (UP) candidate, won the Chilean presidential elections with 36.3% of the vote. He defeated the hated leader of the right-wing Partido Nacional (PN), Jorge Alessandri, who polled 34.9%, with the candidate of the populist capitalist party, the Christian Democracy (PDC), Radomiro Tomic, trailing third with only 27.8%.

This election was not simply a ‘routine’ change in the presidency. It unleashed a revolutionary process which brought the working class into confrontation with the Chilean ruling class and US imperialism. Three years later, on September 11, reaction triumphed as the military seized power in a bloody military coup that was partly organised by the CIA.

The reaction of the Chilean ruling class and US imperialism was all the more ferocious because it was terrified by the sweep of the revolutionary movement which went far beyond the intentions of the UP leaders. It was the revolutionary dynamic of the masses, and not the actions of their leaders, that placed the capitalist system in danger.

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The end of Golden Eras

The new lease of life that world capitalism experienced after the collapse of the Stalinist states of Russia and Eastern Europe from the late 1980s has definitively run its course. Whatever the immediate perspectives are for the world economy, argues HANNAH SELL, there is no prospect of any new golden era of capitalist progress.

This March saw the second and third biggest bank collapses in US history, followed by the failure of the Swiss banking behemoth, Credit Suisse. A new worldwide financial crisis seemed to loom, and with it another Great Recession akin to 2007-08. No more banks have failed since, but that does not tell us much.

The events that set off the 2007-08 crisis began in the US subprime mortgage sector. In April 2007 the first major US subprime mortgage company was made bankrupt, yet in December 2007 the US stock markets were at an all-time high. In March 2008 the investment bank Bear Stearns folded, but it was not until September of that year that Lehman Brothers imploded, now remembered as the ‘shock event’ that triggered the Great Recession. So the cautious optimism of increasing numbers of capitalist commentators that we are not heading into a new recession, at least in the US, is certainly not justified merely by the booming major stock markets (with the exception of London) and the lack of any catastrophic financial events for a few months.

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New Labour, new capitalist managers

Keir Starmer’s Labour is seeking to “curry favour with big business”, was the response of the Unite general secretary Sharon Graham to the recent leak to the Financial Times of the party’s latest policy proposals on workers’ rights. These were policies signed off at the Labour Party’s National Policy Forum (NPF) meeting in July which, by mid-August, had still not been officially published by the party nor made available in full to affiliated organisations such as Unite.

The Labour Party’s attitude to big business was spelt out earlier this year in the New Business Model for Britain document, published in May by the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves. Presented as a long-term strategy for the establishment of a high-growth British capitalism, capable of competing with other world capitalist classes and powers, it really does deserve the epithet of being an attempt to ‘curry favour with big business’.

After years of economic and political instability at the hands of an increasingly unpredictable and unreliable ruling Tory party, it is an appeal to the British ruling class to place their trust in an incoming Labour government to ensure the long-term strategic interests of British capitalism.

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Global Warning: Another damning climate report

June was the hottest month ever recorded in the UK and at the start of July, the planet had the two hottest days ever recorded. For a seven-day period, the average daily temperature was higher than in any week of 44 years of record keeping, according to the University of Maine Climate Data centre.

The United Nations (UN) Secretary General António Guterres was quoted saying “climate change is out of control”, adding that the return of El Nino, a sporadic weather pattern, will almost certainly lead to more record-breaking temperatures. And what had the Tory government to say about the latest evidence of climate change? It will not come as a surprise for readers of Socialism Today to find that the answer is nothing.

The environmental minister Theresa Coffey was not questioned by a single MP about the government lack of action, despite the publication of a damning report by a government ‘watch-dog’, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which was established under the UK Climate Change Act 2008.

Their report published on 28 June 2023, which energy and climate experts have described as “damning”, concludes that it is “markedly less confident” than a year ago that the UK would reach its targets for cutting carbon emissions.

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The crisis of capitalist democracy

The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism

By Martin Wolf

Published by Allen Lane, 2023, £11.95pbk

“Democratic capitalism” is in crisis, warns Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, in his new book. Such is the severity of this malaise its very survival is in question. SEAN FIGG looks at the arguments.

Martin Wolf confirms early on that his oxymoronic “democratic capitalism” is shorthand for “free-market capitalism”, in which “markets, competition, private economic initiative, and private property” are central. With the economy secured from genuine democratic control by these economic ‘capitalist first principles’, the ‘democracy’ Wolf fears for is the existing parliamentary and presidential systems in Europe and North America, that he calls “liberal democracy”, based on “universal suffrage” and “representative democracy”.

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Misreading patriarchy

The Patriarchs: How Men Came to Rule

By Angela Saini

Published by Fourth Estate, 2023, £20

Reviewed by Christine Thomas

Angela Saini’s recent book is really a misnomer. While its title – The Patriarchs: How Men Came to Rule – seems to promise an explanation of how women came to be treated as unequal, second-class citizens, it never actually delivers. A better title would be ‘How women’s oppression is constantly changing’.

In the middle of the nineteenth and latter part of the twentieth century, Saini says, intellectuals were “exercised by what patriarchy was and how it came about. Was it the overarching domination of all men over all women, or was it something more specific? Was it about sex, or was it about work? Was it underpinned by capitalism, or did it stand independently of it? Did it have a history at all, or was it a universal pattern determined by our natures?”

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Editorial: Boris’s fall, election prospects, and the movement’s tasks

Of all the problems facing the British capitalist establishment in the summer of 2019, the “for now” departed Boris Johnson was only ever perceived to be the answer – or more accurately, part of an answer – to just one of them. The most pressing and urgent question of how to stop a Jeremy Corbyn-led government coming to power, with all the hopes and expectations so dangerous to the system that such a prospect being realised would have unleashed.

Under the leadership of Theresa May, the Conservatives – the oldest party in the world, and the political vehicle through which the capitalist class had traditionally preferred to exercise their rule – were in complete disarray. In the elections to the European parliament that had taken place on 23 May, the Tories had polled just one-and-a-half million votes, an 8.8% share, the first ever national election in which they had won less than 10% of the votes cast.

The fact that the European elections had taken place at all was itself evidence of how dysfunctional the party had become from the capitalists’ point of view. The government was obliged to stage the elections because it had been unable to meet the March 2019 deadline to agree a withdrawal treaty to leave the EU, following the 2016 referendum, due to the divisions on the Tory benches. The poll was won by Nigel Farage’s newly formed Brexit Party, with a 30.5% vote share, supporting a ‘no deal’ exit.

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Abortion, decriminalisation, and the right to choose

The jailing for 28 months of Carla Foster, a 44-year old woman with three children, one with special needs, for terminating a pregnancy during Covid lockdown has shone a spotlight on abortion laws in England and Wales.

We have a Tory government quick to foment ‘culture wars’ over migration, and to a lesser extent trans rights, in order to deflect from the multiple crises they face, and which they are totally incapable of solving. However, we have so far not seen the attacks on abortion rights that have taken place in the US and in other countries where right-populist governments have been in power. This is because of a general understanding that there is overwhelming support for the right to abortion, and that any attack could provoke a backlash, adding to the crumbling of their electoral base.

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Global Warning: Can Ultra Low Emission Zones combat air pollution?

Toxic air is all but inescapable today, with only 1% of humanity avoiding exposure to pollution exceeding World Health Organisation standards. Sources and sufferers are concentrated in major cities. London killed around 4,000 with its air in 2020, according to Imperial College London. How can we make the streets safe for breathing? 

Labour mayor Sadiq Khan is expanding the ‘Ultra Low Emission Zone’ (ULEZ) from inner London – roughly half the city, within the North and South Circular roads – to all of Greater London at the end of August. Vehicles which don’t meet exhaust standards, mostly older cars which are more affordable to poorer workers, are charged £12.50 each day they operate within the zone. 

A study on ULEZ by Imperial College London found in 2021 that it “caused only small improvements in air quality in the context of a longer-term downward trend in London’s air pollution levels”. The separate, wider ‘Low Emission Zone’ cut emissions from heavy goods vehicles. Parking restrictions, traffic and the rising cost of living make car ownership harder and harder in inner London. New vehicles replace older models year on year and are built to higher environmental standards anyway. 

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The NHS at 75: can it survive?

July marks the 75th anniversary of the National Health Service. It remains the British working class’s greatest gain – but only just. The NHS is more fragile today than any time since its foundation. JON DALE looks at the birth of the NHS and where it is heading.

Few now remember life before the NHS. Until 4 July 1948, every visit to a GP or hospital had to be paid for, unless covered by insurance or charity. Workers paid National Insurance but their dependents weren’t covered. Many families couldn’t afford private insurance, weren’t poor enough for ‘charity’, so suffered without health care.

A century earlier, Friedrich Engels described the terrible health of working-class families in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England (see Socialism Today No.248, May 2021). With crowding in insanitary slums, polluted air, and contaminated food and water, they died younger than before the industrial revolution. Cholera, typhus, smallpox and other epidemics regularly swept the country. Even wealthy capitalist families were not immune.

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