The history of socialist politics in the Global South shows that all capitalists want a government that will govern unapologetically in their interests — and would prefer the intervention of foreign powers than democracy and socialism at home.
Salvador Allende. (Portada Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile via Wikimedia Commons)
Adapted from remarks in Santiago, Chile on the fiftieth anniversary of the coup against Salvador Allende’s government.
Today, we too often study Salvador Allende’s government nostalgically, as a tale of heroic struggle and martyrdom. But Allende shouldn’t be remembered as someone who believed in a vague progressive future — we should remember him and the millions around him as those who sacrificed for socialism.
Taking up the mantle of socialism today means learning from our history and plotting routes to not just tame but overcome capitalism.
I live and organize in the United States, but my family is from the Anglophone Caribbean. And for our part of the Americas, the most significant attempt at socialist construction came out of the tiny island of Grenada, which saw a popular revolution against a brutal dictatorship in March 1979.
By October 1983, ten years after the coup against the Allende government, the experiment was over. First, imperialism tried to destabilize the economy. Unlike in Chile, the imperial powers were not successful, but the paranoia and pressures the young government was put under led to division, political hardening, and fratricide.
And at the first sign of weakness, Washington invented a pretense for a large-scale invasion of an island of just one hundred thousand people.
By the end of 1983, dozens of Grenadians and their allies were dead, and the revolution’s leaders were killed or imprisoned. The memory of the Anglophone world’s only socialist revolution was suppressed or brought up only as a cautionary tale against radical change.
It is important for us to understand what the United States was so threatened by: the capitalist class in the United States is the great organizer of the current system of world capitalism. At times, like in the 1954 Guatemalan coup, the US government takes order from big domestic corporations. But throughout most of modern history, its interest was more vaguely to support the free flow of investments. And its chief threat wasn’t the rise of an alternative large capitalist power in the region, like Brazil or Argentina, but the rise of an alternative system — socialism.
Once imperialism just meant national capitalisms using the military power of their national states; now we have a system of national states, under the leadership of the United States, overseeing an international capitalist economy.
In this context, there’s no such thing as a progressive national bourgeoisie. Of course, national capitals can be coerced into providing growth, which is the raw material of social, material, and cultural progress for any government trying to administer a capitalist state in the interests of workers. State policies can be used to shape development and achieve egalitarian objectives, profits can be taxed and transferred, and so on.
However, the idea that there is a core of loyal capitalists willing to stand up for national interests against international imperialism is a myth. From tiny Grenada to Chile, all capitalists want a government that will govern unapologetically in their interests — and would prefer the intervention of foreign powers over the democratic constraints of their compatriots.
Washington today, even more so than in 1973, is not omnipotent. It can crucially aid domestic capitalists, but it cannot control world events.
Decades of US war in Vietnam yielded a communist government and a unified country. Years of war in Iraq yielded a state more favorable to Iran than to the United States. Even today in Grenada, the international airport that the United States insisted was a Soviet MIG fighter base and invaded to dismantle has been constructed at last and named after that country’s martyred socialist leader, Maurice Bishop.
The United States gave full support to the Honduran coup during the Obama administration. But under the Biden administration it was forced to be much more careful with events in Bolivia and Brazil. The unity of the people of the Americas, including the workers of the United States, can do much to constrain the ability of imperialism to undermine the Left, even in the short term.
But there should be no mistake: Allende was more of a threat to US interests and the interests of global capitalism than any government that exists today in our hemisphere, with the exception, then as now, of Cuba.
To honor Allende, Bishop, and the sacrifices of previous generations of revolutionaries, we need to construct a road not just to national independence and opposition to Washington, but to socialism and the remaking of the world in the interests of ordinary workers.Original post