Salvador Allende, Revolutionary Democrat
Pluto Press (£11.50)
Author Q&A: Victor Figueroa Clark
This eloquent biography of socialist Salvador Allende offers an insight into the man – as a reformer and Marxist – who was president of Chile until he was ousted by General Pinochet in a US-backed coup in 1973. Figueroa Clark also provokes wider discussion on his legacy and global politics.
Why did you write this book?
I’d like Allende to be better known for his life and his Popular Unity (PU) government rather than for the manner of his death. I think his ideas may contain the seeds of how we can strive to achieve a transformation of our own society.
Was there anything in Allende’s formative years that made him a socialist?
Coming from a relatively privileged background, Allende saw the poverty of the mass of the population and was exposed to revolutionary ideas early on. He also had a family tradition of political radicalism and it was a time of revolutions worldwide. He became a medical student and an assistant in a psychiatric hospital, witnessing the brutal effects of inequality and exploitation.
Why did Allende favour the electoral road to socialism over guerilla warfare?
Allende believed Chile had the political structures and culture to enable an unarmed road to political power.
But he was not a pacifist and died defending his government with an AK in hand. His reforms were aimed at transforming society, the economy and the state away from dependent capitalism and towards socialism, not just providing material improvements to the poor.
What measures did Allende’s 1970-73 government introduce to improve the position of the poor and working classes?
The PU legally recognised the trade unions by bringing them into government and the management of nationalised industries. He provided half a litre of milk
to every child per day, vital in reducing malnutrition. A large-scale public housing programme was instituted and public services were extended to the vast shantytowns. His government nationalised the copper industry which continues to provide the bulk of Chile’s income.
Why did Allende commit suicide in 1973?
Allende confronted a violent, illegal military rebellion that was largely stoked and planned in the US. He fought out his last hours in an indefensible position understanding the powerful symbolism of defending the presidential palace and Chilean democracy.
What lessons might his life have for today?
The world remains plagued by poverty, injustice and exploitation. The richest countries still invade and subjugate the poorest. Inequality is growing. Allende said that since governments across the world had failed to deal with these issues, they must be caused by capitalism. Allende and his generation proposed to move away from capitalism. This is something I feel we ought to return to today if we want to overcome the immense challenges facing the world.