The death of Pinochet sparked off celebrations in Chile and around the world. He was a hated figure, a living example of the real nature of capitalism. He died without being brought to justice. But his was merely the fate of one man. The task is to make sure that the system that created Pinochet is buried once and for all. That task lies ahead of us.
The fact that the death of Pinochet on Sunday sparked off celebrations in Chile and around the world should surprise no one. He was a hated figure, a living symbol of the real face of the bourgeoisie.
In "normal" times the capitalists prefer to govern through "democratic" parliamentary means, so long as their fundamental interests are guaranteed. But the capitalist system cannot always guarantee that its interests can be defended through parliamentary means. History is full of examples where the bourgeoisie has preferred to do away with the niceties of "democracy"... Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto... the list is endless.
When the moment comes for the ruling class to let the mask of democracy fall and reveal its true ugly face it always finds a loyal servant to do the butcher's job for them. Pinochet was such a servant. He had no hesitation in clamping down on the Chilean workers and youth in 1973, butchering thousands of them in the process.
Thousands of left-wing youth, trade union activists, rank and file members of the Communist and Socialist parties, were arrested, tortured and brutally murdered. The National Stadium was used as a torture and detention centre. Many more perished in the Atacama desert. Thousands more were forced into exile as they fled the terrible regime that had come to power over the bones of the Chilean working class
Today's government in Chile says at least 3,197 people were killed for "political reasons" under Pinochet, but the figure may be far higher than that. Whatever the figure turns out to be, he was truly a mass murderer, and he did all this with the full backing of US imperialism. There was no condemnation a la Saddam Hussein for Pinochet! No, he was praised for bringing "stability" to the country... and for saving the bourgeoisie from the threat of social revolution.
He came to power in the September 11, 1973 coup when he used warplanes to bomb the presidential palace, in which the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende lost his life. Again, no condemnation from the "democratic countries", but open support, particularly from the US administration.
Pinochet had in fact been appointed army commander by Allende only 19 days before the coup. Allende had naively believed that Pinochet would defend the constitution in spite of the fact that rumours were spreading everywhere that a coup was imminent.
The CIA had been manoeuvring to overthrow Allende for some time. They financed a lorry drivers' "strike" to destabilise the country (similar to the so-called strike of the oil industry in Venezuela in 2003-4). When Pinochet finally took power the CIA and the US Administration brazenly denied having anything to do with the coup, when it was common knowledge that the contrary was true.
Ever since Chile returned to parliamentary rule in 1990, human rights lawyers had been trying to bring the man to justice for crimes against humanity, but always failed. When he came to Britain for medical reasons, shamefully the British Labour government refused a request that he be extradited to Spain to face trial and allowed him to return to Chile. His age and ill health were always quoted as reasons for not moving against him seriously. And yet when he was at the height of his power, Pinochet showed no such qualms for his victims. When coffins containing some of his victims were discovered to have two bodies each in them, his cold-blooded cynical comment was that it was "a good cemetery space-saving measure."
In an attempt to gloss over the brutal record of the Pinochet regime, the bourgeoisie internationally have built up an elaborate picture of the man having saved Chile from chaos and then having stabilised the country and laid the basis for economic boom, for "South America's most stable economy". In reality things were rather different to the myth.
When he came to power unemployment was 4.3%. Within a decade he had carried out the "miracle" of pushing unemployment levels to 22%. During his rule real wages declined by 40%. In 1970 the percentage of Chileans living below the poverty line was 20%. By the end of Pinochet's rule another miracle had been carried out: 40% of the population was living below the poverty level.
Having abolished all trade union rights, trade union organisation, political organisation, the right to strike and so on, Chile was transformed into a laboratory for the famous "Chicago Boys", i.e. economists of the Milton Friedman school of thought. This was the "free market" in its most brutal and sharpest expression.
Thus Pinochet proceeded to privatise pensions, remove all taxation of wealth and profits. He cut back jobs massively in the public sector. He carried out a massive programme of privatisation of industries and banks.
One would have thought that from all the mythology about the "Chilean miracle" that these policies would at least have led to a booming economy, albeit at a heavy price for the workers. But no, the truth was completely different. In the years 1982-83 GDP collapsed by 19%! In spite of this total failure the myth continued to be peddled that the Chilean experiment had produced en economic miracle.
In reality it was an absolute and utter disaster, with speculation and profiteering rampant. It was such a disaster that even Pinochet finally saw the need to rid himself of these so-called economic experts. So bad was the situation, that in spite of the repressive regime, in 1982 Chile witnessed strikes and street rioting.
The labour movement, in spite of the dire economic situation, was beginning to recover from the defeat of 1973. Faced with this protest, Pinochet was forced to make some concessions. Thus he brought back the minimum wage and collective union bargaining rights. He was forced to do a u-turn and look to Keynesian policies in an attempt to counter the monetarism of his first period in power. He also nationalised whole industries and banks in an attempt to restabilise the economy.
In spite of these real, hard facts Pinochet's Chile continued to be used as an example to be followed by all other countries. The idea was peddled everywhere that hard-line monetarist policies eventually pay off and provide for growth and thus the well-being of the population.
But over and above all these considerations, today's workers and youth need to learn the lessons of the Pinochet coup back in 1973. Why was he able to take power, when only a few months earlier 800,000 Chilean workers and youth (out of a population of about 10 million) had been out on the streets in support of Allende?
Today the international bourgeoisie washes its hands of the blood that was spilled by Pinochet. But they should be reminded that this blood was spilled for them, for their greed, their profits.
In the early 1970s the Chilean working class rose from its feet and challenged the rule of capital. It rallied round Salvador Allende's government, a government that carried out many radical policies.
The problem of problems was that Allende did not tackle the fundamental issue of who really governs society. Although he carried out some measures of nationalisation and other reforms, he left the key sectors of the economy in private hands, in the hands of that bourgeois class that was later to move against him in the September 1973 coup.
Allende also suffered from the illusion that the bourgeoisie, and even Pinochet, would respect the constitution and the "democratically elected government". History was to prove beyond a doubt that this was not to be so.
The Marxists at the time warned repeatedly about the dangers facing the Chilean working class. In an article, Chile: The Threatening Catastrophe, written in September 1971, two years before the Pinochet coup, Alan Woods wrote: "careful preparations are being made, arms are being collected, plots hatched in the top of the army and the Civil Service. The danger is very real... In his reformist blindness, Allende imagines that his position can be maintained by "clever" manoeuvres in parliament."
Unfortunately the voice of genuine Marxism was weak and the warnings went unheeded. Because Allende did not go all the way and break the power of the bourgeois class by nationalising their property, he left the ground open for counter-revolution. When the moment was right the bourgeois struck and the Chilean workers paid a heavy price.
Thousands paid with their lives for that fundamental mistake. Today the best homage we can pay to those martyrs is to learn the lessons and prepare for the new wave of class struggle that is already unfolding before our very eyes. The lessons of Chile must be applied to situations like those in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico... today.
Pinochet was never brought to justice, but the class that spawned him can be brought to justice. And it is only the working class of Latin America that can do that. The revolution has begun in Venezuela and is spreading throughout the continent. Another historic opportunity is being given to the workers and youth to complete the task that was left undone by previous generations.
The only way of guaranteeing that there are no more Pinochets is to abolish the system that uses the services of such butchers, the capitalist system itself.