Pinochet, Allende and the Question of Democracy: A Response to Pinochet's Supporters
"Comrade George Stayline's military coup against the rightwing Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was necessary, in order to prevent fascism in Great Britain. Pan Pravicovycech claims in Britiské listy that Thatcher was a democrat, but since he grew up in Prague after the collapse of the Third Reich, he does not understand the horrors of national socialism. In contrast, I grew up in Germany under the Nazi regime and know that Nazis must be fought with weapons. Yes, it is regrettable that Stayline had to order the execution of thousands of British citizens and the torture of hundreds of thousands. It is unfortunate that the military had to cut off parts of people's bodies and rape daughters in front of their fathers or rape wives in front of their husbands. However, all of this was necessary to save the country from fascism."
Just replace "Comrade George Stalyine" with "General Pinochet," "rightwing" with "leftwing," "fascism" or "Nazi" with "socialist" and "communist," "Great Britain" with "Chile" and then we have the same argument that Pinochet's Czech supporters have used in their critique of my open letter to Vaclav Benda. Since my critics are all right of center politically, they would probably be horrified at the notion that Thatcher=rightwingúcism=Nazism=Hitler, yet they use the same type of simplistic equation in suggesting that Allende=leftwing=socialistmmunist=Stalin. The mere fact that Allende was the leader of the Socialist Party suffices to claim that he could not have been a democrat. Thus, they do not need to provide the slightest bit of evidence that Allende in any way was undemocratic to justify the most brutal and inhumane military coup in the history of Latin America. Not one of my critics has offered the slightest evidence that Allende did anything to limit democracy, not have they provided any evidence that he planned to limit democracy in Chile. After torturing hundreds of thousands of people, if there had really been any plans among the Left to topple democracy, then Pinochet would have certainly uncovered them. However, the only anti-democratic plans were the ones worked out by the military and the CIA.
The simplistic way of thinking that Left=Stalinism or Rightúscism shows once again that people with extremely dogmatic Leftist or Rightest opinions usually think in the same terms. If both of these sides are correct, democracy becomes an impossibility. We are left to choose between Stalinism and fascism. I already pointed out in my article about conservative Communists that the Czech Communists have conservative values. When I talked to Communists before 1989 and when I met them afterwards for interviews for my dissertation, what struck me the most is that they do not remind me of radical revolutionaries, rather they remind me of people such as Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms and other conservative Republicans in the USA.
Czech supporters of Pinochet have fallen prey to one of the great myths of modern times: that entrepreneurs are necessary for democracy and that socialists provide the greatest danger to democracy. It is ironical that this myth has such enormous strength in a country that so recently has proved it wrong. In November, 1989, millions of Czech and Slovaks demonstrated throughout the country to demand democratic change, although there were virtually no entrepreneurs in the country.
Studies of democratization processes show that entrepreneurs are not the great democratic heroes that neo-liberal mythology makes them out to be. Entrepreneurs often oppose the introduction of democracy in non-democratic countries and they often support the overthrow of democracy in democratic countries (Chile is one example of this). Even at the theoretical level, liberals have traditionally been skeptical of democracy, since for them the protection of property rights was of the utmost importance. If workers and peasants were given the right to vote, they might elect government that want to tax business, regulate the economy or even nationalize industry. The father of modern liberalism, John Stuart Mill wanted to limit voting rights to property owners. He also favored a gradual voting system in which large property owners would have more votes than small property owners. Recipients of welfare payments would lose their rights to vote. In the original American constitution, slavery was allowed and only property owners had the right to vote.
So how did democratic systems come about? An extremely detailed pioneering study by Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Evelyne Stephens and John Stevens came out a few years ago and attempted to answer this question. In their influential book Capitalist Development & Democracy, they conclude that the labor movement has been the driving force toward democratization in both Europe and Latin America.
For example, in Germany the Social Democrat Fredriech Ebert announced during the worker-soldier uprising in 1918 that a democrat republic would now replace the monarchy. In 1933 the Social Democratic Party was the only party in Germany that voted against abolishing the Reichtag (German parliament) after the fire. there. When Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was asked why he became a Social Democrat, he replied that it was the only party in Germany that consistently supported democracy.
Most often socialist parties eventually managed to gain the support from liberal parties to introduce democracy-as in Sweden-but the socialist parties were the driving force and the liberal parties were the skeptical organizations that needed convincing. Czechoslovakia was a special case, because the transition to democracy was part of a greater struggle for national independence from Austria. For that reason, non-socialist parties also played an important role in supporting democracy. However, even in Czechoslovakia two socialistic parties-the Social Democrats and National Socialists-were among the most important governing parties for most of the First Republic.
The notion that socialists are always a threat to democracy seems even more absurd when we look at today's situation. In the EU 11 of 15 countries now have socialist or social democratic prime ministers; 13 of 15 EU countries have social democratic parties in government; even the Czech Republic now has a social democratic government. What about Chile, where Pinochet's supporters claim the brutal dictator "saved democracy" by first destroying it? There Allende's Socialist Party has been one of the two major parties in every freely elected government since Pinochet stepped down. A member of Allende's party is expected to win the upcoming presidential elections.
Skeptics could claim that the Chilean Socialist Party is not as radical today as it was in the 1970s. Yes, that is true. Almost all socialist parties in the world have moderated their policies since then. However, this does not mean that they have become more democratic. Nobody questioned Labour's democratic credentials when the party moved to the left in the 1980s. All criticism centered around its economic and foreign policies.
Rather than becoming more democratic, most socialist parties have de-emphasized the democracy issue. During the 1970s, there were big debates within many socialist parties over the issue of economic democracy. Leftwing socialists claimed that capitalism was a hierarchical system in which the employers held too much power over employees and that they had too much influence over national economic policy. If an employee threatens to leave the country, nobody cares, but if a large enterprise makes the same threat, it can change the government's policy. This was seen as a great limit on the right for democratically elected governments to carry out the policies which the citizens wanted. Thus, there were debates about workplace democracy, worker ownership of industry, nationalization of some industries, co-determination laws that give employees influence over their firms etc.
In the 1990s, it has become common for socialist parties to admit defeat and claim the issue of economic democracy is dead. They claim that during the era of globalization, it is no longer possible for governments to pursue a national economic policy. They are too dependent on the wishes of international capital. The room for maneuvering is small as is the difference between the economic policies of socialist and non-socialist parties. Consequently, socialist parties have become more hierarchical and elitist. To win elections they need great party discipline as Blair and Schroeder have recently shown. While Willy Brandt brought the German Social Democrats to power in 1969 with the campaign slogan "dare to have more democracy," Schroeder's main theme was the need to reach the "New Middle." Yes, Schroeder's policy is pragmatic, perhaps the only one that could have worked in today's situation, but can it be considered more democratic than Brandt's? The British, German, Swedish and Chilean socialist parties have moved toward the middle during the last 20 years; they have become more pragmatic; they have brought more discipline and greater efficiency to their parties; but the price has been that they have become less interested in democracy.
Sure, Allende's economic policies were a failure. Yes, he should have been more pragmatic. But this means that Allende's "crime" was not that he was undemocratic, but rather that he was too democratic.