Numerous books about Salvador Allende’s three-year presidency and its overthrow by the Chilean military have appeared since 1973. Most of these works have been partisan in nature, with little or no attempt at objectivity. This book by Genaro Arriagada Herrera is not completely unbiased, but it comes closer to a detached, objective study than the others that have been produced in recent years.
Arriagada argues that Allende tried to establish socialism in a peaceful manner, hoping to avoid bloodshed and debilitating political confrontations. Allende talked of political dualism, the peaceful road to socialism, and the unique Chilean situation which obviated the need for a dictatorship of the proletariat. Arriagada does not challenge Allende’s sincerity in calling for a peaceful revolution, but he does point out that a significant portion of Allende’s own Socialist Party and his ruling Popular Unity coalition favored a doctrinaire Marxist strategy that included a violent path to socialism. This opposition within his own government doomed Allende’s peaceful approach from the outset. When municipal and special elections indicated a decline of support for the Popular Unity program by late 1972, the president gave up his peaceful course and chose instead the insurrectional road to socialism. But by this time the military, politicized by Allende himself, was unwilling to permit the establishment of a Marxist state and Allende’s government was toppled.
Amagada is sympathetic to the Christian Democratic position of gradual social and economic change which Eduardo Frei espoused in his presidency and which the party continued to support in the Allende administration. But he does not rant against Marxism. Instead, Arriagada prefers to examine carefully the philosophical divisions within the Marxist camp which he claims led to Allende’s destruction. This calm, reasoned approach is a welcome departure from the sometimes hysterical denunciations of Allende by anti-Marxists, or the equally shrill condemnations of his antagonists by Marxists around the world.
The major weakness of the volume is its lack of personal documentation to support interpretations of motivation that guided political leaders in these years. The extensive research carried out by the author was limited, of necessity, to public pronouncements, government publications and published materials. Memoranda, personal correspondence, diaries, memoirs and oral testimony simply are not yet open to the researcher. Only when, or if, these materials become available can a complete statement be made on the Allende government and its overthrow. Until that time, this volume will serve as an excellent study of the public positions adopted by the major parties, their leaders, and the military.