The election of Salvador Allende’s Chilean Popular Unity government in 1970 and its overthrow by the military in 1973 is the subject of this study by Susana Bruna. In a careful, reasoned, largely dispassionate examination of Allende’s government and its collapse, she finds that a powerful, entrenched middle class, together with external opposition and Allende’s own miscalculations, was responsible for his inability to create a socialist state. She defends Allende from the charge that he should have established socialism immediately after his election by pointing out that he and his coalition controlled only the executive branch of government; the legislature and judiciary remained in the hands of the opposition. Yet, Bruna does believe that Allende should have consolidated his power more rapidly rather than moving, as he did, slowly, adhering carefully to the bourgeois rules of the Chilean political system. His obsession with legality played into the hands of the opposition which was far more adept at using existing institutions against Allende than he was in using them to establish socialism. In Bruna’s view Allende’s government played the opposition’s game and lost.
Because of the well-meaning Allende’s inability to bring socialism to Chile peacefully, Bruna is pessimistic about the nonviolent road to socialism in Chile, and by implication, in other countries as well. Her argument that a worker rebellion holds the only hope for Chile is not persuasive. But her book is valuable because she includes Allende’s errors among the causes for his collapse. Allende often stated publicly that he was certain to makes mistakes because he was attempting a unique experiment. Too many analysts have failed to take note of this factor in bringing about his government’s early demise.