The arrest of Chile’s counter-revolutionary general, Augusto Pinochet, and the approach of the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution bring into focus two celebrated battles of the Cold War, in which members of my generation took passionate sides. As one who went into these battles on one side and came out on another, I have mixed but ultimately clear emotions about this history and the events that shaped it.Being in the left imbues one with a sense of having chosen the moral side in all such conflicts. Belonging to the camp of morality and progress becomes a kind of second nature, and compensates somewhat for the fact that most of these battles are necessarily lost. It used to be said among us that as revolutionaries we were destined to lose every battle but the last one. We did not join the progressive cause to support history’s winners, but to stand up for its losers: The powerless, the victimized, the oppressed. Our political commitment was about weighing in on the side of social justice. It is a good feeling.
For this reason, when it came time to relinquish those political commitments, it was far easier to identify what was wrong with the left and to draw back from it than it was to move in the direction of the right and plant my feet on new political terrain. As a matter of fact, I withdrew from all politics for nearly ten years before changing course.
As I was stepping back from the left, repelled by crimes that progressives had committed and catastrophes they had produced (it turned out that winning the “last” battle could be worse than losing), I had a nagging feeling about certain political events and historical figures associated with this past. One of the figures was Pinochet.
In our progressive version of this historical episode, we saw Chilean democracy as having produced a historical anomalya Marxist actually elected to power. This Marxist, Salvador Allende, had even been allowed by the ruling forces to form a government and to begin a program of social reform. We knew, of course, that this could not last. Ruling classes never gave up their power without a fight. Sooner or later, there would be a counter-revolution, probably a military coup. The only question was when. In making this calculation, we had our eye on Washington, the capital, in our eyes, of the world imperialist system. In political statements we issued, we invoked the cautionary memory of the Bay of Pigs, the failed CIA attempt to topple Fidel Castro in the second year of his revolutionary regime. This was the true face of American power, whose policies were orchestrated by multinational corporations with investment stakes in the third world. It was only a matter of time before their interests asserted themselves.
November 23, 1998
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