36 Years after the first 911, ‘The Battle of Chile’ becomes available on new DVD.
Looking for a movie to watch post Xmas Turkey?
Want to emulate your success last year with the Dark Knight / Mamma Mia?
Might I suggest the perfect film for all the family this year … The Battle of Chile ?
Well, perhaps not, but The Battle of Chile is one of the most remarkable documentaries ever made. It stunned film critics and won numerous prizes in film festivals around the world , and 36 years and 3 months after the bloody Nixon/Kissinger sponsored Military Coup and murder of Chilean President Salvador Allende on 9/11 1973, the little seen film will be widely available with English subtitles for the first time ever, with a 4Disc DVD Release in USA on 8 December.
For once, history does not belong to the victors, because for 9 months before the Coup, a team of six people, including the director Patricio Guzman, had been filming what was to become the downfall of the world’s first ever democratically elected socialist government. After the coup, the military arrested four of the filmmakers. They subsequently went into exile, smuggled the film out of Chile, and finished it in Cuba. In 1974 the military disappeared Jorge Muller, the cameraman, and he is presumed to be dead.
“For many, the idea of political struggle, let alone class struggle, social movements, popular power, and mass mobilizations are nebulous concepts, not realistic possibilities. The Battle of Chile effectively dispels any vagueness about what a life and death political struggle entails. It clearly and convincingly conveys what is at stake, what motivates people to be involved, and how ordinary people can become key actors in their own and their nation's history. It does so not by interviewing experts, the elite, or academics who discuss the actions of others, but by talking to the workers as they engage in the day-to-day business of politics.
The film is divided into three parts. It can either be shown in its totality (287 minutes) or separately, since each part stands on its own. The first part, "The Insurrection of the Bourgeoisie" opens with Chileans from across the political spectrum sharing their thoughts on the upcoming and very crucial March 1973 parliamentary elections. One can only note with irony the vehemence with which Allende's opponents denounce the lack of democracy in Chile, even as they prepare to vote in the elections and share their political opinions freely with the unknown individuals interviewing them. The opposition, composed of the rightist National Party (PN) and the more centrist Christian Democratic Party (PDC), defined the elections as a plebiscite on the Allende government and hoped to emerge from them with enough seats in Parliament to impeach Allende. The Popular Unity government, for its part, hoped to retain enough seats to thwart the opposition's plans and to show that, despite the tremendous obstacles it confronted, it maintained a significant amount of popular support. Although the opposition garnered more votes than did the Popular Unity, it did not gain the seats it needed to impeach Allende. Since their electoral strategy did not succeed, the PN, and much of the PDC, turned to the military as their remaining option to remove Allende.
This first section of the film depicts the efforts of the opposition and the U.S. government to undermine the Allende government. It explores the opposition's efforts to create shortages and discontent among the people through its organization of the black market and hoarding. The film then examines the successful work of the opposition legislators, who enjoyed a majority in Parliament, to block any government proposals. The transportation strike, organized by the gremio (guild) movement, was particularly critical to undermining the UP government because it made it very difficult for people and goods to reach their destinations. The last opposition tactic analyzed is the El Teniente copper strike, which challenged the UP's image as the government of the workers and caused a loss to it of 35 million dollars.
Although the film delineates the variety of tactics that the powerful opposition employed to undermine the Allende government, it highlights the efforts of the working class to confront and resist these plans. One example of this is the workers' response to the transportation strike. In scenes reminiscent of the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, Chilean workers woke up before dawn and walked miles and miles and organized collective means of locomotion to make sure that everyone got to work.
This first section ends with the tancazo, the premature June 1973 coup attempt that failed because the military did not yet agree that it should overthrow Allende. In one dramatic incident, which foreshadows what is to come for so many in Chile, Argentine cameraman Leonard Hendrickson records his own death. As his camera films the military invading the streets of Santiago, one military officer takes out his pistol and coolly and deliberately murders Hendrickson.
Part II, "The Coup d'etat" opens where Part I ended, the unsuccessful military coup of June 1973. At one point in this section we witness a remarkable conversation between General Carlos Prats and Minister of Defense Jose Toha (both of whom were subsequently murdered by the military following the 1973 coup) about how to proceed. How often do we get the opportunity to listen in when leaders debate whether or not the government should declare a state of siege? Most of this section, however, focuses on the question that runs through the entire film. Knowing, as many people then did (at least theoretically) that the opposition and the U.S. government were planning a coup, what was to be done? The film accurately presents the debate that existed within the left, should we accelerate the process and prepare for an armed confrontation or, alternatively, should we attempt to build an alliance with the PDC and prevent it from siding completely with the right? The filmmakers' sympathies for the former option are clear. In interviews with individuals and through footage of the mass, pro-government demonstrations that punctuated the months prior to the coup, the filmmakers convey the impression that the majority of base level supporters wanted a mano dura (firm hand) against the momias, literally the mummies or the bourgeoisie, the dead and dying class. As they march the people chant "Crear, Crear, Milicia Popular" (Create, Create, the People's Militia). In interview after interview, workers question the government's timidity and make it clear that they want weapons to defend themselves.
A second theme of this and the other two sections is Poder Popular, popular power. In the industrialized sections of Santiago workers took over their factories and set up cordones industriales, organizations which united workers in the same industrial belts, specifically Los Cerillos, Vicuna Mackenna, and Puente Alto. The cordones industriales were both an expression of workers taking control of their work situation and a means to defend themselves against attacks from the opposition. The workers' initiative and development of the cordones industriales led some party and government officials to ask whether or not the workers were forming parallel organizations, a possibility that much of the government and CUT (Central Unica de Trabajadores, the Central Workers Union which grouped together the unions supportive of the government), disagreed with. In one memorable scene, a CUT official meets with workers to discuss the issue of the workers taking over their factories and initiating the cordones industriales. One worker challenges the CUT official's disapproval of the workers' actions by asking, "Don't you have faith in popular power? Doesn't the president have faith in the organizations we create?"
In one particularly powerful scene, we witness the memorial service for Commander Araya Peters, Allende's naval aide-de-camp, whom the right most likely murdered. As the camera pans the faces of the top military officials gathered for the service, a dirge plays. The film clearly conveys that we are watching the death of the Popular Unity government, not just that of one loyal military officer. Part II concludes with Allende's final speech, the bombing of La Moneda, the presidential palace, and the Junta's declaration upon seizing power.”
The third part of the film shifts gears in a remarkable way. Whereas the first two parts follow the events chronologically up to the coup, Instead of carrying on the timeline as you would expect from conventional narrative , and showing the brutal clamp down of the Pinochet Fascist Regime, and the implementation of imperialist economics (See John Pilger’s The War On Democracy for the rest of the story) The director (from exile) instead chooses to honour the achievement of Allende’s government by back tracking in time and using the third part to document in greater detail the mechanics of popular power within ……“the comandos comunales which promoted organic unity and joint action among workers, peasants, students, and housewives by linking their struggles together and by heightening the involvement of people, especially women, on the neighbourhood level. The film illustrates the ability of people to organize their communities and their lives in the face of overwhelming odds.”
We armchair revolutionaries can only watch and weep at our comparative ineffectiveness , and marvel at a people and government who stood up against American Imperialism, overcoming every dirty trick and obstacle thrown at them by the media and oligarchy, and who ultimately paid in blood for their non conformity.
QUOTED TEXT as Reviewed by Margaret Power, University of Illinois, Chicago.