Under most circumstances, the Spindoctor is essentially the opposite of an enthusiastic ‘tweeter.’ Yesterday was different from ‘most circumstances,’ however, so I let loose with a veritable flood of Twitter activity. Before I go into the what and why that lies behind this uncharacteristic behavior, I wanted to lead off with the little missives themselves, to wit, here, all from #spindoctorjimbo.
Climate change, glaciers & tropics, is inevitable; the key problem is to adjust our social relations to share better?http://ly/1YHsL2S
Now is Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons Day, an idea whose time better come quick–the question is how, exactly?http://ly/1YHk0G2
“The most radical thing one can do here, perhaps, is to keep the Democratic Party honest,” an assertion even if untrue that is interesting.
“We have no friends and no enemies; we have temporary, tactical allies,” an assessment of the NAACP that shows the necessities of the South.
More than anything, the call is to action; the call is to do, to go into communities and meet people where they are to help bring movement.
Discomfort is not trauma, so we need to be willing, especially when spaces are most comfortable, to bring discomfiture to the process.
What people need is your stories; elders must be willing to mentor, to overcome their own shyness to reach out to young people who hunger.
“We’re not going to play ‘Oppression Olympics;’ we seek intersections of identities with tangible struggles to advance toward real goals.
White Partners can show up for Black Lives–cash in privilege; crush cooptation & give credit; roll up sleeves & work; practice resilience.
No election is hopeless if we organize relentlessly, as work in Kansas recently shows, but the actual effort is the issue: #Dkosconnects.
Data shows clearly: NC politics are a cheat; history shows that Democrats as well as Republicans bear responsibility for this-#Dkosconnects.
#dkosconnects Why not more to engage Latinos? The ‘community’ hasn’t identified the issue as important, though “LatinoKos” does exist.
From DailyKos Asheville, three points: valuing grassroots expertise; finding diversity; seeing changing Internet… #dkosconnects
From the clues provided, astute readers will surmise that a DailyKos event has just unfolded wherever the Spindoctor hangs his hat, which in the event is in the Asheville, North Carolina area, up in the hills where far flung hollers exist that enclose natural wonder and crazy social complexity at one and the same time. That this area of North America has the fastest growing Hispanic population, for example, who often help “pick the ‘backer’” and “mind the ‘maters,’” is just one instance of this wildly intricate social scene.
The meeting itself started with the lovely chants for fellow Kossacks to meet in the flesh. The prospects and problems that the site faces occupied the initial give-and-take. In particular, the tendency of at least somewhat elderly White men to predominate was on everyone’s minds. How to increase participation by women, people of color, youth, and LBGT, and more was not something that we solved on the spot, but we considered the matters at hand, as it were.
Moreover, very much to the reason that we were all gathering, DK founder Markos Moulitsas loves these hills, a result of his warm reception here at the end of his first book tour more or less a decade ago. The region prides itself on art, orneriness, and generosity, not qualities that one would naturally put together in a troika but that nonetheless are part and parcel of WNC.
As well, the voters here are much more than half Democrats, a priority morsel for a project that seeks a world that contains more, and better, Democrats. In the event, the gray day perfectly displayed why the massif here deserved the Cherokee name of Smoking Mountains; that the vast swath that a founder of the ‘pre-modern’ Democrats stole from the region’s original inhabitants includes contemporary Asheville is ironic.
The venue for our frolic was also a little incongruous. Little more than half a dozen years ago, the city’s beloved civic meeting spot became the U.S. Cellular Convention Center, over the protests of many here who hated a corporate sellout for both the name and the implications. In the meantime, those in attendance had a chance to discover that one of U.S. Cellular’s ‘competitors,’ Verizon Wireless, is trying to crush an organizing campaign by the Communications Workers of America, not all that surprising given that the Tarheel State has the lowest proportion of unions in North America.
The voices that Daily Kos brought together yesterday covered a range of matters. They included powerful data analysis of the vicious and predatory approach of North Carolina’s Republican politicians to the suppression of voting rights.
The interlocutors also took account of the way that increasing diversity in a process like DK requires a combination of courage and strategy. The focus was on the brilliant work of Reverend Barber and the NAACP, on the one hand, with roots in the civil rights movement and groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, not to mention the Communist Party, and on the grassroots rise of Lesbian/Bisexual/Gay/Trans activists whose sophisticated and powerful understanding of the current sociopolitical context is fascinating indeed.
Other presenters looked at Asheville as a heart of progressive media, at the State and WNC as exemplary of the local urban-rural divide, and at the coming likelihood of irreversible climate catastrophe. Discussions were very informal and generally full enough of profanity to elicit smiles and relaxation.
A big part of the local contextualization was the importance of face-to-face relationships, at the very same instant that the reflexive bow to ‘social media’ was also omnipresent. It was all extremely interesting.
From a Spindoctor POV, the lack of a strategic component to the exchanges was troubling.
“Whereas history without data is at best merely storytelling, data without history is at best a random shot at change that is likely to be pointless.”
He recalled the National Democratic Party’s rooted connection with ‘right-to-work initiatives,’ with White Supremacy’s prevalence, with imperial imprimatur from Korea to Kabul, and challenged those present to “spend at least as much energy insuring that the likes of us are in control of NDP as we do in vilifying and attacking Republicans.”
He also noted that, since we can stipulate both the general and human-fueled inevitability of a warming planet, an obsessive emphasis on the geographic and meteorological details—no matter how brilliant—is of less utility than insisting that we address the social inequities and divisions that guarantee that the results of climate change will be carnage and mayhem. Presenters acknowledged that, from Southwestern Asia to the Caribbean and beyond, aspects of current conflicts and chaos illuminate the social attributes of a ‘climate crisis.’
Altogether, the day was a huge boon to collegiality and the possibility of connection. Certainly, no one will ever fault DK for not meeting folks much more than halfway in coming to terms with what’s up and what’s next. What will we do about it here in the hills? That of course remains to be seen, though, as always, inquiring minds would like to know.
‘Sharing,’ ‘Corporate Social Responsibility,’ & ‘Free Markets’ Themselves Require Social Democracy
This is a first installment of several about the phenomenon, or fantasy, of Corporate Social Responsibility. It contextualizes the entire series for readers, which will follow in upcoming posts.
Here we all are, a part of the sharing protocols of the world’s economy as it teeters on the verge of freefall crashes that could result from diverse dynamics, copious causes, or multiple directions. In fact, our personal or collective political-economic-survival-modules might hurtle over the edge and into a death dive from the merest nudge, according to some analysts, let alone from a ‘perfect storm’ of manifold interlocking effects.
In this context of, to say the least, tense anticipation and occasional intense dread about the future, voices en masse pose the question that ‘Vladimir Bolshevik’ asked citizens everywhere to ponder way back in 1917, to wit, “What is to be done?” Every Spindoctor installment has in fact insisted on offering suggestions respond to such an inquiry, though a much-too-substantial portion of the narratives that contain or imply this interrogatory in the wider mediated world either give no inclination to think in terms of solutions or provide only the most superficial, even naïve, directives and admonitions about how to manage the present pass.
In that regard, one might consider the marketing muscle, management theory, and public-relations punch that, at their best, have advanced as a response to Lenin something akin to the following summation. “The world is complicated, so fixing anything can’t happen overnight or easily; nevertheless, by facilitating and otherwise supporting and operationalizing Corporate Social Responsibility, both individuals and such collective agents as bureaucracies and political parties and other groups can have a powerful positive affect on the issues and difficulties characteristic of everything on Earth at the moment.”
Today’s exercise in a deeply-delved reportage will contemplate this notion. It will follow the organizational course of all the Spindoctor essays that have emanated from this Contributoriaphase of things, as with so much in this ‘brave new world’ of sustainability and crowd-funded disruption, a quicksilver blink of the proverbial eye.
This initial section, as has been the case since a friendly critic recommended such a shift, more or less begins with a brief capsulization of the hypothesis that, in rejoinder to management’s take above, this installment purports to prove. “As with every fix that capital advances in its own behalf, the trope of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ is at best a plausibly useful way of thinking that, in its current guise, represents most optimistically a woefully insufficient formulation and perhaps more likely a consciously-selected diversionary tactic for those who would do anything at all to delay, if not derail, the absolutely reasonable, and even indisputable, calls and actions for fundamental reforms—possibly revolutionary reforms—of contemporary ways of doing business.”
There now; that didn’t hurt too badly, did it? Such a mouthful of words, one can only hope, is clear enough in what it expresses, neither shelling out way too much nor sprinkling about not nearly enough, to set the stage for what follows, which in some ways questions whether capitalist norms are best, or at least whether they are indispensable, in any scheme of ‘doing business’ at the present stage of human development.
Defining Terms & Refining Approaches
In manifesting what comes next, a moment of definition and classification may be essential. Such an approach, in the warrens of Guardian Media, is in turn different from other Spindoctor pieces here, all of which have concerned either events that were tangible enough to require little definition, or socioeconomic or political-economic trends or developments that were also pretty clearly evident in and of themselves. On the ground, so to speak, plenty of other thinkers are also cogitating this sort of CSR explication, so much so that a very basic search–<“corporate social responsibility” definition OR meaning OR analysis OR explication OR delineation>–yields well over thirteen million links to look at.
From this rich field of source material, one might bring forth a fairly simple statement of CSR parameters. To wit, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility exists when something like a Fortune 500 firm performs so as simultaneously and consciously to maximize community health and well-being as well as profit, and to carry on in this manner without notable exceptions.’
Moving along a slightly different pathway, one way to proceed in matters of this sort, always a joy in English, is to look at the roots of the key term in the string, responsibility, and to ponder its sources. Not surprisingly, these come down to Latin elements, which specifically refer to the making of vows and the provision of dialogic or discursive guarantees.
The evolution of the word itself flows through the verb, “respond,” and the noun, “response,” which are both at least seven hundred years old and the adjective, “responsible,” which became common enough at most a few hundred years later. Essentially, then, the core of Corporate Social Responsibility has flowed from mutual conversation toward duty.
One of the web’s chief online etymological authorities gives an investigator a helpful start. “Responsibility” stemmed from “responsible,” which meant basically “’answerable’ (to another, for something), from obsolete French responsible (13c., Modern French responsable, as if from Latin *responsabilis), from Latin respons-, past participle stem of respondere ‘to respond’ (see respond). Meaning ‘accountable for one’s actions’ is attested from 1640s; that of ‘reliable, trustworthy’ is from 1690s. Retains the sense of ‘obligation’ in the Latin root word.“
Wikipedia’s service, the Wiktionary, also serves up useful material about the noun itself here in question, which in turn dates from the mid-to-late eighteenth century. Of particular note are the more-or-less corporate implications of the word in military terminology, where both the authority to carry out tasks and inherent attributes that relate to property and money are present.
Such linguistic thinking, on the one hand, can be dry, a bit formulaic, and can raise the mere behavior of using one’s vocal cords to pronounce certain sounds to a level of moral and practical consequence. On the other hand, however, such a process of pondering these language points can lead to fruitful ideation, if one remains open and creative about the practice as such.
In this case, for example, one can constructively notice the way that responsibility originates in answering back. The implication of dialog, of a two-way or multisided conversation among engaged agents, is a powerful starting point. At an absolute minimum, no responsibility would be valid or viable that was one-sided only, that emanated exclusively from one party’s views or agendas. This conceptualization has deep and widespread applicability in the arenas, contemporaneous as well as historical, in which such matters have arisen.
The proof of this assertion will soon be obvious. It boils down in some senses to the practical advice that students and other populations that the Spindoctor has studied have retorted to those who insisted that top-down reformulation and recontextualization would ‘help’ those who were struggling with whatever intensification of distress was under the microscope, so to say, in a given instance. As a recent syllabus repeated the notion, “Nothing about us, without us, can be for us.”
Practical & Operational Expressions of CSR
At this juncture, though, in addition to this admonition, we might want to weigh more practically and generally how actors in the here and now conceive of Corporate Social Responsibility, not simply as a meaningful phrase, but as a social, political, and economic progression. Several search strategies can assist this effort, much like these two: <“corporate social responsibility” exemplary OR specific OR particular OR individual cases OR firms OR companies OR corporations assessment OR benchmark OR scorecard OR evaluation OR measurement>; and <“corporate social responsibility” example OR examples OR “case study” OR “case studies” OR instance OR instances>, both of which provided well over ten million resulting connections.
Opinions vary about how to proceed to define CSR more specifically, but an observer might find some agreement—explicit or implicit—that the conception must include, at an absolute minimum, several core components. One would be that wage-earners in the company’s employ have their human rights, which absolutely must include their labor rights, respected without exception. Another would be that the company’s environmental impacts—its waste, its energy usage, its effluent streams, and more—would be fully sustainable. Yet another would be that its lobbying or other such activities would support the capacitation of workers elsewhere and the promulgation of environmental policies elsewhere in similar ways as the truly responsible corporation practiced in its homeland. A final piece of this assessment of CSR’s existence would be that such a firm, in its relationships with suppliers, sub-contractors, and other necessary or opportune joint venturers, would also deploy and insist on such standards.
One might add a good deal more. Issues of empire, of civil rights, of support for democracy, and further factors that a decent world entails—in which decent companies play their roles—might be useful or at least interesting to explore. Certainly, in any case, something like the core description above provides a launching pad for an explication of CSR in the here and now.
In thinking about whether CSR along these lines is extant in any context whatsoever, an investigator would at a minimum discern two overall camps that present polarized perspectives on the sense and consequence of this now-almost-ubiquitous formulation. One point-of-view would contend something like the best-case summation at the start of this report, more or less like this:
As a necessary adaptation in the evolution of the free market, large numbers of companies of different sizes in different industries have adopted various policies in relation to multiple issues—air quality, water quality, climate change, food additives and supplements, genetically modified organisms, workplace safety, labor rights to organize, payments to and standards for subcontractors, arms sales, waste clean up, renewable energy prioritization, and innumerable additional matters—that put a social good or benefit above profit or other ‘bottom-line’ orientation;
A decidedly opposing perception also appears quite frequently in the ‘marketplace of ideas:’ While apologists for capitalism want always to emphasize how ‘markets’ ‘efficiently’ incorporate necessary reforms—improved environmental quality, superior occupational safety standards, human rights improvements, the permitted presence of an active and worker-controlled labor movement, increased application of energy efficiency and appropriate technology, eliminating ethnic and gender chauvinism, reducing police predation, reduced predation against weaker nations, ending militarism and conquest, and so forth and so on and on and on—in reality such views are at most fantasies and more often cover-ups for institutional arrangements in which both business organizations and government agencies with which ‘executives’ share a revolving door always put profit uppermost, generally advance profit as the only business value, frequently engage in profiteering and other predatory behaviors, and occasionally indulge in corrupt practices or outright plunder, and then, finally, lie about, cover up, or ignore such customary behaviors.
A search such as this, <“corporate social responsibility” disagreement OR polarity OR polarization OR contradiction OR contrary OR contrariety OR dissent OR dispute>, elicits a bit more than six hundred fifty thousand citations of possible use in seeing this bifurcation of viewpoint more exactly. One might continue in this vein for many pages. However, perhaps readers and researchers could agree that an either-or differentiation does in fact describe this arena of the present-day, even as some analysts will balance their narratives with aspects of both points of view.
Thus, in essence, a two-part musical movement, as it were, delineates the meaning and subtext of Corporate Social Responsibility. On the one hand, defenders advance it as anything from useful reform to magical panacea. On the other hand, critics decry it as some combination of error and duplicity and malfeasance.
Coming Down to Cases: Getting Real About CSR
Having come to this conjunction, we are now ready to see how reality matches these dialectically juxtaposed perspectives. In the current unit’s iteration of things, this discourse will continue with a three-part rubric about the sorts of conditions that might, theoretically or conceivably, fulfill the much-vaunted promise of the CSR ‘movement.’ An appraisal of how responsibly companies and sectors are performing will accompany this introductory explication’s development.
If Corporate Social Responsibility is valid and viable as a construct or expression of the real world, then one of three things ought to be true: one, at least a single company of significant size and heft must exhibit a ‘socially responsible’ footprint across the board, as it were; two, some industrial or other operational nexus of capital generally and as a whole must demonstrate ‘social responsibility’ throughout its area of expertise and focus and output and so forth; or, three, some theoretical and conceptual thinkers or populizers or policy makers must offer a combination of credible ideas and tangible suggested actions that could realistically, in a current capitalist societal context, result in CSR’s imprimatur coming to pass in such bona fide ways as numbers one and two embody.
In the first place then, one may begin to wade through some of the tens of millions of search results to try to find a CSR pearl or two or three or more. Having done this for many years, a Spindoctor summary would be, quite simply, “It’s hopeless!” In any event, twenty pages deep in any of the various strings that have harvested such a copious crop of erstwhile responsible corporate wannabes, one cannot find a single real contender of “any significant size and heft.”
How paltry, some combination of hilariously or frighteningly so, this assertion of any general CSR foothold really appears becomes clear when one considers the actual articles that result from sifting through such evidence. The chronicler who shouts out that he has a solid example can only offer pipsqueaks, whose efforts are at best limited and self-regulated; any journalist who scrutinizes large industrial, financial, or otherwise commercial operations invariably finds multiple deficiencies in even the most elementary aspects of actual Corporate Social Responsibility.
Business Daily News, for instance, wants to advance twenty cases as providing some measure of proof that such qualities are more than fantasy. All of the listed firms are start-ups or otherwise tiny establishments at the outlying edges of corporate capital.
Moreover, their basis for inclusion as outposts of responsibility in the corporate sphere is uniformly self-diagnosed and rarely ventures beyond the merest whiff of ‘good citizenship.’ In other words, they give some money to charities of their own choosing or follow guidelines that they or others of their ilk have promulgated.
This is the sole visible typology of the outlier endeavors. Even if one bent backwards to find such capitalization of ‘significant size and heft,’ its instantiation simply would not fit the advertised bill of goods.
A much realer perspective is possible, of course. A present-day law review article examines four highly-capitalized, oligopolistic corporations—Coca Cola, Walmart, Apple Computers, and Canon—and paints a much bleaker portrait of the CSR landscape that these organizations depict, mentioning in passing Dukes v. Walmart as an indicator of how far one of the selected coterie has to travel to ‘measure up’ to even the most meager standards of decency and equity.
The authors in that journal might have noted much more on the debit side of the CSR ledger in relation to this little group. Coke’s seamy collaboration with murderous agents in its Colombian operations, Apple’s accession to despicable labor practices in various Asian venues, and Wal-Mart’s combination of essentially parasitic and predatory behavior in relation to the communities in which it operates, for starters, debunk the notion about these companies, and other investigatory work would churn up innumerable contradictions to these four erstwhile exemplars’ fulfillment of anything even vaguely kindred to CSR practices.authors in that journal might have noted much more on the debit side of the CSR ledger in relation to this little group. Coke’s seamy collaboration with murderous agents in its Colombian operations, Apple’s accession to despicable labor practices in various Asian venues, and Wal-Mart’s combination of essentially parasitic and predatory behavior in relation to the communities in which it operates, for starters, debunk the notion about these companies, and other investigatory work would churn up innumerable contradictions to these four erstwhile exemplars’ fulfillment of anything even vaguely kindred to CSR practices.
Reasoning counterfactually, to be able to proffer the affirmation of Corporate Social Responsibility in a completely convincing fashion, one would need to be able to state the following ‘facts’ as applicable to Coca Cola, or other firm of appropriate “size and heft,” for instance. ‘Everywhere that Coke has a corporate imprint, it pays a living wage and otherwise honors and supports its workers; it produces products that are close to 100% health-promoting and that do not deplete or pollute precious environmental resources; it does not target vulnerable populations with its advertising or use toxic or addictive ingredients.’
Whatever one feels about a particular brand—no one is suggesting that picking on Coke is helpful or fair—such a characterization as the prior paragraph contains is simply impossible to prove, and, in the alternative, it is quite simple to disprove. The company-by-company search for a valid CSR candidate, in other words, looks like a long shot indeed.
A young scholar from Australia has recently examined Starbucks communications policies in a somewhat similar fashion. “However, one can argue that there is a lack of salient self-beneficial economic motives throughout the report and the website in general, which could cause stakeholders to be somewhat skeptical. It can be interpreted that the motives behind the CSR activities are presented as being too philanthropic, which can cause the stakeholders to suspect ulterior hidden motives. This potential issue could be addressed by providing information illustrating how the different initiatives benefit Starbucks by creating value (i.e. profit or shareholder value).“
Put more matter-of-factly, this public-relations thinker is suggesting, if it looks and smells like bullshit, then proprietors had better apply perfume or otherwise adjust the bouquet if they want people actually to believe these types of representations. The web materials are replete with analyses like this, which acknowledge the weakness or self-serving and self-deceiving aspects of CSR operations in such a fashion as to suggest amelioration or fixes that do not actually create responsibility along social lines so much as proffer moves that can make the alleged ‘responsible’ corporate behavior appear more authentic and palatable to onlookers, and perhaps especially to prospective critics, not to mention shareholders or other investors.
One could, arguably with great ease, take the list of whatever corporate ventures are the set of firms of “significant size and heft” that all presently want desperately to merit the label of a CSR outfit and one-at-a-time demonstrate that not even a solitary corporation of this sort fits the CSR bill of fare. In miniature, this subsection and what follows does just that. With more time, or a specific challenge, all comers would, in the view of this report, ultimately fail to meet even minimal requirements of anything capable of sustaining the label, Corporate Social Responsibility.
SHINY NEW EXEMPLARS
Along similar lines, in the limelight of the ‘sharing’ and caring of supposedly up-to-the-minute instantiation of super, ultra-CSR efforts, Uber at once reveals the erstwhile epitome of ‘sharing success’ and, as is visible below, offers a cautionary tale in how exploitative and inequitable such arrangements actually are in day-to-day reality. In one of the few credible, if not ‘rags-to-riches’ at least Ford-to-Ferrari, success tales in the ‘new economy,’ Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp—not ‘trust-funded’ fellows, these, seemingly—managed to turn a modest investment of venture capital millions into untold billions of ‘shareholder value’ that has as a result ‘transformed current relationships in positive and far-reaching fashion.’
Or so the story goes. In an explanation that shows greater ‘critical distance,’ Internet Is Not the Answer author Andrew Keen makes the argument like this.
“Kalanick’s $18 billion venture is certainly a badass company, with customers accusing its drivers of every imaginable crime from kidnapping to sexual harassment. Since its creation, the unregulated Uber has not only been in a constant legal fight with (urban areas) and federal regulators, but has been picketed by its own nonunionized drivers demanding collective bargaining rights and health care benefits. …
With 7.5 million Americans working in part-time jobs in July 2014…(this) ‘revolutionizing’ of the world’s workforce is, in truth, a reflection of the new poorly paid class of peer-to-peer project workers, dubbed the ‘precariat’ by the labor economist Guy Standing. ‘With piecemeal gigs easier to obtain than long-term employment,’ warns the New York Times’ Natasha Singer, this highly insecure labor model, the dark underbelly of DIY capitalism, is becoming an increasingly important part of the new networked economy.”
Nor does this monograph single out Uber as ‘exceptional’ in this regard. The entire Silicon Valley miracle machine comes in for equally skeptical, if not scathing, treatment. “Class War” is its operational heart, its spiritual core. Destruction is its economic foundation, though the attendant mayhem and carnage is always ‘creative’ and ‘efficient’ from the POV of wealthy venture funds that seek a cashout from their routine functioning and success.
“If poor people and unions are the problem for Silicon Valley’s tech elite, then technology, and the Internet in particular, is always the answer. …(T)his delusional ‘thinking’ … has infected San Francisco, transforming one of the world’s most diverse cities…into a laboratory for an outsourced, networked economy that wants to feed people Soylent and employ them to wait in lines.
…(T)here is no role for unions, no place for anything protecting the rights of the laborer, no collective sense of identity, no dignity to work. …It’s a two-tier system of overlords and the unemployed and the underemployed and the occasionally employed. An economy in which menial tasks are handled by an outsourced underclass who will do anything for an hourly rate on labor networks… . commodifying life itself so that everything—from buying a rose to waiting in line—can be bought and sold.”
Another documentary item delineates very well the pros and cons of this ‘disruptive’ development and how it relates to both the whole realm of ‘sharing’ and corporate responsibility. In the end, everything bourgeois that succeeds becomes a vehicle for monopoly, for taking over everything and pulverizing any operation that competes into ruin.
This sort of new-age entrepreneurial “vision is much more than a better taxi service or nifty town cars for the masses… .(It contains) the potential for a smoothly functioning instant-gratification economy, powered by the smartphone as the remote control for life. ‘If we can get you a car in five minutes, we can get you anything in five minutes,… .’ But the desire to enter and dominate the ‘everything economy’ echoes the ambitions of much bigger and more established companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.”
A recent assessment in Naked Capitalism, meanwhile, illustrates political economic underpinnings of the inequality that is inescapable in such a context as in part a result of ‘rent-seeking’ in relation to already extant embodiments of value. This clearly applies to such phenomena as Uber and Lyft and other sharing archetypes, which in turn tout their more equitable and responsible corporate imprints and footprints and so forth. Unfortunately, among the multiple drawbacks of social relations and political economy that incarnate a rentier’s attitude are two especially onerous difficulties.
The first concerns the centrality of the agendas and protocols and property and pocketbooks of those who already own most of the planet. That is the implication of renting, taking what those who hold the title have, and simultaneously breaking it up into tinier and tinier pieces and charging people for any sort of access to those pieces. The ‘sharing’ that takes place is the right to gain access, for a fee in which one’s bargaining power is minimal or less, to some piece of the pie that already exists in our midst.
The second shortcoming flows ineluctably from the monopolists’ sated feeding on everything that they permit to contain value. What the world needs in this regard—affordable housing, adequate food, income-producing options for the majority who have nothing to rent but their sweat and their backs and their brains, environmental restoration, cultural rejuvenation, educational flourishing, and almost infinitely more—decidedly does not have ‘permission to contain value,’ although, arguably, such largesse ought to be part of what a democratic society stands for and offers to citizens.
The essence of living in a world where rent is the basis of capital and hence production, therefore, ends up characterizing exactly the opposite of social responsibility. Because such a fact is, to say the least, highly troubling, those who own all and want to be able to charge for doing anything in relation to what is under their control, see fit to beat their breasts with the promises of CSR, even though they not only never intend to deliver on those vows but also cannot possibly make good on such oaths without fundamentally altering the social relations of production and distribution.
In a more and more fully ‘capitalized’ global marketplace, such parsing of goods, an ‘outsourcing of everything’ in essence, is one response by wealthy stakeholders who want more than anything else to garner the percentage that guarantees that they’ll never have to work for a living or lose the ‘equity’ that they almost always inherited in the first place. But this ‘response’ is no more inherently responsible than the occasional aberration in Victorian times, as when John Stuart Mill argued that his eureka discovery of the ability to maximize utility promised a real expression of social justice and social equity, a nineteenth century articulation of CSR about which we’ll hear more in the fullness of time.
Another CSR leviathan, in any case, Amazon, has recently encountered a few bumps and lumps in its celebration of its dearly-beloved patina of responsibility in the markets that it dominates, in the event establishing almost a monopolist’s stranglehold on a particular realm of ‘rentals,’ which is to say the resale of used goods of all sorts, in the context of management tools that promise efficient and reliable exchanges for almost anything at all. A veritable shitstorm erupted fromNew York Times reportage that, accompanying its leviathan’s reach, it crushed its workers in every conceivable way, milking from them its small percentage but giant volume of profit in such a fashion as to break their bodies and depress their psyches and leave many as so much alienated, depressed wreckage in the process.
That Amazon has intended to posture as a truly responsible corporate entity is incontrovertible. Whereas the average Fortune 500 company, when one searches for its name plus “corporate social responsibility” OR csr, elicits plus or minus half a million hits, the following string brought forth thirteen-and-a-half million results: <amazon “corporate social responsibility” OR csr>.
Jeff Bezos’ clever acquisition and disruptive transformation of the Washington Post is in a general or overall way instructive in this regard as well. It returns readers to revelations that the Australian undergraduate just above made plain. These matters, more often than not—and perhaps almost universally—are about appearances much more so than they concern reality, ongoing practice, or actual performance. Mediation will always represent a critical component of making an appearance seem a manifestation of a preferred representation rather than a verifiable aspect of reality itself.
Thus, when WaPo seeks to expand internationally, to integrate more and more local publications into its operating nexus, and purports to position itself so as to flourish, even predominate, in regard to networking freelance writers as a labor pool and source of value, citizens and scribes both better beware. The promise of ‘sharing’ and ‘efficiency’ are quite likely to be another case of self-serving propaganda propagation, on the one hand, and soul-sucking drudgery for small change in return, on the other hand; at absolute best.
Just as with more venerable archetypes of bourgeois legerdemain, in the previous section, so too here then, the proposition is easy to demonstrate that not a single ‘major player’ in this ambit is capable of evincing more than a public-relations front of Corporate Social Responsibility. Should anyone want to challenge this idea, the only thing that needs to happen is a willingness of the naysayer to go to Nevada and put up enough of a wager to make the effort worthwhile. CSR as a purported attribute of the so-called “unicorn” successes among ‘Siliconic’ disruptors is, charitably, an absurd assertion.
The Spindoctor’s personal experience, on multiple fronts, further evidences the points here. In one instance, a must to ponder, he worked for the Corporate Social Responsibility website,Justmeans, as a blogger. In sixteen weeks there, he created well over half a million words, at the rate of four roughly ten-thousand research-based articles every seven days.
The ‘pay’ was plus-or-minus two hundred dollars a month. The plaudits were thick to start. But his ‘beat,’ energy, included multiple reports on matters nuclear as an inherent abrogation of CSR in any shape or form, including various stories—and at least one or two ‘scoops’—about Depleted Uranium.
Despite the fact that his contractual agreement was that he could write what he wanted, since the ‘pay’ was, stating the point generously, paltry, he soon enough received a ‘cease and desist’ order about anything that mentioned DU. Apparently, the business plan—to cash out with a purchase of the site by AOL—was looking problematic with his articles on view; so much, then, for CSR.
A bit later along the temporal arc, he produced for an already-established division of America Online, the Patch brand. He warned his soon-to-be assignment editor that any lengthy relationship with an AOL ‘brand’ was approximately as likely as a snowball’s longevity in the fieriest depths of hell, which received chortles and vows of eternal support.
Within five weeks, the Spindoctor’s head was in a sack, and checks from AOL no longer issued, especially at twice the standard rate that Jimbo negotiated measly recompense for the work that he did. Apparently, his predilection for looking askance at Walmart’s wondrous marvels and his desire to report about daily criminal incidents as social matters instead of as blameworthy moral lapses alienated the overlords on high in Manhattan—again, so much for even a pretense of a responsible corporate entity that wanted to serve its communities with diverse, accurate, and useful information.
Such personal encounters with the more or less total fraud of CSR do not give him ‘an ax to grind.’ He loved producing the materials that he did, on which he still owns a copyright, even though the remuneration for his work was either laughable or grotesque, depending on whether one’s bent at the moment of observation is comic or tragic. However, these very real and deeply felt cases of peonage and exploitation and dismissal do give him a perch from which to view other cases, all too similar, that reveal the reality beneath the veneer of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Without noticeable exception, therefore, the expressions of CSR that deal with individual cases as such are inseparable from the public relations and propaganda and outright buncombe that present these happenings to the public and thereby hope to increase shareholder equity and profits as a result of such characterizations. These SOP methods work hand in glove with the propagation of Corporate Social Responsibility as a pretend entity that means little more than “We want you to like, or at least accept, us enough to buy lots of our stuff or services, so we hope to convince you that we’ve got soul and ethics and really care about consumers and workers and communities and competitors and critics and such as much as, or even more than, we care about maximizing our profits.”
In terms of large outfits, therefore, enterprises of “size and heft,” so to speak, CSR is at best a façade and quite likely simply a falsehood. Whether the company in question is an old-line or new-school operation makes no difference. Profit still rules the roost, or other ‘bottom-line’ considerations necessitate that Corporate Social Responsibility is no more than an advertising slogan, of no greater substance than a cleverly-crafted PR campaign.
Certainly near the heart of this assessment lie a series of observations and appraisals of what we might term ‘monopoly finance capital.’ Through loans, control of equity, and generally holding the reins of political oversight, banks, venture capitalists, and clever ‘investors’ of various stripes—who in aggregate control if not out and out own almost every dollar in the stream of commerce—act as arbiters, gatekeepers, and boards of directors of everything that the ‘Western’ sphere proffers to the world and most everything that emanates from elsewhere as well.
The tentacles of big-money’s ‘Octopus,’ as Frank Norris titled the matter, run the show, own the tent, pocket the gate, and call the tune: top to bottom. No enterprise escapes this net.
Anyone who believes he can enter a brief that invalidates this point of view is welcome to speak up. I’m a wagering man. Let’s go to Nevada and talk about the details of a big bet: nothing even resembling a large corporation fulfills the requirements or delineates the rubric of a socially responsible entity.
In the second place then, one could expand the scope of this mainly clinical examination, as it were, to include entire industrial or other arenas. While an even lengthier effort at documentation than that which this report provides might go into as much detail here as has appeared in relation to individual firms just above, or even more digging might transpire, this is not necessary at this juncture.
An example, or a few, will do. Churches; Internet; steel; insurance; banking; retail: the possible organizational categories are numerous, but far from innumerable. The very idea that a sector of ‘production and society’ such as churches, in general, were exemplary of CSR would bring a smile to the lips of those who think subjunctively, to put the matter in grammatical terms. More mundanely, holding such a belief is, at a minimum, counterfactual.
One might merely assert, based on long experience monitoring such matters, that of all the sectors of society’s socioeconomic sphere that intersect with corporations, exactly one has a minimally plausible basis to survive a summary judgment motion, so to speak, against it in this CSR suit. That would be the non-profit or philanthropic region of modern bourgeois life.
After all, the conceptualization that great wealth ‘naturally’ wants to give back is as easy to ‘prove’ as the names of great foundations: Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, Kellogg, MacArthur; for those who prefer their generous plutocrats’ exhibiting more currency, Gates or Soros are some of the recent comers. The idea, in other words, almost demonstrates itself.
Unfortunately, a thorough investigation of this topic would discern more complexity and contradiction than the standard story would contain. One might readily, after significant time and effort, come to the conclusion that this sector also does not live up to its ‘bill of goods.’
A BASIC ASSESSMENT THAT PROVES IMPLAUSIBILITY
However, a more elegant substantiation of this evaluation is possible. In any event, as noted, one would be hard-pressed to find a more presentable candidate for an industry-wide or operational area’s quintessence of CSR than philanthropy, at least on the surface, could proffer.
The brief against the vaunted non-profit, foundation, or non-governmental organization space as somehow more pure or sacrosanct than money or its corporate forms generally appear is easy enough to develop. In particular, one should note that the very form of these efforts to ‘do good’ retains its ties with the monumental aggregations of capital that almost universally elicit less favorable reviews in regard to goodness.
Additionally, two particular points powerfully undermine, even fatally undercut, any hope to pretend that these embodiments of enterprise escape taints that destroy responsibility in the form that we’ve been discussing. The first concerns in-depth research that refutes such stances. One might examine the results of a Google outreach like this: < philanthropy OR charity philanthropic OR foundations OR “nongovernmental organizations” OR ngo OR “non profits” “social justice” OR “human welfare” OR csr OR “corporate social responsibility” OR benefit OR advance bullshit OR hypocritical OR hypocrisy OR false OR nonsense OR propaganda> and discover among more than two and a half million citations a significant portion that make the case that shows up in these pages.
In the event, in addition, multiple well-known analyses develop just such an argument as the Spindoctor is making. Most recently, perhaps—as in within the past month or so—a Danish historian has promulgated a line of reasoning that contends that far from relieving large economic entities from the burdens of their overlordship, so to say, philanthropy and charity and non-profit efforts have in fact not only increased inequality but also have demonstrated their perfect congruence with systematic schisms and disparities and, in essence, continued overlordship of just their monopolistic, bourgeois sorts.
Mikkel Thorup labels this new tendency philanthrocapitalism, which his work examines as one of several “expressions of philanthropy as ideology: … corporate philanthropy, in which businesses engage in social work, and philanthropic associations reengineer themselves to mimic corporations; billionaire philanthropy, in which conspicuous consumption is now being supplemented with conspicuous philanthropy; and celebrity philanthropy, in which one of the hallmarks of being a celebrity today consists in the commitment to turn that fame towards a good purpose.”
His work “explore(s) how(just such) philanthropy may serve to justify extreme inequality.” Can anyone say, “Bye-Bye CSR?”
He goes on to develop the following contextualization. “One can interpret philanthrocapitalism as the latest expression of the modern era’s anti-revolutionary, pro-capitalist claims that a rebellion against capitalism will only end in misery and that there is actually no opposition between the market and the common good. In the 1990s the dominant versions of this antirevolutionary stance were encapsulated in Francis Fukuyama’s thesis of liberal-democratic capitalism as the last good idea and the hype of a high-tech, net-based ‘crisis free’ economy. Both claims quickly lost persuasive force. The IT-bubble crashed in early 2000 and the movements critical of globalization seriously questioned whether the ‘G8 World Order’ was the only world possible. It seems therefore fair to interpret the enormous attention to and hope in philanthrocapitalism as an attempt to close the legitimization deficit of contemporary ‘creative capitalism’ where some get more and more but many more get so much less; a development not halted but accelerated by the financial crisis and its aftermath of austerity.”
Again, such elucidation destroys even the possibility that, as a rule, philanthropic or foundation or non-profit endeavors manifest Corporate Social Responsibility in their routine operations. And once more, this is just one of multiple, authoritative critiques of this type.
The second fatal flaw in philanthropy’s case results from a general overview of the sphere and how it divides into different camps, more or less in terms of a polarization between ‘markets’ and ‘regulation,’ between ‘free enterprise’ and governance. This distinction between ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ outfits, between ‘right-wing’ and ‘left-wing’ non-profits, even as these terms are suspect and may in fact be almost meaningless, nonetheless guarantees that within the sector itself, plus or minus half of the operators look upon plus or minus half of the other operators as nefarious or unethical or at least less than optimal, a fact that practically removes all doubt that some participants fail in their ‘social responsibilities’ in one way or another.
In any case, even letting this division between opposing camps lie fallow, to coin a phrase, one more overarching example of errancy is possible to express. Another Danish duo dissects the most decidedly corporate arm of the philanthropic universe in this matter. Their overview deconstructs, in a persuasive way indeed, the notion that CSR authenticity is anything other than propagandistic turns of phrases.
“Over the past two decades, a growing number of large multinational corporations have come to view philanthropy as an important part of their business operations. This has stimulated research on the many different strategies that are pursued by these corporations in their attempts to become more philanthropic while remaining economically responsible. In this situation, some researchers have argued, corporations run the risk of being caught out as hypocrites. Through an analysis of the corporate social responsibility reports of the biggest multinational corporations, this article shows how the risk of hypocrisy is managed communicatively through the use of euphemisms. The article argues that the use of euphemisms makes it possible to communicate both economically and philanthropically without manifest contradictions. Euphemisms, however, are also risky in their own right.”
This brings at least a pair of issues to the fore. In the first place, the clear suggestion is that some substantial amount of corporate flack in its own behalf about its ‘philanthropy’ is bullshit. More pertinent still, perhaps, it implies that the same corporations that we’ve already proven deficient as CSR exemplars have captured, or at least co-opted a substantial part of the philanthropic field.
One might insist on probing other realms, of course. Additional productive endeavors that could have a surface appearance of likely CSR validation include media undertakings and sports-and-entertainment enterprises. In the former case, the huge degree of detestation that characterizes present-day monopoly-media’s public opinion rankings would make such a view doubtful, or impossible. In the latter instance, the widespread whiff of corruption in regard to stadium shenanigans and the ‘professional’ disregard for player health, from concussions or otherwise, would likewise scuttle any credible representation of CSR validity.
Without any longing to flee or otherwise ‘cut things short,’ as it were, one can sense a stopping point here. The area, or perhaps two or three that most likely could materialize a Corporate Social Responsibility presence does not come close.
Again, as in a one-by-one firm search for a CSR paragon, one cannot here discern a paradigm that permits an onlooker to corroborate any field that is worthy of an imprimatur of Corporate Social Responsibility. Does that mean that such an eventuality can never come to pass? One purpose of today’s reportage is to approximate under what conditions such occurrences might actually happen.
For our purposes in this OVERTURE, in any event, we have provided an architecture for denying the plausibility of CSR in any real-world, real-time domain that is contemporary or historical, whatever the future may hold. The Spindoctor challenge in this regard remains uniform: “Would you like to bet?!” Inquiring minds, as ever, would like to know.
In the third place then, one would hunt for a school of thought or for theorists and practitioners in business and government who could credibly develop and defend the thesis that Corporate Social Responsibility was something that could become Standard Operating Procedure in such a way as to relieve the crises and conundrums that have been universal, and that have arguably intensified and grown less tractable, under corporate capitalism through the centuries. Indubitably, all types of institutional and individual interlocutors would argue forcefully that they could make such a case.
For example, the search, < csr OR “corporate social responsibility” possibility OR plausibility OR hope support OR backing OR validation OR validity OR proof scholarship OR analysis OR research >, delivers leads that number over thirteen million, many of which would offer staunch support for a CSR perspective. Outside of a dispensation of eternal life, or something similar, disproving them all would prove an impossibility. Logistics alone would depose such a herculean effort.
However, in analyzing the inadequacy of several common ideas about how to deliver CSR, this essay establishes a boundary of rebuttal that allows it to move on with the remainder of this exposition. A not infrequent criticism of these promoters of the possible existence of Corporate Social Responsibility is that they derive payment from, or otherwise maintain useful and important relationships with, the very beneficiaries of the conclusions that they reach. Such conflict-of-interest at the least biases, and quite likely invalidates, their perspectives as anything other than more PR hype.
Peter Fleming and Marc Jones offer what many would consider a devastating deconstruction of CSR pretensions in their recent monograph, The End of Corporate Social Responsibility: Crisis and Critique. They point out the blindness, the hypocrisy, the duplicity, and more that sums up Corporate Social Responsibility as fatuous, even evil.
They begin by relating their experience of sharing CSR images from Google, which often show depictions of Earth, held in strong, caring hands. Their classes, often consisting primarily of business majors, when asked to interpret these pictures, pretty uniformly note the hoped-for corporate interpretation of such photoshopped ‘graphical-user-interfaces:’ decency, caution, protection, gentility, and so on and so forth.
At that point, “we share with our students an alternative interpretation, one that makes them smile and sometimes frown. It is clear, to us at least, that there is something obviously (and humorously) ridiculous about the image. First the idea of giant hands around the world is creepy. They clasp the earth like some alien god that is omnipresent, evincing an image of total control. The hands are apparently human, but we never see a face or a body, and one could imagine an abrupt change of mind as the giant nonchalantly squeezes the globe until it bursts like an overripe tomato. The hands also protrude from a dark jacket that strongly resembles a business suit. They hold the globe close (especially when poor India or Africa is visible), conveying a Promethean dominion over the planet. … almost as if a meddling humanity has won (even though we know it never does when it has a face-off with Gaia). Only in its failure does it desire to call the shots and make right the havoc and destruction it has wreaked over the past two hundred years.”
They compare such imagery to the scene in Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator when the fascist potentate bats around an inflated Earth with wrathful glee and disdain for social or environmental consequences. Such a grasp of the nub of at least aspects of CSR is widespread enough so as, minimally, to insist that no ‘summary judgment’ motion to validate a CSR filing would ever survive an impartial judge’s ruling.
Most centrally of all, though, in evoking the belief that Corporate Social Responsibility exists in any meaningful form other than self-promotion, proponents of such views must willingly, better yet enthusiastically, convoke collaborative and collective conversation on all the subjects that comprise CSR. In turn, not just some but all community voices and perspectives not only merit, but also command, a seat at the ‘round-table’ of social reasoning and debate.
Unfortunately, to put the matter gently, articulation has been primarily one-way, coming from on high. Those of us who are ‘low on the totem poll,’ so to put the case, await our opportunity to participate. Certainly, since all of us who read this are adults, we all recognize that any attempt to resolve conflict and crisis must be inclusive, or the supposed resolution will lack adequate legitimacy, meaning that ‘friction’ will continue and intensify.
This key juncture—where dialog meets society and not merely its upper class—is, quite likely, the real heart of Corporate Social Responsibility. Either we bring to pass a true social intercourse, or protests and discomfiture will be the least of our worries.
Having demonstrated the fallacy of the most likely assumptions about what could promulgate a CSR agenda, a generalization about other ideation in this vein is possible. To wit, anything that does not fundamentally reformulate, or remove the right to follow, the profit motive can ever be likely to effectuate Corporate Social Responsibility.
In fact, those rare but real instances of smaller corporate emanations that do at least come close to deserving the denomination of socially responsible are universally those that in fact reduce the otherwise voracious appetite for maximizing shareholder cash-out, now, not tomorrow, but right now. Thus, profiteering—which basically means and completely implies acting to gain additional profits—can under no circumstance allow the evolution of any sort of regime that we could agree to label an instance of Corporate Social Responsibility.
Readers may or may not accept such a sweeping statement, but a gentle request is apropos in the event of skepticism. Such a student of life should continue to peruse what follows apace, watching as the historical, empirical, circumstantial, and rational case for the summation above comes to the fore. Then, the sooner the better, we should talk about it!
The AFTERWORD returns to this issue. Perhaps a complete consideration of the various elements of this report’s arguments will convince one who currently has doubts. If not, we can always agree to disagree. And, as noted constantly, further research, debate, and engagement, in any event, are always possible.
Additional, & Summative, Points Prior to Making an Initial Exit
Having illustrated, if nothing else, that a potent brief exists against the idea that even a simple ‘proof of concept’ of CSR is defensible, one might say still a bit more than this prior to moving on toward matters prefatory in nature. The first point to make is that a more robust ‘proof of performance’ in regard to Corporate Social Responsibility must be further still from realization.
Furthermore, though much more appears about historical matters below, a mere mention seems useful that CSR sorts of beliefs, which show up as briefs in favor of reforming capitalism, are nothing new. Robert Owen, in one fashion, and Jeremy Bentham, in a related way, demonstrate this inherently CSRcreed as a nascent exhibition by those among the bourgeoisie who found themselves inclined to notice barbaric treatment and callous exploitation of workers and nature.
In the event, just a few summary observations can send us on our way, awaiting a fuller presentation soon enough. A first overall point is that profit always, in the end, took over operations; only propaganda was ‘pure.’ A second is that the bedrock premise of this kind of ‘critique’ was that the rich had to reform themselves, not that any participation was necessary, or even welcome, by workers themselves, who were after all much too likely to be rabble. Third, many of the specific reforms that Owen in particular advanced became part of a unified platform, which all believers in social justice or social democracy accepted and promoted, of which the most well-understood sample might be the Eight-Hour-Day. One might continue; such amplification awaits, in any case.
Also pertinent to both restatement and a widening of discourse is to amplify the argument, mentioned above, about engagement, dialog, and participation. Most any analysis of Owenite ‘failures,’ its ‘unfortunate’ tendency toward dissolution or corruption, would elevate the lack of participatory democracy as a key basis for systemic breakdown.
One could name names here. Jürgen Habermas comes to mind; Slavoj Zizek; Benjamin Barber; Paulo Freire; plus countless others. The interested student would not suffer for lack of material, a small sampling of which is also upcoming.
In any event, a reader who comes this far has seen quite a bit already. First, the additions and initial deductions here are apt to note. Second, the text has revealed multiple reconfigurations of the prime argumentation, so to speak. Third, various ways of thinking about, and wrestling with, the engagement with, evaluation of, and actions regarding Corporate Social Responsibility have put in appearances so far. The upshot, too, of course, is clear: CSR pretentions may be merely some mix of a shell game and a dog-and-pony-show, or they could be something more sinister and insidious; whatever the case may be, no workable demonstration of substantial CSR is extant; furthermore, and finally, the construction of the social tango about these questions is at best flawed and insufferably one-sided.
Ending Our Beginning
If nothing else, the briefing that takes place here permits a sturdy response to the frequent complaint that characterizes the current pass, in essence that the truly lovely potential of CSRhas gone down in flames or up in smoke because of bad people, bad management, or some combination of the two. On the contrary, any sort of careful evidence-based review would retort, the very heart of the matter or belly of capital’s beast makes even the best laid plans, the most beneficent of intentions, a chance to pave a path to hell.
Therefore, a reader might evince the capacity both to circumscribe and circumnavigate the realm of the denizen of Corporate Social Responsibility. In essence, the context of CSR presumes or substantiates the dominance of capital, an assumption or assertion of hegemony that everyone who is not a denizen of capital’s total imprimatur would do well to question closely and treat skeptically. This should do as a start, in any event.
A query related to defining and explicating CSR ought also to appear obvious. “Why are such ways of thinking and analysis so common now, and over the past period of time?” The next section addresses this query indirectly, by uncovering the deeper historical roots of capital’s ongoing tendency to devolve into disruption and mayhem.”
Here is an idea that I’ve expressed on wood, which my wife and I transform into art. “That yesterday affects today is no more in doubt than is the fact that the mother’s experience of gestation influences the birth and future development of her child: truly the past authors the present in similar fashion as the rains of Spring induce the growth of Summer and Autumn’s bounty, or lack thereof.”
Time’s touch often enough caresses one’s memory, as one might experience on birthdays or other repositories of fond recollection; at other junctures, however, the temporal interface has more in common with a jab in the gut or an ax in the face. Most people in North America would likely see September eleventh as such a problematic point in time for purposes of recalling the past.
Especially when pain or plaintive loss characterizes the way we remember a particular yesterday, we owe ourselves—unless our hope is to maximize the generation of more such memories—a stalwart attempt to understand how what was painful and harmful came to pass. Such thinking would, as just noted, probably apply to most Americans’ feelings about what happened in New York City fourteen years ago. Thus, we ought to inquire why and how jets flew into skyscrapers, and we should willingly dig deeply in seeking answers.
Especially in the United States, however, such sifting of days gone by for insight to the present pass presents a nearly intractable problem. Media repeatedly obfuscate and falsify, or at least trivialize, what happened. Standard-issue or other ‘accepted’ history books provide assessments that are partial or plain wrong. Discourse and debate about how ‘bad things happen to good people’ is, charitably, sadly inadequate.
Were the results of these patterns merely a lack of closure and a missing out on understanding, these eventualities would be bad enough. When such archetypes of prejudice and ignorance make probable, or even certain, upcoming new disasters that stem from inadequate capacity to contextualize the roots of events, the cost is incalculable, possibly including the destruction of human life on our planet.
In relation to matters like 9/11, plenty of writing on this year’s September 11th speak to issues of note in regard to our beliefs about andremembrance of things past. Very few of them, however, at least here at home, have anything to say about what took place twenty-eight years prior to 2001 on that day, thousands of miles to the South in Chile.
The events there—involving premeditated murder of at least ten thousand people—resulted from explicit planning-assistance and other resources that the United States made available to the assassins and butchers who ran Chile on behalf of demonstrably imperial and illegal interests for fifteen years after the terrible occasion of 9/11/1973. If citizens here do not understand these things, then the next ‘terrorist’ attack on North American soil will be much worse.
Therefore, on this day, the Spindoctor is posting a thorough—which means lengthy—investigation and analysis of what transpired in Chile forty-two years ago, reportage that has had a life online already but which is worth proffering again for people again to have the chance to read. At least, it is worthy of further reflection if we hope to avoid upcoming catastrophes markedly more dire than anything that’s take place plus far.
In our regular aggregation of Daily Links, a Thought of the Day appears. Here’s one from this week that may be apt. “What the futuremight deliver is often enough much more in keeping with one’s hopes and needs than the seemingly arcane intricacies and paradoxes of the tumultuous present, all of which of course comes to us from a past that appears inscrutable enough to forestall our investigating it carefully, a truly unfortunate error, since the only way that tomorrow’s light will be likely to shine sweetly in our favor is if we comprehend yesterday well enough both to see the current moment clearly and accurately, and then to set a course for an evolution of today’s reality that this awareness designates as at least plausible, as well as necessary for the fruition of our goals and objectives.”
As always, one might present the nub of today’s script simply. One chronicler has stated the matter under consideration like this: “The division of labor among nations is that some of them specialize in winning and others in losing. Our part of the world, known today as Latin America, was precocious: it has specialized in losing ever since those remote times when Renaissance Europeans ventured across the ocean and buried their teeth in the throat of Indian civilization.”
The winners are frequently easily recognizable, among them the likes of Henry Kissinger and Citibank; Richard Helms and the Central Intelligence Agency; the Guggenheim interests, the Rockefeller interests, and the panoply of well-heeled conquerors who dot the modern prospect. The losers often seem less obviously noteworthy or famous—Salvador Allende, Victor Jara, and Rene Schneider simply don’t have the same name recognition as, say, Richard Nixon does.
Those whose lives the winners snuffed out, sometimes in a hail of bullets and other times through hunger and more protracted forms of attrition, had many different hopes and dreams. Though one might easily have chosen differently, this essay focuses on some of those ‘losers’ who believed in social justice and social democracy, particularly in Chile during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The ‘winners,’ on the other hand, possessed a much more uniform consciousness and set of goals. They sought profit over all else; most importantly, they organized to crush the merest hints of any workable expression of sharing, of mutuality, of popular empowerment. They organized themselves in trust-funded operations that served a single purpose: the promotion and persistence of monopoly empire. Understanding these points about the commonly-held attitudes among history’s victors is at least half the problem of understanding why these travails have played out as they have.
As always with the Spindoctor’s profferrals, this article is lengthy. One may alleviate the burden by noting that the analysis here occurs in many sections. One a day, or one a week, might seem more manageable than any idea of gulping down the whole in one slurp.
With very few exceptions, the dramas and conflicts, the heroics and horror, that took place in and around Santiago Chile during the thirty years from 1960-1990 did not happen to the readers of this document. Thus, in order to dig into the heart and soul of these struggles for human decency and the battles of the above ‘winners’ against them, one needs a willingness to identify with both sides of the ‘class war’ that unfolded in these environs plus-or-minus forty years ago.
Identification with those who prevailed is much easier, since they own or control, along with most everything else on our fair planet, the means of production of information and knowledge. They hold the keys to the secrets that they still hide away. Identification with those who lost, often dying for their actions and beliefs and songs, presents a thornier problem. We have to try harder to see and feel what they underwent.
Such empathy, however, clearly does depend on imagination. Verses like these necessitate a fierce delving of plausible meaning, for example, while we fight to maintain our composure and avoid nervous distraction that borders on fear.
“How hard it is to sing
when I must sing of horror.
Horror which I am living,
horror which I am dying.
To see myself among so much
and so many moments of infinity
in which silence and screams
are the end of my song.
What I see, I have never seen
What I have felt and what I feel
Will give birth to the moment.”
One might picture a large stadium in one’s mind’s eye, at the cusp of a Southern Hemisphere Spring, ten days from the Vernal Equinox. The pitch has a huge table in the very center, its top splotched with mottled blood and pieces of flesh, patches of hair and tissue. At all the exits and facing the stands are uniformed men, most carrying assault rifles, all their faces grim and sleep-deprived except when the occasional joke or comment elicits derision and cackles; a few gather in groups around .30 and .50 caliber machine guns. They point these instruments of management and death casually at the stands.
These weapons have already killed a few score of the many thousands—some say only 5,000 or so, others that more than 10,000 were present, under arrest and awaiting their fate—who face their captors like cattle that are conscious of hamburger. One of the men among the captives, in what would be a sparse crowd for either a soccer finale or a ‘friendly’ with visiting gringos, seeks to give comfort to those present. Though fear constrains his voice, he sometimes leads songs.
At one point during the third day of this ‘spontaneous’ upwelling of fascism that took place in Santiago de Chile in the period after September 11, 1973, this man, whose name is Victor, approaches one of the commandantes with a request from an ailing comrade. The officer, at first impassive, grins with sadistic glee when he recognizes the speaker, mimicking a simpering guitarist, eyes arched inquisitively.
Victor’s face blanches. He must sense what is pending. At a signal from their leader, soldiers seize him by the elbows and lead him to the central stage.
Seated at the grimy table spattered with slime and fluid, he finds himself surrounded. Two men restrain him from rising. A third man extends his right arm, a fourth his left, into the bloody mess on the sturdy wooden surface where he sits, trembling. Another teniente smacks him in the head each time that he balls his fists. Ultimately, he splays his fingers, and the pistol-whipping stops.
Already battered and bruised from ‘interrogation,’ he breathes unevenly. He begins to weep. Standing nearby, a man with a machete—or is it a hand-axe of some sort?—whistles a tuneless, psychotic dirge.
At times, the verities of real-politick are so hideous and noisome that even mentioning them—let alone studying them thoroughly—brings on attacks of nausea and vertigo. One simply wants to flee, find a safe haven or asylum that doesn’t require noting and pondering the murder in the name of justice, depredation in the name of ‘development,’ and violent repression in the name of ‘freedom’ that have characterized imperial adventures in the modern sphere, with the United States—its vaunted ‘bastion-of-liberty’ notwithstanding—the leading villain.
On the other hand, an inability to deal with the real—to this day, “reality orientation” is a critical part of how ‘professionals’ evaluate one’s mental health—not only impedes effectiveness, but it might also result in more and more of exactly the types of events that we would rather deny existed. Nowhere in the immediately-prior-to-contemporary ambit—not in Palestine, not in Ukraine, not in the South China Sea, not in South Asia, not in Africa, not in any other geographic location—have such lethal dynamics come into play with more ferocity than until recently they did in Latin America. Not for nothing has Eduardo Galeano described the entire region as a body of “opened veins.”
Whatever social description of this vast Hispanic Diaspora has become apropos in the present moment, the U.S. has continued to persist in seeking to apply Monroe’s righteous doctrine. This shows up in Venezuela, in Argentina, and of course in Cuba, as well as elsewhere.
This Yankee morass of ‘magical’ pleasure and nightmarish torment has endured for a century-and-a-half or more. Over this entire period, arguably no event or series of occurrences has more clearly illustrated this locus of luxuriant horror than did the crushing of Salvador Allende’s idealistic Chilean experiment in electoral socialism. In any case, that outpouring of homicidal conspiracy is the context for the topic of the day.
The particular focus in these pages is the culture of love and optimism in which President Allende’s miracle came to fruition, how that popular expression of music and artistic passion has continued despite the imperial slaying of its primary proponents—men such as Victor Jara. Jara’s magnificent life and heroic death, then, are the center around which this narrative turns as it develops the thesis that this magnificence and heroism continue and are more crucial than ever to human survival.
Before we take an inevitably too brief—and also, for many readers, too lengthy—foray into this realm of art and power in faraway Chile, however, both in the remainder of this section and in the preface that follows, readers may view the violent heart of the brutal patterns that have characterized both this region’s relations with the United States and Latin American society’s internal dynamics generally for the centuries during which colonialism has evolved into the complexities of modern empire.
The overall idea about North America’s Latin American nexus is straightforward. For the better part of two centuries—since at least the War with Mexico—top administrators of the United States, at a minimum the President and the military establishment, have been likely culpable for mass homicide and conspiracy in Spanish speaking countries of the hemisphere. Such indictments may not be incontrovertible and might now and again fail to yield a conviction, but the accusations would be universally reasonable.
Especially in regard to Chile’s destruction on September 11th, 1973, the prosecutorial stance becomes even clearer and more pointed. With virtually no doubt, Richard Nixon is a murderer, a conspirator and accessory before and after the fact. With a similar degree of certitude, the Central Intelligence Agency’s Richard Helms is also a probable murderer. So too, in the same elliptical way, is National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger just about certainly guilty of conspiracy and aiding and abetting homicide.
Given facts both direct and circumstantial, both the result of documentation and eyewitness accounts, even lacking the still vast troves of inculpatory evidence that the U.S. refuses to release, no rational jury would likely find these men blameless or fail to reach a unanimous verdict. In the arena that this essay examines, therefore, with a degree of probability that approaches exactitude, Richard Nixon, Richard Helms, and Henry Kissinger are as responsible for the savage torture and killing of Victor Jara as if they had personally wielded the blade that chopped off his fingers, as if they had individually pulled the triggers that riddled his body with forty-four bullets.
The same would be also almost definitely true of a small army of ‘Yankee’ operatives, from various agencies of empire, who have all—like these ‘leaders of the free world’—escaped judgment. Quite plausibly, in any case, each of the primary actors would also be complicit in crimesagainsthumanity.
These pronouncements are quite specific. They are also, except by those whose fatuous commitment to propaganda and falsehood permits supercilious debate, close enough to indisputable to do as Chile and other jurisdictions have done, seeking the extradition of Henry Kissinger to question him about his role in these sorts of horrific crimes. Or, a scholar might examine Richard Helm’s conviction for lying to Congress about this countrywide torture and slaughter in the Andean nation. Anyhow, along with these more or less exact condemnations, we could also offer a more general statement in regard to Santiago and its environs.
To state this overview succinctly, we might employ a more or less definitive clause here: That the United States Proceeded in Chile as Elsewhere With MALICE Aforethought. This combination of subject and verb and modifiers itself contains an acronym: MALICE—Murder, Antipathy, Lies, Individualism, Conspiracy, Emiseration—that perfectly and more or less completely summarizes the period from 1960 till now in Chile and the so-called ‘Southern Cone. In fact, this is one of the many environments where John F. Kennedy disingenuously called for continuing a “good neighbor policy” that had arguably not existed when Franklin Roosevelt advanced it during the 1930’s and had close to zero correspondence to actuality during JFK’s Presidency or the administrations that followed.
An arguably crucial point in this regard is as follows. As Victor Jara, hands dripping gore and painful beyond sore, croaked out a last song—he had stood, stumps of fingers that spurted blood, and the leader of the butchers had commanded “sing for us now, poet”—in a voice choked with pain and fear, as he stared down the barrels of the automatic weapons that would end his life, he understood these things about empire and power and knew their central place in any future resistance to such events’ transpiring again.
Prefatory Matters—Monroe’s’ Doctrine’ to ‘War’s Racket’ Writ Large in Cuba
The all-too-standard view is that history is disposable, at best. “I don’t care about history. I don’t like history. History sucks.” No matter how toxic or tragic, such perspectives probably resonate with a majority of citizens.
When adults hold such views, this resembles a mature child who despises its parents. In a fashion that an earlier investigation here on Contributoria employed, such an attitude is like a panicked traveler who is seeking directions to ‘Portland’ without knowing where he is. Or, these beliefs mimic the difficulties of one who desperately wants to ‘find the way to Portland’ but doesn’t know where she came from to get wherever in hell she is.
Here we all are, in a world in which one empire-of-the-Americas has inordinate influence over the fates of every living human, and yet we really don’t come close to comprehending how this has all come about. Maybe at least a brief foray into the developments that took us from past to present could serve our interests.
In this regard, vast armies of dedicated scholars might spend many lifetimes deconstructing the conquest of the Americas by Europe. In doing so, the observer would want to account for the significant differences that distinguish Hispanic America from Anglo America.
Unfortunately, accomplishing such a task effectively and briefly is likely impossible, yet a few salient aspects of such interpretative work would at least suggest the parameters that an annalist might establish to examine these obvious differences.
A key element would likely be the relative importance of extractive versus agricultural and then industrial economies, which in turn affected everything in the spheres of production and trade.
The greater capacity for resistance, or at least persistence, of Chile’s Mapuche and the entire region’s indigenous population, is also likely important; one Spanish potentate whom Chilean Indian rebels captured early in the colonial fray, after they slaughtered all the soldiers who had accompanied him in his attempt to assert the continued enslavement of native laborers, may have died as a result of the Mapuche’s pouring molten gold, which he so craved, down his throat.
What one might call this ‘culture of conquistadors’ also probably played a role in establishing a landholding class that practically speaking predominated in much of Chile, and much of Latin America, until the past century or so; of course, the working classes that underlay such a system would differ at least slightly from the ‘regular people’ who formed the masses of folks further North in North America.
One might continue: geography, proximity to Europe and the ease of immigration, the different social developments that characterized England and Spain, and much more would tend to lay the basis for what ended up being quite distinct social and political communities in the Western Hemisphere.
In any event, these sorts of factors would indeed have established foundations for the way that actual relationships evolved as modern times approached and came to pass.
In this vein, from the point of view of the Spanish-speaking Americas, this initiation of the realm of the present, more or less, must emerge from the severing of colonial dominance from Madrid. Over the course of twenty years or so after 1800, every piece of Spanish America broke away from direct European dominance, with a few exceptions like Cuba and British Guyana.
Even cursory glances at the writings of such ‘rebels’ as Simon Bolivar illustrate that this process was not obviously similar to what happened in British colonial North America. In one letter or tract after another, El Liberator wrote of the lack of networks of power, of crushing debts that the means of production would not alleviate, of leaders so venal and greedy that they would likely turn on each other and defeat themselves given time and space to accomplish their natural inclinations. The end result of all these difficulties was an Iberian and ‘Holy Alliance’ counterattack on the erstwhile independent States in the early 1820’s, focused especially on Peru.
“Everything (in Lima) is in disorder; there is no government, no army. President La Mar has always been a godo(a selfish idiot), and most of the army heads have always been godos, and the naval commander at Callao as well. The chief of staff, the commanding officers of engineers, and the commanding officer of artillery are also godos. In these circumstances…(a) large(r) number of troops (than the 3,000 that Bolivar dispatched) is not being sent for the present because it is impossible. I have no ships, no provisions, and no troops here. We have already spent a hundred thousand pesos, and we are just beginning the enterprise. In order to send the next 3,000, God knows what we shall have to do, for we are burdened with debts, and we do not have the slightest credit.”
Bolivar’s vision was of a United States of South America, and his will that it should come to be was powerful. “(I)t shall be done, cost what it may.” Yet the leaders under his command conspired against each other as readily as—or even more readily than—they united to fight Spanish attempts to reassert its rule. They negotiated separate arrangements with England, the United States, and other rising industrial economies.
Chile’s place in these ventures—plus-or-minus 1823—was complex and not at all uniform. On the one hand, years earlier, Bolivar had considered Chile particularly apt to adopt ‘republicanism,’ especially under the aegis of Bernardo O’Higgins. For many years, Santiago had diligently supported federation and seemed a reliable bastion against Spain’s attempts to overthrow the young republics and to defeat their union.
One of Bolivar’s chief subordinates, J. Gabriel Perez, corresponded with Chile’s plenipotentiary to Peru in May, 1823. He laid out the strategic and geopolitical context that was developing, in which the “United States of North America” might join with Spain and Portugal themselves in recognition of the new rulers.
The complications in this situation centered on demands from Continental European powers—Prussia, Russia, and Austria, the so-called Holy Alliance—that Spain reinstate the Bourbon King and return his colonial imprimatur at the same stroke. “England has authorized her minister in Madrid to conclude an offensive and defensive alliance with Spain… .to induce (it) to recognize the sovereignty of the South American states…(a necessity) if we are to interest ourselves in this tremendous struggle or if she is to provide herself with an immense new market for her industry and manufactures.”
England’s work behind the scenes with anti-Bourbon Spaniards and anti-royalist Portuguese would serve to advance the English imperial domination that had been a primary result of Napoleon’s defeat eight years before. Yet the Spanish in the colonies often enough remained completely committed to another Bourbon ascendancy and to the renewal of colonial plunder that was mercantilist and thereby excluded England.
Bolivar obviously hoped that Chile would provision and maintain a troop contingent in Peru of 2,000 men or more “not only (to) counterbalance Spanish power united there, but…also (to) give Peru greater strength than her enemies and provide more reasons to be recognized and more justification for English intervention on her behalf.” The basis for presuming Chile’s agreement to such requests concerned the Andean nation’s desire for more territory—soon enough to come to fruition—and its ongoing courting of both English and United States commercial links in its seafaring enterprises.
Just two years subsequently, despite Bolivar’s insistence that only a union of the newly independent states could salvage their ongoing viability, Bolivar added a postscript in a lengthy missive to Francisco Santander, the Vice President of Colombia. “Chile is in a state of frightful anarchy. Freire has gone to Concepcion, and Pinto to Coquimbo. The province of Santiago is governed by its intendant. Reports have it that the Chilean Congress will send a deputation to recall O’Higgins,” which would favor the faction that backed a confederation and Bolivar against those whose interests were narrower and more in tune with strengthening North American and British connections.
Though inherently truncated and superficial, these depictions ought at a minimum to create a template for viewing how Latin America developed. Its attempts at union having come to nothing—with United States approval for the multiplicities of jurisdiction clear-cut—its dependence on U.S. and, especially, English capital and markets having increased, these divided nation-states unavoidably fell into the orbit of one imperial ambition or another.
This became especially problematic when, unlike Chile, the just-formed political entities themselves eschewed republican commitment-to-commerce-over-blood and sought to impose monarchies of one sort or another. In Brazil, such moves might prove tolerable to those in Washington whose growing strength ‘manifested an imperial destiny’ that would seemingly encompass the hemisphere and might eventually bridle the entire globe.
But when this longing for royalty took place across a border that gringos increasingly crossed with an intention to own whatever they might purchase ‘free-and-clear,’ in other words in Mexico, then such developments might appear almost insufferable. Moreover, Mexican sociopolitical choices invited European involvement in their monarchical fancies, which U.S. officials unequivocally rejected.
Thus, on the American side, the debates about how to respond to this spate of rebellions and the promulgation of James Monroe’s famous ‘Doctrine’ would mark the coming of a more or less contemporary attitudinal and political nexus toward our ‘neighbors’ to the South. In Washington, no matter the fierce debates between John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay, regardless of quibbling over how to couch trade with territorial expansion, almost universal agreement existed both that significant, or even critical, “American interests” were at stake in how the hemisphere developed to the South of the U.S. borders at the time and that the capacity to extend force, as in the development and extension of especially naval operations and commerce, would constitute a necessary component of this overarching ‘interest.’
The secession of Texas from Latin America, its annexation by the United States, and war with Mexico manifested destiny in ways that continue to resonate in almost every arena of contemporary American life. That Mexico’s caste and class divisions were vastly more critical in causing the inevitable war with the United States to be an unmitigated disaster than were the military prowess or tactical proficiency of U.S. armed forces is important to note, of course. So too is the point of crucial import that the to-the-death fight over slavery that rent the U.S. in many ways began with the entry of Texas as slave territory into the union; in any case, most of New England and substantial parts of the Eastern U.S. stoutly opposed the war against Mexico.
The end result of the conflict, nevertheless, was the establishment of an ‘Uncle Sam’s’ strategic force that was capable of becoming behemoth, whose territorial extent, growing industrial prowess, and combination of capitalism and social free-for-all for men of European ancestry inaugurated the rise of Pax Brittanica in the Western Hemisphere even as it ultimately threatened to replace England’s rule with its own vigorous combination of bigoted self-confidence and practical productive savvy. In this way, the Monroe Doctrine formed a wedge for British industrial products and capital, on the one hand, and for the ready extraction of necessary resources, on the other hand. Even the ‘scandal’ of England’s offer to purchaseTexas could not derail the ‘special relationship’ between U.S. expansionism and English commercial and naval supremacy.
The wild yarn of William Walker complements the tale of Texas, where U.S. agents and opportunistic interlopers combined to bring an on-paper-only Mexican rule crashing down. Walker in 1854 exemplified filibustering that newcomers North of the Rio Grande had field-tested in the early 1830’s, an important outlet for those in the United States who hoped to institutionalize slavery as a key part of Western Hemispheric capitalism.
Walker first led comrades in an invasion of Baja California. When anticipated popularity did not materialize—in other words, no additional mercenaries showed up to fight off the paltry Mexican forces that opposed him—he ‘surrendered’ to U.S. authorities just across the relatively new U.S. California border.
He made his mark as an adventurer in Central America. He and a few dozen armed and trained soldiers-of-fortune allied with local gunslingers to depose and then dispatch the President of Nicaragua in a firing squad. He abrogated the prohibition on slavery and instituted a ‘constitution’ that mimicked the likes of Tennessee and South Carolina.
Viewing Walker’s filibustering as either an aberration or as individualist heroism represents the preferred surface explanation for these events. What actually transpired is much more modern, spookily so.
The issues at hand combined logistics—transportation between Eastern and Western North America primarily—and marketing—determining which products would find a way to consumers and final purchases. Specifically, the owners of the primary delivery operation across Nicaragua deployed Walker to shift the Central American State’s licensing permissions for transiting the Isthmus when Cornelius Vanderbilt’s stock manipulations in New York were eliminating Walker’s employers’ ownership of the company.
Vanderbilt reacted with typical efficiency to this challenge. He oversaw the organization of British and different Central American and dissident Nicaraguan counterattacks against Walker’s ‘Presidency.’ They permitted the dapper Tennessean to exit and warned him not to return. When instead he organized another filibuster and came back, they captured him and shot him to pieces in Honduras.
A half-century later, after a sectional bloodletting imposed a tepid emancipation of African-Americans and revolutionized the productive forces of the U.S. at one and the same time, a continental capitalist gargantuan erupted that had only been nascent during Walker’s day, late in the 1800’s tied together by rails and telegraph lines. In fulfilling this ‘sea-to-shining-sea’ destination, any further expansion, inevitably, had to occur outside Yankee borders.
More and more, like England after Waterloo, the United States needed an “Open Door” for its industrial and agricultural products and ‘freedom of access’ to natural resources in foreign jurisdictions. Miraculously, in less than a century, the tiny thirteen original states had spanned North America, and the Stars & Stripes prepared to take on the task of governing the world.
Frederick Jackson Turner’s note about the ‘frontier’s’ role in all this process, equal parts fantasy and description, resonates still. He spoke of the way that Americans saw themselves, to an extent, and totally of how ‘Uncle Sam’s’ rulers wanted to present themselves.
“Another wave rolls on. The men of capital and enterprise come. The settler is ready to sell out and take advantage of the rise in property, push farther into the interior and become, himself, a man of capital and enterprise in turn. The small village rises to a spacious town or city; substantial edifices of brick, extensive fields, orchards, gardens, colleges, and churches are seen. Broad-cloths, silks, leghorns, crapes, and all the refinements, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Restaurants, luxuries, elegancies, frivolities, and fashions are in vogue. Thus wave after wave is rolling westward; the real Eldorado is still farther on.”
However, the inevitable offshoot of such a dynamic was the ‘restless’ search for, even necessary acquisition of, markets and resources outside the ‘small-village’ ambit. After all, this sort of development ended with the ‘closing of the frontier.’ In this context, voila! All manner of divided and ‘underdeveloped’ polities lay close at hand, ready for propositioning or even more aggressive incursions.
Thus, war with Spain became an inevitable crusade, righteously defended in the name of liberty but operationalized in terms of industrial plantation agriculture and the decimation of grassroots, legitimate liberation movements in Cuba and the Philippines.
And the seeds that promised revolutionary growth in Cuba thereby percolated in fertile soil. None other than Che Guevara spoke of how this ‘duty’ in relation to Havana and its surrounds had played out as a historical pattern.
“(W)e all know the nature of that duty. (T)hat same duty took to account a sovereign nation, which is Mexico, for its expression of indignation at the violent and bestial economic aggression unleashed against Cuba. This duty of the United States is the same duty that compelled it to assassinate the patriot Sandino and put into power in Nicaragua the justly hated Somoza. The duty of the United States was to give arms and planes, first to Batista and then to those who continue his work. …Thus do the rulers of the most powerful nation in this hemisphere understand their duties. These are our ‘good neighbors,’ those who would defend us, who place a military base on our soil and pay us two thousand pesos a year for it; the sower of atomic bases on all the world’s continents, the barons of oil, tin, copper, and sugar—the heirs of monopoly.”
Through all of this maturation of empire, from the first presence of U.S. Navy forces off Chile in the 1820’s, as part of the regime of various trade necessities—in California and Asia both—to the massive investments far to the North of Santiago that took place as World War was guaranteeing at least temporary demand for Chilean Nitrate and copper, Washington’s relations with the slender Republic that stretched from Peru to Antarctica were relatively benign. Nothing disturbed a surface bustle that dealt with commerce and resources and a tendency to ‘leave well enough alone.’ At the same time, knowledge of such developments is less than sparse.
“Few however have pursued contemporaneous U.S. capital flow into overseas frontiers such as those in Chile, Venezuela, and elsewhere. ‘The Americans who invested in Chile were interested in any good proposition,’ notes Wilkins, ‘whether it lay in the arid lands bordering the Andes, in the Russian Caucasus, in Northern Mexico, or in the hills of Montana.’ By 1914, the Guggenheim mining group had spent $169 million in getting the Chilean mines off to a roaring start. …By 1929, U.S. investments in Chilean copper and Venezuelan petroleum had surpassed American efforts in both of those industries in Mexico.”
That such an agenda in fact typified the U.S. imprint in the region generally is obvious on the surface. Its placidity and businesslike amicability were only skin deep, however. “Banana Republics” is not merely a catchy phrase. Dozens of military invasions took place in the half century from the end of the U.S. war with Spain and the rise of Chile’s “New Song” and Salvador Allende’s dream of elected socialist power.
Eduardo Galeano speaks eloquently to such contentions: “After invading Panama, (George Herbert Walker Bush in 1991)…declared, ‘The world is a dangerous place.’ This pearl of wisdom has remained over the years as the most irrefutable justification for the highest war budget on the planet, mysteriously called the ‘defense budget.’ The name constitutes an enigma. The United States hasn’t been invaded by anybody since the English burned Washington in 1812. Except for Pancho Villa’s fleeting excursion during the Mexican Revolution, no enemy has crossed its borders. The United States, in contrast, has always had the unpleasant habit of invading others.”
Thus, a ‘Good Neighbor’ façade held little in the way of promise for social progress or popular power. In 1919, while he was advocating a League of Nations to assume the ‘duties’ that nations risked war in assuming, Woodrow Wilson stated the foundations of such ‘friendly’ viciousness succinctly. “Is there any man, is there any woman, let me say any child here that does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry?”
One of the most fascinating witnesses to this ongoing processing of commercial hegemony regardless, and military imposition as necessary, twice won the Congressional Medal of Honor. He served for the better part of a decade as Commanding General of the United States Marine Corps. Then he resigned to write War Is a Racket and seek a different way of approaching the production and control of life’s goods and services.
In fact, Smedley Butler acted very much like a socialist, or even a communist. His fiery populist statements, mostly applicable to Latin America, drew on thirty-odd years of military service. “I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. … I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916.”
In keeping with Butler’s observations, Roosevelt’s and the American elites’ conception of Latin America was as a repository of resources for the conduct of Yankee assumption of the imperial crown that Britain had worn for so long. This was the nature of the U.S.-Chilean conjunction seventy-five years ago, as World War Two launched an ‘American Century,’ much more modest than Germany’s hoped-for ‘thousand year reich.’
In this manifestation of economic servitude, and all the social stew that accompanied such patterns, that exemplified Chile’s development as of the last half century or so, truly astounding cultural and literary expressions were mushrooming West of the Andes. Not that this was utterly atypical of Latin creativity, on the contrary, the region has burgeoned with film and poetry and music and drama and more for a long century or more. But these gardens of story in Chile were especially fertile in producing their blossoms.
One such set of materials form the subject matter of Sebastian Allende’s work, La Influencia Anarquista en la Literatura Chilena(“The Anarchist Influence in Chilean Literature). A central argument in his efforts revolves around the idea that anarchism and socialism, and even communism, have often conflated in Chilean culture. The ultimate goals of human liberation and worker solidarity transcend ideological niceties.
Another publication, more standard and encyclopedic in its orientation, but redolent of the extent and power of Chilean stories, is a sixty year old volume from Francisco Dussuel. Historia de la Literatura Chilena covers four centuries of tales that have emanated from Santiago and environs, though it does not emphasize indigenous mythology or all sectors of society equally.
A vastly larger compendium of explorations of Chile’s output might appear here. But that would divert us from reaching our goal of exploring the work of Victor Jara and the New Song Movement, both of which were en route to social transformation when the CIA and Augusto Pinochet and company cut off Jara’s hands and shot him dead, in many ways effectively decapitating the movement.
We are going to arrive at Jara’s critically important contribution to human life via an examination of his friend and comrade in struggle to achieve a better Chile, the Nobel Laureate and poet, Pablo Neruda. Amazingly though, Neruda’s was not the first instance of the Swedish committee’s notice of Chile.
Gabriela Mistral was an austere school teacher from a humble family in the dry foothills of Northern Chile’s mining regions, who also, miraculously given her far-from-upper-class roots, served as an occasional diplomat—a not infrequent practice that showed the reverence for culture that at times typified Chile and Spanish-speaking states more generally. “She pushed her way out of poverty and obscurity through publishing poetry and a range of teaching materials for use in schools.”
She wrote simple and ethereally beautiful verse. Often not overtly political, she nonetheless advocated for listening to Bolivar’s advice and decried the depredations of empire and fascism in her region and the Spanish Civil War. Before he died, Garcia Lorca wrote a dedication to her that alluded to her love of land and Leo Tolstoy’s brand of peasant social anarchism: “When you lie still – ay, Gabriela, Gabriela – the Andes will cradle you – as if in a mint – and will make you a clay sarcophagus – that you may always have land.”
She corresponded with wealthy literati elsewhere in the Southern Cone, who sought her out and considered the issues of the day in tandem with her, especially as she acted as one of Chile’s diplomatic corps. She fulminated on the rights of women and children and found herself caught in the grip of uprisings of anarchists and communists and the reactionary counterattacks of the rulers of the established order.
Both her fundamentally progressive mindset and her achieving the highest award in literature—the only woman from Hispanic America and the first Latin American to do so—directs the onlooker to consider the man whose poetry remains more memorable, but not necessarily any more important, in understanding Chile and its cultural gifts to all the world. Certainly, Pablo Neruda would have responded with both joy and grief to her ferocious insistence that justice required radical transformation.
“The whole world has gone astray. Selfishness, lust for power, and ignorance being the reasons why. The greater number of us are a burden on the few, the ones who rule with a startling brazenness and inhumanity. Fear, weapons, violence and concentration camps are turning man into a veritable puppet, stripping him ruthlessly of his greatest possession: his freedom to think and act and his creative mind.”
By Way of Introduction—Pablo Neruda’s Revolutionary Spirit
In this context of Chilean magnificence, the poetry and politics and lusty loving nature of Pablo Neruda form a seamless whole. Moreover, his origins, as much so as any Nobel Prize winner ever, illustrate the way that humble roots can percolate a body of work that, so to speak, caffeinates truly radical words, insurrectionary verses that touch on every realm of life.
The hope here is not even to approximate an exhaustive portrait of this poet, both earthy and heartfelt, whose massive output and tremendous love for humanity continue to astonish anyone who notices. On the contrary, a relatively few brushstrokes should serve this narrative’s needs.
The primary purpose of Neruda’s inclusion in this essay is to draw parallels between the lives, literary output, and moral sensibilities of two great creators—one a Nobel Prize winning poet, the other a revered folk singer and dramatist. Chile’s working class, its lusty earthiness, its grand isolation amid astounding natural beauty, the Spanish language, and the dire struggles of wage-earners for dignity and justice joined Neruda and Jara, as if nature had conjoined them at the hip.
Like Gabriela Mistral, Neruda’s poetic name resembles his given name not in the least. His father worked Chile’s rails in the time before trucking, when the only way to traverse almost three-thousand miles was via trains that the British had financed and built. His mother died of tuberculosis before he had reached his second birthday.
He adored his stepmother, ‘Mamadre,’ who adopted the half-sister whom his father conceived with a lover while she was still nursing their son, the future ‘Pablo’s’ half brother. He loved words from the age of ten at least, though his father discouraged him from fantasizing about seeking to support himself with his wrist.
Nevertheless, he began to publish little bits and pieces on the sly, from the age of thirteen on. Perhaps miraculously, in the guise of fate if nothing else, the principal of the girl’s school adjacent to his academy was none other than Ms. Mistral, on the way to a Nobelist’s renown of her own.
She encouraged the fifteen year old, whom she directed to read Russian writers whenever he could. From this guidance came his discovery of the Czech poet, Jan Neruda, whose patronymic he adopted, along with the common ‘Pablo,’ a change of his name that he hoped would keep from altogether alienating his father.
In the event, his talent transferred a soulful passion for life to the page in raging, fiery, delicious, lusty verses that caused his receiving almost instant recognition as a scribe. Following his graduation from University, and the publication of Twenty Love Poems & a Song of Despair, Chile sent him abroad, indulging its more-than-occasional practice of awarding writers with diplomatic assignments—his first posting was to Burma.
In Argentina for a time in the 1930’s, he opened his eyes to the sociopolitical realm, even as he was composing the most abstract verses of his life. He befriended Garcia Lorca and ended up with an attaché’s position in Spain shortly thereafter.
He powerfully propounded the Republican movement. So much so did he support this anti-monarchical cause that Chile recalled him from his post. However, he returned to Europe in 1938 where, from Paris, he helped to find Spanish refugees places to live in the Western Hemisphere.
His popularity was skyrocketing at this point, as was his income, yet he had already begun to circle the Communist cause that was to define the remainder of his life. He served Chile in Mexico in the early 1940’s, returning to Santiago to run for the Senate in 1944 and win, as a Communista.
His criticism of a dour and reactionary President—albeit a man whom he had supported in the election, and whose party won in an alliance with the Communists—contributed to Gonzales Videla’s outlawing the Communist Party and issuing a warrant for Neruda’s arrest. He lived underground for nearly two years, before his comrades and supporters helped him to escape the Andes for half a decade.
He spoke publicly and fully for the first time, in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, of this experience. He rode through the Andes for as much as a week, crossing icy rivers late in the Southern Winter. Four rural roustabouts guided him through trackless forests surrounded by glaciers and massive peaks. These horsemen hacked trees to mark their return path.
When they passed makeshift bowers that marked some fallen sojourner, they would each cut new branches to add to the bedding for the dead. Crossing a mirrored, snow-fed waterway, his horse nearly shed him as it swam in water over its head. One of his companeros had followed with a lasso in case the poet fell, in waters that had years before swept the young guardian’s father to his death.
Fleeing prison, perhaps demise, he and his comrades came upon a flower-strewn meadow that bloomed with Spring’s approach. There, they encountered a natural chapel that housed an open, ox-skull altar where each of the travelers placed dried fruit or bits of money, gifts that bypassers might find in the dead beast’s staring eye-sockets. They each danced to honor the deity that lived in the bones, hopping a circle around the gleaming bleached horns, with only the sky and the rocks and the wind and the trees and the snows to winess.
Shortly after, they saw a rocky redoubt where entire trees burned more or less constantly to warm and provide process heat for Argentine workers who made cheese at sixteen thousand feet and sang and shared their lives and their food and their wine with Chileans who welcomed the opportunity to douse themselves in volcanically heated baths and treasured the chance to sleep inside, safe from police or soldiers or freezing to death. When Neruda sought to give money to these creators of processed food, his generous hosts, they refused.
He continued his ruminations about what this experience of life had taught about simplicity and solidarity and plenty more besides.
“(I)f the poet succeeds in achieving this simple consciousness, this too will be transformed into an element in an immense activity, in a simple or complicated structure which constitutes the building of a community, the changing of the conditions which surround mankind, the handing over of mankind’s products: bread, truth, wine, dreams. If the poet joins this never-completed struggle to extend to the hands of each and all his part of his undertaking, his effort and his tenderness to the daily work of all people, then the poet must take part, the poet will take part, in the sweat, in the bread, in the wine, in the whole dream of humanity. Only in this indispensable way of being ordinary people shall we give back to poetry the mighty breadth which has been pared away from it little by little in every epoch, just as we ourselves have been whittled down in every epoch.”
Throughout his life, Pablo Neruda—who legally changed his name in 1946—openly celebrated the erotic and carnal fires that he and his adored companions lit with each other, in each other, through each other. Darker visions blended with these volcanic expressions of life’s core, forming a fabric of desire and loss, joy and pain, that appeared in much of his work, expressive attributes that he shared with all kinds of other Chilean and Hispanic wordsmiths.
Returning to Chile in 1952, he had become even more staunchly Marxist and committed to the Communist cause, at the same time that he engaged in stern critique of Stalin after Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 condemnation of the dictator. All over the world, people translated and bought his poetry. He continued to carry around his copy of Whitman’s Song of Myself, one of his muses.
He ran as a Communist candidate for President against Salvador Allende and Jorge Alessandri, the CIA darling in 1970, siding with Allende in the runoff. A passage from his Nobel speech thirteen years later illuminated such a choice. “By extending to these extreme consequences the poet’s duty, in truth or in error, I determined that my posture within the community and before life should be that of in a humble way taking sides. I decided this when I saw so many honourable misfortunes, lone victories, splendid defeats. In the midst of the arena of America’s struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations. And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.”
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Neruda’s glorious oeuvre graces very few literature courses below the graduate level in the United States. Such a distancing is consciously political on the part of Yankee institutional ‘objectivity.’
“’No writer of world renown is perhaps so little known to North Americans as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda,’ observed New York Times Book Review critic Selden Rodman. Numerous critics have praised Neruda as the greatest poet writing in the Spanish language during his lifetime, although many readers in the United States have found it difficult to disassociate Neruda’s poetry from his fervent commitment to communism.”
Agelessly, Neruda’s monumental presentation to the audience in Stockholm serves as a gentle remonstrance to North American ignorance and arrogance. “We have inherited this damaged life of people’s dragging behind them the burden of the condemnation of centuries, the most paradisiacal of peoples, the purest, those who with stones and metals made marvellous towers, jewels of dazzling brilliance – peoples who were suddenly despoiled and silenced in the fearful epochs of colonialism which still linger on.”
A secondary rationale for including Don Pablo here is that he too died shortly after Pinochet’s minions ripped Chile’s social fabric to shreds and slaughtered and disappeared thousands of civilians who supported Allende. Since one focus of the Pinochetista bloodlust was on communist artists, many people contend that the fascists killed Neruda in some fashion similarly as they dispatched Victor Jara and so many others.
However this is not likely true. At sixty-nine, Neruda was in a Santiago hospital and fighting cancer.
Inevitably, he encountered mediated presentations of the dance of death that Pinochet and the CIA were delivering to his native land, where his political opponent-turned-comrade, the socialist Allende, had been President when he entered his sickbed.
His wife of many years, the love of his life, recalls some of what her beloved underwent in the twelve days that followed September 11th. She had returned to his side when he had summoned at one point. “I dashed up to his room and sat down beside him. I was exhausted with nervous tension. Pablo is very agitated. He said that he has spoken with many friends and that it is incredible that I don’t know what is going on in the country. ‘They’re killing people,’ he tells me. ‘They’re handing over bodies in pieces. The morgue’s full of the dead, the people are outside in their hundreds, claiming the bodies. Didn’t you hear what happened to Victor…Jara? He was one of those they tore to pieces, they destroyed his hands.’ As I had tried to avoid his finding out about all the hair-raising news those days, he thought I was ignorant of everything. ‘The body of Victor Jara in pieces. Didn’t you know that? Oh my God, that’s like killing a nightingale. And they say that he kept on singing and singing, and that drove them wild.’”
Most probably, Pablo Neruda in the end died a few day later of a broken heart. The clinical record of ‘heart attack’ as cause of death would in that case be accurate.
Pinochet personally forbade any public display for his funeral. For days, despite this ban, thousands of people gathered to honor Pablo Neruda and bring flowers and song to his grave.
Core Matters—Poignant Paradox & Pointed Protests
Chile’s outsize cultural impact has already had a turn on this essay’s stage. The work of Mistral and Neruda and others worked as antidote to heartbreak, even in the most woeful evolution of the world’s twists and turns. This literary and artistic heft represents a multidimensional fabric that serves to support both Chilean society most specifically, Latin society with almost the same degree of clarity and completeness, and the wider world more broadly speaking.
A few additional notes can assist in launching this narrative’s central sections. In each case, elements of the life and labor of Victor Jara are also part of the web that this briefing describes.
Frank sexuality and sensuality, as already alluded to, form a part of Chilean consciousness and enculturation. That this happens in an arena where strict Catholicism holds sway is less paradoxical than one might imagine.
Isabel Allende, the assassinated President’s relative, not only composed entire novels through which a strongly feminine earthiness and lustiness expressed itself, but she also spun out briefer yarns that were even more graphic. “Toad’s Mouth” is one of these.
It tells the tale of a vast sheep preserve in Chile’s South, practically inaccessible and owned by a pair of married British investors. With few exceptions, all of the locals are men, strong but lonely, whose sole sexual outlets are either autonomous or bestial: both sheep and skinned seals serve on occasion.
Into this realm comes a powerful dervish of a woman. She serves as confessor and consort to all of these men. The particular customer of any give moment depends on who wins the games that she invents, one of which involves tossing a coin at her vaginal opening as she sits in a circle with legs spread wide.
She gyrates her hips in such a way that only rarely does a man gain a blessed hour or two with her as a result of this contest. Along comes a slender, diminutive Argentine, taciturn and fierce of mien.
He has arrived in search of her. He has an intuition that she is his mate. In the game, he pitches his coin with such accuracy that she accepts him as her partner for a couple of hours or so.
They do not emerge from their embraces till the long afternoon and evening and night have yielded to a new dawn. She packs her things and the newly inaugurated couple ventures forth toward a joined fate.
Strongly feminist and strongly anti-machismo are the lines of Allende’s stories. This quality matches Mistral’s work, as already noted. Many other feminist and lusty women also share these attributes with the author of House of the Spirits.
One other especially notable is Maria Bombal, whose metered paragraphs burst with longing. She gives voice to a woman’s fierce desire, which, if unmet evokes complete chaos. Such emotional and spiritual passion characterize her two brief novels and also intertwine with every line of her astounding short story, “The Tree.”
She ends this abbreviated mythic paean to music and carnal love almost with a manifesto. “They had stolen her intimacy, her secret; she found herself naked in the middle of the street, naked before an old husband who turned his back on her in bed, who had given her no children. …Lies! Her resignation and serenity were lies; she wanted love, yes love, and trips and madness, and love, love.”
A powerful contextualization of intuition and the average person’s capacity to see and to seek is also readily apparent in both Chilean music and literature. While as ever one might find dozens or even hundreds of cases to exemplify this, two writers offer exemplary insights about this aspect of the Chilean Canon.
Robert Ampuero’s detective novels, literary gems, display this all-consuming yearning for knowledge. Only his most recent installment in a multi-volume series is available in English, as The Neruda Case. Undoubtedly, some kind of epistemological motivation is inherent in the detective genre, yet the contours of this longing is especially provocative in this series.
“If Cayetano’s case is driven by the poet’s quest for closure, the novel also reexamines the disjunctions between political philosophies and personal politics during that long tour from country to country. The closing chapter, returning readers to 21st-century Chile, provides an ironic and potentially redemptive coda to the book’s vivid depictions of troubled histories. Closely related to all this, Cayetano’s musings on detective fiction quickly show how the investigative techniques of first-world novels don’t apply to the uncertainties of the Latin American landscape. Unlike in the rational and logical world of Maigret, ‘in Latin America — where improvisation, randomness, corruption, and venality were the order of the day — everything was possible.’”
Much better known, already dead though he just barely attained his first half century, Roberto Bolano also manifested—in the chatter and chants of an astounding variety of voices—the common folk’s perspectives on life. Such a capacity is ubiquitous in The Savage Detectives, 2666, and Chile by Night.
In a different formulation of what Chile has to teach us, Roberto Bolano—or for that matter Isabel Allende, whose work the youthful Roberto attacked with brutal vitriol —might easily take center stage. For now, a few further lines will do that this additional masterful yarnspinner from the Andes served up as forthrightly as he might announce his name.
“What twisted people we are. How simple we seem, or at least pretend to be in front of others, and how twisted we are deep down. How paltry we are and how spectacularly we contort ourselves before our own eyes, and the eyes of others…And all for what? To hide what? To make people believe what?”
This leaves altogether out of the mix the author’s poetry, which he considered his literary life force even as he turned to fiction in order to make money for the family that he knew that he would soon leave behind as a result of liver disease. In any case, this vocalization of the incongruous and wild aspects of everyday life capture a core piece of literature’s magic, in all of which his roots in Chile —he returned from Mexico just in time for 9/11/73, escaping by happenstance—play a powerful role.
A consistent recognition that class and power-relations underlie the nature of story itself becomes rapidly apparent in Ampuero’s and Bolano’s writing, as it also does in Mistral’s, Neruda’s, and other Chileans. Before we move on to the way that these components of the Chilean contextualize the life and work of Victor Jara, we ought to mention the body of work of Jose Donoso.
“Donoso, whose first published stories were in English, could have become a Latin American Joseph Conrad had he adopted English as his literary language. Instead, he returned home and began to craft his intricate, minute, and brilliant fictions about the Chilean Bourgeoisie.”
“The Walk,” an eerie and discomfiting short story that he wrote in the middle of Allende’s brief stay in power, combines themes of psychological and psychosocial oppression that pervade upper-crust life with characterization that grapples with these difficulties like a stubborn wolverine. The spinster sister takes to ambling about with her dog after the beast urinates on the parlor floor. Her perambulations end up with her being out at all hours of the night, returning disheveled and gay instead of like her brothers, who are almost mad with worry and fear of a breach of decorum.
Then, like thousands of Chileans soon enough, she disappears. Her nephew ponders all of this with amazement, a combination of fear and longing that aptly describe what many Chileans were seeking, despite the risks, during Allende’s abortive reign.
Whatever the merits of Bolano’s savaging of Isabel Allende, her work, more so than any other writer’s—with the exception of Neruda and Jara—embraces the political aspects of human life. This is no accident. “The bloody military coup that resulted in the death of her uncle, the first democratically elected Marxist President in the hemisphere, was the confessed turning point of her life. Forced to face and, ultimately, to flee a systematically imposed reign of terror under the Pinochet regime, Allende emigrated with (her family) to Venezuela.”
Out of this nexus of love and loss, hope and terror, have grown lyrical and popular literary labors. Out of this cauldron have appeared her “overtly political (work that) address(es) through a love story the horrors of the ‘disappeared,’ who were taken off by the …authorities to be secretly tortured and murdered, but whose bodies were never returned.”
One could easily continue, but these additions to the groundwork of previous sections will further anchor what we have to learn about the bard from the barnyard, Victor Jara. For his rise to prominence depended on this supportive hammock that Chilean literature and music and culture has provided to its people, despite all the contradictions and tensions and polarities that were also present.
Victor Jara’s Iconic Presence
Once in a while, a man’s life, or a woman’s existence, so crystallizes an age that its narrative can become a key component of consciousness. Victor Jara embodies core themes of contemporary existence in this way. His dirt-poor rural roots; his soulful transformation of deeply religious teachings into a revolutionary social message; his joyous capacity to sing and perform and communicate with people that led him to attain truly a global audience that included all but fascist social milieus; his rising above the machismo and chauvinism that were a powerful component of his culture, so as to revere women as equal partners; to achieve the insight necessary to identify messages critical to human advance, even survival, and then to show the skill to craft those ideas in accessible ways, in various media, and then to demonstrate the courage essential to voice these views despite threats and assaultive violence; these were all characteristics of this actor and director and folklorist and folksinger and social justice activist.
The youngest of six boys that a tenant farmer and his wife conceived and bore into the world, his was a world from the time that he began to walk of nature and work. His father foresaw that six male children would permit his accumulation of land that would allow for social elevation for his family. As such, he fully intended to deny his youngsters schooling.
This caused a conflict with Victor’s mother, Amanda, who was a wedding singer and a popular folk musician in the region to the South of Santiago where Victor grew up. She knew the power of words and wanted “at least the letters” to be available to her sons.
Whatever manifold complications and difficulties beset the Jara family, the father ultimately began drinking heavily, and fights between the parents ended with the dissolution of their marriage. Existence became economically marginal but never lost fulsome spiritual and cultural joie-de-vivre.
When Amanda Jara took work in Santiago in the early 1940’s, she discovered that she had a natural talent for making spaces and operations functional. Soon enough, she sent for her boys, and the two youngest received disciplined and rigorous training at Catholic elementary schools. Victor showed early acumen and got a scholarship to more advanced education.
What might have been a rags-to-riches story of a more conventional nature unraveled when his mother died when he was only fifteen. Not only did this profoundly afflict the youngster, but it also landed him in a seminary where he appreciated the community and the rigor but was able to discern that he lacked anything like a true calling to be a priest.
Within a fortnight of his exit from this training ground, he found himself under the obligation to serve a stint in the military. Physically, he excelled as a inductee, but his natural shyness and lack of macho made this period extremely difficult.
Upon exiting, however, a series of chance opportunities in the early 1950’s led to his being part of a national choir and having performance options in both theater and dance. His early scholastic training stood him in good stead, and soon enough he had scholarships to the National University, where he excelled both in folklore pursuits and in drama.
In one of his roles as an actor and dancer, he played opposite Joan Turner, his future wife. Shortly after their work together, he received a year’s appointment to England, where he continued to excel, to the extent that more than one theater troupe invited him to remain, six thousand miles or so away from his home.
Even at this point, in his early-to-mid twenties, however, he knew that his calling in life was to serve Chile’s and Latin America’s people, so sooner rather than later he returned to his studies and his homeland. He received offers to direct where he had been studying soon enough.
Upon graduation, his capacity to engage and bring out the best in people led to repeated successes as a director. So much so was he magical in this ability to orchestrate dramatic production that An Appearance of Happiness, one of the first plays that he produced more or less on his own, ended up touring four other Latin American countries.
One of those countries was Cuba, and he immediately recognized that what was happening in education, in agriculture, in health care, and in the organization of social relations generally, were all apropos to what his family and friends and neighbors had long needed on the West coast of Latin America. An affiliation with communism matured into an identification as a Communist.
After the early 1960’s, his theater work became more and more political. His were works that suggested the possibilities for change, the tragedies of reactionary thinking, and the fundamental, core problem of empire—or as he would put it, of “Yankee imperialism.” In the late 1960’s, he produced a version of Viet Rock that ended up being wildly popular, one of several other touring gigs that took him to Western and Eastern Europe and Russia and the United States, as well as traveling on other occasions to various Latin American venues. He even met with and dedicated a song to a Vietnamese delegation in Scandinavia as the war there was turning decisively against the United States.
Parallel to his theatrical labors, he continued to collect and curate folksongs and folk stories of Chile. His voice’s sweet tenor clarity, his glorious good looks, and his natural enthusiasm on stage led to his making contact with such musicians and seminal Chilean performers as Violeta Parra, with whose son Victor formed a lifelong friendship.
Angel Parra purportedly was responsible for Victor’s rise as a folk-singing star. The young Parra had started a club in Santiago—soon replicated elsewhere in Chile—where intimate spaces and freewheeling songfests began to draw regular and enthusiastic crowds.
At one such outpouring of song and energy, Angel supposedly threw a guitar to Victor in the audience and commanded, “Ahora, a cantar!” Before long, recording contracts, international chances to play, and a lifelong adoration of Pete Seeger translated into people’s more commonly recalling him as a songbird rather than an actor and director and producer.
The key point in this regard is that all of this effort was much the same for Victor. The purpose of his life was the engagement with communities, the creation of performance and touching of consciousness in such a way as to impel common folks to develop a regard for their power, an understanding of their lives and problems, and a willingness to try to do things on their own behalf.
Again and again, the still young singer and creator made this clear in his public articulation of his life. He was a servant of the people, and success—with its measures of love and joy, challenge and conflict—was something that he measured in terms other than those of the music business accountant. His was a mission to shift the world rather than to become, in the American paradigm, “rich and famous.”
‘New Songs,’ New Politics—Salvador Allende’s & Unidad Popular’s Social Roots
The huge role that the so-called ‘New-Song movement’ played in the popular embrace of Salvador Allende’s faith in democratic socialism would be difficult to overestimate. While plenty of intellectual Marxists—and even, despite their suspicions of the petty bourgeois, communisty thinkers and strategists—supported this longstanding political activist, his Unidad Popular Party was overwhelmingly a working class and grassroots movement that increasingly also drew adherents from among poor rural populations.
A to-some-extent fortunate confluence coincided with this development as the 1960’s came to a close. The Communists had long supported folk musicians such as Violeta Parra, as well as new groups such as Quilapayun also affiliated with party goals and played at events and festivals that were radical and progressive.
But only when the party pressed a few hundred Long-Play records and instantly sold them all did this energy become a phenomenon that could truly finance a campaign. After helping to elect Allende, in fact, the Communist ‘label,’ DICAP, was selling nearly a quarter million albums a year. Moreover, after the U.P. electoral victory, Allende’s cultural ministry partially nationalized the primary large commercial recording operation in the country, owned by RCA, which led both to expanded volume and sales—the ‘local’ operation had held down its output to promote North American products—to further inroads by radicals of various stripes in the cultural realm.
A hugely successful annual folk festival, cosponsored by the Catholic University, started in 1968, and this too advanced the Nueva Cancion Chilena further still. As chronicler Nancy Morris points out, Jara from its inception became even more popular than he already was, splitting a significant prize at the first gathering for the Best Song.
Nor did this suggest even a tiny diminution of political fervor or poignant social commentary. Plegaria a un Labrador, or Prayer to a Peasant, was the winning number, and it very explicitly advocated rural/urban working class unity, a strategic goal of import on the part of both U.P. and the Communist Party.
Angel Parra and Victor Jara both had played for Allende through his 1964 and 1970 campaigns, the first one a narrow loss that resulted in part because of CIA propaganda and fiscal support for Eduardo Frei. The rise of a broad based movement stemmed from a mixture of this political connection and the deeply felt working class identification of an honestly community-based musical upsurge. The cultural dimension of politics became central to developing winning coalitions and strategies.
Though one might find reason to explore much more broadly and deeply in this matter of the cultural connection in Allende’s rise to power, one further point bears special note. The party’s rousing campaign song, Venceremos!, or We Will Win!, was addictive in its tuneful harmony and roused crowds of many thousands, or tens of thousands repeatedly during the campaign.
One annalist of ‘victory’ put the case thus. “When the socialist politician Salvador Allende dramatically won Chile’s presidential election in 1970, a powerful cultural movement accompanied him to power. Folk singers emerged at the forefront, proving that music could help forge the birth of a new society. As the CIA actively funded opposition media against Allende during his campaign, the New Chilean Song Movement rose to prominence, viscerally persuading voters with its music. Víctor Jara, a central protagonist at the time, became an icon in Chile, Latin America, and beyond for his revolutionary lyrics and life. Inti-Illimani, Quilapayún, and other musicians contributed by singing before audiences of workers outside factories or campesinos in Chile’s rural countryside.”
Nor did the fervor of this eruption of popular folk culture diminish after Allende’s ascension to the chief executive’s position. On the contrary, it at least held its own through 1973, acting to expand its lyrical and performance outreach in both theater and poetry and dance as well as song. Lack of commercial pressure meant that more people were listening, seeing, and otherwise participating in an actual artistic scene, instead of more money flowing to profit centers because of more sales of commodities that had only a random connection to either artistry or human need.
“Within this climate of affiliation with art, popular musicians moved decisively toward the creation of instrumental music with high levels of sophistication. Three factors came together in the rise of instrumental music within the context of NCC: the existence of instrumental music in Andean culture, which fed strongly into the NCC movement, as we have seen, and appeared in the work of Violeta Parra and Víctor Jara; the use of instrumental music as incidental music for theater and dance; and the exploration of the possibilities of the guitar, NCC’s central instrument.”
The evidence of this phenomenon—musical, visual, and documentary—rouse a sense of wonder at the power of el pueblo. Astonishment at the capacity of people to mobilize and connect with self-expression and artistic creations, for their own purposes rather than for commerce, offers an object lesson in what the intersection of culture and politics might be.
In the event, one might legitimately advance a thesis that part of what Pinochet guaranteed his Yankee sponsors was that no more of such a nonsensical practice —people-powered, grassroots, not-for-profit art—would occur under Augusto’s august and violent imprimatur. Whatever the case may be, after assassinating the political elite of the Unidad Popular, a substantial number of the prioritized contract killings were against artists, of which Victor Jara’s is the most infamous.
One of the new juntas first acts was the precise outlawing of Nueva Cancion Chilena itself. Artists fled the country as fast as news of Jara’s severed fingers spread —or perhaps Junta thugs had merely battered and broken Jara’s hands.
In addition to providing yet another proof that ‘free markets’ are at absolute best fraudulent poses, a further upshot of this unfolding, CIA-sponsored mayhem, was a complete marginalization of community culture or grassroots artistic participation. “Under the military dicatorship, the task of Canto Nuevo(N.C.C.’s successor) has been to communicate the reality of a people whose outlets for group expression and social interaction have been intentionally and systematically restricted. As such, Canto Nuevo has been inherently dissident and marginalized since its inception.”
As Operation Condor took shape in the aftermath of Washington’s and Santiago’s collaboration in crimes against humanity, the spread of ‘new-song’ camps might have experienced some degree of a tempering of what had appeared to be likely to show up as a wildfire event in much of the region. Pinochet’s thugs and the torture that they practiced do not permit an answer to this question, for what had blossomed in Chile had succumbed to scorched-earth tactics at the behest of Yankee capital.
A Crushing Coup—Murder’s Signature Centrality to U.S. Imperial Sway
As noted above, rational disagreement about the broad parameters of what actually happened in Chile over the decade 1965-75 is impossible. Murder and mayhem, spycraft and sabotage, lies and deceit, fraud and depredation against a democratically socialist Chile established the ‘order-of-battle’ in such a fashion that the United States never deviated from this criminal construction of plunder and plutocracy.
Joan Jara, Victor’s wife and the author of his biography, Victor Jara: An Unfinished Song, summarized that the final authorization for overthrowing Allende, a directive that was a death warrant for her husband, probably resulted not from Unidad Popular’s problemsbut from the fact that the majority of Chileans were better off despite all-out economic warfare on the part of the U.S. against Chile.
Ms. Jara called U.P.’s gaining of seats and popular votes in Chile’s midterm elections, both of which happened early in 1973, “almost unprecedented” in Chilean history. Moreover, anti-feminist attacks on Allende had backfired, as women were continuing to vote their interests and not reactionary, Church-backed fantasies.
In this context, Victor Jara, though very anxious and ‘out-of-his-element’ as a public speaker, took to the stump to warn of Yankee and plutocrat plans for plunder. “(F)or the first time in his life … he made campaigning political speeches. It wasn’t a moment to hang back and say, ‘No, I can’t. I’m an artist, not a politician.’ It made Victor very nervous because he wasn’t used to that kind of speaking, but he was ready to do anything that was useful, and in his own informal way he explained to people why it was necessary, at all costs, to support the Popular Unity government and to prevent the reactionary opposition from overthrowing Allende before his term as President was completed. The rapid rise of fascism in Chile had to be halted.”
But the writing was literally ‘on the wall’ that fascism was the treasonous Chilean elites’ general response to such social improvement. “Djakarta’s coming” warnings sprouted everywhere, spray painted graffiti, dripping blood red threat, “a reminder of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of communists in Indonesia in 1965.”
Peter Kornbluh’s work through the National Security Archive at George Washington University has led the powerful exposition of the U.S. thuggery in recruiting, financing, and operationalizing mass murder in Chile. This is not how Professor Kornbluh would state the matter. He is a careful scholar.
“That the secrecy surrounding Chile and U.S. relations with Pinochet has been maintained for so long reflects both the controversial nature of this past, as well as its continuing relevance to the ongoing and future debate over American interventions abroad and the moral foundations of U.S. foreign policy. The declassified documents in the following pages are, in essence, a dossier in atrocity and accountability, addressing not only the general and his regime, but also the shameful record of U.S. support for bloodshed and dictatorship.”
In the eleven years since he published The Pinochet File, the director of the National Security Archive’s Chile Documentation Project has become more forceful in his accusations. Just recently in Foreign Affairs, he gained access to the establishment forum’s pages to make his case quite strongly indeed. He was responding to an earlier article, “What Really Happened in Chile?” that argued that the entire mess was in the nature of a series of unfortunate events, a combination of errors all around and overreaching on the part of Santiago’s armed forces.
“In (Jack Devine’s) view, the military coup and the bloody Pinochet dictatorship, which lasted nearly 17 years, were unfortunate but unintended consequences. But that is not what really happened in Chile. …(I)n the fall of 1970, U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered the CIA to orchestrate a military putsch that would prevent the recently elected Allende from assuming office. …Devine benignly characterizes (this) as a misguided covert action. In fact, (it) centered on a violent criminal scheme. The plan was to kidnap Chile’s commander in chief, General René Schneider, who firmly opposed the idea of a military coup. ‘The CIA was aware of the plan,’ Devine notes, as if the agency were an innocent bystander, simply gathering intelligence on the operation. The truth is far more sinister. The Schneider operation was a CIA-sponsored plot: CIA officials pressed the agency’s station in Santiago to come up with a way to ‘remove’ Schneider because he was standing in the way of a military coup. CIA representatives met repeatedly with the conspirators, led by a retired Chilean army general, Roberto Viaux, and an active-duty brigadier general, Camilo Valenzuela. On October 19, CIA headquarters sent the station six untraceable submachine guns and ammunition in a diplomatic pouch, to be provided to the plotters. The agency also provided $50,000 to Valenzuela to bankroll the operation and thousands more to Viaux to keep the operation ‘financially lubricated,’ as one CIA cable stated. Given the risks involved, the CIA issued the plotters life insurance policies.”
Nor does Kornbluh focus only on the early days of Allende’s regime and the attempts then to unseat the nearly-elected President. Both in his book and his various other writings on this massive crime against humanity that the United States orchestrated, he details the way that U.S. operatives and their counterparts in the Southern Cone established the necessary protocols for either a ‘surgical removal’ of Allende, or, if he refused to cooperate, his assassination.
In his just-published article, this careful scholar notes, “A May 1973 memorandum to CIA Director James Schlesinger noted that the agency had ‘accelerated efforts against the military target’ in order to ‘better monitor any coup plotting and bring our influence to bear on key military commanders so that they might play a decisive role on the side of the coup forces.’ Moreover, the CIA was not the only part of the U.S. government bringing its influence to bear. The U.S. Department of Defense also maintained contact with the generals. Indeed, a full year before the coup, U.S. military officials met with Pinochet and his aides in the Panama Canal Zone. A declassified intelligence report recorded Pinochet’s belief that Allende ‘must be forced to step down or be eliminated’ and a clear message from U.S. Army officers in response: the ‘U.S. will support [a] coup against Allende with ‘whatever means necessary’ when the time comes.’”
In other words, as Victor Jara sweated over his ‘toastmaster’ duties and his wife worried about implicit threats to their lives, the U.S. was one hundred percent behind the conspiracy to torture and maim and kill and ‘disappear’ those who stood for social progress in Chile. Moreover, hundreds of thousands of pages from the State Department, the CIA, earlier investigations such as the Church Senate Committee Hearings, and more, further amplify the vicious impunity with which the ‘leaders of the free world’ have conducted themselves toward our ‘good neighbor’ to the South.
These records, likely now representing a majority of the once uniformly classified and unavailable documentation of U.S. and Chilean elite-perfidy, are far from all the assessments that indict the Nixon, Kissinger, Pinochet, and the entire array of lower-level personnel and institutional arrangements that characterize the ‘Military-Industrial-Complex,’ the ‘Intelligence-Establishment,’ or any of the other descriptors of United States empire. While we needn’t explore anything like a complete range of such items, a few additional investigations do implore citizens to take note and pay attention.
The stalwart folks at School of America’s Watch convey to the interested researcher that plus-or-minus one-in-seven of Chile’s officer corps in the 1970’s had studied at the so-called School of the Americas. The nickname ‘School of Assassins’ was in large measure a rational descriptor. Augusto Pinochet was not one of them, but the U.S. has named a building at the ‘campus’ in his ‘honor.’
The Spanish language training manuals from SOA detailed for enrolled officers the niceties of infiltrating popular organizations, planting agents provocateurs, planning assassinations, conducting tortures of various sorts, and so on and so forth. This was the training for democracy that the U.S. Department of Defense conducted at its facility in Panama, which eventually relocated to Fort Benning in Georgia, where it remains to this day, a target for an annual mass demonstration just before Thanksgiving. The protest opposes teaching ‘public servants’ the crafts of murder and mayhem, and the gathering commemorates the millions of SOA victims, including those from Chile, such as Victor Jara.
A substantial spate of publications from the period prior to substantial declassification, as well as additional investigators since President Clinton’s orders in 1999 and 2000 to open up the secrecy vaults just a tad, has also proffered data and analysis of the horrors that U.S. authorities planned and financed against untold thousands of Chilean—and later other Latino—victims.
To suggest the import of what is accessible, we will examine a single such article from Atlantic Magazine in 1982. Legendary investigator Seymour Hersh delivered “The Price of Power—Kissinger, Nixon and Chile.” Twenty years prior to Peter Kornbluh’s work, with only informants and clever acuity in documentary research, Hersh assembled a powerful case—based on documentation, testimony, and circumstance—that the U.S. had criminally deposed Salvador Allende.
The able author assembles a litany of facts and analysis to show criminal conspiracy, accessory to murder, and general skullduggery on the part of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his National Security Adviser. Others too played occasionally crucial but often ancillary or support roles.
One of Hersh’s witnesses was a Navy Yeoman who had just replaced a civilian secretary in an extremely optimum job for finding things out. He assisted the Admiral who acted as liaison between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Security Council.
While this lengthy and deeply reported analysis contains many revelations, this young Mormon enlisted man, in pursuit of a commission and a career in service to his country and his God and freedom, gives readers a dose of the horror and tragedy that have typified American foreign policy for well over the last century.
His superior officer “was deeply involved in the secret Kissinger and Nixon operations against Salvador Allende Gossens…who had astounded the Central Intelligence Agency and the White House by winning the September 4 popular election… . Radford, who arrived at his new post a few weeks after the Chilean election, vividly recalls the sense of crisis: ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen. It was a real blow. All of a sudden, the pudding blew up on the stove.’ Admiral Robinson and his superiors were ‘wringing their hands’ over Chile, Radford says, ‘almost as if they [the Chileans] were errant children.’ Over the next few weeks, Radford says, he saw many sensitive memoranda and options papers, as the bureaucracy sought to prevent Allende from assuming office. Among the options was a proposal to assassinate Allende. One options paper ‘discussed various ways of doing it,’ Radford says. ‘Either we have somebody in the country do it, or we do it ourselves. I was stunned; I was aghast. It stuck in my mind so much because for the first time in my life, I realized that my government actively was involved in planning to kill people.’ The options papers had been prepared for Nixon in the weeks after Allende’s election. ‘They were exploring ways to get Allende out of there,’ Radford says, and murder was one of the ways. The thrust of the option was clear: ‘I don’t know if they used the word assassinate, but it was to get rid of him, to terminate him—he was to go.’”
Additional context for what this young recruit discovered about his country was that all of this planning to crucify Chile’s democracy was taking place in “one of the CIA’s success stories” from the 1960’s. The agency had manipulated elections, bought media and politicians with equal alacrity, and generally run the country like a casino for the copper companies and purveyors of soft-drinks and telecommunications services.
From an entirely different background and perspective Peter Winn also has an immense trove of data and insight to convey to willing readers. Studying Chile while on sabbatical from Yale when the coup happened, he might nearly have found himself alongside Victor Jara at the notorious stadium and its killing fields. He was trying to collect oral histories—of which he already had several hundred—from the just recently dispossessed workers who had maintained control, before Allende’s murder, of the giant Yarur Textile Mill near Santiago.
In early December, “I was denounced anonymously, detained by the Army, and taken at bayonet point to a regimental barracks, where I was interrogated at midnight by its commander. After three days of interrogation and investigation, he informed me, ‘We have no proof that you have committed a crime, exactly speaking, Professor Winn, but talking with workers, interviewing union leaders, all this is very suspicious. We do not want anyone talking to our workers.”
What the courageous academic conveys in his monograph, Weavers of Revolution: the Yarur Workers and Chile’s Road to Socialism, is that under Allende the nationalized factory at Yarur, the largest textile operation in Chile was succeeding. Despite the concerted efforts of every powerbroker and gatekeeper with whom the company had to deal as a labor collective, wages were up, productivity was up, efficiency was way up, and the enterprise was viable in terms of income and outgo.
Nor were these former wage-earners and current owner-operators alone. Various other firms that Chile had turned over to employees were also making a go of things. This was the context for the march—hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Santiago in support of socialism—in the waning Southern Hemispheric Winter of 1972, exactly one year and one week before the unleashing of well-plotted homicidal mania.
“One month later, a work stoppage by a small group of truck owners in… .the far South…triggered a national walkout and lockout by merchants and manufacturers, professionals and shopkeepers, that rapidly engulfed Chile in a virtual class war, complete with paramilitary attacks and terrorist bombings. At bottom Paro de Octobre…was a ‘general strike’ of the bourgeoisie, intended to demonstrate their power as a class, stop the advance toward socialism, and create the conditions within which Allende could be ousted—by military coup or Congressional impeachment.”
The “Demands of Chile,” the product of a year’s planning that in retrospect one can say definitely involved support from U.S. institutions, were non-negotiable. Either Popular Unity would “reverse its revolutionary course, abandon its socialist goals, and surrender its political project,” or the deluge would ensue.
Salvador Allende died defending his theretofore democratic approach to revolution with a machine gun in his hands. While some of his closest comrades joined him, most of the toilers at the cotton mill demurred at the notion of ‘armed resistance.’ The time for the training and equipping to effect such an eventuality was many months, or even years, prior to Pinochet’s pragmatic execution of mass murder.
Communists had advised against such steps as training and arming the work force to resist the military in the event of a coup “as provocative, and the Socialists and the MIR(Moviemiento de lzquierda Revolucionaria, or Movement of the Revolutionary Left) proved themselves ‘just theoreticians, not practical revolutionaries,’ who failed to prepare for the military coup that they themselves had predicted.”
A few handfuls of plants and firms did resist the putsch. The junta deployed its completely equipped modern heavy weaponry against these makeshift ‘barricades’ one by one and crushed them all. “Within a week, the illusion of ‘popular power’ had been destroyed, leftist fantasies of a division in the military or a popular rising dispelled, and a military dictatorship consolidated. The fighting was over, but the killing had just begun. During the weeks that followed, some 25,000 Chileans were killed by their own armed forces.”
This would amount to plus-or-minus a million casualties in a nation the size of today’s United States. This meticulous and clearly brilliant and brave young professor explained why these barbaric steps were essential from the perspective of the Chilean ruling class—and, behind the scenes, their gringo sponsors.
Chile’s increasingly organized and militant working class was the only social force that might muster the capacity to oppose the military. Thus, calculated decimation was an important lesson to impart, along with firings and blacklists and permanent unemployment for as much as 20% of the industrial leftists who, unslaughtered, remained behind.
“The scope and intensity of the repression reflected the extent and depth of popular mobilization in Chile by September, 1973. It was an ironic tribute to the success of the revolution from below.”
Did Pinochet at least ‘make the trains run on time,’ as the pundit apologists for Mussolini suggested about Il Duce? This is in some ways the most noisome aspect of the whole affair. The moderate and conservative members of the working class, the vaunted ‘shopkeepers’ and small business owners—many of whom nodded smugly at the butcher’s butchery—as well as the young and the old and anyone socially vulnerable, were all, within a decade of Pinochet’s predatory rampage, more or less utterly destitute, with prospects worse than ever before in verdant Chile’s modern history.
How and why this transpired, though, truly describes the parameters of a tragedy. One assessment develops this reasoning clearly and incisively.
“Pinochet, with the help of 400 CIA advisers, privatized the social and welfare system and destroyed the Chilean trade union movement. As Malcolm Coad pointed out: ‘This was achieved through wholesale privatisation, a complete opening to the international economy, fixing the exchange rate artificially low, and pumping in foreign loans during the petro-dollar glut of the late 1970s. The result was the destruction of national industry and much of agriculture, then near-collapse in the early 1980s amid a frenzy of speculation, consumer imports, and debt crisis. The state bailed out most of the country’s banking sector and unemployment rose to an official level of over 30 per cent.’”
And yet still additional sources ought to be on the conscientious observer’s radar screen so to speak. At the very least, such repositories as the following need to be available for examination.
*The Defense Intelligence Agency’s and National Security Agency’s records without any doubt contain masses of still-secret datasets that would help understand processes and protocols in this case.
*Financial, industrial, and media archives that are either miraculously open or possibly liable to legal discovery—particularly among the food processing, copper, and services companies that already show up as part of CIA planning, need to be under scrutiny, and researchers need to develop plans to obtain such records.
*Massive archives in Spanish, not only in Chile, but in other Operation CONDOR States are generally not on the roadmap of English readers; this needs to change, and quickly.
*Cuban and possibly other State-level sources of data also contain material that could completely upend ‘plausible deniability’ in these matters; in addition to discerning what holdings might be accessible in Havana, the records of Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela might be caches that a clever researcher might get hold of.
*Court and administrative records from both the United States and abroad, in both civil and criminal filings, are often full of attachments to motions and other pleadings; with the right leverage and plenty of diligence, at least some of such materials might yield occasional treasures.
In considering such monumental tasks as this essay introduces, in even making ourselves aware of the information that exists if we’re willing to ferret it out, the basic question that comes to mind is simple to state: “How much do we want to know about how the world really works?” And we might add, “How badly do we want to find out?”
The Spindoctor not only desperately loves to probe how things operate, but he also can’t help himself: he wants people to start acting like they want to be responsible citizens despite how risky that seems, despite what a complete and utter pain-in-the-ass the whole process can be. He asks that readers who manage to get this far, at the very heart of this narrative, listen to a young woman from Chile, one of the interviewees for this project. She is the great granddaughter of the junta’s first possible victim, Arturo Araya III, who died on July 27, 1973 with a bullet in his lung, while the ambulance that his in-laws had summoned failed to appear for nearly an hour.
Here is the question that Josefa fielded from us. “As someone born after 1990, what role do you think the dictatorship has in your life, and that of your generation? Does it affect you, and if so, how?”
And this is how she answered. “It affects us tremendously, and for many reasons. More than anything I think it’s a thing about a common history, and building a collective identity; we are located in a social context that is marked everywhere by the things that happened during the dictatorship. Everything from the laws that govern our country and shape our lives up to the fact that the dictatorship left the social fabric fractured. For me, the dictatorship is a very deep wound in Chilean collective memory, perhaps the worst in our history, because it made Chileans confront and seek to destroy each other. I think that in order to heal the wound much is still missing: it is a process that is not yet even half accomplished. People of generations that did not live through it (nevertheless) live in the aftermath (that it) left and … continues to manifest. We all carry the weight of what happened during the dictatorship somehow—some in more direct ways and others more indirectly, but we all live on(in this world that comes from then) after all. We know people who had relatives who disappeared as prisoners, or people whose parents or grandparents were involved in the disappearances. (Not just) at a social level, but all areas of the Chilean social life are marked by what happened.”
Resisting State-Sponsored Terror—Inside Chile & Out
Direccion de Intelligentsia Nacional, or DINA, evolved as a result of such institutional expressions of U.S. hegemony as the Central Intelligence Agency, of course. Moreover, however, the already-mentioned Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, the former School of the Americas, continued to provide training to its special agents.
Many socialists and communists from Latin America see the Allende administration as an experiment. In such a view, perhaps a non-violent mechanism for achieving fundamental social change would be possible.
This underlay the decision not to arm workers, despite all the signs that the U.S. would support a vile killing thrust against a democratically selected group of leaders, and despite all the evidence of history that then vast numbers of innocents would likely face torture and painful death and disappearance at the hands of plotters and psychopaths and efficiency experts in charge of electroshock and clean-up. That the results of this science project in the political arts do not look favorable to friendly approaches to social change is, to say the least, an understatement.
Nor did the aftermath of the first months of slaughter attenuate such a dire perspective, as Professor Winn made clear above. Two very brief additional bits will round out this section.
One was the inability of the ‘theorists’ at MIR to mount a successful underground resistance to Pinochet’s fascism. Within a year of the putsch, more or less, Miguel Enriquez and other leaders of the organization were all dead or effectively no longer present and accounted for in Chile.
The other was the much wider scope that Chile’s terrorism assumed in the years following its mass killing of its own citizens. This basically concerned such joint ventures as mutual assistance among assassins in Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay, which we now know as Operation CONDOR.
The assassination of a Chilean military man in Argentina who remained loyal to Allende, Carlos Prats, caused a significant outcry at the time. Lawsuits against the perpetrators have made their way through the Federal Courts of the United States. Some evidence suggests that various official agents of the United States played roles in the work of the cooperating Southern Cone intelligence agencies.
The second instance of a broadening of the reach of Chile’s ‘terror police,’ the DINA, involved a massive car bomb on the streets of the District of Columbia. The assassination of an opponent of Pinochet, Orlando Letelier, not only severed the former diplomats legs but also killed his assistant, Ronnie Moffitt, and caused crippling injuries to Ms. Moffitt’s husband.
From Cautious Democratic Resurgence to Attempted Truth & Reconciliation
Many generations might need to pass before anything like general or routine comity could be possible. John L. Rector’s The History of Chileconcludes with a sober note that, even after thirty years, recriminations between Communists and the “far right” of the U.D.I. continue—if not unabated, then still powerful.
A retired Naval officer from Chile, Arturo Araya IV, also noted this tendency. “All many people want now is to be victims and to blame Pinochet and the government for their problems.” He also mentions how, in his estimation, “almost all” the former adherents of the dictator skulk about “with guilty expressions on their faces, turning every corner as if they suspect they will soon be arrested.”
He himself initiated a lawsuit against the military for its possible role and likely cover-up of the killing of his father, the Naval attaché whose connections with Cuba may have played a part in his targeting. He and others in the family, who had in general accepted Pinochet’s rule when it happened and on occasion strongly backed it, gathered together after Señor Araya had issued a press release that announced the Court’s acceptance of this litigation.
Moreover, the recent trials and possible convictions of some of the men responsible for Victor Jara’s torture and murder have come to pass. His widow, his children, his supporters still honor his life and celebrate such steps as these developments, which they view as something resembling moves toward justice and validation.
Joan Jara, who lost her husband forty-one years ago, has also initiated a civil suit in the United States, applying the Alien Torts Claim Act and other theories. She is seeking damages for the extrajudicial torture and murder of her husband by Pedro Barrientos, who now lives in Miami, one of the lieutenants in charge of the folksinger at the stadium that now bears Victor Jara’s name.
Whatever transpires in such matters, the original amnesties for military personnel that Pinochet negotiated in 1989 no longer apply uniformly. Just now, President Michelle Bachelet—whose father of course was a victim of the Pinochetistas—has announced while visiting Mexico to show solidarity for disappeared students there the sentencing of eleven former agents of the junta. Manuel Contreras, the leading killer among them all—each of whose convictions were for promoting “forced disappearance”—faces 426 years in prison for his crimes.
Yet other interviewees suggest that “nobody is much interested in all that old stuff.” And, no doubt, ‘life goes on,’ as the saying would have us believe.
Still, though one might develop a much longer discourse about this set of issues, even a cursory glimpse of contemporary Chile does prove that some citizens continue to struggle with the concepts of truth and reconciliation. That such a focus persists may offer the only hope for avoiding a repeat of 9/11/1973.
A distinguished Chilean scholar has expressed this idea most forcefully. Manuel Carreton argues that without “an official commemoration, we have no country.” The award-winning sociologist specifies both the what and the how of such a process. ”A great need exists for a formal collective memory, transmitted through the educational system, quantified by measures of justice and truth, but also of punishment.”
He completes his presentation with concepts with which arguably every American, whether Northern or Southern in origin, needs to be familiar. “The national conscience must become one about this, one that condemns the military coup and the violation of human rights. Making a purely political assessment of our historical past, and not a moral one, will do more to divide us than to unite us and help move Chile forward.”
Concluding Concepts—Imperialism & Humanity Can No Longer Coexist
Near the end of a long journey, this narrative would hope that readers consider six points in conclusion. Prior to stating those items, the narrator asks folks to ponder a chilling bit of nihilism that one of history’s hypercapitalists expressed over a century before the here and now.
In essence, if we are to avoid eviscerating ourselves, we must avoid fulfilling the prophecy of robber baron Jay Gould. “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
With the possible exception of Costa Rica, the United States has joined with ruling elites in every Hispanic or Portuguese speaking country in the hemisphere so as to cause Gould’s ghoulish prediction to transpire. Che Guevara, in speaking of the U.S. attempts to unseat Cuba’s revolution, articulates this notion in terms that are national in their scope and yet obviously entail one sector of workers’ seeking to destroy another proletarian contingent.
“From the beginning, it was generally understood in Latin America that the United States backed the invasion (at the Bay of Pigs), and that it would therefore be successful (of course, it was not),… a fait accompli… . (Total puppets) Haiti and the Dominican Republic … had already broken or suspended relations with Cuba… . Honduras joined the anti-Castro camp, suspending relations in April and proposing the formation of an alliance of Central American and Caribbean nations to have it out with Cuba by force. The proposal—which was also suggested independently by Nicaragua—was quietly dropped” when the rest of the hemisphere either vacillated or actively and strongly opposed any such scheme of using the working class soldiers of the hemisphere to snuff the Cuban rejection of imperial domination. Notably, in Chile, “the government found strong opposition in all circles to open military intervention by any state against the Castro regime.”
In these presentations, Che Guevara was quoting from a lengthy U.S. State Department cable that the Cubans had intercepted. Later in this missive, the gringos demonstrate further their playing the role of Mr. Gould in seeking to set one set of toilers against another.
“In every respect, (despite the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation), the member states of the OAS are now less hostile toward United States intervention in Cuba than before the invasion, but a majority of them—including … more than half the population of Latin America(in Mexico and Brazil)—are not willing to intervene actively or even to join a quarantine against Cuba. …(Especially), (a)s long as Brazil refuses to act against Castro, it is probably that a number of other nations, including Argentina and Chile, will not wish to risk adverse internal repercussions to please the United States.”
As the rambling cable draws to a close, it expresses why a nation, like Gould, might want to hire ‘half the working class’ to destroy the other half. “The most immediate danger of Castro’s example for Latin America might well be the danger to the stability of those governments that are at present attempting evolutionary social and economic change, rather than for those that have tried to prevent such changes, in part because of the tensions and awakened hopes accompanying such social changes and economic development. …The Alliance for Progress might well furnish the stimulus to carry out more intensive reform programs, but unless these programs are started quickly and soon begin to show positive results,…they will not be enough of a counterweight to increasing pressure from the extreme left. The years ahead will…witness a race between those forces that are attempting to initiate evolutionary reform programs and those that are trying to generate support by the masses for fundamental economic and social revolution.”
A FIRST DEDUCTION
Of course, Che was not Chilean. Nor were clear violations of international law against Cuba attacks on Chile. But these evident admissions impel the thinker to a first inference that flows from this essay: the decimation of Salvador Allende and allies like Victor Jara both intended to hurt and sought to undermine Cuba’s revolution, and by extension the possibility to obtain social democracy in Latin America’s ‘real world.’
In similar fashion as the poet and singer whose profiles appear here, Che was the loathed serpent in capital’s faux edenic garden, where at least the rich lived like emperors and empresses, and more or less everything was on sale for money to purchase. He was Fidel’s comrade and persisted in advancing the idea of a hemispheric armed uproar against gringo wealth and hegemony.
Moreover, real links joined Havana and Santiago. One of Che’s chief financial advisers in restructuring Cuban agriculture and industry was the Chilean, Carlos Romeo. A member of the inner circle of Chile’s national bank under both Frei and Allende, Romeo demonstrated both technical excellence and socialist fervor in his practice of economics.
Pablo Neruda also promoted the Cuban revolution as a model; more importantly, he foresaw that the consciousness of Cuban success would free his countrymen and working people around the world from any slavish devotion to ‘free markets,’ which were never free, to commoditized models which ultimately impoverished workers to exactly the extent that they enriched the owners of everything, to holy righteousness that suppressed the true spirit and lusty wonder of human life.
And Victor Jara himself formed friendships in Cuba. He and Silvio Rodriguez sang together. Cuba received him as a distinguished guest. He also traveled more than once to the Soviet Union.
Moreover, even though Cuba’s more-or-less victorious uprising against capital’s various ‘mobs’ depended on armed and aggressive action, Cuba’s leadership in general suggested that Chile’s citizens commit themselves to a peaceful path to social democracy. Such statements were often enough completely explicit.
In 1971, “(s)tanding shoulder to shoulder with President Salvador Allende, Castro advised workers that Chile was not Cuba and that, in light of that country’s history, a parliamentary path, not a revolutionary one, would represent the ‘Chilean road to socialism.’ The result was the disarming of workers, who were thus unable to undertake an independent revolutionary struggle and were left unprepared for the military and right-wing parties led by the infamous General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew Allende and installed a dictatorship that killed tens of thousands of workers.”
Finally, two of the people that this essay’s developers interviewed about this matter also mentioned the importance of Cuba. One of these has requested anonymity. Monica Hayden, the other, had married the son of the naval attaché, Arturo Araya, Junior, whose murder on July 27, 1973, may have been the first strike against those members of the military who eschewed the coup. She pointed out that her former father-in-law had often worked with the Cubans and had that very evening returned from what he described, immediately before an assassin cut him down, as a “critically important” dinner at the Cuban Embassy.
In all kinds of ways, therefore, both the emanation of Chile’s Marxist moment and its evisceration by a U.S. organized terrorist operation resulted from, or at least felt the substantial influence of, Cuba’s inputs. That attacks on Allende also assaulted Castro is clearly evident. And such interconnections form the heart of what we can conclude about empire as seven billion cousins approach the third decade of the second millennium of the present pass.
A SECOND DEDUCTION
Closely related to the initial culminating thought, we ought to acknowledge that anti-communism guarantees anti-solidarity. The applicability of this idea to Latin America stems from events well before Augusto Pinochet’s murderous rampage. Pablo Neruda’s flight from his native land was a clear case of anti-communism. These tendencies became particularly powerful under the aegis of the young CIA during Eisenhower’s two administrations.
Even earlier, in the immediate aftermath of the U.S.’s ‘fanaticism’ in invading the nascent Soviet Union in order to “strangle the Bolshevik infant in its cradle,” U.S. leaders noted the utility of anti-red thinking in Hispanic America. Republican Secretary of State Frank Kellogg made this point with crystal clarity in 1927.
“The Bolshevik leaders have had very definite ideas in respect to the role which Mexico and Latin America are to play in their general program of world revolution. They have set up as one of their fundamental tasks the destruction of what they term American imperialism as a necessary prerequisite to the successful development of the international revolutionary movement in the New World. …Thus Mexico and Latin America are conceived as a base of activity against the United States.”
This sort of attitude had practical implications. In Chile, as we have seen, the CIA shortly after Cuba’s consolidation of its independence initiated sophisticated and potent actions against Allende’s 1964 campaign, based on the notion that he was communist. Recent scholarship has explored this situation in some detail, explaining precisely how such activity harmed solidarity among workers and other groups that might otherwise have found easier methods for working together.
“In order to prevent Allende’ selection, the U.S. government massively intervened in Chile’s 1964 presidential election (in the form of) the Scare Campaign. The Scare Campaign was a multimedia propaganda blitz that used fear to convince Chileans that they should vote for Eduardo Frei and against Salvador Allende. Working in conjunction with Chileans, the U.S. government developed, designed, ﬁnanced, and implemented the Scare Campaign. The campaign attempted to convince Chileans, especially women, that Allende’s triumph would lead to the destruction of the family and the undermining of women’sroles as mothers. By incorporating ideas about femininity and masculinity into its efforts to oppose Allende, this U.S.-sponsored propaganda campaign engendered anticommunism in Chile.”
Other analysis demonstrates that in the run-up to and aftermath of the murder of Allende and Jara and more, the CIA’s operations targeted staunch Catholics. In the event, many priests and churches were among those that facilitated people’s accepting this barbaric coup as ‘the lesser of two evils,’ given their inclination toward anti-communism that the U.S. had specifically amplified.
The practical upshot is simple, therefore. If the best interests of U.S. citizens is that Chilean citizens despise and turn on each other, then we should encourage anti-communism. Otherwise, we should fight it more or less religiously.
A THIRD DEDUCTION
Out of such ideation emerges an acceptance of the necessity of internationalism, and in the context of this storyline the absolute primacy of multilingual capacity, the ability to sing in many tongues, so to speak. This is, thus far in any event, a mostly pragmatic and common-sense perspective.
The role of cultural outpourings in favor of liberation and justice in one place means that the likelihood of outsiders’ willingness to crush these developments would rise inasmuch as the interlopers lacked the ability to understand the words and stories and songs that were promoting positive transformation. A quick search of the literature finds no expert concurrence that an idea of exactly this sort would contribute to progress.
Related notions, primarily concerning the operation of academia or the ability to follow literary narratives, do find a place in the recent canon. In any event, intuitively and rationally, the events of the 1970’s in Chile argue in favor of insisting that more Americans learn Spanish and more Chileans and other Latin Americans understand and speak English.
No matter what else one believes, anyway, the fact that two disparate bodies of knowledge—both of which contain millions of pages or more of documentation and evidence about the realities and beliefs which surround Santiago in 1973—exist, one Spanish and one English, militates in favor of a radical bilingualism. Nothing else can ever make sense, till the day arrives when the tower-of-Babel itself rises no more.
A FOURTH DEDUCTION
In promoting this deconstruction of Babel, as it were, we would also accede to the utter toxicity of secrecy. Varied pages from history’s annals reveal a few of the cases that evidence such a contention.
One of the ways that the Bolsheviks totally infuriated their erstwhile ‘allies’ against the Kaiser was in bringing to light the many hidden agendas that World War One’s elite combatants had shared. Such revelations undermined the sense of a ‘gentleman’s club’ that aristocrats and plutocrats alike wanted to be able to operate without any requisite naming of names or public scrutiny. Comprehensive histories of intelligence highlight that such presumption always serves as a prominent perquisite of ruling classes, especially in the modern era.
In the current context, multiple non-governmental organizations express their primary objectives in terms of bringing ‘government into the sunshine.’ The entire concept of a ‘Freedom of Information Act’ is that democracy necessitates this sort of access to what is happening.
James Madison states the issue most clearly, though he was writing nearly two hundred years ago. “A popular government without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.”
In relation to Chile’s past half century, multiple threads portray the hideous results that attend fatuous belief in keeping secrets. The problem is that, in the words of Leonard Cohen, “everybody knows that the dice were loaded.” Citizens are the only parties whom duplicity keeps in the dark, so that regular people fail to realize that the allegations against their leaders are true, that the ‘people who hate us’ have good cause to do so, and so on and so forth.
In the final analysis, a widely reviewed monograph—generally extolled by those who favor democracy over secret arrangements for terroristic control, and hated by so-called ‘conservatives’—exhibits the chilling results of governing-by-secret-agendas. The volume’s title and subtitle summarize this reasoning incisively: Killing Hope: U.S. Military & CIA Interventions Since World War Two.
Augusto Pinochet himself also indicates the way that secrecy and corruption, hypocrisy and horror, fit as seamlessly as a hand in a custom-made glove. Pinochet—whose murderous ways are now so thoroughly documented that trying to make excuses for the recently deceased homicidal butcher only makes his defenders appear to support killing-in-support of profiteering—enriched himself at every turn of his bloody career.
That this kind of allegation is not allegorical but completely concrete becomes clear when one looks at Pinochet himself. A 2005 “US Senate investigation of terrorist financing discovered that Pinochet had opened and closed at least 128 bank accounts at Riggs Bank and other US financial institutions in an apparent money-laundering operation. It seems that Pinochet had illegally obtained a $28m fortune during his period as a dictator of Chile.” Moreover, as noted in the section above on the dictator’s rule, this self-dealing was part of the payoff that he received for absolutely destroying the Chilean economy in service to profit maximization.
Without much effort, an investigator could make hay in whatever sunshine might be possible to cast on these dark fields for hundreds of thousands of pages or more. After all, we live in the age that has begun with the initiation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and the revelation of Daniel Ellsberg, to mention just a pair of instances at the beginning of the last fifty years, and that has ended, literally over the past few instants, in whatever new leak or cover-up or attempt to hide an agenda makes its way to the headlines of the moment.
The conclusion that democratic citizens could make about such events and patterns ought to be possible to state in a way that ordinary folks would nod agreement. “Since the primary ‘secrets’ in these cases are those that regular people don’t know, and since the harms of such lying hypocrisy almost always affect ordinary people at the same time that they enrich the cognoscenti, we should do away with such governance altogether.”
At the very least, we ought to be debating such propositions. Instead, the presumption of secrecy’s necessity continues. Meanwhile, the entire human race could die in a war that such mendacity makes, ultimately, inevitable.
Without the least doubt, another view entirely might also make sense. We could accede that rich fascist thugs will always practice dark arts of subterfuge and immolation, and that popular resistance to these killers must also therefore deploy the most murderous techniques and hidden methods in order to depose the Nazis and their minions.
If this kind of view appears less than salubrious, one might ponder what we should expect under the circumstances that prevail. In such a context—in which lies and half-truths in favor of the wealthy rule every policy and statute—citizens, at least arguably, have little choice but to revolt. An absolute ban on secrecy and a complete affirmation of transparency are the only operational decisions that make any sense in the alternative.
In such a case, Victor Jara might have lived as long as his murderers: Augusto Pinochet and Henry Kissinger, for instance. Otherwise, simple demands of self-defense turn the artist’s and the humanitarian’s thoughts toward dark and dire deeds indeed.
A FIFTH DEDUCTION
Having attained a vantage which, in most cases, allows our contextualization of reality based on the potential for as complete a compilation of knowledge as is possible, we should praise the power of enculturation and artistic expression and foster persistence in expressing such efforts at storytelling and articulation and depiction. And here, more or less precisely opposite the situation in regard to the third conclusion bubbles up. Instead of finding little or nothing in scholarly and authoritative sources about this point, the flood of data and hypothesis would require a lifetime of endeavor to delve in even a rudimentary way.
For example, one might consider the following search. Storytelling OR narrative OR “literary invention” importance OR critical OR utility, gathers a hundred and thirty-six million citations, more or less.
If we are to make sense of the horrors that seem ubiquitous in recent and historical memory, then stories about these matters arguably could serve humanity better than another tale about superheroes or another film about returning from heaven to console one’s lonely spouse. Victor Jara’s and Pablo Neruda’s continued place of honor in Chilean society speaks well of a nation with plenty of problems still and all kinds of potential for backsliding.
How about the good old U.S.A.? Different views are undoubtedly possible in responding to such an inquiry. Whatever the upshot of such conversations ended up being, however, that the U.S. needs a powerfully grassroots-driven storytelling revival—one that looks fearlessly at such subjects as the ‘original 9/11’—ought to be obvious.
A SIXTH DEDUCTION
Finally, in this fashion of generally examining what seems reasonable to conclude, we might pronounce as critical the belief that atonement and accountability, so long as the actors in a struggle still live, can never arrive too late in a process. This is another conclusion that one might spend centuries perfecting.
However, the intuitive moral and ethical voice that drives this author’s thinking makes this assertion feel like a no-brainer. Does a world of victimization and revenge serve us well? If not, then coming up with processes that forestall this cycle of decimation and mass-collective suicide would seem to make sense.
Anyhow, simply searching for data about these things is instructive. Googling “mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” for example elicits slightly more than 400,000 hits. Merely adding one word to this string, the name of a country—“mass murder” OR genocide OR “crimes against humanity” atonement OR “truth and reconciliation” chile—increases the useable results to almost 2,700,000.
Can one infer a clear interest in such processing of human pain from this? Not only is such a deduction ineluctable, but one might also add that the more specific the desire to make amends, the more likely we are to find a tremendous sense of need, a longing to achieve closure, to find a sense of justice, to reach a place where acknowledgment, if not compensation, is available in some shape, form, or fashion.
In addition to these specific effects of a broader and deeper understanding of Victor Jara and Chile, this essay definitely follows a rubric in which three components lie at the core of this sort of work. Every article that has a Spindoctor cast will contain each of these elements.
First is a deep reporting of what history has to tell us. The past so permeates the present that delving into the records and evidences that yesterday left will always make sense. Therefore, though many readers might object that they ‘just want the facts’ of the here and now—that, in essence, they ‘just want to know the way to Portland’—essays like this one proffer all manner of unexpected and often unexplicated pieces of the long ago, with some thoughts about how their impact continues this very second, and, assuming that people survive, on into the distant future as well.
The second is an attempt always to show the political economic—legal, military, technological, and other related inputs—realm in which any social eventuality unfolds. Thus, the C.I.A. background forms a part of this narrative. The industrial and trade elements of whatever one labels the United States—liberator or empire—also make appearances. The legal aspects of Chile’s and U.S. courts come to the fore at different points as well. One might easily continue.
Third comes a weaving together of the social relations that underlie occurrences—matters of class and caste and color and gender and plenty in addition besides. Certainly, Victor Jara’s sharecropper-parents in juxtaposition to his comrade Salvador’s upper-crust upbringing present definite instances of this sort of examination. The Weavers of Revolution characters in relation to their bosses and the military cadres who oversaw them after 1973 show another kind of this type of effort. And one could mention many other instances.
Coming to these conclusions and activating the general approach that this investigation suggests, obviously enough, will not likely yield instant popularity or overnight success. This kind of work goes against the grain in more ways than a writer would want to list. Nevertheless, adhering to such systematic rules, and in doing so being able to assert some fairly fundamental pointers to complete this work, does lead to the potential to learn how and why things have evolved as they have. This is true whether one examines the Ukraine, Chile, or any other place or aspect of social life and human political and economic development.
Such conclusions as result in all these matters can be risky in all sorts of ways. Whether one focuses on bringing to light what those in charge would just as soon leave in the dark or invests some hopeful alternative with meaning that elites have little or no interest in bringing to fruition, one takes chances that could be dire in doing this work. Still, inasmuch as inquiring minds do want to know, one may legitimately wonder, “what exactly would be a viable different option?”
In a similar vein, everthing in Victor Jara’s statements and actions showed that he understood quite fully what he was risking. But the alternative so sickened him that he kept confronting the potential that he would end up ‘in the belly of the beast,’ so to say.
In 1969, he wrote, “US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe. With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music’; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear. Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people. The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused. I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song.’”
No magic formula prohibits a resurgence of the homicidal fury in pursuit of power and lucre that characterized the crimes against humanity that took place as Salvador Allende tried to run a democratic government. This potential persistence of monstrous depredation remains true despite the lethal effects this would clearly be likely to have on hemispheric comity or even on human survival. In essence, we can collectively stumble toward mass collective suicide, or we can countenance democratic insistence that people share with each other.
The present situation in Cuba remains the most obvious example of this point. The wealthiest and most powerful empire in history has seen fit for fifty-four years to threaten and bully an island nation that, when it revolted against and displaced venal and vicious U.S. puppets, was one of the poorest places on Earth, with the lowest life expectancy in the hemisphere.
The plots to assassinate Fidel Castro are beyond dispute. Government documents admit as much in various forums. Had he dealt with these attacks in the same liberal manner as typified Salvador Allende’s dealings, he very probably would have ended up as the man whom he admired in Chile did: shot in the back, executed for defending democratic transformation.
Meanwhile, Cuba has advanced to be one of the more resilient economies in the region, and its citizens live nearly as long as—and arguably much more fully than—do U.S. residents. Yet, the ‘blockade’ against Communism remains in effect.
Fidel Castro, imprisoned in 1953 for seeking to overthrow the plutocratic puppet and killer, Fulgencio Batista, delivered a renowned presentation to the court when he faced twenty-six years behind bars—the title was “History Will Absolve Me.” Therein, he laid out an argument that was analogous to the economic program of Salvador Allende. “The nation’s future… cannot continue to depend on the selfish interests of a dozen big businessmen nor on the cold calculations of profits that ten or twelve magnates draw up in their air-conditioned offices. The country cannot continue begging on its knees for miracles from a few golden calves (which) cannot perform miracles of any kind. The problems of the Republic can be solved only if we (reject) ‘(s)tatesmen’ like Carlos Saladrigas, whose statesmanship consists of preserving the status quo and mouthing phrases like ‘absolute freedom of enterprise,’ ‘guarantees to investment capital,’ and ‘law of supply and demand,’… . Those ministers can chat away in a Fifth Avenue mansion until not even the dust of the bones of those whose problems require immediate solution remains. …A revolutionary government backed by the people and with the respect of the nation, after cleansing the different institutions of all venal and corrupt officials, would proceed immediately to the country’s industrialization, mobilizing all inactive capital, currently estimated at about 1.5 billion pesos, through the National Bank and the Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank, and submitting this mammoth task to experts and men of absolute competence totally removed from all political machines for study, direction, planning, and realization.”
This process of expropriation and transformation actually happened in Cuba. A nation of fewer than twenty million people, mobilized and overwhelmingly supportive of defending a revolutionary process, withstood the massed power and fanatical hatred of the world’s premier imperial machine. The lesson that capital learned was stark: under no conditions would they tolerate “another Cuba.”
In fact, much of the violence against human development in the hemisphere—whether under the guise of ‘neighborliness’ or ‘allying for progress’—stems directly from the loathing and fear that capitalist elites still feel toward Cuban socialism. If recent events in Venezuela, Argentina, Honduras, and Mexico—to name just a few obvious cases—provide any indication, truly barbarous upheaval persists as a preferred means for advancing U.S. corporate and imperial agendas.
Moreover, as the reader will have noticed already, a significant—arguably central—aspect of the U.S. decision to foment mayhem and death in Chile, flowed directly from Allende’s and his collaborators’ seeking deeper ties with Cuba. Victor Jara revered both Che and Fidel. Cuban poetry and performance followed Jara’s template, often enough, of “revolutionary music.” One purpose—and some would argue the primary objective—of the brutal example that Pinochet’s thugs made of Salvador and Victor and thousands of others was to destroy without mercy any hope of emulation of what Cuba had won.
Nevertheless, both in Chile and throughout the region, cultural dynamism reflects the human capacity for resistance and solidarity. Cuba just recently held a conference to increase the reach of local television networks and production, attended by over sixty nations. Rock, rap, and other ‘folk’ music acts from Mexico to Chile and Argentina have railed against imperial preponderance and powerfully asserted human rights and elimination of neo-colonial patterns of dominance. Film festivals that advance social democratic messaging are occurring more than occasionally in the various localities of Latin America. Literary awards proudly assert the ‘magic’ of Latino fiction and poetry, even as such Chilean authors as Isabel Allende, the niece of the butchered President, articulate a vision much more in tune with social justice than with the dictates of profiteering that ITT and PepsiCo and their financial and corporate cohorts promulgate now as much as they did in 1973.
An interlocutor like Ms. Allende, however, for all her hope in regard to a socially decent human prospect, does not shrink from describing the hideous horror that imperial imprimatur has yielded. “The Cuban Revolution was enough; no other socialist project would be tolerated, even if it was the result of a democratic election. On September 11, 1973, a military coup ended a century of democratic tradition in Chile and started the long reign of General Augusto Pinochet. Similar coups followed in other countries, and soon half the continent’s population was living in terror. This was a strategy designed in Washington and imposed upon the Latin American people by the economic and political forces of the right. In every instance the military acted as mercenaries (for) the privileged groups in power. Repression was organized on a large scale; torture, concentration camps, censorship, imprisonment without trial, and summary executions became common practices. Thousands of people ‘disappeared,’ masses of exiles and refugees left their countries running for their lives.”
Her uncle, from beyond the grave, also encourages thoughtful participants in social affairs to learn, to speak up, and to act on their own behalf. He consciously presented his plans for Chilean socialism, which the Chilean people chose, and which the United States confronted with monstrous murder.
“Now the question is, “Who is going to use whom?” …(T)he answer (obviously) is the proletariat. If it wasn’t so I wouldn’t be here. I am working for Socialism and through Socialism. As for the bourgeois state, at the present moment, we are seeking to overcome it, to overthrow it.… Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism. We already had success in creating a democratic, national government that is revolutionary and popular. That is how socialism begins, not with decrees.”
Bruce Springsteen, for the fortieth anniversary of the original, Chilean, 9/11 catastrophe—in which the attacking ‘terrorists’ are easy to identify and find, though they often remain at large, abroad, in the United States and elsewhere—went to Santiago to honor his fallen friend, Victor Jara. Before a rapt audience that interrupted his Spanish commemoration with frequent applause, he sang Jara’s anthem, “Manifesto.”
Springsteen, struggling to maintain his composure and to remember the Spanish which he had memorized, spoke simply. “’In 1988 we played for Amnesty International in Mendoza, Argentina, but Chile was in our hearts. We met many families of desaparecidos, who had pictures of their loved ones. It was a moment that stays with me forever. A political musician, Victor Jara, remains a great inspiration. It’s a gift to be here that I receive with humility.’”
Jara’s words, however, provide the most fitting exit from our assessment of this magnificent human being, who held up the hands from which his killers had just severed his fingers and raised his voice in song. Of course, he knew what that would yield, but he did not falter.
On September 7th, 1973, an interviewer asked him what ‘love’ meant. His response is iconic: “Love of my home, my wife and my children./ Love for the earth that helps me live./ Love for education and of work./ Love of others who work for the common good./ Love of justice as the instrument that provides equilibrium for human dignity./ Love of peace in order to enjoy one’s life./ Love of freedom, but not the freedom acquired at the expense of others’ freedom, but rather the freedom of all./ Love of freedom to live and exist, for the existence of my children, in my home, in my town, my city, among neighboring people./ Love for freedom in the environment in which we are required to forge our destiny./ Love of freedom without yokes: nor ours nor foreign.”