By Greg Godels
May 27, 2021
On May 15 and 16 of this year, the people of Chile began a process to overturn the nearly 50-year interruption of the nation’s social and economic development. With the election of a representative body to a forthcoming Constitutional Convention, Chilean voters may finally break away completely from the nightmare imposed by the military-fascist regime of Augusto Pinochet.
The Chilean military’s coup in 1973 broke what was then the longest streak of formal parliamentary rule in any South American country. The international left viewed the Popular Unity coalition government, led by the Socialist and Communist Parties and elected in 1970, as an experiment testing the viability of the parliamentary road to socialism. The Chilean ruling class and the US government also saw it the same way and were determined to crush it.
With the socialist experiment destroyed by the coup and fascist rule installed, Chile became a laboratory for the most aggressive policies of market fundamentalism: privatization, deregulation, and the absolute administration of economic life by profitability. Under the direction of the so-called Chicago School of political economy, Chile became the dream of die-hard free-marketeers: a veritable Hobbesian state-of-nature.
The experiment failed, by bourgeois measures and even more so as measured by every misery index of the people’s well-being.
Tragically, the debt incurred in unwinding the worst aspects of the disastrous policy exceeded the debt incurred by the Allende government in expanding the social benefits of the people in 1970-1973.
Since Pinochet’s departure, Chile has been in a limbo between the restraints on change imposed by the undemocratic 1980 Pinochet Constitution and the pressure for democracy and social advance pressed by the social movements.
Finally, with the May 15-16 election of a Constitutional Assembly, and the opportunity to construct a new, progressive Constitution and move beyond the 48 years of retarded development and backwardness, the future of Chile appears brighter. Especially significant in this election was the strong showing by the coalition led by the Chilean Communist Party, garnering the second-most delegates to the convention.
While this is a step forward, one must never forget the costs to the Chilean people of nearly half a century of the effects of fascist repression and unfettered economic exploitation.
And one must never forget the ugly, brutal role of the US government in destroying the Popular Unity experiment, a role that the US continues to play in undermining independent developments in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil, and virtually every other country in the Americas.
Recently, a reminder of the sweeping, decisive, and unconscionable intervention of the US government and US institutions in Chile came from the records of a partisan of Chilean democracy, a first-hand observer and victim of the machinations of the shameful servants of US imperialism.
Geoffrey Fox joined eleven other Chicagoans, including trade unionists Abe Feinglass, Ernie DeMaio, and Frank Teruggi, Sr (his son, Frank Jr was murdered by the Pinochet junta) on a fact-finding visit to Chile in February of 1974.
Cramming interviews, meetings, and even clandestine contacts, the group experienced the full horror of the Pinochet butchery. As one military officer told them: “We have moved from the stage of mass slaughter to the stage of selective slaughter.”
Upon his return, Fox penned a detailed, first-hand report of the findings. A vice-president of his own American Federation of Teachers (AFT) local, he naturally thought that the national union’s publication, The American Teacher, would be a ready recipient for an article chronicling the harsh fate of teachers under Pinochet.
And indeed, he was right. The editor, a long-standing defender of labor rights, David Elsila, gladly received Fox’s article and pressed for its publication. The article was typeset and all but printed.
But Fox and Elsila underestimated the reach of the Cold War anti-Communist consensus, from its core in the upper reaches of government through the security establishment, the educational system, the media, and the labor union leadership. The Cold War chill brought all of these institutions into compliance with US foreign policy goals (imperialist designs!).
After purging the left from trade union work and expelling the left-led unions, the center-right labor leadership agreed to an unholy alliance with the US ruling class. In exchange for slavishly following, even promoting, US foreign policy, the labor chiefs sought to achieve an era of cooperation between capital and labor. It was a small price to pay for capital to grant nominal increases in wages and benefits, while getting labor subservience in quelling labor insurgencies in other regions of the world. Militancy and solidarity were surrendered for labor peace, a result satisfactory to both complacent labor leaders and the guardians of capitalism, but a shameful betrayal of the international working class.
No one personified this betrayal more than the assistant to the president of the AFT, Alfred Max Loewenthal. Nearly every AFL-CIO union and the Federation maintained gatekeepers to deny even a hint of radical ideology or militant action to appear within its bounds. More often than not, they were ex-Communists or Trotskyists, who bore extraordinary grudges against the Communist Parties and their left associates. They could be relied upon to vigilantly veto even a whisper of criticism of US imperial policy.
Most notorious of those was Jay Lovestone, an ex-Communist who parlayed his anti-Communism into the leading foreign policy advisor to the center-right in the labor movement and who constituted its conduit to the CIA. It is no exaggeration to view him as the leading Cold War organizer of the US labor movement’s role in its complicity with the CIA in resisting leftist labor movements throughout the world.
The AFT had its own gatekeeper in Al Loewenthal. He came into the labor movement as the leader of an anti-Communist local in the militant United Electrical Workers Union (UE). When a rival, anti-Communist union (IUE) was established to raid UE in the Cold War, Loewenthal enthusiastically joined, rising in the IUE hierarchy before escaping scandal and moving to AFT.
Loewenthal became an important part of the AFL-CIO anti-Communist, pro-imperialist architecture, serving the notorious CIA collaborating AIFLD.
When Elsila dared to print Fox’s report in the AFT paper, Loewenthal was on it like the rabid watchdog that he was.
In denying publication to the Fox report on the ruthless repression in Chile, Loewenthal explained:
In essence, what I have written is a criticism– perhaps also a protest–using the Fox article as a glaring example of the injection of an ideology into A.T. [The American Teacher] which is at variance with AFT and AFL-CIO policy on a current matter…. Even worse, its publication would have made the A.T. the dupe of a Communist strategy on Chile and opened AFT to ridicule.
Elsila mounted an admirable defense, though to no avail. Anti-Communist hysteria always won out in the eviscerated, post-war, Cold War labor movement, as it often does today. He wrote in his appeal:
Fox is a reputable sociologist who has written studies on Latin America; he speaks Spanish fluently; and his trade union credentials include having been elected vice president by his AFT local. The goal of the committee was to determine to what extent workers are suffering under the junta and to report its findings. The commission’s report and Fox’s article are based on interviews with the US ambassador to Chile, junta officials, trade unionists, rank-and-file workers, and others. It is about as comprehensive a report on the status of things today in Chile as one can get.
Of course, none of that mattered to staunch Cold Warriors. Thus, the AFT joined, unknown to its members, in propping up a fascist dictatorship and in taking a stand on the wrong side of the history of the workers’ movement. The members could not be trusted to make up their own minds on the butchery in Chile.
In place of a report urging solidarity with workers in another land, AFT members got another Cold War saga about Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, a Soviet dissident. Years later, after Solzhenitsyn was no longer useful to the security services, we learned of his ultra-conservatism, his disdain for democracy, and his anti-Semitism. Truth was sacrificed in the interest of US imperial objectives.
Fox and Elsila fought the good fight. Elsila soon left AFT to edit Solidarity, the newspaper of the United Auto Workers (UAW), a union with its own unpleasant Cold War legacy, but a touch more tolerance. Fox continued teaching and writing about Latin America and addressing other progressive themes: his novel on the Paris Commune will be out later this year.
Their story is more than an anecdote about the Cold War. It is not a reminder of the past; rather, it exposes the unseen mechanisms that constantly mesh and turn, burnishing a false depiction of US foreign policy while undermining the bonds of our common humanity. The same institutions that surrendered their independence, sold their integrity for acceptance in ruling circles, and stained international solidarity operate today in enabling US rulers to undermine social progress from Venezuela to Afghanistan and many places in-between and beyond.
The dishonesty and ideological corruption that drove Loewenthal to serve the forces destroying Chile after 1973 are still infecting the media, the NGOs, the CIA-funded front organizations, the public intellectuals, the security services, the foreign affairs establishment, and, sadly, the labor movement.
The cost to Chile has been incalculable.
Now, maybe, the Chilean people can move forward again.
Greg Godels can also be read at ZZ’s blog (zzs-blg.blogspot.com)