A Coup that Shook the World

Enas Magzoub reviews Aye Venceremos! Scotland and Solidarity with Chile in the 1970s – and Why It Still Matters Today, by Colin Turbett (Calton Books, 2023).

The Chilean coup of 1973 was a stark reminder of the devastating consequences of imperialism and the ruthless pursuit of power. Aye Venceremos! is a passionate perspective on this dark chapter in Chile’s history by an unwavering advocate of Salvador Allende’s progressive government.

book cover

This book seeks to unearth the truth behind a coup that shook the world and forever altered the course of Chilean democracy. The heart of the book is a defence of Allende and his socialist agenda. It presents Allende not as a dangerous radical, but as a visionary leader who dared to challenge the entrenched interests of the Chilean elite and their imperialistic backers, and was dedicated to improving the lives of Chile’s marginalised populations through peaceful and democratic means.

The wealth of its sources, including first-hand accounts of the coup’s unfolding from Chileans and political refugees, and a range of declassified documents, allow even lay readers to gain a deep understanding of the complex political landscape in Chile leading up to the coup. By emphasizing the positive impact of his policies of land reform and wealth redistribution, and by highlighting the material improvements in education, healthcare, and workers’ rights during this period, Turbett challenges the prevailing narrative that Allende’s government was disastrous for Chile’s economy.

The narrative also brings to light the extent of external interference in Chilean politics. It offers an account of the United States’ covert operations to undermine Allende’s government and its support for the military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, as well as the Thatcher government’s support for the rise of fascism in the region. The human rights abuses, tortures, and executions under Pinochet, and the complicity of the United States and Britain in these atrocities, amount to a compelling case that the West turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in pursuit of its own geopolitical interests.

The book also provides a nuanced analysis of the Chilean opposition to Allende. It reframes the popular narrative of a united front against his government, revealing the deep divisions and contradictions within the opposition camp. This portrayal challenges the simplistic notion that Allende’s government was widely opposed by the Chilean proletariat. One chapter explores the role of the media in shaping public perception during this turbulent period, mounting a persuasive case that the Chilean media, largely controlled by powerful elites, was pivotal in demonising Allende and his government.

The scope of the book touches on the impact of the rise of fascism in all aspects of life, from football to labour relations in the UK, noting the reaction from workers in Scotland who stood in solidarity with the Chilean people, and offering a nod to the 2018 documentary Nae Pasaran.

What distinguishes this book from other communist accounts of the unfolding events is its particular focus on reactions in Scotland, which have often been overlooked by British communists. There is an especially moving section in the book which, without giving too much away, shares the experiences of Chilean refugees and their families resettling in Scotland, highlighting the unity and cooperation of comrades across continents.

While Turbett’s upfront perspective shapes the overall tone of his reflections, he avoids one-sided narrative, and does not overlook some of the complexities and challenges faced by the Allende government. A thought-provoking and meticulously researched book that presents an unabashedly leftist perspective on the Chilean coup of 1973, Aye Venceremos! challenges prevailing Western narratives, sheds light on the positive aspects of Salvador Allende’s government, and underscores the devastating consequences of imperialistic agendas