On September 4, 1970, 50 years ago, the Socialist doctor Salvador Allende, won the elections and became the President of the Republic of Chile. In the middle of the cold war, for the first time in Latin America, a socialist came to power through elections, democratically and in freedom. 50 years after this moment that marked our country and the world, reflecting on its political and democratic legacy, collecting the experience, coherence and content of social justice of the political project of profound changes of the ‘Popular Unity’, is a necessary contribution for the redesign and strengthening of the progressive project. A project that still today seeks to build fairer and more egalitarian and deeply democratic societies, tackling the new challenges to face the present and to go ahead on the path towards the future.
The main characteristic of the Popular Unity process and its electoral triumph was the leadership and tenacity of Salvador Allende, to build a political project that had the full participation of the social world. His political project tirelessly sought to link these two worlds. The participation of the social world and its various organisations (mothers’ centres, neighbourhood councils, unions, parties, etc.) was an essential element for the creation and implementation of a government program that reflected the wishes and social needs. For the first time in our history, the people felt part of a social and political project in full equality of conditions. Allende governed with the people and for the people and for this reason, he earned the affectionate name of “comrade President”.
“We are carrying out this revolutionary transformation by deepening the democratic regime, respecting the pluralism of our political organisation, within the legal order and with the legal instruments that the country has given itself; not only maintaining but expanding civic and social, individual and collective freedoms.”
For Salvador Allende, the structural transformation program should unrestrictedly respect the existing democratic institutions. However, it was necessary to transform the insufficient representative liberal democracy into a social democracy that would assure citizens of basic social rights: work, remuneration and decent pensions, universal health and education, women’s and children’s rights.
“Democracy and freedom are incompatible with unemployment, with homelessness, with lack of culture, with illiteracy, with disease. How to deepen democracy? By giving more jobs to the people. By better redistribution. By building more houses. By giving more education, culture and health to the people.” (first anniversary of the government, November 4, 1971).
Salvador Allende’s political legacy is also his tireless work for the unity of the left, respecting its different nuances and always processing differences with transparency. His government’s program was not only a “technical-bureaucratic” list of public policies. It was a long-term strategy to endow the left with a long-term political project that would cause the social, economic and cultural demands to change structurally, sustainably and over time, with a language that is understandable to everyone.
The Popular Unity Program contained, at the onset of Allende’s presidency, a list of the first 40 measures of great impact, which, when read today, are still surprisingly valid: “No more fraud with the prices of pharmaceuticals; housing leases at fair prices; social security for all; fair pensions; milk for all the children of Chile; a new economy to end inflation; maternal and child clinics in all towns; no more taxes on staple food,” – just some of that list of 40 measures.
Allende leaves a democratic and ethical that needs to be rescued and treasured by all progressives. In the last decades, in various regions of the world, our democratic systems have been hit by criminal dictatorships, fanatical right-wingers, populism and strong nationalisms that have led to the degradation of the social fabric and to a division of the left.
Fifty years later, Salvador Allende calls us to work in unity and collaboration to combat the tremendous inequalities the neoliberal model generates, further enrichening the representatives of big capital, forgetting the majority of the population who claim dignity of treatment, equal opportunities and real participation in the formulation and implementation of public policies aimed at satisfying their needs.
It is essential that we unite again, imagining new ways of articulating the social and the political demands, deepening our political systems, with more and better democracy, seeking the common good instead of the individualism that has permeated our societies in the recent decades. We long to return to the collective to enrich each other with a better policy that does not exclude anyone and where we all are part of the same project, following the consistent example that Salvador Allende bequeathed to us.
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