The bitter aftertaste of fascism—and a foretaste
Augusto Pinochet, the extreme right wing military dictator of Chile, who, with U.S. support, overthrew the democratically elected government of socialist Salvador Allende and established a fascist dictatorship that began the sytematic slaughter of tens of thousands of Chileans. | Santiago Llanquin/AP

Fascism must leave a bitter aftertaste. Like tasting the rotten area of an apple, it shows as eyes narrow and lips squeeze together, as if to prevent any more entering one’s body.

Punta Arenas is the last city at the end of continental South America, at the very tip. I was on a plane heading there. It was 2002. Fascism had technically ended in Chile in 1988. The Chilean passenger sitting next to me was a journalist. We struck up a light conversation.

The lay of the land, some 20,000 feet below us, was the dominant topic. A smoking volcano kicked it off. I knew little about geology. He seemed to know much. The smile on his face told me that he was enjoying my rudimentary questions.

Then the smile disappeared in an instant. The question slipped out of me with ease. I had become politically aware during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States. In 1970, a huge socialist movement in Chile brought Dr. Salvador Allende to power. A violent fascist counter-revolution brought it to a screeching halt in 1973.

I prefaced my question to the journalist with a thank goodness fascism ended in Chile in the late 1980s. His face turned from a smile to the look of a stern teacher. I continued. Of course, I supposed, that brutal period never had much impact way down at the end of the continent where we were heading. He looked around as if expecting something to happen and that something was not in the category of pleasant.

No, he answered. The journalist didn’t continue until he looked around again. He whispered. They hung people on street lampposts. His mouth now was twisted to one side and his whole face looked as if he was in pain.

I turned away in an attempt to relieve the unease my question generated. By the mid-1970s, I had read An Inside View: Allende’s Chile by Edward Boorstein and In the Hands of Chile’s Hangmen by Rodrigo Rojas. In my naiveté of fascism’s vicious reach to the end of the continent, I was caught by surprise.

It was only later that I reprised my reaction at that time. Why not fascism at the very end of the Chile’s 3000-mile length? In 1976, their thugs had killed Orlando Letelier and his U.S. aide, Ronni Moffitt, in the heart of Washington, D.C.

On yet another flight heading farther south over the Terra del Fuego archipelago, another reminder of fascism’s reach popped up. A Chilean friend nudged me to look out the window as our small aircraft, flying slow over a series of islands, brought a rather desolate place, Dawson Island, into view. Luis Corvalán, head of the Communist Party of Chile, was held there in extremely bleak conditions with other leftists. An international campaign saved him from a certain death.

Not so fortunate were the 10,000-plus people subjected to unimaginable torture and death. Among them was famed song writer and singer Victor Jara. Some were thrown out of airplanes. A scuba diver found piles of bodies in a harbor.

How does one explain an elected government being overthrown and such carnage? One place you won’t find answers is in Jared Diamond’s latest book, Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. Diamond made some solid contributions to understanding early historical events with his books, Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel. The former explained the disastrous consequences when the environment is disregarded in societies. The latter offered plausible theories on why certain areas historically had “start-up” advantages over other places on the planet.

However, Diamond abandons science, and even the plain facts, when it came to explaining the brutal, antidemocratic events in Chile. He says that General Pinochet, head of the army, was “plain evil.” Economics and politics fly out the window. Psychology or human character is called upon mainly to explain fascism. Really?!

Boorstein’s Allende’s Chile details how ruling capitalist circles and the landed aristocracy hooked up with ITT, Anaconda Copper, and the CIA. They in turn funded rightwing Chilean newspapers and won influence in the country’s military. The author details how Chile is a prime example of the myth “It Can’t Happen Here.” It did.

Psychological aftereffects of fascism are another story. Who is listening? What’s around the corner? I was experiencing that in the faces and gestures of Chileans in 2002, years after fascism technically ended. Fascism was still torturing the Chilean people.

Now it’s 2020. If there was a whiff of fascism in the U.S. during the Reagan years, how do we characterize thugs brandishing guns at state “reopening” demonstrations? How do we interpret President Trump characterizing those demonstrators as “good people,” with their nooses and Confederate flags? How do we explain our Black communities a target-practice site for police brutality? When the state strives to hook up with armed hooligans and thugs, danger threatens our basic democratic, revolutionary heritage.

Author and activist Marc Brodine addresses these questions in What is fascism? (With video).

How do we head these threats off?

First step: Adios, Trump!


Len Yannielli
Len Yannielli

Long time environmental activist Len Yannielli is professor emeritus, Naugatuck Valley Community College, Waterbury, Conn. He was the 2009 National Association Of Biology Teachers Evolution Educator of the Year. He is sports crazy!