People love stories that have a beginning, a middle and an ending. On this day, the 11th of September, in 1973 the CIA backed a coup that overthrew the democratically elected Popular Unity government of Chile.
It wasn’t new for the US to overthrow governments in what it saw as its ‘sphere of influence’ – in which it wished to prevent the election of leftist governments. Chile had one such government. It had a manifesto to tackle inequality through agrarian reform and by nationalising industries.
This was intolerable to the US government who backed a coup. The coup was bloody and brought a military dictator, Augusto Pinochet to power. His notoriously murderous regime governed well into the 1980s.
But the story that begins here isn’t that of US imperialism. It’s the story of neoliberalism. For the first time, the US government provided Chicago University trained economic advisors to a country who pursued a policy programme of privatising state monopolies, introducing the market into previously social relationships, removing protections from workers, driving down wages, reducing social security and allowing vast accumulation of riches by the wealthy.
For all that the state was a dictatorship, the neoliberal ideologues claimed it was a democracy because the market determined more and more of how society worked.
This way of working came to dominate Chile, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, it came to dominate the world. For a decade neoliberalism came to be the way the world worked. Progress meant privatisation, removal of social and environmental protections and the introduction of the market to places where it doesn’t belong: health, education and social protection.
And the more the wealthy accumulated money, the more they sought new places to make money. They captured governments. The market extended its tentacles ever further. Innovation became harnessed by big finance. Politics became a choice between different approaches to managing the exhaust fumes of the free market, in which new ideas all too often suffocated.
The middle of this story also starts on the 11th of September. In 2001 the well-documented attack on the World Trade Centre in New York. This attack was carried out by a terror group based in Afghanistan. The US again toppled a regime. But with a President backed heavily by the interests of the oil industry, Afghanistan was only a prelude.
In 2003 the US, backed by the UK, invaded Iraq. And the invasion of Iraq marked the peak of neoliberal power. It was an utter failure, bought at the expense of authority and trust in government. When, in 2008, the financialised world economy suffered a shuddering credit crunch, neoliberalism’s decline began.
Everything that has happened since then has been a symptom of neoliberalism’s crisis. The old certainties have melted into air. Establishment politicians have been beaten by insurgents in election-after-election. Space has opened for new ideas and new politics.
The end of this story is yet to come. But it will surely come soon. As Salvador Allende, the Chilean President killed by the CIA, famously said: “history is ours and history is made by the people.” Neoliberalism will be finally overthrown, and we will overthrow it.