Patricio Guzmán’s “La batalla de Chile: La lucha de un pueblo sin armas”

Each government is supported by the armed men, ready to execute its will by force, – the class of people, raised to kill everybody who their superiors order to kill. They are the police and, primarily, the army. The army is nothing more than a collection of disciplined killers. Its training is the training of its murderers; its victories are murders. The army always stood and now stands at the heart of the power. The power was always in the hands of those who commanded the army; and always all rulers, from the Roman Cesar to Russian and German Emperors, are preoccupied chiefly with the army. First and foremost, the army supports the outer power of the government. It does not allow the power to be taken from it by another government. War is nothing more than a dispute between several governments about the authority over the subordinates. In the sight of such meaning of the armies, each state is brought to the need to increase its troops; and increasing the troops is contagious, as already one hundred and fifty years ago noticed Montesquieu. But when people think that the government keeps the army only for the protection against external attacks, they forget that the troops governments need primarily for self-defense against their own suppressed and enslaved citizens.

Leo Tolstoy, Superstition of the State (1910)

There’s no new revolutionary subject whose emergence had eluded observers. So if it’s said that the “people” are in the streets it’s not a people that existed previously, but rather the people that previously were lacking. It’s not the people that produce an uprising, it’s the uprising that produces its people, by re-engendering the shared experience and understanding, the human fabric and the real-life language that had disappeared.

The Invisible Committe, To our friends (2014)

This is the second of a short series that we dedicate to the memory of Chile’s revolutionaries on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the 1973 military coup d’état against the Chilean revolution and the government of Salvador Allende.

Patricio Guzmán’s film The Battle of Chile, a three part portrait/chronicle of the revolutionary process that swept the country both before and during the presidency of Salvador Allende’s government and the military coup that destroyed it in 1973, is an extraordinary testimony of the political creation of a people. As Allende is filmed saying, before a massive demonstration in Santiago in defence of his government: “Aqui se siente la historia”/”Here one feels history”. And yet this “history” was never (and never is) singular; it was shot through with tensions, conflicts, that were addressed and worked through, always with uncertainty, in multiple ways.

The film’s subtitle is “the struggle of a people without arms”. And for many, Allende’s great mistake was to have left the people unarmed. In Guzmán’s 1996 film, Chile, Obstinate Memory, which follows Guzmán back to Chile as he screened the three part documentary to Chileans who had never seen it before, one of the protagonists of The Battle of Chile declares that Allende’s or “the revolution’s” failure was in not having divorced means from ends. Trapped by a faith in “representative democracy” and “democratic pluralism”, in “constitutionalism”, Allende and his government failed to assume their role, or so we are understood to believe. But as Allende was described as our president (read: the people’s president) and the “first worker of the nation”, he should then have assumed his role – a role that he only half-heartedly took on and only vaguely grasped – as leader of the working class and its emancipation from capitalism.

This reading of events however risks deceiving us by its simplicity. There was never a single, revolutionary people in Chile (or anywhere else), then or now. And in their absence, it seems far too easy to say that the only thing missing to move the revolution forward were arms. And perhaps, in opposition, we can suggest that what then failed in Chile was precisely the divorce between means and ends, leading, as such separations are wont to do, to self-defeating “ideological” debates about what means to pursue, with the end of “socialism” fading increasingly into a distant background.

In the minds of many, the Chilean revolution became Allende, bound to his very human virtues and weaknesses – and this is no doubt one of the illusions that haunted, and haunts still, the Chilean revolution -, when it was first and foremost “the people”, a people in the making, in everyday struggles, with both doubts and heroic courage.

It is above all the portrait of a people in revolution that renders Guzmán’s film The Battle of Chile not only a great political testimony, but also a work of beauty.

We share below the three parts of Guzman’s film, without English language subtitles. It is also available with English subtitles at the Internet Archive website. And we close with his 1996 film, Chile, Obstinate Memory (in this case, subtitled in English) and a link to his film Salvador Allende (2004).

Guzmán’s more biographical, but equally impressive film, “Salvador Allende” (2004) can be viewed here, but without English language subtitles.

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