A Moldy Bowl of Chile

The Times panned a play about Salvador Allende, the first elected Marxist in the Western Hemisphere back in 1970, but not so much the "dignity and idealism" of Allende's politics.

Times drama critic Jason Zinoman panned a play titled "Allende, the Death of a President," about Salvador Allende, the first elected Marxist in the Western Hemisphere back in 1970. Zinoman panned the play, but not so much the "dignity and idealism" of Allende's politics:

The real aim of this 90-minute history lesson about the final hours of Salvador Allende, the Marxist president of Chile, who died in 1973 during a military coup, is to celebrate the dignity and idealism of this democratically elected Socialist...

Mr. Allende's regime was toppled on Sept. 11, 1973. He died that afternoon, though it has remained unclear whether it was suicide or assassination. The play leans toward murder, showing him charging off the stage before shots ring out. What is known for sure is what followed: a brutal dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, which makes these final hours even more poignant.

Marvin Olasky had a different take a few years ago, that Allende wasn't simply followed by a dictatorship, but that he was well on his way to a dictatorship of his own:

Allende explained his objectives in a 1971 interview with France's Regis Debray: "As for the bourgeois state at the present moment, we are seeking to overcome it. To overthrow it [and ...] expropriate the means of production which are still in private hands.... To open up the road to socialism. Our objective is total, scientific, Marxist socialism."

Food output fell sharply. In December 1971, thousands of Chilean women marched in the streets of Santiago, banging on empty pots and pans to dramatize the growth of shortages and skyrocketing prices. Leftist counter-demonstrators threw rocks at the marchers and attacked with clubs, carabineros came with tear gas, and Allende imposed a state of emergency that allowed him to censor newspapers, close radio stations, and ban demonstrations. He soon announced that the government would be in charge of all food distribution, and "neighborhood vigilance committees would watch for black-market or other non-approved activities." He seized control of the Kennecott and Anaconda copper mines and provided no compensation to their owners, with the obvious result that foreign investment in Chilean industries decreased sharply.

As the economy shrank while government spending increased, currency printing presses worked overtime and inflation leaped. The consumer price index, which stood at 100 in December 1970, was at 122 a year later and 322 in December 1972; in September 1973, it was at 942. Money in circulation soared from 3.7 billion pesos when Allende took office to 74 billion in September 1973. Runaway inflation received the most attention early in 1973, along with Education Minister Jorge Tapia's announcement that the government would establish a single nationwide curriculum, modeled on East Germany's, that would include compulsory courses on Marxism.

What does it say about the New York cultural scene that it's still avant-garde to pine for the "dignity and idealism" of Marxists, whose moment in the vogue is long gone?