Glasnost in Chile? Pinochet is getting no credit for it. Yet at the same time General Secretary (and now also President) Gorbachev’s policies are being hailed as major breakthroughs, departures from the previous (Brezhnev) era. They are deemed to hold out great promise for the people of the Soviet Union, if only they can succeed. Glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction) are widely praised by commentators as major moves to advance the Soviet Union toward a better society. There are some skeptics, of course—David Satter (in The New Republic) doubts that glasnost. can work. But on the whole, writers in The Nation, The New Yorker, and other prominent publications express basic respect for Mikhail Gorbachev’s intentions and efforts.
In contrast, there is no one who likes General Pinochet. The question is, why? While he has been a ruthless opponent of political freedom in Chile for almost as long as he has been in power, in 1980 he helped forge a new constitution for that country that paves the way to full-scale political democracy. We have just witnessed one major result of this constitutional reform an initial election in Chile deciding whether Pinochet may serve for another full term or whether he has to step down within a year after his term expires. It looks like the general intends to abide by the outcome, and in March 1990 elections will be held to decide who will govern Chile. Pinochet has also established the kind of economy in Chile that has led to greater prosperity there than in any other Central and Latin American country. While Chile has pockets of poverty, nevertheless the country has had lower inflation and higher employment than its neighbors.
We do not know what Pinochet will or will not do. He is still in power, and the constitution that gives him that power is far from expressing the will of even the majority of the people, much less protecting the rights of a minority. Pinochet is a military dictator, there is no doubt about that.
What do we know about Gorbachev? He has proposed no change in the Soviet constitution, a document that explicitly prohibits anyone in the Soviet Union from criticizing the Soviet government. The law may not always be enforced, but it is crucial that there is no legal obstacle to invoking it. Has Gorbachev advocated changing the nature of Soviet society? No; he simply regards some earlier policies as following from “distortions of socialism.” He has no desire, judging by his own words, to abandon Lenin’s “genuine socialism.” The means of production in the Soviet Union will continue to be collectively owned and thus exposed to government regimentation. perestroika may lead the state to relax its regime, but certainly not to abdicate its role as ultimate sovereign. If one recalls that in Marxist socialist theory the major means of production is human labor, Gorbachev is unambiguously committed to treating Soviet citizens as mere cells in the body of the state. Nor should we lose sight of the fact that Gorbachev was an enthusiastic follower of Brezhnev. His role in the KGB cannot be ignored, either.
Of course, Pinochet’s partial embracing of capitalism—via his recently resigned University of Chicago-trained finance minister Hernan Buchi—does not mean that Chile enjoys a free marketplace, with everyone’s private property rights fully acknowledged and respected. Yet at least Pinochet seems to be bent on heading toward that kind of a system, one that sees the individual as sovereign, not the state.
Why then are American intellectuals so contemptuous of Pinochet, but not critical, indeed quite welcoming of Gorbachev? Why would Gore Vidal, for example, praise the Soviet leader so highly—calling one of his speeches the most profound political talk he has ever encountered (and Vidal is the author of the novel Lincoln!)? Is it that for much of the American intelligentsia there are no enemies to the left?