National Sections of the L5I:

The end of the Chilean model?

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For many decades, Chile was one of the favourite countries of Wall Street & Co. The country was considered a model for neoliberalism's "way to the top". Of course, it could hardly be denied that at the beginning of this success story was the "unattractive" brutal military dictatorship of the Pinochet regime with its deaths and torture victims, but after the "transition" to supposedly democratic conditions it had become a model for the global South.

Success for whom?
In fact, the "transition" was only successful for the rich and global corporations, while social inequality increased enormously. The "reforms" of the military dictatorship had privatised practically everything possible. The "transition" brought back certain social rights, but the trade unions remained locked into a strict regime and could hardly campaign effectively for income increases for the working masses, especially in the private sector.

The parties linked to the main union federation, the CUT (Social and Christian Democrats, Communists) also brought little change during the years they were in government. At best, the worst consequences of neoliberalism were softened, such as increases in minimum and social wages. As a result, in Wall Street's paradise, the average monthly wage of a worker today is US$530.

Mass protests
When the cost of tickets for the metro in Santiago was to be increased by almost 4% in October 2019, there was a full-scale uprising as a result. Delayed, the trade unions also joined in with work stoppages - and even threatened a general strike.

The goal of the mass movement was quickly clear: the end of the "Chilean model"! This desire was also strengthened by the reaction of the ruling class, which ordered a police operation reminiscent of the bad times of the dictatorship. In particular, the attacks against women and indigenous people led to the already strong women's movement joining forces with both the social movement and the protests against racism against indigenous people. The call for President Piñera's resignation was so strong that the Communist Party and its allied Frente Amplio, FA, Broad Front, initially rejected the government's call for negotiations.

While workers, women, indigenous people and communal activists were increasingly networking in self-organised structures and working towards the overthrow of the government, the reformist bureaucrats found another way out, a convention to draft a new constitution to replace the one inherited from Pinochet and hardly changed during the transition. The initiation of a constitutional process with democratic guidelines for the election and implementation of a constituent assembly was celebrated as a success by large parts of the movement. Nonetheless, the government thus remained in power and could continue to implement its crisis policy and additionally curtail the constitutional process as much as possible.

This also guaranteed that the protests would continue. Winning a turn away from a privatised health, pension and education systems was in no way guaranteed with the promise of a new constitution. The reformist organisations promised to implement these reforms through the ballot box - in the "super election year" of 2021, the year in which not only the elections to the Constituent Assembly (in May) and to the provincial governments were due, but also those for the Presidency and the National Congress. The first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections take place on November 21. The real decision will come in the run-off elections in December, as both elections require 50 percent of the valid votes to win the presidency or a seat in parliament.

The diminished illusions about what can actually be achieved in the electoral theatre and in a year-long constitutional process were already expressed in the low turnout for elections to the Constituent Assembly, just 37 percent. The year before, in the vote to convene it, more than half of Chileans still participated. However, the rulers' plan to give established parties a majority again through the pressure of the list system was thwarted. The traditionally ruling forces (the conservative-liberal Piñeras and the "Concentration" (of the Socialist and Christian Democratic parties) both fell below a crushing 20 percent. Only the FA was able to achieve a significant result, while list combinations of independent grassroots candidates showed great success. The FA also won important victories in the gubernatorial elections, e.g. with the victory of one of its women activists in Santiago.

Gabriel Boric, the FA candidate for the presidential elections, is currently leading in most polls. The 35-year-old was himself one of the leading figures in the 2011 student revolt and later a front figure in various independent left organisations that surrounded the CP and became the core of the FA. Although Boric was involved in the agreement with Piñera, he is labelled a "dangerous radical" by the central organ of global liberalism, the British "Economist", in its issue of 30 October. Above all, it denounces the left's demands for penalties in the new constitution against the glorification of the military dictatorship or for trivialising its torture regime. This is seen as the beginning of a "suppression of freedom of expression".

The Economist is equally concerned that the constitution is to be pushed through against the votes of the hitherto ruling parties, clearly a bad "anti-democratic" act: the liberal bourgeoisie obviously considers it anti-democratic for it to be outvoted (and in the Chilean Constituent Assembly Liberals have less than a third of the mandates). Of course, the supposed dire consequences of ecological standards for mining and the proposals for re-nationalisation made by Boric as well as the left in the Constituent Assembly are highlighted. The FA's election programme actually focuses on such points as the reintroduction of a state health system. For example, Boric wants to introduce a system like the NHS in Britain.

End of neoliberalism?
Now, some of these programme points are certainly also important demands of the protest movements. But would Boric's election victory really mean the end of "neoliberalism" in Chile?

There are several obstacles to this. The FA leaders want to continue to work with parts of the establishment, especially from the "Concentration" (social democracy, Christian democracy), in parliament, in the Constituent Assembly and also in the trade unions. For their part, they and the "independent left" in the Assembly are not really ready for a decisive break with the previous system.

The claim that the goal is "only" about an end to neoliberalism proves to be highly problematic. It is based on the false idea that under the current conditions, especially the crisis in Latin America, there could be another, more "humane" form of capitalism in Chile and that this would be permanently accepted by the ruling class. Any challenge to Chile's important role in the international production chains will quickly lead to a confrontation with powerful capitals at home and abroad. Even a Boric-led government would either have to come to terms quickly with international capital (with a few social regulations in the health system as crumbs) or be forced into a radical confrontation with capital.

In this regard, the further development and intensification of social protests is crucial. With some of the restrictions justified by the pandemic now relaxed in October, this movement has shown itself again in its full radicality. On the anniversary of the 2019 protest, street battles broke out again, with the main slogan being the demand for the end of capitalism, according to the Economist. Once again, the police cracked down and there were 3 deaths across the country. Of course, the bourgeois press and their friends in the liberal foreign countries are using the escalation in the streets to warn of "anarchy" and the "shattering" of economic security if Boric wins the elections.

What then happened in the bourgeois camp is also significant. For a long time, the "moderate" Liberal, Sebastián Sichel, of the Piñera grouping was the bourgeoisie's candidate of choice, now the Pinochet fan José Kast has come to the fore. Some media are already claiming that he will overtake Boric in the polls. The Kast project is all about law-and-order and averting the threat of "anarchy". In addition, Kast proposes the construction of border fortifications against the "migration flood" that allegedly threatens Chilean prosperity, as well as decisive measures against "criminal" Mapuche, an indigenous people of Southern Chile.

This shows that the crisis-ridden development in Latin America is now leading to a confrontation between the left and a bourgeoisie that, in Chile as well as in Brazil, is no longer afraid to raise clowns and racists like Bolsonaro or Kast as its "saviours", echoing Marx's description of the rise of Louis Bonaparte.

A political escalation is therefore inevitable in the coming period. However, the programme and strategy of the CP and FA themselves constitute a central problem for the solution of the crisis in the interest of the workers, the peasantry and the oppressed. Why? Because their popular front policy, that is, the pursuit of a government alliance with the moderate sections of the ruling class, is sure to prove a fetter for the heroic struggle of the Chilean masses, as it was under Allende. Nonetheless, the CP and FA can rely on the allegiance of millions and firm support from the trades unions. Well over a million workers and activists of the social movements will give their vote to these parties in order to defeat the different factions of Chilean and international capital.

It is the task of revolutionaries to deepen and sharpen this process. At the moment, there is no alternative, revolutionary working class party in Chile, although various left organisations do have some anchorage in some sections. This certainly includes the PTR ("Revolutionary Workers' Party", Chilean section of the "Trotskyist Fraction"). With its scant forces, it contested the elections to the Constituent Assembly in May and won 50,000 votes, certainly a respectable result, but 0.8 percent confirms that it is not a significant influence in the class. For the coming elections, the PTR has entered into an electoral alliance with other left small groups, the "Front for Workers' Unity".

It is very unlikely that this candidacy will achieve a better result than the PTR for the Assembly, given the confrontation between the FA and the right. In addition, the programme of this electoral bloc, while containing correct criticisms of the FA and its betrayal with the "Accord", does not itself set out a revolutionary, anti-capitalist programme of action. It does contain correct demands for nationalisation under workers' control, but it fails to point out the necessary means for its implementation, such as the question of the struggle for a workers' government, the break with the bourgeois state and the establishment of the soviet rule of the working class. Thus, even on the programmatic level, the candidacy does not represent a revolutionary alternative, but merely a centrist one, vacillating between reform and revolution.

Critical support for Boric!
Above all, the candidacy of an alliance of small left groups does not answer the question of what position revolutionaries should take in the confrontation between Boric and the openly bourgeois candidates in the presidential elections, or between those of the FA/CP and the openly bourgeois forces in the parliamentary elections.

The current sharpened situation requires calling for the election of Boric and the FA/CP in this confrontation. Revolutionaries must make clear that they defend them against the inevitable attack of the ruling class and directly counter-revolutionary forces. At the same time, they must demand that the FA/CP break with the openly bourgeois forces - specifically those of the "Concentration".

This is all the more important because a large section of the organised working class, the socially oppressed and even the activists of the protest movement, continue to follow the leadership of reformist organisations. This is especially true of the core strata of workers. Despite "neoliberalism", the "informal sector" in Chile amounts to less than 30 percent, while in the rest of the continent it has risen to over 60 percent. In Chile, the gross national product tripled between 1990 and 2015. Even if only crumbs were left for the mass of the population, a better-paid layer of workers has emerged, which is also strongly represented in the trade unions and represents a solid social basis for the reformist parties (CP and SP). It is also certain that no real upheaval will be possible in Chile without winning these layers and the trade unions.

The crisis of the last few years has also affected many of these better paid workers, forcing them to reorient themselves politically. The political strengthening of the FA vis-à-vis the "Concentration" cannot be explained at all without this development - of course, it also accounts for the rising support for Kast by the middle classes who feel threatened.

An election call for Boric does not mean putting aside criticism of his programme and his role in the "Accord". But it does mean saying to the millions of workers and socially oppressed who want to vote for him, firstly, that it matters whether Boric or Kast (or another bourgeois candidate) wins. The point is to help Boric defeat them.

At the same time, it is important to make clear that the struggle for Boric's demands must continue on the streets. Even those for a freely accessible health care system for all, or nationalisation under workers' control, will only be enforced through mass mobilisations. These would at the same time create a basis for the formation of councils of action in the factories and municipalities. This confrontation with capital would raise the question of which class rules and thus put on the agenda the formation of a workers' government that would move to expropriate the bourgeoisie and smash its state. This would be a tactic that could actually win over both the mass of the protest movement and the militant sections of trade unions and supporters of the reformist parties to a revolutionary project. The forces of social revolution in Chile are emerging, it is now important that a political leadership also emerges to lead them to victory over Chilean capitalism.