The presidential elections in Chile will go to a run-off between the far-right candidate José Antonio Kast, and Gabriel Boric from the Apruebo Dignidad coalition (“Approve Dignity”: a conglomerate involving the leftist coalition Frente Amplio, plus the Communist Party). This comes after a first round where Kast won 28 percent and Boric obtained 26 percent of the vote, a difference of 150,000.
These results took place only two years after the October insurrection, and a year after the referendum for a new constitution, where the ‘Approve’ vote defeated ‘Reject’, supported by Kast, by a striking margin of 78 percent versus 22 percent. In the first round of the presidential elections, which took place on Sunday 21 November, the votes for the pinochetist candidate were 300,000 more than those for ‘Reject’ in the referendum. Kast was heavily supported in the small towns, while Boric did best in the big cities like Santiago and Valparaíso.
The turnout of 47 percent was lower than that of the referendum. In working-class communes, the turnout was even lower. For example, in metropolitan La Pintana only 40 percent went to the polling stations. Most working-class voters did not feel that this election was important, or would affect their lives.
In the wealthy ‘Rejection communes’, on the other hand, turnout increased (in Vitacura, for example, turnout was 69 percent). Kast took advantage of this in the Araucanía region, a heavily Mapuche-populated province but also a reactionary bastion.
The native Mapuche people have carried out a century-long struggle against the colonisers and landlords, the latter being favoured by reformist or centre-right governments in the past with racist and warfare policies, which have been exploited by Kast campaigners. In some Mapuche provinces, the elections were held under a state of emergency, with heavy military presence, which constitutes a scandal in itself.
The most novel feature of this election is an increase in support for the right in the north of Chile, where the anti-immigration discourse appears to have had an impact. The right-wing populist candidate, Franco Parisi, came in third place at the national level, but first in the northern regions, which have seen an increase in immigration in recent years. In addition, his newly formed party is in the position of a kingmaker in the Chamber of Deputies, because of the virtual tie between and fragmentation of the main political forces.
How was the right able to grow?
First of all, we have to put things in proportion. The far-right candidate Kast won 27 percent of the vote among the 47 percent who turned out. That amounts to only 13 percent of the potential electors.
The right gains where there is fear and uncertainty. The Constitutional Convention is today dominated by the Frente Amplio after the debacle of the Lista del Pueblo, a grassroots slate of independent lefts who did well in May’s Constituent Convention elections, but ended up reproducing the vices of the traditional parties, such as engaging in infighting and jockeying for position behind the backs of their supporters. This has caused apathy and demoralisation in wide sectors of the population.
In addition to his pinochetist and reactionary base, Kast has gained support from layers of the middle class who have been impacted by the serious social situation. By standing for ‘peace and order’, he can draw layers of the population who crave stability. This is in the context of economic and political uncertainty, as well as a social crisis that was present even before the pandemic, and has worsened with it.
It should also be noted, however, that this is only possible in the absence of a revolutionary alternative on the left that could politically represent the uprising of 2019. A candidate like Boric, with a timorous and conciliatory programme, was totally incapable of mobilising the hundreds of thousands of workers, young people and women, who rose up against the entire regime two years ago.
Kast is a reactionary and ultra-conservative politician. However, it would be wrong to say that he represents the rise of fascism. Fascism is a mass phenomenon, of armed civilians aimed at physically annihilating the organisations of the working class. For this reason, fascism also implies a historical defeat for the working class. At present, Kast is unable to lead a movement like this.
Nonetheless, this does not mean that Kast does not present a serious danger to women, LGBT people, left-wing activists and the working class in general. His electoral advance and potential victory will embolden reactionary individuals or groups organised to act. There are a couple of events that show a development in this direction. A demonstration in Curacautín, in the Araucanía region brought together hundreds of racists attacking Mapuche people; and a mobilisation in Iquique, in the north, against immigration ended with an attack on a migrant camp.
However, the strength shown by the mass movement in October and during the pandemic could crush the fascist gangs if the workers’ organisations mobilised it. This is the real balance of forces, and it is important to take this into account in order to define any general political situation, and in particular fascism. The hour is dire, but the regime cannot yet be so sure that it has defeated the combative spirit of the October rebellion.
Kast’s programme aims to deepen the policies of the current regime, and the role the police and military play in it, while defending the legacy of the Pinochet dictatorship. If implemented, it would represent the ‘rule of the sword’: an ultra-reactionary Bonapartism, which will seek to drag the ruling class out of the mess in which it finds itself.
But when it comes to implementing such a regime, neither Kast’s will nor the support of a sector of the ruling class is enough. Bolsonaro's election in Brazil in 2018 was also presented by some as ‘the coming to power of fascism’. However, despite winning the elections with 55 percent of the vote and having a popularity rating of 67 percent at the time of his inauguration, his government was actually weak, divided into numerous factions and unable to implement its programme. Within months, Bolsonaro faced a massive youth movement against cuts to the higher education budget, and later a series of general strikes against pension reform that mobilised millions of workers. The slogan ‘Fora Bolsonaro’ (Bolsonaro Out) became the rallying cry of the masses. In this context, his popularity collapsed and his government has not recovered. There are differences between Bolsonaro and Kast, but an eventual victory for Kast and the application of his reactionary programme would, sooner or later, provoke a new explosion of struggles.
The rebellion of October 2019 should not be forgotten. It was a mass movement with an insurrectionary character that denounced the 30-year regime of ‘democratic transition’. After the dictatorship, this regime consolidated the power of the main capitalist forces and left the armed forces intact. The movement two years ago was extremely powerful. Its peak saw the general strike of 12 November, which precipitated the agreement of 15 November between the parties of the regime to save the government.
In that period, Gabriel Boric played a crucial role in forging said agreement, which produced serious differences within the Frente Amplio and other social organisations. They looked with suspicion at the counter-revolutionary nature of the so-called Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution’ and the anti-democratic manner in which it was signed. The government was saved at a time when the movement was at its peak. Given the initiatives of self-organisation, self-defence and direct action from below, there was the possibility of building a separate power outside the bourgeois institutions.
How can we fight Kast?
Kast comes straight from the core of pinochetismo and was a founder of the ultra-conservative UDI party. Among other things, he wants to increase the already high pensions of the armed forces, repeal the current abortion law, increase the retirement age, and persecute left-wing activists. His programme even talks about establishing secret detention centres. In addition, he thinks that Chile’s native flora and fauna must “pay for their right to exist.” Evidently, broad sections of the working class now instinctively seek to vote together against the possibility of a Kast government that will attack their democratic freedoms. And they are right to do so.
It is true that the former Concertación (centre-left coalition) played a role in maintaining the repressive apparatus, especially in the ancestral Mapuche territory. But it would be wrong simply to equate the right to Concertaciónist policy, or to an eventual government of Boric and Apruebo Dignidad.
A Boric government would also rely on the armed forces and repression to stop a mass movement, but it would depend on diverting the movement down institutional lines: this would be its defining feature. However, the official processes of the constituent convention are incapable of overcoming the political impasse in the country. The economic and social crisis that provoked the uprising cannot be solved through cosmetic changes within the framework of bourgeois institutions. In the end, this approach can only result in the victory of the right.
Part of stopping the reactionary Kast includes voting against him in the runoff. However, it is essential also to underline the need for independent class politics. After the dictatorship, the new generations were convinced to censor themselves and not imagine the radical transformation of society, for fear of awakening the fascist monster. Today, we see similar blackmail being used. There are some who want to force us into an unprincipled, class-collaborationist ‘unity’, which accepts the militarisation of the ancestral Mapuche territory and the existence of political prisoners.
We have previously explained that, if the right can rear its head today, it is precisely because of the kind of conciliatory approach that Gabriel Boric is proposing. He is now taking up reactionary demands around immigration and public safety. However, this concession to the right will only drive more people into their hands. Boric’s approach for the second round will have two areas of focus: winning the vote of the ‘moderate sectors’ of society; and opposing ‘democracy to fascism’. But this will not stop the growth of a galvanised right, amid a general context of economic and political uncertainty.
The only way to guarantee Kast’s defeat on the electoral field would be to present a radical programme to substantially improve the lives and material conditions of those who abstained from voting in the first round. These apathetic and demoralised layers would support such a programme.
The abstract opposition of ‘democracy against fascism’ is meaningless for hundreds of thousands of people who rose up just two years ago against precisely this ‘democracy’. We have warned that the constituent process was a deviation from the path of struggle towards institutional channels. It was an agreement between the parties of the regime, which gave rise to a constituent assembly where constitutional lawyers, technocrats and so-called experts ended up conducting the assembly, seconded by a motley crew of ‘public figures’ and ‘intellectuals’.
This only served to sow apathy and uncertainty just at a time when the economic situation facing the working class is extremely difficult. The Wallmapu (Mapuche territory) is militarised, but meanwhile they want to sell us a festival of democracy that does not provide concrete solutions to the needs of the working class.
But it is also necessary to clearly state that the far right cannot be stopped only on the electoral field. Mass mobilisations in the streets of the working class, youth, women and all sectors that would suffer most under a reactionary Kast government could decisively change the balance of forces.
Given the deadlock and fragmentation in the parliamentary chambers, a possible government of Apruebo Dignidad will be obliged to further deepen the policy of conciliation with the right. There is, of course, an alternative. They could choose to lean on the movement in the streets, on the social and workers’ organisations, which with their strength will impose an agenda of transformative change that goes beyond the framework of capitalism. This is, unfortunately, less likely.
What is needed is a leadership determined to carry out the demands of the October rebellion. The constituent assembly was formed as a means of answering questions about pensions, education, health, work, etc. We must have certainty and strategic clarity in the face of this complex situation. We cannot afford a vacillating leadership that apologises for everything. We need a political tendency willing to galvanise all the strength and ingenuity of the working class. To fight against the right, we must rely on the organisation of all progressive forces in society: youth, women and workers. We need a leadership that, instead of negotiating to save the government, seeks to coordinate these layers at a regional and national level.
In this urgent hour, these mobilised progressive forces must connect with the best revolutionary traditions of the Chilean working class: of Luis Emilio Recabarren, the Industrial Cordons, of the struggle against the dictatorship, and the October rebellion. We must raise the flag of socialist struggle, and working-class rule: the only way to finally sweep away the rotten capitalist regime.