One month since the insurrection began in Chile

One month has passed since an insurrectional movement began in Chile. The mass uprising has placed the government of Sebastián Piñera, one of the richest men on the continent, against the ropes. In the face of the movement he has proposed minimum concessions that are only a trap to demobilise the working class and youth.

In addition to this, the repression has resulted in very serious human rights violations, such as torture and sexual abuse. To date, official figures note 23 deaths, more than 3,000 injured, among which more than 200 people have suffered eye damage, with permanent loss of visibility in one of their eyes.

“The greater the spontaneous upsurge of the masses and the more widespread the movement, the more rapid, incomparably so, the demand for greater consciousness in the theoretical, political and organisational work”. (Lenin, What is to be done?, 1902)

The social outbreak in Chile puts on the table the possibility of a fundamental change, with enormous repercussions throughout Latin American and beyond. For their part, the government and the bourgeois parties responded with repression, curfews, a state of emergency, and at the same time, spreading false concessions with the intention of deactivating the movement. The 12 November general strike marked a new turning point that continues to strengthen the confidence of the movement. This successful strike worried the ruling class and precipitated the so-called “agreement for peace and the new constitution”, the latest act of trickery by the regime's parties. This agreement was accomplished in the early hours of Friday and it summoned the parties of Chile Vamos (the right-wing coalition in government), Ex-Concertación Nueva Mayoría (centre-left coalition that was in government for more than 20 years after the end of the dictatorship) and some parties of the Frente Amplio (a wide coalition of left and liberal groups). The Communist Party was a noteworthy exception.

Piñera's insistence on compensating for his political weakness through military intervention has even left police and military forces on a bad footing. In the first week of protests, the state of emergency and curfew were ultimately defeated by the fighting spirit of the masses in the streets. There seem to be disagreements between military commanders and the ruling party, which in recent hours have generated controversy. One is related to the negative response that the high command of the Armed Forces apparently gave to Piñera's suggestion on Tuesday evening to declare a new state of emergence. The president had an impromptu meeting with the Ministers of Defence and Interior in the government palace. There were tense moments when it was rumoured that an announcement was forthcoming that decree the State of Emergency and even a curfew.

Chile protest ES 1 Image fair useThe movement in Chile poses the possibility of fundamental change, with enormous repercussions in Latin American and beyond / Image: fair use

A few weeks after declaring the "war against a powerful enemy," now Piñera wanted to convince us of an "peace agreement." He insisted on some concessions as part of his so-called “social agenda,” and continued to threaten to apply the State's Internal Security Law against protesters. A seemingly improvised speech, which raised doubts about the state of the president's relations with the ministers, of these with the government’s parties, and as a whole with the military commanders. In addition, retired police officers were called back to service, a sign of the significant wear and tear that already affects the police. Even General Director Mario Rozas, in leaked audio, indicates that he is “scared shitless" of the events.

With the repression and provocations of the government, naturally their spirits are getting more and more inflamed. The masses have lost their fear and are improving their methods of self-defence. But all these factors in the equation are developing at uneven speeds.

The class consciousness and organisation, the divisions and regrouping of the regime, the morale of the repressive forces, and the spirit of the masses, are all at different stages that are not always harmonious with a pre-established scheme of revolution. In a political conflict, timing and chance events can be decisive factors. The clear orientation that a determined working-class leadership can give the movement is now urgent.

12 November: workers to the streets!

A week ago, a 24-hour general strike was prepared for Tuesday, 12 November. The National Strike committee, also backed by the Social Unity Board (a large front with the main unions and more than 200 organisations) called for an effective stoppage and massive demonstrations in every city. Unions in every sector - ports, mining, construction, industry, commerce and financial services, education, healthcare, agriculture, agribusiness and public services - joined together to demand structural changes to the system, a demand that the movement identifies with a new Constitution.

We must insist on the importance of this fact for the development of the movement. A general strike clearly demonstrates the power of the working class in a capitalist society, the power to paralyse all production, transport, etc. It is at times like these that the class becomes aware of its own power. Obviously, the general strike puts the whole movement in a position of strength, because it touches the economic interests of the capitalist class, the owners of Chile. It raises the fundamental question about who really makes the economy and society run. Ultimately, a general strike would end up posing the question of power. In this sense, the working class is key, not necessarily as a group based on shared belonging or identity, but because of the role it plays in a capitalist society. Especially as a collectively exploited class that is historically in conflict with the capitalist class: a minority that lives at the expense of the majority's work.

The general strike was massively observed, with the paralysis of the main productive sectors. It is very important to emphasise that this qualitative change in the character of the mobilisations, putting the general strike and the working class at the forefront, has put the regime's parties in a hurry to take the initiative in the conflict and even try to lead the movement (below we will explain the “agreement for peace and new constitution” proposed by the parties).

Chile protest ES 12 Image fair useThe general strike on 12 November was massively observed / Image: fair use

While the movement remains within the limits of large days of protests, with fierce battles between protesters and police, the government can maintain some media control over public opinion. Thus, police are presented as heroic protectors of private property and of the "citizens” who protest peacefully. But with the entry into the scene of the methods of struggle of the working class (the general strike, organised self-defence) puts the situation on a qualitatively higher plane.

Some trade union and leftist organisations have for years maintained a pessimism that saw social change as impossible: a scepticism that prevailed in academic and intellectual spheres. For our part, Marxists fully rely on the creative capacity of human labour, not as mere slaves of capital, but as an emancipatory activity that defines what is properly human in close relationship with nature and society. For this reason, we think that the working class has the ability to transform society, because objectively it supports society day by day with its labour. What is missing is the subjective factor, that is, the workers’ ability to become aware of their own situation and take control of their own strength.

Most people know that they do not want the Piñera government or the Pinochet constitution. But it is not clear to everyone how to reach the society they want. The most recent political development - the agreement for a new constitution subscribed to by right-wing parties, “transition” parties, and also elements of the Frente Amplio - has cleared up some doubts regarding institutional paths, but on the other hand, it poses new questions.

Leon Trotsky, the great leader of the Russian Revolution, pointed out the following about this spirit of the masses:

“The swift changes of mass views and moods in an epoch of revolution thus derive, not from the flexibility and mobility of man’s mind, but just the opposite, from its deep conservatism. The chronic lag of ideas and relations behind new objective conditions, right up to the moment when the latter crash over people in the form of a catastrophe, is what creates in a period of revolution that leaping movement of ideas and passions (...) The masses go into a revolution not with a prepared plan of social reconstruction, but with a sharp feeling that they cannot endure the old régime. Only the guiding layers of a class have a political program, and even this still requires the test of events, and the approval of the masses. The fundamental political process of the revolution thus consists in the gradual comprehension by a class of the problems arising from the social crisis – the active orientation of the masses by a method of successive approximations." (Trotsky, Preface for The History of the Russian Revolution, 1932).

About the Constituent Assembly

The debate on a New Constitution has involved all sectors and political groups in the country. In 2017, at the end of the Nueva Mayoría government, ex-president Michelle Bachelet proposed a mechanism for a new constitution. However, this proposal faced obstruction from the right-wing opposition and the lack of a binding indigenous consultation. Above all, one thing was missing. Now, we see a movement of the masses mobilised and eagre to change the illegitimate constitution of the military dictatorship.

Chile fare strike 8 Image Frente FotograficoA constitution in and of itself is just a piece of paper. Real change will only be accomplished through a struggle of living forces / Image: Frente Fotografico

This consensus is now overwhelming. According to the latest CADEM survey, 78 percent of respondents believe that a change in the constitution is necessary. More than half of all respondents believe that it is "absolutely necessary" to write a new constitution. The fact that the 1980 Constitution still governs clearly reflects how the current regime was built, with an agreement from above with the dictatorship rather than a revolutionary overthrow from below. The opposition to the 1980 Constitution therefore opposes the entire existing regime.

However, we have to say clearly, it is not the existence of the 1980 Constitution that has allowed the looting of labour and nature, denying access to basic goods and services such as health, education and housing; in addition to the plunder of the Mapuche territory for the benefit of forestry companies. Quite the contrary, the Chilean ruling class has imposed a brutal capitalist system, and the Constitution is a reflection of that, not the other way around.

In this sense, the state and the ruling class have used the Constitution as a justification for inequality. Rosa Luxemburg pointed out this situation:

“On the one hand, the State assumes without doubt functions of general interest in the sense of social development”; but, at the same time, it does so only "to the extent that the general and social interests coincide with the interests of the ruling class" (Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution? 1896)

A constitution may contain very advanced democratic principles and progressive clauses, but after all, a constitution is nothing more than a piece of paper. None of that is really guaranteed under the capitalist regime, and all those formal rights are constantly attacked by capitalism in crisis. What determines the rights and conquests of the working class is the real correlation of forces in their confrontation with the capitalist class. It is obvious that there is huge support for changing the Constitution. But we must warn that a new constitution, by itself, however democratic, does not change the relations of production in society and therefore will not be able to guarantee the rights and the demands of the movement.

No more parliamentary farce. For a workers’ government!

The support of the masses in the streets for a Constituent Assembly represents their aspiration for a fundamental social change and a rejection of the entire existing regime. The government response has been to try at all costs to preserve the legitimacy of the Congress. Even the right-wing parties, faced with the danger of being swept away by the uprising, have been forced to forge an agreement with the opposition in order to deactivate the movement. Hence the so-called "agreement for peace and the new constitution" signed by all parties, from the right wing in government all the way to the Socialist Party and Broad Front “left”, with the only exception being the Communist Party.

The agreement proposes two methods to be voted on a plebiscite in April next year. The “Constitutional Mixed Convention”, composed of delegates drawn from the current congress. This is the government’s trap: its provisions are for a bourgeois democracy. This has been justly rejected by the movement.

The agreement presents another option called the "Constituent Convention". In reality, this means elections to a Constituent Assembly (which in the current circumstances, is nothing more than a bourgeois democratic parliament), with the particularity that its task is to develop a new constitution. Those who present themselves for such an election are either from the current existing parties, or in the case that parties were not allowed to run, they would probably be “experts” (lawyers, constitutionalists, economists, etc.) that ultimately owed their allegiance the same existing political parties that have access to the media, etc. For example, it is proposed that the election of the members of the Constituent Assembly be made jointly with the regional and municipal elections in October 2020. The election of deputies to this Constituent Assembly would not be done in workers' assemblies or in territorial assemblies where the working class deliberates, but through a bourgeois-democratic vote in which citizens (individuated and atomised) are placed in front of a ballot box and issue their vote for one of the options that the regime allows.

Furthermore, the rules of this Constituent Convention are rigged. Any decisions would need a ⅔ majority, which means that a small, ⅓ right-wing bloc would have a right to veto any majority decisions.

Chile far strike main 2 Image public domainPiñera, out! National Assembly of the Working People! For a Workers’ Government! / Image: public domain

The response from some unions and social organisations has not been long in coming. A massive call on Friday 15 November expressed a clear rejection of the political parties signing this agreement. The uprising rejects the entire regime and therefore is not willing to accept that it is the regime itself who decides what changes must be made.

"Chile is not For Sale" is the slogan from the ACES (a high school students’ association), which also calls the people, anti-capitalist organisations, the Social Unity and territorial assemblies to continue with the mobilisation. That is, against the neoliberal model, and the Piñera government. The Social Unity Board, the National Association of Fiscal Employees (ANEF), and Teachers’ Unions, among others, have denounced the legitimacy of this parliamentary agreement.

The militant Port Workers’ Union of Chile and also the Social Unity have been emphatic in pointing out the incongruities that this farce has with the original demands of the people. Social Unity explained the following: “It is telling that the Agreement includes mechanisms that we emphatically reject: 1) A high quorum that perpetuates the veto of minorities. 2) Discriminates people under 18 years. 3) Does not include mechanisms for Plurinational participation and Gender Parity. 4) It establishes a mechanism of representation and functional election to the political parties that have been responsible for the current political and social crisis.” These points are clear in denouncing the trickery of this agreement. But we must insist that the issue is not the form, but the content. Regardless of the technical arguments, the content is determined by the corrupt parties that made up this agreement behind the people's backs. The streets demand the resignation of the businessman-president Piñera. The working people must tear down this regime, and after this they can utilise their own power through their own democratic bodies in whatever way they deem appropriate.

In addition, these organisations that are objectively the leadership of the movement, through the Social Unity Board, have stated that they will call for a new general strike. This is correct, given the urgent circumstances that the country is going through. But it is also necessary to schedule a general strike, not only an event of 24-or-48 hours. It is necessary to take the next step, a qualitative leap. This time, the tendencies towards the self-organisation of the workers and the communities must be developed to the maximum, in an indefinite general strike. The territorial assemblies and open councils must be strengthened and coordinated by elected and revocable delegates in regional and national councils. Self-defence organisations must be created to face police repression. The people have shown a tremendous disposition for combat, but their patience and heroism cannot be betrayed. Now is when an offensive that overthrows the government and the businessman-president Sebastián Piñera must be effectively organised.

Actually, what is being raised right now is the possibility that the working class will take power. If there was a revolutionary leadership worthy of what this uprising has already accomplished, the convening of a large National Assembly of the Working People would be discussed, with delegates elected in the Territorial Assemblies, the Cabildos and self-convened assemblies, or the Strike Committees. Such an Assembly would consider taking power and expropriating the bourgeoisie and multinationals. Only in that way, by taking control of the means of production, can the serious problems that gave rise to this movement be resolved. This is about putting an end NOW to the power of entrepreneurs in education, health, pensions, housing, etc. This cannot wait until 2021 for their parliamentary arrangements and farce. We need to demand a minimum salary of 500,000 pesos. A minimum pension equal to the minimum salary. Nationalise natural resources, lithium, copper and water under the control of workers and communities. We want to expel immediately the forestry, hydroelectric and mining companies that plunder the Mapuche territory and its people. The thousands of Mapuche flags demonstrate this deep feeling of solidarity from the Chilean people. For its part, the Mapuche nation must be protagonists of their own history. Now is time!

Without justice, there will never be peace! There can be no agreements written in the blood of our dead!

Piñera, out!

A plan of nationalisation and social rights NOW!

National coordination of all assemblies and councils!

National Assembly of the Working People! For a Workers’ Government!