Chile: What is the Frente Amplio and what does it represent?

Here we publish an article by Celso Calfullan, from Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Chile) on the development of the Frente Amplio (FA – Broad Front), a new Left formation which saw an explosive growth in the 2017 parliamentary elections, and in which CWI comrades have participated from the beginning.


Political context of its birth

The mass “movement of the penguins” (secondary school students) marked a deep change in the Chilean political situation. For the first time since the dictatorship, a government of the “Concertacion” (‘Left’ opposition alliance) and its continuation of the neo-liberal policies of the dictatorship was exposed to the masses, despite their promises of “change”.

The year 2006 also saw the beginning of subcontracted workers’ struggle for improved working conditions and wages, especially in the mining and forestry sectors. On 3 May 2007, a forest worker, Rodrigo Cisterna, was infamously murdered by police during a protest.

During the same period we also saw an active Mapuche (indigenous people) movement, struggling to reclaim its land, under the first Bachelet government. Three emblematic murders of Mapuche youth took place, who have since become symbols of Mapuche struggle (José Huenante, Matías Catrileo and Jaime Mendoza Collio).
This popular discontent was what led to the Concertacion losing power to a billionaire, Sebastian Piñera in 2009. We must make clear that more than a victory for Piñera this was a vote against the Concertacion and the continuity of the economic policies of the dictatorship which they had been implementing.

Paradoxically, the Piñera government, without wanting to, favoured social mobilisation. Under his government, the Concertacion apparatuses no longer played their role of putting a brake on social movements, and the Piñera government was quickly weakened. Under Piñera, in 2011 we saw the historic mass mobilisations of the student movement, which many still remember all over the world.

Together with the student struggles, we also saw various regional protest movements. In January 2011, protests began in Magallanes (South of Chile), with mass participation. The city of Aysen also featured in this period, with the whole city mobilised in defence of a series of regional demands, among others and end to high fuel prices, quality healthcare, a regional minimum wage, and regional public university. On the other hand, the environmentalist movement was also strong on a national level during this period, against the construction of a dam in Aysen (HidroAysen), with mass marches throughout the country.

Birth of the ‘New Majority’

Once it had left power, the Concertacion, in its efforts to regain it, integrated the Communist Party which had never been allowed to enter the conglomeration, and re-baptised itself the ‘New Majority’. It attempted to generate great expectations of “reforms”, such as a Constituent Assembly, free education, reform of politics and the promise of reclaiming workers’ rights.

In Chile, the electoral system was perfectly designed to guarantee that only two political forces – the right wing, and the Concertacion could be elected, both with a pretty similar neo-liberal programme. The big difference between these two blocs was their relationship to the former dictatorship, with sections of the PInochetist right wing still attempting to rid themselves of the baggage.

The character of the Frente Amplio (broad front)

First of all, it must be stressed that the Broad Front (FA) is extremely heterogeneous. The FA had great electoral success because its Left of centre programme connected with the radicalisation taking place in Chilean society, which is still in its initial stages.

Most of the leaders of the FA have confused Left sympathies, with many declaring themselves anti-neoliberal and some of the 14 groups which make up the front even declaring themselves anti-capitalist.

The FA leadership is mostly made up of ex-student leaders who come from elite universities. They made attempts to not allow the Left to enter the coalition or to have candidates, but did not completely achieve this.

The Left managed to enter the FA “through the window” despite constant manoeuvres to keep it out. Around the primary challenge of Alberto Mayol, a young sociologist and academic, a Left pole was built which later went on to form the MDP (Democratic Popular Movement). Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in Chile) has been an integral part of this process from the beginning, with SR members taking part in the leadership of Mayol’s primary campaign. In the primary elections, Mayol won 100,000 votes, against more than 200,000 for Beatriz Sanchez who was backed by the FA leadership.

The re-birth of the workers’ and popular movement has until now been expressed in the mobilisations and programme of the NO + AFP (no more private pension funds) movement. Following some vacillations, this programme was taken up by the FA. The much bigger than expected vote for Beatriz Sanchez in the Presidential elections, who was close to beating the main candidate of the ‘New Majority’, Guiller, owes a great deal to its connection with this movement.

What does the FA represent?

The FA is the product of more than one decade of student movements, which began most clearly in the ‘penguin’ movement, and had its highest point in 2011, with millions on the streets, including workers.

This movement was the most important since the dictatorship. The massiveness of the mobilisations, and the depth of public support, showed that the discontent in society goes far beyond only education.

In 2013, two years after the big mobilisations of 2011 and 7 years after the 2006 protests, the idea of participating in the elections began to chrystallise in some political collectives which were born form the student movement. Among them were Izquierda Autonoma (IA) which was born in the University of Chile in 2008 and Revolucion Democratica (RD) which started in the Catholic University, one of the country’s most conservative universities and the Libertarian Student Front (FEL).

At a time when public denunciation of the corruption of the political caste was becoming generalised in all institutions, these political groups born from the student movement launched their own candidates to compete with the two-party neo-liberal system which has governed for almost 30 years.

In this process there are similarities with the development of Podemos in the Spanish state, which grew out of the struggle around the 15 May ‘Indignados’ movement. Both processes represented a step forward in consciousness of the need to be poltically and electorally organised in order to fight for political power.

Students and young people in general were sick of the politics of the traditional parties, and of the crisis of political representation which saw these parties give no answer, in government or parliament, to their concerns. These new candidates, in their own words, sought to shift focus away from the market and take a step back from neoliberal policies. In the 2013 elections, they managed to elect 2 MPs ,Gabriel Boric from IA who won on the basis of breaking with both of the main parties and was elected on his own merit, and Giorgio Jackson from RD who was elected via a pact with the ‘New Majority’ which allowed him to be elected partially based on their votes. These elections also saw 2 student leaders elected for the Communist Party, but as part of the parliamentary group of the ‘New Majority’ which went on to govern for 4 years under Bachelet until today.

There are clearly differences between these different political groups. For example, Gabriel Boric and IA maintained their independence from the New Majority, unlike Giorgio Jackson who became part of the government and Education Ministry. RD also had members, Miguel Crespi, a direct advisor to the Education Ministry and Gonzalo Muñoz, chief of the General Education division. Little over a year before the last elections they abandoned their posts, to distance themselves from the government which they had been part of.

FA at one year old

In the middle of January 2018 the FA marked its one year anniversary. The FA is made up not only of parties or movements which come from the student movement. It was also opened up to other political forces outside of the two-party system, such as RD, the Humanist Party, IA, Libertarian Left, Green Ecologist Party, the Equality Party, the MDP (which SR-CWI participates in) and the Pirate Party among others. The strangest component part of the FA is the Liberal Party, which is clearly linked to the Chilean right wing and had 2 MPs elected with the FA. The best known is Vlado Mirosevic, who was very close to Piñera, and even worked for him when he was elected president in 2011!

FA leaders – sons and daughters of…

Another interesting detail of the FA is that many of its best known leaders, who come from the student movement, are the children of well-known figures from the ‘New Majority’ and of current government Ministers. Even Bachelet’s daughter is part of the FA. Once, when Bachelet was asked what she thought of the FA leaders, she said “though it’s true that there has been an eruption of new parties, if you ask yourself who are these new youths, they are children of members of traditional parties”.

FA – the third political force

Despite being less than a year old, the FA had a spectacular rise in the parliamentary elections in 2017, electing 20 MPs, 13 of which are ex-student leaders, and 1 Senator. In 2016, they also won the mayoral elections in Valparaiso, Chile’s most important port, with a candidate called Jorge Sharp, only 31 years old. In 2017, the best opinion polls gave the FA between 8 and 10 MPs. The FA and Beatriz Sanchez was even only 2% away from reaching the second round of the Presidential elections, winning 20% of the votes when polls gave her only 8% – this reveals how manipulated opinion polls are in this country.

What is the policy of the FA?

It is clear that the FA has various “souls” within it. The Liberal Party is clearly the most right wing sector in the alliance, but within the FA we also have RD which is clearly to the right of the rest of the groups which come from the student movement. We cannot forget RD’s participation in the neoliberal New Majority government, which helped them elect their first MP.

The background of many of the FA leaders in the wealthy middle classes, also makes them reticent to assume more radical “rupturist” position. They are clearly discontented with the enormous inequality which exists in Chile, but think that the system can be made more humane by introducing some reforms in the interests of the poorest. Most however, are not willing to go further.

However, the situation of Chile today, immersed in the crisis of world capitalism which is shaking the whole of Latin America, only a perspective which goes beyond the logic of capitalism can make the demands of the social movements and workers’ movement really viable. Therefore, SR, within the MDP, defends a revolutionary socialist programme for the FA as the only guarantee for its success.

The Piñera government – a challenge for the FA

In March we will have a new government of the most reactionary right wing which apparently will carry out a neo-liberal counter-offensive. Facing up to this situation presents great challenges for the FA. What is the best strategy to defend the demands of the student movement and incorporate the demands of other sectors? With whom should we make agreements to make these demands a reality? The FA is well positioned to develop as the political voice of these movements if it adopts the correct approach and policy.

The Communist Party has proposed a process of “unity without exclusions, from the DC (Christian Democracy) to the FA”, a kind of Concertacion 3.0 (the New Majority was Concertacion 2.0). An alliance of this type would be difficult to accept for various parts of the FA, though there are others no would not be so opposed to the proposal.

A stable political alliance as proposed by the CP is difficult to envisage. It is more likely that agreements are reached on a case by case basis in favour of some laws to improve, even in a very limited way, the conditions of the majority which suffers under neoliberal policies. For example, achieving genuinely free education, a decent health system, end the AFP (private pension system) which is forcing the majority of retired workers to live in total misery.

We cannot forget that the FA, as a political expression of the student movement and the middle layers in society, but still clearly does not represent the majority of the working class and its demands. For example none of the FA’s elected MPs comes from the Trade Union movement or is a genuine representative of the working class. It is clear that workers still do not have an authoritative voice within the FA which speaks for them and their demands.

The building of a real political instrument of the working class is still a pressing task, for the working class as well as the student movement to pass from social to political struggle building their own class force. SR (CWI in Chile) within the MDP and FA takes up solving this task as its absolute priority. Armed with a revolutionary socialist programme, to put the enormous wealth of the country to work for its peoples, as part of a socialist transformation in the whole of Latin America, the forces of revolutionary Marxism in Chile can take important steps forward in the next period.

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February 2018