A sea of Chilean workers, youth, students and others flooded onto the streets of central Santiago, on Friday 25 October. It was the largest demonstration in Chilean history. Up to two million demanded the end of Sabastian Pinera’s government and the convening of a Constituent Assembly. This monster of a march followed two days of mass protests and strikes. This revolt is taking place in face of the deployment of the army onto the streets and brutal repression not seen since the dark era of the Pinochet dictatorship. At least fifteen people have died at the hands of the state forces, thousands have arrested and more have been brutally beaten and injured.
In the face of this mass revolt by the population, Pinera has been compelled to offer concessions, asked for the resignation of his cabinet and he lifted a curfew. He pathetically apologized to the Chilean people. In an act of gross hypocrisy, Pinera said how “happy” he was at the enormous protest held last Friday because it was “peaceful”. “We have learned and we have changed,” he declared, before scurrying from the lecture from which he delivered his speech back into the sanctuary of La Moneda Presidential Palace.
Appetite comes with eating. None of the concessions, so far, made by Pinera are enough to satisfy the Chilean masses who want him, his government and the ruling elite he represents, all gone. The changes to his cabinet amounted to five being removed and three reassigned to other ministries. His government now lacks any credibility or authority. Pinera now has an approval rating of 14% – the lowest of any president since the military regime. Reflecting the collapse of credibility of the government, the Mapuche people have declared that they no longer recognize it and will establish their own government in their territories. They declared their support for a constituent assembly, involving Mapuches and non-Mapuches.
The government currently floats like a dead corpse on the sea of the population. However, despite the mass explosion of rage which has taken place, the state and the ruling class remain in power.
Chile – the neo-liberal experiment
This social revolt in Chile has not dropped from the sky. It began with a tremendous protest of the young against a thirty peso increase in the price of a metro ticket. Yet this is also a revolt against more than thirty years of vicious , anti-working class neo-liberal policies, applied to Chile. Chile was the birth place of neo-liberal policies following the military coup in 1973.
Since the end of the dictatorship in 1989, the neo-liberal politics of Pinochet’s junta (1973-89) have been continued by all governments. Attack after attack has been piled onto the backs of the Chilean working class. It has resulted in an ever growing gap and inequalities between the rich and the poor. Yet a relatively high growth rate in the economy resulted in Chile being regarded as one of the most stable of Latin American countries. Two weeks before the outbreak of the social revolt, Pinera was still boasting that Chile was an “oasis” compared to the rest of Latin America. Now Chile has been catapulted into the front line of the struggles which are rocking the entire continent, with revolutionary movements and upheavals leaping from one country to the next.
he triumphalism of the right following the electoral triumph of right-populist regimes, like Bolsanaro, in Brazil or Macri, in Argentina, has been shattered by a series of social revolts against them. As the CWI pointed out, the victory of the right-wing populist parties was not based on solid support for the neo-liberal programmes they defended. It was more a protest vote against the failure of the “centre left” and “left” governments which failed to abolish capitalism.
Initially, Pinera imagined that he could cower the movement by the use of the mailed fist. Proclaiming the country was “at war”, his regime resorted to brutal repression not seen since the Pinochet dictatorship. Imposing a state of emergency, a night time curfew, and deploying the army, he let the dogs off the leash, once again. The general in charge of Santiago under the state of emergency is none other than the nephew of Raul Iturriaga Neuman, the deputy chief of the DINA, Pinochet’s dreaded secret police. Neuman ran a secret detention centre known as “the discotheque” because of the loud music played there to hide the screams of those being sexually abused and tortured Today, human rights’ organisations have found clear evidence of a secret torture centre used during the recent protests, hidden in the tunnels at Baquedano metro station.
Yet such brutal repression has failed to intimidate the movement. It enraged the masses who took to the streets in greater numbers. Pinera and his government have been forced into a humiliating retreat, lifting the state of emergency and the curfew. However, they are not yet driven from power, and capitalism still remains.
In reality, following the “transition” to “democracy” most of the trappings of the former dictatorship were left in-tact. The state machine is riddled with supporters of the former regime. Labour laws, decrees issued by Pinera to declare the state of emergency, and more, are inherited from Pinochet’s dictatorship. Add to this a totally undemocratic election system then the “democratic transition” amounted to a thin veneer of parliamentary democracy.
For a revolutionary constituent assembly
The explosion of anger, although triggered by the increase in the price of metro tickets, is directed against every aspect of the state and the neo-liberal policies. For this reason, the demand for a constituent assembly to “restructure society” has won mass support. This demand is as a means of achieving democratic rights and ending the abusive exploitation of workers and their families. To achieve this, a revolutionary constituent assembly is needed. No trust can be placed in Pinera or any capitalist government to convene a democratic constituent assembly. Democratically elected committees in all workplaces and districts, linked up on a citywide and national basis, is the way to ensure a genuinely democratic revolutionary constituent assembly is convened.
This movement is an outpouring of class rage and demand for change. It has engulfed not only the working class but swathes of the middle class and the youth. Santiago’s classical symphony orchestra is performing songs by Victo Jara, the celebrated Chilean singer, who was murdered by the Pinochet dictatorship. Dockers and copper miners have joined workers on strike. Significantly the dock workers’ union has also demanded the nationalization of the copper industry.
Despite the brutal repression, the broad sweep of the movement and the issues involved has begun to have an effect on sections of the state machine. A split is beginning to open up. The army, with rank and file soldiers drawn overwhelmingly from the working class, has especially been affected. Numerous incidents of soldiers joining protestors or refusing to carry out repression have taken place. In Iquique, in the far north, protestors march on the local barracks and the army simply withdrew. Fear of this developing further was probably one factor which resulted in the state of emergency and curfew being lifted.
This massive movement has been a spontaneous uprising and display of anger. It has not been initiated or led by any party or social organization, at this stage. The betrayal of the Chilean workers and masses by all of the political parties, which have defended the existing system, understandably is reflected in a deep suspicion and even hostility to the idea of a political party and organization.
Betrayal of Socialist Party – revolutionary socialist programme needed!
The Socialist Party today, is unrecognizable as the party of Salvador Allende. It has embraced capitalism and neo-liberalism and some sections of the leadership were recently implicated in drug trafficking. In recent years, the Communist Party (CP) acted as a break on the movement of the working class. The trade union federation, CUT, failed to lead any serious struggle of the working class and lost authority in the eyes of most Chilean workers.
The failure of these or other parties to lead this tremendous social movement are also one side its strength. A similar process took place in Barcelona, in 1936, in the struggle against Franco’s fascist forces. The working class did not wait for its “leaders” to act before storming the military barracks and unleashing a revolutionary movement. The SP and CP in Chile, today, with their current policies and programme would act undoubtedly as a break and try to derail the movement. Without them the movement of the masses has already gone much further than they would have allowed. It may yet go further.
At the same time, the absence of a mass party of the working class with a revolutionary socialist programme to take the movement forward is also the weakness of this movement. For it is urgent that this movement is channeled as a revolutionary movement to bring down Pinera and the Chilean ruling class, to establish a government of the working class and poor, with a socialist programme to break with capitalism.
The ruling class is attempting now to seduce the movement with appeals to negotiate a solution to the grievances of the Chilean people. Some of the traditional parties and social organisations may try and use this to pacify the movement and apply the brakes. There can be no trust in Pinera and his class! Such a route is towards betrayal of the demands and aspiration of the masses who have heroically taken to the streets and defied the government.
Present on the demonstrations are some features from the Popular Unity (UP) revolution and counter revolution of 1970-73. Aspects of this powerful revolutionary tradition still resonate with a layer of the younger generation. The singing of songs by Victor Jara and chants from the UP-era, reflect the beginning of a reawakening of this tradition. Most powerful, however, is the tradition of struggle by the youth against the dictatorship.
Social organisations, like the Unidad Social (a coalition of some trade unions, the pensioners’ movement, dock workers, teachers, some copper workers’ unions and other unions, student federations and social movements in the local areas)f have tried to take the lead. It was this organization which called the forty eight hour general strike on 22 and 23 of October. It has called another general strike on 30 October. It also demands the resignation of Pinera and supports a constituent assembly to deal with the social demands of the people.
To take this struggle forward, it is now urgent that the mass explosion of protest is organized to finish off Pinera and end the rule of the ruling class. A revolutionary socialist programme and organization is urgently needed. Such a programme needs to include the following demands:
- Out with Pinera! For a general strike!
- Release all those arrested on the protests
- Release all soldiers imprisoned for refusing to repress the protests
- For popular tribunals of the workers and people to put on trial all those responsible for repression and torture
- Appeal to the ranks of the army to support the movement. Trade union rights for the soldiers
- Disband the special riot police units
- Build democratic committees of struggle and defence, in all communities and workplaces, linked up on a citywide, regional and national basis
- For the convening of a revolutionary constituent assembly
- For a government of the workers’ and the poor, with a democratic socialist programme to end capitalism