Two years since the ‘October rebellion’ – a balance sheet

Protest in Puerto Montt (North Patagonia), Chile, October 2019 (Photo: Natalia Reyes Escobar/Wikimedia Commons)

This month completes two years since the social rebellion which began on 18 October 2019. This event, the most important in recent Chilean history, signalled a new chapter in the crisis of the entire political and economic regime, which was inherited from the military dictatorship. For all young people and workers, it is important to draw the lessons of what has happened from that October, in order to prepare ourselves for the future crisis and struggles which will inevitably come.

It is important to understand that the events of 2019 did not drop from the sky. Neither was it caused by simple “discontent” of the abuses suffered in society. The rebellion which began in October has its roots in a generalized crisis of the capitalist and neo-liberal regime instituted by the former dictatorship. The system has been incapable of responding to the most basic minimal demands of the population and the need for an integral development that surpasses the historic economic backwardness of Chile.

In the last decade, we have been through a cycle of mass mobilisations that demanded fundamental material changes in education, pensions, health environmental and labour rights and more. Yet none of these just demands was taken up or satisfied by the state. This led to a sharp crisis of legitimacy of all the state institutions which were seen as being responsible for the abuses and injustices which the population lived with. An increase in the price of a metro ticket in October 2019 was the drop that overflowed the glass, triggering a massive social explosion.

The right-wing government of Sebastián Piñera survived with great difficulty, thanks to coming together of three factors:

  1. Criminal repression has left a trail of deaths and mutilations (hundred left blinded); a policy of sexual violence, including rape, and thousands of young people taken prisoners and persecuted.
  2. The solid support of the parliamentary opposition for the government was reflected in the approval of new laws opposing looting, barricades and above all the agreement, “For social peace and the new constitution”.
  3. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. The resulted in the ending of the massive mobilisations and allowed the government to impose a repressive agenda, which limited mobility and meetings. It included a curfew which previously the government had not been capable or able to enforce previously with their failed deployment of the military onto the streets.

The agreement, “For social peace and the new constitution”, gave a political way out for the government which was on the point of collapsing. It was agreed to call a plebiscite and then elections to a Constitutional Convention, with limited powers imposed on it by Congress. This was carried through in law 21.200, which enacted all the processes for a new constitution.

These limitations on the Convention meant that it could enact nothing that directly affected functioning and decisions of the organs and powers of the state, and neither could it discuss international trade agreements. It also meant that any decision to be approved needed a two-third majority, which meant that the right and more conservative sectors in a minority could veto any votes.

For us, this made it absolutely clear that this was a massive fraud to prevent the establishment of a genuinely free, sovereign Constituent Assembly. It was designed to do everything possible to effectively sabotage the new constitution or at least to water it down in such a manner that it assured the continuation of the capitalist system as it exists.

It was in this context that the mass movement, which was not defeated, entered a downturn and was channelled in electoral and institutional roads.

Without a doubt, the biggest limitation during the first phase of the ascending social uprising was the lack of recognized political and social leadership in the movement and a political programme accepted by the masses. Neither the trade unions nor the political parties, which in the main have lost prestige and are perceived as corrupt by the majority of the population could play this role. The absence of a genuine party of the working class and a revolutionary leadership impeded this social uprising.

From there, the energy displayed in the 2019 rebellion was directed into institutional channels and the constituent process. The election on the 15th/16th of May, this year, for 155 representatives to the Constitutional Convention, was a massive earthquake for the political caste and the bourgeois elite. The most striking phenomena in these elections were the turn towards the left and the election of a large number of ‘independents’. The political parties of the system suffered a big defeat. The coalition of the right-wing, against all its expectations, did not win its blocking mechanism of one-third of the seats.

The crisis faced by the regime has resulted in a reconfiguration of all the political forces involved. The old coalitions, Concertación and Chile Vamos, went into decline. Meanwhile, the coalition of the Frente Amplio increased its support. The explosive growth of the independent movements, like the Lista del Pueblo, is an expression of this period, characterised by confusion of political consciousness and the search for an alternative. The terminal crisis which then developed in the Lista del Pueblo was a political expression of the downturn in the mass movement that took place.

It is in these new conditions that the most conciliatory forces inside the Convention have been able to control the process of editing the new constitution. The Frente Amplio is playing a key role in this, proposing agreements with sections of the ex Concertacion aimed at introducing changes within the margin of what was laid down in the 15th November agreement.

On the electoral and presidential plane, there is also a reordering of the different political forces and coalitions, There is an important crisis in the right-wing coalition, Chile Vamos, whose candidate is Sichel. The same has developed in Provoste campaign with ex-Concertación.

On the one hand, these are both seen in the eyes of a big part of the population representing the past which they want to change. On the other hand, the campaign of the Chile Digo, which includes the Frente Amplio, has managed to get its Presidential candidate, Boric, in an ascending campaign. He is seen as a new leader who could manage any consensus changes which they need but within the framework of the institution of capitalism. Boric won the nomination following a primary which included the Communist Party, in which the right intervened and participated to ensure the Communist Party was defeated.

Irrespective of which party forms the next government, massive instability will continue. As the pandemic eases, the massive economic crisis is revealed nationally, as it is internationally. In the next period, with a new government, and eventually a new constitution, all of the demands raised in the October rebellion will be on the table again to be resolved.  If the next government and constitution fail to address fundamental changes to the political and economic system, the condition for new mass mobilisation will exist.

The crisis we see is part of the global crisis of capitalism. The attempts to make reforms within the system are increasingly shown to be insufficient to meet the expectations and demands of the masses. A revolutionary socialist alternative of the oppressed and a new party of the workers is needed more than ever to offer a way out of the crisis, fighting for a government of the workers that introduces genuine socialist policies.




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October 2021