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Chile | Two Years After October 18: Lessons and Perspectives

October 19, 2021

Two years ago, millions of us took the streets to say “enough.” Young people took the lead with students hopping the subway turnstiles in protest of the increase of ticket prices. The government’s violent response caused the country to erupt in indignation against other ongoing abuses as well: precarious healthcare, pensions, miserable wages, privatized education, the price of public transportation, and many other issues.

The Chilean social upheaval was not the only unrest brewing in the region. A few days earlier, Ecuador flared up with barricades and violent confrontations between indigenous people and Lenin Moreno’s government over a rise in the price of fuel. A month later, Colombia also exploded in a large National Strike that ended with a social rebellion. The United States followed a few months later when enormous rebellion erupted against racist violence. Despite the fact that these moments of social upheaval took place in different countries, they shared something in common: the movements were led by the poor, young people, the popular classes, and the working class. This is because capitalism generate enormous inequalities and violence in all countries, including in the richest ones like the United States.
In Chile, October 18 saw the expression of three decades of struggle against the neoliberal capitalist model. The regional struggles in Aysén, Freirina, and Punta Arenas, the student struggle for public education, the workers fight against subcontracting and for better salaries, the fight against the private Chilean Retirement System, and the women’s struggle–all of these came together in a single struggle after October 18.

Uprising, revolt, or revolution?

But what actually happened on October 18 and in the weeks that followed? Is it correct to speak of a social uprising, or revolt? In our opinion, these terms don’t accurately describe the process that began on that day.

The movement that started on October 18 had three very important characteristics. The first was its mass character: millions of people took to the streets following that day. This mass character was not just in the big marches, but also in neighborhoods in the barrages of pots and pans, meetings, activities, and fairs. The second important characteristic was violence as a form of resistance for the people. The social upheaval was accompanied by a significant amount of violence directed at the police, public institutions, and also some symbols of consumption. As a result, in a few days dozens of metro stations had been burned, as well as churches and private universities, and large retail stores were looted, etc. In addition to this incendiary anger on display, popular self-defense of the marches was organized by “The First Line.” Hundreds of thousands of young people and adults lost their fear of engaging with police and the military as they put their bodies on the line to defend the protests. The third important characteristic was the profound questioning that was taking place. We aren’t talking about a spontaneous revolt against a specific policy. October 18 unified all of the popular demands against the current economic model and political regime. All of this was synthesized in the slogans “Out Piñera” and “Constituent Assembly” that questioned both the regime and its economic basis.

According to these three characteristics, we might say that what happened in Chile was a revolution, not just an revolt or uprising. We often have the false idea that a revolution is a process of uninterrupted mobilizations that quickly brings about the fall of a government or regime. This can happen, as in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya ten years ago. However, not all revolutions are the same. Revolutions are processes of rupture of the established order that can last years, that come and go, and are characterized by the rise and fall of social mobilizations. Many factors determine if these revolutions will or will not be victorious and what social transformations they ultimately achieve. Some revolutions unseat governments but they do not achieve social victories. Others overthrow entire regimes and go much farther in their victories. Some recede, are massacred, or re-routed. The most profound revolutions are those that question the basis of the capitalist system—private property of the means of production—as in the Russian Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, or the Chinese Revolution. These were social revolutions that were able to go much further in the construction of a new society, although after they regressed due to the politics of their leadership.

In Chile, our revolution has the working class as its motor allied with sectors of the precarized middle classes and indigenous peoples. At the vanguard are young, precarious workers and students. It is a revolution that has at its center the profound questioning of the Chilean capitalist economic model. Social problems will not be solved through changes in the political regime (a more or less democratic constitution, a unicameral Congress or a more ‘democratic’ police.) There needs to be more profound economic changes for the social demands to be met. In our opinion, only the rupture with big transnational imperialists and the Chilean bourgeoise will we be able to solve the people’s problems. For this reason, we talk about this revolution as unconsciously socialist since at its base it questions the national and foreign bourgeoise’s right to private property. While at the same time the revolution will only be realized when the working class takes power into its own hands and completely reorganizes the economy and society. Meanwhile if it negotiates with businessmen, all of its victories will be partial and may retreat at some point if the capitalist system is not ended, along with the logic of profit that condemns the greater part of the population to poverty and destroys nature.

Piñera’s Defeat and November 12 and 15

Returning to the facts at hand. The masses had several victories following October 18. The first was the price freeze on public transportation, one of the first measures demanded by the protestors. Days after, with the largest march in history on October 25, 2019, we forced the government to withdraw its troops from the streets and send them back to their barracks. We defeated the government’s policy of stopping protests with military violence. The protests continued and reached their peak on November 12, with the organization of a general strike that paralyzed many important sectors. This strike, that halted transportation, mining, public works and services, and workers in other sectors was combined with strong youth mobilizations and confrontations in various cities. Antofagasta, Santiago, Valparaíso, Concepción, and various other cities were transformed into scenes of war. The government was hanging by a thread and threatened to send troops back to the streets. Nevertheless, they didn’t have the strength to do it, since military leaders understood that putting troops on the streets again would be for a massacre, which could bring the country to civil war.

Thus, Piñera was obligated to back down and call for a national agreement with all parties of the regime. On November 15 the Peace Agreement was signed which opened up the current Constitutional Process and saved Piñera’s government.

The Broad Front and the Communist Party Save the Government

The Peace Agreement gave rise to the current Constitutional Process. Firstly, we should recognize that the opening of the Constitutional Process was an enormous victory for the mass movement. Neither the government, nor the ‘opposition’ wanted to concede to it with its current characteristics. That said, as it was the fruit of an important compromise, the current process was warped from the beginning by many obstacles imposed by the current regime’s political parties: the two-thirds quorum, the impossibility of removing authorities (and in that way doing away with serving justice to Piñera and his government), the impossibility of changing the Free Trade Treaties (that are the basis of the current economic model), etc.

The agreement was signed by nearly all of the regime’s political parties, from the Independent Democratic Union to the Broad Front. Thus all of them are responsible for keeping Piñera in office, the enormous repression that followed the Agreement, as well as the obstacles put in place for the Constitutional Process. Although the Communist Party did not sign the Agreement, it came out the following day to officially recognize it, and made some timely criticisms of some aspects (such as a quorum and the lack of indigenous representation). The CP that directed the Board for Social Unity slowed down mobilizations and fully entered into the electoral contest that followed. At this time the government was at its weakest and the mass movement had strength, yet the CP decided to enter into the electoral race instead of using the weight of unions and territories to sustain the “Out Piñera” movement. In this way they were complicit in the Peace Agreement and one of those responsible for keeping Piñera in power. Although months later (when the mass movement had waned), they presented a Constitutional Accusation against Piñera with the Broad Front that was subsequently defeated in Congress.

Thus the Constitutional Process opened with a bitter taste in the mouth. There has been no justice or punishment for those responsible for the war against the people. There have been no reparations given to the hundreds of victims of repression and their families, and many of our comrades are still in prison. All of these tasks are still at hand.

The Process Is Still Open

There were many mobilizations after signing the Peace Agreement. With the start of the pandemic, the government and large companies were forced to hand over to workers the first withdrawal from the Chilean Retirement System for fear of renewed social unrest. After that there were subsequent withdraws and vouchers to soften the economic impact of the pandemic. All of these economic concessions to the working class were due to fear. The bourgeoise gave their rings to try to save their fingers. The pandemic meant a hard blow for the working class. The majority of those who have lost their lives are working class, our people, because they were the ones who kept working and risked contracting the virus. The Employee Protection Law was another blow, since it allowed bosses to “freeze” the contracts of thousands of workers who were forced to use their unemployment insurance to make ends meet. Again, popular solidarity was fundamental as the practice of cooking and sharing meals returned.

The constituent elections were another difficult defeat for the parties who have been in power the last 30 years, with the entrance of a large number of independent candidates with ties to social struggle as well as a large swath of votes for the “left” who said they supported the popular movement, like the Broad Front and the CP (although as we’ve said above they are responsible in part for the current situation).
The Constitutional Convention has not yet achieved a reprieve from the obstacles put in place by the Peace Agreement and has been kept hostage by the current regime’s institutions of Congress, the Executive Branch, the Supreme Court, etc.
Among the working class, there are great expectations for the changes that might come from the Constitutional Process and from the presidential elections. In our opinion, those changes will depend on the mobilization and organization of the workers and young people. The Broad Front, which now directs the Constitutional Convention and who wants to lead the country (with the CP’s support), already showed that its path forward for making the changes the people have been demanding in the streets is by negotiating with big business and not with the popular mobilizations.

Although in the last months there haven’t been any large mobilizations in the streets, we can’t say that the process that began on October 18 is finished. Without a doubt we are in a moment of expectation and a certain ‘stability,’ but it is possible that this won’t last long due to the fact that none of our social problems have been resolved as of now.

For a Campaign to Recuperate Copper, Lithium, and Water

MIT was present at the most important social mobilizations from the start of the revolution. Our banner was up at Dignity Plaza and our flags were flown by many comrades in different cities including Valparaíso, Punta Arenas, Rancagua, and others. As a revolutionary organization committed to the social struggle, we brought a candidate, our comrade María Rivera to the Constitutional Convention. She was at Dignity Plaza every Friday and has been fighting to defend political prisoners and those persecuted by the state for decades. Our comrade was elected by more than 19,000 votes in District 8, one of the most working-class and popular districts in the country. Today, with our comrade at the Convention and hundreds of comrades in the territories and at workplaces, we continue to let the working class and young people know about the limits of the current Process as we try to build a way forward to victory together.

Within the framework of continuing the struggle that justice and punishment be meted out to Piñera, and for the freedom of political prisoners and reparations for the victims of state repression, we want to propose to workers and unions, social organizations, and youth, the necessity of organizing a large campaign to recuperate what has been stolen from us by Chile’s ten richest families and transnational corporations. Through our comrade María Rivera, we want to put forth a campaign at the Constitutional Convention that demands that copper, lithium, and water be nationalized and put under the control of workers and communities.

We know that copper is our country’s most important source of wealth and that the greater part of this wealth ends up in the pockets of large international capitalists and some Chilean families, like the Luksic family. Lithium is known as “white gold” due to its use in new technologies in cars, telephones, etc. Lithium has begun to be exploited more and more by the private sector: big transnational companies associated with national business owners like the ex-son-in-law of Pinochet, Ponce Lerou, owner of SQM. This enormous plunder of mineral goods also contaminates and destroys entire communities, with huge consequences for both ecosystems and the human population. For this reason, we believe it is fundamental that debates or discussions about the exploitations of copper, lithium, and other mineral or agricultural products be connected with the necessity of making rational use of water, as well as recuperating and protecting ecosystems. Concretely, we call for the New Constitution to expropriate these industries without compensating those who have been profiting for decades via the super-exploitation of labor and the plunder of natural resources.

This is why we want to begin a campaign to nationalize these resources. This would permit us to control these sources of wealth and put them into the service of solving the people’s problems (housing, healthcare, pensions, education) and put the brakes on the destruction of nature. This is possible with worker and community control over the large mining and water companies. It would not serve us at all for these companies to be in the hands of the state, since we know that the state is in the service of the capitalists. An important example is Codelco, a state business that functions as a private enterprise under the logic of competition and profit, with a tiered system for workers (subcontracting) that contaminates towns, destroys nature, and generates resources that end up in the hands of the armed forces. For this reason, we don’t think it is sufficient to nationalize these goods, it is necessary that they be controlled by the working class and communities who can define how they ought to be used. This control should be a step for the working class in the direction towards taking power, the building of real worker and popular power that will allow for the organization of a planned economy that is the opposite of the irrational “logic” of the capitalist system.

We know that the nationalization of these resources would not solve all our problems. We need all of the country’s strategic businesses to be controlled by the working class and the people. This way it will be possible to begin to change the productive matrix to depend less on raw materials and solve the historical demands such as the return of land to the Mapuche people.

We need to bring this discussion to every territory, assembly, town hall, and work place, union, and federation. The only possibility we have of recuperating all that has been plundered is with popular organization and mobilization. The general strike on November 12 is our path forward, the path of unity among youth and the working class. This is our way forward, but we must bring with it a clear program to defeat Chilean neoliberal capitalism and meet popular demands.

It is Necessary to Build a New Party of the Working Class and the People

Today, the working class and the people don’t have a party that will be able to make its demands a reality. This is why the huge mobilizations have ended up under the direction of the traditional parties that have been able to impose their negotiations and program. Neither Boric nor the Communist Party represent the enormous social unrest that has welled up since October 18. Neither the Broad Front nor the CP have been the leaders of the current process. That said, because of the lack of an alternative leadership, they have ended up leading the process, supported by their apparatus, leaders, and intellectuals.

The working class, young people, and workers need to build a new party. A party that is born from social struggle, from the streets, from worker and territorial struggles. A revolutionary party that has at its core the struggle for national independence, and the recuperation of all that has been looted. A revolutionary party that has as its objective to end capitalism in Chile and throughout the world, to win a rationally organized society where human beings and the interests of nature are its top priority.

MIT is working to build this party. We are part of an international organization, the International Workers’ League, that has parties and organizations in different countries across the globe fighting for the same objective: the defeat of capitalism.
We invite you to join us in building MIT to set the foundation for the construction of a revolutionary party of the working class and the people.

The original version of this article can be found in Spanish here.

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