Sat Oct 01, 2022
October 01, 2022

Chile | María Rivera: a spokesperson for the Chilean revolution at the Constituent Convention

On February 9, one of the norms submitted to the Political System Commission of the Chilean Constituent Convention caused such an outrage and unleashed such intense controversy that it went beyond the borders of the Andean country.
By Daniel Sugasti
María Rivera, the Convention member for District 8 and leader of the MIT (Movimiento Internacional de Trabajadores), Chilean section of the LIT-CI, proposed to dissolve the present powers of the State -Executive, Legislative and Judicial- and replace them by a Plurinational Assembly of the Workers and Peoples, a body that would concentrate power and would be composed of representatives elected in the territories, workplaces and among the troops of the Armed Forces, without members of big capital, churches or the military officialdom. According to the document -initially signed by eight convention members, mostly grouped in the Coordinadora Plurinacional y Popular and a constituent of the Pueblo Constituyente collective-, the new body would be composed of 600 members, all with mandates revocable at any time, whose salaries could not exceed that of a qualified worker of the Big Copper Mining [1].
María justified the proposal with the statement that “the State that exists today and its institutions do not serve the working people and this State must be replaced by a new one in which decisions are under the responsibility of the working class.”
The virulent reaction, mainly on the part of the ultra-right and the liberal right, was not long in coming. A chorus of businessmen, politicians, and bourgeois media, indignant, branded Maria’s proposal as “nonsensical,” “crazy,” “madness,” etc. The norm was rejected in the commission by a unanimous vote of 25 votes against. Not only the right-wing was opposed, but also the Socialist Party, the Frente Amplio, and the Communist Party, as well as other independent convention members or those related to social movements. Reformism closed ranks together with the bourgeois parties in defense of the established order. The member of the Frente Amplio, Constanza Schonhaut, scandalized, exhorted in social networks “not to sow panic,” besides assuring that the controversial norm “is outside the whole democratic framework that has been sustained for the design of the new constitution.” This Twitter thread was later supported and shared by President-elect Gabriel Boric, who put aside his role of restrained “articulator” to attack María Rivera.
The analysis of this case offers important lessons for the working class, especially for the most advanced fighters of the Chilean revolution: what does this episode reveal about the nature of the state, parliamentarian, and, concretely, about the position and task of revolutionaries in the bourgeois parliament?
The defense of the bourgeois state at any cost
A first observation is that, when it comes to defending the bourgeois state and its main support, the Armed Forces, all factions of the national bourgeoisie, including reformists, is unified.
In reality, it could not be different: the bourgeois state, with its repressive and ideological institutions, is the indispensable apparatus of domination in any class society. The state, which historically arises where class antagonisms are irreconcilable, even under its most “democratic” forms, does not go beyond, according to Marxism, “a special force, special detachments of armed men…,” “an organ of class domination, an organ of oppression of one class by another, it is the creation of the ‘order’ which legalizes and strengthens this oppression, cushioning the clashes between the classes…”[2]. Hence the preservation, at any cost, of this apparatus, is indispensable for the bourgeois class and its reformist agents.
Revolutionaries and parliamentarism
The polemic, beyond the positions on the content of the proposal presented by María Rivera, raises another problem for those of us who seek the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism: the attitude of the revolutionaries before parliamentarism and their actions within that institution.
The theoretical and principled framework of the question, among other documents, is synthesized in the Theses on “The Communist Party and parliamentarism,” approved by the Second Congress of the Third Communist International in 1920 [3]. It is important to take up again, even briefly, some of its foundations, since most of the left, even that which claims to be Marxist or “communist,” has abandoned them.
Marxism always considered that the participation of the communist deputies in the bourgeois parliaments consisted in using that tribune to broaden revolutionary agitation, to develop class consciousness, in short, to awaken “…the hostility of the proletarian classes against the ruling classes.”
The advent of the imperialist epoch, marked by “wars, crises and revolutions,” liquidated any “progressive” trait that parliament might have had in the previous historical epoch, that of non-monopoly capitalism, and transformed it definitively into “an instrument of lies, fraud, violence, destruction, acts of banditry.”
The betrayal of European social democracy that made possible the outbreak of the first inter-imperialist war, in 1914, sealed the impassable division between revolutionaries and reformists within the workers’ movement. Faced with “parliamentary careerism, corruption, open or hidden betrayal of the primordial interests of the working class,” characteristic of bankrupt social democracy, the Third International established a basic criterion: “the center of gravity of present-day political life is definitely outside the framework of parliament.”
This means that extra-parliamentary activity, that is, the action of the exploited masses in the streets (strikes, factory takeovers, mobilizations, workers’ organization, etc.) must be the privileged, priority terrain for the intervention of communists. In other words, electoral and parliamentary action, although important, must be subordinated to direct intervention in the class struggle.
“That is why,” continuing the Theses we have been quoting, “the immediate historical duty of the working class consists in wresting these apparatuses from the ruling classes, in breaking them up, destroying them, and substituting them for the new organs of proletarian power.”
The bourgeois parliament is not one of the forms that the future society will preserve, it is not and will not be part of the conception of the class dictatorship of the proletariat after the triumph of the socialist revolution. Therefore, the Third International oriented that, while in general communists are interested in having spokesmen for their positions in the parliamentary institutions of the bourgeoisie, the final objective of Marxists must be “the abolition of parliamentarism.” Communism may well “use” the bourgeois parliament to agitate its positions, to educate the working class and the exploited masses in the sense of their class interests, to encourage mobilization, but any use of this institution must be subordinated “to the ends of its destruction.”
The spokesperson in the bourgeois parliament is, in short, one of the “secondary points of support” of revolutionary action.
This means that the tactic of the communists in the capitalist parliaments consists in: “… using the parliamentary tribune for purposes of revolutionary agitation, in denouncing the maneuvers of the adversary, in rallying around certain ideas of the masses who, especially in backward countries, consider the parliamentary tribune with great democratic illusions, must be totally subordinated to the objectives and tasks of the extra-parliamentary struggle of the masses.”
It is not necessary to delve too deeply to understand how far the majority of the left is from the Marxist conception of the character of the bourgeois parliament.
María Rivera and the MIT in the Constituent Convention
If we take these general criteria as a starting point, it is very easy to understand the logic of María Rivera’s actions since she was elected as a Constituent Convention member.
In the case that caused such an uproar, comrade María used her position in the Convention to denounce the nature of a state that protects interests antagonistic to those of the working class and of the oppressed nations within Chile, such as the Mapuche. She defended a state with another character and organized in a diametrically different way, that is, infinitely more democratic, as explained by MIT: “(…) today, all the powers of the State are subordinated to economic power, to those who have money. The Chilean big bourgeoisie and the transnationals control the main parties, the legislative power, the Courts, the Armed Forces and other state institutions (…) The majority of the population, those who work and produce the wealth of this country, have no major participation in political workings. Our role is to vote every two years for candidates of parties whose legitimacy is being ardently questioned (…) The majority of the working class does not have the conditions to run for office, since we have no money, no political apparatus, no media. Nor do we have the right to recall politicians if they do not fulfill their promises (…) While we have the possibility to vote for the Executive and Legislative powers, we do not have the right to elect judges, nor officers of the Armed Forces, nor the president of the Central Bank, nor ministers; nothing. Thus, the ruling classes, besides having control of the majority of the parties and their parliamentarians, also maintain control of the privileged sectors of the state apparatus, such as the judges and the officers of the Armed Forces…”[4].
In this sense, the sacred unity between the parties of the bosses and reformism, mainly the Frente Amplio and the PC, to fight with virulence the norm presented by María Rivera, is a position consistent with their policy to defeat the revolution that broke out in October 2019; it is consistent, also, with the Agreement for Peace, a counterrevolutionary pact to divert the protests through the electoral and institutional path, which gave rise to the Constitutional Convention -with a quorum of two thirds, in which the minority of the constituents (53) has more power than the majority-; and it is related to what will be the future government of Boric, from the beginning sustained by means of spurious agreements and pacts with big business to reinstate bourgeois stability at the cost of the defeat of the revolution.
In this sense, we proudly maintain that the parliamentary performance of María Rivera is completely different, because it is based on a strategy opposed to the traditional parties of the business class and Chilean reformism. The mandate of our comrade, from the beginning, was at the service of defending the interests of the working class and, from that place, to promote the continuity of the revolution that broke out in 2019. This is evident if we review María’s position in some of the most important debates.

  1. The sovereignty of the Constituent Convention

One of the first debates since the installation of the Constituent Convention in July 2021, was whether or not this body possessed effective sovereignty or whether it would be limited to the strict margins established by Law 21,200 (Peace Agreement) that gave rise to it.
María Rivera denounced that the main problem was that the Convention lacked power, that is, it is not truly “free and sovereign.” It is subject to the Constitution -yes, the current one, that of Pinochet- and to the powers of the State. It cannot deliberate or change, for example, the Free Trade Agreements or decide on its own functioning, which is itself scandalous. The Convention, a conquest of the revolution, was born deformed by the limits imposed by the Peace Accord, which established a quorum that, in practice, ties its decisions to the will of a minority (the right-wing, the Socialist Party, and others). Its only power is to write a new Constitution, but under the rules of those currently in power and without fundamentally challenging the Pinochet Constitution it intends to rewrite. In this way, the Convention cannot respond to the urgent needs of the working class and the Chilean revolution.
The only one who consistently opposed these limits and defended the sovereignty of the Convention was María Rivera. She proposed, alone, that “the Constitutional Convention should have power and govern provisionally while changing the constitutional laws. The Constitutional Convention has more legitimacy than the current Parliament and the Executive Branch”[5].
See also: Chile | The New Constitution Must Recognize Chileans’ Rights to Copper, Lithium, and Water
2. Freedom for political prisoners
This controversy is related to another fundamental battle within the Convention: freedom for political prisoners. Reformists, together with independent convention members, presented a limited declaration on this issue. They started from the premise that the Convention cannot “interfere with or arrogate to itself the competencies or attributions of other powers of the State,” since its mission is “to establish a path of peace and social justice…”. This kind of position, in the midst of an ongoing revolution, is nonsense.
Following this logic, the Convention members left the problem of freedom for political prisoners in the hands of the same State that imprisoned them. They limited themselves to calling on the Legislative and the Executive to approve a pardon bill (which incorporates the Mapuche prisoners and demands the demilitarization of Wallmapu, etc.). However, this motion left out of the intended pardon a good part of the political prisoners, since it did not include the Chilean prisoners from before the social outbreak and those imprisoned after the date indicated in the draft pardon, the end of 2020.

This position, in practice, accepts the non-sovereign nature of the Convention and places confidence in the established powers, without saying a word about what the Convention would do if these measures were not approved.
In view of this, María Rivera presented a statement on her own proposing that the Convention should give 15 days to the Parliament and the Executive to approve the total and unconditional amnesty for all Chilean and Mapuche prisoners from before and after the social outbreak [6]. She made this proposal, while also arguing that only an enormous social mobilization could impose freedom for the prisoners. In this sense, the Convention could and should use its authority to call for this mobilization and confront the other powers of the State. It is unacceptable, from the point of view of MIT, to write a new Constitution with political prisoners [7].

  1. The debate on the 2/3 quorum

The discussion about the 2/3 quorum – previously imposed by the 2019 Peace Accords and approved by the right-wing, the PS, and the Frente Amplio -, is also linked to the question of the sovereignty of the Constitutional Convention. In practical terms, this quorum grants more power to the minority than to the majority, since nothing can be defined without the approval of 103 of the 155 Convention members. In addition, Congress, which operates under the rules of the 1980 Constitution, determined that the Convention will not be able to change this rule [8]. This is an anti-democratic measure if there ever existed one. The PC (Communist Party), together with other independent and native peoples’ conventions, proposed a 3/5 quorum, apparently more democratic, but still leaving a veto power to the minority.
María Rivera defended, in opposition to all of them, that what is truly democratic is that decisions are taken by absolute majority, that is, 50+1% of the votes, as happens in any workers’ assembly. Democracy is based on the decision of the majority over the minority, not the other way around [9].

  1. The inaugural speech

After the first months of the Convention and after the Regulatory discussion, all the constituents had a space for their inaugural speeches. Maria Rivera’s speech [10] had great effect.
In her speech, María made a historical account of all the oppression and plundering carried out by the imperialist countries against the indigenous peoples and the Chilean people. She also made a balance of the main struggles and experiences of the Chilean people, such as the industrial sectors and embryos of dual power of the working class that emerged in the revolutionary process of the 70s.
In addition, she made a profound criticism of the government of Salvador Allende, pointing out that his policy of class conciliation and the supposed “peaceful road to socialism” prepared the ground for the military coup of 1973, since Allende placed his trust in the high officers of the Armed Forces and not in the people, who came to ask for weapons to defend the government and the popular conquests.
María then demonstrated the nefarious role of the corporate-military dictatorship in the massacres committed against the people and in the privatization of almost all public companies and services. In the same way, she criticized the role of the left-wing parties after the restoration of democracy, explaining that they were all agents or accomplices of the current capitalist economic model.
Finally, María ended her speech by recovering the perspective of socialism, of power for the working class, and the need to put the entire economy at the service of the great majorities. As it could not be otherwise, Maria categorically differentiated the revolutionary project of Marxism from failed experiences such as Venezuela or China, which have nothing to do with socialism.
This speech, of historic magnitude, establishes the programmatic bases for the construction of a revolutionary party of the working class in Chile.

  1. The campaign for the nationalization of copper, lithium, water, with workers’ and communities’ control

In recent months, MIT and María Rivera have promoted a campaign to recover copper, lithium, and water, among other natural and strategic assets. The ten richest families in Chile, junior partners of imperialist companies, historically plundered these resources. This campaign has gained strength among trade unions, social and student organizations. This work at the base of our class organizations is combined with the initiative to push for a norm in the Constitutional Convention to nationalize, under workers’ and communities’ control, these vital resources for national development. Copper has been the main source of wealth of the country during the last century. Nearly half of Chile’s exports are copper. Lithium is another very important natural resource in Chile, which is among the countries with the largest reserves of this mineral, a true “white gold” used in many new technologies such as in electric car batteries. It is estimated, not counting the “normal” profits of large mining, that a handful of national and foreign capitalists are stealing these resources in broad daylight in excess of 12 billion dollars a year. Currently, more than 75% of Chilean copper is in the hands of private companies, most of them foreign, such as BHP Billiton, AngloAmerican, Glencore, FreePort and Antofagasta Minerals (Luksic group). Copper money alone could solve serious social problems such as housing, health, and education. However, all this enormous amount of wealth ends up in the pockets of large American, Canadian, Australian, Japanese, or Chilean businessmen. MIT’s initiative, together with several independent organizations and conventional organizations, is aimed at combating this plundering, recovering these resources, and making them available to society through nationalization with workers’ and communities’ control. As stated in the manifesto that launched the campaign, these actions aim at a strategic objective that proposes to change the semi-colonial character of the country: “it is fundamental that we begin to discuss the need to change the productive matrix of the country, so that we are less dependent on the export of minerals and primary products and can invest in the development of new energy matrixes, science, technology, food production and also in the industrialization of the country, always having as a priority to cushion the environmental impacts and recover nature” [11].
The campaign for the nationalization, without compensation, of large-scale copper and lithium mining made important advances. At the beginning of February, the first project discussed in the Environmental Commission of the Constitutional Convention on this issue was approved. Soon, the Popular Initiative of Norm, promoted by several social organizations, intellectuals, unions, and the MIT, will be discussed. This project has gathered more than 24,000 signatures and has broad popular support [12].
Maintaining the flame of the Chilean revolution
The MIT is determined to develop the revolution that began in 2019 and in the streets, contributing to the organization of the working class, youth, women, and peasants. This is the most important task. Our role in the Constituent Convention is, as we put forward, a secondary point of support to the living struggle.
The constituent process was a conquest of the revolution. The bourgeoisie had to accept it by the force of the masses in the streets. But, as we know, from the beginning this process was mired to the extent that it is controlled by those who have dominated Chile for centuries. There is no justice or punishment for those responsible for the war against the people. There is no reparation for the hundreds of families and victims of the repression and many of our comrades are still in jail. All these tasks are still pending. For that reason, with our comrade in the Convention and together with hundreds of activists in the territories and workplaces, in the schools and universities, we continue alerting the working class and the precarious youth about the limits of this institutional process, trying by all means at our disposal to advance along the only road capable of generating real and lasting changes, that of struggle.
We reaffirm that the only possibility of winning changes in the next Constitution, that bury all the inheritance of the military dictatorship, is by mobilizing in the streets. The revolution initiated on October 18, 2019, must continue and advance, above all in the construction of working-class organizations that allow us to go far beyond the Constitutional Convention, creating, in the heat of popular mobilization, embryos of workers’ and popular power, so that the entire current state apparatus is dismantled, and a workers’ state can be built that defends the interests of the great majority of the working population and the native peoples. María Rivera’s mandate is and will be at the service of this strategy.
Originally published in Spanish here
Translated by Dolores Underwood
Notes:
[1] See https://www.biobiochile.cl/especial/una-constitucion-para-chile/noticias/2022/02/13/convencionales-tildan-de-prematura-propuesta-de-longueira-por-si-gana-el-rechazo-en-plebiscito.shtml
[2] See https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch01.htm
[3] See Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International. The original author is working from Tesis, manifiestos y resoluciones adoptados por los Cuatro primeros congresos de la Internacional Comunista (1919-1923). 2ª edición digital. Valencia: Edicions Internacionals Sedov, 2017, pp. 91-97.
[4] See https://www.vozdelostrabajadores.cl/maria-rivera-y-la-propuesta-de-una-asamblea-plurinacional-que-es-lo-que-proponemos
[5] See https://litci.org/en/chile-in-defense-of-the-manifesto-for-the-sovereignty-of-the-constitutional-convention/
[6] For the entirety of María’s response, see here: https://www.vozdelostrabajadores.cl/el-manifiesto-de-la-voceria-de-los-pueblos-y-la-lucha-por-la-soberania
[7] See https://www.vozdelostrabajadores.cl/sobre-la-declaracion-aprobada-por-la-convencion-en-relacion-a-los-presos-politicos
[8] The Peace Agreement, signed on November 15, 2019, by UDI (Independent Democratic Union, a conservative and right-wing political party founded by partners of Pinochet), RN (National Renewel, a liberal conservative political party, and Sebastián Piñera’s party), PS (Socialist Party), Frente Amplio, as well as other political parties of the regime, gave origin to Law 21.200, that made a reform in the constitution to permit the beginning of the Constitution Process. See Capítulo XV: Reforma de la Constitución y del Procedimiento para Elaborar una Nueva Constitución de la República – Senado – República de Chile
[9] See https://www.vozdelostrabajadores.cl/sobre-el-quorum-de-2-3#sdfootnote1sym
[10] See María’s inaugural speech in full here
[11] See Chile | The New Constitution Must Recognize Chileans’ Rights to Copper, Lithium, and Water
[12] See https://www.vozdelostrabajadores.cl/nacionalizacion-del-cobre-y-litio-avanza-en-la-convencion-constitucional-a-reforzar-la-organizacion-y-movilizacion
 
 
 
 
 

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