Authored by MIT, the Chilean section of the IWL-FI
Translated by: Dolores Underwood
The electoral results last Sunday were a surprise within Chile and across the world. Many activists, youth, and workers are asking themselves how it is possible that the extreme right won in the preliminary presidential elections, particularly after the mobilizations that began in October 2019 and after a plebiscite where more than 78% of the people who voted chose to change the constitution.
The answer to this question is not simple, but we can begin by looking at electoral data that will help us understand what happened.
The political parties that have governed the country over the last 30 years saw an overwhelming defeat. The candidates on the right and the Concertación, a former coalition of center-left parties, placed fourth and fifth in the elections. In the first round of the presidential elections in 2017, these two coalitions won 3.9 million votes. In the most recent elections, the votes for Yasna Provoste and Sebastián Sichel (both members of the Christian Democratic party) combined equaled 1.7 million. In other words, this block lost two million votes.
On the other hand, two “new” blocks emerged with force: the Frente Social Cristiano (Christian Social Front), represented by José Antonio Kast, and Apruebo Dignidad (Sanctioned Dignity, which combined the Frente Amplio, or United Front, and the Communist Party, among others), represented by Gabriel Boric. Franco Parisi, of Party of the People (Partido de la Gente), came in third with an unprecedented totally virtual campaign headquartered in the U.S. He could not enter Chile because of unpaid taxes.
José Antonio Kast secured a little more than 1.9 million votes (27.9%), 500,000 less than Piñera in 2017 and 300,000 more than the “rejection” vote in the last plebiscite. Evidently, many of those who voted for a new constitution also voted for Sichel, who had almost 900,000 votes, and probably also for Parisi. In 2017, the “right” (Piñera and Kast) secured 2.9 million votes in the primary elections. In the current elections, Kast and Sichel had 2.8 million votes. Without a doubt, the vote for the right has become more politicized than in 2017, when many working-class people voted for Piñera because he promised increased employment.
Kast’s achievements in the election reflects increased social polarization and a reorganization of the “conservative” vote. Kast successfully channeled votes by conjuring a fear that some sectors of the voting population have of “communism,” “delinquency,” “Mapuche terrorism,” and “attacks on tradition.” Votes for Kast also displayed a regional character. The candidate won a majority in the south, except for Punta Arenas. In the capital of Santiago, Kast lost to Boric in almost all the districts except for the five richest (Lo Barnechea, Vitacura, Las Condes, La Reina, and Providencia). In some of the most mobilized and popular districts, like Puente Alto or Maipú, Kast lost by a large margin (Puente Alto: 51,800 for Boric and 26,500 for Kast; Maipú: Boric 76,000, Kast 42,000).
Kast’s victory also displays the success of the hegemonic political project of the right (which won increasing support amongst the largest businesses): to completely cut off efforts of reform (economic and democratic) and bet on the fatigue and demoralization of the Constitutional Convention to defeat the Plebiscite going into 2022.
Furthermore, Boric did not have an amazing night. Votes for Boric only slightly surpassed the number of votes he secured during the primary by his coalition (from 1.7 million to 1.8 million votes). We need to consider that in the primaries Boric surely received votes from the former Concertación coalition and even from the right to defeat the former candidate of the Communist Party, Daniel Jadue.
One of the reasons for Boric’s defeat is that he is not a candidate that represented the enormous social movement that exploded on October 18, 2019. Boric placed himself against the social mobilizations in various moments, for example when he voted in favor of the Anti-Barricade Law, which increased the punishments for those who set up barricades during the uprising. He was also in favor of the Peace Accord during the Constitutional Assembly, which guaranteed impunity for Piñera and for those responsible for the war against the people. Boric is not a candidate with working class roots, and he has not been one of the leading figures in the revolutionary process in the country. This made it so many activists, working-class people, and youth did not go to vote or voted for another candidate (like Parisi, who obtained votes from the working class in the north of the country in particular). Parisi capitalized on the discontent with the traditional political classes and with the economic model.
Lastly, and of great importance, much of the population did not go to vote. Electoral participation was at 46.7%, a number consistent with many of the previous elections. As we’ve already stated in another article, there was not a lot of enthusiasm for the current elections. The low participation principally affected the popular and rural districts. In bourgeois districts, participation was over 50-60%.
A first step in understanding the electoral results is comprehending that the elections are not a reflection of reality. They reflect a distorted reality. The weight of economic power, of the media (that are in the hands of the most powerful people in the country), and electoral rules are organized in a way to generate low participation and many distortions that misrepresent the “popular will.” The bourgeois democratic system is made by the powerful.
The next National Congress
The proof of this false popular representation is the Congress itself. How is it possible that the same political forces that have governed the country for the last 30 years have the majority in the New Congress? What better evidence of a distorted “democratic system” than one that privileges candidates of traditional political parties, gives no space for independents, and benefits candidates with financial weight and media presence. The scandals associated with the “Lista del Pueblo” (List of the People, a coalition during the Constitutional Assembly) surrounding Diego Ancalao and Pelao Vade meant there was no political alternative to organize the movement of the masses.
The composition of the next Congress (Senate and House) is disastrous for the working class. We cannot have any trust in this Congress. The only possibility for forcing change or reforms will be through mobilizations in the street, as already demonstrated with the withdrawal of the pension system (called “AFPs,” Administradoras de fondos de pensiones) and the conquest of the Constitutional Process. The biggest result of the Congressional elections is the election of Fabiola Camillai, an activist who was made handicapped at the hands of state repression. She won an impressive 402,000 votes, winning the first majority in the capital and earning more votes than entire lists of political parties.
How to interpret the results? Revolution and counterrevolution in Chile
We have argued that since October 18, 2019, Chile began a revolutionary process. This is because working-class masses and the youth took to the street all over the country questioning everything: the institutions, inequality, the lack of rights, corporate abuse, environmental destruction. The entire economic, social, and political model has been under scrutiny. This movement became immortalized in the slogan: “It’s not thirty pesos, it’s thirty years,” referencing the failure of the end of the dictatorship to reinstate rights. This huge movement was also accompanied by violence, principally in self-defense against the police. The masses took up arms against a repressive state apparatus. The affairs of the country began to revolve entirely around the actions of the masses in the streets. For this reason, we classified the situation as opening the possibility of revolution in Chile.
However, in a revolution the revolutionary camp is not alone. No revolution is uninterrupted, with consecutive conquests of the working-class masses. This is because the enemies of the people reorganize, make propaganda, reproduce lies, repress, and negotiate with political parties.
Since November 15, 2019 (the date when the negotiations for the Constitutional Process began), the principal political forces in the country (from the right and the left, including the United Front and the Communist Party) agreed to try to direct the revolutionary energy towards political agreement, negotiations, and gradual changes, avoiding any major transformations to the institutional makeup and economic model of the country. For that reason, Piñera remained in power, and they established limits to the Constitutional Convention (such as not being able to change the Free Trade Agreements, ordering a two-thirds majority to approve constitutional norms, etc.).
What was expressed in the election results last Sunday demonstrated a first failure for those that have been betting on the side of negotiation. On the one hand, the candidate that defends ending the revolutionary process through brute force won the most votes. Kast channeled the fears of the conservative and privileged sectors of society, defeating the centrist candidate. On the other hand, the candidate of treaties and negotiations (that reproduces the same logic of the last 30 years), Boric, was punished, unable to mobilize the popular vote, the youth, and the working class. The pact of November 15th enters its first crisis, and the future is now uncertain.
Until now, no popular or working-class force presenting a political alternative has arisen in opposition to the current capitalist neoliberal Chilean model. A huge crisis of leadership exists for the movement that began on October 18th. The rapid and profound crisis of the Lista del Pueblo contributed to the lack of electoral alternatives that the working class could identify as their own. For these reasons, the bourgeoisie was able to reorganize itself, through its most reactionary sector, and the forces defending the pact made on November 15th were not able to satisfy the popular will and are now being punished, although it is still possible that Boric could win in the second round of voting.
The Political Projects in Question
Kast and Boric represent different political projects. They are not the same, although at the end of the day both defend the same capitalist system. Kast defends a deepening of what is occurring today. According to him and his followers, everything is fine and the thousands that took to the streets are wrong and delinquents. We reject the marvels of a “developed” and “modern” Chile as it exists today. Kast has no idea what workers go through because he is a part of an elite that has no problem if workers suffer: terrible wages, long workdays, and overcrowded living situations.
Kast wants to expand neoliberal Chilean capitalism and maintain the system of pensions and the plundering of workers’ pensions. He wants to maintain worker precarity through the current Labor Code, elaborated by his mentor José Piñera and implemented by the dictatorship. He proposes to expand the extraction of natural resources, exporting raw materials with little industrialized goods for export. We already know the consequences of this model: enormous environmental destruction, drought for entire regions, community contamination, precarious work, impossibility of scientific and technological development, and the list goes on. And all this so that national and international companies continue to enrich themselves, looting the products made with our hands, our land, and our ocean. In relationship to the wealthiest industry, that of copper, Kast goes even further to propose privatizing the little that is still in the hands of the state through the national company Codelco. His proposal to privatize Codelco goes against everything this country needs. While most of the people demand more rights in the New Constitution, Kast wants to ensure money does not go to financing housing, health, and education.
Furthermore, his proposal related to women and LGBTQI people are a huge step back in the small advances that have been made. He proposes to end the right to abortion including in cases of rape, forcing women to have children in the worst conditions. He wants to take back rights of the LGBTQI population and to deepen discrimination against sexual diversity.
Finally, he wants to end the political possibilities the Constitutional Convention opened. His response to popular demands is worsen the life of the masses, and if anyone complains, send the police and military to repress. Cut from the same cloth as Pinochet, he wants to persecute social activists and put them in jail, expanding state persecution against the Mapuche peoples, the youth, and the organized working class.
For these reasons, we call on the working class and youth to not vote for Kast and to fight against his candidacy. It is fundamental that we confront Kast’s reactionary proposals and that of the huge corporations with mobilization and a vote against Kast in the second round.
Although Kast has a horrific and authoritarian program, we do not believe Kast represents a fascist movement. “Fascism” as a concept is over-used within activist circles and in general is used synonymously with “authoritarianism.” Authoritarianism and fascism are different. Fascism is a reactionary movement, financed by big capital and sustained through mobilized and militarized sectors of the lumpen proletariat and impoverished petty bourgeoisie. They use methods of civil war to end popular and working-class organizations. This effectively paved over the popular and working-class movements in Mussolini’s Italy and Nazi Germany. Parties and movements around Kast may have embryonic fascist tendencies, but these elements are not totally developed. Today Kast is still trying to move towards the center, moderating his discourse to win over the votes of “democratic” sectors of society. This does not mean that Kast isn’t dangerous and that his government won’t be even more repressive than Piñera’s government. However, we must understand who the enemy is to be able to face it.
And here we face another dilemma: how do we confront Kast? Is it enough to just vote for Boric?
In the second round of voting, we propose voting for Boric so that Kast does not win the nomination. However, we have no trust in the project of Boric and his party, Apruebo Dignidad, because their proposed strategy will lead to a defeat of the mass movement that began in October 2019.
Boric proposes reforms with various progressive points that emerged from popular movements: end the pension system (AFPs), increase pensions, decrease hours in the working day, the right to an abortion, etc. However, the big problem with Boric is the strategy of his coalition. Boric, the United Front, and the Communist Party argue that it is possible to win reforms for the working class by negotiating with big corporations and respecting the institutions as they currently exist, even when these institutions are purely at the service of those running the country (Congress, the Justice system, etc.). They want us to believe that it is possible to transform Chile, resolve the Mapuche conflict, labor problems, and that of the environment through reforms negotiated with big business. Kast criticizes Boric and the PC for being communists. They do not deserve that title. Boric and the Communist Party (PC) are reformists, and their proposal, essentially to collect more taxes from the rich to finance the social good, remains within the confines of capitalism.
This strategy already failed with the former coalition of center-left parties (the ex-Concertación), and it will fail again. How does Boric think he will get his reforms passed in the current Congress? How will the United Front write a constitution that profoundly transforms the country if they must negotiate with the right and the ex-Concertación to win a two-thirds majority? How will they transform the extractivist model by respecting the Free Trade Agreement that does not allow even a hint of national sovereignty?
The turn to the right for Boric is increasingly evident. In recent days, Boric made speeches typical of right-wing candidates, saying that he will be firm against drug traffickers and placing in question the liberation of political prisoners from jail. Furthermore, he’s appointed within his chain of command important figures from the former Concertación. All of this suggests he is trying to earn the votes of the business world that will help him win the presidency.
So, why are we calling for a vote for Boric?
Because we believe a Kast victory would be a huge victory for the corporate class and would put us in an even worse situation for future working-class struggles. A victory for Boric could generate more social mobilizations to pressure the government to uphold electoral promises and to push the class struggle even further, even with the obstacles of the Communist Party and United Front (Frente Amplia).
Also read: The New Constitution Must Recognize Copper, Lithium and water as Chilean People’s Rights
We must build a new political project for the working class and the people
In the current elections, we don’t have a candidate that represents immediate working-class interests. The Chilean people, youth and working class, must build a political project that radically transforms the neoliberal capitalist system, proposes a strategy to destroy the corporate class and put the country’s wealth back in the hands of the majority of the population, without the continued overexploitation of the environment. Chile can be an example for the whole world of what it looks like to liberate a country from the capitalist system.
The people that live in Chile and Wallmapu must create a program that recovers the principal resources of the country so that it can be administered by the working class and organized communities. This goes beyond nationalizing the large strategic companies of the country, that today guarantee the national looting by a small few. We must nationalize the copper, lithium, and foresting companies, the pension system, and the banks. Our efforts must be at the service of the working class, proposing a planned economy that meets the needs of the people and allows for ecological recovery. We must end with the extractivist pillaging of our country, halt the irrational exploitation of minerals, forests, and the sea. We must end the large extractivist projects and diversify the economy to be in harmony with nature, of which we are part.
For these reasons, our comrade María Rivera and various syndicate and social organizations will present a project for the new constitution that propose the nationalization of copper, lithium, and water as a first step towards the recovery of the country’s wealth. We know that most political parties in the Constituent Assembly do not support this project because they primarily serve large transnational corporations and not the people. For that, we believe it is necessary to generate a large working-class and popular movement so that the constituents and the state respect the will of the people.
To confront Kast (and even Boric) it is necessary for the working class to retake the path of organized mobilizations. We must reconstruct territorial assemblies, recover unions in the hands of the workers, and strengthen organizations that fight for women, the youth, and against sexual and gender discrimination. Going to vote on December 19th is part of this struggle, but not the most central part of it.
From the International Workers’ Movement (MIT, Movimiento Internacional de Trabajadores), we are in the service of organizing the working class and youth to fight against Kast and against all the capitalist governments. This struggle must have as a final objective the building of a society free of exploitation, inequality, and oppression. We invite all those involved in this struggle to get to know MIT and help us in this effort.
Originally published in Spanish here.
Authored by MIT, the Chilean section of the IWL-FI