It seemed unlikely but it happened. On 19 December, Gabriel Boric, the centre-left candidate for the Chilean presidential elections, beat his opponent, the ultra-reactionary right-winger, José Antonio Kast. It was probably also the fear that the latter – openly nostalgic for the “good old days” of the Pinochet dictatorship – would become president, which prompted a part of the electorate to go and vote, lowering the number of abstentions to 44%, when normally it is around, or well above, fifty percent.
Boric, in addition to having won by a wide margin (56%), is also the youngest president in the history of Chile, and for him the parties and "circles" of the centre-left and the parliamentary left set up the Apruebo Dignidad electoral cartel, including the Frente Amplio1 and the Chilean “Communist” Party (quotation marks being compulsory).
Another significant fact is that the majority of his support came from the big cities and, in these, from the popular neighbourhoods, a clear sign that at least a part of the working class places hope in Boric for an improvement in their own wretched conditions of existence. In fact, the figures for the economic "miracle" that the country went through after the 1973 coup fill the Chilean bourgeoisie and the institutions of the international bourgeoisie, such as the IMF or the OECD, with satisfaction, but not so those behind this alleged miracle, namely the proletariat.
According to official statistics, after the slaughter carried out by the Pinochet "junta", in consultation with, and at the instigation of, the CIA, (official) poverty has been reduced from 30% to 6.7%, per capita GDP has tripled, thus making Chile the richest country in Latin America. We know, however, that statistics, in themselves, can be meaningless or even distort reality. To say that per capita GDP had tripled does not mean that the wealth generated "trickles down" uniformly to all strata of the population, to use the term dear to the notorious “Chicago Boys”. They were led by the no less infamous economist Milton Friedman, advisor to the murderous junta that held the country in its grip for nearly twenty years and prophet of the so-called neo-liberal policies, adopted by the world bourgeoisie in recent decades. The basic idea of the “trickle down” theory is that the state withdraws from the direct management of the economy and other sectors of society, thus unleashing such strong economic growth that it is bound to drain downwards. Therefore, all that’s needed is to eliminate the barriers that constitute an obstacle to the expansion of business, including the “public” management of essential services (health, school, transport), privatising everything that can be privatised and even more, placing administrative control of deferred wages (pensions) directly in the hands of private companies; not forgetting, of course, the drastic lowering of taxes for the rich and "business". For this “hydraulic” experiment to be successful – again according to the Chicago chicos – the workforce has to become putty in the hands of capital. In short, totally subservient to its needs, so that every form of worker resistance, in the broadest sense of the word – whether it expresses itself in the more docile forms of official trade unionism or the less collaborative rank and file type, or even, a fortiori, the spontaneous struggle outside and against the union – must be swept aside and stifled at birth. It is the usual dramatic story of a capital that, under the whip of certain conditions, can no longer afford to share the management of the workforce with the trade union and the bourgeois left parties, so it has no alternative but to switch to the open use of force, casting aside the fiction of bourgeois democracy. This happened in Chile, with Pinochet (and then in almost all of South America), so much so that the right to strike was actually abolished, further demonstrating that "rights" are nothing more than the expression of certain relationships of strength under certain socio-economic conditions; and power is usually on the side of the bourgeoisie.
The worsening of the oppression and exploitation of the proletariat was and is, therefore, at the basis of the "successes" of the Chilean economy, favoured, up to a decade ago, by the rise in the prices of raw materials, including copper and lithium, of which the country is a major exporter. But the Chilean proletariat, despite the triumphalist statistics, has, as we said, had very little to enjoy. Chile is one of the most unequal countries in the world, where 1% of the population holds 26.5% of the national wealth whilst the poorest 50% has 2%. It is not at all clear how in a country where poverty should have significantly decreased, 70% of the population is in debt (12.6 million out of 18 million inhabitants) and a third of these are unable to repay their debts. We have to add to all this, that the "public" health system is largely insufficient (to get real care, you have to pay, and not peanuts either), as well as the school system and pensions, now in the hands of private capital. Pension levels thus make survival difficult, being too low to allow a "dignified" life, as low as average wages, indeed, proportionally even lower.
The drop in the price of raw materials since 2010, with the consequent slowdown of the economy, has inevitably “trickled” onto the working class, increasing their misery, which, after the warnings of the student movements in 2006 and 2011, eventually exploded in the great social struggles of autumn 2019. Everyone will remember that the spark for this was yet another increase in public transport prices, but the roots were indeed deeper, summarised by the slogan “It's Not About 30 Pesos [the ticket price], It's About 30 Years”, an obvious allusion to the decades of “neo-liberal” policies. General strikes, street clashes in which the forces of bourgeois law and order resorted in abundance to every kind of "low intensity" bourgeois violence, including the rape of women stopped/arrested in army and police barracks (but also in the streets), killings, and permanent disabilities (people blinded by riot weapons), forced the then President Piñera to make some mild concessions but the state violence created or, rather, exacerbated intolerance towards an increasingly less bearable situation for growing sectors of the population. In this scenario of crisis, the working class, and the social strata closest to it, paid the price as usual. The pandemic then arrived which, once again unsurprisingly, only intensified the negative effects of the underlying crisis on the working class in general, and on young people and women in particular. Until last summer, Piñera did nothing to alleviate the serious difficulties of the working class, so much so that many people had to withdraw considerable sums from their pension fund, to somehow make it to the end of the month (with heavy consequences for their pensions). Instead he has poured aid into the middle and upper classes, with the double purpose of preparing favourable conditions for the future presidential candidate of the right and artificially increasing consumption, and therefore GDP. All this, however, was obviously not enough to prevent the victory of Boric, who has put forward an ambitious reformist program. Radical reform of the pension, health and education system, progressive taxation, protection and extension of so-called civil rights (LGBT, same-sex marriages, etc.), development of the "green" economy and revision of some mining contracts that threaten the environment and rare species of animals: these are, in short, the most characteristic elements of the new president, but ones which face many obstacles. The first is that in this historical period (the crisis remains the crisis) there is little room for manoeuvre in general and even less for major reformist projects, even if the current increase in the price of raw materials can help, given that Chile is, as noted earlier, among the world's leading producers and exporters of copper and lithium, metals which are indispensable in themselves but, in particular, for the so-called ecological transition. In addition, a sharp reduction in the role of private pension funds – as well as companies operating in health, education, tax increases for the rich, etc. – would affect enormous financial interests, so we can be sure that the bourgeoisie will make every effort to sabotage or, at least, water down the reforms. And a budget deficit of 13% already leaves very narrow margins. In addition to this, Boric can only count on a very uncertain majority in the legislature and some of his main "sponsors" – including the Concertación area, that is Christian Democrats and Social Democrats (e.g. Michelle Bachelet) – are not willing to allow him to do what they did not do when they ruled. Even if the next elections give Boric a more stable majority and the new constitution a less bumpy institutional path for reformism, the young president will try to mediate between the economic interests of the “progressive” (as they like to think of themselves) bourgeoisie and the hopes of those who elected him.
It is all too easy to predict that the latter will be disappointed, which could be the first step in a process of political maturation, if there were a point of reference capable of transforming disappointment and bitterness into fuel for revolutionary class struggle. Unfortunately, as far as we know, this is not the case today and once again the determination, generosity, combativeness of significant sections of the proletariat (and also of the petty bourgeoisie in terms of social suffering) expressed in recent years, runs the strong risk of ending in the nothingness of the inter-bourgeois electoral contest. It is the fate that always befalls our class, until the revolutionary organisation, the party, dialectically fuelled by these struggles, re-establishes its roots where it was born and where it must live.
CB (Battaglia Comunista)
15 January 2022
- 1Founded in 2017, the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) is a coalition of five parties on the left with positions close to the Spanish Podemos. Apruebo Dignidad, founded during the pandemic in 2021, is politically similar and made Boric their chosen presidential candidate.