Socialist Worker

The left in Chile has abandoned struggle

by Mario Nain
Issue No. 2679

A mass demonstration in Chilean capital Santiago

A mass demonstration in Chilean capital Santiago (Pic: Hugo Morales/Wikimedia commons)

The uprising in Chile continues, and it is raising fundamental questions about neoliberalism and even capitalism.

A general strike is still taking place and there are massive street protests. A huge march that started in the city of Valparaiso last week arrived in Santiago last Saturday.

The scale and ferocity of the uprising is such that Chilean president Sebastian Pinera has announced the cancellation of two high profile international meetings.

One was the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit that had been scheduled for mid-November. The other was the United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP25, which was set for early December.

Pinera had been set up internationally as the example of the success of neoliberalism. Now he is an example of its failure.

US president Donald Trump has ridiculously blamed the protests that have swept Chile for three weeks on “foreign efforts”. More ominously he has underlined his support for Pinera’s attempts to “restore order”.

The ruling class is in a profound political, ideological and economic crisis

The motivation for the revolt has come from the dynamic of Chilean society, not from outside.

Chile is a hugely unequal society. A report on Chilean television recently showed that 26,000 people had died from malnutrition or lack of medicine or hospital care. An elderly couple killed themselves because they had no food.

People say the public hospitals have conditions like Victorian Britain. Neoliberalism is a death sentence.

The richest 1 percent grab around a third of all income. The protests resonate with massive sections of society—workers, unemployed people, even sections of the middle class.

Only the top elites despise the protesters.

It may have all begun after an increase in transport fares but it has immediately expanded to include education, health and the rich-poor divide.

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The ruling class is in a profound political, ideological and economic crisis.

Ideologically it is completely disarmed, because it cannot defend the supposed wonders of the free market.

There was economic expansion throughout the 1990s and 2000s. But that halted, deepening the crisis of legitimacy.

The rulers have opted to criminalise protesters and use violence. At least 20 people, probably many more, have been killed by police and the army since the protests began.

The “day of the dead” commemorations in many areas of Chile this year were dedicated to the fallen protesters.

At the moment the social movement does not have a political leadership.

The traditional left parties, the Socialist Party and the Communist Party, are compromised by their role in the “left” governments that came before Pinera. These also implemented neoliberalism.

There was a huge school students’ rebellion against privatisation during the Socialist Party government of president Michelle Bachelet. That government turned its back on the movement.

There is talk of a “national conversation” and “people’s assemblies” driven from the top. But so much more is possible

Frente Amplio—Broad Front—a new leftist political coalition, was established in 2017. It brings together various radical, green and autonomist groups. But it too has failed to break from concentration on elections rather than the movement from below.

On demonstrations you see only the Chilean flag or the Mapuche indigenous flag, none of the flags of the mainstream left parties. There is a huge vacuum that needs to be filled by revolutionary organisation.

In the past, the ruling class had an ideology of crude anti-Communism. All its propaganda was geared to portray socialism as an anti-democratic totalitarian regime.

Now it cannot do that because the Communist Party and the Socialist Party are completely invisible in the street movement.

There is talk of a “national conversation” and “people’s assemblies” driven from the top. But so much more is possible.

It’s not a matter of a small reform here or there. It’s about fighting for a revolutionary transformation.

Mario Nain is a socialist who was imprisoned in Chile after ­general Augusto Pinochet’s coup in 1973

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