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From Chile to Greece: Neoreformist Government and Revolutionary Opposition

Chile’s new president, Gabriel Boric, has promised serious changes, but his reformist program is guaranteed to disappoint the masses. There are important similarities between his government and that of Syriza in Greece from 2015 to 2019. For an internationalist discussion, Fabián Puelma, a revolutionary socialist from Chile, spoke at a meeting of a Trotskyist organization in Greece.

Fabián Puelma

January 18, 2022
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Woman waves chilean flag in front of smoke

Fabián Puelma, a leading member of the Revolutionary Workers Party (PTR) of Chile, spoke at a virtual event of the Organization of Internationalist Communists of Greece — Spartakos (OKDE-Spartakos). The event was titled The Second Death (?) of Pinochet, and the complete video (Greek / English) can be watched online. We have added headings but have otherwise refrained from editing the text as it was presented.

Comrades, first of all I would like to thank you for the invitation. I fully share the idea that the exchange of experiences between Chile and Greece can be very interesting for thinking about the revolutionary struggle in both countries. Indeed, the government of Gabriel Boric seeks inspiration in some of the reformist experiences of the last decade in Europe. Certainly, the rapid submission of the Syriza government to the Troika, and the enormous disappointment that this generated in sectors of the working class and the people, allow us to anticipate some of the contradictions that will inevitably mark the new reformist experience that we are living in Chile.

I would like to apologize in advance for my broken English. I will share with the organizers the written presentation in case there are parts that were not understood correctly.

The government of Gabriel Boric (supported by the Frente Amplio, [a coalition of] neoreformist groups inspired by Podemos, and by the Communist Party) represents an attempt to restore a new center-left project and to consolidate the institutional channeling of the popular rebellion of October 2019. Let us remember that neoliberal progressivism (represented by the Concertación, which was the alliance of parties that led the transition pact at the end of the Pinochet dictatorship) is in a deep crisis. This is why we speak of restoration. It is not by chance that Boric is today negotiating with those parties for the conformation of the government.

As I was saying, the government of Gabriel Boric seeks to consummate the institutional deviation of the popular rebellion. That is why, before going deeper into the current situation, I would like to explain briefly what were the characteristics of the popular rebellion.

[First, we should place the rebellion in an international context. It forms a part of a cycle of the international class struggle which was initiated by the Yellow Vests in France at the end of 2018. In this same cycle, we saw the protests in Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Lebanon, and the resistance against the coup in Bolivia, among other processes. We can call it a “second cycle of the class struggle” since the capitalist crisis of 2008 erupted. The first cycle was marked by processes like the Arab Spring, the Indignados / 15M movement in the Spanish State, the Taksim Square movement in Turkey, or the massive protests of June 2013 in Brazil. I think the general strikes in Greece can be placed within this context.]

A Decade of Struggle

The October revolt in Chile followed several experiences of struggle in the country. The most important are the student mobilizations in the years 2006 and 2011. There were also important strike processes of precarious mining and port workers. Also the massive movement against the private pension system and the emergence of a powerful women’s movement.

The government of Michelle Bachelet, of neoliberal progressivism, tried to deactivate the mobilizations. However, it did not succeed in reversing the political crisis and the delegitimization of institutions. After this came the victory of Sebastián Piñera. He won with promises of increased employment and growth. But these expectations hit the wall. 2019 had been a year of bad news for the economy. And working families began to feel it in their pockets with lower incomes and more indebtedness.

The trigger of the rebellion was the brutal repression of the state against the mobilizations unleashed by the high school students. Piñera brought out the military to put an end to the mobilizations, but this caused anger to explode throughout the country. It started as a protest against the increase of the subway fare, but in a few days it questioned the whole legacy of the dictatorship. It shook the whole political system.

The high point of the rebellion occurred when the main unions and social organizations called for a general strike for November 12, 2019. The important thing about this date is that the whole country was paralyzed. Important sectors of the economy stopped, such as the port sector, state workers, health, education, among others. At the same time, there were roadblocks all over the country, barricades, and harsh confrontations with the repressive forces. During these days the president [Piñera] was on the point of being overthrown.

The way the ruling class and the main political parties found to save Sebastián Piñera was through a political agreement to elaborate a new constitution. A few days after the general strike, the “Agreement for Peace and the New Constitution” was signed. This agreement established an electoral timetable for the election of a Constituent Assembly. But a series of rules and traps were established to limit popular participation. Along with this, it was agreed that Piñera would finish his presidential term.

However, the agreement was seen by many as a betrayal, as a pact made behind closed doors and behind the backs of the people, an agreement signed by the same parties of the right wing, neoliberal progressivism, and reformism. It is at this moment that Gabriel Boric became known as a traitor, since he even signed the agreement individually, without his party officially endorsing it. Even the Communist Party had to criticize the accord and did not sign it. It was not easy to defuse the rebellion. The trade union bureaucracy played a very important role at this time. Since the agreement was signed, it did not call for any national strike to express this rejection in the streets. The Communist Party and the union bureaucracies prevented the emergence of any alternative to the agreement. This was the way to deactivate the rebellion.

By the time the pandemic arrived, the institutional deviation to rebellion was already underway. After this, what prevailed during 2020 and 2021 were elections. The Constituent Assembly was installed with an important presence of independent candidates. This is a process that is still open. However, the assembly has remained subordinate to the regime’s institutions. The last of these elections was the presidential election where Gabriel Boric won.

Revolutionary Workers Party

Which have been the political positions that we have promoted during these years? Maybe most of you do not know our party. Our organization, the Revolutionary Workers Party (PTR), is part of the Trotskyist Fraction for the Fourth International (FT-CI). Our organization emerged during the student mobilizations of the years 2006 and 2011. After this, we successfully inserted ourselves in various workplaces, especially among teachers, industry, and health. We also had a first electoral experience in the year 2017. In Antofagasta (which is one of the main cities of the country, and which is a mining, industrial, and port capital in the north of Chile), we managed to obtain over 3 percent of the votes.

During the rebellion, we converged with thousands of demonstrators to fight for the slogans: to overthrow Piñera through the general strike, for a truly Free and Sovereign Constituent Assembly, and to put an end to all the legacy of the dictatorship, in the perspective of fighting for an anti-capitalist program and a government of the workers.

One of our main fights was to promote instances of self-organization. We learned that at the height of the class struggle it is possible to impose the united front on the bureaucracy. This requires a previous accumulation in the unions, in number of militants and political recognition. This is what we achieved in cities like Antofagasta. During the rebellion we promoted the Emergency and Protection Committee, which was the organization that coordinated the general strike of November 12 in the region together with unions [and] neighborhood and student organizations.

During 2021 we participated in the elections to the Constituent Assembly and governors in the main cities of the country. We obtained 52,000 votes, and our comrade Lester Calderón, mining workers’ leader and candidate for governor, obtained 21,000 votes, corresponding to almost 13 percent.

A New Government

What is our reading of the current scenario? The election was polarized. But in the background there were two restoration projects. José Antonio Kast, an ultraright and ultraconservative, represented the defense of Pinochet’s political constitution. Gabriel Boric represents the project of rebuilding an alliance between reformism and the neoliberal center-left.

Boric’s victory has generated wide expectations of change. He won by proposing an increase in the minimum wage and a reduction in the working day, among other measures. However, during the second round he had a quick turn to the center. He promised to respect the fiscal adjustment of 22.5 percent of the budget for this year. At the same time, he no longer speaks of refounding the police or the freedom of the prisoners of the rebellion. Now he talks about strengthening the police. He said that it would be difficult to end the private pension system. At the same time, he is in negotiations with the Concertación parties for a governance alliance.

That is to say, most of the demands of the rebellion were put into question by the president himself. In addition, the right wing was strengthened in Congress, and all analysts say that the economic situation for this year will not be good. A period is opening in which the working class and the people will make an experience with a new reformist government. Expectations and illusions still prevail, but they will not be easy to satisfy.

From the Revolutionary Workers Party, we are not only fighting for political independence from the new government. We also believe that it is important to prepare the organization and the struggle for those demands of the October rebellion. None of those demands have been delivered, and the living conditions of the working class after the pandemic have declined. That is why we believe that we must promote the fight for this program, for the end of the private pension system, for the end of market education and health, for the nationalization of mining, for the return of the lands to the Mapuche people, among other measures.

Our organization is part of the movement for the freedom of the political prisoners of the rebellion. Together with dozens of relatives of prisoners, we are promoting the signature campaign for the Constitutional Convention to include amnesty in the constitution. At the same time, we are demanding that the government grant a general pardon, as the families are doing. And denouncing the attempts of the government coalition to include police officers in the pardon. This is why we believe that it is necessary to build a left-wing opposition to the government. And we believe that it is a mistake that some Trotskyist groups have politically supported Boric.

Like any reformist social democratic government, Boric’s government will rely on alliances and negotiations with bourgeois parties. It will not rely on the active mobilization of the working class, the only one that is capable of defeating the adjustment plan of the big capitalists. This is at the basis of the betrayal of the reformists, as I imagine you know very well from the experience of Syriza.

It is with this perspective that we fight to build a party of the working class, socialist and revolutionary. Starting by calling to group together all those who want to fight to win the demands of October in a totally independent way from the reformist parties and defeat the adjustment plan.

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