Chile – the struggle for the masses

Image: Hugo Fuentes


The road to electing Boric has been bumpy, and it will be even more so to defeat oppressive neoliberalism.

“Men [and women] make their own history, but they don't make it the way they want; they do not do so in self-selected circumstances, but in circumstances already existing, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living” (Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).

Days ago, when neo-fascist candidate José Antonio Kast was winning the first round of the country's presidential elections, the 2019 Chilean rebellion destined to bury neoliberalism seemed to have come to an end. However, it was greatly reinvigorated by the candidate's landslide victory. I appreciate the dignity [1] (Vote for Dignity), Gabriel Boric Font, who obtained 56% of the votes in the second round, that is, almost 5 million votes, the highest in the country's history. Gabriel, 35, is the youngest president ever elected in Chile.

This result would have been even greater had it not been for the policy of Transport Minister Gloria Hutt Hesse, who deliberately offered almost no public transport services, especially buses to poor neighborhoods, with the aim of minimizing the number of pro-Boric voters. , waiting for them to give up and go home.[2] Throughout election day, there were constant reports in major media, especially television, from people across the country, but particularly at bus stops in Santiago[3] who complained bitterly about having to wait two or even three hours for buses to go to the polling centres. Thus, there were justifiable fears that they would rig the elections, but the determination of poorer voters was such that the maneuver did not work.

Kast's campaign, with the complicity of the right and the mainstream media, carried out one of the dirtiest electoral campaigns in the country's history, reminiscent of the US-funded and directed "terrorist propaganda" against socialist candidate Salvador Allende in 1958, 1964 and 1970. Through innuendo and the use of social media, the Kast camp launched crude anti-Communist propaganda, accusing Boric of aiding terrorism, suggesting that Boric would install a totalitarian regime in Chile, and the like. The campaign sought to instil fear mainly in the petty bourgeoisie, even hinting that Boric would be a drug addict and that crime and drug trafficking would get out of control if Boric became president. Furthermore, mainstream media attacked Boric with insidious questions about Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, to which Boric did not produce the best answers.

All in vain, as the mass of the population knew that their vote was the only way to prevent Pinochetism from assuming the presidency and they were fed up with President Piñera. Their perception was correct, they knew that under the circumstances, the best way to secure the objectives of the October 2019 social rebellion was to defeat Kast and his Pinochetism.

As the election campaign progressed, although Kast backed away from some of his most virulent Pinochet statements, people knew that if he won, he would not hesitate to implement them fully. Among many other gems, Kast declared his intention as president to abolish the ministry for women, same-sex marriage, the (very restrictive) law on abortion, eliminate funding for the Museum in Memory of Victims of the Dictatorship and the Gabriela Mistral Center for the promotion of the arts, literature and theater, withdraw Chile from the International Commission on Human Rights, close the National Institute of Human Rights, cease the activities of FLACSO (prestigious Latin American center for sociological research), build a ditch in Northern Chile (border with Bolivia and Peru) to put an end to illegal immigration, and to empower the President with legal authority to detain people in places other than police barracks or prisons (i.e., restore the illegal procedures of the Sinister Police of Pinochet).

Kast's intentions left no doubt as to which was the right choice in the elections. However, I was astonished by several ultra-left analyzes advocating blank voting, in one case because “there is no essential difference between Kast and Boric”, and, even worse, another suggested that “the dilemma between fascism and democracy was false” because the Chilean democracy is defective. My despair at such a “principled stance”, probably dictated by the best of political intentions, turned to shock when on election day itself a Telesur correspondent in Santiago interviewed a Chilean activist who only attacked Boric with the main message being “ whoever wins, Chile loses”.[4]

The coalition concertation [5] center-left, who in the period 1990-2021 governed the nation for 24 years, bearing the heavy responsibility of having maintained and even perfected the neoliberal system, openly expressed his preference for Bóric, and assiduously supported him in the second round. Thus, those who believe that there is no difference between Kast and Bóric, do so not only from an ultra-left position, but also by declaring Bóric guilty by association, despite the fact that he has not yet had the opportunity to perpetrate the crime.

This brings us to a central political question: what about the October 2019 Rebellion and all its impressively positive consequences for the Chilean working class? What is at stake in Chile is the struggle, not (yet) for power, but for the masses who for decades were tricked into accepting (albeit reluctantly) neoliberalism as an inevitable fact of existence, until the 2019 rebellion, which was the first mass mobilization not only to oppose but also to get rid of neoliberalism.[6] The Rebellion extracted extraordinary concessions from the ruling class: a referendum on a Constitutional Convention legally tasked with drafting an anti-neoliberal constitution to replace the 1980 one enacted under Pinochet.

The referendum approved the proposal for a new constitution and the election of an assembly by 78 and 79 percent respectively in October 2020. The election of the Convention awarded Chile's right wing only 37 out of 155 seats, i.e. just 23% , while those in favor of radical change obtained an aggregate total of 118 seats, that is, 77%. Most famously, the Socialists and Christian Democrats, the former parties concertation, jointly obtained a total of 17 seats. The biggest problem continues to be the fragmentation of the emerging forces for change, as they together hold nearly all of the remaining seats, but structured into easily 50 different groups. However, in tune with the political context, the Convention elected Elisa Loncón Antileo, a Mapuche indigenous leader, as its president, and there were 17 seats reserved exclusively for the indigenous nations and elected only by them; a development of gigantic significance.

The mass rebellion also won other concessions from the government and parliament, such as the return of an increasing share of their retirement contributions to private "pension administrators", which Chileans rightly see as a massive fraud lasting for over three decades. This dealt a severe blow to Chile's financial capital. A proposal for a fourth return in parliament (end of September 2021) was not approved by a very small margin of votes. I am sure that this debate is not over yet.

The scenario described above suddenly became confusing with the results of the first round of the presidential elections in which not only Kast came out in first place (with 27% against 25% for Boric), but also elected deputies and senators for the two parliamentary chambers from Chile. Although I appreciate the dignity did very well with 37 deputies (out of 155) and 5 senators (out of 50), the Chilean right We can More (supporters of Piñera) won 53 deputies and 22 senators, while the old concertation won 37 deputies and 17 senators.

There are several dynamics at work here. As far as parliamentary elections are concerned, traditional mechanisms and existing clientelistic relationships apply with experienced politicians who exert local influence and are elected. In contrast, most of the elected members of the Convention are an emerging coalition of pressure groups organized around single-issue campaigns (pension funds, water privatization, gas prices, abuse of utility companies, land advocacy ancestors mapuche, state corruption, etc.), who did not stand for a seat in Parliament.

More important was Boric's public commitment in his victory speech to support and work together with the Constitutional Convention for a new constitution. This gave and will give enormous impetus to efforts to constitutionally replace the existing neoliberal economic model.

What the Chilean working class must face is its lack of political leadership. They don't even have a Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) like the people of Honduras built to fight the coup that deposed Mel Zelaya in 2009. The FNPR, made up of many and varied social and political movements, evolved into the party Free that has just elected Xiomara Castro as the country's first female president.[7] The possible way to address this potentially dangerous flaw would be to bring together in a national conference all the many single issue groups together with all the social movements and political currents willing to create a Popular Front for an Anti-Neoliberal Constitution.

After all, they took to the streets for two years to bury the oppressive, abusive and exploitative neoliberal model, and it is becoming clearer what to replace it with: a system based on a new constitution that allows for the nationalization of all services and natural resources, punish the corrupt, respect the ancestral lands of the Mapuche, and guarantee health, education and decent pensions. The road to get there will continue to be bumpy and confusing, but we've won the masses; now, with the election of a government sympathetic to this cause, we can launch the transformation of the State and build a better Chile.

*Francisco Dominguez is professor of political science at the University of Middlesex (England).



[1] An electoral coalition essentially of the Frente Ampla and the Communist Party, with smaller groups.

[2] In Chile, voting is voluntary and abstention levels for the first round were 53%; the newspaper The country on 17 December it reported that 60% of voters in La Pintana, a Boric fortress, stayed home in the first round.

[3] Santiago has more than 6 million inhabitants out of a total of 19 million Chileans.

[4] The leaders and presidents of Latin American countries that make possible the Telesur would fundamentally disagree with such a message, in my view, irresponsible.

[5] concertation it consists essentially of the socialist and Christian-democratic parties, plus other smaller parties, with the socialists and Christian-democrats holding the presidency of Chile respectively for three and two terms out of a total of six.

[6] The battle for Chile,

[7] See my article on Honduras available at


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