Chile: Popular power and revolutionary constituent assembly vital steps towards success of historic uprising

This article was originally written for socialistworld.net, the website of the Committee for a Workers’ International.

We are facing a combined crisis in Chile, in terms of the political regime that uses the Constitution of 1980, and the neo-liberal capitalist model that has exploited that Constitution. The emergence of popular protest has been enormous. It has been maintained, above all, by the courage of the impoverished youth of the working class. This has destroyed the idea of Chile as an “oasis of tranquility in a turbulent Latin America”, to quote President Sebastian Piñera’s unfortunate phrase made only five weeks before the mass eruption.

The October 18th Movement in Chile is an unprecedented social uprising. It has managed to maintain social mobilisations for three weeks and it has strongly impacted finance capital, with large losses in the financial markets. The general Chilean uprising, in particular, the heroism of the youth, managed to force the military into retreat, frustrating Piñera’s coup attempt when, weeks earlier, he took the army to the streets and declared war on all citizens.

The price paid for the repression has been high. Widespread police brutality has lead to murders, sexual abuse, rapes and hundreds of young people losing their eyes. The perpetrators of these crimes are clearly identifiable and so are the ones responsible for giving the orders that have systematically violated citizens’ human rights. It is Sebastian Piñera who should be the first one to be held responsible for these atrocities.

Piñera out!

The mobilised people are demanding Piñera to leave office. The political apparatus that seeks to redirect the protest towards the institutions of the regime in crisis try to ignore this demand. Systematic Human Rights violations and the use of the Armed Forces to violently repress peaceful street protests cannot go unpunished. It is necessary to demand trial and punishment for those who are responsible.

What has blossomed in the country, thanks to the magnificent emergence of the current social unrest, is a historical revolutionary period, which points to the need for radical democratisation of a broken, old regime. It has been administered primarily by three decades of governments from the PPD (Party for Democracy) the PS (Socialist Party), the DC (Christian Democracy) and Concertación (Coalition of Parties for Democracy). During the government of the Nueva Mayoria (New Majority), the PC (Communist Party) was also added.

All of these parties have been discredited today. People do not see a difference between them and right-wing parties, because of their politically corrupt practices and their defence of neoliberal capitalist policies, such as with the AFPs or Administradora de Fondos de Pensiones (Chilean Pension Fund)

United Front

Unidad Social (Social Unity) plays the role of a united front for the main trade union organisations, social organisations, students and the movement and social platforms against neo-liberal capitalist measures, such as ‘NO + AFP’ (against the pension reform), ‘Chile Better without FTA’ (against the Free Trade Agreement). Unidad Social also plays a fundamental role in the defence of water resources and the environment, along with the campaigns, MODATIMA and MAT. Like every great united front, this one is heterogeneous and there are different views. One of the greatest achievements of the popular rebellion has been to strengthen it.

For the movement to succeed, street mobilisation is not enough. We need the working class and its organisations to take a decisive role and to paralyse the national economy. That is the meaning of the general strike call. However, in Chile, there is no tradition of general strikes being called and voted on in mass meetings in the workplaces. In the past, successive national strikes called by the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (United Workers’ Union), did not get past much more than public sector paralysis and a modest concentration of protesters. The union weakness, the lack of conviction from bureaucratic sectors of the union, and the workers’ need to avoid dismissal, make the emergence of a general strike difficult.

Since the struggle against the military-civil dictatorship of Pinochet, a general strike is more a national strike and protest; the streets are paralysed by transport stoppages and there are widespread national protests.

Strengthening the struggle across Chile

Along with calling a general strike for 12 November, Unidad Social established itself as a strike committee and expressed its willingness to prepare for a really effective work stoppage. However, they did not get involved in coordinating different representative bodies from local neighbourhoods, communities or districts that could guarantee victory for the strike – linking up different areas with the national strike and the social protests. This does not simply show the limitations of the democratic decision-making within Unidad Social, but a generalised lack of understanding within the social uprising, which has no clear leadership.

From the beginning, there has been a need to link up and build a widespread social network formed by the tens of thousands of small organisations and territorial and anti-system movements all over the country. Without the involvement of such organisations, Unidad Social cannot really organise effective national action.

The Cabildos (People’s Town Councils) and Popular Assemblies are active everywhere in the country. In all of these, people are demanding a Constituent Assembly to create a new constitution. They also demand Piñera resigns, is put on trial and punished for the crimes committed by the government’s repression, and to give a satisfactory response to the social demands of the movement.

These are great steps forward and show the state of discussion in society. These organisations at local level should be the basis of a self-convened Constituent Assembly, that is to say, a revolutionary Constituent Assembly, and not subject to the institutions of the current ailing regime.

The first and most urgent task is the coordination of the existing Cabildos, Assemblies and struggle committees. We do not want, as the people, to have all our sacrifices and our fallen comrades taken for granted so that others negotiate in our place – we want our own true ‘Popular Power’!