Defending ‘Peace’ With Batons: Class Struggle in Chile

Bruno Fuentes

BY BRUNO FUENTES

In Chile, we use the word luma to describe what most people around the world know as a police baton. They are wielded by tens of thousands of Carabineros, who serve the interests of the capitalist state. According to President Sebastian Piñera, these lumas help to preserve “peace” in Chile. In his mind, using these lumas against millions of Chileans protesting neoliberalism will bring peace to our country instead of addressing our demands.

“We Condemn Violence” has become a catchphrase of both Piñera and Chilean mainstream media. According to their narrative, in order to “condemn the violence” and defend “peace,” certain laws had to be passed. These include laws prohibiting looting, wearing masks and forming barricades. These laws have little to do with defending “peace” and a lot to do with criminalizing protests in Chile. These laws make it illegal to block traffic and increase the prison sentence for doing so. They also make it illegal for protesters to occupy colleges and universities. Additionally, protesters can no longer cover their faces, even if they are doing so to prevent breathing in tear gas dispersed by the Carabineros.

A protester in Chile picks up a tear gas canister thrown at him by police. | Source: Reuters

It is obvious Piñera has given up on trying to promote Chile’s existing system as the free market “oasis” he bragged about just a week before protests exploded. Piñera is desperately trying to maintain his grip on power; in doing so, he is adding poison to the knife he is twisting against those who resist his government and the dictatorship of capital. It is thanks to resistance from Chile’s popular masses that Piñera has retreated from further imposing policies to attack the pockets of the poor. These include policies that make young workers more vulnerable to exploitative bosses and make sugar farmers more susceptible to bankruptcy because of the elimination of government subsidies.

It was popular violence, condemned by Piñera and mainstream media, that put on the table the proposal to change the country’s constitution. It was because of relentless uprisings that Chile’s bourgeoisie began trembling with fear, knowing they no longer had a choice in the matter. Chile’s most oppressed resisted and temporarily restrained soldiers from using their rifles against the people they swore to defend. It was self-defense and mutual aid organized by the people against state violence and neoliberal austerity that has weakened Piñera. Now, he is isolated and has been left with no other option but to scurry away like a rat into a corner. He is simply trying to survive a disaster of his own creation.

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera (L) with U.S. President Donald Trump (R). | Source: Associated Press

With all of this in mind, can we claim victory? On the one hand, the broad masses of the Chilean people overwhelmingly approve the constitution plebiscite coming in April. One only has to look at the scale of marches in favor of it, compared to those against it. Changing the constitution is a step forward because it opens the door to changing the existing repressive system entirely. On the other hand, the restructuring of the constitution will be carried out by the current National Congress of Chile, dominated by right-wing and neoliberal “left” parties. Simply put, the new constitution will be drafted by a flock of vultures who do not represent the interests of the Chilean people.

We must also consider the case of the Frente Amplio (Broad Front). The Frente Amplio was an attempt to unite new and unorthodox political forces, many of which arose from the university student movement active since 2006. Its beginnings were promising, particularly when the Communist Party expressed interest in joining the Frente Amplio. However, many of the parties of the Frente Amplio hold liberal and petty-bourgeois positions. It failed in overthrowing the existing system. It was a politically immature coalition with no commitment to building a new, socialist Chile. Instead, it focused its efforts in creating a complacent social democratic state.

Supporters of the Frente Amplio in Chile. | Source: Werken Rojo

When the most recent uprising began, the Frente Amplio appeared to be just a younger and more colorful version of the traditional center-left forces in Chile. Its most notable representatives included Gabriel Boric, Gonzalo Winter and Giorgio Jackson, all of whom supported laws criminalizing protesters. They also supported the option to create a new constitution via a constituent convention. In other words, a new constitution drafted by the National Congress still controlled by the bourgeoisie. Understandably, the Chilean masses became discontent with the Frente Amplio, resulting in the departure of some of its most radical parties. In short, the Frente Amplio fell by the weight of its own class contradictions.

Some may ask: Isn’t an option for a constitutional convention good? Won’t the Chilean people ultimately vote for this in April? Let me explain.

At the beginning of the uprising against Piñera’s regime, the Chilean people requested a constituent assembly, not a constitutional convention. A constituent assembly is made by and for the people in cabildos. They resemble soviets, but are adapted to Chile’s local conditions. For us revolutionary Chileans, cabildos are still a transitional goal. But as time has passed, the strength of the uprising, which cabildos draw their power from, has gradually decreased.

Thousands of protesters in Santiago, Chile. | Source: Climate Citizen

Since Oct. 18, 2019, there have been protests against the bourgeois state. However, millions of people no longer demonstrate at the Plaza Dignidad (Plaza of Dignity) in Santiago as they previously did. The people can’t be on the streets forever. As the date of the referendum approaches, Chile’s revolutionary organizations have realized they will have to vote in approval of a constitutional convention to show the masses they want change, even if it isn’t systemic. If those of us in revolutionary organizations do not win the approval of the masses, the bourgeoisie will use it as “proof” the people don’t want to fundamentally change the neoliberal system.

It is also clear for revolutionary organizations if the process of a constitutional convention does not change the system, there will be no other option for the popular masses other than to engage in revolution. We cannot forget the words of Fidel Castro, who said the people engage in revolution only when they are truly left with no other option to move forward. Therefore, it is the job of every revolutionary party entrenched in the neoliberal parliament to exhaust all options as a means to expose Chile’s “democracy” as a façade for the dictatorship of capital.

Protesters in Chile hold a banner that reads “Neoliberalism Kills.” | Source: Prensa Latina

As things stand, it is clear to the working class masses the current system is nothing more than a continuation of the inherited dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. However, many still have faith the contradictions of capital can be resolved using existing institutions. It is our job to support this popular uprising and push it to its furthest limits. This can leave us with a system in which the left can carry out its will and create another space for defiance against capitalism and imperialism in Latin America. It can lead us to see revolution as the only viable path forward. If either of these paths lead to change, we can implement the policies the people have been yearning for; policies that directly hit the pockets of transnational corporations and the national bourgeoisie.

What exactly do the people yearn for? What do the working class masses of Chile hope to achieve by changing the constitution? Since the current insurgency began, the list of demands have only grown. The most important demands are free and high-quality universal healthcare, free and high-quality universal education, the deprivatization of water, a living wage and a new pension system that dissolves the rule of private corporations. There are several other demands that are equally as important. These include the right to decent housing, to unionize and fight for better working conditions, the return of lands to Indigenous peoples and rights for the LGBTQ+ community, among others.

An Indigenous protester in Chile. | Source: Getty Images

Why do these demands go against the interests of the national and transnational bourgeoisie? Well, it’s simple. Despite all the praise the country’s neoliberal economic model has received, Chile remains a poor country. Although ranked as one of the top economies in Latin America, the majority of Chileans live in poverty. A small class of people continues to get rich off of the backs of a large class of people who continue to get poorer. Chile’s so-called economic “success” is based solely on the profits raked in by a handful of millionaires and billionaires, not the population as a whole. This illusion of wealth under neoliberalism has allowed the government and mainstream media to justify limiting public spending. This narrative also ignores the billions worth of super-profits stolen by multinational corporations based primarily in the First World, who’s wealth is extracted from Chile’s vast natural resources.

Here is a short list of these companies and their nation of origin listed by resource:

Gold and Silver: Minera Dayton (United States), Barrick Gold (Canada), Kinross Gold (Canada), Goldcorp (Canada), Polar Star Mining (Canada), Mandalay Resources (Canada), Yamana Gold (Canada), Austral Gold (Australia), Hochschild Mining (England)

Titanium: White Mountain Titanium (United States)

Iron: Nyrstar (Belgium)

Non-Metallic Minerals: Imerys Minerals (France), Tianqi Lithium (China)

Copper: BHP Billiton (Australia), Glencore PLC (Switzerland), Anglo American (United Kingdom), Mitsui & Co. Ltd. (Japan), Teck Metals Ltd. (Canada), Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold (United States), KGHM Polska Miedź (Poland), Sumitomo Group (Japan), Marubeni Corporation (Japan), Mantos Copper (United Kingdom), Barrick Gold (Canada), Lundin Mining (Canada), Pan Pacific Copper (Japan), Hot Chili (Australia), Cuprum Resources (Brazil)

Natural Gas: Gas Natural Fenosa SDG (Spain)

Water: Grupo Agbar-Suez (Spain), Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (Canada)

Electrical Generation: AES Gener (United States), Endesa (Italy), Engie (France and Belgium)

Electrical Transmission: Transelec (Controlled by Canadian investment company Brookfield), Emelat and Emelari (both of which are linked to Catalan-Spanish Gas Natural Fenosa), Saesa (Canada)

A copper mine in Chile. | Source: CNN

All the profits raked in by these companies leave the country and are not invested in public welfare. Instead, they finance the luxuries of people thousands of miles away who may have never stepped foot on Chilean lands.

Ultimately, if the revolutionary Chilean masses want their demands implemented and financed, they will have to expropriate all of these industries and use their profits to serve the people. This includes industries owned by both the national and multinational bourgeoisie. This will sharpen class struggle in Chile, leaving the popular classes with something to defend. It could be in this situation (class struggle against the national bourgeoisie and imperialism) in which revolutionary socialism could once again flourish in our corner of the continent. But for the moment, the vote in favor of a constitutional convention will have to triumph to continue our challenge to capitalism.

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