By: Nano, A Chilean comrade
For many people, like myself, watching actual images from the streets of cities and towns across Chile, sort of brings back memories of the fight against the Pinochet-led civilian-military brutal dictatorship thirty odd years ago. The aim of the repression was to neutralise the threat posed by the protestors back then and it was harsh and systematic in its level of violence with certain similarities to that of today. But that was just one of the things being thrown upon the vast, already impoverished masses. The main attack was the social and economic pain being inflicted by forcing brutal Thatcher-like neoliberal economic measures onto the people.
A new State Constitution was written allowing the government to embark on a wide spread-program of privatisation. This reversed all of the nationalisation of key industries by the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende of the centre-Left Popular Unity coalition. It also privatised other very important state-run services, such as the British-style National Health Service founded in 1952, electric power supply, including ENDESA -the national grid – water and gas supplies as well as telephone services.
The dictatorship tried very hard to eliminate any form of opposition by outlawing the trade union movement and all political parties and social organisations, standing on their way.
The reformist and revisionist Left tried to form an active and challenging resistance to the Junta and by 1985-1988 managed to mobilise people on the streets to protest and challenge the increasingly autocratic and despotic rule of the civilians and military in power. By then world opinion was turning against the Junta. American imperialism began to doubt the usefulness of this dictatorship. So they convened a meeting with key members of the Junta and the leaders of the Opposition whereby there was a covert agreement that democracy could be restored on the proviso that future governments must carry on applying the neoliberal economic policy designed by Milton Friedman and his Chicago School of Economics’ shock treatments.
In 1988 a plebiscite took place where the Opposition coalition made up of old Right-wing and traditional revisionist parties, such as the Communist Party and Socialist Party et al made up this movement won the contest and the military returned to their barracks always sort of “over-shadowing” the new and rather weak bourgeois democracy.
Subsequent governments from this coalition were subjected to the constraints of Pinochet’s Constitution and the lack of political boldness or, as people would argue, lack of political willingness to be defiant and rule for the majority. As result, although in from a capitalist point of view, the country did enjoy a sort of economic bonanza, especially in the mid 1990s, reaching an annual growth of about 9% of GDP, perhaps onehigher than the OECD countries and most certainly of the region. But the lack of decent levels of income-distribution and tepid reforms left the neoliberal model functioning at its best. The middle and lower social strata of the population never shared the economic benefits of such high level of growth.
The vast majority of people felt not only left out of sharing the benefits of the country’s economic growth but becoming poorer and frustrated. By 2007 the discontent took the form of a broad and nationwide students’ movement, nicknamed “penguins”, and unleashed a systematic campaign of mass and aggressive street protests and colleges and universities “lock -ins” They managed to gain some concessions from the revisionist Leftist government, like a freeze on student’s fees and reduced travel fare on public transport, across the country and more investment on infrastructure in public education establishments.
About a decade later, another mass movement managed to take off the ground, with minimum social and political impact, a nation-wide protest ensued demanding an end to the privately-owned pension system, whereby workers were left with such low incomes from their pensions with most pensioners left struggling even to make ends meet. At the same time the military personnel and police officers still kept their pensions on the old system , causing resentment, especially from university-trained or technical professionals, having worked all of their lives and receiving only a tiny fraction of their salaries and well below of that of a lower-ranking officer from the armed forces or the police.
Unfortunately, this movement suffered its own erosion and practically has disappeared as of now. The revisionist parties have never wanted or have the gut to seriously challenge the unfair capitalist system in its essential core of brutal neoliberalism, not just in Chile, but in the whole region and beyond. The so-called “natural” leaders are riddled with corruption and political aloofness from the needs of the people; like taking head on, the question of a fairer society, income distribution, through many ways, not just taxing the super-rich and high-income earners but also forcing the big multinationals, mainly in the mining industry to have them paid their corporation tax and also proper taxation on their royalties. Australia, some years ago, did that and the then Primer Minister lost the battle, but only because he did not rely on the people for their rallying support.
The mass protests and struggle we are seeing today on the streets of Chileis the culmination of a brewing discontent and fasilure of the traditional and revisionist parties. These parties have left a vacuum and a headless movement which was, in my view, spontaneous and relied mainly on social media to organise themselves and coordinate their actions. They are as resolute and daring at those in the 1980s. The latest mass mobilisation in many countries, most notable, in Ecuador, Lebanon, Catalonia and now also in Argentina and Brazil paints a rosy picture from the revolutionary perspective and a not so gloomy one for the ruling classes. One of more annoying things, for me at least, is that one of the demands from the protesters is to get rid of the Pinochet’s Constitution and call for a Constituent Assembly in order to write an adequate new Constitution allowing deeper reforms, such as renationalising the mining industry and the State to take back essential public services, and a more just taxation policy for big companies towards a more egalitarian society. But the position from the reformist and revisionist Left has been rather vague and lukewarm.
The shift to the extreme Right shows the failure of the revisionist and reformist Left straight- jacketed on their own ideological limitations and failure to take advantage of an ongoing capitalist crisis. The inter-imperialist conflicts around the world should be the starting point of something bigger because the world conditions at present, are a breeding ground for organising revolutionary actions. People around the world are demanding to be led by more class contentious and revolutionary elements because the revisionists, once again, have shown they are not up for the job in hand.
Karl Marx was absolutely right at predicting the concentration of economic power in fewer hands would inevitably lead to major internal and external conflicts. The introduction of capital intensive means of production would increase the ranks of the army of unemployed and, in turn, create social and political conflicts and the division of labour would cause more class division. We are eye- witnessing an increase in class contradictions which, in themselves, could create a chaos as a result of a lack of proper revolutionary organisation with clear political objectives by creating and profiting from the subjective and objective conditions toward a revolutionary class war, as experienced in the USS and China during the last century. Marxist and Leninist theories of revolutionary tactics and methodology are still as valid as ever.
Lenin warned us that a mass movement without a leadership and withouta revolutionary perspective and clear objectives, beyond a program of minimum demands, is doomed to failure. My greater fear is the noble aims of the mass movement struggling on the streets of Chile today, with increasing human costs, that at the end of the day, might end with nothing, yet again. If we are lucky, we will get just a few tepid reforms and minor concessions without looking at the bigger picture which is to remove the unfair and brutal capital system.
Chairman Mao’s famous quote: “one spark can set fire to a prairie”, is simply telling us that revolution can be sparked off from a hike in Metro fares in Chile, imposed charges on the use of WhatsApp in Lebanon, austerity measures in Ecuador, even austerity policies in the UK and even Brexit could sparkle a popular uprising in Britain. But in Mao’s words, in order for the spark to set the revolution alight it needs a revolutionary party that leads the broad masses to the final objective of achieving true socialism.
To create the concrete conditions for revolution we need to listen to the masses, interpret their feelings and aspirations and lead them forward. But if we fail in that endeavour, then we open the gates to fascists to take us into self-destruction. Therefore, recent social and political worldwide events showing clearly the cracks in capitalist economic structures and the inherent inability of revisionists and their allies, the social democrats, cannot and will not do the job which only revolutionaries can do. So, where do we start?