Chile, a Left without the people is doomed to fail

Nearly two weeks after the election of the Convention of Conventions, with an overwhelming victory for the Chilean ultra-right, I share six reflections with the aim of contributing to the analysis of the political scenario that is opening up for the progressive forces and the left.

1.- The Social Outburst and the Left’s mistake

There is no doubt that the social outburst of October 2019 marks and will continue to mark Chilean politics for a long time to come. This outburst had unusual social energy and the street mobilisations that followed were extraordinarily massive, sweeping away the leadership of the political parties, but also that of the social movements existing to date. No political or social organisation was able to guide or lead this outburst only the pandemic was able to stop. We on the left thought we saw in the outburst a phenomenon of strong questioning of the neoliberal model, in circumstances that, in the light of what has happened subsequently, it seems to have been only the expression of catharsis, tremendous and massive collective anger, but limited to questioning the abuses of the model and not necessarily against its foundations. In other words, the outpouring of October 2019 did not have or did not manage to generate a structural questioning of the neoliberal model, massively and culturally, because it is unquestionable that the parties of the left, the social leadership and many citizens who accompanied the process did have it.

2.- An electoral defeat of the right is not enough to defeat it.

During the pandemic and as a consequence of the October overflow, different electoral processes took place within the constituent process. In all these elections, the left won by a wide margin, achieving the most resounding victory for the election of convention members in 2021, when the new social movements and left-wing parties achieved total control of the Convention, leaving the right in the worst electoral defeat in its history, without any possibility of, influencing or even vetoing. These successive electoral victories generated in us an excessive triumphalism, forgetting that the defeat of the right wing was only electoral, but that it still maintained intact its economic power, a large part of its political power, the totality of its communicational power and, what we have already mentioned, that culturally the neoliberal model was still validated in the great majority of Chileans. This regrettable mistake led some elected Convention members to begin to act irresponsibly, committing several errors and many other horrors, overshadowing the great work of the Convention, which was producing an extraordinary draft Constitution.

3.- Boric’s triumph and the oblivion of the first warning signal

When, on the night of 21 November last year, the votes of the presidential election were finally counted, a shudder ran through all the militants and supporters of the left: José Antonio Kast, the candidate of the ultra-right, had won the first national majority! The nightmare of the return of ‘Pinochettism’ was so great that it overshadowed other equally important data: the three right-wing presidential candidates accounted for 53.49% and in the parliamentary election, the right had elected practically half of the senators and deputies, including an important group of 15 deputies from the ultra-right. A month after, for the second round of elections, Gabriel Boric would win a landslide victory becoming the most-voted President in the history of Chile and then, the feeling of relief of having stopped the far-right, the hope that a new generation of young people in their thirties would govern leaving behind the bad practices of the old politics, spread throughout the country,
forgetting that in the first round, the right had recovered from its electoral defeats, far exceeding its historic vote and, worse still, we overlooked the fact that 45% of voters did not mobilise to vote, despite it being the most polarised election since the return of democracy.

4.- The perfect storm and the triumph of rejectionism

The election of President Boric opened a climate of great hope, but we found a country in a state of total abandonment after the Piñera government. And so, with inflation as high as it had not been seen in decades, with major government mistakes accompanied by several inexcusable blunders by some ministers, with a migration crisis and an escalation of drug trafficking, all very real but cunningly amplified by the media, the plebiscite to approve the excellent draft of the new constitution was transformed by the right into a real plebiscite against the government. To all of the above, we must add the already mentioned irresponsible actions of some Convention members who gave credibility to the virulent smear campaign against the Convention by the media. So, with several Convention members disguised or voting while showering, making incense, or deceiving a whole country with fake cancer, the lies of the right wing and its perverse Fake News spread quickly.

But something else was missing: all the previous elections had been held with a voluntary vote, with an increasing turnout, reaching its peak with a 55% turnout in the second presidential round, which we consider a great success, but which hid a very relevant fact: 45% of voters had not turned out to vote despite the danger of the far right coming to power. On the other hand, for this new election and due to the compulsory vote, this gigantic pocket of depoliticised citizens, surely very angry with an institutionality that does not give them a response to their daily existence, turned out to vote and everything indicates that they did so with a lot of anger, punishing the government. The result of this real perfect storm was resoundingly clear: 62% rejected the proposal for a new constitution, which constituted a serious defeat for the government, for the left with parliamentary expression, but also – it must be said – for the new social and territorial movements that had emerged in the heat of the social outburst of October, that is, a defeat of a strategic, and not circumstantial, nature of the process of transformations, both in its institutional expression and in its social and territorial dimensions.

5.- The new election of convention members and the mistaken response of moderation

After this resounding rejection of the first draft of the new constitution, a second constituent process began, very rigged, insipid and restricted, that is to say, in the opposite sense to the failed previous process. At the same time, the government summoned important public figures from the former Concertación parties to the cabinet, in an attempt to “soften” its image before a citizenry that supposedly sought moderation. And here there is a new mistake: the victory of the “Rejection” of the first draft of the Constitution cannot be read in terms of moderation. As already pointed out, the outburst was the expression of a great collective anger against abuses, which the pandemic had only slowed down in its street expression, but without managing to overcome it. This is aggravated when the hope for change embodied by Boric crashes in the face of all the crises inherited from the Piñera government, the imperfection of his new administration and, worse still, ends up sharing a political address with emblematic figures of the so-called “30 years of abuses”. All of the above added a new ingredient of anger and the mantram “they are all the same”, expressed with rage, spread rapidly and, legitimate or not, the truth is that it became a decisive factor in this new process of electing convention members. So, this new pool of depoliticised voters, who turn out to vote out of obligation, do so with great anger, punishing a whole political class that does not resolve the anguish of daily life, finding in the ultra-right disguised as anti-system, with its discourse of an iron fist, order and anti-immigration, a refuge for their accumulated rage. But the disillusionment and frustration with Boric’s government also generated a significant drain on the left, among those more politicised voters who watched with great astonishment as a transformative government approved the TPP11, the Los Bronces mining project or forgot its campaign promise to resolve the CAE. These voters obviously did not vote for the ultra-right, but expressed their anger through the null or blank vote, which reached an unprecedented 21% of the votes cast.

The final result was again convincing but with some surprises: the political centre, which wanted to represent moderation, failed miserably, achieving a meagre 9%, without electing any of the candidates of the former Concertación, symbols of the 30 years; while the left-wing list achieved an insufficient 28%, electing only 17 councillors. The traditional right, for its part, achieved a meagre 21%, electing only 11 councillors, a real defeat compared to the 35% obtained by the ultra-right and its election of 23 councillors!!!. This result is a real disaster for the left, because the right will have total control of the new convention and the left did not even have the quorum to veto the initiatives imposed by the right. In synthesis: the new constitution will be drafted by the right, with the hegemony of the ultra-right.

6.- A Left without a people is doomed to defeat.

In short, the new election of constitutional councillors showed that the issue is not moderation or the conquest of the centre, because anger does not seek moderation or good intentions, but demands responses for the “HERE and NOW”. There is a need for “fixes”, for protection against the defencelessness of abuses. Hence the failure and the near disappearance of the political centre, because people expect certainty and clarity, not lukewarmness or ambiguity in the face of abusers.

The triumph of the ultra-right represents the failure of the constituent process generated in October 2019 and must be assumed as the failure of the left-wing parties with institutional or parliamentary expression, but also of the expressions coming from the social or territorial world that emerged with the outbreak and that for the first Convention had the certain possibility of becoming a new political-social force protagonist of the process of change, but unfortunately could not do it either. So, the failure belongs to all of us and must be assumed in its profound depth, but without the guilty expression so typical of the Christian substratum; nor in the sterile, childish and endless exercise of passing the buck to each other; nor with the naivety that it is a simple stumble that will quickly be overcome.

The failure is extensive and profound, as it is great the fear that in three more years, we will be governed by a hate-filled, xenophobic, misogynist and coup-mongering ultra-right. But our greatest failure was revealed by the compulsory vote, which mobilised 45% of new voters, a gigantic number of citizens coming mainly from the middle and popular sectors, as all studies of the so-called “class bias” have shown for the voluntary vote. In other words, a huge segment of voters who make up an important part of the people that all lefts, both institutional and social and territorial, invoke and aspire to represent. But to say that we lost the last two elections as a result of compulsory voting is an absurdity only comparable to the joke of “Don Otto’s armchair”. Compulsory voting simply revealed that we on the left have abandoned our roots and territories, in a process that began in the 1990s. If in the 1980s, in every village or town, trade union, factory, faculty or university, we found several cells, bases or nuclei of left-wing parties, together with the worker priest, doing political pedagogy in the social base; 40 years after, in the popular sectors we find only evangelical pastors linked to the right and drug lords offering help for the sick and funerals, and an absent left, preoccupied with the journalistic wedge and not with the humble work in the social base.

A left-wing government without a popular base to support it is condemned to move to the rhythm of the media agendas of the right, to the blackmail of the correlation of forces in parliament and to the extortion of the economic groups. If in the eighties we sang “defeat is always brief”, as compensation for the long night of the dictatorship, today we must understand that we still have time to avoid another defeat, which, if it happens, will unfortunately not be brief, and that to avoid it we must accept the failure of all of us, understand that nobody is a leftover, neither the institutional parties nor the social or territorial leadership and that our imperative mission is to reconquer the social base, because a left without people is doomed to fail.

Efren Osorio