Chile votes “against” – an unclear future

On December 17, for many Chileans was a day of mixed feelings. In the elections the alternative “against”, rejecting the proposal for a new constitution formulated by the extreme right under the leadership of Kast won. In a sense, a victory for the social movements because it was a hard blow for the right, but, on the other hand, with the conflicting feelings caused by celebrating the retention of the constitution that was created by the dictator Pinochet and that was the object of so many protests and so much sacrifice during the 2019 uprising. In effect causing a 360-degree turn that leaves us all in the same place where we were 4 years ago and wondering “what now?” 

The demand surges
In 2019 in Santiago, young students invaded the stations of the Metro subway system with shouts, demanding everything, probably feeling that there was nothing left to lose. The direct cause was the increase in the price of tickets for the public transit system. Adding even more economic pressure to the precarious situation that most Chilean families were experiencing at that time. They already had some of the most expensive tuition in the world compared to salaries. Forming a precarious working class with a complicated situation, since living expenses were (and continue to be) many and very high. Since during the Pinochet dictatorship much of what was created during the previous decades, especially during the socialist government of Salvador Allende, which did not last long but marked history and to this day is an example studied by all socialist movements in the world, was sold. In short, the clearest example of the precarious situation that was experienced is women and especially young mothers in Chile, who in large numbers are forced to fight alone, often without help from the father and sometimes without support from their own families, and even less so from the state.

The rebellion must have been a ray of light creating hope for change to perhaps find a solution and a path to a dignified life. At that time the president was right-wing and as has been seen before in Chile’s modern history, he chose terror and brutality as a response to the popular uprising. On television, Sebastián Piñera proclaimed a State of Exception and proclaimed that “Chile is at war,” sending military columns to take the streets, awakening memories of the dictatorship in the minds of the people, who were also forced to respond to the threat of reliving the dark years. Culminating in popular protests in all Chilean cities and with 3 million participants in the protests in Santiago, creating an impressive image that spread throughout the world. The protests started spontaneously, there was no clear organization or harmonized demands, much less a manifesto or a common program. The opportunity was opened to raise ideas and demands and also the opportunity for the capitalist system to intervene and propose its own solutions.

The demand for a new constitution was a demand that had been raised on many previous occasions and may have been raised in part genuinely by protest participants. But it is also very likely that the capitalist system saw an opportunity to control the situation, agitating for a process that could be controlled within the framework of the state. In any case, it became the main demand and a complicated and exhausting process began, of which we experienced the last step yesterday in the votes. 

Summary of the constituent process

It has been a process with several steps that have lasted 4 years and may still continue after last Sunday’s votes. Here is a summary of the steps that have been taken in the process until today.

  • 2020 national plebiscite – It was decided whether to start a process for a new constitution – Result: 78% approved
  • Elections of conventional constituents of Chile 2021 – The people who had to formulate the proposal for a new constitution were chosen
  • Constitutional plebiscite of 2022 – The proposal was voted in favor or against – Result: With 62% the proposal was rejected
  • Constitutional council election of 2023 – The councilors who were part of formulating the new proposal were elected – Result: Right-wing candidates took most of the positions
  • Constitutional plebiscite of 2023 – The second proposal was voted for or against – Result: With 56% the proposal was voted against 

With a large majority, the start of the process won and a process began to elect the representatives who should form the proposal for a new constitution. The assembly that was elected was made up of all political areas of the political system and ethnic and gender minorities had significant representation. The proposal that came out of the process contained many progressive proposals and was celebrated by international social and democratic forces as a positive example. But in the end, a break occurred in the trend that had been seen until that moment and due to the fear campaign carried out by the capitalist class, using fear of change and feelings of security in maintaining the situation in their media campaigns, that were totally dominated by the right-wing narrative, resulted in a defeat for those who hoped the proposal would be accepted.

In the second round, changes were made to the composition of the group formulating the new proposal. To begin with, there was a Council of Experts, elected by the political class, that is, not by the citizens. And as a second change, passing of time and the negative political situation was used in the dominant media and an environment of fear and separation was created, especially towards immigrants and the threat of crime. A media recipe that had been tested in Europe, the US and many other places, similar to the shock doctrine described by Naomi Klein, where the masses are paralyzed and controlled so that they accept what is proposed by the capitalist system. In short, a proposal was formulated that in several points was worse than Pinochet’s constitution and we arrived at today’s situation where many who had fought for their lives and the lives of their companions during the dictatorship and others who had sacrificed a lot during the protests of the recent uprising, now voting to maintain the constitution they had fought so hard to reject. The circle was complete.

The “against” won and now what?
So moving forward, perhaps there will be some lessons we can take from this process. To begin with, we must see the bourgeois electoral system for what it is; a game with rules made to ensure the profit of the capitalist system. Of course it contains a certain elasticity and of course it can be used in many ways, but ultimately the game is in the hands of the system, we must be clear on that. In other words, we will never be playing at an advantage in that game.

This system works in total harmony with the media, which are also under the total control of the hegemonic powers. It will always be in their best interest to deposit popular concern in electoral processes within the state framework because it offers them the opportunity to distance people from real and participatory politics while creating the space to bombard us with manipulative messages through their media. That also creates a battlefield in which we are at a disadvantage. Much because of the education system, which is also in the hands of the system, which is supposed to prepare us to analyze reality and understand it critically so that we can make decisions that protect our interests. 

But what happens when the educational system teaches you to sabotage yourself and teaches you to be the protagonist of the interests of a power outside of yourself that wants to exploit you? This is why we are in a radically disadvantaged situation and we must start by solving the problem in these basic areas, if we want to solve the problems that created the depression, frustration and cry of rage that was seen in the protests. Until we have the power to decide what we learned in our schools, what role the media should play, and what the ethical and moral principles of the system we want, we run the risk of repeating our mistakes until there is no strength and desire to fight left. 

This is the goal of the capitalist class, to get us into a bureaucratic process that is endless for us, but full of wins for them. That’s why perhaps we should start there, creating our own organizations to educate ourselves and our children. Learning to live together and decide for ourselves. And creating our own media that has the objective of letting us get to know the world and the truth, which protects us from threats, informing us of reality and allowing us to understand to grow as beings. And perhaps instead of an electoral system that marginalizes us to give a vote from time to time, controlled in a state process, we create a life where political decision is a normal part of daily life. 

The human being is a political being, the most natural thing is to discuss, decide and carry out the issues that affect our lives and the lives of the beings for whom we are responsible. But this system has turned us into beings limited to putting a line on a piece of paper a couple of times a year, and in the time in between they do everything they can to manipulate us. We can create all this popular force through popular organizations that begin by organizing the home, the family and continue by joining together with our neighbors, then creating links between towns, between cities and taking us to the regional or national level. When we organize we can solve our own problems, we do not need the state or the ruling class to direct us. Maybe it sounds like a dream to us, but it is a reality that happens every day in various places like Kurdistan and Chiapas. And here in Chile we have a lot to learn from the way of life that the Mapuche people have. 

The beautiful thing is that Chile in various ways has already started this work for many years. Through the popular land occupations, the legacy of the popular revolution, the territorial controls of the Mapuche people, the popular communication networks of radio and television and the courage shown to us by the mothers of Chile who were on the front line during the protests and probably they will be there when the people rise again. But perhaps this time we will be better prepared to build something of our own and not leave our hopes in the hands of a manipulative system. We are many and we are stronger.

Miguel Montes – Santiago, Chile

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