Chile. Many people are hoping for a new constitution. It should be the foundation of a new and more fair society. However, the more radical segments of the class are critical of the new constitution, because it does not shake the power structures of society. We publish this contribution to the debate on Constituent Assembly and autonomous territorial assemblies.
Originally published by Vamos Hacia La Vida. Translated by Enough 14.
Chile December 2019
Constituent Assembly or autonomous territorial assemblies?
The rebellion that has been going on since the 18th of October is spontaneous, popular, massive and anarchic. The measures introduced from above to fight the rebellion are hierarchical, elitist, institutional and “democratic”. In fact, there is no historical event that resembles this nationally limited rebellion. The uprising could best be compared to the social explosion of April 1957 in Valparaíso, Concepción and Santiago or the May/June 1968 revolt in France.
In 1957, after a fare increase in the three cities, a spontaneous proletarian revolt almost simultaneously took place in Valparaíso, Concepción and Santiago (March 30 in Valparaíso, April 1in Concepción and April 2 in Santiago). The short but intense uprising forced the police to withdraw, which led the government to deploy the military. The clashes resulted in dozens of deaths and the government finally withdrew the price increase(1).
In the case of France, the strong repression of the student movement led to a spontaneous general strike, which was boycotted by the bourgeois parties (especially the French “Communist” Party) and their unions. For a month, there was a real popular explosion of creativity and street battles with the police. The movement began to lose strength as the parties of the ruling order reorganized, mass demonstrations for social peace were held and finally an agreement on economic reforms was reached between the employers’ association, the unions and the government. There were one or two deaths during the revolt (people’s lives are worth less the more they are immersed in the Third World) and, what is also significant, the impetus given by the 1968 revolt had a global dimension (USA, Córdoba, Mexico, Japan, Czechoslovakia and many more.) (2)
But no revolt is like the other – although they all have in common that they break through the normality of society for a limited period of time – and the one that began in Chile on the 18th of October 2019 seems to be unique. Although the social “explosion” had been foreseeable for some time (as several generals now, after the most violent battles are over, affirm), it was impossible to predict when and how it would take place. What we also could not foresee is that after more than a month and a half of horizontal and multi-layered attack against capitalist normality, everything would still be open and people would continue to fight in the streets. Looking at other current conflicts, such as the protests in Hong Kong and France, the uprisings in this new global wave of rebellions against the ruling system no longer seem to be guided by the idea of conquering power (the conquest of state power is central to bourgeois revolutions). Rather, we are now dealing with “permanent uprisings” that challenge power and at the same time try to build a human community from which other life forms can emerge.
The answer from above was predictable. Three weeks after the “declaration of war” by billionaire and president Sebastian Piñera, which – as we all know – had catastrophic consequences, the entire “political class” met. This is an expression of the bourgeois class, even though professional politicians form a kind of independent caste. Under the pressure of the social uprising on the one hand and the demands of the economy and the state-military mafia on the other, the political class signed an “Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution” in the early hours of the morning. In doing so, they tried to legitimize the state, capitalism and the “Chilean model” (an unleashed neoliberalism). All this without saying a word about the massive and systematic human rights violations committed by carabineros under the leadership of the infamous general director Mario Rozas. But Piñera, Chadwick, Iturriaga and Espina are also responsible for human rights violations. When politicians enter into negotiations with the people responsible for human rights violations, they recognize them as discussion partners. This ignores all their political and criminal responsibility for the crimes against humanity. The “Agreement for Peace and a New Constitution” is a typically bourgeois agreement and is shaped by the interests of the ruling class. The inter-bourgeois negotiations of the late 1980s, which paved the way for the “transition to democracy”, served as a model for the negotiations.
There were already voices claiming that the agreements negotiated and announced on the 15th of November were a success and would calm the situation. According to Minister Blumel, there are fewer demonstrations and arrests every day. But the youth proletariat continues to take the streets, it has learned to fight collectively against the cops of the GOPE/FFEE (a special task force of the police, note from the translater), to attack and destroy the most horrible symbols of domination and to take back the public space en masse. Besides adrenalin and fighting spirit, there is an awareness among young people that all the achievements so far have been achieved through direct action and not through negotiations, agreements, votes or ballot boxes.
The editorial of November 21 of the newspaper “El Mercurio” (a conservative daily newspaper) considers the agreement for a new constitution as a success and claims that the resentment of the people in general could be channelled towards policies within the institutional framework. However, they lament the “normalisation” of violence: “Every day shops and even medical facilities are looted. Student demonstrations continue to disrupt subway traffic and even yesterday there were collective evasion rides. The dangerous aggressions of the masses are also increasingly directed against police officers”.
The mouthpiece of the bourgeoisie ends the editorial with the instruction to find those people who support and legitimize the violence of the revolting masses. There have already been attempts by the Ministry of the Interior through the State Security Law to persecute those who are agitating for the overthrow of the government.
Can the announced “Constituent Assembly”, which is generating so much enthusiasm among all good-hearted right-wing fetishists and social democrats, contain and channel the energies of the uprising? Can it tame anarchy and channel it into democratic channels?
We believe that it will not be so easy. Everything will depend on the way we organize the counter-power spontaneously generated on the streets from now on and what goals we set ourselves as a class/species. And this outside the institutions and against any form of “separated power “.
What is clear to us, in any case, is that the territorial assemblies are structures that have been set up since October 18th by the community struggling in the streets. That is where we are. We will have to discuss openly with those who more or less consciously take institutional and social-democratic positions and whose majority so far has been in favour of a new Constitution. But that is not all: the greatest potential of territorial assemblies, insofar as they can maintain their autonomy from the state, lies in the practical tasks that should be tackled (self-defence, nutrition, communication, care for children and elderly adults). These structures, together with their practical tasks, would have to be extended to their limits in order to promote communisation from them.
New forms of social relations can emerge from the territorial assemblies, which overcome capitalist social relations and throw them on the rubbish heap of history. It is necessary for all territorial assemblies to network and coordinate.
The agreement for a new constitution shows how widespread politicism is today (3): what appears on the surface of society, i.e. the tip of the iceberg, is domination within the framework of political “institutions” and representative democracy. Marx already stated that “revolutions are not made with laws”. But left-wing democratic citizens dream of changing the country through a big “social pact”. They hope to realize their dreams by means of the law. As if this would change the economic and social basis of the system, as if by magic a constituent assembly could change everything.
Meanwhile, the ruling class tries to defuse social tensions with police presence and new measures. But even the so-called “social agenda” of the government, which was intended to overcome the serious injustices and abuses that make up society, has not yet had any effect.
However, some analysts are aware that social peace will depend on the Constituent Assembly and on “social measures”: “In the short term, there are two challenges. Most urgent is the ability of the political class to reach an agreement on pensions, minimum wages and debt, to name a few of the demands of the demonstrators. If this is not responded quickly, the movement can be reactivated. The other challenge is how to achieve the widest possible participation in the referendum on the new constitution.
“Spontaneity” and consciousness are not opposites. According to Marx, “the proletarian party is born spontaneously from the historical soil of modern society”. Obviously, this historical party has nothing to do with an institutional party as it historically propagated traditional social democracy and then radicalized or Leninist social democracy. (By historical party is meant the networking and coordination of territorial assemblies. In other words, it is not about hierarchical and centralised structures but about the spread of horizontal structures that organise every area of life themselves. Note by the translator)
The revolutionary proletarian movement is indeed “spontaneous”, but not only in the sense that when it emerges (think of Russia in 1917 or Spain in 1936) it is a revolution without a leader, not waiting for orders from above, but also in the sense that “the proletarian movements are shaped by the situation in which they find themselves, as well as by the position they occupy within the totality of the social relations of modern society. It is also the social circumstances which enable the class to intervene in society at a given moment”(4).
Contrary to what Kautsky said in the II International and later his pupil Lenin in the III International, the social conditions of the class are also important. International, consciousness and spontaneity are not opposites, as mentioned above, and the proletariat does not need to be led “from outside” on the right path of consciousness. Rather, “the proletariat acquires consciousness by its own efforts, because it needs this consciousness, i.e. a clear idea of its situation, its relations with other classes and its role” and “because of its situation in the framework of capitalist relations of production, the working class is the only bearer of socialist consciousness” (5).
The uprising in Chile was initiated by the youth proletariat and spread very quickly throughout the country. Soon the whole population participated. However, the uprising has not yet extended to production and generally to the workplaces (with a few exceptions controlled by the trade unions). This is one of the most obvious weaknesses of the movement so far.
What is clear is that after a month of uprising, the awareness of the fighters has increased significantly, as it often happens during uprisings. The movement has moved from criticism of “neoliberalism” to criticism of the (capitalist) system, its way of life and the systematic destruction it produces.
Since October 18, life has been seething in different ways. It is no coincidence that there are no leaders, and it is even more significant that the biggest icon of the movement is an animal: the legendary dog that has always accompanied us on the streets for years and is known as “Negro Matapacos” (the black cop killer).
The social revolution enables mankind to reconcile with itself, with other animals and with nature.
More than a month after the beginning of the uprising, there are some things that have become clear. The inherent terrorism that characterizes the state has come to the surface. It has become clear that the only power of our class lies in the streets, through massive protests and a “front line” of hundreds of young people who have faced repression and learned to defend themselves and attack individually and collectively, ensuring that thousands can demonstrate despite the brutal onslaught of police.
What has been neglected so far is the agitation for the release of the numerous comrades who are in preventive detention and are suffering obvious harassment by the public prosecutor and the courts.
It is necessary to demand their immediate release, regardless of what they are accused of. On the other hand, without trusting the State, we must demand that all human rights violations committed by the military and the police must be investigated and punished and, since human rights violations are universal and systematic in nature, people must also be held accountable at the highest state level.
Many anti-capitalist but not necessarily anti-authoritarian comrades see the step towards a constituent assembly as something positive. They affirm, for example, that “although the Constituent Assembly will not be the thing that puts an end to the capitalist mode of production in Chile, it will be an instrument to undo the government’s agreements. In addition, the Constituent Assembly opens up the possibility of ending the bourgeois-political period and beginning a new one in which the working class, as the protagonist, is advancing much faster than in recent decades. It could also be possible to enforce, through the new constitution, a series of demands that have emerged in the last years of social mobilizations. These demands must finally be materialised, because in this way it will be proved that the struggle is progressing and that only organised progress can be made”.
We do not agree with this: It has been shown so far that the way to end capitalist/state/patriarchal domination is not by integrating popular demands into the specialized political sphere, but by direct actions of the masses in the streets and other public spaces of the country. Why should we seek to legitimize the state through laws and constitutions when the state is the very structure we want to fight and abolish? And if the idea is to “integrate and mobilize the working class (in the traditional sense of the word)”, why should this be achieved through the Constituent Assembly and not through autonomous and direct struggles?
Even though the demand for a Constituent Assembly is very present in various territorial assemblies, we will not give up these autonomous structures of struggle. We are aware that the Constituent Assembly is not our terrain of struggle. What we will do in the territorial assemblies is to propose small steps towards the abolition of the existing social order, starting with the demand for the dissolution of the Chilean police, especially the “Jungle Command” (GOPE and FFEE), as well as the SENAME (a controversial child protection agency. Note by the translator). In addition we will demand freedom for all prisoners of the revolt.
On this basis, our programme of abolishing the state, money and police could begin to take shape with absolute clarity and coherence.
(1 ) There is a very well documented book by the historian Pedro Milos in the LOM about the 2nd of April 1957 and a short report in the newspaper ‘Comunismo Difuso’ No 2-3.
(2) About May 1968 in France: see the book ” Enraged and Situationists in the Movement of Occupations” by René Viénet, available online in the Spanish Situationist Archive. On the new wave of global struggles, see “The Beginning of an Epoch” in “The Periodical of the Situationist International” No. 12, September 1969.
3) On the classical social-democratic view of the transition to socialism, labour administration and politicism, see the book “The Russian Counterrevolution and the Development of Capitalism” by the Internationalist Communist Group, especially “Politicism Against Revolution” (p. 27). There it says: “For the adherents of politicism, the economy is a separate matter, and therefore, although they are so “revolutionary” in politics, they are so reformist and counter-revolutionary at the socio-economic level (not an attack on capital, but its state-legal centralization), but also because, in the end, they fall into the very trap they pretended to fight: that of the self-government of the capital relation”.
(4) Denis Authier, Preface to Leon Trotsky (2002) “Report of the Siberian Delegation. Trotsky against Lenin”. Madrid: Ediciones Espartaco Internacional. S. 13.
(5) Ibid., p. 14.
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