Chile’s Fight for Socialism and Leaving the Neoliberal Ghost Behind: Part II

By Maxine Adams

With Chile heading towards financial and existential destitution, the social energy of Chileans is exhausted, worn out from a lack of labor protections and rights and a growing cost of living, making insecurity a commonly shared reality. However, a growing consciousness has risen among tired Chileans, an awareness that sectors of the elite are abusing and looting the population and are preventing Chileans from enacting alternative futures outside of neoliberalism. The Chilean population has seen through president Piñera’s lie that “better times are coming” (Ferretti, 2019) due to their own material experiences of destitution created through neoliberal shock policies (as explained in Part 1), and instead have chosen both revolutionary and institutional measures to structurally change the socio-economic fabric of Chile which currently caters towards corporate interest.

This explosion in Chilean social energy has materialized into a plethora of responses: one of which takes a collective revolutionary posture that materially confronts power with tactical street protests and mobilizations. A second response takes an institutional posture with electoral and policy measures that rely on politicians to enact structural change from within. The materialization of exhausted social energy whether through a revolutionary or institutional posture, has involved the entirety of the Chilean left with communists, socialists, anarchists, and social democrats alike strategizing in solving the neoliberal crisis. Street mobilizations and tactical responses along with electoral promises with new Chilean president Gabriel Boric have presented a historic opportunity for the left to revitalize itself and leave behind the corporate fabric of Chile for good.

The first burst in social energy spawned in Santiago, Chile in October of 2019, where high school students coordinated spontaneous takeovers and mass evasions of the city’s main train stations in reaction to the government’s hike in metro fares (Casals, 2021). Students hopped turnstiles in unison and held open gates to encourage passing onlookers to join them for free; they took a playful approach in their protesting to garner widespread momentum, spreading slogans and memes such as “evade y lucha” throughout social media. With this spark in social energy came a flood of police repression, and the government closing all major city train stations, leaving millions stranded in the streets on October 18th (Casals, 2021).

Within hours, protests spread nationwide, with barricades erecting in poor and middle-class neighborhoods along with various metro stations swelling up in flames - social energy became volatile. This playful protest by Chilean high schoolers set aflame one of the most influential insurrections called the “Estallido Social” or “Social Outburst” (Casals, 2021). These insurrections would entail the return to left-leaning theory and its consequent material practices with a particular largely anarchic approach in establishing shared struggle between precarious Chilean workers. The circulation of struggle with catch phrases and slogans through the workplace or social media of “it’s not 30 pesos it's 30 years,” reflect the glimmer of raising class consciousness among the Chilean public, not only with a 30 pesos increase in subway fares, but with also “30 years of accumulated discontent” (Ferretti, 2019), reflecting Chile’s increasing living costs, faltering labor protections and rights, and the public’s little faith or representation in Chile’s democracy.

In the thick of material responses to neoliberal power, protesters targeted Santiago’s main train stations, breaking gates and turnstiles, vandalizing walls, and using turnstiles as weapons to defend themselves from ensuing police attacks (“On the,” 2020). Chilean protesters would sabotage the transportation infrastructure of metro fares and buses as a tactic against neoliberalism, insofar as transportation, according to anarchist theory centering logistics, interconnects spaces of material and social infrastructures, commodities, and social actors to flows of capital accumulation, whether directly through spiked metro costs and fees, or indirectly with your end destination bringing you to your precarious job. Thus, protesters gathered in Santiago’s transit hub Plaza de la Dignidad, a main transportation hub where they fought the police (enforcers of neoliberal rule and protectors of private property) with shields, slingshots, and protective gear (“On the”, 2020). A new generation of front liners known as the primera linea emerged, blocking streets, and fighting police in reshaping street demonstrations (“On the”, 2020) aiming to take back territory from the neoliberal state. In conjunction with Chilean protesters on the streets was the taking back of territory: Indigenous peoples reclaiming land, and poor families squatting and building illegal urban communities (“Chile: Looking”, 2020). Thus, protesters blocked this regular rhythm of Chilean life by creating autonomy away from neoliberalism, in refusal to subject their labor power and energy to neoliberal extraction.

Along with mobilizations and transformations of territory from the police state, Chile enacted a series of institutional reforms. A month after the outbreak of movements, the Chilean government agreed to call for a plebiscite on rewriting the constitution. An overwhelming majority approved the measure in October of 2020, and in May of 2021, Chileans went back to the polls to elect a Constitutional Convention (Casals, 2021). Results were shocking, with the right losing a third of seats and traditional veto power, along with the independent and left-wing candidates making significant gains from voters and supporters alike (Casals, 2021). Given anti-neoliberal fervor in the insurrections of 2019 and 2020, leftist Gabriel Boric, a former student organizer, seemingly caught wind of this insurrectionist social energy, promising the Chilean public that he would leave Pinochet’s free market economic model behind (Bartlett, 2021). Winning with nearly 97 percent of the vote in 2021, Gabriel Boric stands firmly against corporatism ingrained in the economic fabric of Chile, stating that “we are a generation that emerged in public life demanding our rights be respected as rights and not treated like consumer goods or a business... we no longer will permit that the poor keep paying the price of Chile’s inequality” (Bartlett, 2021). Boric vows to oversee a “youth-led form of inclusive government” that would take initiative in solving structural inequality and poverty created by neoliberalism (Bartlett, 2021). Other presidential promises include fighting climate change by blocking a proposed mining project in Chile, ending Chile’s private pension system, and implementing a new constitution outside of corporate influence (Bartlett, 2021 & Casals 2021).

A combination of both revolutionary and institutional measures in dismantling the neoliberal state may come off as mere reformism, due to a lack of organized groups and theory alike. However, despite change not happening through a strict orthodox vanguard as a guided and abiding body to capitalist crisis as seen in history, Chile has made immense structural strides in leaving neoliberalism behind. Introducing modified socialism and even anarchism as alternative modes of politics into the mainstream and getting Chileans to mobilize and enact different tactics are material strides in changing power from corporatism to one that protects the precarious and Indigenous of Chile. Which method is best is up for debate, but Chile’s rhizomatic approach in revolution and institutional change have caused a rift in its socio-economic makeup. With the spawning of a new Chilean constitution, rights becoming recognized, and a president who is for leaving Pinochet’s legacy behind, Chile is in a path for structural change.


References

Bartlett, J. (2021, December 19). Who is Gabriel boric? The radical student leader who will be Chile's next president. The Guardian. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/20/who-is-gabriel-boric-the-r...

Chile: Looking back on a year of uprising. (2020, October 15). Crimethinc. Retrieved September 14, 2022, from https://crimethinc.com/2020/10/15/chile-looking-back-on-a-year-of-uprising-what-makes-revolt-spread-and-what-hinders-it

Casals, Marcelo. "The End of Neoliberalism in Chile?" Dissent, Dissent Magazine 2022, 22 Dec. 2021, www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/the-end-of-neoliberalism-in-chile. Accessed 9 Mar. 2022.

Ferretti, P. (2019, October 31). Demanding a life worth living in Chile's "neoliberal paradise." Roar. Retrieved September 14, 2019, from https://roarmag.org/essays/chile-interview-ferretti/

On the front lines in Chile. (2020). Crimethinc. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from https://crimethinc.com/2019/10/24/on-the-front-lines-in-chile-accounts-f...

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