Chile – Constituent Assembly: Solution or Trap?

Facing the social rebellion our country is living, many social organizations, unions and political parties such as Frente Amplio or the Communist Party raises the flag for a Constituent Assembly as way out to the ongoing crisis.
By David Espinoza.

As most of us know, the 1980 Constitution is a totally illegitimate Constitution, which was drafted and implemented by the Pinochet Military Joint. This Constitution is not a reflect of popular demands, but a reflect of the main national and international business groups interests that supported the Dictatorship and continue to rule our country to this day.
It is essential to finish the 1980 Constitution. However, our main problem is not to end the Constitution on paper. The 1980 Constitution synthesizes, from the juridical-legal point of view, a political, economic and social order, which we name as neoliberalism, one of the capitalism most brutal forms. We do not want to change what is written, only on paper. We want to get our pensions back from businessmen´s hands, nationalize natural resources and use copper money to build people´s houses and hospitals, a quality public education, and so on. We want to end health and private education, invest in anti-machismo policies, increasing earnings to ensure a decent life for our people. The Chilean people and the immigrants who live here have these and many other demands.
We might think, then, that changing the Constitution in a Constituent Assembly would be a solution to all our demands, since all the problems we have were originated in the 1980 Constitution. However, that is not the case. The whole neoliberal project implemented in Chile did not start when a group of jurists, headed by Jaime Guzmán, wrote a Constitution. This project began with the 1973 military coup, funded and prepared by big business, the United States, and the military. The 1980 Constitution came 7 years later to juridically order everything the military were done and were doing to defend big businessmen and the transnationals who lost ground with popular rise in the early 1970’s.
Why understanding this is important to think about the next steps in our movement today? Because we must know that the big and profound changes we need will not be changed by law changing, however important this law it is. We can bring together millions of workers across the country, work out a major draft constitution… but how can we ensure that this new constitution will be respected? This is the most important discussion. How to ensure that the decisions of the vast majority are respected if the rulers represent a tiny minority?
To understand what would happen to a Constituent Assembly today, let’s look at an example. What happened to the fight against AFPs.
We have been on the streets in countless marches in the past recent years. Most Chileans have already realized that AFPs are a farce, a theft, that a small group of businessmen shameless profit from our money and then pay us miserable pensions. Well, as we already realized that, we took to the streets. We had huge demonstrations, the largest with over 1 million people. There is no doubt that the majority of the population are against AFPs.
The NO + AFP Movement, the direction of these demonstrations, has devised a new project for the Retirement System, which demonstrates with lots of data from economists, statisticians, etc. that a public pension system is viable and possible. The NO + AFP Movement synthesized it all into an IPL – People’s Law Initiative. We made a popular referendum – over 1 million people voted. None of this served because it was not provided for in the Act. What about politicians? The government and parliament, what did they do? Bachelet proposed a new state-owned AFP. Then came Piñera and presented a project that… gives more money to AFPs and other companies!
That is, all the effort we have made, peaceful marches, plebiscites, drafting a law with technical demonstration of its viability, etc., have all been thrown into the trash by the government and Parliament. Obvious! The government and most parliamentarians are funded by AFP owners! That way we didn’t make any changes. The only conclusion that millions of workers have drawn is that everything we did was useless and that NO + AFP representatives were sold.
With a drafting of a new constitution will happen exactly the same. But we would make much more effort to draft a new Constitution and then that would lead… to nothing.
There would be two ways to make a Constituent Assembly. One, the most “normal” that has occurred in Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and several other countries in recent decades, is as follows: under popular pressure, the incumbent government convenes a Constituent Assembly. The government (or Parliament) defines the criteria for electing representatives to the Constituent Assembly – in Ecuador, for example, there were 2 representatives for each region.
The Constituent Assembly is not very different from Parliament. With a lot of popular pressure, it may be a little more democratic. In all countries where there were Constituent Assemblies located by governments, ruling parties win the majority because they always have much more resources to campaign. These parties always have the backing of large groups of companies because they already have  financial resources to election campaigns.
Let’s think about Chile. Obviously, we all know that Piñera will not convene a Constituent Assembly. If the government or Parliament, to save its neck, summon a Constituent Assembly, it will be up to its criteria, what means it is almost impossible for popular demands to be represented in that Constituent Assembly. Today, the Constitution of 1980 itself has no mechanism for convening a Constituent Assembly, what makes it almost impossible by legal means.
So the first task we have is to take down Piñera government and Parliament with our mobilization.
Let´s imagine a very positive scenario. Piñera and his government collapse. The elections are anticipated. It enters a “left” government with the Communist Party and the Frente Amplio, which defends a Constituent Assembly. They then convene a broad and democratic Constituent Assembly. The first problem that workers have is what they represent for a constituent, because businessmen, owners of AFPs, private health, etc. they have much more resources to elections dispute. Businessmen are most likely to win these elections. If businessmen and their representatives win these elections, this whole process of the Constituent Assembly has ended… into nothing.
But let´s suppose that the working class can win these elections and be the majority in this general assembly. Perfect. Then a big debate begins, which can last for years (between the start of a Constituent Assembly and a New Constitution approval can pass 3 or 4 years, like Ecuador and Bolivia). If you spend 3 or 4 years without major changes, you will surely see a new social explosion. But let´s suppose that the social explosion don’t come, since the whole working class is determined to win the Constituent Assembly. Then at the end, a new Constitution is elaborated. This new Constitution. on paper, says that there will be no more AFPs, that health will be entitled to all and obligation of the state, that education will be public and free, etc. On paper, everything is perfect.
And how to make entrepreneurs and the transnationals to respect it? Or does anyone believe that the owners of AFPs, big companies like control or copper, the owners of private education, will give us their property? Why would they do that? Why would them respect the  Constitution? The first thing they would do if they saw their interests were threatened, would be a new military coup, as they did in 1973.
The second way to make a Constituent Assembly would be without the government or parliament convene it. So we organized a popular process. Making councils all over the country… the workers, residents, youth, women, Mapuche, everyone participate. We made a big document that answers all the workers’ problems… and what? If the rulers remain the same, the political representatives of the businessmen, would them implement this project?
In short, wherever we go, a Constituent Assembly is a trap, a dead end.
But then, how do we change things? It’s possible?
The social explosion we are experiencing sheds a lot of light on how we can change things. In less than a week, the Piñera government and Parliament have never worked so hard! Piñera has already announced that it will increase wages, pensions, etc. We already managed to freeze the price of transportation and light. Congress has already passed legislation on the 40 hour weekly workday! The 40 hours bill was in Congress for 4 years! Now they quickly unhooked and approved. In less than a week, almost all ministers resigned.
How did we do it? How was it possible? It was possible because millions of people were on the streets angry, hateful, impatient. We lost patience. It no longer created just peaceful marches. We barricaded, many supermarkets plundered, destroyed AFPs, banks, burned subway stations, minibuses. The anger overcame the Carabineros. The government was forced to put the military on the streets, which creates more anger. On our side there are 20 dead, thousands of arrests, injured, missing and tortured. But the government had to back down. It had to get the military off the streets.
But our level of organization as a working class and people is still very low. We are very disorganized. Anger exploded spontaneously, without having a clear blueprint of where we want to go and organizations which could guide all this popular rebellion.
With all this social explosion, we could see things more clearly. We could see who our enemies are. We know it is not just Piñera and Chadwick. It is all the privileged, rich, great entrepreneurs who plunder us every day. And how do they defend themselves against our fury? Your last option is to put the military on the streets. This is your last defense. The rich like Luksic, Matte, Angelini and the owners of the transnationals are very few, can not defend themselves. So they have to use many of their staff to defend them – most politicians, the media, the police, the army, etc.
But the army, this last defense, is not indestructible either, because military troops can get tired of repressing, question themselves, many are worker´s children, teachers, parents of students who are on the streets. Not the entire army is part of the privileged sectors of this country. Most of the army is from our class, the working class. And with more anger, more struggle and more determination, we can also break the army. This has not happened yet, but in a forthcoming explosion, no doubt, this issue will be posed again.
Why did we get to the army? Because after all, those who control the weapons are the ones who have the power. The army, the Armed Forces, are the ones who can guarantee the power of the rich and powerful. So in 1973, when the rich were losing their property, they had to make a deal with Pinochet and the means to save their heads. And now the same thing happened, the rich and the government had to send it to the streets when things were totally out of control.
What does that mean?
It means that if the working class and the popular sectors do not start discussing this issue, on how to win an armed forces sector to our side, we will not achieve our demands. We can have many discussions, many bills, even a new Constitution. However, until we have a portion of the army, police and armed workers, we cannot implement any of these measures. As long as the working class does not take power in their hands, there is no guarantee that a new constitution will be respected.
But the working class today, at this moment, is not organized enough to take power in their hands. We do not have enough organizations in neighborhoods, factories, mines. We do not have a political party that defends the worker´s interests. Most unions are in the bureaucrat´s hands, far from the workers. Now that regional assemblies and councils are starting to emerge, where people gather to discuss what to do.
This is the popular organization we need, this is what we have to develop. But not only in neighborhoods, but everywhere. We have to organize ourselves in our workplaces, in schools. Regain the unions into the hands of the workers, remove the leaders who defend the bosses. All this fight has to happen together with Fora Piñera! with the fight for our rights. In this way we can move forward in our organization so that when the conditions are in place, workers take power and make the changes we need.

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