By INTERNATIONAL WORKERS MOVEMENT (Chile)
This article is written by the MIT (Movimiento Internacional de los Trabajadores / International Workers Movement), the Chilean section of the IWL-FI, which has been very actively involved in the Constituent Assembly process. Throughout this period, the MIT introduced through its elected representative, Maria Rivera, key anti-capitalist campaigns in the Constituent Assembly such as the nationalization of big mining industry under workers’ control, the expropriation of the 10 wealthiest families in Chile who control the majority of the economy, and the demand to free all political prisoners from the 2019 uprising.
Sept. 6, 2022 —With more than 13 million voters, the “Rechazo” (rejection) won the majority in the Plebiscite on the New Constitution. The “Rechazo” votes totaled more than 7.8 million (61.86%), and the Approval reached 4.8 million (38.1%). There were just over 200,000 invalid votes.
Rejection won in all regions of the country. In Greater Santiago and Greater Valparaíso the victory was narrower (44.56% and 45.81% respectively). In the other regions, “Rechazo” won with more than 59% of the votes. Approval won in eight communes throughout the country (by narrow margins), among them some of the most proletarian and combative, such as Maipú, Puente Alto, and San Antonio.
The particularity of these elections is that they were the first with compulsory voting in the last 10 years. The number of voters exceeded the second round of the last presidential elections by almost 5 million.
Why did the Rejection win?
A few days ago, a demonstration of more than 500,000 people was held in Santiago at the closing of the Apruebo (Approve) campaign and other demonstrations with hundreds of people in other cities of the country. At the same time, the closing events of the Rejection did not manage to gather more than 200 people. How to explain, then, that the Rejection won the Plebiscite with such a big difference?
Here we want to analyze four elements that help to understand the results:
1) The wear and tear of Gabriel Boric’s government and the situation of the working population.
The first element has to do with Boric’s government and the economic situation of the country. The government’s neoliberal continuity led to the rapid erosion of support for Boric, mainly among the poorest sectors (in the upper middle class and the bourgeoisie Boric never had any weight). The government’s refusal of the fifth withdrawal of the AFPs disillusioned many workers. The living situation of the poor has not improved since Boric came to power. Violence and poverty have increased, labor rights remain precarious, and the cost of living has skyrocketed.
We know that Boric is not the only one responsible for these conditions, as these problems have been dragging on for decades or are related to the world situation. However, despite his rhetoric, Boric has been and will continue to be more of the same. His government expresses continuity rather than change from the governments of the last 30 years. He has not taken any important measures to confront social inequality and improve the living standards of the poorest sectors of the population. He talks with a leftist discourse, but he follows the same card of the governments of the former Concertación; he tries to propose reforms to give some crumbs to those at the bottom, but ends up quickly capitulating to the pressure of those at the top.
Thus, the disapproval of the government was transferred almost automatically to the rejection of the New Constitution. This is the direct responsibility of Boric and the parties that make up the government: the Socialist Party of Chile (PS), the Broad Front (FA), and the Communist Party (PC).
2) The campaign of the bourgeoisie and the “apathy of progressivism”
The Chilean bourgeoisie and its representatives (politicians, journalists, academics, influencers) had been campaigning hard against the Constitutional Convention. Already in its origins, the Convention had a series of obstacles for its functioning imposed by the business parties but accepted by the “left.” These include those that negotiated the Peace Agreement (which established a 2/3 quorum, and made it impossible to confront the Free Trade Agreements in the Constitutional convention, etc.). The purpose of this Agreement was to protect the property of the large economic groups during the Constituent Process.
The right wing did not manage to have 1/3 of representation, but together with the former Concertación and its allies (FA/PC), it was able to block the most transformative initiatives. Thus, while the right wing bombarded the Convention with its fake news, the left allies moderated the independents, reaching “reasonable” agreements that did not fundamentally change the country. In this way, all the proposals that could generate deeper changes in the life of the population were rejected.
Big business, which controls the media, developed a strong campaign of lies in relation to what was being discussed at the Convention. These lies generated enormous confusion in the conscience of the workers and the people. The small farmers were told that they would be left without water for their crops. The workers were told that their pensions would be taken away and they would no longer have their own housing. This was combined with a great campaign of an alleged communism or Chavism present in the New Constitution, a campaign reaffirmed and reproduced by hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans living in Chile, deeply disappointed with the Chavist governments that claimed to be socialist.
Facing the millionaire campaign of the right wing was a colossal task. To combat it properly would have required the organization of thousands of young activists and workers outside the Convention to disprove every piece of fake news and to generate mobilizations to put pressure on the Convention. The call of the Communist Party to “surround the Convention” did not go beyond an empty phrase. On the other hand, the independent constituents of the Social Movements and the People’s List did not use the energy of support of more than 600 social and popular organizations that had signed the Manifesto of the Peoples’ Speakership at the beginning of the Convention. Thus, while the bourgeoisie and the right wing attacked, the mass movement remained apathetic. This is a direct responsibility of the parties currently leading the working-class organizations (FA-PC-PS) and of the independents leading the social movements.
Last but not least, the Rejection campaign received exorbitant funds. According to data published by Fundación Sol, among the 20 organizations that received the most donations in the country, the Rechazo option received more than 1.4 billion pesos in funding, while Apruebo received 78 million. This huge amount of money for Rechazo came from some of the richest families in the country, such as Solari and Von Appen.
3) The obligatory vote
Since 2012, in Chile the vote has been voluntary. Compulsory voting made electoral participation rise from 50% to 85% (the fines will be quite high for those who do not vote, something very different from other countries where voting is also compulsory). This means that millions of people who usually did not vote participated in the election. A large number of these “new voters” were inclined to Reject. We can assume that an important part of this mass is composed of the most depoliticized sectors of society, those who normally do not participate in demonstrations, do not vote and uncritically consume the information that reaches them through the mass media and social networks.
If we compare the “I approve” vote between the first plebiscite and the second one, we will see a difference of around 1 million votes. In the first plebiscite, 5.9 million people voted for the “Apruebo” and in the second plebiscite, 4.8 million people voted for the “Apruebo.” In other words, in absolute numbers, Approval lost a little more than 1 million votes. We must also remember that in the first plebiscite there were even sectors of the right wing that were in favor of Apruebo, such as Joaquín Lavín and the Christian Democrats. In order to have a more precise vision of the rejection votes of the “Apruebo” in absolute numbers, we must analyze each commune of the country.
It is fundamental to understand that electoral processes in capitalism almost always play against the social struggle since “the silent mass” is the one that imposes itself and not the thousands or millions that fight to transform society. Compulsory voting helps the most conservative sectors since it moves a huge mass with very little class consciousness to vote. The mass movement can change that reality at key moments, as happened in the first Plebiscite and without the obligatory vote. It is very likely that the Rejection would have won without compulsory voting, however, or possibly the victory would have been much narrower.
4) The disillusionment over the Constituent Process by the majority of the population
Beyond the lies invented by the right wing, the Constituent Process and the New Constitution failed to connect in depth with the needs of millions of people. The government parties, often with the support of the right-wing, tried to reject most of the amendments that proposed real changes to the country and to the living conditions of the majority of the population. Thus, many of the measures that could have generated great popular support for the New Constitution were quickly eliminated. To cite a few: the end of subcontracting; the nationalization of large copper mining that would allow financing social rights; taxes on large fortunes; reduction of political salaries, etc.
The New Constitution does not contain immediate measures that imply an improvement in the living conditions of the working people: it does not increase salaries, it does not reduce the working day, it does not say how it will finance social rights, etc. The gains wrested by the mass movement were not enough to confront the lies of the right wing and win the conscience of millions of workers, peasants, and settlers throughout the country.
The different interpretations of the results
The big businessmen and their most traditional political parties are happy with the victory of the Rejection. After the result, a leading figure in Chile’s bourgeoisie, Andrónico Luksic, celebrated on his social networks. In the headquarters of the right-wing parties, the celebration was huge. The dollar plummeted against the peso, showing that the financial market also sympathizes with the result. All the big businessmen came out to celebrate the result, as shown in today’s edition (Sept. 5) of El Mercurio. On the other hand, the celebrations of the Rejection were small and limited to a few cities: Antofagasta, Temuco, and the wealthy neighborhoods of Santiago. In the popular communes, there was no celebration. The right wing claims victory and will increase its anti-communist, anti-Indigenous, and anti-people discourse.
Let us honor and take care of democracy. Let us leave behind the divisions, the violence, and the exclusionary text that some people wanted to impose on us. Without revenge, let us move forward with a new Constitution, well done, that will reunite us and propel us into the future. Long live Chile!
The right wing wants to present the victory of the Rejection as the defeat of the social movement that began on Oct. 18, 2019. Nothing is further from the truth. Oct. 18 was the explosion that opened the door for the working people to achieve victories, such as the withdrawal of the AFPs and the Constituent Process itself. The fact that until today there is no relevant social change has to do precisely with the control of the political parties of the right wing, and now of reformism, over the government and the Constitutional Convention.
On its side, the government of Gabriel Boric recognized the defeat and is already beginning to reorganize its cabinet, which will undoubtedly turn even more to the right. If before we could not expect anything from this government, now all we can expect are more concessions to big business and more attacks on the working people and the Mapuche.
The Communist Party, as always, has a “catalog” of different interpretations that makes it possible to please both the right and the left. The characters more linked to the government, such as Karol Cariola, quickly recognized the triumph of “democracy” and promised to change the course. Their more “left-wing” characters, such as Jadue or Marco Barraza, attributed the triumph of the Rejection to the millionaire campaigns of the right, without any criticism to the government or the Convention.
Former constituents of Social Movements, such as Alondra Carrillo, also pointed in the latter direction. Although they recognize that the triumph of the Rejection is only an electoral defeat of the mass movement, they do not make any criticism of the responsibility of the government, nor do they make any assessment of the role they played in demobilizing the youth and the working people while the right wing advanced.
Is the process initiated on Oct. 18 coming to an end?
From our point of view, the victory of the Rejection is a blow to the mass movement that took to the streets beginning on Oct. 18 and puts us in a defensive situation. Gabriel Boric’s government will turn even more to the right and will make enormous concessions to big business. Its minimal “progressive” reforms will not advance and it will strengthen its repressive agenda against the Mapuche, youth, and workers. It is very likely that the government will wear down even more, which will lead to the growth of the extreme right, which is managing to capitalize on popular discontent.
The economic and social situation of the country will continue, and therefore the discontent of broad sectors of the population will remain alive. It is very possible that the struggles of the workers and youth will continue, which could be repressed more harshly. It is unlikely that we will see a new “social explosion” in the short term, since the mass movement today is more divided and the most militant sectors may suffer a serious hangover after the result of the plebiscite.
Last Thursday’s demonstrations for the Apruebo confirm that the mass movement is still alive and there is an enormous social energy for profound change. The greatest danger for the millions of us who took to the streets is that a sector of the popular youth and the vanguard of the working class in the unions will become demoralized and throw in the towel. This would allow for big business to have the opportunity to present the most reactionary ideas to the working people uncontested. If this were to happen, we could be seeing the closing of the revolutionary process initiated on October 18. Another important danger will be the repression against those who are not part of the “pacts of national unity” that the government will make with big business. The situation of persecution of Hector Llaitul and the maintenance of political prisoners is an example of this.
Thus, our main task today is to correctly interpret the electoral results and identify our enemies. Both the big bourgeoisie that led the Rejection and the government of Gabriel Boric are enemies of the popular movement and of the workers and we can expect nothing from both sectors.
What are the tasks of the workers and the youth?
In that sense, we must reorganize our forces and our struggle. The sectors of the popular movement, the vanguard of the workers in the unions and workplaces, the youth who continue to struggle in the schools, the environmentalist collectives, native peoples, women’s movement, etc., we must establish a common route of struggle and organize ourselves independently of the government and its calls to reform the old Constitution of 1980. The organizations of the working class, youth and the different movements must unify their struggles under a common program. More than ever the task of organizing a great national meeting of the popular sectors, workers and native peoples to discuss the next steps of our struggle is required.
With the victory of the Rechazo, the Chilean State, its parties and institutions remain intact and completely rotten. This would also have happened with the victory of the Apruebo, although we would possibly have better conditions to fight for immediate changes. The closing of the Constituent Process demonstrates the failure of that strategy to conquer social changes. The government of Gabriel Boric and the parties that led the Constitutional Convention demonstrated that their strategy of conciliation only leads to the defeat and demoralization of the activism and growth of the right wing.
From the point of view of the working class and the people, we must return to the grassroots, strengthen popular movements, youth groups and housing organizations, recover the unions from the bureaucracy and thus fight for better living conditions.
We must keep firm all the banners we have raised in recent years, such as the struggle for free public education, the end of subcontracting and Pinochet’s Labor Code, and the struggle for the end of the AFPs. These democratic banners must be accompanied by a profound discussion on what kind of country we need so that the working class, which produces everything that exists, can live with dignity. In our opinion, that project involves freeing Chile from the domination of imperialism (transnationals and foreign banks) and the richest families in the country. They are the ones who suck all the wealth that could solve all the social and ecological problems. We believe that the struggle for the nationalization of large copper and lithium mining, under the control of the workers and communities, is a strategic banner that we must carry to every place of work, study and housing to be firmly incorporated by the working population.
From the MIT we also put forward to the vanguard of the working class and the youth the need for us to build a new party, a revolutionary party that takes up this program of national sovereignty, for a government truly of the working class and the peoples, for the construction of socialism in Chile and in the world. Today we have the proof that neither the parties of the right nor those of the “left” like the Frente Amplio or the PC defend a project of the working class and the Indigenous peoples. We invite all fighters to come to build the MIT and debate a revolutionary path to overcome poverty and inequality in our country.