Monday, December 27, 2021

What does the elected president of Chile come to? Gabriel Boric and his election speech

By Gabriel Lazzari.

On last Sunday night, December 19, the votes for the second round of the Chilean presidential elections were counted. The dispute was between José Antonio Kast, from the Republican Party, defender and legatee of Pinochetism, and Gabriel Boric, from Convergencia Social, member of the Apruebo Dignidad coalition, former student leader who had great national political expression after the student riots of 2011. The campaign, carried out with the mobilization of various sectors and great participation of the Communist Party of Chile, reached its end with the election of Boric by 55,87% of valid votes. 

Boric appears as the arrival point of a long process of struggles and massive mobilizations in Chile, which began in 2019, caused by popular indignation with absolutely precarious living conditions and social rights. This situation, a result of the 1980 Constitution (carried out by the dictatorship headed by Pinochet) and its neoliberal institutional arrangement, reached levels of public calamity, with dramatic examples such as the record numbers of suicides among the elderly, unable to maintain themselves with the present private pension system, of the AFPs.

However, this process of struggle, which has yet to materialize with the promulgation of a new Constitution, is far from presenting an alternative society for the country, as was the hallmark of the famous experience of the government of Salvador Allende and Unidad Popular in the early 1970s. Despite several analysts pointing out these similarities, the elected president himself, Gabriel Boric, did not make direct references to President Allende, democratically elected in 1970 and assassinated in the attack on La Moneda Palace on the day of the military coup, on September 11th 1973. The experience of the 1970s, with all its mistakes, successes and contradictions, sought to build a “Chilean road to socialism”. Boric, from what he said in his speech on Sunday night, already mathematically elected, does not aim for the same goal.

In a brief speech, lasting about half an hour, Boric demonstrated very little link with the workers' struggles and with the workers' movement itself. Instead of openly claiming for himself a government in support of the working class, he says he will be the "president of all Chileans". If this attempt to pretend that there are no classes in Chilean society and that it is possible to govern by reconciling these interests would already be strange – as well as proof of its social-democratic position –, the nods to sectors of the Pinochetist right are the most worrying.

Among the acknowledgments, instead of nominating all the parties in his coalition (perhaps not to mention the presence of the Communist Party of Chile), he insisted on nominating all the other candidates for the elections – including José Antonio Kast, “Yes, José Antonio Kast ” as the president-elect repeated excitedly. Without citing the legacy of the dictatorship operated by Augusto Pinochet or repeating the famous slogan of “burying the legacy of the dictatorship”, Boric stated that the “future of Chile needs everyone on the side of the people and I hope we have the maturity to count on your ideas and proposals to start my government. I know that, in addition to the differences we have, in particular, with José Antonio Kast, we will know how to build bridges so that our compatriots can live better”. What bridges could be built with a representative of the worst in Chilean politics, the son of Nazi immigrants who wants to apply the same policy in Chile that Bolsonaro has been applying in Brazil, that Boric did not comment. After all, “substantive advances, to be solid, will require broad agreements” and apparently excluding Kast from these broad agreements is out of the question.

It could be that, even confused about the future, Boric was at least acknowledging the past and present as points of support, analyzing experiences of “left” governments and demanding critical continuity in relation to them. He himself states that “history does not begin with us. I feel heir, and I feel that our project is heir, of a long historical trajectory", which, for any political analyst, can only mean, in the Chilean case, a recovery of Allende's legacy, of his battle against the Chilean bourgeoisie and imperialism, unfortunately lost by various internal and external factors. But about Allende and Unidad Popular, not a word: his election, his government, his assassination and subsequent coup that plunged Chile into nearly 17 years of a bloody dictatorship (which was the laboratory of neoliberalism against which Boric stands) weren’t mentioned in the speech.

Not even the present is a model for Boric. Not in his speech as president-elect, but in the past, his references to Cuban socialism, to cite an example, were generally “denunciation” of “human rights violations”. This issue, which was the subject of a debate in the caucuses between him and the CP of Chile pre-candidate, Daniel Jadue, generated great repercussions for Boric's defense of the hegemonic line in the bourgeois media, which accused the Cuban government of persecuting and violating the protests clearly influenced by the United States. The reality, quite different, was that of a Cuban president taking to the streets together with hundreds of thousands of supporters of the Cuban Revolution.

It is already difficult to demonstrate which “historical trajectory” Boric refers to when he is silent on the main experiences of the Latin American left. However, the programmatic defense (the one he intends to put into practice through the bridges with Kast) that he makes in his speech is even more vague. It advocates an “effective, impartial and just State […]” rather than a State clearly committed to the working class, partial in its methods and forms of power. It advocates a “free press”, not social control and democratization of media and communications. It defends “health that is opportune and does not discriminate between rich and poor”, but does not point out that it should be 100% public. It defends a “growth and fair distribution of wealth”, and not a substantial change in the productive structure, with ample participation of the State and workers' and popular control of wealth. All this to go “building the just homeland” – not even a Chilean path to socialism, but just to “justice” in the abstract. It is necessary to go to their electoral program in writing to understand how not even the nationalization of the copper sector – one of the first measures taken by the Allende government in 1971 – is among its economic measures. Boric's attempt, consciously or not, is to translate various legitimate popular demands – such as social security, health, education, which he mentions directly – into the language of institutional viability, that is, into the possibility of a pact for the conciliation of classes that, with greater or lesser popular pressure, operates in the logic of the State, without questioning their class character.

Boric says what he came for, in his words and in his omissions. He came, without a doubt, to defeat the fascist Kast, to lay a stone on Pinochet's legacy and to approve a new Constitution that will be certainly better in social rights than the fraudulent Constitution of the dictatorship. How much he will be able to operationalize these measures without relying directly on the working class and without a program to radically change economic planning – and thus expose the class differences that exist in Chilean society – time will tell us. After all, Boric thinks that “only with social cohesion, rediscovering and sharing a common ground” can it succeed. But is it possible to find common ground between, on the one hand, the clamor of the streets and the Chilean working class and, on the other, the Chilean bourgeoisie and imperialism?

* Gabriel Lazzari is the National Political Secretary of the Communist Youth Union (Brazil) and member of the Central Committee of the Brazilian Communist Party.