President of Chile, Gabriel Boric

The failure of attempts to bring radical change through ­parliament continues to haunt left wing leaders today. The current Chilean president, Gabriel Boric has never proposed the kind of reforms that Allende outlined. But he did promise changes to the free market economy, an improved pension system and human rights protections for indigenous and LGBT+ people.

Yet even these reasonably mild reforms have crashed and burned, as Boric moved quickly rightwards to try and remain in control. His plans to rewrite the Pinochet-era constitution ended in tatters after 61.9 percent of voters rejected an initial draft earlier this year. 

Initially, Boric was able to ­capitalise on the hunger for change felt on the streets during the revolt of 2019. Boric was associated with that ­movement but has since betrayed all those that were attacked, maimed and tortured during the uprising. In office he handed more powers to the police.

No wonder his popularity is  plummeting. In a recent poll 71 ­percent of people said they believed Chile to be either a “corrupt” or a “very corrupt country”. Patricia is a Chilean Marxist ­activist. She told Socialist Worker some in Chile had hope in Boric when he was first elected, but now they are disappointed. 

“People are starving in Chile. Inflation is out of control. But Boric isn’t addressing that. He seems out of touch with what people actually need,” Patricia explained. “But do you know who is talking about inflation and salaries? The far right. They act like they care about class divisions. That’s why they are gaining support.”  

Boric won the presidential spot after beating far right ­candidate Antonio Kast by 56 percent to 44 ­percent. Kast would have ­reignited old ­horrors in Chile. He says he supports the ­“economic legacy” of Pinochet. During his election run, he opposed abortion and same sex marriage and wanted to abolish the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality. 

Patricia points out that much of the left backed a vote for Boric because they were terrified that a figure such as Kast could rise to power. “You can’t underestimate how left wing politics and workers’ struggle in Chile were crushed by the dictatorship,” she said. “My generation is still very aware of the horrors of that time through stories our parents tell. When I got into politics, my parents were scared for me, and you can ­understand why.

“Then, we were scared about a figure like Kast. He’s someone who stands with the torturers.” But, Patricia added, “Boric ­represents a section of the left ­disconnected from class struggle. He has very little connection with the unions. Within the left he is ­considered quite conservative. 

“I knew him when he was ­president of the University of Chile Student Federation. Him and his friends used to say that there was no working class in Chile. He’s not really changed that much.” A glimpse of how Chilean society could really have been transformed was seen in 2019. Anger among ordinary people boiled over after a hike in transport fares—but the revolt was about much more than that. 

As people took to the streets, they shouted, “This isn’t about 30 pesos. It’s about 30 years”. They demanded the resignation of the former ­president Sebastián Piñera. They also called for pension reforms, wage increases and reforms to healthcare. Protests that were over a million strong were combined with general strikes on a scale that had not been seen in decades. 

“The 2019 protests were ­beautiful to watch,” Patricia explained. “They were unique as they spread to every corner of Chile, and not confined to the capital Santiago. It made people feel like they had power.” 

Patricia was part of school ­student protests in Chile in 2011. Pupils battled against privatisation that was imposed by the Socialist Party government of president Michelle Bachelet. Patricia explained that this ­section of students has often been at the centre of struggle. “Big ­protests in 2009, 2011 and 2019 were all started by high school students. 

“On these protests, the ­students, who protest even when their ­parents couldn’t, would chant, ‘We are the working class sons’ and ‘We are the working class kids’. Being on protests is part of being a student in Chile. We sometimes joke that you aren’t a high school student if you haven’t thrown a Molotov cocktail at least once.  

“These students are grown up now, they are probably workers. They have learned from these revolts, and many young people do not trust politicians like Boric. Some might have once supported him, but now they laugh at him.”  Last September school students took to the streets again to demand the president and his government make good on their promises.

Student protester Quinta from Santiago said, “The demands we have now are the same as when the protests started in 2019. We want better healthcare and education, and we want to tackle inequality.” And it’s not just students that have organised against Boric’s ­government—workers have as well. On Tuesday of last week, over 100,000 teachers began an indefinite national strike that shut down around 5,000 schools. 

The College of Teachers union said it is still waiting for Boric’s response on their demand for better pay and conditions. But as Patricia added, future revolts must not be sedated by politicians. “As I said, the protests in 2019 were beautiful. But they didn’t have enough direction,” she said.

“We see over and over that in times of revolt what is needed is organisation. What is needed is a political organisation big enough and strong enough to persuade workers of their own power to run the system. That’s what needs to change in Chile and everywhere else. Today people are taking their time. But the anger still remains in Chile.” 

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