WeeklyWorker

27.01.2022
Gabriel Boric: the latest object of broad left fandom

Pink is the colour

Despite supposedly bringing “feminism and gender perspective to power”, Gabriel Boric does not impress Eddie Ford. What sort of “candidate of the streets” supports laws criminalising street barricades?

Some sections of the left are getting excited about the new president-elect of Chile, Gabriel Boric. For example, an editorial in the ‘official communist’ Morning Star declared that “Chile’s victorious left deserves our solidarity - and our vigilance”.1 The opinion piece goes on to quote Boric saying: “if Chile was the cradle of neoliberalism, it will also be its grave” - describing the former student leader as the “candidate of the streets”.

So, welcome to the Boric fan club, reminiscent of the way too much of the left became cheerleaders for Lula in Brazil, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and, of course, not forgetting the dashing Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza government in Greece. Alas, Tsipras followed the usual course and took up the post of prime minister with a broad left programme … but without even a parliamentary majority and, therefore, in coalition with the hard-nationalist right. The results were predictable. The working class had to endure austerity in the colours of Syriza, Tsipras becoming an agent of the very IMF, World Bank, ECB institutions he professed to hate - with Greece reduced to a miserable debt colony. Inevitably popular demoralisation set in and in July 2019 the Syriza government was swept from office and replaced by the conservative New Democracy. Then, farcically, the same left transferred their loyalties to Podemos, which went down the same disastrous path of coalitionism (this time, though, as junior partner).

Also writing in the Morning Star, Hugo Guzman, editor of El Siglo (The Century), anticipates “the long and winding road ahead” for Chile. He confidently predicts that Boric and his supporters “will have a government that will promote transformations in the areas of pensions, health, the environment, taxes and institutional reforms”.2 Apparently, all of this is in line with the principles of “dismantling neoliberalism”. Guzman also mentions that the votes of social democrats, Christian democrats, liberals and “other political currents” will be required, therefore the “negotiating skills” of the president-elect and his ministerial cabinet “will be essential to pass new and necessary laws” - giving us a clue as to the political coloration of the new incoming government. Of course, it was good that the far right was defeated in the polls. But for all the hullabaloo, it will be a ‘pink’ government committed to running capitalism. Therefore it is typical, though stupid, for the likes of the Morning Star to foster the standard illusions about the forthcoming Gabriel Boric government.

Yes, looking at things purely arithmetically, it was a considerable achievement by Boric and the electoral coalition he fronted, Apruebo Dignidad (Approve Dignity) - created on January 11 last year by the Equality Party, Broad Front and Chile Digno in preparation for the constitutional convention elections.3 AD consists of the Communist Party of Chile, Social Green Regionalist Federation, Humanist Left, Christian Left of Chile, Democratic Revolution, and other pinkish groups and coalitions - including Social Convergence, which is led by Boric. (The Equality Party eventually decided to run a competing parliamentary list with the Humanist Party, Dignidad Ahora.)

In the presidential elections held on November 21, with seven candidates standing, Boric obtained 25.83% of the votes in the first round. This secured his place in a run-off against José Antonio Kast of the far-right Christian Social Front, who got 27.91%. In third place was Franco Parisi of the right populist Party of the People (12.81%). In the second round that took place on December 19, Boric surprised many by winning 55.87% of the votes, 11.74% ahead of Kast. At 35-years-old, Boric became the youngest ever president of Chile and second youngest state leader in the world. He also secured the largest number of votes in the electoral history of Chile - 4.6 million - as turnout in the second round increased to 55.7%, the largest since voting became voluntary in 2013. All the newly elected authorities, including president-elect Boric, will officially begin their term in office on March 11. In the meantime, Gabriel Boric will continue to serve as a member of the chamber of deputies representing the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica region’s 28th district - the southernmost, largest, and second least populated region of the country. Given that AD only holds 37 of the 155 seats in congress, plus a mere five of the 43 senate seats, there is going to be plenty of haggling and horse trading.

Helping to explain the Morning Star’s excitement, Boric has appointed three Communist Party of Chile members to ministerial posts in the cabinet-to-be. Camila Vallejo was appointed government spokeswoman, whilst the other two were made minister for welfare and labour and minister for science and technology. Another appointee was the Socialist Party of Chile’s Maya Fernandez Allende, granddaughter of Salvador Allende who was killed during the US-backed 1973 military coup. Perhaps with a sense of irony, she will take up the post of defence minister. So, Maya Allende will be overseeing the same institution that murdered her grandfather and thousands of others during the Pinochet coup. As for the CPC, many Weekly Worker readers will probably be familiar with its less than illustrious history. In fact, you could arguably call it a scab organisation. The leadership essentially blamed the “far left” for the 1973 coup on the perverse basis that they isolated Allende’s Popular Unity government by going “too far”, and thus provoked the bosses, the military and the CIA into the coup. If it had not been for the “far left”, or “ultra-left”, Chile would have eventually progressed peacefully to socialism. In some respects, this view continues to be a foundation stone for many left groups in Chile today, not just the CPC - that an ‘historic’ accommodation with the capitalist class and the ‘progressive’ bourgeoisie is the only possible way forward, not a revolutionary overthrow of the existing system.

Another thing that has attracted attention about the new Boric government, especially internationally, is that 14 of the 24 new ministers are women - giving Chile a female-majority cabinet for the first time in the country’s history. Plus the fact that a quarter of ministers are under the age of 40, making the new administration look shiny and modern. Vallejo said the new team represented “a historic leap in the struggle to make visible and vindicate the role of women in the processes of social and political transformation” - bringing “feminism and gender perspective to power”. The implication, at least in the Morning Star and other reporting, is that because the Boric government has lot of women and people under 40, you can ignore the fact that their job is to administer capitalism. Just admire the photo shoots.

Constitution

Gabriel Boric has said that his main task is to confront the “extractivist” and privatising development model, and to introduce a new constitution by the end of the year, as mandated by a referendum held in October 2020. Not without controversy, the referendum asked whether a new constitution should be drafted, and whether it should be drafted by a “constitutional convention” made up by members elected directly for this convention, or by a mixed constitutional convention, made up in halves by currently-sitting members of parliament and directly elected citizens. The ‘approve’ side won by a landslide with 78% agreeing to draft a new constitution on a 51% voter turnout. On how the new text should be written, 79% opted for an elected constitutional convention.

But what needs to remembered is the referendum was a response to the 2019 protests - specifically after the so-called “biggest march of Chile” held on October 25 in Santiago, with more than 1.2 million people participating. Hence the widely held opinion was that the referendum was actually a means to divert popular anger into a safe constitutional mire. Chile was experiencing what must be judged as a pre-revolutionary situation, the masses refused to be ruled in the old way. And the government could not rule in the old way and stood on the edge of collapse. President Miguel Piñera ordered a state of emergency, called in the army, imposed curfews and eventually was forced to sack eight cabinet ministers, including the hated minister of the interior.

But while there are mass parties with revolutionary names, there is no mass revolutionary party worthy of its name. Instead of electing popular assemblies, establishing defence corps, striving to split the police, and above all the army, the mass anger and the yearning for change was easily diverted into a referendum on the constitution and then the presidential election campaign.

What happens next is hard to predict. How will elected members of parliament react when the elected constituent assembly produces its new constitution and presumably gets its referendum majority? Boric has called for reforms to the market economy, changes to the pension system, protections for indigenous and LGBT people, and so on. So there could be a constitutional crisis. What happens if Boric and his government fail to deliver sweeping economic changes. Will the working class be reduced to demoralised passivity? Will they spontaneously strike and take to the streets again? What the army does will certainly not depend on the wishes of Maya Fernandez.

But the line of travel that Boric wants to take is already all too clear. Throughout his election campaign Boric was eager to get the support of the right. Disgracefully, he demanded action against those accused of “burning and looting” during the October 2019 protests - hardly any mention of police brutality, or the way charges were blatantly fabricated against demonstrators. He also refuses to call for pardons for those jailed under the “anti-barricade” law that modifies four articles of the penal code to increase punishment for those accused of building barricades or other obstacles to “free passage”.4 Boric was central to the ‘peace agreement’ of November 2019 which saved the skin of outgoing president Piñera. Furthermore, even if the Morning Star might not like it, Boric has committed himself to “fiscal responsibility” in the 2022 budget.

Sending a signal to the markets that nothing too radical is going to happen, Boric has appointed Mario Marcel as his finance minister. He is the current president of the central bank and has also worked at the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, of which Chile is a member. In other words, you could not ask for a safer pair of hands from the viewpoint of capital. As a consequence, the Santiago stock exchange went up 2.27% while the peso traded slightly stronger against the dollar after appreciating more than 6% against the greenback so far this year, amid growing expectations - and hopes - that Gabriel Boric is not a wild radical after all, even if he does have Communist Party members in his cabinet. Indeed, he seems mature and responsible.

In almost the ultimate seal of approval, the Financial Times described the president-elect as not the “anti-market hard leftist as some had feared” - but, rather a “modern, pragmatic social democrat” (January 22 2022). What the paper really means, of course, is post-1945 social democracy - that operates within capitalism, posing absolutely no dangers to the system.

eddie.ford@weeklyworker.co.uk


  1. morningstaronline.co.uk/article/chiles-victorious-left-deserves-our-solidarity-%E2%80%93-and-our-vigilance.↩︎

  2. morningstaronline.co.uk/article/chile-long-and-winding-road-ahead.↩︎

  3. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apruebo_Dignidad.↩︎

  4. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Barricade_Law.↩︎