Chile: Constituent Assembly and Workers Power
Aerial bombardment of
The following article is translated from a special issue of El Internacionalista (October 2011).
the University Reform movement was born in
Thus, a fundamental
conclusion that must be drawn from the
1999-2000 student strike at the National
Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) is
the utter necessity of fighting for class
independence from all
bourgeois parties and politicians. The
support of a sector of the UNAM strikers
to the popular front around the Party of
the Democratic Revolution (PRD) weakened
the struggle. The PRD lashed out against
the “ultras” and “mega-ultras” and tried
to organize scabs. The PRD government of
the Federal District (encompassing
Protest at the United Nations in solidarity with Chilean students, September 22.
In Chile, students have allied with Concertación (a coalition of the Christian Democracy [DC], the Socialist Party [PS] and their satellites), which only pretends to support the movement. The Communist Party (PCCh) and other leftist groups (Movement of the Revolutionary Left [MIR], Manuel Rodríguez Patriotic Front [FPMR], Communist Party-Proletarian Action [PC-AP]) compete in the elections under another rubric, the “Together We Can Do More” (Juntos Podemos Más) coalition, which is just a mini-popular front with minority bourgeois sectors like the Radical Party and the Christian Left, which were also part of Popular Unity (UP) under Allende. In fact, the axis of a revolutionary program to win the present struggle for free public education is to draw the lessons of the UP and the Allende government, in the previous Battle of Chile.
The most important of the factors that led to defeat at the hands of Pinochet’s henchmen was not that the working people were not armed, although this had terrible consequences, but that the workers were politically disarmed. Not only the PS and the PCCh, but also the MIR, the MAPU (Popular Unity Action Movement), and leftist sectors of the PS which were influential in the cordones industriales, workers’ council-like organizations that developed in the final year of Allende’s government, bound themselves to the end to the politics of the popular front. They thereby chained the workers movement (along with peasants, the urban poor, students etc.) to alliances with capitalist sectors, either directly, or by voting for the constituent parties of the UP, as did the MIR in the elections of March 1973. In order to triumph over the counterrevolution fostered (and financed) by Yankee imperialism, it was essential to make a clear break with all the parties of the UP and their deceptive promise of “people’s power,” and fight directly for workers revolution.
One Chilean group that criticizes popular-frontism is the PTR (Partido de Trabajadores Revolucionarios – Revolutionary Workers Party), which is part of the Trotskyist Fraction (FT) led by the PTS (Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas – Socialist Workers Party) of Argentina, and publishes the journal Clase contra Clase. The PTR has criticized the PCCh for its capitulations, notably for its not insisting that the call for free public education should be the absolute “bottom floor” demand, rather than a far-off “perspective.” In contrast to the vituperations in the bourgeois press about the “hoodies” (lower-class high school students) and the complaints of the PC and Concertación “moderates” against rock-throwing, the PTR defends the youth who have fought in the streets against the attempts by the carabineros to brutally stop “unauthorized” marches. However, in broader terms, the PTR shares the reformists’ “democratist” focus. In the latest issue of its newspaper Clase contra Clase (No. 168, 28 August) and in various articles appearing in the newspaper of the PTS, La Verdad Obrera, they put forward the slogan of “a Free and Sovereign Constituent Assembly,” to replace the Pinochetist constitution, as their “maximum program” for this struggle.
formulations, the constituent assembly slogan
is also taken up by the PCCh, the MIR and
almost all the “far left” groups. Among these
is the Revolutionary Party of the Workers (PRT
– Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores),
a sympathizing section of the International
Workers League (LIT), representing the main
body of the political current led for years by
the late pseudo-Trotskyist leader Nahuel
Moreno. The FT also has its roots in
Morenoism, even though it grew critical of its
mentor after breaking away from the LIT in
1989, shortly after
Latin American countries, a limited
bourgeois “democracy” has held sway for some
time, in which elected positions are put on
the market every few years, to be sold to
the highest bidder in voting dominated by
money (for television ads, vote-buying,
In the midst of a struggle for democratic rights, like free public education open to all, the call for a revolutionary constituent assembly could serve as a subordinate element of the program for the seizure of power by the proletariat in Chile, by means of its own organs of class power, that is, worker councils like the soviets in Russia, and for the extension of the socialist revolution to the rest of the Southern Cone and the entire hemisphere, into the heart of U.S. imperialism. To call instead for a constituent assembly as if it were an exercise in electoral democracy, as do the reformists of the PC and the pseudo-Trotskyist centrists of the PTR/FT, feeds the same illusions as Allende and his comrades of the PCCh and PS did with their imaginary “parliamentary road” to revolution, with the same deadly consequences that we know all too well. To visualize this in more detail, it suffices to consider just which clauses of the current Pinochetist constitution would have to be thrown out.
First we have
the National Security Council (Cosena),
created by the 1980 constitution to watch over
the president, the legislature and the courts.
Even though it no longer has an automatic
majority of military men (from the chiefs of
the Army, Navy, Air Force and carabineros),
though its role is now described as “advising”
the president on matters of national security,
it is also charged with “carrying out the
other functions accorded to it by the
Constitution.” And according to Organic
Constitutional Law No. 18.415, one of said
functions of the Cosena is to authorize the
declaration of martial law by the president without
the approval of Congress – a point of no
small importance. Next there’s the great
autonomy of the armed forces from civilian
control. Uniquely in the Western Hemisphere,
the president of
The People United will Never be Defeated? This slogan of the Popular Front was false to the core. The workers, “united” with their class enemies, were defeated in Chile. Right: General Augusto Pinochet together with President Salvador Allende, 23 August 1973. Pinochet, a respected “constitutionalist” officer, orchestrated the coup using the authority given to him by the Popular Unity government. (Photo: AP)
The funding of the military is another aspect. Under Pinochet, almost all the state-owned companies were privatized, except for one: CODELCO. The nationalization of the copper mines, carried out by the Popular Unity government in 1971, was maintained, although concessions were granted to private subcontractors for production. Why this exception? Could it be because according the Reserve Law on Copper, 10 percent of copper sales are set aside for the arms budget? These are not questions of secondary importance. The constitutional clauses on the regulation of the armed forces are almost identical to those contained in the Statute of Constitutional Guarantees that Allende was obliged to sign in October of 1970 as a condition for his confirmation as President. As this pledge itself indicated, these stipulations guaranteed the independence of the military and police forces, the backbone of the capitalist state, against all “interference” from elected officials. This was essential to the future preparation of the coup d’état of 1973. Today as well, the generals would defend their privileges and their immunity with tooth and nail (and machine guns and tanks) against any attempt to touch them, no matter how democratic it may be.
There are many other anti-democratic aspects of the present constitution: it bans strikes by national and local government workers, and by workers who “provide services of public utility.” It prohibits associations, movements, organizations or groups that carry out the activities of political parties without conforming to the regulations on the latter, which include the requirement to hand over membership lists to government agencies. It prohibits “associations contrary to morality, public order, and state security.” It prohibits unions from taking part in “partisan political activities,” and does not allow union officials to hold leading positions in political parties. A constitutional article against terrorism has been used against indigenous Mapuche people who are fighting for their land. Not only can the president declare a “state of exception,” he can also proclaim “decrees with the force of law” on a great variety of matters, education for example, without congressional approval. Without a doubt, a struggle for democratic rights would have to throw this authoritarian constitution in the garbage. But how?
years, many currents on the left have
substituted a democratic program for their
former socialist and communist pretensions.
Social democrats, ex-Stalinists, and small
groups claiming to be Trotskyist have all made
the call for a constituent assembly their
calling card. In many cases, such as in
If a constituent assembly is to be an effective instrument for the struggle for free public education, and for the raising of the revolutionary consciousness of the movement, it is necessary to explain why the constituent assembly is needed and what tasks it must carry out. Neither the PC, nor the PTR, PRT, or any other leftist group that raises the constituent assembly slogan, does this. First of all, it will be necessary to eliminate the constitutional article that under the deceptive heading of “freedom of instruction” establishes the “freedom” of capitalist enterprises to found schools and lays the foundation for the General Law on Education and the Decree with the Force of Law No. 2 of 2010 which prohibits the participation of students in the governance of educational institutions. In its place should be the expropriation of private universities, schools and institutes, and control by councils of students, teachers and workers at all levels of education. Likewise, it will be necessary to abolish all prohibitions and regulations of political activity by workers unions, and all state control over political associations.
In military affairs, clearly the National Security Council will have to be abolished along with any obstacle to civilian control over military institutions. But what should take their place? The typical arrangement of civilian-military relations in western “democracies”? That would be a betrayal of every principle of socialism: we are dealing with the repressive organs of the capitalist state here. No, revolutionaries would call for the dissolving of all the armed forces and police, and their replacement by a popular militia based on the mass organizations of the workers, the poor people, and the indigenous peoples. Simply to list the elementary measures that a genuine constituent assembly would have to implement should make it obvious that the military would never accept them. And we haven’t yet mentioned the formation of workers militias, or of popular tribunals to pass judgment on the officers, fascists and bourgeois politicians for their crimes in the coup d’état of 11 September 1973 and during the years of the Pinochet dictatorship. It’s plain to see that to put in place a democratic constituent assembly what’s needed is a revolution that brings down the rule of capital and sweeps away its guard dogs. ■
 See “Chilean Popular Front,” (Spartacist No. 19, November-December 1970), and “Pop Front Imperils Chilean Workers” (Workers Vanguard No. 14, December 1972). Both articles were translated and reprinted in Cuadernos Marxistas No. 3, “Chile, Lecciones del Frente Popular,” published by the then-Trotskyist Spartacist League/U.S. in 1975, and which now are reprinted by the League for the Fourth International. Almost all the articles in this compilation were written by comrades who went on to found the LFI after a wave of expulsions from the Spartacist tendency in 1996-1997.
 In January of 1978, when the Pinochet dictatorship organized a plebiscite, while the DC sought a reformed military dictatorship while the PCCh, in a speech by its leader Luis Corvalán, called for a “democratic government” of the UP and DC together with “democratic sectors of the Armed Forces,” our comrades of the Revolutionary Trotskyist Organization (OTR) condemned the rigged elections and called for a constituent assembly instead, and to smash the military regime with a workers revolution. As they explained: “A genuine constituent assembly by definition would could only be convoked under conditions of full democratic liberties, permitting the participation of all the parties of the working class. Thus it requires as a precondition the revolutionary overthrow of the junta, something which the DC and the reformists, despite their lengthy list of democratic demands, fail to mention.” (“Condemn Pinochet Plebiscite!” Workers Vanguard No. 190, 27 January 1978).
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