Constituent process in Chile
02 Mar 2021 Jumping Over all the Turnstiles
Karina Nohales and Alondra Carillo are part of the March 8 Feminist Coordinator in Chile, a space formed in the heat of the feminist struggles of recent years and the revolt. Today they are candidates for the Constituent Assembly. Here Claudia Korol speaks with them about the reasons, risks, and hopes for this stage of the institutionalization of some of the demands for which the peoples inhabiting Chile have mobilized.
Claudia Koral: Could you tell us about the trajectory of the struggles you have been participating in, leading up to this moment in which you are candidates for the Constituent Assembly?
Karina Nohales: I am one of the spokeswomen for the March 8 Feminist Coordinator. My trajectory is marked by two moments. One has to do with grassroots neighborhood work in the place where I am from, Puente Alto, a highly populated, peripheral neighborhood of Santiago. For years, I mostly worked on issues related to labor and social security. Since then, I have participated in a lot of spaces, leading up to the moment of No Más AFP [No More AFP], which led to a small social uprising against the system of privatized pensions in Chile. Following the No Más AFP campaign, a process of reflection started, which coincided with the feminist May in universities in 2018, in regards to the issue of labor and social security from the point of view of women workers. Building off of that, we started organizing meetings on feminism, labor, and social security. That is when the Coordinadora Feminista 8 de marzo was created and I am one of the people who makes up the Committee on Women Workers and Unionists in that space.
CK: How did you become involved in feminism, Alondra?
Alondra Carrillo: I am 29 years old, I am a member of the March 8 Feminist Coordinator, and currently one of the Coordinator’s candidates for the electoral ticket of territorial assemblies and social organizations of district 12, called Voces Constituyentes. I am part of a generation that was politicized in the processes of student mobilizations starting in 2006, the pingüino revolution [student protests], had a major impact on me, as I was in high school at the time. Later, in the 2011 student mobilizations, I was a student leader in my field of study, organizing for free public, non-sexist organization. I have been a leftist feminist militant for many years, with that sort of twofold militancy that many compañeras have experienced. Since 2018, my fundamental space of work and feminist articulation has been creating the Feminist Coordinator, and I served as one of its spokespeople between 2018 and 2020, during the processes of the uprising of the Feminist General Strike in Chile.
CK: Karina, is there a history of union feminism in Chile?
KN: Historically, there was a type of activism – we can’t exactly call it feminist if we take into account how those compañeras self-identified at the beginning of the twentieth century – that was very powerful and played an important role in the production of the labor movement’s way of thinking. However – and it remains to be determined why –, from a certain time on, coinciding with the Stalinization of the Chilean Communist Party during the 1930s, that type of activism disappeared as an ancestral content, both in the world of waged labor, as well as in other lines. The Communist Party was a very important party in Chile that directed the major historical struggles of the working class in this country.
More recently, in connection with the history of struggle against the dictatorship, there has been very important feminist activism for democracy, but that is not widely reflected in the union world, other than through specific figures or compañeras. Currently, a series of feminist practices are emerging that make demands from union spaces, but it still seems difficult to speak of feminist unionism in Chile. That is one of the objectives of the 8M Feminist Coordinator, we are trying to create a feminist organization of workers on the national – we say, plurinational – level, which not only brings together traditional unionism – which is fairly weak in numerical terms in the country –, but also all the work that we carry out, whose organizational form is also not included in the way in which unionism is currently organized.
CK: Alondra, you referred to the emergence of the pingüino movement. What was your experience like, was their space for feminisms within the pingüino struggle?
AC: I didn’t have any sort of leadership role in the pingüino mobilizations. My experience was that of many compañeras and compañeros, who, as a result of that mobilization, were politicized for the first time in our lives, in a collective and mass way. I attended my first assembly. During the pingüina revolution I met compañeras and compañeros from other sectors. I am from La Florida, a district located next to Puente Alto. There I encountered different expressions of what we called “market education”: underfunding, competition, segregation, business deals involving school subsidies. It was my first window into that transversal examination of the effects of a way of economically and politically organizing our lives, and it was also my first experience of effective democracy. I think that it is important, insofar as it has been the high school students who have opened up many of the moments that have had a transformative effect on daily life in political terms.
Both in 2006 and on October 18, it was the high school students who jumped over the turnstiles and invited us to participate in that exercise of rebellion, to see how far we could go affirming that together. Personally, I experienced that from the assemblies in my school, the intercordones assemblies, and spaces of mobilization that we started gestating early on.
In that moment, feminism, at least in an organized manner that was visible to me, was not part of the constellation of politicization that affected me. My first approaches to organized, militant feminism came much later, in the university, with the student mobilizations of 2011, which took place both in high schools and in universities and establishments of higher education. It was then that I first heard the slogan of a non-sexist public education, and I had the opportunity to learn about leftist feminism from my anti-authoritarian compañeras, who created an organization called La Alzada in 2012. I encountered feminism very late in my political life, but it was undoubtedly crucial for what would become my trajectory. A few years later, I started organizing with La Alzada, Liberatory Feminist Action. I joined those sectors that had been politicized by the student struggles and were starting to think and act transversally.
CK: What are the central elements that came together to generate this power embodied by the rebellion? How have feminists experienced it?
AC: Along with Javi Manzi, we developed the idea of what we call the “destituent desire” contained in the revolt, that in some ways is the founding impetus, or the impetus that functions as the ignition, that sets fire to the prairies or the barricades. It is that desire to say “no,” to collectively enunciate “no more.” We have argued that this exercise of saying “no” to what we don’t want, of being capable of collectively challenging that reality, is a feminist exercise. As some feminists, such as Sara Ahmed, have pointed out, for feminists, saying “no” is political work, and we have to say it frequently. Saying “no means no,” that we don’t want more, and enabling that destituent possibility of negating existing reality is also a condition for opening up a historical moment that enables constituent practices.
The destituent heart of the revolt, as Raquel Gutiérrez Aguilar called it in a conversation we had with her, was made possible in part by the feminist political exercise that preceded the revolt, which had been powerfully developing since 2016. This became an organized, mass-movement, in 2018 with the conscious and deliberate uprising in the processes of the General Feminist Strike, and the collective will to make feminism erupt as a transformative force, in opposition to all the sectors that have administered the precarization of life. That character of opposition, of negation, of destitution of what exists, that is at the center of feminist politics, that puts the lives of women and sexual dissidences on the front lines as a political issue, politically and socially prepared the terrain for the revolt.
KN: In the last Encuentro Plurinacional de las y les que Luchan [Plurinational Gathering of Women and Non-Binary People in Struggle], in January 2020, we had the chance to engage in collective reflection about the role of feminism in the revolt. More than 3,000 women and sexual dissidents participated in the encounter. We thought that feminism had played a prefigurative role, in the sense that there is a history to the revolt. It is not a spontaneous event that nobody saw coming, but rather it has precedents in many struggles over the course of decades, organized in sectoral terms: the struggle for housing, the environmental struggle, the student struggle. What feminism offered was that articulating capacity of expressing what these struggles have in common. In 2018, we named that the precarization of life. We marched under the slogan: “Women workers take the streets against the precarization of life.” Later, we said: precarization of life is not only a phenomenon that is intensified with extreme neoliberalism, but there are specific people responsible for it. We constructed a political framework for identifying who we consider responsible for sustaining those policies that make life precarious, and we declared ourselves autonomous and independent from those sectors and in direct antagonism to them.
When the revolt kicked off, it included many issues that were characteristic of the language that this mass feminism had been sustaining and trying to install, that had been socialized. As normality was the problem, we called on interrupting normality. That was an important element of the call for the first Feminist General Strike in 2019.
I remember the slogan, “it was not 30 pesos, it was 30 years.” We had been talking about the same political parties for thirty years. The slogan not only targeted the right. It was also directed targeted toward all the socially liberal parties that had directed the democratic transition and thus the policies that we were were fighting against.
What happened in that moment was feminism, as such a dynamic movement, that had played a leading role on the front lines of the social movement, was somewhat displaced with the explosion of such an enormous issue. That is where our question starts: what does this mean and how to go put feminism back in the center?
On November 15, 2019, almost a month after the explosion of the revolt, an agreement was signed for social peace and a new constitution, paving the way for a constituent process. That led to a decrease in activity. A few days later the performances of Las Tesis appeared and went viral around the world. We called that “a revolt within the revolt” because of the role feminism came to play. Their performances posited something interesting: a synthesis of how these forms of violence, which historically we have been led to believe are private, are completely organized by public institutions and the patriarchal state. In a context of systematic violations of human rights, state terrorism, in which the types of violence that we had been denouncing for a long time are totally invisibilized, that performance managed to say: this violence we are denouncing is as important as that which occurs at the hands of state agents. They are two sides of the same coin of a way of organizing life through violence. And, at the heart of it, they are saying: we will not go back to the second row, just because we are are talking about state terrorism today does not mean that we will stop denouncing the patriarchal violences that we have foregrounded all this time.
CK: What is the role of the generational factor in the revolt?
KN: It is clear that the milestones that triggered the revolt in Santiago are linked to the high school students jumping over the turnstiles in the metro, which appears as an everyday, gray space. That coming and going from work becomes a scene in which something epic takes place. In that sense, young people played a triggering role, but it quickly became intergenerational. We are interested in affirming the intergenerational character of it, because what nationalizes the struggle is not the metro. That is what makes the revolt kick off in Santiago, but in other parts of the country there is no metro, rather it was Sebastián Piñera’s decision to declare the State of Constitutional Exception and deploy the military on the streets of Santiago, on the night of October 18, 2019. That was when all regions of the country rose up, reviving the promise of the democratic transition: never again.
In the decades following the end of the dictatorship, the only time the military had gone onto the streets was after the earthquake in 2010, in limited areas of the country and with other functions, not to contain a political demonstration. This was the first time that they were deployed in that manner and that is what made people of all ages rise up, because the trauma of the dictatorship is still present and it is something that the country decided not to tolerate. There the uprising became a nationwide phenomenon, and the whole country was militarized in a few days. Thus the demands at stake are not exclusively those of the youth.
The sectors of high school students started to jump the turnstiles in opposition to an increase in metro fares that did not directly affect them, because it did not include an increase in the student fare. That is because a lot of repression has been unleashed against them for a long time, with policies such as the ‘safe classroom,’ which was a law seeking to summarily expel students who participated in ‘violent’ forms of protest, identity checks on the basis of suspicion, a policy exclusively targeted at protesting youth. The context is the repression that has been experienced, in different moments, by practically all generations.
CK: How is the plurinational dimension of the revolt expressed?
AC: A more complex evaluation of this question, of course, would have to come from other voices, but I want to refer back to the beginning of the revolt when a slogan was popularized saying: Chile Woke Up, as if we had been asleep for a long time and all of a sudden acquired consciousness and moved into a new state of alertness. My personal impression is that we quickly connected the ways in which repression was unfolding, staging the scenes, criminalization, persecution, and the experience of the last thirty years of Indigenous people, particularly the Mapuche people in resistance, when a ton of sectors could experience in their own flesh and blood what previously seemed like something distant, something that happened to others, to a racialized other.
Wallmapu and Santiago are relatively far away from one another, and Chile is a tremendously centralist country, even in its experience of itself and the experience that the population tells about itself. To the extent that the deployment of the military, that form of repression, could be seen, it made it possible to recognize what had happening progressively taking place in the country in recent years. Another important precedent of the revolt is the murder of Camilo Catrillanca, a young Mapuche man shot in the back by the Jungla Comando. There were three days of mourning in Wallmapu. The government justified his murder speaking of a supposed confrontation, which we later learned never took place. It was murder in cold blood from behind, which also involved torturing a child. During those three days of mourning, three days of mobilization and street protest by the Mapuche people in Wallmapu, Camilo Cantrillanca’s face was projected onto walls in different points of the country. This functioned as a first exercise of recognizing that the displacement of the limits of that colonial violence in Wallmapu was also a threat for all the peoples that inhabit Chile.
That precedent is very important for the revolt, because brutal repression was unleashed during those days of mobilization. After the first days of the uprising, in which the Chilean flag was quickly replaced by the flag of mourning, that black flag that is raised in the streets, people also starting raising the wenufoye, the wünelfe. When the coup occurred in Bolivia, the wiphala also started appearing. And there were other signs of plurinational solidarity, of recognition of our own subordination and own character as sectors that have been the product of colonial violence, through those flags and symbols.
In terms of how the symbolic framework to which it refers and how peoples use it in the revolt to represent themselves, there is something very interesting about those symbols, which historically have been subordinated, but now come to the forefront and start to signal that we should take a harder look at ourselves.
CK: How would you analyze the anticolonial dimension of the revolt?
KN: Historically, in Chile, non-indigneous sectors have not contributed to plurinationality. The revolt brought it to the fore with force. We are plurinational, which is not only a sort of novelty in Chile, but also means getting rid of a strange particularity in relation to neighboring countries. It has been very important and powerful, and feminist struggles have been absolutely willing to raise this issue and prioritize it. In the first protests that we held in the midst of the pandemic, after everyone had had to stay at home, our first action as feminists was precisely in support of the hunger strike of Mapuche political prisoners halfway through the year. That is what made us break our confinement and say “this can’t go on.”
AC: There is a history to the revolt and it is preceded by a series of conflicts of a sectoral character, a product of the very dynamic of extractivist capitalist accumulation and socio-environmental devastation that it causes. The socio-environmental struggles, struggles in defense of water and territory, are a fundamental part of these small currents that feed the torrent of revolt. These experiences of articulation, of long-term mobilization, were the first sectors to challenge the concessions that characterized the transition agreement after the dictatorship. Precisely because they are the sectors and social actors that are mobilized around these conflicts, they are one of the sectors that has also gone the furthest in terms of plurinational articulation and reflection on the matter.
This comes into play, both before and during the revolt, as one of the exercises of articulation of meaning that emerges in the moment in which the revolt makes it possible for meanings that were historically subordinated to move onto the front lines. There the exercises of recognition that we had carried out in the feminist movement were very significant. The first gathering of women in struggle to discuss plans for the Feminist General Strike was originally entitled the National Gathering of Women in Struggle. It was the exercise of articulation, in the preparatory meetings, that quickly called on us to change the name and call it the Plurinational Gathering of Women in Struggle. There are at least two large currents there, that are precedents for the explosion of the revolt, that already have something of that process and that work carried out and articulated. Of course, for decades, the main sector maintaining that perspective was Indigenous peoples who were alone and cornered politically. But, without a doubt, those exercises were important for the transversalization of plurinationality.
CK: Regarding the response from state power, the repressive response to the revolt and the game of institutionalizing and, using institutionalization to block the process of rebellion, what were the debates within feminist movements?
AC: The first thing that I would have to say is that the rejection of the Agreement for Social Peace and the New Constitution by social movements and within the feminist movement was quite transversal. It was a united voice in what, at that time, was a space of articulation in which we participated, called Unidad Social – which still exists, but we no longer participate there –. Since then, there have many moments in which that debate has been engaged. It took place in the second Encuentro Plurinational de les y las que Luchan, in which there were basically three positions that could not be reconciled, differing in terms of the tactics to deploy once the agreement had been established. One of the first moments of the institutional itinerary was a plebiscite to approve or reject the new constitution and decide on the mechanism – whether it would be an institutional convention or a mixed constitutional convention –. There the first debates emerge, the first differences over whether to participate in the plebiscite, unite our voice with those who were calling for taking a position in regards to what would be contained on the ballot, or whether to challenge the plebiscite, what was referred to as boycotting the process. A third position was to stay on the margins of that plebiscite and electoral process.
As it was impossible to agree upon a common tactic, what we decided in the Encuentro was to affirm two points: our transversal commitment to fighting for a free and sovereign, feminist, plurinational, and popular constituent process and to go beyond the limits of the agreement for social peace and the new constitution and, second, beyond the tactical initiative, as feminist groups we committed ourselves to defending our feminist program against the precarization of life.
However, an extraordinary situation took shape over the course of this year, which we could not have foreseen, that has to do with the crisis associated with the pandemic. There was a sort of marked hiatus due to the need to immediately respond to the material emergencies imposed by the pandemic. For most of the year, we did not take a position in regards to the plebiscite, nor the institutional itinerary or the constituent assembly. The truth of the matter is that that debate was placed on a second or third level for social organizations and the feminist movement, because what was pushed to the forefront was the militarization that was deployed beginning on March 18 and that continues to this day. Also there was an urgent need to respond to the patriarchal violence in the context of enclosure and hunger, which is an experience that started reappearing with intensity.
During that hiatus, there were many changes and developments. The pandemic was not a parenthesis. All of these organizational processes continued going on and we met in September and October faced with the urgent need to take a position. At that moment there were two positions. The first position, which we argued for and was broadly supported by the majority of the feminist and popular sectors, maintained that it was necessary to ensure that an overwhelming popular will would be expressed in the plebiscite, to put an end to Pinochet’s constitution. This would make it clear that the far right sectors that had managed to articulate around rejecting the new constitution were a minority and demonstrate the incontestable dimension of the popular will that had been unleashed in the revolt. The other position argued that the plebiscite and constituent itinerary were a sort of trick being played on the population and that participating in that process would mean conceding terrain to that trick and deviating from our path.
We never agreed with that position, because we don’t see the sectors who currently support this regime, through state terrorism and militarization, calling for this agreement. Rather, it is something that no sector wants entirely and it is a moment of political dispute that remains open. It is going to be impossible for social organizations and popular sectors as a whole to avoid this dispute, which will mark the field of a programmatic debate in which our voice cannot be delegated.
CK: Those who signed the agreement with Piñera are political actors who had been questioned by the revolt. To what extent do we see not only see the will to power, but also the historical institutional parties that are trying to regain their prominence and mark another path that would flatten the rebellion?
AC: There are two things to say here. Javi Manzi and I wrote another text called “For a Feminist Constitution.” What we argued there, in regards to the agreement, is that a sort of diversion had taken place, not in the sense that there was a true path of the popular sectors and they were tricked, but rather like when a moving train is diverted, in which the direction of that impetus and that force, that was searching for the channels of its own development, is channeled into this process, that regardless of whether or not we want it, manages to establish certain political coordinates that organize the instability of these times or that claim to do so even if they cannot completely guarantee it.
We have analyzed it as a two-sided agreement: it is an agreement for impunity, for social peace, whose only function is that of restoring the voice of the political sectors that had been challenged in the revolt. It also served the function of rescuing Piñera’s government, which had been left hanging after the general strike of November 12, and the real possibility of it being pushed out of government was seen by the political sectors as a threat to their own existence. Alejandro Guiller, the Nueva Mayoría candidate against Piñera, put it clearly: “if Piñera falls, we all fall.” It was an operation to rescue the government, and its own political existence, and there was also a rescue in terms of impunity, in regards to the massive systematic violations of human rights by the government, which was thrown a lifeline by this agreement.
The whole social movement shared that reading. However this did not translate into a univocal popular response regarding whether or not to accept the validity of that agreement. In that dispute, those conditions of validity are still operating today, but not without a challenge that has persisted from November 15 to the present.
KN: The government lost its voice in the context of the revolt. Each time that Piñera spoke, it was like igniting the prairie again. Thus the centrality of the government’s voice was displaced to parliament somewhat and most parties have parliamentary representation, from the right to the left, and they took responsibility for the situation. The way out of the crisis rests on them, and not on the central power. That way out is through social peace, which was not only constructed in the register of impunity, but that law was also clearly a moment for proposing repressive laws that were materialized a month later. On November 15, the agreement was signed and in December the repressive laws were passed, endorsed by almost all the parliamentary groups. Those laws are in effect today and means that there are political prisoners to this day. But this agreement is a strange creature. At the heart of it is a willingness to change Pinochet’s constitution by sectors who had never shown themselves willing to do so and what they offer is a formula for what could be a Constituent Assembly under complete tutelage – that does not correspond with popular aspirations –. So we had to take a position, what were we going to do?
Furthermore, the context of the pandemic displaces the whole timeline of this institutional itinerary, because initially the plebiscite about whether or not to write a new constitution was going to be in April 2020 and the elections for the Institutional Convention in October 2020. That was changed, and in that context of demobilization, our reflection about why to participate had to do with thinking about the revolt not as the corollary, but rather as a starting point that, while it has a history, what it opens up is an evaluation of what the people, the working class, does, what its life experience has been in these thirty years since the dictatorship. This evaluation mainly takes the form of a challenge, a superlative challenge. It does not manage to be reduced to a group of concrete demands. It still does not have the capacity to affirm what it wants, but rather it rejects what exists.
It is an open process. If there is one thing that we are always affirming as feminists, it is the notion of a process. The Feminist General Strike is a process, it not a one-day event. And the same goes for all of the initiatives that we have undertaken.
What was opened up in October 2019 is a process that is still ongoing, that does not always adopt the same dynamic, that is not a constant mass explosion in the streets for a year, but rather – and what is stake for us now – the possibility for an alternative form of life to emerge, that would radically transform what already exists, in an affirmative register collectively supported by millions of people. This is what is at stake, in part, in the constitutional process. It does not only play out in that constitutional process, but that is an unavoidable moment, because what we are going to witness, and hopefully play a leading role in, is a debate, a programmatic and ideological dispute over how state powers are organized and what we understand by social rights. This is a debate that will last for at least a year and the whole country will be paying attention.
For us, it is the most important programmatic debate that has taken place in Chile since the victory of Unidad Popular, which was the last time that the people went to the ballot boxes behind a program and not just in support of faces as they do with the current electoral machinery. We said that the terms in which that debate was presented mattered, and that what was debated there would inevitably influence mass mobilization. Because regardless of whether or not we participate in the constitutional convention, if tomorrow the convention debates whether or not water can continue being privatized, the sectors that say “no, we are not interested in participating in that process,” are not going to say “ok, I’m totally indifferent to the debate about the privatization of water that is taking place there and therefore I am not going to say or do anything about it.” We think it is unlikely that a dynamic like that would exist, because the terms of the debate matter. It matters if, regarding the socio-environmental crisis, the debate in the constitutional convention is about whether to impose a green tax on large corporations or if there should be a radical transformation of the extractivist structure that organizes the economy. The course of the politicization that began in October is also deposited in those debates. We want that politicization to take place in the most transformative way possible.
CK: How are the candidacies being constructed and how is the programmatic proposal going to be elaborated?
AC: Regarding the candidacies, there are at least two moments: one has to do with the plenary and assembly moments of the coordinating body; an internal moment, in which, over the course of five or six assemblies, we carried out a discussion that led us to affirm that we were going to run our own candidates on independent tickets, exclusively made up of social movements of the revolt, with autonomy from the party sectors that had participated in state administration for the last thirty years. That was our decision. Independent tickets refer to those that are composed of people who are not active members of political parties that are legally inscribed in the institutional system.
It was a fairly extensive process of internal deliberation, which was articulated with our position in support of the “approve” vote in the plebiscite. This resulted in the campaign that we ran for a perspective of jumping over all the turnstiles of the process. That has been the slogan with which we have decided to go forward, with a perspective of overflowing the limits and frameworks that they try to impose on us from above. Later, a second moment is the creation of the independent tickets composed of social movements. In the districts where I live, La Florida, Puente Alto, La Pintada, La Pirque, San José de Maipo, there were neighborhood territorial assemblies that decided to hold an assembly of social and territorial organizations in the district, calling those who wanted to participate, to discuss if it would be possible to create an independent ticket, expressing the revolt, with common programmatic orientations and a mandate that could be revoked. Here the candidates on the tickets would be spokespeople for a space of articulation, discussion, mobilization, and constant deliberation, which would function as an entry way for social movements into the Convention. The ticket was formed, that path was wagered on, sponsors were gathered, and the commitment is that, if any person on the ticket enters, all of the territorial and social organizations on that list enter with them. We created a feminist, constituent, plurinational platform, in which the feminist compañeras who are committed to that same path participate from different districts and territorial sectors.
Additionally, in programmatic terms, the third Encuentro Plurinacional de les y las que Luchan is coming up on February 7, which is organized in an extraordinary way, including simultaneous in-person and virtual meetings the whole day. In all the territories that participate in its organization, these programmatic debates are going to be taking place to deepen the horizons that we are going to bring to the convention – and beyond it, of course –, and the keys of the mobilization for truth, justice, and reparation, against state terrorism and for freedom of the revolt’s political prisoners, which have been central themes of the mobilization over the last year.
KN: Undoubtedly, this is an extraordinary, unprecedented process that we are living through. In electoral terms, it is governed by the same law that regulates the election of congressional representatives. We are in a moment in which state institutions, and also the party form, have been severely discredited. For the first time, this electoral law was modified to allow tickets made up of independent persons to compete in the elections. In this moment of the complete crisis of the party system, the emergence of the independent has been a novelty.
In the districts, we are finding three large lists of party sectors and four, five, or six lists of independents. This has also been an issue of dispute, because, beyond the different positions within the feminist movement regarding the party form and whether or not to deploy feminisms from within them – because of course many compañeras are party activists –, it has been complicated having to explain why we decided to do so as independents. This does not necessarily mean that we have an anti-party view. That is the account of sectors of the extreme right. It has been complicated because the law depoliticizes the figure of the independent, depositing the monopoly of political activity on the party form, and calling the rest of us independent. This has meant that the emergence of the independent as something good in itself, not belonging to parties, but right-wing tickets have already been articulated. They are independent, unaffiliated people, but they are also faces from show business, adventurous people whose presentation seems independent.
We have had to affirm that we are not independent as the law says, we are not apolitical beings nor lone subjects; we are militants and activists from within the social movement, we bring programs that have been collectively elaborated and a collective mandate. If we make it to the constitutional convention, we don’t decide alone, we respond to a project, and perhaps that divides the field of dispute in regards to the electoral, but also in terms of how to understand the politics we have to confront.
The deployments take place on three levels: one is constitutional, another is constituent. By constituent we refer to that vital process that the popular sectors have undertaken to provide themselves with a collective process that we want to be deeply feminist from the outset, to be inescapably traversed by feminism. The other is the struggle against state terrorism and the impunity of political pressure.
CK: How do you all understand the interaction with the processes of legitimation that have been forming as part of the revolt in the debate in the territorial assemblies, and what real possibility is there for that interaction to not be a mediatization of the program, content, and form of the revolt?
AC: Here there are two things I would say. First, we must ask: what are these territorial assemblies? They are emergent sectors of a new subjectivity of the working class, which is also new in the sense that it is a product of these thirty, forty years of neoliberalism and of a fairly developed moment of that process. In terms of how we can understand our own relationship with those spaces, those processes, as we have done so up until now, as another one of the social forces that shares a common commitment, what we have proposed are two relevant coordinates for understanding this relation. The first is that we try to establish a distinction between the ordinary administration of the state, the electoral dispute to become the government, whether local or central, or to go to parliament; and the dispute of this extraordinary and specific moment, which is important in political terms due to the programmatic debate that is going to take place there, which has to do with the extraordinary nature of a moment of discussing the fundamental foundations that organize the state. That distinction is important, both in terms of understanding our decision to wager on this process, and to be able to enact a sort of political barrier between this political exercise that we are pushing for, and the forms of channelling and co-optation that are simply aimed at renewing the political personnel that administers the regularity of this state that is, and probably will continue to be, even after the constituent process, a state whose function is the constant reproduction of neoliberal capitalist life in Chile
On the other hand, what we have had in mind and have offered as a political coordinate for understanding this process, is that the central meaning of the wager is not given by achieving “a better Constitution.” What is at stake here is not how good or bad the Constitution that comes out of this process will be, because surely it will not be particularly good, because of how the relations of force with which this process will unfold are configured or are stabilizing, in conditions of militarization, impunity, political prison. So, the new constitution will probably not be one in which we recognize ourselves. It would be a shame if the orientation of this process is simply toward legitimizing a new magna carta and a new social pact for the organization of life. What we are saying is: this is important because it is a moment of politicization of the masses that will be fundamental, but also because what we have a long-term process ahead of us, in which we will have to travel together each step of the way, committing ourselves to not letting go during this whole long process, wagering on going together. These experiences will also be constitutive of ourselves as a class, in a moment that we recognize as constituent on that level, not on the level of rewriting a new magna carta but rather providing ourselves with a collective process that we know we are going to have to defend in a process of struggle and not in citizen deliberations in a palace.
KN: In regards to the relationship between institutionality and the revolt, there is something that was going to occur almost inevitably. We are in a very particular political context, which has to do with the revolt and the pandemic. It has vital economic impact, the fact that we had the plebiscite in October and this year there will be five elections and everything is going to be renewed: there will be the constitutional convention, municipal elections, regional government, parliamentary, and presidential elections. The whole institutional field is being renewed. In a political context traversed by these five elections, as well as the plebiscite, it is logical that there would be a sort of shift in political activity toward the institutional.
What will come out of this? That is an interesting question. There is already one thing that has come out of this. In Chile voting is voluntary, it is not obligatory, and in recent decades the tendency for abstention at the polls had been markedly increasing. In the last presidential and parliamentary levels, there was nearly 60% abstention and only 40% participation. That trend changed with the plebiscite, because even while there was still high abstention, nearly 50% of eligible voters participated. Not only did this break the trend of the last thirty years, but electoral participation primarily increased among the popular sectors and the youth. Participation of the wealthy decreased a little. That is unprecedented. There was a sort of defeatism, of demoralization even before the vote, in the face of the plebiscite they knew they were losing. We don’t know if the same thing will happen in the next elections, because there they are not only choosing between approve or reject and giving up beforehand. Nor can we predict the electoral behavior of the new voters who are becoming incorporated now, as a product of the revolt and challenge to the parties that have administered all of this. There is also a factor of uncertainty.
There is the possibility of something new on the presidential level. The terrain is still unstable, but a few pre-candidacies have clearly taken shape in a public way, and the one that is leading the polls for future president is Daniel Jadue, a Communist Party activist.
It is very unprecedented because, regardless of one’s individual opinion of the Communist Party in Chile, we have to recognize that, since 1989, no active member of the Communist Party has been popularly affirmed on a presidential ballot anywhere in the world. It Chile it is unprecedented also. One thing that we discovered with the revolt is that Chile, of course, was not the neoliberal oasis that had been presented to the region, nor is it right-wing, beyond its governors, and people rise up against the deployment of the military, they powerfully decide to put an end to Pinochet’s Constitution, and now even someone from the Communist Party is leading the polls. That is the panorama.
This article was originally published in Jacobin Amércia Latina “Saltar todos los torniquetes” on 05.02.21. Translation by Liz Mason-Deese for the Rosa-Luxemburg-Foundation. Illustration Bree Busk, IG: @breeatlast