The lack of a common strategy to confront neoliberalism, and divided by the Communist Party, Hector Ríos looks at the new left in Chile
Chile was one of the first countries to suffer a radical implementation of neoliberal policies. From 1975, two years after the military coup against the socialist and democratically-elected president Salvador Allende, the dictatorial government implemented a radical and experimental neoliberal programme in Chile, which has transformed the social structured up to the present day.
The increase of social conflict, the emergence of social movements and the re-organisation of a new radical left during the last decade have produced high expectations and possibilities for transforming Chile. However, the dominant position of neoliberalism has not shown significant changes. The victory of a new political coalition of centre and left parties in 2014, called Nueva Mayoría (“New Majority”), protected and saved the neoliberal structure, implementing a minimal set of reforms that served to contain and control the social discontent.
In addition, the inclusion of the Chilean Communist Party (PC) in the coalition government has produced confusion and political ambiguity in the anti-neoliberal left. Despite the clear signs of political crises for Chilean neoliberalism, the political scenario has revealed the weaknesses and contradictions of the New Left, which has failed both to present a clear political strategy to confront the new government or produce a powerful alternative political agenda.
Political crises and ideological cracks
Over the last two decades, Chilean neoliberal democracy has been characterised by two trends. A constant decline in political participation, from 1990 to present (SERVEL, 2015), and a systematic increase in social conflict from 2000 to present (PNUD-UNIE, 2011; PNUD, 2015). These patterns demonstrate, first, low adherence by citizens to neoliberal democracy and its political structures of participation, and second, high dissatisfaction with specific aspects of the socio-economic structure.
Moreover, the recently exposed corruption cases of illegal financing involving the majority of traditional parties, including those in the government, have inflicted upon them a sharp drop in political confidence and credibility and produced a crisis of legitimacy for the government and élite.
On this note, though it is clear that critical public views of neoliberal institutions have increased, these have largely focused on key institutions, such as educational and environmental legislation, which concentrate dissatisfaction. Therefore, increasingly critical attitudes have not brought about the necessary confrontation with neoliberal reforms proposed by the new government on behalf of the establishment. For these reasons the current situation of Chile could be described as only a partial and fragmented ideological crisis that does not represent a general socio-economic collapse of Chilean neoliberalism.
The Chilean Communist Party
Beyond this preliminary analysis, it is clear that the social movements and the left have shown several important difficulties in advancing politically. The changes in the political strategy of the Chilean Communist Party and the confused state of the new radical left are key factors for understanding the current situation of Chile and why the development of its radical left has hit the buffers.
Over the 1980s and 90s the Communist Party (PC) assumed an anti-neoliberal and extra-parliamentarian position, focused on channelling anti-neoliberal forces into a democratic alternative front which aimed at dismantling the neoliberal institutions. However in 2013, after three presidential failures (when their candidates did not obtain more than 8% of all votes) and after the student protests in 2011, the Communist Party decided to change its strategy and get involved in the organisation of the New Majority (NM) coalition.
The Chilean PC’s strategy aimed to produce a left turn in the political direction of the coalition government, enforcing a radicalisation of the reforms in spite of the conservative bloc, working alongside social movements. However, the strategy has produced exactly the opposite effects. The PC has not been able to articulate progressivist forces inside the government and has also broken its ties with anti-neoliberal and radical left organisations. In this sense, its inclusion in the government has represented a new opportunity for the political establishment to re-legitimate elite power and control the ideological cracks opened by social movements and the new radical left.
Strategies in perspective
This strategic shift of the PC represents a historical defeat for the radical left, which has lost the biggest and most experienced party in the history of the Chilean left. What’s more, the PC’s changes have confused and divided the left, opening up a rushed process of reorganisation of the emergent anti-neoliberal forces. Currently, the new anti-neoliberal Chilean left is composed of more than five quasi-national organisations, which have emerged in the context of the growth of social conflict. The main forces are: Izquierda Autónoma (IA), Izquierda Libertaria (IL), Union Nacional Estudiantil (UNE) and Partido Igualdad (PI).
These organisations emerged between 2005-2011, associated with social movements and new local leaderships. All of them are identified with anti-neoliberal positions, but they do not share any common strategy to confront the neoliberal bloc. In fact, some organisations have focused principally on improving parliamentarian presence, such as Izquierda Autónoma (IA), or on organising political alternatives in the context of presidential elections, as with UNE and PI during 2014. Others, meanwhile, have implemented a politics of association and empowerment within social bases, supporting student and workers’ unions, with occasional participation in local elections associated with local movements, as in the case of Izquierda Libertaria (IL) and currently Partido Igualdad (PI).
This muddle of strategies makes clear the existence of a critical gap between political opportunities and political recourses on the new left, which is preventing the transformation of social discontent into a political alternative. In other words, the political agenda is changing more rapidly than the new left is able to deal with, as it attempts to organise its forces and present a shared position that confronts the adaptations of the political establishment. This is an issue that could explain the partial and fragmented nature of the ideological crisis in Chile, and the problems that its radical left is having in producing a powerful political movement against neoliberalism.
PNUD (PAPEP)-Fundación UNIR (2011), Los conflictos sociales en América Latina, Bolivia.
PNUD (2015). Desarrollo Humano en Chile. Los tiempos de politización. ISBN: 978-956-7469-59-8
For more detail about corruption cases:
The Guardian (2015). Chilean president rocked by corruption allegations against family members. Available in: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/08/chilean-president-michelle-bachelet-corruption-charges-sebastian-davalos
De Onis, Juan (2015). Chile un crisis. Available in: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/chile/2015-04-12/chile-crisis