Chile – workers and youth vote to smash Pinochet-era constitution

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TENS of thousands of Chilean workers and youth flooded the main square of the capital Santiago on Sunday celebrating the result of the referendum that tore up the country’s constitution.

By a massive majority of nearly 80% the Chilean people voted to abolish the old constitution that was originally passed in 1980 under conditions of military dictatorship imposed in 1973 by Pinochet, who came to power in a bloody coup, backed by US imperialism, to overthrow the democratically-elected ‘left socialist’ president Salvadore Allende.

Allende was killed during the coup and hundreds of thousands of Chilean workers and youth were rounded up and imprisoned, with thousands killed and tortured by the brutal military dictatorship.

The Pinochet regime then enacted the most savage attacks on the working class, faithfully adopting the policies dictated by world imperialism of privatisation and wage cutting.

This savage attack on the working class won Pinochet the admiration of the then Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

Pinochet’s dictatorship was ended in 1990 following huge unrest, and Chile was supposed to have embarked on a process of ‘democratisation’.

But the old constitution, with its provision for using the full force of the state to suppress the Chilean people and which guaranteed the rights of the capitalist class to exploit under the protection of the state forces, remained largely intact.

It left the Chilean bourgeoisie in charge, with all the old weapons of the Pinochet regime at their disposal to be used against the working class in future.

Massive inequality and rising unemployment continued, with many trapped in crippling debt while the ruling class carried on with the IMF-inspired policy of privatisation of basic utilities – from water to highways and the pensions system.

Almost exactly one year ago, students in Santiago came out onto the streets demonstrating against a 3% increase in train fares. This was the spark that ignited a massive uprising by workers who hated a system that has driven them into poverty while the Chilean bourgeoisie grow rich on the wealth of an economy based mainly on exports from its copper industry.

The right wing government of president Sebastian Pinera immediately invoked a state of emergency over the country using the provision of the Pinochet constitution.

Despite killing more than 30 demonstrators, Pinera was unable to crush the uprising which had as its demands an end to privatisation of the country’s education, health and pensions sector.

These demands converged in the demand for the Pinochet-era constitution to be torn up and a new constitution written, not by existing politicians but by a specially elected body of ordinary citizens.

When forced to agree to this plebiscite, Pinera was careful to ensure that any new constitution drafted by the people would take nearly two years before it could be agreed by a further vote.

Maria Cristina Escudero, a political scientist at the University of Chile, said: ‘We got to this stage as the country is in a crisis. It’s not only that the constitution is illegitimate, but it’s not suitable for the reality we live in – it’s time to change it.’

She added that the social unrest of 2019 could have ended ‘very badly’, such as in a coup d’état or collapse of government, and: ‘It is a great virtue to have found an institutional way to solve this problem.’

In fact, there is no ‘institutional’ way of solving the crisis of capitalism in Chile – or anywhere in the world.

The bourgeoisie in Chile will not surrender their right to exploit peacefully and neither will the multinational copper companies allow their profits to be threatened by a new constitution.

At the same time, the Chilean workers and youth will not sit back after this victory but be encouraged to take this mass movement forward to bringing down the government and taking power through socialist revolution.

As the murderous coup against the ‘left’ Allende in 1973 proves, there is no peaceful way out of this struggle – it must be taken forward in the fight to smash the capitalist state and replace it with a socialist state.

The urgent issue today is building sections of the Fourth International in every country to lead the fast developing socialist revolutions to victory.