Sunday, 13 June 2021

Re-Writing The Rules of the Game: Where Chile is Leading, Can Aotearoa-New Zealand Follow?

People Power: Ending neoliberalism requires massive and militant action on the ground. Between 2019 and 2020, the young and the poor made Chile ungovernable. Engaging in running battles with the Police and facing-down the army’s bullets, they rendered the political class and its mainstream media mouthpieces increasingly irrelevant to what was happening in the streets, offices, shops, factories, schools and universities of the nation. 

THE EYES OF THE LEFT, all around the world, should be on Chile. Over the next twelve months a Constituent Assembly, comprised of 155 elected Chilean citizens, will draft a new constitution  for their battered and abused country. New constitutions are not written very often. South Africa, post-apartheid, wrote one – to world acclaim. So did Venezuela – and the rest of the world ignored it. Undaunted, the left-wing Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, had the Constitution’s key provisions printed on milk cartons, so every citizen, even the poorest, could know their rights.

Chile’s new constitution, however, is being written from scratch, an exercise that has not been attempted in a well-established nation state for more than twenty years. What’s more, with the Constituent Assembly dominated by the Left (in New Zealand, they’d be branded “Far Left”) the constitution which emerges from its deliberations will likely break new ground. Already, the members of the Constituent Assembly (MCA) are committed to ensuring that the rights of Chile’s indigenous people (roughly 10 percent of the population) are constitutionally protected.

The legislation establishing the Constituent Assembly mandated an equal number of male and female members. Interestingly, so radical was the popular mood that considerably more women ended up being elected to the Assembly than men – requiring the men’s numbers to be topped-up! Clearly the rights of women – in all political, economic, social and cultural spheres – will constitute a central pillar of the new constitution.

Given Chile’s tragic post-1973 history, it is also widely anticipated that the new constitution will explicitly repudiate the neoliberal tenets embedded in the constitution imposed upon the Chilean people from above by the military dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, in 1980. Chilean political commentators are predicting the inclusion of a slew of “social chapters” restoring to the state its key responsibility for maintaining the welfare of the people. The privatisation of key utilities – most particularly the water supply – may well be reversed as constitutionally untenable.

Essentially, Chile is engrossed in an extraordinary exercise aimed at reimposing the status-quo ante. Taking the nation back to the point it had reached under the socialist Popular Unity government of President Salvador Allende immediately prior to the military coup d’├ętat of 11 September 1973. Allende died in that coup, and thousands more Chileans were murdered in the months and years that followed.

In the early 1970s, Allende’s government had been one of the most progressive in the world, making it that most dangerous of things – an example other peoples might feel inclined to follow. The USA, in particular, was terrified that Allende’s brand of democratic socialism might spread across Latin America. US President, Richard Nixon’s National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, summed-up the Administration’s position when he declared: “I don’t see why the United States should sit back and watch a country turn communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.”

With the Left crushed, Chile became the proving ground for the neoliberal theories of Professor Milton Friedman. All the measures with which the rest of the world would soon become agonizingly familiar: deregulation, privatisation, regressive fiscal policies, abandoning economic protectionism and opening the economy to foreign investors, dismantling the welfare state and destroying the trade unions; were tested out on the politically defenceless Chilean people.

Although a measure of democracy was restored to Chile in 1990, it was heavily circumscribed by the point-blank refusal of the political class in general (and the armed forces in particular) to countenance the slightest attempt to dismantle the neoliberal order Pinochet had so firmly established. It required nothing less than the global Covid-19 pandemic to generate the massive popular rising necessary to force the Chilean powers-that-be to sanction the calling together of a constituent assembly to re-write the rules of the political game.

There are a number of lessons here for Aotearoa-New Zealand – providing its progressive forces are ready and willing to learn from the Chilean example.

The first of these is that ending neoliberalism requires massive and militant action on the ground. Between 2019 and 2020, the young and the poor made Chile ungovernable. Engaging in running battles with the Police and facing-down the army’s bullets, they rendered the political class and its mainstream media mouthpieces increasingly irrelevant to what was happening in the streets, offices, shops, factories, schools and universities of the nation. In the course of making this uprising, the young and the poor learned “on the job” how to conduct their own politics – independent of the political parties which had traditionally represented their interests. (In the elections for the Constituent Assembly, the ruling right-wing party received fewer that 30 percent of the votes, and the equivalent of our Labour Party was outpolled by a combination of communists, anarchists, feminists, indigenous Chileans and environmentalists.)

The second lesson to be drawn from recent events in Chile, is that changing the rules of the game – i.e. drawing up a new constitution – is not something to be left to elite theorists meeting behind closed doors. New ideas, revolutionary ideas, cannot be imposed upon the population from above and remain progressive ideas. (Never forget that Rogernomics was a revolution imposed from above – with disastrous results for workers and beneficiaries.) If what the radicals and revolutionaries who pulled together the He Puapua Report are proposing is any good, then the young and the poor will make it their own. When that happens, all the rest will follow. Demand the election of a Constituent Assembly to write Aotearoa-New Zealand’s bi-cultural constitution. Let the young and the poor chose their own candidates. For the first time in decades give them the chance to cast a vote that matters. Throw an additional 700,000 votes onto the electoral scales – and see what happens.

There’s a third lesson to be drawn from Chile’s experience. Not, this time, from its recent experience, but from the experience of 1970-1973. And that lesson is: Make sure you have someone watching your back. Because who, in the end, can protect the work of Chile’s Constituent Assembly from the same forces that destroyed the work of Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government? Who will stand between the people and the armed forces – guided and resourced by the United States? That’s not just a question for Chileans. Were the young and the poor of Aotearoa-New Zealand to successfully outmanoeuvre their own political class, where should they look for protection? Australia? The United States?

In the end, it’s the question that all revolutionaries must be ready to answer: “Having made the revolution, how do we keep it?”


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 10 June 2021.

14 comments:

John Hurley said...

Neoliberalism is markets at work. It is the same system successfully used by all ecosystems on Earth.

The problem is that with neoliberalism came it's fifth pillar - immigration and as population increases the marginal product of each additional worker decreases.

When the Mendez-Marches take over and we learn the hard way that human systems are intricate we will see the the power of state coercion in it's thought police - we are already there though; I swear on the Bible I wouldn't give the BSA the time of day.

Tom Hunter said...

Gosh Chris, you're all hot for yet another South American Leftist screwup in the making.
Undaunted, the left-wing Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, had the Constitution’s key provisions printed on milk cartons, so every citizen, even the poorest, could know their rights.

Yeah, let's see how that's worked out for them. Millions of its people have fled the country as the economy went down the tube. The poor are poorer than ever, with all the old curses of poor health and hunger. Power outages. The US dollar is the medium of exchange And there's another of the usual Latin caudillos permanently in power, which is always the answer to how the revolution is kept, which is that he's got the Army and the secret police on his side.

Between 2019 and 2020, the young and the poor made Chile ungovernable. Engaging in running battles with the Police and facing-down the army’s bullets, they rendered the political class and its mainstream media mouthpieces increasingly irrelevant to what was happening in the streets, offices, shops, factories, schools and universities of the nation.

But who needs Venezuela when we have...
“And human nature seeming born again.

Unhoused beneath the evening star, we saw
Dances of liberty, and, in late hours
Of darkness, dances in the open air.

We rose at signal given and formed a ring
And, hand in hand, danced round and round the board.
All hearts were open. Every tongue was loud with amity and glee.”


And since you've raised, as usual with Chile, the great, fanged hobgoblin of Milton Friedman you should note the fact that Venezuela, the nation with the largest oil reserves in the world has frequent petrol shortages, bringing to mind Milton's observation that if Socialists controlled a desert then after five years there'd be a shortage of sand.

Wayne Mapp said...

New Zealand will not follow the path of Chile, at least not in any revolutionary sense. There simply isn't the motivation, political background or energy to radically transform our constitutional framework in such a way.

Yes, we did do MMP, as it happens under a National government. It took two referendums in 1992 and 1993 for that to happen. Yes, we could become a republic, presumably by the same method of referendums. But I detect no desire to radically transform the constitutional political settlement in greater ways. For instance a Bill of Rights that went way beyond the usual political and civil rights, which got deep into economic and social rights. Or a Bicultural Second Chamber with veto rights over the House of Representatives.

It was noteworthy that the PM quickly ruled out any sort of constitutional changes set out in He PuaPua. She know, at a very instinctive level, where the limits of the New Zealand public lie.

CXH said...

So we are to stop being a multicultural society and become a bi-cultural society. Not sure all the other cultures we were meant to welcome will appreciate being tossed out in the cold.

greywarbler said...



'Neoliberalism is markets at work. It is the same system successfully used by all ecosystems on Earth. '
FGS John Hurley - What are you talking about. Ecosystems and markets - the same thing?
Garbage from you - not worth reading.

Tom Hunter said...

'Neoliberalism is markets at work. It is the same system successfully used by all ecosystems on Earth. '
FGS John Hurley - What are you talking about. Ecosystems and markets - the same thing?
Garbage from you - not worth reading.


This should actually be on the next post, Hoping For Devine Intervention. What you've missed here "greywarbler" is that "money" is simply a thing used to measure the cost of resources. Economics is not about money, it's about finding the most efficient application of resources. And that can be seen in any ecosystem. It's actually how life proceeds within the market boundaries of natural resources and evolution. Creatures expand their lives and populations depending on how well they use the resources available to them. If something changes the availability of those resources - like an asteroid hitting the modern-day Gulf of Mexico - then the creatures have to change or go extinct, and given the limitations of genetic mutation and generational transfer it's usually the latter. But there are always other species around, possibly unsuited to the status quo, that can emerge and expand into the new resource world.

You can actually see that "marketplace of resources" at work in any ecosystem, even a goldfish pond. And the "price" of the resources is simply the back and forth between the "cost" (time and effort) of using them and the value (longer, fatter lives and ultimately reproduction) they deliver.

I think you can see how similar this is to human economies. And no, I'm not talking about the stupid "survival of the fittest" crap that is often advocated by capitalist promoters. The "fittest" can be made unfit for survival almost overnight - like IBM mainframes vs. PC servers in the late 80's/early 90's.

What humans have done is to break the boundaries of natural genetic evolution to move into memetic (information) evolution and that's had a hell of an impact on the meaning of "natural resources". Just as one example, heat has moved from being derived from wood to coal to nuclear power. They're all natural resources, but "natural" only in so far as humans manipulate them, with the "cost" (remember, it's not money) vs value constantly being evaluated and changed.

So yeah - not as garbage a comparison as your first - and entirely natural reaction and revulsion - might suggest.

Nick J said...

I thought much the same Grey, its economic Darwinism. If John studied predator prey dynamics when it gets out of balance he might not be so keen. Its rather analogous to markets where only a few benefit until thd whole thing collapses.

Nick J said...

Wayne I agree that there is no energy or desire for radical change in NZ. I was wondering whilst reading what had made Chileans act so? There may be more clues to be found for this radical behaviour that are relevant to us.

This scenario does rather bring to mind a Marxist professor in the 70s declaring to we naive students that there were wonderful things going on in Cambodia. I have yet to forgive his ideologically driven stupidity. With Chile is there a Tom Paine providing a realistic close to the action critique?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

If neoliberalism works, why is it that the most successful and indeed happiest, most livable, least corrupt countries on earth are in Scandinavia? If neoliberalism works, why is it that the most neoliberal states in the US are the least successful? People in Red states often talk about seceding from the US, but they import a lot more federal money than blue states, and benefit greatly from a bloated spend on the military, i.e. socialism.
Come to think of it, if neoliberalism works, why did it take our economy so long to recover from its imposition? If neoliberalism works, where is the high skill high wage economy that Roger Douglas promised us all?

David George said...

I don't know how "happiness" is quantified GS, I suspect it's more a function of culture than politics but the top 20 countries for human development, with some variation, are also top of the wellbeing index. They are all free-market/economically liberal. No socialist counties in this list, in order:


Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Hong Kong, Germany, Iceland, Australia, Sweden, Singapore, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Japan, Austria, Luxembourg, Israel, South Korea, Slovenia, Spain, Czech Republic, France, Malta, Italy, Estonia, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Lithuania.
https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/hdi-by-country
https://geographic.org/country_ranks/global_wellbeing_index_2010_country_ranks.html


Tiger Mountain said...

There are different social conditions and levels of class consciousness in the “long narrow country” that is Chile (once divided by Pinochet’s goons into 15 Economic Zones).

If New Zealand had recently experienced deadly military force in the streets, thousands of “disappeared” citizens, isolated rural concentration camps, rationing, daily brutality, genocidal discrimination against indigenous populations, clampdowns on democratic norms, widespread poverty and rampant industrial destruction of the level in Chile during the 20th and 21st centuries maybe significant parts of this country could be ungovernable also!

New Zealand is indeed a “Tale of two cities” with the bottom fifty percent owning just 2% of the wealth. But, the neo liberal battle here has largely been waged by pyschological means and consumerism. The “Chicago Boys” intent of “Roger’n’Ruth” has merged with state and the authorities here, tanks were not needed once the unions were almost destroyed as a fighting organisations in 1991.

Good on the Chilean battlers–their second chance was certainly hard won.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David, most of those "free-market" states you quote have generous and comprehensive social welfare programs. Most people on the far right assume that they are socialist. Of course most people on the far right define socialism as "anything the government does that I don't like." But even so a decent safety net tends to mean that you are happier and better off.
The 2021 list of the most livable countries I have is:
Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Japan, UK, Ireland – USA is about 20th. Almost all of these countries have better welfare systems than NZ, which I think gets by on its sparse population, but even so, you people will call them socialist when it suits you.

greywarbler said...

CXH Not sure all the other cultures we were meant to welcome will appreciate being tossed out in the cold.
What about 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'. The people who have come here are
expected to fit in with us, while we look at what they want to do, and try and accommodate their ways. It has been hard for South Aucklanders at times, living nexto Pacific Islanders who want to slaughter a pig in their back yard to provide meat and honour visitors. We have to adjust, by newcomers should be trying to adjust to us, not walk all over us, and we need to care about them, especially when we are taking money from them for the privilege of being here;

Tom Hunter said...

with the bottom fifty percent owning just 2% of the wealth

Wow. The bottom fifty percent own only 2% of the houses, toasters, cars, motorbikes, TV's, computers,....?

Well no actually. Even the "bottom" 50% own a shitload more than that. In fact they own houses, cars, toasters and the like in proportions not to different to their % of the population, and those things are "wealth".