Manuel Antonio Garretón, Chilean Sociologist: "What Boric Has Done May Help Other Left In Latin America"

“It’s him. There is no other.” In this way, Gabriel Boric was defined by the Chilean sociologist and essayist Manuel Antonio Garretón along with other leftist intellectuals close to the Frente Amplio. With these words, in April they supported the candidacy of the former president of the Federation of Students of the University of Chile (Fech).

“It had to be a candidate who has leadership and social sensitivity about the experience of 2011 and 2012 [con las movilizaciones de estudiantes] but that also has the ability to go beyond the outbreak, that is capable of understanding the need to rebuild the relationship between politics and society, which is the great problem of Chilean society “, says the sociologist whom Boric continues to call “teacher”.

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Winner of the Chilean National Prize for Humanities and Social Sciences, Garretón defines himself as a “political intellectual.” The relationship between the intellectual world and politics is essential for him. Born into a family of social leaders in the 1930s, his father founded what was then called the National Falange and later became the Christian Democrats.

Garretón’s first participation in politics was at the university where he became president of the Student Federation of the Catholic University of Chile in the mid-1960s. Shortly afterwards, President Salvador Allende proposed his name as ambassador in Cuba, although the specifications for his appointment failed to pass Congress.

Why did they understand that Boric could be a good candidate for these elections?

Boric’s candidacy has a generational component, it is the expression of what was the social outbreak of 2011 and 2012, of student mobilization. But Boric is also the deputy who, from a break with his party, decides to sign the national agreement in a personal capacity [para redactar la nueva Constitución en noviembre de 2019]. That act for which he was repudiated ended up positioning him as the one.

Do you remember the moment?

I remember the phrase from that moment: “It’s him. There is no other.” We did not think about it in the sense of “it is only him”, nor in the messianic idea of ​​a leader, but rather that it was very important that the Broad Front had a presidential candidate with leadership and social sensitivity regarding the experience of 2011 and 2012, but, in addition, the ability to go beyond the outbreak, to be able to understand the need to rebuild the relationship between politics and society, which is the great problem of Chilean society. Boric is a person capable of combining those two worlds with a transformation project.

Do these elections mark a break with the model inherited from the Pinochet dictatorship?

Look, pay attention to the result of the 1988 plebiscite [consulta para decidir si Augusto Pinochet debía seguir en el poder]: 55.9% voted for No, 44.1% for Yes. In Sunday’s elections, 55.9% voted in favor of Boric, 44.1% voted in favor of Kast: the percentage is exactly the same. Sure, you can say that it is a coincidence, a simple metaphor, but let us understand that this data is an instrument of analysis. What is in the background in the result is the great cleavage of Chilean society: the military dictatorship. Now, with the same voting percentages, a social majority confirms that it wants a transformation of the economic and social order inherited from the dictatorship.

What happened between these two moments?

Society changed and that caused a growing distance between politics and society. In Chile, society is constituted through politics. In the last 100 years it has been like this, there is not a single project of society that has not been generated by the parties, with the exception of the years of dictatorship. If you think of industrialization and modernization in Chile, the Popular Front does. Agrarian reform, Christian Democracy. The Chilean road to socialism is an invention of politics. All of them, of course, intertwined with society. That is what the dictatorship failed to break, although it repressed the link between society and politics.

How do you define what came next?

What happened next is a growing distancing, the inability of the political world to understand the transformations in the subjectivity of the new actors that were appearing. Politics stopped understanding what was happening in society.

Where was the center-right in these elections?

I notice incapacity and exhaustion, especially due to the absolute incompetence of the current government. So, given the inability of the right wing, let’s call it a liberal or a social right, who can take the lead? It is assumed by the one who expresses the hardest position. For this reason, for the first time we have as a representative of the right a sector that is the closest to Pinochet that Chile has ever had. The personal biography does not matter here, but what that position expresses.

Can the center-right renew itself and be the head of the opposition again?

The right has been doubly defeated. They are going to have to rebuild themselves entirely. And so they are raising it. So we have a process that will have to re-found the political actors and that will take place in parallel with the constituent process.

What will be the biggest challenge for the new government?

The biggest problem will be getting an important parliamentary bench. I believe that it will seek to reconstitute a socialist ideology, understanding that it will have to be part of a coalition with the parties of the old Concertación and will be able to do so within the Broad Front or outside of it. That is what remains to be seen. What is clear is that the new forces united with others that are not in front will have to go towards a convergence that I do not know if it will take the strict form of a party but I believe that there will be a recomposition of what we call the socialist tradition, in which is likely that very important sectors of the Socialist Party will fold.

Are there points of contact with the presidency of Salvador Allende?

Salvador Allende’s big problem – let us put aside the imperialist conspiracy, military cooperation, the conspiracy of the right wing and the right-wing controlled media – was that it was not a majority government. [Allende ganó las elecciones de 1970 con el 36.6% y una diferencia de menos de 40.000 votos con el conservador Jorge Alessandri]. Allende was never a social-political majority expressed at the polls. Instead, we now start from that. And the point is how that great majority, which of course surpasses the Broad Front and the Communist Party, becomes an institutional majority in Parliament. That is the great challenge.

What do you think was at stake in these elections?

One of the things that has been at stake has been the legitimacy of the streets, previously expressed in the constituent process, now expressed in a political-institutional project. What we have is a president with a majority like it was not known in recent times, with an impressive participation of the people and that gives him enormous legitimacy.

Among the symbolic elements of this victory for the left is that Boric will have to put the new Constitution into operation.

And in his party there is no one who expresses it better. The Constitution, which is going to be a foundational process, needs to be implemented and for that it needs existing institutions such as the Government.

If we analyze the constituent processes of Latin America, cases such as that of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, in all of them there is a request from below led politically from above by a president. Here the dynamics is different, Boric arrives with the constituent process already underway. Can that bring some kind of problem?

It is exactly what you say. They are not authorities that arise from the Constituent Assembly, or constituents that arise from the authorities that raise the process. Here is a peculiarity. In general, we have a revolt that leads to the constitutional process and from there the political authorities come out. Later, those at the top call for a new Constitution … In Chile, there are two parallel processes and there are two legitimacies. The legitimacy of the constituent process, which comes from the fact that society feels that it is doing something that it has never done in so many years of life, which is to determine how it wants to live, and that of the president. Let’s think about what would have happened if Kast won and he didn’t like the Constitution approved by the Convention. Would you have called to vote for her? We would have had a huge legitimacy conflict. Instead, here we have the exact opposite.

Are there two simultaneous processes that complement each other?

Exactly, we are in the presence of something unprecedented, which are two parallel processes that have their own dynamics and autonomies. The dynamics of a constituent process that has a fundamental rhetorical component, which seeks to respond to all the problems of one of the society to consider all the great principles and goals for the future, but which cannot necessarily implement it. And what is capable of implementing it, politics. We have complementary legitimacies. And I think this is extremely positive.

Are we facing a new left?

We are in the presence of a left that represents many diversities, that has a certain solidity and that is now ratified by the election of the president. This is a left that has its roots in the student mobilizations of 2012, which were not only student but also territorial, environmental, feminist and indigenous. This left was born there and is organized to become an actor different from what had been the left of the Concertación and the New Majority, in which the Communist Party was included. This is a left closely linked to social movements, very critical of the center-left’s way of doing politics. There is a very important and surprising generational component there. We are talking about a left that was able to resist the classic onslaught of recent times, the onslaught of the ephemeral.

How do you analyze Boric’s first speech as president-elect?

The victory speech is entirely different from the tone of the first round. In Sunday’s speech there were two speeches in one. A first part, where he speaks to the whole country and says “I have a country project that has been supported by the vast majority.” A second part that is clear in the speech of the first round, that of the radical nature of the transformation. Then he says: “I have to count on you, I will make the transformations but with participation, conversation, negotiation, because you are all called to support this project.” And I think that in that sense it is a great speech that shows the tension that is going to exist in the Government.

Many analysts define it as a moment of refounding. Are we facing this scenario?

We are in a period of refounding. That is why we are going to see the emergence of new political actors that pose a different relationship with society. For the first time in the history of Chile there is no hegemonic organic political center. Chile was an anomaly in the world. Latin America does not have the organic political center. Well, Chile had it and now it doesn’t, it ceased to exist as such.

Is there a place for the center?

There can be center parties and there will be. There is a center electorate, but the organic political center as the axis of politics disappeared.

And in that context, how do you see the Socialist Party?

Well, I think that the Socialist Party sealed its decline with its inability to lead a presidential leadership. The previous election boycotted the candidacy of Ricardo Lagos, after that he has come tumbling down, many people have left.

What are we talking about when we talk about the Communist Party in Chile today?

The CP is a party that has been very democratic, that when it has had to support governments that were not its own, it has done so with great loyalty and this vein maintains it. The PC could not experience the triumph of democracy in the same way that the Concertación parties did.

What place will the CP have in the new government?

I have the impression that the Communist Party is going to be a very loyal participant in the coalition and will not confuse its aims with the aims of the coalition. I am confident that it will be a supportive party in solidarity, consistent with its nuances and with its own sensitivity.

What does the victory of the left in Chile mean for progressivism in Latin America?

I don’t know if this is going to unleash a new wave, but what I do believe is that it opens up the possibility of a left-wing project. It is capable of giving political shape to identities, to subjectivities that today are not identified with politics. Boric represents a new leadership that is with the mobilizations but is also beyond them because it wants to represent the whole of the country. What has been done here may be something that helps the other left.

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