Why did the Broad Front of Chile achieve what Podemos has not achieved? | Opinion

The elected president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, on December 20.
The elected president of Chile, Gabriel Boric, on December 20.MARCOS ZEGERS (Europe Press)

Both forces are born in the classrooms of elite universities, of leaders who possess extensive cultural capital and who have read the same authors, although perhaps not with the same depth: Gramsci, Schmitt, Laclau, Mouffe, Mazzucato. Both were forged in social struggles: students, feminists, environmentalists, LGTBIQ +. Both seek to represent identities and their struggles in their widest variety, unlike the traditional left tied to the world of work. Faithful to the German philosopher, both defined early an antagonist: the order created by their parents, the “30 years” that followed the fall of Pinochet in Chile, the regime of 78 that followed Franco in Spain. Both rejected the renewal of the traditional left from within, represented in the Concertación and the PSOE, and stood up as alternatives of generational dye replacement, accusing their predecessors of complicity with neoliberalism, if not rightly agents of its implantation. Both constructed a discourse around the universalization and expansion of social rights, the abolition of the patriarchal order, the fight against global warming, the celebration of diversity, the promotion of direct democracy, the defense of territories. In short, both showed great talent in creating organizations, associating them and winning elections.

With such equipment the two forces achieved in a few years an expectant position in the power fabric of their countries. But while the Frente Amplio with Gabriel Boric is preparing these days to enter La Moneda, Podemos and its historical leader, Pablo Iglesias, seem far from being the hosts of La Moncloa.

Why did the fortunes of two forces that looked like Siamese bifurcate? What led to such a mixed result? The answer would demand a doctoral thesis – which surely there will be -; but stimulated by a recent conversation with Íñigo Errejón, I dare to suggest some elements to keep you in mind.

Errejón himself pointed out a key factor: the political system. Chilean presidentialism makes it possible for an alliance like Approve Dignidad (the Broad Front plus the PC), with just 24% of the deputies and 10% of the senators, to win the highest prize: the Executive. This would not be possible in a parliamentary regime like the Spanish one, which also subsidizes the representation of small rural towns with a more conservative inclination. In other words, without presidentialism Boric would not have reached La Moneda —which is the object of severe evaluation in the Constitutional Convention, where the eventual adoption of a parliamentary regime is currently being discussed—; and with a system like the Chilean one, perhaps a Pablo Iglesias, in his splendor, would have arrived at La Moncloa.

But not everything is explained by the political system. There are differences in their way of reasoning, in their approach to other political forces, and in the way they acted at critical crossroads.

The Spanish counterparts of the Broad Front are more intellectual and ideological. His Chilean colleagues do not know by hearsay the old doctrinal disputes that have tore apart the left around the world. They are highly pragmatic and strategic, trained in engineering, economics, and law before political science, sociology, or philosophy. This makes them less sophisticated, if you will, but more flexible and efficient.

The Broad Front has better resolved – at least so far – what we could call the “communist question.” They have known how to ally with them and defeat them without humiliating them.

Its top leaders – starting with Boric – do not come from the cradle of the CP, but rather from democratic and libertarian socialism. They have competed with said party since their university days, and they always defeated them, which has not been an impediment to a close generational solidarity with their young litter. They have had dramatic confrontations, such as the occasion on which Boric signed the agreement that opened the way to the constituent process, on November 15, 2019, and the PC accused him of bowing to a maneuver to quell the popular revolt. Boric and his circle resisted the attacks, and this has them where they are today.

Then, putting resentments aside, the Broad Front and the PC formed Approve Dignity to jointly face the elections. In the primary to elect a presidential standard-bearer, held in July 2021, Boric and Daniel Jadue, the most popular candidate that the Chilean CP has had in its history, faced off. Against all odds, and with a youthful and libertarian stamp campaign, Boric easily defeated him. This epic was vital to counteract the anti-communist discourse of José Antonio Kast in the presidential race, and to keep the PC in a dignified but subordinate place. The huge vote reached by Boric in the second round, which rewarded his inclusive speech, augurs that the communists will not be the dominant force in the future government.

The Broad Front also better resolved the “socialist question.” Despite the condemnation of the Concertación and its historical leaders, Gabriel Boric and his team kept the embers of their ties with that world burning. Thus, when they sought the endorsement of the old center-left – pressured by a poor first-round result against the candidate of the extreme right – they found a generous welcome. A key rite was the approach to Ricardo Lagos, who represents in Chile what Felipe González represents in Spain, who offered Boric his support without conditions. So did the other great figure on the left, Michelle Bachelet.

Just as Alexander the Great – according to Baricco -, when he proposed the insane adventure of conquering the Persian empire, presented it as a continuity of the epic of Achilles, Boric has sought to insert the project of his generation into a greater feat. He said it in his speech on the night of victory and has repeated it afterwards, proposing the creation of a historical bloc that includes the old Concertación. Its horizon is the reconciliation of the great family of the Chilean center-left, at a table now chaired by a 35-year-old leader and with the actors of yesteryear – this includes the PC – in a secondary place.

To put it briefly, Boric and the Broad Front knew how to make their alliance with the communists a factor for electoral growth; they knew how to agree when it was opportune and bear the troubles; They knew how to build bridges with their Social Democratic predecessors, overcoming the trauma of separation; they knew how to move from a generational discourse to a national discourse; in short, they knew how to put Schmitt aside to hug Gramsci. We do not know if Podemos did or could do it; What we do know is that this was what led Boric to La Moneda.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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