Provide a history of radical Chilean student movement
By Daniel Gutiérrez
Chilean delegates from Librería Proyección, Periódico Solidaridad and La Alzada Acción Feminista Libertaria (La Alzada Anarcha-Feminist Action) met with students and community members at UCSD, Monday, March 3rd. The delegates met as part of a tour sponsored by the Black Rose Anarchist Federation and the IWW at UCSD to spread word of the student movement in Chile.
A Brief History of Chilean (Class) Violence
The delegates rooted the current education crisis in Chile in the massive reforms made under the US-backed Pinochet dictatorship. Through state repression and intervention, the dictatorship was able to demobilize and dismember the popular movement in Chile. It was during the 1980s that a series of reforms took place that changed the education system to this day. Under these programs, education became two-tiered, in a system where the poor went to private universities and the rich went to public ones.
“This is because you need ridiculously high standardized test scores,” said Pablo, member of Librería Proección (a social center in Santiago) and Periódico Solidaridad (a libertarian communist newspaper). “And the private K-12 schools train you for that, while the public K-12 schools do little to prepare you for the standardized exams.” Without high test scores, students that come out of public K-12 schools are forced to go to private universities and take on debt.
This class stratification in education first came to a head in 2006 with the Penguin Revolution. Throughout the country, high schools were shut down by students demanding a more socially just education system. They urged that the Organic Constitutional Law of Education, a law that had been made by Pinochet that removed federal government responsibility of education and placed into the hands of municipalities and private enterprise, be repealed. However, the government simply changed the name of the law and re-arranged some paragraphs, amounting to little or no change.
Hence, in 2011, Chile was rocked by mass protests across the country demanding that a university education be a guaranteed right to all citizens and that it be free. This, they argued, could be accomplished by re-nationalizing resources and increasing taxes on the rich.
The program was a hit. One day in particular, one million people marched. “Out of a country of 17 million, 1 million was out on the street,” said the delegate of La Alzada.
Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios
The FEL (Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios or the Libertarian Student Front — no relation with the right-wing libertarianism of the United States) began to organize in 2003. A libertarian socialist organization, the FEL recognized a gap in the political spectrum. In difference to anarchist-individualists or anarchist -insurrectionists (the stripe of anarchists that have been most popularized by mass media for breaking windows and planting bombs), the FEL recognized a need for an organized and disciplined anarchist organism based on political struggle. This model of organization has often garnered them the criticism of other anarchists who accuse them of being Leninists in sheep’s clothing. The FEL maintains that they do not seek any kind of state power, but emphasize their support for a democratic popular movement.
Rather than organize around an ideological line, the FEL organizes around an agreed course of political tactic and strategy, rooted in multisectorial struggle. In opposition to intersectional struggle, Pablo explained, “multisectorial struggle is not about the intersection of different oppressions, but the unity of different sectors of the working class (students, workers and working-class communities).”
This has allowed them to overcome what is so common in the Left in the United States — sectarianism. Rather than not working with groups or organizations who do not share the same ideological line, the FEL works with groups that share the same short-term goals, such as free and democratic education for all Chileans. They also do not attempt to “convert” people to anarchism but promote horizontal, egalitarian politics through practice and example. “We focus on what we agree on, not what makes us different,” said Pablo. “My personal ideology is not as important as free education… I cannot burden the movement with my own personal views.”
As of today, the FEL has hundreds of organizers — full-time members that are completely dedicated to supporting the popular movement in Chile and establishing networks of support. What’s more, Melissa Sepulveda, a member of both the FEL and La Alzada, was recently elected president of the Student’s Federation of Chile.
La Alzada Acción Feminista Libertaria
After years of organizing, La Alzada became a concrete organization in 2012. La Alzada aims to promote feminism from below. They critique academic feminism as it stays in the university and remains in the stratosphere of theory. By inserting themselves in popular organizations, they build bridges and promote feminism, which simply put, means gender equality.
In 2013, the United Nations Development Program announced that Chile suffers the highest amount of domestic violence cases in South America and has the third-highest rate of rapes.
Furthermore, abortions are still illegal in Chile. The illegalization of abortion in the country has resulted in approximately 70,000 clandestine abortions a year, according to a study published by the private University of Diego Portales in Santiago.
Both the FEL and La Alzada urged the importance of feminism. “Feminism cannot be a secondary issue,” said the delegate of La Alzada.
A Hopeful Reminder
Perhaps the greatest message of the visitors was that of Left unity, as well as change as a gradual process.
“This began with five people sitting in someone’s room, listening to punk rock” said the delegate of La Alzada. “And now look where we are. The idea of a public education run democratically by the community, for the community is more possible than ever.”
“Imagine what would have become of Occupy if you all agreed on what what had to be done. That’s what I would be doing if I lived here — organizing for the next Occupy.”
Great article Daniel. This is an important story that most people would not know about otherwise.