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Communist Mayor Daniel Jadue: Gabriel Boric Is the President Chile Needs

Daniel Jadue

With just two weeks until Chile’s presidential election, the race between the Left and the far right is narrowing. Jacobin spoke to Communist mayor Daniel Jadue about why he’s supporting his former rival, Gabriel Boric, and how radicals can build power at the local level.

Communist mayor Daniel Jadue (R) and Chilean presidential candidate Gabriel Boric (L) appear on stage following the primary elections in Santiago on July 18, 2021. (Cristbal Olivares / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Interview by
Octavio García Soto

There was a moment in June when a lot of people thought that Daniel Jadue was a shoo-in to be the next president of Chile. All throughout the presidential primary, polls had given the Communist mayor a huge lead over Gabriel Boric, his Broad Front rival, as both competed for a spot on the Apruebo Dignidad ticket. Indeed, the mood among supporters was that, after years of building popular support and overcoming a divided Chilean left, Jadue’s number had finally been called.

However, on July 18, Boric scored a surprise victory, becoming the presidential candidate for the pro–Constitutional Assembly coalition. Following a campaign that revealed major differences between the Chilean Communist Party and the progressive Broad Front, Jadue and a significant part of the Communist Party are now pledging their support for Boric’s campaign in the upcoming November 21 general election — which, according to recent polls, is building up to be a race between the far right and the Left.

In retrospect, Jadue and Boric actually proposed similar programs: raising taxes on the superrich, replacing Chile’s private pension system with a state-backed program, and returning ancestral lands to indigenous inhabitants, among other policies. But the roadmap that Jadue put forth called for accelerated, often times more radical transformations — more radical, perhaps, than the Chilean electorate was ready to embrace.

For the time being, Jadue will continue to pursue his transformations locally as mayor of the Recoleta commune, where he was just recently reelected. Jadue’s popularity there, as elsewhere, is easy to understand: in Recoleta, he has created what are known as “popular” pharmacies, bookstores, and housing projects, leveraging the power of local government to provide vital goods at below-market value while maneuvering around an overly centralized and weak state. Such has been the success of the Communist mayor’s initiatives that other municipalities have begun to imitate them.

Octavio García Soto and Nicolas Allen spoke to Jadue about the upcoming presidential race in Chile, the importance of waging struggles on multiple fronts, and how to respond to the rise of the extreme right.


You were recently speaking about Allende’s Popular Unity government, and, in that talk, you cited an interesting phrase from historian Julio Pinto: that sometimes “the most revolutionary thing is to be a reformist and, other times, the most reformist thing is to be a revolutionary.” What does that mean and what can it tell us about Chile today?

DJ

I was essentially referring to dialectics: to the fact that, if we want to keep moving forward in politics, we need to be in constant dialogue with reality. That dialogue is what keeps our tactical decisions from being based purely on principles, or “principlism,” which can paralyze our momentum.

To give an example, when one reads Vladimir Lenin’s selected texts, one realizes that in 1905, Lenin was calling to participate in parliamentary politics, because it was the only way to move forward so long as the subjective conditions were not ready for anything else. Now to have accused Lenin in 1905 of being a “reformist” because he chose the institutional path would be a very unrevolutionary thing to do; it would miss the whole point about how the accumulation of power works.

Of course, the Lenin of 1917 no longer believed in parliamentarism — because it was bourgeois parliamentarism. The point is that what one minute can mean a significant advance can in another mean political regression. That’s what I mean when I say we need to maintain a clear dialogue with reality, in such a way as to have a clear reading of class interests at each given moment.

Many Chilean comrades on the Left are extremely revolutionary when it comes Chile, but they are completely reformist abroad. They applaud the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela or the Bolivian political process, completely forgetting that all of them were achieved by reformist measures and carried out within the confines of institutional politics.

The Chilean Communist Party is usually criticized for participating in that type of institutional framework. According to that criticism, the entire realm of institutional politics is illegitimate, because it was born under the eye of the dictatorship — so, the only thing left to do, they say, is to act politically beyond legal or state legitimated channels.

During the Allende years, there were also revolutionaries who said that what was known as the “Chilean path to socialism” (i.e., the institutional, democratic one) was reformist and not revolutionary. Again, it’s this lack of dialogue with reality and the failure to consider the subjectivity of the people — where their minds are at a given moment — that leads us on the Left to make decisions informed exclusively by the texts we read and not the reality we live in.

In Recoleta, if we had embraced that kind of mindset and just assumed that we were too advanced for the people to follow us, we never would have achieved the kind of “reformist measures” we did, like popular pharmacies, opticians, and bookstores — it would have been impossible to broaden the horizon of what people sensed was possible. Reformist measures were what contributed to the rapid change of subjectivity, which in turn is what makes viable the more profound processes of social and political transformation.

That’s all to say, I don’t think that there is really any contradiction between reform and revolution. All forms of struggle are valid as long as they have the support of the great majorities. One could pose the question of whether Che Guevara’s mission in Bolivia was revolutionary or reformist. How many of those in Bolivia were willing to take up Che’s campaign when he arrived with “twenty or thirty foreigners,” and the idea of exporting a revolution that had emerged from a completely different subjectivity?

I think the Left is sometimes guilty of committing these mechanical transplants of unique, unrepeatable political processes. Worse still, that kind of thinking has us playing into the hands of the Right every time we ask ourselves, what is our model? Is it Venezuela? Cuba? Whenever people ask me, I say that there is no model, because each territory, each place, and each subjectivity is different.

On the topic of reform and revolution, there were a lot of people who supported you in the primary elections as the more revolutionary or radical presidential candidate. Now that you have announced your support for Gabriel Boric, we wanted to know how you would convince those more skeptical voters who supported you that Boric is in fact worthy of their vote.

DJ

I should answer that first through an act of self-criticism, because it was our program and ours alone that did not manage to mobilize the people. That’s not Gabriel’s fault. There is also a general self-criticism that the more militant wing of the Left needs to make: we have become overly institutionalized and have neglected the work of organizing and creating popular power (or dual power, to put it in classical terms). Simply put, our electoral support from popular sectors was so low that, if we can be honest for a moment, Chile simply did not seem to be ready to embrace a program like ours.

Now we are supporting Gabriel, and I am convinced that he is going to be the next president of Chile. When Gabriel does take office, incredibly important things will be happening in Chile, starting with the not-so-small fact that he will be in charge of overseeing the implementation of the new constitution. That alone is a big deal — something both reformist and deeply revolutionary. We have spent thirty years trying to get rid of Augusto Pinochet’s constitution, and now that we are here, no one is going to tell us that it doesn’t matter who signs the new constitution into law.

Second, the new constitution is going to be implemented in a system where legislative initiatives are still led by the president of the republic. Therefore, it is completely essential that the president actually believe, as Gabriel does, in the changes that the new constitution brings. Gabriel’s government may not pursue reforms at the same rate as we would have, but Gabriel is moving in the same direction as us.

I have been emphatic that we need to change our language and speak more about “trajectories” rather than “projects.” A project is something that is completely defined and does not admit discussion. A trajectory, on the other hand, is a horizon toward which to move. I believe that Gabriel is going to initiate this change of direction, so that Chile starts to move toward a society of social justice and solidarity, a more feminist, equal, plurinational, intercultural, and multilingual country, with a focus on rights.

So to your question about the message for those who do not believe, that’s it: besides whatever achievements might come in the next years, Gabriel would be the beginning of the path we need to take. The most urgent thing right now is to work with the subjectivity of the people, so that after Gabriel’s government another can come along and pick up where he left off, preventing future attempts to dismantle what we have achieved. We know that the transformations Chile needs are not going happen in two, four, or maybe even twelve years; it is a process that has to be maintained in time, and without popular support it has no future.

Speaking of mentalities, perhaps the most shocking news of these elections has been the significant support for an extreme-right-wing political candidate like José Antonio Kast. How can you explain the sudden rise of a political party that explicitly positions itself to the right of the Independent Democratic Union; that is, to the right of a party that effectively legalized Pinochet’s dictatorship?

DJ

Crises like the one we are living always come with uncertainty, and that uncertainty leads people to choose between two options: either to continue with the reigning model or to confront it. Increasingly, when people are given the choice of continuity, they are saying flat out that they want something else — just look at what happened in the 2016 elections in the United States!

In Chile, something similar to Donald Trump could very well happen. Kast, like Trump, is a type of opposition figure, albeit from the extreme right. He appeals to people that are experiencing uncertainty about everything, mobilizing that feeling of unsafety toward a feeling of hatred for the unknown — toward immigrants, for example — and then he offers a vision of tranquility that ends up being nothing more than a conservative desire for order. What some people still do not understand is that so long as there is growing inequality ahead, the future will be anything but peaceful and secure.

If in the second round Kast were to go head-to-head against someone that represented continuity with the system, then Kast would very likely come out on top. Which is why we are fortunate to have Gabriel in the race, because he is also against the current model and represents a real alternative.

Kast is speaking to feelings that touch a nerve, working on people’s often times uninformed but very pliable beliefs. He uses a discourse of hatred that, for diverse economic and social reasons, plays very well with a certain segment of the population. Interestingly, Chileans do not harbor any uniquely anti-immigrant sentiments, but there is a strong rejection of the poor among certain sectors. I think the issue is really one of class, because, if you look closely, rich foreigners are very well received in our country.

Chile’s right-wing president Sebastián Piñera is also making headlines for his involvement in the Pandora Papers. Some people are even calling for his impeachment for his role in the sale of the Dominga mining company. You, however, took a different stance. We wanted to know if you could explain your call for the resignation and not the impeachment of the president.

DJ

I think it would be very sad if Chile impeached the president for corruption after having failed to get rid of him for human rights violations.

You mean, if they couldn’t impeach Piñera for something much more serious, why would they be able to get him now?

DJ

I don’t think there are enough votes to get rid of Piñera. But for me the real issue is that human rights violations are much more serious than corruption. If they couldn’t get Piñera out of office before, I don’t see how they could now.

Bear in mind, these are not the first cases of corruption in which the president is known to be involved. In the ’80s he was a fugitive from justice for his involvement in a banking scandal. The United States has two open cases against him for insider trading, which in the United States means jail time.

If the United States had wanted to keep Piñera from taking office, he would already have been extradited and put in jail. Instead, he’s president, because certain people want him there. As soon as he won the election, he rushed off to talk to Trump and ask him to stop all the judicial inquiries against him.

The right wing in Chile has always voted for thieves and criminals. So, to your question, I would prefer that the president had some dignity and just resign.

We wanted to talk a little bit about your mayoral administration in Recoleta. You have just won reelection and, seeing how the policies you’ve pursued there are being implemented in other communes, it would seem that things are going well. Perhaps you could explain what you have done in your commune, and then suggest what implications it might have for Chile.

DJ

Chile’s legal system establishes that the country is something we call a “subsidiary state.” In practice, that means that it is just assumed there will never be enough common resources to meet the needs of the entire population. It follows from that assumption that the state should not get involved in any act of commerce, nor participate in productive activity of any kind, and that, in order to meet the needs of salaried workers or independent laborers, the state has to deliver subsidies. So when someone cannot pay out of pocket for medical services, the state provides that person with an amount of money so they can pay at the market value established by the private health care system.

We started out looking for a way to intervene in a market that had become completely abusive. However, instead of fixing prices, local government bought products and services at one price and sold them at the exact same price — it technically was no longer an act of commerce, so we were not breaking the law or the constitution.

Then we created a program to indirectly subsidize supply. For example, we started a program to expand access to medicines by paying the operational costs of the popular pharmacies — we bought medicines at the price sold by the laboratories, and then sold them at the same value with no extra charge. We broke the market.

We did the same with bookstores. We set up a municipal program to promote reading, where the municipality pays the bookstore’s operational costs, and we managed to reduce the price of books by 60 percent. And we just extended that logic to everything: glasses, hearing aids, dental implants, hygiene implements, books, music, you name it.

We did more than just make goods and services accessible; we changed people’s subjectivity, because we also revealed a dirty secret: that medications were being sold at a 3000 percent profit. When you reduce 95 percent of the market value of a product, for one, you break the market, but you also send a message to the people: the big companies are completely abusing us. When that message is successfully delivered, you’ve opened up a new political phase that has two basic elements: an opening for the popular sectors to engage in politics and a direct attack on the model of concentration and corporate abuse.

And what are the chances that this could expand to the national level, perhaps through a new constitution?

DJ

That would be ideal. For the time being, though, we can celebrate the fact that 170 of the 345 municipalities in Chile have copied the model of popular pharmacies. We even grouped together all the municipal pharmacies and formed an association to leverage purchasing power. As a result, we now have popular pharmacy franchises throughout the municipalities.

We wanted to end by asking how the Constituent Assembly is faring. On October 18, the convention began the first of many sessions to draft the new constitution. How do you see things progressing?

DJ

I think it’s going very well. In the Assembly elections, the right wing did not win the one-third representation it would have needed to control the process, so that alone has meant that things have proceeded very fluidly.

The thorniest debates are still to come, over what type of state, political system, and social rights Chile should have. When I say what type of state, I’m referring to whether the state will be defined as a plurinational, intercultural, multilingual, and feminist state. In speaking of the political system, I mean that we hope to move toward a semi-parliamentary or semi-presidential system, where there is also a unicameral parliament and not a bicameral one. The other unresolved issue is about how much direct democracy we are going to incorporate into our political system to ensure that citizens can intervene in the process whenever they feel it is necessary.

Finally, there is another issue: how we are going to face the climate crisis and how we are going to do so while building up a national development project. We have to understand that growth, as it’s currently defined, implies more production and more consumption, and that these imply more depredation without redistribution of wealth. Without effectively fighting the luxury markets head-on, we put the planet at risk.

Now if you were to ask almost any sane person, they would say that the climate emergency is a product of anthropogenic action, and that the human species has put the fate of the planet in check. This widely held idea, however, is false. It is not the human species but the richest 1 percent of the human species that has put us in this situation. These considerations about national development, growth, and the environmental crisis are also on the convention’s agenda.