The Chilean Experience

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Fernando José Martins*

Recent demonstrations in South American countries, in line with anti-systemic movements, are part of the struggle against the socio-metabolic system of capital, in its immediate format: neoliberalism.

A brief visit to Chile, to participate in the VI Jornadas Internacionales de Emprego Latinoamericano, at the University of Valparaiso, was enough to realize that in that reality – and which is similar to that of other spaces in our America – the practice of an important category for studies on social movements: the anti-systemic ones. Scholars such as Immanuel Wallerstein reflected that such movements can be identified in the specialized literature in the body of different materialities: anti-globalization, alter-worldist, anti-neoliberal movements. And Brazilian scholars, such as Emir Sader, link the wave of progressive Latin American governments in the early 2000s to anti-neoliberal movements.

The essence of this category can be expressed in the demonstrations that take place today in different South American countries, such as Colombia, Bolivia and Chile, where the observations of the streets that move my reflection in this article come from, in particular the records made in the Chilean landscape, during the demonstrations. I think that the reality observed there is enough to support the notes highlighted here and the manifestations themselves reinforce the thesis of a clash against the socio-metabolic system of capital, its immediate format based on neoliberalism.

The premise that sustains the resistance and which became a slogan on Chilean walls is: “Neoliberalism is born and dies in Chile”. It is a phrase that is repeated on the streets of different Chilean cities and is full of meanings that, in a certain way, materialize the structural organization of the Chilean reality (and that could be extended to the other countries of the bloc), as a birthplace/ laboratory of neoliberal policies in Latin America, but also how – in the long term – such a “laboratory of neoliberal policies” has become a stage for the resistance that brings to light the process of social upheaval resulting from such neoliberalism.

Born/dies are, apparently, the founding contradiction of human existence, but by metaphorizing an economic process they are re-signified: the fight for the death of the neoliberal system is the death of the population’s misery, of the practices that push the elderly to the streets and to the hunger. Paradoxically, death is the birth of a set of practices related to protests, to resistance, which do not only charge the Chilean government, but charge the capital and the way it articulates its processes to keep the mercantile logic working.

Thus, in the phrase “If we stop the country, the system will fall” the statement is also a call made by those interested in the overthrow of a vile system, of an immoral and harmful concentration, which sends the elderly to dismay and robs all perspective of society. youth that courageously take to the streets all over the country, building barricades with all possible instruments, including fire, in order to actually stop the country. It is possible to verify the practice of the above statement in the streets, in the will with which the protesters stand and seek actions, which seem diffuse, but are – in a structured, albeit informal way – organic around an objective robustly soaked in intellectuality and political, historical, economic and sociological awareness.

In the context of this critique, there is a strong opposition to market society, to the commodification of life, that is, a critique of the capital system. It is expressed in simple ways, but as already mentioned, soaked in content: “Home is not business” is one of those assertions that mean much more than immediate words. For us Brazilians, it is a constitutional analysis, which refers to the right to housing. For the author, it may have been a philosophical statement, of how market logic penetrates the most intimate recesses of humanity and transforms them into merchandise.

Yes, but the expressions are also collective and systemic and in this sense, “home” can also be a reference to the country as everyone's home, and, therefore, could not be negotiated. The maxim “Chile is not sold” is repeated along the streets and is a critique of the anti-systemic movement, organic and coherent with precise general analyses, which see in the capitalist logic insurmountable barriers to emancipation.

The analysis also goes to the internal state organization, as can be seen in the expression: “No more market government.” I believe that there is also a caveat here for popular analysis that goes beyond the situational opposition movement, the market government was also inserted in the proposal of governments aligned to the left, such as that of President Michelle Bachelet, which denotes the wisdom of the current movement, which is not restricted to the institutional political movement, and is well aware of the root of immediate and structural evils.

It is necessary to recognize in the protests present in the streets today, based on Chilean writings, but also looking at the other countries mentioned, and, mainly, those that are still to come, the objective that is clear: “Death to the neoliberal” (written in a bank), which may seem drastic or even personalized (for those who do not make the elliptical reading of “system” that the statement carries), but it is a very necessary analytical objective for the construction of a corporate model in which inequalities and the ills arising from them. To the historical awareness of the Chilean people, it is important to add the hopes that come from the streets, which postulate that it is that people and in that space that: “We will be the tomb of neoliberalism”.

Those who call themselves realists will say that it is a utopia. I don't even want to get into the merits of how utopia can mean a "viable unprecedented" as Paulo Freire would say, but I want to take the experience of these significant movements spread around the world, today very close to our reality, which have already circulated in the center of the capital, as in Seattle, Genoa, Davos, are old acquaintances of analysts and keys to understanding a system diametrically opposed to the logic of humanity, as subjects of the construction of a fair, free society, based on human and social emancipation, which is like the expression poetic and hopeful: “We will win, and it will be beautiful!”

*Fernando Jose Martins is a professor and general director of the State University of Western Paraná – Unioeste – Foz do Iguaçu Campus.

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