The memory of the future — Chile (2019-2022)

Joseph Beuys, Hearts of Revolutionaries: Passage of Future Planets, 1955


Introduction to the newly edited book

A revolution against neoliberalism

Monday, October 7, 2019, around 18 pm: interviewed by CNN Chile, the Minister of Economy, Juan Andrés Fontaine, announces that the price of the Santiago metro ticket will increase by 30 pesos, minimizing, at the same time, the impact of the measure on the daily lives of metro users. In fact, since October 6, the day before the announcement, the new price hike was already in effect for metro service during peak hours. To properly measure this increase, the third of the year, it is necessary to take into account that two tickets per day cost 1.790 pesos, which, on a one-month scale, is equivalent to 35.600 pesos, that is, around 12% of the minimum wage.1

It is also necessary to take into account that the announced increase only applies to peak hours, when many workers take the subway to and from work. The metro fare is defined based on three schedules: with, valley e tip. Only students and seniors pay a fixed rate (230 pesos, as of October 2019). O with corresponds to the interval between 6:00 am and 6:59 am and between 20:45 pm and 23:00 pm; O valley applies from 9:00 am to 17:59 pm and from 20:00 pm to 20:44 pm; O tip, between 7:00 am and 8:59 am and between 18:00 pm and 19:59 pm. The minister predicted an increase in the price of timetables valley e tip and, proportionally, the reduction in the price of the time with.

The neoliberal accountability of the individual

This differentiated modulation of tariffs depending on time of day allows the minister to argue that the measure is in no way aimed at the poorest. Three times in the same interview, the minister hammers home the same idea, formulated in different ways: “Whoever wakes up early can benefit from a reduced fare”, “Whoever leaves early and takes the subway at 7:00 in the morning has the possibility of paying a lower fare”, “A space was opened to help early risers pay a lower fare”.

In addition to their provocative nature, these answers to a journalist's questions are perfectly revealing of the neoliberal spirit that has frequently animated the policies of Chile's rulers for decades. With these elements of language, it says it all: it is necessary to financially encourage workers to wake up earlier.2 It's a chant in everyone's ear: “If you wake up too late, it's all your responsibility, you're to blame”. In other words, it is about placing responsibility on each individual for the financial penalty they may suffer and making people believe that everything depends, in the end, on the conduct they personally choose to adopt.

This is a characteristic feature of neoliberalism that goes far beyond the borders of the Chilean experience, although, from the beginning, it found a very typical expression in that experience: neoliberalism is in no way reduced to an academic doctrine imported from the Chicago School, or even an economic policy inspired by this doctrine; it is a unique form of life, defined by a demand to choose oneself in conditions that are beyond choice.

On October 7, at around 14 pm, the students carried out the first action to refuse payment, invading the University of Chile station, making this refusal, in their own words, “another way of fighting”. From October 00th to 7th, occasional demonstrations by students occupy metro stations, without yet giving way to coordinated action on a metropolitan scale. Things change on October 18th. What strikes the observer in the early hours of that day is not the effervescence of a riot, but above all the quality of silence that prevails in the streets, a strange and very rare silence.

But, around 16 pm, when leaving school, the first crowds improvise at the entrance to the subway stations: the students then invite people to jump the turnstiles without paying, and the crowds grow as people Those who leave work see what is happening and decide to join the movement. There is a spontaneity in this that defies all calculations and all estimates. The street will eventually be blocked by mass demonstrations that will occur every Friday. This is the beginning of the spread of the revolt to other social layers.

Of course, there has been no shortage of student initiatives since the first demonstrations of opposition to Augusto Pinochet in 1984. Especially the actions to block schools are a kind of tradition, so students are accustomed to this type of action and intervention that carries the mark of an inventiveness linked to a political irruption that is not, in itself, new.

The disheveled high school student (chascón) has long been part of the iconography of social mobilizations. There have been student movements in the past for free transport, but it would be a mistake to establish a direct causal relationship between these movements and the emergence of October 18, 2019: these movements certainly left lasting marks, but it is not the underground action of these marks that explains that the revolt was triggered by the price of subway tickets. It is not the past that resurfaces, forcing actors to extract from it the reserves of a meaning that would be cruelly lacking in the present, but, on the contrary, it is the irruption of the new that, retrospectively, gives meaning to the past, bringing to light the continuity of a policy .

“No son 30 pesos, son 30 años!”3

More precisely, what emerges there is an active awareness of the close relationship between this measure taken by a minister by President Piñera and the continuity of the policy practiced by successive governments in Chile over the decades. A good example of this is the phrase that echoes across all social sectors that participate in the movement and even beyond: “¡No son 30 pesos, son 30 años!”. The “30 years” refer to the three decades from 1989 to 2019, the years of the Concertation, the multi-party system of political governance, which includes the Christian Democratic Party (DC), the Socialist Party (PS) and the Party for la Democracia (PPD), created after Pinochet's departure, with the aim of preserving the core of the Pinochet system from any challenge, under the pretext of ensuring a “democratic transition”.

In the days following the announcement of the increase, broadcast TV journalists collected testimonies from supporters of the movement and they all followed the same tune: “We can’t take it anymore! It’s been 30 years!” Such awareness excludes the scholastic dissociation between occasional cause (the 30 pesos) and profound cause (the management of the Concertation): it is in a brutal immediacy that the 30 pesos reveal the relentless system that has perpetuated without interruption since 1989.

The “October Awakening”, a popular expression that is much more than a simple metaphor, can be understood as the end of a long nightmare, not as a sudden awareness of the neoliberal character of the system, acquired long before and widely shared , but as a long-delayed response to a promise broken by the Concertation: in the 1989 referendum, the slogan in the form of a refrain by which the Concertação called for people to say “no” to Pinochet was “The joy comes” (“Joy is coming”). Now, the joy promised never arrived, and the October Awakening is, first and foremost, a response to that promise made by the Concertation for 30 years. The Awakening of Chileans is consummated through collective action.

Contrary to what is often said, not only does spontaneity not exclude, in any way, political consciousness, it also goes hand in hand with a certain amount of planning. There was no political plan promoted by a group or organization, but there was, without a doubt, a planning of actions. The targets chosen in the early days of the movement reveal an entirely deliberate selection.

The institutions attacked are, in addition to Santiago's 164 metro stations, large shopping centers, supermarkets and banks (a branch of Banco de Chile was the first targeted), which all sold dreams of personal fulfillment through credit. The target here is nothing less than the heart of the neoliberal system implemented by the dictatorship, which has profoundly transformed the lives of millions of Chileans. Still, what draws attention is the extent to which this system, far from being restricted to the political “superstructure”, has become, over time, an integral part of the daily experience of Chileans.

In this sense, it is possible to speak not only of a Chilean experience of neoliberalism, but also of a neoliberal experience lived en masse by Chileans. In other words, in the case of Chile, neoliberalism is not just an object of experience that can be kept at a distance to be analyzed from all angles; it also penetrated the layers of experience and shaped it persistently, generating what could be called existential fatigue, combined with a feeling of frustration, fueled by a persistent precariousness.

This is what explains why, even though the fixed fare protects them from rising ticket prices, students are at the forefront of the movement and receive immediate and massive support from the population. In the reference to “30 years”, it is the subjectivity of the revolt that finds expression. It is as if the protesters were saying: “You deceived us for 30 years, you never kept your promises, and today we are on the streets to say enough is enough!”

From this point of view, Piñera's government simply accommodates itself to a system put in place by its predecessors. In no way, however, is he spared from responsibility. On the contrary, he is held responsible for the perpetuation of this system. The reference to “30 years” directly associates the suffering experienced on a daily basis with the political management of different governments, including Piñera’s.

On October 8, in a popular program with a large audience, Piñera stated: “In the middle of a Latin America in turmoil, our country is a true oasis. […]. We have a stable democracy, the country is growing, we are creating 176 thousand jobs per year, salaries are increasing. […]. The more crises I see, the more we have to appreciate our country.”

On the same day, in an interview with CNN Chile, minister Felipe Larraín Bascuñán did not hesitate to praise the stability of the consumer price index, inviting “romantics” to take advantage of the drop in the price of flowers, as if this drop could compensate for the increase in the price of metro tickets. For most Chileans, this whole litany is unbearable. That is why, from the beginning, the demand that dominated the slogans was not the impeachment, but Piñera's resignation. There is an abysmal difference between the two: the impeachment would place the president's fate in the hands of Congress, while resignation is an unconditional political demand, which dispenses with the legal procedures provided for in the 1980 Constitution, the same one that Pinochet imposed under the dictatorial regime that followed the 1973 coup d'état.

Government isolation

From the beginning, the government has sought to criminalize the actions of high school and university students. On October 16, the Minister of Transport, Gloria Hutt, publicly threatens students who participate in these actions to suspend the benefits arising from their national student cards. On the night of October 16th to 17th, the metro director,4 Clemente Pérez, a perfect representative of the Concertação, had already expressed his arrogance and contempt by addressing the student protesters in these terms, in an interview on national television: “What you are doing”, he said, “didn’t work”.

Or, more commonly: “Goats, I'm in prison” (literally: “Guys, that didn’t catch”, in the sense that a match “catches” fire).5 But, as the acceleration of events shows, the match, on the contrary, caught fire very quickly. The phrase was often ridiculed during the demonstrations.

On October 19, Piñera decrees a state of emergency and appoints a division general as head of National Defense. On October 20, as clashes between protesters and repression forces multiplied, he declared the nation at war against “a powerful and implacable enemy who respects nothing and no one” and who is “willing to use violence and unlimited delinquency.”

It is worth dwelling a little on this discursive construction of the enemy, which is not exactly new in the history of neoliberalism, but which takes on a particular meaning here. Since its formation in the 1930s, neoliberalism has characterized its enemies – socialism, the welfare state and trade unionism – as “civilizational” enemies.6 There is a clear difference in relation to the concept of enemy developed by Carl Schmitt in 1932, according to which it is an absolutely primitive decision, irreducible to any civilizational norm, which constitutes the enemy as such, to the point where the concept of war is subordinated to that of an enemy.7 For neoliberalism doctrinaires, it is a relationship of antagonism with “Western civilization”, understood in its supposed permanence as tradition, a set of values ​​(including market competition) and religion, as opposed to egalitarianism.

This does not prevent neoliberalism from feeling the need to embody this enemy in different figures, adapted to each situation. This is a second identification that operates what could be called an instantiation (or exemplification) of the first identification through opposition to civilization (today, for example, we see the enmity of gender and racial minorities).

In the case of Chile in the early 1970s, the military junta identified “Marxism” or “communism” as a mortal enemy of the nation that had to be fought mercilessly, not without a purely political interest in the content of the “doctrine”.8 This second identification, far from being secondary, is essential for the discursive construction of the enemy. Its failure compromises the first identification. What about when the uprising breaks out in 2019?

The declaration of a state of internal war on October 20, even in its terms and beyond the circumstantial rhetorical dramatization, is significantly embarrassing: if we are at war against “a powerful and dangerous enemy”, as the president says, what face does that have? enemy behind the October 18th riots? Can we equate the 15 to 18 year olds who blocked the subway and attacked banks and department stores with the usual enemy, “Marxism” and “Communism”? Should we blame a conspiracy hatched abroad?

At the request of the government, and based on an examination of social media, a private agency concluded that the movement was organized by “Mapuche trained by Cuba and Maduro”. The right goes so far as to use the term “Chilezuela” to denounce the risk of a Venezuelan-style authoritarian regime. Piñera's words, however, are chosen in such a way as to suggest that this enemy is fundamentally always the same: the one who attacks private property and the State.

But this government rhetoric is empty and without any credibility, precisely because it fails to give a face to the enemy, that is, to instantiate the civilizational enemy in a concrete figure, tangible to everyone. What follows shows the extent to which this inability is symptomatic of Piñera's complete political isolation.

The attitude of political parties

The majority of political parties, including those on the traditional left, adopt a conservative attitude, manifested in the motto of “call for order”. The Concertação parties – PS, DC and PPD –, as well as the Radical Party (PR), condemn the actions to block the subway. His message to the young rioters is invariable and can be summarized as follows: “Let us take care of this, we who are professional politicians.” Things begin to change with the great demonstration on October 25th, which brings together a million people in Santiago. From that day on, even the right began to join the movement, including the Independent Democratic Union (UDI), party founded in 1987 by Jaime Guzmán, the father of the 1980 Constitution.

What is the attitude of the other formations to the left of the Concertation forces? They are essentially the Communist Party (PC) and the wide front (FAN). In the person of Camila Vallejo, spokesperson for the student movement in 2011 and deputy since 2014, the PC supports the movement from the beginning and organizes itself to try to approve laws in favor of workers, against capital (in particular, salary increases, reduction working day to 40 hours and strengthening the role of trade unions).

O wide front It is not a political party in the strictest sense. It is a recent formation (founded in 2016) that brings together several small parties in a coalition.9 Surprised by the scope of the mobilization, he supports it, but is then split by an internal debate about the legitimacy of violence: is the use of physical violence by young people on the front line justifiable, or should it be condemned, detaching itself from , at the same time, of the conservative attitude of the Concertação parties? The fact that the debate focuses on this question of the legitimacy of violence, while the repression of carabineros fell brutally on the movement,10 says a lot about the hesitation and weakness of the positions of the wide front in the early days of the uprising.

In the eyes of some activists Autonomous Izquierda (AI),11 There is no more urgent task than installing the long-term revolt by establishing a point of political confrontation with the government. They publish a series of texts about the movement, including, on November 8, a guidance document entitled “Putting an end to the 1980 Constitution, the challenge of overcoming the revolt”. In this sense, overcoming the revolt must be understood as overcoming the illusion of a permanent and indefinite resumption of mobilization, at the rate of one Friday a week, an intermittent resumption that would condemn exhaustion and defeat.

A popular revolution

To understand this perception of the situation, it is necessary to consider a fact from national history that haunts the memory of hundreds of thousands of Chileans: the repression of the workers and popular movement by the Army did not begin in September 1973, it had already hit the peasants who they went to work in the mines in the north of the country, in Antofagasta and Iquique, from the end of the 1890th century. In 1898 and 1903-1906, strikes in the saltpeter mines of Iquique were harshly repressed by the Army and Navy, and so it was again in 1907 and XNUMX, when strikes multiplied throughout the country, extending into the region from Iquique.

The Santa María massacre was the culmination: the miners and their families, between one thousand and three thousand people, were killed by the Army in the school and on the streets of a village.12 So, when Piñera decides to send armored vehicles to patrol the streets and scare the protesters, he awakens old traumas, and not just those of the 1970s generation, who experienced Pinochet's coup d'état. What is at stake is the historicity of trauma as the “psychic trace of a tragic event”,13 which is very far from a supposed constancy insensitive to the variations of history. This trait returns to haunt the present in October 2019, but it does not cause a paralysis of collective action, quite the opposite.

It’s no use: as the days go by, the “Chilean October whirlwind” affects increasingly broader sectors of society. From the first days, feminists played a decisive role, positioning themselves as protagonists. On October 25th, at Dignity Square, in Santiago, a huge demonstration brings together a million people. It is in this same square that the Mapuche flag is raised on top of the statue of General Baquedano, a symbol immortalized in a photo that instantly went down in history: this general had distinguished himself in the war against the Mapuche at the end of the 19th century.

In this phenomenon, the role of councils, which arise as a result of movement and its expansion. The institution of council, responsible for urban administration and inherited from medieval Castile, is very old in Chile. In crisis situations, this assembly is open to all notable people.14 But Chilean October gives it another, radically democratic meaning: that of a self-convened assembly open to all citizens of a neighborhood or locality, in which the practice of collective deliberation prevails.

The social composition of these assemblies also indicates something significant: they include community workers, feminists, animal rights activists, children's rights activists, education workers and textile workers. There, once again, we see the extent to which the revival of an old form, far from condemning it to repetition, can mean an inventive reappropriation that gives it a new content.

Without a doubt, for all this, in a few days, the Chilean October movement took on the character of a revolution. By this term we do not mean the seizure of State power by a party leading an armed insurrection. As classic as it may be, this meaning exaggerates the centrality of the State and, for this reason, misses the essential thing: the ability of society to transform itself.

As Castoriadis writes, “revolution is not just an explicit attempt to reinstitute society. The revolution é this reinstitution through the collective and autonomous activity of the people or a large part of society”.15

In other words, “revolution” is, first and foremost, a movement of self-institution of society. In the Chilean example, this contestation of the established society was carried out in the name of an instituting imaginary that draws largely from the sources of democracy. The centrality quickly acquired by the demand for a new Constitution and, therefore, the repeal of the 1980 Constitution is a testimony to the vitality of this collective imagination.

The fact that this contestation only led to the creation of a new ephemeral institution, the Constituent Assembly (July 2021 to July 2022), and that a political cycle ended with the victory of the rejection of the proposal for a new Constitution (the Rejection), on September 4, 2022, does not justify abandoning the term “revolution”. The broader meaning we derive from Castoriadis's definition (“movement of re-institution of society”) is not a historiographical sense, but a political sense, which defines a process not in terms of its outcome, but in terms of its meaning.16

The first objective of this book is to inscribe this revolution in Chilean history, not to delimit its scope or reduce it to a false continuity, but, on the contrary, to better understand its dimension of rupture, constitutive of any revolution worthy of the name.

At the same time, this book has another objective. Of course, it is not a question of transposing the lessons of Chilean October to other national situations. We will therefore avoid the temptation to consider this movement as a model to be followed (for example, by thoughtlessly applying the requirement for a Constituent Assembly to very different national situations).17

However, regardless of the diversity of national situations, the left today faces multiple challenges, some of them, no less important, of a strategic nature.

In this regard, the example of Chile is unique, as it offers a valuable field for reflection. The illusion of “post-neoliberalism” (a confusing label used to describe Chávez, Lula, Morales and Kirchner, among others) in Latin America must give way to a more lucid vision: authoritarian populism (of which Maduro is a dictatorial version) and “hegemonic democracy”,18 embodied by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, far from being genuine alternatives to neoliberalism, as some in Europe still like to think, they tend, on the contrary, to reinforce it. The situation in North America and Europe leads to a similar diagnosis: globalists and nationalists seem to be two complementary versions of neoliberalism.

The singularity of the Chile that was invented in the revolt lies in its desire to experience a break with globalist neoliberalism and authoritarian populism in the name of democracy. For that reason alone, it deserves our full attention.

*Pierre Dardot He is a philosopher and researcher at the University of Paris-Nanterre. He is the author, among other books, with Christian Laval, from The New Reason for the World (boitempo).


Pierre Dardot. The memory of the future. (Chile 2019-2022). Translation: Clarissa Penna. Campinas, Unicamp Publisher, 196 pages. []


  1. In October 2019, the real minimum wage, that of more or less half of the active population, was 301 thousand pesos. We insist on the fact that this is the cost of two subway tickets per day, a round trip between home and work, and not a monthly fare.
  2. This is clearly an application of the “little push” policy (Nudge) prepared by supporters of “libertarian paternalism”.
  3. It's not 30 pesos, it's 30 years!
  4. The Santiago metro is a state-owned company.
  5. In the same interview, this figure states, lightly: “People are different, Chileans are very civilized, and the only thing I have seen is a great rejection of this type of attitude. […] People have common sense, this protest was not supported by the population.”
  6. See Pierre Dardot et al. The choix of civil war. Une autre histoire du neolibéralisme. Montreal, Lux, 2021, chap. 5 (Futur Proche Series).
  7. See Carl Schmitt. The notion of politics. Théorie du partisan. Paris, Flammarion, 1992
  8. Em Nocturne du Chili, Roberto Bolaño (Paris, Christian Bourgois, 2002 [2000], pp. 112- -116) describes a meeting between junta generals and Father Ibacache, a member of Opus Dei in charge of “giving them some lessons in Marxism”. But the Marxism that obsesses the generals is less that of Marx than that of Marta Harnecker, a Chilean linked to the Castro regime and author of a book entitled Elementary concepts of historical materialism (1969), that is, Marxism adapted to the post-1968 Latin American situation. On the other hand, we know that Pinochet was more interested in historical figures like Franco or Napoleon than in theoretical works.
  9. Among them, Revolución Democrática (RD), Convergencia Social (CS), Comunes, Partido Humanista, Partido Liberal (PL).
  10. In December 2019, the Chilean office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights found that, within two months, carabineros they had been responsible for at least 113 cases of torture, 24 cases of sexual violence and 11 cases of “arbitrary deprivation of life and other illegal deaths involving agents of the State”. Furthermore, 350 people suffered serious facial injuries, which proves that “non-lethal weapons were used inappropriately and indiscriminately, violating international principles” (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Informe de la Oficina de UN Human Rights on the crisis in Chile describe multiple violations of human rights by Carabineros and call for reforms”, December 13, 2019). And this is an underestimated number.
  11. On November 8, this group would be integrated into the Comunes party. The term “autonomy” must be understood here not in the sense of the autonomy of the Italian movement of 1973-1977, but in the sense of political autonomy in relation to the Concertation system.
  12. The memory of this terrible repression is preserved in a famous musical work performed by the Quilapayún group, the cantata “Santa María de Iquique”.
  13. Herve Mazurel. L'inconscient ou l'oubli de l'histoire. Profondeurs, metamorphoses and revolutions of affective life. Paris, La Découverte, 2021, p. 447 (Écritures de l'Histoire Collection).
  14. Thus, it is a open rack, an assembly open to all notables, which meets on September 18, 1810, proclaims Chile's freedom of trade with all countries in the world and convenes the first National Congress. And it is the people of Santiago, gathered in one open rack, which names O'Higgins “Supreme Director of the Nation” in 1817.
  15. Cornelius Castoriadis. Les carrefours du labyrinthe, t. 3: Le monde morcelé. Paris, Seuil, 2000 [1990], p. 202 (Points Essais Collection).
  16. The main flaw in historiographical definitions is to characterize a process by the result it achieved: Sergio Grez considers, therefore, that the movement that emerged on October 18 was not a political revolution, which would imply a “fundamental change in the structure of power”, nor a social revolution, which would imply a “profound transformation of social relations” (interview with Sergio Grez conducted by Pablo Parry, “Chile. 'Popular rebellion must take advantage of these months to move towards a more solid basis of political unity'”, Find, April 15, 2020). From the point of view of its meaning, however, this movement was undeniably a revolution.
  17. In the case of Chile, it is necessary to remember that this demand arose from the social movement itself, having nothing to do with a slogan artificially generated by party leaders.
  18. The expression designates a democracy that intends to modify the structure of the State in an authoritarian sense. See Alain Rouquié. Le siècle de Perón. Essai sur les démocraties hegémoniques. Paris, Seuil, 2016. (The author thanks Guillaume Boccara for providing this reference.)

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