Chile: State of siege and revolt

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By Antonio Martins*

And Chile – who knew? – caught fire for less than twenty cents. In early October, the government of Sebastián Piñera, made up of neoliberals and right-wingers, authorized the private company that manages the Santiago metro to raise the maximum fare from 800 to 830 pesos (from R$4,63 to R$4,80. XNUMX). The Coordinating Assembly of Secondary Students (ACES) suggested resistance and evasions, great collective turnstile acts. The call fell like a spark in dry bushes and set fire to a country punished by inequality, reduction of life to cheap merchandise and the feeling that the political system is insensitive to the pain and lack of horizons of the majority.

The images are stunning. The very young took the lead again, tired of waiting for the outrage of the already prostrate. At Santiago stations, hundreds of teenagers and young people faced armed and armored police in Robocop style. Over the days, the protests have spread to cities where there is not even a subway, in a sign of revealing political energy that has been repressed for a long time.

Em script very similar to Brazil in 2013, police brutality has grown – and with it, the reaction of protesters. Hundreds of young people were arrested and stuffed into vans. The video published from the site El disconcerto shows the grotesque scene of a police car whose driver goes out of his way to run over a demonstrator. Until yesterday, there were eleven dead among those who took to the streets.

In response, supermarket looting multiplied. Initially, they expressed the population's repudiation of poverty and violence. “I don't like that they break everything, but suddenly these things have to happen so that they stop playing with us, raising the price of everything, except wages, everything so that the rich in this country are richer,” said saleswoman Alejandra Ibánez, 38. years, according to the UOL, unsuspected of leftist bias. “People are tired and fearless,” added Francisco Vargas, a 33-year-old civil servant, according to the same channel.

Gradually, however, looting and acts of vandalism began to be committed by the police forces themselves, according to Günther Alexander, from the channel of independent 4V videos. False pamphlets, signed by the Frente Ampla movement-party, asked the population to “exacerbate the violence”. It is an old pattern – artificially “radicalizing” popular struggle and demonizing political opponents, to arouse fear and antipathy among society – also present in the uprisings in Ecuador a few weeks ago.

On Saturday, events rushed. At dawn, President Piñera declared a State of Emergency – for the first time since the end of the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. General Javier Iturriage, commander of the army, proceeded to give the orders. Immediately, he decreed a “curfew”, prohibiting the population from leaving their homes during the night.

Still, the revolt did not subside. New demonstrations broke out, challenges to the soldiers (“asesinos, asesinos”) and a casserole giant. In the afternoon, Piñera withdrew, at least partially. The increase in fares has been suspended. Flanked by the presidents of the Chamber, Senate and Supreme Court, the representative acknowledged, on a TV network, that the population “has reason to complain”. He presented a vague call for “dialogue”, without proposing any further measures to alleviate the degradation of living conditions. On Sunday (20/10), the situation seemed more stable. Ten thousand soldiers patrolled the streets. But the sound of pans could be heard even in the middle-class neighborhoods of Santiago.

From Tunisia and Egypt to Spain and Portugal. From Syria and Israel to the United States. From Türkiye to Brazil. From Morocco to Mexico and now to Ecuador and Chile. In successive waves, dozens of countries have experienced, in the last ten years, explosive popular uprisings of a new type. They gather huge crowds. They turn against inequalities and demand better public services. They denounce the hollowing out of democracy, increasingly seen as farce manipulated by economic power. They are not born linked to the historical left.

In one case (Brazil), they ended up infiltrated and mostly taken over by the right. In another (Egypt), they supported the seizure of power by the army, which established a bloody dictatorship. But its central focus is on “austerity” policies – the attempt to reduce public services and “liberate” capital from any kind of control. There are already elements to build more refined interpretations and theory on them, instead of resorting to easy prejudices. Here are five interconnected hypotheses.

The rebellion has a clear anti-capitalist meaning.

The clear origin of the waves of uprisings, only apparently depoliticized, is the great economic crisis of 2008 – in particular, the hegemonic response given to it in the West. Young people rebelled, in almost all cases, because the same policies that degrade their lives, work and future prospects distribute rivers of money to the financial oligarchy.

The first revolt, in Tunisia (2011), was due to the withdrawal of bread subsidies. Egypt reacted to the measures that had ruined peasant agriculture, imposed by the IMF. When they arrived in the United States, with the busy, the new winds coined a motto (99% x 1%) that has become an emblem of contemporary inequality. In Brazil, it was twenty cents; in Chile, thirty pesos; in Ecuador, the increase in fuel prices; in Spain (“Indignados”) and Portugal (“Geração à Rasca”), the very high and prolonged unemployment of young people; in Turkey, the advance of real estate speculation on a public park.

The pattern is so evident, and the causes so related to post-2008 politics, that only the unwise can continue to attribute the protests to right-wing conspiracies aimed at destabilizing democratic institutions.

The historical left insists on not understanding the meaning of these struggles.

This is due, in particular, to its accommodation to ideas that made sense in the past but lost it in the present; to its lethargy in examining both the new configurations of capitalism and the equally new actions that might challenge it.

Faced with the revolt of young people, some parties even defend the political system and institutions, which would be threatened. They fail to see that one of the central effects of the West's response to 2008 was to annul democracy, keeping it only as a facade.

They don't remember, for example, that all opinion polls show that majorities are opposed to “austerity” – and it continues to be applied. That societies clearly manifest themselves for public services – and their dismantling continues. What changes that will affect the lives of citizens for decades (in Brazil, for example, the freezing of public social spending for twenty years, or the successive counter-reforms and labor mini-reforms) are imposed without any public debate

This blindness makes room for the ultra-right.

Politics fills the voids. From a certain point, in the post-2008 period, a “new” right realized that there was a space to capture: that of the resentment of the majorities in the face of predatory elites and the ineffectiveness of an emptied democracy.

Obviously, this capture takes place in the image and likeness of the person who conducts it. The ultra-right does not point to the crisis of democracy to rescue it – but to destroy it. When you denounce the establishment, it's just to replace him with the most disqualified crooks - see the level of the recent internal dispute in the PSL.

Above all, for his speech to have internal coherence, his supposed criticism of institutions needs to be accompanied by an appeal to ignorance and a vast array of ethical, cultural and moral setbacks: brutality replacing dialogue; the absolute rejection of what is different; the appeal to fear to justify police killings or censorship; the denial of global warming; flat earthism; etc etc etc.

This advance may have short legs.

The cases of Ecuador and Chile are emblematic, as they have just affected two leaders who are clearly linked to the new trend. Lenin Moreno betrayed his mandate, began relentless persecution of the left and became an unconditional supporter of Trump's geopolitics. Sebastián Piñera, billionaire and ultra-capitalist, flirts endlessly with the Chilean Bolsonaros. Both are now devastated in their popularity.

Because, at least in Latin America,no of the “new” rightists makes a secret of their colonial domestication and, therefore, of their submission to the hierarchy of global finance. Bolsonaro's program is, essentially, that of Paulo Guedes.

Piñera allowed dissatisfaction to ferment until it exploded because he was incapable of giving the slightest answer to the essential problems of Chileans, all linked to neoliberal policies – privatized and precarious Social Security, deteriorated public education, an increase in the cost of living far above wages.

Moreno concocted a package with the IMF that presented the domestic elite (with the devastation of labor rights) and international speculators (with a vast program of privatizations) and threw the bills behind the shoulders of the majorities. In Argentina, Macri will fall very soon, due to the same tic. There is not an overwhelming and long-lasting fascist wave; but one fascination opportunist, who can be beaten with relative ease, when he does not lack the gaps opened by the paralysis of the left.

The paths to reinventing the left are becoming evident..

Faced with the growth of the right, in various parts of the world, a defeatist feeling has been common. It is argued that it will take a long time – perhaps decades – for the resurgence of potent critical thinking. It is argued that the best way to encourage this renewal is to return to the “grassroots work”. Cultivating patience and reaching out in particular to the most oppressed are always notable virtues. But this reasoning fails to account for two essential problems.

First, we are not living in normal times, but in a unique period of acute and increasingly intense civilizing crisis. It is a turning point. Great transformations, possibly with long-lasting repercussions, will take place in a short time.

Immanuel Wallerstein, whom we lost a few months ago, calculated: the system is in crisis; but what will come in its place could be either a much more democratic and egalitarian order or another – one that exacerbates capitalism's tendencies towards exploitation, hierarchization and oppression; the transition will take place perhaps in the space of two decades. The acceleration of historical time these days seems to prove him right. Postponing more incisive political action for several decades can be tantamount to distancing oneself from crucial moments, allowing the worst to happen and awakening only when it is too late.

Second, because the fog that prevented us from seeing the path seems to be disappearing. Look, for example, at the great popular uprisings that are shaking the world. Their requirements are quite convergent. They ask, first and always, less inequality. There is a general feeling that the world has started to produce a lot of wealth; that, however, a tiny minority appropriates almost everything, imposing logics that exclude and distress others; that, finally, there will be much less suffering, more future and more meaning in the world in case of a redistribution.

It appears in the form of a Common: public services. The increase in wages, which marked so many previous generations, has lost part of its centrality – because there are so many unemployed and underemployed that it would be either innocuous or quickly depleted. But dignified Health, Education, Housing and Mobility seem like rights that need to be defended – and that would improve life and the world.

When you flaunt so much wealth; when billionaires or great executives multiply their fortunes every year, isn't it outrageous that we have to accept precarious hospitals, rare and expensive public transport? Or that excellent education is only for the privileged? Or that a young person has neither the perspective of a job consistent with his education, nor the hope of living without paying excruciating rent?

Think now in the political sense of these rights. Do they not clash directly with the strategy of total commodification of life, imposed by the capitalists? Is there therefore no room here to develop policies that, in addition to being clearly anti-systemic, are in tune with the political aspirations of the majority?

Reflects, finally, on the contesting character (and at the same time recivilizing…) that some of these policies may assume. A project that proposes to recompose public Health and Education, transforming them into the standard of excellence for the country (“the best school will be everyone's school”). That envisages a radical urban reform, in dialogue both with the transformation of the periphery and with the reoccupation of the centers and the overcoming of the car dictatorship. That ensures: in 15 years, no one will spend more than 40 minutes on a public transport trip, nor will they spend more than one day of minimum wage on it in a month. That incorporates, in a time when the States transfer trillions for the banks, the banner of a universal citizenship income sufficient to guarantee a dignified life, regardless of market wages.

This potency is missing, this sense that it is possible to transform life, in the world views of many historical lefts. But be careful: it is stamped on the face of every young person and teenager who faced the robocops in the Santiago subway on Saturday, or who continued to resist them, under bombs and bullets, near the Palacio de La Moneda, despite the eleven dead. A reinvented left will have the same sparkle in the eyes of these boys and girls.

*Antonio Martins is a journalist, editor of the site Other words.

Article originally published on the website Other words.

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