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In November 2018, De Frente spoke with the humanist deputy on various topics. In that interview he was able to expand on the figure of Silo and Siloism as philosophy and practice.
–Tomas, who was Silo? How did you meet him?
Silo has many facets. First of all, he is a teacher, a guide, a thinker. He is a revolutionary who made a profound, complex and structural proposal for personal and social transformation. He was a writer and a great friend. A very entertaining person to talk to. You could be talking for ten, twelve, twenty hours and be fascinated, live the stories and anecdotes sharing his way of seeing things. He had a way of looking at the world, observing what others usually don’t see, establishing relationships, attending to processes. He was a Master and at the same time we also had a very close and deep friendship.
I knew him, first, through his writings. The first thing I read about him was the “Handbook of Youth Power”, which was a book that posed a revolution and spoke of the visions of anarchism. In fact, it had a red-black book cover, and somehow posed libertarian socialism. Later, I came across a second book of his, called “La Mirada Interna” (The Inner Look), which -on the contrary- proposed the whole process of personal transformation, which can be accessed by those who go in search of the meaning of life. And in some way, to raise the fundamental issues that have to do with overcoming the fear of death. To endow life with a meaning that goes beyond death. So, for me, Siloism was that from the beginning, a proposal for simultaneous personal and social transformation. And I had been when I was 13, 14 years old in my searches and I got into mystical, spiritual, political and all kinds of groups, they always lacked some aspect. And here I found, at the end of 1972, that the proposal was simultaneous personal and social transformation. That resonated with me very much. Personally, I met him in September 1978, days before a world meeting that took place in the Canary Islands, to which we were a very large group of Chileans; we were 60 people from here. I arrived long before the others. One night, passing in front of a café, I discovered that he was sitting with his back to a friend. I really wanted to meet him, I was with my partner, we sat at a table but we didn’t want to interrupt him. And we stayed there, waiting for him from 1 a.m. until 4 a.m. when the cafe was closed. And there he stood up, we greeted him and we met.
–You met him in a bar…
To be precise, in a cafe. It wasn’t a bar, because he didn’t drink.
–Based on the definitions that one finds in texts such as “Siloism”, Silo’s political proposal comes openly close to libertarian socialism, even proposing political vacuum as the main tool of peaceful struggle. What affected Silo’s support for the creation of a political party? How do you combine this idea of a political vacuum with formal political participation?
The fundamental discourse of siloism was made in 1969, on May 4, in Punta de Vacas. In that address, among other things, Silo states that there is no political party that can get us out of the situation of violence that human beings are experiencing. And that a new way of organisation is necessary, new ways of action and personal and social transformation. As the years went by, it became clear to us that we needed ways of organising ourselves, but not to institutionalise ourselves, but to institute new models. And I’ll tell you the difference between the two little words, which have now become more fashionable. To institute new ways of organising ourselves and acting in our environment. And so, we began to organise different human structures in different parts of the planet, and we formed what was called the Humanist Movement. It also had the name Community for Human Development, which was the legal name to act within the framework of the Humanist or Siloist Movement. And we organised that from the year ’77, more or less.
At the beginning of the 1970s, it was decided to try between these different forms of organisation, also to form political parties with totally different conceptions, in which the dynamic was generational, in which very horizontal forms of participation and work were proposed. In Argentina, a party was formed that was called – I don’t remember well – something like the “United Front for Youth”, which was presented as an anti-system party, very contentious, very irreverent. And as the name says, although it is not that, it was clearly posed in generational terms, in confrontation with what we called the System and the gerontocracy that was installed in power. It didn’t last long, it was well repressed in Argentina. The people were quickly imprisoned and outlawed. In the mid-eighties, with the situation of dictatorships in Latin America, it became evident to us that we needed an instrument, a tool that would allow us to fight politically against the dictatorship for the recovery of that democracy. That it was not enough simply to have grassroots movements or social movements. And there, we decided to simultaneously form the Humanist Party in many countries, and not only in Latin America.
–What year was it?
The process was like that: In ’82 we made the decision to set it in motion. In ’83 we held a consultation in approximately 60 countries, in which we asked hundreds of thousands of people about the characteristics that a political party should have, those that we had, and we contrasted it with those that people had. For example, we said that one of the central themes was the recovery of the land as something fundamental for those who work on it. Denuclearisation, total disarmament, a series of issues that were relevant to us and that we were consulting. The end of the death penalty, for example.
–Was this consultation within the structure of the movement?
No, it was totally outward. In Chile, we did 15,000 or 20,000 consultations. In Argentina, another 20,000, in Peru about 5,000; we did it in many countries. We processed that information, and we looked for a way to organise ourselves. And as early as ’83, we gave shape to this matter. That year we formed the Humanist Party in about 40 countries. But with the creation of the party, we did not modify a single letter of what was our vision of society. We believed that the state was not going to solve things, on the contrary. We believed that we had to take all our action, in terms of diminishing to the maximum that power of the State, as opposed to the view that was in some way strongly favoured by the Marxist world; our vision was totally different. From the beginning, we got very strong in the cooperative world, self-management system, system of ownerships and responsibility of the workers, forms of horizontal organisation as soft and light as possible. And the conception of a State, rather as coordinator, rather than a centralising and concentrating State of power.
–What did Silo mean by spirituality? When he distinguishes a social, political, spiritual revolution: what is properly spiritual of Siloism?
One of the beautiful and interesting things that we maintain to this day is that we consider that what refers to the definitions of spirituality can be freely interpreted. In other words, you cannot impose an interpretation of what spirituality is, understanding spirituality as a feeling. We can say that it is a search, a way of positioning oneself in the world, which is to experience that life is more than the world of the material, of the tangible. But how each one experiences that, we believe that it is impossible to give a definition. What is this spirituality for each one? We believe that it is of little importance. The important thing is that if you and I experience that there is a spirituality, and we understand that I can neither define it nor impose it, then we can understand each other. The moment I begin to define this spirituality and transform it into religiosity, we find ourselves with a problem. And then, what could have linked us ends up being an element that separates us.
From that point of view, we were always disregarded in the matter of religiosity or not, of any person who participated in siloism. Here we always share atheists and believers. So of spirituality, we say that it has to do with a certain human search or intention, that goes beyond the factual and the tangible, that puts it in the presence of fundamental questions. That puts it in the presence of questions that have to do with the meaning of life, with death and with transcendence, as each one understands it or not.
–What did Silo mean when he said that every true advance of humanity is driven by a rebellion against death?
There are different theories about the engine of history. From our look, if one reviews the human process, one discovers that it is permanently driven, in every advance, in every search or new answer, by the overcoming of death. And that this has always been promoted from the most basic agriculture, in early times, to their wars to try to expand their territories, through everything that is science, technology, medical advances, and so on. Also in the search for a new social organisation.
If you look beyond that, what this human being is looking for is to overcome that apparently irresolvable factual limit that is death. To the extent that you believe that this is an indefectible fact, with which everything ends, and if you are coherent with this belief, life has no meaning. From the moment you begin to discover, to understand, to experience that there is something that is projected beyond, it is possible that you can project a meaning of life. And when we say what it is that is projected beyond, free interpretation, because we have not lived it. We say that the fundamental problem of the human being is the problem of death. And that this is the greatest generator of human suffering, although suffering is represented as loneliness, illness, old age. But what is ultimately always present is the flight of the look on that inevitable fact that is death.
–Silo indicated that human beings tend to escape and that this could be both individual and social. What would be the forms of escape from the present?
Escape is basically about not wanting to see. Therefore, not taking charge, not responding to what are the real difficulties I have to face. One of the most important fugues has to do with the possession of objects. In other words, to the extent that I possess, I escape from the fundamental problem that is that I am going to disappear. So, all these things that I accumulate and collect, is the realm of the secondary. In short, it’s nonsense. Because I go from a car to mega-car, and I’m going to die. So, you tell this man that he’s going to die, he tells you “I’m getting together for the next car”. The escape is to want to look away, and it is not only individual, but also social. People flee. I was in Israel, and you live spectacularly, it is a fascinating country. But they flee from seeing a contradiction that they have right there, which is 40 kilometers from Tel Aviv. As a whole, as a people they have Gaza next door and they don’t want to see it. That’s escape, not seeing that. Therefore, the escape is individual and it is also social. And they compensate for that through possession. I would say that escape is the daughter of fear. Fear of death, of illness. And I prefer not to know that I’m going to die, because I’m not afraid. Fear of death, of poverty, of loneliness, of the weakest, of criticism, of judgments.
–What does Silo and siloism mean by power? What is power? How is power exercised? What is power? Is it a thing? A relationship?
Power is basically violence. From our point of view, the human being is by definition – freedom. What defines the human being is the capacity to transform the environment and to transform oneself. If there is something that defines us, it is that capacity to transform the environment and nature. It is the freedom between conditions, but it is the freedom to take one path or another that defines us as human. Any action that impedes or limits freedom is an act that goes against the human. What characterises the human being is the transforming intention, the transforming capacity, the intention. Therefore, any act that impedes the transforming intention of the human being is a violent act. And if we place the human being as a central concern and value, well, we fight against any act that generates violence against the human being. Power today is one of the most striking ways of preventing human intention. That is why we say that power is basically violence. It is its essence.
– And the State, since we’re talking about power?
The State is a crude and rather lowish expression, created by the way quite recently, in which that power is concentrated. Our impression is that this State, which has only existed for a short time, is also going to disappear. We believe that within the human process, it is one more of the search for human organisations. That’s why we say: as long as there is a State, we have to see how it becomes a coordinating entity and not a concentrator of power.
–What is Silo’s critique of capital? And how does he differ or contribute to Marxist critique, capital and capitalism?
Capital must be differentiated into two capitals. Productive capital and speculative capital. When we put it to the Marxists in the 1980s, they were very irritated. Until years later we met a few who agreed. From our point of view, productive capital is an important factor in human development, in conjunction with work. Speculative capital is redundant. The problem is that, today, what actually happens is that productive capital, instead of reinvesting and generating new productive capital (thus increasing the sources of work and the possibilities of improvement of the population), is transferred to the speculative sector. In fact, we propose the existence of a bank, but of a bank without interest and only with a profitability for its administration services, as any company can have.
Secondly, we do believe that productive capital allows development. But that productive capital has to be managed according to certain conditions. One condition is that it has to be reinvested in the company itself. Secondly, we believe that productive capital must share ownership, management and profit with labour. In other words, we believe that there should be an equal relationship between capital and labour, in terms of ownership, management and profit of the company. Because it is not capital that takes the risk, but work. Over time, these two risks are balanced, the risk of capital with the risk of work. But we have no doubt that as time goes by, the risk of work increases, because the person who has invested more years in that company with their work, has a greater risk of losing that work. While the capital, at the beginning has a very high risk, but over time has recovered its initial investment.
Now, with respect to other differences with Marxism, we do not believe that the motor of history is the class struggle. From our point of view, what moves history and generates history is the generational struggle, which is a completely different vision of how history moves. Our view is that each generation is imposing a social landscape, in a struggle with the old generation that seeks to maintain its own social landscape. This dynamic is what moves history, in which each generation seeks to impose a new landscape. Faced with this, we observe that each new generation has its savvy to incorporate new elements, but it also has its traps. And the trap it has is that when it comes to the situation of imposing its social landscape, it is already obsolete because it corresponds to its own formation landscape 30 years earlier. Therefore, by the time it reaches the instance of power or something like that, it is already obsolete. It is this generational dynamic that we can permanently observe, which Ortega y Gasset actually describes very well.
By the way, with the methodology of the action, we have an important difference with others. We believe that the processes should be revolutionary, but without implying violence. The linkage of revolution and violence is a very tricky link. From that point of view, we feel very close to some Marxists who reflected on this point. Some few such as Petrovic, who makes a very good and interesting study called “Humanism and Revolution”, in which he reflects the year ’71 on whether a humanism without revolution is possible, and comes to the conclusion that it is not possible. And then he reflects on whether a revolution is possible without humanism, and comes to the conclusion that it is not possible. He is a lifelong Marxist. And finally then he argues that only a humanist revolution, which is a revolutionary humanism, is possible. That vision, taken from a Marxist, coincides very much with the vision that we have had. Rather than entering into a dialectic with Marxism, we believe that there can be a continuity, or what we call a transfer from Marxism to what is universalist humanism.
Translation Pressenza London