“At 10:45 a.m. on 6 October 1988, while outside a sea of people were parading around celebrating (one day afterwards the defeat of the dictatorship at the polls), we were told at that meeting that they had to be demobilised. Just a few hours after the victory of the NO, the social construction of our democracy was liquidated”. Tomás Hirsch
According to historian Gabriel Salazar (2019), the neoliberal governments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries (Patricio Aylwin, Eduardo Frei Ruiz Tagle, Ricardo Lagos, Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera), without paying attention to the direction the citizens’ movement was aiming for, did nothing more than complete and perfect the original neoliberal model, giving it a modernist, democratic and futuristic appearance. All this under the slogan that Chile was the “jaguar” of Latin America, an analogy with the “tigers” of Southeast Asia… In this way, they privatised education, health, natural and drinking water, welfare, transport, communications, roads, fishing, forests and salmon farms and allowed gigantic illegal deals between big business and multimillionaire embezzlements and tax evasions. At the same time, the civilian political class consolidated itself as a highly paid “professional career”, while persuading the military political class to share responsibilities and the defence of Chile’s smooth insertion into the globalised economy, in order to allow large foreign investments to continue within the country driving its “development”. The extraction of surplus value increased rapidly and reached an absolute level, disguised behind a gigantic supply of consumer credit, which allowed the poor to consume what they wanted by buying on credit the goods that give middle class “status”. Thus, according to press reports, the average Chilean household charges a debt equivalent to almost 75% of its family income and eight times its total income in a year. Everything is a commodity and everything is paid for on credit (including health, education and the 480,000 new cars imported into the country every year). The absolute surplus value is disguised behind a credit inflated to the maximum. That is why development in Chile is no longer measured by the increase in “production”, but by the increase in “commercial transactions”. Extreme exploitation is thus hidden behind the modest veil of hyper-consumerism.
In addition to the crisis of systemic illegitimacy and the crisis of political representation, there is the crisis of absolutised surplus value hidden behind consumerism. And as if that were not enough, this pressure cooker has lacked escape or compensation valves. Firstly, because so far in Chile there is no longer a left wing, neither inside nor outside Parliament: all parties respect the 1980 Constitution and/or promote pro-model reforms; second, because revolutionary ideologies (all of them imported) failed with Salvador Allende and Miguel Enríquez afterwards – although there is a new left, the new parties are perceived as the youth sector of the old political class; third, because the NGOs of the 1980s and 1990s, which worked immersed in civil society and for civil society, no longer exist; fourth, because all universities today are permeated by neoliberal praxis (individualism, obsession with personal curricula, competition between intellectuals and between universities, internationalisation of their academics and their papers, bewildered student masses, etc.), which is why they no longer exist. ), which is why they no longer think about the problems of the country and the citizenry, but only about their individual academic careers, and fifth, because politicians and parties, apart from their electoral campaign (exacerbated because they are paid a certain amount of money for each vote they get), have no real and permanent contact with their electoral bases, etc. In short: the important process of citizenisation of politics detected by the UNDP almost 20 years ago lacks theoretical support, political definitions and organic accompaniment, because it is a new process and a type of politics that, although it has been practised in the past, is crushed by a huge block of convenient theoretical amnesia. The political bewilderment of the citizens thus adds, on its own side, a wide plug that delays the “coherent” explosion of the total boiler. Piñera’s second government felt comfortable to initiate a series of legal proposals aimed at further perfecting corporate profitability, betting that this profitability is the basis of Chile’s exceptional development, a neoliberal model that is already the most perfect in the world.
Piñera’s attitude and statements were pathetically expressive of this blindness (“we are an oasis in a troubled Latin America”). That’s why all that was missing was the spark that made the skin of Chile’s teenagers crawl and caused all the boilers to explode over an apparent trifle: a 30-peso increase in the fare of the capital’s Metro, a particularly expensive transport system. When the oppression of the entire citizenry is multiple and reaches an extreme barometric point, any flare-up can produce the outbreak of a crisis that has been dragging on for too long.
Chile has had, since the 16th century, a demographically majority but mistreated “under-people”, the mestizo people. From the 17th century to the present day, the mestizo people have constituted between 52% and 68% of the national population. Born as a people without territory, without legal access to property, without their own memory, without their own language and – by decision of the King of Spain and afterwards for the convenience of the Chilean mercantile oligarchy – without written law, from 1600 until 1931 (the year in which the Labour Code was condemned), the men and women of the Chilean mestizo people could be abused with impunity in every conceivable way, including rape, torture and death. Because of this situation, they lived, between about 1600 and 1830, as vagabonds on foot and on horseback (the men), and in squalid suburban shantytowns (the abandoned women). They were thus unable to live either in pairs or in villages. They became full of “huacho” children and could not be formal citizens. Reprimanded everywhere as “outsiders and marauders”, as suspects and “internal enemies”, they tried to become producers: peasants, chacareros, pirquineros and artisans, who had no rights and were savagely plundered by landlords, moneylenders, millers, habilitadores, the military and even the “tithe-holders” of the Catholic Church. In desperation, many took to the hills and mountain ranges, where they became colleras, gavillas, cuatreros and montoneros, who raided and plundered haciendas, estates and entire villages.
This explains why, whenever institutional political disorder broke out in Chile, the urban mestizo masses came out of the periphery, invaded and plundered the commercial and sometimes residential centre of the city. This happened in Valparaíso in 1903, in Santiago in 1905 and 1957, and in several cities in the country during the military tyranny (between 1983 and 1987, above all). In all cases they led to a “social upheaval” that shook the political institutionality and the security of the ruling class to the level of panic, and opened up processes of structural change that never fully matured.
Until 1989, the multiple social upheavals had not succeeded in forging a social revolution in Chile. The neoliberal model imposed by Pinochet has produced a great transactional and consumerist development, but this development has only disguised the mestizo people with a consumerist veneer that has in no way altered their chronic marginality, their lack of deep identification with the Western culture that the Chilean oligarchy loves so much, and their deep anger at having been for centuries a subject without full integration into modern society. That is why the destruction of the materiality of that culture (which they have systematically done since the 19th century) reappeared again in October 2019 as an apotheosis of consumerism (theft and looting of goods: their multi-centenary resource war) and at the same time as violent sabotage against the system that excludes them (destruction and burning of supermarkets and shopping centres, symbols of that system). Everything indicates that the citizens and the mestizo people gave the Chilean neoliberal model a lethal blow, from which it will be very difficult to recover. And since neither the army nor the police unleashed bloody repression on the rioting people, an unexpected gap has opened up through which the citizenisation of politics can advance and unfold.
Following María Olivia Monckeberg, the 1980 Constitution, approved in a fraudulent plebiscite without open discussion, largely achieved its objective of prolonging for almost 40 years an anti-democratic state of affairs that was averse to the large majorities. This Constitution exalts private property as the highest value in a society in which citizens have become consumers. Everything in it is impregnated with the concept of the “subsidiary state” and carries with it the economicist and privatist vision, as well as conceiving a powerful Constitutional Court that acts as a “fourth chamber” ready to tackle everything that does not conform to this model, as well as the organic constitutional laws designed and drafted to complement the Constitution in different areas. And with their high quorums to modify them, they have shown how rigid can be the ties left in place by those who exercised dictatorial power. The Water Code, the Mining Code and other creations of that time have been important complements to favour a small minority that took over what should belong to everyone. With these instruments, they managed to weaken the State, which was stripped of its role in production – with the exception of Codelco and a few other exceptions – and as a provider of basic public services, and was left without the possibility of exercising its regulatory role, while concentration became increasingly present.
Some of the consequences of the system implemented in Chile at the point of terror, the gun and the Political Constitution are:
The most obvious, constitutive and recognised socio-political consequence of the model is the depoliticisation of civil society. Economic inequality is a product of political inequality. In the words of David Harvey (2014): “The steady decline in labour’s share of national income since the 1970s has stemmed from labour’s waning economic and political power as capital mobilised technologies, unemployment, offshoring and anti-union policy measures (such as those of Thatcher and Reagan) to crush opposition”. And this, in the sense that a society is more egalitarian the more bargaining power there is among the most dispossessed social groups. In other words, the more corporate organisational and political bargaining power the dependent or subordinate classes have (inside or outside the company), the more democratic the society will be. An example of this can be the trade union structure or the possibility of collective bargaining on the part of trade unions. The more trade unions there are, and even better if they can bargain collectively with capital through tripartite social dialogue (executive, employers and trade unions), the more horizontal and integrated the society under analysis will be.
The neoliberal design implemented was to depoliticise society, to depoliticise society inside and outside the capitalist enterprise. In the Chilean case, the extractive (rentier) and service capitalist enterprise, fundamentally, was the priority objective of part of the elites that emerged in the 1980s. It was necessary to achieve a society without politics, a society in which social groupings had a non-political social or trade union type of link (Guzmán’s intermediate groups, the non-political social). Of this depoliticisation, we will mark some indicators or concrete aspects that we will organise into two dimensions: depoliticisation within the company and outside it. The indicator within the company is basically labour depoliticisation (disaffiliation within the company); outside the company, electoral depoliticisation (apoliticisation and abstention), social depoliticisation (horizontal and vertical demobilisation and distrust) and ideological depoliticisation (subjective emptying of the capacity to causally explain the problems of life in common). Within the company, we can clearly mention a deteriorated trade unionind collective bargaining, issues that can be translated into the blocking of workers’ political organisation and the consequent demobilisation of trade unions and the destruction of collective bargaining by branch.
In Chile, collective bargaining by branch, the universal mechanism achieved by the industrial workers’ movement to give workers a political existence that rebalances the weight of capital in labour relations and the constitution of social democracy, is practically non-existent, constituting one of the mainstays of the model. In fact, José Piñera’s 1979 Labour Plan eliminates it by cataloguing it as a threat to the growth of the economy. Let us recall that the fundamental pillars of the plan are: 1) “strike that does not paralyse, allowing the replacement of workers and enclosing it in the space of regulated collective bargaining”; 2) “collective bargaining that does not distribute income by restricting workers’ freedoms to be able to negotiate beyond the space of the enterprise”; 3) “organisational parallelism that allows the presence of bargaining groups that can detract from the force or inhibit the formation of trade unions”; and 4) “production and reproduction of an individualistic culture, which maintains that trade unions (if they exist as a necessary evil) should only be concerned with what happens in their workplace and in no way address the country’s major problems” (Fundación SOL, 2015).
Secondly, if the general depoliticisation is related to some indicators more or less known to all, such as electoral depoliticisation (measured by the fall in voting intentions), the fall in neighbourhood social participation, the destruction of the functional and territorial social fabric, the destruction of horizontal and vertical trust, it is all a consequence of the same thing, that is, of the multiple and systematic attempts by the elites to destroy the mechanisms of horizontal cooperation of the popular classes and the mechanisms of political alliance between the middle classes and the working classes. In other words, they are the consequence of the multiple and systematic attempts to destroy the sphere of politics as a set of mechanisms of defence, participation (among themselves and to press for the distribution or distribution of the social product) and fraternal collective representation of the population against the elites; in other words, the destruction of what national developmentalist populism had come to call “the people”. In this way, the economic sphere was erected as the main dimension of life, and the idea of politics, collective action and association was supplanted by the idea of society as an aggregate of individual preferences aimed at obtaining direct results unmediated by any kind of institutional representation or regulation. The social was completely remodelled, depoliticising it, i.e., destroying the idea of participation and class interest. As one deputy points out: “At 10:45 a.m. on 6 October 1988, while a sea of people was parading outside celebrating (one day afterwards the defeat of the dictatorship at the polls), we were told at that meeting that they had to be demobilised. Just a few hours after the victory of the NO, the social construction of our democracy was liquidated” (Tomás Hirsch, 2016).
If we add to this the monopoly of public-state management by the social-reformist political parties afterwards, and the conservative ideological monopoly on political representation (right and left liberals), we have a scenario in which any collective orientation and any image of the political public was destroyed. The republican idea of citizenship was destroyed, and the horizon and the political-cultural hegemony of trade unionism, post-politics and post-democracy ended up being imposed: the non-political social. That is to say, the idea that democracy and politics as fundamentals are elements contrary to the set of interests that took over the management and administration of social production after 1973; elements that, by promoting centralised distribution and collective rights, are completely opposed to an economy centered on growth and individual freedoms. Recall that for Guzmán himself, democracy undermined growth; indeed, to this day, for the UDI, economic and social rights undermine per capita GDP.
In general terms, the clearest and most generic socio-economic consequence is the breakdown of the universalist provision of state-produced goods, a situation that brings with it a series of corollaries that have been detrimental to the living conditions of the population. While it is true that Latin America in general, and Chile in particular, never had a fully-fledged welfare state like the central economies, in some sense developmentalism represented an institutional scheme centered on the social and economic rights of the industrial working population, and this was maintained by installing a scheme of replacement institutions oriented towards a culture of duties rather than rights. Capital needed to cut back on rights and social demands, and thus set itself on the path of growth and the complete modification of social life. Now, in more concrete socio-economic aspects, we can cite the idea of the fragmentation of the productive matrix and labour markets.
The Chilean economic model, like the rest of the world capitalist economy, mutated from a proto-industrial and agrarian matrix to an extractivist and financial-commercial services matrix, which led to the phenomenon of the current segmentation and fragmentation of labour markets. Today, companies are much smaller and more agile than in the pre-1973 industrial world, and are made up of small groups of workers. And if we add to this the anti-union effects of the so-called Multirut mechanism, we have an absolutely fragmented and politically decomposed labour structure, which results in a low bargaining power within the company and, therefore, in a population with lower wages. According to international comparative evidence, a labour scheme based on some degree of branch collective bargaining results in higher productivity (Fundación SOL, 2015).
Another central aspect of the neoliberal revolution on a global scale was the reduction of the first category tax structure (direct taxes). Thus, it went from a theoretically progressive structure, where those who earn more pay more, to a regressive one, where those who earn more pay less, since -according to the neoclassical canon-, capital should feed growth and, therefore, should be excluded from financing society. In addition, in Chile as in the rest of the region, the issue of tax avoidance and evasion is a permanent concern. This is especially true given the lack of general regulation of the economic system.
A perverse effect is being nurtured in which the affluent classes become convinced that their advantages have been obtained through their own individual merit (ignoring advantages obtained through the perpetuation of educational, inheritance and class privileges emanating from oligarchic and elitist institutional designs); In turn, the subordinate classes become convinced that their precarious and vulnerable condition is directly related to their incapacities and a certain scarcity of skills, a situation that justifies individual failures, deteriorates self-esteem and legitimises guilt as a hopeless psychological resource.
Thus, the neoliberal institutional design produces a new kind of subject – a new subjectivity – who feels that he or she has no responsibilities towards the economic or political community to which he or she originally and invisibly belongs. As if enjoying the possibility of individual choice of identity, it fantasises about being free to choose who it is and where it wants to go. The new aspirational middle class, built in mercantile environments (it was mercantilistically integrated into society afterwards), and which has believed in the liberal myth of upward social mobility, understands that the sphere of politics is not a relevant sphere to achieve its own ends. That is, it no longer believes in the need for politics or collective action of a political nature to attempt social advancement or the improvement of living conditions (electoral participation is very low and participation in social organisations or protest mobilisations is also very low); it relies only on its own resources for action (personal or family). Nor do they believe that they need trade unions or the coordination of the interests of their peers within the company to improve both their own quality of life and that of others. Thus, the most pressing socio-cultural consequence, which functions as a set of legitimising mechanisms and subjective sustainability of the neoliberal design, is the exacerbated liberal culture, i.e., individualism, collective inaction and consumer identity (especially within the new aspirational middle classes). In other words, the generalised discrediting of collective (hence political) activity as a relevant form of social action for the attainment of relevant goods.
However, as of 18 October 2019, the population that for years believed in the goodness of such a scheme is beginning to reflect and act critically on its disastrous consequences.