Chile’s M-Cycle [2023-2011]-[2010-1990]-[1989-1973]
1. After the Acid. Before
Downtown Santiago smells like acid this summer – it’s glorious anyway. It’s 36 degree Celsius and the asphalt seems wet, permanently wet. That sticky, repugnant oily film remains on our shoes, it comes with us, marking our footprints – which are invisible anyway. Maybe the others can follow them? The broken windows are like screams, the wrecked bench blocking the street is like a new old creature, ready to fight with us. And again, the fucking cops show up with their new toys bought for them by this fucking president: those brand-new water cannon trucks shooting that acid stuff everywhere; that toxic water in which they’ve dissolved the damn tear-gas powder they like to inhale. It itches, it makes you cry – but that doesn’t matter because it’s not from sadness, it’s from anger. Those fat bastards will inhale it anyway – they would inhale it anyway. All cops are bastards. The streets smell like acid, but it’s not theirs anymore; it’s ours, and it is anger.
Following Mark Fisher, we would like to argue that Chile’s recent history can be seen as a case, if not as an example, of what the struggles toward a post-capitalist stage may look like, and what their scope and future embodiments could be. On one hand, paying attention to Fisher’s essay No Romance without Finance, we dare to state, along with him, that capitalist realism may have been inaugurated in Chile in 1973 when a “CIA-backed” military coup overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende. On the other hand, however, we would like to stress that when in October 2020 – as the result of perhaps the biggest protests Chile has ever seen, and that since mid-October 2019 initiated a broad social uprising – Chileans voted in a landslide to replace the crude neoliberal constitution imposed by the dictatorship in 1980, what began was in effect the end of the Thatcherian “there is no alternative”. Paraphrasing what the Caja Negra publishing house posted to a social network the same night of that referendum – which in turn was inspired by Fisher and the screams that were graffitied in Santiago during the uprising –, neoliberalism begins and ends in Chile.
Social networks are going crazy. Endless images of repression come through the screen. It seems so different from the 1980s. So, so different from the 1970s… This time there are cameras everywhere – our eyes are everywhere, and they can’t see us. So many eyes lost, so many lives wasted. All those years… I hear a helicopter passing by. It’s a dark night. They’re coming for me. They know I’m watching the images. They know I know about the killings. I hear the shootings. I hear the screams. It’s 1973 again. Will they do it? Can they do it again? I get my cell phone. More and more images come through. A young clown-artist girl hanging dead from a fence. I see the soldiers taking a group down to the subway, pushing them into the darkness. I see the ropes and I see the blood, but the bodies aren’t there. These motherfuckers are doing it again... A video starts playing, and the chant goes on: Ya van a ver… ¡Las balas que nos tiraron van a volver!
> In his essay Abandon Hope (Summer is Coming), Fisher reminds us that the global deployment of “the capitalist technologies of reality management and libidinal engineering,” which intensified during the 1980s and were fundamental for its success, are at the same time a potential reason for its fall. Capitalist realism relies on cultural feedback loops enabled by screens, interfaces, and networks that can be used to imagine new ways to articulate subjectivities toward dissensus. In Chile, as in many other countries, smartphones and social media have played a major role in the articulation of the protests during the last decade. They have been key not only to enable a decentralized coordination between a multiplicity of bodies in public space, but they have also empowered the modulation of common imaginaries, narratives, and affections that allow us to question the system, denounce its abuses, and visualize different paths for transformation. After decades of living in the cold dryness of capitalist realism’s long winter, the massive student protests of 2011 in Chile – that creatively explored the aesthetic and political potential of technological networks as an apparatus to modulate a collective desire for change – brought us the warm breeze of a spring that would finally become fully unfolded in 2019. Now, we hope that summer is (still) coming.
For the past year I have kept returning to the same square. I can't say exactly why, but at least I feel I am a part of something. The landscape has changed, I hardly recognize it. Weeks go by in an eternal cycle of destruction and restoration of the symbols sustaining the image of the city. There are no statues anymore, the walls seem to speak, and the street signposts have other names now; names to which the TV remains blind. I don't even mind being blinded from one of my eyes if with the other I can see this moment. At this point, I prefer chaos to living in this tasteless reality.
> There is no happy situation waiting for us under the veil of fantasy. For a long time, Latin American countries pinned all their hopes and expectations on the promise of progress promoted under the OECD parameters. The assessment of their welfare was thus turned into a statistical index, and their conditions of misery into an average. Therefore, all those seeking alternatives to a world regulated by certainties, will have to face only one fate: to experience first-hand the uncertainty of the void. As the differential topology of the mathematician René Thom reminds us, a catastrophe can be defined as a critical point generated by insignificant alterations in the system’s parameters. In Chile, such a catastrophe was triggered by an increase of 30 pesos – ca. US$ 0.04 – in the subway fare. In Colombia, it was products of the basic food basket being included in a tax reform act. Both cases can lead to a potential structural collapse. The point of Thom's explanation is that for a short period, and under certain conditions, the range of possible states of a system becomes impossible to predict. At the bottom of the collective awareness triggered by this stage of uncertainty, there seems to lie an alternative idea of progress – just as its highest peaks rise amidst the chaos.
2. In the Dryness. Nothing
I never understood why it’s always cold in this shopping mall – cold and dry. My throat and eyes get dry here. Why do I come back? Oh, fuck – it’s totally packed. As usual, I should say. Why do I come back? The escalators are like rivers, or better yet, like cascades of numb humans with dried throats, I guess. Am I the only one that thinks that this place is cold and dry? And yet, I come back. I only need a freaking battery for that camera, and I come to this giant dry place. You could have ordered it online, fucker! But you need it for that shooting tomorrow, you idiot, that’s why you are here. Besides, you can buy that vinyl record. The shooting will be beautiful. It has to be. I’ll listen to that record tonight. It will be like the song: And I am silenced, And I can't think straight, And it's the best thing, It's the best thing, The best thing, Such a beautiful feeling. It will be the most beautiful movie this shitty country has seen – From England to Ameeeerica.
> During the 1980s, Chile was the setting of one of the most radical experiments in governmental management ever seen. A group of economists who graduated from the University of Chicago’s School of Economics – then under the leadership of Milton Friedman –, drafted a three-hundred-page document that served as the manifesto for a neoliberal revolution on a global scale. Neoliberalism transformed Chile into a real laboratory under perfectly controlled conditions – controlled by the bloody tyranny led by Augusto Pinochet. Under these conditions, a business ontology – as Fisher calls it – was installed; one that progressively naturalized the belief that every aspect of life in society – education, health, culture, politics – should be managed as a business. In 1988, a national referendum ended Pinochet’s dictatorship and brought back democratic elections. In 2005, during the government of the social-democrat president Ricardo Lagos, a “new Constitution” was written – which in effect was only a few amendments added to the one imposed by the dictatorship in 1980. This was supposed to be the closure of the so-called transition to democracy. Nonetheless, the core of Pinochet’s neoliberal program was not touched at all, as if the whole operation had been just a reminder that “there is no alternative” – that capitalism is an “inevitable part of reality,” and that the hope for change was merely a naive illusion. During that never-ending transition to democracy – a period that goes from 1990 to some uncertain point close to our present – capitalist realism grew stronger in Chile, and the possibilities for change seemed to become more distant every day. Chileans started to lose their capacity to imagine a different world, and the horizon of the future kept on shrinking before their eyes.
It’s been years already. How many years? So many years. They feel so similar. Decades gone by. I turn on the TV. There they are… Who is the president this time? Whatever. They all look the same. They all talk the same shit. Every year is the same year. The glorious never-ending transition to democracy. The endless wait for a joy that will never come. I remember when I was a kid they were always on TV. Always talking. I kept misrecognizing them – they all wore the same suits; they all had the same faces. I remember that I used to think they were images from the past; more precisely, reruns of news programs from the past. I didn’t understand very well then how TV actually worked. Every time I saw them, I thought it was just like with cartoons: just another repetition of the same show. No surprises. No alarms. Nothing new to see here. Of course, now I do know how TV works. That’s why it’s always off! Just a distant mumbling of diffuse voices. They all sound the same. I miss the cartoons.
> As soon as democracy was restored in the 1990s, the promises of change disappeared. All areas of society were atomized and pushed to the market laws in conformity with the neoliberal doctrine; from the healthcare system to the country's water rights, and beyond. The governments from the period established a model of public administration based on business management, through which even cultural products were captured by this one-dimensional image of progress. The subjects of the so-called “Chilean miracle” – as some economists dared then to label it – are reflected in a group of films shot under the sign of melancholy, perhaps as one of the most symptomatic examples of the new spirit of capitalism. This melancholic cinema emerges through films such as "The Maid" (2009), "Velódromo" (2010), "Play" (2005), or "In Bed" (2005), triggering fascination among some film critics, produced within and for a small niche. In them, the middle layers of society find consolation about their defeats in front of a movie camera, as if it were a confessional technique. Driven by a sadness without apparent reason, these portraits of isolation tend to withdraw into their inner world at the expense of the coldness of the world surrounding them. They mourn the loss of an object of desire, but without being able to identify it accurately enough as to modify their way of being-in-the-world. In its ancient Greek form, melancholy expressed a cold and dry condition that through symptoms such as despondency and depression, was caused by an excess of dark (melas) bile (kholé). From the point of view of hauntology – again with Fisher –, melancholy may also help to exorcise the real core of the capitalist fantasy we recognize in this ever-expanding desert.
I never wanted to get a degree in advertising, but I just had to do it. But that's okay, it's what I could afford. I still have many years ahead to pay for it. I should be grateful for the loan the bank gave me. After all, they trusted me, and now I feel that I’ve become a successful person. I must confess that I dreamed of getting a degree in art. Deep down, I’ve convinced myself over the years that advertising can be a form of art. Perhaps it’s the art form of successful nations. After all, what’s art but a way to make sense of this harmless reality? And what’s advertising but a way to give an aesthetic feel to all these cold products? I sell dreams and illusions. I know very well what people like myself want to see, hear, feel, or even smell. That’s my business. But who can sell those illusions to an advertiser? I always like to see my campaigns on the top floor of this mall. From here I can see all the people walking in circles around my ads, as if they were satellites orbiting a celestial body. For a long time, I wondered where those people would go without the attraction force of such a system. I must also confess that sometimes I have an unbearable desire to jump into the void.
> The Costanera Center shopping mall in Santiago has been Latin America’s tallest skyscraper since 2012. At almost 300 meters, its main building, the Great Tower of Santiago, has more than 300 fully equipped stores to facilitate the purchase of all kinds of products. In contrast to the first-world atmosphere deployed by this shopping mall, however, almost a dozen people have chosen this place to take their own lives. Two of these suicides occurred in the building’s central nave only one month before the social uprising unfolded, joining four others who took their lives during 2019. A cold solution proposed by businessmen was to install a security net to prevent more killings that could disturb a shopping day at the mall. In other words, this shows the fine expression of the cynical conscience of those who know very well what is going on but prefer not to think about it – the show must go on. According to Slavoj Žižek, contemporary cynicism can be precisely defined by the formula of the one who “knows very well what he is doing but still does it.” Beneath the dome of the Great Tower of Santiago, this temple of consumption, lie the illusions of those who consumed their lives until the very last day. Revealing this tragic dimension of capitalist modernization – insofar as it is a cemetery where illusions are traded – will be the only way to wake up from the narcotic dream in which we have remained.
3. Through the Fluidity. After
And yet, we will influence the system back. It’s on the new TV set, it came with it. This is how we will influence the system back, the compañeros from the union said. It’s right there between the kitchen and the dining room, right beside the radio. This is the most advanced science our country has seen, said the compañeros, the union will pay for a third and the rest will be taken from your salary in tiny payments you won’t even notice. This is the most advanced technology el pueblo has seen, they insisted. When I’m at the factory, alone in that green greyish room, typing all those letters and numbers that seem meaningless, every day hearing the clack of the teletype, I think of what the compañeros from the union said: this is the most advanced science our country has seen. The other day at home after work, the compañero presidente said on TV that the government will build the biggest plant for teletype production on the continent; that we are on the road to become technologically independent; that our telecommunications will be advanced, secure and our own, built and supported by el pueblo, and never again by an imperialist company that colludes against us. Then I used it for the first time. I was happy, excited. I could still hear his voice, but while I turned the knob it was as if I were able to see many others doing it at the same time. We will become a single organism, a socialist cybernetic democracy, the compañeros from the union said. I was excited – I could feel it was true.
> We argue that cybernetic thinking can in effect become a theoretical platform not only to study and analyze the Chilean case in the terms we are presenting here, but, moreover, one to unfold a theory-fiction apparatus – following Fisher’s Flatline Constructs – to think and imagine a broad post-capitalistic future. If the techno-scientific efforts deployed by Allende’s government between 1971 and 1973 – in which Stafford Beer’s cybernetics of management was central, just as he himself recounts in Brain of the Firm – were in effect an attempt to create a cybernetic type of socialism, we state that a similar approach can be used to imagine an organic-technological democracy that can, in turn, constitute an always in-process social apparatus of emancipation. Beyond speculation, however, we think that the unfolding of such organic-technological coupling is already in progress, and that it may be traced in the ways Chile’s 2019 social uprising deployed and coordinated itself. In other words, while understanding that such a process is still in development, we would like to point out that underneath Chile’s recent history – from 1973 to 2023 as its near future – an M-shaped cyclical machine can be found; one that with its two summits and a hollow in the middle, shows that collective consciousness-rising is a force that cannot be kept permanently buried.
I was waiting for a guy to come and take me by the hand. That was the instruction. I know it sounds weird, but we didn’t ask any questions. Not this time. We were hiding in the crowd. If you could have seen us then, you would have never been able to tell. We had been following these guys for a couple of days now. They look like everybody else, but we know the truth. We know who they really are. We know what they’re planning to do. All these people around us have no idea. They just keep chanting anthems. They know nothing yet. If we do this right, they never will. We’re doing it for the country, for our families and for yours. We were going to do it with the power of reason, but now we are doing it by force. There’s no alternative. It’s now or never. They say these guys know where they are hiding the weapons. They say they brought them from Cuba by plane. Those fucking commies. It’s us or them now. And we are going to give them hell.
> In Chile, capitalist realism progressively imposed what Fisher calls an aesthetic poverty in our daily environments; a phenomenon characterized by the ubiquitous presence and banal uniformity of transnational corporative (non)places, images, sounds, and narratives. This aestheticization of everyday life, driven by marketing codes and strategies to stimulate compulsive consumption, was a key aspect for the libidinal engineering of our hopes, dreams, and desires. It is also a key process to understand how capitalism operates as an abstract machine that, above all, produces subjectivities. Instead, we again argued with Fisher, fictions – either literary, graphic, cinematographic, theoretical, or sonic – have the power to mobilize our voices, gestures, bodies, and affections. Therefore, the counter-cultural imaginaries from the 1960s and 1970s had to be subjugated by capitalism in order to secure its project of global expansion – where the Chilean coup d'état appears as a clear example. But fiction is also the technology needed to resume these processes, if we want to create new figures, concepts, and stories that can lead to the invention of new post-capitalist subjectivities. In this sense, Fisher’s theory-fiction is closely linked to what he calls “consciousness-rising;” that is, that it’s not only a matter of becoming aware, or accumulating more knowledge, but about transforming one’s own relationship with the world, and, in this movement, exploring new modes of individual and collective subjectivation.
This morning I woke up to the sound of a rifle hitting my head. For a few seconds, I couldn’t hear anything but noise, screams, and a group of soldiers talking about “Marxist cancer.” I know nothing about Marxism, not even about any other political ideas. I say this with some shame because I can't even read. I am only here because I believed in a different future for my family. But from one moment to another – I really don't know who or where – someone seems to have turned the world upside down without me even realizing it. I only remember the tanks going through the streets of Santiago and the aircrafts bombing La Moneda. The soldier that hit me received some orders through his radio, and now I’m being taken in a helicopter with my eyes blindfolded. From far away I hear the sea under my feet. My only hope now is to imagine how the whole world will be horrified once they find out what has just happened here. A horror that I doubt will last for much longer.
> On the morning of 11 September 1973, the last message of the democratically elected Chilean president, Salvador Allende, was broadcasted; a message of hope for the Chilean workers aired through Radio Portales. While the La Moneda government palace suffered a withering assault by the military and air force, he said the following words: "go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society." Minutes later, his body was found lifeless by the occupying troops. Thousands of dissidents were tortured, murdered, and thrown into the sea from navy helicopters during the upcoming years. Thus, what one day was tantamount to an unprecedented future, eventually became taboo. A turning point in history that built a wall to distance itself from a past-future impossible to re-edit. However, Allende's words were spoken again on October 25th, 2019, when more than two million people, after intense days of protests, marched through the great avenues of Santiago against the politico-economic model inherited from the dictatorship. The impossible presence of Salvador Allende redefined the relationship between what is no more and what is not yet. He embodies the ghost of future-pasts that haunts the streets of Santiago defying our history.