The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Dangers and Possibilities in the Chile Protests

Tribune Magazine has an excellent interview with an activist in Chile, Isidora Cepeda Beccar, about the progress and prospects of the protests in Chile. It’s worth your while to read.

In my original post on the Chile protests, I noted that burning down the metros was stupid. It seems that the protestors agreed, and actually set up guards to make sure that no more of them were damaged.

This leads to a second issue:

Social movements like this can ignite very quickly. But the risk is always that they cannot burn for a long time. People have to go back to work, and after a while, they want things to return to normal. I do think it’s a risk that this movement has such little institutional form. In my view, unless its demands are taken forward by the Left it could result in no real change in the long term.

The problem here is that elites can generally out-wait protestors. They have more resources after all, and the revenue they are losing in a general strike is something they can absorb in a way that poor people can’t absorb losing wages.

Protests which do not really hurt or scare elites thus tend to fail. They either need to genuinely fear for themselves, or be in so much pain they will capitulate to make the problem go away. You saw this in a mild form in the US when the gays went after Obama for opposing gay marriage (yes, he did, this is a memory hole issue). They got personally in his face, they crashed fundraisers held by his wife and screamed. They made his family’s life hell.

It worked.

As I noted about rioting, or even inconvenient peaceful protesting, you need to do it where the elite live, so they can’t avoid it. You need to take away their feeling of safety, of invulnerability–violate their sense that they can wait it out.

If you don’t have a strategy to make the lives of elites miserable, or make them scared, why shouldn’t they just wait you out?

Beccar notes that the institutional left, including the Communist party, has been largely useless in the protests. They didn’t lead them, they don’t know how to respond. The politicians are all used to working in a neoliberal state, making trimming adjustments to basic neoliberal policy. The only institutional left-wing force helping out are the unions, which called a general strike.

What’s interesting is that this includes the miners. Leaving aside that mining is crucial to Chile’s economy, this matters because miners have access to heavy machinery and explosives. Miners, along with construction workers and truckers, are basically capable of going anywhere they want. They are a credible threat, if they want to be.

Students are good, and in Chile it started with the students. But it only ends well for the left if the hard-hat, working class gets involved and gets serious.

This doesn’t have to mean widespread violence. Simply breaking the gates on a few key elites’ estates may well get the message through.

One of the problems with the protests is, in fact, the lack of leadership. They were spontaneous and unexpected, and the demands are incoherent. I think that Beccar is very smart when she suggests that the demand should be for a new constitutional order.

It’s clear that this movement is not just addressing this or that issue. It is raising questions which go right to the roots. So I think we need to demand a new constitution. Our constitution today is the heritage of neoliberalism in Chile, dating back to Pinochet and the Chicago Boys. To change things fundamentally we need to cut those roots. We need to create new rules of the game.

We need a completely new constitution, created by a constituent assembly, with all kinds of social representatives involved. That would give real power to the people and encourage a much-needed new culture of participation, involvement, and social commitment to the political space. The president, the parliament, the political parties today are not representing the people’s voice. They haven’t done it for decades, why should they start now?

Trimming within a constitutional order set up by Chicago Economists and Pinochet won’t work. It was set up for that not to work.

Make fundamental change.

This applies, in many ways, to other countries, by the way. It may seem, for example, in the US that the Constitution is the same as it was in the early 70s, but it isn’t. Vast swathes of it have been reinterpreted by courts, especially the Supreme Court, in ways that are essentially conservative and neoliberal. Citizens United, which says money=speech would have been unimaginable in the 60s. So, frankly, was Bush v. Gore, the vast effective reduction in Miranda rights, the mandatory minimum sentencing, RICO laws (which violate freedom of association in fundamental ways), and the acceptance of current practices of civil forfeiture (where the cops now take more stuff from Americans than burglars do).

I grew up in the 70s, and the US today is far different from it was then: It is fundamentally less free, and that was a deliberate choice that shudders through law and the constitution.

I wish the people of Chile the best. Allende was a bright possibility, stolen from them by a very evil man with American backing. (Remember that Pinochet had dogs trained to rape women, and do not defend him to me.)

This is a chance for a reset and a new future. Pinochet made sure there was a lot more money in Chile, and made sure it wouldn’t get to most of the population.

Time to change that.



need for constitutional reset


Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – October 27, 2019


Most Wealthy People Aren’t Going to Be Able to Avoid Climate Change


  1. Reuben Thomas

    “hard hate” → “hard hat”

  2. Ian Welsh


  3. Willy

    Has anybody psychoanalyzed why a screwed people don’t instinctively target wealthy safe spaces?

  4. The neoliberal origins of Chile’s constitution are a fascinating chapter in modern history that should be of concern to all of us engaged in post-capitalist enquiry. Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, tracking the career of arch-neoliberal James Buchanan, has an extensive discussion of the structural and constitutional reforms that were imposed in Chile to entrench neoliberal freedom (i.e. the freedom for the already wealthy to continuously augment their wealth at the expense of everybody else while steadfastly avoiding social responsibilities). I advocate caution at calls for constitutional reform, at least in the US, where well-funded, battle-hardened neoliberal institutions like ALEC have been calling for a constitutional convention for years. They are very well prepared. Are we?

  5. nihil obstet

    The 50s and 60s were a golden time for the advance of civil liberties in the U.S. The Commies were coming! and that scared the rich witless. The Communist Parties of Western Europe were pretty strong and the rising third world was attracted to the socialist model which had turned the laughable Russian Empire into the genuinely powerful Soviet Union. The return of domestic labor violence was a possibility, only this time with a male labor force that had received military training.

    The Warren Court responded with a series of decisions that made a lot of the claims about individual freedom the law of the land. The abuses that hadn’t been corrected through the political system, from virtually rotten boroughs through racial and sexual equality and limitations on police power. This seduced the paltry American left into depending on the court — a non-democratic institution that has served the rich for most of its existence — for real advances. And as the rich men decided their rear ends were safe, the Court went back to its rulings that the rich man’s law is the sacrosanct law of the land, but the so-called left has continued to worship at the altar of the idol of an “independent judiciary”.

    Chili at least doesn’t have the history of ascribing all progress towards their constitution’s wisdom and keeping undemocratic structures in place. The U.S. needs to start over as well, but it’s hard to figure out how to keep revolutionary structures alive when everyone’s whole mental framework has been formed around the marvelous U.S. constitution.

  6. To Old Loggers, it’s not a hat, it’s a habit. Don’t get out of the truck …

    We have been fortunate here, which I fear will be reflected when the mob cuts loose. It’s a good thing winter’s coming on, best to hope for a bad one, keep people indoors. The rock, hard place and only way out is there’s no way for it to get better. Nothing will fundamentally change. If Trump remains, things continue as they are. getting worse. If he leaves, be it resignation in faux disgust, under penalty of impeachment or at the will of the voters and electoral college, the opposition will be even more emboldened than through their tea bagger years, and things will continue as they are. Getting worse. The mob is primed and the agitators running practice up and down the west coast all summer. As an Old Logger and firefighter I dislike the analogy to wildfire, but all it takes is a spark.

    I just don’t see how it can be avoided.

  7. different clue

    @Stanley Dundee,

    I agree about the danger of holding another Constitutional Convention. Both ALEC and the many other arms and agents of the Koch Family and other such Overclass families have their Private Moneyistocracy Constitution polished, refined, and ready to launch.

    About the Gay pressure on Obama’s opposition to Gay Marriage . . . Gay Marriage itself wouldn’t cost the Overclass any significant money, so the Overclass and their Obama could afford to give in to the pressure.

    A possible lesson for other goal-seeking pressure groups might be to focus on something that won’t cost the Overclass any significant money so that the Overclass can instruct its politicians to give in to it. That might build pressure group morale and increase pressure group strength for applying pressure on items where the Overclass would lose billions or trillions of dollars if the pressure group gets what it wants. From a tiny victory, to a little victory, to small, to medium, to large, etc. . . gathering and building genuine power at each step for the ever-more viciously opposed steps to follow.

  8. Ché Pasa

    How the Wall St. swells responded to OWS.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén