Southern Chile: self organisation of proletarians in the face of catastrophe, lumpen capitalists and state incompetence
We received via our Spanish website on 3 March 2010 a commentary on the situation facing the residents of working class and popular neighbourhoods in the urban area of Concepcion after the earthquake in February. Against the propaganda of the international media which denigrated the conduct of the local population and accused them of 'scandalous' acts of looting, this text restores reality by showing the authentically proletarian spirit of solidarity and mutual aid which animated the workers in the redistribution of goods; at the same time the workers were organising their own self-defence against the predatory activities of armed criminal gangs. This text was also published on libcom.org.
By now, it is well known that many people did the common sense thing and entered the centres in which provisions were being stored, taking no more than what they needed. Such an act is logical, rational, necessary and inevitable - so much so that it appears absurd even to debate it. People organised themselves spontaneously - giving out milk, nappies and water according to each individual's need, with attention paid in particular to the number of children within each family. The need to take available products was so evident - and the determination of the people to exercise their right to survive was so powerful - that even the police ended up helping (extracting commodities from the Lider supermarket in Concepción, for example). And when attempts were made to impede the populace in doing the only thing that it could possibly do, the buildings in question were set alight - it's equally logical, after all, that if tonnes of foodstuffs have to rot instead of being consumed, that they are burnt, thus avoiding infection. These incidences of ‘looting' have allowed thousands of people to subsist for hours in darkness, without drinking water or even the remotest hope that someone might come to their aid.
Now, however, in the space of just a few hours, the situation has changed drastically. Throughout the penquista (Concepción) metropolis, well-armed, mobile gangs have started to operate in expensive vehicles, concerning themselves with looting not just small businesses, but also residential buildings and houses. Their objective is to hoard the scarce few goods that people have been able to retrieve from the supermarkets, as well as their domestic appliances, money and whatever else they may find. In some parts of Concepción, these gangs have looted houses before setting them alight and then fleeing. Residents, who at first found themselves rendered completely defenceless, have started to organise their own defences, taking it in turns to do security patrols, erecting barricades to protect their roads, and, in some barrios, collectivising their commodities in order to ensure that everyone gets fed.
I don't intend to "complete" the square of information gleaned from other sources with this brief account of events in the last few hours, more I want to bring everyone's attention to the nature of this critical situation, and its relevance from an anti-capitalist viewpoint. The spontaneous impulse of the people to appropriate what they need to subsist, and their tendency towards dialogue, sharing, agreement and collective action, have been present since the first moment of this catastrophe. We have all seen this natural, communitarian tendency in one form or another in our lives. In the midst of the horror experienced by thousands of workers and their families, this impulse to living as a community has emerged as a light in the dark, reminding us that it is never late to start again, to return to our [natural?] selves.
Faced with this organic, natural, communistic tendency, which has given life to the people in this time of shock, the state has paled, revealing its true self: a cold, impotent monster. Moreover, the sudden interruption of the demented production and consumption cycle left industry owners at the mercy of events, forced to wait, begging for the return of order. In short, a genuine breach opened in society, in which sparks of the new world which inhabits the hearts of common people. It was necessary, therefore, urgent in fact, to restore the old order of monopoly, abuses and the prey. But it didn't come from the highest spheres, but from the very bottom of class society. Those in charge of putting everything back in its right place - that is to say, imposing by force the relations of terror which permit private, capitalist appropriation - have been the drug-trafficking mafiosi, embedded within the population at large; the upstarts within the upstarts, children of the working class, allied with bourgeois elements in order to ascend at the cost of the poisoning of their brothers, the trade of their sisters' sex and the avid consumerism of their own children. Mafiosi - that is to say, capitalists in the purest form: predators of their class, lounging in 4x4s, armed with automatic pistols, prepared to intimidate and even displace their own neighbours or residents of other barrios, with the aim of monopolising the black market and making easy money i.e. power.
That these mafia elements are natural allies of the state and the boss class is manifested in the use of their undignified misdeeds in the mass media in order to make the already demoralised population enter into a panic, therefore justifying the country's militarisation. What scene could be more prosperous for our bosses and politicians - walking hand in hand - who see this catastrophic crisis as nothing more than a good opportunity for good business, squeezing double profits out of a work force that is bent double by fear and desperation?
On the part of the enemies of this social order, it is meaningless to sing odes to looting without defining the social content of such actions. A group of people - partially organised, or united by a common goal, at least - taking and distributing the products that they need to survive is not the same as armed gangs looting the population with the intention of making their own profits. What remains clear is that the earthquake of Saturday 27th didn't just hit the working class terribly and destroy existent infrastructures. It has also overturned social relations in this country. In a matter of hours, the class struggle has emerged - warts and all - before our eyes, which are perhaps too used to television images to be able to capture the essence of the course of events. The class struggle is here, in the barrios reduced to rubble and gloom, fizzling and crackling at the bottom of society, forcing the fatal crash between two classes of human beings who in the end find themselves face to face; on one side, the social men and women who search among themselves in order to help each other and to share, and on the other, the antisocials who pillage them and shoot at them in order to begin their own primitive accumulation of capital.
We are here, the opaque, anonymous beings, constantly trapped in our grey lives - the exploited, the neighbour, the parent, but ready to build links with those who share the same depression. On one side, the proletariat; on the other, capital. It's that simple. In many neighbourhoods of this devastated land, in these early morning moments, people are starting to organise their own defence against the armed gangs. At this moment, class consciousness is starting to be enacted materially by those who have been forced - in the blink of an eye - to understand that their lives belong to themselves alone, and that no one will come to their aid.