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The Masked Rebellion

Political Violence, Subordination and Resistance [in Chile]



The Masked Rebellion

[Intro from Hommodolars] The following is an “academic” text (rare for our website to publish) however offers an interesting analysis regarding the issue of violence. The central question still lies in the significance of violence as part of the communist movement, in the various forms it can develop and in the necessity of its fluidity in the greater picture. We do not however share that violence is a mere response to social inequities. Clearly that can be a reason, however we insist in taking it as an element of negation to the established order in its totality.

It is in this way that the title may not be fully appropriate in only speaking of those who are “masked,” taking into account that this can be an element of security, as well as a tool for social war. Nonetheless, the text allows for the (de)stigmatization of violence in various struggles, offering a historical panorama which moves away from the idea that it surges from solely an individual will or idea, as if it were the simple action of people who wish to “devastate” mass public demonstrations; where clearly violence is present in every mass class conflict in the country.

By: Igor Goicovich/Metiendo Ruido

Historian and Professor of the University of Santiago Chile (USACH) touching upon the theme of political violence.

In every occasion where students and popular organizations mobilize in public space, the mass media at the service of the dominating classes in Chile cry “Violence” in unison, where images appear of masked youth lifting barricades, throwing stones on public officials, and destroying part of the urban landscape. Television anchors, street reporters and the various analysts quickly condemn the events, and uncritically denominate as being “violent,” “terrorists,””anarchists,” “thugs,” “delinquents” etc. However no one ever bothers to rigorously analyse the reason for why these events happen in the first place, much less explain the profound political depth that underlines this type of protest.

Those who are protagonists of these types of demonstrations are people (predominantly popular youth) who reject the current system of dominating classes in the country. They reject the economic model that exploits them, their siblings and parents; they reject the structure of social inequality that condemns a large portion of the population to misery or chronic debt; they reject the police brutality that their neighbourhoods face daily; they reject the symbolic imagery that allows for a fantasy world that only the privileged can enjoy. There is a long list of accumulated tension, frustration and disenfranchisement that has been building up in the framework of various social (including student, environmental, indigenous and recently labour) movements, which are expressed as popular rebellion.

This seems like a spontaneous rebellion, where no central ideology can be seen, at least in comparison to movements in Latin America and Chile during the 1960’s and 80’s.We cannot ignore the existence of social and political organizations where ideology is present, such and in anarchism or Marxism that actively participate in street confrontations. However in my judgement, these organizations do mot posses an effective control over such confrontation. Moreover, a great part of the violent actions that have been observed lack the political condition or ideological orientation, such as the attacks on small businesses and the sacking of schools in the urban periphery. However these actions, such as the attacks on large supermarket and pharmacy chains, as well as financial institutions or malls, have one common denominator: rage. It is here where these actions continue expressing a profound social discontent that inequality has produced.

Violence as a Historical Factor

Moreover, the spontaneity of violent actions is even seen in the form in which the attacks repel repressive manoeuvres of the State. The masses confront the police without any operative plan and normally only with the few things at the disposal of the urban environment (rocks and such). Therefore, we can understand this as low level intensity violence. Especially when comparing social and political conflicts in Colombia, Mexico or Brazil.

It should be noted that these demonstrations are not new. On the contrary they became extremely recurrent, beginning the second half of the 19th Century. Every time an economic crisis affected the subsistence of the popular classes or every time there was degradation in the legitimacy of the political regime, popular fury would erupt in the public sphere. The transportation riot in 1888, the meat strike of 1905, the urban riot of 1957 and the popular protests against the Military Dictatorship circa 1983-1987, are just a few examples of emblematic events we can refer to [in Chile]. During each of these events, and in the many we could also mention, the demonstrators sacked or intended to sack the commercial establishments of the bourgeoisie, attacking government buildings such as parliament palaces where the oligarchy would boast and exhibit their wealth, and confronted the repressive forces of the State, destroying part of public paraphernalia and ornamentation. Furthermore, in all these events, repression (as is the case today) acted in particular viciousness and premeditation. It is important to note that deaths always occurred on the side of those in protest during these types of demonstrations; not of those who repress. On the contrary, those who have historically massacred the people have received honours and promotions; as was the case of Roberto Silva Renard, the General responsible for the mass murder of the Domingo Santa Maria School of Iquique in 1907. Today those premeditated crimes, such as in the case of Manuel Guiterrez, are classified as “unnecessary violence causing death,” which can result in a three year prison conviction in the absolute worst case scenario.

The Criminalizing Discourse

In the context of this asymmetry in forces and the resources of mass media at the service of the elite, the task of criminalization of popular protest is at hand. What happens today with the mass media is not all that different from what happened during the beginning of the 20th Century, in the context of this emerging “social issue.” In this way, labour protests that would demand better working and life quality conditions would not only be violently repressed, but would also be criminalized. Those who would protest would be “enemies of the Nation, property and religion.”

Delegitimization – Mobilization for the Press

Today (just as yesterday) there is a monopoly over the principle means of communication within the print, radio and television. Therefore the editorial line of social confliction becomes uniform:

- The demands are “unprecedented,” the students are “uncompromising,” the proposals are “ideological,” etc.

- Then, unto the impossibility of invisibilizing the protests, a homogenizing discourse is imposed as the correct way to demonstrate: the playful and festive way.

- And in this same way the “meaning” of the demonstration is constructed: that it should be authorized; it should be developed with authorities; it should adjust itself to what the system has to offer, and that it should be self-regulated in its trajectory and development. In consequence, all demonstrations that break with the “politically correct forms of expression” are rapidly isolated and criminalized.

However, what draws the most attention is the true lack of professionalism or rigour of the reporters affiliated to these networks, which not only do their job, but also become spurious spokespeople of the government or other authorities. It is here where the situations of “structural violence” become immanent, as with the unequal distribution of wealth, labour exploitation, commercial exploitation of great retail chains, or the historical usurpation of indigenous Mapuche lands, which do not incite journalistic interest or are characterized as euphemisms. As an example, the mass media never published the murder case of Manuel Gutierrez. They have referred to the death of a “poor youth” as if he died peacefully in his bed of natural causes. However, they have emphasized the regret of the police officer who murdered him. This structural violence is without a doubt, a key factor in the unleashing of reactive violence that poor youth have manifested.

Effective Mass Media: Divide, Conquer, and Normalize

Another important and concerning aspect is the configuration of a “horizontal” confrontation between those who participate in popular demonstrations. In this regard, it is necessary to consider two situations. On the one hand, we can observe an important segmentation between those who protest. Indeed, a part of the student protesters who are in professional careers apparently more successful careers (such as medicine, engineering, law, etc.) come from more accommodated socioeconomic circles, or are given greater “cultural capital.” These youth often refer to non-university (high school or unemployed youth) as “thugs,” “lumpen,” etc. and in this way reproduce the stigmatizing and criminalizing discourse of government and authorities. Then, stuck in the framework of what is deemed to be a “politically correct demonstration,” these students can become informers (in pointing at their own people to the police), or in direct agents of repression (when they detain or hand in protesters to the police). There is much premeditated recklessness in the government, mass media, and some social activists when compelling these people to confront masked protesters. If there would be a fatal confrontation, the political responsibility would lie in those who incite the fratricidal conflict.

Order and Property

There is another underlying factor in what constitutes class society in Chile: public order and property. If there is something the oligarchy and later the bourgeois established well was to hold up these two principles as natural values, penetrating throughout the social fabric of society. Many today believe they have something to lose: a car, a small business, a house. It was successful in imposing idea that the threat is made by the lesser “other.” Here, the surge of the old and reiterated fascistic refrain “harsh treatment” appears, in that any threat to property is considered to be a threat to public order. In consequence, resourcing to repression is validated and massified.

It is in this context that masked violence becomes symbolic and cultural resistance. It is the rebellion against all forms of subjected subordination: it is the rejection to “yes sir,” “whatever you say, sir,” “sorry, sir.” The act of masking up breaks with all forms of subordination and in terms of rupture, it not only constitutes as a dissonance to the State and authority, but also for those who have internalized the official discourse. Nonetheless, the act of masking up remains a political act, where it expresses the will of rebellion unto the conditions of structural violence (economic, political, and social), and thereby a gesture of defiance unto the cowardliness with which politics have been carried out in Chile.

Distributed by: The Women’s Coordinating Committee for a Free Wallmapu [Toronto]


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WCCC (Sharon Sanchez)
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