This article seeks to describe the process of a form of relationality of the images that, at least in their glimmer, are seen in the immanence of the October 2019 revolt in Chile, which is expressed as an affective response to the promise opened by the revolt, in contrast to separation and distrust, which interrupts friendship. This reverse is expressed as a threat that interrupts the time to come of the revolt; it is also an interruption in the temporality of the images, which are now expressed in a more urgent and oppressive way and which, in their absolute presence, flood any type of common destiny.
During the process that began with the protests on the afternoon of October 18, 2019, in Chile, murals and graffiti could be seen on the streets that expressed not only the repressed rage of thirty years of waiting for a happiness that never arrived but also a series of “slogans” that expressed an openness, a desire for another relational form. It was an openness to a coming community, which was seen in the immeasurable flash of images: images of a desire to be something else, to interrupt the ominous destiny of the law of separation. It was a desire to move closer and merge with the otherness of the other as a bearer of good news, of the destiny of the community. It was the presence of a multitude that made itself present not as a number but, rather, as an extension of those who are no longer there (Blanchot 2000).
The process of revolt seemed to crack open a relational structure that had been imposed in Chile for almost fifty years, a relational structure founded on private property. Therefore, the foundational gesture of the revolt, if we can speak in those terms, is constituted by the so-called evasion of paying the metro fare by high school students. The contestational gesture of jumping the turnstile implied that what was on the other side was not only free transportation, but also the effective interruption of the property law that has separated the community, community as a promise of being together, without laws of classification and separation. Thus evasion became a metaphor for a cross-class communion, in which even the children of the wealthy classes felt encouraged to take the leap. Those experiences went viral on social media in a transversal and nonhierarchical way. People started sharing different experiences of this transgression on social media, for example, freeing a river whose flow had been appropriated by an agro-company and returning it to a common and communitarian flow; reclaiming public use of beaches against the illegal appropriation by millionaires who have placed their mansions on coasts and riverbanks, thus restricting free access; or denouncing the mistreatment of animals legally considered “objects” without rights. Therefore, one of the revolt's key slogans—“Now that we have found each other, we won't let go”—articulated a feeling of trust in the other, and through social media, a multiplicity of lines of flight recreated the community socius. In that way, “the revolt of October 2019 gave rise to multiple flows of social rebellion that, without prior political coordination nor an articulated program of transformation, unleashed communitarian energies whose protest was no longer limited to specific sectors (‘education,’ “labor,’ ‘health,’ etc.), but rather transversal to the entire system of neoliberal rules and modes of existence that have reached the mass level through consumption” (Richard 2021: 32).
When the constituent process began, it was thought that all of this could be expressed in the area of the law, in the spirit of the letter that would be imprinted on it. However, the slogan of “evasion” started taking on other forms, appropriated by forces that acted as a mechanism of reterritorialization of the state against the process opened by the revolt. In this way, the slogan of evasion was generalized and mutated into an open and intransigent movement against public and private property, to later be co-opted by organized crime groups and the lumpen in general. Evasion thus transformed into the generalized looting of supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, and almost any form of market.
To this was added the burning of ten Santiago Metro stations and damage to 87 percent of this public transportation network, which generated a rapid rearticulation of the reactionary Right around a discourse of terror. At first, it was President Piñera who appealed to the ghost of the traditional enemy of Chilean legal exceptionalism upon declaring, “We are in the presence of a powerful enemy that wants to destroy Chile.” The Right had used a similar figure in the past to challenge the process of reform led by President Allende, especially agrarian reform, which sought to redistribute land ownership that until then, had been concentrated in large estates. Now, the “enemy” was not located in one place; it was decentered, scattered throughout the subjective flows that converged in unison around a generalized discontent but were not articulated in a political party. The challenge for the reactive forces was to make those disperse flows uniform and make them appear as a concerted unit, to give shape to that lurking monstrosity. As the multiplicity through which the revolt was expressed made that uniformity impossible, they fell back on the traditional format of structuring an audience. And if there is one thing that the neoliberal antirevolt forces know how to do well, it is to turn an event into a spectacle. Toward that end, the revolt was shown in the traditional media as a revolt of the lumpen, displaying a “single and univocal image” of it, when precisely what it had opened was the possibility of a multiplicity of images, of the coexistence of a multiplicity of screens. If the “brain is the screen” (Deleuze 2007), then what the revolt proposed was multiplicity, the massive flight from that univocal image proposed by the aesthetic of univocality. The multiple screens that constitute the general intellect were fueled by multiple flows in movement, instantaneously transmitted by social media, without cuts, without hierarchies, without editing.
However, at the same time, another form of articulation of the revolt's nervous system began to appear, this time a vertical way of linking the people as a population connected by the spectacle. It is an affective harmony, bypassing social and geographic differences that separate the population (Massumi 2005), another form of affectivity constituted by “fear” as a fundamental vector of social relation. Therefore, for those who saw the revolt as the possibility of intervening in the neoliberal order of life imposed in Chile since 1973, the challenge lay in organizing and giving shape to all those diverse experiences, “channeling the flows of contestational negativity” toward the victory of the proposal for the New Constitution, as an effective possibility of putting an end to Pinochetism and its neoliberal constitution. But many people read the shift toward the plebiscite and the need for the victory of the option to approve the New Constitution as a suspension of the revolt and the energies that it mobilized. They sought to deactivate the dehierarchalizing disorder of the revolt because they felt or thought that now they were the legitimate inheritors of those forces. What they did not foresee is that they thus contributed to the deactivation of the forces whose awakening they had been awaiting for many years. Instead of keeping alive the people that had been articulated behind everything, they sent people back home, as passive observers of a spectacle that the reactionary forces knew how to orchestrate better than anyone. And thus the thought-images that had unleashed the revolt were deactivated, while the old and monolithic repertoire of the image-effect was restored.
One or Several Images: The New Constitution
We went from the dynamic of images that expressed a common desire to images that expressed a common feeling (fear). Fear became the fiction, now in the media, that floods and co-opts the structure of social action. There is no longer any political action within the revolt, which is now a situation. Fear takes the form of a threat, of a latency that suspends action and immobilizes the subject. All the ground that television could have lost to the Internet—as a source of information and interrelation among common people who seek to share an experience of common suffering and as a tool for strengthening emerging organizations—was recovered in television's resurgent role as the privileged channel for the collective modulation of affect in real time in socially critical moments. Television became the means-event, producing the acts as important, an event-producing machine, functioning in such a way as to reinforce dominance. The Right stuck to its traditional family-based discourse, with which it had also confronted Allende's Unidad Popular, reactivating the ghosts of the threat to family property and the family as the substantive nucleus of socialization, breaking down the territorial unity of the nation. In this way, it articulated an image of the New Constitution as one that was coming to expropriate family property and intervene in children's education—with a supposed unified system dominated by “gender ideology” and early sexual education—and that promoted a plurinationality that would weaken the unity of the nation-state. In the debate over the reform or replacement of the pension system, the Right claimed that, with the New Constitution, the state would expropriate workers’ individual savings, spreading the slogan “Not with my money!” In summary, the reaction's discourse was articulated around the supposed defense of three institutions: the family, property, and the state.
What Remains of the Revolt
The revolt had mobilized images of exhaustion in regards to an oppressive and deceitful model that mistreated the population not only during the dictatorship but also during the twenty years of the Concertación1 of centrist parties and its political “realism,” expressed in the maxim “Democracy to the extent possible,” applied to all spheres of life. Faced with the emblematic cases of human rights violations, particularly the more than three thousand detained-disappeared people, the Concertación responded that there would be justice “to the extent possible.” The result was that, fifty years after the military coup, the whereabouts of those detainees are still unknown.
But this was not the only thing the country suffered from. It has also been the victim of a fantasy, perhaps the most corrosive of all, of the existence and extent of the “middle class.” This integrationist fantasy was made possible by the modernization of financial capital whose flagship product was the extension of credit to previously nonfunctional layers of society and the exponential increase in their capacity to take on debt. All of this gave rise to a self-absorbed and egoistic subjectivity that saw the market as the only legitimate means of social integration and interaction. In that intersubjective space, a type of citizenry emerged based on credit and consumption. Thus was built a hypercommodified system, with pauperized public health, housing, and education services, a system that gave rise to the construction of a financial and business empire that has survived to the present through looting and usury. That was one of the objectives of the military coup: a process of change that can be summarized as the abolition of the traditional idea of the state and the centrality of public institutions that accompany it in the articulation of political life in society. The coup thus constitutes the foundational scene of what we could call a new state scenario through which an unprecedented form of administration of political life and public affairs would start to be expressed: an exceptional administrative fantasy that, over time, destroyed the horizon of action that the Latin American national state had historically laid out.
In this new scenario, the state becomes the guarantor of the market's functioning, the “subsidiary” state consecrated in the 1980 Constitution. Therefore, the slogan that articulated the first days of the revolt—“It's not thirty pesos, it's thirty years”—testified to the discontent with the dictatorship's legacy, which can be identified in the ways of doing politics in the thirty years of the transition. For that reason, the desires of the revolt of October 18 were and continue to be a political articulation without parties and without mediators, an articulation in which the truth of the people is expressed out loud in assembly. In that sense, it could be said that what the revolt was seeking was not, as the “experts” often said, the abolition of the state but, rather, a restoration of lost rights that had been violently taken away. With everything, it must also be said the New Constitution would not have put an end to everything that the revolt had put on the table. It would require something more than a political system concentrated around privileged actors to carry out that task. Therefore, the revolt still projects a ghostly force that will continue to weigh on every attempt to normalize social injustice and appease the power (potencia) of the social body.
This refers to the period following military rule, between 1990 and 2010, during which members of a coalition of center-left political parties, known as the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (Concertation of Parties for Democracy), won every election.