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We were never defeated – Interview with the MPL on the 40th Anniversary of the 9/11 Coup in Chile

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Hello from Chile, my name is Henry Renna, a member of the movimiento de pobladores en lucha (MPL) and coordinator of the campaign for alternative education.

The Movimiento de pobladores en lucha came about in 2006 during land occupations in the Peñalonen community, a place with a long history of taking back land with the power of those with nothing in order to find a small piece of earth within the city.  In that manner, in 2006, the day that Michelle Bachelet was sworn in as President, we began a wave of land occupations. We did it not just with the goal of reclaiming parts of the city but to also unmask the “progressivism” of the government and its actual politics of repression and privatization that keep the same bosses that established themselves under the dictatorship in the same seat of hegemonic power.

So since 2006, we started to open a route that offers the people an alternative form of struggle for liberation and emancipation that, in the construction of autonomy and people’s power, builds our own socialism, a socialism that has material impact in the transformation of land and in everyday life through our social relationships and social production. It’s to say, the full objective is to prefigure tomorrow’s society today. It’s to live today’s life as the alternative life we want, a life of dignity.  From that perspective, our organization was born and has stood up to all the system’s attacks for the past seven years.

What did the MPL come out of? What were you doing before 2006? 

Our organization has concrete origins in the land take over of Nasur in 1999, the last big occupation of the people’s movement where they claimed space for 5,000 people. That occupation was the seed of that sprouted many of our leaders and dozens of base organizations. Our’s was one of those that formed with the intention to take our struggle beyond just the home and situate it in the transformation of land and transformation of the capitalist system, under the concept that our struggle didn’t fit within four walls but was larger than the question of housing.  We hoped to make a qualitative leap in a people’s movement that was formed around petitioning and reacting and refocus it toward the construction of autonomy and people’s power. It’s to say, a transition where we leave behind making demands to the state and start making alternatives from within ourselves.

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So, we’ll be publishing this interview on September 11, a historic day for Chile and now for the US. Can you explain its significance for Chile and how you commemorate or remember it?

September 11, 1973 was the coup against President Salvador Allende and the installation of the longest dictatorship in our history, led by General Pinochet.  The 17 years of dictatorship that our country lived through was not just that but also a rigorous installation of a new model of production that, looking at it today, transformed our culture as well. But despite all of that we don’t feel in anyway defeated.

Instead, we see our movements as an unfinished project of the people that started with land takeovers in La Victoria in 1957 and continues up to today.

What we do see with the military defeat of 1973 and later the political defeat in 1988 when the bourgeois reformists within the left represented by certain parties turned the back on the people and established a negotiation that gave life to a democracy tied at the hands by a neoliberal economy.

Without a doubt 1973 and the defeats of 1988 and 89 are significant breaks in the advance of our organizations as well as the well being of poor people. But in no case, never did we believe that this meant a break of the people.  It was a break in the way to do politics. Because it had to do with the way we saw emancipation where, a way that centered all its energy on the taking of state power whether it was through a path of reform or a political-military route.  But both efforts, armed and electoral reforms, demonstrated to us the consequences of limiting all organizational and social production toward the goal of taking the state.  It signified to us the reproduction of  power relations as they are and the existing system of power.

What we learned was that needed to construct dual power, a parallel route where the people fortify their own capacity, their own power, and practice the construction of economy, politics, and culture.

On the other hand we also can’t believe that that September 11, 1973 was a coincidence or something that we should have been surprised by.  Instead we should understand it as the general state of things; the state against insurgency that has used violence any time the people have developed a road that might lead toward their own interests. One clear example of this is the three constitutions we’ve had in our country, each written under a state of emergency (estado de sitio). The constitution of 1933, 1925, and in our case, 1980.

Many of you have your roots in the resistance to the dictatorship either as children or parents, can you talk about the lessons learned from that time?

We believe it marks a deep change within our concepts on the left. Before when we talked about process, we thought of the subject of the revolution as the man, adult, urban, salaried worker, and what the resistance in the periphery of the city did was bring the women and the youth into the streets, into community work, into cultural work, and later in the night, all the direct action of barricades in the streets to destabilize the social order. So in pushing the entire process forward by 1980 it signified not just that people’s movements were a protagonist in taking down the hegemony of the dictatorship but also in redrawing the face of the subject of revolution. In this case, protagonists became women, youth batallions, revolutionary people’s organizations that stood up to Pinchip and reframed what we had known as the proletariat.

Can you talk about your theory of change? I’ve heard that you all stand on three pillars: struggle, self-sufficiency or self-management (autogestion), and popular education. How did you arrive at those as your fundamentals?

First and foremost, we understand “struggle” as a permanent state of being in which we tear down the walls and barriers that the rich and powerful have constructed against the advance of the people.  Self-sufficiency we understand as the capacity to recover the power to create our own politics, economy, and culture based in the class of the people. In all forms of social life colonized by the state and by capital, its to say, that the people newly gain the confidence in their own powers and begin to realize that they themselves have the tools to construct their own solutions.  And third, popular education we understand as the effort and process that contributes to the birth of a new human being.  The three; struggle, self-sufficiency, and popular education were far from choices for us to make but rather we took to each one out of necessity. We had the need to struggle to retake the land, and once taken we had the need to self-manage in order to design and build our own housing and then later we had the need to educate ourselves to build a new community and rid ourselves of the individualist and ego-centric paradigms that we inherit from the neoliberal system and substitute them with cooperative values , of class solidarity, and self-determination. En effect, with time and with the road we’ve walked over the years, with our tactics and strategies, struggle, self-management, and education are a form of struggle that has become a way of being in the world and a movement of a certain form.