A Million Chileans

The uprising taking place in Chile at the moment is really something. Not only in terms of the numbers of people demonstrating — “A Million Chileans” is the name of my new hardcore band, just FYI; our demo, “Piss Gauntlet”, will be up on Bandcamp soon — but also the slogans that are raising of people’s consciousness related to the centrality of Chile to the building of our current world system.

The video above draws attention to this by highlighting one of the protest slogans I’ve seen going around in recent weeks on Twitter: “Neoliberalism was born in Chile and it will die in Chile.”

As Pablo Navarrete explains for Double Down News, it wasn’t thirty pesos that brought the country’s cities to a standstill — referring to the increase in the cost of public transportation. That was “just a trigger”. The real impetus behind the protests is a nation that is done with “thirty years of neoliberal tyranny that they’ve been living through.”

Navarrete extends this period to forty-six years, aligning the infection of neoliberalism with the beginning of the Pinochet dictatorship that ruled from 1973 to 1990, and which left behind a neoliberal socio-economic model that has taken over the Western world.

This is another one of those moments for me where I wish Mark was still around to offer up his thought on his k-punk blog.

The seventh lecture of Mark’s “Postcapitalist Desire” postgraduate course at Goldsmiths — which he didn’t live to give — was meant to focus on Chile explicitly. Entitled “The Destruction of Democratic Socialism and the Origins of Neoliberalism: The Case of Chile”, he assigned the “States of Shock: The Bloody Birth of the Counterrevoluation” chapter from Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and “Cybernetics and Socialism” from Eden Medina’s Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende’s Chile.

Much has been made in the press about what the Pinochet regime, propped up by the US, brought to the world, but less has been said about what the US and Pinochet so violently overcame — the birth of a new 21st century cybersocialism.

For Mark, via Eden Medina’s book, this is what interested him — the close relationship between Chilean Socialism and the burgeoning technologies of cybernetics in the early 1970s. Stafford Beer, a British cyberneticist was a major influence on the Allende government in this regard, and had been invited personally to oversee the technological development of the new government’s overhaul of Chile’s sociopolitical infrastructure. Medina writes:

In July 1971, the British cybernetician Stafford Beer received an unexpected letter from Chile. Its contents would dramatically change Beer’s life. The writer was a young Chilean engineer named Fernando Flores, who was working for the government of newly elected Socialist president Salvador Allende. Flores wrote that he was familiar with Beer’s work in management cybernetics and was “now in a position from which it is possible to implement on a national scale — at which cybernetic thinking becomes a necessity — scientific views on management and organization.” Flores asked Beer for advice on how to apply cybernetics to the management of the nationalized sector of the Chilean economy, which was expanding quickly because of Allende’s aggressive nationalization policy.

Less than a year earlier, Allende and his leftist coalition, Popular Unity (UP), had secured the presidency and put Chile on a road toward socialist change. Allende’s victory resulted from the failure of previous Chilean governments to resolve such problems as economic dependency, economic inequality, and social inequality using less drastic means. His platform made the nationalization of major industries a top priority, an effort Allende later referred to as “the first step toward the making of structural changes.” The nationalization effort would not only transfer foreign-owned and privately owned industries to the Chilean people, it would “abolish the pillars propping up that minority that has always condemned our country to underdevelopment,” as Allende referred to the industrial monopolies controlled by a handful of Chilean families. The majority of parties in the UP coalition believed that by changing Chile’s economic base, they would subsequently be able to bring about institutional and ideological change within the nation’s established legal framework, a facet that set Chile’s path to socialism apart from that of other socialist nations, such as Cuba or the Soviet Union. Flores worked for the Chilean State Development Corporation, the agency responsible for leading the nationalization effort. Although Flores was only twenty-eight when he wrote Beer, he held the third-highest position in the development agency and a leadership role in the Chilean nationalization process.

Beer found the Chilean invitation irresistible. Flores was offering him a chance to apply his ideas on management on a national level and during a moment of political transformation. Beer decided he wanted to do more than simply offer advice, and his response to Flores was understandably enthusiastic. “Believe me, I would surrender any of my retainer contracts I now have for the chance of working on this,” Beer wrote. “That is because I believe your country is really going to do it.” Four months later, the cybernetician arrived in Chile to serve as a management consultant to the Chilean government.

This connection between a Chilean technologist working for a socialist government and a British consultant specializing in management cybernetics would lead to Project Cybersyn, an ambitious effort to create a computer system to manage the Chilean national economy in close to real time using technologies that, in most cases, were not cutting edge. Such a connection between British cybernetics and Chilean socialism was rather unusual, not only because of their geographical separation but also because they represented very specific strains of scientific or political thought. As I argue in this chapter, Beer and Flores joined forces in part because Beer and Popular Unity were exploring similar intellectual terrain in the different domains of science and politics.

Here we have the development of a project that neoliberal economists, under the tutelage of Milton Friedman, as Navarrete points out in the video above, would later seize upon after Allende’s death. This sort of management system was occupied and appropriated for a globalist capitalism and the rest is history.

But, somewhat ironically, or perhaps worryingly, considering the positions of some of Friedman’s descendents, is that this process of appropriating Allende’s innovations is not yet over. It is even more unfortunate that these ideas have been abandoned to those people who are picking over the bones of a group that were far more radical in the 1970s than they are today. In essence, what was intended by the Chilean socialists to be a state-management system that could adapt to the future has been transformed into a capitalist propensity to absorb dissent. Medina again:

The idea of control is commonly associated with domination. Beer offered a different definition: he defined control as self-regulation, or the ability of a system to adapt to internal and external changes and survive. This alternative approach to control resulted in multiple misunderstandings of Beer’s work, and he was repeatedly criticized for using computers to create top-down control systems that his detractors equated with authoritarianism and the loss of individual freedom. Such criticisms extended to the design of Project Cybersyn, but, as this book illustrates, they were to some extent ill-informed. To fully grasp how Beer approached the control problem requires a brief introduction to his cybernetic vocabulary.

Beer was primarily concerned with the study of “exceedingly complex systems,” or “systems so involved that they are indescribable in detail.” He contrasted exceedingly complex systems with simple but dynamic systems such as a window catch, which has few components and interconnections, and complex systems, which have a greater number of components and connections but can be described in considerable detail. Beer classified the operation of a computer or the laws of the visible universe as complex systems. Examples of exceedingly complex systems included the economy, the company, or the brain; such systems defied the limits of reductionist mathematical analysis. The behavior of exceedingly complex systems could not be predicted with perfect accuracy, but it could be studied probabilistically. You could have a good idea of what such a system might do, but you could never be one hundred percent certain.

In Beer’s opinion, traditional science did a good job of handling simple and complex systems but fell short in its ability to describe, let alone regulate, exceedingly complex systems. Cybernetics, Beer argued, could provide tools for understanding and controlling these exceedingly complex systems and help these systems adapt to problems yet unknown.

She continues later:

Beer’s ideas on management cybernetics resembled the Chilean approach to democratic socialism. First, Allende and Popular Unity, like Beer, wanted to make structural changes and wanted them to happen quickly. However, they needed to carry out these changes in a way that did not threaten the stability of existing democratic institutions. Second, Allende and his government, Popular Unity, did not want to impose these changes on the Chilean people from above. The government wanted change to occur within a democratic framework and in a way that preserved civil liberties and respected dissenting voices. Chilean democratic socialism, like management cybernetics, thus wanted to find a balance between centralized control and individual freedom. Third, the Chilean government needed to develop ways to manage the growing national economy, and industrial management constituted one of Beer’s core areas of expertise.

Considering the outline of Mark’s postgraduate course, the case of Chile was just the first in a trilogy of lectures that would set the scene for Mark’s contemporaneous considerations of accelerationism, xenofeminism and Prometheanism, and how each of these was informing his developing thought of an acid communism. It considers Chile as a major national antecedent of a left accelerationist project but unfortunately that is all we have now from him — a nod.

Medina’s book is brilliant though. It’s essential reading if you want to find out more about this.

I think it’s quite clear, from Medina’s descriptions there and here, how Chile was an antecedent to the sort of democratic socialist response to the observations of a thought like accelerationism, likewise concerned with the behaviour of “exceedingly complex systems”. (See Nick Land’s essay “Teleoplexy”.) But that is now something to get back to. It was a burgeoning movement snuffed out by a violent, capitalistic authoritarianism.

The memories of Pinochet evidently still haunt the region but we might wonder how, as in the UK and elsewhere, we might return to the potentials of that era. Not nostalgically but in terms of a digital psychedelia, imagining new avenues for what was not allowed to be. Capitalism has allowed the technological innovations brought about in Chile to proliferate globally but with neoliberalism installed as an operating system. Here’s hoping Chile can achieve a reboot.


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