What follows is an excerpt from the book “History from below and from within” (Taurus), by the prestigious Chilean academic who won the 2006 National History Prize. A sensitive and expert look at the substratum of the social and political conflict that these days overwhelms South America
By Gabriel SalazarOctober 22, 2019 Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShare
The historical life of the poor usually faces more dilemmas of life and death than the historical life of “national politics.” Power and the system of domination, for the poor, are also felt, at every step, being exercised against, not in favor. As a threat that, being external and objective in its origin and consistency, enters the depths of the social subject, frustrating their desires and will, generating feelings and emotions of helplessness , accumulating as a lackluster, acid memory, alien to the subjective projects of identity. Like a great mass that ends up distorting and sterilizing the capacity for social and historical “action.”
The historical facts of the poor have, for all this, more human tissue involved than the normative facts of governance. They mobilize, for the same reason, greater and greater masses of social historicity. Slow deep history processes.
Systems of domination are hopelessly thin: they are clad in a meager human tissue and a tough normative skeleton. Its mass of historicity is, therefore, less profound: it does not allow for great feelings or great emotionality, because it lacks that great resonance box that is social memory. The state has no social memory: it has files, deeds, shelves. Orders, decrees, mandates (which project power, without receiving it) entail minimal subjectivity or intersubjectivity. Insignificant. Systemic power is cold, calculating. It can, therefore, easily fall into dehumanization. The social historicity of the poor does not govern the system of domination. Neither its political structure nor its military establishment nor its normative skein. But it controls large, enormous masses of subjective and intersubjective sensitivity, which, crammed and in apparent disorder, it preserves and recycles in its broad social memory. For this reason, it controls, underground, the sensitive processes of humanization. That they are more sensitive and more humanizing the greater the dehumanization that the dominant system opposes them. For it is much more likely that humanization is an «identity» task undertaken by social subjects in their daily lives and in their private or community spaces, than it is a «work» planned and executed by a system of domination (as a system in yes). If “culture” is nothing more than a process of humanization set in motion by the same men and women in their historical interaction, then the poor and the excluded, the marginalized and the persecuted, will always control, more and better. , the social culture of the peoples . For humanization can only be a living process, proper to “subjects” who, to overcome the negation that annihilates them, create humanity and “cultivate” themselves. And systems of domination are giants that lack a life of their own.
So what happens if you look behind what has been and is the authentic “national” culture? The specifically Chilean culture? What is discovered behind there are not, generally, presidents, generals, ministers and big businessmen (who have traditionally imitated the colonizing culture of Western capitalism), but a motley gallery of broken people, peons, pirquineros, scouts, poets and singers popular, chinganeras, vivanderas, long-distance runners, tenants, placilleros, laborers, chinchorreros, veguinos, workers, vagabonds, who “created” Chilean culture while trying to humanize themselves, on the sidelines, freehand, against and despite the central system of domination that existed and still exists in Chile.
The identity microprocesses of humanization of the poor and excluded constitute a perpetual historical movement. Constant, insistent, monotonous, but infinite. It is the cultural surge of identity. A wave that moves on its great sea in the background: the social memory, which stores each and every one of the identity struggles for the humanization of life. All its salts, all its achievements (minimal for the system, unfathomable for identity), all its blood, its rage, its joys, its solidarity. For there the memories are transformed, but they are not forgotten. They sleep and dream (what one wants to be but cannot be, is not forgotten, and forms, like utopia, an organic part of memory), but they are never prey to amnesia. The “dream” of popular memories is not a celibate dream, but a conjugal one: the memory of the events of impotence sleeps creatively together with the memory of frustrated hopes and utopias. For this reason, social memory is not only an archive of the past time, because, also, it is a permanent archive of the future that remained in each past, without dying. Well, life is not just the past.
System memory is, above all, a written file vault. And what is written is, essentially and materially, past tense. An inert record of what life was. For this reason, the memory of the system needs, to revive, the intermediation of living historians (in the case of distant pasts) and of the active political classes (in the case of a close normative past). Popular memory, on the other hand, which is memory of life, lives once all the times of historicity. It is, therefore, a mobile memory, in constant transformation, where the past revives and dumps its waves, over and over again, on the future, and where it turns and re-signifies the past. For this reason, if the memory of the system, as an inert record of the past, demands as a principle of truth the rigid and proper “objectivity” of the inert, social memory, as life in motion, demands creativity and creativity as a principle of truth. production of life that is typical of subjectivity. And for all that, social memory dissolves the scientific principles of objectivity.
Social culture is a science of life. A “historical power” that works on the basis of epistemological and action principles other than the sciences of the system of domination. The great mass of historicity that the poor drag through the subsoil of society is not, consequently, the inert waste of the system of domination. It is not an aura of surplus and inconsequential events, like already used cosmic dust that is lost in space and time. The social culture of the poor is not a sterile, dead, and expendable sediment for society and history. And that it is not, is demonstrated by the countless times that this great mass of popular historicity has unexpectedly entered a state of eruption, flooding the formalized feet of the state and the ruling classes with lava, calcining them. Without “official science” not only being able to prevent, but above all, to prevent such a political catastrophe.
The history of Chile is plagued with “historical blowouts” produced by the irruption of the incendiary, actional and massive offshoots that have sprouted from great social memory. As “official science” could neither prevent nor prevent them, the state (or the military), to respond to such an eruption, renounces its own science and, without further ado, resorts to repressive violence. Irrationally. Dehumanizing. And the history of Chile is plagued with citizen massacres – as many as popular historical blowouts there have been – and legal or semi-legal violations of the human rights of those affected. No less than twenty-one massacres can be counted between 1830 and 1990 in Chilean political life (not including the “pacification of Araucanía” and counting the dictatorship of General Pinochet as one of them). Such recurrence reveals not only the inability of “official science” to read the deep processes of popular memory, but also its uselessness for the purposes of good governance that science is supposed to serve and for which it “is.” Which reveals that, more than anything, it is an accompanying science of power, useful to legitimize the illegitimable. And for little else. The memory and social culture of the “low people”, however, have not been developed or systematized as science. They have not historically enhanced what they should have enhanced. For this reason, their “blowouts” have failed to impose the logic of humanization over the logic of formal power and domination. The conflict between this “social culture” and “official science” has been long, irregular and unsolved. And without a doubt, today, still, it continues. Tomorrow, for all that is seen, it will continue as well.
In popular memory lies today, dormant, a social subject with more sovereignty and historical potential than those that have been recognized up to now and that she herself believes. It is about a cultural creator who has failed to stand up historically and politically, to measure his stature, face to face, with the system that dominates him and contains a potential process of humanization capable of going far beyond the neoliberal model that is has imposed. It all depends, it seems, on her waking up from her dreams and systematically organizing her dormant memories.
* In: Gabriel Salazar, The story from below and from within . Santiago: Taurus, 2017.