Pinochet and the work of re-membering

Chris Burford cburford at
Tue Dec 1 00:15:35 PST 1998

At 10:41 PM 11/29/98 -0400, Tom Kruse changed the thread title and wrote:

>The "Pinochet and bourgeois democratic right" thread has sadly had almost
>nothing to do with Chile. Though I feel a bit alone in this, I'd still
>like to talk about the Pinochet case. Why? It has everything to do with
>how the Latin American left is fighting over the meaning of the past and
>confronting the problems of the present.
>[To get the "big picture" on this, see the very good Sept/Oct. 1998 NACLA
>issue entitled "Unearthing Memory: The Present Sturgle over the Past",
>which explores how Chilenas, Uruguayans, Guatemalans, and others are
>"attempting to challenge forgetting on its own terms by opening up the past
>to reinterpretations in order to expose distortions and amnesias of Latin
>America today."]
and quoted a Chilean who had written about the experience of torture:

>>There are other reasons why this aricle has moved so many people. 1) Many
>>victims of the repression want to forget about their ordeal, so they do not
>>talk about their cases at all; 2) Not everyone is capable of putting into
>>words their experiences; 3) A lot of people know us, but this is the first
>>time that they have heard the whole story, so to speak; 4) This is a class
>>based society (need I say that?) so that what happens to a professional like
>>me is a lot more important/terrible to what happens to a peasant, a mapuche
>>or a worker. It's disgusting, but that's the way it works.
>>Anyway, the important thing is that people read about it, because this way
>>they are learning about something they want to forget, because it forces
>>them to look at themselves and ask: What did I do to prevent this from
>>happening? What can I do to prevent this from happening again? The answer is

I am not aware that anyone has responded to this post but I would say I think it is progressive. It has echoes in other countries like South Africa with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and in northern Ireland where there is substantial discussion about how people can come to terms with the atrocities.

On this issue, as on others I have fundamental differences with an ultra-leftist position that says no compromises! and fails to see the possibility and the duty to gather strength with each opening for the democratic and socialist forces.

Some might argue that to concentrate on mourning and helplessness is defeatist and demoralising: It is not about the seizure of class power. I would accept that some of the immediate emotions are of despair, but I would argue that the use of mourning for political progress is part of a wider concept of civil society in which class struggle occurs. Mourning is a social process which actually makes people strong collectively. It reinforces human bonds at the most basis emotional level and gives dignity once again. It is the opposite of torture which is designed to stun, numb,and render the person and the spectator psychologically helpless.

Therefore we have to go through the barrier of hearing about Victor Jara's broken hands which were probably displayed to terrorise the other captives in the football stadium, and yes, remember, and build solidarity to reassert the values of ordinary working people. There are many contradictions and risks in this process not least that civil society in which it must take place is highly contested territory. Most fundamentally it is contested territory in terms of whether we regard it as just the total mass of atomised bourgeois democratic rights, or whether it is a dynamic social organism with its own standards of right inseparable linked with how the society reproduces itself psychologically, socially, and economically.

The integration of psycho-social forms of resistance and struggle with the class struggle against capitalism I submit is progressive and consistent with a true (non-dogmatic) approach to marxism. They are being increasingly used as world struggles intensify in their development and complexity, and they unite the people.

While it is understandable that Tom Kruse wants to concentrate on the situation in Latin America, we should hear the developing mood to which the politicians are responding in many other countries, that there needs to a expiation on a global level of the horrors of Chile. "Marxists" who belittle this on dogmatic grounds will not do their credibility much good.

Chris Burford


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