A marxist view to the urban life crisis in Chile

by Francisco Vergara Perucich

Spanish Version: http://www.elquintopoder.cl/ciudad/una-mirada-marxista-a-la-crisis-de-la-vida-urbana-en-chile/

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Along years Marxism was demonized in Chile. This line of thought was linked with unacceptable behaviour for a society that considered it self “modern”. It is true that many violent events of the twentieth century were unleashed following the revolutionary marxist ideas, but it is also true that many problems of the society now were predicted by him in his texts. The crisis of political representation is thriving around the world and the city is the scenario of these manifestations of discontent. Through this brief notes I want to contribute with those that see in marxist ideas a vital ideological input to achieve the pursued social justice. Particularly, I feel interested in tackle Marx’s ideas from a urban perspective, in order to represent the problems that affect the cities in where we live. The class struggle posed by Karl Marx is actually present in the Chilean cities, and it worth to reflect on that.

Although in his texts he never spoke directly about the city, a series of thinkers used his ideas to comprehend the urbanization phenomena of a post-industrial society. Among them: Henri Lefebvre, David Harvey, Jordi Borja, and Friedrich Engels, who was his friend and co-author of many relevant works. It was Engles who in 1872 anticipated that the accumulation of capital through the urban development would trigger a sum of negative urban effects that will undermine the social justice. In his writings, he said that this issues would not be resolved through urban reforms, but through an urban revolution. For him, before the absent of this revolution, the society was walking straightly towards the impoverishment of the working class.

The spatial inequality is really easy to read in Santiago. With about 6 millions of inhabitants is the most segregated city among the OECD, where the uneven space have been represented in the every day life quality, and in the manner how people relates each other. The “nest” or the area of the city where you grew up is still a parameter to define who will have a succesful life within our society model. That’s why the slogan of the conservative president candidate, Laurence Golborne, said “This is the man who used to live in Maipu (a working class county of Santiago) to become CEO of a big company”. This slogan was implying that live in Maipu and be CEO is practically impossible with our urban and social rules, to become “someone important” you should live where other important people lives.

For Marx, the fetichism was one of the biggest threat of the capitalist system. The fact that in the last years the family time passed from the public squares to the shopping malls, mean that there is an important achievement for the neoliberal model who used the city as a profit mechanism. In Chile now people prefer the massive consumption spaces than social encounter spaces. Henri Lefebvre posed that it was vital understand the city as a body of social relations, rather than a collection of desirable objects. On contrary, in Chile the idea of “have my own house” has been installed through years as the main aim in order to have a successful life. Along decades, media and politicians have been trying to convince people of the importance to have a house. The verb “to have” related with things is really frecuent. The consequence of this strategy, is that personal relations and enjoy simple things are not such important in comparison with the private property. This consequences are very profitable for builders and companies that are increasing their accounts at the cost of the general impoverishment. The last year, the sell of houses has generated incomes for 500 billions of dollars for companies, almost the same amount of money that the state got from the copper business, our main resource for the national budget.

Another interesting point from marxist analysis is the harm produced in people the fact that they need to be competing each other in order to feel validated by the urban society. Pursuing this goal, appears the clash between those who have everything they want, and those who have nothing. In this relation, usually the first group dominates the life of the second group. With these appears the class conscious. Following this, the march, the protest, the contestation in order to reach justice becomes frequent in our cities.

In my opinion, the most important point posed by Marx is that the society as a whole should decide the future of their cities. Nowadays, the urban development in Chile is leaded by market. Neither the government have the capacity to produce spatial transformation processes. The state planning system was disarmed in Pinochet’s dictatorship to ease the way for private in order to define city shape. The effects of this strategy are evident in Santiago’s downtown, where a massive quantity of buildings rise over the 20 floors have appeared in the last 20 years. The capability that Chileans have in order to transform our cities is inexistent. Then, Chilean cities are becoming neutral and generic.

This article is based just in notes and reflections, quite summarized. Revisit marxism offers a series of new readings about the urban question that can have high interest for the next years. For those interested in Chilean cities, review Marx ideas is vital to comprehend the segregation phenomena that is happening there.

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