“Letters to my friends”: A book that is still relevant and worth studying

In the framework of the First Meeting of Humanist Culture, on 14 May 1994, Silo, founder, and promoter of the New Humanism movement, presented his book “Letters to my Friends on the social and personal crisis at the present time” at the Estación Mapocho Cultural Centre in Santiago de Chile.

Twenty-nine years after, it is well worth reviewing the concepts set out in the book, which, far from losing their relevance, emerge as a detailed description of the alternatives to the crisis that was then emerging, in what seemed to be an undeniable triumph of neo-liberalism and globalisation. Today, after the resounding failure of that false and painful imposition of the system, the crisis is at a delicate moment, in which it is necessary to review the options put forward.

After an introduction by Luis Felipe García, for Editorial Virtual, and by the prominent left-wing intellectual Volodia Teitelboim, then secretary general of the Communist Party of Chile, Silo began the presentation by commenting on the intentions that determined the work.

“These intentions are to bring together the thought of New Humanism and to express its opinion on the situation we are living in. New Humanism is raising a warning about the general crisis of civilisation and is proposing minimum measures to be taken to overcome this crisis,” he said.

He went on to humorously point out the naïve temptation to leave the course of events in the hands of the “decision-makers” of the time, “trusting that the New Order will take care of pacifying the world. No more Yugoslavia, Middle East, Burundi or Sri Lanka. No more famine, no more 80% of the world’s population at and below the subsistence line. No more recession, no more layoffs, no more destruction of jobs,” he added.

“Now, yes, cleaner and cleaner administrations, rising schooling and education rates, declining crime and citizen insecurity, declining alcoholism and drug addiction… in short, growing contentment and happiness for all. That’s good, my friends. Let’s be patient, Paradise is very near!”, he added with the necessary irony.

“But if this were not the case, if the current situation were to continue to deteriorate or if control were to be lost, what would be the alternatives to follow?

Later, he pointed out that in the sixth letter of the book, there is the Humanists’ Document, in which the humanists set out their broader ideas and their alternative to the crisis.

He added: “When you read it, even those who don’t agree with it should say: “OK, it’s an alternative. We need to look after these kids, societies need fire escapes. They are not our enemies; they are the voice of survival”.

From that Document, Silo read on that occasion a paragraph that synthesises it in a clear position: “Humanists put before the question of work versus big capital; the question of real democracy versus formal democracy; the question of decentralisation versus centralisation; the question of anti-discrimination versus discrimination; the question of freedom versus oppression; the question of the meaning of life versus resignation, complicity and absurdity… Humanists are internationalists, they aspire to a universal human nation. They have a global understanding of the world in which they live and act in their immediate environment. They do not want a uniform but a multiple world: multiple in ethnicities, languages and customs; multiple in localities, regions and autonomies; multiple in ideas and aspirations; multiple in beliefs, atheism and religiosity; multiple in work; multiple in creativity. Humanists do not want masters; they do not want leaders or bosses, nor do they feel they are representatives or bosses of anyone…”. And, at the end of the Document, it concludes: “Humanists are neither naive nor do they get carried away with declarations of romantic times. In this sense, they do not consider their proposals as the most advanced expression of social consciousness, nor do they think of their organisation in unquestionable terms. Humanists do not pretend to be representatives of the majority. In any case, they act in accordance with their most just opinion, aiming at the transformations they believe to be the most appropriate and possible at this time in which they are living”.

In the presentation, the thinker and promoter of the Humanist Movement, gave a detailed description of the process of capitalism, of how the banks have been appropriating the power once held by the national industrial bourgeoisie, reaching the present day “in which the concentration of financial power has prostrated all industry, all commerce, all politics, all countries, all individuals. The stage of the closed system has begun, and in a closed system there is no alternative but to dismantle it”.

What was happening at the time with the dismantling of the Soviet bloc was, for Silo, not the defeat of an idea or a victory of the capitalist and pseudo-democratic West, but “the prelude to the global destructuring that is accelerating at a dizzying pace”. Today, almost three decades after that speech, when few predicted the fall of unipolarity and neoliberalism, this is fully confirmed in the geopolitical field with the manifest reconfiguration underway.

As for possible futures, Silo pointed out in his presentation that the “Letters outline two possibilities. On the one hand, the variant of the entropy of closed systems and, on the other hand, the variant of the opening of a closed system thanks to the intentional rather than natural action of human beings”.

If the first variant were to prevail, the situation would result in “a world empire orchestrated by international financial capital, which will not even have to take into account the populations of the decision-making centres themselves. And in this saturation, the social fabric will continue its process of decomposition. Political and social organisations and the administration of the state will be taken over by technocrats in the service of a monstrous para-state that will tend to discipline populations with ever more restrictive measures as the decomposition becomes more pronounced. Thinking will have lost its abstractive capacity, replaced by an analytical, step-by-step way of functioning according to the computational model. The notion of process and structure will have been lost, resulting in simple studies of linguistics and formal analysis. Fashion, language and social styles, music, architecture, plastic arts and literature will be unstructured and, in any case, the mixing of styles in all fields will be seen as a breakthrough, as happened at other times in history with the eclecticisms of imperial decadence. Then, the old hope of unifying everything in the hands of the same power will vanish forever. In this darkening of reason, in this fatigue of the peoples, the field will be open to fanaticisms of all kinds, to the denial of life, to the cult of suicide, to stark fundamentalism. There will be no more science, no more great revolutions of thought… only technology, which will by then be called “Science”. Localisms will resurge, and ethnic struggles and neglected peoples will rush to the centres of decision-making in a whirlwind in which the previously overcrowded macro-cities will become uninhabited. Continuous civil wars will shake this poor planet on which we will not wish to live.”

“Anyway” – the author continued – “this is part of the story that has been repeated in numerous civilisations that once believed in their indefinite progress. All these cultures ended in dissolution, but, fortunately, when some spilled out, new human impulses arose at other points and, in this alternation, the old was overcome by the new. It is clear that in a closed world system there is no room left for the emergence of another civilisation but for a long, dark, global middle age.”

“If what is put forward in the Letters on the basis of the model explained is entirely wrong, we have no reason to be concerned,” Silo qualified. “If, on the other hand, the mechanical process of historical structures takes the direction discussed, it is time to ask her how human beings can change the direction of events. In turn, who could produce this formidable change of direction if not the peoples who are precisely the subject of history? Have we reached a sufficient state of maturity to understand that from now on there will be no progress unless it is by all and for all? This is the second hypothesis explored in the Letters,” he continued.

“If the idea takes root among the people that (and it is good to repeat this) there will be no progress unless it is of all and for all, then the struggle will be clear. At the bottom rung of destructuring, at the social base, the new winds will begin to blow. In the neighbourhoods, in neighbourhood communities, in the humblest workplaces, the social fabric will begin to regenerate. This will be, apparently, a spontaneous phenomenon. It will be repeated in the emergence of multiple grassroots groups formed by the workers, now independent of the tutelage of the trade union leaderships. Numerous political groups appeared, without a central organisation, in the struggle with the political organisations of the bosses. Discussions will begin in every factory, in every office, in every company. From the immediatist demands, consciousness will grow towards the broader situation in which work will have more human value than capital and in which the risk of work will be clearer than the risk of capital when considering priorities. It will be easy to come to the conclusion that the company’s profits should be reinvested in opening new sources of work or diverted to other sectors in which production continues to increase instead of being diverted to speculative swathes that end up swelling financial capital, leading to the emptying of the company and the subsequent bankruptcy of the productive apparatus. The businessman will begin to realise that he has been turned into a simple employee of the banks and that, in this emergency, his natural ally is the worker. The social ferment will begin to be activated again and the clear and frank struggle will break out between speculative capital, in its clear character of abstract and inhuman force, and the forces of work, the real lever of the transformation of the world. It will begin to be understood that progress does not depend on the debt owed to the banks, but that the banks must lend to enterprises without charging interest. And it will also become clear that there will be no way to decongest the concentration that leads to collapse if not through a redistribution of wealth to the neglected areas.”

“Real, plebiscitary and direct Democracy will be a necessity because we will want to get out of the agony of non-participation and the constant threat of popular overflow. The powers will be reformed because the structure of formal democracy dependent on financial capital will have lost all credibility and meaning. Undoubtedly, this second crisis script will be presented after an incubation period in which the problems will become more acute. Then will begin that series of advances and setbacks in which every success will be multiplied as a demonstration effect in the most remote places thanks to instant communications. It will not even be a question of the conquest of national states but of a global situation in which these social phenomena will multiply as the predecessors of a radical change in the direction of events. In this way, instead of the process leading to the oft-repeated mechanical collapse, the will for change and direction of the peoples will begin to take the path towards the universal human nation.”

“It is this second possibility,” he concluded, “it is to this alternative that today’s humanists are betting. They have too much faith in the human being to believe that everything will end stupidly. And if they do not feel they are in the vanguard of the human process, they are ready to accompany this process to the extent of their FORCE and wherever they are in a position to do so.”[i]

This is a hopeful strategy that has given direction to thousands of humanists to this day and continues to be valid in the multiplication of their action and influence, beyond the tactical adaptations of the moment.

[i] The complete presentation made by Silo on the occasion is included in the book Silo Speaks, available in different languages at http://silo.net/es/collected_works/silo_speaks

Javier Tolcachier