Invited to speak on the challenges of populism in Latin America during the recent seminar organized by the International Foundation for Freedom on the campus of the University of Lima, Mauricio Rojas explains his transition from the Marxist radicals MIR Chilean liberalism triumphs today in countries such as Sweden, have overcome the illusion of the welfare state.
Interview by Mario Camoirano
Correo: You faced the Pinochet dictatorship and had to emigrate for this. Why did you abandoned Marxism and embraced liberalism?
Mauricio Rojas: I came to Sweden as a political refugee in late 1973 as a member of the MIR, a pro-left guerrilla movement from Allende, whom we considered a useless reformist. Our model was Che Guevara. It is in Sweden that I knew a refugee environment of Soviet communism and we realize how our ideals, everywhere, have led to the most terrible results. At that time there was already a reflection in Europe of why Marxism always ended up generating totalitarian regimes. It’s like a machine that no matter what entries you enter it always produces the same poor quality product and in the end there is no other conclusion that we are facing a poorly engineered machine.
It’s like a machine that no matter what entries you enter it always produces the same poor quality product and in the end there is no other conclusion that we are facing a poorly engineered machine.
C: Does Marxism inevitably lead to genocide?
MR: Absolutely! The very idea of a “new man” is a genocide that directs its representatives to try to correct the human being, to force him to be different and that generates violence. They have the pride of the little gods. It is a thought of ancient roots in the West. Plato argued that to create the ideal society, we must cleanse the human soul, make it as a blank canvas to paint our utopia on it.
C: But why did you go to the other end? For liberalism.
MR: In this reflection, I not only realized the problems of Marxism, as I myself might have ended up turning myself into a hangman like Stalin or Che. That is why I set out to seek an ideology that would care to protect the individual against collective violence exercised in the name of any ideal. That’s what liberal ideas mean to me. It is not so much a matter of market economy. Any attempt to sacrifice the individual for reform, even a liberal like that of my country under Pinochet, is unacceptable. Liberalism is something integral.
C: And how could a liberal be elected to the Parliament of a country like Sweden, which is something like the paradise of socialism?
MR: It was for a while, until the system went bankrupt. The current crisis of the so-called Welfare States of the European Union, Sweden, was in the early 1990s. This model that the left that is here in Latin America is painted as modern and different from Chavism. In one fell swoop, 75% of the Swedish national product passed through the state in the form of taxes. There were only public schools and hospitals. Bankruptcy came naturally when unemployment increased and the unemployed started to receive money and the money was not enough. At some point, a public deficit of 11% was achieved. Same as Greece and Spain now. This led to a rethinking of the Welfare State to safeguard its essence. Thus, the entry of private companies into education was allowed, but without implying that parents pay for the service. The state gives them a bonus for parents to choose the educational center of their choice. You could set up a school in Sweden tomorrow. If you enroll students, you are doing well if you do not do badly and close.
C: And the state itself has not been resized?
MR: Oh, of course, which also meant that the slice that took the payroll taxes down. Before retirement, it was not convenient to work. How much was less and how much has changed. A favorable factor is the lack of funtional stability in the public service. This allowed the public sector to be driven in much the same way as the private sector. You compete for the same job market.
C: You identify these Welfare State problems with populism. Is not it a more tropical and bananic phenomenon? More Latin American or Third World?
MR: No. The essence of populism is the irresponsible use of public resources to win popular favor. In Latin America, the phenomenon assumes obscure and underdeveloped nuances. In Europe, it was created by creating a rights society that promised so much that it created unsustainable economies. If you want to call it populism, and it is the great danger that can happen on our continent as a natural consequence of the increase in government revenue as a result of this extraordinary growth of our exports. But the most dangerous part of this policy of indiscriminate subsidies is that it ends up weakening the will to work. It changes the sense of personal responsibility. It creates the illusion that the state is able to generate wealth and distribute it, affecting the sense of personal responsibility. This destroyed the European school. There are some generations who do not believe in homework and personal effort. Today, young Europeans are “shocked” and outraged because they are cutting their “right” for the state to solve its problems.
C: Is populism nothing more than an illusion?
MR: Really the illusion that you are progressing. That once you reach development it is as if you reach a plateau, that there is no return, that the future is already assured for your children and grandchildren. Development is like riding a bicycle. If you stop pedaling, you fall. The wealth is in each day that you go to work, that you study, that you do your homework. In Europe, this has been greatly weakened in the last 30 years.
Development is like riding a bicycle. If you stop pedaling, you fall.