A team of Pressenza editors is currently in Santiago, Chile to cover the general election taking place on Sunday 19th November. We had the chance to interview Tomás Hirsch from the Humanist Party, an integral part of the Broad Front coalition. He explained how it is possible and necessary to work with others to build a society that’s worthy of human beings without losing a humanist profile.
Pressenza: Tomás, we are in the final day of a long campaign. The Humanist Party has put up many candidates and has done so within a very broad coalition called the Broad Front. We’d like to know how the Chilean Humanist Party has always been able to work with others without losing its own profile or proposals. How something so unusual such as keeping a clear profile and proposals has been achieved while working with other political forces.
Tomás Hirsch: I would say that here in Chile humanists have three convictions. The first is that we have a good proposal, that Humanism is good and that it would be good that Humanism develops here in Chile because we have a lot to contribute. The second conviction, in short, is that we can’t do what we want alone, here we need to do it with others; with others who also have the same convictions and ideals even though they come from different currents: Socialism, Marxism, Environmentalism, Ecology, Feminism, Indigenous Rights, and so on, from many different fields where there are people who are necessary to make this construction. No one can do it alone. For us this is very internalised. And the third conviction, which is similar to the second, is that there are good people in many places.
With these three convictions and since we were born as a political party, we have always sought to build things with others. I don’t know how we would have emerged from the dictatorship without others. Then we participated in the Concertación. Afterwards we left it when we saw that it was taking a different direction. We were the founders of Juntos Podemos. And today we are in the Broad Front, in which we were one of the ones to help form it.
How to not lose profile? It’s a good question. It’s like asking a centipede how to walk…
Video of the entire interview – produced by Domenico Musella
P.: In other places the Humanist Party usually thinks that participating in a coalition with others, will cause it to lose profile.
T.H.: I don’t think so. I think that there is a fear of trying it, which is different. There’s a fear of losing profile. So they don’t want to contaminate themselves, they don’t want to bump into others, they don’t want to allow themselves to be influenced by others. We believe that if we have good ideas, a good attitude, good relationships with others, then nothing bad can happen. I don’t think there’s any need to be so afraid of making links with others. On the contrary, we can contribute a lot. So, yes, effectively we have always been in relations with others, but our ideas and proposals are very clear. And we don’t try to impose them on others. This seems to me to be an important element. We establish certain minimal agreements: nonviolence and a certain regard to the society that we are aiming for. But we don’t demand that they sign a document to say they’re humanists, because they aren’t. We don’t say, “you have to say that human beings are the central value.” No, you don’t have to repeat every one of our principles. Because if it were so, it would be better that they join the Humanist Party. Then there’d be no diversity. It’s the convergence of diversity.
I think that what we have is so good, that we don’t need to be afraid at all of joining forces with others. It’s the same thing that happens in other ambits. You have many friends and each one is different. We co-exist, we construct something better, precisely because we are many. If I am alone, perhaps I have a marvellous idea but I don’t have to carry it out. It’s the same thing that happens in the relationship with your partner. We are two different people. It must be torture to have an identical partner. We are different. Because we are different, we complement each other and we make a joint project. I think that humanists in Chile have known how to value differences. Not to see them as a problem, but rather to see them as an opportunity. And this means to respect each other’s identity.
P.: What could it mean for Humanism that you are elected as a deputy?
TH: It’s a long-held aspiration of Humanism to contribute to transforming people’s structural situation. People are having a very bad time. This country has been sold to the world as a success story, a developing country, a country that today is part of the OECD, but most people are having a bad time of it and feel very badly treated. I think that Humanism can contribute by helping to change this, perhaps we can’t humanise Chile in a few years, but maybe we can contribute to a small change of direction, sufficient enough for people to start to see that there are other ways of organising themselves, other ways of relating to one another.
I think that Humanism in the Broad Front also contributes an experience. Here there are many young movements that are very interesting, very valuable, but Humanism has a lot of accumulated experience of participating in government, for example when the dictatorship finished; working at a local level… I think that all of this, which perhaps isn’t being seen in Humanism in this moment, is there. It exists as accumulated experience.
And to be able to be a deputy here, also in this district where we had a deputy 25 years ago, I also believe that it gives a very special meaning and a charge. The possibility to return to parliament from here is very beautiful. It’s like saying, “Where were we? Ok, let’s continue.” Because look, 25 years have gone by and many things have changed, but many other things, really if you look close up, continue to be the same. People continue to be discriminated against. There are serious problems here in this district; evictions, problems of education and housing, pensions, environment, lack of recreational spaces, crime, drug addiction… that are the same that we saw when we are in congress with Laura Rodriguez 25 years ago. So, yes, I think that we have something to contribute.
P.: Neoliberalism is savagely advancing around the planet. At the same time movements are emerging in different places that talk about something new, of wanting to build a different society. If you are elected as a deputy, or not, how do you imagine working in order to connect all these movements and build a movement on a planetary scale that can imagine another world, one worthy of human beings?
T.H.: Neoliberalism here in Chile, which was one of the first countries where it was implemented in its pure form so categorically, is much more than an economic model I would say. In reality it has been instilled as a way of life, as a way to make a society. It has won until now a certain cultural struggle, if you like. It has been installed as truth. And what is that truth? Basically, it’s the truth of individualism. It’s the truth that everyone is fighting for themselves and has to succeed. And this success can come at anyone else’s expense and it doesn’t matter, moreover, it’s seen to be a good thing. It’s a good thing because it means that you are more capable than others. It’s social Darwinism. Neoliberalism ultimately today has turned into social Darwinism in which the strongest, or let’s be clearer, in which the biggest asshole, the one best able to fuck up others, is the one who wins.
Well, in front of this there is a new sensibility emerging. I would say that six or seven years ago a new sensibility started to emerge that is looking for precisely the opposite, community, togetherness, others, the valuing of diversity, horizontality, nonviolence in the face of violence, an ability to recognise the contributions of others… I think that all of this has effectively being gaining strength, it has been expressing itself – we have seen it since 2011 in the 15M in Spain, but also in Cairo and Tel Aviv, and also here in Chile with the environmental and student movements, in the United States, in New York… in very different places. I think that this is very hopeful, that in some way it’s a new generation starting to awaken; and for those of us who believe that the driver of history is the generational struggle, well, it’s very hopeful to see that a new generation is awakening, because really for the last twenty years, the generational driving force has been very quiet. I’m not saying that it will end up doing away with neoliberalism as a cultural form in the next months or years, but I think that a different look is starting to emerge and you can see it; political parties with a new style, with a new language, social organisations that connect among themselves, I think that this reflects the new moment.
P.: From the Broad Front, from the Humanist Party, are you in connection with these organisations, do you plan to strengthen those relationships?
T.H.: We are in contact, but to be honest, it’s not easy. There is a strong dispute between social movements and political parties. There is mutual mistrust that has been instilled, perhaps not with us as humanists, but it’s there. Social movements strongly distrust political parties and quite rightly because they have been used, they’ve been manipulated, they have been repeatedly tricked. And political parties often don’t like social movements, above all when they start to take their own decisions. So there is an abyss or a wall that separates them and we have to see how to bring this wall down, how to build a bridge over that abyss. It’s a pending task. I can’t say to you now, “look, it’s fantastic here!” In Juntos Podemos, what we tried to do twelve years ago in the Humanist Party was to make a construction with social movements and political parties as peers. We couldn’t do it. We failed, but we keep on trying! We couldn’t do it, political parties were there, the Communist Party in particular, with a vision that was completely different to ours; they felt that it was the parties that had to be in the vanguard of the process. And social movements were tremendously irritated by this. Today the relationship is closer. In the Broad Front the relationship is more of peers but the mistrust exists, the distance exists. So I see that this is a future challenge. One of the things that most motivated me in the district is to see if we can advance in a kind of model in which we can work together among different political movements and social organisations… but that’s a challenge for the future.
P.: Tomás, if you are elected you have until March to prepare yourself to take your position. What plans do you have? What images? How will you prepare? What will the construction of this project that will last for the next four years be like?
T.H.: To be sincere, I haven’t thought about anything after Sunday. I have been concentrating 100% on the election and every day, from 7:00 am to 10:30pm at night, we have been campaigning. But I am clear about the more global answer to your question. It has to do with a team project. One can be elected as a deputy, but it’s a function within a team. I don’t think in the slightest that I can sit down and think and design this project. Don’t be unfair! I don’t have the vision of this project. In other words, to answer more positively, after Sunday, if things work out as we hope, we will have to sit down with all those who feel motivated by this project in order to design a Plan. What do we want to be a deputy for? What do we want to do? Probably in that role we will have to do a thousand things that can’t be planned for, that are part of the day-to-day work of a deputy, but there is an intention, there’s a purpose, there’s an intention behind what we want to do. What happens is that this intention, this direction, this purpose, I at least until now still haven’t written it down because I think that it’s a job that we have to do together and from Monday. But the conception of the issue is this: we have to build it together. Now, in this joint construction what motivates me is what I said before: how to try in this district, which for me is a reflection of Chile, a miniature copy of what Chile is, it’s long, it runs alongside the Andes, but more than that, the human diversity of the country is reflected here. It’s one of the districts most populated by indigenous peoples. It’s the district with the richest population of Chile, and maybe of South America in one zone; in another zone there are sectors that are totally deprived in terms of healthcare, education and housing. It’s a district in which many pensioners live with miserable pensions, in which there is a youth population totally trapped by the situation of drugs and a lack of access to good jobs, or even to any jobs. So, I feel that what we can do in the district can be an interesting experience if we could later on – if all goes well – replicate the experience in other places. But all of this will be part of the Plan that we will have to write after Sunday.
P.: If you are elected, what mechanisms will you put in place in order to know people’s opinions and how will you give the greatest possible participation to the population?
T.H.: I aspire to be able to do here in the district the same as the Humanist Party proposes generally: to advance from representative democracy to direct and participative democracy. What does that mean? It means that we incorporate popular law initiatives, i.e. that citizens can present projects for laws, for which they’ll have to meet, organise, dialogue, discuss and see what laws are their priorities. That’s the good thing about plebiscites, both at a national and district level; that there are mechanisms to revoke mandates of those who are elected and then are glued to their posts for long periods so that they can be removed from office; that accounts should be produced for the activities undertaken by the authorities, especially those elected, and also those not elected, but in publically important positions. Well, I think that all these mechanisms deepen democracy, make it more direct and return protagonism to the people. If there is anything that motivates me, it’s how to give protagonism back, or give for the first time because in many cases people have never had protagonism. Today we live in a very formal democracy in which it is assumed that one casts a vote every four years but this vote later on has no importance because they promise one thing and then do something else and represent other interests. So, for me a fundamental issue is how to advance towards a direct, more participative, consultative, dialoguing democracy, and this for me is valid, both in terms of the law projects that we should drive forward at a national level and at a district level.
P.: Laura Rodríguez, the first Humanist deputy elected in this very district spoke and wrote a lot about Heights Virus [when power goes to the heads of those elected politicians who forget about those who helped them get there], how are you and your team vaccinating yourselves against this virus that could affect you if you are elected?
T.H.: I think that as humanists we are quite well vaccinated generally speaking against Heights Virus, but at the same time I think we should never stop exercising. It’s like going to the gym, and the best way of exercising is, I think, to work in a team, to always work in a team, and secondly to never lose a sense of humour. And humour works by basically laughing at oneself, because I think we are the funniest and most surreal thing there is! So this helps a lot!
For us, elected positions are functions and there is no big difference between any of the functions in a team, while we’re having a good time, while we are plotting, while we are in a project, I think that we are vaccinated. And on the other hand, it’s always good to have Laura’s book close to hand… just in case we forget.
We are grateful to Tomás for this interview, made by several Pressenza editors in Chile for the elections.