We interviewed Tomás Hirsch, a humanist Deputy from Frente Amplio (Broad Front), a conglomerate that was formed just a year ago in Chile. However, long before this different attempts of convergence between progressive political forces of this country were made.
Pressenza: Can you make a brief summary of this process, with its different moments?
Tomás Hirsch: Since the time of the dictatorship there have always been attempts and tendencies towards the convergence between political forces in Chile. That has happened regularly and that is actually part of the history of the Chilean political process, because if you look further back, the government of Salvador Allende is that of Popular Unity and before the UP there was the Popular Front. So I would say that the formation of coalitions that work together is very much in the DNA of Chilean politics and that has a very great value because it has shaped us in the construction of valuing diversity. Many times that became very difficult, but it has always been present.
The recovery of democracy is the result of the convergence of very diverse political forces, some very conservative, some leftist, up to Marxist forces.
In the case of the Humanist Party, we are also somehow tributaries of that process in Chile and we have always been participating in this type of convergent intentions, with the Concertación, in the presidential candidacy of Cristián Reitze with the New Left, with the Juntos Podemos (Together we can) and then the Broad Front. So what we are experiencing today has a background, it has a process. This, at the same time, has its difficulties such as the tendency towards multiple fragmentation within these diversities, which is a characteristic of the Chilean left. The left here is fragmented into 20, 30 or 40 micro-parties, micro-organisations, which are constantly looking for how to join up and converge, which is happening today as well. So this has its difficulties, but the tendency is to work together with the diversities.
Pressenza: What are, in your opinion, the fundamental elements that allowed the creation of such a broad alliance that, beyond the diverse social and political realities, could be replicated elsewhere?
Tomás Hirsch: I think there are several factors. In the first place, a deep erosion of the traditional coalitions that managed the political and economic model of the country for more than 25 years. Attrition in terms of credibility, lack of a project, in terms of loss of leadership and references, that is to say, in every sense, a very great erosion of these coalitions is taking place.
Secondly, the fact that the Communist Party has become part of the government, I would say it left a space for other organisations to feel perhaps more free to seek convergence. In the traditional left there is a tendency to a love-hate relationship with the Communist Party, which does not affect the HP but it does affect many other organisations of the Chilean left, which end up acting in relation or depending on what the CP does or does not do. Because the CP was historically the clearest political force on the left, better organised, with greater permanence in time and that even after the fall of real socialism in the USSR, I would say that it is the PC that managed to maintain greater cohesion and even electoral support, a 6 or a 7% of the votes constant over time.
And a third element, I would say, is that the student movements of the mobilisations of 2011 in Chile understood – consequence of the experience in other places, especially Spain – the importance of being politically organised and not only staying in the student dynamics and their particular demands. They understood very quickly that it was necessary to move forward from student demands to the proposed structural transformation of the model and that contributed to the possibility of working together for a longer-term project and not only in terms of the struggle for an education with such and such characteristics.
Pressenza: And within this Broad Front, what role did the feminist candidacy of Beatriz Sánchez have in the electoral result? The radical proposals that she raised, like the one of the tax on the super rich, in what way they influenced the results?
Tomás Hirsch: I think that the proposal of the super rich tax did not influence the result in any way, I think it was not widely known or understood and that there is a lot of fear every time the word “taxes” is mentioned. This is a conservative country in general terms. Clarified that, I would say that the fact that she is a woman, that she proposed a feminist candidacy, that there was a high number of female candidates within the coalition, was relevant.
If we study the results of the Broad Front voting, there is clearly a greater tendency to vote for women, women took more votes than men, were elected in a greater proportion than in other coalitions, the elected Regional Councillors are all women, the Deputies there are 7 out of 20, which is still a minority, but it is already 35% that corresponds to a triple of the national percentage, which is almost 14%. So there is an important difference.
The government programme of Beatriz Sánchez has many elements that could be classified as feminist, but above all I would say that what influenced the most was her position, her attitude, her style, her tone. More than just being a feminist, I would say that it was a very honest tone, very transparent, very equal, very horizontal, very sincere. In an environment in which politics had lost all credibility, in which any politician creates suspicion, and with justified reasons, well, a woman who had been a journalist, who was known for speaking her mind, for saying frankly and starkly what many people – millions of people – feel, I would say she produced a very great empathy with her candidacy. I would argue that what hit the most was a sentence that she said on the first day of her campaign, she said: “The fact that I am a candidate demonstrates that anyone in our country can be a candidate and be elected President of Chile.” I think that had a stronger impact than many of the proposals. It seems to me that the proposals of the Many Programme gave a framework, a general tone, but that they were not what decided the people in their favour. If we asked the voters how many proposals they remember, surely they would mention free education, finish with the AFPs, but there are many people who support that. So it was rather the style, the style of it, the most important thing.
Pressenza: After the election of Sebastián Piñera to be President, you affirmed that “today in Chile two major projects remain: the one on the right and that of the Broad Front”, while the New Majority that has been in power these last years has practically disappeared. What is the long-term project of the Broad Front in this scenario?
Tomás Hirsch: First, reaffirm what I said. It is right. The New Majority stopped having a political and social project, a project of transformation for the country. I have said it before and I repeat it. It was transformed into a limited company, a society of convenience, but without a social project.
The right has a project, how can we doubt it? We are not going to talk about it, but obviously it has a project.
And the Broad Front has a long-term project, clearly, and it has to do with building a society of rights. Today we do not live in a society of rights, but in an individualistic and competitive society, of personal success, which for some can be very good, but which is a type of society in which those who work hard are supposed to be fine and if they are successful, they will be able to consume everything they want and maybe even trickle down … In which certain fundamental rights are commodified.
The Broad Front project has to do with recovering or establishing, because many were never there, a society of rights, in which health, education, housing, work, the environment and pensions, at least, are fundamental rights.
A society in which the right to live my life with my own style, with my diversity, to mention all that is called values, is a right and does not have to depend on whether or not it is accepted by a certain ecclesiastical hierarchy, for example. So I think that a first great long-term project is a rights society.
A second major long-term issue for the Broad Front is the construction of a society that decentralises power. Decentralises economic power, but also decentralises political power. Decentralises ethnic power, today an ethnic group has power over all others. That decentralises geographic power, nowadays the power is concentrated in Santiago. I would say that this is a second issue that is contained in the Broad Front project.
And the third one is a society that is democratised. And to be democratised means that the citizens take more and more prominence in decision-making. That has to do with a Constituent Assembly, with popular initiative of law, with revocation of mandate, with plebiscite, with mechanisms of social participation.
These three themes I think make our long-term project and were very well explained by Beatriz during her campaign.
Pressenza: and during these next 4 years as opposition of the Piñera government, can you move forward on these three fundamental axes? Can you do it as a block, as parliamentarians, with the composition of the new parliament?
Tomás Hirsch: We have a block of 20 deputies and 1 senator. I think it’s going to be an important and determined block. But I have my serious doubts that laws will be passed according to our projects. It is very unlikely that this could happen. We are going to present many bills that go in the direction of what we have talked about, but above all to mark a way, to show citizens that a different Chile is possible. And that has to do with the fact that we want be in 4 more years in conditions to become government. And to do so, we want to show a lot of law projects that go in the direction of the society that we aspire in our proposals. So from the point of view of the success of the approval of our proposals, we see it very unlikely, rather null. And we are very aware of it in our block.
We have made the decision to oppose each project presented by Piñera with an alternative proposal, rather than simply saying that his projects are bad.
We will say: “this is bad, and there is this other option”, an option that is likely to be lost, because we will not have a majority, but it is there and it is presented publicly. And it is in that sense that we say that two options have been left standing.
There is a second important point, in which we are going to probably agree with others and it has to do with defending the advances, the few advances that have been achieved in relation to certain rights. Because History is not flat, there has been a lot of progress and in some way it is possible that Piñera’s government will intend to backtrack or block some achievements. There have been advances in matters of Tax, in values matters, in education, there are certain advances that we consider insufficient, but in no way would we want that to go back. Against that, we will seek to build majorities to oppose the backward movements.
Pressenza: Throughout the world, critical political movements and forces are demonstrating against those who hold power, who move forward with the resolution to overcome this neoliberal system, based on inequality and violence. The Broad Front is inserted, apparently, in this same trend. What would be the mistakes to avoid and the strengths to be taken care of and maintained?
Tomás Hirsch: I think we have to take care of and highlight the appreciation of diversity, as a first thing. In the participation not only in organised politics, but also in the social organisations. That is a fundamental issue. This theme is related to the valuing of diversity and is the promotion of a multiplicity of leaders, in all fields, of all types, not to monopolise, not to hegemonise which is a language that corresponds better with this field. Be very careful not to hegemonise or pretend to impose one’s own look. That’s fundamental when we’re working in a coalition as wide as ours and others that have existed in other places.
I also believe that we should never lose the ability to establish a dialogue with others that are not us. It is very important to be able to build majorities for certain issues. From that point of view I think that fundamentalisms are not appropriate, nor do they help at this time. We live in a society that needs a lot of tactical flexibility, very fast. That flexibility implies the speed of response.
It also seems to me that it is very necessary to maintain a strong link with other organisations in other parts of the world. There is a lot of experience to collect and exchange. Nobody has the truth. We are in Chile, but what have they been doing in Uruguay with the Broad Front that is already 30 years old? What have they been doing in France with France Insoumise? But also what have they been doing in Egypt, with a different and very complex mess, with dictatorships in between? Collect those experiences, have a lot of richness in the exchange, I think it is very important.
Pressenza: On your next trip to Europe you will find several examples of this new sensibility, of similar currents that have been making their way. Do you already have an agenda of arranged meetings, and with whom?
Tomás Hirsch: We have an agenda of meeting, which is also expanding these days, which we are very excited about. For the moment there are confirmed meetings with the Humanists in different countries of Europe, with friends of the Broad Front and with social organisations already in Milan and in Madrid at least. And then we have meetings with some leaders of the progressive world. In Paris with Melanchon, in Athens with Varoufakis, in Madrid with the Podemos people, we are seeing if it is going to be a meeting definitely with Iglesias or Iñigo Errejón, in Barcelona with the people of the international team of mayors in which Ada Colau is and we are still seeing if it is possible to arrange meetings in other countries.
Pressenza: And how do you think we can contribute to the dialogue and the links between these emerging forces? Are there possibilities to point towards a kind of international movement? How to create networks between the social and the political, maintaining an international harmony?
Tomás Hirsch: I think the idea of building international networks and links is very good, based on this principle we have talked so much, about the valuing of diversity, and the recognition that these other experiences are useful for us. So, those kinds of relationships I think have to be the least bureaucratic possible, without trying to impose certain views. I do not think we have to re-form the International – nor the Humanist International, nor the Communist, Socialist Internationals, or anything like that.
I think it’s not about guiding anything. These are areas of exchange of experiences, of collecting experiences, as we humanists do in the Humanist Club, for example. Where in fact each one, with their diverse action, is nourished by that experience and one carries what they have been able to rescue to exchange with others and, even in very diverse matters, benefit form what others contribute with their own action. That form seems to me to be very appropriate for the present times. More dialogue than organisation, a dialogue in which each one strives to contribute what can be useful to the other, rather than to emphasise one´s own position. That is, one contributes what one believes may be useful for other processes. If that could be done at the international level, with very different organisations, I think it would be a great gain for all.