Tips from Tomas Hirsch, Chilean parliamentarian: how other parties can recover their meaning

17.06.2018 - Pressenza London

Tips from Tomas Hirsch, Chilean parliamentarian: how other parties can recover their meaning

In spite of their different roots Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties have been occupying similar slots in the political spectrum, and are suffering today a similar crisis, brought about by their efforts to adapt to neoliberal dominance, not only in economic terms but also existential.

In this context the advice given by the Humanist Party parliamentarian in the Chilean chamber of deputies for the Broad Front, Tomas Hirsch, to the Christian Democratic (CD) Party could be an invaluable material for discussion for parties willing to recover their sense of meaningful political action at the service of society.

Here is a translation of Pressenza Chile’s report:

Invited to the forum organized by the Chilean Christian Democrats, regarding their own crisis and rescuing visions aa well as opinions of representatives of other collectives to define what they need to get out of their situation of decomposition, the Humanist deputy of the Frente Amplio, Tomás Hirsch, expressed his opinion with the following words:

“Many thanks to the organisers for the invitation to reflect on the current needs of CD. I have been asked to give my views (from outside) on the crisis of the Christian Democratic Party and what should be done to get out of it. Of course, my vision is given from a particular point of view: as a humanist, and as a member of the Broad Front. For this reason, I am grateful for the willingness to listen to external voices, convinced that this is the right thing to do, since on many occasions it is “other eyes” that allow us to identify our most important virtues. These virtues are the ones we rely on to advance, including at the individual level.

Throughout this reflection, my vision will seek to rescue key milestones and leaderships from the history of the Christian Democrats in Chile, which may serve as an inspiration for the current crisis. It seems to me that the recovery of these pillars can be useful to orient the CD once again in a communitarian, mystical and coherent direction. Three key elements for the solution to its current crisis, marked by individualism, pragmatism and contradiction with its own principles.

First of all. Christian democracy has a strong communitarian component, which has led it to promote policies to rebuild the social fabric at various points in its history. It has a focus on building social and political community. Thus, during the government of Frei Montalva, progress was made in the creation of cooperatives and new social organisations, with the idea of creating grassroots organisations capable of responding to their own problems. The same direction can also be seen in the strengthening of trade unionism during the same mandate. Perhaps the strongest reference point in this direction is the impetus given to agrarian reform during those same years. This communitarian component can be a key doctrinal pillar for the solution of the current crisis in CD. As a bastion of social organisation in the face of the draconian individualism of the neoliberal model that has prevailed in our country for several decades. The historical political doctrine of the CD is not in line with the neoliberalism embraced by some of its most conservative activistss, such as Mariana Aylwin. That is not the DC’s historical line. I believe that as a party it has a role to play at this time in Chile’s politics, offering alternatives to this petty individualism governed by the markets.

Second. Another of the historical elements that must be rescued is the mystical achievement present in the Christian Democrats in many of their struggles. The “March of our Young Land” or the struggle against Pinochet’s dictatorship are examples of this. Such transformative actions need to be rescued and serve as guidance and inspiration at these times. Recently I read an interview with Senator Huenchumilla in which he stated that the Christian Democrats do not have a strategy today, that “we simply coordinate the day to day”. That is the synthesis of my argument and one of the keys to the crisis. This is a clear reflection of the current situation and the lack of a strategic project that I mentioned earlier. The CD went from wanting to transform the country to administering the neoliberal model. In the face of pragmatism and the short-term situation, in the face of the immediacy of particular interests and the simple search for power; the mystique -now absent- can be a springboard towards a policy that builds meaning and transcends the particular. You have to look for it, because it’s there. That mystique that is present in grassroots activists and that is present throughout DC’s history. It is not in the “Personages”, but in the common people.

Third. There is often talk of the “two souls” of CD: one progressive and one conservative. There are those who say they can live together and those who say there is no room for the two souls in the party. The (conflicting) coexistence of the two souls has a limit, and this limit is the contradiction with the principles themselves. The principles that give rise to the Christian Democracy are unique, beyond the multiple interpretations. This declaration of principles of 1957 mentions that the mission of CD is “to achieve true democracy”, that it is a task of “human liberation” and that it “promotes the rise of popular forces aimed at transforming the structures of society in our time”.(1)

I don’t see two souls, I see only one. I see a very clear soul and principles. If there are “personages” in the party who want to go in another direction, it will be with the burden of contradicting those principles, beyond any justification for the number of souls that the CD may have. However, be clear that when a party contradicts its own principles, it is destined for political irrelevance. The crisis arises when one loses connection with the deeper meaning that guides political action, and loses and dilutes it in short-term analysis and the simple search for power (for power itself). The Christian Democrats have lost coherence with their own principles and must regain it. An incoherent party has no destiny other than disappearance.

I think it is valuable to recognise that the CD Party is in crisis. It is in a huge crisis. And there’s no sign of change at the moment. Its reality is marked by power struggles, loss of direction and strategy and inconsistency with its own principles. It has no project. However, with adequate reflection, it has in itself the elements to be able to emerge from the crisis. They don’t abound, but they are there. Its communitarian position in opposition to neoliberal individualism, its mysticism and principles  against short-term dominance and pragmatism are some of the pillars it can (and should) embrace if it is interested in emerging from the crisis.

And how does that translate (from our point of view as Broad Front) into a concrete legislative agenda? In an agenda of strengthening democracy, with an emphasis on the decentralisation of power and strengthening the social base. In an agenda that prioritises the strengthening of trade union organisations, taking negotiation by branch as a central axis. In the recovery of natural resources, common to all Chileans: water, copper and lithium. In strengthening the common, the collective. That’s what I think DC’s progressive history talks about.

I hope that my reflections will serve as a contribution to identifying diagnostic elements in the CD crisis, but also some “virtues” that can serve as a pillar to get out of it. Every crisis can be painful, but it also brings with it the possibility of changing things and opening up new horizons. I close my presentation by expressing my sincere hope that these elements of the future that I mentioned will prevail over those that have led to the deepening of the crisis.

Thank you again to the organisers of this event for inviting me.”

1 Declaration of Principles of the Christian Democratic Party (1957). Retrieved from: http://www.archivochile.com/Partidos_burguesia/pdc/de/PBdepdc0001.pdf

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