Bachelet: "A country of greater solidarity"

In Chile Michelle Bachelet has won the run-off election, to become Chile's first president who is a woman. A socialist who is widely considered to be a truly populist leader, she beat her chief opponent, billionaire Sebastián Piñera, taking 53.5% of the vote. The main issues of her winning platform were a promise to construct a national program subsidizing child care, improving labour laws and working conditions, and decreasing the gap between rich and poor. Imagine if these were elements of a winning platform in Canada!Bachelet has also pledged to create a cabinet with equal representation of men and women. Stick that to NDP tokenism.

What's amazing is that North American coverage of her election continues to emphasize the masculinist culture of Chile, with a supercilious tone. But someone like Bachelet -- even someone like Stronach! -- wouldn't stand a chance as a prime ministerial candidate in Canada, much less in the U.S. She's separated, a single mother, a feminist, and she seems to take women's political situation seriously, making it a campaign issue. But she won in Chile -- doesn't that say a little something about a slow transformation of gender politics in that culture? In Canada, the leader of the New Democrat party is still spewing rhetoric about women's virtue from the nineteenth century! How's that for social change!


Blogger Victor Serge said...

Hey A.C.,

I enjoyed the contrast with Canada's 'social democratic' commitment to feminism, vs. a stronger commitment to feminism in Chile. Official representation by women should be a no-brainer like it is for many election slates around the world.

I'd just caution that Bachelet is also a timid reformist, having no plans to reverse the privatizations that Pinochet created. As a member of the defence ministry, she was also responsible for the Chilean contingent of UN troops in occupied Haiti, which is wreaking havoc on poor women and men alike.

I think we can appreciate the gains that a woman president represents - particularly against the stereotype of a machismo culture (as if that only exists in the global south!) - while recognizing the limits of social democratic politics.



5:50 p.m.  
Blogger a.c. said...

Yep. i agree (see post 39).

But i also think that generalizations about "the limits of social democratic politics" from the Global North to the Global South are problematic -- which I think that the article you linked to does, e.g., by making throwaway references to Tony Blair.

I also think that to reduce statements of Bachelet's populism to cronyism and capitulation to the military right wing is just rampant speculation. Here is more of the context of her statement that her "government will be for all Chileans": "Because I was the victim of hatred, I have dedicated my life to reverse that hatred and turn it into understanding, tolerance and -- why not say it -- into love."

So yes, we should reprove of Bachelet's involvement (personal and political) in the occupation of Haiti; that's a no-brainer. In fact, we can reprove on Bachelet's own terms -- where's the love? But that doesn't mean that her election means nothing. Just what it means is complicated.

I think we're saying the same thing here. Aren't we?

7:52 p.m.  
Blogger Victor Serge said...

Hmmm... maybe? I'll clarify my thoughts.

I think the difference between social democratic and revolutionary politics is a real one. That if one (party, movement, etc.) begins from the premise of winning elections, one has to accept the logic of capitalist power. Chile's own revolution is the prime example of this: by not challenging capital, Allende fostered a counter-revolutionary base that could invite the CIA in.

This is the classic 'reform vs. revolution' statement. It's a common smear by reformists that revolutionaries are 'utopian', want everything all at once, etc. They contrast their pragmatic approach: slow gains through parliamentary reforms.

The problem is that capitalism doesn't allow representative politics. Real power rests in the boardrooms. Revolutionary socialists engage in parliament on a tactical basis: as a means to propagandize. They fight through reforms, but through building mass, anti-capitalist movements with the confidence to take power in their own hands. They recognize that parliament responds to that pressure, it doesn't create it. Social democratic politics not only refuse to challenge capitalist power; they channel nascent anti-capitalist sentiment and organization into safe, parliamentary routes.

This is my problem with Bachelet. She's demonstrated, both in her program and previous actions, that in spite of the label, she's not an anti-capitalist.

Her election is important as a sign of the awakening feminist consciousness of Chile. But if, by her actions, she's dedicated to enforcing the neo-liberal discipline that's immiserated most Chilean women (and enriched a few), then the election is important only as a sign. The real work of organizing feminist socialist change in Chile lies elsewhere.

The situation in Bolivia, although different, is instructive, I think. The same dynamics of capitalist electoral power vs. class-based social movement power exists everywhere.

I agree that the question of elections is not the same everywhere. Trotsky called them 'democratic demands', in the colonized countries i.e. the rights of political representation are a key part of forming an independent working class movement. But they're steps along the road to revolution, not an end in themselves. (I'm almost finished reading 'The Transitional Program' and will blog about this soon.)

What do you think?

7:43 p.m.  

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