‘Democratic consensus’ during the Chilean transition (1985-89) was the topic under discussion at Sara Motta-Mera’s presentation on her research at LSE yesterday. Once again I walked in late, but caught what I think was the gist of her work. Whether we can talk of a transition prior to Pinochet’s defeat in the plebiscite before 1988 is a matter for debate (some might argue the transition only began after 1989 and isn’t yet complete until Pinochet’s legacy is dealt with), but Motta-Mera believes there were already shifts between the different regime, external and opposition actors prior to then.
Motta-Mera took a path dependency interpretation of Chile in the 1980s (i.e. the choices made at a given moment shape and determine their eventual outcome); the regime was prepared to negotiate as long as its neo-liberal legacy was retained and the pre-1973 political and economic models de-legitimated. The Church was also keen to depoliticise itself if it meant retaining a role in society and favoured a conservative form of democracy. Washington, perhaps influenced by the instability and potential pitfalls of authoritarian governments (e.g. Salazar, Franco, Iran), favoured a transition and leaned on the regime to deliver it – again without a severe challenge to capital. As for the opposition, the Christian Democrats sought to project themselves as its main hegemonic force. In this it was helped by the split in the Socialists, one side which eschewed ideology and plumped with the Christian Democrats, leaving the unreconstructed section adrift.
The challenge faced by Socialists raised questions about the extent to which this might be seen as a ‘consensus’ at all. While the Renovated Socialists and Christian Democrats saw the Marxist Left as their rivals, to what extent were the moderate Socialists pressured into accepting the transition model? As another participant noted, the use of the term ‘consensus’ assumes that all parties agreed and there was no one agent on the outside. But wasn’t that a contradiction if part of the Socialist party was left outside while its moderate wing was forced into accepting a neo-liberal model (and let’s not forget, the period in question – 1985-89 – was one in which the Soviet socialist model was still in existence)? Wasn’t the use of the term ‘consensus’ just a ploy to grab the moral high ground in the negotiation towards a final outcome?