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The current situation and challenges of the WP of Belgium

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Post 11 Dec 2013, 18:28
The current situation and challenges of the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB)

Interview of Bert De Belder, member of the PTB's National Council and head of its Department of International Relations,

for AKEL's daily newspaper HARAVGI.

1) The PTB is on a mounting road, with success in the local elections and polls suggesting that you would be in the new national parliament when elections will be held. What is the reason behind the rise of your party? When will national elections be held and what would be your objectives?

Although we don't see it as our principal arena of struggle, the Workers' Party of Belgium (PTB, for 'Parti du Travail de Belgique') has been participating in elections since its very foundation in 1979.

In the early years, the Party was able to get a few councilors elected in municipalities where the Party has a people's clinic providing free health care.

In the year 2000 we obtained good results in two working class municipalities where we applied the principle “from the masses, to the masses”. We based our election programme and our mass campaigns on what the local people themselves indicated as their priorities, no matter how trivial the issue (such as the price of garbage bags or the opening hours of the local swimming pool).

In the ensuing years, there was a struggle in the party to further break with old habits of sectarianism and ultra-Leftism. Its results were systematized at the Party's 8th Congress, concluded in early 2008.

There we decided to combine steadfastness as regards our basic Marxist-Leninist principles with flexibility in our tactical approaches towards the masses, the trade unions, alliance work and the mass media. We also underscored the need for the Party to become truly working class-based. It is this process of reaffirmation and renewal, together with the objective conditions of a deepening social and economic crisis, that led to the PTB's further advance in the October 2012 local elections, where we increased threefold the number of our local councilors.

The PTB now counts 53 municipal and provincial councilors, including and for the first time in the major cities Antwerp, Liège and Brussels.

On the 25th of May 2014, concomitant with the European elections, Belgium will hold national and regional elections as well.

The PTB will exert all efforts to obtain, for the first time in its history, one and possibly two deputies in the national parliament (our spokesman Raoul Hedebouw in Liège and our chairman Peter Mertens in Antwerp), and at least two in the regional parliaments. According to recent opinion polls, this seems to be a realistic objective, but we are well aware that it will still entail a lot of hard work by all our members.

Who, by the way, have already started our election campaign by trying to get no less than 40,000 respondents to a nation-wide questionnaire in view of elaborating our election programme (see:

2) How many years have passed since a Marxist-Leninist party was represented in the parliament of Belgium?

Since 1985, no communist has been represented in the Belgian parliament, nor in the regional parliaments. Paradoxically, throughout the years, the more the electoral results of the then Communist Party of Belgium (PCB) declined, the more it stressed that parliament would be its main arena of political activity, even if maintaining a certain presence and activity among workers and in the trade union movement as well as in the peace movement.

3) What is the basic strategy of the struggle of the PTB? How is your cooperation with trade unions?

Our Party aims to arouse, organize and mobilize the workers – defined in the broadest possible way, but with a priority for the workers in the big companies and the main public services – for a militant struggle for social and democratic rights and for concrete improvements in their work and living conditions. Such a struggle is at the same time a school to discover the power of collective action and to give it a political orientation.

Through this process, and by further building and strengthening the Party, we are confident that more and more workers will become empowered and enlightened so as to finally break with the capitalist system and strive for an entirely different and new society, socialism. This will be the result of the convergence of several major struggle movements in various fields (social progress, democratic rights, international solidarity, peace, the protection of the environment) over a longer period of time, in which the working class is diametrically opposed to the capitalist class and finally will be able to take power.

The PTB sees the trade unions as the workers' first and most important mass organizations. While part of their leadership remains closely linked, ideologically and organizationally, to the main bourgeois parties – the social-democratic and Christian-democratic ones – in general the Belgian trade union movement offers space and opportunities for progressive and even anti-capitalist standpoints, actions and campaigns. We collaborate as closely as possible with the trade unions, both with shop stewards at the factory floor and with trade union secretaries and structures.

With this open and respectful attitude, we observe that the trade unions are more and more willing, and sometimes even eager to invite, listen to and exchange with our comrades, to share analyses and materials and to undertake common actions.

4) Your party is the only party in Belgium that is bilingual and does not distinguish on the basis of the two national communities of the country, Dutch- and French-speaking. What is your position on the national issue and the unity of Belgium or the secession of any part from the country?

We are proud to be the only political party in Belgium having remained national and bilingual, all other parties having split up along language and territorial lines. We are of the opinion that the unity of the country serves the cause of the workers and the people, while division does a disservice to their cause and serves only the interests of big capital.

All social achievements obtained by the working class in Belgium are the result of 150 years of commun struggle of the workers from Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels.

Dividing the working class will only be profitable for the bourgeoisie.

Separatism is mainly being pushed by the most aggressive part of the bourgeosie, namely the Flemish bourgeoisie in the richer North of Belgium, which has shared interests mainly with the German bourgeoisie. The political exponent of this dangerous, Right-wing separatism is the N-VA, the New Flemish Alliance, which is currently the biggest party in the entire country and aims for the independence of Flanders.

Actually, after six rounds of reforms of the federal State, Belgium already has many features of a confederal State, with the most absurd manifestations regarding administration, bureaucracy, language use, subsidies and the like, especially in the bilingual capital city of Brussels.

The PTB defends the unitarian character of the Belgian State as the terrain that is most advantageous to advance the workers' struggle, and is opposed to separatism and any form of national chauvinism.

The PTB fights all forms of racism and other phenomena that sow division among the workers and the people. We try to initiate and stimulate projects that promote national unity, understanding and solidarity, in collaboration with trade unionists, youth, artists and the like.

5) Brussels is the administrative centre of the EU and the NATO. What is your position on these two organizations?

On NATO we can be brief. It is an aggressive military alliance of the major Western imperialist powers. Not only communists, but all democrats and peace-loving people should demand and work for the retreat of Belgium from NATO and for its dissolution.

In the meantime, we reject and resist any Belgian participation in NATO and other military interventions abroad. With the broad peace movement, we also demand the withdrawal of the US nuclear weapons from Belgian soil.

The European Union is a somewhat different matter.

The PTB sees the EU as a construction that serves the needs of European big capital and that is anti-democratic, anti-worker, anti-peace and imperialist in nature. In its competition with other imperialist centres, Europe's big capitalists needed to equip themselves with a stronger and bigger State apparatus than just that of any single bourgeois State on the continent. Thus, with every new treaty and even more so since the recent deepenig of the crisis of capitalism, the EU is more and more becoming a European super-State under construction.

The EU currently defines and imposes already up to 80% of new laws in its member States and is further building and strengthening its common monetary, economic, foreign affairs, defence and repressive capacities. For these reasons, we don't see it useful for the working class and the PTB to demand and fight for Belgium's withdrawal from the EU.

In our eyes, fighting the EU should not be much different from fighting our respective national States, as both are instruments of class oppression used by the bourgeoisie against the workers. We expose and oppose them in order to advance the social and democratic rights of the workers, in the process building up forces for socialist revolution, which we see occurring on a larger scale than just that of one or a few European countries. As we all face the same attacks and challenges, it is necessary to build cooperation and coordination of class struggles on a European level.

6) What are your thoughts on the capitalist crisis, the austerity measures and the troika impositions on the people of Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Ireland, Portugal etc.?

For the PTB, it concerns a structural crisis of world capitalism, a crisis of relative overproduction and over-accumulation of capital. We now see an acute manifestation and exacerbation of the crisis that started already way back in the early 1970s. It cannot find a real solution within the capitalist system, however large the dose of neoliberal austerity measures or however 'generous' the Keynesian 'recovery' programmes.

The extremely harsh austerity measures that the troika is imposing on several countries – and which, by the way, are similar in non-EU countries or in countries, such as Belgium, that seem to be less affected by the crisis – can only incite the workers and the people to a more determined resistance and to the insight that what is at play is really a “system error” that needs to give way to a “system change”, to socialism.

7) What are your relations with AKEL and what is the position of the PTB on the Cyprus problem?

We are very happy that the PTB and AKEL have established comradely relations and want to develop them further. In the past we already had many opportunities to meet with AKEL delegates at several international meetings, and to exchange experiences and point the views. Our youth movement Comac has been participating in EDON congresses and youth camps.

Recently our Party Chairman Peter Mertens met with AKEL Secretary General Andros Kyprianou. We are sure that we can learn a lot from the rich history and achievements of AKEL.

On the Cyprus problem, we fully share the analysis and the solution put forward by AKEL for an end to foreign occupation and military presence and for the establishment of a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality, in the framework of a single united state, to be achieved in full independence, without any interference by the big powers. From our Belgian vantage point, we can all the more appreciate the importance of this issue for the people of Cyprus.

The solution of any national problem will greatly facilitate the joint struggle of the workers and the people for their social and democratic rights and for socialism. ... gium-ptben

Even if parliamentary representation is not the main goal, it is vastly encouraging if an openly Marxist party were to win seats in a country like Belgium. This is a country with an electoral threshold to keep out smaller parties, so that would make it all the more impressive. But even if they don't get it, then it will still only be a matter of time, as they are increasingly becoming implanted in working-class communities.
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