December 28, 2006

Belgian Reds Now "Smallest of the Big"

I asked a Belgian friend to comment on what has been happening there since the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB, their initials in French) tripled their representation in municipal councils, from 5 to 15 seats nation-wide in elections earlier in the year. He sent me a most interesting update.

I post it in three sections: First, a quick report on the latest near-victory for the PTB. Second, an up-to-the minute report on the situation in Antwerp with the newly elected officials due to take office on New Year’s Day (and a short comment on how the party won its two seats). Third, a very interesting document, which some readers here may have seen already on the PTB website, in which the national leadership of the party sums up the elections.

And that's not all. My friend has promised to keep an eye on this blog and, when he gets a chance, to try and answer any questions on the local elections there that folks may raise.

A) Miss Brussels, who was on the list of PTB candidates in the municipal elections nearly became Miss Belgium! She ended second and I heard she was speaking of our demands in her municipality.

B.) We are coming much more in the media now.

The new municipal governments must start on 1 January, 2007. But until now there is no solution in the Hoboken district in Antwerp. (The city Hoboken in New Jersey was named by Belgian colonists after the district Hoboken in Belgium).

The situation is particular in Hoboken. In the elections, we blocked the Flemish fascist party, the Vlaams Belang, from having an absolute majority. We blocked them because some protest votes against the 'democratic' bourgeois parties were going to us instead of Vlaams Belang. The fascists have 10 seats, the 'democratic' bourgeois parties 9 and we have 2. Until now nobody wants to collaborate with Vlaams Belang. The 'democratic' bourgeois parties have to find an arrangement with the PTB to form a coalition!

In Hoboken and Deurne, the electoral success of the party started with an investigation from 2500 people (together). The result from the investigation was that we know the most important problems. They were the following: The price of gas and electricity is too high, the local hospitals must remain open, the unemployment of young people and the growing difficulties for older people to take an earlier retirement.

From these needs we were building our program. For example, lowering the price of gas and electricity is possible with a municipal company. This company can buy the energy in gross, so that it becomes much cheaper for the population.

C. This significant electoral progress is the result of sustained work at the grassroots level, and shows what can be achieved since the Party has renovated itself over the last couple of years. As a major daily wrote: "The Workers’ Party of Belgium (WPB) has not abandoned its conviction, but has left behind a certain radicalism. Today, it is much closer to the common people." Indeed, the Party has opened its doors wide for new members from among the workers, trade unionists, youth, democrats and progressives. The party’s new main slogan, "people first, not profits", encapsulates in a popular and accessible way that in Belgium (and in Europe), the choice is either for the working class or for capitalism.

Ten reasons can be given why people may have voted for WPB+ [the party adds the + to indicate that in some places its candidates ran on slates that also included non-party candidates--JH] candidates:

1. A credible and realistic programme – e.g. a campaign for cheaper medicines that received 100,000 signatures and led to concrete price-lowering measures by the Ministry of Health

2. Going all the way in confronting particular issues, and doing this by listening to and working with the people – e.g. obtaining the elimination of an unjust tax on households

3. All-out action against increasingly expensive living conditions – e.g. fighting for cheaper electricity for households

4. Fighting for better health – e.g. by preventing public hospitals from being privatised; e.g. by defending the workers’ health against unsafe and unhealth working conditions

5. Concern for the environment – e.g. against the air and ground pollution caused by major companies

6. Blocking the extreme Rightist ‘Vlaams Belang’

7. Unity and solidarity, across language divides – The WPB is the only remaining national Belgian party, without being divided in a Flemish and French-speaking party.

8. A genuine workers’ party – Among the WPB+ candidates, you will find a lot of workers and trade unionists. WPB members are very active in the trade union movement, and supported the trade unions’ struggle against the government measures to keep older workers longer years at work, while maintaining a high level of unemployment among the youth.

9. Candidates ‘with and for the people’ – instead of candidates ‘with and for money’

10. Small is no longer beautiful – The WPB has long been considered ‘the biggest party of the small ones’. Now it aims to become ‘the smallest party of the big ones’ and to be taken into account as a serious force for societal change.


Dennis said...

One thing I'd like to learn more about is how the election program was developed. How did the investigation (inquiry) of the 2,500 residents in Hoboken and Deurne take place? Did you have a single giant meeting, smaller neighborhood meetings or one-on-one discussions between PTB members canvassing in the neighborhoods and local people?

ludok belgium said...

1. At a first stage the party members of the municipality stipulated the possible subjects for the inquiries.These were grouped in topics. These were - work in my neighbourhood - payable neighbourhood - more chances for young people - safe neighbourhood - healthy neighbourhood . At each topic five proposals were added and you could make also yourself other proposals. For example at ` work in my neighbourhood were the proposals: . jobs for youth work - more workshops to the municipality - none temporary but fixed jobs - right to early retirement - create more employment by less hours work with conservation of, remunerations - other proposal .
People were asked make a proposal for each topic

2. Whole on a beautiful leaflet it was pressed. Then inquiries were done. In that municipality was a doctor practice of the party, called 'medicine for the people'. We asked in the first place to the patients and the sympathisanten to fill in the inquiry. There were 1500 answers in Hoboken and 1000 in Deurne. We looked which three proposals were most indicated. On these quoted problems the party searched then an answer. For example on the complaint that the electricity and the gas were too expensive our answer was the establishment of a municipal energy company to press the price

3. With our answers on the quoted problems we made a beautiful leaflet. This put we in the PO Boxes of people. Afterwards we did house visits to ask people to vote for us with this program . We visited first people whom the inquiry had filled in. Afterwards we visited other people . We wanted to obtain as many positive answers as there were votes necessary. The necessary number of votes to gain our aim of seats. The number of really votes was correct free well with obtained positive answers on the question if one will vote for the party. This were 1850 persons in Hoboken

Anonymous said...

It is worth noting that the leadership and spokespeople of the PTB now explain that they have left Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism behind. They have shed this, and are focused firmly on improving the life of the people and achieving change electorally.

For years the PTB was seeking to "fill the niche" left by the pro-soviet electoral parties that collapsed along with the Soviet bloc. They have never succeeded in that goal, but with each attempt left more and more of their radical politics behind.

Anonymous said...

for those who can read french, here is an example of the kinds of statement where the "new PTB" describes leaving its radicalism behind:

it is widely reported that the PTB is seeking to appeal to the white workers, even if that requires overlooking issues of racism and taking some distance from the defense of immigrants and their culture within Belgium.

So if someone is reporting from Belgium to this list, they could comment on those observations.

Child of Men said...

European parties are having difficulty understanding that the European proletariat is not simply "European."

The legacy of the citizen-nation, particularly in France, is deep and needs to be challenged.

El Otro, Yo Soy.

Strangely enough, I think the US Marxist-Leninist-Maoist movement has things to teach the Europeans about "race" and national construction. General note...

I too have heard about this appeal to the Belgian working class (as distinct from the multi-national proletariat), and would be interested to hear more than chatter about this.

It's also a strange way of approaching the whole matter that sees what should be a vanguard party as the "smallest of the big," as if a communist party was to be a "party like other parties."

Jimmy Higgins said...

Some mighty interesting questions are raised here by Child of Man (and maybe Child of Humanity might be a better handle, unless, of course, technical gains in cloning and/or induced parthenogenesis are being made along very unexpected lines).

In calling for the evaluation and reform (or perhaps overthrow) of the model of French citizen-state, CoM takes on something, that like a productivist bias, has been a feature of the Marxist vision from its inception. More, please!

I want to address her or his specific point though. I actually agree with this comment: "Strangely enough, I think the US Marxist-Leninist-Maoist movement has things to teach the Europeans about 'race' and national construction."

I want to add a word of caution, however, a big fat one. Those of us in the US have an obligation not to succumb to great power chauvinism and, in this case, to investigate the situation before pronouncing too authoritatively.

My understanding is that the PTB developed in a very particular set of conditions. Belgium was founded as a bilingual, bi-national state, and remins one. Half the population speaks Dutch as a first language and the other half French, and the two halves tend to be geographically separate as well, except in and around Brussels. (There is also a relatively small but longstanding linguistic and cultural, if not national, minority of German-speaking Belgians.)

Each section has its own capitalists whose class the Belgian state exists to serve, but who vie fiercely for dominance within those confines (often in alliance with capitals from larger imperialist powers). In recent decades, there has been a historic shift. The French-speaking sector, which had been dominant and was based in the industrial economy of the Southern part of the country, has been supplanted by a set of Flemish capitalists based more in the growing service sector. (Think the shift in the economic center of gravity from Northern Ireland to the Republic, only within a unitary state.)

And these rival capitalist classes (or semi-classes or whatever they are) have worked tirelssly to promote divisions within the working class, and the population as a whole, along national lines to presuade the masses to identify primarily with them and not along class lines.

All this is deeply structured into how the country works. All the major "national" parties and trade unions, for example, are organized along sectional lines,and the sections function almost autonomously. We in the US are exposed to little of this until something like the Vlaams Belang (formerly the Vlaams Bloc) gets a bit of attention. That's because they have taken the logic of Belgian politics (and their ascendent position spurred by past grievances) a step beyond and organize openly as a party of only one section of the population and ruling class. In such a situation, they inevitable function as fascists and are savagely anti-immigrant. (Note to beer drinkers--Don't Drink Duvel! Its brewers are major funders of the Vlaams Belang and there are lots of other lovely Belgian brews for you to check out.)

So the PTB bases itself on the idea that there is a single Belgian working class, whose divisions help only their exploiters. And, as opposed to the situation of the Black Nation or Aztlan in the US, they say, and I am inclined to agree, that neither Flanders nor Wallonia is oppressed by the other nor subject to superexpoitation.

So the PTB is the only party in the whole country which isn't organized along sectional/language lines and has a single unifed structure. They tirelessly advocate for working class unity and against national divisions. It is a stand and a record of which they are justly proud.

However, just as we here might make errors in evaluating their politics, they tend to be uncomprehending of the positions taken by almost every US group with whom they have had contact regarding the National Question here. And I think it may well have handicapped them to some degree in their work in Belgium's growing immigrant community.

That said, I'd like to see something concrete about whatever serious errors they have supposedly made on this front. I know their headquarters in Brussels is in the middle of a neighborhood of Muslim immigrants who seem not only comfortable with but partial to the PTB folk, and that they garner a disproportionate section of the immigrant vote, but these indicators, not an analysis.

haisanlu said...

Just posted this on Red Flags thought I would post with you as well

Come on give us details of your accusations against the WPB one into two.

1. Its economist line - facts please ?

2. Its position on riots in France - explain need facts not innuendo ?

3. When did WPB say their was no such thing as modern revisionism ?

Has for the Stasi smearing was their tactic and now yours

Posted by: Haisanlu | January 22, 2007 at 02:15 PM

ludok belgium said...

From Belgium I wrote about PTB (Workers Party of Belgium) and the municipality elections . Specially about the situation in Hoboken, a district of Antwerp

"The situation is particular in Hoboken. In the elections, we blocked the Flemish fascist party, the Vlaams Belang, from having an absolute majority. We blocked them because some protest votes against the 'democratic' bourgeois parties were going to us instead of Vlaams Belang. The fascists have 10 seats, the 'democratic' bourgeois parties 9 and we have 2. Until now nobody wants to collaborate with Vlaams Belang. The 'democratic' bourgeois parties have to find an arrangement with the PTB to form a coalition!"

How things were evolving further ?
With the bourgeoisparties and their nine seats , we were making a program for a majority,9 + 2 (our seats) against the fascists from 'Vlaams Belang' . But they want not that we are entering in the council. This was a problem . If we were against the minority council (from 9 persons), a fascist is automatically the districts mayor. That were the rules, if there was no arrangement the biggest fraction became in power.
So we explained that by voting for the bourgeios minority council , we were blocking the fascist for a second time . The first was by taking votes from them in the political struggle of the elections.
In the program of the new council, that we made together, were points of our program like cheaper electricity and gas, cheaper garbage bags and a youth center . But it is sure that the political struggle continues .
We were mobilising our supporters for the first sitting of the districts council and we are doing it further in the future.