Photo Solidaire, Salim Hellalet

Appeal by Peter Mertens, chairman of the PTB-PVDA: the great challenges of the PTB-PVDA to transform good polls in real changes.

auteur: 

Peter Mertens

According to the opinion polls taken by RTBf/La Libre (public TV channel and daily newspaper) of 24 March, the PTB-PVDA would then become the second political party in the south of Belgium (20.5%), almost tied with the Socialist Party PS (20.3%). It would become the third political force in Brussels, and in Flanders, it would surpass the electoral threshold, obrtaining 5.5%. “This is really an enormous encouragement for the field work of the 10,000 members of the genuine Left, but also one which confronts us also with major challenges”, said PTB-PVDA chairman Peter Mertens in response.

1. Of course, this is only an opinion poll, which has an important margin of error. Recent experiences have shown that polls can be wrong, and seriously at that. There is still a year and a half to before the municipal elections, and two years before the parliamentary elections, so a lot of water will have passed under the bridge by then.

More and more people no longer believe in the single thought of this system

And yet, this poll reflects the current mood which our 10,000 members observe every day in the field, in popular neighborhoods as well as in the workplace. More and more people no longer believe in the single thought of this system, that invariably imposes heavy austerity measures on the working class, while leaving big money and the financial powers untouched. People are looking for an alternative, and that is what they express in the polls.

2. In the results of the opinion poll we perceive several trends. First trend is the growing rejection of government in the south of the country. Neither the federal government nor the Walloon regional government would maintain its majority. Today, the federal government would only retain  68 seats out of 150. The government party MR (liberal) would represent no more than one fifth of voters in Wallonia, and less than that in Brussels. The Walloon government of PS (social-democrat) and cdH (Christian-democrat) wouldn't get more than 30% of the vote.

The PS are tainted by social-liberalism and became a network of self-enrichment, recently exposed by the Publifin affair

3. Second trend is that of a Socialist Party overwhelmed by problems of its own making, seemingly organizing its own implosion. They have been in power for over thirty years and are tainted by social-liberalism. They became a network of self-enrichment, recently exposed by the Publifin affair (a Walloon inter-municipal company hit by political-financial scandals). Indeed, Mr. Magnette (Walloon minister-president, PS) now promises a major clean-up, but similar promises have been made before, at the time of the Agusta scandal in 1995 and of the Charleroi corruption affairs between 2005 and 2007. Much more is needed than a simple cleaning exercise. All the more since nowadays, nothing can be examined outside of the European framework. Last week in the Netherlands elections, social-democrats were severely punished for their participation in the rightist liberal Rutte government, and we are perceiving a similar phenomenon in France. Throughout Europe, the gap between the traditional political elites and the large majority of the people continues to widen.

A third trend is the growing support for the PTB-PVDA (Workers' Party of Belgium). On the 26th of September 2016, the PTB-PVDA handed over 24 000 signatures that they collected all over Wallonia to demand the burial of the TV license fee.

4. A third trend is the growing support for the PTB-PVDA (Workers' Party of Belgium), especially their particular alternatives: a millionaires’ tax, the 30-hour working week, free health care at the primary level. But it is also a support for another type of politics, one that does not involve self-enrichment but operates on the basis of very clear principles. With elected officials who live with an average worker's salary, with active branches in popular neighbourhoods, involving people in social action, with the people's clinics of Medicine for the People, with a parliamentary group that doesn't work for its own benefit but to make the voice of the voiceless heard, and with an organization that pleads for the unity of the country not only in words, but putting this in practice, through strong national and bilingual structures.

5. In the latest opinion poll, the PTB would become the second political force in Wallonia and the third in Brussels, thus confronting us with major challenges. At our Solidarity Congress in 2015 we stressed: “In a relatively short time, we have continued to build the party rapidly, and that was necessary. However, it would be wrong to rest on our laurels. Social challenges remain huge. The more we grow, the more complex tasks become. We are also facing, in a way, difficulties linked to this growth. This is not abnormal, but it is important to be aware of it.”

We are a grassroots party, and we want to keep it that way.

Why are we so strict with ourselves? Because we are a grassroots party, and we want to keep it that way. A party with solid sections in the field, capable of enthusing people, but also of conscienticizing, organizing and mobilizing them. The PTB must not become a mere electoral phenomenon. We want to change things with the people, by building pressure from the bottom up.

6. Our position is based on a global assessment of a world in rapid evolution. “Temporary jobs have replaced permanent ones, with precariousness instead of security, dividends instead of investments, maximum profit instead of a sustainable environmental policy, war instead of peace, and a small privileged oligarchy instead of democratic rights for the majority. It really is a topsy-turvy world”, we observed at our Solidarity Congress. “With incredible arrogance, the establishment takes advantage of this crisis to further strengthen its power.”

We shouldn't foster any illusions. Turbulent periods are ahead of us.

We shouldn't foster any illusions. Turbulent periods are ahead of us: just think of the near-total power of transnational corporations and financial actors, further enhanced with mergers and capital accumulation; of new financial bubbles; of the destabilization of the Middle East; of the politics of war; of the election of Trump; of the wave of refugees; and of the rise of racism as a means to divide people, mounting one against the other.

7. The PTB aims for a break with current policies, and that is precisely the reason why so many people credit us with their confidence. And why we want to be crystal-clear: we won't be able to realize such a break without the active involvement of tens of thousands of people. Because the margins for alternative policies are becoming ever smaller. Just look at what has happened in France, with Hollande.

That is also what the painful experience of Syriza has shown us, in Greece. The European establishment forced them into submission, they abandoned the mobilization and the organization of the people of the left, and their cadre got absorbed in the countless positions in the State apparatus. As a result, today Syriza is itself implementing the third memorandum, an austerity plan of the Troika that is even harsher than its predecessor.

It would be silly and shortsighted not to learn from the painful experience of Syriza

8. It would be silly and shortsighted not to learn from the painful experience of Syriza.. Currently, in the framework of the European austerity diktats, no alternative policies whatsoever are possible. This Union imposes a strict fiscal straitjacket, organizes the liberalization of public services and incites competition between Member States - and by doing so, is also organizing social dumping. At the same time, it lets billions upon billions of euros flow to the big banks and the shareholders of big companies. It’s like liquid soap waiting to create new financial bubbles. That is what I described in my new book “Graailand” (“Country of raptors”, which will be published in French by September), of which more than 11,000 copies have already been sold in the north of the country. 

We cannot be expected to take part in a government that plans to adjourn the pension age, to continue the hunt for the unemployed, or to pursue the liberalization of public services. We want to fundamentally change the European treaties, which will only be possible with a government that is determined to combat the current principles of competition and inequality, and with a government that demands and obtains the necessary popular support for it. Today, we are still quite far removed from such a situation.

We realise we will be subject to intensified attacks in an effort to deter the common people with the “red scare”

9. With the PTB accorded second position in Wallonia, we realise we will be subject to intensified attacks in an effort to deter the common people with the “red scare”. We already heard Mr. Ducarme (member of parliament for the liberal MR) appeal for a “cordon sanitaire” around the PTB (political isolation and exclusion); we heard Mr. De Wever (chairman of the rightist-nationalist N-VA and mayor of Antwerp) treat us as “the debris of the 20th century”; and, this week, the Prime Minister accused us of being “populist”.

Throwing invectives is a show of weakness by politicians who have lost the habit of seriously debating the fundamental choices facing today's society, and that is exactly what the forces of the genuine Left are up to.

10. In Europe, as in Belgium, the cultural hegemony is still very much to the Right, which means that the dominant thinking is that of the dominant class. At our Solidarity Congress in 2015, we established our strategy of wanting to build a counter-hegemony, from the bottom up: “Creating a new culture of liberation and a progressive world view based on solidarity is a struggle in itself.”

Dirk De Block, elected to the PTB in the community of Molenbeek, in swimwear at the municipal council to defend the swimming lessons that the municipality wants to cancel.

Use your talents yourselves, in an active manner, to build this new culture together.

That is why we launch an appeal to our potential voters and to our sympathizers. Use your talents yourselves, in an active manner, to build this new culture together. Organize yourselves, in trades union, in youth movements and students’ movements, for the promotion of women's rights, for the defence of the environment, anti-racism, peace, in neighbourhoods’ committees, theatre groups, music and sports clubs. This means so much more than just giving your vote to a party. It is about transforming this vote into a collective force, organizationally and culturally. We are impatient, because injustice is hitting hard all those who have a hard time making ends meet, and because change is urgent. But at the same time we are patient, because if we really want this change, we know that we will have to build it step by step, stone upon stone.

11. The result of this opinion poll will also be used by separatist forces trying to divide our country even more.

A divided country would inevitably mean a major weakening of the workers' and progressive movement and of our social security system.

But a divided country would inevitably mean a major weakening of the workers' and progressive movement and of our social security system. Like we said at our Solidarity Congress: “Yes, we live in a country with two democracies. They are not the democracies in the north and the south of the country; they are one democracy for the haves, and another for the have-nots.” It is an illusion to think that a “leftist Wallonia”, smaller still than Belgium, could on its own get out of this situation. If we aim at seriously uprooting matters in the whole of Europe, we should be able to succeed in uniting our common fights in the north and in the south of the country.

12. Of course, conditions are not the same in the north of the country, where, aside from the PTB-PVDA, six more parties are making up the political landscape. N-VA and Vlaams Belang (extreme rightist) both have an anti-establishment and nationalist profile and thus attract part of the working people. This renders the situation more complex and difficult than in the south and centre of the country. Currently, N-VA has succeeded in temporarily hiding its own politics of greed. They attempt to win votes first of all with a very harsh anti-refugees rhetoric, partly copying the program of Vlaams Belang. Similar ideas also exist in the south of the country, when we see how MR is copying the policies of Mr. Francken (N-VA, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration). It would not make sense not to go and fight N-VA on its own terrain, in Flanders.

Despite a politically much more difficult context, the PTB-PVDA is also growing in the north of the country.

Despite a politically much more difficult context, the PTB-PVDA is also growing in the north of the country. At 10%, the PTB-PVDA is the fourth party in Antwerp, which is De Wever city. According to the recent opinion poll, the genuine Left would obtain, for the first time, three Flemish representatives in the federal Parliament. With 5.5 % in Flanders, we would actually obtain the same score that we had in Wallonia in 2014, just three years ago. By now everybody knows how fast things can change. It’s also why our national spokesperson, Raoul Hedebouw, has become more visible in Flanders. The goal is to reinforce the voice of the genuine Left in the north of the country as well.

Zohra Othman (left) is the first alderman of the PVDA. The left party has the majority in the Antwerp district of Borgerhout. They rule in coalition with Groen and sp.a. Zohra Othman was youth alderman until 2016. In that capacity, she developed free activities on the playgrounds of the community, with a system of supervision by the young people of the district. A wonderful success. (Photo Solidaire, Karina Brys)

13. Raoul Hedebouw continues to do so in the south of the country as well, with growing success. We are a collective party, of which Raoul Hedebouw is the national spokesperson, a task he executes with enormous talent. But we have various other talents – like Germain Mugemangango, Sofie Merckx, Marco Van Hees and David Pestieau, to name but a few – whom we people to know in the period to come. We are constantly working to diversify our spokespeople.

14. At our Solidarity Congress, the delegates decided to work at a strategy for change. Our party is growing fast, but that doesn't mean we are willing to do whatever it takes to obtain superficial success.

We want all and any of our members to be conscious actors of change, and never mere consumers of politics. We don't need careerists or opportunists, we want dedicated and altruistic activists. We will participate in the municipal elections in a limited number of municipalities, wherever we have been able to build strong and solid party branches. In the coming months, we will also put much energy in the training of new local cadres, and in the setting up of new party branches, so as to be capable of taking up the challenges we are faced with.

The PTB-PVDA promotes a society of solidarity, away from the law of profit.

15. The pioneers of the working class in the 19th and 20th centuries worked very hard to politically organize a well-structured social movement, promoting workers’ rights and achieving victories by creating a counter-power in factories and towns all over the country. Now, in the early 21st century, the PTB-PVDA is working hard to build a solid and well-organized party, promote a society of solidarity, break with neoliberalism, the law of profit and capitalism, and respond to the urgent social and ecological challenges.

But we need many, many more people in order to advance on this road. We call on everybody who can identify with the ideas of the party, and the actions it undertakes, to join the genuine left PTB-PVDA.

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