In Iceland, protesters took to the streets in their masses to demand the resignation of the Prime Minister. In France, the youth have gathered in the squares to discuss the resistance to the government’s neo-liberal proposals. Anger is boiling everywhere and it is far from surprising. Poverty is increasing, wars are growing, the refugee crisis continues unabated, while austerity attacks against working people’s living conditions succeed one another. Meanwhile, billions are raining down on the opposite side, as was yet well illustrated by the scandal of the Panama Papers.
Polarization is increasing in society. The capitalist establishment adopts aggressive rhetoric and implements extremely anti-social measures, in line with the neoliberal logic: raising the age of pensions, ending the eight-hour day, developing a large low-wage sector, slashing social benefits... the concentration of wealth has now reached unprecedented proportions. However, on the other hand, more and more people are opposing this logic, according to which we should systematically pay for the crisis of the system. Faced with the austerity of the establishment and additional taxes that we have to endure, the search for an alternative road is gaining ground. At the same time, many on last October’s larger than anticipated national trade union protest in Brussels were critical of the trade union leaders’ failure to seriously maintain the anti-government movement, first launched in 2014.
The central theme of the ‘Socialism 2016’ day, the annual event of discussions and organisation, held by the PSL-LSP (CWI Belgium), could hardly have been better chosen: “Building the socialist alternative in a world of inequality, war and insecurity”. Complaining is not enough. We have to defend an alternative that stands for the building of a society in which the vast resources and technological capabilities could be utilised in the interests of the majority of the population, not of those Panama and other Virgin Islands-lovers.
The day started with a plenary session on what should be the response of the workers’ movement to the question of security posed after the recent terrorist attacks. Tina Degreef, secretary of the LBC union (white-collar Christian worker’s union), explained the instinctive solidarity that emerged among ordinary people immediately after the terrorist attacks of 22 March, and the need to build on such solidarity. She argued that the labor movement must energetically intervene in this debate; otherwise the field will be left open to the “solutions” of the right wing, recipes which have already shown the extent of their failure. Eric Byl, member of the Executive Committee of the PSL, touched upon the limits of the security policy of the right-wing government, which is centered exclusively on more repression, and more austerity. These policies breed the ground upon which the far-right and the Salafists manage to grow. Interestingly, 73% of the Belgian population does not think that the government’s measures will stop terrorist acts. Eric emphasized the need for a fighting political force rooted in the communities and workplaces, capable of challenging the faintheartedness of the trade union leaders in responding to the situation. Cedric Gerome, representative of the CWI, explained the failure of 15 years of so-called “war on terror”. Even Hillary Clinton has had to recognize that terrorist groups, like Al Qaeda, have grown because of previous imperialist interventions in the Middle East. In Belgium, it was King Baudouin who entrusted control of Brussels’ Grand Mosque to Saudi Arabia and the Wahhabis clerics in the sixties, in the hope of encouraging the conclusion of lucrative contracts with the Saudi regime. The ruling classes, who have created a monster, are now trying to exploit the situation to weaken the trade union movement and the resistance to their big business agenda. It is no coincidence that terms coming from the labor movement (such as “militants” or “radicalization”) are now commonly associated with religious fundamentalists.
The commissions that followed the opening session dealt with various themes: the right to strike, the success of the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US, the failure of the COP21 and the climate negotiations and the 80the anniversary of the Spanish revolution. Despite the difficulties, which have emerged in Belgium following the post-March 22 situation, the common thread of all the debates and commissions was the optimistic and confident mood. There is a thirst for the best ways to build a socialist alternative without falling into the mistakes of the past. It is for this reason that studying the various currents of the left and drawing the lessons from the breakthroughs of new left formations is very important. There are great opportunities for the revolutionary left, even though, now, the radicalization to the left is mainly oriented towards reformist currents, which quite quickly come up against their limits.
The closing rally was very international in character. Marisa, a member of the PSL-LSP in Brussels, originates from Spain and is a regular collaborator with the comrades of Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI in the Spanish State). She spoke about the rise of Podemos and of the electoral alliances of the left in Spain. What kind of left do we need? How can we truly break with austerity? These are some of the issues she addressed.
Bart Vandersteene, representative for the PSL-LSP, has recently been actively involved in the building of Socialist Alternative, our sister organization in the United States. He elaborated on Bernie Sanders’ success in the US and on the potential for socialist ideas in the “belly of the beast” of capitalism, as also demonstrated by the election and reelection of Kshama Sawant to Seattle city council.
Irish TD (member of Irish Parliament) Paul Murphy spoke about the recent Irish elections and the creeping crisis of the political establishment in this country. He also spoke of the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916, and the role of the revolutionary socialist, James Connolly.
Anja Deschoemacker, spokesperson of Gauche Commune (Common Left) in Saint-Gilles, closed the meeting. Anja stressed the need to fight against the Michel government, but also to have a political aspect to social struggles. The Belgian Thatcherite government will continue its offensive against people’s living conditions. We have to stop it, as well as the system upon which it is based. Strengthening the PSL-LSP will strengthen a force that openly advocates the overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of a truly socialist society.