Belgium: Vlaams Blok: what it is and how to fight it?

Roots in the collaboration with the nazis

The Vlaams Blok is built on the traditions of the Flemish nationalist collaboration with the German nazi-regime in the 1940s.

Groups such as the Verdinaso of Joris Van Severen (who for the first time used the slogan ‘België barst’ – split Belgium, one of the main slogans of the Vlaams Blok today) or the VNV (which in the 1936 elections used the name ‘Vlaams Blok’) were convinced nazis who actively took part in the deportation of Jews and leftwing activists. The VNV wrote: “Against all opponents we have the SS, the political police of national-socialism. For those who resist, the SS has an iron fist, the whip of the concentration camps, as Flanders will never be without concentration camps.”

After the war the Flemish nationalist movement payed a high price for its collaboration. Most leaders had to flee the country, but continued their fascist activity. The leaders ended up in Argentina, Spain or Austria. In Argentina the fascist refugees even had their own paper, “De Schakel”. The Belgian contact person for this paper was Roeland Raes, untill 2001 the vice-president of the Vlaams Blok.

In Belgium the fascists were pushed in a defensive position. In 1949 there was a first attempt to build a political organisation around the ‘Flemish Concentration’, a party led by Karel Dillen, who became the ‘president-for-live’ of the Vlaams Blok, and Bob Maes, who launched the ‘Flemish Militant Organisation’ (VMO) which in 1981 was banned as a private militia. In these circles it was common to raise the first holocaust denials. Karel Dillen translated a book by the French author Bardèche who wrote that the concentration camps were built after the war with filmsets from – the Jewish – Hollywood.

In the 1950s and 1960s the VMO became the main organisation for fascists in Flanders. The active VMO membership then already included people like Xavier Buisseret who now works for the propaganda department of the Vlaams Blok or Vlaams Blok MP Wim Verreycken. The VMO was in trouble after a few violent attacks, including riots at an action it organised in the Flemish village of Stekene where it commemorated the SS soldiers who died during World War Two.

In 1971 a “new version” of the VMO was launched under the leadership of people like Bert Eriksson (in the 1940s a member of the Hitlerjügend who declared in an interview in 2001 that he is still a convinced nazi), Luc Vermeulen (who today leads the security department of the Vlaams Blok), Siegfried Verbeke (who had legal problems for distributing nazi material and texts which say the holocaust never took place) or Roeland Raes who later became the vice president of the Vlaams Blok untill he was forced to resign after he said on television that he did not believe the official history on the concentration camps.

In 1978 Bert Eriksson united the leaders of two far right groups in Antwerp to start talks on a united political group. From these talks the Vlaams Blok was born.

Vlaams Blok: neo-fascist

The programme of the Vlaams Blok is still based on its pamphlet: “The foundations of the Vlaams Blok”. A key point in that programme is its “solidarism”. Solidarism means that there would be no difference between workers and bosses, the only fundamental difference in society would be between different peoples or nations. This position leads to an anti- trade union position. In 1983 Karel Dillen wrote: “The Vlaams Blok has always emphasised its slogan ‘Staken schaadt, werken baat’ (‘striking hurts, working works’). Today the Vlaams Blok says: striking is a crime.”

Other key points in the programme of the Vlaams Blok are its nationalism, ethical conservatism and racism. Its programme on immigrants goes from sending them back to refusing social security to immigrants or refusing them the right to be a candidate or take part in social elections in which the shop stewards in workplaces are elected.

Another element we use to describe a party as ‘fascist’ is the existence of violent groups inside the party. We however have to see when the fascists are able to use open violence on a wide scale. In Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s this was only possible after defeats of the workers’ movement which made it possible for the fascists to build an active mass basis from which they could develop violence. The possibility to use violence is dependent on the relationship of forces and mainly on the reaction of the workers’ movement. The limited active involvement in the Vlaams Blok, their biggest mobilisation ever was a ‘family day’ with 5,000 present, and the fact that their electoral growth is mainly based on a passive populist rhetoric, bars the way to an open violent policy on a broad scale. However small incidents do occur and need a strong reply from the workers and youth. For these reasons we call the Vlaams Blok neo-fascist.

Populism as a method

The Vlaams Blok has followed the succesfull method of the French Front National which won in the 1984 erlections with a campaign against immigrants. To find broader support for their anti-immigrant position the Vlaams Blok used the slogan: “400,000 unemployed, why are there immigrants here?”. The Vlaams Blok is using the tactic of attacking those who are worse of in society. It is easier to blame your neighbour who is in an even worse situation for the social problems caused by the capitalist system. The slogan of the Vlaams Blok actually means that the unemployed, or at least those unemployed from an immigrant background, are responsible for the existence of unemployment, while those immigrants who work would be responsible for taking in the few jobs which exist. That doesn’t answer the question why there is economic crisis or why there are massive lay-offs.

Populism is a consequence of the contradictions between the workers and the capitalists. The bougeois and its system are in crisis with a huge distrust in all tradition parties. At the same time the working class does not yet have an instrument to fill the vacuum in the form of a broad mass workers’ party. This leaves a space for populist rhetoric which doesn’t question the capitalist system.

Accepting the Vlaams Blok as normal party?

A popular position is that we should accept the Vlaams Blok to join coalitions and take part in the government. Those who support this idea refer to how the Lijst Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands collapsed after its participation in the government. It is not correct to compare the Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF) to the Vlaams Blok. The LPF was an incoherent group which was only based on populism. The Vlaams Blok on the other hand has a strong party machine, ideological trained cadres. It is true that the Vlaams Blok has grown electorally on the basis of using populist methods, but in the case of the LPF this method became a “party” on itself.

Those who think we should accept the Vlaams Blok as a normal party, should look at what the French Front National did when it was in power in the city of Vitrolles in the south: it cleaned up the library, abolished cultural organisations which weren’t French enough, used systematic intimidation against political opponents.

Should we take the risk of allowing that sort of practices? LSP and Blokbuster don’t think so. Of course the establishment parties have no answer for the Vlaams Blok, which makes that they have to invent new theories every time. But accepting the Vlaams Blok as a normal party won’t change the social conditions which lead to possibilities for the Vlaams Blok to gain electorally. The only way to really stop them will be by building a real opposition to the present system, a socialist alternative.

Everything that divides us, makes us weaker

The Vlaams Blok is a neo-fascist party with its roots in the collaboration with the nazis during the second World War. If we want to fight the Vlaams Blok, we need to answer the double strategy of the party.

Despite its attempts to build a clean decent image for the party, it continues to use intimidation, violence and false accusation against political opponents. Violent actions are accepted as long as it is not known by broader layers. This was for example seen during the election campaign in May 2003 when members of the LSP were attacked in the villages of Dilbeek and Zoersel when flyposting. From the moment there appeared one press article on these incidents the Vlaams Blok leadership quickly announced it would take ‘measures’. From the moment the Vlaams Blok thinks that open violence against the left, political opponents, immigrants, gay people, etc. would be accepted by broader layers in society (and their voters), it will use street violence. Against the first attempts in that direction, we need a campaign of mass mobilisation and have to use the main weak point of the Vlaams Blok: the fact that the support for the party is very passive and on basis of slogans.

If we want to reply to the electoral growth of the far right we have to build an alternative against the present system. The capitalist system in its search for even more profit for a small elite, is responsible for the fact that the social conditions of a growing number of people are going backwards. To avoid protest from the workers the bourgeois needs their ‘divide-and-rule’ tactics: the unemployed would be lazy, the immigrants would import their misery, the poorest neighbourhoods would be rotten, striking workers would be selfish.

Racism is created by a system in crisis. In reply to racism, we need an anti-capitalist programme and campaigns. Through campaigns with the active involvement of broader layers we can show in practice that it is necessary to fight against those who rule us, instead of complaining about those who are even worse of than us.

In Italy the first government of Berlusconi in 1994 was brought down after a mighty movement against pension reforms. In France the FN was put in a defensive position and even split after the big workers’ movement in the winter of 1995. So it is possible to fight the electoral position of the far right. But if these movements are not based on a socialist programme, the far right can regain its lost position. The neo-liberal logic offers no solutions, we need to break with the capitalist system and build a socialist alternative.

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September 2003