Belgium: Socialism 2005 weekend in Belgium

Just two weeks after a successful mobilisation for the Youth March and European Trade Union demonstrations of 19 March, the LSP/MAS (cwi, Belgium) held its national educational weekend – ‘Socialism 2005’ – in Brussels.

135 people attended, to take part in the discussions or to look for inspiration in the coming struggles. The international visitors especially made a big impression and the whole weekend reflected an enthusiastic and optimistic mood. During the weekend, at least seven people decided to join the party and the financial appeal raised €2,600.

Marxist ideas

Our national educational weekend – ‘Socialism’ – is starting to become a annual tradition. This year we put some emphasis on basic education in Marxist ideas. The weekend started with four workshops on our basics: the Marxist approach to philosophy, economics, materialism and history. It might seem an unimportant detail, but all these workshops were introduced by relatively young comrades – mostly in their early 20s. This is an expression of the fact that our party is able to politically develop young people and get them playing a leading role.

Struggles past and present

A second group of workshops were on struggles in the recent period, but also in the past. These discussions included a more practical approach. The first discussion was on public transport with a guest speaker from the socialist union at the Brussels public transport company, STIB. In the past few months, several strike actions have taken place at the STIB and there still is a serious discontent. This speaker was followed by a comrade who is a train driver and who spoke on our programme for public transport. In the discussion a comrade who works for the Flemish bus company also added his experiences.

The second of these workshops dealt with education – both the situation today as well as how socialists would organise education. It was introduced by a student comrade and a comrade who is a shop steward at the Brussels VUB University. A third workshop was on the movement in the so called ‘non profit’ sector (healthworkers, careworkers, social workers…). This movement was able to get serious concessions from the government following a strong mobilisation and strike actions. The government had to partially give in and agreed for example to have 10,000 extra jobs in the sector. This session was introduced by two comrades who are shopstewards in the sector, a comrade who is in the Christian union, LBC, and a comrade from the socialist union, BBTK.

Finally the fourth workshop was on the general strike upheavals of 1960-1961. We were honoured to have Gustav Dache speaking at this workshop. He is a revolutionary Trotskyist militant from Charleroi who played an important role in that strike. More recently, our party worked closely together with him in a strike movement at a company called Splintex near Charleroi. Gustav explained the importance of 1960-61 and also the need for a serious revolutionary party in such a movement, including in the struggles of today.

Experiences of Germany and Belgium today

The first day of Socialism 2005 closed with a meeting at which we heard three speakers. The first was comrade Marc Treude, who is an elected councillor in Aachen (Germany). He spoke on the new electoral initiative in Germany – the WASG. While this initiative still has to develop and while its future development is not certain, this initiative does show the huge potential for a new party defending the interests of workers and young people. A second speaker was comrade Guy Van Sinoy who spoke on the movements of struggle we have seen in Belgium in the past period. This made clear how there has been much struggle – from the STIB to Splintex, the non-profit sector to the food industry. Discontent is widespread and needs to be organised if we want to be stronger against the attacks of the government and the bosses.

Finally Anja Deschoemacker spoke on the fact that the traditional political parties in Belgium have no answer for the problems of the majority of the people. To resolve those problems, we will need our own political instrument in the form of a new mass workers’ party. The LSP/MAS wants to help building such a party and appeals to people to join its ranks to make sure that the appeal for such a new mass workers’ party will ring out louder.

Political alternative

The second day of Socialism 2005 started with workshops around the issue of a political alternative. This included a discussion on the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre earlier this year and the importance of the creation of the new party, P-SOL in Brazil. It is a step forward in the struggle against the neo-liberal policies of the Lula government which was elected because it was seen as a potential alternative to neo-liberalism. This session was introduced by Els Deschoemacker who participated in the international CWI intervention at the WSF in Porto Alegre.

A second workshop was on the links between the trade unions and establishment parties. We oppose the link between the socialist union FGTB/ABVV with the Social Democrats of the PS and the SP.A, as well as the link between the Christian union ACV/CSC with the CD&V and the CDH (Christian Democratic parties). While we oppose these links, we do not oppose the fact that the trade unions should take positions on political issues. On the contrary, the unions should have a political programme, but a programme which stands on the side of the working class.

Another workshop dealt with the possibilities of local struggle in the communities, including a number of examples like campaigns against high charges for council waste disposal (bin bags), public transport etc. The other workshop on Sunday morning was on the struggle against the far-right organisations which have been able to use the political vacuum to present themselves as an alternative while they are not really on the side of the majority of the people.

International issues

The last set of workshops were on international issues. There was a lot of interest in the discussion on the history and the work of the Committee for a Workers’ International which was introduced by Clare Doyle of the International Secretariat of the CWI who has participated in the work of the CWI during many years, in fact, since its inception in 1974. She gave a lively view of the development of our organisation on a world scale and explained what we are doing today.

Other workshops were on the resistance against the EU which is especially important today, given the possibility of a no-vote in the upcoming French referendum on the European Constitution. There also was a workshop on the explosive situation in the Middle East following the recent movement in Lebanon. Finally there was a discussion of the position of Marxists take towards Islam.

Ending with great confidence

The weekend closed with a plenary meeting at which we had two speakers. One was Upul Siriwardana from the Sri Lankan CWI-affiliate, the United Socialist Party (USP). The party is very active amongst the victims of the Tsunami to get their protests organised. Upul gave a report on the heroic work of our party under extremely difficult conditions. After Upul we also heard Clare Doyle on the world situation and the possibilities for building our organisation internationally.

Then there was a short speech from Eric Byl, the general secretary of LSP/MAS. He called on everyone present to follow the example of the seven who had joined our ranks during the weekend.

After singing the Internationale very vigorously, we all went home with even greater confidence in our ideas and our ability to build the forces necessary to obtain a different world, a socialist world.

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April 2005