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The New International, December 1934


E. Duma

The Evolution of the Belgian Labor Party

From New International, Vol. I No. 5, December 1934, p. 154.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


WITHOUT wanting to start the history from the beginning, let us call to mind that Belgium is one of the countries in which reformism, the distortion grafted on Marxism, has flourished the most. Without fear of contradiction, one may say that the POB [Parti Ouvrier Belge: Belgian Labor Party] has, at the present time as much as ever, ninety percent of the real influence over the working class. Until quite recently, this crushing influence paralyzed the latter, prevented it from reacting to the incessant attacks of the reaction, which was reducing the working and living conditions of the toiling masses to an unbelievable level.

Having at its disposal a disciplined and cohesive bureaucratic staff in all its parts, the POB rules over the trade unions, the cooperatives, the mutual aid societies and imposes upon them its reformist policy, which is, as is known, so injurious as to provoke a writhing paralysis in the workers’ muscles.

Then is the reformist fortress invulnerable? Is it hopeless to think that one can succeed in introducing the active germs of the class struggle? These questions have always held the attention of revolutionists who felt that at all costs it was necessary to arrive at a point where a positive answer was possible, if they were to break the chains which keep the labor movement in a state of quasi-immobility on the road to socialism. Patient efforts had been expended at a previous period, efforts which Stalinism, triumphing in the Third International, eventually destroyed ...

Reformism remained upright, holding in its hands the reins of the labor movement, and facing a skeleton-like Stalinist party that is sadly ineffective. Reformism could say, and it believed: “I am younger than ever!” And the problem of problems seemed to remain unanswered, the problem of finding at any price the means of freeing the tongue of the workers and investing them with an audacious will to take an effective stand against the injurious effects of reformist policy.

But as it goes its way, history does not disdain to play a pretty trick, sometimes, on political currents! That very degeneration of the Third International, about which the reformists are so jubilant, and which tenacious efforts could neither avert nor attenuate, that very degeneration repelled from Stalinism growing strata of workers, especially young workers, who for want of better, remained in the ranks of the old party, in the lap of the old social democratic mamma. We are happy to record the steady rise of the Young Socialist Guard, for example, which from a few thousand in 1926 rose to 6,000 in 1929, to 9,500 in 1931, to 13,900 in 1932 and to 25,000 dues-paying members in 1933! We told ourselves that this fresh and youthful current would soon find itself hampered by reformism and that it would launch some furious assaults upon the latter. This rise took place, when the dates are compared, parallel to the accentuation and aggravation of the crisis of the regime. And in July 1932, when the workers, anguished by encroaching misery, came out into the streets with their wives and children, behind red tatters nailed to sticks, when a ground-swell broke over the Hainault, sweeping away reformism, repression and all other barriers, then proletarian blood flowed on the pavements!

The youth became conscious of themselves, felt – if they did not understand thoroughly – that it was necessary to act quickly and act well so that events like those of 1932 should no longer end as they did.

It is at this time that the Action Socialiste was born, at first composed only of a few thinking minds. But contrary to the examples of the past, there was in this journal of the new Left wing something different from mere clamoring, something beside a platonic love for the Russian revolution which obligates one to nothing. In the calm and reflected style of the articles one felt a well-determined will to help the working class, without disdain, without thinking themselves supernatural supermen just because of it. And the Action Socialiste gained increased sympathy. And that was one of the most comforting facts! The POB, till then a monolithic bloc, thus revealed fissures towards the Left, fissures which showed that events are the main aid of the Marxian current. And only limited and dried-out minds, like those of the Stalinists, can continue gargling words and pasting the same label on the POB as five or ten years ago. For there is still something else. At the Christmas 1933 congress, the POB had on its agenda the question of “discipline within the party” and the “Labor Plan”, conceived and presented by de Man, a well-known old figure, to be sure, but a de Man driven out of Germany by triumphant Fascism and who brought back in his hastily strapped trunks the firm conviction, among other things, that traditional reformism had outlived itself, that it was necessary to put up against Fascism something else than the stereotyped old phrase: “In time of crisis, there is nothing to do but wait for better days ...” And the congress ended with a unanimously voted resolution by which the POB demanded the power on the programmatic basis of the Labor Plan, by which it promises the masses a way out of their material and moral sufferings.

Our position towards the Left wing and the Young Socialist Guard, and all the powers, was that it was necessary, by means of mass struggle which in our epoch is practically the only way left open, to bring the POB to power, for the realization of its Plan program, giving this struggle and this program the maximum of revolutionary character. Months passed, during which indispensable concrete material was brought to light. The defeat of the Verviers strike by the open treachery of the textile union bureaucracy, and numerous other facts, aligned the Right and Left wings against each other. The trade union bureaucrats demanded the head of the Action Socialiste. They put ultimata to the General Council of the POB, stating that they would disaffiliate the unions from the party unless the editorial board of the Action Socialiste were thrown out of its ranks. All kinds of pressure were exerted, open and covert. And the Left wing, sure of its base, demanded a congress and declared that it would submit to no decision unless it was taken in accordance with all the democratic regulations, with consultation of the membership, and after free discussions.

All of us then felt that a mute struggle was dividing the general staff of the POB, that two sides were aligned against each other. On the one side, the trade union bureaucrats, frightened by the echoes awakened by the Action Socialiste in the mass trade unions and furiously determined then and there to stifle this voice. On the other side, the Plan men, with Vandervelde, who could not, because of the Plan policy itself, weaken themselves politically as against the bourgeoisie by cutting off their Left wing which links them to the masses, who feared to upset the internal equilibrium of their party in favor of the Right wing. The consultation of the membership, imperfect though it was, brought them all to agreement! In certain towns, the trade union bureaucrats were assisted to a more serious reflection by the fact that the fists of angry workers were brandished under their noses! Local majorities pronounced themselves against the resolution of the General Council. And – significant fact – the Thiers federation, which is two-thirds agricultural, voted unanimously for the position of Buset, the right-hand man of de Man, who rejected the split. At the last minute, the Borinage district, famous for its heroic traditions, voted in bloc for the Left wing.

The past is the past! The hundred percent reformist Right wing which once ruled as uncontested master, has before it a Left wing which is kept on its feet by the effects of the crisis of the regime and its consequences, and a Center which is animated, in its fashion, by the desire to avert Fascism. We put the question: “Are these not two of the surest fulcrums which can allow the lever of the class struggle to set the Belgian labor movement in motion?” The answer will be forthcoming.


E. Duma
Brussels, November 1934

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