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Belgium: A new government for the same anti-worker politics
From October 1st, 16 months after the elections, Belgium has finally succeeded in finding a new government, led by Flemish Liberal De Croo - although the socialists hold the most seats in Parliament. Paul Magnette, president of the Socialist Party (PS) declared in a press conference that this choice had been decided by a coin flip. This was a joke, but it expressed a profound reality: whether left or right and despite their rivalries, these politicians are fundamentally servants of capitalism and are interchangeable in this sense. On the other hand, the fact that the country had been led by an unelected government during this crisis, defined mostly by a crisis without precedent, is a demonstration of what elections and bourgeois democracy really are: a fig leaf masking capitalist domination that the ruling class can bypass without any difficulties if necessary.
But the elections with their parties and all of the parliamentary system have a function extremely important for the administration of the established order: to make proletarians and the population in general believe that their ballots are the factor which determines the functioning and the politics of the state – and therefore that elections are the best or the only way to change their lot. The observation that the state functions identically independently of the result of the elections is the best refutation of this belief.
This fact makes the so-called Marxists of the Labour Party of Belgium (PTB) complain: "If the traditional parties are interchangeable, why would people still bother to go to the polls?" (1). A cruel question for a party which delights itself with its success in the latest elections.
The new government brings together Flemish Catholics, the Flemish and Wallonian liberal right, the Flemish and Wallonian family of socialists and Flemish and Wallonian ecologists. It presents itself as a defender of the Belgian state against the xenophobic parties of the far right and the separatists. It also pretends to want to implement a social turnabout after years of austerity.
The collaborationist trade union leaders have approved the formation of this new government: the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC) has greeted a "positive break of style" while the General Federation of Labour of Belgium (the socialist FGTB) has gone further in speaking of a "real break" (2), notably concerning social security. The Trotskyite Socialist Party of Struggle (PSL), while judging it "less than enough", recognized it as "a social shift" and even guessed that "it was a relief." (3)
What is this really about?
If the De Croo government has not announced new austerity measures, following the example of other European governments who view them as counter-productive at this stage of the crisis: the priority is to maintain a semblance of national unity in order to continue the paralysis of proletarians which has been reinforced by the anti-COVID measures. But this is only evidently left for postponement: sooner or later the governments will launch direct attacks against proletarians, if only to finance the “economic stimulus plans” which have been announced with much fanfare: of course, there is no question of draining the capitalists in order to restore capitalist profit!
Very far from representing a rupture with the precedent, the new government is marked by continuity with it. It has notably approved an increase of the age of retirement to 67 years (although the PS have said that it wanted to take it back to 65 years), kept the lowering of social security expenses for businesses while freezing wages; furthermore the anticipated departures for retirement for the hardest occupations have disappeared and the government has announced a “determined policy of return” for undocumented workers, which is to say an increase of the current repressive policy.
As for its famous promise to progressively increase the pension to 1500 Euros, it reveals itself more and more to be nothing other than a bluff: it would only apply to gross income, the date for this to arrive has not been set, it would require more than 45 years of employment (which only applies to half of all men and 10% of women) and so on.
For their part, the capitalists are going to continue to benefit from measures of support (regional and European economic stimulus plans), exemptions from the social regulations put into place under the pretext of the epidemic, while dismissals multiply: according to the numbers of the National Bank: in June “more than 185,000” people had lost their job from the beginning of the crisis. And this is only the beginning; the rate of unemployment is to pass from 8.9% last year to 10.7% this year according to the latest forecasts from the Federal Planning Bureau in September (the economy contracting 7.4%). The workers of the least privileged categories have been subject to a loss of income on the order of 30% according to an inquiry from the National Bank...
The conclusion is clear: proletarians have nothing good to expect from the PS-Liberals-Ecolo government, of which only the “style” has changed in relation to the right-wing Michel government. But they have nothing to wait for any longer from the trade union organizations rooted in class collaboration with bosses and the bourgeois state.
It is only through their own struggle that they can defend themselves against the attacks of capitalists and the ravages of the crisis, by taking up the methods and means of classist struggle, for the exclusive defence of their class interests, by refusing to take the trap of the defence of the national and regional economy. Their current paralysis will not continue forever, as difficult battles against capitalism are waiting for proletarians in Belgium just as they do elsewhere.
(4) Press conference on June 17th.
International Communist Party
October, 11th 2020
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