First, I will answer the national question. In general, we see that part of the economic establishment is tempted to play the card of the extreme right to divide and conquer the working class. This is a classic approach in times of economic crisis, in particular by dividing immigrant and non-immigrant workers.
To remind our Jacobin– fellow readers who do not follow Belgian news: there are essentially two different communities here, the Flemish (region of Flanders) and the French-speaking (Wallonia), plus a third region, Brussels. All the traditional parties are divided into autonomous parties along communal lines, but not the PTB, which brings together Flemish, Brussels and Walloon comrades in one party.
So 2024 obviously presents a significant problem. There is a risk that if the nationalist far right develops in Flanders, it could lead to a split in our country. It would be a step backwards in the formation of a united workers consciousness. It is not always easy to organize yourself across different regional realities. But we want socialism across Belgium and across Europe.
Wallonia has a rather socialist working class history. The history of Flanders is primarily agricultural. I say first because today most of the working class is in Flanders. But we are not mechanical Marxists, and we know that consciousness does not always spring up automatically from the economic base; sometimes you need a little political work first.
In terms of allies for maintaining the unity of the country, there is the trade union movement, and then also other parties such as the Greens which are also sensitive to this problem and with which we can find points of convergence for try to avoid the division of the country.
The second question – perhaps related, but not exactly the same – is the strategic question of the radical left’s participation in national government. We have two experiences of the participation of local authorities in the municipality of Zelzate (with the Social Democrats) and in the Antwerp district of Borgerhout (with the Greens and the Social Democrats), from which we draw a positive assessment of our ability to win town halls and to implement the left wing policies at this level. And we are learning a lot from the Marxist left in Europe both historically and today about it. The problem is that in Belgium you have to form coalitions, and this often means that the traditional parties thwart the policy you would like to implement.
As for the national level, I think that this poses a real strategic question: where is the macroeconomic power located in the European capitalist nation-states? I have been in Parliament for eight years now and have seen a lot there. But one thing I haven’t found in parliament is power. I looked under the tables, behind the statues, but I still haven’t found it! It is not even within the government or the cabinet, which are subject to powerful lobbies and multinationals.
The question then is how to gain power when it is not in the so-called democratic institutions. Syriza had living practical experience of this: she was in government but did not necessarily have the power. The European Commission shut down the Greek banking system and they had to accept austerity, like it or not.