The following is an interview of Peter Mertens who is the leader of the Workers’ Party of Belgium, The Partij van de Arbeid van België, PVDA, French: Parti du Travail de Belgique, PTB) hosts the International Communist Seminar.
Peter Mertens in this interview attacks the CPSU (b) under Lenin and Stalin, where he said “I remain looking with nuances into this area. I know that I am starting to against the grain here, I know it’s not the sexiest opinion, but I reject not everything that happened under Communism. Should we, if we had to start again, to install again such regimes? No. Were there essential things that went wrong, in terms of hunger for power, in terms of concentration of power, in terms of lack of democracy and participation? Yes. “
‘Europe is slowly becoming a dictatorship”: PETER MERTENS (pvda)
Interview by Joël De Ceulaer,
(interview on De Stanraard website is available only for subscribers, but thanks to the website of the WPB itself we have the access to the full text (see link below)
“Of course, the comparison makes me angry,” says Peter Mertens (further PM) -. “If my party is being put into the same pocket as Vlaams Belang, as some people from Open VLD and the N-VA enjoy doing, this trivializes racism and demonstrates their intellectual baseness. I come from the tradition of anti-fascism, after the Black Sunday I was one of those who formed the basis of Students Against Racism. The WPB is a rebellious gueuze party. Apparently, the rightwingers are concerned about our advance. And they want necessarily to find a stick to beat us with. “
– Last year a member of your party still sang the praise of North Korea in the TV show ‘In respect’.
Peter Mertens. “That man was back then a comrade of mine. But not anymore. ”
– Have you threw him out?
Peter Mertens. “He has put himself out of the party. I sat in amazement watching that interview. He knew very well that his position is not that of the party, and that whoever makes their position public, proclaims himself outside the organization. I have nothing to do with dictatorships and dynasties. Nothing. I have written two books, of which more than 20,000 copies were sold. Probably some pundits and politicians did not read those books, or they would know that I do not write about foreign regimes, but redistribution of today. ”
– Let’s come back later on those foreign regimes. In our own country today you stand far outside the mainstream.
Peter Mertens. “That is so. The liberal students often ask me for debates. And when I ask them why they are not asking one of the Greens or from the SP.A instead of me, they always say that they would rather have a real debate. And therein I can follow them. Today all parties are running in the neoliberal track. There are only two phenomena that are standing up to it, only two ideologies that are cropping up in Europe as a response to the brutal “me” culture of neoliberalism: nationalism and Marxism. ”
– Explain once again about Marxism, what does it mean?
Peter Mertens. “An important concept in Marxism is that of wealth creation. The question that we ask, ‘Who are the wealth creators, how does wealth actually actually comes tp existance? For Marxists it is the working people. The baker who gets up at three o’clock in the morning for the bread baking, makes the wealth, not the man who happens to have the ownership of the oven lying in his safe. ”
– The owner of the furnace does take the risk.
Peter Mertens. “I’m not saying that the owner of the furnace plays no role in the process. I’m just saying that the working population effectively creates welfare . It is the workers who make a ship out of steel plates. The second source of wealth is nature, from which we derive commodities. These two sources of wealth must be protected and not exploited. ”
Does that happen?
Peter Mertens. “The nature is being plundered, that is clear. I’m not a hippie, but we must respect the carrying capacity of the Earth. And there is in Europe an increasing plundering of labor today. Social protection is systematically reduced. An hourly pay rate of four euros in Germany is already no longer the exception, making that country to count four million of working poor today – people who do have a job and still are poor. ”
Does your party not underestimate the importance of entrepreneurship?
Peter Mertens. “Creativity and innovation are still mainly stimulated by state funded research. Very often, it is the renewal of a spin-off from universities. For a Marxist, entrepreneurship is in itself a public thing. We find it important that the government itself can control the key sectors. Certainly the sectors that are too big to fail.
– Which sectors are these?
Peter Mertens. “The banks, for starters. We now have a system where the benefits go to the private sector, and the costs are borne by the society. That is not a coherent system. IT would have been consistent if you would earn a lot if it was going well, but to into the abyss, if it goes wrong. If a bank is so important that we do not let it fail, then it it must be owned by the government, not by poker players. ”
You want to nationalize them?
Peter Mertens. “To make them more socialized, I find a better term.”
That sounds innocent.
Peter Mertens. (Laughs) That sounds more modern. “To nationalize” sounds twentieth century and it is. What we want is not only that the share structure changes, so that the banks come into the hands of the government. Socialization means that common objectives should be formulated. That risk investments should be avoided. ”
There are no private banks anymore in your ideal society?
Peter Mertens. “There certainly can be. But they get no state guarantee anymore. Everyone is allowed under the free market to use the bank that takes part in “casino capitalism”, but if it goes wrong, they should no longer ask the government for help. ”
Which sectors do you want to make socialized?
Peter Mertens. “The energy sector, for example. That is a vital artery of the society which is now held hostage by a number of monopolies, resulting in unacceptable prices. Mind you, we do not want to create a huge bureaucracy. Thanks to digital media, it is perfectly possible to extensively question the population and to involve them in the policy making. ”
Is Marxism evolved?
Peter Mertens. “Marxism is alive. I do not like people who are literally parroting Marx, without taking into account the context. In this sense Marxism for me is like Darwinism. Darwin in the mid nineteenth century also had made a qualitative leap forward, and his ideas are essentially valid even today. But the theory of evolution is evolved. ”
Was Marx a scientist?
Peter Mertens. “A human science is of a different order than the positive sciences. In the human sciences there has always been a struggle of ideas. That was how the debate between capitalism and Marxism began, after all. They tried to take the economic discussions out of the emotional atmosphere, to retrieve it into a rational debate: who creates prosperity, where does the profit come from, and so on. The great ideologies of today are still attributable to those debates. This is logical, as long as we keep updating itwas. ”
How did you become a Marxist?
Peter Mertens. “That was a sum of coincidences. My ancestry is part of the explanation. My mother was a farmer, my father was a worker’s son. They have always worked hard to make me study. And they have instilled me: do something with your knowledge and never forget where you come from. I remember that. A second important factor was my training at the university. During my studies, sociology, I came into contact with Marxist ideas. ”
Why did you go after your studies to work as a laborer?
Peter Mertens. “Because I just had enough of the academic world, because I wanted to work with my hands, because I wanted to earn money. I have worked for a half year as a cleaner, but I was kicked out. A colleague had burned his arm with a dangerous cleaning product and I had told the boss that we did not want to work with it anymore. I was dismissed at once. ”
Why did you insist on doing that dirty work?
Peter Mertens. “I would certainly not romanticize it, though. I have worked for only eighteen months as a laborer. Some academics have a rather idealized image of the worker. I do not. I know what it is like to get up in the morning against your will and to make your sandwiches. In that respect, it was an important experience. ”
Peter Mertens. “The party already had two sides. The group practice of Medicine for the People existed already, and in the campaign Objective 479917, where we wanted to gather as many signatures as the Vlaams Blok had received in votes, also many people of the Workers Party were involved. The actions to to give the facilities to the refugees during the winter also impressed me. ”
In those activities you probably came across many Christians regularly?
Peter Mertens. “Oh, but I do think that religion can be a tremendous source of civic engagement. I’ve always found that very impressive that during Kerkasiel churches opened up for the outcasts of the world. We have always argued that the unions should do the same. Socialism has lost a lot of this humanitarian side by choosing for the middle class. The WPB still always had that reflex. ”
– But that dogmatic reflex was there too.
Peter Mertens. “Absolutely. When I became a member, the Berlin Wall has just fallen, and everyone was wondering what exactly did go wrong in all those so-called socialist countries. I never agreed with the statement by Francis Fukuyama that history was over, that capitalism had triumphed. And in WPB I found the defense of real existing socialism. For instance, I have always defended Cuba against overly simplistic attacks. ”
– And the Soviet Union? In the 1990s your party still defended Lenin and Stalin.
Peter Mertens. “I remain looking with nuances into this area. I know that I am starting to against the grain here, I know it’s not the sexiest opinion, but I reject not everything that happened under Communism. Should we, if we had to start again, to install again such regimes? No. Were there essential things that went wrong, in terms of hunger for power, in terms of concentration of power, in terms of lack of democracy and participation? Yes. ”
– You express it very gently.
Peter Mertens. “Because in other areas things were achieved that we may call an achievement.”
– Hitler also successfully contested unemployment.
Peter Mertens. (Annoyed) “Really, the barbarism of fascism is the largest bloodstain on the twentieth century.”
– Communism has made more victims.
Peter Mertens. “But it is thanks to the Soviet Union that Europe today is not German. Thanks to those 27 million people in Russia who have given their lives. The Communists were in Antwerp helping many Jews to hide. The Communist Party was the party of the executed. How many cities were not liberated by partisan armies? That all we can not deny. I think that is a handsome legacy of history that I am not going to throw overboard. ”
– It remains a difficult question, apparently.
Peter Mertens. “Not at all. I do not defend the crimes and executions under the Soviet regime. That would be an absurd thing to do. And why you do not question the neoliberals about the crimes in Pinochet’s Chile? There were 80,000 people thrown into prison, in order to give the capitalism free rein. Is there anyone who makes supercritical interviews about it? ”
– The neoliberal thinkers were no dictators.
Peter Mertens. “Neoliberalism cannot without dictatorship. Europe is becoming a dictatorship today. Not in the same way, but still. We live under the rule of wealth. Nobody will reduce the whole liberal tradition to Pinochet, no one will reduce the entire nationalist history to the collaboration. But socialism can be reduced to the crimes of the twentieth century? That is too simplistic. ”
– Both Bart De Wever and Noël Hoses accuse you that you are taking the side of the Syrian regime.
Peter Mertens. “Let them prove it.”
Are you not taking part in meetings with supporters of Iran and Syria?
Peter Mertens. “We participate in many meetings, including the World Social Forum. The only thing we do is questioning the so-called opposition in Syria. It is supported by the United States and Saudi Arabia. And we do not just believe in everything the U.S. says. And we do not believe that the U.S. can solve major world problems, look at Iraq. Today the U.S. in Syria is massively arming the Salafists. And we’ve already experienced something similar: the Taliban in Afghanistan that they have made so big. ”
– You are adamant not to give a complete condemnation of communism?
Peter Mertens. “No, I do not throw away the achievements. Put me against a pole in Breendonk and I will still say the same thing. Our social security, universal suffrage, the rights of man – wd would have not achieved them without the influence of socialism. But now I want a new socialism. I want to be judged by what we do here. On our proposals today. ”
– A SP Chairman Bruno Tobback find your millionaire’s tax nonsense.
Peter Mertens. “Then he completely ignores the finding that the disparity is growing by the dayr. Half a percent of the world has 38 percent of all property. ”
– Agreed, but in Belgium it is still not too bad with inequality, is it not?
Peter Mertens. “No, but in Scandinavia it is still much better. And the point is that the gap is increasing, even here. There is a small club of rich people who are become richer. If we do nothing, we will get explosive situations. Our millionaire tax is also a way to activate dormant riches. And it will affect only half a percent of the population, not the regular saver. ”
– Is it a realistic plan?
Peter Mertens. “Very realistic. More realistic than separatism, because there is no support for it, says the N-VA itself. For a millionaire’s tax there is a support, which different surveys have shown. Eighty percent of the population is behind it. And for the people affected, it will be no problem. Take the families Spoelberch, the Mevius and Vandamme, who are behind AB InBev. With their five billion personal fortune they would not even feel the effect of millionaire tax. Unfortunately, much of the political world today is in the pocket of the financial world. The millionaire’s tax is unrealistic, they say. To abolish the bus roure 23 in Antwerp so that ordinary people can not go to the hospital anymore, that’s realistic. ”
– But if even the SP.A against is that tax, it will never come.
Peter Mertens. “We will continue fighting. Caroline Ven of the enterpreneurs organisation VKW recently announced that I am suffering from a morbid obsession about redistribution. (Laughs) I replied to her that I hope it is contagious. Oxfam has recently calculated that the wealth of the hundred richest people of the world can solve all poverty in the world four times over . If this is a populist remark, then I am proud to be a populist. ”
-With that populism you have put your party on the map again. Ten years ago it seemed to be doomed.
Peter Mertens. “When we attempted in 2003 along with Dyab Abou Jahjah to go to the voters under the name Resist, we indeed ran hard with the nose against the wall. That was really completely wrong. We did not have too many voters already and tyhen have lost a half of those who were left. ”
– Did Abou Jahjah not have a story of deprivation that corresponded perfectly with your program?
Peter Mertens. “Yes, as far as the deprivation of the immigrant community went, it was the right picture. The problem is that the campaign was more focused on the war in Iraq and the Middle East than on problems here at home. In that respect we were deviated from our core business, and you should never do that as a party. For that I do not blame Dyab, but I blame ourselves. ”
– Did you make that analysis then already?
Peter Mertens. “Then I for the first time did the stocktaking for the party after the elections. And for that I wasgreatly resented by the then party leadership . For six months we have been debating the future of the party. The people who came up to sway with doctrinal texts of Lenin, have left the party. The people who felt that we had to rejuvenate, have remained. It was then that we have lost our dogmatic wing. ”
– What became your mission?
Peter Mertens. “We then decided to conquer the neighborhoods which the social democrats have left in the lurch, with a modern socialism. We have also made it tangible, including the kiwi model of Dirk Van Duppen. And we have restored our relationships with the unions . The right want to limit the power of the unions, we unreservedly are on the side of the unions. That is today one of the key battles. ”
-Are you electorally speaking on schedule that you as the party chairman had in mind in 2008?
Peter Mertens. “Not all of our plans came true, but we have made an electoral breakthrough at the municipal elections in Liege and Antwerp, and we have a strong students movevement now. Only the bar is now higher than we had anticipated in 2008. Because of the crisis the need for a party like ours has only grown. The question is how we can sharpen our ambition. It will not be easy. We are faced today with two drawbacks. Until we are in parliament, we will continue to be a volunteer party. We have no funds to finance our operations. And until that threshold in the elections will exist, it is not easy to get into parliament. ”
– Just say, impossible.
Peter Mertens. “In Antwerp it is difficult. In the city we get the threshold, but in the Kempen and the rest of the province we might not. But in Liege, we will undoubtedly have a member elected. And Raoul Hedebouw speaks perfect Dutch too, so he will also be visible in the Flemish parliament. But to really break through within half a year in Flanders, we need the media. ”
– But you have easy access to the media?
Peter Mertens. “Compared to three years ago? Absolutely. In comparison with the other parties? Marginal. Even though I was recently in Dag Allemaal (show). When I will be there 10 times, we can really play equal. ”
– Then you will have to show your wife and children.
Peter Mertens. (Laughs) “Never.”
– What should elections be about next year?
Peter Mertens. “The N-VA controls media completely, so the debate will be hijacked by the confederation. That’s a pity, because that attention is distracted from what really matters. And I think that’s a big problem for our democracy. We will talk endlessly during the election campaign about institutional problems of Belgium, while the European train is hurtling towards abyss. ”
– Europe is the real debate?
Peter Mertens. “One of the most important debates. Europe is destroying itself by spending cuts. And so the crisis will soon get worse. We go to a recession, the closure of Ford Genk was the overture of a second crisis wave, including the closure of ArcelorMittal. This second crisis wave is much harder, because the social security everywhere is being phased out. There is mass unemployment, in Europe today are 27 million people without a job. In some countries, half of the young people have no future. I think most politicians underestimate what that means. That increasing division of society is a threat to democracy. ”
– That unemployment is additionally the largest in the immigrant community.
Peter Mertens. “That’s a tragedy. If people get to know each other on the factory floor know, they are less likely to seclude themselves within their own community. A job leads to integration. That is another reason why we can no longer accept the idea of mass unemployment. ”
-Should the government create jobs?
Peter Mertens. “We must have a major social debate about it. We also want people to look for work actively, like the other parties do, but then there must be jobs. Antwerp currently has 36,000 unemployed for 6,000 vacancies. We urgently need an industrial policy. Multinational companies such as Ford and Arcelor have to come under democratic control. ”
– How are you going to succeed?
Peter Mertens. “Today, politicians look at those big companies like a cow to a train. While outrageous things happen. We have given ArcelorMittal eleven billion euros as a gift made through the notional interest deduction. That money should be returned to us. And for any subsidy or allowance that a company will want in the future, there must be guarantees in terms of employment. We are gliding down to social relations as we have known them in the nineteenth century. And we must take a stand against it. ”
Translated from the Dutch.