Mertens vs Martens
In recent years, Communists of various countries have been anxiously witnessing the developments within the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB). Our close attention and interest in this party were caused by PTB’s being was one of the parties that actively contributed to the revival of the revolutionary trend of the international Communist movement after the counterrevolutionary coups of 1988-1991 in the USSR and Eastern Europe, when many of the Communist parties of Western Europe ceased to exist or moved to openly reformist positions.
Under these conditions, when bourgeois propaganda was talking about the death of Communism, the Belgian Workers Party, led by its then leader Ludo Martens, an outstanding Marxist theoretician, publicist and revolutionary organizer, initiated the International Communist Seminar in Brussels. These seminars, held since 1992, played an important role in the consolidation of Communists of various countries, in the theoretical understanding of the causes of current events as well as in developing the strategy and tactics of Communist activity based on Marxist-Leninist theory in the new environment.
The Workers Party of Belgium, along with the Communist Party of Greece, was one of the strongest and most “orthodox” communist parties, having retained, on Lenin’s advice, in reactionary conditions, not only the offensive ideological positions of revolutionary Marxism, but also influence within the working class.
At that time, the Belgian Workers Party led an active struggle against revisionism and opportunism, which had served as the main reason for the temporary defeat of socialism in the late 20th century. This struggle was carried out in the historical field too. Ludo Martens wrote the book “Another View of Stalin,” published in 1994. This book has become one of the first works by a Western Communist to refute the opportunist and bourgeois fabrications about and slander of Stalin
Ludo Martens was a great help to the struggle of the people of the Congo, the former Belgian colony, against neocolonialism. For several years he personally worked as an advisor to the president in this African country. With his direct participation the Communist party was established in Congo, on a Marxist-Leninist basis. The Workers Party also supported the struggle of the DPRK, was one of the first signatories of the Pyongyang Declaration. With the active participation of activists of the PTB the organization “Korea Is One” was created in Belgium, which told the truth about Korean socialism, fought for friendship with the people of the DPRK, spoke in support of the DPRK against imperialist pressure and campaign of lies about this country.
It is interesting to recall a story: the comrades of the PTB came to the DPRK with the video team to shoot a film about the life in the republic. They were received very hospitably, but shown the usual tourist destinations and attractions, not really let go into “free roaming.” Then Ludo Martens appealed to comrade Kim Il Sung and said that they should trust the professionalism of the Belgian comrades. They are true friends of the Workers ‘ Party of Korea, and they will present information to the European public whom they know better. Kim Il Sung realized what this was about and gave the instruction to help the group in its work and to let them film wherever they saw fit. The film turned out great.
It should be noted that in the early 1990s speeches in defense of Stalin and in support of the DPRK demanded considerable courage, both in the West and in Russia, just as they do now. On the 80th anniversary of the October revolution Ludo Martens made a presentation at the international conference of Communist and Workers ‘ Parties in Leningrad (http://rkrp-rpk.ru/content/view/13209/1/), published in the special issue of the magazine “Marxism and Modern Times” (November 1997, p. 41 -45), which concluded that the development of opportunism and revisionism in the Communist movement, a departure from the principles of Marx and Lenin, which Stalin was able to defend so brilliantly and bring to life, became the main cause of the counterrevolution in the USSR and Eastern Europe and the temporary retreat of the world revolution.
Unfortunately, in recent years, when due to sickness, Ludo Martens retired from the leadership of the party, and especially after his death in 2011, we saw a big change in the position of the Workers Party of Belgium. Many Communists were at first surprised, then even shocked by the declarations of the new leader of the party, Peter Mertens, that were so clearly revisionist in nature.
For example, in interview “Help People, not Banks”, published in “Gazet van Antwerpen”, on May 25, 2009, later reprinted on the official website of PTB, he says the following:
“Question: How Marxist is PTB in 2009?
Mertens: Marxism in the light of the crisis is very relevant. But after many years of discussion, with the real participation of our members, it was decided that we should change the dogmatic character of the past to a new, smoother line. We remain opposed to capitalism, a system that aims to maximize profits. But we will look for a modern application of the provisions of Marx…”
Further, as a “modern application”, the proposals are listded that are reformist in nature, aiming at “improving” capitalism. It is worth mentioning that the revisionists of all times acted more often under the banner of modernizing Marxism.
On the Soviet Union, he summarizes:
“- And The Soviet Union? In the 90s of your party even defended Lenin and Stalin….
P. Mertens: I still have a nuanced approach to this issue. I know that I’m starting to go against the flow here, I know it’s not the most sexy position, but I don’t reject everything that happened under communism”. (From an interview with Peter Mertens in the newspaper “De Standaard”, 2013).
That is, if Martens passionately denounced the anti-Soviet and anti-Communist myths of bourgeois propaganda, Mertens just “rejected not everything that happened under communism”. Some things he allows to stay as good. As they say, thank you at least for that!
The new leadership of the party virtually broke off relations with the DPRK and created an atmosphere of intolerance and pressure on members of the party who were in favour of continuing work in support of North Korea. Mertens himself in the same interview was quoted about this as follows:
“- Last year a member of your party even praised North Korea in TV program “Terzake”
P. Mertens: Then this person was still a member of my party. Now he no longer is.
-You had him expelled?
P. Mertens: He expelled himself. I was amazed listening to that interview. He knows well that his point of view is not the position of the party, and that if he expressed his point of view, he thereby placed himself outside the party. I have nothing to do with dictatorships and dynasties. Nothing”.
We can only add: we must assume, to the dictatorship of the proletariat, as well.
The Workers Party is paying increasing attention to the election of its deputies to the Parliament and local representative bodies. In itself, participation in bourgeois elections is perfectly permissible means of political struggle for the Communists, one of the tools to promote their ideas. But when, for the sake of obtaining seats, the Communist party sacrifices its principles, this means that the means becomes the end, and the party ceases to be Communist, switching to the positions of opportunism, or, using the language of V. I. Lenin, political niggling.
It seems that this is what has happened with the PTB. To propagate Communist ideas, the class struggle reaching its resolution – revolution, to protect the historic leaders of the proletariat, whom bourgeois propaganda, of course, is demonizing and picturing as devils themselves – all of this means often going against “conventional wisdom”, which, as we know, is just the views of the economically dominant class, and can really alienate a portion of voters.
But for Communists not the number of seats in Parliament is important, but spreading of Communist ideology among the masses and organizing the struggle of the workers. And since Communist ideology is in irreconcilable contradiction with bourgeois ideology, its propaganda will inevitably lead to conflict with bourgeois prejudices, and can even startle and temporarily alienate a portion of potential supporters. But true Communists do not have any other option.
Of course, no one demands that Communists always, in any conversation or any flyer, expressin the first place those radical elements of their beliefs that would cause most fear and hostility by the philistines. But to abandon these views in order to adopt the bourgeois position, to give in to the narrow-minded prejudices of the masses is the path to decomposition of the Communist party and to its rebirth as a revisionist party. Unfortunately, the once glorious and revolutionary PTB appears to have gone down this path.
The opportunistic leaning of the Workers Party shows itself in the views on history and the speeches of its new leader.
In 2015 in the spotlight of the European public’s attention was the internal political struggle in Greece. Bourgeois and social-democratic governments of Greece, as instructed by the financial oligarchy of the EU, drove this nation into debt and destroyed its economy. Now the imperialists of the EU (primarily France and Germany) imposed on the Greek people new predatory terms and conditions: abolition of all remaining social gains of the workers, the sale of state property, including lands and islands, for the benefit of creditors, etc. – for the sake of providing new so-called loans that will actually go to pay off old debt, i.e., Greece will not free itself, but will only further increase the debt and the amount of interest payable. And whatever little part of these loans which will still reach Greece, and for which Greek workers must agree on reducing wages, a sharp increase in the retirement age, denial of the state support of the poor, will be used not for people but for the salvation of big capital in Greece – a class which has brought this country by its domestic and foreign policy to such a state.
Of course, the Greek people did not want to agree to such conditions, which means for them hopeless poverty and further degradation of the country. The only real way forward for most people, offered by the Communist Party of Greece, is in taking power by the working class in alliance with other workers, nationalization of leading sectors of the economy, an exit from the EU and the Eurozone and NATO, the unilateral cancellation of debts –loans which were taken not by the people of Greece and not for its interests, and from which the financial oligarchy of the EU have already received a huge profitin the form of interest.
But the Greek bourgeoisie has put forward on the political proscenium of a new social-democratic party SYRIZA, created on the basis of the coalition of left (Synapsimos )which was a political breakaway in the Gorbachev style in the nineties from the Communist Party of Greece, and which today present itself as “leftist” force, supported by all the bourgeois media and all the leftists of Europe and Russia. But to Marxists it was clear from the start that its policy in case of coming to power, would be the same as that of the previous social democratic PASOK government. Handing out big promises, in words declaring its rejection of further measures of “austerity” and its toughness in relation to the EU creditors, calling itself a supporter of socialism, SYRIZA has always been against leaving the EU and did not take up any socialist transformation.
Great was the perplexity of many Communists, especially members of the Communist Party of Greece, when the Workers Party of Belgium supported during the election campaign in Greece not the KKE, but this bourgeois party, SYRIZA.
The correctness of the position of the Communists of Greece was confirmed by recent events. Instead of fulfilling its promises, the SYRIZA government headed by Tsipras, first organized a demagogic trick with the referendum, trying to shifting onto the people responsibility for the fulfillment of SYRIZA’s own promises, for which the people have already voted. Asking the people about agreement or disagreement with the terms of the creditors, SYRIZA actually offered as an alternative simply its own version of the agreement, differing from the demands of creditors only with minor indulgences. But a few days after the referendum, where the overwhelming majority of the Greeks said “no”, the Tsipras government entered into even more anti-people and oppressive agreement with creditors, than the one that was originally proposed and rejected by the people in a referendum. The SYRIZA government ended up with the creation of a supranational international committee of management of state property of Greece, including the sale of the lands and islands. So, we are talking about the practical loss of sovereignty.
After this explanation it is understandable why the Statement of Solidarity with the KKE, among 50 signatories there was no signature not just of the European Left, but also of the PTB.
Interesting and revealing is also the fact that a noticeable bias to the right of the current leadership of PTB manifested itself also in the organization of International Communist Seminar (ICS) in Brussels. Its organizers from the PTB suddenly began to demand from participants that they do not allow specific and targeted criticism of the opportunist characteristics of a number of parties who participated in the work of the ISS. They said that we should criticize opportunism as a phenomenon in general, without specifying the parties. And that’s when we all know that the obligatory criticism of opportunistic phenomena inside the Communist movement and the ideological struggle against opportunist parties is one of the cornerstones of Marxism-Leninism.
Lenin warned in his famous work “Imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism”: “The most dangerous in this respect, are people who refuse to understand that the struggle against imperialism, if it is not connected inseparably with the struggle against opportunism, is an empty and false phrase”. (V. I. Lenin. Collected Works, vol. 27, p. 424).
Finally, recently the PTB refused to participate in the publication (together with ten other parties) of the journal “International Communist Review”, citing in particular: “We also do not like when a group of parties participating in the work of the magazine is called “genuine Marxist-Leninists”. It is a quite typical position of opportunists, who are irritated by stating this question sharply, about real Marxists-Leninists, which they are not. Because they understand that with respect to the PTB, the answer to this question very soon will be, unfortunately, obvious to all…
In this regard, one of the PTB veterans aptly and bitterly remarked, in his concern for the party, which is indeed right: “Well, Mertens is not Martens.”
It should be added that of course we should not downplay the role of an individual, especially a party leader, in developing its position. But it would be wrong to attribute the falling of the PTB in the hands of opportunism to only one individual. Yes, a lot of the comrades of the PTB were outraged and shocked by his statements. But others – and they were the majority – do not object.
The Soviet Communists who led the struggle against Gorbachev and his policy of perestroika – as a change of the political system – within the CPSU are very familiar with such situation and understand it perfectly well. How to explain this? Probably the party members lacked Marxist literacy and strength of the convictions to counter this convenient rolling. And accordingly, these issues were given insufficient attention under the previous leadership. As a result, the PTB got seriously ill. The Communists remaining on their revolutionary Marxist positions, which were consistently upheld by Ludo Martens, are now subjected to repression and expulsion. To untie its hands, the party leadership even began to change the Charter, enabling it to exclude comrades from the party without any democratic procedures. Now the party leadership can simply “not renew membership in the party of” of the undesirable Communists. Consider this degeneration of the party an important and instructive lesson for all revolutionary Marxist parties.
In conclusion, we should state that we remember the glorious militant traditions of the Belgian Communists, their strong reliance on the working class. So we hope that Belgian comrades will overcome the revisionist trend and will be able to rejoin the ranks of the “orthodox,” revolutionary Communist parties.
Analytical Group of the Ideological Commission of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Workers Party (RKRP)