At the unity congress of the Workers ‘Party of Belgium (PTB/PVDA) on Sunday, December 5, Peter Mertens stepped down from the presidency after 13 significant years during which the PTB/PVDA became one of the prominent Marxist parties in Europe. The congress unanimously elected Raoul Hedebouw as the new president. The conference was attended by 883 delegates, elected from among the 400 base groups of the PTB/PVDA. As part of the conference, 83 commissions were held across the country through which a 564-page report was compiled. This was discussed and debated by the congress to chart out the future tactics and line of action of the party. The congress resolved to fight fascism, work for the rights of the working class, and protect the unity of Belgium which is being threatened by sectarian, right-wing and regionalist forces.
The PTB/PVDA was officially founded in 1979 and emerged as a major political force following its eighth congress held in March 2008 when a new Central Committee headed by Peter Mertens was elected for the renewal of the party. Within one decade, the PTB/PVDA emerged as an important national party in Belgium through its numerous interventions in working class struggles, youth/student affairs, feminist causes, climate actions, and social solidarity initiatives in public health through its Medicines for the People (MPLP) initiative.
Belgium’s politics is currently dominated by regional parties. The PTB/PVDA, which received just 0.8% votes in the 2007 general elections, entered the Belgian federal parliament in 2014 with 3.7% votes, winning two seats. The pro-people and pro-working class initiatives of the party inside the parliament and the popular struggles waged by its cadres on the streets gained much traction for the party, which resulted in it winning 8.6% votes and 12 seats in the federal parliament in the 2019 elections. The PTB/PVDA is now one of the strongest pan-Belgian political parties in the country, with 5 senators, 12 federal MPs, and representatives in all the regional parliaments – Brussels parliament (11 members), Flemish parliament (4) and Walloon parliament (10). In the European Parliament elections in 2019, Marc Botenga was elected as the PTB/PVDA’s first ever member of the European Parliament.
Outgoing president Mertens currently serves as an MP in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives. He was elected from Antwerp and became the first Dutch-speaking Marxist in the federal parliament since 1981. He has authored seven books mainly on working class struggles, including They Have Forgotten Us (2020) in which he details how the working class has been simultaneously fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and crony capitalism. The new president Raoul Hedebouw is an MP in the Chamber of Deputies and was the former spokesperson of the party. Through his interventions in the parliament and among the people, he has made his mark in Belgian politics.
In his closing speech at the congress, Hedebouw said, “We Marxists want another world. In our socialism 2.0, we will apply a logic other than the current capitalist logic. The economy will run according to people’s needs, not profit.”
“In these times of economic and pandemic crisis, a heavy responsibility rests on our shoulders. A new world is to be built. Many progressives in Belgium and around the world are turning their eyes to the small country of Belgium with its Marxist party more alive than ever. Let us rise to the stakes and hopes. Let us strengthen the party, strengthen the working class and strengthen our unity in Belgium and in the world,” he added.