I worked for the Workers’ party of Belgium or PVDA/PTB, as they are known in Belgium, one of the communist parties in Belgium. Their main propaganda center was located right smack in the middle of Brussels, which is the heart of the European Union you could say and NATO headquarters is there. So yes, they are accepted and not outlawed or anything. They are just ignored, which is the better strategy.
Only recently has Bart De Wever, the leader of the neoliberal party of Flanders, started bashing the communists, which is a tactical mistake, it just gives them attention. This is because the party is steadily growing more popular, especially among fringe intellectuals and the marginalized poor. There are two communist parties in Belgium, you have the PVDA, the stalinists, and you have the Trotskytes. They hate each other more than they hate any kind of capitalists.
This feud was funny at times. If PVDA people are in need of a break they ridicule their communist adversaries, a party called LSP. This becomes especially funny when they organize events together such as ‘the day of socialism’ when they ridicule each other in the hallways of the venue. They refused to cooperate, but the Trotskytes sometimes offered to help, because the stalinists were doing a bit better in the voting booth. Of course the stalinists just thought their offer of help was a trick to infiltrate the PVDA to destroy it from within. Apparently stalinists see Trotskytes as people who fuck up everything by being to radical and too ‘democratic’ and Trotskytes see Stalinists as the guys who want to turn society in one big jail. The Trotskytes are too amateuristic to accomplish anything. Only the PVDA has the authoritarian leaders to grow. They would accomplish nothing if they would be democractic, they need strong central non-democratic leadership to steer the ship to success.
I didn’t like it, but I understand that to have success they need members that will simply execute what the handful at the top decide to do. Less than ten people, and perhaps less than five, decide everything. It helps a lot if you are the son or daughter of someone who stood at the cradle of the party. They are no stranger to nepotism and when it comes to power they are very similar to the bourgeois parties they despise so much.
Although the PVDA did nothing profitable, no commercial activities, they were swimming in money. They find people with real jobs and make them live at the level of an average factory worker. Some people earned 3000 euro a month but donated 1200 euro a month or even more the party. Some pledged the inheritance they would get if their parents died to the party. Throughout the party there was an embrace of poverty as a virtue, but the most prominent party members did have all digital gadgets. The party elite is not allowed to own houses, so they have to rent. In theory the apparatchicks earn no more than the salary of a factory work, but it’s reasonable to assume they are granted other privileges. Han Soete, for example, the erratic and power hungry editor in chief of the PVDA’s club magazine was given the best work contract immediately, although other, less prominent editors, had to beg for years to get a contract. This Han Soete guy also managed to shove their most competent and probably most intelligent journalist aside, Ruben Ramboer. Luckily he got a different job within the party ranks, so his talents weren’t lost. My paycheck was decent. Especially because nobody does any actual work. We had nothing but meetings, meetings, meetings, in which we usually bashed other communist parties and complained about how nobody was reading our articles or what kind of mistakes we made last week.
There was a culture of self-flagellation, we constantly had to criticize ourselves, say what we did wrong, bash our colleagues, you could criticize your boss, but only if you could guess what he wanted to hear, this was so inbedded in the culture that we seemed to do only things that went wrong. A very frustrating work environment.To the outside world they pretended to be social democrats. Internally they talked about how to bring on the revolution, abolish all other parties and silence the Parliaments (we have a lot those in Belgium) with such confidence you would expect there was a fleet of old T-34 tanks parked in the basement… Ridiculous. They worshipped Stalin, denied he had anything to do with famines, gulags, etc. They had ties with North-Korea which they denied. They owned a lot of real estate, which nobody outside the top of the party knew about.
They cheated the government out of money in many different ways. They have physicians who are party members and these offer free medical aid to anyone who applies, a fine initiative, except that the government gives them money to take care of their patients, but it’s one way of funding their propaganda.
Mostly men work for the PVDA and are only able to do so because they have wives with real jobs who bring in the money. Many people work for the PVDA, get their paycheck in a brown enveloppe, while at the same time they are on the dole. They collect government benefits for the unemployed, but they work fulltime for the PVDA. This modus operandi is disgusting. They also organise a communist congress in Brussels, every 30 months I think, or perhaps yearly these days, I’m not sure, and lots of communist parties from all over the world are invited. The delegates from ex communists countries usually talk about how everything was so much better under communism. Why so few people vote for them then is not explained.
They pretend that they make their decisions democratically, but it goes like this, the party elite comes together, they decide what the party members can vote for and the result is this:• Option A• Option A with a twist• Option A phrased a little bit differently• Option A on a Sunday• Option A on a rainy day• Option A in the morningThe most annoying part of my job was having to go and interview people with a list of answers in my pocket that the party elite wanted me to write down or somehow draw out of the mouth of the one interviewed.
We didn’t lie, but we omitted anything that didn’t please us.The most fun part of my job was…. I had a lot of time to do whatever I wanted while the others were fighting about the most petty issues… In general they had no other real solution than taxing the supperrich. Which is probably what we need to do, but if that tax money goes to communists to decide what to do with, you end up with a dictatorship and a tiny elite that lives well and the cumbersome, sluggish economy we know so well from what happened in the Soviet Union.If you’re a smart western capitalist you let these guys just do what they do best: talk, talk, talk, march in the streets occasionally, and be on Facebook. They LIVED on Facebook.
They had a motivated video team, but, in this age when video is so important to share your ideas, they managed to completely demotivate this team. They were always talking of ‘using’ people. We can ‘use’ that guy for this or that. Meaning: that person is not one of us, but we can trick him or her to say positive things about us.
On the plus side, their news on foreign policy is often excellent. You can trust what they write on Syria and Libya for example. I also love their staunch support of the Palestinian cause. Recently, in May 2018, a video showing one of their MP’s, Raoul Hedebouw, went viral. He does what other parties would never dare and defends Palestine in no uncertain terms. Most of their members are kind people. They don’t realize to what extent they are being used by the tiny party elite, but the base of the party usually means well. It’s only when they go through a very well organized and systematic process of brainwashing workshops that they become trained fanatics who literally devote their entire lives to seeing the PVDA usurp all the political institutions of the land. This is NOT an overstatement. The core of this party is made up of people who have arranged their lived entirely so as to serve the party. Some of the honest ones, such as the aforementioned Ruben Ramboer, will admit this. After Ruben’s departure the newspaper started looking a lot more flashy visually, but journalistically the quality went down.
Among each other it’s also some kind of competitive game to prove who can suffer the most for the good of the party. They can be quite childish in this. They also have to unconditionally support muslims, because they know quite a few of them will vote for them if they condone ritual butchering of sheep, etc. This is weird because the party elite is entirely atheist in nature. It’s only the islam that gets this preferential treatment. When I said that my wife goes to church every Sunday she was mocked. Their support of islam is purely a tactic to get votes, internally they despise all religions, including buddhism. At the same time they live their political ideas as a form of religious cult. Working for them was at the same time deeply frustrating, but also deeply fascinating and entertaining. They had many interesting things to say, but am not cut out to be a an unquestioning member of a sect.
When I was fired by the most vain ego tripping person (not a bad guy, but what a massive ego, lots of people complained about him, but almost always behind his back) in the ranks of PVDA, Han Soete, I was told that I was ‘too vain’. On a personal note my biggest problem was that their articles were so frigging boring, saltless and humorless and that everything that happened in PVDA circles had to be painted as one big party… Also annoying were the PVDA organisations pretending to be independent, but were for all practical purposes simple a vehicle of the PVDA, such as the online newspaper De Wereld Morgen. I discovered that yes, perhaps I am too vain to be a robot.
In the picture you see me interviewing Peter Mertens, their very energetic leader. When he didn’t get to be a MP after the elections of 2014 I was dissapointed. If the PVDA can stay at 5 percent or even 10 percent of the vote they can certainly influence the country in positive ways. If they would ever be allowed to be in power unchallenged I would honestly fear being thrown in some sort of work camp. I am 100 percent convinced that they have not evolved past the dictatorial form of communism that failed so miserably in Eastern Europe, the consequences of which I can still see every day, here in Slovakia, almost 30 years after the fall of communism in this region.
Am writing a novel in Dutch about my time there, which you can start reading here.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing people part of this organisation. It’s just a question of where this party’s true objectives lie.