Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In the book you co-wrote with Peter Mertens « Priorité de gauche, pistes rouges pour sortie de crise” (Left-wing priority. Red slopes for crisis resolution), you talk about the neoliberal drift and you propose an alternative. Do you think that the systemic crisis of capitalism offers prospects for the constitution of a real fighting left that frames the workers’ struggle?
Raoul Hedebouw: Yes, it seems clear to me. We would do well to analyze the sequence in which we find ourselves, that is to say at the beginning of the 1990s with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the socialist countries, the neoliberals created a sequence that was the one where there was no alternative, the famous TINA (note: There is no alternative), and we must note that the 2008 banking crisis has reopened many prospects for discussion. And since 2008 and the banking crisis, there are many more prospects for debates and openings to go beyond capitalism. And we clearly see that there is a dynamic at the youth level, at the union level, where there is much more energy to debate this subject. It’s not by chance that Marx’s book « The Capital » has become a bestseller in the United States, Japan and France. There are a lot of demands to be able to think about another system and I think that it establishes bases to recreate a new socle for a real left but it also raises the question of the self-critical assessment of a left managing that has docilely applied all this liberalism in the years 1970-80-90. And so this debate is a debate taking place in all European countries as we see and I hope that in Belgium, it can lead to a strengthening of the left.
Your book « Première à gauche” (First to left) explains the program of the PTB (Labor Party of Belgium) and other points. Do you think that the PTB is in the process of becoming a force for change inevitable in the Belgian political scene?
I think so, yes. Indeed, for the first time in 25-30 years, there is anew an alternative to the left of traditional parties, such as the PTB, which is anchoring permanently in the population. It’s not just a question of polls; it’s also a reality on the ground. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done. The PTB has just passed the heading of the 14 000 members, we come from a party that had 2 or 3 000 members a little ten years ago so there is a lot of work to structure the sections, to train the members, to be present in many more companies – I remind that the PTB is a party that has companies’ sections – and so we have the humility to recognize that there is still a lot of work to be done. But in any case, I think we have passed a qualitative milestone for the role that the party can and will have to play in the upcoming class struggles.
In Italy, the extreme-right won the elections. Does not this example from Italy show us that extreme-right fascists are the strategic allies of big capital? Do not you think there is a major lesson to remember about what is happening in Italy?
It is often said that Italy is the political laboratory of Europe. We can hope that this is not the case this time because, indeed, the situation is quite dramatic. The rise of right-wing populism, even the extreme right, is the result of applied European politics. Neoliberalism has destroyed a form of social structure, has made the social and democratic situations of peoples regress, has submitted Italy alone to the management of the migratory crisis which is a lack of absolute solidarity and in putting a lot of tension in the Italian population. The European Union and the European Commission have a responsibility in the rise of these populisms; this is the first element of my answer. And the second element of my answer, what Italy shows us, is that there is an urgent need to recreate a true Marxist left wing. The tragedy of Italy is that too: it is the crumbling of these thousands of comrades, with the disappearance of the Communist Party of Italy which was, I remind it, the largest Communist Party of Europe West. The void has not been filled and it is very unfortunate. If there is one lesson of history to remember, it is that there is a need for a top management the working class and more particularly of a strong communist party, of a strong Marxist party, and I believe that there is a lot of work to be done in Italy, and I wish our Italian comrades much courage to rebuild such a political force.
Don’t you think that Euro communism should be tried?
It is a complex debate because we think in the PTB that Euro communism is also one of the causes of the decline of the Italian Communist Party.
What is happening is one of the consequences of Euro communism?
Of course. Because the Euro communism is a tendency of communism that adapted to capitalism by saying that there was a specific European path, what I can still understand, but that this specific path was the path of reformism and governmental participation without too much principles, and I believe that this was a strategic mistake of Euro communism and it is time to see it again and rebuild a revolutionary pole in Italy.
What do you think of the rise of extreme-right and neo-Nazi groups in Western Europe? Is it not the responsibility of the traditional parties that have failed?
For sure. The socio-economic dynamic of social regression that the traditional parties have put in place and of which I spoke earlier is a big problem, but nationalism is one too. The European Union encourages nationalism by putting people against each other in neoliberal competition; we see it every day in Parliament: when pensions are compared between workers from different countries to decrease them, how the working rates are compared, how the conditions of flexibility are compared. So the European Union organizes this competition and thus it nourishes itself this nationalism which today increase. It is not a mistake, it is not in spite of Europe, no, it is because of Europe. And we, on the left, have to oppose to this with an uninhibited discourse to reforge a unity of the working class and, more particularly, European. And there, we believed too long, we, the radical left, that solutions were possible only within the framework of our nation-states. I think it’s a strategic mistake. We need to talk to each other in the radical European lefts, we need to rebuild a European resistance, and not fall back on our own countries.
Are you ready to govern one day with the Socialists?
My answer will be in two steps. Of course, we want to lead with parties that are willing to make a break with capitalism. Which way will it take? No one can predict that. History can teach us things. We can obviously work with other parties but it takes this break. I must confess that, in the present case, I do not feel, at the level of the Belgian Socialist Party, whether it is Flemish or French-speaking, a willingness to break up. On the contrary. They applied liberalism for thirty years. The Belgian Socialist Party voted for the end of pre-pensions, it voted the hunt for the unemployed, it voted for the privatization of public services, these are unacceptable files for us, but who knows, if a real questioning is done, maybe the lines will move. We’ll see what the future will be, but in any case, we are a party of principles and we want a break with capitalism.
And you think that socialists are able to adopt the class struggle in their program?
They come back from far away and I feel a base in this party that wants class struggle but it’s true that I do not feel that at all at the summit of the party. And that is not surprising, because the Belgian Workers ‘ Party which, I point out, was the only Socialist Party in Europe to not have the word “socialist” in its name, unlike the parties of other European countries, was already an ultra-reformist party which saw in the class struggle only a result for universal suffrage, and not a class struggle as such to appropriate the means of production. But anyway, any questioning is always salutary and I think the best thing for the PTB is that a debate emanates in all the European socialist movements to call in question capitalism.
You are often criticized for lack of interest in issues related to terrorism. How do you explain that?
We have no lack of interest; we have rather a strong program in the fight against terrorism.
I am talking about government parties, among others.
The reason is that we do not agree with the government’s anti-terrorism policies. We must stop beating around the bush. Today, the overall philosophy of our government, and indeed of governments in Europe, is to say « we will protect people from terrorism » by keeping watch on the entire population, by brewing mass data – for example, at home, the method of collecting data from license plates on all highways, etc.
Is it effective?
Precisely, that is the problem. The French investigating judges who were particularly confronted with the problem of terrorism posed the problem that there was too much data to deal with. It’s not that there were too few, but there were too many. And so, it takes a lot more focused work. That is why we have put as a key point a strengthening of the investigative judges who are the people in the judiciary who can best track who the terrorists are, what their history is, what steps need to be taken, etc. case by case. However, it is precisely this sector that our government has deforced by reducing the budgets for investigating judges. It is a paradox and we say yes to the fight against terrorism and I remind that we have also pleaded for a break in commercial, financial and diplomatic flows with Saudi Arabia, which feeds terrorism the most in the world. Yet, what do we see? Rather than doing that, we instead turn against countries like Syria and Iran, which are countries that, I would remind you, are not responsible for any terrorist attacks on European territory.
Algeria, exactly. This is double standard diplomatic measures that must be denounced and we have done so with the PTB, of course.
On this point, precisely, how do you explain the support of Western governments and their alliances with Saudi Arabia and Qatar which are the backers of international terrorism and, with regard to Saudi Arabia, which is the matrix of terrorism? How do you explain that Western governments are strategic allies of these countries?
It is money, obviously. Geopolitics is dependent on money. Since there was a strategic agreement between the West, the United States on the one hand and Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, in a synergy of petrodollars against military aid, it is clear that European and Western policy in the Middle East is dictated by this desire to play the card of Saudi Arabia and Israel in the division of the Arab world and in the aggression of other countries. We see it in Yemen, no one denounces today what is happening in Yemen, it is scandalous. This country was bombed and returned to the Middle Age in three years by Saudi troops, and nobody reacts in Belgium at the diplomatic level. It’s still a double standard.
Do you think it makes sense to claim to fight terrorism by being the allies of the Saudis and Qataris?
It is totally illogical. The craziest thing is that after the attacks of the 9/11, everything indicated that the problem was in Saudi Arabia, and the Americans are entered in Iraq. And so, the US intervention in 2003 was devastating. Naomi Klein describes in her book « The Shock Doctrine » how much Iraq was sent back to the Middle Ages when it was a modern country, where women went to university, one of the most secular countries in the region, in five years of war. This is extremely serious, and I think the main warmonger in the region is the United States of America. Europe should distance itself from the United States and this is not enough at the moment.
You have called for a blockade against Saudi Arabia in the sale of arms. Do not you think it’s immoral on the part of Western governments who spend their time teaching « human rights » to sell weapons to the Saudis who are massacring the Yemeni people? How do you explain the silence of Western politicians and media about the despicable crimes of the Saudis and their allies against the people of Yemen?
Here we are at the heart of the geostrategic debate. The goal of Saudi Arabia is clearly to expand its influence throughout the region and its main competitor is Iran. And so, we have a war by troops interposed in these different territories with a willingness of the United States to create what they call the Greater Middle East and review all the borders in the region, review all submissions to be able to create a large strip of land that is completely subject to US imperialist interests. In addition, since the discovery of shale gas, the United States of America is creating its own energy self-sufficiency. So their only goal today is no longer to be able to steal oil for their own economy, it is above all to ensure that their main competitors who are Russia and especially China, no longer have access to these raw materials. So, the United States can be satisfied with chaos organized in the region, chaos that will no longer exploit the oil for China and Russia and will can neutralize this economy. So, in fact, we are seeing a war between the imperialist bloc and independent countries that can unfortunately lead to a global conflict.
We are in the creative chaos of the neoconservatives Condoleezza Rice and Co?
Absolutely. We are clearly in this pattern.
You have always had courageous positions on Palestine. Do not you think that European governments must stop unconditionally supporting this criminal entity that is Israel?
Yes. And I find that the big problem is that some Western countries are making statements to say that things are not going well down there, but are not taking any action. I denounced this hypocrisy in Parliament two weeks ago – it’s a video that’s been around the world for now and I’ve received messages from at least 20 countries and people translate my words into different languages, it’s quite impressive. If an African country were to make a quarter of a half of what Israel is doing, there would already be an embargo and an armed military intervention on its territory. That is what all the countries of the South feel very well. Why can Israel kill the Palestinian people with impunity? I think the time is no longer for diplomatic gesticulations but to take economic measures. As we know, Apartheid in South Africa has only disappeared as a result of the mobilization of the African people and the ANC in particular, but especially when there was an international campaign of boycott and economic embargo against South Africa. I think that’s what should be on the agenda with Israel.
According to you, we must boycott Israel?
It is obvious, Israeli products must be boycotted. We really have a lot to learn from the struggle against apartheid in the 1980s.
Precisely, our BDS friends are doing an excellent job of boycotting products imported from Israel. What do you think of the BDS initiative?
I think this is a very wise initiative because it allows for a concrete campaign on the ground. It is not only political, concretely we want a boycott.
We tap where it hurts.
Yes. We know that anyway Israel does not react to diplomatic pressure. Israel can only react to economic pressures. And there, with the BDS, we have a citizen initiative and I think it is very positive.
What do you think of the transfer of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem by the Trump administration? Do not you think that Donald Trump and his policy are a danger to global stability?
Of course. I believe that there is a real strategic choice of Donald Trump and the United States of America to move from multilateralism to unilateralism and, in this case, this transfer of an embassy is obviously a diplomatic gesture of very great importance to say in fact “I do not recognize the right of return of refugees, I do not recognize the potential future existence of a Palestinian state and I unilaterally decree that Israel is Israel and that its capital is in Jerusalem”. It is therefore a real provocation for the Palestinian people and all the peoples who resist in the world. And the most dramatic is that Israel is using this endorsement of the world’s greatest military power to be able to apply its military policy on the ground. Israel would not dare to do half of what it does today if the US did not agree, so we can really say that the Israeli snipers fires against the Gazan demonstrators is the result of a green light given by Donald Trump.
So the murders committed in Gaza occurred with the endorsement of the American administration?
There is an offensive aimed at different countries to steal their wealth. I can mention Venezuela, Cuba, Algeria, etc. Do you not think that we need a global front to counter imperialism?
Yes. I think we’ve lost a lot since the 1980s. I believe that a double movement is necessary. I think that we need a global front against imperialism and therefore, the different anti-imperialist leftist forces must talk to each other and restructure themselves, and secondly, we need a deepening of the different national and democratic revolutions. They stopped somewhere along the way with the complex debate that revolved around whether the goal is to have an elite, a national bourgeoisie who takes control of the country or is it deepening the social revolution? I think a lot of national democratic revolutions have stopped for the social revolution and that’s the problem, whether in Algeria, South Africa, and in most countries. And this is the debate today in Venezuela too. Will we surpass the bolibourggeoisie, as it is called? Are we going to give real popular power or not? All this must be done in a very complex framework and all these independent countries must face immense international, diplomatic, economic and even military pressure. We see today that Trump announces wanting to intervene in Venezuela, it’s really very serious. I believe there is a double movement, an intra-socialism that needs to be strengthened, and in the liberated countries of the Third World, a deepening of democratic national revolutions.
According to you, our fight against the oligarchs in our countries must be supported by the progressive forces of the fighting Left around the world? It’s not just our fight because it’s also vital to you, since if you fight Fascism, we fight Daesh.
This is the complexity of the situation. Above all, it is necessary to find a powerful autonomous power of the working class in all these revolutionary processes. It’s really a cardinal point. Then there is complexity because there is struggle-unit. There is a unity for the defense of national independence and at the same time, the social revolution must be deepened. And it’s a very complex equation that Third World countries have to solve but it is an equation that is cardinal if we want to have the support of the people, and I believe that in a lot of post independence regimes whether it is Arab-Muslim countries, whether in the African world, or in Asia, it is a big problem that some of these elites born of the independence movement have enriched themselves and are remained within the framework of a bourgeoisie at best national, or even comprador thereafter. I think that there is a real debate to be had.
So, for you, the fight against the bourgeoisie comprador in our countries…
…is intrinsically linked to the debate for the independence of the country.
What do you think of Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal?
It’s really dramatic because the Iran agreement was already a serious agreement, it must be said, so we are talking here about the right of a country to develop its civilian nuclear force. No European country has had embargoes on this issue. Most European countries, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, everyone has a civilian nuclear economy, so we are prohibiting the people of Iran, even within the framework of this agreement, this development. Even this agreement, which was already ambiguous, is now rejected by the United States of America. It is truly a threat to world peace because I understand if the Iranian people and their government will not give up easy. They will say « if the agreement is not respected by the Americans, why should we respect it? » I really call on European countries to put in place major compensation so that the Iranian people can have their rightful return.
Do you think that Europeans can play a role?
They can play a role if they want it but the problem is that Europe remains the lackey of the United States, so we’ll see in the weeks and months to come. For the moment, we have heard a lot of words but we have seen few acts.
Do you think that the US administration that has always played on a Shia-Sunni conflict does not play with fire in the Middle East?
Of course. It must be remembered that it was the United States that financed campaigns to divide the Iraqi people into a division that was much less present before the American intervention. Yes, they really play their card, but they are a little misled about Iraq, because the goal for the United States is that there is such a chaos that there can be no production of oil. I hope in any case that the region will have peace and prosperity in the weeks and months to come.
You were tapped – and I interviewed an American, Norman Solomon, who was also tapped by the FBI when he was in high school. Instead of focusing on serious crime and terrorism, the state’s means were used to survey a politician like you. Do not you think it’s a fascist drift?
Yes, absolutely. You know, I was tapped for six weeks just for organizing a demonstration. I will not talk about fascism but fascisation, that is to say, there is a diminution of our democratic rights the more the economic and democratic crisis deepens in Europe. So there is a fight to conduct, and that is why we are condemning the fact that, in the name of the fight against terrorism, our democratic rights are limited. There is a link between the two and it is a fight for the PTB.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Raoul Hedebouw?
Biologist by training, Raoul Hedebouw is a Belgian politician. He is MP of the Belgian Parliament and spokesman of the PTB (Labor Party of Belgium).
He is co-author with Peter Mertens of the book “Priorité de gauche. Pistes rouges pour sortie de crise“ and author of “ Première à gauche“.
Published in American Herald Tribune, June 16, 2018: https://ahtribune.com/world/europe/2304-raoul-hedebouw.html
In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.180618.htm