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Albert Gates

Atlantic Charter Just So Many Words on Paper


(December 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 49, 4 December 1944, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Third. They respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them. – From the Atlantic Charter of Roosevelt and Churchill.

The absolute meaninglessness of the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms, when advocated by capitalist-imperialist powers was never so firmly demonstrated as in the case of Italy and Belgium. The case of Belgium is hardly unique, except in the speed with which events have piled up in that country to demonstrate the complete and wide gulf which separates the mass of people from the usurpers who rule the country today.

The background of the Belgian events is similar to that of other countries which have lived for years under the yoke of German fascism. The struggle against the foreign oppressor was carried on by the people who remained at home. That is to say, those who made up the Resistance Movement were workers of every description, middle class elements and poor peasants. They were the political parties of the workers, trade unions cooperative and fraternal societies. These were the people who, with arms in hand, braved the Gestapo, the murderers’ courts and the concentration camps to fight the fascist beasts.

This Belgian ruling class, the capitalists, monopolists, financiers and the King’s followers were, by and large, collaborators with the Germans. The industrialists and financiers stayed behind to do business with Hitler at a profit. As in all other capitalist countries which the Germans Occupied, the capitalist class were the collaborators; the workers, the fighters.

It is no small wonder then why the mass of people in Belgium have just risen against the government of Prime Minister Hubert Pierlot. Pierlot headed a pre-war government. He and his aides have been out of Belgium during the years of German occupation. He and his aides returned when the Germans were driven out by the combined struggle of the Allied soldiers and the Belgian workers in the armed resistance forces.

Conditions in Belgium

The situation in Belgium is acute for the people. They have little enough food, clothing or shelter. They live in great privation. But they might be willing to understand this situation in the midst of the war; and willing to accept such conditions if they knew that this was true for everyone else in the country. But they know that the Belgian rulers – the monopolists – live well, and that they lived well under the Germans as they now do under the Allies.

And now? Now that the Germans have been driven out, the Belgian people want to punish those whom they regard as traitors. But the government of Pierlot says “No.” Even worse, the government, having decided not to do anything about the German collaborators, turns its attention and guns against the people, against the Resistance Movement! The first important act of the Pierlot government was to demand that the resistance forces turn their arms over to the government and in effect dissolve themselves. The reasons are obvious. The government of Pierlot, which in no way represents the Belgian people, is afraid of the masses, afraid that the demands of the masses may win out if they have the force. And the first thing this government of the Belgian capitalists wants is to disarm the people. The masses demonstrated against the order disarming the Resistance Movement. Their demonstration was fired upon by the hired troops of the government. Several workers were killed and others wounded. The unions of Belgium called strikes against the government, demanding that Pierlot resign. Pierlot the hireling of Belgian imperialism, called upon British troops to guard his cabinet and Parliament against the people. And while these troops stood guard he won a vote of confidence from a Parliament that no more represents the people than does he.

The workers of Belgium, in addition to their opposition to the order of disarmament, demand other things. According to the New York Times of November 29: “The strikers demanded wages adjusted to the cost of living, revised working hours, food, coal and the punishment of the collaborators.” Unreasonable, these workers, aren’t they? The Times goes on:

“Today’s marchers were street car conductors and motormen, postmen, railwaymen, shop clerks and telephone operators. Bitter cries were raised against the government for its alleged failure to oust ‘traitors’ from the public services. More bitter were the demands for bread, butter and coal.

Who Is Guilty?

The main culprit in this whole situation is the Société Générale de Belgique, the biggest monopolistic combine in the country. All the directors of this company, with the exception of one, remained in the country to work with the Germans. As one writer put it: “During the war one group in Belgium grew wealthy and ate well.” This was the Belgian capitalists, personified by Sociéte Générale. It profited from the Germans in Belgium and from the United Nations in the Congo. And now it wants to go on profiting from the exploitation of the Belgian workers without assistance from the Germans – as if nothing had changed.

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