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BELGIUM


404


BELGIUM


The number and importance of these legislative enactments was such that a Socialist deputy codified and published them in a collection, rendering thereby tacit but significant homage to the Government responsible for them.

But the very stability of the Government, which each successive election retained in power, was the despair of its enemies who saw the impossibility of overthrowing it by legal methods. The Socialists decided that their success would be greater if they obtained by threats, or, if necessary, by violence, a new re\-ision of the Constitution, suppressing the plural vote and replacing it by universal sufi'rage, pure and simple: "One man, one vote." Failing to bring about this reform by intimidating the Chamber, they sent revolutionary bands into the streets. "I have always tried to dissuade you from violence", said Vandervelde, their leader, to his audience of workingmen; "but to-day, I say to you: The pear is ripe, and must be plucked." Another leader, Grimard, the Socialist senator, and a millionaire, even went so far as to declare that he would turn over his whole fortune to the workingmen and would start again with nothing. Intoxicated by these words, the workingmen of many large cities and industrial districts abandoned themselves to excesses, and blood was shed in several places, notablj' at Louvain. The energy with which the Government applied repressive measures, however, soon put an end to these attempts. Then the General Council of the workingmen's party declared a general strike, the last weapon of the revolutionary party. This failed after a few days, and the General Council was forced to advise the workmen to return to work. The prestige of the Socialists with the popular masses was greatly impaired by the failure of so great an effort and the Catholic Government came out of the crisis stronger than ever (1902).

There remained but one way of overcoming the Government: the alliance of the two opposition parties, the Socialists and the Liberals. This was effected at the time of the general elections of 1906. Although from the economic point of view the two parties were antipodal, they were united in their anticlerical sympathies, and there was reason to fear that their success would mean the downfall of religion. In their certainty of success they cir- culated the names of their future ministers, and open preparations were made for tlie festivities at- tendant on their victory. But their alliance met with a crushing defeat in the elections of 1906, which left the Catholic Government as strong as ever. The fetes, commemorating the seventy-fifth anni\'ersary of national independence, had been celebrated tlirough- out the country with unrestrained enthusiasm, under the patronage of the Catholic Government, which, in 1909, will celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its own existence. In the history of Belgium no government has held power so long, and the Catholic party has come to be more and more of a national party, or, to speak more correctly, the nation itself.

This summary would be incomplete if the history of the struggles in defence of religion and of social order were not supplemented by the internal history of the Catholic people of Belgium, i. e. the develop- ment of popular opinion during a quarter of a century. Generally, in the face of adversaries who attacked their most precious possession, the religion of their fathers. Catholics had proclaimed themselves "con- servatives"; their political associations were thus designated and it was the name which the leaders of the party were fond of applj-ing to themselves in Parliament. But the appearance of the workingmen on the political scene and the programme of their claims in pointed opposition to the conservatives (1886), brought home to enlightened Catholics the danger of this name. Hence the name "Conserva-


tive" was repudiated not only by the advanced members of the party, who called themselves "Demo- cratic Christians", but even by the Catholics opposed to reforms, who really aimed at preserving the economic regime which had caused all the grievances of the working class. The latter, rejecting the term " Conservative " as a WTong done them, desire to be called simply "Catholics". Of the two groups, that of the Democratic Christians is at present numerically inferior, although more influential by reason of its enthusiasm, its activity, its faculty for taking the initiative, and its propaganda. To understand this it inust be recalled that before the revision of the Constitution the Catholic, like the Liberal, party was exclusively a bourgeois party, as its members had to pay a large poll tax for the privilege of suffrage. Its leaders for the most part were drawn from the upper bourgeoisie, and those whose ability and energy called them to a share in the direction of atTairs had no other ideals, or interests, than those of the bour- geoisie. When the reWsion heavily recruited their ranks, the new voters, though large in number, played the part of mere privates and had no active part in the management of the parties. Those of the new-comers, who were conscious of possessing the requisite ability and courage in order to carrj' out their ideas and programme were obliged to organ- ize new groups, which were looked at askance by the former leaders, often even regarded with sus- picion, and accused of socialistic tendencies.

In a large number of arrondissements, the rivalry of conservative and democratic tendencies among Belgian Catholics resulted in the establishment of two distinct political groups, and the Belgian bishops, and the most farsighted leaders, found it a hard task to prevent an open rupture. At Ghent, where the Democratic Christians assumed the harmless name of Anti-Socialists, tliere was never any real danger of a break in the ranks. At Liege, which was a centre of opposition to democratic ideas, Catholic circles being under the control of employers and financiers inimical to reform principles, a rupture was barely averted. At Alost, where the break was beyond control, the Abb6 Daens organized an independent and radical body, which, taking the name of "Chris- tene Volksparty" (Christian people's party), aban- doned by the Anti-Socialists, opposed the CathoHcs more bitterly than the Socialists. It made common cause with the latter in carrying on a campaign against the Government in the elections of 1906. But, apart from the Daensists, a group, verj' small at most, which in its best days was unable to send more than two or three representatives to the Cham- ber, the Democratic Christians, in all their electoral battles, have always marched to the polls side by side with the conservative Catholics. They hold the con- trolling vote indispensable for any victory, and their leaders in Parliament have been in the front ranks in advocating the labour legislation which has produced the social laws. After opposing them for a long time, the Conservatives have gradually become accustomed to regard them as an essential factor of the Catholic army. In the meantime, the birth and progress of this group clearly marked the evolution which is taking place in the Catholic party in the direction of a new social ideal, an evolution too slow for some, and too rapid for others, but in any case, evident and undeniable.

IV. CoxcLusiox. — This politico-religious history of Belgium, covering over a hundred years, contains more than one lesson. In the first place, it clearly establishes the fact that in everj' generation the Belgian nation has fought with vigour against every regime that was inimical to its faith. It struggled against the French Republic, against Napoleon I, against William I, against the Liberal Government, against the coalition of the Liberals and the Socialists.