It was with great sadness that Socialist Resistance members heard of the death of François Vercammen, a Belgian leader of the Fourth International (FI), at age of 69 after a long struggle with illness which had taken him out of politics for the last years of his life.
In the late 1980s and in the 1990s, François was frequently in contact with supporters of our political current at international meetings and also spoke several times at events organised by SR.
François, together with Pierre Rousset, was instrumental in establishing International Institute for Research and Education in Amsterdam, which became a school and meeting place for Fourth International and other socialist militants, as well as social movement activists, from around the world.
François was quick, not only to see the importance of building broad parties of the radical left, but also of co-ordinating such parties across Europe.
He was key to the establishment of the European Anti-capitalist Left (EACL) that was launched in Lisbon in March 2000. It had representation from the Scottish Socialist Party (which had 1 MP in the Scottish Parliament at the time but won 5 more in 2003), the Portuguese Left Bloc, the Danish Red-Green Alliance, the French LCR, and the Turkish ÖDP. More organisations joined later including Rifondazione Comunista (RC) from Italy. From Britain the Socialist Alliance was involved and then Respect. The SWP played a role at one stage.
For the next 7 years the EACL met every six months in different parts of Europe often coinciding with EU summits and counter demonstrations and events. Francois was its central organiser on behalf of the FI.
As well as organising around EU summits, its aim was to meet the EU criteria to become an officially recognised party. This required at least 6 parties with elected representatives at the European or the national level.
After the RC joined a centre left coalition government and the SSP lost its representation in 2007, this was no longer a realist objective, particularly with the rise of the European Left Party which emerged at that time. As a partisan of building broad left parties he was reluctant to draw the conclusion that anti-capitalist militants had to continue their struggle outside the PRC and the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) after these parties moved to the right.
But he was also politically tough, with a hard headed approach to political realities. He played an important role in elaborating the documents for the FI 2003 world congress, a congress that was a key point in the long-term reorientation of the Fourth International away from the idea of ‘the world party of socialist revolution’ towards a more realistic assessment of its role and possibilities.
He followed European politics closely. He had a vast knowledge of the world workers movement and of the left, especially in Europe. He travelled widely in Europe and could confidently discuss with leftist leaders and activists from diverse political backgrounds. He could hold an audience in five different languages.
Activists wanted to talk to François because he was full of knowledge, full of news and insights, but also full of personal charm and infectious humour.
François was very close to his early mentor Ernest Mandel, but even as a real Mandelista he was able to see beyond the limitations of ‘orthodoxy’. He was an inspiring and charismatic figure.
Phil Hearse and Alan Thornett
Our friend and comrade François Vercammen
Our friend and comrade François Vercammen died on Tuesday, June 16, 2015. François had been ill for years and had been cared for in an institution for the last few months. He passed away peacefully, in the presence of his companion, Leen, surrounded by the affection of his loved ones.
François’s conscious political life was entirely devoted to the struggle for the emancipation of the exploited and oppressed. Born into a family of Antwerp dockworkers, François was won at a very young age to revolutionary Marxism and to the Fourth International. Through his profound knowledge of the working class, his great historic culture and his strategic vision, he rapidly established himself as a leader of the first level, first in Belgium and then in Europe.
Within the Belgian section, François was noted particularly for his fine analysis of the strength and the weaknesses of the labour movement, particularly from what he called the “oppositional reformism” of the FGTB. Many trade unionists have benefited from his insights, simple without superficiality and pedagogic without paternalism.
Within the Fourth International, François participated, with Pierre Rousset, in the foundation of the International Institute for Research and Education in Amsterdam, within which he perfected his knowledge of the Russian revolution and of the thought of Lenin, of whom he was a great admirer.
During his last active years, François threw all his strength and intelligence into the analysis of the “European despotic proto-state” and the construction of the European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL).
Constantly travelling from one end of the continent to the other, he was involved in actively building links between the Italian PRC, the Scottish SSP, the Red-Green Alliance of Denmark, the Portuguese Left Bloc, and the French LCR, in particular.
In 2005, François took an important role in the organization of a symposium in tribute to his spiritual father, Ernest Mandel, ten years after the death of the latter. Those who knew him retain the memory of a man who was friendly, helpful, fully dedicated to the cause of the emancipation, contemptuous of honours and those who sought them.
François was a formidable and intransigent polemicist, but someone who, in debates, never left the terrain of the ideas and principles to which he devoted his life. A special tribute will be made on July 3, 2015 in Brussels, in the afternoon (the time is not yet fixed), in the salle La Tentation, rue de Laeken 28. We will return soon on the life of François, on this site.
In the name of the LCR, we express our very sincere condolences to Leen and to François’s family. The struggle continues, and “Swa” remains in our hearts.
Daniel Tanuro and Thomas Weyts