Marijke Colle, presente!
It is with great sadness and emotion that we have learned of the death this morning of 16 April 2023 of our comrade Marijke Colle, at the age of 75.
Born in 1947 in a very conservative Flemish Catholic family, Marijke studied biology in Ghent and became radicalized like many young people of her generation in the 1968 wave.
She became a member of Dolle Mina (a Dutch-speaking feminist group) in the early 1970s, and later of the socialist feminist groups that formed a coordination throughout Flanders.
It was also during this period that she participated in the foundation of the Ligue Révolutionnaire des Travailleurs (LRT)-Revolutionaire Arbeidersliga (RAL), the Belgian section of the Fourth International, which has now become the Gauche anticapitaliste - SAP - Antikapitalisten.
Together with her comrades in the organization’s women’s commission, she played an important role in the struggle for the decriminalization of abortion in Belgium. She contributed to the emergence of both an autonomous women’s movement and a class struggle feminism.
Marijke was also the first to address the ecological question in the Belgian section and one of the pioneers in the Fourth International, more than thirty years ago. Marijke’s commitment remains marked by these three dimensions of her life, which inextricably intertwine revolutionary Marxism, feminism and ecology: she defined herself as both Marxist and ecofeminist.
Marijke also spent many years working (as a teacher) and campaigning in different countries: England, France and the Netherlands, where she was co-director of our International Research and Training Institute in Amsterdam.
Since her return to Belgium about ten years ago, she had continued to nourish the reflections and political orientations of the organisation and its feminist commission, which became Anti-Capitalist Feminists, and its ecosocialist commission.
At the time of the Covid pandemic, she provided us with valuable reflections on the links between capitalism, the ecological crisis, zoonoses and the crisis of care, and the responses to be made.
The comrades of the Gauche anticapitaliste-SAP Antikapitalisten and of the Fourth International will remember her strength of character, her rigour, her frankness, her pedagogical and transmission capacities, put at the service of a lifelong revolutionary and internationalist commitment to collective emancipation. These qualities serve as an example for us. Our thoughts go out to her family and friends, in particular to our comrade Pips, her companion.
The best tribute we can pay to her is to continue her struggle, which is ours.
Thanks to you for everything, comrade.
NB: Among her many commitments, let us also mention her participation for many years in the leadership of the combative CGSP-Education (ACOD Onderwijs) of East Flanders, and more recently her involvement in the climate movement with Climaxi in particular in Ghent.
Two tributes delivered at the funeral of Belgian eco-socialist and feminist Marijke Colle, Thursday, 27 April 2023.
In Honour of Marijke
Honouring the memory of Marijke requires mobilizing many qualifiers. Marijke was an extremely intelligent person. She was a scientist attached to reason, rigor and integrity in the apprehension of reality: facts, facts, facts, because “A fact is worth more than a lord mayor” ...
Marijke was a biologist, in the deep, existential sense of the verb “to be”. It was much more than a profession: a formation of thought. As Pips pointed out, Darwin was her hero. Like him, Marijke had curiosity, sympathy and empathy for all that lives.
The idea that humanity is part of nature while being distinct from other animals, the idea in other words that human history is intertwined with natural history while also obeying social laws, which are not “natural”, was obvious for Marijke. For her, most of these questions had been resolved by her mentor, in his second great work, “The Descent of Man”, unfortunately less well known than “The Origin of Species”. Like Patrick Tort, Marijke saw civilization as a “reversive effect” of natural selection.
Biologists of Marijke’s calibre are never cold fish. We think of Stephen Jay Gould, Rachel Carson, and many others. Marijke was a person of great control, of great balance. She did not speak lightly, and always in a measured tone. But outrage at exploitation, oppression, brutality and cowardice boiled within her, and surfaced in her speech.
“Stille water, diepe gronden” [“Still waters run deep”]: this Flemish saying – which has no real equivalent in French – sheds light quite well, I think, on the personality of our comrade. Marijke was a passionate person, with a calm but intense passion. When she spoke, one felt a great determination, a moral strength anchored on very solid foundations where personal considerations were never in the foreground.
Marijke was radical in Marx’s sense: to solve a problem, we must identify its root rationally, and act accordingly, revolutionarily. She mastered the categories of historical materialism – mode of production, relations of production, classes and social strata, capital, social overproduction, value, surplus value and so on – but it was the opposite of dogmatics. A free spirit, Marijke was not afraid to leave the beaten track when reality dictated it.
In addition to the trade union struggle, in which she participated as a teacher, Marijke’s contribution was particularly important on two levels: feminism and eco-socialism. In both cases, it was a question of going beyond the limits, indeed the blinkers, of a certain Marxist tradition, patriarchal and productivist.
Along with other activists in the Women’s Commission of the Belgian section [of the Fourth International], Marijke played a key role in the fight for the decriminalization of abortion. If the women of the Christian Workers’ Movement (MOC) were convinced to rally to the Lallemand/Herman-Michielsens bill, it is to these comrades that we owe it. It was a huge victory for emancipation in our country. A few years later, Marijke took over and played a leading role in the vast united campaign “Women against the crisis”.
At the same time, Marijke was one of the first in the Fourth International, and the first in the Belgian section, to take full measure of the terrible barbaric threats arising from the vertiginous fall of biodiversity, the irreversible disruption of the climate, the chemical and radioactive poisoning of the planet. She devoted a regular column to it in our newspapers, La Gauche and Rood. From the beginning of the1980s, in the context of a training day, she challenged the members of the Belgian section by stressing the need to go beyond the essential structural changes, in particular by eating substantially less meat.
For fifteen years, Marijke had been working on eco-feminism, a privileged concept to converge the two great struggles of her activist life. While distancing herself from the essentialist conceptions of some women authors for whom women are “by nature” more ecologist than men, she did not hide her admiration for the commitment of a Vandana Shiva. She was not afraid to point out that the domination of women and the domination of nature have more than similarities in form: they are two sides of the same coin.
An excellent teacher, Marijke made it a point of honour to express the most complicated things in simple terms. Her teaching skills, sincerity, humanity and dedication earned her the esteem and recognition of many. This is particularly the case for women activists from the global south who had the chance to follow her training at the Amsterdam Institute, of which Marijke was co-director for four years.
Marijke was modest. She hated the show-offs, the upstarts, the navel-gazers of all kinds. And could not stand the beautiful talkers – usually male and very verbose – who believe that using or inventing many complicated words gives them the quality of “philosophers”.
Militant life is made up of many defeats, some successes and a lot of personal disillusionment, with its share of pettiness and jealousy. Marijke sometimes suffered, but this did not call into question her loyalty to revolutionary, feminist, internationalist and eco-socialist Marxism. In this age of unbridled narcissism, this deserves immense respect that we owe to her steadfast, upright nature and fierce will to struggle.
In the last years of the last century, the example of Marijke encouraged me to use my scientific training to help our political current to consider the centrality of the global ecological crisis. It is an understatement to say that I am grateful to her.
On behalf of the Belgian section of the Fourth International, I pay tribute to our comrade Marijke, formerly known by her pseudonym of Lida.
On my own behalf, I salute a very dear friend, to whom I owe a great deal.
Companera Marijke presente!
Thank you Marijke! Having met you inspires us to continue..
For you Marijke, with a special thought for Pips and all the people who were dear to you.
I speak today on behalf of the comrades of the Anti-Capitalist Feminists to thank you for all your teaching, your comradeship and your militant commitment.
For us, it is a whole heritage of feminist struggle in Belgium that you take with you... but not without having shared it with us. With all your educationals, your interviews, your analytical texts, you have done precious and and rigorous work of leadership and transmission for years and years.
You did it in all humility, letting yourself be taught by the struggles of new feminist generations. For us, you were demonstrating that a 70-year-old woman could be much more progressive and free than a 20 year old girl. No wonder, you who had been at the forefront of the vanguard of ecological and women’s struggles within our organisation!
Being an activist in a competitive and in some ways macho environment, you had experienced it. And that’s why you often called our attention to the atmosphere in the activist spaces.
Your experience made the link between the women’s movement in the 1970s and the feminist strike movement of recent years.
You wove a purple thread between ecological, feminist and labour struggles.
In 2019, some of us were lucky enough to have your presence to organise a campaign against the political bargaining around abortion rights in Belgium.
You who 50 years ago supported the building of the first abortion centre in Flanders.
Hundreds of comrades, men and women, have been educated by you through all these years and throughout the world in ecosocialism ecofeminism and class struggle feminism.
Since the announcement of your death, dozens of messages from feminists have reached us from France, India, Spain, Brazil, Portugal, England, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland and the Netherlands...
Many of them underline your qualities in passing on experiences and languages.
(Chichi tells me to tell you that she has finally started to learn Dutch as you urged her to do so several years ago.)
You leave us a legacy without a will.
An experience without a prescription for future struggles
But a firm and assumed invitation to defend a revolutionary anti-capitalist orientation
No feminism without class struggle!
No class struggle without feminism!
Thank you Marijke! Having met you inspires us to continue... .