Amplify the voice
Loes Muller reports on the first meeting of the Marxist opposition in the Socialist Party (Netherlands)
Just under 60 comrades took part in the first meeting of the Marxist Forum (Marxistisch Forum) on September 26. They had come together on Zoom to discuss the political line and type of organisation we need in the Socialist Party.
The initiators of MF are from the Communist Platform1 and the meeting began with an introduction about the importance of such a project. The Socialist Party (SP) is in crisis, divided between, on the one side, those who want to make the party more acceptable as a government coalition partner, led by the parliamentary faction, and, on the other side, various opposition groupings. This is exactly the moment when we, as Marxists, have to argue for a party offering an alternative to the undemocratic bourgeois state - the Marxist Forum aims to achieve that through organised discussion and cooperation between critical party members.
After the introduction, other participants voiced their opinions. Most talked about the lack of open discussion within the SP and the positions we would like to promote within the party. Some called on people from the various critical groups within the SP to take part in the MF, including on its leadership. In that way we can create a force in opposition to the well organised parliamentary faction.
The meeting was characterised by open debate. One of the participants talked about how the SP leadership is trying to exert its influence over ROOD, the youth organisation, by, among other things, blocking various decisions made by ROOD independently (for example, a motion against participating in a coalition government2). Other comrades gave examples of censorship within the party; one case was when ‘The Group’ (party members organised in opposition to the leadership’s stance on the refugee crisis) wanted to publish an article in Tribune (the monthly magazine of the party), which turned out to be impossible. This was related to one of the debates during the last congress, when the party leadership claimed that Tribune and Spanning (the more theory-oriented bimonthly publication) are not the right places for such a discussion.
While the issue of participation in a coalition government was the main topic of the day (see below), many comrades thought it essential to discuss how we are going to organise the workers’ movement, without which there can be no advance towards a socialist society. It is quite ironic that ROOD sells T-shirts bearing Marx’s image, even though Marxist theory and the concept of class struggle are absent from the party’s programmatic documents. The need for an international vision was also mentioned by many - some were of the view that the European Union, although neoliberal, could be a fertile ground for international organisation.
During the introduction on our draft declaration one of the initiators of the Marxist Forum spoke about the four pillars on which the working definition of ‘Marxist’ is based: social revolution, democracy, the independence of the working class and internationalism. MF has been founded to provide a forum for the formation and exchange of critical and diverse opinions, but it needs an executive committee, which would be responsible for practical matters. It was proposed that this committee should not be elected until the next meeting, when we would know more about the various groups and opinions within MF.
During the discussion about the draft declaration, one comrade remarked that the point is not diversity, but unity in precise Marxist analysis. Moreover, the executive committee should be more accurately called the secretariat, which is more fitting for a body responsible for organisational tasks. Another suggested that candidates for the committee should each draw up a programmatic document, to make it clear to the less experienced MF members which groups and opinions they represent. The declaration makes clear that there is no strict internal discipline, but MF participants are asked not to sabotage collective action (for example, the distribution of leaflets at a party congress).
Three motions had been submitted - on internationalism, participation in a coalition government and trade union strategy. The mover of the motion on internationalism stressed that socialism in one country is not possible, that leaving Nato is a crucial demand (often deliberately ‘overlooked’ by the SP) and that the freedom to migrate is essential - with the necessary trade union control to prevent issues such as strikebreaking. The last point especially was criticised by some, who claimed that many workers are against free movement because of the limited amount of houses, jobs, etc in the Netherlands - not to mention cultural differences with refugees.
But others were strongly against these arguments. They highlighted the international nature of capitalism, together with the international character of the working class, which is why we have to organise globally. It is true that there are cultural differences, but the Dutch working class is hardly driven by socialist ideas at the moment. That is why we have to increase class-consciousness - in solidarity with workers from other countries. Furthermore, there are socialist movements all around the world, as well as reactionary world views espoused in the Netherlands (for example, in the Dutch ‘Bible Belt’).
One of the participants also commented that the lack of jobs, houses, etc, is actually a problem exacerbated by border controls - open borders would lead to a greater flow of resources. Others stressed that our internationalism must be global, not just relating to Europe. In response to this, a statement emphasising that Europe is just the starting point (the EU is the context within which we operate, after all) was drawn up.
The motion about trade union strategy called for democratic and militant unions, internationally organised and with a strong cadre. During the discussion, one comrade suggested that we should, as the MF, bring together comrades with union experience. That can be helpful in showing other SP members what a political party can do in relation to trade unions.
The motion against participation in a coalition government was extensively debated. Two amendments were submitted, and the first in particular - about joining a governing alliance with other ‘left’ parties, such as the PvdA (Labour Party) and the GroenLinks (Green Left) - generated a lot of argument.
The mover argued that the SP does not have a vision for the future, but it is the responsibility of Marxists to pave the way for a ‘transfer of power’. In order to achieve that, it is important not to rule out participation in such a government coalition. The idea currently proposed within the SP - that we can join any possible government, even with the centre-right VVD and the Christian Democrats of the CDA - has to be strongly rejected, the comrade continued. But we can make substantial gains as part of a coalition with other leftwing parties. It is already a big challenge to persuade the SP that we should only form an alliance with ‘progressive’ parties, not the likes of the VVD and CDA.
Many comrades were strongly opposed to this amendment. One insisted that, as Marxists, we have to be clear that we only want to govern in order to aid the transfer of power to the working class. We cannot, therefore, become the managers of the capitalist state - we want a totally different model, which is fundamentally democratic. Moreover, the PvdA and GroenLinks support imperialism, class-collaboration, the reactionary retirement policy, etc. Another participant said that we can only take part in a coalition government if our socialist principles are shared by the other participating parties (highly unlikely, to say the least, in the case of the PvdA and GroenLinks).
The mover of the second amendment claimed that participating in a coalition can pave the way to power, but other comrades gave examples of multiple historical cases, which illustrated that an alliance of Marxist parties with liberals and even social democrats have always harmed the organisation concerned and ultimately led to failure. In the end, both amendments were rejected by a narrow majority.
There were also two discussion papers that were not voted on. The first one was about the importance of fighting against discrimination, adopting an intersectional approach and being aware of the danger of reducing our struggles to class-based exploitation alone. The second was put forward in response to the first one; the comrade moving it argued that the concept of intersectionality had been coopted by capitalism and neoliberal society, and had therefore served the status quo by diverting attention from the class struggle. In fact, class struggle can actually connect various social groups - the commonality of the working class allows us to fight all forms of oppression. These arguments won the support of many present, but the mover of the first discussion paper was not able to attend to defend it.
Even though many issues were extensively discussed during the first MF meeting, there is still much we have to arrange and consider. The next meeting has already been announced: it will take place on Zoom on November 8. All (current or expelled) SP members who share our principles are welcome to join the Marxist Forum. Especially in the build-up to next year’s parliamentary elections, it is crucially important to unite and amplify the Marxist voice within our party.
In the Dutch parliamentary system, being a part of government de facto always means participating in a coalition.↩︎