Stay, fight and win
Attempts to wreck the youth section have been met with a growing tide of resistance. Emil Jacobs reports on the ongoing battles in the Socialist Party (Netherlands)
The crisis in the Socialist Party is no longer making national headlines, but it is far from over.1 Having cut all funding for its left-dominated youth section ROOD (‘Red’ in English) and expelled six members of the Communist Platform, including myself, the leadership continues to show that it dreads young people finding their way to socialism, finding their way to Marxism.
ROOD has effectively been disaffiliated. This was formalised in December by the party council, which agreed by a 65% majority that all ROOD funds would remain frozen. Instead of ensuring the complete organisational independence of the youth section as a matter of principle, the leadership wants youth work put in the hands of local branches - a disaster in the making. The middle-aged and the elderly often find it difficult, if not impossible, to talk to young people without coming over as patronising or out of touch. No, young comrades are eager to learn and they must be encouraged and assisted in that, not smothered and denied the opportunity of taking their own initiatives.
A second step by the leadership was to set up a new post of youth coordinator. The occupier of this cushy number will be directly employed by and responsible to the party leadership. That is ironic, as ROOD had previously decided to introduce part-time salaries for its officials, but this was immediately blocked last July by a party leadership which clearly wants to encourage careerists and servile careerist attitudes.
It remains to be seen who the new SP youth coordinator will be. The job vacancy has now been removed from the party’s website and it would not surprise me if it has gone to Bastiaan Meijer - the loyal pair of hands who dramatically stepped down as a candidate for ROOD chair in November, after it became obvious he was going to lose the election.
The attack on the youth section has resulted in a wider party rebellion against the leadership itself. Comrades have established the ‘SP voor ROOD’ (SP for ROOD) initiative. At the time of writing this has the support of over a hundred prominent members, among them an MP, many branch chairs and other local officers. While it first set its sights on a moderate attempt to be a broker between the ‘two sides’, it rapidly stepped up its game with a financial campaign to help maintain ROOD. Already €6,000 has been raised. That is a relatively modest sum, but it can certainly help ROOD’s fight for revolutionary internationalism and against opportunist coalitionism.
Meanwhile, on December 12, the Socialist Party’s 25th party congress saw several motions and amendments coming from the left - calling for support for ROOD, for the right to form factions, for Communist Platform to be recognised as a legitimate part of the SP, etc. All of these were defeated, but it is interesting and hopeful that there was a core support of between 30% and 40% for these motions. When it came to voting for the election programme as a whole, congress saw a protest vote of around 20% - an historic high. Something similar happened with choosing the candidate list for the upcoming parliamentary elections in March. While she was successful, the SP’s political leader Lilian Marijnissen, got the fewest votes.
Another expression of discontent with the current trajectory of the leadership - not least its aim of participating in a coalition government with bourgeois and petty bourgeois ‘progressive’ parties - is the exodus of members. Prominent members, including local councillors, have quit and in a few cases even whole branches have become dormant because of their departure. Political parties in the Netherlands are granted a state subsidy, and the Documentatiecentrum Nederlandse Politieke Partijen publishes the official membership figures of each party. While the numbers for this year have not yet been published, it is expected that the SP will once again register a significant drop. Last year membership shrunk to 32,000, compared to more than 50,000 back in 2010. It remains to be seen what the overall damage will be as a result of this crisis. However, this trend is hardly something to celebrate - those departing are mainly from the left, which makes it all the more urgent for us to reverse the trend by winning comrades back to the fight within the party and adding hundreds and thousands of new recruits.
On December 18 there was the hearing of the appeals committee for myself and five other expelled comrades. This went exactly as expected - the line of the party leadership on all points of contention was copy-pasted into the decisions. Is the faction to which we belong, the Communist Platform, a rival ‘party’? Yes. Did we gravely damage the party? Of course we did! You might expect a report of the decisions made to contain an explanation as to why such conclusions were reached, but no reasons were given - at least, not in the official letter sent to us. All we got was the opinion of these loyal mouthpieces for the leadership. Just to give an idea of the ‘neutrality’ of the appeals committee: one of its members, Henk van Gerven, had been quite clear about his position regarding Communist Platform at recent party council meetings, saying, among other things, that we were a “poison that had to be cut out”. The decisions taken are expected to be rubber-stamped by the party council at its next meeting in February.
All this brings me back to ROOD. Freshly elected chair Olaf Kemerink and another member of the ROOD leadership, Robin de Rooij, have been forced to step down, as their ROOD membership has been officially terminated following the ‘grace period’ after they were expelled from the party, which ended on December 31. ROOD will shortly convene another national meeting aiming for a way to resolve the situation. There are several proposals being made, connected to the two main alternatives: the first calls for a protracted campaign for ROOD to be fully restored on our terms, while the second thinks we should give up on the SP and go it alone. It remains to be seen who will win the day.
The crisis in the SP is not about to end any time soon. The naive hope of the party leadership that the expulsion of six members would be enough for a return to ‘normality’ has been dashed. It has had the opposite effect, to put it mildly. It has fully exposed the leadership for the state-loyalist bureaucrats that they are. Clearly we need a new, genuinely socialist leadership of the Socialist Party.
‘Youth section will win’ Weekly Worker November 26 2020.↩︎