End of a dead end
Last week’s general election saw big losses for the Socialist Party. Predictably, the leadership’s purge of the left has backfired. Emil Jacobs of the SP’s Communist Platform reports
Party leader Lilian Marijnissen made light of the losses suffered on March 17: “We hoped for more”.1 Yet it is an open question how long she will remain in post after this latest reverse. At the central committee (partijraad) meeting on March 27 there will no doubt be a full spectrum range of excuses: ‘These weren’t our elections’, ‘Covid-19 hurt our campaign, as we’re used to canvassing’, ‘The turnout was low and to our disadvantage’. Such platitudes are predictable, as they have been used before (or, in the case of the pandemic, have been hinted at).
If we take a step back, this has been the fifth parliamentary elections in a row where the Socialist Party has lost seats. In 2006 the party had 25, in a 150-seat parliament. Now we have returned to a measly nine. Since 2015 we have not made gains in any election - in 2019 we lost our two seats in the European Parliament after a disastrous campaign. When will we finally reflect on a dead-end strategy and stop making excuses?
Even before the peak result in 2006 the party had adopted its current outlook – that it is necessary to become a ‘responsible’ party fit for ministerial posts in a coalition government. The SP dropped opposition to Nato and the monarchy towards that end. There have been exceptions to this general line, such as when previous party chair Ron Meyer adopted a more ‘actionist’ outlook, or when former leader Emile Roemer explicitly excluded the conservative VVD as a coalition partner in the 2017 campaign, due to its neoliberal policies. But there lies the rub: Roemer never excluded making a deal with the other parties committed to the same pro-market dogma politics. To be clear, except for the SP and the Animal Party, all other parties in the Netherlands fall within this cosy framework. It is something of a blessing that the SP was never taken up on its willingness to be part of a coalition - it would have amounted to the same political suicide we saw with the Labour Party, which lost 29 seats in 2017 (a meltdown of almost 80%).
Marijnissen has from the start of her leadership made it very clear that “now the time is right to govern”. Her acceptance speech to the central committee meeting of June 2020, when she was elected as the only candidate for the position of leader, made this all too clear. Her speech caused the youth organisation, ROOD, to adopt a motion against participating as a coalition partner at its general meeting the week after - which in turn led to the current crisis in the party, where the central committee cut all support for ROOD and expelled numerous members, myself included. Our crime? Defending class politics.2
However, no surprise, this undemocratic purge in what purports to be “the most democratic party of the Netherlands” clearly damaged our electoral results. More and more people want an alternative to the coalition consensus that has ruled the Netherlands for decade upon decade - not another pathetic clique of careerist coalition partners seeking high office, fat salaries and the many and varied opportunities to be bribed.
We have warned against this disastrous opportunist course many times over. Making ourself responsible for capitalist politics inevitably results in a betrayal of our base: the politically advanced part of the working class. This has been the experience of the workers’ movement globally for more than a century. We should be fighting for a position of principled opposition against all existing politics, until we are in a position to start implementing our minimum programme: the political power of the working class and the end of the rule of capital. The SP, which once saw itself as the counter-party, has criminally long since lost this position to the far right.
Meanwhile, to its left we see a new party entering the field in the form of BIJ1 (‘Together’), which gained votes undoubtedly at the expense of the SP. Quite a few SP members shifted to BIJ1 in the run-up to the elections, especially after the SP refused to take a principled position on migrant workers, many of whom have drowned crossing the Mediterranean. How this new, vocally anti-capitalist party - which bases itself on intersectional as opposed to communist politics - will develop remains to be seen.
The results for the general election’s big winner, the liberal D66, should be a cause for thought on the left. The reason why it won is comparable to why the GreenLeft gained a lot of seats in 2017. Both conducted campaigns that appeared to adopt a positive vision of the future - unlike the SP leadership, which is hopelessly stuck with its vision of a 1970s-style welfare state. This difference is incidentally reflected in the voter base: whereas 35%-50% of D66 and GreenLeft voters were in the 18-34 age group, this was only the case for around 17% for the SP! More worryingly, 50% of the SP electorate is 50-69. A generation which is not reproducing itself politically.
More significantly, the SP was nearly invisible in this general election campaign. It continues to surprise me that the leadership chose to say nothing at all about its proposal to introduce an NHS-like system in the Netherlands - a campaign that consumed vast resources in the run-up to the 2017 elections and one you would expect to resonate during a pandemic. But no, the leadership chose to be respectable, responsible … and invisible. The short campaign video regarding the national debt is perhaps striking in this respect: “With the SP in government, the debt will be 3.3% lower in 2025 compared to the VVD.” Who the fuck cares?
The only really prominent campaigner amongst the leadership was the party number 2, Renske Leijten. She emphasised the childcare benefits scandal, which had left tens of thousands of households in utter misery. But sadly this did not gain much traction in TV debates. However, while such issues are essential for socialists and communists to raise, things need to go much further: the state is corrupt to its very core. Nevertheless, the party could have focused on maybe a dozen issues of this type, but chose not to.
And now difficult times lie ahead. Undoubtedly some members will regard this as one setback too many and give up on the party altogether. According to figures provided by the DNPP (Documentation Centre for Dutch Political Parties), the SP lost 236 members last year.3 We know this to be a huge understatement, as the reference date was January 1 and two weeks later the party ‘coincidentally’ cancelled the membership of thousands who had stopped paying dues. In reality the SP has lost thousands of members, while many branches are shadows of their former selves, and the leadership meanwhile has no idea how to move on from here - besides carrying on as before ‘with a bit more effort’. How much more effort will be needed when the strategy is wrong?
Those of us organised in the Communist Platform do have an idea about how to go forward based on our intransigent opposition to capitalism and our vision for a totally different society - socialism. We are campaigning for a much needed debate in the party on the sort of programme we need. Our own Draft programme sets out clear proposals for refounding the SP. We aim for a living party with a thinking cadre - leaders in the class struggle. On this basis we can build a party of hundreds of thousands committed to socialism, with the working class acting as a class for itself. We need to work patiently to win a majority to end poverty, war and the system of wage labour once and for all.
Our electoral work must reflect this aim of winning the majority to our vision for socialism. On the basis of principled opposition we can at last escape from the dead end in which we currently find ourselves and become a genuine vanguard of our class. The struggle for a genuine socialist party must start with a revolution within the party itself.
‘Bureaucratic control-freakery’ Weekly Worker November 12 2020.↩︎