WeeklyWorker

03.02.2022
A second, improved, version

Instrument providing direction

There has been a much publicised inner-party struggle. Andries Stroper reports on the launch of the new draft programme of the Communist Platform in the Netherlands

The past year has been an exciting time for the revolutionary left in the Netherlands. The Socialist Party, which was the biggest radical leftwing party since its breakthrough in the early 2000s, with tens of thousands of working class members, has been tearing itself apart. These developments have been discussed in this paper before (eg, Bureaucratic Control-Freakery November 12 2020, Stay, fight and win January 14 2021, and End of a dead end March 25 2021), so I won’t expand on them now. It suffices to know that the reformist leadership of the SP decided to crack down on its Marxist wing, leading to a fierce inner-party struggle that has lasted for well over a year. The witch-hunt that ensued has caused a true exodus, with members left and right ditching the party and major branches dissolving or splitting from the national leadership. The party has plunged in the polls, and things are not looking bright for its future.

The organisation which has been leading the charge against the SP’s bureaucrats is the Communist Platform. Founded on May Day 2014, we gained importance when a number of our members were elected into positions of leadership within the Socialist Party and its youth wing, sparking the inner-party struggle.

In the following months, CP made headline after headline in the Dutch media. The bourgeois press used our vocal criticism that the Socialist Party was “undemocratic” as a stick to beat the party, which - despite having developed very feeble social-democratic politics in recent years - is still deemed ‘radical’ by many rightwing outlets. Additionally, the Communist Platform captured nationwide attention when the events in the SP shone a light on our calls for a workers’ militia in our first programme, which was adopted in 2015.

January 29 marked the launch of our new programme: Compass, a draft programme for the working class. A short report on the programme and the launch event will be of interest to anyone keen on following developments on the revolutionary left in the Netherlands. The programme will play a big role in the contribution of the Communist Platform to building a new movement of socialists that is attempting to fill the vacuum caused by the implosion of the SP.1

Compass

Our new programme was written over the course of 2020 and 2021. A first draft was composed by our programme committee, leading to both internal and public discussions. After several rounds of debate at our aggregates, the final product was adopted by the members of the Communist Platform in August 2021.

Compass differs very favourably from our previous draft programme, conveniently also called Compass. Compass ‘Mark 1’ was heavily based on the Draft programme of the Communist Party of Great Britain.2 Both share similar politics and were written as minimum-maximum-programmes. But our shoddy translations of entire passages of the CPGB’s Draft programme reflected the immaturity of our organisation at that time. It contained many anglicisms and poorly chosen formulations, which detracted from its substantive strength. Although the new Compass is, in a sense, more of the same - it is still a minimum-maximum-programme and it still bears many similarities to the CPGB’s Draft programme - it has been criticised, modernised, improved upon and adapted to our current situation.

Between 2015 and 2020 there was the matter of lingering discussions on this or that demand, and some minor changes to our programme were passed by the membership. When the time came that we were running out of physical copies to sell, we took the opportunity of having a wider debate on the programme. Our organisation has grown significantly since 2015, both in size and in politics, and there was a broad feeling that we could improve on the programme, being our main political weapon in the wider workers’ movement.

The first change that is apparent is the much more ‘communist’ wording. Whereas Compass Mark 1 was focused on being a proposal for adoption in the Socialist Party, the new version is clearly aiming for a mass Communist Party: the party that does not exist right now, but that we fight for. This was one of the very first changes proposed, and it is rather coincidental that the SP bureaucracy chose to attack us when they did.

The rest of the changes are too numerous to deal with here, so I’ll focus on the main discussions and changes.

One of the less contentious proposals was to change ‘labour’ into ‘labour power’ in sentences like “[t]o survive, [workers] had to sell the one commodity they could: labour power”. Frankly, this was an oversight by our previous selves, although it is an important difference for reasons Marx elaborated on extensively.

The first contentious issue was raised by Gijs Muis, who argued that calling Stalinism a form of anti-communism was wrong and sectarian. He argued that the ‘actually existing socialist’ regimes, where in power, were bureaucratically distorted, but the bureaucracy always aimed for communism. Furthermore, calling Stalinism ‘anti-communist’ would get awfully close to the liberal take that Stalinism and Nazism were equally awful. We had to learn lessons from this historical experience, positive and negative, argued comrade Muis. Last but not least, he argued against this position on the grounds of it being alienating to comrades in the movement who take inspiration from the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ tradition.

Comrade Muis was in a minority on this position, and his amendment to remove the passage from our programme was rejected. His opponents argued that Stalinism is a liability to the communist movement, historically reactionary and responsible for the unnecessary deaths of countless communists. Perhaps even more damning, modern day Stalinists copy the bureaucratic structures and politics of class collaborationism that will lead their movement into a dead end time and time again. There was a strong desire amongst our membership to distance ourselves from Stalinist politics and its legacy.

Another point that came up in the debates was the matter of workers’ militias. Although the demand for a proletarian self-defence corps was universally accepted, our experiences with the inner-party struggle made us more conscious of our formulations. Both the SP’s bureaucracy and the bourgeois press went out of their way to depict us as dangerous terrorists, literally stocking up arms in our attics in preparation for a civil war. Although a majority of the people seemed to be able to see through these bullshit allegations, it became clear to us that we had not adequately clarified the logic behind and necessity of our demand.

Originally, the draft for our renewed programme had contained the demand that “the working class should arm itself with all the weapons at its disposal” as soon as the conditions of the class struggle allow it. A clarification was added, stating that we oppose an undemocratic “professional military caste” and that ‘[a]lthough we strive for the working class to take over peacefully, we know our history: the ruling class will never voluntarily give up its power. To realise [a peaceful takeover] the majority of the population has to be able to defend itself.”

Other points of debate included, but were not limited to, transgender healthcare; the status of the Caribbean Netherlands; whether or not we should include cultural demands in a minimum programme (we should, the members concluded); and a discussion of the role of money in the transition to communism after the revolution, with one proposal putting a strong emphasis on labour-time economics in the sense Marx talked about in his Critique of the Gotha programme, but this was also defeated. Apart from all these often minor changes, the core of the programme has stayed relatively untouched - as of now, there is no English translation of Compass, but one only needs to study the CPGB’s Draft programme to get a hint of the politics in our programme.

After voting on 102 amendments and one motion, the programme was adopted unanimously at our Second Programme Aggregate on August 8 2021.

Launch

Sadly, the pandemic forced us to delay launching Compass until January 29 2022, when it coincided with the end of our New Year’s Offensive, where we had set ourselves the ambitious target of raising €5,000 euros for our treasury.

Right up until the final days before the launch, it was unsure whether the event could go on at all. A new wave of Covid-19 cases had forced the Netherlands into yet another lockdown, prohibiting big gatherings. Thankfully, a last-minute shift in government policy meant that our launch could take place as planned.

Some 45 members and sympathisers of the Communist Platform gathered in a conference hall of the International Institute for Research and Education in Amsterdam. We were accompanied by a number of German comrades, who did us the honour of paying our organisation a visit so we might learn from each other and strengthen our comradely relations.

After a 30-minute introduction of our programme by chairman Gus Ootjers, two rounds of discussion took place. Admittedly, the discussion was somewhat tame by our standards, but some interesting questions were raised concerning theoretical unity versus programmatic unity and how one might appeal to modern workers with such a heavy-worded Marxist programme.

In the words of the legendary Les Baudouines Morts, geen socialisme zonder bier:3 after two hours of exchanging thoughts about the programme and the way forward for the revolutionary left, the time had finally come to bring out the booze. In a final attempt at cranking up the numbers for our Offensive, all comrades really outdid themselves by buying round after round.

On top of booze sales, two comrades of the socialist cooperative webshop De Rode Lap4 were present with a stall to sell freshly printed editions of Compass, as well as numerous other products such as pins, stickers, red flags and much more. The proceedings of CP-merchandise were all added to the Offensive.

Around eight o’clock in the evening we heard that we had fallen just short of our €5,000 target. I doubt anyone was mourning however, since we could all look back on a very successful event, multiple new recruits and a beautiful programme that will serve as the foundation of our fight for years to come.


  1. socialisten.org.↩︎

  2. communistparty.co.uk/draft-programme.↩︎

  3. ‘No socialism without beer’.↩︎

  4. derodelap.nl.↩︎