Next step forward
While the Socialist Party has imploded, new alternatives are emerging. Andries Stroper of the SP’s Communist Platform reports on the recent local elections
Municipal elections took place in the Netherlands between March 14 and 16. In many aspects these were rather unremarkable, in that there was just a slight reshuffling between the major parties. Despite losing a number of seats, and the soft-left parties making small gains, the right still came out as the dominant force yet again. That said, the true victors of these elections were local parties that mostly concern themselves with small issues within the borders of their constituency.
Where it gets interesting is on the far-left spectrum of politics. These elections saw the implosion of the Socialist Party, as well as the slow rise of a new far-left party called BIJ1 (which sounds like ‘Together’ when pronounced in Dutch) and the birth of a loose alliance of new, local socialist parties.
It is these local groups that should be of interest to readers of this paper, and thus they are the centerpiece of this report. We will refer to them as ‘The Socialists’ for now, as they have yet to adopt an official name or consolidate themselves into a single national organisation. This loose alliance of like-minded formations came out of the inner-party conflict that has been raging in the SP for nearly two years now and which has been reported previously in the Weekly Worker.1
It is also worth noting that the turnout for the elections was an all-time low at only 50.4% of all eligible voters - a sure sign of an electorate that has lost confidence in bourgeois politics. Sadly, there is no socialist movement of principled opposition that can form a new political home for these disenchanted people. But perhaps The Socialists are our much needed glimmer of hope here. If all goes right, that is.
For the last two years the leadership bureaucrats of the SP have been trying to suppress dissent, cracking down on its Marxist wing, which has led to a fierce inner-party struggle. The witch-hunt that ensued has resulted in an exodus, with members on both the left and right ditching the party, and major branches dissolving or splitting from the national leadership. The bourgeois media certainly did not pass on this golden opportunity to flood the press with negative coverage of the SP and its crisis.
You did not need a degree in political science to be able to tell that the SP was set for disaster in the 2022 municipal elections. Falling from 303 seats in 2018 to 179 now, the SP is clearly continuing on its path of decay that set in after its peak in 2014. It has now shrunk to roughly 2002 levels - which was only a few years after the modest breakthrough of the party in the 1990s.
This humiliating defeat was not merely caused by voters losing interest in the SP. The fact is - and this is far more concerning - that large number of SP branches were simply unable to find anybody willing to run for municipal seats on an SP ticket. The party’s membership is aging fast, politically uneducated and when the party’s leadership cut off ties with its former youth organisation, ROOD, it lost access to a steady supply of new blood. Thus the number of SP branches that were able to participate in the municipal elections shrunk by 20% from 116 in 2018 to 92 in 2022.
Losing such a large chunk of its representatives throughout the country is, of course, no reason for critical introspection for the SP’s bureaucratic leadership. The usual excuses that we have been hearing for the past eight years or so were thrown around. ‘Our voters didn’t turn out’ is always one of my personal favourites. Other excuses that you will hear are that typical ‘SP subjects’ (such as healthcare or the housing market) played only a minor role in these elections, or that international topics (eg, the war in Ukraine) dominated the elections, whereas the SP mostly gains from local topics. The leadership will do anything to prevent drawing attention to itself and will blame any and every defeat on external factors.
What has been interesting, however, is that there is an increasingly vocal group of ‘activist bureaucrats’ who carefully (yet publicly) criticise the leadership’s analysis. These are people, ranging from local branch officials to parliamentary representatives of the party, who have always considered themselves to be the left wing of the party (some have even confessed to being communist in secret), but who loyally follow the party line, have no interest in ideological debate and just want the party to ‘get onto the streets and do stuff’. In general they supported the expulsion of Marxists over the past two years, on the grounds that it is fine and dandy to criticise the party from the left, but that criticism should always remain within the party and be expressed according to the correct (and practically non-existent) party channels. A breach of this unwritten rule is worthy of expulsion, according to the activist bureaucrats, who prefer to do their politics in committee rooms - comfortably out of sight of the membership.
It is noteworthy here that this clique of activist bureaucrats actually dominated the party up until a few years ago. They were ousted through a soft coup by the current chair and daughter of one of the previous chairs, Lilian Marijnissen, who prefers to put a stronger focus on coalitionism and less on activism. It is not easy to judge how big the following of the activist bureaucracy is at the moment, but it is a given fact that the support for an alternative, more leftwing party line has evaporated with the expulsion of critical members.
We cannot know what the future will bring for the SP. As I say, its support has nearly halved in the municipal elections, it has lost its youth wing, the number of branches is dwindling and unease in the ranks is far from gone. The bureaucrats in power seem to be planning to move further to the right on social issues, perhaps mimicking the Danish social democrats. Marijnissen said in the aftermath of the elections that the SP would distance itself further from the other leftwing parties, expressing her dislike for “woke topics”, such as defending migrants - a move that supposedly threatens “social cohesion in the neighbourhood”. Even the climate question has fallen out of favour with Marijnissen, who mused, “As if everyone can afford a heat pump.”
The SP has always taken pride in the fact that it was more than just a parliamentarian party, that it had roots within working class communities and was active on the streets, but it seems that this has come to an end with the witch-hunt on the left. Whether all this will result in a timely change of leadership or the party’s downfall remains to be seen.
Solid as a sponge
BIJ1 was founded in 2016 and presents itself as a radical, leftwing intersectional party that focuses on minority rights. While the party is heavily embroiled in identity politics, its programme is admittedly more radical and explicitly anti-capitalist compared with the SP’s. Of course, it is not a Marxist programme, nor does it contain a viable strategy to build a post-capitalist society. Instead BIJ1 focuses on nationalising housing associations and increasing living standards, rolling back austerity measures, ‘decolonisation’ (by which it means making “tackling racism” a “top priority”, apologising for the slavery past of the Netherlands, etc), climate justice and all that.
In the past few years I have heard many SP cadre members express secret jealousy of BIJ1’s willingness to be explicitly anti-capitalist (unlike the SP in recent years) and its commitment to anti-racism (whereas the SP leadership now openly professes ‘social conservatism’). A number of leftwing SP members have abandoned the party in the past two years to join BIJ1, having lost confidence in the bureaucratic leadership of the SP that is desperately trying to steer the party to the right. In many ways, BIJ1 is being seen as a more leftwing alternative to the SP - an image which will grow, as the SP continues to decline.
Those who have decided to make the jump and join BIJ1 did not find a warm reception there, however. This is for two reasons. Firstly, BIJ1 has a party culture that is at least as equally bureaucratic as the SP. There have been a number of incidents that we know of, in which the BIJ1 leadership has closed down discussion, silenced its members or even expelled them outright.
For example, Quinsy Gario, the party’s second in command, was expelled for creating an atmosphere of toxic masculinity in which certain party members felt “unsafe”. The details of whatever he supposedly did were never shared - not with the membership nor even with Gario himself, but he was expelled nonetheless. If there really were circumstances that created such a toxic atmosphere, they should have been published in order to highlight and tackle the issue. But, as with almost any disagreement within BIJ1, it has been shrouded in mystery.
There are rumours of similar incidents. Supposedly, there is a conflict going on between the branch leadership of Amsterdam BIJ1 and the national leadership. Supposedly, the leadership of the BIJ1 youth organisation clashed with the national leadership and was replaced in its entirety by loyalists. Of course, as there was no public communication with the outside world on these incidents, it is all rumour and gossip. We can only speculate on the reasons why they were kept secret.
Apart from a bureaucratic party culture, there is a second reason why BIJ1 does not form an attractive alternative to the SP: there is no active membership and no cadre structure. BIJ1 is primarily a clique of NGO-type people around Sylvana Simons with no transparent, inner-party democracy, no public discussion. It is a sham party.
Despite this, it managed to perform surprisingly well in four of the areas where it participated in the most recent municipal elections. They grew from winning one seat in 2018 to eight in 2022. Marxists must now be up to the task of exposing the deficiencies of BIJ1, and combating the illusion that it is a step forward, without falling in the trap of sectarian hostility and thereby isolating themselves from the BIJ1’s followers.
Glimmer of hope
As I said, ‘The Socialists’ is a coalition of several local groups throughout the country. Three of those, in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, took part in the elections. Of those, the Rotterdam group - called Socialists 010 - is the best organised and got the highest vote. The group is basically made up of the entire active membership of the old SP branch, numbering around 80 people, among which are old veterans like former MEP Erik Meijer. The campaign actually went better than in previous years under the SP, which is a sure sign that people were highly motivated to make this work. And, although the vote got stuck on 1%, or about 2,000 votes (half of the threshold needed for a seat), it has to be emphasised how impressive this really is for a local party that three months earlier was forcefully split away from the SP.
Comrades from Communist Platform take a leading role in most groups, like the ones in Rotterdam and Utrecht. For the coming period the main task is transforming a coalition of local groups into a new party. This is not a given path. Our common base - a leftwing opposition to the SP leadership - is not by itself enough to form a new party.
Some time this autumn we plan to organise a conference to bring together the political base and find some positive ground. If this is successful, another conference in the spring of next year might see a party being formed. But to get there a lot of differences need to be resolved. We propose that we need to work towards a Communist Party. However, the other extreme wants The Socialists to remain a loose coalition that merely intervenes in the electoral work of other parties and looks towards a merger with BIJ1.
The mass expulsions from and subsequent implosion of the Socialist Party certainly represent a defeat for the working class. For years it represented the highest developed political consciousness of the proletariat in the Netherlands, but now it has been captured by bureaucrats, who are desperately seeking to become a junior coalition partner in a future bourgeois government by pushing the party increasingly to the right. Whether it survives the coming decade at all remains to be seen - if these elections are anything to go by, and if it keeps following its current track, it is definitely on its way out.
The Socialists may have failed to win any seats, but we have to recognise that that project was formed roughly three months before the elections took place, meaning they had no time to make a name for themselves. The Socialists are a loose alliance of local parties and unity initiatives for now, but they seem to be moving in the direction of a new national formation. If it survives the many obstacles that are inherent to such unity projects, there finally might be a new foundation for a worthy Communist Party in the Netherlands.
See ‘Bureaucratic control-freakery’ Weekly Worker November 12 2020: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1323/bureaucratic-control-freakery; ‘Stay, fight and win’, January 14 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1330/stay-fight-and-win; ‘End of a dead end’, March 25 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1340/end-of-a-dead-end.↩︎