Not time to party … yet
Emil Jacobs of Communist Platform suggests that more preparation time is needed before there can be worthwhile unity. Certainly uniting around the call for arming Ukraine would be disastrous
Since it has been some time since my last article,1 and in a more general sense since any reporting on the Dutch left in this paper,2 let us start with a short recap. The purge in the Socialist Party was triggered by the expulsion of five party members linked to the Communist Platform, myself included, in late 2020.
Around this time last year, the SP youth wing was already ‘decoupled’ from the party and was being branded as a ‘separate party’. The left wing, undeterred, then set up a leadership slate around the Marxist Forum, which was also subsequently slated as a ‘party’. As such, several waves of expulsions were triggered, where everyone linked with Marxist Forum or the revolutionary youth organisation, Rood (Red), was expelled. This process was more or less completed early this year, where hundreds of activists found themselves out of the SP.
This had purged most of the outspoken Marxist elements, which had a real effect on the way the party presented itself. The remaining conservative and xenophobic elements now clearly feel free to finally do things completely their own way. One recent example is when MP Jasper van Dijk went to a new temporary asylum-seekers centre in Albergen to talk with ‘concerned citizens’ who felt ‘threatened’ by its presence.
The second major occurrence worth reporting is the municipal elections in March this year, where the party branches of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht rebelled against the bureaucracy by running in these elections separately as ‘the Socialists’. As a result a sizable chunk, if not the entirety, of these branches were purged. These leftwing elements did not win any seats though, and the SP remains clinging on by its fingernails, thanks to the fact that it remains well known by a broad layer of the population.
This sets the pieces for today’s topic: the Socialists (de Socialisten). Apart from Rood, we have lacked a common national organisation since the purges, although there are several local groups throughout the Netherlands. September 25 will hopefully see a change to that state of affairs, when a conference with the aim of setting up such an organisation will take place. This is going to be quite a problem if we want things to work out.
The first hurdle is aggregating the diverse groups and organisations involved. Not only do we have Rood and the local groups, but these groups themselves consist of former SP cadre, Mandelites, etc, who joined in the latter days of the fight within the party. And, of course, there is the Communist Platform. Now that the SP framework that previously united some of us is no more, there are plenty of ideas regarding where to go next, from an ‘SP mark two’ to a full-blown communist party - and from founding such a party right away to a much more careful plan of working towards such a party.
A recent discussion document preparing for the conference has revealed that for many the politics of this organisation-to-be will consist of left parliamentarism - which is hardly surprising, considering where we came from. But it should cause us to stop and to think about what our strategy ought to be.
The current discussion document being circulated, to be amended at the conference, will be the basis for the political development of the project. It was drafted by an elected body consisting mainly of Mandelites, with a minority made up of members of the Communist Platform. This is seen in its political line, which, for example, proposes “seven first steps” that read like some kind of a pre-election programme based on a variety of state socialism. Items like renationalising the energy sector, creating a single state bank, expropriating some land and setting up a national health service are all supportable, but miss the main point that we should be stressing: the need for political power in the hands of the working class itself. These demands are all very specific, yet no attempt has been made to explain why these particular ones are being promoted.
As is often the case, we seem to be stuck in the politics of economism. True, the topic of democracy is mentioned later on in the text, but merely in the context of participating in the system. Yes, we want tenants to have a say about where they live, we want workers to have a say about their workplaces, and students and teachers to have a say in the education they receive or provide. But the very core of the question of democracy is simply dodged. We should be demanding the abolition of the current constitutional order, full freedom of information, the ending of state secrets, the dismantling of the secret service, the abolition of the monarchy, dissolution of the senate, with all elected representatives to be paid an average worker’s wage, plus annual elections and full local democracy. As things stand, the new political project will be situated firmly within the current system, albeit on its far left, and this will define the political battle over the coming period, whether or not this specific take is adopted at the conference.
Then there is the question of internationalism. In this pre-conference discussion document, things remain on the level of ‘cooperating’ with other left parties in Europe, chiefly in the European parliament. Again, it misses the point of why internationalism matters: capital is a global phenomenon and consequently so is the working class. If we are to break with capitalism and pose the question of working class power, we need to think at the level of the European Union as a minimum. Within the Netherlands, a democratic republic would fail in its infancy, but a European democratic republic could actually provide the basis for us to break the stranglehold of capital and move forward towards a better future. The first step towards this has to be setting up a Socialist Party of the EU, not merely ‘cooperation’.
These are but two of the issues raised by the pre-conference discussion text. It should be emphasised that the document seems to reveal the dominance of one particular member of the committee that drafted it - former MEP Erik Meijer - whose views might not actually be representative of the project as a whole. This points to why we do not agree that we are ready to form a ‘party’ just yet, despite the fact that Communist Platform members have been elected to positions of responsibility in many localities.
Not only are the project’s politics still in the early stages of development, but a common party culture is lacking. So there are real hurdles to overcome, such as: do we unite on a lowest-common-denominator basis, thereby making us indistinguishable from the SP and setting us up for a split, or do we insist on a full-blown communist programme, thereby reducing the whole project to a small sect? This is perhaps illustrated by the current very pertinent topic of the war in Ukraine, which is only indirectly mentioned in the text. The Mandelites’ ‘internationalist’ politics, for example, includes the call to supply weaponry to the regime in Ukraine.
For all these reasons, at this stage we are calling not for a party, but a national association, where the various organisations and individuals involved can cooperate on the basis of the points of unity we share - with the potential to create the necessary party when the conditions for forming one are met. However, even if the upcoming conference decides to found a party, it is clear that there will be a long way to go before it can become a political force to be reckoned with.
‘End of a dead end’, March 25 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1340/end-of-a-dead-end.↩︎
Red, young and programmed, January 6 2022: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1377/red-young-and-programmed.↩︎