The Netherlands tobogganing from crisis to crisis

The end of the “polder” model

By Erik Demeester


Rarely have we seen a country being catapulted from being one of the most stable and apparently harmonious parts of the world into a profound abyss of instability and uncertainty. This is the story of the Netherlands over the last two and a half years.

It all started with the economy. After a period of rapid economic growth in the 1990’s, well above the average of the other European countries, the GDP of the Netherlands has since moved at a snail’s pace. From a peak of more than 7 percent in 2000 the economic growth fell to a mere 2 percent in 2003. Over the last five years the economy has gone through a severe boom-and-bust cycle. This is because of the high dependence on world trade, which has made the country very sensitive to changes on the world market. The “polder” model, which consists in the agreement that all big social and economical changes are to be negotiated between the government, the unions and the bosses, was clearly going to be seriously tested by this new situation. Through the polder model – a policy of intense class collaboration – the idea was cultivated of finding solutions to problems thanks to compromise and consensus. Dutch people, and also the workers, had even come to believe that consummate pragmatism and the tendency of avoiding conflict had become part of their national character.

A model under attack

The raw economic growth figures of the 1990’s did not say everything about was happening in Dutch society. They hid the real social situation. The price for the economic progress was paid with wage restraint, the multiplication of short-term contracts, increased flexibility and generalised social insecurity inside and outside the workplace. Yes, the unemployment figures were lower than in neighbouring countries. But the number of people living off disability allowances was higher than the number of jobless workers. Many older, worn out and sick workers who couldn’t stand the strain and stress anymore were channelled into those schemes. These are the same schemes that are now cynically being attacked by the right-wing government of Balkenende.

All this took place with the support and active collaboration of the leaders of the trade unions and the social democratic party, the PVDA. Those were the years of coalition governments of the PVDA with the liberal VVD and “social-liberal” D66, known as the “Purple Coalition”. The social peace imposed by this alliance of forces against the working class started to break down. Protests against mismanagement, for instance in the national railways (NS), were only possible thanks to the launching of “workers’ collectives”, built outside the unions and dubbed as anarchist by the media. At that time this seemed to be the only way of breaking the stranglehold of the union bureaucracy. Further to this, “senseless violence” and cases of extreme anti-social behaviour increased the feelings of alienation and malaise within Dutch society.

There was an all-pervading hermetic “political correctness” which refused to even recognise the existence of these problems in a country like the Netherlands. “Problems in the world?” Not here in the Netherlands, where all causes of tension are eradicated before they can emerge, was the prevailing idea. There are few countries where the tensions between the considerable material and technological possibilities on the one hand and the lack of harmony in society on the other hand are so vivid as in the Netherlands.

Slowly but surely the feeling that “Holland is full” was penetrating into the minds of a section of the Dutch people. As in other European countries, this was a contradictory phenomenon. On the one hand it had a reactionary side to it (“we are full of immigrants”) and on the other hand it had a more progressive content (the feeling that the country was full of stress and frustration).

Due to the lack of a left alternative this tension would sooner or later be channelled in an extreme rightward direction. In this the Netherlands was no different from any other country. The only difference was that it tried to take the form of something a little more subtle than the not so subtle demagogy of the Flemish Vlaams Blok that had penetrated Flemish minds as early as the early ‘90s. This is shown by the fact that the crypto-fascists of Janmaat and his gang, failed to get any significant support for their reactionary ideas among the Dutch population. Given the previous long history of so-called social peace and tolerance, the right-wing reactionaries could not present themselves for what they really are. They had to disguise somewhat their real nature. Thus, in order to sell to the Dutch people an extreme right-wing stock of ideas, one had to offer a bit more than mere racist mudslinging.

The rise and fall of Pim Fortuyn

“Something is going wrong” was a feeling shared by more and more people. For Pim Fortuyn, a well-spoken maverick professor, this was fertile terrain for his anti-establishment diatribes and racist demagogy. This man, who had written plenty of books on the lost soul of Europe, spoilt people, etc., was the accidental figure who was fill in the vacuum in Dutch politics, breaking down the dominant politics of consensus. His speeches struck a chord amongst broad layers of society, of course with the help of the media and his reactionary friends.

Pim Fortuyn, racist
demagogue

Very soon he began to rise like a rocket in the opinion polls. His quickly assembled political formation “Lijst Pim Fortuyn” (LPF) rapidly became an electoral success. The LPF was never a fascist threat to the country and could not even be compared to the classic extreme right-wing parties such as the Front National in France or the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, which he even openly denounced. Pim Fortuyn was a reactionary upstart that seemed to come from nowhere, but he fed on the accumulated frustrations coming from the depths of society. He was a medieval witch doctor, a charlatan who after a bleeding... prescribes another bleeding – but he was at least able to put across what seemed a convincing case to wide layers of the electorate. However, he was a superficial and temporary phenomenon. But the social and political frustrations that he vented in a distorted way will prove not to be superficial at all.

Then something happened which stupefied the country. Pim Fortuyn was assassinated a few days before the national elections by a Green activist. The commotion provoked by this killing is difficult to describe. People did not believe that a politically motivated assassination could take place in the Netherlands. In Haiti yes, in the United States also, but in the Netherlands? No, this was unthinkable. But many unthinkable and “un-Dutch” things were to surprise the Netherlands in the period that followed.

A feeling of defiance toward the political elite started to spread rapidly. Thousands of people gathered spontaneously in the streets not only to mourn their hero, but also to protest against the “Purple” government. People went so far as to accuse government ministers of being responsible for the murder of Pim Fortuyn. It was clear something had profoundly changed in Dutch society.

Storms ahead

The 2002 elections had the effect of temporarily defusing the anger as many people found an outlet in the ballot box. The posthumous election success of the Pim Fortuyn List in reality proved to be the undoing of the Purple coalition of the PVDA, D66 and VVD. It also prepared the ground for a homogenous right-wing government consisting of the Christian Democratic CDA and the LPF. In those elections the PVDA lost a lot of its support and the Left Socialist party picked up some of the pieces.

The LPF, without Pim Fortuyn, rapidly disintegrated amongst a lot of infighting. The first right-wing government was crisis ridden and gave way to new elections were the PVDA regained some lost ground but not enough to be able to impose a new “Purple” scenario.

Even before the killing of Pim Fortuyn we had announced that a heavy storm was gathering over the Netherlands. We wrote in Vonk, the paper of the Belgian Marxists in April 2002: “In the next period the unions will be in the frontline of the fight against social and political breakdown. Social peace will de facto come to an end. If the union leadership does not do it the government will.”

Prime Minister Balkenende knows his friends

The second option was the more realistic one. The new right-wing government, Balkenende II, this time also joined by the “social-liberal” D66, decided to go for a unilateral break with the polder model of consensus politics. The capitalists were demanding a rapid movement towards a programme of counter reforms, attacks against the welfare state and a worsening of wages and labour conditions. This was in order to be more competitive in the harsh conditions of the world market. Negotiations with the unions, the middle of the road policy of giving and taking, were seen as obstacles to a swift demolition operation. The liberal leader Bolkestein illustrated this idea by saying, “consensus is a good thing but a good policy is even better”.

The bosses and the right-wing government calculated that they would not encounter much resistance from the unions even if they were to push then to one side. At first the union leadership tried to cling desperately to their role of obedient middlemen between the workers and the bosses. They accepted a new period of wage restraint. This was grudgingly accepted by a majority of members in a ballot. More and more self-confident as a result of those clear signs of weakness on the part of the union leadership, the government and the bosses increased the intensity of their attacks against the welfare state. Their targets were the early retirement schemes (VUT, pre-pension), the age of retirement, unemployment benefits and the disability allowances (WAO). This led to a breakdown in negotiations in the middle of May of this year. The union leaders of the main federations FNV, CNV and MHP faced a fait accompli, which stunned them. They were left like fish out of water. The leader of the 1,2 million-member FNV union, Lodewijk de Waal, confessed after having left the negotiation table: “Now we are stuck”.

Workers arise

The pressure was also increasing in the workplaces. When faced with the question in a new ballot if the union leaders were correct to oppose the plans of the government, 97 percent of the members voted yes. Significantly, the participation of the members in this later ballot doubled in comparison with the earlier one. This was a symptom of a growing awakening of important layers of the working class.

During the summer the government continued to plan and carry out all kinds of measures of counter-reform in other fields as well. The front against the Balkenende government was growing. A coalition of more than 500 organisations was formed under the banner of “Turn the Tide”. This was another symptom of growing defiance. Things could not go on like they had done before. Reluctantly the union leaders were forced to issue a plan of action and mobilise their members. The reaction from below was overwhelming.

Working class is not
a dirty word anymore

On the September 20th the main centres of activity were paralysed in Rotterdam as a result of a 24-hour strike. The Rotterdam docks, the biggest port in the world, were closed. The unions had been expecting 10,000 demonstrators to turn up that day. Six times that figure turned up: 60,000 workers marched over the main bridges of the city into the centre. The town hall was briefly occupied by firefighters. Left-wing trade unionists organised in a committee named “Enough is enough” played an important role in this amazing turnout. A daily paper carried the significant title “The hammer and sickle is flying again in Rotterdam”. Rotterdam used to be a bulwark of the Communists in the past. The fighting traditions of the Dutch workers are coming back. The left-wing FNV trade union leader, Niek Stam, of the dockworkers answered the question why they were selling T-shirts with the English words “working class” to support their struggle in this way: “The term ‘working class’ is becoming popular. Especially when we say it in English our young people like it”. (see: www.maatisvol.nl)

An old bastion of the working class takes the lead

The right wing pretended that nothing had happened. But Rotterdam was clearly a turning point and the less arrogant and obtuse ministers and bosses started to see this. The union leaders could not believe their eyes either. After Rotterdam other sections of the working class wanted to come out in protest, including the police! What would the next national demo on October 2nd bring? This was a demo on a Saturday and without a strike. The result was even more impressive: more than a quarter of a million demonstrated in Amsterdam (see Netherlands: Reawakening of the Dutch working class). The character of the demo was not purely trade union but it brought out a broader and larger layer of the working class and youth.

Pressed by the media to comment on this turnout the Minister of Finances Zalm just said, “I wave to them”. More and more workers and activists were demanding a national 24-hour general strike as the next step. Union membership was also undergoing important growth. The service union ABVAKABO, for instance, has reported that the rate of growth of its membership in September and October was ten times higher than in the same period in previous years.

Sjaak van der Velden, a specialist in the history of strike movements in the Netherlands puts the strikes of the autumn in perspective thus:

“Thirty years of cuts, in particular in the public services, have created a lot of anger. The only thing was the absence of a reaction against this. Maybe we can understand the rise of Fortuyn also in this context. In fact, changes were already visible during the demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq in February 2002. I also think it has something to do with the movement after the WTO summit in Seattle in 1999 and all the other international summits. You notice now that discontent has found a channel. The funny thing about this is that if we believe the dominant ideology since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 these things should not have happened. This makes the demonstration of October 2 more special.”

The gigantic demonstration of October 2nd was followed by a plan of what was described as “relay” strikes involving all sections of industry in stoppages at different days over a period of a month and a half. It was not intended to culminate in an all-industry general strike, although some unions were pressing for such a strike on November 9th.

Crescendo of strikes

The trade union leadership also toyed with the idea of demanding a referendum as a way of protesting against the government policy. We think that would have been a wrong tactic, and it was clearly a way of avoiding showing the real power of the working class in the struggle against the government. A referendum would involve layers of society not affected by the government measures, such as the bourgeois themselves and the middle classes. The questions posed in such a referendum would also be limited to a few measures on pensions and not the whole package, thus replacing the need for a more consistent effort through strikes, demonstrations, etc. A referendum would also not be legally binding on the government. It would not be bound by the verdict. It would only have been consultative.

At the end the dynamic of demonstrations and strikes got the upper hand. The first to go on strike after October 2nd were the transport workers (public and private) on October 14th. This was also a big success. It was the biggest turnout in this sector for fifteen years. Interestingly, activists commented that this time in the railway stations commuters were not hostile towards the strike. This was not the case in the past.

The readiness to mobilise has increased with every step of the movement. Two weeks after the “mega-demo” of October 2nd a RTL4 poll on the same day of the transport stoppage showed that 51 percent supported the public transport strike. And seventy-one percent of the respondents were in favour of even harder actions against the government.

Two weeks later the engineering workers downed tools. Two hundred factories closed involving 22,000 workers. Here again it was the biggest strike in this industry for 15 years.

There was a clear crescendo in the level of participation, the willingness to struggle and the spread of the protest movement throughout the country. Nevertheless, the tactic of “relay” strikes also had a dangerous side to it. The danger was that without a clear goal of a national 24-hour general strike involving all sectors (a demanded that was being posed by a layer of the rank and file) this tactic would have the effect of dissipating the energy of the workers involved.

Cracks and fissures

The biggest danger, however, was to be found in the official programme of demands of the trade union leaders and their clear desire to use these mobilisations in order to win back their seats at the negotiation tables of the institutions of social partnership. Here we see how the union tops derive their position of privileged buffer between the workers and capital. The demands of the leaders of the union can be summarised as demanding a “softening” of the attacks. They themselves had in fact already agreed to the ending of the age of retirement at 60 and to other counter-reforms in social security. What they wanted was to be able to “correct” them socially – whatever that means – and to be able to implement them jointly with the government and the bosses. The demands of the workers were clear: “No dismantling of the welfare state! No to wage restraint and to the increase in the cost of living.” Workers demanded no changes to their rights to disability allowances and early retirement, and they also demanded good pensions and not the poverty levels the bosses are proposing.

The façade of unanimity of the government started to fissure. The CDA especially, which has some links with the CNV union, began to grow nervous. Forty-five CDA members of parliament demanded a more equitable social policy on the part of the government. The liberal VVD and D’66 parties held another opinion and continued to provoke the workers.

Splits also appeared in the ranks of the bosses. The organisation of small and medium sized companies appealed for an agreement with the unions. The organisation of bosses of the building industry, Cobouw, publicly criticised the government and the bigger companies who didn’t want an agreement with the unions. A very interesting editorial (“Monomania of the government will cost the Netherlands a lot of money”) on the website of Cobouw states: “It looks as if the VNO-NCW (general bosses’ organisation) and the government have an agenda to curtail the power of the unions. This is said to be necessary to reduce the costs of production and to increase competitiveness. [But] the social resistance against this cabinet is such that actions and strikes are becoming the rule and not the exception. And this is going to cost money.” (Cobouw, October 9, 2004)

The bosses’ division, although significant, does not mean that they do not share the same interests and objectives. They would like to see the increase of the competitiveness of Dutch industry on the back of the workers. However, they do not agree on the method to achieve it. Some would want to get the union leadership to be involved as a way of containing mass protests and the cost of these. Another layer is ready to sit out the ride of the tug-of-war with the workers and has also the necessary reserves for it which is not the case with the smaller and medium sized companies.

Strong working class and weak leadership

The bosses and the right-wing parties had clearly underestimated the capacity of the working class to react. They tend to gauge the mood of the working class by the cowardice and weakness of the trade union leaders. This vision was undoubtedly also shared by the leaders of the left parties PVDA and SP and also by the trade union leaders, who believe that their own conservative outlook reflects that of their members. The trade union leaders were forced against their will to open the door slightly to mobilisation and discontent, at the same time opening a Pandora’s box of anger and protest.

The cabinet could even have been overthrown in these conditions. Sources in government circles indicated growing fears of a cabinet crisis. “The leader of the Christian Democratic faction in the senate, Jos Werner, predicts that if nothing is done the cabinet will fall within three weeks.” (Trouw, November 11, 2004)

Polls also show that the right-wing cabinet has lost popular support and that the left PVDA, SP and Groen Links (the Greens) would have a majority if new elections were to be called. As soon as they realised this, the bosses and the right wing tried to open secret negotiations with the union leaders... in the kitchen of one of the ministers! After a few weeks a deal was struck, which made the leaders of the union very euphoric.

The deal is a bad deal: the concessions made by the government do not alter the fundamental questions. The objectives of social counter-reforms have not been stopped. The only real difference is that now these will be implemented with the help of the trade union leaders. The question of wage moderation is typical of this approach. The government, which had proposed a law in parliament introducing a zero level for wage increases, has withdrawn it as a result of the deal. In exchange for this “concession” the unions committed themselves to serious efforts of self-restraint in wage demands! In other words, the union leaders will act as the economic policeman of the bosses on the shop floor.

It might not be as easy as they imagine. Many workers hope to “correct” the effects of national measures by better deals at local levels. The deal is being presented for approval at a ballot of the members in the next few weeks. The result will be known at the beginning of December. Union leaders have also declared that even if the members reject the proposals they would be very hesitant to call for new strikes.

The left union activists of the ‘Maat is Vol’ (Enough is enough) committee oppose the deal and are calling on the workers to participate in the union meetings and to vote No in the ballot. They are also calling for left trade unionists to come together and to strengthen the organised left in the union.

The Socialist Party (SP), a left social democratic party (formerly Maoist), accepted the deal but warned against the continuation of the “neo-liberal agenda” of the cabinet. The social accord “is a victory on a few fronts. But the cabinet is still there. Its agenda has not changed and has not been blocked. The unions have won much but they lost the first prize, and that is the fall of the cabinet. This means that it can continue with its anti-social agenda.” (November 6, 2004). Some of its leading members who are also active in the unions have declared they will vote against the deal. The party as such does not reject the deal and does not call upon the union members to oppose it during the ballot.

The PVDA “is delighted about the fact that the cabinet and the social partners have reached a social agreement. It seems now that there will be an end to a period of great actions, strikes and protest. The PVDA has always called on all the parties to rapidly come to an accord in the interest of the country and we are happy that this has happened” (from a press release on www.pvda.nl).

The chairman of the second biggest Christian trade union CNV, Doekle Terpstra, who adamantly defends the deal, admitted that the members were very critical of the agreement. He declared in the union media that “those who think that the membership meetings are an easy ride are mistaken. The members are very critical. The leaders of the union movement may have signed a peace deal but the struggle over the policies of the government continues” (November 16, 2004 on www.cnv.nl). He adds that the members do not trust the cabinet and are afraid of the consequences of this agreement. However, they tend to trust the union.

The genie is out of the bottle

Whatever the result of the ballot, the genie is out of the bottle. Workers who have been described as conservative, egocentric, as well as incapable of solidarity and strike action have been forced out of their lethargy and have had a taste of their own strength. This will have consequences for the future, especially in the branch and factory negotiations in the coming months. The weak deal, which has been presented by the trade union leadership as the best available, will be understood not as the result of low mobilisations or lack of solidarity but as a result of a weak leadership.

The union leaders probably think that they are back in the cosy world of the polder model. They are wrong. Yes, they will be able to sit and wine and dine with the ministers and the bosses again. They will not even have to pay the bill for the restaurant! But another bill will be presented to them: they will be asked to “convince” their members of new cuts etc., in the name of the economy’s and the country’s interest. It is not guaranteed at all that the workers will swallow this as they have done in the past. This means that a period of questioning has opened up among the workers on what sort of union they want and what kind of society they need in order to live better. Reformism, which has dominated the unions and the left parties, will enter into crisis. Reformism in the period of capitalist crisis means the opposite of what the term pretends to be: it opens a period of counter-reforms and not new social reforms! As there is no solution for the workers under capitalism the best intentions turn into their opposite.

Then came another earthquake

On the last night of the secret negotiations between the unions and the government, a new political assassination was carried out. The filmmaker Theo van Gogh was shot and stabbed to death by a young Dutch man of Moroccan origin. A paper reports the reaction of the negotiators in the kitchen of Minister Zalm: “Everybody stared at each other and realised that social turmoil in the country must rapidly be brought to an end.” (Trouw, November 11, 2004).

It was worse than a political murder, it was a terrorist attack perpetrated by a network of reactionary Muslims based in the Netherlands. The young terrorist left a letter held to the back of Theo van Gogh with a knife, claming his murder in the name of Allah and announcing that other public figures would also be killed. The commotion was at its high point. Many people said they no longer recognise their country, that it was not like it used to be “before”. There have been many “befores” and “afters” in the last two years. “The Netherlands are not the Netherlands anymore,” a banner claimed. It goes without saying that we condemn this cowardly murder. Furthermore, it is pointless and can actually be used in a reactionary manner against all “immigrants”.

But who was Theo van Gogh and why was he a target for reactionary Muslims? Van Gogh was an eccentric and controversial filmmaker. He made a corrosive short film – together with the Liberal MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali who fled Kenya to escape a forced wedding – titled Submission, which dealt with domestic violence against women in Muslim families. Van Gogh was not the type of person the media have presented him as. He was not a “soldier of free speech”. As a fan of Pim Fortuyn, he was known for his brutal intolerance when faced with criticism and did not hesitate to resort to vulgar insults against Muslims as well as Jews. He wrote such disgusting comments as: “I can smell caramel; today they must be burning Jews with diabetes.” He despised Muslims whom he did not hesitate to describe as “the fifth column of goatfuckers”. And the lazy “intellectual elite” adored his attacks against minorities. The fact that these so-called intellecetuals have fallen to these levels is a symptom of decadence at the top of society.

Religious and racial tensions

The struggle against the influence of reactionary religious prejudices among some layers of the Arab immigrants, such as the oppression of women cannot be combated in this way. Above all it certainly cannot be left to people like Van Gogh or to the government. It can only be done by a joint struggle of male and female workers as part of the struggle for social emancipation, that is a struggle for socialism. The method of Van Gogh is that of opposing one “civilisation” against the other, completely in Samuel Huttington’s style. In doing this he and his apologists conveniently forget that in “Western Christian civilisation” the most dangerous place for women (apart from the workplace) is the family, where more women are raped, injured, terrorised and murdered than in the street!

We condemn this murder, of course. Like all acts of individual terrorism it plays into the hands of reaction. In this case it has provoked a racist backlash and it has given the state the necessary consent from the population to strengthen repressive laws, social control and its attacks against democratic rights. In a tit-for-tat reaction, more than twenty mosques, churches and religious schools have been attacked and some of them have beeb destroyed in fires. This is the work of a very small minority of young people, often from extreme right-wing groups. In different cities Christian and Muslim workers have formed all-night vigils to protect the mosques from being attacked, as was the case in Lelystad. Young immigrants have been attacked on the streets and the whole of the Muslim community has been stigmatised as harbouring potential Osama bin Ladens.

Some ministers of the government have even shouted about a “war situation” in the Netherlands. A climate of anti-Muslim hysteria is being cultivated. It is clear that the right wing wants the memory of the joint struggle of Dutch and immigrant workers and families against them to be erased. This experience is the only real antidote against racism and religious tension in the country, not the moralistic appeals “against all extremes” or “for tolerance”.

Mass psychology in times of crisis

The reaction of the population in the Netherlands to this murder also teaches us something about the psyche of the masses. In the last two and half years we have witnessed wild shifts in moods. This has been expressed at the polls, in strikes, and on demonstrations, etc. There have been shifts from the left to the right and then back again. Left wing and right wing ideas coexist in the same heads at the same moment. During a referendum in 2002 in Rotterdam on the privatisation of public transport the strongest ‘No’ vote came from areas where Pim Fortuyn received a lot of support. Accidental figures like Pim Fortuyn can indeed function as catalysts. Two political assassinations in two years indicate that this society has entered a new period of storm and stress as never before.

Confusion, anger, stupefaction and doubts are very common feelings today. We need a dialectical and a materialist approach to these changes in consciousness. Some left-wing people are seduced into believing that all these swings in moods show how irrationally people think. However, that would be showing a complete ignorance of how consciousness changes. Events are what determine the thoughts of people. The wild mood swings demonstrate that even the “peaceful Netherlands” have entered one of the most convulsive periods in history.

The mass of the population have been tormented as never before during the last period, with fear of Islamic terrorism, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Added to this is the more imminent fear of social insecurity, job losses, disappearing incomes, etc. Old certainties are crumbling; points of reference that seemed solid are becoming more fluid; people feel lost. This makes people vulnerable to rapid shifts in mood. The dominant ideology in the Netherlands, the ideology of compromise and having a sense of proportion, is breaking down. This will be an important factor in the political devlopments of the years to come. People, not only workers, but young people and also the middle classes, are realising that things are much tougher here in the Netherlands than what they thought.

Class society rears its ugly head again in the Netherlands

A similar dynamic affects Muslim youth to one degree or another. Immigrant workers are still the most oppressed layer of society. They face racism, joblessness, victimisation, etc. Add to this a profound feeling of humiliation as a result of developments in the Middle East and one can begin to understand the alienation and radicalisation of some layers of immigrant youth.

It is only a very small layer among them that is willing to accept fundamentalist rhetoric and an even smaller layer that is ready to engage in terrorist attacks. The racist backlash is strengthening this layer.

United struggle is the only way forward

This new situation has temporarily and partially cut across the class struggle, but only for a while. The Dutch workers have great traditions of militant struggle and of internationalist actions, such as the struggle against the imperialist domination of Indonesia. The bourgeois also have some traditions and stubborn habits which most of the Dutch people have forgotten about. But now they will start to remember. They have already realized that the Dutch bosses are the same as in any other country.

When Pim Fortuyn was killed, the serving Prime Minister Kok commented that in the Netherlands “we have a tradition of sorting out our differences with words and not with bullets”. Ask the peasants of Bali, Aceh, Java and the Molucca what they think about the “traditions” of the Dutch bourgeois. You just need to (re)read Max Havelaar to know what the colonial masses went through under Dutch domination.

Those methods of repression and brutal social relations were also practised against native Dutch workers. Remember that in the 1980s the struggle for decent housing was repressed by the police. The forces of law and order intervened during the dockers’ strike in the 1970s and even in more recent struggles.

Dutch workers and young people, immigrant or native, are realising that the “humane and tolerant Netherlands” they imagined is not so humane anymore. It is ridden with all kinds of tensions and divisions, exploited by a rapacious bourgeois class, justified by a decadent intellectual elite, and without an alternative coming from the left parties like the PVDA and the SP. Genuinely “humane” solutions can only come from the working class in the struggle for socialism. In fact, the program of socialism is the only realistic solution. What is utopian is not the idea that the struggle for socialism is possible in the Netherlands. What is utopian is the idea that we can return to the old polder model. That is dead and buried. Instead of looking backwards, we must look forward.

Over the last ten years many left leaders have abandoned the ideas of socialism, they have thrown away their copies of Marx and embraced capitalism as the only “realistic” system. This was compunded by many years of so-called social peace. The chain of events of the last two and a half years demonstrate how fragile that social peace was. The real situation has now become apparent and this will undoubtedly help young people, students and workers to seek an alternative to this rotten system. In doing this they will rediscover the beauty and humanity of genuine socialist ideas.

November 23, 2004

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