Dutch elections 2010: Success of the right highlights need for left to adopt a socialist programme

The Netherlands has been further destabilised by the impact of the world crisis of capitalism. An already fragmented political set up saw even more fragmentation in last week’s elections. There is huge volatility in Dutch society, as the major parties bend to the needs of capital. Whatever coalition is formed will be called on to implement harsh cuts. The Dutch working class will not allow their hard fought for gains to be taken away without a fight.

Election results.The Dutch elections last Wednesday were the first parliamentary elections since the start of the economic crisis. The right-wing parties, VVD and PVV grew significantly, with the VVD became the biggest party in parliament. These results would indicate a shift to the right on the electoral front, but this is not the whole story. The truth is that there is much volatility in the situation, with swings in all directions. The political spectrum in the Netherlands has never been so splintered as it is today. A lot of people did not know which party to vote for, and thus allowed small incidents and issues decide. The group of “floating voters” has never been as big as it is now.

This should not come as a surprise if one compares the programmes of the various parties. What did the Dutch people have to choose from? Almost all the parties put forward programmes involving cuts in public spending. One could choose between either cuts or... cuts, with the only difference being about the speed at which they should be applied. Thus, the two parties with the most votes were the right-wing liberal VVD, for quick and hard cuts, and the PvdA (Partij van de Arbeid - the Dutch Labour Party) for cuts at a slower pace. The VVD has never been the biggest party in Dutch politics. It has always been the second biggest bourgeois party, after the Christian Democratic CDA, which was always the main party of the Dutch bourgeois.

The traditional right-wing parties

The CDA was the big loser in these elections. Under their Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende they governed the Netherlands since 2002, first with the VVD and since 2007 with the PvdA. In these elections they lost half their seats in parliament and have now become the fourth party. This is their biggest crisis ever. Balkenende has resigned as party leader, and will not be in the next government.

The right-wing VVD “won” the elections. However, because of the splintered political spectrum, the VVD won with the support of only 20.4% of the electorate. It has a programme of major cuts. They present it as “necessary, because without a programme of major cuts the Netherlands would end up like Greece”. From a capitalist point of view the VVD does indeed have a very rational programme. From a capitalist point of view it is logical that we do away with all the “luxuries” known as the welfare state. The problem is that there are a lot of people that see no alternative to the capitalist system. And for them the cuts are a one off necessary evil and then we can get back to a normal life again. Unfortunately for them, that is not the case. This first batch of cuts is only the very beginning of a much bigger attack that is to come later. The capitalist system is rotting and needs to be urgently replaced by socialism. That is the only way to save all the gains that have been won by the struggles of the working class in the 20th century. Unfortunately, no left-wing party has been offering a real socialist alternative to capitalism.

The Partij van de Arbeid

The PvdA emerged as the second biggest party with 19.6%. It participated in the outgoing cabinet, together with the CDA. This made them lose a lot of popularity, and in order to save themselves, they brought down the last cabinet over the question of an extra mission in Afghanistan. They also had a new parliamentary leader, Job Cohen, the former mayor of Amsterdam, who was quite popular. This way they won back a large number of their seats, but still have a few less than in 2006.

Photo by Meneer de Braker.Photo by Meneer de Braker. The party has shifted slightly to the left, at least in words. The leadership admits that the shift in the 1990s towards “neoliberalism” was a mistake, and has proposed a 60% tax for the highest incomes. They also blamed the VVD, claiming that their policies are the cause of the crisis. However, it has not been forgotten that the PvdA also participated in implementing all kinds of pro-capitalist policies in the 1990s, and in the recent cabinet. In the outgoing cabinet, former PvdA leader Wouter Bos, as Minister of Finance, was responsible for the enormous bail-outs of the banks. These huge handouts to the big bankers are what led to the huge budget deficit that is now being used by the VVD and other parties as an excuse to carry out savage cuts in living conditions.

Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders’ party, the PVV, was also a big winner and doubled its vote. This should be taken seriously, but serious socialists should analyse this for what it is, and not go around screaming about the imminent threat of “fascism” as several ultra-left groups on the fringes of the labour movement like to do. Wilders’ PVV is a special case. As Lenin said, history knows all kinds of transformations. The PVV started as a right-wing split from the VVD with a free market programme combined with an anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant stance. But the PVV grew to become a ‘protest party’ with support among different layers of the population. And to get support from layers of the working class, the party stated that there would be no cuts in wages and social security, and that the age of retirement would remain 65. On top of that, they campaigned for a better health care system. And at the same time, they try to attract businessmen with promises of lower taxes and a leaner government.

Their enemies are the “left-wing elite” (i.e. the reformist social-democrats), the European Union and Islam. In fact, this rhetoric has brought Wilders into conflict with representatives of Dutch capitalism, who fear that he will become too much of a destabilizing factor for Dutch capitalism, and that his anti-Islamic stance will disturb trade with Turkey and the Arab countries. A factor that contributes to this is that Wilders’ party is a one man party in which Wilders decides everything, so pressurising him through the party is not possible.

The rise of Wilders has been due to different causes. The main cause is that the left-wing reformist parties have not solved the problems of the working class and the rest of society. The so-called “multiculturalism” of the Social Democrats means they want to eradicate racism and discrimination by organising cultural festivals, while the living conditions for both immigrant and white workers in the poor neighbourhoods are deteriorating.

This kind of “multiculturalism” has nothing to do with socialist internationalism. In the name of “multiculturalism” mosques have been given subsidies, and all kinds of reactionary Islamic and Turkish nationalist groups are able to get subsidies to organise this or that “cultural” event. And while this is going on, the left-wing and socialist groups of immigrants are being marginalised by these policies. Instead of this reformist multiculturalism, which plays a divisive role, we need a true socialist internationalism that unites immigrant and white workers in the struggle against capitalism.

Socialist Party

The Socialist Party did badly. In 2006 they had 16.6% of the votes and this time round they only managed to win 9.9%. However, the leadership of the party does not understand why this is. “Weren’t we the biggest opposition party against neoliberalism?” The problem is that so-called “neoliberalism” is not the cause of the crisis. The cause of the crisis is capitalism itself. Even the PvdA leadership are now saying that “neoliberalism” is the cause of the crisis, as if there were some other form of capitalism that could avoid crisis.

It has to be admitted that the SP accepted the huge bank bail-outs. It merely wants to do implement some reforms to the banking sector that, according to the leadership, would then bring into being a social form of capitalism. It has to be said that they are not alone in this. All political parties now want to carry out some “reforms” and get more control over the banking sector to cleanse it of its “worst elements”. This is not a socialist programme, but an intelligent pro-capitalist programme.

Furthermore, the SP wants to be accepted as a “respectable” party in order to get into government. This has not helped the party. In 2006 the SP won a lot of votes because it was seen as an alternative to the PvdA. Now that the SP wants to be a respectable social democratic party, why should people vote for the smaller social democratic party instead of the bigger, traditional social democratic party, the PvdA?

With its adaptation to parliamentary politics, the SP de facto conceded to the PVV the role of protest party. In different regions and neighbourhoods where the SP used to be very big, the PVV made a lot of gains and sometimes “took over” former SP bulwarks. The SP needs to win these back, but this can only be done on the basis of a clear socialist programme.

What government?

The question is now poised as to what form of coalition government is going to be formed. Whatever coalition it will be, it will not be a very stable one. The VVD wants to quickly form a new government, in order to implement a programme of cuts as soon as possible. However, this will not be very easy. The traditional partner of the VVD, the CDA, has lost a lot of seats. A VVD-CDA coalition would be possible by bringing on board the PVV. By taking Wilders’ party into government it could be brought round to the needs of the bourgeois. Already Geert Wilders has said he is prepared to make a lot of concessions, especially in the field of social security, to adapt to the VVD. A CDA-VVD-PVV cabinet would be an openly right-wing government in the tradition of Balkenende 2. However, one has to remember that Balkenende 2 faced union opposition in 2004, when 300,000 workers, unemployed, students and retired people demonstrated at the Museumplein in Amsterdam. If a new programme of savage cuts is implemented by such a government the unions will be forced to mobilise again.

The other option would be a new so-called “purple cabinet”, involving the PvdA and the VVD, together with the “social liberal” D66, and the Green Left. This would however be too “soft” for the VVD. However, should the formation of a right-wing cabinet fail, a broad coalition like this would be possible.

A third option would be another broad coalition, consisting of VVD, PvdA and CDA. The question is whether the PvdA and CDA would be able to cooperate again after their break up earlier this year.

What now?

The point, however, is that whatever new cabinet is formed, it will be forced to implement cuts. While at first the cuts may be seen by some as a necessary temporary evil in order to get back to things as they were in the past, very soon the Dutch working class will discover that their living standards are under attack, and they will resist.

The union leaders of the FNV, the biggest trade union federation in the country, should put an end to their policies of class collaboration. They still prefer to talk with the bosses’ representatives in the name of the “national interest” and “solidarity between rich and poor”. That is not going to defend in any way the interest of the Dutch workers. It is time for a militant policy to fight the cuts!

The left-wing parties should come up with an alternative to this policy of cuts. Unfortunately they have no such alternative. The only way of offering an alternative is by adopting a real socialist programme. As e have seen, among the various coalition options, there is the possibility that the PvdA will join a cabinet with the VVD, and that will mean they will have to take on responsibility for carrying out cuts.

The Green Left leaders also would like to be in a “purple cabinet”. While the party started out as an alliance of former communists, pacifists, Greens and Christian socialists, it has now evolved into a kind of “green left-wing liberal” party. This party cannot meet the aspirations of its members and voters by shifting to the right. It is clear that capitalism has failed, and that the environmental problems will not be solved under this system. In the ranks, especially among the former communists, there is a desire for a shift to the left.

The most important question is which way the Socialist Party will turn. To win back the support it has lost and to start to play the role of genuine left alternative, the Socialist Party must take up a militant stance once again. It should stop trying to be a “respectable party”. Now that their vote has gone down, they cannot argue that parliament is the most important field of struggle. It was not parliamentary work, but the struggles to help the common working people that made the party big in the past.

In order to strengthen the party, it is important to stop the bureaucratic stifling of internal discussion. Many good militants have left the party because of this. Democratic discussion combined with struggles for the common working people, would make the party stronger.

This approach needs to be combined with the adoption of a genuine socialist programme. Capitalism is the problem; it cannot be reformed into any kind of so-called “humane capitalism” by taxing of the rich. The banks and monopolies must to be nationalised under workers’ control. There is no middle road today. Either the party accepts capitalism as a system, which means bending to its rules, or the party adopts an openly anti-capitalist stance which means presenting a programme that breaks clearly with the system.

The Socialist Party also needs to break with the idea of “socialism in one country”. This is a leftover from the Maoist origins of the party. Capitalism is a global system, and it only can be fought globally. The resistance is starting in Greece and Spain, but it is only a matter of time before it reaches the rest of Europe.

In the Netherlands, sooner or later, we will see movements like those we have seen in Greece. The workers will not accept the draconian measures that are being prepared for them. The left has an opportunity to unite around a programme of class struggle, of opposition to capitalism, and for socialism. That is the only way out of the present impasse.

  • For a united front of the left to fight the cuts!

  • Nationalise the banks and monopolies under workers’ control!

  • For a Socialist Netherlands, in a Socialist United States of Europe!

  • Join the International Marxist Tendency and fight for the ideas of Marxism within the Dutch labour movement!

Website of the Dutch Marxists: Vonk (Netherlands)