The idea that European countries can be divided into those of the chaotic and unstable South, and the ‘stable’ and ‘efficient’ North, is officially finished. After Britain and Germany, the time has now come for the Netherlands to drop the label, “a boring place where nothing never happens”. In the past months, almost all the party leaders across the political spectrum have resigned. And in the coming elections, 70 political parties have so far registered possible candidates! Chaos and fragmentation loom.
In the country where the capitalist system was essentially born, the ruling class is proving utterly feeble and devoid of perspective.
As students and workers are being made to pay for a crisis created by this ruling class, it ought to come as no surprise that 75 percent of Dutch people do not trust parliament, and even more (79 percent) do not trust politicians. These politicians and the system they represent are precisely the ones responsible for our problems!
The bourgeoisie has no ways out
Last July, after just one-and-a-half years, the fourth Rutte government fell. This was never a popular or stable government, and it could only count on a very thin majority, whilst being riven by internal differences.
The next elections will therefore take place in November, at a time of confusion, instability and general stagnation for the country.
After the fall of his government, Mark Rutte, who was the longest serving Prime Minister (on 14 October 2023, he will have been the Dutch Prime Minister for 13 years), declared that this was his last term as Prime Minister and as leader of the VVD party, and that he intends to abandon politics.
It surely is the end of an era. Mark Rutte was the perfect man for the Dutch ruling class: a sly politician, a perfect caricature of the ideal Dutch capitalist, pragmatic and without principles. In fact, Rutte was proud of having no personal vision. In his own words, “vision is like an elephant that blocks your view”. He is someone the ruling class will have great difficulty replacing.
But Rutte is not alone. As the clouds gather overhead and the forecast for Dutch capitalism grows ever darker, no one wants to be in charge in the period ahead. No one wants to be blamed for what they know is coming. One after another, all the public faces of the traditional parties have stepped down, starting with those who were in the governing coalition.
Sigrid Kaag, leader of the D66 party (social-liberal) and Minister of Finance followed in Rutte’s footsteps with a delay of just a few days after, and will not be the face of the party at the next elections.
It’s the same story for the Christian Democrats (CDA) – for decades, the main party of Dutch capitalism. Wopke Hoekstra, Deputy Prime Minister in the last government and Minister of Foreign Affairs, will not guide his party at the next elections either. Instead, he will lead the European Commission work on climate action… We are sure his past experience working for Shell and his years in a government that utterly failed to take serious measures on climate change will stand him in good stead in his new role!
Despite the best efforts of the capitalist media to boost the VVD in the polls – its new party leader Dilan Yeşilgöz has been hailed as “the first woman of colour who may yet become Prime Minister”, and the change of faces has given the party a fillip in the polls – nevertheless, all the traditional bourgeois parties are in crisis.
The gender or race of the individual heading the party is irrelevant. What really matters are the class interests that the VVD represents. With Rutte out of the way, Geert Wilders’ far-right PVV has now made clear that it is open to possible agreements with the VVD – and the feeling is mutual.
The list of those trying to avoid leading their party into the next elections is long. No one wants to take responsibility for what is to come. But nature abhors a vacuum, and without a serious class alternative on offer, other parties will temporarily and partially fill that vacuum.
Vacuum filled by right-wings demagogues
With all of the traditional parties in crisis, new adventurers and demagogues are profiting from the vacuum: in particular, the Citizens and Farmers Movement (BoerBurgerBeweging, BBB) of Caroline van der Plas, and the New Social Contract (NSC) of Pieter Omtzigt.
The former, which won the provincial elections of last spring, is pursuing a ‘culture war’ tactic. They are counterposing the ‘excessively internationally focused’, metropolitan, liberal-elitist cities to the sober, hardworking countryside, and above all to the farmers who feed everyone. As we explained previously, this party is financed by big agro-business and has no intention of breaking with capitalism. They can use very radical words and speeches to get the attention of a confused layer of workers and ruined petty bourgeois. But should they join the next government, it wouldn’t be long before Dutch workers come to see that these radical words are a mere façade.
A slightly different yet similar phenomenon is that of Pieter Omtzigt and his NSC. On account of his role as a CDA ‘dissident’ and his treatment by the cabinet parties in the aftermath of the childcare benefits scandal (in which he was a whistleblower), he is seen by many as a rare ‘sincere politician’ in the rotten swamp of The Hague. And this was apparently confirmed for many by his announcement that he would participate as an independent in the elections.
After his announcement, the party immediately leapt to number one in the polls – without having even announced its programme! Of course, behind the friendly face is another demagogue who wants to ‘reform’ the institutions of capitalism in order to preserve them. And boy, are they in need of reform!
The phenomenal rise of these parties is simply down to one fact: they have the benefit of being as-yet untested in government, and the mass of people are prepared to vote for anyone who is not the status quo. Needless to say, this will not solve the problems of the Dutch working class, and these parties will crash down as quickly as they have risen, particularly if they enter the next coalition. But these events are of the utmost symptomatic importance. They show just how fluid the consciousness of millions of people among the working and middle class in the Netherlands has become.
Confusion on the left
Whilst right-wing, bourgeois demagogues politically profit from the crisis of capitalism in the Netherlands, the same cannot be said for the so-called left. Why?
In a time of great turnover among party leaders, one exception stands out in the form of Socialist Party (SP) leader Lilian Marijnissen, regularly described by the party bureaucracy as the “best leader that the SP could have ever had”, who has led the SP into deeper and deeper electoral losses in every election since 2017. The party has sunk so low that it now agitates against economic migrants, in an (unsuccessful) attempt to lure backward Dutch workers away from the right. It has even made this agitation one of the main pillars of its electoral campaign.
In recent years, the leadership has also expelled its youth section, ROOD, along with other more left-wing elements in the party that it has accused of being Marxist conspirators. At the next elections, the SP will probably get its worst results since the 1990s, when it first emerged as an electoral force, and will continue its journey towards being nothing but a bad copy of the social democrats.
There is nothing to the left of the SP that can capture the leftward moving mood among workers and youth. The left-wing, identity-politics-based party, BIJ1, is also in crisis. In the summer, the Amsterdam branch of the party experienced a split… and its party leader, Sylvana Simons, will now also step away from politics. This is the natural result of basing a party on ‘left’ identity politics: fragmentations and attacks based not on political questions, but on personal and clique interests.
As a result, the only ‘left’ group that will probably gain votes in the coming elections, is the GreenLeft-Labour (GroenLinks-PvdA) coalition, where Frans Timmermans, former Minister and European Commissary, is playing the role of undisputed leader.
As the only ‘strong candidate’ on the left, no doubt he will manage some small gains, merely because he is the only visible option that is not the VVD or the right-wing demagogues and reactionaries. This will mostly be a layer of older workers who traditionally voted Labour, and a part of the middle class, disillusioned with the liberal D66. Still, this GreenLeft-Labour ‘fusion project’ – or, rather, inward collapse upon one another – is not a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness. Indeed, in the early 2000s, Labour would gain many more votes and seats on its own than this coalition is projected to achieve now. And whatever minor boost they get now comes on the back of years of downward descent for both parties.
The social situation and the tasks of the communists
All this shows how even here, in one of the strongholds of European capitalism, bourgeois democracy is in a state of complete decay and fragmentation. Some 70 political parties have registered to potentially run candidates for seats in The Hague.
But the present situation in the Netherlands – one of economic stagnation and crisis – leaves no space for weak and cowardly left-reformist parties.
The material conditions of the Dutch working class are worsening year by year. In this rich country a big layer of the population must now choose between energy and food. According to the Red Cross, some 400,000 people are currently unable to provide food for themselves; 28 percent of people are worried about being able to make it to the end of the month; and statistics show that 5 percent of Dutch people will fall into poverty in the next year. All this was unthinkable until just a few years ago. It has enormously jolted consciousness.
Dutch capitalism, and Dutch capitalist ‘democracy’, are not immune to the general crisis of capitalism; the same contradictions we see in other countries are to be found here as well.
We are now seeing a modest recovery of the workers’ movement. In the first three months of 2023, there were 23 strikes, while in the whole of 2022 there were only 33, which was nonetheless a record figure not surpassed since 1988. As yet, these remain limited to small actions rather than a general mobilisation of the whole working class.
However, the working class is more powerful today than ever before. When a strike is planned, bosses and the trade union bureaucrats manage to quickly patch up an agreement, as we saw with the teachers’ strike and the KLM pilots’ strike, originally planned for 5 October and 25 September respectively. This indicates two things: firstly, that the ruling class is afraid of workers becoming conscious of their own strength and putting that into action – and rightly so! And secondly, that the trade union bureaucracy is not interested in defending the long-term interests of our class, but only in achieving small reforms that at least guarantee social peace. But these reforms are becoming ever-more impossible to achieve in the current conditions, as they have become ever-more unaffordable for the ruling class.
The workers’ movement doesn’t have a real political expression yet. Nevertheless, more and more workers and students are willing to fight, and sooner or later this will lead to a social explosion. The best elements among the students and young workers are already looking for a revolutionary force, and we see a growing interest in communist ideas.
These feelings of frustration and anger must be transformed into the conscious building-up of a revolutionary alternative. Small actions are not enough to change the situation. What is needed is a concrete plan for the long term.
The picture that the aforementioned facts paint is one of an almost complete rejection of the political system of the bourgeoisie in its present state: the time is ripe for a radical change!
The Dutch ruling class is weak and at an impasse. Now is the time to seriously organise and to go on the offensive. As comrades of Revolutie, the Dutch Marxists, we are working hard to build the alternative that students and workers of this country deserve. There is no better time to be a communist! Join us!