Wednesday’s general elections in the Netherlands were won by the far-left. The Communist Socialistische Partij (SP) added 16 seats to the 9 it previously held, securing an overall number of 25 seats in the 150-seat Dutch Parliament. The SP became the country’s third largest party, overtaking the center-right Liberal Party VVD, which fell to 22 seats from 28. The centrist Christian-Democrats (CDA) of Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende remained the biggest party with 41 seats (44 previously), followed by the center-left Labour Party (PvdA) which lost nine seats, ending up with 33 seats. To the right, the Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), the anti-immigrant party of the late Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated in 2002 by an animal-rights activist, lost its 8 seats. It was replaced by the “islamophobic” Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders, a breakaway Liberal, who gained 9 seats. The remaining 20 seats were divided among five parties, including the PvdD, a party of animal right activists who gained 2 seats in the first elections they participated in, and the Christen Unie (CU), a Calvinist and morally conservative but economically leftist party, whose seats doubled to 6.
The 2006 elections mark a dramatic shift to the Left. Theoretically Labour, the SP and all the various smaller leftist parties can form a 76 seat majority, since the parties of the Right hold only 33 seats and the centrist CDA holds 41. This, however, is unlikely to happen as it would require a coalition of no fewer than 6 parties. Moreover, Labour regards the SP as too far to the Left and too radical on other issues, such as European unification which the SP is very critical of. Hence a center-left coalition of CDA, Labour and the Christen Unie is the most likely successor to the current center-right coalition of CDA, Liberals and Liberal-Democrats. This will allow Balkenende to succeed himself as Prime Minister.
The swing to the left had been predicted. Last March the local elections in the Netherlands revealed the growing importance of the Muslim vote. Immigrants overwhelmingly vote for left-wing parties. This is hardly surprising since most of the immigrants were attracted to the country by its generous welfare benefits, which they want to safeguard. Official statistics show that the Netherlands have 16.3 million inhabitants, of which 1.7 million are non-Western immigrants. Most of the latter are Turks and Moroccans. Indeed, already one million of the country’s inhabitants are Muslims. Many have become Dutch citizens.
Seventy per cent of the immigrants participated in yesterday’s elections, indicating a political awareness almost as high as that of the indigenous Dutch. Though not all the elected candidates are officially known yet, at least eight Muslims are expected to have been voted into Parliament. If Labour joins a government coalition the Moroccan-born Amsterdam politician Nehabat Aboutaleb is likely to become the first Muslim minister in Dutch history.
The new generation of immigrant politicians do not have much in common with the former Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born immigrant who moved to the Netherlands in 1992. Hirsi Ali, a Muslim apostate, was a member of the Dutch Parliament for the center-right free-market Liberals from January 2003 until last July. She has since moved to the U.S. because Islamist fanatics threatened to kill her and the Dutch were not able (or willing) to adequately protect her. Hirsi Ali was very critical of Muslim immigrants who do not want to embrace Dutch secular values. The newly elected immigrant politicians, on the contrary, represent a growing and demographically young electorate that insists on its Muslim identity. Often their loyalties lie more with their countries of origin than with the Dutch nation, which they look upon mainly as a welfare distributing Santa Claus.
Over 80% of the immigrants voted for Labour in last March’s local elections, so this party was very keen on attracting their continued support. It placed many Moroccan and Turkish candidates on its list, but fell out with the Turks when the latter discovered the official party line on the Armenian genocide. Labour’s position is that this genocide really took place and that Ankara should recognize it as a historical fact before Turkey can join the European Union. As a result the Turkish vote in the Netherlands seems to have migrated to smaller parties of the Left and to the Socialistische Partij of Jan Marijnissen, the biggest winner of yesterday’s elections.
The SP’s ideological roots are Marxism-Leninism and Maoism, although the American politician who comes closest to it might very well be… Pat Buchanan. The latter is, of course, not at all a Communist, but the end of the Cold War has led to political realignments which today may put Marijnissen and Buchanan closer to each other than one would think.
The SP (its party symbol is a tomato) was founded in 1972 by young Marxists who deemed the official Dutch Communists too reformist and too submissive to Moscow. They preferred a pure, radical Maoist and Leninist line. Jan Marijnissen, then a 20 year old blue collar worker, became the party’s leading figure. Marijnissen was born in 1952 in Oss in the province of North Brabant, the Catholic southern part of the Netherlands, in a very Catholic family, the youngest of four. When his mother was widowed she sent him to a boarding school run by monks. The 1960s were the years of rapid secularization in Europe, especially in the Netherlands, and especially among the Catholic half of its population. Marijnissen never finished school, but when he left it he had lost his faith in God and found another faith in Socialism.
He returned to his home town and became a factory worker, organizing wild strikes all over the Oss area. For a long time the SP was a local Oss phenomenon. In 1975 Marijnissen became an Oss town councillor. Other 1970s far-left parties in other West European countries, were run by disillusioned children from bourgeois families and soon turned to violence and even terrorism, as in Germany. Jan Marijnissen, however, was a man of the people, who spoke the language of the people. Though he sympathized ideologically with the international far-left, he realized that the European blue-collar workers did not have a high opinion of the offspring-of-the-rich-turned-terrorist-in-the-name-of-the-workers. Marijnissen shunned the terrorist methods of the hares and worked like a tortoise, solidly establishing his party locally.
It took decades, but the strategy worked. In 1987 Marijnissen became a provincial councillor in North Brabant, in 1994 he was elected to the Dutch Parliament, in 1998 the SP gained 5 seats, in 2002 9 seats, and yesterday it jumped to 26. In the European Parliament the SP belongs to the group of the European United Left, together with parties such as the French Communist Party, the Italian Refounded Communists, the German Left Party (the former GDR Communists), Sinn Féin, and others.
Though Marijnissen is said to be an authoritarian party leader, he never lost touch with the blue-collar workers. He realized they did not like the immigrants. In the late 1990s Pim Fortuyn, a gay intellectual who, like Marijnissen, had been raised a Catholic, began to criticize Muslim immigrants for their unwillingness to integrate in Dutch society. The mainstream media and parties branded Fortuyn a “racist” and a “xenophobe.” Marijnissen never joined the name-calling. After Fortuyn’s assassination in 2002 the parties that had attacked him, especially Labour, got a terrible beating, but not the SP which gained four seats.
In Marijnissen’s view the immigration problem was not caused by the welfare state but by the capitalist system which invited foreign “guest workers” over to Europe in order to keep the wages of indigenous workers low. Unlike the other leftist parties in Europe the SP was not very fond of immigrants. It cared more for the native lower classes, who felt threatened by the newcomers. In the 1990s the SP’s election slogan was “Against” and one of the things it was against was immigration – this weapon used by the capitalists to exploit the workers.
Though the SP has immigrant members Marijnissen never actively encouraged them to stand for election. In 2004 Ali Lazrak, one of the SP’s elected representatives, was ousted from the party because he had accused Marijnissen of dictatorial behaviour. In a newspaper interview Marijnissen commented: “This is what you get if you put forward candidates not because they are qualified for the job but because they are immigrants.” He insists that immigrants learn to speak Dutch, that Dutch national history be taught at school, and that immigrants be spread over the country in order to avoid ghettoization.
The SP is also against the European Union. It is the largest Eurosceptic party in the Netherlands. It is significant that Geert Wilders, the other victor of yesterday’s elections, is also an outspoken Eurosceptic. However, while Wilders can be called a neo-conservative, Marijnissen resembles a paleo-conservative. He is also an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq and one of the fiercest critics of America’s international policies.
Marijnissen’s leftism is most apparent in the economic policies he proposes – protectionism, higher taxes for the rich, state interference to curtail the “greed” of the markets, an end to privatisations, free healthcare, more social benefits for the poor,… On cultural [Americans would say “social”] issues, however, the SP has become ever more conservative. During the past decade its ideology moved towards communitarianism. Marijnissen even rediscovered his former Christian faith. One of his supporters is Monsignor Tiny (Martinus) Muskens, the “red” Bishop of Breda, who once said that stealing is not a sin for the poor, but who also stressed that dialogue between Christians and Muslims will lead nowhere so long it remains impossible to build churches in Saudi Arabia. The SP’s party conference last month resembled a Christian meeting. Huub Oosterhuis, a Dutch theologian and former priest who was excommunicated by the Vatican over sexual ethics, held a sermon extolling the virtues of Christianity. The audience sang psalms and listened to gospel music. In this sense the SP, though one of the most anti-American of the Dutch parties, seemed almost the most American of them.