Rank and file looking for fighting, socialist response to economic crisis and right wing government
In early January 2009, the Executive Committee of the Dutch Socialist Party (SP) – a broad left reformist party – decided to “recognise” Offensief (Dutch section of the CWI) as a party. Offensief has been promoted to “a party in a party”, which is prohibited by the SP’s constitution.
The ex-maoist Socialist Party retains its top-down party structure in which political debate or propagating Marxist ideas is difficult. Over the last few years, the party leadership has stepped up its pressure on Offensief. One Offensief supporter was expelled from the youth organisation of the party over the “crime” of leafleting to mobilise other young party members to join an anti-racist demonstration. The Socialist Party leadership is pro-actively painting an image in which Offensief members are not “real” party members, but parasites and whatnot.
The party leadership has been moving to the right politically over the past few years, in the hope of becoming a suitable coalition partner in a cabinet with Labour and the Christian-Democrats – two parties that have been carrying out a harsh neo-liberal programme for the past three decades! The SP leadership probably wanted to avoid having a crystallization of a point of left opposition to coalition participation in the party. The illusions in a coalition government, however, are a thing of the past in the current situation of growing economic crisis in the Netherlands. Indeed, the opportunity for such a coalition as the SP leaders envisaged is very slim in the present crisis situation. The SP is the ‘natural’ party of opposition to the government’s efforts to unload the crisis onto the backs of the working class, for instance, in the attempts to raise the retirement age to 67.
According to the SP’s rules, there are two ways for the SP leadership to expel party members: 1. by the Executive (in which case, members can appeal to the Party Council (the Executive plus all branch chairs) or 2. by the local SP branches (in which case, a general branch meeting has to be called and where the majority has to vote for the expulsion). In an effort to try and avoid the “inconvenience” of convening special branch meetings, the Executive asked the chairpersons of branches (of the branches which have known Offensief members) to “talk” to the individual comrades and give them a “choice” between Offensief and the SP.
Offensief supporters decided to react to these so-called “choices” by not opting for any of the SP leaders’ choices, because, in our opinion, there is no conflict of interests. After all, the SP formally states it is fighting for a socialist society, as do Offensief supporters.
Campaign against expulsions
We furthermore started a campaign to argue against expulsions. Before a Party Council meeting on 21 February 2009, we published an ‘Open Letter’, in which we explained that Offensief joined the SP over 10 years ago because it was attracting youth and workers who were attracted to a party that spoke about resisting neo-liberalism and fighting for a socialist society (even if its leadership have shifted to the right since). We explained that by adopting bold, campaigning socialist policies, the SP had the potential to develop and grow and could play a crucial role in the creation of a genuine mass workers’ party.
Over the last month the response from SP branches has not been as the leadership hoped for. “The party executive can decide many things, but let them do their own dirty work” or similar statements are often heard from active party members and branch leaderships in branches where there are Offensief members. It is therefore clear that the membership, by and large, does not agree with expulsions.
Indeed, the mood amongst rank and file members is that the party should be putting forward a fighting socialist response to the economic crisis and the policies of the right wing government.
On 7 March, a meeting of ‘Solidair’ (Solidarity, SP union members wing) in which the party called for union members to meet to discuss about the economic crisis. The party recently started a new campaign called “a new course for the Netherlands”, without actually providing clear alternatives. During the Solidair meeting, active party members were increasingly calling for the party leadership to have a bolder analysis and critique on the crisis and the capitalist system, in general. Offensief members sold papers at this meeting, which was very well received. An SP member of parliament present at the meeting actually used the words “working class” and “class struggle” in her concluding speech; words not heard by a SP official for a long time!
The next round of elections can be an important test of the SP’s appeal to working people facing job losses and losing their homes etc. Offensief will actively campaign for bold socialist policies as the European elections near.
The SP can learn a great deal from its left party/formation ‘cousins’ in other European countries. For example, Die Linke (the Left Party) in Germany or SYRIZA in Greece, which were formed over the last couple of years as a left alternative to the main parties and which made important gains in polls. However, the leaderships or part of the leaderships of both Die Linke and SYRIZA are trying to bring their respective parties to the right, which could squander their potential.
The working class of the Netherlands and Europe need bold fighting mass parties that represent their class interests. The SP leaders have turned more in a ‘parliamentarian’ direction over the last decade. But this evolution and aim to join a coalition government with pro-neo-liberal parties suffered a big setback with the onset of the world economic crisis and the consequences for class relations in the Netherlands.
The SP now has the potential to make big gains if it answers the economic crisis and workers’ concerns by building a fighting working class alternative that resists the capitalist system and that poses a socialist alternative. This requires opening up the SP to many more workers and youth and guaranteeing democratic discussion and debate. But expulsions or the threat of expulsions of campaigning socialists will only repel many young people and workers from getting involved with the SP or looking to it as a viable alternative.
- No to expulsions! Drop the threat of expulsions!
- For a Socialist Party with bold socialist policies – For a mass workers’ party in the Netherlands!