Netherlands: Extreme right Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, shot dead

The extreme right Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, was shot dead 6 May, on the premises of the national radio station in Hilversum. This single act has shaken Dutch society, including the complacent Dutch establishment who had always liked to assume that "nothing like that will happen here".

Much is still unclear about the killing, especially about the motives of the killer. Was it a political motivated assault, or the lone work of a mentally unbalanced gunman? There is just speculation right now. It has been claimed that a man arrested by police on suspicion of carrying out the killing is an environmental activist.

In any case, socialists have always rejected these sorts of attacks on individuals representing right wing ideas or the establishment – the false methods of individual terrorism, which have been shown to be completely counterproductive.

Offensief, Dutch section of the Committee for a Workers’ International, completely opposes the ideas that Pim Fortuyn stood for. At the same time, we condemn the use of individual terrorism. Such methods only divided and weaken the working class, and strengthen reaction. Many working people in the Netherlands now fear a racist backlash and attacks on the immigrant community following the assassination.

Played on crime

The rise of Pim Fortuyn’s party/list over the last few months has shaken Dutch society. His demagogy and opportunism shook up the otherwise ‘dozing’ political situation.

Pim Fortuyn played on the issue of immigrants and crime, and talked about the "backward" culture of Islam, as a way to whip up anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant feelings. He succeeded in establishing a considerable following, especially amongst a section of Dutch working people and the marginalised that feel the politicians are completely removed from their lives and problems. During March municipal elections Fortuyn won 17 of the 45 Rotterdam council seats, and it was estimated he could have picked up between 19 and 25 seats in the national elections on 15 May. He could even have become prime minister.

Socialists, rank and file trade unionists, and community and environmental activists worldwide are often victims of politically motivated murders. Every year tens of thousands of men, women and even children are killed in the so-called ‘Third World’. The state or right wing death squads commit many of these murders. In secret – or not so secret – these murders are supported by many western governments, especially the US administration, and are tolerated by other western governments, like the Dutch government. We should bear this in mind when we hear the statements over the shooting of Pim Fortuyn by the caretaker Dutch prime minister, Wim Kok and the leaders of the other main pro-market parties, like the social democrats and liberals.

In a dramatic way, the fear of crime, including violent crime, a motive for many people to vote for Pim Fortuyn, has been vindicated by the assassination. There is a clear danger that the murder will temporarily mean a rightward shift in society. Unclear is what will happen to the party of Pim Fortuyn, ‘List Pim Fortuyn’, which was constructed around him. Maybe a reunification will take place with ‘Liveable Netherlands’, of which he used to be the chairperson. Or maybe his followers will turn to the rightwing liberals of the governing VVD. But it is clear that socialists cannot leave it to the right wing forces to establish a programme against crime and insecurity.

For many Dutch people crime is a big issue, due undoubtedly to rightwing propaganda, but also because it does affect many of them. According to statistics, over a million people each year become victims of crime in the Netherlands. The police are incapable of dealing with this, and the solution is not to have even more officers.

Inequalities and poverty grown

Despite years of economic ‘boom’, inequalities have grown in the Netherlands and poverty levels have risen. Under the last coalition government’s neo-liberal, pro-big business policies the conditions of workers have deteriorated.

It is immigrants and minorities that suffer the most from crime, poverty and bad housing, but also many working class communities have suffered a worsening situation. To cut the ground from under the populist right and racists, it vital for the Dutch left to put forward a socialist programme on the social and economic issues: jobs for all and a living wage, for massive investment in health, transport, and public housing, and for the big banks and big business to be taken into public hands for the benefit of all.

The call for the economy to be taken out of the hands of the rich minority and for working class people, through democratic ownership and control, to plan society to meet the needs of the majority – a socialist society – can strike a cord with the Dutch working class and poor.

The left, trade unions, students and immigrants organisations need to build a united front to organise demonstrations and protests, and the self-defence of immigrants and minorities against racist attacks.

We need mass action in the working class neighbourhoods where the problem of crime is greatest. Also, the police also need to come under the genuine democratic control, and be accountable to, working class communities.

Furthermore, a fully comprehensive programme to deal with drug abuse would include care and medical support for addicts within the neighbourhoods where they live. That would deprive the big criminal organisations of their drugs revenues, and take away the need for addicts to turn to crime

The death of Pim Fortuyn means a dramatic change in the political life of the Netherlands.

Socialists point out that even if a deranged individual killed Pim Fortuyn, this has to be seen in context of conditions created by capitalist society. Only a socialist society can offer a decent future for all working class people.

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May 2002