Cuts-making coalition government under strain, as elections loom
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a violation of international law, an inquiry in the Netherlands, The Committee of Inquiry on Iraq, has found.
The inquiry found the action had "no basis in international law". The report, published on 12 January, said UN resolutions in the 1990s prior to the outbreak of war gave no authority to the invasion.
The findings of the Dutch report has serious implications for the UK and the US, raising questions about the use “weapons of mass destruction (WMD)” as a pretext to launch a war that cost many thousands of lives and enormous destruction.
Pieter Brans, from Amsterdam, looks at the Inquiry findings, the consequences for Dutch coalition government, and the tasks facing the workers’ movement in the Netherlands ahead of elections in 2010.
A Committee of Inquiry on why the Netherlands politically supported the war in Iraq has come up with several stunning conclusions. One is that the decision by the then Dutch government to support the US and the UK war aims were taken in a meeting at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs which was hastily assembled, took no minutes but decided that it was best ‘in line with Atlantic solidarity’ to follow the hard-line US and UK approach. Doubts raised later about the legal mandate for the war in Iraq and other considerations were swept outside. The decision was taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and a limited number of civil servants. The Dutch Prime Minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, was not involved, as he was “preoccupied with domestic concerns” the report said. The Netherlands military did not participate in the war in Iraq, but took part in the occupation afterwards.
The Dutch Labour Party was in opposition to a centre-right government and voiced some concerns about the pro-war policy. The Labour Party is now in an uneasy coalition with the Balkenende’s Christian Democratic Party. They have continued to doubt the legitimacy of the decision to enter the war and the findings of the Committee of Inquiry has confirmed them in their doubts and objections.
The Prime Minister, however, initially swept aside the conclusions of the Committee, except those which put him in a favourable light, without much consultation with his Labour Party government partners. This put the Dutch Labour Party in a very difficult position. It faces (like other European social democratic parties) serious setbacks in the coming elections (local polls, in the case of the Netherlands, to be held early March 2010). A decision has to be taken about the continuation of the Dutch military mission in Uruzgan, Afghanistan (the ‘agreement’ was that these forces would leave in 2010). Major cuts (35 billion euros) will be implemented by the Dutch government later this year, undermining its support. National elections are due in May 2011.
Under immense pressure, the Christian Democratic Prime Minister made an about turn and granted some minor concessions to the Labour Party in order to save the coalition government. “Based on what we know now, the cabinet accepts that a more adequate legal mandate would have been necessary for such an action,” Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende wrote in a letter to parliament, yesterday. This will undermine his authority and will not save the Labour Party from electoral defeat.
The Committee of Inquiry has shown that the Dutch government’s main party, the Christian Democrats, supported the Iraq war, providing slavish support to the US and that all forms of protest and objections were ignored or marginalised. Whatever the consequences of the Inquiry and the outcome of the elections, it is clear that the Dutch workers’ movement must organise to build a strong socialist opposition to stop Dutch governments’ current and future support and aid for imperialist invasions and occupations, as well as to successfully resist the social cuts that the Christian Democratic Party and other pro-capitalist parties intend to impose on working people.
Choices facing the Left
The Dutch Socialist Party (SP) – a broad left reformist party – won support from workers and youth for opposing the Iraq War. If the SP had gone from that correct position to develop independent class policies and to energetically support workers in struggle, it would now be well placed as a party of the left and to take on the main parties of the ruling class in the forthcoming elections. Instead, the SP leadership has been moving to the right politically over the past few years, in the hope of becoming a suitable coalition partner with Labour and the Christian-Democrats – the party of war and social cuts! Reflecting these aims, the SP leadership has conducted attacks on Offensief supporters (supporters of the CWI in the Netherlands), who are active in the SP. 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 and other expulsions are clearly planned.
Offensief supporters joined the SP, over 10 years ago, because youth and workers were attracted to a party that spoke about resisting neo-liberalism and fighting for a socialist society. 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.
The working class of the Netherlands still needs, more than ever, a bold, fighting, mass socialist party that represent their class interests. The SP leaders have turned in a ‘parliamentarian’ direction over the last decade, with the aim of joining a coalition government with pro-neo-liberal and pro-war parties. But in a period of world economic crisis and planned huge social cuts by the SP’s potential coalition partners, this route would see the SP lose its remaining support from working people.
The SP can only develop if it provides class answers to the economic crisis and workers’ concerns, and by firm opposition to imperialism’s wars, 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.
Nevertheless, even if the SP continues down the disastrous route of expulsions of socialists and allying itself with the main parties, the Dutch working class will be forced by events – the attacks on its living standards and conditions – to search for a socialist alternative and to start to build a new party that represents its interests.