March 24th, 2007 • The recent success of the SP has not gone unnoticed abroad, writes Jan Marijnissen. Although I have a real aversion to conferences, I was happy to accept an invitation to speak at the Congress of the SV, the Socialist Left Party, in Norway. From Friday to Sunday I was in Oslo in order to attend their first Congress since their entry into the government whose other members are the social democrats and a centrist farmers' party.
Together with the SP's Senate leader Tiny Kox I used the many conversations that we were able to have with MPs, government ministers and delegates from other countries to stir up the various themes which are current elsewhere in Europe: the future of the EU (of which Norway is, moreover, not a member), of NATO (of which Norway is indeed a member), public services in a neoliberal age, problematic relations with social democracy, Iraq, Afghanistan and a great deal more
As I said, I was also asked to give a speech on the development of the SP during the last few years. What I said was as follows:
Unequal people, equal opportunities
Good morning, Norway, good morning friends of the Socialist Left Party, greetings from the National Council of my party, the Socialist Party of the Netherlands.
Thank you very much for inviting me to come and address your Congress - if I understand it well, it is your first after entering the Norwegian government. It must have been adventurous times for your party – and for the Norwegian people as well, I assume! After arriving yesterday, I noticed that your planes fly, your trains depart on schedule and everything looks rather normal – so it cannot be a complete disaster, having a left government! I congratulate you that you had the courage to enter this government.
It would have been great if I could have told you now that we as Socialist Party did the same. But that did unfortunately not yet happen. That was due to the resistance of Christian and Social Democrats in my country. They decided that they rather work together than join forces with us. Better the devil you know than the devil you do not know, as the British say.
Nevertheless, let me be frank with you: for us it is no longer the question if we will enter Dutch government but only when. That is an extra reason for me to be happy to be here with you and learn a lot from you, your past, your present, your experience in government, your proposals and your problems – you must have some at least, I presume? All useful information I intend to steal, if you don’t mind, in order to be better prepared for our future in the Netherlands.
In the Dutch parliamentary elections of November 22nd my party had its best result ever, winning twenty-five seats in our 150-strong lower house, which is the country’s main legislative body.
These 25 seats mean nearly 17 percent of the total vote, making us three times as big in Parliament. We now are the country’s 3rd party, behind Christian and Social Democrats.
Let me tell you something about the history of my party, the Socialist Party of the Nethherlands.
My party was founded in 1972, 35 years ago, with the then already formulated pretension to become the left alternative for the Labour Party. The two latest opinion polls now predict, for the first time ever, us to pass Labour in next elections. Good work takes time, as we say in the Netherlands. And it looks as now, after 35 years, time is on our side, as Mick Jagger of my favorite Rolling Stones sings! Mind you: When I entered politics my hair were longer than Jagger’s! But Mick still has them – and see what has happened to me… Perhaps it is after all, more healthy to be pop star, with all its sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, than a politician? Who knows – but I still do get enough satisfaction operating on the podium of politics, I can assure you!
Let me tell you something more how we did spend our time, these 35 years of our history. Let me tell you about our past, but also about our present and our future.
We started as a small, radical socialist party, then became some kind of local success story in the eighties, due to continuous grass roots activity. But it nevertheless lasted until the nineties before we succeeded to enter national Parliament and until the first decade of the 21rst century before we became one of the Netherlands’ major political movements.
A rather long road for a first step… But it gave us, with all our grass roots experience, from 1994 onwards, an excellent chance to show ourselves now for the first time on national level as the real left alternative to the Labour Party. That party shook off – like many of its sister parties throughout Europe - its socialist feathers in that same period and entered a governmental alliance with the Dutch liberal parties in 1994.
That lib-lab government lasted until 2002, when it was broken by an impressive voters’ protest, provoked by ultra liberalist and populist political newcomer Pim Fortuyn, who challenged governing Labour and Liberals in an unprecedented and aggressive way.
Fortuyn criticized the lib-lab-government for its elitist policy and its complete blindness for the problems that really mattered to people. I mean problems such as the distance between politics and public, the growing dissent on security, the failing integration of migrant workers and refugees, the problems in health care and education, the contradiction between material prosperity and cultural poverty, the lack of moral anchors and mutual respect. I shared his criticism – not his solutions. His solutions were ultra liberal, ours socialist.
Before this radical newcomer Fortuyn could enter Parliament, he was brutally gunned down by a mad man, only few months after having entered the political arena.
This political murder shocked the nation and made people even more angry. That resulted into the unique fact that the beheaded Fortuyn-party became, out of the blue, the country’s second biggest party in May 2002. It smashed both social democrats and liberals, and opened the door to a new, center right coalition of the Fortuyn-movement with Christian Democrats and Liberals.
As you may have heard, the Fortuynist movement imploded as fast as it was created. It was kicked out of office within months. My party, that had doubled its parliamentary presence in 2002 to nine seats in the Second Chamber of Parliament, gained in the campaign for the next general elections in 2003 a lot of sympathy. Nevertheless we lost in the last month before election day the decisive battle for the votes from the reborn Labour Party, with its new, young and promising leader Wouter Bos. Main reason for not being able to make enough votes out of all this sympathy was that we were not yet seen as potential part of a next government. Labour was – and therefore it got many of the votes of people that sympathized with us. Take care, I said to the new Labour leader: you won these elections, but on borrowed votes. Borrowed from us. If you do not deliver, we will take them back.
Although we won slightly and Labour massively, we both had to enter opposition, because a new center right government was formed by Christian Democrats and Liberals. It proved to be a very conservative government, operating with its back to society and having great difficulties to survive.
In the opposition the left parties came closer to one another. In the autumn of 2004 they supported unanimously the biggest trade unionist demonstration ever, bringing about 400,000 people to Amsterdam, challenging the center right government’s social policy.
Having noticed the outline of a possible new social alliance of progressive political and social forces in the Netherlands, I proposed in an early stage to join forces of us, Labour and Greens. I suggested to create a clear alternative to the right government with a combined left elections platform. Labour unfortunately refused, although many of its members and voters were in favor of my proposal.
So the three left parties entered election campaign in the autumn of 2006 without a common program. But now we were better prepared. It soon became clear that this time we would not only be able gain more sympathy but also many more votes.
Amongst trade unionists, 35% promised to vote SP, as did a high proportion of workers in the health care and education sector. In a major poll of pupils of secondary schools, SP came second only after Labour, while a survey conducted by a radio station showed that 60% of pop and rock musicians voted SP. We were hot at all levels …and very eager to win. And we did. Massively.
We performed – according to communication experts - best in the elections campaign, due to our clear strategy and our excellent campaign means. Our central slogan was Now SP, our central message to the voters: make us strong, keep Labour left, kick the Liberals out and prevent another center-right government.
We used a flood of radio commercials, no television – too expensive; no newspapers adds, and an overwhelming presence on the internet. Our own web site was visited on elections day by over 125,000 people, an absolute record.
The viral movie we made found its fast way through cyber space, made me a real movie star and reached about two million citizens.
Inspired by Michael Moore and Al Gore we produced together with a famous Dutch movie-maker, a thrilling video documentary, showing real problems of real people in my country. It was called Jan en Alleman, Jan and every one. We showed it on regional and national channels as well as on the internet. And we used of course our main capital. That is our 50,000 faithful and active members, who canvassed for weeks in all parts of the country, creating much appreciated direct contact with the voters. The streets of the Netherlands were ours during this period. Our red tomatoes were everywhere.
Our central campaign themes included better education in smaller classes, better health care closer to the people, more affordable housing, combating poverty, putting a stop to privatization and liberalization, higher standards of animal welfare, and protection of nature and the environment in general.
In addition, we promoted more support for the poor of the world, less money for the military; we rejected the idea of a European super state, as well as the Dutch military support to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we opposed actual foreign policy which made the Netherlands a lapdog for the US. And, of course, we were against the JSF.
The good news is that on November 22nd. Christian Democrats and Liberals lost their majority in Parliament. The bad news is that a left majority also failed to materialize, because Labour dropped from forty-two to thirty-two and the Greens from eight to seven. A coalition of center right Christian Democrats and center left Labour also lacked a majority. We decided to enter into talks with Social and Christian Democrats to find out whether they were interested in a coalition with us.
However, they were not interested in co-operation with my party. They therefore said no to us and asked support of a small Christian fundamentalist party. In this way they created a narrow majority in Parliament, but enough to form a new sandwich coalition, with Labour solidly packed between two rather conservative Christian parties.
Therefore you do not have here, at your Congress, the first socialist vice Prime Minister of the Netherlands. You have only the first socialist leader of the parliamentary opposition in the Netherlands. But do not worry: that feels great too, after so many years!
During al these years the ideology of the Socialist Party developed, from a more or less borrowed one in the seventies into a self made one in the nineties.
It only lasted few years for us as a young and naive party, in the beginning of the seventies, to realize that it does not make sense to follow other leaders, parties or countries. It is always you who has to act here and now, in your own circumstances, with your own citizens, their problems, their dreams, their possibilities - if you want to win their hearts and minds.
Soon after we started, we experienced that much of Marxism, Leninism, Maoism and other -isms had become utterly dogmatic; we saw Eastern European communism reaching a total deadlock and, to our disappointment, we also had to admit that its mysterious Chinese version was in reality in total lack of internal democracy and external international solidarity as well. So, sadder but wiser, before the end of the seventies we already decided to stick to Bob Dylan’s warning and stopped following leaders. We had to find our own way to socialism, we realized. That was not an easy thing. But socialism is not for lazy people, I assume you here in Norway have the same experience?
After the turbulent start in the seventies, during the eighties my party was mainly involved in national grass roots political work. We were no longer involved in relations with whatever left internationalist movement, except for some specific, concrete campaigns for international solidarity with progressive forces in Latin America and South Africa - and with the English miners during their historical strike. When visiting them in 1984 / 1985, they taught me how to swear in English after every second word – but their courageous strike also taught me that swearing and striving and striking and sacrificing is not enough to win historical class battles. It also needs clear goals, clear strategy and tactics and good circumstances. Because that all lacked the British miners, Iron Lady Thatcher won her war and neo liberalism was free to flood Britain as well as the rest of Europe.
In the period in which many left parties entered an existential crisis, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we, free of international ties, were also free to develop our new ideology, with roots in our past but completely pointed to the present and future. We did not come under attack when so called real existing socialism collapsed, due to its own failure to put the promise of a decent democratic and social society into practice and only delivered a oppressing, exploiting and authoritarian society, loved by none and disgusted by many.
In the nineties we started to define socialism in new terms as the continuous struggle for human dignity, equality of people and solidarity amongst people – being the values crystallized during history as essential for human civilization and progress.
This new definition became our yardstick on all levels of society, to measure developments, problems and proposals, both in theory and in praxis.
In our new program of principles, which we named The whole of Humanity, in 1999, at the verge of the new century, we based on this definition of modern socialism ten operational programs that should lead to an ever more democratic, co-operating, sharing, healthy, sustainable, integrated, secure, learning, creative and international united society.
Rather ambitious one might say, but socialists have to be ambitious, should be optimists for the future - as long as we are realists in the present.
We also use our yardstick of human dignity, equality and solidarity to measure international developments, problems and proposals. Let me elaborate shortly on some of them and let me then finish my intervention with a short view on international co-operation of the left.
My country belongs to the founding fathers of the European Union, this month fifty years ago; your party opposes membership even after 27 European states now join the Union. I do not see that as a problem.
Norway is outside the European Union, but nevertheless not only one of the richest countries on earth but also one of the most developed in democratic and social perspective. I think both our parties acknowledge the fact that the economic co-operation between former enemies in Europe has contributed to both peace and prosperity on the continent. We both acknowledge the necessity of ongoing economic co-operation in Europe. But we both do reject the direction the European Union has chosen from the Treaty of Maastricht to now.
The European Union has been abducted by European Big Business and has become a main operation area for neo liberalism. The European Union now shares one market and most of us one currency, and therefore one monetary policy – but at the cost of an increasing democratic and social deficit.
Therefore your party resists entering this neo liberal Union and therefore my party was leading the Dutch opposition against the European Constitution in 2005. We did that although the government’s proposal to sign the constitution was backed by nearly all political parties, employers and the top of the trade unions. Nevertheless, on June 1rst 2005 almost two thirds of my countrymen said, with us, no to this constitution, only few days after the French had executed the same verdict.
Believe me: we Dutch, really are in favour of European co-operation, it is good for us and for others. But we also love our democracy and sovereignty and therefore we are not interested to take orders from a European super state!
And therefore we will continue our resistance to this European Constitution, this crown on European neo liberalism and a dangerous stairway to European federalism. German chancellor Angela Merkel now is pressing the Dutch to bow and accept what we rejected two years ago - and it looks as the new government of Christian and Social Democrats is willing to please her and to betray Dutch citizens, by refusing them another referendum. Plenty of work ahead for us, you might notice, but even more for the new government. Because we know we still are backed by the majority of the Dutch on this issue. And we will say to all those who want to convince us that there will be no future without a European federal super state: ever been in Norway recently??
Norway and the Netherlands both are NATO Member states. Both our parties opposed NATO in the period of the cold war, because the Alliance did cause far too much danger and did cost far too much money and other means. But old cold war NATO has disappeared, old enemies are now allies or at least partner for peace. Nevertheless, new NATO is a dangerous adventure too, as it is developing itself into a worldwide intervening aggressive military power, dominated by the United States of America.
My countryman De Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s secretary-general, calls his organisation a global provider of security – but forgets to mention that it lacks legitimacy and contributes to world wide instability, being the armed force of the Rich in general and the United States in particular. Therefore new NATO is a dead-end street, a global provider of problems instead of solutions. For example in Afghanistan, where Dutch soldiers are now fighting Taliban, drugs dealers, war lords and civilians, as part of a war on terror that lacks sense and that cannot be won. Therefore my advise to you is: if it is possible, stay away with your soldiers from the South of Afghanistan!
I would advocate a new direction: structural reduction of world wide military capacity, in order to prevent a new arms race; a negotiated construction of international military co-operation, to prevent armed conflicts; the development of an early warning systems, to preserve peace, protect international law and human rights and to promote global prosperity; and all this where and as much as possible under the umbrella of the United Nations.
We are socialists and therefore internationalists. We do not turn our back to the rest of the world. That implies that we are not as a matter of principle against any form of military intervention. Such an intervention appeared to be the only way to end the Second World War.
But we do oppose military interventions that lack legitimacy, proportionality, a clear goal, time schedule and exit strategy – as was the case in the war against Serbia and in the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Creating peace by making war just does not make sense in most situations. Therefore we object peace enforcing interventions but do back peace keeping operations, if they meet the criteria I mentioned.
Sure, there is something rotten in the world wide military domination of the United States. But I do not believe that the problem of military super power United States of America can be addressed by creating a new military super power of the United States of Europe.
Yes, we should find ways to end American domination but not by challenging it by other states or unions. Therefore I oppose further militarization of the European Union and Europe – for which the proposed European Constitution opens the door. That was one of the major reasons for us to lead the opposition against this proposed Constitution.
Norway and the Netherlands both are Member states of the Council of Europe. The Council’s European Charter for Human Rights is unique in the world and very important. Therefore we should put far more emphasis on the absolute need to respect and promote this European Charter.
The fact that all European citizens are entitled to apply for justice at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is really great – but the fact that you have to wait 8 to 10 years before justice is done, together with now over 90,000 other applicants, is a bloody shame.
As said, socialists have to be internationalists. Therefore I advocate good and developing cooperation of likeminded political parties in Europe: in the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in NATO Parliamentary Assembly, in bilateral and broader contacts.
Until now we do not take part in the recently founded European Left Party, because we see it as too theoretical and too fast. Many left parties that fail to grow at home, like to unite themselves on the international level, giving them the feeling to be bigger than they realy are.
It is better to first prove yourself at home and thereafter look for uniting forces. Nevertheless it is any party’s right to have other opinions. And we do our best to be on speaking terms with as many parties as possible and accept our responsibility on the international level.
Therefore I am an advocate of the use of the internet as an excellent means of communication. Our website has a lot of information, not only about our history and ideology but also about actual politics, of course in Dutch but also in English.
It is hard for me to understand why so few other parties make use of the possibility to keep others informed about what is happening, in a language everybody understands. And unfortunately for us, that is neither Norwegian nor Dutch but English.
Not being known means not being loved, is a Dutch saying, but every Norwegian will understand it, I assume. Instead of promoting international political tourism I want to promote political internet-ism. Of course we need more co-operation but it starts with information.
My party wants to examine other possibilities to promote effective international cooperation. Therefore we will host a meeting this summer with leaders of those European left parties which put their focus on the present and future.
I would appreciate it very much if the Socialist Left Party of Norway would attend this conference, because we see you as such a modern party that dares to challenge the future.
Although not being member of the European Left Party, we surely will follow its developments. Recently the Chair of the German Left Party, Lothar Bisky, one of the founding fathers of the European Left Party, was my guest in the Netherlands and I invited him too to attend our summer-meeting, and I am glad he accepted my invitation.
I will convey my invitation also to our friends of the left parties in Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark and if you have any suggestions for other parties to invite I would be grateful. To be open and clear: we do not envy some kind of new International, on the contrary.
We really love and protect our independent position, also as a lesson from the past and I know you share this idea of independency. But having said that, I tell you that I am convinced that we have to share our experience, our problems and our answers in a more effective way, so that we can learn from each other and develop modern socialism, at home and abroad. The Netherlands are no island, and neither Norway is.
Therefore I am happy to be here with you. And therefore I am also looking forward to next weekend when I am invited to come to Athens and Thesaloniki. There I will be due to the publication of the Greek version of my book Enough, a socialist bites back, that I wrote ten years ago, on the basis of my ideas then on the threat of neo liberalism and the necessity of a modern socialist alternative.
The English version was a first step to inform others abroad about the development of Dutch socialism, the updated Greek version (it is called Arketa!) will be another step. And of course I will be happy to come back to Norway one day to present its Norwegian version, if you provide me at least with a proper Norwegian title. How would that sound in Norwegian language: Enough, a socialist bites back?
Thank you very much to listen so long to me – in my own party they do not give me some much time at a Congress! But to be honest: my comrades at home already know most of my ideas, mainly due to the fact that I could only develop these ideas thanks to them and thanks to my party.