A Dutch socialist bites back

Former British Labour MP Tony Benn reviews SP chairman Jan Marijnissen's book Enough! – A socialist bites back

This is by far the best book about socialism that I have read for ten years or more. I can recommend it without qualification to people, of all ages, in all countries, who want to understand what is happening in the world and what socialism is all about. Jan Marijnissen is a young Dutch MP, elected in 1994, having come into politics through the trade union movement and is now the leader of the radical Dutch Socialist Party which is an influential but small party in the Netherlands.

What distinguishes it from the writings of so many people on the left is that it explains, through examples from many countries and with crystal clarity what the neo-liberals have done to society, what effect it is having on our lives and how this philosophy has virtually destroyed the democratic socialist traditions that have been built up this century in parliamentary politics. It is clearly written, his arguments are backed up by solid evidence and are immensely readable which is more than you can say for many of the heavy tomes which have come from writers on the Left. It has not been spoiled by sectarianism or any personal bitterness against individuals that sometimes disfigures our debates. Jan Marijnissen's line of argument is very simple, as he traces through the reappearance of the Right in the form of neo-liberalism, and the skilful way in which it came to persuade so many political figures in the European social democratic left that there was no alternative but to bow to the demands it makes.

He correctly points out that the most serious effect neo-liberalism has had has been to undermine the democratic gains which had been made after centuries of struggle, and the sharp divide between wealth and poverty which it has created, sustained and extended. He even goes so far, also properly, to see this as a sustained assault on civilisation itself and many of the values, which have been established so painfully over the centuries. In his final chapters he analyses the effects of globalisation and relates it to the dream of the Euro-federalists who are, even now, planning to take control of our continent and use the world market and the cut-throat competition it encourages to destroy the welfare state which was the greatest achievement of the post-war generation.

What also makes the book so remarkable is that despite the warnings that he gives and the horrific picture that he paints of the new tyranny which is slowly taking over Jan Marijnissen retains his optimism that a better world can be built and that that task must be tackled as we move into the new century.

But this optimism is not based on a series of blueprints which he has prepared but, as all true socialists must do, on the basis of his confidence that people, given the chance, will want to construct the future for themselves around our own needs and the experience of others. I greatly hope that this book, skilfully translated by Steve McGiffen, gets the wider international readership it deserves.

And among those who study it will, I hope, be leaders of New Labour who are now busy telling the rest of the party that there is no alternative but to surrender completely to market forces here and world wide, and train ourselves to obey its dictates in the name of modernisation. Many of the older generation on the Left have responded to this by looking back to some golden age, instead of looking forward to identify the problems that lie ahead and then try to fathom out how to overcome them by democratic means. It is now generally accepted that the dictatorship of the proletariat in Stalin's Russia led to the collapse of Communism because it never allowed democracy to flourish and lost its base of popular support. I have long believed that the end of Soviet Communism, far from marking the death throes of socialism, can more accurately be compared to the Reformation when Luther challenged the power of the Vatican, and, far from destroying Christianity, liberated Christian ideas and released them to a wider audience. Now that the Monetarist Fundamentalists have taken over they have to be challenged by re-stating the very same socialist ideas which Jan Marijnissen describes so vividly and persuasively. Above all this book will give hope – at the moment when we need it most.

You are here