YOU and I are WE!

24 December 2009

YOU and I are WE!

SP XVIth National Congress, January 2010: Proposed Closing Statement

On 30th January the SP will gather in Rotterdam for the party’s 16th Congress. The Congress is the SP’s supreme policy-making body, and in order to give all members the chance to participate, it is preceded by regional conferences and branch meetings where the analysis of and response to the condition of the country, the world and the party itself is hammered out. This year, too, the Congress will represent the starting signal for the SP’s campaign for the municipal elections scheduled for March 3rd. Below is a translation of the highlights of the conclusions of these deliberations.

The general picture to emerge from the regional conferences is one of unity around the correctness of the decisions taken at the last National Congress. It was generally held that the existing statement of principles, Heel de Mens (‘The whole of humanity’) remains just as relevant as when it was adopted. This unity over ideology and organisational development gives us an excellent starting point for the three important elections impending : municipal elections in March 2010, and Provincial and Parliamentary elections in 2011.

Since 1972, when our party was established, we have experienced tumultuous growth, becoming the country’s third biggest political force both in terms of membership and of parliamentary representation, after the centre-right CDA (Christian Democrats) and the centre-left PvdA (Labour Party). The enormous victory of November 2006, when we went from nine to twenty-five parliamentary seats (out of a total of 150) in a single election, aroused expectations, in some, of approaching change in the country. Because, however, the CDA and PvdA preferred to continue the policies of the previous government under Jan Peter Balkenende, we were unable to trade opposition for a place in the ruling coalition. This limited our options. Nevertheless, the Provincial elections in March 2007 represented yet another major success for our party, with our representation growing strongly in every single Province.

The last National Congress, held in November 2007, was, along with this success, one of the high points of the year. Its central and unanimous conclusion was that, following our breakthrough, we ‘must strengthen our fundamentals.’ We must be rooted deep in the society, which means that we must build effective branches throughout the country.
During 2008 branches were actively strengthened and the parliamentary group came increasingly into its own. In June, Jan Marijnissen, through ill health, decided to stand down as parliamentary leader, and Agnes Kant was unanimously elected by her colleagues to replace him. In a new statement, Een Nieuwe Koers voor Nederland, (‘A New Course for the Netherlands’), the parliamentary group laid out its priorities for the immediate future. When the credit crisis broke, a 30-point plan to respond to it was presented. Its most important characteristic was a critique of the liberalisation of the financial markets, of failed supervision and of the reprehensible behaviour of senior bankers.

Believing that before you express an opinion you need to know what you’re talking about, the parliamentary group conducted major surveys amongst people who work in the public sector, as well as in other sectors of the economy. The conclusions were as depressing as they were predictable after more than twenty years of neoliberal policy. Deteriorating quality, scaling back of services, waiting lists, disaffection between shopfloor and management, with the latter receiving enormous salaries, and a great deal of bureaucracy. Pride in work and professional autonomy were being increasingly undermined, leading to growing cynicism amongst ever more people – workers, students and their parents, patients and other clients of public services frustrated by inadequate quality and inadequate provision.

The condition of the pubic sector, a sector which brings together everything which we find of such value that we don’t want to leave it to the market, gives an indication of the condition of our civilisation. After a long period following the Second World War when reconstruction was the central concern and the public sector and social security were built up, the mid-1980s saw the coming of a period when the neoliberal outlook of ‘every man for himself’ set the tone, and demolition began. That meant not only the beginning of the end of organised solidarity as a leading principle for the making of policy, but also that in future people would have to change their ways. Individualisation merged into egoism, with the public sector and public ethics as victims. The ethical guardians of past times, the state and society, are increasingly inclined to turn a blind eye, instead of taking necessary action. Yet the situation is not hopeless. A huge majority of the public wants to see more solidarity, a sound public sector and a narrowing of income differentials. People are wiling to put some effort into this, as workers and as citizens, but they must first have confidence that things can indeed be improved, that a better tomorrow is possible, confidence which is at present lacking. Faith in the successive governments of the last twenty years is at an historic low. If this is not changed, if policies don’t change, if other people do not come to power, confidence can only decline further, with all the consequences that this might conceivably entail.
While the world is rapidly becoming smaller and smaller, we are at the same time failing to put matters in our own house in order. As globalisation and neoliberalism seize the opportunity to go ever further, we move closer to the abyss. The cause of the credit crisis can be traced directly to the neoliberal mantra - ‘privatisation, liberalisation, deregulation’.

Globalisation cannot be halted. Technological development cannot be held back. And a good thing, too. Socialists are internationalists. Many of the problems facing humanity can only be solved by means of mutual agreement and cooperation, helped along by reciprocal advantage: the fight against global poverty (a billion people suffer hunger!), dwindling raw materials, problems of energy supply, problems of water supply, enormous insecurity in whole regions of the world. All of these issues demand vision, cooperation, and decisiveness, nationally and internationally.

Neoliberalism has, as everyone can see, done nothing to bring a solution to any of these problems closer. On the contrary. Without solidarity of time and place we will not succeed in making the world a fairer and safer place.

Solidarity of time is needed because we must not push major problems on to future generations, something which our parents did not do. Under the pretext of mutual responsibility, they built an effective public sector and social protection for those who needed it, despite an awareness that they might never, as individuals, profit from these. Generations have always stood in a relationship of solidarity; parents and children do not deny each other. That is the real evil behind the arguments of those who would raise the pension age, that they are trying to set generation against generation.

To tackle the problems of the world, however, we also need solidarity of place. We must take problems in the Third World seriously and do something about them. Without such efforts it will be impossible to progress on a global level. Solidarity is thus the key to the solution of the problems of the 21st century.

Human beings are social beings. Once this applied only to family and tribe, later to community and nation. Now we must develop a social antenna tuned to the whole world. There is no conflict between this task and our striving for human scale in the organisation of society. On the contrary, the latter is a condition of the achievement of the former.
This is where we now stand. It represents, in a nutshell, the starting point from which we must work to further strengthen the progressive forces in the Netherlands and beyond, promoting human dignity, equality and solidarity. History shows us that we are constantly improving our capacity for both good and evil. Which it will be is up to us. We may indeed be the products of our history, but we make the future ourselves. The central, the only relevant question is this: what do we want? More neoliberalism and the further erosion of social values ? Or cooperation, with global social justice as its goal?

In the early 1990s we were the first Dutch political party to identify and analyse neoliberalism. We took a stand against it and presented alternatives. In sum, these alternatives include the following elements : the economy in service of society and of the individual; the human scale as an organisational principle ; a public sector which provides what must be provided; organised solidarity as the answer to the vagaries of fortune; and thoroughgoing democratisation of people’s life chances and living- and working conditions.

We can say with confidence that the party is ideologically, organisationally and financially sound. We know what we want and we are ready to show what we have to offer: not only in all those towns and cities where our branches are active, or those in which we are represented on the council; not only in the two houses of our national Parliament and in the European Parliament; not only in those local authorities where we form part of the ruling coalition; but also, soon, in government. Certainly, for this to be achieved, a great deal must still happen. But we were never ones to shy away from a challenge. Reliance on our own strength and preparedness to serve the people; sacrifice and courage; understanding based on experience, and a character rooted in the people; these things have brought us a long way. If we continue to respect these values and the practices which go along with them, we can move mountains.

Of course, we are also dependent on others. For political cooperation, willingness on one side of the fence is not enough. There is some hope that most other political parties now also understand that it is time to reject the golden calf of neoliberalism. They still hesitate to do so. They fear to admit the truth. They don’t yet really want to change their ways. Yet the consequences of neoliberalism have on all fronts been so disastrous that in the end they will be unable to take any other course. Anyone who wants to lend a hand in rebuilding the Netherlands as a country in which human dignity and solidarity are given concrete form is, as far as we are concerned, welcome, and that goes equally for political parties.

We have more than 47,000 members. Our organisation, our ideas and our members are all indispensable in the struggle before us. Our militancy, determination and energy will do the rest. As long as we avoid parliamentarianism, political subjectivism and self-interest, and hold to our principles of activism, sincere cooperation, and determination to bring closer the realisation of our ideals, then we need not give too much of a care to opinion polls which indicate that we aren’t quite so ‘hot’ as we were in 2006. Relations of forces on election day will not be determined only by the strength which we ourselves display, but also by the strength or lack of it shown by our opponents. Well, okay – just take a look around you.

Nothing of what we have achieved has fallen into our lap. We have always worked hard, locally and nationally. For a long time the zeitgeist was against us. But the influence of events has turned this around. People are looking for an alternative to the things which have failed. And we, or our ideas, represent that alternative. There is no other way out than the route towards more human dignity, equality and solidarity. It is time that we dropped the modest ambition characteristic of so many SP activists. We have not only the analysis and the conception, we are also the only truly active party and the only one therefore which knows what is going on amongst the people, the only one which can give people well-founded hope and the confidence that things can be changed. If we can reach the people’s hearts, offer them hope for a better life, a life of prosperity, respect and security, we will be able, with them, to change the world. And that is the reason for our existence.

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