A political earthquake took place in the Netherlands, this week, when the Dutch Socialist Party (SP) made the biggest gains in the 22 November general elections, coming third place with 26 seats. With 1,624,349 votes, the SP won 6.3%. The turnout was high, at 80.1%. This is a big jump from the 2003 elections, when the SP got 608,490 votes. The loss of support for the main governing and opposition parties shows the electorate rejected years of savage social cuts and neo-liberal policies. The polls, particularly the big jump in SP support, also revealed sharp political polarisation in society, which shook the ruling establishment and mainstream media.
Dutch supporters of the CWI, ‘Offensief’, who are part of the SP, welcomed the electoral breakthrough for the SP, and call for the party to build on the success by developing fighting, socialist policies. The ruling Christian Democrats (CDA) won the largest share of the votes in the election but face a difficult task forming a new coalition government. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende won 41 seats in the 150-strong parliament. The current coalition partners, the Liberals (VVD) won 22 seats, meaning the CDA need to include other parties to reach a working majority. The Labour Party (PvdA) lost many votes, including a chunk that went to the SP. Its share fell from 42 to 32 seats. The Green Left party got seven, down by one.
The election saw a polarisation amongst the electorate, on broad left and right lines, indicating a search by many voters for an alternative to years of right wing, cuts-making coalition governments. The two parties of the outgoing right wing coalition, the CDA and the VVD, lost between them nine seats and a majority to continue in power. As an indication of the radicalisation of a big section of the population, the ‘Party for Animals’ became the first animal rights party to win seats in a parliament in Europe.
Although the vote for the SP is a very positive indication of the shift to the left by many in society, the hard right also made gains. The anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic ‘Party for Freedom’ (PVV), led by Geert Wilders, took nine seats (nearly 600,000 votes) standing for the first time.
The election was called after the CDA-led governing coalition collapsed in June, after a row over its handling of the disputed citizenship of a Somali-born, right populist Dutch politician. The main parties whipped up anti-immigrant moods over the last few years, while they carried out the biggest social cuts since WW2. Last Friday, in a cynical last ditch effort to get more votes for the government parties, the cabinet backed a proposal to ban the burqa (estimated to worn by just 30 women in the Netherlands).
For most working people, however, the main election issues concerning them were social and class issues, as expressed by the sharp rise in votes for the SP. In recent years, huge demonstrations and limited strike action took place against government’s cuts. Many workers were disappointed this movement was not developed further by the union leaders – stepping up mass militant action to defeat the CDA/VVD administration – but used the elections to show their opposition to neo-liberal policies. Polls showed that amongst trade unionists, 35% said they would vote SP, as did a high number of workers in the health service. In a poll of older school students (many who will be able to vote in the next elections) the SP came second to the PvdA (Labour).
The SP became the biggest party in seven local authority areas, including major cities, and became the second party in other towns and districts. The party won over 23% support in major industrial areas, like Eindhoven, and came second in the two biggest cities, getting 18.4% in Amsterdam and 17.6% in Rotterdam (more than 120,000 votes in the two cities).
The Dutch SP came out of a Maoist party, but broadened its appeal, winning two seats to parliament in 1994 and a European parliament seat in 1999. As the main parties, including the PvdA (Labour), moved to the right in the 1990s, the SP picked up support from workers and youth. In 2003, the SP got nine seats. Local elections, earlier this year, saw the SP double its number of seats. After this week’s poll breakthrough, the SP is now the third largest party in parliament and, with over 40,000 members, it claims to be the third largest membership party.
There is clearly huge potential for the SP to develop, to help create a mass socialist alternative to the main parties. But this can only be done by building the SP as an independent class alternative.
Many workers and youth in the Netherlands are clearly shifting to the left. The Dutch SP website says it won its big vote increase because, “The SP central themes included better education in smaller classes, better health care closer to the people, more affordable housing, combating poverty, putting a stop to privatisation and liberalisation, higher standards of animal welfare, and protection of nature and the environment in general. In addition, the party rejects the idea of a European superstate and a foreign policy which makes the Netherlands a lapdog for the US.”
No to ‘grand coalition’
However, the SP’s website also declares, “SP leader Jan Marijnissen does not rule out a ’grand coalition’ of his party with PvdA and CDA, although the SP is fiercely opposed to the direction which the Christian Democrats have taken in recent years.”
Offensief supporters argue that entering a coalition with any of the main parties would be disastrous for the SP. All the main parties are pro-market, pro-cuts parties. The SP in coalition with any of these parties would be expected to act as a ‘left cover’ for attacks on the living standards of workers and for attacks on immigrants. It would follow the same path as the Labour Party, which previously was regarded as a party for working people until years of pro-bosses’ policies in government saw it lose that traditional support. As party of a ‘grand coalition’, the SP leaders would be expected to go along with the Netherlands imperialist policies and pro-US foreign policies (Dutch troops are currently stationing in Afghanistan).
If the SP enters a coalition government with right wing parties there is a real danger it can quickly lose much of its electoral and working class support. This could lead to widespread disillusionment amongst working people and youth. Not only would the main bosses’ parties be let off the hook, but the smaller hard right parties and racists could make further gains, tapping into general disillusionment with all the main parties, including the SP.
Danger of squandering support
Even if the SP does not enter a right dominated coalition government – and it seems most likely the CDA will negotiate with the Labour Party as its main coalition partner – the SP’s continued success is not at all guaranteed. The SP leadership has moved to the right in recent months, clearly trying to show the bosses that it can be a ‘mature’ party of government. The leaders could squander the SP’s working class support if they attempt to ditch or tone down more radical policies, to show the SP is also a ‘responsible’ opposition to pro-capitalist ruling parties.
The SP is a broad party, whose leaders, while stating they want reforms for working people, do not seriously challenging the rule of capitalism. Of course, Offensief supporters fight for every possible reform for the working class, but also point out that only a relentless mass struggle to change society – for a democratic socialist society where people’s needs replace profits – can secure past gains won by the working class and win new rights and better living standards for workers and the poor.
This week’s poll breakthrough for the SP shows the huge potential for a party which campaigns on bold, socialist policies, and maintains an independent class approach - rejecting power-sharing with right wing, cuts making parties. As a campaigning, socialist alternative that fights on behalf of workers, the poor and discriminated minorities, the SP can grow massively, both in wider support and membership. The SP now has ample opportunity to put a class alternative to the right wing parties. A new CDA-led government, probably involving the Labour Party and a third party, may take some time to form, and will not be stable. Provincial state elections take place 7 March 2007.
Offensief (CWI) supporters call for the SP to open up to an active working class and youth membership; for democratic, inclusive party structures so that genuine discussion and debate can take place and the party can be a campaigning organisation, from local to national level. On this basis, the SP can become the overwhelming class opposition to the main right wing parties. The SP can be the core of a new mass socialist alternative that can seriously contest for power over the next elections, preparing the way for a majority socialist government with bold socialist policies.
More analysis of the election results, by Offensief (CWI) supporters, will appear on socialistworld.net, next week