The Dutch general election

Neil Faulkner on the Dutch general election.

The Dutch election confirms the global pattern. The centre cannot hold, there is polarisation to right and left, but the former is dominant, so that politics generally is on a rightward-moving trajectory. It also confirms that the process is playing out in slow motion, a reflection of the fact that the world capitalist crisis is shallower but more protracted than in the 1930s.

There are two things to celebrate. Most important is the dramatic surge of GreenLeft, a radical, young, anti-austerity, pro-migrant, pro-European party which jumped from 4 seats to 14 in the 150-strong Dutch Parliament.

GreenLeft is a classic example of a new left party, being the result of a merger 25 years ago of communists, pacifists, environmentalists, and other radicals. Its 30-year-old leader – of mixed Moroccan and Indonesian descent – claims the party’s surge is down to its unflinching commitment to left-wing principle:

What I would say to all my left-wing friends in Europe: don’t try to fake the populace. Stand up for your principles. Be straight. Be pro-refugee. Be pro-European. We’ve gaining momentum in the polls. You can stop populism.

The second cause for celebration is that Geert Wilders’ neo-fascist, virulently Islamophobic Freedom Party failed in its aim of becoming Holland’s largest party. But this, unfortunately, does not amount to the comprehensive far-right defeat that some commentators have proclaimed.

Wilders gained five seats, leaving him with 20 in total, whereas the governing Liberals, while remaining the largest party with 33 seats, lost eight. But the situation is worse than these figures imply.

Mark Rutte’s Liberals are, in fact, a right-wing neoliberal party akin to Britain’s Tories. Like Theresa May, Rutte has adopted the anti-migrant rhetoric of the Far Right, telling immigrants they have to respect Dutch norms and values ‘or leave’. His highly public spat with Turkish President Erdogan during the election campaign – which included staging a violent police attack on a demonstration of Turkish immigrants – was designed to drain racist votes from Wilders.

The effect of Wilders – like that of UKIP and Brexit in Britain – is to poison the political mainstream with racism and pull the whole of politics to the right. As one Dutch commentator remarked:

Wilders did not want to enter government. What he wanted, and he’s pretty much already achieved it, is for the two mainstream right-wing parties [the Liberals and the Christian Democrats] … to say and do what he wants. In a sense, he had already won the election.

More bad news is that the GreenLeft surge has merely filled part of the space created by the well-deserved implosion of the Dutch Labour Party. Like New Labour, the Dutch Labour Party had evolved into a pro-austerity, pro-market, pro-corporate party dominated by right-wing career politicians. In coalition with Rutte, they had voted through neoliberal counter-reforms like raising the retirement age and cutting benefits. The result was a collapse from 38 seats to nine.

So the Netherlands has just become more right-wing and more polarised. The whole of the mainstream has been infected with Wilder’s anti-migrant, anti-Muslim racism. That mainstream is responsible for austerity, privatisation, and growing social inequality. In an intimate embrace with finance capital and the super-rich, Dutch conservatives, centrists, and pseudo-socialists have nothing to offer the poor but scapegoat politics. They echo Wilders to compete with him, but also because they have nothing else to say.

The GreenLeft shows what is possible. As with Syriza, Podemos, the Sanders campaign, and the Corbynista movement, we see the potential for a new, young, dynamic Left to emerge. We should note, too, the centrality of principled politics: the Dutch radical surge has been achieved on the basis of uncompromising pro-migrant and pro-Europe politics.

The two are, of course, inseparable. You cannot fight anti-migrant racism with Lexit politics. You need to unite the workers, the poor, and the minorities across the continent in defence of free movement and for a red-green alternative to corporate power, austerity economics, and the greed of the rich.

Otherwise you end up capitulating to some form of nationalism. You end up tailing the Far Right. It was something Trotsky, writing in the interwar period, long before the emergence of the EU, well understood:

If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working-class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperial state trust into a European Republican Federation.

Which, translated to now, means: Stop Brexit and Fight for Another Europe.

Neil Faulkner, with Samir Dathi, is the author of Creeping Fascism: Brexit, Trump, and the Rise of the Far Right.


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