Ted Grant

Dutch Labour Party goes left

Written: March 1970
Source: Militant, no. 61 (March 1970)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008

Holland has been regarded as a staid haven for capitalism, with the “solid” Dutch impervious to Marxist ideas. Now events across the North Sea are showing how false is this idea. Symptomatic of the winds of change blowing in Holland has been the crisis in the Catholic Church, which has involved even the Bishops. This is an indication of the mood developing among the working-class and among the people. Before that we had the crisis of the youth and the development of the Dutch “Provos”. This was a symptom of the movement of opinion within the working-class, but with the tactics and antics of the elements leading it, it could only lead itself into the sand without showing any way forward.

The Dutch Labour Party was one of the most right-wing, if not the most right-wing, party in Europe. But on the 17th February, a quarter of the Parliamentary Party voted for a motion demanding that the government recognise North Vietnam. This is not to say that many of the parliamentarians have changed their views, but it is an indication of the real trend of events.

The left has waged a struggle, gaining greater and greater support, for the past two and a half years within the Dutch Labour Party. At the congress before the last, they had already gained almost half the seats on the National Executive. According to a report in The Economist of February 21st, at the last congress in January the “traditional Marxists” gained a majority of the party organisation. While not really Marxist, they reflect the rank and file, trying to find the road to a militant socialist policy.

The right-wing leadership in parliament, like Gaitskell in the past, are trying to “fight, fight, and fight again” against the decisions of the conference, but these right-wingers are finding it difficult in local organisations of the party. The right-wing officials and local councillors are in many cases deserting the struggle and resigning their seats on the councils, and in the party, because of the demands of the majority for socialist policies and left-wing ideas.

Now the right wing is preparing to split. A group of extreme right-wingers have gathered together to found a new party, calling itself “Democrat Socialist 1970”.

As The Economist sadly comments, in a matter of months the party will be split into two parts: a “moderate rump” and an “extreme left wing”. The futility of these faint-hearts, who deserted the struggle for a Marxist policy in the Social Democrats, who conduct a barren “independent” policy—independent of the movement of the working class—is shown by these events.

This has many lessons for the movement in Britain. There have been many sectarians who deserted the struggle for a socialist policy within the labour movement. In their various bizarre guises, they imagined they would build a movement outside the real developments among the masses. On the other hand, many sincere students and leftists also moved away because they said the workers had left the Labour Party, forgetting that more than any other party in the world, resting on the trade unions, the Labour Party is the mass party of the working class. When the workers move left it will have its effect also on the Labour Party. The radicalised white-collar and the industrial workers have been exerting pressure and fighting for higher wages in recent months. The organised Labour Movement forced a withdrawal of anti-trade union legislation. That is the harbinger of the future; at the moment the main concern of the organised workers, with a general election looming, is the fight against conservatism and capitalist reaction.

The pessimism in the circles around Tribune arises from the lack of Marxist analysis and Marxist perspectives for the future. It is the other side of the coin of the despairing middle-class and declassed elements who have left the Labour Party. Holland only shows a rehearsal of developments in Britain. For their right-wing liberal ideas there is no future. The trade union and labour movement will move left. The ideas of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky will find their reflection within the labour movement in the coming years.