Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 3


Dutch Anti-Militarism

Dear Editor

The latest issue of Revolutionary History, Mutiny, Disaffection and Unrest in the Armed Forces, was very interesting. I’m a member of the Dutch section of the Committee for a Workers’ International, called Offensief, and together with a comrade I’m working on a doctoral degree about the activities of the different left-wing currents among sailors and soldiers in the Netherlands and the Dutch Indies (Indonesia) during the First World War. Although the Netherlands were neutral during the Great War, there was still a mass mobilisation of 250,000 men (from a population of six million inhabitants). Like in all the other countries, there was much debate in the workers’ movement about the struggle against capitalism, militarism and war. The Dutch socialist workers’ movement was heavily influenced by the positions of the movement in France and Germany and of course of the Second International.

Such themes as proletarian self-defence, a red guard/army, a militia/people’s army, the relationship between the workers’ movement and the workers in uniform, etc, were enthusiastically debated.

The Social Democrats (the Social Democratic Workers Party – SDAP) and the left split from it in 1909 (the Social Democratic Party – SPD, which became the Communist Party), anarchists and syndicalists engaged in many initiatives as regards activities and the building of organisations. Even before the Great War, there was a influential Social Democratic sailors’ union active in the Dutch navy. Both syndicalists and Social Democrats set up mobilisation clubs at the beginning of the war. The former were anti-capitalist and anti-militaristic, while the latter supported the mobilisation efforts of the government, and tried to keep the members in line with the ideas of the SDAP. A few years later the Social Democratic League of Dutch Conscripts (Bond van Nederlandsche Dienstplichtigen) was established. Influenced by the Russian example, anarchists and other revolutionary socialists established soldiers’ councils. In the Dutch Indies, the sailors’ union radicalised and helped to establish the Soldiers’ League. Revolutionary socialists like Henk Sneevliet were involved, and an attempt was even made to start an uprising.

It was not only the German Revolution of November 1918 that stimulated the Dutch Social Democratic leader P.J. Troelstra to start his ill-prepared revolution. His attempt was also stimulated by the unrest in the Dutch armed forces. He spoke about giving power to the Higher Council of Workers and Soldiers, the League of Dutch Conscripts. Our research should lead to an overview of the activities and the influence of the different soldiers’ and sailors’ organisations and what their rôle was during the Red Week in Holland and the Indies in November 1918.

Hopefully we will later be able to translate parts of our book into English in order to improve our common understanding of the mechanisms of unrest and mutiny in the armed forces in relation to society as a whole.

Ron Blom

Updated by ETOL: 21.10.2011