Group of International Communists (Holland)

The Struggle Against the Reduction of Unemployed Relief in Amsterdam


Published: in International Council Correspondence Vol. 1, no.2, November 1934, pp 20-23. Translated from Rätekorrespondenz #4.
Source: Antonie Pannekoek Archives
Transcribed: by Graham Dyer

In the first days of July, the Dutch Government cut the unemployed (cash) relief to an extent which aroused the unemployed to spontaneous demonstrations at the relief stations and on the streets. These demonstrations were at once combatted by the police and the guardsmen in the most brutal manner. In the “Indian District” and the “Jordaan Workers District” of Amsterdam the unemployed did not allow the police to break their demonstrations up without a fight. They answered the bullets and sabers of the police with the stones they got from the pavement. The struggle lasted many hours. In the evening after the workers left for group meetings which had been hastily arranged, these groups in passing through the streets grew in a very short time to powerful and large demonstrations which the police again tried to break up. The workers erected barricades to keep the police out of the streets, as it is impossible to defeat bullets with stones. The street lights were destroyed in order to make it difficult for the police to advance. This, which was done in a few streets became the situation in the whole “Jordaan District” the next day. At all corners hastily but well erected barricades were seen; the streets were torn up to exclude all fast transportation. On this day the workers succeeded in driving every policeman out of the district which by evening was entirely in the hands of the workers. The unemployed were victorious for this day; but, by twelve o'clock at night they all returned to their homes and the police moved in again without a fight.

On the following day the guardsmen took possession of the district. They came with tanks, armored automobiles and machine guns. They arrived in such a strength that the unemployed alone could never be able to fight them successfully. They were not cowardly in not opposing the guardsmen because the events of the day before had brought proof that they were good fighters. However, in the face of this strong enemy, a fight would have been suicide.

The struggle had grown out of a relief question. The immediate goal of the fighters was to force the government to recall the relief cut. Workers who want to fight the government at least need the support of very broad layers of the working class. This support was not forthcoming. The majority of the workers will only participate in a movement which embraces their immediate interests. But the fight was merely a fight for unemployed relief; it did not involve the employed workers. Without their support, there was no sense to go farther in the struggle, and it ended in a defeat.

The relief cut was an absolute necessity for the Dutch bourgeoisie. The wages of the employed workers had become so low by a series of wage cuts that there was almost no difference any more between the relief and the wages; but before further wage cuts could be made, the relief had now to be cut first. The continuation of the profitableness of the capitalistic system made this absolutely necessary. This is why the government answered a simple demonstration of the unemployed in a way in which formerly only revolutionary uprisings would have been answered. It was martial law. This offensive against the unemployed was a challenge against the whole working class. There could only be one answer after the brutal attack of the police and the guardsmen: “The General Strike”; but the trade-unionist traditions made it hardly possible. It is important to note that in factories not controlled by the trade union, the workers walked out in sympathy with the unemployed.

As bitter as the battle was, which the unemployed put up and which spread as a guerilla warfare all over the city, in a few days the whole thing was crushed. After the defeat of the uprising, the attack against the existing labor organization set in. In all labor organizations, such as press bureaus, offices, etc., the police searched for documents, stole the important parts of the printing presses, put many workers in jail, forbade every kind of workers’ activity. Although this may hurt the labor organization very much, it is not bad at all from the viewpoint of the actual class struggle of the working class. The fighting strength of the workers actually increases through such measures of the ruling class. To forbid the class struggle itself is impossible, but if the bourgeoisie makes the existence of the pseudo-revolutionary organizations impossible, it also removes at the same time an obstacle against the real revolutionizing of the workers. The workers cannot merely be neutralized by the labor fakers; they have to find their own way. Their labor becomes more difficult to be sure, but also more effective. What they now do is to actually fight and not engage in some opportunistic sidetracking of the real issue in the fields of parliamentary fake-success, etc.

The greatest value for the revolutionary movement is the fact that actions of this kind, and the actions of the ruling class which followed them, showed the weaknesses of the present day labor movement in all its ugliness. One stroke of the ruling class sufficed to do away with the Communist Party and all its affiliated organizations. The leadership of the C.P. had not anticipated this, and actually, the bourgeoisie had really no reason to be so hard on this organization which, in spite of all their self-assurance, is only trying to live and prosper inside of the capitalistic system. Even the last number of the Communist Party of Holland’s paper, the “Tribune”, before it was suppressed, tried to support the system of private property. We read therein regarding the action of the unemployed (“Tribune” - July 6), “Fight Against Looting and Provocations”:

”When the workers in the Jordaan District were fighting a mass battle, some criminal elements were trying to loot the stores. The workers have nothing in common with these elements. They have to fight them. The workers want the sympathy and the support of many small business men in Jordaan. They, like the workers themselves, are hit hard by the depression and also by the relief cut”.

(By the way: The lootings hit the firm “Jamin”, a big capitalistic enterprise in foodstuffs, a chain store.)

The C.P. also advised the workers in order to combat the military onslaught of the ruling class to engage in such silly things as to organize “school strikes,” “don’t pay rent movements”, etc.; but not a single word of the only thing which was logically necessary, “The General Strike”.

The most important lesson to be drawn from the struggle of the unemployed in Amsterdam is the fact that successful group struggles are no longer possible. The difficulties in which the bourgeoisie finds itself, not only in regard to their diminished profits in this country but in their extended necessity to compete on the world market and thus prepare for the imperialistic actions, forces them to make of the workers not only paupers, but also willing tools in the hands of the ruling class. They are unable to stand even the weakest opposition on the part of the workers, and each demonstration against the policy of the bourgeoisie is translated by the ruling class as a direct menace against its existence.

What took place when the sailors of “De Zeven Provincien” revolted was repeated with this demonstration of the unemployed. The sailors demonstrated against their miserable condition, but they were treated as though they had started a revolution. So again the “Handelsblaad” of July 5 writes: “Whosoever is building barricades in the City will be answered as it is the custom to answer when barricades are built”.

The brutality with which the bourgeoisie answered even the slightest protest of the workers comes actually as a surprise to these workers. They did not even understand this at first. The sailors of “De Zeven Provincien” looked up to the army planes, and laughing, they never thought that these army planes would drop bombs to destroy the rebels. The workers of Amsterdam did not dream that a mere demonstration would turn the city into a battle field, with military tactics, barricades and killings; but they learn and they learn fast as their action proves. They will soon know that not even the weakest activity will be granted to them; that the ruling class is deadly serious in their determination to kill all actions in favor of the working class.

The period of “Democracy”, of “Parliamentary Humbug”, of “Reforms” and of “Legal Action” is definitely over. Now machine guns make history, and realizing this new situation, the workers will also find out that it is absolutely necessary to adopt a class policy, and that success is only possible if the present system is destroyed through proletarian revolution.


Last updated on: 3.23.2016