Right wing parties are set for victory during the upcoming parliamentary elections in the Netherlands. Geert Wilders’ far right Freedom Party (PVV) and current prime minister Mark Rutte’s conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) are leading the polls. The projected seats of the four left wing parties combined amount to just 45 out of 150 seats in the latest poll.
The PVV doesn’t try to hide its racist agenda. Wilders has said he wants “fewer Moroccans” in the Netherlands, that “tens of millions” of Muslims should be deported from Europe, that he wants to “tear down mosques” and that he is fine with Christian and Jewish schools, but doesn’t want any Islamic ones.
Even though most parties, including the VVD, have said they will not join a government with the PVV, the success of the latter is pulling the whole spectrum of parliamentary politics to the right. The VVD in particular has tried to outmanoeuvre the PVV by embracing its politics. In an open letter published in several big newspapers, Mark Rutte said migrants should “act normal or leave”.
Due to the Dutch electoral system, governments always consist of more than one party. Usually this means two or three parties form a coalition, but this time it is probable that any combination would need at least four parties for a majority in parliament. We are facing the prospect of a government including the PVV or a right wing government with the PVV as the main opposition.
Two developments paved the way for this situation. Firstly, the left hasn’t been able to provide a credible alternative to the neoliberal onslaught of recent decades. In the 1980s and 1990s the PvdA (Labour) and GroenLinks (Greens) embraced neoliberalism, joining the right wing parties in tearing down the welfare state.
The initial rise of the Socialist Party between 1992 and 2007 was built upon fierce resistance to neoliberalism. Although the Socialist Party has not succumbed to neoliberalism, its desire to join the government has weakened this resistance.
The attempt by the new leader of GroenLinks, Jesse Klaver, to present himself as the new leader of the left demonstrates the problem. Klaver attacks what he calls “economism”, but his plans are drenched with neoliberalism. By using VAT to reduce the consumption of meat and introducing taxes to discourage travel by car he charges ordinary people, while letting the rich and big business off the hook.
Secondly, the left wing parties have refused to participate in the struggle against racism. In 2008 PvdA, GroenLinks and the Socialist Party boycotted an anti-racist march because they didn’t want to demonstrate against their “colleague” Geert Wilders.
The Socialist Party limits its criticism of the PVV to socio-economic issues and sends mixed messages on racism. For example, last month MP Paul Ulenbelt talked about putting “our own workers first”. Prospective MP Bart van Kent said that “the Netherlands has to close its borders” to stop competition from Eastern European workers.
In this way the parliamentary left has disarmed itself and handed over the initiative to the radical right. However, the shift to the right in parliamentary politics is not the whole story.
At the height of the refugee crisis Dutch media were completely focused on a small group of people protesting against new refugee centres, while ignoring the much bigger surge of initiatives to support refugees.
Over the last couple of years a new movement against racism has emerged, raising awareness about institutional racism in the Netherlands, and resulting in many new organisations by people of colour. This movement has challenged the racist “Black Pete” Christmas tradition when people blacken their faces, and successfully forced big retail companies such as Albert Heijn and Hema to stop using blackface in their advertisements.
The emergence of this movement and the lack of support from the established left wing parties has resulted in new electoral initiatives. DENK, a party formed by two former Labour MPs with a Turkish background, will probably win a few seats. The more progressive Artikel 1, supported by a former Socialist Party senator, is an interesting new initiative.
Although the elections will probably come a few months too early for Artikel 1, it represents elements needed for a regroupment on the left.
After the election of Donald Trump thousands of people took to the streets in the Netherlands. The protests were especially urgent because of the prospect of a right wing victory and the retreat of the established left wing parties. The people who joined these protests, mainly young women, understood that this is no time to despair. It is a time to organise and fight back.