Why the Dutch Socialist Party is in crisis

Significant protests that attracted many young people have also taken place around the issue of climate change, but here as well the party remained aloof. Participation is left largely to decisions of local chapters, and to ROOD. For many, concerns over racism and climate change are the beginning of a broader politicization – but joining the current SP would not appear to them as a logical option. When the SP stands apart from such mobilizations, this is not for lack of means. Rather this is a strategy, motivated by the prioritizing of electoral results and a calculation of what the party leadership thinks will bring in most votes. Anti-racism and climate-change measures are assumed to be too “controversial” among (potential) SP voters. Former SP councillor Mahmut Erciyas describes this strategy as trying to “combine progressive social-economic policies with cultural conservatism”. Party members complain that marketing agencies and public relations experts have had more of a say in determining this course than rank-and-file activists. When members succeeded in having anti-racism declared a priority at a recent party congress, this had little practical follow-up. Erciyas was for years a councilor in the city of Oss, one of the SP’s bastions, and the city where Lilian and Jan Marijnissen started their political careers. Oss is a typical SP stronghold: a medium-sized city in the formerly Catholic south of the country, with a predominately white population and without a strong left-wing tradition. Dissatisfaction over the current political orientation of the SP is especially strong in the larger, more racially diverse cities, such as in Rotterdam (the country’s second largest) and Amsterdam. “The current political orientation of the SP is a dead-end, it does not connect with the diverse reality of the working class, especially as it exists in the larger cities”, says Erciyas. Other SP activists criticize the orientation of the leadership in similar terms, saying it is trying to address a caricatured, outdated version of what is only one segment of the working class. With proposals such as requiring working permits for people from other European Union countries, the SP is “repeating the mistakes we made towards Turkish and Moroccan labor migrants,” says Erciyas. “We are attempting to keep Polish workers out, instead of strongly supporting them in their struggle for a better life.”

Alex de Jong in Why the Dutch Socialist Party Is in Crisis (Jacobin)