In the context of a deepening political and social crisis in the Netherlands, Peoples Dispatch speaks to the Communist Youth Movement (CJB) to understand their analysis of these political and social issues, including the resignation of the prime minister Mark Rutte’s government, the multi fold implications of the COVID-19 crisis, workers rights, and the ongoing campaign to increase the minimum wage. The CJB was founded in September 2003 as the youth organization of the New Communist Party of the Netherlands (NCPN).
Peoples Dispatch: Prime Minister Rutte and his entire cabinet resign on January 15, 2021. How do you view their resignations? Will the resignation of the government hamper the country’s fight against COVID-19?
Communist Youth Movement: The government resigned because of the people’s backlash against the so-called “allowance affair”, which we call a scandal. In this scandal, 26,000 families that were entitled to an allowance for childcare were wrongly accused of fraud. These parents had to repay gigantic amounts of money, often tens of thousands of euros. There is also a racist element to the scandal as the tax authorities apply racial profiling. Thousands of families got a huge debt and lived in poverty for years because of this scandal.
The narrative advocated by the government and the media is that the government took the “highest political responsibility” for this scandal. The reality is, however, that the resignation is merely symbolic since the next elections in the Netherlands will take place in two months. The resignation of the government is in fact a strategic move by the bourgeois parties. They take ‘responsibility’ now, so the new government can start with a ‘clean slate’ (whatever the composition of the new government will be). At the same time, the resignation allows the bourgeois parties to focus on the pseudo-quarrels between themselves in the political circus of the election campaign.
The Dutch working class has a difficult time ahead. The pandemic is accompanied by a severe capitalist economic crisis. After the elections, the new bourgeois government will try to place the burden of the crisis on the working class. This is why we say there is no reason to celebrate the resignation of the government. Scandals like this are mere symptoms of an inhuman system, capitalism. Only through the struggle of the workers against this barbaric system can social rights be established and defended.
The resigned government is entitled to take measures related to the pandemic. Therefore, there are no immediate consequences for the fight against the coronavirus.
PD: What is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Netherlands and how effective has the government been in mitigating the health and social crisis. What are the latest updates on the COVID-19 vaccinations in the country?
CJB: Unfortunately, the way the Dutch government handles the pandemic is disastrous. The government was not prepared in the slightest for the pandemic, and when it hit, the government did too little and too late. For example, when the virus was already spreading in the Netherlands and the situation in Italy was escalating, the official advice of the Dutch government was still only to not shake hands and to regularly wash hands.
Currently there is a lockdown, which started in the middle of December and was supposed to last until February 9, but was just extended to March 2. Schools and non-essential shops are closed. The government also invoked a curfew after 21:00, starting last week. Nevertheless, factories, distribution centers and other large workplaces continue to operate, often without the necessary health measures. From the beginning, the government prioritized capitalist profits over the well-being of the people. The government is pumping billions into companies to safeguard the capitalists’ profits, while tens of thousands of workers see their jobs disappear. Furthermore, we observe that the government uses the pandemic as a pretext for passing laws that restrict democratic rights.
The lack of preparation for a pandemic was revealed by the shortages in healthcare personnel, ICU beds, and during the first months even protective equipment. This situation has in fact been created by the successive governments that have weakened the healthcare system through cuts and privatization. For example, the total amount of hospital beds in the Netherlands dropped by 21% between 2003 and 2017 and multiple hospitals were closed in recent years because they were not profitable.
Up until now, over 13,000 people have died due to the coronavirus in our country. The Netherlands was the last country in the EU to start with the vaccination program on January 6.
PD: What can you tell us about the protests against night curfews across the Netherlands, with widespread instances of violence being reported. Who are these protestors?
CJB: The Dutch government issued a night-time curfew on January 23, aiming to hamper the spread of the virus, especially the British variant that seems to be spreading faster. There have been protests and riots in various cities against the curfew. More protests are expected. These protests are fueled by concerns but also conspiracy theories about the virus and increasing state repression. Far-right elements play a major role in the violent riots.
The influence of conspiracy theories has increased last year. The Dutch government is partly responsible for this, because of its contradicting positions. For example, the government had been claiming for months – contrary to the WHO – that people do not need to wear face masks because there was “no evidence that they work against corona,” but later wearing face masks became mandatory in indoor public spaces. Another example: the direction for workers in elderly care was to not wear face masks. Later it was revealed that this direction was based on the shortage of face masks, which had been denied earlier. Such contradictions have enhanced conspiracy theories, which are also promoted by far-right organizations (including the FvD party), although obviously not all people influenced by conspiracy thinking are far-right extremists.
That said, many people are rightly concerned about the negative consequences of the long-lasting lockdown (e.g. downscaling of regular healthcare). This is, however, a result of the inadequate and belated response of the government.
Furthermore, there is indeed a trend of restricting political rights and increasing repression. A trend that existed already before the pandemic. For example, there are proposals to allow the minister to prohibit political organizations without interference of a court, or to equip community service officers with weapons. The riots do not fight this trend because they are directed against measures that serve public health. The problem is not the lockdown or the curfew, but that such severe measures should be accompanied by similarly drastic measures against infections at the workplaces (that often function without necessary health measures), and by measures to strengthen the healthcare system.
PD: How disastrous has the pandemic been for the Dutch working class? What is the impact on the youth and students across the country?
CJB: The lives of the working class and the youth in our country have changed a lot since the pandemic. Many have lost their jobs, especially those working for employment agencies and workers with other forms of flexible employment contracts. Others are working from home, which is unfortunately often used by employers to increase work intensity and to blur the lines between private time and work time. Healthcare workers are under a lot of pressure. Students (in all levels of education) often follow online education and face great difficulties and uncertainty. Most students in higher education are delayed in their studies, while they keep paying tuition fees and their costs of living (which in many cases includes rent). Moreover, many people endure psychological effects of the lockdown as they suffer from the prolonged lack of access to culture, sports, entertainment, and of course physical interaction with friends.
It is important, however, to keep in mind that these changes do not originate solely from the pandemic itself, but also from the late and weak reaction of the government to the pandemic which perpetuates the lockdown, as well as the current capitalist economic crisis.
We call it a ‘capitalist economic crisis’ and not a ‘corona crisis’, because the world economy was already facing stagnation, and signs of a new economic crisis were already visible before COVID-19 emerged. The underlying cause of the economic crisis lies in the contradictions of the capitalist system itself, the over-accumulation of capital. Of course, the pandemic and the measures taken accelerated the outbreak of the economic crisis and amplified its effects. The fact that we are already facing the third capitalist economic crisis of the 21st century highlights the necessity of a different organization of the economy and society. It highlights the necessity of the struggle against capitalism.
PD: What are the proposals of the New Communist Party of the Netherlands (NCPN) and the CJB towards the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 17?
CJB: On March 17, there will be elections for the House of Representatives. The NCPN is currently not represented in parliament. The NCPN will not participate in this election, because it requires a lot of resources that we cannot, at this stage, allocate to participating in these elections. However, the steady growth of the NCPN and CJB in the last years allows us to be optimistic about the possibility of participating in future elections. For now, our focus lies on strengthening the NCPN and CJB, and improving our work in the labor movement, student movement and other social movements.
Strengthening the labor movement and enhancing the class-oriented line of struggle is of utmost importance. The working class is already feeling the consequences of the current capitalist economic crisis. Independently of which parties constitute the new government, it will try to place the burden of the economic crisis on the working class, while the big companies receive billions. ‘Struggle is the way out of the crisis’, is one our slogans, as struggle will be the only way for the working class to defend and advance its interests and rights.
Therefore, we do not endorse some other party in these elections. The participating parties are bourgeois parties that seek to manage the capitalist system, despite the radical, anti-capitalist or even ‘Marxist’ rhetoric and terminology that we can find in the propaganda of some of the participating parties.
Our message for the upcoming elections is that the working class needs to strengthen its own party, the NCPN. It is the only party that can consistently advance the interests of the working class and pave the way for a different society.
PD: What is your take on the Netherlands’ involvement in the European Union (EU) and NATO?
CJB: NATO is the imperialist war-machine spearheaded by the ‘Western’ imperialist countries. There is some friction within NATO, and the EU is developing its capacity to take military action without dependence on (but also in cooperation with) NATO and the US. The militarization of the EU, through the introduction of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the promotion of a ‘European army’, is a dangerous development.
The EU is an imperialist union, a union that serves the interest of European capital in which the Dutch bourgeoisie has a big stake. The measures taken by the EU to increase the competitiveness and profitability of the leading sections of big capital have had devastating effects for the working class. It has led to the deterioration of labor rights (“flexibilization”), of the education system (now commercialized, expensive and increasingly organized in accordance with the interest of the employers), and of the social welfare system for which the workers in our country have fought so hard in the past. Furthermore, the EU advances anti-communist policies.
Despite some anti-EU rhetoric from some far-right and social-democratic parties, the Dutch bourgeoisie currently has no interest in a “Nexit”. In its competition with China, Russia, US and so on, the Dutch bourgeoisie sees its interests best served by participation in the EU. The EU cannot be reformed into a ‘just’ union, as some social-democratic parties propose (including the Socialist Party (SP) and the BIJ1 (Together)).
We demand that the Netherlands leaves the imperialist unions. The struggle against the EU should be thoroughly linked up with the struggle for socialism-communism, without any illusions that the workers would somehow be better off being exploited by just the ‘national bourgeoisie’. The latter pertains to dangerous far-right ‘Euroscepticism’ which exploits the justified hatred of the workers against the EU and is trying to poison people’s consciousness with vile racism and nationalism.
PD: How do you view the movement for setting 14 euros as the minimum hourly wage in the Netherlands?
CJB: The current minimum wage in the Netherlands is not a living wage. Compared to most other countries in the world it might seem high, but with Dutch prices, especially for housing and transport, no working-class family can afford to live from one full-time salary alone. Already in 2017, the official Dutch government statement read that a couple with one child needs at least 1,850 euros per month to live, but the minimum wage in 2021 is still only at 1,685 euros per month. Before tax!
Because of this, millions of Dutch working-class families are condemned to a life in poverty, which is even worse for single mothers and unemployed. Besides, more and more workers are condemned to work without a permanent contract or as so-called self-employed without any labor rights. The movement for a 14 euro per hour minimum wage is justified and necessary and we support it, participate in it, and promote it in our publications.
For many people, a haircut or a subway ride to the city center are luxuries that must be carefully planned, or simply are not affordable. Youth are staying with their parents longer and longer because they cannot afford an apartment of their own. Only in the USA, the wealth is distributed more unequally than in the Netherlands. The poorest 30% of our people have a net possession of zero on average, because their debts are equal to or greater than their wealth. On the other hand the richest 1% own a third of all private wealth.
This inequality shows the need for social ownership of the means of production and an economy that is planned based on the people’s needs instead of the profits of a handful of exploiters. It shows the need for socialism-communism.