Communists in Netherlands vow to deepen the struggle against imperialism and for socialism

In an interview with Peoples Dispatch, the Communist Youth Movement in the Netherlands discusses how they continue to organize against capitalist exploitation and oppression drawing on their rich history of struggle and internationalism

February 20, 2021 by Muhammed Shabeer
Dutch communists at an annual trek to the trails used by communists who fled Nazi repression. Photo: CJB Groningen

How are communist movements in Europe responding to the deepening political, social and economic crisis, manifested in the growth of racism and Islamophobia, an increase in unemployment, among other things? Peoples Dispatch spoke to the Communist Youth Movement (CJB) in the Netherlands to discuss their position on these issues as well as their involvement in the climate movement, and the history and relevance of the communist movement in the Netherlands. The CJB was founded in September 2003 as the youth organization of the New Communist Party of the Netherlands (NCPN).

Part 1 of this interview can be found here

PD: How does the CJB analyze the spike in racism across European countries? What is your take on the controversy regarding the characterization of the ‘Zwarte Piet’ (the racist caricature seen during Dutch holiday Sinterklaas) and the subsequent protests?

CJB: Racism is a serious problem in Europe. People with a background of migration, especially people of color, are disadvantaged in many regards. In the Netherlands, unemployment in people with a non-western migration background is almost triple compared to those without a migration background, while their wages per hour are up to 29% lower. There also are many ugly racist stereotypes, for example that specific population groups would be lazy, stupid, or criminal because of their culture. Labor migrants are stereotyped as ‘hard working’ and ‘happy with a low wage because they can still earn more than in their home country’. The state apparatus plays an important role in propagating such stereotypes, as the police and the tax services apply ethnic profiling, such that migrants are criminalized disproportionately. This was one of the reasons for the government’s resignation, even though the racism aspect of the misconduct by the tax services was downplayed.

In that sense, the spike in racism that we observe is nothing more than the articulation of the racist views and practices that are reproduced by capitalist societies. Especially in times of economic crisis, racism has served to divert attention away from capitalist atrocities, away from class unity, away from the struggle for a society of social equality.

Zwarte Piet is a racist caricature that reflects the social order of the 19th century, when Zwarte Piet was constructed in his current racist form. Sinterklaas should, can, and will be celebrated without racist caricatures. This will be an important symbolic victory, but as communists we demand more. We demand a society where everyone will truly have equal rights and possibilities, a society that does not create, nor need, nor use racism: socialism-communism.

PD: How have openly Islamophobic parties and groups like the Party For Freedom (PVV) gained popularity and traction in the Netherlands?

CJB: The Party For Freedom (PVV) and the newer Forum for Democracy (FvD) party are extreme-right parties that indeed openly use racism. However, all parties in the Dutch parliament advance racist views when it fits their agenda, often implicitly but sometimes more openly. All parties defend capitalism which is the root of racism in our society. Openly racist and Islamophobic parties such as the PVV and FvD grow on the rotten soil of the dominant bourgeois ideology. Still, they manage to portray themselves as ‘opposition forces’ because of their slanderous language.

The PVV and FvD receive (financial) support from capitalists. The popularity of far-right parties also relies on the deteriorating living conditions and incomes since the 1990s. The racist parties are mainly carried by petit-bourgeois forces that used to have a more advantageous position but now face difficulties. Seeking to profit from capitalism, rather than fight it, they turn their anger towards immigrants.

Many regular working-class people also support the PVV and FvD. In the absence of class consciousness, it is easy for these parties to portray the social problems of capitalism such as crime, as ethnic problems caused by minorities. Migrants and their descendants make up the majority of the poorest sections of the working class in many Dutch cities. They are discriminated against and therefore have lower education, income, and possibilities for a decent life, which results in higher rates of social problems. This is especially visible in working-class neighborhoods. Racist parties abuse this to obscure the real causes of the social problems that ethnic minorities share with the white working class, causes that lie in the nature of the exploitative capitalist system. Our slogan is: ‘Unity of all workers against racism and fascism!’

Furthermore, racism and Islamophobia serve the ideological justification for imperialist wars in the Middle East, where the Dutch bourgeoisie has interests.

PD: Can you tell us about the CJB’s involvement in the movement for climate justice?

CJB: Climate change and other environmental issues are very serious problems that affect not only entire ecosystems, but also people worldwide, especially poor people. The NCPN and CJB support various demonstrations and initiatives on environmental issues, where we participate with our own positions and analyses. We regularly produce articles that highlight various aspects of environmental problems.

Meanwhile, the bourgeoisie makes efforts to either support the spread of disinformation (e.g. climate change denial) or to promote their own view on environmentalism, for example through the ‘European Green Deal’ advanced by the European Union (EU). On the one hand, bourgeois environmentalism blames the individual consumer (that is the working class) for environmental issues, and on the other hand it demands and receives billions of euros for the renewable-energy sector and technological innovation (to reduce pollution and use of resources) from the state, placing the costs (again) on the workers.

The truth is that tackling environmental issues requires much more radical changes in the economy than can be realized under capitalism. In fact, environmental problems mainly arise and persist because of the way the economy is organized under capitalism. The economy is characterized by competition, anarchy in the production, and by the fact that profit is the goal of production. In this capitalist context, technologies that reduce pollution or use of resources are seen as ‘costs’ by the private companies. Imperialist wars also have a huge environmental impact.

We do not say that climate change and other environmental issues will automatically be solved under socialism. But socialism is the necessary condition to start solving them. It requires social ownership over the concentrated means of production, bringing the economy under the control of the people, so that production and distribution is planned scientifically based on the needs of the people instead of the profits of the capitalists.

PD: The CJB along with the SDAJ organizes an annual trek to the trails used by the communists who fled Nazi repression. Can you tell us about the role of communists in the Dutch resistance against Nazi hordes during World War II?

CJB: After the Reichstag fire in 1933, communists and other anti-fascists were harshly persecuted in Germany. They were brought into safety abroad by the underground network of ‘Red Help’. Bremen and Emden were hubs in the escape routes to the Netherlands at the other side of the Eems. In this area, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) had popular support during the times of the Weimar Republic. On the Dutch side of the border, the eastern part of the Dutch province of Groningen, the communists were also popular. The German and Dutch communists maintained good contacts and the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) reached out to the German comrades to smuggle them to safety. The smuggling often took place at night and had to be discreet and secret so as not to be caught by the border guards. We decided to visit these places with our German comrades to celebrate international solidarity.

Because of the ‘Red Help’ of the CPN towards the KPD, the Dutch communists already had some experience with clandestine work. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, the CPN immediately went underground. Newspapers were illegally produced, people were brought into hiding, and food coupon offices were raided to get food for the people in hiding. Liquidations were also carried out against collaborators and strategically placed Nazis. The CPN even managed to organize the February Strike of 1941 against the persecution of Jews. The strike involved over 300,000 people and was a huge blow to the plans of the Nazis.

Over two-thirds of the cadre of the CPN was killed during the Second World War. Despite their heroic contribution to the resistance, communists faced oppression after the war. Nowadays, the role of the CPN in the resistance is completely downplayed in bourgeois commemorations.

PD:  What has been the communist party’s position towards Dutch colonialism across the world? Did the party have any influence on the liberation movements in the erstwhile Dutch colonies in Asia, Africa and South America?

CJB: The CPN played a central role in the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist struggle, something of which we as Dutch communists are very proud. Where the social democrats supported colonial rule, the CPN demanded independence for all the Dutch colonies.

For example, when the communist and workers’ movement in Indonesia awakened, Dutch and Indonesian communists combined their efforts in the struggle against colonialism. The CPN was the first party to elect an Indonesian communist, Roestam Effendi, into Dutch Parliament before WWII – despite the vile racism of the bourgeois parties.

An interesting episode happened in the 1930s, when Dutch colonialism went through a period of increasingly oppressive policies. A strike by Dutch and Indonesian workers alike for higher wages was organized on an important Dutch warship which was docked close to Aceh, Indonesia. This strike was led by, among others, a comrade from the CPN. Wages were racially stratified, a colonial tool to divide the workers, but this did not stop the workers from uniting. This was a huge blow against the colonial regime, so great that the government itself bombarded the ship to end the strike, killing many workers.

Another example of the anti-colonial struggle took place after the war, when the Dutch social-democratic government sent troops to Indonesia to suppress the liberation movement. CPN members were imprisoned for refusing to fight. Other CPN members went to Indonesia to conduct anti-imperialist propaganda amongst soldiers. There are countless other examples of anti-colonial struggle, also in other parts of the world. Honoring this legacy, we continue the struggle against imperialist interventions and wars.

Although the colonial phase of imperialism has ended, remnants remain, such as the Dutch territories in the Caribbean. We support independence for these countries, as the Dutch government has no business interfering with their affairs.

PD:  What is your take on the monarchy sustaining in the Netherlands, rather than the country being a full-fledged republic?

CJB: For historical reasons, the Dutch bourgeoisie has found use for the monarchy. The ties of the monarchy to the development of the Dutch state are manifold and have changed over the centuries.

Capitalism struck root early in the Netherlands. We have to imagine that the Netherlands already in the 17th century was, as Marx said, “the model capitalist nation”. The current monarchy was established after the Napoleonic wars. The royal family descends from the kin of William of Orange, who led the early bourgeois revolution in the Netherlands in the 16th century. In the 19th century, in the era of bourgeois-democratic revolutions, king William II surrendered to bourgeois-democratic forces and accepted a new constitution. Capitalism itself was already becoming increasingly reactionary, and the bourgeoisie itself feared the people more than the monarchy, hence the compromise. The monarchy has since been used as a tool to promote nationalism and, of course, imperialism, but it was also used as a means of oppression. For example, one could face imprisonment for “offending the monarchy”.

The Dutch monarchy is a completely bourgeois institution and is totally integrated with capital. They are part of the bourgeois ruling class. The monarchy has ties with the big capitalist monopoly groups such as Heineken, Unilever, Philips, and so on. So, although deprived of most official political power, the monarchy functions as a (rather expensive) “glue” and a tool for promoting Dutch businesses around the world. Of course, there are bourgeois republicans pointing at the cost of the monarchy, but this cannot be our view. There should be no illusions about the bourgeois republic. The monarchy should obviously be abolished, but this struggle only makes sense if we link it to the struggle against capitalism itself.

PD: How relevant is communist politics in contemporary Netherlands? How influential is the left among the common people, especially the workers and the youth?

CJB: In 1991, the former CPN dissolved itself as a result of the fact that opportunist tendencies, which had arisen within the international communist movement, got the upper hand in the CPN. This obviously happened within the context of the counter revolutions in the USSR and other countries. The dissolution of the CPN had a big impact on the Dutch labor movement, as it significantly weakened the class-oriented and militant elements in the movement.

This development met the resistance of the Marxist-Leninists from the old party (partly organized in the HOC and VCN). Already in 1992, the current NCPN (New Communist Party of the Netherlands) was formed, which had to rebuild the communist party under very difficult circumstances. The Communist Youth Movement (CJB) was formed in 2003.

Nowadays, our membership is growing, particularly amongst the youth. We are making steps in building up our organizations and collectively developing our positions and strategy. We are persistently working in the trade unions and the student movement, and this is bearing its fruits, although we still have a lot to do to strengthen the labor movement and other mass movements on a class-oriented line of struggle. We have no seats in the national parliament, but we do have some party representatives in municipal councils.

We realize that the international communist movement is still weak. But every day we can see the anger of the people grow. They are tired of capitalist exploitation, of the insecurities, unemployment, the lack of housing and proper healthcare, the education system, imperialist wars, etc. An important challenge for us as communists is to organize their frustration and anger and direct it at capitalism itself, to overthrow it and build socialism. There is still a long road to go, but we are very optimistic about the future.

PDCan you speak a bit about the Manifest, Voorwaarts, and other communist initiatives and fronts in the country?

CJB: Manifest is the newspaper of the NCPN, and Voorwaarts is the website of the CJB (www.voorwaarts.net). Here, we publish articles about current trends and problems that concern the working class, international developments, historical or theoretical subjects, as well as declarations and other official documents of the NCPN and CJB.

There are several initiatives of the NCPN and CJB on many issues. Our party took the initiative to create a platform of trade unionists that seeks to enhance class consciousness among the workers. We organize various events and demonstrations around housing, education and the student movement, anti-racism and anti-fascism (including a yearly commemoration of the February strike), emancipation of women and other minorities, environmental issues, etc. We organize events and demonstrations against imperialist interventions and wars, in solidarity with socialist Cuba (in cooperation with the Cuban embassy in the Netherlands), and in solidarity with sister organizations that face persecution (for instance, we organized a protest last year near the Polish embassy against the persecution of the Communist Party of Poland).

All our activities are directed at strengthening the NCPN and CJB, strengthening the struggle of the working class for a society without poverty, wars and capitalist exploitation, for socialism-communism.

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