Communists. Hacking. Conspiracies. Purging of opposition. Dynastic party leadership. Intimidation of civilians. Illegitimate elections. Labeling opposition as Trotskyist infiltrators. Young radicals. Accusations of terrorism on national television. Does this sound like a Netflix drama about the cold war? Think again, its actually the social democratic Socialist Party in the Netherlands.
For the past year and a half, the Socialist Party (SP) in the Netherlands has been in a state of crisis. Their entire youth wing has been purged, and now several city chapters are in the process of splitting to form a new party. How did this happen? And what is causing similar things to keep happening in leftist parties everywhere?
Like many social democratic parties, the SP finds its origin in the communist movements of yesteryear. In the first half of the twentieth century, as in most of Europe, the left was split between social democrats and the communists. The communists in the Netherlands followed the Soviet model, while the social democrats pushed for reform and better labour rights within capitalism.
The already weaker communist movement was further splintered during the Sino-Soviet split of the 1950s and 60s, which divided Dutch communists into Maoists that followed China and Marxist-Leninists that followed the Soviet Union.
The Socialist Party came from this split. A Maoist microsect, one of many of its kind, it was founded after splitting from the Communist Party of the Netherlands. It went through many name changes and combinations of words like Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Unity, Communist as well as an attempt to implement allegedly less elitist spelling conventions such as removing all occurrences of the letter C, foreign loan spellings, and archaic diphthongs from the language (it never caught on). But, through effort, organizing among dock workers, and sheer luck, it managed to outlast and outgrow its less successful brothers and sisters in the Dutch left.
In the late 70s and mid 80s, after the death of one of its founding members, Honorary Red Guard member Daan Monjé, the party turned away from Maoism, Leninism and Marxism, changed its name to the Socialist Party, and moved more and more toward a position of radical social democracy, finalizing this by 1991. The party did this at an opportune moment, as a shift in the old status quo was occurring. The Labour party (PvdA), which had long dominated as a social democratic juggernaut at a consistent ~30%, started to move right as it embraced neo-liberalism, similar to the Blairites in the UK and many other social democratic parties in Europe. By filling in the now vacant left wing of social democracy, the SP began to experience some electoral gains in the 90’s and early 2000’s and solidified its position as a legitimate “radical” left wing party, reaching a peak of 16% in 2006. The party became a role model for many aspiring left wing parties in Europe at the time, and the leadership was legitimized. That leadership was passed down from the first social democrat, Jan Marijnissen, to his successor, Emile Roemer, and then to the current incumbent and daughter of Jan, Lillian “Lil’Jan” Marijnissen, who has led since 2017.
Shift and Rift
While the SP has shaken off its Maoist politics, its party structure has sadly retained the same structure as the Chinese Communist Party, with a culture of obedience, rubber-stamping, a ban on open criticism, and strong social pressure to not criticize the party internally. There is also a ban on factions. A system of voting via badly documented unaccountable delegations, much like the American electoral system, makes it very difficult for any non-party-line opinion to be expressed. All in all, a classic Marxist-Leninist-whateverist party, but without the politics to match. Cue a further swing to the right.
The SP has, since its peak in the early 2000s, in an attempt to appeal to the right wing vote, become increasingly more and more right-populist. This has manifested in Euro-skepticism, nationalism, chauvinism, borderline or outright racist views on the migrant crisis, and in more recent years, defense of the national bourgeoisie against “globalism” and “Brussels / the EU”, as well as vehement defense of the police, and any and all police brutality. Opposition to NATO and the Dutch membership thereof, long a hallmark of the party, has been ditched completely in favor of a pro-NATO stance.
In light of all of this, the left wing of the party had tried to resist, but to no avail. Earlier attempts at reforming the SP back to the left were purged from the party. A coalition of prominent old guard members called “The Group”, which pushed for a more left wing stance on the migrant crisis, was not purged, but it was not successful either. Young members such as myself became increasingly aware that criticism of the party was Not Done, and critical members operated in fear and secrecy, using fake names to publish articles.
But, among the youth wing, ROOD (meaning “red”), a change was occurring, a change I was allowed to witness and contribute a little bit to in the past two and a half years, as a ROOD member. While the youth wing had always been a bit more radical than the main party, as expected in the Netherlands, it was one of the most integrated of all youth parties, doing a lot of grunt work, protests and media stunts for the party, and loyal to the party leadership. But spurred on by the efforts of several members, many new radicals were being recruited through social media meme accounts. It was around this time that I joined the party. I had been a communist for many years previously, but had always found the SP to be hopelessly social democratic. The new ROOD and its serious attitude towards politics (and its dank memes to be fair) convinced me to join.
A group called Communist Platform (CP), established as a small SP focused pressure group, grew their numbers by connecting radical communist voices within the youth. Then, starting around two years ago, they started submitting motions to the bi yearly national meetings, something met with great opposition from the “actionisme/actionistisch” (a word used to describe those who, almost like soldiers, take orders but rarely think for themselves) and party loyal clique, who decried it as “nerdy loser stuff” that “broke unity” and wasted time. Communist Platform, like Marxist Unity in the USA and the RED Party in Norway, draws a lot of their strategic policy from the Orthodox-Marxist/Neo-Kautskian school, in recent years most closely associated with Mike MacNair’s book Revolutionary Strategy and it’s call for, among other things, open factions and a democratic policy making process that all members are accountable to.
Arno van der Veen, candidate for the position of ROOD chairman, was critical of the party and unfavoured enough by the party brass that an opponent was hastily found and promoted. However, Arno was elected, despite efforts to paint him as incompetent. It was 2020, his year of chairmanship, when the SP openly announced it would be open to forming a coalition with capital N Neoliberal VVD party. The youth subsequently voted on and issued a declaration of open opposition to this move. This led to the shutting down of the youth website and access to emails being restricted. More changes were made by the radical ROOD wing to the internal workings of ROOD in the following period. One of them was paying the 5 elected board members a very small amount of money to ensure an end to the domination of the position by petty bourgeois board members and burnout in the working class members, by compensating for the large amount of time they would otherwise spend on their student jobs. This lead to the confiscation and closure of the bank account of the youth org and confiscation of their funds by the SP, because according to the SP “all elected positions are and should be unpaid”. Of course, what the SP fails to mention is that all SP board members and other high level positions, and many ROOD board members had a paid job with the SP in some other role, which allowed them to dedicate the absurd amount of time required to run a national political organization “voluntarily”, making them reliant on their salary paid by their bosses, the party management elite.
This would all come to a head when the ROOD chairman was not re-elected, having taking positions not favored by the now influential, still covertly operating CP faction, leading to no candidate being elected. In the run-up to the new election, 3 months later, several members, including the popular CP-endorsed (and CP member) Olaf Kemerink and several board member candidates electable on the same platform, got kicked out of the SP. Why? Double party membership is forbidden within the SP, and the SP had decided that CP, an org that had operated for about 7 years at the time, was now a political party of its own.
Now, in any normal youth org, this would not matter much. However, ROOD has always had a rule that to be a member of ROOD, you have to be a member of the SP. Purging Olaf and his comrades, a few weeks before the election, was rightfully seen by many to be a cheap trick to try and get the party loyalist candidate elected and “save ROOD from the commies”. ROOD decided to elect Olaf, in spite of his dubious membership status, with a 85% majority, and the youth wing, ROOD, was officially purged, in its entirety, from the Socialist Party. RED was DEAD, or: ROOD was DOOD, as we would say in Dutch. This was in January 2021.
This brings us to the protracted peoples war against the SP by ROOD. At the time of writing, November 2021, we have been fighting to try and dislodge the party loyalists and retake the party, with little success. Despite having 30-40% support for our proposals for more democracy, such as reversing the purge, and allowing factions to operate openly, another 33 youth members and other adult sympathizers have been purged. We, the entirety of the youth wing, have been called terrorists by the SP board on national television, the Dutch version of the BBC. We have been labelled Trotskyist infiltrators. The website of the CP has been hacked in order to try and extract member names, with some success due to a WordPress vulnerability. SP branches in Rotterdam, Utrecht and several other cities are currently in the process of splitting off from the SP, after having their board suspended for refusing to remove purged youth members from their boards and election ballots. When the Utrecht branch was suspended, the legitimately elected old board tried to organize a final meeting with all the members, but the venue it was to be held in was intimidated by the national SP into cancelling the event.
Perhaps the bureaucrats were expecting the purged members to roll over and give up, like expelled factions have always done in the past century. But this is the 21st century. The century of social media, of instant connections, where youth members secretly livestream and live tweet/whatsapp every important meeting they attend, where we, the youth, know about what is happening sooner than the official bureaucrats. It is no longer possible to exclude opposition without repercussions.
In the past year, however, ROOD has not died. Despite, or perhaps because we have been targeted, we have grown larger than we have ever been than in the previous decade. People join us saying “I heard this is where the communist terrorists are, lmao based.” We have less money, but more freedom, more energy and more people than ever. I can say with confidence, RED IS NOT DEAD, ROOD IS NIET DOOD. This brings us, however, to why this has happened, why this keeps happening in every left wing organization, and how we seek to prevent it in the future.
Exorcising the Phantoms
The ghost of Stalin still haunts our communist movements globally. This statement, a bit of a hyperbole, and perhaps not putting enough of the blame on Lenin, touches the core of what causes similar things to happen everywhere, especially in the west. Why do the youth from a tiny Dutch ML party have to get permission from their party brass to be able to come to our (ROOD) drinking party? Why does the CPUSA label people like Haz, Caleb Maupin or Peter Coffin, whatever your opinion of them may be, as “infiltrators”? Why are we labelling anyone as infiltrators when they are clearly communists of some sort? Why do we all expel opposition, or split off, in order to “purify” our already tiny irrelevant parties?
In one sense, the politics of splitting and expulsions come from the simple political logic that when you have disagreement, those in power often feel safer getting rid of their rivals then openly debating them. In left politics, there is a mode of thinking that justifies this with a lineage going back to at least the Russian Revolution. Up until 1921, factions were allowed within the Bolshevik Party. The Bolsheviks started out as a faction themselves originally. But after several years of civil war, Lenin, while having had supported factions up to that point, enacted a ban on factions with support of other Bolsheviks.
What are factions? Factions are what caucuses are within organizations like the DSA in the USA, and what the DSA is inside the Democratic party of the USA. They are organized groups of people who share similar ideas, who collaborate, meet up, discuss, have internal elections and votes, and try to use their combined strength to push for change within larger parties, and try to recruit others to their side. They are, so to speak, parties within parties. They run on shared platforms or slates inside party elections.
We, in ROOD and the CP, are pro-factions and as such, are very much pro-democratic centralism. In democratic centralism, we have disagreements, discuss them, and then vote and follow the majority decision, just like all laws in a country are followed by all, even if you disagree with them. A ban on factions was the effective rejection of democratic centralism. A departure from “diversity of opinion, unity of action” towards “unity of theory”.
A ban on factions is a false promise. In effect, it only bans formal factions, it disallows people to operate openly and forces people to operate and coordinate in secret. It also makes it possible to attack and purge anyone for “being in a faction”, which is near impossible to prove and objectively decide. And most importantly, it is not a ban of factions, but a ban of all but 1 faction; the party leadership who control important positions, convene together regularly as part of their job, and have debates only between each other, and make decisions. A ban on factions is the ban of organized opposition, not of factions. It makes inconsequential individualistic opposition the only viable way, which can never achieve much, because convincing people on complex issues and high level political visions cannot be done only during “official moments of debate”. This gives the only remaining faction, the ruling one, plenty of time to manoeuvrer. A ban on factions is thus the death of democracy.
Almost everyone in ROOD adheres to a goal of radical democracy where factions are not only allowed, but given the means to be established and operate. Fully open minutes of meetings are a standard operating procedure. We support the ability to criticize ROOD on social media, in the media, in newspapers, anywhere, without repercussion. Diversity of opinion, unity of action, with the right to criticize what you are executing even while executing it. Only with a commitment to these ideals can sectarianism and splintering stop and we will have a chance of building an actual mass movement.
The illusion that you can enforce your line via rules is not only dangerous toward objectivity, but also unrealistic. As revolutionary socialists, we must welcome a diversity of opinion and if we truly think we have the right answer, it is our duty to convince our comrades, not to purge them! How can you expect the democratic ideals of communism to work when you use a minority to enforce an ideology on an organization, on a party, through intimidation, purges, or even violence?
We are not infiltrators! They are not infiltrators! You are not infiltrators! The FEDS… okay, they are infiltrators. But ask yourself, what would be easier for the Feds to wreck, a top down party where a small clique at the top control everything, including who can or can’t be a member; Or a democratic party where you need a 50%+ vote of all members to enact major changes like that? Democracy is the best tool against real infiltrators, and paradoxically, anti-infiltration purges only make infiltration easier, by making the org smaller, and more hierarchical.
Me, you, we, them, MLs, ortho-Marxists, Maoists, anarchists, Trotskyist group #580403 are not infiltrators and do not need to be purged. Instead those whose arguments are faulty need to be convinced of the errors of their ways. Allowing organized factions makes it easier for all members of the working class to navigate the ideological terrain of a party and understand who they should elect to see their ideals realized. Allowing organised factions makes complex discussions in large organisations easier to conduct, and makes it easier for members to consider all viewpoints. It is time to stop worrying about “seeming weak” because we disagree with each other. It has become apparent to most that to resolve disagreements by bullying or purging is the far more weaker action. It is time for communism and democracy to be a mass movement.
So what’s next for ROOD? Well, we passed a motion to publicly call for a new socialist party to be established last week, and will probably be working closely with/merging with the splits from the socialist party. For now, ROOD retains its focus as a youth organization, but internal debates about the precise direction we move forward in are still ongoing.
Comrade Rat is a member of ROOD and has no public social media except “an anonymous account I use to shitpost on everyone”
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