Anyone who argues that, as a political force, socialism is dead, ought to visit the Netherlands. The Socialist Party of the Netherlands (SP) is the fastest growing political group in the country.
They won 25 seats in the last general election – an increase of 16 seats – and made huge gains in last year’s local elections. They are now the third largest party in Holland in terms of members and could well replace the Dutch Labour Party as the main alternative to the Christian Democrats.
Why are they so successful? I would suggest that it is because they are a socialist party that actually has socialist policies. They oppose the privatisation of public services, advocate higher taxes on the very wealthy and have condemned the “the culture of greed” caused by “a capitalism based on inflated bonuses and easy money”. They oppose war and Nato and the nascent European superstate. They were the only left-wing Dutch party in Parliament to oppose the new EU Constitution in the 2005 referendum.
Of course the fact that they have one of the most charismatic – and photogenic – of all of European political leaders in the 41-year-old epidemiologist Agnes Kant (pictured above) does them no harm.
Part of its popularity with the voters lies in one particular policy which differentiates it from British or other European parties of the left: they oppose large scale immigration. The SP see the ‘free movement of labour’ as part of the neoliberal globalist package – something which benefits big business but not ordinary people. Their opposition to immigration is not based on racism – as tends to be the case with the BNP and other far-right parties in Europe – but on their socialist ideology.
A recent publication by the SP asserted that labour migration in the EU was making “more acute the contrasts between rich and poor and competition between different groups of workers within the EU”. Instead of lauding the free movement of labour as other parties on the left do, the SP calls for policies “to make migration unnecessary” and for the EU funds to be used to enable poorer regions of the continent to be self-supporting.
The SP’s opposition to large-scale immigration is not a recent development. In the 1980s, the party’s booklet Gastarbeid en Kapitaal (Migrant Labour and Capital), denounced the migration of foreign workers into the Netherlands as a capitalist ploy to drive down wages and destroy working class solidarity.
This is a far cry from the traditional position of the British left – which despite overwhelming evidence that large-scale immigration does reduce wages – still clings to an the ideology of open borders. In doing so, they are not only complying with the wishes of big business, who for obvious reasons welcome the influx of large numbers of people from low-wage economies onto their labour market; they are also espousing a policy which is unpopular with large swathes of the electorate and which is likely to become even more unpopular as unemployment grows.
The success of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands shows that there are lots of votes to be won by an unequivocally left-wing party which has the courage and sense to oppose large-scale immigration on non-racist, anti-capitalist grounds.