Double Dutch

Bhaskar Sunkara August 15, 2012

Two of the parties on the ballot in the coming Dutch election.

Rad­i­cal elec­toral suc­cess in Greece was a big inter­na­tion­al sur­prise, but who saw it com­ing in the Nether­lands? Not known as a hotbed of rad­i­cal­ism, the anti-aus­ter­i­ty Social­ist Par­ty is emerg­ing as front-run­ners in that coun­try’s upcom­ing elections.

Their name might invoke the squishy social demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties of the Social­ist Inter­na­tion­al, but the Social­ist Par­ty, ini­tial­ly formed as the Com­mu­nist Par­ty of the Nether­lands in 1971, belongs to the far left.

The Dutch mass­es haven’t been sold on the red flags overnight. Their sup­port is root­ed in an anti-aus­ter­i­ty sen­ti­ment at a time when the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, con­trolled by the right-wing Peo­ple’s Par­ty for Free­dom and Democ­ra­cy , con­tin­ues with a pun­ish­ing cost-cut­ting plan.

The tar­gets were set next door in Brus­sels by Euro­pean Union tech­nocrats, not unlike the bur­dens being imposed on Greece. But there is a key dif­fer­ence: the Nether­lands is a wealthy part of the Euro­pean core. Con­sid­er­ing that the tra­vails in Athens caused a tremen­dous amount of dis­cord and the prospect of a SYRIZA vic­to­ry was con­sid­ered a dooms­day sce­nario, the com­ing elec­tion has tremen­dous con­se­quences. If a Greece exit would have like­ly implod­ed the Euro­zone, a Dutch one def­i­nite­ly will.

In an inter­view with Upris­ing ear­li­er this year, Seth Ack­er­man pre­dict­ed as much:

One place to watch is the Nether­lands, where the far-left Social­ist Par­ty (SP) has expe­ri­enced a his­toric break­through over the past sev­er­al years. Elec­tions will be held lat­er this year and in polls the SP is tipped as the biggest or sec­ond-biggest par­ty. Now, that’s a par­ty that has tapped into dis­af­fec­tion with main­stream pol­i­tics, but which is fun­da­men­tal­ly based on a very com­mit­ted base of grass­roots mil­i­tants who build sup­port for left pol­i­tics through day-in-day-out street-lev­el organizing.

I think we’ve been see­ing evi­dence in a lot of places in Europe of a reser­voir of deep desire for a return to gen­uine left-wing pol­i­tics, but it’s always been neu­tral­ized in the past sev­er­al decades by the sen­ti­ment that such a return just isn’t fea­si­ble or in the cards. What’s chang­ing now is that the sense of the sta­tus quo’s inevitabil­i­ty is break­ing down as neolib­er­al­ism itself comes to look more and more like the unsus­tain­able fantasy.

Neoliberalism’s col­lapse is a promis­ing prospect, but the far right has also been ben­e­fit­ing in the Nether­lands. Geert Wilders’ Par­ty for Free­dom has tak­en up the man­tle of anti-aus­ter­i­ty, blam­ing immi­grants and oth­er minor­i­ty groups along with bankers for the eco­nom­ic dis­or­der. It’s a trend not unique to the coun­try. In France ear­li­er this year, the Nation­al Front scored more than 6 mil­lion votes in the first elec­tion round, a much stronger show­ing than the Left Front, and in Greece the Gold­en Dawn, a neo-Nazi par­ty, has achieved unprece­dent­ed elec­toral support.

As the neolib­er­al con­sen­sus shat­ters, is there any doubt that the future of Europe rests in the Left’s abil­i­ty to rise to the occasion?

Bhaskar Sunkara is the found­ing edi­tor of Jacobin mag­a­zine. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @sunraysunray.
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