10 June 2010

I Don't Want Your Freedom

The Dutch general election took place last night.

The Freedom Party is the 3rd-biggest party in the Tweede Kamer, the Dutch lower house of parliament. We may not know a coalition deal for months and it's nearly certain that whatever the outcome, it will be like the outcome in Britain: the coalition will be clearly against what the majority of people want. (And this, by the way, is the appropriate time for the left to start quoting Gramsci.)

Whether the Freedom Party is in government or leads the opposition, this is a disaster for anti-racism in the Netherlands. The EDL and the BNP love Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders. What they will read from this election result is that their politics of hate can win. The upper house, the Eerste Kamer, has no Freedom Party members but is indirectly elected; just as in Britain, it is bad civic hygiene to rely on a non-democratic entity to block an anti-democratic one.

I blame the parties of the center-left: in running to the right like so many other parties have, the so-called "Socialist Party" and "Labour Party" of the Netherlands failed to provide a meaningful alternative to the failed, tired Christian Democrats, and so gave the far right a perfect opportunity to pick up protest votes.

A personal aside here. On my Facebook page I list my political orientation as "tomato-throwing socialist". I did this after first running into the old, pre-2006 logo of the SP, which depicted a tomato being thrown, while visiting my friends Palau & Martin in Amsterdam. I took it up because the logo depicted where my head was politically then & now: non-violent, clearly red civil disobedience. In 2006 the Dutch SP switched its logo to a static tomato and in 2009 our comrades in the SP, Offensief, were expelled. The Dutch Socialist Party sold its soul and turned its back on socialism in pursuit of votes and money and deserved the losses it got in last night's vote.

The Freedom Party, aided by a sensationalist right-wing press in the Netherlands, did a good job of dressing itself up as "respectable", just as Nick Griffin seeks to do in Britain. Britain and the Netherlands are quite similar in some demographics (the UK is 2.5% Muslim, the Netherlands is about 3%, the UK is about 15% non-British ethnically while the Netherlands is about 20% non-Dutch) but Geert Wilders & the Fortuynists successfully combined anti-Muslim propaganda with superficially non-racist anti-immigrant language ("The Netherlands is full"). A history of bad tactics by the unorganized, voluntarist left certainly didn't help. While the phenomenon of "pillarization" makes class-based party politics that much harder to get off the ground in the Netherlands, I think what we see in the Freedom Party is what we can expect the BNP to aspire to: being able to look normal to most voters while maintaining the worst kind of racism just barely below the surface.

We will have to remember: 84% of Dutch voters did not vote for the Freedom Party. The Netherlands has problems; a large layer of openly racist voters is one, a strongly service-based economy where confidence has been hit hard by the bankers' financial crisis is another, a well-organized religious chauvinist movement (the so-called "Dutch bible belt") is a third. I am confident that the average Dutch voter still holds values of tolerance & equality and I stand with the Dutch workers & students, of whatever religion and race, in the fight against racism and Islamophobia, knowing they stand with me both here and abroad.

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