There are at least two stories to tell about the recent Dutch elections. The headline story is that the extreme right-wing party PVV of Wilders did not become the largest party, arriving second after the VVD of prime-minister Rutte. The more important story however is the pasocification of the Dutch labour party (PvdA), and the impotence of the so called Socialist Party to come anywhere near being an alternative.
The synthesis between the social-democrats of the PvdA and the VVD – capital’s party of choice – materialized in the Netherlands in 1994, when VVD and PvdA formed a “grosse Koalition”. This was unprecedented; until then governing together was anathema for both (which implied that the Christian-democrats were guaranteed a position in government). Ever since 1994, the social-democrats have combined left-wing rhetoric when campaigning with right-wing policy when governing. It supported bail-outs for banks ING and ABN AMRO, the consolidation of the Netherlands as a tax heaven, the Iraq War, the introduction of forced labour for unemployed, the neo-colonization of Greece and the privatisation of health care. Afterwards ministers found lucrative jobs in banks and consultancies.
The PvdA managed to get away with all this and play the role of the good cop of the neoliberal status quo by convincing left voters that they were the only responsible, experienced, large left-wing party, so voting for the Socialist Party or the Greens meant wasting your vote on small parties doomed to opposition. This has now ended with the largest loss ever in Dutch history. The PvdA lost 29 seats and with its remaining 9 seats it is now smaller than the Greens and the Socialist Party (both 14 seats). This means that the strategy that kept the PvdA going is broken, and so is the PvdA itself. This was one neoliberal government too many for the social-democrats to get away with.
The implosion of the PvdA was long overdue and is in any case a necessary condition for contestation of the status quo, but – alas – it is not a sufficient one. The PVV (winning 5 seats), Christian Democrats (+6 seats) and the economically right-wing D66 (+7) profited. The Socialist Party was the only opposition party that lost seats (-1), although objectively there was a huge political window of opportunity, with the PvdA in a government that slashed the public sector.
The SP tried to combine several contradictionary stances. It wanted to oppose the status quo, simultaneously trying to proof that it was a responsible party by entering the local Amsterdam government with the VVD (it went along with measures against homeless people). It keeps on combining abstract pleas against racism with a concrete lack of solidarity (on the day the Rotterdam-police beat up peaceful black demonstrators against black facing at the Dutch version of Santa Clause, the chairman of the SP said he didn’t have anything with people protesting amidst children). It is critical about the euro‑group, but it supported the capitulation of Syriza. It rejects austerity, but doesn’t call for abolition of the “Stability and Growth Pact”. In other words, the SP is not serious about contesting the racist, neoliberal status quo.
The same can be said of the Greens. It won 10 seats this week with a new, young leader. In the last years however the Greens supported deep cuts in Social Security and indebting students by abolishing student support. The campaign of the new leader Jesse Klaver was invigorating indeed, but in exactly the same way the campaigns of Obama and Trudeau were. You want to believe them, but the whole hope & change-rhetoric is dead on arrival, lacking stamina, ideology, strategy, organization and extra-parliamentary support.
The good news of the Dutch elections is that the social-democratic game is finally over. The bad news is that the alternative is objectively worse. For the foreseeable years the Dutch elections will be a contest between a racist party, two slightly-less racist, neoliberal parties (VVD, CDA) and a non-racist but radical neoliberal party (D66). Whenever these parties won’t have an outright majority, they can probably count on the Greens and the Socialist Party to help them out. These two parties will then subsequently be pasokified out of existence as well. By then there will indeed be just one story to tell, whether the PVV or the VVD gets to pick the prime-minister.