People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 20, 2008
Interview With Ronald Van Raak
“People Don’t Only Want To Have Competition
— They Also Want Solidarity”
[Ronald Van Raak, member of parliament from the Socialist Party [SPNL] in the Netherlands visited the CPI(M) central office at New Delhi on January 7, 2007 to meet general secretary Prakash Karat. In this interview to INN, he has talked about the recent electoral successes of the SPNL in the Netherlands and other political issues. He was interviewed by Prasenjit Bose.
Web link to the SPNL: http://www.international.sp.nl/]
Question: Can you elaborate upon the recent electoral success of the Socialist Party in the Netherlands?
Van Raak: The Socialist Party made a significant improvement in its position in the parliament elections in November 2006. In 1994, we had only 2 seats in Parliament. From there we reached to 9 in 2003 and in November 2006, we won 25 out of the 150 seats in the parliament. Our vote share increased from 6 per cent in 2003 to 17 per cent in 2006. Now we are the third largest party in the Netherlands, after the Christian Democratic Party and the Labour Party.
Q: Why do you think that the Socialist Party has been able to grow in the Netherlands? What were the issues on which Socialist Party contested the election?
Van Raak: In the Netherlands, there is a big gap between the aspirations of the people and the government’s policies. Be it the Christian Democratic Party or the Labour Party or the Liberal Party, they all follow neoliberal policies i.e. more markets and less government investment, privatization, retreat from social security such as pensions, etc. All the three big political parties adhere to anti-people politics, which is unpopular among ordinary people. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, focuses on the interests of the common people. Secondly, we had a very unpopular right wing government and the Labour Party failed to raise its voice against its unpopular policies. These were the external factors. There is also an internal factor, which is that we are a very well organized political party. We have a lot of active members and a fast growing membership with a base among the people. We also had a very good campaign. We went to the people in the streets, which every Socialist Party ought to do. But we also used modern technology in the campaign such as films, Internet etc., in order to contact people and make them aware of our agendas. That worked.
Q: How have you been able to attract the youth?
Van Raak: Our campaign was designed in a very modern manner. We espouse traditional Socialist ideas about solidarity, about trade unionism, about social security, about pro-people government policies etc. But these traditional Socialist ideas are propagated in a very modern and fashionable manner.
Q: What about the position of Netherlands in the “war on terror” and how have the people of Netherlands reacted to the war?
Van Raak: The Netherlands took part in the war on Iraq together with the Americans and the British and we are still now very much active in Afghanistan. The majority of the people are opposed to the so-called “war on terror” and US foreign policy adopted by the Bush administration. However, the incumbent government paid no heed to public opinion and joined the war. We are against these wars, but the Christian Democrats, the Labour Party and the Liberals are pro-war. Traditionally, the Netherlands has had Governments, which are very pro-American and supportive of US foreign policy, despite opposite views among the people.
Q: Has your position against the war and against US imperialism contributed to the growth of your party in Netherlands?
Van Raak: Yes, it has. But we focused more on domestic issues. The Labour Unions in the Netherlands had become inactive. They would only talk with the Government and big companies but not fight for the cause of workers. In 2004, the Socialist Party supported the Labour Unions that organized the biggest labour demonstration ever in the Netherlands. That was the beginning of our success. The second stage of our success came during the campaign against the neoliberal European Union constitution in 2005. At that time Socialist Party was a very small party, but it was the backbone of ‘NO’ campaign. During the referendum in Netherlands, people rejected the neo-liberal EU Constitution.
Q: Would you elaborate further on this ‘NO’ campaign?
Van Raak: In France and the Netherlands, the majority of the people voted for ‘NO’ in the referendum, which meant an end to the neoliberal EU constitution. We had no problem with the European countries working together on issues like the environment or terrorism. But European integration was basically a neoliberal project — the EU constitution said that the market economy was one of the fundamental principles of the European Union. It is very strange to have an economic system to be a part of the constitution. A constitution must be based on democracy and not on the market economy. That is why we were opposed to it and we also had a big majority who supported our stand.
Q: Nowadays free markets and democracy are often talked about as if they are inseparable…
Van Raak: Those who think that way do not understand that while in a democracy they can vote to elect representatives in Parliament and decide on who forms the Government, when it comes to big companies, people have little say. On major investment decisions, on closure of companies or when workers get fired, on these big economic decisions, people have no vote. That is not democratic. People want social security and also want to be sure that the differences between the rich and the poor do not grow. People don’t only want to have competition — they also want solidarity. Now we have an economic system that makes people compete with each other and also increases inequalities in society. Making investments in social sectors has become impossible. So a lot of people are feeling that although we are in a democracy, we are not getting what we want.
Q: What are your views on outsourcing? In recent times we find that a lot of big companies from the US as well as from Western Europe outsourcing their jobs to countries like India...
Van Raak: Well, when it is good for the people of India it is okay, because there are a lot of poor people here. But the reality is more complex as many big companies come to India and capture the markets, which increase inequalities in India. There are lots of billionaires in India today — in fact more billionaires than in most other countries while the poor are getting poorer in India. That is the bad thing. Within Europe, earlier we had a lot of investments going into poorer countries like Spain and Ireland and these countries developed fast. But now it’s different. Now we have countries like Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria that have become a part of the European Union but they do not receive much investment. On the other hand people from Poland, Romania and Bulgaria come to the Netherlands, Germany and France and compete for jobs. In the process wages are getting lower, social security levels tend to get lower while the situation in Poland does not get better in the way it happened in Spain or Ireland earlier. If this is the outcome of the economic policies within the European Union, we are very much against it.
Q: Would you also like to reflect on the racial equation in Netherlands?
Van Raak: There is not much racism in Netherlands. But there is a big Muslim minority in the Netherlands and right wing political parties have started blaming Muslims for the problems in the Netherlands. We now have a growing polarization between Muslims and Christians. In the 1970s, a lot of Muslim workers from Turkey and Morocco were recruited by big companies and brought to the Netherlands. They worked at low wages and did not have equal opportunities in society. The second and third generation of these families feels deprived in society because they have less schooling, lesser jobs and lesser housing. They do not have the same dignity and that creates problems with other sections in society.
Q: Is your party being able to get the support of the Muslim minorities?
Van Raak: It’s quite difficult, because of the polarization along religious lines. As a party we are open to religious people. During the elections of November 2006, we said we are very open to Christians as well as Muslims. We got some response and one of our MPs is also a Muslim. But it will take some time for us to increase our support base within Muslims.
Q: Your Party has emerged as one of the more successful Leftist Parties in Europe. How would you locate your success given the present state of the Left in Europe?
Van Raak: In almost every country of Europe, the Labour Parties are doing very badly. In most countries the alternative to Labour Parties are right wing parties or the extremist right wing populist leaders. In the Netherlands, the Socialist Party has emerged as an alternative to the Labour Party. I think there are three reasons for this. Firstly, we are a very well organized political party with lots of active members and we are an ideology based Socialist Party. For most other political parties, ideology has become a thing of the past and having lots of active members for them has also become a thing of the past. The second thing is that our politics reflects the aspirations of the people. Most people in the Netherlands are not capitalists, most people do not want to have a lot of competition and do not want consumerism; they want to have social security, they want to have schooling, good healthcare and also want the differences between the rich and the poor to be reduced. So we share the same views and ideas with most common people. The third reason is that we have a good campaign technique, which brings together traditional ideas and modern technology. We are in touch with the Socialist Parties in our neighbouring countries. I hope they will have a bright future. There are other successful Left Socialist Parties in Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.