The Anarchist Movement in Holland

From The Libertarian Labyrinth
Jump to: navigation, search



I THINK it of utmost importance that the Anarchists throughout the world should be in close touch with each other and keep informed regarding our movement in every country. I am therefore much pleased at the opportunity to write to you concerning the Anarchist movement in Holland, to give our English-reading comrades a proper conception of the situation in my country. The Anarchist movement here is making very good progress. I consider it the best in the world, compared with the movement in other countries of Europe with which I am familiar.

My assertion is borne out by the condition of our press. In this country, with a population of less than six millions, the movement supports six weekly papers, all of them doing well financially. (One of these papers is published twice a week.) They are: Vrye Socialist (Free Socialist), Toekomst (The Future), Recht vopr Allen (Justice for All), Vryheidsvaan (Banner of Liberty), Arbeider (The Worker), Naar de Vryheid (To Freedom). We also have an anti-militarist monthly magazine, De tvapcns ncder (Down with Weapons). Besides, the independent trade-unions, similar in character to the Industrial Workers of America, publish twelve papers for the different unions.

When we compare our efforts with those of our English comrades who have only Freedom (monthly) and the Yiddish paper Voice of Labour; or with our German comrades who have only Freie Arbeiter (weekly), Der Anarchist (twice a month) and Socialist (twice a month), or with our French comrades who have Les Temps Nouveaux (weekly) and Libertaire (weekly), we have all reason to be content. And every week our propagandists go into the country to preach to the disinherited our evangel of discontent, and to awaken the indifferent masses made stupid by hard and monotonous toil.

And how great is the number and might of our adversaries of all sorts! You find the clerical reaction very strong, holding in its hands the government and the majority of Parliament (60 against 40), the liberal reaction, the radicals, and—last not least—the Social Democrats, who hate us more than the others, because we have prevented their calling themselves the labor party of the country. Their name is Sociaal Demokratische Arbeiders Party, commonly called S. D. A. P. Because you find among them many students, clergymen, and advocates, it is said that those letters have this significance: Students-Dominees-Avocates Party. These parties form a great block when it concerns Anarchism, because they are all authoritarians: they want to maintain authority and for them it is only a struggle as to which of them shall have the political power in their hands. I have therefore often said that all these parties, from the Pope of Rome to the Social Democrat, form one great reactionary party, in principle the enemies of the Anarchists. Let us not cherish any false illusions in this matter: when Social Democrats are in power they will persecute us worse than any other party. It is not true, as some Anarchists claim, that you come to Anarchy through Social Democracy. I hold, on the contrary, that those principles are not two lines which will meet each other at some common point, but two lines which, going parallel, can never meet.

We have in this country a great advantage in the fact that there is the quality of Anarchy in the character of the people. Their traditions are with us, and if we cultivate this character we shall bring the population into the fold of Anarchism.

Protestantism is in its essence Anarchistic, and that is the great difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. It cannot be denied that Protestantism is individualistic, because the authority which it accepts is not external, but internal. The Protestant recognizes only the authority of his own conscience, and the internal voice of the conscience of one man is just as good as that of another. Each heretic "has his letter," and therefore Protestantism is the religion of individualism. When a people is Protestant, it has the germ of Anarchism in itself and we, as Anarchists, must say to the people: What you want in religion is freedom of conscience, the liberty to regulate your own affairs; we want the same, in everything; if you can regulate your own affairs with God, why should you not regulate your own affairs in the State? Direct action is a Protestant as well as an Anarchist principle.

In this regard, I think, there is much similarity between the two peoples: the American and the Dutch. Perhaps heredity plays a part, because the Pilgrim fathers were Dutch and English. It is in the blood. America, like Holland, has a certain disposition to be Anarchistic. But there is an antagonistic element; that is the German. True, Germany is also Protestant, but there is a great difference between the Lutheranism of Germany and the Calvinism of Holland and England. Lutheranism is properly a disguised, an inconsequent Protestantism, because Luther made himself the Pope instead of the Pope at Rome, and he was as intolerant as the Catholic Church. That is proven by the war he waged against Carlstadt, Thomas Miinster, and the peasants—and when he was intolerant, he was quite -in his role. On the other hand, when Calvin was intolerant towards Michael Servet and the libertarians of Geneva, he played traitor to his own principles.

That makes a great difference.

I cannot elaborate this theme, but can only briefly indicate the cause why one people has a disposition toward, and another against, Anarchism.

In Holland you will find an exaggerated sense of freedom. An example will illustrate this. When the police issue some order, even though it may be good in itself, the people are inclined to disobey, only because it is ordered by the police. When smoking is not allowed in a railroad car, you will often find persons who purposely go into the no-smoking car to smoke there. This I call an exaggeration of the sense of freedom, mere opposition to authority. I disapprove of this, but I believe that if you direct this disposition into the proper channels, it will be far easier to make Anarchists of such people than if they lacked the spirit of rebellion.

At a Social Democratic meeting in Germany, the putting on of his helmet by the police officer—who is ever present—is a sign that the meeting is dissolved. And the people leave without protest. When this happens in Holland (and I must say that it is an exception) it creates a great stir and it requires great efforts to clear the hall.

Such examples are very instructive, because they supply a key to the character of various peoples.

The same discipline which you find in the German army, you also find in the German Socialist party, for it is in the blood of the people. And the same lack of discipline which you find in the Dutch army you will find in all the political parties of the country. The consequence is that you will find almost a hundred different religious sects. The same with Socialism. In Holland we have several parties: 1. the Social Democratic Party of Workers; 2. the Social Democratic Party, which has seceded, forming a new party; 3. the Socialist Party (Socialistenbond). We have had here a Communist Party, a Federation of Communist-Anarchists. Certainly, it is very difficult for the toilers to know all these parties and the points of difference between them. These are the phenomena which you can observe in Holland.

Surely we have much to do and the movement is not as strong as could be wished, but when we consider the comparatively short time that Anarchism has been propagated here, as well as the constant and bitter opposition of the Social Democrats towards us, we can well be satisfied with the results we have achieved and the influence we exert over the masses.

We have a strong anti-militarist movement, and there have been numerous cases in which young men have refused military service. We also have a rationalist school movement, in the spirit of our brave comrade Francisco Ferrer. There is also an abstinence movement, for we believe that no man can be free as long as he is a slave to drink. The Anarchist movement must have an ethical character and therefore the vanguard of human emancipation must set a good example.*

We have very good Anarchist literature in Holland, which finds much circulation, as the workingmen are very eager to read and study. We dispose of great quantities of propaganda leaflets and the works of such leaders of modern thought as Kropotkin and Elisee Reclus are as well known to our people as in any other country. We stand abreast of the international movement, and the voice of the struggling proletariat in any land ever finds an echo here. Thus it was in the case of Ferrer, as well as with Haywood, Moyer, and Petti- bone ; with the Japanese martyrs, as well as in the case of Edward Joris of Constantinople. We cultivate the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity, and if we wish for greater results that very circumstance should prove our inspiration to greater and more energetic efforts.

As to the trade-union movement, it comprises several organizations: 1. the Christians, which are divided in Catholic and Protestant; 2. the so-called Werkhevenver- bond (Federation of Labor) which sympathizes with the radicals; 3. the so-called Nederlandsch Vak Verbond (N. V. V. or Federation of Dutch Trades-Unions), which is Social Democratic; 4. the Independent Trades-

  • The abstinence movement does not arouse our enthusiasm, for we in America know too well its narrow, arbitrary, and invasive tendencie5. One need not necessarily be an abstainer in order not to become a slave to drink. As Anarchists we demand the liberty to regulate our own diet.—Ed. M. E.

Unions under the Nationaal Arbeiders Sekretariaat, N. A. S. (National Secretary of Labor). Diversity enough. The last is more or less Anarchistic, but opportunism is beginning to show its influence. When the Federation of Dutch Trades-Unions makes propaganda for a working-day of 10 hours, the Independent Trades- Unions begin a movement for a working-day of 8 hours. But the abolition of the wage system is not propagated either by the one or the other. It is a struggle for practical reforms, and one party vies with the other in making promises. Strikes are the order of the day, but neither party seeks the triumph of labor. With their mouths they shout, "Proletarians of all countries, unite!" But secretly they think: we shall not help you and we hope you will lose the fight. It is a pity it is thus; but the truth must be told.

I do not mean to deny that it is a grand motto; but it is incomplete. Marx has not said in what the workers should unite. We can unite for a good as well as for a bad purpose. Therefore I believe we must be far broader if we have the welfare of humanity at heart; and if we really mean well with the people we should say to them: learn to stand on your own feet, learn to see with your own eyes, learn to hear with your own ears, learn-to think with your own brain. Then only, when the workers do so, will they be saved. Not by a savior who will bring you to happiness and prosperity, but by being your own savior, for that is the sole way to triumph.

If you in America and we in Holland and our comrades in other countries faithfully propagate these ideas of independence, self-reliance, and solidarity, and reach each other our hands to facilitate our common task, we shall make speedy progress, there is no doubt.

Many greetings and best wishes to you from your Dutch comrades.