Henk Sneevliet: Dutch working class hero

On 13 April 1942, Henk Sneevliet and seven leaders of the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front were executed by the German occupation forces in Leusden, the Netherlands. Sneevliet led the revolutionary socialists in the fight against both the reformist social democratic camp, the totalitarian Stalinist camp and the German occupation. He gave his life for the ideas of genuine socialism while fighting against Dutch colonialism and German Nazism. Henk Sneevliet is relative unknown in the Netherlands, but in China he played a major role in the founding of the Communist Party of China in 1921. If he would be alive today we can bet that Sneevliet would lead the charge against the conservative-nationalist regime of Xi Jinping!

Hendricus Josephus Franciscus Marie (Henk) Sneevliet was born on 13 April 1883 in Rotterdam, his father was a cigar maker. Young Henk moved to Zutphen and started working for the NS, the National Railways of the Netherlands. He became a member of the Social Democratic Workers Party (SDAP) as well as the Netherlands Association of Railway and Tramway Employees (NV) in 1902. As a very active socialist he was the first member of the SDAP who got elected in the city council of Zwolle. Capitalist politicians were not happy with the revolutionary Sneevliet, who challenged their right-wing positions and exposed their true allegiance. Henk correctly saw how capitalism brought poverty to the Netherlands. Liberals and conservatives were working together to serve the interests of big business. Many Dutch workers had to struggle to survive and poverty was high around 1900!

Because the SDAP was too moderate and unwilling to support a proletarian revolution, Henk left the Social Democratic Workers Party in 1911. He joined the Social Democratic Party (SDP) a party founded by supporters of Karl Marx, who were expelled from the reformist SDAP. By 1913, Sneevliet moved to Dutch Indies a colony today known as Indonesia. Here the revolutionary socialists was very active in building the Indonesian workers movement. Dutch colonial officials were again not happy with this ”troublemaker” who called for Indonesian independence and revolutionary socialism. In May of 1914, Henk Sneevliet and his supporters founded the Indies Social Democratic Association, the forerunner of the Communist Party of Indonesia!

By 1917 the socialist revolution destroyed the old Russian Empire. Revolutionary uprisings were happening across Europe. In Dutch Indies, the revolutionary socialists called for a workers uprising and the building of a socialist democracy. Militant workers rose up, soldiers and sailors revolted in the Surabaya naval base of the archipelago. They formed workers & soldiers councils and took control. The Dutch imperialists reacted quickly and were able to crush the uprising. Dutch imperialism remained master of Indonesia for another 38 years. The Indies Social Democratic Association was banned, its leaders were sentenced to 40 years in prison. Henk Sneevliet got deported from the colony and never returned!

Back in the Netherlands, Sneevliet’s old SDP had changed name into the Communist Party Holland. The party was now a member of the Communist International. At the second congress of the international, Henk Sneevliet represented the Communist Party of Indonesia under the name Maring. It would be this name under which the Chinese would get to know him. Because at the request of Vladimir Lenin, the Dutch revolutionary was send to China to help various communist groups uniting into one party. Sneevliet was present at the founding congress of the Communist Party of China in July 1921. Although the current leaders of the people’s republic in Beijing praise Sneevliet as a ”founding father”, we revolutionary socialists know that he would have rejected and hated the current leaders of the Chinese communist party!

Henk was not a Stalinist and became very critical of the Soviet-Union after Lenin died in January 1924. Soon conflicts arose between the growing pro-Stalin party leadership and the rebel Sneevliet. Two years after the death of Lenin, Henk Sneevliet broke with the Communist Party Holland (CPH) and left. This was a surprise since the stalinists did not expelled him, he choose to walk away. Not only did Henk broke with the communist party, he also broke with the Communist International. By 1928, he was isolated and many would have abandoned revolutionary politics. But not Henk Sneevliet, he organized the anti-Stalinist left-wing and was able to build his own political party!

In 1929 the stalinists were in complete control of the Communist International and had expelled most critical communists. In the Netherlands many who were expelled from the CPH joined up with Sneevliet. The groups were originally called Revolutionary Socialist Committees, who were soon organized into the Revolutionary Socialist Union. What all these groups shared was the rejected of social democracy and stalinism. They had no love for the pro-capitalist leaders of the Social Democratic Workers Party and the dictatorial leadership of the Communist Party Holland. Henk was the manager and soon central leader of all anti-Stalinist communists. As a great speaker he could rally many revolutionaries to the side of Marxist socialism. The party bosses of both the social democratic party and communist party hated him and started to spread lies and misinformation. The communist party members even claimed that Henk was a secret fascist!

Finally the Revolutionary Socialist Union was transformed from a loose union of different groups into a Leninist style party, called the Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP). Henk Sneevliet’s work paid off and in 1933, he was elected into the Dutch parliament. This was possible because he supported the mutiny of Dutch sailors on the HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën. After the Dutch government decided to use brutal force to end the mutiny, Sneevliet was jailed because he supported the sailors. In jail he was portrait by the RSP as a martyr of the free word against the militarist Dutch government. Two years later the Independent Socialist Party fused with the RSP to form the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (RSAP)!

Although the party seemed united, inside there was a growing debate about the structure. Many independent socialists did not liked the Leninist party structure, others did not like the personality of Henk Sneevliet who demanded a lot from party members. After the Dutch government banned civil servants from joining radical leftist parties, the RSAP lost the support from many government workers. At the 1937 elections, the party was unable to keep its seat and Sneevliet became a member of the Amsterdam city council. Although he was sympathetic towards Leon Trotsky, both men were too dogmatic to work alongside each other. Trotsky was very critical of the Spanish; Workers Party of Marxist Unification, which Sneevliet fully supported. Also by 1938, Sneevliet had grown so anti-USSR that he no longer called for unconditional support for the Soviet-Union. Trotsky on the other hand always demanded from his supporters that they stood by the planned economy of the USSR!

Trotsky and Sneevliet broke with each other and the RSAP did not joined the Communist Fourth International. Instead the party became a part of the International Bureau of Revolutionary Socialist Unity along with the Independent Labour Party (Britain) and the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) of Spain. Fighting against both social democracy, stalinism and capitalism meant that they small RSAP was very isolated in both Dutch politics and international ones. The political sectarianism was high in the Netherlands before the war. People of different religions and political ideologies looked down on each other. Each had their own organisations, newspapers, radio shows and parties. Sneevliet and the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party were true outsiders and hated by social democrats, stalinists, capitalists, liberals, conservatives and fascists!

In the 1930’s, it was the RSAP who foresaw the dangers of fascism. They were very critical of Adolf Hitler and the Dutch government was not happy that revolutionary socialists openly insulted a friendly head of state. Queen Wilhelmina even send her congratulations to the Führer on his birthdays. The Dutch police was told to arrest RSAP members who were too antifascist. After the Germans invaded Poland, Henk Sneevliet prepared for a possible invasion in the Netherlands. Unlike the SDAP and CPH, the RSAP was ready to work underground. This happened on May 10 of 1940. German troops conquered the Netherlands in less then five days. The Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party was dissolved on the first day of war and replaced by the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front!

Henk Sneevliet and seven others made up the resistance leadership. They were the first socialist group who organized a anti-German newspaper called Spartakus. For two years the MLLF created illegal newspapers and called on Dutch workers to fight back. Unfortunate the resistance leadership was betrayed in April 1942. This was not uncommon as many Dutch were betrayed by fellow countrymen for money. Sneevliet and the seven MLLF leaders were brought before a German court and sentenced to be shot. On the last day of their heroic life, the men came together for a final cigar. Then they sang The Internationale proudly, showing to their captors that their death would not end the struggle of the Dutch proletariat against the Nazi occupation!

The last to be shot was Sneevliet himself. He died a proud revolutionary socialist, never a slave to Stalin and a uncompromising fighter against Hitler. Although German bullets killed him, his ideas live on on the hears and minds of all revolutionary socialists. Today the Netherlands is unaware that they had a brave man like Hendricus Josephus Franciscus Marie. Even the Indonesian workers do not know him. This is because the Communist Party of Indonesia removed him from the party’s records. After the Indonesian communists were massacred by Suharto in the 60’s, the legacy of Sneevliet faded away. In China, the man known only as Maring was unknown until the Communist Party of China decided to name him, at their 90th anniversary in 2011. We can say for certain that he would not be happy about this. As a enemy of stalinism and capitalism, Henk would have called on Chinese workers to rise up against the very party he helped to found in 1921!

It is a sad reality that none of the communist parties Henk Sneevliet co-founded was able to lead their proletariat into building socialism. The Communist Party of the Netherlands dissolved itself in 1991, Jakarta still bans the Communist Party of Indonesia and the Communist Party of China has betrayed revolutionary socialism. 100 years after the Russian revolution which inspired Sneevliet to build the communist parties of Indonesia and China, it is time for workers of these nations to complete the job. Although Henk is death, many can learn from his experiences. New socialists have the potential of building parties of working class people in opposition to the barbarity that is the capitalist system. The capitalist world may think that they are supreme, but Lenin showed this is a facade. Capitalism can be defeated and replaced by a society not run for greed and exploitation!

This is why we honor people like Hendricus Josephus Franciscus Marie. Workers from both the Netherlands, Indonesia and China will forever be linked to this man. The son of a cigar maker from Rotterdam. Who rejected the reformist road of social democracy, who stood against Stalinist totalitarianism and who died while resistance Nazism. Revolutionary Socialist Media will always honor Henk Sneevliet, Dutch working class hero and fighter for workers of all lands!



Sneevliet supported the mutiny of Dutch sailors on the HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën