The DSP’s philosophy is currently described by its leadership as ‘social democracy plus,’ or ‘social democracy with a bit extra.’ This is described in the paper as follows:
It sees the Den Uyl Labour government of 1973-1977 as a possible model for a future radical left government. In fact the current programme (following from Heel de Mens in 1999) is less radical than the Labour manifesto of the 1970s.
The philosophy has changed massively: firstly they were a Maoist party, then a post-Marxist party, then became a left-social democrat party. Certain things haven’t changed – they have a number of core issues: healthcare, workers’ rights, housing. In this way the Party is different from PvdA and the European social democratic parties, who are much more focused on technocratic management.
In the book Tegenstemmen (in English: Enough! A Socialist Bites Back) by Marijnissen there is a chapter dedicated to describing socialism. He accepts Marx’s criticisms of capitalism but refutes Marx’s predictions. The book refers to ethical socialism as being the basis for the DSP.
Socialism offers ‘a certain vision of humanity and society, and because of this is meaningful for the here and now’. Socialism is based on ‘the view that humans are the measure of everything’ and that ‘this should be the highest principle for organizing society’. Human dignity, equality and solidarity are important – rather than democratic control over the means of production. Since this book, the DSP ha changed again to be more of a party for the welfare state. ‘Socialists stand for robust democratic control over the capitalist free market economy.’
The DSP has a core of leading members which have led the Party to growth. The structure of the Party is based on delegates, with local branches electing delegates to regions and the congress. Above this, there is the party council. The SP opposes specific organizations or working groups of women, migrants or sexual minorities. It considers such structures divisive.
The DSP has never consistently worked within trades unions, though many members are trades unionists. They organised their own trade union, Workers Power. Before 1988, only dedicated activists were allowed to join as members. When this was changed, membership rose to over 15,000 in 1992. Now it has over 45,000 members. As many of 5,000 of these are activists (in this regards it is the opposite of the MSZP).
The DSP has always used direct action to build the party and gain visibility. This approach led the early DSP to spend a lot of effort on campaigns on a neighbourhood level. While other forces in the far Left were trying to organize workers at the point of production, the SP campaigned for example for better housing conditions and safer living environments. Many of its members were active in front-organizations set up by the party, like Bond van Huurders en Woningzoekenden (Union of Tenants and People looking for Housing) and Milieu Aktie Nederland (Environmental Action Netherlands). Its emphasis on environmentalism was ahead of other leftist groups of the time.
The party also organized legal support for people who had a conflict with their boss, landlord or the government. It also organized three medical centers with their own doctors. Those activities brought the small party considerable sympathy. Its handful of councilors continuously denounced all kinds of abuses and the party remained very visible in extra-parliamentary, often local actions. The DSP became a party driven by its involvements in these activities, a ‘listening party’ that changed leftist ideology according to what people wanted.
However, this approach has meant that it has been slow to work within social movements which it doesn’t control, or to dedicate more time in building long-lasting social movements. It was slow to adopt feminism, and its policy towards immigrants (or ‘guest workers’) has been almost reactionary, on more than one occasion (the emphasis on Romanians and Bulgarians in the 2014 manifesto also reflects this). It has played little or no role in anti-racist campaigns.
The main source of the DSP’s popularity has been in the Catholic south of the Netherlands where in the 1960s there was less competition for the left-wing vote. Their early Maoism meant that they received money from China and the youth of the 1960s in these areas were becoming less interested in Catholicism, and more radical. In contact with these communities, the DSP’s Maoism developed a workerist slant which was to lead them in a reformist direction.
In the early 1990s, the slogan was ‘Vote Against, Vote SP’. The slogan and the characteristic party-symbol, a thrown tomato, were developed with help from public relations professionals. This was to give the DSP a different, anti-establishment appeal. At the same time in the 1990s, other left parties collapsed or became more neo-liberal, leaving the DSP as the best option. It has a lot of sympathy amongst voters, but it has a problem in persuading voters that it can do what it promises, and a lot of Dutch voters have a large degree of scepticism that an alternative to neo-liberalism actually exists.
Despite this, the DSP has consolidated, polling at around 10%, though it appears many people say they will vote for the DSP when asked, and then actually vote Labour (PvdA).