In their blazing, pamphleteer documentary What’s Left – The Mess of the Left (BNNVARA), this Thursday on NPO 2, writer-columnist Johan Fretz and documentary maker Juul Op den Kamp show the demise of the Labor Party. The once great workers’ party, which has plummeted over the years from more than fifty to a meager nine parliamentary seats, has, according to them, renounced the social-democratic ideal by converting to neoliberalism, or at the very least by giving it a helping hand. grant.
The Netherlands is becoming increasingly right-wing – why make a film about what’s wrong with a moribund left-wing party?
Fretz: “The film is not intended to further break down the PvdA, it was born out of a warm heart for social democracy. Juul and I both come from a Labor Party nest. And with that love comes justified anger and disappointment at its loss. The story of a left-wing power party drifting so far from its core values – I think it will definitely be an eye opener for millennials and zoomers.”
Op den Kamp: “This is intended for them. It’s a whodunnit popcorn movie about the decline of social democracy. It makes sense to make something about what the right has done, but far fewer people know what the left’s part has been in it.”
Fretz: „VVD members believe that the government is not responsible for, for example, homelessness, the housing crisis, poverty. They carry out what they stand for, so that’s not very interesting for a movie. That the PvdA also facilitated the demolition, that is the story.”
Why so devastating? Only six minutes before the end, there is some hope on the horizon.
Op den Kamp: “In order to know how things can be done differently, you first have to know how we ended up here.”
Fretz: „It does contain some tirades from me, but we present it with a lot of humor and self-mockery, and above all involvement. Some see harsh criticism as cynicism, or annoying yelling. But that fire is a sign that we care.”
Op den Kamp: “The team that made this film is furious about how things are going in the Netherlands, and we used that as fuel to make the film. Taking action because you are concerned can never be cynical. Cynical is doing nothing. We end with hope and combativeness. The aim of the film is to move viewers. We see the ideal of social democracy blossoming again among young people.”
Three former party leaders speak, but they say little. What is the added value?
Fretz: “They do say something, and sometimes saying nothing is also revealing. This is a movie, no news hour. There is something smooth and inscrutable about Wouter Bos, but that ambivalence also makes him mysterious, which is good for the film.
Op den Kamp: „Diederik Samsom kept on avoiding, and eventually came up with: who did something wrong, it doesn’t matter, because we live in a beautiful country after all. That was exactly where we wanted to go. Because that’s what politicians say, but it’s not true. The evasive interview gives structure to the film.”
Fretz: „Job Cohen is the only one who dares to say: it was three times nothing, the Rutte II cabinet, and we have done things that were really unacceptable. In this way he gives our film much more weight. If I say so, it may not impress. But the older nestor says so himself.”
Former PvdA leader Ad Melkert has not spoken to you, but his classic confrontation with Pim Fortuyn in 2002 is included. Was that the beginning of the end of the Labor Party?
Fretz: “I think so. After that, the charisma of Wouter Bos kept the party going for a while. But the Fortuyn revolt brought out the rot. In that debate, Fortuyn provides a correct socio-economic analysis of the decline of hospitals due to economies of scale and privatisation. And Melkert doesn’t respond to that, because he knows it’s true.”
In addition to the PvdA, left-wing parties such as the SP, GroenLinks and Bij1 have emerged. Why did you not include them in the analysis?
Op den Kamp: “They are included, but we wanted to focus on the PvdA because it is the only left-wing party that has had government power for the past forty years.”
Fretz: “We also wanted to keep it personal: I come from a PvdA nest, in the film we see the leaders I voted for.”
Op den Kamp: “Johan’s personal story is important to take viewers along. He is the poster boy of social mobility: he comes from a poor family, went to study, became a writer and theater maker. A child of social democracy. But the road he has traveled is no longer self-evident for children. The power of film is that you can identify with Johan and through his story realize how much influence politics has on a person’s life.”
What is the way out for the PvdA? To cancel? merge?
Fretz: “Merging makes little sense if you don’t first consider what you stand for. We especially want to start the conversation about the foundation. The party must first return to the core values as formulated by former leader Joop de Uyl in the 1970s: more equal distribution of knowledge, power and income. It is essential to make it clear that the class struggle and the emancipation struggle are not opposites, but always go hand in hand.”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of September 22, 2022