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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2006...

Jan Marijnissen, Figurehead of the Dutch Socialist Party

Translated Tuesday 28 November 2006, by Steve McGiffen

His face could be found yesterday on the front of any one of several Dutch daily newspapers: at fifty-four, Jan Marijnissen has led the Socialist Party to the biggest electoral victory in its history.

At the heart of a formation that does not particularly cultivate stardom, Marijnissen has become a figure known and appreciated by public opinion: at the close of the final debate between the leaders of each party list, a panel of viewers judged his contributions to have been the most convincing.

His charisma is also due to his humorous side, which sees him regularly invited to participate in television panels. Marijnissen’s career also sums up the story of the SP (Socialist Party). He joined the party at the end of the seventies, when the small Maoist-inspired organisation born in the universities moved into the milieu of workers. Jan Marijnissen was at that time a welder. He became leader of the SP in 1989, contributing to the decision to abandon, two years later, the reference to "Marxism-Leninism".

Paradoxically, these years of transition for the parties of the world’s Communist left were those which saw the emergence of the SP, which until that time had been almost absent from elected assemblies, including on a local level. The first two MPs, one of whom was Marijnissen, were elected in 1994. The SP leader backed the shock slogan "Vote against, Vote SP" which mischievously became "Vote for, Vote SP" in the elections of 2002.

Communications are one of the Socialists’ strong points: as a symbol they adopted a bright red tomato, and don’t hold back from making their meetings into real political shows.

But the SP also reinvented a form of campaigning on the ground which stands out in a country where political debate is primarily conducted through the media. Like many socialist militants, Jan Marijnissen gets out into the streets of working class neighbourhoods and into the factories, and not only on the eve of an election.

This personal investment has contributed to the building of an image of a man sincerely attached to the cause of social justice, and which has gone alongside the growth of SP membership, which today stands at over 49,000 (out of a total population of 15m.)

"We face enormous responsibilities before the whole country," Marijnissen recognised after Wednesday’s anti-neoliberal success, before indicating that his party would accept a coalition with the centre-left – which today seems improbable – but not at any price.

Paul Falzon

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