May 13, 1883|
|Died||April 13, 1942(aged 58)|
Hendricus Josephus Franciscus Marie Sneevliet, known as Henk Sneevliet or the pseudonym Maring (May 13, 1883 - April 13, 1942), was a Dutch Communist, who was active in both the Netherlands and the Dutch East-Indies. He helped to guide the formation of the Communist Party of China in 1921. He took part in the Communist resistance against the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II and was executed by the Germans in 1942.
Sneevliet was born in Rotterdam and grew up in 's-Hertogenbosch. After finishing his education, he started working for the Dutch railways in 1900 and became a member of the Sociaal Democratische Arbeiders Partij (SDAP, the predecessor of the Dutch Labour Party) and the railway union. From 1906, Sneevliet was active for the SDAP in Zwolle, where he became the first social democrat city council member in the elections of 1907.
Sneevliet was also active in the Dutch railway union, the NV and in 1911 he became its chairman. In the union, Sneevliet was one of the more radical voices. When an international sailor strike was called in 1911, several of the more radical Dutch unions took part, but the majority of the union movement and the majority within the SDAP were against it. For Sneevliet, this led to his alienation from both and strengthened him in his decision to leave the Netherlands for the Dutch East Indies.
Dutch East Indies
Sneevliet lived in the Dutch East Indies (roughly equal to present day Indonesia) from 1913 until 1918 and he soon became active in the struggle against Dutch rule. In 1914, he was a co-founder of the Indies Social Democratic Association (ISDV), in which both Dutch and Indonesian people were active.
He also returned to union work, becoming a member of the Vereeniging van Spoor- en Tramwegpersoneel, a railway union which was unique in having both Dutch and Indonesian members. Thanks to his experience as a union leader, he soon managed to turn this still fairly moderate union into a more modern and aggressive union, with a majority of Indonesian members. This union later formed the base for the Indonesian communist movement.
ISDV was strictly anti-capitalist and agitated against the Dutch colonial regime and the privileged Indonesian elites. This led to much resistance against the ISDV and Sneevliet himself, from conservative circles and from the more moderate SDAP. In 1916 therefore he left the SDAP and joined the SDP, the predecessor of the Communist Party of Holland (CPH, later Communist Party of the Netherlands).
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Sneevliet's radicalism gained enough support amongst both the Indonesian population as well as Dutch soldiers and especially sailors that the Dutch authorities got nervous. Sneevliet was therefore forced to leave the Dutch East Indies in 1918. ISDV was repressed by the Dutch colonial authorities.
Even after his return to the Netherlands Sneevliet stayed interested in Indonesian developments and in 1933 he was condemned to five months imprisonment for his solidarity actions for the Dutch and Indonesian sailors who took part in the mutiny on "De Zeven Provinciën", which was put down by an air bombardment in which twenty-three sailors were killed and which at the time aroused considerable passions in the Dutch public opinion.
Working for the Comintern
Back in the Netherlands, Sneevliet was somewhat marginalised by the leadership of the CPH, who criticised his tactics in the Indies. He therefore spent more time in the union movement, where he helped organise the 1920 transport strike. The same year he was also present at the second congress of the Comintern in Moscow, as a representative of the Partai Komunis Indonesia (PKI), which was the successor to Sneevliet's ISDV. Vladimir Lenin was impressed enough by him to send him as a Comintern representative to China, to help the formation of Communist Party of China, and he was present at the First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921 together with Vladimir Neumann of the Russian Communist Party when the Communist Party of China was formally established.
Sneevliet was not impressed by the party and argued for cooperation with the Kuomintang and Sun Yat-sen, with whom he had established contacts personally. Although this policy seemed reasonable at the time, it proved to be disastrously wrong a few years later when Chiang Kai-shek became the head of the Kuomintang after Sun Yat-sen's death (see Chinese Civil War). Things came to a head in 1924, largely due to the worsening political climate in the Soviet Union.
Back in the Netherlands
In 1927, after years of worsening relations between Sneevliet and his followers and the CPH leadership, Sneevliet broke all ties with the CPH and the Comintern and formed his own party, the Revolutionair Socialistische Partij (RSP), this later became the Revolutionair Socialistische Arbeiders Partij (RSAP) after fusing with the Independent Socialist Party (OSP), which had earlier formed under the stewardship of Jacques de Kadt and Piet J. Schmidt (nl). The RSP signed the "Declaration of the Four" in August 1933 along with the International Communist League, led by Leon Trotsky, the OSP and the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany. This declaration was intended as a step towards a new International of revolutionary socialist parties. In the end the RSAP broke from the Trotskyists in 1937/38 and became a part of the centrist International Bureau of Revolutionary Socialist Unity along with the Independent Labour Party (Britain) and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) of Spain.
In the 1930s, therefore, Sneevliet and his party concentrated more on national issues, gaining some successes in organising the unemployed movement, strike actions, and the struggle against the rise of fascism. In 1933 Sneevliet, while still imprisoned, was elected a member of the Tweede Kamer, or Lower House, a position he mainly used to propagandise. Central to the activity of the small party was its relationship with a small trade union federation, the NAS, and it was due to a dispute concerning this body that the RSAP split from Trotsky's ICL.
However, the worsening political climate both abroad and nationally and the constant struggle against both the Stalinist and social democratic parties, as well as government interference, took a heavy toll on Sneevliet and his group. When war broke out on May 10, 1940, Sneevliet immediately dissolved the RSAP.
Some months later with Willem Dolleman and Ab Menist (nl), he founded a resistance group against the German occupation, the Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg-Front (MLL-Front). This was largely engaged in producing propaganda for socialism and opposing the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands and as such was heavily involved with the February strike of 1941.
As a known Communist, Sneevliet had to go into hiding even before he started his resistance activities. For two years he managed to keep out of the hands of the Nazis, but in April 1942 they finally arrested him and the rest of the MLL-Front leadership. Their execution took place in the Amersfoort KZ on April 12, 1942. It was reported that they went to their deaths singing The Internationale.
- "Xinhua Insight: Chinese historians recognize int'l support in founding of CPC". Xinhua News Agency. 13 July 2011.
- "Declaration of the Four". Marxists.org. August 26, 1933. Retrieved 2008-08-13.
- Philippe Bourrinet, "The Marx-Lenin-Luxemburg Front", extract from Philippe Bourrinet, Dutch and German Communist Left on the Le Bataille socialiste website (accessed 2008-08-13)
- "Sal Santen. The Lubitz TrotskyanaNet, 2009" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-02-20.
- Henk Sneevliet Archive at marxists.org
- Dutch language biography of Henk Sneevliet
- Generals Without Troops: Dutch Trotskyism during the Occupation, Revolutionary History, Vol.1 No.4, Winter 1988-89
- Mohamed Hassan: Comparison of Henk Sneevliet's revolutionary work in 1920s Indonesia with the current situation in Gaza