Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis

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Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (ca. 1875)
F.J. Domela Nieuwenhuis (snr.)
The monument in Amsterdam

Ferdinand Jacobus Domela Nieuwenhuis (31 December 1846 – 18 November 1919) was the Netherlands' first prominent socialist. He was a Lutheran preacher who, after he lost his faith, started a political fight for workers. He was the first socialist in the Dutch parliament.


Nieuwenhuis was born in Amsterdam. His family added the second surname "Domela" in 1859. After his theological studies he became an Evangelical-Lutheran preacher and served in various Dutch towns. During this time he gradually lost his faith and came into contact with the social issues of the time. He stopped preaching in 1879, becoming active in various socialist activities.

In 1881 Nieuwenhuis became the frontman of the Sociaal-Democratische Bond (SDB), a socialist movement which was constructed from various local movements. It fought for universal suffrage and supported socialist workers' initiatives such as strikes. Under Nieuwenhuis' leadership and propaganda the movement became bigger and bigger. As the movement grew, it began to come under attack. In 1887 Nieuwenhuis was sentenced to one year in prison for insulting royalty in an article, although it is not certain if he wrote the article. At the conferences of the Second International (IAA) in 1891 and 1893, anarchists, including Nieuwenhuis, presented resolutions that envisioned a call for general conscientious objection and for a general strike in the event of a declaration of war. The majority of the IAA, however, believed that all wars would disappear if capitalism could be removed. (lit: peace news)

In 1888 he was elected to the House of Representatives, one of the two chambers that make up the Dutch parliament. He was the first and at the time the only socialist elected into parliament. He stayed there until 1891, when he decided not to run again. The SDB could not come to agreement over this, and Nieuwenhuis himself was disappointed with parliamentary methods.

From this time onwards Nieuwenhuis moved more and more toward anarchist beliefs. The SDB followed him there but not free of trouble. Many did not agree with this shift, most importantly Pieter Jelles Troelstra, who left the party together with some other prominent members and started the Sociaal Democratische Arbeiders Partij (SDAP) in 1894, a more reformist party. In the same year, the SDB was declared illegal. Nevertheless, Nieuwenhuis remained hostile to Troelstra and his SDAP.

Nieuwenhuis kept publishing and fighting for the social-anarchistic cause. He visited various congresses, started and joined new movements and did not shy away from action. He died on 18 November 1919.

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