The Russian Revolution, a century ago this year, also had a deep impact on the Netherlands. The Dutch press followed Russian events closely. Even the smallest protest at home was interpreted as a miniature version of the Revolution. Socialists and anarchists had great expectations about political change in the Netherlands, and the authorities were obsessed with the ‘Red Menace’.
The strong response to the Russian Revolution was related to the political situation in the Netherlands itself. Although the country took a neutral stance during the First World War, the war led to food shortages, tens of thousands of young men were mobilized into the army, and the horrific events just across the border turned large numbers against the establishment. In this context, the Russian Revolution worked as a catalyst for local protest.
Food shortages led to a large revolt in Amsterdam in July 1917, the ‘Potato Uprising’. In April 1918 Rotterdam, The Hague and many other cities were the scene of riots, that became known as the ‘Revolution of the Broken Windows’. In November 1918, the social-democratic leader Troelstra made a half-hearted call for revolution in the Dutch parliament. In Amsterdam, more radical socialists marched to the army barracks to convince the soldiers to take their side. They were violently rebuffed, and four demonstrators died as a result.
Although the expected revolution did not take place, there were powerful echoes of the Russian Revolution in Dutch political life. In the 1918 elections, four sympathizers of the Bolsheviks gained a seat in Parliament: the communists David Wijnkoop and Willem van Ravesteyn, the anarcho-syndicalist Harm Kolthek and the Christian-Socialist John William Kruyt. The poets Henriette Roland Holst and Herman Gorter (later a left-wing critic of Lenin), the architect Berlage, the sculptor Hildo Krop, the painters Theo van Doesburg and Peter Alma, and the writers couple Jan and Annie Romein all were enthused by ‘the new Russia’.
Perhaps even more significant was the indirect impact of the Revolution. Fear for popular radicalization during the ‘red years’ after 1917 was an important factor for accepting social reforms, such as the eight hour working day and the spreading of Collective Bargaining Agreements. And far away from the Dutch borders, in Indonesia, the revolution stimulated the rapid rise of powerful independence movements. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was an important moment in the history of the Netherlands.
Article written by Pepijn Brandon.
Pepijn Brandon is Senior Researcher at the IISH and Assistant Professor at the VU Amsterdam. Together with Ron Blom and Dennis Bos, he edits a special issue of the Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis on reactions to the Russian Revolution in the Dutch world, that will come out in the fall of 2017.