History of the Netherlands (1900–present)

Last updated
Part of a series on the
History of the Netherlands
Joannes van Deutecum - Leo Belgicus 1650 - published by Claes Jansz Visscher Amsterdam.jpg
Flag of the Netherlands.svg Netherlandsportal

Emergence of Socialist Party

At the beginning of the 20th century, socialism began to develop in the industrial centers. [1] Although the first socialist party, the Social Democratic League, was founded in the 19th century, the electoral system, combined with a policy of containment and repression, prevented the development of the socialist movement. In the 1901 election, the Social Democratic Workers' Party increased its representation from two to six seats in the lower house of parliament, to the great unease of the confessional and liberal elite. This unease became even greater during the railway strike of 1903, which disrupted the functioning of Dutch society. The railway strike was followed by a general strike in protest at the harsh treatment of the railway workers by the confessional government. In contrast to Germany, the majority of Dutch socialists did not complain about imperialism and ther East Indies. [2]

Social Democratic League Former Dutch political party

The Social Democratic League was a socialist political party in the Netherlands. Founded in 1881, the SDB was the first socialist party to enter the House of Representatives.

1901 Dutch general election

General elections were held in the Netherlands on 14 June 1901. The Liberal Democratic League remained the largest party, winning 26 of the 100 seats in the House of Representatives.

Social Democratic Workers Party (Netherlands) former political party in the Netherlands

The Social Democratic Workers' Party was a Dutch socialist political party and a predecessor of the social democratic Labour Party.


After the 1913 elections, in which the social democrats doubled their number of seats (from 7 to 15), the Liberal Union tried to form a coalition government with the social democrats but the social democrats refused to cooperate with what they perceived as bourgeois (or "middle class") parties.

General elections were held in the Netherlands on 17 and 25 June 1913. Despite receiving the fourth highest number of votes, the General League of Roman Catholic Caucuses emerged as the largest party, each winning 25 of the 100 seats in the House of Representatives. After the election, the independent liberal Pieter Cort van der Linden became Prime Minister of the Netherlands, leading a cabinet of Liberals, Free-thinking Democrats, Christian Historicals and other independent liberals.

World War I

Although its army mobilised when World War I broke out in August 1914, the Netherlands remained a neutral country. The German invasion of Belgium led to a large flow of refugees from that country (about 1 million). The German Imperial Army however did march through a small part of Dutch territory during the invasion of Belgium, effectively 'taking a shortcut'. The government accepted this to maintain the neutrality of the Netherlands. [3]

World War I 1914–1918 global war starting in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War, the Great War, the Seminal Catastrophe, and initially in North America as the European War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Neutral country sovereign state which officially declares itself to be neutral towards the belligerents in a war

A neutral country is a state which is neutral towards belligerents in a specific war, or holds itself as permanently neutral in all future conflicts. As a type of non-combatant status, neutral nationals enjoy protection under the law of war from belligerent actions, to a greater extent than other non-combatants such as enemy civilians and prisoners of war.

The country being surrounded by states at war, and with the North Sea unsafe for civilian ships to sail on, food became scarce; food was now distributed using coupons. An error in food distribution caused the so-called Aardappeloproer (Potato-rebellion) in Amsterdam in 1917, when civilians plundered a food transport intended for soldiers.

North Sea marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean

The North Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean located between Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. An epeiric sea on the European continental shelf, it connects to the ocean through the English Channel in the south and the Norwegian Sea in the north. It is more than 970 kilometres (600 mi) long and 580 kilometres (360 mi) wide, with an area of 570,000 square kilometres (220,000 sq mi).

Amsterdam Capital of the Netherlands

Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands, with a population of 866,737 within the city proper, 1,380,872 in the urban area, and 2,410,960 in the metropolitan area. Amsterdam is in the province of North Holland. Amsterdam is colloquially referred to as the "Venice of the North" due to its large number of canals which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Dutch society became divided among three large ideologies, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Socialism, who tried to protect their populations with a system called verzuiling or Pillarization. The small minority of Liberals, though insisting that their "general" organisations were open to all, effectively consisted a fourth pillar that held power through financial, rather than social, strength. [4]

Although both houses of the Dutch parliament were elected by the people, only men with high incomes were eligible for voting. This situation lasted until 1918, when pressure from socialist movements had resulted in elections in which all men were allowed to vote. From 1922 onward, women could vote as well.

The worldwide Great Depression of 1929 and the early 1930s had crippling effects on the Dutch economy, effects which lasted longer than they did in most European countries. The long duration of the Great Depression in the Netherlands is often explained by the very strict fiscal policy of the Dutch government at the time, and its decision to adhere to the Gold Standard much longer than most of its trading partners. The depression led to large unemployment and poverty, as well as increasing social unrest. Riots in a working-class neighbourhood in Amsterdam were put down with army assistance, with fatal consequences (for more details: Great Depression in the Netherlands). [5]

Great Depression 20th-century worldwide economic depression

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations; in most countries, it started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the world's economy can decline.

The Great Depression in the Netherlands occurred between 1933 and 1936, significantly later than in most other countries. It was a period of severe economic crisis in the 1930s which affected countries around the world, including the Netherlands.

The rise of Nazism in Germany did not go unnoticed in the Netherlands, and there was growing concern over the possibility of armed conflict. However, some say the threat of Nazi aggression was not fully acknowledged by the government of the time. An often mentioned example is a particular statement by prime minister Hendrik Colijn at the end of his radio speech on the occupation of the Rhineland. He stressed that citizens could sleep safely, because there was no reason for concern. [6]

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Netherlands declared their neutrality again. However, on May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany launched an attack on the Netherlands and Belgium and overran most of the country quickly, fighting against a poorly equipped Dutch army. [7]

By May 14, fighting was only occurring in a few isolated areas, including Rotterdam. That same day, at 10:35am, Nazi Germany demanded, in an ill-formatted ultimatum it was signed simply "the commanding officer of the troops at Rotterdam", without giving the exact identity of the sender that the Netherlands surrender the city within two hours, to which the commander in chief, General Henri Winkelman, replied through the garrison commander at 12:15 that only a correctly signed ultimatum would be considered. Around 13:30 a new ultimatum was handed out to a Dutch officer, and a reply was expected before 16:30. However, at the same time the bombardment of Rotterdam began, killing about 800 people and destroying large parts of the city, leaving 78,000 homeless. Following the bombardment and German threats of the same for Utrecht, general Winkelman capitulated.

However, the capitulation affected only the Royal Netherlands Army not the Royal Netherlands Navy, the air force or the Netherlands East Indies Army, in the Dutch East Indies. In this way, the Netherlands did not cease to exist, which proved of vital importance for the governing of the overseas territories and for keeping the Navy active against Germany. The government, the queen and some military forces fled to Britain, while other members of the royal family fled to Canada.

Nazi Germany's civil administration of the Netherlands was headed by Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Persecution of the Jews, of which about 140,000 lived in the Netherlands at the start of the war, including some 20,000 refugees, started immediately after the invasion. In 1942, a transit camp was erected near Westerbork. Concentration camps were built near Vught and Amersfoort. At the end of the war, only about 20,000 of the 140,000 Dutch Jews remained alive. Anne Frank, who later gained worldwide fame when her diary, written in the Achterhuis, while hiding from the Nazis, was found and published, died shortly before the liberation of her camp on May 5, 1945.

Following the refusal of the Netherlands government-in-exile to allow the sale of oil from the Dutch East Indies to Japan, Japanese forces invaded Dutch territory on January 11, 1942. The Dutch surrendered on March 8, after Japanese troops landed on Java. Dutch citizens were captured and put to work in labour camps. However, many Dutch ships and military personnel managed to reach Australia, from where they were able to fight against the Japanese.

In Europe, after the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, they proceeded quickly towards the Dutch border. On September 5 most of the Dutch thought the liberation would be very soon; the day is known as Dolle Dinsdag (Mad Tuesday). On September 17 a daring operation, Operation Market Garden, was staged to make a quick incursion into the southern Netherlands and capture bridges across the three main rivers. The bridge at Arnhem, across the Rhine, could however not be captured. The part south of the rivers was liberated in the period September - November 1944. However, for most of the country people would have to wait until May 1945.

The winter of 1944-1945 was very harsh, and many Dutch starved, giving the winter the name Hongerwinter (Hunger winter) Dutch famine of 1944–45. Following Allied victories in Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler's suicide on April 30, 1945, Canadian General Foulkes accepted the surrender of the German troops in the Netherlands at Wageningen on May 5, 1945.

Post-war years


Allied forces liberated parts of the Dutch East Indies in mid-1945. However the Japanese-installed local leadership declared independence as Indonesia, and controlled the main islands. A confusing phase followed. Its massive oil reserves provided about 14 percent of the prewar Dutch national product and supported a large population of ethnic Dutch government officials and businessmen in Jakarta and other major cities. In 1945, the Netherlands could not regain these islands on its own; had to depend on British military action and American financial grants. By the time Dutch soldiers returned, an independent government under Sukarno, was in power. The Dutch in the East Indies, and at home, were practically unanimous (except for the Communists) that Dutch power and prestige and wealth depended on an extremely expensive war to regain the islands. Compromises were negotiated, were trusted by neither side. When the Indonesian Republic successfully suppressed a large-scale communist revolt, the United States realized that it needed the nationalist government as an ally in the Cold War. Dutch possession was an obstacle to American Cold War goals, so Washington forced the Dutch to grant full independence. A few years later, Sukarno seized all Dutch properties and expelled all ethnic Dutch—over 300,000—as well as several hundred thousand ethnic Indonesians who supported the Dutch cause. In the aftermath, the Netherlands prospered greatly in the 1950s and 1960s but nevertheless public opinion was bitterly hostile to the United States for betrayal. Washington remained baffled why the Dutch were so inexplicably enamored of an obviously hopeless cause. Western New Guinea remained Dutch (until 1961). [8] [9]


Although it was originally expected that the loss of the Indies would lead to an economic downfall, the reverse proved to be true, and in the 1950s and 1960s the Dutch economy experienced a near unprecedented growth - see the post–World War II boom. In fact, the demand for labor was so strong, that immigration was actively encouraged, first from Italy and Spain; then later on, in larger numbers, from Turkey and Morocco. Combined with the immigration from (former) colonies like Indonesia, Surinam and Netherlands Antilles, this meant that the Netherlands was becoming a multicultural country.

The late 1960s and 1970s were the period of the Dutch disease, which means that easy gains from natural gas exports crowded out manufacturing exports and employment. [10]

In the 1960s and 1970s there were great social and cultural changes, such as rapid depillarization a process that involved the gradual decay of the old divisions along class and religious lines (which had led to things like separate education and separate television broadcasts for Catholics, Protestants, socialists and liberals). Youths, and students in particular, rejected the traditional morals and pushed for social change in matters like women's rights, sexuality and environmental issues. Today, the Netherlands is regarded as a very liberal country, considering its drugs policy and its legalisation of euthanasia. Same-sex marriage became permitted on April 1, 2001. At that time, the Netherlands was the only country where gay marriages were not only allowed, but also considered fully equivalent to heterosexual ones.

In 1952, the Netherlands was among the founders of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) (together with France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg). The ECSC would over time evolve into the European Union. A modern, industrialised nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO and participated in the introduction of the euro in 1999.

From 1918 to 1967 Dutch politics were dominated by the Christian Democrat parties, which were members of every government, sometimes in coalition with the liberal party, sometimes with the social democrats. This changed in 1994, when social-democrats and liberals formed the so-called "Purple Cabinet", which governed until 2002.

21st century

Since 2002, the Dutch governments has mostly been led by Christian-democrats and liberals interchangeably.

On May 6, 2002, the murder of Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing populist calling for a very strict policy on immigration, shocked the country. His party became a major political force after the elections, significantly changing the political landscape. However, lack of leadership and fighting within the party caused them to lose much of their following in elections the next year. Another political murder took place on November 2, 2004, when film director and publicist Theo van Gogh was assassinated by a Dutch-Moroccan Islamic extremist. This sparked debate about Islamic extremism in the Netherlands, and on immigration and integration (or lack thereof) as well.

In 2017, the government consists of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), The Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), Democrats 66 (D66) and The Christian Union (CU).

See also

Related Research Articles

History of the Netherlands Dutch history

The History of the Netherlands is the history of seafaring people thriving on a lowland river delta on the North Sea in northwestern Europe. Records begin with the four centuries during which the region formed a militarized border zone of the Roman Empire. This came under increasing pressure from Germanic peoples moving westwards. As Roman power collapsed and the Middle Ages began, three dominant Germanic peoples coalesced in the area, Frisians in the north and coastal areas, Low Saxons in the northeast, and the Franks in the south.

History of Belgium Aspect of history

The history of Belgium extends before the founding of the modern state of that name in 1830, and is intertwined with those of its neighbors: the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg. For most of its history, what is now Belgium was either a part of a larger territory, such as the Carolingian Empire, or divided into a number of smaller states, prominent among them being the Duchy of Brabant, the County of Flanders, the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and County of Luxembourg. Due to its strategic location and the many armies fighting on its soil Belgium has often been called the "battlefield of Europe" or the "cockpit of Europe". It is also remarkable as a European nation which contains, and is divided by, a language boundary between Latin-derived French and Germanic Dutch.

The Labour Party is a social-democratic political party in the Netherlands.

Netherlands New Guinea 1949-1962 Dutch possession in Southeast Asia

Netherlands New Guinea refers to the Papua region of Indonesia while it was an overseas territory of the Kingdom of the Netherlands from 1949 to 1962. Until 1949 it was a part of the Dutch East Indies. It was commonly known as Dutch New Guinea. It contained what are now Indonesia's two easternmost provinces, Papua and West Papua, which were administered as a single province prior to 2003 under the name Irian Jaya.

Social Democratic Party of Germany Social-democratic political party in Germany

The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany.

National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands political party

The National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands was a Dutch fascist and later Nazi political party that called itself a "movement". As a parliamentary party participating in legislative elections, the NSB had some success during the 1930s. It remained the only legal party in the Netherlands during most of the Second World War.

Sukarno First President of the Republic of Indonesia

Sukarno was the first President of Indonesia, serving from 1945 to 1967.

Anton Mussert Dutch politician in WWII

Anton Adriaan Mussert was one of the founders of the National Socialist Movement in the Netherlands (NSB) and its formal leader. As such, he was the most prominent Dutch fascist before and during World War II. During the war, he was able to keep this position, due to the support he received from the Germans. After the war, he was convicted and executed for high treason.

Henk Sneevliet Dutch politician

Hendricus Josephus Franciscus Marie (Henk) Sneevliet, known as Henk Sneevliet or by the pseudonym "Maring", was a Dutch Communist, who was active in both the Netherlands and the Dutch East-Indies. As a functionary of the Communist International, Sneevliet guided the formation of the Communist Party of China in 1921. In his native country, he was the founder, chairman and only Representative for the Revolutionary Socialist (Workers') Party, RSP/RSAP. He took part in the Communist resistance against the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, for which he was executed by the Germans in April 1942.

Netherlands in World War II involvement of the Netherlands in World War II

Despite being neutral, the Netherlands in World War II was invaded by Nazi Germany on 10 May 1940, under orders of Adolf Hitler. On 15 May 1940, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch forces surrendered. The Dutch government and the royal family saved themselves by going to London. Princess Juliana and her children moved on to Canada for additional safety.

Hubertus van Mook Dutch colonial governor

Hubertus Johannes "Huib" van Mook was a Dutch administrator in the East Indies. During the Indonesian National Revolution, he served as the Acting Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies from 1942 to 1948. Van Mook also had a son named Cornelius van Mook who studied marine engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also wrote about Java - and his work on Kota Gede is a good example of a colonial bureaucrat capable of examining and writing about local folklore.

Free-thinking Democratic League Dutch socioliberal party (1901-1946)

The Free-thinking Democratic League was a progressive liberal political party in the Netherlands. The VDB played a relatively large role in Dutch politics, supplying one Prime Minister, Wim Schermerhorn. The League is a predecessor of two of the major Dutch political parties, the conservative-liberal People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) and the social-democratic Labour Party (PvdA). The social-liberal Democrats 66 also claims that it and the VDB are ideologically connected.

Louis Beel 36th Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Louis Joseph Maria Beel was a Dutch politician and diplomat of the defunct Roman Catholic State Party (RKSP) and later co-founder of the Catholic People's Party (KVP) now merged into the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) party and jurist who served as Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 3 July 1946 until 7 August 1948 and from 22 December 1958 until 19 May 1959.

Meinoud Rost van Tonningen Dutch Nazi

Meinoud Marinus Rost van Tonningen was a Dutch politician of the National Socialist Movement (NSB). During the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, he collaborated extensively with the German occupation forces. He was the husband of Florentine Rost van Tonnigen.

This article gives an overview of socialism in the Netherlands, including communism and social democracy. It is limited to communist, socialist, and social-democratic parties with substantial support, mainly proved by having had a representation in parliament. The sign ⇒ means a reference to another party in that scheme.

Christian democracy in the Netherlands

This article gives an overview of Christian democracy in the Netherlands, which is also called confessionalism, including political Catholicism and Protestantism. It is limited to Christian democratic parties with substantial support, mainly proved by having had a representation in parliament. The sign ⇒ means a reference to another party in that scheme.

Reichskommissariat Niederlande Netherlands occupied by Germany during the Second World War

The Reichskommissariat Niederlande was the civilian occupation regime set up by Germany in the German-occupied Netherlands during World War II. Its full title was the Reich Commissariat for the Occupied Dutch Territories. The administration was headed by Arthur Seyss-Inquart, formerly the last chancellor of Austria before initiating its annexation by Germany.

Social democracy is a political, social and economic philosophy that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and a capitalist oriented mixed economy. The protocols and norms used to accomplish this involve a commitment to representative and participatory democracy, measures for income redistribution, regulation of the economy in the general interest and social welfare provisions. In this way, social democracy aims to create the conditions for capitalism to lead to greater democratic, egalitarian and solidaristic outcomes. Due to longstanding governance by social democratic parties during the British post-war consensus and their influence on socioeconomic policy in the Nordic countries, social democracy has become associated with the Nordic model and Keynesianism within political circles in the late 20th century.

The Indo people or Indos are Eurasian people living in or connected with Indonesia. In its narrowest sense, the term refers to people in the former Dutch East Indies who held European legal status but were of mixed indigenous Indonesian and Dutch descent as well as their descendants today. In the broadest sense, an Indo is anyone of mixed European and Indonesian descent. Indos are associated with colonial culture of the former Dutch East Indies, a Dutch colony in Southeast Asia and a predecessor to modern Indonesia after its proclamation of independence shortly after World War II. The term was used to describe people acknowledged to be of mixed Dutch and Indonesian descent, or it was a term used in the Dutch East Indies to apply to Europeans who had partial Asian ancestry. The European ancestry of these people was predominantly Dutch, but also included Portuguese, British, French, Belgian, German, and others.


  1. James C. Kennedy, A Concise History of the Netherlands (Cambridge UP, 2017)
  2. Erik Hansen, "Marxists and Imperialism: The Indonesian Policy of the Dutch Social Democratic Workers Party, 1894-1914." Indonesia 16 (1973): 81-104. online
  3. Kennedy, A Concise History of the Netherlands (2017)
  4. Kennedy, A Concise History of the Netherlands (2017)
  5. E.H. Kossmann, The Low Countries 1780-1940 (1978).
  6. E.H. Kossmann, The Low Countries 1780-1940 (1978).
  7. Kennedy, A Concise History of the Netherlands (2017)
  8. Frances Gouda (2002). American Visions of the Netherlands East Indies/Indonesia: US Foreign Policy and Indonesian Nationalism, 1920-1949. Amsterdam UP. p. 36.
  9. Henri Baudet, "The Netherlands after the Loss of Empire" Journal of Contemporary History 4#1 (1969), pp. 127- 139 online
  10. Baten, Jörg (2016). A History of the Global Economy. From 1500 to the Present. Cambridge University Press. p. 29. ISBN   9781107507180.

Further reading