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PPR: forgotten party in Dutch political history

The Political Party Radikalen (PPR) always occupied a significant number of seats in the Upper and Lower Houses between 1971 and 1989. Still, the name will not immediately ring a bell for most Dutch people. The PPR has always been neglected in political historiography. Historians of RICH have now been commissioned to write a trade book about the party.

The PPR in a nutshell: The Political Party of Radicals (PPR) was founded in the Netherlands on April 27, 1968 by Christian radicals who had split from the Catholic People's Party (KVP) and to a lesser extent the Anti-Revolutionary Party (ARP). In the period from 1971 to 1989, the party was represented in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Between 1973-1977, the PPR was part of the Den Uyl cabinet. The PPR merged with a number of other parties to form GroenLinks in 1991.

Afsplitsing_van_de_Radicalen_uit_de_KVP-fractie_Jack de Nijs / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

- Split off of the radicals from the KVP fraction in 1968; statement by Member of Parliament Jacques Aarden as group chairman of the new Group Aarden in the House of Representatives. Jack de Nijs/Anefo, CCO, via Wikimedia Commons -

‘The strange thing is’, says historian Wim van Meurs, ‘that party histories have been written about almost all Dutch political parties, some nearly a thousand pages thick. But barely anything has been written about the PPR, at most a few separate articles.’ Van Meurs finds that remarkable, because although the PPR has never been a major party, it IS a relevant and interesting party. The founders called themselves Christian radicals, but did not want to denote an ideology. They rejected a direct link between religion and politics and let current themes predominate. Van Meurs: ‘At the time, the PPR was concerned with major themes such as social inequality, peace and security and the environment. These are issues that are also very topical today.’

Former leaders

The limited public documentation about the PPR also caught the attention of a number of former leaders of the party recently, during an anniversary gathering in honour of 50 years of PPR. One of them contacted Hans Krabbendam, director of the Catholic Documentation Centre in Nijmegen. A large part of the PPR's archive is stored in the KDC. Another, smaller part, is stored at the Documentation Centre for Dutch Political Parties (DNPP) of the University of Groningen. Krabbendam then approached the Centre for Parliamentary History (CPG) and Van Meurs to concretize the plans. RICH historians Christoph van den Belt and Marieke Oprel were recently appointed as editors of the forthcoming trade book, and now the project has officially started.

Oprel has meanwhile studied the archive information about the PPR. ‘What has been written about the PPR tries to explain the cooperation of small left parties. Initially, the PPR wanted to operate independently, but in the late 1980s it was decided to merge with the Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP), Evangelical People's Party (EPP) and the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN) to form the current GroenLinks. The collaborations that have been explored with all kinds of parties and the internal discussions within the PPR have been explored in studies on the run-up to GroenLinks. But very little attention has been paid to the substantive themes of the PPR, and the visions that the PPR stood for.’

Themes

The plan is that in the coming year a book of about 100 to 150 pages will be compiled, in which the party history will be discussed on the one hand, and on the other hand the link will be made between the major social themes of the PPR and comparable contemporary issues. 'The four themes we have formulated are social inequality, the environment, citizen participation and safety', says Van den Belt who, together with Oprel, is looking for historians who can make analyses of the material in the KDC and DNPP that can be included in the collection. Van Meurs: ‘That means that we can only explore parts of the archives, because the entire archive about the PPR is about twelve meters long. So the book cannot become a complete, definitive party history.’

Ria_Beckers_spreekt,_achter_haar_de_spandoeken_van_de_PPR_en_Groen_Links,_Bestanddeelnr_934-4714

- Ria Beckers speaks in 1989, behind her the banners of the PPR and GroenLinks. Rob Bogaerts / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons -

Remaining question

The question remains: why has nothing been written about the PPR so far? Van Meurs, Oprel and Van den Belt have to think about this. ‘I think it's partly because of the different views of the prominent members’, suggests Oprel. ‘Those who have continued in politics have gone in different directions. They held on to the ideals that the PPR cherished, but each in their own way. The fragmentation of the party in the years leading up to the merger could explain why party history has not yet been recorded.’ Van Meurs: ‘In addition, the PPR has remained mainly an intellectual party in the midst of all the activism. If you write a book about all the activist movements of the 60s, the PPR is the first to be excluded. And besides: you cannot say of many leaders of the party that they have been connected with the PPR from the beginning to the end of their lives. Rather, it has been a phase in their lives. But this is certainly something for the introduction to the book: answering the question as to why nothing has been written about the PPR yet.’

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