Many of you must have experienced this: You are in love with someone and visit his or her parents for the first time…. During my first meeting at the home of my in-laws to be, I saw an unusual portrait hanging on the wall. It turned out to be a drawing of Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis. In this way, I discovered that my mother- and father-in-law were followers of the anarchistic movement in The Netherlands.
This came as quite a shock to me, because pretty much the only thing I was taught about anarchists was that they threw bombs. And I didn’t expect bomb-throwers in the quiet city of The Hague. But it turned out that there is also another definition of anarchism: a movement that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary institutions. These anarchists hold the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.
Domela Nieuwenhuis in The Hague
Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis was born on December 31, 1846 in Amsterdam. He became a minister in the Lutheran Church and worked in Harlingen, Beverwijk and The Hague. As a minister he saw a lot of poverty.
And his personal life was very tragic. Three of his four wives died in childbirth and he started to doubt the existence of a well-meaning and benevolent god. So his leaning toward atheism and socialism was perhaps inevitable. In 1879 he resigned as minister, counting on a little help from an inheritance that came his way that year to provide financial security.
After his resignation as a minister he went on a lecture tour, ‘preaching’ against the five K’s: Kerk (Church), Koning (King), Kapitaal (Capital), Kazerne (Barracks) and Kroeg (Pub). And he started and edited a magazine called ‘Recht voor Allen’ (Justice for All).
In 1886 this magazine published an article criticizing the then King William III. The article contained a number of blank sheets to describe the, ‘activities’ of the King. Domela Nieuwenhuis was charged and convicted to a year imprisonment for lese-majesty. Eventually he served seven months.
‘Justice for All’ featured a number of articles about one ‘King Gorilla’. They talked about a prince, later to become king who a led dissolute life, neglecting affairs of state and the welfare of the people. None of the articles specifically stated that ‘King Gorilla’ was William III. But there were so many similarities to his life, for instance a very bad marriage, that every reader knew who ‘King Gorilla’ was. Later these articles were combined into a pamphlet, titled ‘The life of King Gorilla’.
Back to The Hague
After his release from prison Domela Nieuwenhuis came to live in a small house at the Malakka Courtyard in the Archipel neighbourhood in The Hague.
In 1888 he was elected as a member of the Tweede Kamer for the Frisian People’s Party. He was the first, and at the time the only, socialist member of parliament. Gradually he became of the opinion that parliament was not the best place to realise his ideals. In the 1891 elections he was still a candidate, but he lost his seat. By the end of the 19th century his ideas took him more towards anarchism. He started a new magazine, wrote many historical books and produced the first translation in Dutch of ‘Utopia’, Thomas More’s story about the ideal society.
Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis was very important to a lot of people. He spoke at rallies and strikes, and campaigned for abstinence and against militarism.
He died in 1919 in Hilversum. During his funeral procession through Amsterdam 12.000 people lined the streets. His body was cremated at Westerveld Crematorium in Velsen — at the time, he was only the 9th person in the Netherlands to have requested it. My in-laws’ interest in Domela Nieuwenhuis was not shared by the next generation. I had to find his portrait in a long-closed box in order to use it in this article. It was packed away with issues of ‘Justice for All’ (new editions from the 50’s and 60’s).
Do you want to see the house of Domela Nieuwenhuis for yourself? And learn more about The Hague in the 19th century? You can do so during my Archipel Walk.
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