The party was founded in Zwolle in 1894. The party programme was a literal translation of the Erfurt Program of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). Both parties believed in an immanent revolution which would make an end to suffering and inequality between classes and between men and women. The parliamentary work was only seen as a means to help the workers before the revolution would set off.
In the first years the SDAP was a small party, searching for the best way to organize itself. It received a lot of help, both financial and organizational, from the German SDP. In 1894 the International recognized the SDAP as the Dutch labour party. The SDAP was open for other socialist organizations, such as labour unions to associate themselves with the party.
In 1897 the party won its first two seats in the Tweede Kamer. Pieter Jelles Troelstra, a controversial person in the party, won the seat of Tietsjerksteradeel in Friesland and became chairman of the parliamentary party. In parliament the SDAP supported the social legislation of the Liberal majority cabinet, led by Pierson. The core of the cabinet was formed by the Liberale Unie. During this period the party became the major socialist party of the Netherlands, attracting famous writers and poets like Herman Gorter, Henriëtte Roland Holst-van der Schalk and Herman Heijermans junior, and the journalist Pieter Lodewijk Tak.
In 1900, party leader Troelstra visited Berlin and received a considerable sum of money, with which the party founded its own daily news paper, called Het Volk, Dagblad voor de Arbeiderspartij (The People, Paper for the Workers' Party). In the same year the remainder of the SDB, which was renamed Socialist League joined the SDAP
In the 1901 elections the SDAP performed particularly well: it tripled its seats to six, the Liberal cabinet which the socialists supported lost its majority. The confessional, christian-democrat cabinet, composed of the Protestant Anti Revolutionary Party and the Catholic Catholic General League ignored the Socialists. After the election victory the party's power in the socialist pillar began to rise. In a massive reorganization, the associated socialist organizations had to integrate with the party's branches.
Initially the SDAP supported the strike, hoping it would spark a socialist revolution. But in reaction to the government legislation, moderate party members, including Troelstra, turned against the strikes. This led to a controversy between orthodox Marxists and moderate revisionists.
The strike ended the cooperation of socialist unions with confessional unions and the social democratic SDAP and anarchists of other organizations. The strike however didn't only lead to breaches. The labour unions were prepared to unite and work together with the SDAP. The Dutch Federation of Trade Unions (Nederlandsch Verbond van Vakvereenigingen, NVV) was founded in 1905 by Henri Polak.
After the railway strike the conflict between revisionists and orthodox Marxists intensified both within the SDAP and internationally. In 1903 Troelstra lost control of Het Volk to the Marxist faction. In 1904, the Marxists had another victory, when revisionism was forbidden by the conference of the International in Amsterdam.
On the eve of the 1905 elections the revisionists won a crucial victory. The party decided to support liberal candidates who were in favour of universal suffrage. The party won one seat, meaning it held seven seats and supported the liberal minority government, led by De Meester.
Many members of the SDAP were irritated by the behaviour of the Marxists who were continuously denouncing moderates. Troelstra openly attacked the Marxists and the party congress in a formal resolution declared to oppose all labelling opportunists and revisionists. The Marxist chairman Tak resigned and Vliegen became chairman. Tak also lost control of Het Volk to Vliegen.
In 1907, a group of Marxists around David Wijnkoop founded the magazine De Tribune, which attacked the revisionist leadership of the SDAP. Troelstra and other leaders removed Wijnkoop and his associates from the party ranks in 1909. Wijnkoop founded the orthodox Marxist SDP the same year. The SDP later became the Communist Party of Holland. This was one of the first splits within the European labour movement.
In the 1909 elections the SDAP held on to its seven seats, but their liberal allies lost many seats to the confessional parties, who won a majority of sixty seats. In the knowledge that they could not accomplish anything in parliament, the SDAP focused on the extra-parliamentary movement for universal suffrage, for both men and women, regardless of class.
The party's original strategy was to organize mass strikes for universal suffrage. But the socialist union NVV feared reprisals from employers. So the SDAP decided to start a petition. In a mass demonstration in the Hague on Prinsjesdag the petition was presented to parliament. The SDAP called it Roode Dinsdag (Red Tuesday). The demonstration led to considerable controversy, when Queen Wilhelmina decided not to attend the Prinsjesdag ceremonies. For the 1912 Prinsjesdag the Red Tuesday was forbidden.
During this time the women's movement began to influence the party. Women were deprived of political influence in the party, and the party top was split over the issue. Socialist women organizations began to flourish because of the struggle for universal suffrage. The SDAP founded a women's branch, called Samen Sterk (Together Strong). Samen Sterk tried to found labour unions for female employees, starting with house maids. This caused considerable controversy in bourgeoisie circles.
The 1913 elections the SDAP more than doubled its seats to 15. As a serious force in parliament, the SDAP was asked to participate in government by the liberal formateur, providing three ministers. The SDAP, even the reformist Troelstra, refused government participation, because the party acknowledged one if its major ideals (national disarmament) could not be realized. Instead of an unstable minority government an extra-parliamentary cabinet was formed, made up out of liberal and non-partisan ministers. The cabinet intended to realize socialist demands, like universal suffrage, the state pension and the eight hour working day.
After the First World War had broken out, the SDAP supported the Dutch policy of armed neutrality. This support was welcomed by the leaders of the other parties but not by many SDAP-members. In 1915 a special conference declared that the SDAP only supported the government temporarily and the support could be withdrawn, thus preventing another party-wide conflict.
During the war the allies blockaded the Dutch ports, which in turn led to enormous lack of foods: riots broke out in the major cities. The SDAP supported the government actions against these riots. Many of the protestors were furious about the SDAP and changed allegiance to the SDP .
Meanwhile the political system was in revision. A constitutional change enabling universal suffrage was prepared by the liberal cabinet. In order to realize this change a two-thirds majority was necessary. This practically meant that all major parties, including the confessional parties needed to agree with the change. The confessional parties would consent with the constitutional change, but only if confessional schools would be granted finances equal to the public schools and if universal vote would not extend to women.
The SDAP was especially critical of the second demand. On September 17, 1916 it organized a mass rally with 40,000 demonstrators, demanding female suffrage. In the end, however, the party consented with the changes the confessional parties demanded. With some changes, women were granted the right to be elected and women's suffrage was deconstitutionalized, meaning that only a normal majority was necessary to implement the change. In 1919 the left-liberal Henri Marchant initiated a law to implement female suffrage, and in 1922 the first elections with real universal suffrage were held.
In 1918 the first general elections with universal suffrage and proportional representation were held. The SDAP won 22 of the 100 seats. One of these seats was taken by Suze Groeneweg, the first woman elected to parliament. 4 seats were won by other left-wing parties, including the communists. The confessional parties however won a majority.
In November 1918 revolution broke out in Germany. SDAP leader Troelstra thought that the Netherlands were ready for revolution as well. In a speech in parliament he demanded the resignation of the government, because he expected the army and the police to support the revolution. The government didn't resign, instead it prevented revolution from spreading. In doing so they were supported by most of the Dutch population. This incident is called "Troelstra's mistake" (Dutch: Troelstra's vergissing). Many SDAP members were displeased with Troelstra. He politically survived the 1919 party congress, though just narrowly.
Troelstra's mistake, the SDAP's reluctance to form a socialist/liberal government in 1913 and the electoral strength of the confessional parties prevented the SDAP's participation in government until 1939.
The SDAP won in the 1919 municipal elections, and socialist supported municipal governments were formed in many cities.
In 1919 many of the socialist demands (universal suffrage, the eight hour workday and state pensions) were implemented. The party began to shift their focus away from the revolution and towards the direct improvement of the position of the working-class.
During the 1930s the SDAP began to moderate its policies. It removed the demand of national disarmament in 1934, and became less republican, for instance sending a telegram with felicitations to Queen Wilhelmina in 1936 after she gave birth to princess Beatrix. During the crisis the party proposed several plans for economic reform. In 1935 the SDAP published the 'Plan of Labour' (Plan van de Arbeid), which included plans to increase employment, nationalize vital industry and implement a system of unemployment benefits. The confessional-liberal government would have none of the socialist proposal for economic reform. After 1936 however it changed its course, giving into socialist demands by devaluating the guilder and allowing the national debt to rise in order to increase employment.
In reaction to this moderate course a group of orthodox Marxist members, led by De Kadt, left the party to form the Independent Socialist Party. After an unsuccessful merger with the (Trotskyist) Revolutionary Socialist Party, many of the 3,000 split members returned.
This course of moderation was suddenly interrupted by the incidents surrounding the mutiny on the cruiser "De Zeven Provinciën". During the mutiny the political leadership of the SDAP announced that, although they did not support it, they could understand the motives behind the mutiny. Because of this incident the government temporarily forbade soldiers to be a member of the SDAP.
In 1939, at the dawn of the Second World War prominent SDAP members were asked to participate in a national coalition, led by Protestant politician De Geer; the dawning war was the extreme necessity that allowed the SDAP to govern. After the Netherlands was invaded by the Germans this government became the Dutch government in exile, in London. The SDAP first supplied two ministers (Albeda and Jan van de Tempel) and in 1944 they were joined by Jaap Burger. The SDAP was banned in 1940 by the occupying force. Many SDAP members were involved in resistance work during the war.
After the Second World War, there was a wide-spread sentiment in the Netherlands that the political system should be changed. This was called the Doorbraak. In order to force this breakthrough the SDAP merged with the left-liberal VDB and the Christian-socialist CDU to form a new party: the Labour Party (Dutch: Partij van de Arbeid). They were joined by individuals from the Protestant CHU and ARP and members of the Catholic resistance movement Christofor.
The parties main issues were the 5 k's the party opposed to:
|1897||2||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet of Pierson|
|1898||2||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1899||2||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1900||2||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1901||6||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||opposition|
|1902||6||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||opposition|
|1903||6||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||opposition|
|1904||6||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||opposition|
|1905||7||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet of De Meester|
|1906||7||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1907||7||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1908||7||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1909||7||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||opposition|
|1910||7||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||opposition|
|1911||7||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||opposition|
|1912||7||0||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||opposition|
|1913||15||2||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet of Cort van der Linden|
|1914||15||2||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1915||15||2||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1916||15||2||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1917||15||2||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||n/a||supports cabinet|
|1918||22||2||unknown||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||opposition|
|1919||22||3||117||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||no elections||opposition|
|1920||22||4||117||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||no elections||opposition|
|1921||22||4||117||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||no elections||opposition|
|1922||20||4||117||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||opposition|
|1923||20||11||107||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||no elections||opposition|
|1924||20||11||107||Pieter Jelles Troelstra||no elections||opposition|
|1925||24||11||107||Johan Willem Albarda||Johan Willem Albarda||opposition|
|1926||24||11||107||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1927||24||11||120||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1928||24||11||120||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1929||24||11||120||Johan Willem Albarda||Johan Willem Albalda||opposition|
|1930||24||11||120||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1931||24||11||127||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1932||24||11||127||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1933||22||11||127||Johan Willem Albarda||Johan Willem Albarda||opposition|
|1934||22||11||127||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1935||22||11||126||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1936||22||11||126||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1937||23||12||126||Johan Willem Albarda||Johan Willem Albarda||opposition|
|1938||23||12||126||Johan Willem Albarda||no elections||opposition|
|1939||23||12||124||Willem Drees||no elections||Johan Willem Albarda|
|1940||out of session||no elections||Johan Willem Albarda|
|1941||out of session||no elections||Johan Willem Albarda|
|1942||out of session||no elections||Johan Willem Albarda|
|1943||out of session||no elections||Johan Willem Albarda|
|1944||out of session||no elections||Johan Willem Albarda|
|1945||23||12||124||Willem Drees||no elections||Johan Willem Albarda|
In the figure below the result for the SDAP of the 1927 provincial elections can be seen. In several provinces, the urban Noord Holland and South Holland especially, the party performs very well. In the Catholic and predominantly rural South, Limburg and Noord Brabant, the party has a marginal position. In the Protestant and rural North, especially Groningen and Friesland, the party also performs well.
|Province|| Seats in PS |
In 1919 the party had around 49,000 members in around 645 municipal branches.
In 1938 the party had around 88,000 members in around 650 municipal branches.
The SDAP also had good relations: with the social-liberal VDB. The VDB-cooperation in the, economically conservative, 1930s crisis cabinets deteriorated this relationship. It furthermore had good relations with the Christian-socialist CDU.