This interview was published in 1988. The original article can be found in the archives.
After leaving the University of Groningen, Pim Fortuyn drew a line under his academic past. Nevertheless, the senior lecturer in sociology did not want to lose his bond with students. He saw a role for himself at the faculty of business administration at Erasmus University, in the form of guest lectures and perhaps as thesis supervisor. He would need to do this alongside his work as a consultant in ‘political strategic decision making’ for a new agency based in Rotterdam. A conversation with a non-conformist, a controversial Marxist who consciously chose free entrepreneurship.
Friends and enemies alike agree that Pim Fortuyn has a headstrong vision. At the very least, it is remarkable for a Marxist to give up a protected position as senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Groningen to start a consultancy in Rotterdam for ‘political strategic decision making’.
In addition, many eyebrows were raised when, shortly before his departure, Fortuyn made a passionate plea for slimming down all the departments in The Hague to an optimal size of 350 civil servants. Both facts lead to question marks regarding Fortuyn’s credibility as a strong socialist.
Doubts only became greater when the Volkskrant published an interview with the provocative claim that in his new job, the sociologist would be buying a Volvo 740 driven by a chauffeur recruited from the Rotterdam student fraternity. This portrayal needs some nuancing. “I told the reporter that I wouldn’t have a problem having a chauffeur when that suited me. For example, when travelling long distances. A chauffeur is then safer, and I can continue to work. Actually,” says Pim Fortuyn subtly, “I’m not buying a Volvo.”
I know I have charisma
So, a factual inaccuracy in the newspaper article. Just as, according to Fortuyn, ‘Pim’s Law’ also lacks any foundation. ‘Wherever Pim is, there’s controversy’, says that law, which is often repeated in the gossip circuits at the Groningen university. “Apparently, I’m someone who invites a certain type of tension. I know I have charisma, a controlled emotionality with which I can control a room. But to say that my presence alone triggers controversy goes too far.”
In the Groningen university paper, which he edited for a long time, he called the use of Pim’s Law ‘an efficient and nasty way to harm someone’, apparently because he did not conform to the norms of the university society. And indeed, conformism is alien to him. Even as part of the Amsterdam student movement, he was the only person in a three-piece suit, dissonant among the jeans.
It did not prevent him from rapidly moving up to the top of the movement. Employees and students at Erasmus University may soon get the chance to give their own opinion about this high-profile scholar. Although he has definitively swapped the University of Groningen for dynamic entrepreneurship, he wants to continue giving lectures. “I can’t miss the contacts with the students,” he says. “Which is why I want to try and give guest lectures at the faculty of business administration. No, not in sociology. That course has been pulled in Rotterdam too, hasn’t it?”
That comment betrays some of the mixed feelings that Dr W. S. P. Fortuyn (40) experienced on leaving Groningen. A recent historical sociologist graduate from VU Amsterdam, in 1972 he was brought to Groningen because he was one of the few who knew anything about Marxism and the Frankfurter Schule.
“For sociologists, these were the top years. The faculty grew enormously, had an annual intake of a hundred and fifty, two hundred new students. But at the end of the 1970s, it changed. Now there are 25 to 30 first years in Groningen, the programme has evolved into a department.”
At the start of the 1980s, the study programme underwent a restructuring process. Fortuyn was the only one of his Historical Sociology group who opposed it being incorporated in a separate course. In 1987, a second reorganisation followed, whereby another significant area of Fortuyn’s discipline crumbled away. “Legally, I could have stayed. After sixteen years, it’s not easy to get rid of you. But if I’d continued in Groningen, I would have been completely isolated. So, I decided to go.”
Rotterdam must exploit logistic possibilities
In addition, Pim Fortuyn, the ‘enfant terrible’ of the University of Groningen, felt undervalued. Left and right, he saw intellectual nitwits being appointed to positions he felt were totally unsuitable for them. Fortuyn doesn’t say this in so many words, but the fact that his unwavering commitment to the sociology programme in Groningen and his extensive academic oeuvre was never rewarded with a professorship clearly hurt him.
Apparently, no one felt much empathy with this constantly debate-seeking querulant. “I am grateful to Groningen for the opportunity I was always given for my scholarship, but I was undervalued.” So, he left — for the Randstad, that was where he wanted to be. Not to Amsterdam, because he’d been there already. Not to Utrecht, because of his insurmountable aversion to Hoog Catharijne, and even less to The Hague, because housing is unaffordable there. He chose Rotterdam, to be precise: Mariniersweg. Against the cultivated background of classical music, in his tastefully decorated living room, Pim Fortuyn explains that the step from the University to free entrepreneurship was not unexpected.
“In 1986, I was involved as a consultant with the Albeda committee, which was writing a report about the arbitration relating to disputes of civil servants. Albeda then asked me to be an external consultant for the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy, and finally as a reporter, I was responsible for writing the New Rotterdam report, that another Albeda committee had drafted for the municipality.” As a result of this last achievement, Pim Fortuyn was introduced to the ‘city on the Meuse’. To his surprise, he found that he was very capable of compiling a report from a multitude of data. “During that work, it became clear to me: if I want to do something, something really different, I must start selling this type of work. That was in April 1987, for me the moment to announce my departure from Groningen.”
Fortuyn now started advising companies, institutions and government on political-strategic decision making. That meant studying how the organisations could best respond to the developments in the surroundings. He mentions the obvious example of the port of Rotterdam, where he established that computerisation was being developed too slowly to expand the industrial basis of the port. After 1992, when the borders of the European Union were opened up for economic traffic, Rotterdam found itself in a very different position than the city was accustomed to. Plans needed to be made for that, particularly by exploiting the logistic potential. But the world was changing, not just for Rotterdam.
One of the first assignments that Pim Fortuyn undertook was a project in Maastricht. The problem was how the city should respond to that same opening of the national borders. “In economic terms, Maastricht is still closer to the Randstad than to centres like Brussels and Cologne, which are closer in geographical terms.
“The question is, after 1992: should Maastricht become a Euregion and focus outside the Netherlands, because the border barriers are being eliminated, or should the current situation be maintained?” As a sociologist, Fortuyn believes that Maastricht residents with their ‘savoir vivre’ will be very capable of managing the new challenge – possible competition with much bigger cities. “The city has always been confronted with domination but has developed a culture which protects it.” In his new job as business and government consultant, the socialist Pim Fortuyn cannot avoid sitting opposite seasoned capitalists. No objection, he says himself.
“How does it help anyone if you are bound to agree with each other? Debate can be enlightening. Incidentally, I don’t want to be judged on my personality, but on my work. That aspect sometimes seems to get buried — although I must say that I don’t get the impression I’m difficult for industry.” However, Pim Fortuyn cannot invoke an apolitical, unimpeachable track record.
Although there is little scope for an orthodox Marxist like him in current society, the former Groningen lecturer can still be considered an exponent of the left wing of the Partij van de Arbeid (Labour Party) and member of the ‘think tank’ of that party. “No, not a party ideologist,” he says. “The PvdA is reformist, and I’m not. I’m portrayed as being radical. In some ways, that may be true, but I also have conservative traits.”
Radical or not, he does not hide his opinion about the developments in his party. He definitely agrees with those who say that the PvdA is in a crisis. “The ideological bases of the three main parties all originate in the end of the last century. The question is whether that is still relevant, which is why PvdA and VVD are suffering an identity crisis.
We are on the eve of the development of new ideologies.
He would like to work with the CDA, the confessionalist party, as well because he does not feel that the focus on a social democratic concept of a ‘caring society’ is sufficent. “With the emergence of new economic key areas, particularly in Eastern Asia, the hegemonic position of the white race is up for discussion. A completely new phenomenon to which the world still does not have an answer.”
“But also closer to home, certainties and structures like family and local community are falling away. Society is become more individualistic, and that needs to be organised. The PvdA has not yet found an answer to that.” Fortuyn does not agree with the suggestion by his fellow party member Paul Kalma from the Wiardi Beckman foundation, of preserving socialism and only acting pragmatically.
On the contrary. “Politics needs ideologies,” he says firmly. “Pragmatism is not binding. The function of an ideology is the perception of cohesion. If one of the big problems is the atomisation of society, you surely can’t abolish the ideology? If the PvdA did that, it would become an electoral association. What do you then base yourself on? I believe that we are on the eve of the development of new ideologies. Kalma has given the PvdA the worst possible advice.”
Fortuyn graduated in Sociology from the VU in 1972. In the mid-1970s he obtained a PhD in Groningen, where he became a lecturer in Marxist sociology.
The young sociologist first supported the communist party CPN, but during his career, he was a member of the social-democratic PvdA for a long time, from 1972 to 1989. After that, he was a member of the liberal VVD for a few years.
In 1988, he moved to Rotterdam and became director of the company behind the ov-studentkaart, the first travel card that students could travel within every public means of transport. From 1991 to 1995, he worked one day a week at the Erasmus University as an endowed professor in the Albeda chair.
From 1992 until his death in 2002 he worked as a political publicist. Fortuyn spoke in halls and at receptions and wrote books such as Aan het Volk van Nederland (To the People of the Netherlands) (1992) in which he called for an uprising against the political system, Tegen de islamisering van Nederland (Against the Islamisation of the Netherlands) (1997) in which he turned against the multicultural society and De puinhopen van acht jaar Paars (The ruins of eight years of Social Democratic and Liberal cooperation Cabinets) (2002) in which he criticised the privatisation of government institutions and presented an alternative recovery programme.
From 20 August 2001 until his death on 6 May 2002, he was active in national and municipal politics. He was the leading candidate for right-wing populist parties Leefbaar Rotterdam, Leefbaar Nederland and Lijst Pim Fortuyn.