While a teenager he worked as a bricklayer and joined the labor movement; In 1925, at the age of sixteen, he joined the Dutch Communist Party. The following year he was injured at work and hospitalized. He lost his job as a bricklayer and in 1927 moved to the Dutch city of Leiden, where he learned some German. There he founded "Lenin House" and organized political meetings. He worked in a factory and put himself forward to authorities as the scapegoat for a strike, although he was not among the leaders of the strike.
Van der Lubbe wanted to emigrate to the Soviet Union, but failed to manage it. He joined an unemployed workers' movement. In 1931 he had a disagreement with the Dutch Communist Party and joined a splinter organization: the IKG (Internationalist Communist Group). In early 1933 Hitler became chancellor, and in early 1933 Van der Lubbe moved to Germany to become active against Hitler's movement.
He was guillotined in Germany on January 10, 1934.