Henriette Roland Holst-van der Schalk was born in Noordwijk aan Zee, The Netherlands, to an affluent, liberal family. She attended boarding school in Arnhem, studied French in Liege, and after leaving school filled her time with music and literature. She became a published poet in 1893 and went on to write works on politics, history, and philosophy.
In 1896, she married Richard Roland Holst, an artist. Around the same time, she became politically active, and joined the Dutch Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP). She rise to a position in the party leadership and served as a delegate to the International body, where she met prominent Marxists such as Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky.
She later joined the Communist Workers' Party of the Netherlands. Her nickname was Jet, and she became known by the public as Rode Jet ("Red Jet"). She struggled with various illnesses, including depression, anorexia, anemia, and heart disease, but worked as often as she could to improve the lives of workers, women, and youth.
Among other things, she wrote the Dutch text for The Internationale; plays and radio plays; biographies of Luxemburg, Rousseau, Gandhi and Tolstoy; and journalism. During World War II, she was active in the Dutch Resistance, as editor of its magazine De Vonk, then De Vlam. Towards the end of her life, she published an autobiography, Het vuur brandde voort, The Fire Burned On (1949).