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Surinamese author, anti-colonial activist, TU leader, World War II resistance fighter

By Harsh Thakor 

Anton de Kom (Cornelis Gerhard Anton de Kom) was a Surinamese author, anti-colonial activist, trade unionist, and World War II resistance fighter. On June 19, it was announced that the Dutch government is awarding honorary rehabilitation to Anton de Kom. The recognition of Anton de Kom was a manifestation of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist movement. This year we commemorated his 125th birth anniversary in February. He carved a permanent niche amongst anti-colonial fighters in history.
De Kom was born in Paramaribo, Suriname, a colony of the Netherlands, on February 22, 1898 to a former slave and farmer Adolf de Kom and a free woman Judith Jacoba Dulder. He earned a secondary school diploma in accounting.
In 1916, de Kom got an office job at Balata Compagnieën Suriname en Guyana (Balata Companies Suriname and Guyana), a Company that exported latex for consumer products. He was aghast by the condition of the company’s new and unskilled workers, the formerly enslaved people.. His support for workers’ rights earned him the nickname “Papa de Kom” before he left the company.
In 1920, de Kom moved to Haiti and worked at the Societé Commerciale Hollandaise Transatlantique (Dutch Transatlantic Trading Company). Several months later, he sailed to the Netherlands where he volunteered for a year in the Dutch military. He subsequently worked for businesses as a consultant and salesman in the Hague, a city in the Netherlands.
Outside the arena his work, De Kom became an active participant in leftist politics and activities, often affiliating with groups that opposed European imperialism and fascism. He then began to campaign for the independence of Suriname. In 1926, he married a Dutchwoman, Petronella Borsboom, and returned with her to Suriname in 1933 to reportedly visit his ailing mother. By then, the Dutch government had placed him under surveillance, marking him as a possible threat to their colonial control of Suriname.

.Protesting Slavery and Racism

De Kom soon confronted the colonial administration in it’s very den by making workers conscious of their rights and organizing them to protest colonial rule. On February 1, 1933, he organised a contingent of followers toward the governor’s office. Colonial authorities arrested De Kom and charged him with attempting sedition. He was immediately imprisoned for three months in Fort Zeeland. Hundreds of people stormed to the jail igniting an uprising. Sighting further labour disturbances, the government deported de Kom back to the Netherlands where he was welcomed back as a hero by Dutch communists and other leftist supporters.
The legacy of slavery and racial discrimination was challenged to the last tooth by de Kom who wished to extinguish the bearings of Dutch colonial rule in his homeland.
In 1926, he expressed his thoughts into writing at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library). His book Wij Slaven van Suriname (We Slaves of Suriname), published in 1934, was classic masterpiece being the first history of black people in the colony and has been compared to W.E.B. DuBois’s classic The Souls of Black Folk. De Kom was hailed as the “W. E. DuBois of Suriname.”
Quoting Kuntsmusem Den Hag “A man with an undeterring expression, his eyes turned away from the camera. For many of us, it is this image that springs to mind when we think of the Surinamese anti-colonial writer and resistance fighter, Anton de Kom. The photographic portrait was made by the typographer and photographer, Piet Zwart, for the cover of De Kom’s book We Slaves of Suriname. Since the book’s publication in 1934, the portrait has become a symbol for the anti-colonial struggle against injustice and the fight for equality and freedom.”
In terms of it’s attack on slavery and capitalism, the book was similar to the work of CLR James or Eric Williams, but it is less theoretical and intellectual and more poetic and heart evoking.

Arrest and Death

De Kom’s relentless activism made him continually unemployed. Despite his grave economic circumstances, during the period of Nazi occupation in the 1940s, he supported the resistance with death defying courage, writing articles in the outlawed magazine De Vonk (The Spark) until he was betrayed, imprisoned by the Nazis in 1944, and sent to a concentration camp.
On April 29, 1945, de Kom perished from tuberculosis in the Sandbostel concentration camp in Germany. Today, his stupendous role in the creation of an independent Republic of Suriname in 1954 is commemorated throughout the country with a premier university, Anton De Kom University, and street in Paramaribo is named in his honour. His image is engraved on Suriname’s currency and, in the Netherlands; a statue was erected in his honor.
Still, however, it must be mentioned that high level of hypocrisy is masked behind the curtains of rehabilitation by the government .The government’s approval of Anton de Kom as a hero is an achievement of the anti-imperialist and anti-racist movement, which is waging a fierce battle against the oppression experienced by the black population and population of colour of the Netherlands by yoke of capitalist exploitation, and arousing hatred towards the criminal colonial past of the Dutch capitalist class. The NCPN and CJB annually organize the Anton de Kom commemoration, narrating his communist perspective and his scientific analyses of colonialism, imperialism and other issues.
It is hypocritical that the chair is being established to allegedly contribute to “giving Anton de Kom and his thought a rightful place in history education and academia,” while communist thought is vulgarised in every possible way. The very basis of Anton de Kom’s analyses, based on dialectical and historical materialism, on the Marxist method, is suppressed in the way the history of slavery and colonialism are distorted by the state.
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Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has studied history of liberation Thanks information from’ In Defence of Communism’ and ‘Blackpast’

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