Politicization, Political Leadership and Colonialism in Suriname during the Inter-Bellum and Beyound

Posted on | januari 2, 2012 | No Comments

Introduction

The idea that the onset of democratization gave rise to leadership is a flawed conception grounded in the assumption that during colonization political organization was at best non-existent. The investigation of politicization in Latin America a few years ago revealed surprising details on early politicization and political organization. For example Blanco (1835, Uruguay) and Colorado (1836, Uruguay) parties in the Southern cone of the continent are typically very old traditional parties, depicting elite organization and networking. Also surprising was the ancienity of the communist parties in for example Chile (1933) and Argentina (1918) and parties of the right in Colombia, Mexico and other Latin American political systems are indicative of long term trending of political organization.

In Suriname, Guyana, Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean political organization was less tangible, political participation typically occurred in cadre-type political organizations, were like-minded local notables were recruited for parliament. In the case of Caribbean matters were complicated the cleavage that divided people of color, dark-skinned Blacks versus lighter skinned blacks was the first noticeable cleavage of the plantation. The fact that this cleavage came to be because of Black-White sexual interaction has always been viewed from the experiences of Blacks, and not from the experiences of people of mixed race.

Donald Horowitz in his seminal work Ethnic Groups in Conflict categorizes this specific type ethnic conflict, admonishing that this specific type of conflict is often swept under the rug because of its apparent atavistic and controversial nature. What is known about this specific type of conflict is oftentimes translated from the Black experiences, from the experiences of slavery, and not from the experiences of that what constitutes ethnicity. Within the colonial framework, the concept of ethnicity is often analyzed from a hybrid perspective, the collusion of races that came together because of slavery, indenture and settling.

But its sheer atavistic connotation of black-brown ethnic relationships also grab back to the nature of the plantation, the fact that the plantation was in fact that settling in the Caribbean did not occur because these places were seen as inhabitable. White men who came to work as administrators, adventurers or agents on the plantations as direct result engaged in sexual relationships with female slaves. The off-spring of said relationships sometimes in some cases was taken care of by their white father and they could as free citizens pursue an education, gain possessions.

The intermittent position of people of color, specifically in the case of Suriname has never been properly researched. I found one publication, which cannot be used to underpin possible empirics. Other works do mention the role of the mixed race people, but only to argue that this specific racial category impeded politicization of other racial categories in Suriname. Noteworthy is the find that none of these publications actually researched claims on the impeding role of what they call mulatto elites.
Researching the onset of politicization in Suriname by delving into archives in search of evidence on how political organization in Suriname came to be brought on a different reality. There is no evidence on the impeding role of the so called ‘mulatto elites’, political developments occurred according to a universal pattern, early identified by seminal scholars such as Giovanni Sartori, Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan.

One of the fallacies of earlier research of the Surinamese and other transitional societies is the absence of information on political leadership, the formation of political elites and how said elites organized the political landscape. One of the challenges of researching political processes is that quantitative analysis of long term demographic, economic and social developments using statistical data takes time and requires extra funding that at this point is only scantly available to scholars.

Forefront in this blog is the dominant role of the colonizer within that framework is oftentimes overlooked; scholars and laypeople alike typically attenuate ethnic conflict to certain ethnic cues, “the laziness of Blacks”, “thriftiness of Indians” and so on. It was therefore interesting to find that people of the Caribbean, specifically people in Suriname merely echo colonial perceptions and ideas of the colonizers, but fail to look at empirical at the historical complexities of plantation societies such as Suriname and why actually political systems churned out the way they have.

Qualitative Data

To circumvent the lack of funding, and to ensure progression of research, I decided to look at the other available sources, apt to answer some pivotal questions on the emergence of political leadership and exigencies for political representation by the people.

Relevant was also the social cleavage structure base, a term developed by Lipset&Rokkan (1967), denoting the set of fault lines of any given society. This specific set of fault-lines corresponds with the formation of the party system of a given society. Imperative is therefore to scrutinize the presence of cross-cutting cleavages, rather fault-lines that cut across race, class and social status, because said cleavages in turn teach us something about incipience and level of social integration of the people.
As I mentioned earlier, the first clearly identifiable cleavage that became translated politically in Suriname was the black/brown cleavage, the cleavage between what they termed volkscreolen (Blacks) and Creolen (mulatto). There is ample evidence to underpin the claim that the Surinamese mulattoes gave rise to politicization under the strictest conditions possible allowed by the colonial system.

The colonial authorities from the beginning resisted politicization of the locals and used divide and rule tactic to prevent unification. It is uncanny to note how strong and prolific their message actually has been, because it gave rise to flawed perceptions and ideas on racial relations that keep on persisting into the contemporary. One of the strongest perceptions is that lighter skinned Creoles prevented Blacks from getting the vote. This perception is based on claims propelled into the society by the colonial authorities, to shift the attention away from the fact that they prevented nascent civility among Blacks from growing.

The Governor General, Baron van Asbeck writes in a letter to the minister of Colonies on the 28th of February 1914 about people of “color” have no race, they are lower than whites, The Dutch. They are however the possessive classes and are closest to power, but if they get the power they would destroy each other. The people of color have the press, the Colonial Assembley (…..) they are anti-colonial and anti-Dutch

‘ die geen ras zijn en ras eigenschappen missen van de blanken , de Hollanders. De kleurlingen zijn de middenstand, zij staan het dichtst aan de macht en zouden niets liever willen dan die in handen hebben. Geen ogenblik later zouden zij elkaar verdelgen. De kleurlingen hebben de pers, de koloniale Staten (……..). Zij zijn nog sterker anti-gouvernementeel en anti-Hollandsch….

This writing is exemplary of the way Europeans saw people of mixed race. More recent a BBC series of documentaries revealed even more shocking details on treatment of people mixed race (so called half-casts and half-bloods) during the first half of the Twentieth Century. The far-reaching effects of this agitation became apparent when I found that the Netherlands, rather certain political organizations were directly involved in Suriname to drive a wedge between people of different color belonging to the same ethnic category.

In dept research of other data revealed more information on the level of agitation, the involvement of Dutch Trade-Unions and possible the predecessor of the Dutch Labor Party SDAP. Their role became apparent as the economic situation in Suriname during the World crisis of the 1930s worsened and the workers needed leaders to represent them. There are two, possible three works on Trade Unions in Suriname, but these findings were not incorporated in the publications. Their relevance is immense, because they volumes teach us myriad things about the nature and the structure of colonialism, its pervasiveness, grabbing into the personal of the people in the colonized societies.

Although very unclear why the Dutch Trade Union Nederlandse Verbond voor Vakverenigingen became involved in the organization of the Trade Union in Suriname, its mission is not. It is very apparent that the NVV wants to ‘help’ set up a modern-style trade union, compatible to that in the Netherlands. It tries to teach and influence Surinamese trade-union leaders how to organize workers and expand their organization with dues-paying membership. It is not clear if the Surinamese counterpart asked for help, nor is it not very apparent what the NVV tries to achieve when looking at the material superficially.

Putting the documentation in historical context however brings about a new set of information, directly linked to the conflict between the so called Mulatto political elites and the Governor Kielstra. Said conflict came to be as the Governor enfolded plans to turn the Surinamese society into segregated society, centered on new immigrants from Indonesia who would become the new farming class, living in specific administrative units, separated from the rest of society.
Argumentations against these plans were viewed by the colonial authorities as subversive, and local politicians were branded fascists and nazi’s, because they argued that local farmers (Hindustani and Javanese) could hardly make ends meet.

Member of Parliament Mr Simons argues:

(….) in de tweede plaats is te wijzen op de overproductie van de kleine landbouw waarvan de afzet naar de buitenlandsche markten tegen prijzen welke de concurrentie aldaar kunnen doorstaan tot nog toe niet bevredigend is (….) terwijl door overproductie de binnelandsche productie naar beneden wordt gedrukt. [Dat het kleinbedrijf] over het algemeen niet lonend is uit te oefenen [hetgeen] verklaart en rechtvaardigt ,,de trek naar de stad”.

This reality is corroborated by the NVV, but their counter argumentation was that this specific category indentured was designated to work in the mechanical agriculture, that this plan would not affect the Creoles because they worked in other sectors. Indeed, the notion that Blacks were not suitable for agriculture was based on ideas of the colonizers, and not on actual research that established such fact.

Reading the NVV bulletins more than anything provided an impression of how the Dutch conducted an effective agitation-propaganda against what they perceived as local political elites. By consistently branding people as fascists and NAZI’s without actual prove in hand. These writings also give evidence of the disdain and contempt of the editor of this pamphlet called “De Surinamer”.

“het fascisme en zijn tweelingbroertje het nationaal-socialisme toch kenmerken door het te stroven, rassenverschillen in rassentegenstellingen en rasongelijkheden in rassenhaat om te zetten. Dat in dit geval de Creolen tegen de Javanen in het harnas te jagen (,……) is iets huichelachtigs. Want het is overbekend dat fascisten en Nationaal Socialisten (……) dat zij op de zwarten evenzeer uit de hoogte neerzien als op de bruinen (en op de Joden) (geschreven onder Pseudoniem van ene Ypsilon).

The seriousness of these allegations, specifically when placed against the events of the 1930s, the Kristallnacht in Germany, and hostilities toward Jews, calls for a revaluation of the Surinamese history during that specific period. The effectiveness of this negative propaganda, its racist connotation was not without consequence it robbed Members of Parliament of their good name and kindled disrepute of honorable people who all in their own way fought for a better society.

Wim Bos verschuur, one of the MP’s accused of NAZI sympathies was actually interned during the early years of the war, comments in Juni 1945 on the events:
De aanwezigheid van Bos Verschuur werd geacht gevaarlijk te zijn voor de rust en de algemeene veiligheid zoals de considerans luidde en zo werd bij resolutie Kabinet Geheim NO. 1066 besloten hem in bewaring te stellen zonder eenig commentaar.

Noteworthy is that “Het Kaderblad” derives the bulk of its information from local informants, they consistently comment on the fact that many letters arrive with insufficient postage. The consistent messaging to anonymous sources is also tell-tale of the degree of betrayal that occurred in Suriname. There are however limited available sources on what actually transpired, even if the assumption of spying and betrayal are correct.

Relevant is that this period gave rise to a new political reality in Suriname, rather a complete transformation of the political landscape that halted the politicization and civility indefinitely. The allegation that the mulatto elite refused to share power became played out after 1945, during decolonization. Both Hindustani and Javanese ethnic categories became organized along ethnic lines; Creoles were organized along the lines or religion and race (lighter and darker-skinned). Early on the process Dutch civil servants started fueling feelings of distrust among Hindustani leaders:

De Mohammedaanse vereenigingen in Paramaribo hebben een telegram gestuurd naar Koningin Welhelmina over de staten delegatie: ‘wij hebben geen waarborg dat de delegatie de belangen van de Mohammedaansche Partij dient. Wij vragen uitstel van vertrek van de delegatie tot na de algemeene verkiezingen en de nieuwe indeeling van Staten Generaal. Het blijkt dat een Nederlandse ambtenaar van de Regeerings Voorlichtingsdienst als hoofd van de Gouvernements Persdienst, zich intensief met deze zaak bemoeid. Hij lekt dit telegram door naar het persbureau Aneta, die het stuk plaatst in de Amigoe op Curaçao.

These feelings proved to be a negative breeding ground for inter-ethnic co-operation, but they also delegitimized the position of the incumbent political leaders. From the standpoint of the Dutch, it was easier to work with inchoate politicians, whose support base was confined to a certain ethnic or religious category. They argued that all Surinamese should be represented in parliament, which in reality meant that certain ethnic categories had to represented, American Indians and Marroons were not relevant.

In the absence of inter-ethnic co-operation came ethnic co-optation or the politics of fraternization, a specific type of politicking that is grounded on the political will of two leaders, whose power is based on elite-bargaining, ethnic headcount and zero-sum game co-operation strategies (ADAMA 2006). Through ethnic co-optation the first plans for development co-operation also mentioned in “De Surinamer” (Het Welvaartsplan) took shape. Wageningen Mechanical Rice factory was one of the flagships of Governor Kielstra that ironically came to be in the early 1960s.

But in the end, the old political nomenclature was correct in their observation that small scale farming did not work, and would not work without insufficient funding for the improvement of crops, that would give impulse to export abroad. Today this issue still determines agriculture in Suriname, and Wageningen is no longer……………………………

AUTHOR: Natascha Adama
URL: http://natascha23.blogspot.com
E-MAIL: nataliapestova23 [@] yahoo.com

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