Tan Malaka
Fourth Congress of Communist International

Speech in Discussion of Executive Committee Report

November 12, 1922

Source: Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/472-toward-the-united-front), pp. 261-265.
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

Comrades, given the speeches by comrades Zinoviev and Radek and other European comrades, and given the importance the united front holds for thousands of millions of oppressed people of the East, I believe I must take the floor in the name of the Communist Party of Java.

I must address some questions to comrades Zinoviev and Radek. Perhaps Comrade Zinoviev has not considered a united front in Java, and perhaps our united front is something different. But what the decision of the Second Congress of the Communist International means in practice is that we must establish a united front with revolutionary nationalism.[1] We must recognise that the united front is necessary in our country too. And for us it is a united front not with Social Democrats but with revolutionary nationalists. In our country, the policies of the nationalists against imperialism take different forms, including the boycott, the Muslim war of liberation, and pan-Islamism. I am looking at two forms in particular, and therefore I ask the following questions. First, should we support the national boycott movement or not? Second, should we support pan-Islamism – yes or no? And if yes, how far should we go?

I must concede that the boycott is certainly not a Communist method, but given the political and military subjugation of the East it is one of the most effective available methods. We have also seen that during the last two years this method has been crowned with success in the Egyptian peoples’ boycott in 1919 against British imperialism and the great Chinese boycott of late 1919 and early 1920. The most recent boycott movement took place in British India. We can assume that this year or next some kind of boycott will be utilised in the East.

We know, of course, that the boycott is not our method; it is more the method of a petty bourgeois or the nationalist bourgeoisie. We can say more: we can say that the boycott is a way to support the indigenous bourgeoisie. But we have also seen that as a result of the boycott movement in British India, eighteen thousand leaders are still languishing in the jails, while the boycott aroused a quite revolutionary sentiment. Yes, the British government was even forced by the boycott movement in British India to ask for military assistance from Japan in the eventuality that the boycott movement evolved into an open armed uprising.

We know that the Muslim leaders in India, Dr. Kitchlew, Hasrat Mohani, and the Ali brothers, are really nationalists. In fact, no uprising took place when Gandhi was arrested. But in India we know very well, as does every revolutionary, that a local uprising must end in defeat, because there we do not possess any weapons or other instruments of war.

So the question of a boycott movement, either now or in the future, is very much in the foreground for us Communists. We knew in India and in Java that many Communists are inclined to proclaim a boycott movement in Java, perhaps because the communist sentiment coming from Russia has been so long forgotten, and also perhaps because in British India communist sentiments that were competing with this broad movement were stifled. In any case we face the question: Must we support this tactic – yes or no? And how far can we go in this?

We have a long experience of pan-Islamism. First let me speak about our experiences in the Indies, where we work together with the Islamists. In Java there is quite a large association called Sarekat Islam (Islamic Federation), which includes many poor peasants. Between 1912 and 1916 this organisation had perhaps a million members – it could well have been as many as three or four million. It was a very large popular movement that grew up spontaneously and was very revolutionary.

Until 1921 we worked together with it. Our party, with thirteen thousand members, went into the popular movement and carried out propaganda there. In 1921 we were successful in getting Sarekat Islam to adopt our programme. The Islamic association spoke out in the villages for control of the factories and for the slogan: All power to the poor peasants, all power to the proletarians! So Sarekat Islam was making the same propaganda as our Communist Party, only sometimes under another name.

But in 1921 a split occurred as a result of clumsy criticism of the leaders of Sarekat Islam. The government, through its agents in Sarekat Islam, took advantage of this split and also made use of the decision of the Second Congress of the Communist International: Struggle against Pan-Islamism![2] What did they say to the ordinary peasants? They said: You see, the Communists do not merely want to split your religion, they also want to destroy it. For the ordinary Muslim peasant, that was too much. The peasant thought to himself: I have lost everything in this world; must I now lose my heaven as well? That won’t do! That is how the ordinary Muslims thought. And the propagandists, the agents of the government, exploited that very successfully. So we had a split.

Chair: Your time is up.

Tan Malaka: I come from the Indies; I travelled for forty days. (Applause)

The Sarekat Islamists believe in our propaganda. If I may use a popular expression, their stomachs are with us, but their hearts are with Sarekat Islam, with their heaven. We are unable to grant them that heaven. Therefore, they boycotted our meetings, and we were unable to carry out propaganda any more.

Since the beginning of last year we worked to restore the collaboration with Sarekat Islam. We said at our December congress last year that the Muslims in the Caucasus and other countries, who collaborate with the Soviets and fight against international capitalism, have a much better understanding of their religion. We also said that if they wish to make propaganda for their religion, they can do so, but they should do it not in meetings but in the mosques.

We have been asked at public meetings, ‘Are you a Muslim, yes or no? Do you believe in God, yes or no?’

And how did we answer? ‘Yes’, I said, ‘when I stand before God, I am a Muslim, but when I stand before man, I am not a Muslim (Loud applause), because God has said that there are many Satans among men!’ (Loud applause) And so, with the Qur'an in our hand, we inflicted a defeat on their leaders. At our congress last year we compelled the leaders of Sarekat Islam, through their own members, to cooperate with us.

Then in March last year a general strike broke out, and the Muslim workers needed us, as we had the railway workers under our leadership.[3] The leaders of Sarekat Islam said: If you want to collaborate with us, you must help us. Of course we went to them and said: ‘Yes, your God is mighty, but your God has said that on this earth the railway workers are even mightier!’ (Loud applause) ‘The railway workers are God’s executive committee in this world’. (Laughter)

But that doesn’t settle the question. And if we have another split, we can be certain that the government agents will be there again with their pan-Islamism. That is why the question of pan-Islamism is urgently posed.

Now first you must understand what the word pan-Islamism actually means. It once had a historical meaning, signifying that Islam must conquer the entire world, sword in hand. This was to be done in a holy war under the leadership of the caliph, and the caliph must Arabic in origin. About forty years after the death of Mohammed, the Muslims divided into three great empires, and with that the Holy War lost its significance for the entire Muslim world. The notion of conquering the entire world for the Muslim religion lost its meaning. The caliph of Spain said: I am the true caliph, and I must carry the banner. The caliph of Egypt said the same thing. And the caliph of Baghdad said: I am the true leader, because I come from the Arabic tribe of the Quraysh.

So pan-Islamism no longer has its original meaning, but instead has now in practice taken on quite a different meaning. Pan-Islamism now means the nationalist freedom struggle. For the Muslims, Islam means everything: not only religion, but also state, economy, food, and everything. So pan-Islamism means the brotherhood of all Muslim peoples, and the freedom struggle of not only the Arab but also the Hindustani, Javanese, and all the oppressed Muslim peoples. In practice, this brotherhood means the liberation struggle, not only against Dutch but also against British, French, and Italian capitalism, that is to say, against capitalism of the entire world. That is what pan-Islamism now means in the Indies among the subjugated colonial peoples, and that is how they have spread the idea in secret – that is, as the liberation struggle against the different imperialist powers of the world.

This is a new task for us. Just as we want to support the national struggle, we also want to support the liberation struggle of these very combative, very active 250 million Muslims living under the imperialist powers. Therefore I ask once again: Should we support pan-Islamism, in this sense? That is all I have to say. (Loud applause)


1. The Second Congress resolution on the national and colonial questions states, in part, ‘all Communist parties must directly support the revolutionary movement among the nations that are dependent and do not have equal rights (for example Ireland, the Negroes in America, and so forth) and in the colonies’. Riddell 1991, 1, p. 286. Lenin’s report on this point specifies, ‘[W]e, as Communists, should and will support bourgeois liberation movements in the colonies only when they are genuinely revolutionary, and when their exponents do not hinder our work of educating and organising in a revolutionary spirit the peasantry and the masses of the exploited’. In Riddell (ed.) Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Resolutions of the Second Congress, 1920 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991), vol. 1, p. 213 or Lenin Collected Works, vol. 31, p. 242.

2. The Second Congress ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Questions’ state: ‘It is necessary to struggle against the Pan-Islamic and Proletarian-Asian movements and similar currents that try to link the liberation struggle against European and American imperialism with strengthening the power of Turkish and Japanese imperialism and of the nobles, large landowners, clergy, and so forth’. See Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite!, vol. 1, p. 288.

3. It is not clear to what strike Tan Malaka is referring. In 1920, the sugar workers’ union asked the railway workers to help them gain union recognition, but no strike took place. The pawnshop workers’ strike of January 1922 was the first major work stoppage in the Dutch East Indies. Tan Malaka presented a statement of support to the strikers on behalf of revolutionary unions, including the railway workers.