Tan Malakka

The Partisan: His Military,
Political and Economic Struggle


From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.5, September-October 1951, pp.140-145.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The editors of Fourth International are happy to present to their readers, for the first time in English, an authentic text by the great Indonesian revolutionist, Tan Malakka. This is a first extract from his pamphlet The Partisan and his Military, Political and Economic Struggle (Gerpolek). It was written in May 1948, when Tan Malakka was imprisoned by a decree of the Dutch legation in Indonesia, which was servilely carried out by the conciliatory government of the Indonesian republic. The pamphlet was written in the Malayan tongue. Dutch and French translations were made of it, on which the present English version is based. We cannot, therefore, assure our readers that the present translation is strictly correct on every single point.

Tan Malakka’s pamphlet was written for the partisan cadres which had been fighting since 1947 against the forces of the Dutch army on the Indonesian archipelago. It explains in detail the author’s concepts of partisan struggle. For Tan Malakka, the conduct of military operations, the political orientation to be followed, the diplomatic discussions in which to engage, the economic measures to be taken, constitute a coherent whole with but one aim: the achievement of complete independence for Indonesia and the social emancipation of the Indonesian masses. Written for a movement of colonial national liberation and presenting a program of consistent nationalism for an oppressed people, Tan Malakka’s pamphlet arrives at the ultimate conclusions of this revolutionary nationalism, by giving it a clear proletarian class orientation. In this sense, it is entirely in accord with the theory of the permanent revolution, even if it does not mention this theory or employ a similar terminology.

“The working people must have a genuine interest in waging this war against imperialism, and this interest will not exist unless at least 60 per cent of the owners of the means of production are expropriated” – this idea runs like a leading theme through the whole text. Sometimes Tan Malakka expresses himself with even greater emphasis: “The plans, elaborated by dozens of ‘brain trusts,’ of collaboration with foreign big business, will result only in the exploitation and oppression of the Indonesian workers and peasants ... The proletariat must postpone the execution of a comprehensive economic plan until the revolution will have resulted in a victory for the proletariat.” To this consistent nationalist, the class interests of the proletariat cannot be soft-pedalled under a phraseology of “new democracy,” but must remain the prime consideration, whatever the concrete stage of the colonial revolution or the concrete tasks imposed by this stage.

Brilliant and simple as it is – Tan Malakka displays enormous talent as an educator of the masses to whom he explains the most complex problems of military strategy – Tan Malakka’s pamphlet limits itself to the problems of the anti-colonial struggle in Indonesia. International problems are hardly touched upon, and then only in connection With questions regarding the Indonesian revolution. This is why Tan Malakka does not deal with the question of Stalinism and limits himself to a few correct general remarks ... But every time he sets forth a concrete position he diverges very clearly from the Stalinist position. The revolutionary program he proposes for Indonesia contradicts the opportunist tactics of class-collaboration and conciliation of imperialism pursued by the Stalinists until their criminal putschist adventure of 1949 in Madioen. When he deals with the UN, he combats all the illusions which attribute to the UN the power to guarantee Indonesian independence. Yet, he correctly explains that the Indonesian revolutionary movement must exploit to its own profit the contradictions between the various powers belonging to the United Nations. When he speaks of the danger of war, he points out that this danger will remain as long as capitalism exists. When he speaks of Germany, conquered in the Second World War, he speaks of a people oppressed by its conquerors. Isolated from the world in his prison, cut off from the most elementary sources of information, Tan Malakka orients himself with a remarkable class instinct even on international questions and one cannot but admire the clarity of this instinct.

Since the publication of Tan Malakka’s pamphlet, the situation in Indonesia has again profoundly changed. (See the article by Th. Van der Kolk: The Independence of Indonesia, Fourth International, Jan.-Feb. 1950.) When the Dutch imperialist armies launched a military attack for the second time against the territories of the republic, the Indonesian masses replied with a mass uprising of partisans who almost succeeded in throwing the imperialists into the sea. Threatened by certain defeat, the government of the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to the United States of Indonesia and began to evacuate its troops. In return, the Indonesian bourgeoisie recognized the property rights of the imperialists to all their former possessions and joined the “Dutch Union” under the crown of Orange-Nassau. The strength of the revolutionary tide has since transformed the United States of Indonesia into one single centralized republic which today directly threatens capitalist property. The Partai Murba which is inspired by the ideas of Tan Malakka struggles in the forefront of the Indonesian revolution today.

Lack of space prevents us from printing the pamphlet in its entirety. We publish in this issue all of the first section dealing with the political problems of the Indonesian revolution. This section is followed by a chapter dealing with general problems of military strategy which are of no particular interest to a Western reader. In a forthcoming issue of our magazine we hope to reprint considerable extracts from the third and fourth sections of the pamphlet, dealing with the specific military problems of the partisan struggle and economic questions regarding the Indonesian revolution.

* * *


We stand close to the abyss. Our chances on the political, economic, financial and military planes have been extremely reduced. Thus you have the result of two years of negotiations. The unity of the people in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism has been broken.

A large part of Indonesian territory is isolated, subject to the authority of the enemy, again dominated by Holland. Several puppet states have been created and are pitted against each other. The economies and finances of the states still administered by the republic are in the greatest state of disorder. The army’s policy of “reconstruction and rationalization” threatens to transform the army itself into a colonial army, an army brought into existence with the people’s money but separated from the masses and destined to maintain them in a state of subjection.

Such is the course pursued since the revolution! When the latter broke out, 70 million Indonesians united in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. All the sources of authority were under the control of the masses. The whole population took the initiative of forming an army and defense corps which stretched all along the coasts and included all the cities and villages. Solidly united, it organized its own defense and displayed its readiness for any sacrifice.

Could the upsurge of August 17, 1945, occur again? History alone will provide an answer to this question. But even though history determines the course of events, we cannot remain impassive in the face of the dangers that threaten the country with ruin. It is my estimation that one of the measures most likely to contribute to the salvation of the country would be the formation of guerrillas on land and on sea, everywhere. It is with the purpose of expressing my views on this subject that I have written this pamphlet. It is certainly regrettable that the author is no expert in the military arts; however, he has had certain contacts, both abroad and in Indonesia, with the military and has always been attracted by the science of warfare. The knowledge of which this work makes use originated in conversations with military men and in the reading, begun several years ago, of books and publications devoted to the problems of the army. This knowledge is the fruit of over three years’ study. The author’s desire, when he was a young man in Europe, to become an officer, encountered many objections and considerable obstacles. But it resulted, during the last world war, in his concentration upon books and reviews devoted to military problems. The training thus acquired was never lost, although certain opinions were altered in the wake of long years spent abroad.

Between lour stone walls and behind iron bars, the author possessed no work permitting him to verify the correctness of his ideas. Under such conditions, it is possible that some of his formulations of military rules appear unsatisfactory. I hope, I am convinced, that the experts and fighters will complete them and eliminate error and useless efforts. I hope, I am convinced, that they will forgive my errors and omissions. But the author, in his enforced isolation, does not wish to settle all military problems, essential aspects of the revolution though they are, but exclusively to draw attention to their importance.

I hope that my comrades-in-arms, who know military questions better than I do, will take the initiative in bringing out a work on the art of warfare. Such a work is indispensable to the popularization of the military art among the masses and the youth.

Technical subjects and the problem of instruction are not dealt with. As far as that is concerned, I estimate that the Japanese type of instruction covering 2-3 years, and more specifically, the instruction and technique of waging war developed in the course of 2-3 years of combat on the Indonesian battlefields, are sufficient and well known by tens of thousands of soldiers.

I wish to draw attention only to a few military precepts that appear important to me. It is these principles which, together with other political and economic subjects, must be assimilated by the partisans, both officers and soldiers. The techniques of the Spanish partisans who disorganized the armies of Napoleon; those of the small bands of fighting Boers who held the strong modern British army in check; those of the Russian partisans who completely disrupted the German motorized forces in the course of the recently concluded Second World War. These tactics are among the most important weapons in the struggle of the oppressed and ill-equipped peoples against an enemy disposing of modern weapons.

I hope that this pamphlet, hastily written in very difficult circumstances, will be useful to the young people, the heroic fighters of the Great-Indonesian Republic.

1. The Indonesian Republic – Views on its Domestic and Foreign Policies

Two Revolutionary Periods

From its inception on August 17, 1945, until today, May 17, 1948, the Republic has undergone many changes. During these two and three quarter years of existence it has continued to retreat economically, politically, militarily, diplomatically and morally.

We can divide the history of the Republic into two periods, a period of victorious struggles and one of diplomatic defeats.

What is the political aspect of this division into two periods?

The arrest of the leaders of the Popular Front expresses the desire of the government of the Republic to transform the struggle of the proletarian masses into a purely diplomatic action; to replace the diplomacy of “bamba runtjing” (attack with sharpened bamboo sticks) with one based on negotiations; to substitute for the slogan “negotiation on the basis of complete recognition” that of “peace through the sacrifice of sovereignty, independence, economic resources and population”; to sacrifice everything that had been won by the people during the first period. In short, the struggle for the expulsion of the last enemy was replaced by tactics of concession intended to conclude a peace with the enemy:

What is the economic aspect of this division into two periods?

The measures aiming at restoring all the enemy’s assets tc the Indonesian people who were entitled to them, were replaced by a policy aiming at the restoration to the foreigners, including enemy subjects, of all their possessions. The construction of an independent economy destined to assure the prosperity of the entire Indonesian people (this would conform to the interests of all the other peoples) was abandoned and new efforts were directed toward collaboration with the Dutch capitalists and imperialists who had been oppressing and exploiting the Indonesian people for 350 years.

What is the military aspect of this division into two periods?

The continuous attacks, patterned on partisan tactics and a war of movement, aiming at the expulsion or extermination of the enemy, were replaced by tactics of “ceasefire” and of the evacuation of strongholds in the midst of enemy-occupied territory.

In brief, the military tactics which permitted weakening and finally conquering the enemy, were replaced by a policy which allowed the enemy to obtain reinforcements while we became weaker.

What is the diplomatic aspect of this division into two periods?

It is evident from the statements by the former prime minister, Amir Sjarifuddin, before the Military High Court dealing with the events of June 3, 1946, that the arrests of the leaders of the Popular Front in Madioen were connected with the policy of negotiations on the diplomatic level. According to Amir Sjarifuddin’s declarations, the arrests of the leaders of the Popular Front by the republican government took place at the written request of the Indonesian delegation sent to the Dutch authorities.

This delegation was a republican contact mission which, at that time, maintained relations with British and Dutch representatives. The written request for the arrests did not originate with the government of the Republic. It was consequently inspired by foreigners, either British or Dutch. We deal, therefore, with a “concession” by the Republic to pressure exerted by the British or the Dutch. The government, therefore, actually proceeded to the arrest of citizens at the request of the enemy.

What were the consequences of this new course which substituted negotiation for struggle?

In all of Indonesia, in all of society, in every party, in every military situation, the spirit of initiative, decision, unanimity and offensive has retreated before passive acceptance, weakness, division and mutual distrust.


If we draw up a political, economic, military and social account of the profits and losses of the two periods, we arrive approximately at the following picture:


1. Politics

A. Territory

The whole territory of about 1,800,000 square kilometers of land and 12,000,000 square kilometers of water, was under the authority of the Republic.



1. Politics

A. Territory

According to the de facto recognition of Lingadjatti, the territory of Java and Sumatra subject to the Republic, includes only 550,000 square miles or 30% of Indonesian territory. With the territorial waters of Java and Sumatra we obtained only 600,000 square kilometers or 1/20 of all the Indonesian lands and seas. But the Renville agreement has still further reduced this territory. Six or seven isolated territories on Java and a few on Sumatra include only 2% of the Indonesian lands and waters.

B. Population

The whole population of 70 million inhabitants was subject to the sovereign authority of the Republic.

B. Population

With the acceptance of de facto recognition for Java and Sumatra, the Republic would contain 50 million inhabitants, or little over 70% of the population. But with the signing of the Renville agreement and the creation of four or more new states ... there remain no more than 23 million inhabitants, or 33% of the total population, subject to the Republic.




II. Economic

II. Economic

A. Production

All the plantations (rubber, coffee, tea, sisal, etc.), all the factories (sugar, metallurgy, textiles, paper), all the mining enterprises (petroleum, coal, tin, bauxite, gold, silver, etc.),whether belonging to enemy or ally, were under the authority of the Republic.

A. Production

The Lingadjatti and Renville agreements recognize the property rights of foreigners, whether citizens of a friendly nation or of an enemy state which has invaded the territory of the Republic.

B. Communications

All the means of transportation, both on land and on water. were the property of the Republic and were subject to its authority (cars, trucks, trains for the transportation of people and goods from the country and the cities to the ports). All the ships in service or under construction intended for the transport of people and goods from one island to the other and from Indonesia to foreign parts, were in the hands of the people. The republic thus controlled the main instruments of trade. Through its ownership of a large part of the enterprises, mines, plantations, banks and means of transportation, the Indonesian people could have quickly overcome its economic backwardness and assured a satisfactory standard of living to all.

B. Communications

According to the Lingadjatti and Renville agreements, the Dutch possess the right to claim their possessions. They will thus be able soon again to dominate transportation on land and sea. When they will have resumed possession of the plantations, factories and mines, they will again dominate domestic and foreign trade as they did during the period of the Dutch Indies. Already, in the course of the negotiations, the Dutch have assured themselves of possession of almost all the plantations, factories and mining enterprises, as well as of the important ports. This affords them domination over almost all imports and exports. By blockading the Republic, they stifle its economic development.

III. Military

III. Military

All the mountainous regions and all airfields possessing a military interest, and considerable amounts of weapons, belonged to the people and the youths of the republic, until then equipped with bamboo-pointed lances. The people and youth groups possessed all kinds of weapons taken away from the Japanese and British, from hand grenades to bombs, from pistols to cannon, from warships to airplanes. In the entire Indonesian archipelago, not a single fort, not a single city, not a single dessa (plantation) remained accessible to the enemy.

All the roads were blocked by innumerable obstacles to the enemy by the people or youth groups.

Following the diplomatic negotiations, all the important ports, such as Soerebaya, Batavia, Palembang and Medan fell into Dutch hands. Now the republic disposes of but a few useful airfields. Because of the evacuation of pockets in Western and Eastern Java and of a few in Sumatra, the Dutch have taken possession of territories which months of combat with the aid of tanks, guns and planes would not have given them.

By incessant dispatch of reinforcements during the armistice proposals, when they had been forced toward the West, and after having induced the Republic to adopt a policy of “rationalization,” the Dutch assured themselves of a position that is much stronger than it was during the first armistice of October 1946.

IV. Social Policy

IV. Social Policy

The unity of the parties, organizations and combat groups, disrupted at the outset of the revolution, was reestablished by the Popular Front established on January 4 and 5, 1946, in Paerwokerto. 171 organizations, representing almost all parties, with combined strength and military force, united in the Popular Front to combat the enemy on the basis of a common minimum program.

Hardly had negotiations been started and the Popular Front replaced by the “National Concentration,” than profound divergences appeared concerning the Lingadjatti agreement. All the organizations, all the parties, all combat units were divided into advocates and opponents of this agreement.

Today we hear of the “Sejaf Kanan” (“right wing” – transl.), the “Sejaf Kernan” (“left wing” – transl.) and the “more left than left” tendency. All the parties are split. The PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) split into three groups: the “old PKI,” the red PKI and the ICP. The PBI and the Partai Sosialis divided into two groups.

How many “fronts” and workers’ organizations there are that should be unified! These divisions allow the Dutch 5th column to infiltrate into the organizations, combat units, parties and even the army, administration and government.


The sovereignty, according to the Lingadjatti agreement, belongs to the Dutch crown, a dozen puppet-states have been formed; almost all the plantations, factories, mining enterprises, means of transportation and the banks will be restored to the foreigners; almost all the rich mines are located in territories occupied by the Dutch; the Dutch army occupies a part of Indonesian territory; the blockade against the Republic continues; the fifth column infiltrates the parties, organizations, the army and the administration, As a result of the Renville agreement, the government of the republic will retain no more than 10% of the authority it apparently holds at the moment.

II. Gerpolek

Definition. – The word “Gerpolek” combines the first syllables of the words “Gerilja,” “Politik” and “Economi” (guerrilla warfare, politics and economy.)

Usefulness of Gerpolek. – Gerpolek is the weapon of the partisan in his struggle to maintain the proclamation of August 17, 1945 and complete independence.

The Partisan. – The partisan is the young Indonesian, the proletarian who remains faithful to the August 17th proclamation and to complete independence and is ready to destroy all the forces that oppose this proclamation and this complete independence.

The partisan does not allow himself to be influenced by the duration of the struggle. He will perform his duty with courage, perseverance and confidence, even though the struggle take the rest of his life. He ceases to struggle only when complete independence has been achieved. The partisan will not lose heart if he is forced to face with primitive weapons an enemy disposing of modern equipment. The partisan struggle also taking place on the economic and political plane, the application of “Gerpolek,” makes him happy, and he struggles unceasingly, with an indomitable courage which can be broken only by over-rigorous climate, by the enemy or by death. Even as Anoman was convinced that through his own strength and intelligence he could overcome Dasamuka, so the partisan, too, remains confident in the belief that “Gerpolek” will enable him to be victorious against capitalism and imperialism.

III. On Different Kinds of War

According to the objectives of the belligerents, wars can be divided into two categories. This division reflects sharp divisions. The two categories have nothing in common. The division, therefore, is absolute.

Wars of the first category are wars of conquest, those of the second category are wars of liberation.

Most of the Asiatic, African and European wars during the epoch of feudalism aimed at territorial conquests. These wars, of which we heard in tales and fables, were wars of ‘conquest. The wars of conquest of the capitalist epoch are imperialist wars. The purposes of an imperialist war are:

  1. Control over the raw materials and food products of the conquered country.
  2. Conquest of the market of the conquered country in order to make it available to the industrial products of the conquering nation.
  3. Investment of capital by the conquering country in the plantations, mining enterprises, industries, means of transportation, commercial exports, banks and insurance companies of the conquered country.

These objectives lead to the enrichment and strengthening of the capitalists of the conquering country and to the increase of misery, poverty and cultural backwardness of the conquered country.

But the misery and oppression will give birth in the conquered country to a movement of national liberation aiming at its liberation from exploitation and domination by foreigners. This movement of liberation will result in a war of liberation. It is this kind of war that we have listed in the second category.

Both the feudal and capitalist epochs have witnessed numerous wars of liberation. Wars of liberation can be divided into two categories:

  1. The war of liberation waged by a colonial people against its oppressors in order to free itself from its chains.

    Such a war is often called a war of national liberation. The best-known war of national, liberation is that of America against the British imperialists. This war lasted about seven years. But this war was not waged between two different peoples, but between Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Saxons.
  2. The war of liberation by one class against another class of the same people. This war is also called civil war or social war. Civil wars can be bourgeois or proletarian. The classic example of bourgeois civil war is the one that occurred in France from 1789 to 1848. In this civil or social war, the bourgeoisie fought against the feudalists and the clergy. It ended in a bourgeois victory in 1848. A well-known example of proletarian civil war is the Paris Commune, during which the workers in Paris held power for 72 days.

In 1917 permanent revolutions, first bourgeois and then proletarian, took place in Russia. At first, the bourgeoisie succeeded in putting the feudalists to flight; in the course of the second phase, the proletariat forcibly destroyed the feudal groups, the clergy and the bourgeoisie.

We sometimes hear of ideological wars, but these only cover up the pursuit of political and economic advantages.

IV. The War in Indonesia

Analysis of the war waged, since the proclamation of Aug. 17, 1945, against the Japanese, British and Dutch.

The struggle waged by the Indonesian people since the proclamation of Aug. 17, 1945 is not a war of conquest. In the course of the struggle, the Indonesians never intended to occupy foreign territory or to oppress and exploit its inhabitants. The people and “Youth Groups” of Indonesia had but one desire: to liberate their country from foreign domination. It was with the purpose of fulfilling this desire that the Indonesian Republic was proclaimed and constituted on August 17, 1945.

It follows from the above that the struggle of the Indonesians is a war of liberation.

Is the struggle of liberation of the Indonesians no more than a national revolution destined to rid the country of foreign domination and does it aim only at the conquest of political power!

The American national revolution had no economic emphasis and occurred at a time when industry did not yet exist, when modern trains had not yet appeared and when the economy was still in a regional and artisan stage. It is no doubt because America was in that state that the English could so easily abandon it. They did not leave behind them factories, plantations, mines, railroads, shipyards. The country they abandoned was inhabited by Englishmen who took over sovereignty and political authority.

The Dutch, however, who own plantations, mining enterprises, factories, railroads, shipyards, will probably not so easily abandon sovereignty and political authority to the Indonesian people, a people with different language, culture and interests. All the more so since Indonesians are generally not owners of important enterprises, factories, banks and means of transportation. From the viewpoint of the Dutch, the transfer of sovereignty and political authority to the Indonesian people constitutes a threat to their property and fellow-citizens in the archipelago. They fear that the Republic might place too heavy a taxation on their enterprises or even threaten their property rights. They fear strikes by the Indonesian workers or their own expropriation by the Indonesians. In brief, the Dutch will not abandon all sovereignty and political authority to the Indonesians without struggle.

On the other hand, transfer of sovereignty and political power do not in themselves constitute a victory for the proletariat. If the transfer of sovereignty should result in such people as Professor Hossein Djajadiningrau, Colonel Abdul Kadir and Sultan Hamid occupying all government positions while economic life remained under foreign domination, the national revolution would not have modified the situation in which the masses found themselves during the period of the “Dutch Indies.” In brief, national independence alone, political independence alone, mean nothing to the proletariat, the workers, the peasants and all non-owning classes.

In Indonesia the Dutch cannot abandon their political rights without endangering their capitalist interests. The Indonesian people cannot insure its own survival by limiting its action to the achievement of political rights without attacking the economic domination of foreign capitalists. The economic and political questions are closely related.

The struggle of liberation of the Indonesian proletariat is a struggle for political and economic independence, and it is impossible to separate the political, economic and social objectives. The Indonesian, struggle of liberation aims not only at the political elimination of imperialism, but also at the eradication of economic exploitation and the achievement of the right to life in the new society. The Indonesian revolution is not merely a national revolution as claimed by certain Indonesians whose sole aim is to maintain or improve their own condition, while they remain ready to abandon all the sources of wealth to foreigners, regardless of whether these foreigners are allies or enemies of the nation. The revolution must combine economic and social measures with measures that aim at the achievement of complete independence. The revolution cannot be victorious if it does not go beyond the limitations of a nationalist revolution.

The struggle for the liberation of the Indonesian people must aim at the achievement of social and economic guarantees.

It is only when the Indonesian proletariat will own, besides the whole political power, 60 percent of economic power, that the national revolution will have reached its full significance. Only then will the continued existence of the Indonesian proletariat be assured. Only then will it actively resist the enemy and sacrifice itself in order to create a new society for its own benefit and that of future generations.

Only when the representatives of the people – elected by the Indonesian people in democratic, general, direct and secret elections – will attain political power, and when 60 percent of the plantations, factories, mining enterprises, transportation facilities and banks will be in the hands of the people, only then will the national revolution have reached its full significance and the future of the proletariat be assured. But if lackeys of foreign capitalists will again govern the country – even if these lackeys are Indonesian – and if 100% of the modern enterprises fall again into the hands of the capitalists as in the epoch of the “Dutch Indies,” then the national revolution will signify the negation of the Proclamation and of national independence, and the beginning of the restoration of the capitalists and imperialists.

In reality, due to the aggression by the Dutch, attacking the Indonesian Republic in order to destroy it, independent Indonesia has ever since Aug. 17, 1945 had the right to confiscate all the wealth of the aggressors. The proclamation of independence of the Indonesian people, made on Aug. 17, 1945, is not contrary to international law which grants each people the right to determine its own fate. On Aug. 17 the Indonesian people decided to constitute an independent state and to break all the claims imposed upon it by foreigners.

On the other hand, always in accordance with international law, any people attacked by another people has the right to defend itself and to confiscate the assets of the aggressor. The Dutch attack upon our Republic therefore gives the Indonesian people an excellent opportunity to confiscate, that is, to take without payment, all the properties of the Dutch which have come from the agricultural production and labor of the Indonesian workers over the past 350 years.

The partisan should regard the defense of complete independence and the confiscation of all enemy property as a unique, heaven-sent chance offered the Indonesians to carry through an advanced task and accomplish a sacred duty. Only unintelligent people could overlook such an opportunity as this. Only cowardly and dishonest people could not wish to accomplish a task which, heavy though it is, would nevertheless be basically useful to both present and future society.


Last updated on 25 March 2009