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Fourth International, August 1946


Wout Tieleman

The Main Political Tendencies in Indonesia


From Fourth International, August 1946, Vol.7 No.8, pp.253-254.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Einde O’Callaghan in 2009 for ETOL.


The great power of the Indonesian revolution – despite the tendencious reports in the capitalist press – undoubtedly lies in the fact that all the Indonesian masses have participated from the beginning with the greatest enthusiasm in the revolution. The mass of poor peasants and workers united in the struggle against the new exploitation of the Dutch imperialists. To the masses the struggle for independence undoubtedly is synonymous with the struggle against exploitation.

The leadership of the struggle soon fell into the hands of the intellectuals, who, educated in Holland, possessed a great advantage in intellectual development in comparison with the majority of the Indonesian masses. The intellectuals had a great advantage also in respect to politics, since they had come in contact with the political struggle in the course of their studies in Holland. It is a well-known fact that the Indonesian intellectuals, as a rule, while studying in Holland, devoted much of their time to their political training.

Besides their advantage in political development, the intellectuals of Indonesia also occupied a more privileged position in the country. They formed the nucleus from which Indonesian industry could draw its leading figures, such as their engineers, directors, lawyers, etc. Thus they had become the representatives of the rising Indonesian bourgeoisie, This fact has greatly influenced the political position and activities of the Sjahrir government.

The Indonesian bourgeoisie on the one hand will gain a more advantageous position in a completely independent republic; but on the other hand, they fear the mass forces which they have released. In fact it was not the aim of the workers and peasants to replace the foreign exploitation with an Indonesian one. They want to put an end to all manner of exploitation by seizing control of the factories and by the division of the big estates. In the struggle for independence in Indonesia the bourgeoisie has to depend on the exploited masses, who, in turn are fighting against exploitation. But the bourgeoisie wants to dampen the spirit of the masses in order to preserve the system of private property. They are in further fear that any abolition of private property will increase the opposition to independence of the world imperialists, especially the British and American, who have large investments in Indonesia.

It stands to reason that when the revolutionary struggle took on the character of a long and arduous process, the impatience of the masses with the Sjahrir government grew. This brought about an increasingly reactionary anti-labor domestic policy on the part of the government, which, at the same time, weakened in its foreign policies to such an extent that it protested in the UNO the Soviet proposals to withdraw the British troops from Java. The British troops have become a pillar of support for Sjahrir in his struggle against the so-called extremists. The name “extremist” is used for those who do not retreat and who want to continue the struggle at all costs.

The Indonesian army is in the meantime not being used against landings of Dutch troops in Java. The former continually withdraws without giving battle. Scattered opposition is attributed to the so-called extremists. It is clear that Sjahrir wants to cease the armed struggle at all costs, and to create a better atmosphere for negotiations by granting concessions. At the same time the Netherland troops are forcibly suppressing those Indonesians who resist the orders of Sjahrir. SJAHRIR EMPLOYED THESE TROOPS AS AUXILIARY FORCES AGAINST THE INDONESIAN PROLETARIAN REVOLUTIONISTS. The landings of the Dutch troops continually weakens the position of the Indonesian republic, but between the proletarian revolution and a privileged position under Dutch rule, Sjahrir has clearly chosen the latter.

This treacherous policy of Sjahrir weakened the military position of the Indonesian proletariat. Nevertheless the present political situation is characterized by the growing opposition towards the Indonesian bourgeoisie, as the treachery of Sjahrir is every day being exposed.

About the beginning of February, we received the first reports in the Netherlands of the formation of a “Peoples Front” in Indonesia under the leadership of the “Trotskyist” Tan Malakka. Despite the restrictions on communications from the interior of Java the report has now taken on more concrete form, The exact composition of this “Peoples Front” is not yet known. It was reported, however, that this “Peoples Front” included 140 different parties and groups. It is also not fully clear whether the “Peoples Front” is a coalition of the exploited classes with some of the owning classes as was the case with the Peoples Front in Spain and France. However in view of the demands of this “Peoples Front,” it seems sure that what was involved was a united front of the exploited masses. The most important slogans were:

Withdrawal of all British and Dutch troops.

Release of all Pemoedas (members of a militant youth party) and political prisoners.

Dissolution of the international courts.

According to latest reports, the “Peoples Front” also carried on propaganda for a change in the social structure of Indonesia, including the abolition of the Indonesian nobility and the division of the big estates.

After the conference in Solo, the “Peoples Front” was pushed into the background. The methods employed by the Sjahrir government against the masses will be clear from the following:

The Solo Conference was awaited with great interest by the masses because this was to constitute a test of strength between the rising “Peoples Front” and the Sjahrir government, which was growing weaker every day. However the Solo Conference resulted in a victory for Sjahrir and a defeat for the Peoples Front, which was then suppressed for some time until the beginning of this month.

The much anticipated duel between Sjahrir and Tan Malakka did not take place as Tan Malakka did not appear at the conference. Sjahrir took full advantage of his absence and compelled even political followers of Tan Malakka like Soedirman, commander of the Republican army, to take the side of Sjahrir. The Dutch labor renegade, J. de Kadt, former co-founder of the OSP (Dutch Centrist Party) and, at that time, political adviser to Sjahrir, wrote in an article in the Dutch paper Het Parool:

The moral victory of Sjahrir is even greater since Tan Malakka, the leader of the Peoples Front did not appear to present his arguments. What could he reply to the question why he did not appear at the conference, when the followers of the Peoples Front were in the majority ... If he really had a policy he wouldn’t have been afraid to face the arguments of Sjahrir!


These arrests (arrested also were many other prominent Indonesian leaders, i.e. Joesoef, leader of the Communist Party of Indonesia) were kept secret as long as possible to increase the effect of the Solo Conference results and to make them last longer. Only on March 21 was the report of the arrest broadcast by the Allied radio at Batavia. No confirmation was to be had, however, from the Indonesian government. On April 13 Het Parool announced that the Netherlands News bureau ANP-Aneta reported that strange rumors were being circulated about Tan Malakka, leader of the Indonesian Peoples Front. He was supposed to have been kidnapped by his opposition on the eve of the Conference. It added that this was a “vague rumor.” A correspondent of the Times in Batavia sent in a similar report, except that the rumor had come from Indonesian sources and also that Tan Malakka probably “was convicted for disturbing the structure of the Indonesian state.”

By means of this treacherous maneuver of Sjahrir, the Peoples Front lost prestige with the Indonesian masses, and Sjahrir used the time to strengthen his position by purging the police apparatus and the army of those elements that were unsuitable for his purposes. Meanwhile the military power of the Dutch imperialists increased in Java.

However, as soon as the real situation became known, the influence of Sjahrir began to wane and the reputation of Tan Malakka was restored. The recent heightened activities of the Peoples Front demonstrates that the process has already begun. The reputation of Tan Malakka, because of his uncompromising opposition to Dutch imperialism, is that of an almost legendary figure in Java. Sjahrir recognized this fact by getting him out of the way in time.

The arrest of the revolutionary leaders may for a period have a depressing effect on the revolutionary development, but it cannot destroy the revolutionary activities of the masses. In fact the arrest of Tan Malakka will open the eyes of the workers and peasants as to the real aims of Sjahrir and will thus boomerang on the latter.

The formation of a real revolutionary party in Indonesia and a campaign to release the arrested leaders, together with continuous activities for taking over the factories and dividing the big estates are the major tasks confronting the Indonesian revolutionists.

In Indonesia Tan Malakka is accepted as a Trotskyist. It is true that this revolutionist, during the split in the Communist International, chose the side of Trotsky, although he was not officially connected with the ICL. Certainly he did not formally align himself with the Fourth International, since he lived under circumstances of strictest illegality and was continually sought after by the agents of Dutch imperialism, who never gave up hope of sending him to the concentration camp of Boven Digoel. In approximately 1936 Tan Malakka even spread the rumor about his death in order to confuse his enemies. His following in Indonesia, and especially in Java, was always greater than the Stalinist following. The official Communist Party in Indonesia (PKI) after the arrest of Joesoef issued a declaration that it has nothing to do with the CP of 1926, which was illegalized by the Dutch imperialists. It also appealed to its membership to purge itself of extremist elements. And furthermore it repudiated and completely betrayed Joesoef. As everywhere else the Stalinist party functions as a full collaborator of the national bourgeoisie.

So the CP will suffer the same fate as the Sjahrir government and is destined to lose its popularity with the exploited masses of Indonesia. This in turn will facilitate the formation and strengthening of a real revolutionary communist party in Indonesia.

Holland, July 1946

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Last updated on 10.2.2009