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Fourth International, September-October 1952



Social Conflict in Indonesia


From Fourth International, Vol.13 No.5, September-October 1952, pp.150-154.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The real situation today of the Indonesian masses was, in our opinion, correctly described by Soetan Sjahrir, leader of the Indonesian Socialist Party and former prime minister, in a speech in February 1952 at the first convention of his party. He said:

“Indonesia has not accomplished any more up to now than the maintenance of the country in its old way of life. The Indonesian people continue to live under the old colonial laws although the constitution promises a much different world. There has been no change in the economic sphere. The principal key positions are still in the hands of foreigners.”

These observations are accurate even if Sjahrir’s explanation of them, attributing them to “the moral collapse of the Indonesian people,” applies only to himself.

Sjalhrir highlights a number of important problems which characterize the situation. In the first place, all the pre-war properties of the imperialists (landed property) banks, industrial enterprises, mines – oil, coal, tin – transportation, plantations) are with few exceptions again in their possession. This is in keeping with the Linggadjati, Renville and Round Table Conference agreements between the imperialists and the Indonesian nationalist leaders. The most important exception is the oil properties in the northern part of Sumatra: Pangkalan Brandan, Susli and Tantau in the Antjeh province near Kwala Simpang. These oil deposits had been owned by the Bataafsche Petroleum Company. After Japan’s surrender, the workers occupied these enterprises and have continued to administer them to this day to the great chagrin of the Indonesian government and the oil magnates.

In the second place: Colonial laws have in large part been retained in the political and economic spheres.

In the third place: The stratum of nationalist intellectuals who represent the rising national bourgeoisie are not prepared to resolve the most elementary problems in the political, economic and social spheres.

The most outstanding of these problems are the organization of general elections for parliament {the present parliament was not elected but appointed), an effective struggle against famine, illiteracy, epidemics and the housing shortage.

The following facts confirm these declarations, Last April 16, Minister of Information Mononuth told, a correspondent of the Aneta agency: “At least a year of preparations and a return to stable conditions would be required for the holding of general elections.” The reestablishment of stable conditions means the liquidation of the partisan movements and that, as we will show later, means in practice that there will be no elections.

The state of national health is shown by facts such as these: Last year there were up to, 1,700 cases of smallpox a week on the island of Madura; up to 260 cases of smallpox a week in Surabaya, one of the largest cities on the island of Java. In 1950 the number of deaths from the plague rose to 2,083 in the center of Java alone. A recently published report indicates that although a large part of the population of southern Java suffers from tuberculosis, there are only some tens of beds available in sanatoriums.

Out of a population of 70 million, 30 million suffer from malaria. And to complete the picture, there is the declaration of Dr. R. Hartonon (February 10, 1952), head of the pharmaceutical service in Jakarta, that a half a million medicines are stolen annually in the health services.

Hunger edema is widespread. It is only in cases of extreme urgency that rations of three to four kilograms of rice and stale fish are distributed.

The housing shortage gets worse instead of better because the authorities forcibly intervene to evict “illegal occupants.” Thousands of persons who have built a small house or hut in a city are evicted because the ground on which they have built does not belong to them. Then, there is terrible corruption in the distribution of available housing. Often, there are several authorizations granted for the same lodging, each of them having been bought for a big price.

The struggle against illiteracy; which before the war encompassed 96% of the population, has been carried on only in a very limited way. According to the declaration of the Minister of Public Education, in March 1952, more than half of the children between six and twelve, i.e. almost six million children did not attend school in 1951. There is a shortage of 21,000 teachers. In all of Indonesia, with its 70 million inhabitants, there are only 800 schools for children over six years of age; the rest of the schools are for those under six.

Another characteristic of the regime is the existence of tens of thousands of landless, homeless and unemployed who are forced by hunger to move to the cities. In the first week of April, action was started against 10,000 persons living in wretched conditions in the city of Surabaya. There are hundreds of thousands of such unfortunates in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. Some of them are thrown into camps and then sent back where they come from – a really vicious circle.

From the mass of uprooted, unemployed and homeless people, who do not come to the cities, is provided the manpower for numerous partisan groups which, usually under Moslem leadership, undertake a struggle against the government (Daroel-Islam, Tentara Islam Indonesia, Bambu Runtjing) and seek a way out of their misery in the struggle for an anti-imperialist Islamite state. [1]

This brings us to the central problem of the Indonesian revolution: the expropriation of the big landed proprietors and the accomplishment of the agrarian revolution.

Because of their ties with the Dutch imperialists, the nationalist leaders are incapable of realizing the fundamental tasks of the revolution such as the abrogation of the Round Table Conference agreement, the nationalization and collectivization of large landed property. The regime is well aware that it will perish because of the present situation hut its efforts to transplant population can be compared to those of a man trying to cure a mortal wound with a band-aid (especially on overpopulated Java island).

How extreme this overpopulation has become is indicated by the engineer Tarnbunan, chief of the repopulating service. He declared in a conference of his department held in early May 1952:

“The island of Java covers an area of 132,000 kilometers. It numbers 55 million inhabitants. 80% of this population (i.e., 44 million people) live from agriculture. The sawahs and available lands, covering an area of eight million hectares, cannot furnish a livelihood to all the inhabitants. Estimating five persons to a peasant family, some eight million peasant families, each family requiring two hectares to exist, there would then be an overpopulation of four million families or 20 million people even if the land was divided equitably.”

In other words, there is an overpopulation which consists of half of the peasant population, and this is under conditions where the plantations remain in the hands of the imperialists.

This present government is absolutely indifferent to this misery since it has provided only three million rupia for the repopulation service, half of which was used for administrative expenses! In this way, it was able only to aid 3,500 people which has merely meant “an attempt to consolidate the colonized areas” according to engineer Tambunan. Under such conditions he justly proposed that it would be preferable to liquidate the entire repopulation department.

Just as the armed masses imposed the transference of sovereignty from Holland to the Republic, so new actions of the proletariat, the poor peasants and the plantation workers will force the expropriation of imperialism in the economic sphere.

The Condition of the Working Class

The conditions of the working class is slightly better than that of millions of landless peasants and small proprietors because the workers have built powerful organizations which have carried on a struggle for the improvement of their lot. This refers first of all to the SOBSI. Besides this large trade union center under communist leadership, there are four non-communist federations: the SOBSI, the GSBI, the BPSS and the GSBP. Merger discussions are now going on between the various trade union centers for the purpose of forming a single national federation as was indicated in a dispatch on April 30 from Jakkarta.

The SOBSI is the most powerful trade union federation, numbering some 2 million members (industrial workers, workers on government enterprises and plantation workers). It is composed of a series of trade unions on a shop basis like the Sarbupri (plantation workers union) which is the most important of these. The SOBSI cannot be compared to the bureaucratized Stalinist trade union federations in Europe although the top leadership is Stalinist and bases its policy on that of the Indonesian CP. A typical instance of Stalinist policy, for example, was the sending of felicitations by the SOBSI leadership to the new prime minister Wilopo at the time of the constitution of his cabinet. The preceding Sukiman cabinet had to resign because of the protest of several political parties against the signing of the “mutual security” agreements with the USA by Subarjo, former minister of foreign affairs. The Indonesian Communist Party also sent a telegram of greetings. The Central Committee of the Indonesian CP explained in its telegram that it was ready to support the government provided it abandoned the old political orientation and oriented toward a national policy based on “peace and democracy.”

Wages and Strikes

It is superfluous to point out that the level of wages does not meet minimum living standards. What is the relation between prices and wages? On April 7, the day laborers employed on the public services went out on a three-day strike. All the unions, including the union covering police personnel, supported the strike. They demanded a minimum wage of 4.5 rupia a day. The strike was victorious. But if this minimum wage is compared with the price of rice (3.4 rupia a kilogram) and milk (2.5 rupia a liter) one can get an idea of the conditions of the public service employees!

The number of strikes is tremendous and today has become almost an avalanche. According to the Semarang Bureau of Labor (central Java) there were 327 labor conflicts in March. According to the same bureau, there were some 292 strikes in Central Java between January and March, 34 of which were in industrial enterprises, four in maritime enterprises, five in printshops, 24 in machine factories and 150 in unspecified enterprises. The number of workers involved in strikes was 540,744. According to the same report, these strikes cost the government five million rupia and private employers an even larger sum.

If we compile the news reports of the last weeks we get the following picture:

All the above-mentioned cases which occurred in the month of April 1952 involve conflicts for better working conditions, wages, demands in kind (rice), increase of foodstuff and textile rations, protests against overtime work, against the dismissal of comrades from the job, The tactic utilized varies from the sit down strike to the rotating strike, to the occupation of plants or to the stoppage of work in a key department of a factory which results in the stoppage of work in the factory as a whole. The latter tactic is particularly used in the print shops: the typographical workers stop work every four hours, the pressmen every hour and the mailers every two hours.

Our list is necessarily brief and could be completed by numerous other instances of labor struggles during the same period.

Caught as they are in the stretch between prices and wages, the workers are obliged to resort to action again and again. By themselves the present struggles of the workers against the constant rise in prices will remain a real tilting at windmills unless the trade unions alter their demands. Although we are in complete solidarity with the workers’ struggles, and we have the greatest admiration for their combativity and for the general attitude of the trade union leadership, we are nevertheless of the opinion that things cannot continue like this.

The task of the Indonesian unions, of the SOBSI as well as the other federations, is to establish a guaranteed minimum wage for all the workers. This guaranteed minimum should be tied to a sliding scale under which wages would rise automatically proportionately with all price increases.

The second great task is the struggle against the increase of unemployment. In this sphere also, everything should be concentrated on one single demand, namely the establishment of a sliding scale of working hours, This demand means that there are to be no further layoffs but that working hours should be divided in each shop among al the workers at the same weekly pay as before. The enterprises and plantations continue to furnish large colonial dividends and the proprietors must be obliged to pay all personnel once employed.

Only an effective organization of the struggle for these two demands will permit a substantial improvement of the untenable conditions of the proletariat.

The Guerrilla Movements

Of the above-mentioned guerrilla formations, the Daroel Islam is the most important. The political aim of Daroel Islam is the foundation of an Indonesian Islamic state. Armed activity is directed primarily against the army, the police and the functionaries of the administration. A report in the Indische Courant on April 30 is worded as follows:

“A band of 300 to 400 Daroel Islam partisans carried out an attack against the army and police posts at Tarogang near Garut (Java). The attacked who were outnumbered answered the fire of the terrorists for three and a half hours. The residence of the assistant wedana was set afire.”

Reports of this kind appear very frequently in the press. In the southern part of Celebes island, the guerrillas, who fought against the Dutch, refused to allow themselves to be incorporated into the Republican army. They established themselves in the interior of the island. Their number was estimated at 15,000 in the past year. According to recent information they are said to have affiliated to Daroel Islam under their leader Kahar Muzak.

Besides Daroel Islam, there are hundreds of partisan groupings, small and large, in action, among whom there are those who live only by banditry and do not hesitate to steal the meager belongings of the workers when they attack the plantations.

News about guerrilla activity is difficult to check. Take for example the following dispatch dated March 15, from the Netherland telegraphic agency ANETA: “They write from Bandung (Java) that in recent days a large band of around 1,000 men, possessing 200 automatic weapons was repulsed. A police agent as well as 16 members of the band were killed.”

It is true that guerrilla activity has its origin in the first place in unemployment among the workers and in the postponement of agrarian reform. We have few indications that allow us to believe that the guerrillas are consciously fighting for such an agrarian reform. But we know that land belonging to the big plantations is “illegally occupied” and that the people reap the harvest itself before the planters can get to it.

There is no political party which links the guerrilla problem to the problem of agrarian reform and considers the former as a source of revolutionary energy in the struggle for a government of workers and poor peasants.

The task of the revolutionary Marxists in Indonesia is to work for the formation of such a government, the only power capable of breaking the bondage to imperialism and of placing nationalization and collectivization of the land on the order of the day.

Such a government will also be the only power capable of providing assistance in all forms to small proprietors (credits, abolition of a series of taxes, furnishing of farm implements, etc). The combination of agricultural cooperatives on as broad a scale as possible would be encouraged by such a government in order to obtain the most intensive cultivation of the soil, better irrigation and fewer bad crops.

All these are vital questions for Indonesia which will only be resolved by a change in state power, i.e. by the establishment of the state power of the workers and the poor peasants.

The Imperialists in Indonesia

The abrogation of the treaties between Indonesia and the foreign “investors” (of capital); the nationalization without compensation of industry, plantations and the mines, as well as transportation and the banks, is the key problem the revolution has to resolve if it wants to halt the present retreat and take a step forward again. Many opponents of nationalization in Indonesia argue that the country lacks an adequate qualified technical personnel. This is baseless. There are many technicians in the world ready to work for much lower salaries than those now paid to the Dutch in Indonesia.

In 1951, some 30,000 Dutch “technicians” in Indonesia received 30 million florins (1 florin is approximately 30 cents) as “vacation pay,” more than 25 millions as bonuses on their pensions as well as 10 millions for life insurance. During the same year, in round figures, they saved to the tune of 33 million florins. In all, according to the Indonesian currency institute at Jakarta, a sum of almost 100 million florins was sent to the home country.

The second argument put forward by the opponents of nationalization is that nationalization would lead to the refusal of foreigners to continue to invest capital in the country.

We doubt that this would really be a catastrophe for the Indonesian people as a whole, let alone the exploited masses. If we remember how the foreign investors have been draining the country in their imperialist manner and have once again established their control over the whole national economy, then we are led to the contrary conclusion. P. van’t Veer, special correspondent of Vrije Volk, the social democratic paper in Indonesia, wrote on May 29, 1952:

“Despite all the somber perspectives regarding insecurity and the theft of crops, murders and transportation difficulties, Dutch enterprises were able to transmit more income to the Netherlands in 1951 than at any time since the boom year of 1929.”

According to “official” figures the amount transmitted to the Low Countries in 1951 came to 400 million florins, or 1,200 million rupia.

Total Dutch investments are estimated at 18 billion rupia or 6 billion florins. To that should be added the investments of other countries (France, England, United States, etc.) which have realized enormous revenues during the past year especially in shipping and oil. Foreigners as a whole during the year 1951 earned 4 billion rupia.

In reality the position of foreign investments is very unstable since they have to be protected by a state force such as Sukarno’s which exists only by virtue of the anti-Imperialist struggle of the masses.

Up to now, the nationalist leaders have protected imperialist property and they utilize foreign entrepreneurs as a shield against the tendency of the masses to put an end to colonial domination – in all its forms, including the Sukarnos and the Hattas, the nationalist leaders who are tied as by an umbilical cord to imperialism. An examination of the Indonesian budget for 1952 shows that 35% of income comes from customs receipts. This is the result of colonial rule. This is, moreover, very unstable revenue dependent on the world economic conjuncture. That is why the government finds no other solution than the increase of production (so as to provide even greater revenues to the imperialists) to cover the 4 billion rupia deficit in the budget which includes a raise of 500 million rupia in salaries to government employees.

An examination of the situation as a whole – the powerful position of the proletariat and the small expropriated peasants brimming with revolutionary energy, the very weak military and political positions of the imperialists, the bankruptcy of the Sukarno regime shot through with corruption and careerism – leads to only one conclusion: the proletariat and the poor peasants have to prepare directly for the conquest of power.

During a speech delivered to Indonesian journalists on the question of Iran, President Sukarno quoted Karl Marx as follows: “A ruling class can never voluntarily abandon its privileged position.

Let the Revolutionary Marxists who are in the forefront in the struggle against colonialism and all the other forms of exploitation remember this quotation and explain it a thousand times a day to the masses! Sukarno is again transforming Indonesia into a hunting ground for the imperialists. Only the conquest of power by the masses can prevent that from happening.

May 15, 1952


1. There are guerrilla forces of the Masjenni, the Partai Sarikat Islam Indonesia, the Kartalegawa feudal elements); of Herman Westerling (a Dutch imperialist adventurer) and of the revolutionary workers’ movement, the Laskar Rabjas (people’s army), Laskar Nurah (non-Stalinist Red army).

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Last updated on 26 March 2009