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Labor Action, 27 December 1948


Jack Brad

The Nationalist Movement in Indonesia


From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 52, 27 December 1948, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Already before World War I, imperialism had raised against itself movements for colonial freedom everywhere. In Indonesia the earliest movements were semi-religious Islamic, which by 1917 had 800,000 members and had reached the consciousness of organizing a national congress which demanded independence. Spiritually Indies’ nationalism looked to India for guidance.

After 1918, as everywhere in Asia, the nationalist movement began to divide along class lines. A new generation of leadership arose which no longer accepted Serekat Islam’s limited goal of autonomy with the empire.

The Communist Party

In 1920 the Communist Party of Indonesia was formed. One of its founders was Tanmalaka. By 1924 the entire nationalist movement had launched a great struggle. Trade unions had grown into large mass organizations, peasant unions covered the islands. In 1926 the CP launched a rebellion under its own leadership which failed, was bloodily suppressed and the party outlawed. By the next year, however, the indefatigable Tanmalaka had reorganized the party from exile.

The CP leadership, however, was dispersed. Some under Muso went to Moscow to become the Stalinist machine men in the present CP. One of the present CP leaders, Alimin, has a record as a Stalinist agent in Europe and the Middle East from 1933 to 1941. It was he who helped organize the pogromist riots in Palestine in 1926.

While little is known about the development of the CP, it appears that two distinct tendencies developed. One under Alimin is strictly a Stalinist creature, following the line in every detail. A second group under Tanmalaka holds to a policy which has been obscurely labeled “Trotskyist” in the press. Since there are no details available, it is extremely difficult to ascertain the truth. Some of the few facts about Tanmalaka seem to indicate a lack of that absolute servility which is the mark of Stalinism.

Almost a legendary figure in the independence movement, he first conceived and organized an All Southeast Asiatic Revolutionary Party looking toward an “International Workers Republic of Asia.” In 1945 he returned from exile and joined with Alimin to reconstruct the CP. The CP leadership joined in the national front under the policy of Stalinism everywhere in the colonies, which is to participate regardless of class lines, so long as CP power is enhanced. In opposition, Tanmalaka raised the slogan, “one-stage revolution” (which was denounced by Mao Tze-tung), that is the kernel of the idea of permanent revolution. He launched a coup which failed and his arrest followed. There are indications that since his abortive coup in 1946 Tanmalaka has split with the CP and gone into openly declared opposition, but here top there is no certainty.

Rise of the Republic

The present leadership of the Republic of Indonesia, which, rose out of the Japanese defeat, is jointly social-democratic, native bourgeois and Islamic. In international politics it has drifted between a pro-Russian and a pro-American orientation. For a long time the CP had a peculiar position of strength through its control of a section of the SP under Sjarifoeddin, who revealed in February 1948 that he had been a secret member of the CP for 10 years. At that time the SP split, the majority going with Sjahrir, who advocates a pro-India orientation with close relations to Pandit Nehru. Another factor aiding the CP was that only Russia and her satellites recognized the Republic and denounced the resumption of war by the Dutch in February 1947.

Incidentally, throughout Southeast Asia, political groups are developing around the program of a Southeast Asian Union independent of both imperialist camps. This movement finds its inspiration in the Indian Republic.

In August of this year Muso, a Russian, agent, managed to get into Java, where he became almost immediately the leader of the CP. The line of government cooperation was changed overnight to one of opposition. Muso united the Stalinist wing of the SP, the CP and the Labor Party into a “Workers Front.” On September 2 a reorganization of the CP leadership was announced with Tanmalaka out and Muso, Alimin and Sjarifoeddin in. Muso became chairman of the party.

On Sept. 20 the CP declared war on the Republic on the grounds that it had capitulated to the Dutch by signing the Renville agreement. There are indications that this revolt, like those in Burma and Malaya, were planned at a Southeast Asian conference of CPs in February and March 1948 in Calcutta, as part of the Russian program for disruption of the Marshall Plan.

The Renville Truce

On January 17, 1948, the Dutch agreed to a truce, while a UN committee negotiated peace. This “Renville truce” was scheduled to last one year. But the terms of the truce were go unfavorable to the Republic that its survival has been increasingly difficult. The Dutch retained the areas they captured in 1947. This restricted Republican territory to less than half of Java. The armies remained at the truce lines so that in effect the Dutch established a military blockade of the Republic.

Since Republican Java was poor in food, what with over a million refugees pouring in, a terrible inflation ravaged the land and the price of rice rose 2000 per cent in one year. Absolutely no textiles could be brought in so that the predominant dress became gunny sacks. As a result of the Dutch blockade, no medicines could be brought in and many illnesses simply cannot be treated. As a result of the blockade also, acquiesced in by the Western imperialists, the Republic could receive no arms so that it had to demobilize ¾ of its soldiers because they had no guns. These were the conditions which permitted the Stalinists to plan their revolt and the Dutch to renew their war of conquest.

The Republic is thus threatened by the Dutch and the Stalinists The internal politics, likewise, are extremely complex. The Dutch have taken advantage of all these difficulties to set up a series of puppet governments in the islands against the Republic.

U.S. fears that the Dutch war will redound to the CP’s benefit and any “middle groups” will be eliminated. At a time when the CP is on the march in China and a CP army is holed up in the islands’ interiors, the U.S. feels the Dutch are wrong to launch their offensive at this time. Yet the Dutch troops march with U.S. guns and U.S. planes bomb the Republican armies, so American policy is not highly regarded in Java in spite of its current policy.

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