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Labor Action, 17 January 1949


Jack Brad

Tanmalaka and the National Independence Movement

Socialism in Indonesia’s Independence Fight


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 3, 17 January 1949, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The letter of Comrade Magnus is doubly welcome since it provides the occasion for more extensive treatment of the very important questions he raises and because these same matters have been raised by others in a less formal manner. (See page 4.)

First, on Tanmalaka. Some information was printed in the December 27 issue of Labor Action. It is extremely difficult to obtain details because so many of the important ideas of the colonial independence movements develop in a shadow-land of repression, poverty, lack of modern facilities for exchange and publication, years of exile alternating with the most violent releases of revolutionary energy. Certainly these things are true of Tanmalaka and most of the socialist revolutionaries of colonial countries. Only the Stalinists, with their wealthy world apparatus overcome these obstacles. So what Tanmalaka is and stands for must be reconstructed out of suggestions and hints.

When, after 1918, under impact of the Russian Revolution, class divisions began to separate the disparate elements in the nationalist movement. Communist parties began to develop in the Far East. In the formation of the Indonesian party in 1920, Tanmalaka was an initial organizer. As the movement developed through the 1920s, active struggle against the Dutch tyranny increased in intensity. Trade unions, especially of farm-laborers and workers in the oil and rubber fields developed. In 1924 a vast peaceful movement of strikes and demonstrations took place: though still under the leadership of bourgeois nationalists it was a workers’ and peasants’ action.

In 1925 Alimin and Muso, two of the leaders of the CP, went to Moscow for instructions. They went specifically to inquire on the desirability of splitting from the main nationalist movement, a question which faced the Indonesian party in an immediate sense. At that time Stalin was deepening his struggle against Trotsky and in China had buried the CP inside the KMT (Kuomintang) under the program of “bloc of four classes.” So Moscow’s orders were against class independence in the nationalist movement.

In 1928, the CP split on the issue of class independence in the nationalist struggle. Tanmalaka, refusing to go along with Stalinist policy, organized an insurrection on Java and Sumatra which lasted through 1927 but was defeated in a bloody suppression. The party was outlawed by the Dutch and was “reprimanded” by Moscow and Tanmalaka, a fugitive from ruthless butchery of the imperialists, was expelled from the Communist International. The leadership was dispersed, hundreds jailed and exiled, the party decimated.

Founds Own Party

Escaped to Bangkok in 1927, Tanmalaka founded his own party and from here, without Moscow aid or support, he began in the painful reconstruction of an underground in the Indies. At this time he also developed the idea of an international revolution of the Southern Asiatic colonies, under the leaderhip of the proletariat; he looked beyond the national movements to a coordinated inter-colonial struggle of the entire South Pacific. To this end he did not restrict himself to his native Indonesia but with painful and indefatigable labors constructed organizations in Burma, Siam, Indo-China, Malaya, Philippines, New Guinea and native Australia.

He created a new term, Aslia, to indicate the unity of the people of Asia proper with their fellow colonial slaves in the South Pacific islands and native Australia. He called his organization the International Proletarian Republic of Aslia. Whether he had contact with Trotsky’s writings is not clear. He was a major factor in the development of the Indo-Chinese Trotskyists who grew rapidly into a major force, over-shadowing the CP till after World War II.

His return to his native land was one of warm welcome and triumph.

One reporter describes it as follows:

“He returned to Java late in 1945 after 20 years of hiding. Still popular he found a considerable following awaiting his return. He apparently decided to act as an opposition [to the Republican leaders] from within in an effort to pull the national movement to a more radical policy of economic reform and opposition to feudalism.”

It is not clear whether he joined with Alimin to reconstruct the CP at this time, as one report hints, or whether he constructed a revolutionary socialist organization from the beginning. In any case it was not many weeks before the CP began to launch its customary expletives against Tanmalaka. the Trotskyist. Political and organizational antagonism was complete, with Tanmalaka attacking the CP from the left consistently and apparently with great success in winning whole sections of the CP and of the workers’ movement.

Early in 1946 Tanamalka organized a “People’s Front” of labor and peasant elements on a program of rejection of any compromise with the Dutch, such as led to the Lingajatti agreement of March 1947, which has been described as “bringing neither independence nor early relief from economic pressure.” The People’s Front split after only a few weeks of existence when some of its leaders, acting under CP orders and pressures, abandoned Tanmalaka for posts in a re-organized Social Democratic coalition.

Opposes Coalition

At this time Tanmalaka’s program was described as “advocating stronger measures against royalty and nobility, and the eradication of feudal vestiges in Indonesian society ... quick action for the establishment of a revolutionary proletarian state.” (Far Eastern Survey, September 25, 1946) In spite of the vagueness of this description of his program one fact seems to bear out its general veracity, and that is that Tanmalaka alone of the important pre-war leaders of the Independence movement did not enter any of the rainbow coalitions which ruled the Republic after the war, preferring to maintain proletarian independence in the movement.

Tanmalaka seems to have succeeded in splitting the CP wide open on the issue of no compromise with the Dutch and the social question. He insisted on what has been vaguely described as the “one-stage” revolution, in contradistinction to the established Stalinist line, as handed down by Mao Tze-tung, of “new democracy” and “new capitalism” first and “socialism” after “several decades.”

Incidentally, there is a formal resemblance between this Stalinist doctrine and the program of Social-Democracy, which is one very important reason these parties have difficulties in repulsing Stalinist blandishments. This is precisely what happened in Indonesia, where the Sjahrir Social- Democratic government had no difficulty in entering all kinds of political blocs with Stalinists and their fronts.

In March 1946, Tanmalaka, in cooperation with split off sections of the CP organized a rebellion against the Sjahrir government. The revolt failed and Tanmalaka and the other leaders were jailed.

However, in September 1948, the Stalinists under the leadership of the Russian agent Muso, who had arrived in Indonesia only a few weeks previously to re-organize the party and assure its Stalinization, went into revolt against the Republic and set up an all-Stalinist regime in the City of Madoen. Premier Hatta released Tanmalaka from jail to assist the Republic in its anti-Stalinist struggle. Apparently the political offensive which he launched against the CP was extremely effective and a major factor in the Republican victory. It would appear then that Tanmalaka did defend the Republic against the CP and was with the Republic in December when the Dutch resumed their war.

Where he is now, what his political attitude is at this time is not known. Contact of direct nature has not existed for a decade or more, and now no real news from Republican areas is possible. All of the information related is pieced together from scattered sources. But from the known facts it is clear that Tanmalaka is a heroic and indefatigable revolutionist, dedicated to socialism and. freedom. For a more exact picture we must wait for precise information.

Republican Struggle

On support to the Republican Government: there can be no doubt as to the progressive character of the Republic’s struggle. It is a fight for the basic democratic right of the Indonesians to national independence, self-government and freedom from colonial oppression by a foreign conqueror who has, for several hundred years, suppressed the indigenous culture, ruined the native economy and imposed its own rule of economic degradation and external denomination. In order to reconstruct the economy and establish a viable minimum for the people national independence from the Dutch is an absolute necessity. To this the Republic is dedicated.

The leadership of the Republic is democratic; it is not like Chiang’s regime in China or Roxas’ in the Philippines. It is a national coalition of several parties and classes. The initiative in this coalition belongs to the Socialist Party under Sjahrir and has the active support of organized workers and peasants.

The Constitution contains the following clauses: (article 33)

“1. The economy shall be organized cooperatively. 2. Branches of production that are important to the State and that affect the life of most of the people shall be controlled by the State. 3. Land and water, and the natural riches therein, shall be controlled by the State and shall be exploited for the greatest welfare of the people.”

Freedom of ownership, speech, assembly and organization are guaranteed.

Nowhere in the Republican leadership are anti-democratic elements important – neither totalitarian nor Stalinist, feudal or would-be puppet elements. The greatest danger is of compromise, that sections of the Republican leadership will seek to come to agreement with the Dutch. This is a real danger, for the landlord and Mohammedan groups in the government have already shown pliability in this direction.

The action of the Dutch, who were reinstated to power by British troops in 1945, and American military supplies – has aroused the deepest revulsion among the peoples of Asia: the Delhi conference of 14 Asiatic nations to be held January 20 is a major development of unity of action against colonial oppression.

Defense of the Republic has become a rallying point with extensive ramifications. (There is one danger here too, however, and that is why socialists must follow these events most cautiously. This Congress is not only for the defense of Indonesia but many of its leaders are even more concerned with the Stalinist victories in China. Some of them propose to rally around the standard of Britain as the unifying force for the East.)

Socialist Program

For all these reasons socialists must unhesitatingly and unconditionally support the struggle for liberation of the Indonesian people whose political organ today is the Republic. Within the Republic, as within the United

Asia movements, socialists should aggressively fight for independence from all imperialism, as well as oppose tendencies to join the Russian bloc; no reliance on the UN or its two imperialist factions. Liberty can only be won with the people.

Socialists have the special task of’ regrouping workers and agricultural laborer’s cadres in underground leagues of struggle. Loyally, within the framework of the Republic; revolutionists should fight for the political hegemony of the masses on the basis of a radical program of land division, nationalization, and workers’ and peasants’ control. The strategy of class independence must be developed in a democratic manner, with utmost loyalty to the Republic.

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