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Labor Action, 14 February 1949


Jack Brad

Readers of Labor Action Take the Floor ...

Answer from Brad on Indonesia Policy


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 7, 14 February 1949, pp. 2 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.



Robert Magnus’ letter in last week’s Labor Action begins auspiciously enough with the recognition that “Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution as applied to semi-colonial countries has proved false in many countries.” He then proceeds to completely ignore this statement and to propose a policy which has validity only if one accepts the discarded theory, and even then only if one forces it into a very narrow, tight-hooped barrel.

Magnus contends that “the Republican government of Indonesia with its social-democratic caretakers is hindering the struggle for national independence.” Therefore the workers must struggle against the Republic, attempt to sweep away the compromisers and establish a workers government as the only assurance of independence or at least of no compromise with the Dutch. This is the essence of Magnus’ objection to my article.

Now Trotsky’s theory led to the conclusion that native bourgeois classes in colonial and semi-colonial countries could not lead the fight for independence to fruition because their very rise as national bourgeois classes already created the antagonisms of class conflict. Out of fear of their own working class and because they could not break their ties with imperialism, their struggle was doomed to be one which sought concessions, or modifications of foreign rule; that is for a greater share of the spoils, but not for full national freedom. Because of this fatal flaw in the very marrow of’ colonial ruling classes, it devolved upon the workers, said Trotsky, at the head of all oppressed classes to take the lead in the struggle.

Trotsky’s error consisted in his underestimation of the colonial bourgeoisie. Hard as it is for revolutionist to acknowledge it, it is nevertheless a reality. Magnus, too, underestimates this fact in his letter. He states that independence has been achieved “more by the break-up and decay of the British and French colonial empires than by the strength of the indigenous capitalist class. But this (independence – J.B.) has only been the case in large semi-colonies ... no colonial country has attained its independence under the leadership of the bourgeoisie.” Here is the crux of Magnus’ error. India, Burma and Ceylon, all of which are now independent states, were colonies and not semi-colonies. And, in each case, they achieved their independence under no other leadership than the bourgeoisie. Not one of these nations had political independence before the war and since the distinction between colony and semi-colony is the measure of political separation from imperialism, each of these states was formally a full-fledged colony.

Nor is it so simple that the decline of European capitalism was the greater factor in these changes. This decline created the conditions which gave the necessary superiority to the struggles of the colonial bourgeoisie. Class power is a relative measure. The same conditions would have applied to a socialist revolution in these areas.

However, it is not enough to let it go at that. The most important fact of the colonial world is the post-war revolt of Asia, in which the achievement of independence in these three nations as so many major incidents. The entire continent is aflame – China, Viet-Nam, Indonesia, Philippines, the Middle East. A powerful dynamic is moving the entire vast area which contains more than half the world’s population, shaking it out of its 2,000 year lethargy, upsetting its stagnant and stratified economy. These changes are basically the culmination of 300 years of conflict and contact with the West. It is a manifestation of the world conflict between colony and declining metropolis. The rise of the native capitalists is one side of this equation. Their economic potential was sharply increased during the war. This was one of the major immediate factors in the post-war struggle. Another cause was the widespread Japanese victories with their slogan of Asia for the Asiatics and its deliberate policy of fostering certain independence movements, as in Indonesia. In no case has the working class taken the lead of these struggles. This is an unfortunate fact.

Whether or not the capitalists can organise these nations into stable entities is however questionable. One major section of Trotsky’s thesis remains as yet unchallengeable. For it seems unlikely that Asiatic capitalism will achieve a new flowering Or even succeed in carrying through the bourgeois revolution to the level of the European states. It is improbable that the social forms in Asia will be capitalist. What is true, however, is that these bourgeois classes can lead the struggle for independence to the point of establishment of the nation. They did so in India and elsewhere. They are struggling to do so in Indonesia, and they are playing a considerable part in the struggles in Viet-Nam and elsewhere.

In an earlier review of the Indonesian struggles in Labor Action it was pointed out that this movement has continued without cessation almost since the day of the Dutch conquest. Since 1918 the Dutch have not enjoyed many years of imperial peace. So in Indonesia the lesson has been sharply etched in history. The bourgeoisie can and will struggle for nationhood. That the Republican leadership is willing to make all manner of disastrous compromises is another thing altogether. To struggle against compromise one must accept the framework of the Republic, however.

The decisive fact is this: The Republic, with all its many faults, is fighting. More than that, it is not the same Republic today that it was when it was blockaded and withering in the hills of Jogjakarta. It has more popular appeal today than ever before precisely because it is fighting against the Dutch. It is the rallying center and inspiration for the ancient Indonesian cry for freedom, Mederka. Its guerrillas are everywhere. It does not permit the free exploitation of the country. It has aroused support in all of Southern Asia.

It would be false and suicidal to act now on the basis of yesterday’s facts. As socialists we prefer the victory of the most conservative republic over the most paternalistic Dutch regime.

It is likely that tomorrow the Republican leadership will offer or accept some sort of compromise. That may have to be fought against. But to earn the right to do so one must tight for the Republic today. And to prepare for such an eventuality one must organize the struggle as a social one. Revolutionary socialists conduct the struggle with a program of land for the peasants, break-up of feudal estates and privileges, full democratic rights, and the revolutionary alliance of workers and poor peasantry. In this way the socialist workers can achieve hegemony within the Republic and be in a position to oppose compromise. They can become the Republic in fact; but only by defending it now. They can give the Republic a social content which would be irresistible and victorious. And they can do this within the “constitutional clauses” which Magnus disdains.

For it is important and not a matter to be lightly discounted, as Magnus does, that the Republican constitution is democratic and has social clauses which call for nationalization and give recognition to many social problems of national construction. Such a constitution does offer more possibilities for struggle and for worker-peasant hegemony. Laws are not meaningless to revolutionists.

The main task is not to warn against future treason or to recall past defections, but to give revolutionary content to the present. Magnus is wrong when he says that the Republic now exists “within legal democratic bounds” which the constitution defines. The Republic does not exist on such a plane. Its existence today is a matter of daily popular struggle. To this struggle we are completely loyal. We should not at this time seek to establish an alternative arena of struggle. We should join freely with all other elements; particularly with the social democrats. And without conditions. Utilizing the democratic framework, we can posit a revolutionary framework to other programs. As I wrote in the original article: “Socialists have the special task of regrouping workers and agricultural laborers’ cadres in underground leagues of struggle.”

The difference between Magnus and myself can be summarized as follows: He takes his point of departure from the “inevitable” treason of the bourgeois leadership tomorrow in the independence movement. My point of departure is that today all elements of the Republic are engaged in mortal combat and, what is more, the “inevitability” of the above may not be as absolutely certain as we once believed. Therefore, the main task is not the struggle against the native bourgeoisie, but the immediate one for national independence: With a program of social revolution, within the framework of the Republic, to attempt to grasp the leadership for the revolutionary working class and peasantry within the framework of republican democracy and struggle.

Finally, these opinions are my own. The Workers Party has not taken any position on this question.

Jack Brad

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