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Labor Action, 21 February 1949


Jack Brad

Labor Action Interviews Republican Spokesmen

How Indonesian Republic Fights On


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 8, 21 February 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The clearest impression that emerged from an interview with Mr. Sudarko, Indonesian press representative, and Dr. Soemitro, delegate to the recent New Delhi Conference, was their complete commitment to the struggle for national freedom.

Whatever disagreeable compromises are entered into on the way, there will be no stopping short of the goal. Contrary to Dutch claims, the Republic is representative of this profound desire for nationhood. It has its deep-rooted origins in a hundred years of struggle and, in particular, in the goal already once achieved. The Dutch will never succeed in restoring the pre-war colonial status quo.

Both men are engaged in a diplomatic activity and they have the general characteristics of national revolutionary intellectuals. They have observed western culture and are as much the products of Western Civilization as of Indonesia, with one feature outstanding – a sense of passionate patriotism. This came through forcefully on every matter discussed. Devotion to the nation and the Republic dominates their lives, their thoughts, their actions. It is the single window through which they view the world and all its parts. This is clearly visable in spite of the sophisticated polish of that finishing school of international, politics, the UN, in which both men are involved. For, while they are primarily concerned with the international position of Indonesia, they fully understand that this position is a consequence of events in the islands and in Asia.

Charles Wolf, in his recent book, The Indonesian Story, has an interesting social description of the leadership of the Republic.

“There is no economic ruling clique within the Republic because there have been so few Indonesians who have produced and accumulated wealth under pre-war colonialism. There is, moreover, no military clique or any other group which as such would be likely to dominate the government as an oligarchy – in short, the only apparent upper stratum is an intellectual one.”

While this statement exaggerates the absence of economic differences, there is certainly a striking contrast between the Indonesian leaders and their representatives here, and the Indians or Chinese who are extremely conscious of class and social status.

Military Position Progressing

The Republic’s war is proceeding extremely well. Dr. Soemitro claimed: “Our military position is good, even beyond our original expectations. In many parts of the country our guerrilla forces are continuously on the offensive.” Apparently, the government had prepared for the Dutch attack ever since the Renville Truce and made its plans accordingly. These plans called for the withdrawal of its armies intact into the hills behind Jogjakarta, their dispersal into small cadre groups under regular officers, and organization of popular forces around them. Apparently, the bulk of the army carried these plans through.

The military forces have had considerable success. The Dutch have been driven from some of their original conquests and the Republic has established numerous “pocket areas” behind Dutch lines. These areas are particularly extensive in East Java and around Bandung in West Java. About 15 to 20 per cent of West Java is in Republican hands as well as parts of Sumatra, as large as all of Java. A scorched earth policy has been carried out which, Mr. Sudarko claimed, has effectively reduced the value of their holdings to the Dutch who are secure only in their garrison towns and are subject to attack as soon as they venture into the country. Even the suburbs of Jogjakarta, former Republican capital, are not safe from the invaders.

Railroads are not operating. The longest stretch still running is only 60 miles. The Dutch blockade of the islands closed all major ports to the Republic, but a brisk trade in small boats runs the blockade, especially across the Malacca Straits between Sumatra and Malaya. A Central Command directs all activities. Seven radio transmitters are operating which coordinate these widespread actions.

Underground Government Respected

An interim government is well established on Sumatra and its liaison is thoroughly organized with the guerrillas, as well as with the external offices of the Republic. This provisional regime in hiding has complete authority.

This was one of the most gratifying impressions to emerge from the interviews. The greatest respect and authority is acknowledged to this underground government. There does not seem to be any desire to direct the affairs of state from outside Indonesia as for representatives abroad to usurp powers. Dr. Soemitro made this very clear. It is the emergency government which set the conditions for UN policy, one of which is that a cease-fire order (which the UN has demanded) will be accepted only upon the release of the imprisoned Republican president, and then “such an order can be issued only in consultation with our Emergency Government only with the full occurrence of this government.”

Mr. Sudarko was vague as to the objective of this government and said this had not been defined, but that general sentiment among the leaders was for a return to the boundaries and conditions of the Lingajatti agreement. This fits in with the resolutions adopted at the New Delhi Conference. It is a position of compromise fraught with danger. The end desired is the complete military and political expulsion of the imperialists and in a very short period of time. But it is questionable if the orientation indicated by Mr. Sudarko can achieve their goal. The present leadership proposes to continue the moderate policy of compromise which has already failed twice.

Leading parties in the coalition that rules the Republic are the Moslem Party of Premier Hatta and the Socialist Party of Sjahrir. However, all other parties, except for the Communist Party, are also in the struggle.

The Stalinists are a broken party right now. When they went into rebellion last August they split the Peasant Party, but it is Sudarko’s claim that the ranks did not follow and only the Peasant Party leadership supported the uprising, which proved an adventurous fiasco that was quickly crushed. Musso, Russian agent and Indonesian CP leader, was killed in action. Alemin, second in command, was captured, tried by a military court, and hanged. The third top leader, Sjarifoeddin, seems to have disappeared. A Chinese newspaper recently reported him dead, too.

Mr. Sudarko claimed that CP strength was never very great and that most of it was a result of “infiltration,” particularly into the Socialist and Peasant Parties and into the trade unions. But this influence did not penetrate to the ranks. Apparently, the CP is no longer an important group. However, the trade unions which were disrupted by the CP’s policies up to last August have not yet recovered.

Offer Information on Tanmalaka

He made some interesting remarks about Tanmalaka, indicating the attitude of the government. He differentiated sharply between Tanmalaka and the Stalinists, characterizing him, as opposed to the Stalinists, as “basically nationalist.” For this, Tanmalaka is respected. The terms Mr. Sudarko applied to him were “impractical,” “idealist” and “extremist.” He ascribed to Tanmalaka various opinions which seemed to boil down to a four-point program: 1 – against the Lingajatti and Renville policies – and no compromise with the Dutch; 2 – no negotiations while the Dutch retained a single soldier on Indonesian soil; 3 – a radical social policy; 4 – for a worker-peasant alliance to achieve power in the Republic. For this latter purpose he organized the United Action Party in February 1947. The exact weight of nationalism in Tanmalaka’s program is not clear from this description. This extremely important question still must wait for clarification until details are available.

Tanmalaka was offered the premiership in early 1947 but apparently was unable to form a government on the basis of the program he desired. Sudarko described him as “extremely shrewd” in politics. One interesting new fact that Sudarko reported was that Tanmalaka claimed innocence of the kidnapping of SP leader Sjahrir. Although the government obviously remains suspicious, it has never been able to prove his complicity, except to show that many of his associates were involved.

Now Tanmalaka is fighting with Republican guerillas, but here again are no details. Sudarko indicated that he was still feared by the government because “he might return to extremism.” It is clear that Tanmalaka is a figure of importance with a name and a following.

Trade union organizations exist and are especially powerful among factory workers and miners. There are about 350,000 factory workers, mostly in foreign-owned sugar refineries, weaving mills, tobacco, tea and coffee processing plants. There are about 600,000 miners. The number of factory workers has grown steadily, with industry increasing about 300 per cent in the years 1935–40. In the latter year there were 5,469 plants employing anywhere from 20 to 4,000 workers. The Republic has introduced a labor code which considerably alters the completely uncontrolled and despotic exploitation by the foreign imperialists.

Describe Social, Economic Program

On social and economic program, this reporter was unable to obtain specific information. The basic principle of social policy that emerged from the interview was its state orientation; the state is to be the primary organizer and director of the economy. This does not mean immediate nationalization. This is one of the problems that will be resolved by the relationship of forces that emerge from the present war.

Agriculture is to be left in private hands but state assistance is emphasized, as is cooperative organization. Sudarko did not acknowledge any widespread concentration in land or extensive existence of feudal practices. It is true that the Indies suffer less from these two oriental curses than either India or China, and in this sense agriculture there has a healthier aspect. Nevertheless, some concentrations, and certainly feudal practices, do exist.

The Republic seems to have no program for this. The chief problem of agriculture is its relation to the foreign-owned estates such as the large sugar and tobacco plantations. The practice, which is most exploitive, is for the estates to lease from the small proprietor his land holdings for the six months of the year during which he cannot grow food on it. The peasant remains as a worker on his own land for the other six months of the year in the employ of the estate. He becomes dependent upon the estate to carry him over this lean period, becoming indebted, his lease extending indefinitely while he becomes bound to the soil. This type of relationship is peculiar to the Indies and is one of the first problems which the Republic must face.

Nationalization of utilities and banking is an immediate objective. The Dutch-owned Java Bank is to be the central fiscal organ of the Republic. (This was one of the stumbling blocks in negotiations.) Industry is to be developed by the state. There will be greatest emphasis on exploitation of new areas, particularly on Sumatra. The chief staples of the islands, which are also the principal wealth and exports are to be under state control. Emphasis is on gradualism.

The government does not propose to expropriate Dutch or other foreign holdings immediately. (This was one of Tanmalaka’s criticisms of government policy.) The direction of economic policy is toward independence, but whether the Republic can accomplish this under a gradualist program is dubious. Meanwhile, it is establishing mixed companies to act as its purchasing agents abroad. The Fox Corporation, which made the headlines last week, is of this type. Attempts are being made to interest American and British capital in direct investments. This is seen as a matter of basic importance because native capital is practically non-existent. And also to use these capitalists against the Dutch. In all cases the Republic reserves certain rights and establishes conditions of operation including specifications for housing, hospitalization and labor conditions.

This is quite different from the formula developed by Stettinius for his corporate exploitation of Liberia. The Indonesians have rejected this particular formula of American domination and this may be the reason for the violent attack by the State Department on the Fox Corporation. For, in spite of the public position which the U.S. has taken in the United Nations on the Indonesian question, in its more intimate dealings the State Department is extremely antagonistic to the Republic and, in practice, it has withdrawn all the rights of de facto recognition which it originally granted, and has actually acknowledged the Dutch blockade.

New Delhi a Disappointment

Dr. Soemitro’s press conference was devoted to a discussion of the New Delhi meeting, from which he has just returned. Clearly the Asian meeting was a disappointment to everyone concerned. It did not accept some of the key proposals of the Indonesians. Dr. Soemitro gave the reason for this: “The Asian Conference itself was under heavy pressure of the Western powers, including, the U.S. and Great Britain.”

The most significant Indonesian proposals, those not greatly publicized, were requests for sanctions against the Dutch. Apparently the Republic had requested such specific measures as abrogation of airplane landing privileges and coaling and refueling rights for ships and planes, economic boycott, including pressure on the U.S. to end ERP payments to Holland. It proposed as the trump card the Institution of search of Dutch ships for contraband, and the seizure of such goods as violations of the UN decisions. This action program was jettisoned by the Asian Conference in favor of continued reliance on UN action. However, India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Saudi Arabia have cancelled Dutch plane landing rights.

The Security Council has adopted a further resolution since the Asian Conference. Dr. Soemitro emphasized that this latest resolution was also “a great disappointment.” The expressed certainty that a new joint consultation of Asian governments would take place shortly to consider new action on the Dutch war in Indonesia and this time more serious steps might be expected. He also felt that regional cooperation in Asia had gone a long step toward becoming permanent but the first problem remained the elimination of imperialism. Throughout Asia there is disillusionment both with the UN and American policy. The overall impression of these interviews was of preparation for a long struggle. While maintaining “correct” international attitudes, the Indonesians look more to Asia than to the West.

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