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Labor Action, 27 June 1949


Jack Brad


Indonesia Republicans Murder Socialist Leader


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 26, 27 June 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


A dispatch in the New York Times on June 7 reported the death of Tanmalaka on Java, his native island in Indonesia. The news had a New Delhi dateline. However, confirmation of the fact has been obtained from the Indonesian Republic office in New York.

Tanmalaka was one of the great revolutionary figures of Asia. He was known throughout the Malay-speaking world, which includes the Indies, Malaya and Singapore, as an indefatigable anti-imperialist. He was an enormously popular figure. For 25 years his name was linked with the great upsurge of the people which has dominated Asiatic politics.

One of the founders of the Communist movement in Indonesia, he broke with Stalinism as early as 1928. In both 1922 and 1926 he led general-strike movements which, in the latter year, culminated in open rebellion against the Dutch regime.

He had particular strength among the Javanese peasantry.

After the 1926 revolt was suppressed by a terrible white terror, Tanmalaka escaped to Malaya, where he reorganized the party from exile. Unlike Musi and Alimin, the other CP leaders, he refused to go to Moscow to become a Comintern agent. He was instrumental in breaking the Stalinist hold on the Viet-Namese CP and helped form the Trotskyist party in that country, which until the war was larger and more important than the CP. He also organized a Malayan revolutionary group. Tanmalaka became associated with the movement for a Fourth International. Hounded by imperialist and Stalinist political police, he neither surrendered the fight nor escaped to safer pastures.

At the war’s end he returned to Java, where he organized an independent revolutionary communist organization. Unlike the Stalinists, he refused to join the coalition government of the newly founded republic, insisting on class independence. He became involved in what appears to have been an adventurist policy which resulted in the kidnapping of the Social-Democrat, Sjahrir, at that time prime minister.

Jailed for this abortive coup, he denied complicity and was released just before the launching of the Stalinist war on the republic in late 1948. He defended the republic against the CP putsch. At the same time he fought for a militant, uncompromising war on the Dutch to save the republic and for a revolutionary social policy, particularly the elimination of feudalism on the countryside, so as to rally the people to the republic’s support.

Political Murder

When the Dutch launched their war against the republic in December 1948, Tanmalaka organized independent guerrilla forces against the Dutch. This is now confirmed. He did not participate with the regular government forces.

The Times dispatch cited the probable cause for his murder by the republic as the old charge of the kidnapping of Sjahrir. This is unlikely. What seems more probable is that his immediate policy in the war then raging and his uncompromising position against the Dutch were the reasons for his political murder. Tanmalaka had raised the banner of no negotiations with the imperialists while a single Dutch soldier remained on Indonesian soil. Republican leaders were meanwhile involved in conversations and deals preluding their surrender policy of several weeks ago. Tanmalaka’s adventurism provided the necessary excuse.

The facts of Tanmalaka’s life are shrouded in darkness. Fighting in the colonial underground on the slimmest of resources, hiding from the police, without even a press for long periods and without contact for over a decade with socialists from other countries, almost nothing is available even on his politics except fragments.

Regardless of his policy toward the republic and the Indonesian Social-Democracy, about which too little is known for adequate judgment, Tanmalaka was one of the greatest figures produced by the colonial revolutionary movement. His death is a terrible blow to socialism as well as to Indonesian freedom. It removes a powerful obstacle to further compromise by the republican leaders.

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