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Workers’ International News, January–February 1949


Anil Kumaran

The Indonesian Movements


From Workers’ International News, January–February 1949, 6d.
Duplicated P&P, W. Hunter 256 Harrow Road, W2.

Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


AMONG the foremost in the struggle of the Asiatic masses to free themselves from the imperialist yoke following the war, were the 50 million people of the former Netherlands East Indies. A factor of special importance to revolutionary socialists is the existence there of a revolutionary alternative of significant strength, an alternative to the infantile comprador native bourgeoisie and the treacherous agents of Stalin.

Geographically speaking, Sumatra and Java represent the greatest and wealthiest section of the Malayan archipelago. Since the enslavement of the Indonesian people by the Dutch in the17th century, their exploitation has been going on at an unprecedented rate. It has been accompanied by the classical forms of colonial brutality. The rate of imperialist extraction from this area was £32 million a year. It gave the Dutch capitalists the opportunity of bribing and corrupting the leaders of the Dutch working class and softening the class struggle at home.

The Conditions of the Indonesian Toilers

Literacy under Dutch rule was 7.2%. In that figure, however, must be included the relatively large literate European population. In 1939, only one child in eleven attended school. Approximately 7d.per head per head per year was expended on education.

In 1938, Indonesian exports amounted to £225 millions. Imports were only £125 million. Income tax was levied on incomes above 900 guilder (£135) a year. Only 36,00o Indonesians reached this figure, that is .05% of the population. However, the rest of the population did not escape taxation. A basic tax was payable of 4% of wages earned. This reflects the very depressed economic status of the masses.

The internal regime of the Dutch was typically militarist with police powers. No “Asiatic” was allowed to stand in Dutch court. He forced to squat on his haunches. A law was enforced against “impoliteness” to the Dutch. Those even faintly suspected of “agitation” were liable to be fined; “incitement” to strike resulted in 5 years imprisonment. Concentration camps were a feature of Dutch rule, such as the one in Boyon Digal – a prototype of Belsen. In 193l–2, militants were sent to such imprisonment. Under a special act, exile could be imposed for an indefinite period, with no legal process being necessary.

The medical system was typical of colonial rule. In 1939 there were only 689 doctors and 200 apothecaries. This among a population of 50 million.

National and Revolutionary Movements

In the early twentieth century there were only two national movements, having their base in the weak petty bourgeoisie aided timidly by sections of the small comprador bourgeoisie. These were, first, the “BOEDI OETOMO” which stood for better and free education and for higher wages for the workers. By 1910 it had 10,000 members. The second movement, the “SAREKAT ISLAM” was born in that year. Like the Boedi Oetomo it was a “radical” movement, but flavoured its programme with a religious bias. At the first Congress of the Sarakat Islam, it had 800,000 members who pledged loyalty to the Dutch. In 1917, under the pressure of the Russian Revolution, it went further and demanded, complete independence.

In 1919 the first trade union was formed. This move was preceded in the political sphere by the founding of the Social Democratic League. The industrial advance was made by the young and small, Indonesian working class was greatly assisted by the work of the Dutch revolutionary — Sneevliet.

Following in the wake of these developments came a wave of strikes, in the sugar and rail industries among others.

In 1920, the Partai Kommunis, Indonesia was formed from the Social Democratic League, and was joined by a split-away from the “Sarekat Islam”. Weakened by this, the latter later abandoned politics. Strike struggles took place between 1922–7, with varying intensity and success climaxed by an island-wide general strike, and a premature uprising, led by the young PKI when Sneevliet had been exiled. The PKI was illegalised, the movement crushed and beheaded, and thousands were sent to concentration camps. However, the Partai Nasional Indonesia, which was formed by a group of intellectuals in 1925 and led by Sakoerno, was allowed to exist for sometime. Later, it in turn, was illegalised.

The Partai Nasional Indonesia had connections with the Stalinist front organisation, the Anti-Imperialist League. In the late thirties, the Greater Indonesia Party was formed and gained considerable influence, even though it attempted to collaborate with Imperialism. At the outbreak of the Pacific war it offered support to Dutch Imperialism.

The Indonesian struggles found a reflection among the Dutch workers. In 1933 there took place the wonderful episode at Sorabaya. Joint meetings of Dutch and Indonesian sailors’ unions protested their dissatisfaction. This was translated into action by the seizure of the cruiser “ Zevern Provincenne” and the raising of the red flag on the cruiser “ Java.” However, these struggles did not lead to any organised attempt to the overthrow of Dutch imperialism, and therefore failed — except that they demonstrated for the first time the fraternal and class solidarity of the Dutch and. Indonesian toilers.

The Permanent Revolution

The struggle of the colonial workers and peasants cannot thoroughly be understood without recourse to Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. In essence, it points out that the colonial bourgeoisie are congenitally incapable of leading an independent revolutionary struggle because of their historical weakness. They cannot perform those historical tasks carried through by the bourgeoisie in capitalist revolutions in the past, such as the agrarian revolution. They are afraid to have recourse to revolutionary means, but must seek to compromise with the imperialists for better terms to stave off the threat of a disciplined and conscious working class.

In the light of this the events in Indonesia since the defeat of the Japanese and the formation of a Republic conform to pattern — the derailing of the popular movement and the compromise with the Dutch.

The establishment of an independent Republic under the dual conditions of the pressure of the masses and the weakness of imperialism, struck alarm into the hearts of the imperialists. The Dutch were not in a position to match strength. However, the British Labour Government, on the pretext of disarming Japanese troops (who had already: been disarmed by the Indonesians) landed their forces, and soon hostilities broke out.

British seamen who took part in this episode testify to the absolutely false information given them of the operations and the reasons for them. They testify to the nature of the whole manoeuvre which was conducted to weaken the Republic.

British imperialism had to check the developments in Indonesia from spreading into their own sacred lands – Malaya, Burma, Ceylon. Mountbatten, who was Commander in Chief ordered the Jap C-in-C to retain arms and status quo until the arrival of the British.

However, the British found that the masses put up a very stiff resistance, thus they had to start negotiations to gain time. Meanwhile, well-trained and equipped Dutch troops were sent to Indonesia. When they arrived in sufficient strength in 1946, all the British forces were withdrawn.

The Lindgadjati Agreement

In March 1947, the infamous Lindgadjati agreement was signed by the Dutch imperialists and the Indonesian bourgeoisie. The pressure of the workers movement in the direction of state power drove the bourgeoisie towards this compromise. This “treaty” granted the “ United States of Indonesia” independence while at the same time sovereignty remained with the Dutch. This little contradiction was resolved by the instrumentality of a Dutch-Indonesian “ Union” – typically imperialist euphemism for the continuance of imperialist dominion.

Once the Indonesian bourgeoisie began to seek a compromise with the imperialists, under the fear that the mass movement would go too far, the Dutch began to harden. They refused to implement the treaty and an uneasy truce continued while negotiations for a new agreement dragged on. At this time, the Dutch increased their hold and conducted an economic blockade. The local bourgeoisie, mortally afraid of the mass movement, were unable to conduct an all-out struggle against imperialism. The Indonesian army was used more and more against “extremists,” a policy that reached its climax when Sharir crushed and imprisoned the loaders of the revolutionary party led by Tan Malakka.

The Role of Stalinism

The role of the Stalinists is clearly discernible in Indonesia, through all the tortuous turns made by them in the recent post-war period. At first, they advocated support for Dutch-Indonesian Union, while entirely supporting the Indonesian bourgeoisie. When the bourgeoisie conducted the campaign against Tan Malakka, the Stalinists enthusiastically supported them, and, with their characteristic love of liberty for left wing groups opposed to them, demanded the liquidation of the organisation. When Sharir imprisoned the Stalinist lender — Joeseph — even this did not prevent them from praising and supporting the bourgeoisie. They denounced Joeseph as a Trotskyist.

Arthur Clegg, a Stalinist “expert” on South East Asia, recently wrote of Tan Malakka as a “gangster.” (Daily Worker, 2nd Dec 1948)

His Indian Stalinist friends had this to say of Tan Malakka:

“News has recently been received that the leader of the Indonesian Communists, Tan Malakka, a legendary hero who was captured by the Dutch in 1927 and later escaped from the concentration camp in New Guinea and worked underground all these years, is back again at his post.” (Indonesian War of Independence, Peoples Publishing House Bombay.)

Needless to say, Tan Malakka is at his post, loyal to the working, class, but opposed to the Stalinists when they supported the capitalists. After the imprisonment of Tan Malakka, with the world wide left turn of Stalinism in 1947, the Indonesian Stalinists also changed their line. They had partial control of the trade union organisation, SOBSA and had made infiltrations into the Socialist Party and Youth movement. In September 1948, they united with these two groups to form the United Communist Party of Indonesia. With the arrival of Moeso from Moscow, they started an adventuristic putch, without preparation, in the city of Madiun. The Daily Worker had this to say at the time:

“The rising in Madiun was almost bloodless and lasted three hours. At the end of that time the city was in the hands of the workers, who are patrolling the streets in cars flying the red flag.” (September 21st, 1948)

After the failure of this adventure, this very same paper, unblushingly and contradictorily declared, 1) there was no rising, and 2) the rising was due to Trotskyist and American provocation.

Very scanty information has reached us about Tan Malakka and his movement. But some indication can be gained from the speech of a Dutch delegate to the United Nations Security Council, Van Roijen. He declared, on December 24th, 1946:

“Immediately Tan Malakka was released (end of 1948 — AK) and he organised a new party which comprised several smaller parties of Communist leanings ... The city of Soorakarta, the second largest of middle Java has been partially in the power of this new party. The aims of the new communist party called “PARTA MURBA” allows no illusion, like the former Communist Party, its aim is to turn Indonesia into communist state.”

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