A leader of the Revolution
Discusses the Past and Future
by Sutan Sjahrir
INDONESIA, the insular chain linking the southern Asian mainland and Australia, consists of thousands of islands large and small, the major ones being Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Celebes, and New Guinea. These islands draped around the equator like a girdle of emerald, as Multatuli put it in his book Max Havelaar are quite mountainous, with many volcanoes. They are for the most part very fertile, and though there are still large jungles on the biggest islands Sumatra, Borneo, and Celebes on Java, Madura, Bali, and Lombok the land is under heavy cultivation.
The archipelago spans a distance of more than 3,000 miles from west to east and nearly 1,250 miles from north to south, and the total land area amounts to nearly 740,000 square miles. Java and Madura together comprise some 50,000 square miles, Sumatra and outlying islands 180,000 square miles, the Indonesian part of Borneo (the northern section is British territory) another 210,000 square miles, and Celebes 70,000 square miles more, while the Moluccas, the Lesser Sundas, and Indonesian New Guinea or West Irian (still claimed by Holland, while the eastern part is Australian) together total another 220,000 square miles.
The population of Indonesia is estimated at around eighty million, with fifty-two millions living on Java. According to the latest figures, there were twelve million inhabitants on Sumatra, three and a half million on Borneo, and six million on Celebes. Thus Java, with only seven per cent of the whole land area of Indonesia, has about 68 per cent of the archipelago's population.
Discuss this article in If Java is overpopulated, with around 1,058 persons per square mile, the the Global Views forum of other islands are too sparsely settled. Sumatra has no more than 65 persons to the square mile, and the average for the whole of Indonesia is only around 109. The present annual population increase is estimated at about one and a quarter per cent. For the other islands such an increase is "Indonesia's Search for hardly perceptible, except as an augmentation of the labor force, but for Java it means a constant increase in the already tremendous population pressure.
Among the eighty million people living in Indonesia are an estimated three million of Chinese ancestry and far smaller groups of Dutch, Indo-Europeans, and Arabs. While the Dutch have been leaving Indonesia since Independence, Chinese immigration has not stopped, and our Chinese population is growing.
The unity of Indonesia as a nation derives from a close linguistic affinity between the various groups spread over the thousands of islands, from a common history, and, to some extent, from common traditions throughout the ages and especially after the coming of the Portuguese and the Dutch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Before the arrival of the Westerners there had been constant contact with both India and China. Hinduism and Buddhism, and later Islam, came to Indonesia via India. Some nine tenths of all Indonesians are now Muslim, but before the coming of Islam in the thirteenth century there was a period when most Indonesians were Hindu. A curious remnant of that age is to be found on Bali, where most of the people are still Hindu. Another relic of the Indian influence is the large number of Sanskritic-root words in the Javanese language.
From time immemorial traders were attracted to the Indonesian islands by the spices to be found here. Java was traditionally renowned for its rice and the Moluccas for their nutmeg and cloves, and long before the arrival of the adventurers from the West there was a lively trade with India and China in all these products. So far as is known this trade never gave rise to large-scale warfare. Nor were either the older Indian religions or Islam spread by the sword, but by pacific trade contacts. Relations with other lands took on another character only after the appearance of the Westerners.
The history of the Dutch East India Company in Indonesia was one of trade coupled with violence, cruelty, and treachery. The populations of whole islands were exterminated for the benefit of the Netherlands' spice trade.
The existing Indonesian states decayed, and in the course of the following centuries the Dutch were able to construct their colonial empire on the ruins of the old principalities. Yet it was a long struggle; not until early in the twentieth century was the last Indonesian state Aché in northern Sumatra brought to heel after a prolonged war.
BUT even while the Dutch were congratulating themselves that they had established their authority throughout the archipelago, a new Indonesia was being born. Everywhere in Asia in Japan, in China, in Turkey, in India, and before long in Indonesia as well the spirit of nationalism was rising. It was the awakening of Asia.
In 1908 a group of Indonesian intellectuals formed the Budi Utomo (High Endeavor) movement, with the aim of aiding in the advancement of the Indonesians on Java. And in 1911 the Sarekat Dagang Islam (Society of Muslim Traders), was founded, which soon developed into a nationalistic mass movement. Almost as rapidly as Dutch and other foreign capital transformed the face of Indonesia with plantations, railroads, modern roads, and harbors, the way of life of the Indonesian people also took on new forms. There emerged a modern nationalist movement, striving towards freedom and a new unity of the Indonesian people. The goal was independence.
The modernization of Indonesia brought with it labor and other social problems. After the First World War labor unions were founded the largest of them the organization of railway men and the strongest that of pawnshop workers. There were strikes. The colonial administration did not have the vision to move with the times; it simple tried to suppress these new forces. To be sure, there were a few Dutchmen who counseled the gradual transfer to native-Indonesians of some responsibility for the course of affairs in the country, but in general little was done in that direction.
As a result the popular movement swung sharply towards radicalism. In the Sarekat Islam, originally a movement with a religious background, there developed a left wing which tended more and more towards radical, even revolutionary, socialism. In consequence, increasing tensions developed within the movement itself, and they were encouraged by the colonial administration. In 1921 there was an open split, and from the left wing the Communist Party of the Indies was born. Most of the party's initial leaders had been prominent in the Sarekat Islam, while Dutch Communists, who had been in close contact with Sarekat Islam's radical elements, provided Communist theories and the "party line."
Until the second half of the nineteenth century the Dutch had viewed Indonesia and the Indonesians only as a source of profits whether through the trade of the monopolistic East India Company or (after the Company was disbanded and succeeded by the Dutch government) through such programs as the compulsory cultivation of coffee. There was little concern for the lot of the people as long as they were no obstacle to the making of profits. There were practically no social services, few schools, and very little public health care in Indonesia.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century the tide began to turn. Such enlightened Dutchmen as Multatuli and Van Hoëvell raised their voices for the oppressed and "maltreated" Indonesians. There was a campaign for free labor and free admission of capital in Indonesia. But it was only early in the present century that the most profound changes came, accelerating the pace of Indonesian life. New plantations, intensive oil drilling and mining, and an increase in trade brought better communications in the interior, then more attention to local administration. Schools were opened for the ordinary Indonesian, who had to be trained to operate machines, where before, going to school had been a privilege of the native nobility and higher officialdom.
Faithful to the tradition of interfering with the "natives" as little as possible as long as they were willing to work the Dutch seldom came into direct contact with the people of Indonesia; they controlled them through the local feudal rulers. This system of indirect rule became the basic pattern of the Dutch colonial administration in Indonesia. It was divided into two parts the European administration, replenished from the Netherlands, and the so-called native administration, recruited chiefly from the Indonesian feudal nobility (for a long time the principle of heredity determined succession in the native administration). There was, of course, a difference in the level of education and training of the two corps of administrative officials. And a native official could not be considered for a position in the European administration, so that it was all but impossible for an Indonesian to attain a very high rank. This state of affairs continued until the last decades of colonial rule in Indonesia.
After the First World War a sort of representative council was created, with its members (some of them Indonesians) appointed by the Governor General. It was not until shortly before the beginning of World War II that this council in practice an advisory body only obtained a native majority. In short, the Dutch colonial administration was extraordinarily chary of providing Indonesians with the opportunity to gain practice and experience for the tasks with which they found themselves faced after the Japanese occupation.
Before the war most Indonesians and this was true especially for Java were illiterate peasants and coolies, plus a small group of minor officials and office workers. There were very few Indonesian shopkeepers or independent businessmen. The Chinese made up the middle class, while large scale capital investment in the big plantations, the oil and mining companies, the shipping firms, the banks, the wholesale trade was exclusively non-Indonesian. Nor has this economic picture changed greatly since Independence. Economic and social differences in Indonesia still largely coincide with racial differentiation.
Nationalism in Indonesia is anti-capitalist largely because capitalism here is Western, and, specifically, Dutch. This is also one of the reasons why in Indonesia nationalism and Communism can go hand in hand. Nationalism in Indonesia gains its chief support from an impoverished population, while capitalism is chiefly non-Indonesian, whether Western or Chinese. As a result of economic and social competition, racial differentiation has been accentuated and distorted into racial antagonism. Consequently it is easy for the Communists to present their anti-imperialistic and anti-capitalistic agitation under the guise of patriotism and nationalism, and it is no simple task for the nationalists to detect the true nature of Communism.
But, to put events in proper perspective, when the independence of Indonesia was proclaimed on August 17, 1945, it was the Socialists, not the Communists, who predominated in the leadership of the new state. The Pantja-Sila, or Five Principles set forth in the proclamation were intended as the basis for a welfare state in which social justice in the socialist sense should prevail.
The force of the anti-colonial and anti-Dutch revolution of 1945 took the Netherlands completely by surprise. The Dutch had failed to assess the true strength of the independence movement and could not adjust their thinking to the kind of peaceful settlement which the British accorded India. As a result the colonial regime in Indonesia met its end in what was for the Dutch a less than honorable way. After the Netherlands had twice attempted to suppress the revolution with military force, negotiations for the transfer of sovereignty took place under the auspices of the United Nations, and it was in bitterness towards one another that Indonesians and Dutch took their leave of the colonial past.
IT was only after the transfer of sovereignty from the Dutch to the Indonesians late in 1949 (for the Indonesian part of New Guinea West Irian an odd interim solution was found) that the tragic consequences for Indonesia of the shortsighted colonial policy of the Dutch were felt to the full. The administrative and political experience of the Indonesian people proved inadequate to cope with the chaotic conditions which ensued. Everything seemed disorganized. How could it have been otherwise? There had been two military conflicts first against the Japanese and then the revolution itself. There had been, as well, any number of minor political antagonisms and clashes. Then there was the confusion surviving from two complete but opposing administrations and civil service corps. Finally, two recently hostile armies the revolutionary army of the Republican government in Jogjakarta and the army of the colonial Dutch Federal government in Jakarta had to be amalgamated into one. At the outset, to solve these problems, and the serious financial difficulties facing the state, the Indonesians seemed able to offer little more than fruitless politicking. It was the general inclination to throw all the blame for such seemingly insurmountable obstacles onto the Dutch.
Now, more than five years later, we are still wrestling with essentially the same difficulties. The administration is overstaffed for its task. There are now almost five times as many officials as there were in the prewar colonial bureaucracy, and far and away the largest share of the government budget goes to pay civil service, army, and police salaries. Even so, the salaries paid for government posts are far from adequate to meet the constantly rising cost of living; corruption is as a result unavoidable. Some officials misuse their authority to obtain extra earnings for their own pockets, and the large amount of state interference in economic affairs, inherited from the Dutch, provides highly fertile soil for the growth of corruption. The whole of economic life is carried on in a large part via government offices and official papers.
In that economic life, trade is central; the state obtains most of its revenues by levying heavy duties on imports (for many items as much as 200 per cent) and (to a much lesser extent) on exports. And these duties make for high prices. But the chief source of inflationary pressure is undeniably the relatively excessive nonproductive expenditure of the government. In 1954 the deficit was almost four billion rupiahs on a total budget of twelve billion, and for the first half of 1955 it ran to nearly one and a half billions. The government has been covering these deficits by bringing into circulation new money obtained as loans or advances from the Bank of Indonesia, but how long can that go on?
In recent years world market conditions have often been against us. We have not always been able to sell our raw materials abroad at a profit. Except for oil, exports have not risen as much as we had hoped. Some have even fallen off. Nor does the nationalist policy of discouraging foreign interests from owning or controlling Indonesian firms help to increase trade.
To find a way out of this peculiar situation an effort is being made to transform the economic structure of the country so that Indonesia will become less dependent on the export of agricultural products.
The major step in this direction must, of course, be industrialization. There has been a great amount of talking and writing on the subject in Indonesia in recent years, but, unfortunately, little has been done. With the aid of specialists provided by the UN, a Planning Bureau has drafted various plans, but, more often than not, the government has not been able to carry them through. The chief trouble is the shortage of well-trained personnel on every level, from the manager to the skilled worker.
Another factor that is now being felt more and more is the basic lack of capital. There is no money to finish many of the large state projects already begun, let alone start others. For private enterprise, too, monetary difficulties make it far from easy to work in the direction of industrialization. The importation of capital goods essential for new industry can seldom be assured by the government. Nor can we yet attract enough foreign experts. Thus, the past five years have yielded few concrete results from the plans for the encouragement of industrialization. And except for the oil companies what little industry there is bitterly bemoans its lot.
The total picture Indonesia now presents, after more than six years of national, independent existence, is not encouraging. We are still wrestling with the same old administrative problems. The army and its morale can hardly be called ideal. Corruption is spreading further and further within the civil service. Financial and economic difficulties are accumulating at an alarming rate. And add to these the fact that in territories such as North Sumatra, West Java, and South Celebes there been armed resistance against the government.
In the face of these great difficulties and problems the activities of many of the political parties appear nothing more than fruitless futile botchwork, rather aggravating the situation than alleviating it. The one party now chuckling to itself over the situation is, of course, the Communist party, which no doubt hopes it will before long have its inning at bat. The Communists supported the earlier Ali Sastroamidjojo (Nationalist) government, because they believed it would lead the country into a blind alley more quickly than any other. The Communists then opposed the subsequent Harahap regime (coalition of the Masjumi, Socialist, and other parties) because of its pro-Western leanings. Now with the recent return to power of Ali Sastroamidjojo, at the head of a coalition cabinet which represents almost all parties except the Communists, it seems likely that the Communists will continue their militant opposition to the government.
Indonesia's activities in the field of foreign affairs must be seen in the light of her domestic problems. One key policy has been to lay emphasis on the unsatisfactory relations with the Dutch, because they still occupy so predominant a position in Indonesian economic life. Thus, the West Irian question has become a critical issue. We long for the world to grant the justice of our case and lend us support in our controversy with the Dutch. The feeling that not only in West Irian but everywhere the Dutch are still always blocking the road to Indonesia development and progress, especially economically, is very strong. It is, in fact, at the core of nationalist sentiment.
Yet, let us recognize it, this point of view is itself an obstacle to progress, one which prevents us from becoming aware of our own shortcomings and thus of the real nature of our dilemma. For what the people of Indonesia now need most of all is more knowledge and more skill: more knowledge of the present situation with all its problems and difficulties, and more skill to solve them. With time and experience this is sure to come, but for the moment we seem to be losing the race with time. We still do not know where and how to begin, and meanwhile the problems are piling up.
One bright spot in all this is that our country people have not yet been greatly disturbed by all these problems at the government level. The people in the desa, or village, produce their own food, and do not have so many needs from the outside world. The desa has shown in the past that it can survive without money. In our national existence, then, it goes to make up a vast area where the tendency toward stability and order is at its greatest. Only in the regions where there are rebels and guerrillas operating is the desa in turmoil. Provided the areas of turbulence do not expand, the order and stability of the desa will prove the factor able to prevent the complete national chaos the Communists are so hoping for.
And as long as that is true, there is still time for us to make up for our shortcomings. We can concentrate on obtaining more knowledge and understanding, and greater efficiency in the government of our state, and on gaining more skills, managerial and labor alike, for a more modern economy. Then we shall be able to make the state's administration more efficient and its financial basis sounder both of which are definitely preconditions for securing the capital and capital goods we shall be needing in constantly increasing quantities.
From a long-range point of view the chances for the fulfillment of both these conditions are not unfavorable. The Indonesian people that is to say, the people in the desa and the masses in the cities are calm, hard-working people with many fine qualities. They can hardly be held responsible for the difficulties now facing Indonesia. The country's first general elections were held a few months ago, and the seriousness with which they were taken indicated that the people will be able to assume a share if only a small one in responsibility for the course of affairs. Up to now it has been only the intelligentsia, the politicians, at best the literates, who have been responsible. With their lack of knowledge and experience, the politicians may lead the new Indonesian state into a deadlock; nevertheless one is certainly justified in believing that the people as a whole will muster the strength to help the country find its way.
I myself am convinced that the Communists who believe that Indonesia's existence as a nation will end in complete fiasco, are able to do so only because they underestimate the regenerating strength of the Indonesian people.
TransIated by James S. Holmes and Hans van Marle
Sutan Sjahrir is President of the Indonesian Socialist Party. Born in Sumatra in 1909, his active promotion of expanded educational facilities caused him to be exiled in West Irian from 1934 until 1942. Out of Exile, the letters written to his wife during this time, is published in English by The John Day Company, New York. During the Japanese occuptaion Sjahrir organized an effective popular resistance movement in Java, and from 1945 to 1947 he served as Prime Minister of the Republic of Indonesia. Copyright © 1956 by Sutan Sjahrir. All rights reserved. The Atlantic Monthly; June 1956; "Indonesia: An Effort to Hold Together"; Volume 197, No. 6; pages 117 -121.