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COLONIAL SOCIETY AND THE IDEALS OF SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

 

Mohammad Hatta , 1956.
(First Indonesian Vice President).

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From the viewpoint of the capitalist economy which invaded this country, Indonesia was a huge estate, the exploitation of which was based on two highly profitable factors, a rich soil and a supply of cheap labor, which strengthened its international competitive position. Production was not carried out in order to supply the domestic needs of the country itself but was completely geared to the world market, thereby ensuring the highest possible profit. As an outlet for industrial goods from the Netherlands, Indonesia was not yet very important. Its primary economic function was exclusively that of a producing country. This is why the economy of the Netherlands Indies could be characterized as an “export economy.”

 

As to its political structure, the Netherlands Indies was a police state, a type of state organization in conformity with the purpose of the colonizing power to exercise complete political, economic, and social control. Under these conditions there was no room for democracy. Everything was organized hierarchically: the executive corps (pangreh pradja); the police; the army. Fundamental to the system was the position of the rationalized organization named Inlancds Bestuur

[ Administration], culminating in the bupati or regent. Over and above this regent a powerful system of Euro pees Bestuur [ Administration] had been established, which issued all the orders and had supervision over the officials of the Inlands Bestuur. In such a setup it was not the competent and idealistic native officials who were appreciated but rather those who were pro ficient in carrying out orders.

 

This is the reason why the Indonesian community, oppressed as it was, could not develop properly. The deeper capitalism penetrated into the Indonesian community, the worse became the living conditions of the people, who had no more powers of resistance left. The foundations of the community were destroyed by three types of exploitation that were perpetrated successively over three centuries; the system of the Oost-Indische Compagnie [ India Company], the so-called “cultivation system,” and the system of private initiative. And in all these extortions the colonial government acted wherever necessary as “the natural guardian of colonial capitalism,” to use the words of J. E. Stokvis.

 

“Listen also to how aptly Dr. J. H. Boeke describes the social

Destruction caused by colonial capitalism in Indonesia:

 

Individualizing liberal principles and capitalist penetration have destroyed social foundations and driven the economically weak into a merciless social struggle in Indonesia, perhaps to an even greater extent than in Europe. We all know that the capitalist system in its full growth has invaded Indonesia like a foreign conqueror and succeeded in conquering it in a

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few decades. Even more drastic than in Europe has been the disintegrating effect in the colonial territory of a policy that was based on the interests of those who were well equipped, knowledgeable, and always ready to fight. The economic policy which opened up Indonesia to tough-minded capitalists, the communications policy which shortened distances and abolished isolation, the system of free trade which intensified competition in internal commerce, the taxation system with its increasing emphasis on money and individual assessment, the western legislation and administration of justice, the educational policy—all these have exercised a disintegrating influence on the native community and its social organs, to which the weak force of the numerous people was not equal. All these have broken down the existing social organization without molding a new one, creating misery without generating new strength, and the result has been a degradation of the human spirit”.

 

This is not the pronouncement of an Indonesian revolutionary, but the result of a scientific analysis by a colonial economist, a man of deep human feelings.

 

It was this knowledge, together with the facts of daily experience in racial and individual life, that gave substance to the ideal of a future Free Indonesia. And the cognizance of the Dutch colonial aims, in which there was no place whatsoever for aspirations toward Indonesian self-government, reinforced the national spirit. “A Free Indonesia, one and indivisible” and “Struggle on the basis of our own strength” became the slogans of the national movement. Statements by Dutch leaders, such as H. Colijn, who said that it should be made clear to Indonesian nationalists that Dutch authority over Indonesia was established as firmly as Mont Blanc on the Alps, only served to add fuel to the fires of Indonesian nationalism, which were already aflame. To smother them was no longer possible!

 

In this way our prewar freedom movement gave birth to four of the five principles on which our present State is based: Humanity, the Unity of Indonesia, the Sovereignty of the People, and Social Justice. These were ideals for the future—a reaction to the bitter reality of the people’s misery, constant humiliations, national extortion, and suffering under a colonial and autocratic power.

 

Free Indonesia had to become a national state, one and indivisible, free from foreign colonial domination in whatever form, political or ideological. The principles of humanity had to be carried out in all segments of life, in the intercourse between individuals, between

 

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employers and workers, between the different groups of the population. Although generated by the struggle against colonialism, these humanitarian ideals had not only an anti-colonial and anti-imperialistic character, but were also directed toward the freeing of man from all oppression. Community relationships were to be characterized by an atmosphere of family and fraternity. The socialist literature which found many readers, and the labor movement of the West

which could be observed from afar and nearby, confirmed these ideals and made them into firm convictions.

 

This feeling, with which the spirit of the national movement was deeply imbued, was later incorporated as a basic principle in the Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia, in the following words: “Independence being in truth the right of all peoples, colonialism, which does not accord with humanity and justice, must be abolished throughout the world.”

The “Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” consisting of thirty articles, was adopted by the United Nations Organization on December 10, 1948, during its meeting in Paris. When Indonesian leaders, who in their younger days had been fighting as pioneers, heard the

declaration in article I that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” it was as if they heard themselves speaking. It gave them the feeling that people wanted to realize their own long- held ideals in international society. When it was already considered fitting to carry out these ideals internationally, should these ideals be neglected in the national sphere?

There was yet another fundamental question to be solved. Once Indonesia achieved independence, what form of state organization would be best? Experience with the colonial autocratic government in the form of a police state had given rise to the ideal of a democratic constitutional state in the minds of the younger generation of

Indonesia. The state, it was believed, should have the form of a

Republic based on the sovereignty of the people. The sovereignty of

the people, however, as envisaged and propagated in the circles of

our national movement, was at variance with Rousseau’s concepts

which were characterized by individualism. Sovereignty of the people

in Indonesia had to be rooted in its own society, which is collectivist

in character. Whatever its other sources, Indonesian democracy

should also evolve from indigenous Indonesian democracy. More-

over, the national spirit which had developed as a natural reaction to

 

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Western imperialism and capitalism intensified the desire to look in our own society for foundations on which to build a national state. Western democracy was rejected a priori.

When we study the French Revolution of 1789, which is known as the source of Western democracy, we find that the slogan “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” was not carried into practice. This is not surprising, because the French Revolution broke out as a revolution of individuals, aiming to liberate persons as individuals from the ties of feudalism. The liberty of the individual was given first consideration. When this liberty had been gained, its connection with equality and fraternity was forgotten.

Although the French Revolution aimed at carrying out the ideal of complete equality—which is why, besides liberty for the individual, equality and fraternity were also stressed—the democracy which it practiced brought only political equality.

Politically, every individual was accorded equal rights. Rich and poor, men and women, had the same right to vote and to be elected as members of parliament. Beyond these rights, however, there was no equality. As a matter of fact, when the spirit of individualism kindled by the French Revolution flared up, capitalism thrived increasingly. Class strife became aggravated; oppression of the economically weak by the economically strong became more severe. There are strongly conflicting interests, wherever there are oppressors and oppressed, fraternity is hard to find. The system of individual economic responsibility resulted in a worker’s livelihood being secure only as long as he was strong and able to work. He was dismissed and neglected once he became old and sickly and lost his ability to work.

Clearly, democracy of this type was not in conformity with the ideals of the Indonesian struggle for independence, which aimed at realization of the principles of humanity and social justice. Political democracy alone cannot bring about equality and fraternity. Political democracy must go hand in hand with economic democracy, other wise man will not yet be free, and there will not be equality or fraternity. Therefore, social democracy covering all phases of life which constituted human existence was the ideal of Indonesian democracy. The ideal of social justice was made into a program to be carried out in our future national life.

It was really from three sources that these ideals of social democracy came to life in the minds of the Indonesian leaders at that time.

 

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First, Western socialist thinking attracted attention because it advocated and strove toward the principles of humanity.  Second, there were the teachings of Islam which demand honesty and divine jus tice in human society and fraternity among people as creatures of the Lord in accordance with the essential qualities of Allah, the Merciful and the Benevolent. Third, there was the knowledge that Indonesian society is based on collectivism. These three considerations only served to strengthen the conviction that the democratic structure that was to become the basis of the future government of In dependent Indonesia should be derived from the indigenous

democ racy prevalent in the Indonesian village.

The old Indonesian states were feudal states, ruled by autocratic kings. Nevertheless, in the villages a democratic system remained in force and lived a healthy life as part and parcel of

adat-istiadat, old usage and traditional custom. This fact provided sufficient evidence for the conviction that indigenous Indonesian democracy would have strong powers of endurance, live healthily, and be “neither cracked by the sun nor rotted by the rain.” This is also why indigenous democracy was idealized to such an extent in the national movement. Many were the leaders who felt it to be sufficiently complete to become the basis of the government of a modern state. “Take away the feudalism and capitalism which are suppressing it,” they said, “and it is bound to blossom forth and live healthily on a solid foundation!”

Social analysis shows that the indigenous Indonesian democracy was able to maintain itself under feudalism because the soil, the most important factor of production, was the communal property of the village people. It did not belong to the king. And the social history of the Western world shows that in the feudal era the ownership of land constituted the basis of liberty and power. Whoever lost the title to his land, lost his freedom and became dependent on others; he became the servant of the landlord. Whoever was the owner of a great deal of landed property had power, and the extent of his power was in proportion to the amount of land he owned.

Because landed property in the old Indonesia belonged to the village community, village democracy could not be eliminated, regard less of efforts by the feudal power to suppress it. On the basis of the common ownership of the soil, each individual, in carrying out his economic activities, felt that he had to act in accordance with common consent. Consequently, one finds that all heavy work that could

 

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not be done by one individual person, was performed by the system of gotong rojong, mutual assistance. Not only were matters which according to the Western judicial system were within the area of public law taken care of in this way, but so also were private matters such as building a house, working the rice fields, accompanying the dead to the graveyard, and so on. This way of life, based on common ownership of the soil, had created the custom of mutual consultation. All decisions concerning matters of common interest were taken by mutual consent, or in the words of a Minangkabau saying: “Water becomes one by passing through a bamboo pipe; words become one by mutual agreement.” The custom of taking decisions by way of mu tual consultation created the custom of holding general meetings in a regular meeting place, which were presided over by the head of the village. All adult and indigenous members of the village community had the right to attend these meetings.

We have not yet mentioned all the democratic elements in the original Indonesian village. There are two further elements: the right to make joint protest against regulations issued by the king or prince that are felt to be unjust; and the right of the people to leave the territory over which the king has authority when they feel that they do not want to live there any longer. Rightly or not, these last two rights have often been thought of as the right of individuals to decide their own fate. As is well known, the right to make an ordi nary joint protest has been resorted to up to the present time. When it happens that the people strongly disapprove of a regulation issued by the bupati [ the wedana [ chief], or some other authority, one sees a great many people congregating at the particular town or village square, where they will sit quietly for a certain length of time, without doing anything. In the old days it was not very often that the Indonesian people, who are by nature patient and complying, acted like this, but when they did, it made the authorities consider whether they had not better revoke or modify their orders.

These five indigenous elements of democracy—the general meet ing, mutual consultation, gotong rojong or mutual assistance, the right to make joint protests, and the right to remove oneself from the king’s or prince’s authority—were esteemed within our national movement as solid principles for the social democracy that was to become the basis for the future government of Free Indonesia.

 

Subsequent analysis, made quietly and free from the desire to idealize everything that is indigenous with us, has shown that the

 

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good points of our village democracy cannot all be applied indiscriminately at the level of the state. The system of consultation as it is practiced in the villages means that decisions are taken unanimously, with everyone agreeing, after the matter has been discussed thoroughly. No decision can be taken before unanimity has been reached, and the matter remains a subject for discussion both within and outside the general meeting. It would be impossible to reach such unanimous decisions in a parliament with all its different parties and political antagonisms. In this matter, whether one likes it or not, one has to accept the system of Western democracy whereby decisions are taken by a majority of votes.

On the other hand, “agreement” such as is usually imposed in totalitarian countries, is not at all in harmony with the notion of Indonesian democracy, because real agreement can only be arrived at by mutual consultation. Without consultation, where everyone has the right to advance his opinion, there cannot be any agreement. However, in a democratic collective society such as Indonesia’s, the mentality of individual persons is different from that in an individualistic society. In all their actions and in the voicing of their opinions, Indonesians are primarily guided by the common interest. Their own interests are completely bound up in the common interest. Therefore, it is naturally easier for them to reach agreement. But, although the individual in his way of thinking and acting is guided by the ideals of the common good, he is not a mere object of the

collective entity, such as is the case in totalitarian countries. He remains a subject with his own will, able to move about freely and make his own special contacts and to practice differentiation. Socially speaking, he maintains his own ideals and devotes his thoughts to his own or the common welfare.

This was the kind of society in the minds of those who were doing their best to create an appropriate democratic system for the future Free Indonesia. In no case did they want to relinquish the ideals of social democracy that were more or less fundamental to social organization in our original community. In the political field a system of popular representation with consultation was designed, based on the general interest of the community. Extensive autonomy, reflecting the idea of “government by those governed,” would have to be carried into effect. In the economic sector, the national economy would have to be organized on a cooperative basis, and the government would have to have the duty of controlling or supervising those branches of production important to the state and those which vitally effect the life of the people. In the social sector, the development of man’s individuality would have to be safeguarded. The state would direct its efforts toward the happiness, well being and moral worth of man.

 

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