INDONESIA: JUNGLE EXILES RETURN
For twenty years, several hundred Indonesian rebels lived as political exiles in thewilderness of southeastern New Guinea. Surrounded by jungle and swamps, they built thesettlement of Tanamerah in the upper region of the crocodile-infested Digoel River. Theupper Digoel is more escape-proof than Alcatraz. To fight your way from hilly Tanamerahto the New Guinea coast, you’d have to cross through miles and miles of head-hunterterritory. Even the most determined rebel preferred Boven Digoel to the certain death thatwould follow escape.
The Communists in Tanamerah, exiled after the bloody rebellion in Java and Sumatra in1926, listened daily to the short-wave broadcasts of the powerful Moscow radio. They wereable to obtain books and magazines; they had the company of their wives and children.On occasion, they could even see a motion picture. But it was not freedom. Headhuntersare just as effective barriers as prison bars, and you can’t saw your way through acrocodile.
Indonesia’s Communists kept their faith in Moscow. And when, after the Nazi attack onRussia and the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor, the troops of Nippon landed onIndonesian soil, the Communists were eager to help oust the totalitarian invaders. One oftheir leaders, Sardjano, told them that Indonesia would have to be freed from Japaneserule before the fight against control by the Netherlands could be continued.
And then, one day, an Allied plane made a daring landing just outside Tanamerah.Charles O. Vanderplas, Netherlands member of the Allied Political Warfare Council, hadcome all the way from General MacArthur’s Headquarters at Canberra, Australia. Hetalked to Sardjano and the other exiled Communists. It was a difficult task. He wantedtheir help against the Japanese. And he had a great prize to offer: freedom. Vanderplasknew what he was doing. Japan was propagandizing the people of the Indonesian islands,trying to convert them to the doctrine of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. Ifthey were successful in gaining the genuine collaboration of the native population, fewJapanese
troops would be needed to hold the island, and the assault on Australia could beundertaken.
The Allies needed help. They needed espionage agents, men who were daring enough tooperate clandestine radio stations or to distribute anti- Japanese leaflets. A nucleus ofmilitant underground workers was essential to the dual flow of information fromIndonesia and of Allied propaganda into the islands. American seaplanes ferried dazedCommunists out of their jungle prison. For several years, Indonesian Communists foughtalongside the Allied powers, including the Netherlands. But, as soon as Japan’s surrenderwas assured, they joined in the battle of Indonesian nationalists against continuingNetherlands control.
At the turn of the century, after three centuries of colonial rule by the Kingdom of theNetherlands, the spark of independence had been struck. But not until the 1920’s didnationalist thought turn into open, fierce, and bloody rebellion. The Communist Party wasfounded in 1919 and immediately sought “Soviet power.” Alimin Prawirodirdjo, one of itsleaders, visited Moscow in 1921. For a brief period, he opposed the Comintern policy of a”united front.” In August, 1924, he left the party, but he rejoined it when the nationalists ofIndonesia rose against the Dutch.
In 1924, the Communist Party in Indonesia adopted the slogan of “work and agitationamong the working class through the trade unions.” A year later, under Sardjano’sleadership, the Communists were able to claim that 70 per cent of the trade-unionmembers were under their influence. One outstanding Communist leader was TanMalakka, who represented the Communists in the Moslem society Sarekat Raya. OnMarch 25, 1925, the Communist International reported that “other nationalistorganizations are progressing, that is, they are being revolutionized and their membershipis growing, although not as rapidly as our party and the Sarekat Raya, which is underCommunist influence.”
A year later, nationalist agitation bore fruit. Netherlands authorities managed only withdifficulty to extinguish the flame of rebellion. From then on, and until the surrender ofJapan in 1945, the Communist Party was banned. The Dutch had known that an uprisingwas coming. On the eve of the 1926 rebellion, they ordered the arrest of Alimin, who hadthen made his peace with the Comintern. Alimin went underground. He arrived inSingapore by way of Palembang when the uprising began. Arrested and questioned byBritish authorities at Singapore, he nevertheless managed to escape.
Alimin made his way to China. After a difficult and daring journey, he arrived atKwantung, where he helped to prepare the Pacific Labor Conference of the Red LaborInternational. After Chiang Kai-shek’s break with the Communists, Alimin had to fleeagain. He stepped on Soviet soil from a boat that docked at Vladivostok, in time torepresent the Indonesian Communists at the Fourth Comintern Congres in 1928. TheIndonesian Communist paper, Bintang Merah, stated late in 1946 that Alimin was amongthe prominent attendants of the International Lenin School at Moscow. Quoted by thepaper, Alimin said that he had shared these instructions in Marxist theories andCommunist underground techniques with other leading Communists. He specifically, andin this order, mentioned Chou En-lai of China, Harry Pollitt of Great Britain, L. L. Sharkeyof Australia, Susumu Okano (alias Sanzo Nozaka) of Japan, Ernst Thälmann of Germany,and Maurice Thorez of France.
Like most other members of the Lenin School’s class of 1929, Alimin reached the peak ofhis career after World War II, when he was able to return to his homeland. But, beforethat, he widened his knowledge and ability as a professional revolutionary by visits toParis, Brussels, Berlin, London, and the Near East. In the company of many other AsiaticCommunist leaders, Alimin spent the war years in China. Although he stayed mostly inYenan, it was in Kuomintang-controlled Chungking that he heard the news of the creationof the Indonesian Republic. Alimin was grateful to the Chungking bureau of the UnitedStates Information Service (a branch of the Office of War Information), which transmittedthe startling report. He was thrilled, Alimin said later, when on August 7, 1945, at 9 P.M.,he heard that Indonesia was the first Asiatic nation to declare its independence. His firstreaction was surprise. This feeling was shared by the Chinese Communist Chou En-lai,whom Alimin quoted as saying that collaboration of Indonesian nationalists with theJapanese had been “clearly a tactical matter.”
Meanwhile, Sardjano had been able to rebuild the machinery of Indonesia’s CommunistParty. As an Allied underground agent, he was able to reestablish old contacts and tocreate new ones. He was successful, particularly in the Federation of Trade Unions (whichclaims 750,000 members), but he encountered rivalry from other Indonesians whoclaimed to follow the banner of Marx and Lenin. Prominent among them was TanMalakka, once an Oriental pillar of the Comintern, but now dubbed “Trotskyite” by hisformer comrades. Another ex-Communist,
Mohammed Hatta, obtained a cabinet post in the government of President AchmedSoekarno, the fiery ex-collaborator, and the Socialist-minded, clearly and cleanlyanticollaborationist, Premier Sutan Sjahrir.
For fourteen months, the troops of the young Indonesian Republic fought British andDutch troops. Finally, on November 15, 1946, the Netherlands and the IndonesianRepublic agreed on a compromise. Recognizing the Republic’s authority over Java,Madura, and Sumatra (about 86 per cent of Indonesia), the agreement foresaw “rapidformation of a democratic state on a federal basis, to be called the United States ofIndonesia.” In the end, the compromise stated, there would be a “Netherlands-IndonesianUnion,” under an over-all loyalty to the Netherlands royal house.
In the Netherlands itself, the agreement was opposed by the conservative parties,approved by the dominant Labor Party, and hailed by the Communists. According to theAmsterdam Communist daily De Waarheid, of January 16, 1947, Alimin “duly recognizedthe influence which Great Britain and the United States have had on the decision, and theparty realizes that under the prevailing circumstances no better arrangement could havebeen devised.” But, in Indonesia itself, some people looked upon Sardjano, Alimin, andSoekarno as traitors. Tan Malakka was one of them, and he exerted influence on theutmost outer fringes of Indonesian revolutionism. There were even allegations that TanMalakka had a hand in a brief kidnaping of Sjahrir, in June, 1946.
The Communist Party, with Sardjano as chairman and Alimin as secretary-general,pledged its cooperation to the Republic’s government. The Communists had a long anddifficult road ahead of them. Their thunder had been stolen by the inspired oratory ofSoekarno. Followers and potential followers, many of whom had difficulty distinguishingbetween Stalinism and Trotskyism (or between socialism, as represented by Sjahrir, andcommunism of the Moscow school), were slow and vacillating in their support. Yes, the so-called National Concentration of Revolutionary Nationalists, which had been founded inMay, 1946, was a coalition of various parties, including Communists. But it was not aCommunist-led combination. The Netherlands military attack on nationalist-held areas,which began in July, 1947, did not alter the Communist position. The cabinet whichSjahrir formed on July.3 contained one Communist member. The Dutch Parliamentdefeated a Communist motion denouncing the use of force in Indonesia by a vote of 79 to9.
Indonesia’s Communist Party must bide its time, organize and agitate, indoctrinate andpropagandize, if it wants to gain power. Compared with the youthful Soekarno andSjahrir, Sardjano and Alimin looked to the adolescent activists of the young Republic likewashed-up old-timers. But the Republic government must show its administrative ability.Once warfare in Indonesia ends for good, it will have to govern, and govern well. If it runsinto serious economic or domestic political trouble, according to the postwar patternnoticeable elsewhere in the south Pacific, the Communist Party of Indonesia might well getits second wind.