ORIGINAL: Soviet Policy in the Far East, 1944-1951

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When the Republic of Indonesia was proclaimed on 17 August 1945 the Indonesian Communist Party ( Partai Kommunis Indonesia, PKI) was weak. Since the unsuccessful rising in Java in 1926-7 it had been outlawed and weakened by the secession of Tan Malakka, an able leader trained in Russia holding radical ‘Trotskyite’ views. After the war, Tan Malakka’s movement was more influential than the PKI, but it opposed any understanding with the Dutch and plotted against the republican Government which finally arrested its chief leaders in 1947. The PKI by contrast at first fully supported the Government. Early in 1946 it was reorganized by its leaders who had returned from abroad, notably by the Russian-trained Alimin. Leadership was assumed by Sardjono who after years of imprisonment had been removed to Australia while the Japanese attacked.2 While the PKI was consolidating its membership, organizing indoctrination centres at Madiun and later at Jogjakarta and establishing military formations, Alimin was in favour of an understanding with the Dutch, deeming it not only necessary for the preservation of the Republic from complete destruction, but also for securing the ‘breathing space’ necessary for the organization of the revolutionary movement.3 According to some reports, Alimin was instrumental in persuading President Sukarno to appoint an additional 180 left-wing members to the House of Representatives in order to press through Parliament the Linggadjati Agreement reached with the Netherlands on 15 November 1946, which provided for the establishment of a Dutch-Indonesian Union. The Communist, Socialist, and Workers’ Parties each had 35 members. Alimin became a member of the Central Committee of the House of Representatives and was in a position to bestow favours on the left-wing guerrilla bands and to facilitate Communist infiltration of the administration, the army, and the police force. In November 1945 he formed a united front of six leftist organizations under the name of Sajap Kiri (the Left Wing).

1See A. A. Guber, “The Indonesian People in the Struggle for Independence”, in Krisis Kolonialni Sistema.
2ibid. p. 151.
3 “De PKI, de Stem van Moskou”, Internationale Spectator (The Hague), 30 May 1951; L. G. M. Jaquet, “Tan Malakka’s National Communism”, ibid. no. 5, 7 March 1951.

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The Linggadjati Agreement was finally signed on 25 March 1947, but by May the Sajap Kiri began openly to oppose the concessions granted to the Dutch. The moderate Sjahrir Cabinet, faced both with right-wing and with Communist opposition, was forced to resign at the end of June, and was replaced on 3 July by a Cabinet ted by Sjarifuddin, who at the time was leader of the left wing of the Socialist Party, founded in December 1945, despite his having been a member of the Communist Party since before the war. His Cabinet of thirtyfive included fourteen members of the Sajap Kiri.1

Serious military reverses during the Dutch ‘police action’, which started on 20 July 1947, economic difficulties resulting from the Dutch blockade of the Republic, and right-wing opposition were instrumental in causing the fall of the Sjarifuddin Cabinet in January 1948. This happened a week after the signing on 17 January, under the auspices of the United Nations, of the Renville Agreement, which provided for a cease-fire, and established the principles of a political settlement. Sjarifuddin’s successor, Mohammed Hatta, invited the Sajap Kiri to participate in his Cabinet, but with a reduced representation, and the offer was declined.2 The Communists now sought broad popular support. They already dominated the important trade union federation, SOBSI ( Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia) which became affiliated to the World Federation of Trade Unions after its Congress in May 1947.3 After Sjarifuddin’s fall, they reorganized the Sajap Kiri on a broader basis into the ‘ People’s Democratic Front’. In March 1948 the rightwing parties formed, in opposition, a ‘National Front’, but later they endeavoured to re-establish unity with the forces of the Left. Negotiations were apparently successful since on 27 May

1 Internationale Spectator, 30 May 1951. One Communist at least was included though not as such. See also Guber in Krisis Kolonialni Sistema, p. 162.
2In November 1950 the Communists themselves analysed this move as a major blunder since it left the State power in the hands of the bourgeoisie which could use it to subdue the radicals (ibid.). Possibly already at this stage the PKI conceived a plan for revolutionary action (see G. McT. Cabin, “The Crisis and its Aftermath”, FES, 17 November 1948, vol. 17, p. 264; and V. Thompson and R. Adloff, “The Communist Revolt in Java”, ibid. p. 259).
3 Guber in Krisis Kolonialni Sistema, p. 153. It was represented at the WFTU by Setiadjid, a Communist who had taken part in the Resistance in Holland during the war, had founded the Workers’ Party in Indonesia at the end of 1945, and became Vice-Premier in Sjarifuddin’s Cabinet.


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limin declared that he would re-enter the Cabinet. On the same day, however, agreement was finally frustrated by the news received from Prague that the Indonesian representative there, the Communist Soeripno, had concluded an agreement with the USSR for the exchange of consular representatives, which was contrary to the Renville Agreement and was strenuously opposed by the right-wing parties.1

These developments received considerable attention in the Soviet press, which had traditionally given more prominence to Indonesia than other parts of South East Asia. Soviet commentators noted that the Communists in Indonesia were not very influential, and described the nationalist movement as broadly popular, supported not only by socialists but also by peasants. They had some reservations about Sukarno’s ‘pettybourgeois outlook’ and his opposition to violence, but they expressed approval of Hatta. They also applauded the Republic’s economic plans and excused its neglect of genuine agrarian reform on the grounds that it had had no breathing space.2

On the international scene, the Russians assumed the role of champions of Indonesian nationalism. Immediately after the landing of the British troops in Indonesia at the end of the war, they accused the British of forcibly suppressing the Indonesians with the assistance of Japanese. They ascribed British intervention to two motives: fear of the repercussions of Indonesian nationalism in British possessions, and the desire to preserve British investments in Indonesia. They maintained that only when confronted with determined Indonesian opposition did the British decide in favour of a compromise solution which would retain a modified Dutch rule with the support of the moderate elements among the Indonesians.3 In January 1946 the Ukrainian Republic lodged a formal complaint with the Security Council peace and security. The complaint was, however, rejected.4

1 Thompson and Adloff, Left Wing in South East Asia, p. 182.
2V. Vasilyeva, “The Fight for the Democratic Development of the Indonesian Republic”, Voprosy Istorii, no. 1, 1948; ‘ “Indonesia’s Ten-Year Plan of Reconstruction”, New Times, 6 June 1947, p. 20.
3 Guber in Krisis Kolonialni Sistema, pp. 158-9; I. Kopylov, “The Events in Indonesia”, New Times, 1 October 1946, pp. 11-12; Pravda, 7 August and 28 September 1946.
4 Yearbook of the United Nations, 1946-47 ( New York, United Nations, 1947), pp.

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The Russian press questioned the good faith of the Dutch and commented on the Linggadjati Agreement as the outcome of ‘a policy of concessions forced upon the Dutch imperialists who, however, intend to give these concessions a purely formal character and to preserve the essential colonial dependence and imperialist exploitation of Indonesia’. They maintained that the Dutch had endeavoured to ‘strangle’ the Republic by armed action and by naval blockade, and that they had ratified the agreement only after these means had failed.1

From May 1947 attacks against the United States in connexion with Indonesia began to appear in the Soviet press. They ascribed American interest in Indonesia to economic motives– to the favourable field for capital investment and to the already enlarged hold of the American ‘monopoly capital’ on all the basic branches of Indonesian economy, which, one commentator stated, had reduced the Dutch to ‘mere sales clerks’. The Russians maintained that the Security Council was acting as an instrument of Dutch, or rather American policy, and they strenuously opposed the establishment of the ‘Committee of Good Offices’. A Soviet reporter went so far as to call it the ‘Evil Offices Committee’, and accused its American member of having caused the downfall of Sjarifuddin’s Cabinet through ‘back-stage machinations’ and intrigue with the right-wing groups.2 Soviet criticism of the Renville Agreement of January 1948 was equally strong.3

The Russians declared themselves to be fully in favour of establishing consular relations with the Indonesian Republic, deeming them desirable ‘from the point of view of normal politics and common sense, from the point of view of the strengthening of peace and international co-operation.’ They accused the Dutch of employing fictitious arguments against their permitting them.4

Although the Soviet press represented the democratic

338-40. British troops were finally withdrawn on 30 November 1946. See “Nationalism in Indonesia”, The World Today, February 1948, vol. 4, p. 56.
1See Guber in Pravda, 13 January 1947; “Holland’s Agreement with Indonesia”, New Times, 4 April 1947, pp. 25-26.
2 G. Afrin, “In Indonesia”, New Times, 3 November 1948, pp. 27-32.
3 “The Indonesian Question in the Security Council”, New Times, 10 March 1948, pp. 1-2; Guber in Krisis Kolonialni Sistema, pp. 167-71.
4 Yavorov in Pravda, 8 June 1948.


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elements’ in the Netherlands as being strongly opposed to the Indonesian war,1 the Dutch Communist Party was itself distinctly weak, and supported the Dutch Catholic-Labour Coalition, which was in power from mid-1946. The Indonesian cause met with considerable sympathy among the non-Communist nations, particularly India, the United States, and Australia, but the only Communist-sponsored support from abroad came from the Communist-dominated Australian dock workers who refused to load ships with supplies for the Dutch.

Further developments were precipitated by the return to Indonesia on 12 August 1948, along with Soeripno, of the Moscow-trained Communist leader, Muso, who immediately took charge of the Communist movement. The Politburo of the PKI acknowledged its past mistakes and violently attacked the agreements with the Netherlands; Sjarifuddin dramatically announced at the end of August that he had been a Communist since 1935, and, using his experience gained as a previous Minister of Defence, assumed command of the military affairs of the PKI. Muso declared himself against further compromise with the Government and violently attacked Sukarno and Hatta. An agreement was reached in September for the fusion of the Communist, Socialist, and Workers’ parties.2 When the right-wing parties declined the ‘invitation’ to join the National Anti-Imperialist Front, the Communist leaders left for Madiun, in eastern Java, There, on 18 September, they staged a coup and seized the city, but found little popular response. Using its loyal troops and the support of Tan Malakka, who was released from prison, the Government was able to subdue the insurrection without availing itself of the proffered Dutch assistance, By the end of the month Madiun was reoccupied, and Muso killed, while Sjarifuddin and other leaders, with between 30,000 and 35,000 followers, were taken prisoner. The leaders, including Sjarifuddin, were executed and, although the rank and file were later released, the PKI remained disorganized while Tan Malakka’s followers, organized in Partai Murba, became an important political element.

Soviet reaction to the Madiun coup was extremely hesitant.

1 Pravda, 13 January, and Trud, 13 June 1947.
2 Guber in Krisis Kolonialni Sistema, p. 173. Muso is not mentioned in Guber’s account, just as little prominence is given earlier to the role of Alimin.

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On 22 August Pravda published a short communiquIé based on Dutch sources and declared that the information available was insufficient for a clear understanding of the situation. On 24 August Pravda was still non-committal, although it spoke unfavourably of Hatta’s actions. On the following day Pravda went so far as to style the insurgent authorities ‘the new Government at Madiun’. When, however, the failure of the insurrection became certain, reports ceased to appear. Subsequent interpretation of the coup was inconsistent. In October 1948 it was described as the expression of popular sentiments favouring real independence, and opposing ‘the policy of making deals with colonizers, pursued by the Hatta Government’. Early in 1949, however, the Communist press affirmed that the coup had been provoked by Hatta on American instigation, ‘with the purpose of beheading the progressive movement and crushing the democratic organizations, especially the trade unions.’ It described the period of co-operation between the PKI and the nationalists as faulty tactics, and stated that the Communists would ‘wage the liberation struggle to a victorious end’.1

The Madiun coup was followed by the second Dutch ‘police action’ in December 1948. Within a week the major centres of the Republican territory were occupied and the Republican leaders were imprisoned. While the Security Council was discussing the issue, the Dutch were endeavouring to reach an understanding with the imprisoned Indonesian leaders. The Russians maintained their critical attitude to the Security Council’s activities, and continued to accuse the Council of yielding to American influence. The Soviet representative refrained from voting on the Dutch proposal for a Dutch- Indonesian Round Table Conference, which was voted upon and accepted on 13 March 1949.2

The Republican leaders did not enjoy Soviet approval, even during the initial period of their imprisonment when they were rejecting the Dutch overtures. And the Russians regarded their later willingness to negotiate as conclusive proof of their subservience, and attacked the Round Table Agreement of November 1949 which established an independent United States

1 Pieter de Groot, National Liberation Movement in Indonesia, For a Lasting Peace, 14 February 1949.

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of Indonesia within the Dutch-Indonesian Union. They affirmed that the negotiators had acted in bad faith, since Hatta was not really representative of the Indonesian people. The Dutch were striving in their view to preserve the colonial régime behind a ‘smokescreen’ of freedom and equality, while in the background the Americans were pushing their claims to the dismay of their Dutch and British competitors. Accordingly, when the Round Table Agreement came before the Security Council, the Ukrainian delegate roundly denounced it. The PKI was equally emphatic in its rejection. But the transfer of sovereignty took place on 27 December 1949.1

At the beginning of 1950 the Soviet attitude to Hatta became somewhat less critical. Although on 18 January Izvestia again accused him of collaboration with the Dutch, the attack was couched in milder terms. At the end of the month the USSR accorded the Republic diplomatic recognition which Hatta immediately acknowledged, requesting at the same time that diplomatic relations should be established. The Indonesian Minister of Information announced that any ideology would be permitted in Indonesia, provided that its adherents did not disturb the peace. He thus clearly indicated the possibility of removing the legal ban on the Communist Party which still remained on the statute book from the period of Dutch rule before the war, although it was not enforced. During February the Indonesian request for the establishment of diplomatic relations received a reply from Vyshinsky, who suggested that either an Indonesian delegation should visit the USSR or that a Soviet delegation visit Indonesia. Negotiations proceeded very slowly, and in March the Soviet press repeatedly attacked the Republican Government and accused the United States of attempting to ‘undermine’ Indonesian relations with the USSR. In May an Indonesian delegation visited Moscow, and on 5 August Hatta announced that the Republic would soon appoint an Ambassador to the USSR.2

However, further violent attacks on Hatta soon appeared in the Soviet press in connexion with the conversion of the United States of Indonesia into a unitary State on 14 August 1950. While the Russians had rejected the previous federal solution as

1UN, Security Council, 455th meeting, 12 December 1949.
2 The Times, 6 February 1950; NYT, 5 August.


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being the result, in the main, of an Anglo-Dutch intrigue, they represented the new unification of the Republic as the outcome of American scheming. Subsequent Soviet comments on Indonesia reflected the belief that American influence on Hatta had become paramount both in the economic and in the political spheres. The Soviet press reported that the Americans had made plans for the establishment of military bases in Indonesia, and explained the controversy between the Dutch and the Indonesians over western New Guinea by United States pressure to retain that island under joint Dutch-Australian administration, as a link in the chain of American bases in the Pacific.1 By December 1951 no exchange of diplomatic representatives had taken place.2 Neither side explained the delay, but the Soviet attacks on the Indonesian Government indicate that the Russians were to blame.

Meanwhile, the PKI was being reorganized. The rank and file, taken prisoner during the Madiun coup, were released in the autumn of 1948 in order to take part in the guerrilla warfare against the Dutch, and the Communist Party was tolerated, although it was not legalized. Largely as a result of the coup, the trade union federation SOBSI split into three groups, but was reorganized early in 1951 and again claimed a large membership.

The PKI endeavoured to establish a ‘United Front’ with the Partai Murba. After long negotiations, on 30 March 1951 the two parties agreed on a common programme both on internal and on foreign affairs; but the ‘United Front’ did not materialize since no agreement was reached on the problem of leadership. From February 1951 the Partai Murba controlled a separate trade union federation.3

From its inception, the Indonesian Republic had to contend with internal opposition from Communists, right-wing extremists, former guerrillas, and some local communities. In mid-1951 disorders in which Communists participated became more serious in Java and Sumatra, and in August the Govern

1 Pravda, 17 and 21 November 1950; Izvestia, 2 February 1951.
2Orally confirmed by the Information Department of the Indonesian Embassy in London on 8 December 1951. Indonesia exchanged representatives with the Chinese People’s Republic; and the first Chinese Ambassador to Indonesia presented his credentials on 14 August 1350.
3For a general discussion of the PKI of this period see “De PKI, de Stem van Moskou”, Internationale Spectator, 30 May 1951, pp. 1-5, and 11 July 1951, pp. 1-6.

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ment retaliated by a security drive which involved the arrest of about 100 Communist suspects, including sixteen left-wing members of Parliament.1

The Russians commented severely on these developments. On 29 August 1951, the sixth anniversary of the proclamation of Indonesia’s independence, the New Times complained that the slogans of ‘freedom’ prominently displayed during the anniversary were contradicted by the simultaneous police raids and arrests. It maintained that the disorders had been provoked by the Government, which was seeking an excuse for the repression of the democratic movements. On 27 August Pravda printed a Tass dispatch from The Hague which contended that the arrests in Java and Sumatra alone had amounted to 1,500, including many non-Communists, and that the Dutch right-wing press did not disguise the fact that the mass arrests had obviously been ordered by the United States.